Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Maternal Gaze - Part 3 it is. I am at least finally happy with it instead of having feelings of complete ambivalence. Isn't that the worst? Nothing like ambivalence to your own work. I sometimes wonder if I am the only artist who grows tired of my own paintings. Luckily, having my mentor keep on me each month about this one transformed it from "This is forgettable and lame and I will most likely paint over it" to "I really find myself looking at those textures when I come up close to it, and it all comes together now".

Sure wish I had this transformation on all my paintings. It does help to put a little time between painting sessions and to have another artist critique my work. I would have stopped at #5 on this progression. I am glad I had guidance because had I stopped when I wanted to, this painting would have gotten painted over in a year or two. Now, I am actually happy with it.

Here is the semester progression:

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The balance of painting and motherhood

As I mentioned in my earlier postings, my advisor is less concerned with painterly style or the formal aspects of painting, but more interested that I explore who were the subjects of Alice Neel and Lucian Freud. It is not surprising that these artists would be friends with fellow artists and paint their portraits, so selecting a fellow artist to paint seemed like a natural endeavor for me as well.

Littleton Alston is a figurative sculptor who does both life size public bronze pieces in addition to commemorative busts, so there is already a mutual kindred interest between us in regards to the face and figure. In his own words, "The human form holds endless fascination for me, and it is this vehicle through which I believe can best express the joys and sorrows of the human condition.  The face holds a subtle yet complex reflection of each persons life, this I seek to create in my work."

He also knows that I have been wanting to paint his portrait for years, so in some regards, I should thank my advisor for now giving me the opportunity to do something that I had never allowed myself the time to do before because I have always been very busy illustrating or working on commissions and taking care of my boys. So, this was one of those "Aha!" moments for me when she told me to get away from NF. Littleton graciously allowed me to spend an entire morning with him. I flitted around him, clicking photos while he did various types of sculpture work: mold making, welding, scultping in clay and even hammering on some sort of contraption. His studio in downtown Omaha is very large in order to accommodate the enormity of his work and to provide good ventilation for all the dust that gets in the air from all of the plaster work. He also had prepared for my visit and had a great magnifying glass and sea shells ready on his desk just waiting for my 5 yr old's curiousity.

As with the Reggie painting, I am initially not sure what I want to do in the background yet. Rather than wasting time trying to be overly profound, I might as well get started on the actual portrait in the foreground and see what ideas develop as I paint. One of the best quotes I have heard recently came from Chuck Close on an interview done recently for CBS This Morning. They did a video segment called "Notes to Self" in which Chuck Close said to his 14 yr old former self "Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work." That stuck with me. I can either hope that a lightning bolt hits me squarely on the forehead rendering me an artistic genius, or I can just simply get to work and see what happens knowing that all the research, seminars and readings are shaping my artistic decisions as I proceed along.

I am going to spend a few paragraphs digressing from pure formal aspects of painting and painting process to discuss something of equal importance: the role of my work with my youngest son. My son is five years old and he spend every morning with me in my studio. He does not have video games or a personal DS or anything even remotely modern. Now, it's not that I am against technology (I'm blogging aren't I?), but I didn't want him to just play video games in one room while I painted in another. It was important to me as I started this program to make Fred be apart of my journey as well. So, while I am working on my paintings, he paints his own pictures, draws, works on puzzle books and plays with his matchbox cars. At times, he sits on my lap which is awkward for me to keep painting. However, he is only 5 once and I know that all too soon he will not want to spend his time in his mother's studio painting as he will grow up and want to be off with his friends. So, in some ways, this program has been invaluable for me in the amount of quality time he and I are spending together.

Now, I have to also be forthcoming that Fred, is only a little boy, and at times gets weary of so much time in the basement studio. He is a very animated child and sometimes will just plead "MAMA!! When will you be done painting?!" I snapped this picture of him when he was at his wit's end. I relented. We took a break from painting and went to the park. I do not want to get so consumed with my  work that I forget the people in my life who are important. It is a matter of balance. Fred will go off to kindergarten next fall, which means all my morning painting sessions will be solitary. While there are definite positive aspects to not having to worry about juice boxes, markers, a racetrack for the matchbox cars and listening to his same They Might Be Giants cd over and over...well, it will just be a bit lonely and sad too.

This has been a wonderful semester for myself and my son. And to finish this blog post, I am pretty happy with this grisaille underpainting of Littleton as well. I had never planned to do this painting in the grisaille method, but I kept reading about Ingres and looking at his under paintings, so it just happened. I know that all of this work will be covered over, but I don't mind. It's all just a journey and not having a preconceived notion of an outcome is very liberating.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Lucian Freud and Alice Neel

Lucian Freud's Self Portrait
A few weeks ago, my advisor and I chatted on the phone. We discussed the direction of the semester and some of the areas of interest I had explored. I initially had thought I would want to pursue more abstract ideas about genetics. However, AIB faculty, Tony Apesos had recommended that I read Richard Brilliant's book, Portraiture. It was so fascinating that I abandoned the abstract ideas of art and science and started to question why I was attracted and interested in portraiture. During the phone conversation, my advisor suggested to widen the scope of my audience and my artwork. In other words, instead of limiting myself to just people suffering from Neurofibromatosis, to branch out and start to paint other individuals as well. She was concerned that I would unintentionally become the "NF Artist" rather than just simply "An Artist". She made a good point and I instantly remembered how I felt after someone at a show had said "Rachel Mindrup..I know you, you're the Fruit and Flowers Chic". I remember thinking "I paint more than just fruit and flowers!" So, I could identify quickly with her advice.

Her second piece of advice was to look closely at the subjects of Lucian Freud and Alice Neel. Now, I am not going to lie, I love Lucian Freud. His paint handling is amazing and his extremely honest portrayal of the human figure has always caught my attention and interest. Alice Neel, although I admire her role in art history and her rather Bohemian lifestyle, does not really capture my attention in the same way. My advisor told me not to concentrate on the formal aspects of painting quite as much as who the subjects of the paintings. 
alice neel painting, The Arab, 1976
Alice Neel's The Arab
After researching them both, it seems that they both did portraiture of a wide array of individuals.  Neel's portraits of the 1930s embraced left wing writers, artists and trade unionists. She later maintained her practice of painting political personalities, including black activists and supporters of the women's movement. Lucian Freud painted subjects, who were often the people in his life; friends, family, fellow painters, lovers, children. He said, "The subject matter is autobiographical, it's all to do with hope and memory and sensuality and involvement, really."

I thought about who the subject of my paintings should be. I finally decided, in the spirit of them both, to paint the portrait of a fellow artist. Also, this fellow artist is well known throughout the midwest region which would make him a bit more of an Alice Neel type of subject. He is also a portraitist, but uses the medium of sculpture to create monumental busts and life size bronze pieces. I am going to paint Littleton Alston.

Littleton Alston in his studio