After three days of concerted effort, towards awaking myself back to full consciousness, through drawing after drawing, I believe I am very close. Yesterday started with a stilted, rather mundane drawing. When that was over, I forced myself to greater wakefulness. I mentally slapped myself, demanding I seek bottom ground: "What the hell do I want out of a drawing?" The answer is personal reality. The demand for transcendent inquiry. This helped. I awaken a bit more. The second drawing was very much better; it is one of my best. Few drawings enter my pantheon of excellence. I believe yesterday's drawing #2 is one of them. And then came drawing #3. It is good, very good, but I am not prepared to throw it into the pantheon of drawings. I know the dictionary definition of pantheon reserves the word for people, but it works well here, since I have made, perhaps, 100,000 drawings, and only a handful are good enough to esteem (about 20).
Two days out of the studio does not seem like a lot of time missed. Something else must have happened. Even when not making art, even when I am ill and my energy is low, my mind keeps churning. That's the positive spin on it. In any case, yesterday I spent the entire day drawing (I made four of them; you'll see them all!). So I made drawing after drawing, and never felt as comfortable as I remember feeling on the day I made the sketch for my self-portrait. I feel I am fighting back to comfort with myself, and my skills. Here are the drawings from yesterday:
Another situation got in my way: Large amounts of snow, once again. This has been an amazingly productive winter, and I am getting tired of it. I'm the guy whole shovels the snow around here, and prepares the cars to go on their way. Today it is snowing again. Somehow this brings me to the current exhibit of Cézanne's card players, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. In the February 28, 2011 issue of The New Yorker, Peter Schjeldahl writes: "The only way into his art is to track his technical decisions, like a painting student receiving instruction. Cézanne became the beau ideal of modernist values—as exemplary for the twentieth century of what art should be like as Raphael had been for previous epochs—by making our perceptions of art inextricable from how it comes to be. Our eyes and minds, as we look, repaint the picture. But what if we'd rather not? What about transcendence? Cézanne never lets go." I want to transcend. My struggles today are about transcendence. I am seeking the means to leave technical details behind and get right into describing what it is to feel, to be, to exist. As a child of the twentieth century, and one of the artists mentored by Cézanne, I believe part of the solution is to make "our perceptions of art inextricable from how it comes to be...." But I use this as a means to my end. I am struggling to make myself, and the viewer, perceive the density of intellect and emotions, which is our existence, first and foremost. The glory of the technique should support and enhance this endeavor, but should not supersede it.
I will show you my favorite Cézanne Card Players, from the Barnes Collection, outside of Philadelphia. This painting is not in the Met exhibit, since Barnes Collection paintings are not supposed to leave the Barnes Mansion (but that's another story, depicted in the recent documentary "Art of the Steal").
I am always amazed how closely making art resembles my experiences as an athlete. If you miss a day of practice there is a loss of intellectual and muscle memory. Slight as it may appear to others, it amazes me. I know there are stories about Joe DiMaggio and how he, after a hiatus, returned to go 4 for 4. I believe this kind of success occurs because the athlete (or artist) feels the gap between knowing and acting; because of this discomfort he increases his concentration. The magnified concentration may look like success, but the athlete (artist) knows better. It does not feel as good as when intuition, emotions, hand and eye, all work together as one. Yesterday I felt this distance between my mind and my physical output. I spent about half a day in the studio before I gave up because of frustration. The two drawings I made did not come easy. I did not like making them, and I am troubled with the results. Both drawings look awkward and strained. I will be back in the studio today. I am sure things will go better. Yesterday my mind and body returned from illness. Both felt stiff and out of shape. It has to go better today because yesterday's struggles were a good day of practice. Even though I hate the phrase "practice makes perfect," I do believe practice moves one toward the impossible goal of perfection.
Yesterday was one of those days where all I touched worked well. The painting "Pond" obtained a new level; it is very close to complete. I also made a drawing in anticipation of beginning a self-portrait. I began the self-portrait. I felt wonderful all day. After I went to bed I was wracked by chills, and continue to feel uncomfortable today. You will not see a post from me tomorrow.
In "Pond" the standing man's hands, arms, legs, and bathing suit were altered, along with minor changes to the stones and the background. These subtle changes play well against the pond and the fish. The problems which remain are details of little consequence.
I have been thinking of a self portrait for several weeks. The following drawing was made in anticipation. My goal in the drawing was to center myself around my purpose in making a self-portrait: a visual likeness is secondary to an emotional likeness. The first version of "Self-Portrait February 2011" follows. Surprising to me, it is not a bad likeness. The canvas is 32 X 32 inches, and the paint applied was ivory black, grayed by titanium white.
Much happened in the studio. I will begin with the painting "Pond," which is quickly moving toward conclusion. As I mentioned a few days ago, I have a renewed need to finish it, which I believe is due to it rewarding me with existential meaning. At this point I will not mull over what that meaning is, but I can feel it, and it makes sense. Thus I am driven to secure its significance while I know and feel it. Here is "Pond" as it looks now. The man on the right is better defined, but still needs clarification. One change required is a detail which gives more attention to the upper right of the painting. Looking at this reproduction, I believe the need for additional detail will cause me to change the standing man's right hand (on the viewer's left). Check in tomorrow to see what happened.
Two drawing were made. I will show you them in reverse order, as I do not like the first drawing from yesterday because of its internal dichotomy (I will explain this later). The drawing shown below continues my research into more expressive human forms.
Yesterday's first drawing, shown below (which proceeded the one shown above) has a separation in technique and quality of form. At one point I called such a drawing schizophrenic, but this language is technically incorrect. Yes, there are inappropriate and incongruous forms in this drawing, but the dictionary definition of schizophrenic is, "a long-term mental disorder of a type involving a breakdown in the relation between thought, emotion, and behavior, leading to faulty perception." There is a breakdown of consistency in this drawing due to my experimenting with form and expression, but there is no mental disorder here. I am experimenting and researching, not malfunctioning (although the drawing does not function well).
I did not spend a lot of time in the studio, but I did manage to make one significant drawing. Yesterday was a beautiful, after the storm, sunny day. Through recreation I renewed my energy. I feel an important day in studio is upon me. Here is the drawing from yesterday:
All seemingly arrived in unison: strong winds, the disappearance of electrical energy, and my lack of personal energy. I probably needed a rest before the strong winds hit and the power outage slowed my life's activity. As of this moment (its 12:30 PM) there is no electricity. My studio is run by electricity. My dependency on civilized amenities always surprises me when one of them disappears. Electric power lights and heats my studio. I am sitting next to the fire, typing on a laptop computer. I could be drawing. Instead I am taking this day away from art. This is not unpleasant. I am reading and thinking; a real pleasure. Besides reading the usual periodicals I am reading Steve Martin’s novel about the world of fine art auctions, “An Object of Beauty.” It is a silly little tale, as Steve Martin is making an effort to convince us he has intimate knowledge of art and art collecting. This novel reads as if written by a voyeur, i.e. not heavy, and filled with amusement. I highly recommend it.
I will not be in the studio today, so there will not be another post until Monday 02/21/2011. Until then, please enjoy my drawing from yesterday, plus all my past posts.
I continue to be amazed at how a painting gets solved. A couple months ago I bragged that the painting "Pond" had been solved. I believed "Pond" would be finished through slow and laborious completion of its details. I was wrong. It required a major change. That change has occurred. The newest version of this painting is posted today. It all happened on the right side of the painting. There is new fish and a standing man. The new guy obviously requires more input. After the paint dries I will have more control over the surface. Then his necessary details can be solved.
The lesson is important. I got to a spot where the making of "Pond" felt like labor. This was a clue that something was not right with the quality of its expression. Intuitively I slowed down, changing details, but making no large alterations. This was right, although I did not comprehend why it felt like a forced task to work on the painting. I did not know my shift to a slow, and seemingly laborious, method of attack, was more due to my emotional discomfort than to my dislike of detail work. I slowed my painting on "Pond" because it did not have the expressive capacity to drive me forward to its completion. Now it does, and this painting is pulling me in because I feel its completion is a necessity. I don't have to worry about calling up my task master. I have an emotional, and genuine, need to finish this painting.
I hesitate to show you the current version of "Pond" because of the silly little man who now appears on the right. Just when I thought "Pond" was in its final phase the woman gets scraped out, and replaced by a distorted little man. You have to go back to the post 01/26/2011 to see the last version of the painting "Pond." He will leave today and be replaced by something more meaningful.
I have a lot to say today, but I will force myself to keep it brief. I want to get back into "Pond" as soon as possible. I know the the last two posts have been nearly incomprehensible. I give this up to depression, triggered by my seeing the Metropolitan Opera production of "Nixon in China" on 02/13/2011. In the past I have enjoyed the music of John Adams (the composer), and the productions of Peter Sellers (director/production head), but this opera left me with extreme sadness, ending as it does with Nixon confused and dazed, Mao either senile or in a state of philosophic euphoria, and Chou En-Lai sane but dying of pancreatic cancer. There was nothing redeeming in "Nixon in China." I am a firm believer that art must leave the viewer with the balance of life, the good and bad. I cannot tolerate walking away from a work of art believing the world progresses through ego. This opera ends in bad taste. For two days I found myself contemplating, and being depressed, by the message of "Nixon in China." I cannot accept that our civilization is ultimately defined by people who define themselves through their fear of disintegration. Every character in "Nixon in China" is overwhelmed, and succumbs to frailty (and I did not even mention the disgusting Madame Mao). To strike a balance, please remember the good people of Egypt just threw out their ego driver President of the past thirty years (civilization progresses through one of the greatest human characteristics: Hope).
Here are yesterday's two drawings...
Recently I have complained my art is not moving as quickly as I would like. I think this is just my nerves on edge, because yesterday's work gave me very positive feedback. I revisited the painting "Pond." I can not show you the work completed on "Pond," but I can tell it was rewarding and successful (a photo of "Pond," in its current state, will be posted here tomorrow). In this activity I learned I have moved forward in my comprehension, and it is good. Yesterday's drawing also confirmed this. My discomfort is unwarranted.
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