Tuesday, July 31, 2012


"Leavings" Acrylic Inks and Conté Crayon on Saunders watercolor paper 22" x 30"
This piece contrasts vine-like plants with man-made shapes, perhaps the forgotten corner of a suburban yard. I tried to convey a sense of immediacy, even a suggestion of movement or growth in the plants. In addition, I was aiming to leave enough ambiguity in the piece to keep the viewer's interest.

I looked at my drawings and photos of ivy while painting loosely with a flat brush. I used conté initially to indicate main shapes, and then later to soften edges and add hinted details. The inks reproduce well digitally; I'm not sure if the dark areas are as transparent as I would like when I look at the painting itself.

My next effort with conté and acrylic inks will likely flow more smoothly and will retain more spontaneity.This piece, or one like it, could become a much larger work later in the semester.

A Wealth of Exploration

A Wealth of Exploration: Residency Summary
          My second residency at the Art Institute of Boston has been rich in ideas and information, providing me with a wealth of exploration and research to pursue in the coming months. I have come away with a wide variety of articles and texts to research as well as twenty-two contemporary and historical artists to look at. At first, the multitude of choices to be made seemed overwhelming. However, as I look over my notes, listen to recordings of my critiques, and pursue my studio work, my artistic direction becomes more focused.
     My work combines painting, drawing and aspects of sculpture in an exploration of the relationship between “nature” and “culture,” (Soper p. 15) represented visually by figuration with elements of abstraction. Current painting and panel projects reference the interaction of invasive species with the built environment within the yard around my home. The simplest means possible leads to successful artwork. It is important for me to stand back frequently, to assess each effort, and to know when to stop working on a piece.      
     Sunanda K. Sanyal has commented that the strength of my work “lies in the abstraction it creates on the surface.”  We have discussed the need to simplify and focus shapes and textures, and to avoid all-over patterns and lines. Other critiques emphasized that the “objectness” of each panel project needs to be pushed further, with less painting and more three-dimensional construction. The suggestion of cast light and three-dimensional space in my work will create more dynamic and nuanced images, in comparison to the flatness of my work from the first semester. This can be accomplished with more varied use of wood panels, cast shadows, and more subtle painting with blending of forms and textures.
     My work will become more dynamic with the strategic use of opposing elements and accents. Hard edges may work with soft, organic forms, as I have remarked in works by Charline von Heyl. After studying her paintings and drawings at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, I have discovered that each painting is based on a strong black, white and grey structure with two or three colors, one of which usually functions as a surprising accent. Each canvas contrasts organic, amorphous forms with hard edge shapes and lines, which seem to slice into the softness. The suggestion was made to me during one of my critiques that I make each project different from all others, much the way that Charline von Heyl creates a completely new image in each of her paintings. In current sketches and projects, I am exploring some of these strategies.
     The physicality of process continues to be a major artistic concern in my work. Destroying to create, using more additive and subtractive processes and pushing the limits of the image came up in different critiques. There was a sense that I have been too careful in the execution of the work and that I have overworked the pieces I produced during the first semester. Frottage may create new works from the carved panels.  Found pieces of wood used with highly processed plywood, encaustic instead of paint, using subtractive methods with steel wool and sand paper are some of the ideas that stand out for me.  Although photography and Photoshop Elements are tools which I will make use of occasionally, I plan to record my initial ideas directly in sketchbooks.
     During the residency, content seemed to generate less discussion than process, but several important points were made. Invasive plants in the built environment of my back yard will narrow and focus my interest in the relationship between nature and culture. Studying plant processes in a course on botany or auditing lectures on the history of science were suggested as ways of deepening my understanding of humanity’s mediation of the natural environment. Contrasting the synthetic with the raw, using rupture to interrupt a benign image, working with fragments of something larger and creating a sense of landscape within a microcosm were several other ideas which I may explore this semester.
     The scale and display of a work have a major influence on the way viewers will read it. Assembling smaller pieces on site to create a larger work is a strategy that I can build into my projects. I have been advised to continue experimenting, and to work in moderate sizes this semester, but I will test this approach with a view towards future projects. I plan to utilize the wall as an integral part of each project, in order to avoid static display arrangements. Titles of works need to be evocative, not descriptive. Choosing them well will require reflection.
     The theoretical discourse in my work involves humanity’s attempts to frame and control nature. It was suggested to me to research Frederick Law Olmstead’s designs for public parks and their influence on North American attitudes towards natural and built environments. Michael Pollan’s texts, such as his essay on the empty lot gone wild, “Weeds are Us” and “Against Nativism” will be worth considering. Examining the idealization of the pastoral landscape and nature as a historical set of assumptions will provide a background for developing my thesis, in addition to Robert Smithson’s writings and W. J. T. Mitchell’s Landscape and Power. Other suggested readings include Donna Harraway’s essay “ Cyborg Manifesto” and research into the anthropological divide between nature and culture.
     Another line of inquiry to pursue will be an investigation into notions of entropy in the natural world; concepts of latent and expressed energy and order leading to disorder as various systems strive to reach equilibrium in ever-changing environments. These large ideas can be applied to the microcosm of the natural and the built as observed in my back yard. There is also a philosophical aspect to entropy, which I will research and discuss in one of my essays this semester.
     The panel discussion led by Stuart Steck and Laurel Sparks during the residency has led me to reflect on these questions: What is the essence of my work and its discourse in contemporary art? How do my images accrue meaning and significance? How do I position myself in the contemporary art world? How do I represent myself in a public persona? Another approach this semester will be to look at my artistic practice in these terms.
     Critique discussions during my second residency presented me with a wide range of feedback on processes, content and theoretical discourses possible in my present practice. As I work with my mentor and reflect back on the residency, it is exciting to take my work to a more thoughtful and refined level. I look forward to engaging in a focused exploration of humanity’s interaction with nature within the parameters of my immediate environment.

Mitchell, W. J. T., ed. Landscape and Power. Chicago, USA: University of Chicago 
     Press. 2002.
Pollan, Michael. “Weeds are Us.” The New York Times Magazine. November 5, 1989.
---“Against Nativism.”The New York Times Magazine. May 15, 1994.
Smithson, Robert. The Collected Writings. U.S.A.: University of California Press. 1996.
Soper, Kate. What is Nature? Culture, Politics and the non-Human. Oxford, UK:
     Blackwell Publishers Ltd. 1995. 

Michelle Stewart                                                                        
Jennifer Bartlett* (strategies)                                               
Jason Middlebrook                                                                        
Bruce Pearson*                                                                       
Paul Shakespeare                                                                        
Arthur Dove*                                                                                    
Clyfford Still*                                                                                   
Mark Rothko*                                                                                    
Joan Mitchell (tondos)                                                            
Mark Handelman                                                                        
Etō Jakutchū  (Japanese Edo artist of the Edo Period)
JohnK  (tutorials on color palettes and theory)
Xylor Jane (lecture on abstraction)
Brice Marden (sketchbooks)
Emily Carr*
Kristin Baker*
Charline von Heyl*
Wendy White
Luc Tuymans
Leigh Wen
Mikael Vrubel
*Indicates that I am familiar with the artist’s work, but I will revisit it during the coming months.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


Sketch 7 Revised Acrylic Inks on paper 22" x 15"

My mentor, Suzanne Gauthier, encouraged me to work further on the sketches I have made since the June Residency. The objective is to combine boldness and contrast with the subtlety of plant-referenced forms and textures. Multiple depths and evidence of light will add more subtlety.

After studying the works by Charline von Heyl at the Institute foe Contemporary Art in Boston, I discovered that each painting is based on a strong black,white and grey structure with two or three colors, one of which usually functions as a surprising accent. Each canvas contrasts organic amorphous forms with hard edge shapes and lines which seem to slice into the softness. In these sketches, I am exploring some of these ideas.

In the sketch above I used some of the pre-existing lines to develop shard-like shapes. There is more depth in the image and interest in the suggestion of the plant surging upwards through pieces of broken glass. This sketch suggests the possibility of a larger painting which plays with planes, spaces and ambiguity.

Sketch 9 Revised Acrylic on paper 22" x 15"
This sketch was architectural, losing some of the original leaf shapes I had begun with. I decided to contrast the geometric shapes with vine-like roots or tubers. The leaf shape at the left needed more definition as well. I emphasized light streaming through open spaces. What seemed flat and unfinished is now more dynamic. Next time I work with acrylics on paper, I will use mat medium. The gloss medium created an unpleasant sheen which is more appropriate on canvas. I can see the potential in this sketch to become a larger painting.

Sketch 10 Revised Acrylics and Acrylic Inks on Arches paper 16" x 24"
This sketch was a beginning. Each brushstroke was similar to all others as I used one flat brush. After the inks had dried completely, I masked over the basic composition in a new arrangement, then dry-brushed over the sketch with varying tones of acrylic from black to grey to white in circular gestures.
The result hints at light and air. I can do more with this approach, using more layers and a more defined strategy.

Sketch 5 Revised Acrylic and India Ink on paper 15" x 22"
This sketch was going nowhere until I cut it apart and used pieces of it on a new paper support. White spaces were transformed into a dark place with a spotlight shining in the viewer's eyes. This composition suggests a plywood construction to me, perhaps because of the strong linear shapes and the rupture of the image. I can do more with the spotlight effect, blending from yellow to grey rto black in more gradations. As it stands, it is a sketch which could evolve into a different work.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

More Sketches and Experiments


The sketches above were based on fragments of the sketch at the left.
I used a mask made of black oak tag to isolate the areas I would use. The sketches above are looser and more tactile, which is the direction I would like to pursue. Scraping through the paint added an extra element to the image on the right. I tried using magentas and reds instead of the usual greens for leaf shapes. The sketches above were painted with acrylics on 22" x 15" Bockingford paper.

India Ink and Acrylic Ink
22" x 15" Bockingford paper
This is one of the first sketches I painted after the residency. I used conté crayon to sketch the shapes, followed by brush work and dripped ink. The acrylic inks retain their brilliance when dry, unlike watercolor. I am beginning to learn how to use them. The loose, running pigment seems to suggest shapes without detailing them.

Collage from an ink sketch.
15" x 22" Bockingford paper
The original sketch was over wrought, so I cut some of it apart to let the image breathe. Interrupting the dripped patterns made them more compelling. I was experimenting with tape as a mask over some layers and I destroyed the total picture. However, the placement of the fragments and strips sets up new relationships between the elements.

After a number of loose, small sketches, I will be ready to paint larger works very soon. I hope to keep the spontaneity in the image and avoid overworking it. 

Layers and Explorations

Tape Over Ink Washes; Hard Edge vs Organic and Accidental
22" x 15" Bockingford Paper

Ink over Acrylic on paper; Hard Edge vs Organic
22" x 15" Bockingford Paper

Acrylic Ink and India Ink Scraped
22" x 15" Bockingford Paper

Architecture and Plants
Acrylic 22" x 15" Bockingford Paper

Notes on Charline von Heyl's Show at the ICA, Boston

Fragments of old watercolors renewed

One Fragment makes a complete statement
Since the last residency, I have resolved to work towards more simplification and ambiguity. The first few sketches above are busy and overworked. I have since taken fragments of them and worked with fewer and larger forms. Stay tuned for photos of these newer works.

I went back to the ICA before leaving Boston and spent the afternoon studying Charline von Heyl's work.  I will write more on the blog about that soon. Her series of ink drawings encouraged me to experiment on paper as a prelude to working on large canvases.

Small squares cut from previously rejected watercolors have given me some fresh approaches to shape and form. I have worked from very small fragments of images before, and this strategy seems to help me arrive at the essence of a work.

This week I meet with my new mentor for Semester 2 and I will have more feedback to advance with.

More will be coming on the blog soon.