Friday, August 24, 2012

Painting Over Painting #2

24"w x 30"h - So here it is now..I'm digging it, but, then again, I just finished it!
I'm not sure I would consider this a traditional method of painting, but painting over previous paintings does have some positive effects on my general attitude. Let's be practical. First off, we all have thousands of paintings in our basements. Why keep buying more canvas and shipping in more hard boards when the truth is, there are millions of mediocre paintings just waiting to be either 1. gessoed over or 2. painted over.

I thought this was pretty great and it isn't too bad,
but why settle for "not too bad"?
People get very closed-lipped about acknowledging  failure and admitting that they can produce forgettable work...especially on pieces that they have just finished. I believe, as artists, we are always closest to the piece we have just finished last. After all, have you ever met an artist that smiled at you and said politely "Shall I get you a cup of coffee and show you my latest painting on the easel? It really is a forgettable canvas, here have a seat while I get that coffee." Of course not.

I think as artists, our objectivity about our own work comes after a certain amount of time has passed. I also believe it is hard to spend an entire day painting and admit to ourselves "Boy...I produced a whole lot of mediocre work today that I will most likely paint over in three years!"  I sometimes tell my students that every failure they create should really just be considered "brush mileage". And the more you paint the better you will get, which means that there are a lot of canvases out there that are "learning" experiences. Now, even though  I know this and teach this idea it is still hard to accept that I can spend a day on "brush mileage". We all want our paintings to turn out in every aspect while we are working on them.

But, after some time has passed, personally, I can look upon my work with fresh eyes, and realize that it is just merely "pleasant", "okay" or "not bad". I have spent a lifetime dedicating myself to unraveling the mysteries of drawing and painting. My aspirations are for something a bit higher than "Oh, isn't that nice?" This may be the difference between the hobbyist painter and the artist. Or it could indicate that I am neurotic about painting.

So, I am uploading my first painting here. I was very pleased with it. I liked my composition and the cutting of his face where I did, very non traditional compositional idea for me. I also tried taking the shadow down the middle of his face rather than off to one side, so even that was a little more tricky. To be honest, I was quite pleased with this when I had finished it up. I had put this in the stack of "Finished" not in the "Paint Over Someday" stack. It was only when I found myself in my studio looking at it again I realized that it was really sort of blah. The brushwork is not confident (mostly because I am not used to painting faces that large so the brushwork is more muddy). And I didn't paint the eyelids convincingly so they look more like walnuts than flesh and then the more I looked at this I thought "Why on earth did I think this was so great?"

So...I set it on the easel and started painting the portrait of the man looking up (again). He is the same man from the first MRI painting. Naturally, I am quite pleased with it, which only serves my first argument of we are always closest to the latest work that we have completed. Ask me next month about this painting and I might just gasp, "EGAD! Quick get the gesso!"

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Content Aside, Focus on Painting - Michaël Borremans Plus Robert Henri

The painting in its current stage. Oil 24"W x 30"H

"Michaël Borremans plus Robert Henri" This is what happens when you read all about both artists at the same time, both of their ideas and work creeps into your brush handling and ideas about what to paint and what to leave out.

In order to really concentrate on the practice of painting and not worry so much about end result or product, I decided to paint someone that I do not know. There is a lot pressure to paint extremely well when you paint your kids or a friend or some of the people in the NF community. I want to paint them in a way that dignifies and honors them, but that is also a bit of a paralyzing aspect because it limits the amount of risk I want to take. For my next painting, I decided to go find a picture of a man I didn't know and I found one of a man making scrambled eggs in Trinidad. I found that if I just painted him without the background of the kitchen and frying pan, it would be a very interesting image. I also don't particularly care about him, he is just an art object, he doesn't even have a name, he is just anonymous.

This is not unlike Borreman's work. He uses stock photography and aims at taking individuality out of his paintings. And, although mine are not images from the 1930's and 1940's, I can see the advantage of this method.

Here is the sequence of process work:

First block in - No background
Washy background - adding a shirt
Uh oh..the shirt was lame, looked like something from the 70s, it got gessoed over

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Painting Over Painting

24" x 30" oil - painting #3 (the latest version--see #1 and #2 below to see what was covered up)
 I have spent the last few weeks reading:
  • Susan Sontag's "Illness As Metaphor"
  • Susan Sontag's "Regarding the Pain of Others"
  • Charlotte Mullins "Painting People" 
  • James Elkins "Pictures of the Body"
  • Vitamin P2: New Perspectives in Painting
In my last mentor meeting, my mentor mentioned "Why not paint over old paintings and just let the interesting parts show through?" This idea of leaving traces and leaving other imagery exposed was brought up many times during the residency. Now, truthfully, I had rather hoped that I wouldn't need to do that so soon with the thought that the portrait exercises I am working on know...actually "turn out".


24" x 30" oil - painting #1
So, who knew that I would be painting over a painting so soon? I had rather pictured myself doing this in November...thoughts of painting with hot cocoa had come to mind. It's August and I've already painted a stack of forgettable portraits for my mentor to look at on our next visit. No. No need to post those, I can underwhelm him personally at the next meeting. I will, however, post the first of the "Painted Over Portraits".

So, here is the first portrait (#1). I tried to paint a person lying down going in for his MRI. In an effort to not overstate everything, I left the MRI machine as just a drawing done with oil pastel. I turned the entire painting vertically and let it all drip down. And, while it is okay...I still found it a little boring even with my attempt at a new and unusual composition, it just wasn't very exciting.

Therefore, it got set in the "I shall paint over this". MRI days are days in which the patient has to lie down very still and wear a helmet of sorts while loud buzzes (done in different time durations) drone on and on. The person's family gets to either wait in the room with the patient or sit outside. Most people chew their fingernails while they wait, flip through meaningless magazines, mess with their IPhones or pretend to watch the tv. Everyone waiting is just wishing it was over, as I am sure that is what the patient is thinking. I have never personally had an MRI. I sometimes wonder what they would find in there. I think I would rather not know. Ignorance can be bliss.

I then took that painting and decided to paint over it with the person who would be thinking about them over it. I kept the parts I liked and just simply painted over the parts that I found to be visually boring. It ended up looking like this next image (#2). 

24" x 30" oil - painting #2
Well, that image did not really improve it as I had hoped, but I did like the way her arm was made out of the man's hair. And I liked the area of her shoulder blade. Other than those two parts I wasn't very interested in the rest of it. It sort of looked like something I would do for a magazine cover. I happen to love illustration, but I am not wanting my paintings to look like magazine covers, so this will most likely have to get painted over as well. I wonder if I will just gesso over the entire piece and than just frame that.

We all know that Rauschenberg erased DeKooning's work and there are all sorts of interesting conjecture and theories as to what it all means, but, I think it he was onto something. I think if I gessoed over this entire piece right now and "erased" it, it would vastly improve it. But hey..I think I'll just try again and do another painting.

So, here on the top of this posting is attempt #3. As corny as it sounds, I just simply painted how I was feeling. I don't really look like that (I wish my hair would part like that, but it doesn't. My hair sprouts out of my forehead into a strange formation that is reminiscent of a sea anemone). Anyways...I just painted a face and how tired I am. I don't know whose face this is, it's not really mine, but it is how I am feeling. Just plain tired. No, not tired of painting, just tired.