Saturday, February 16, 2013

Storm Nemo in Boston and Mentor Meeting

A sculpture by Sarah Braman in front of
Lindsey at the "Paint Things" show, de Cordova Gallery
Last weekend was memorable for several reasons. I arrived in Boston on Friday, just as a big storm was beginning. Lindsey picked me up at the airport and we were able to visit the Phillips Academy Addison Gallery on our way to her house before the storm set in. We saw "Frame by Frame: Photographic Series and Portfolios from the Collection," featuring Aaron Siskind's Harlem Document, Robert Frank's The Americans, Bruce Davidson's Brooklyn Gang and William Christenberry's  Alabama Pictures. 

I recognized Brooklyn before reading any wall texts, even though I haven't been there for years. Robert Frank's work struck a chord as well as Bill Owens'  Suburbia. The sixties and seventies came alive in the humorous quotations accompanying the photos. I enjoyed the teased hairdos, leisure suits and mini-skirts as well as the general suburban kitch. William Eggleston's  14 Pictures were also on display.

We perused the "Eye on the Collection" of well-known American paintings in the collection and "Stone, Wood, Metal, Mesh: Prints and Printmaking." Apparently the Addison has a very large print collection, of which 150 were on display. There was a large portrait by Thomas Eakins of a mathematician which was very interesting because of its frame! The portrait was beautifully executed in a traditional, academic style, but the frame looked very modernist. The frame was a wide, flat golden band around the portrait with mathematical symbols inscribed boldly in scriffito and black paint. I responded to a painting by Winslow Homer which defies reproduction. A huge stormy, grey wave breaks by the shore where a small figure watches on the beach. It sounds like a typical Homer composition, but the drama and simplification of the forms was fantastic. I was excited to see a hand-made book by Helen Frankenthaler. It's too bad we could only see one page in the display case!

Once we arrived at Lindsey and Matt's home, we settled in for the duration of the blizzard "Nemo." It was quite a storm, dumping 20 - 25" of snow on us with high winds and drifting snow, but it was not as dramatic for me as for Bostonians. We have similar snowstorms where I live in Canada, sometimes one after the other.

On Sunday, after we were able to drive again, Lindsey and I went to the de Cordova Museum to see the "Painted Things" show. We both enjoyed this museum very much. 'Painted Things" shows works which combine paint and sculpture in new ways. Several people had recommended that I look at Katie Bell's work, so I was glad to have an opportunity to see eight pieces, ranging in size from wall-sized to 9" x 12." I like the way Steve Locke's pieces glow from underneath with florescent paint - not so easy to do as I have discovered! We attended an artist talk with Andrew Witkin and Amanda Katz of the Boston Globe. Andrew discussed his installation for "Platform 11." His work prompts the viewer to question why the objects are arranged the way they are. Several collections of objects worked together in the whole installation. Amanda talked about the "Ideas" section of the Boston Globe and the two of them compared notes about where ideas come from and how we act on them. I recognized Amanda's name from reading several of her articles on the web, which I cam across while researching my essays for AIB.

Monday things were almost back to normal in Boston and I was able to meet with Jill Slosburg-Ackerman, my mentor for my third semester. Jill and I had a wide-ranging discussion which was very helpful. I have been experimenting and exploring widely with my theme of nature in the back yard, so it has been difficult for me to see where to focus to create a cohesive body of work this semester. I originally wanted to work with Jill because of my interest in wood, but it has become so expensive for me to work with and ship, that I have decided to concentrate on other media for the time being. We both share an inspiration in nature for our work, as well as a love of drawing.

I was so glad that I had brought my sketchbook to show Jill, as I have several ideas recorded in it which could become major projects. I had thought of presenting two-dimensional work in a scroll format before and Jill encouraged me to pursue this idea. She also was very positive about my close-up thumbnail sketches of vegetation, tree bark and junk from a junkyard arranged in archive-like grids. I will be working in small formats, so that I can pack my work into a carry-on bag. It can be presented as scrolls, or on wood panels later on. Some sketches could become large works as well. I have a couple of ideas I developed combining disparate photos which could be interesting. So far, the drawing has more depth and subtlety than the acrylic paintings. It is great to work with a medium which seems to be an extension of my hand. I always seem to be fighting the acrylic, to make it do something which doesn't come easily to it.

Next time I visit Boston, I am looking forward to seeing Jill's exhibition "In Rome, The Pine Grove" at the Worcester Art Museum. The storm delayed her scheduled artist talk for at least a few weeks. I 'm not sure I will be able to attend her re-scheduled talk on March 3.

Painting and Drawing

The Eleventh Hour Acrylic and ink on canvas 32" x 46"
I began The Eleventh Hour with the notion of layers of liquid paint combined with another element. I used my watercolor/ ink sketch Hour One as a reference, trying to keep the freshness of watercolor, but using acrylics. The staining yielded some interesting textures and patterns. I stood by with a spray bottle and cotton swabs and I was able to guide some of the runny paint as it worked its way across the canvas. Later, after it dried, I decided to use pen and ink to suggest dried weed stalks and twigs poking through snow and detritus. This painting is difficult to photograph, but I will hire a photographer to record my images once they are hung in the CBC Georges Goguen Gallery on March 3.

The Eleventh Hour, detail
Jill Slosburg-Ackerman, my mentor, suggested that I pursue small drawings as we looked through my sketchbook during our first meeting. I have been working on a format inspired by the archive, using different close-up drawings in each rectangle of the same size. The drawings can be intermingled and arranged different ways. They may be attached to fabric to create a scroll or they can be glued onto small wood panels and presented on the wall in a grid. We'll see what happens with them.

Drawing 2, Charcoal on Stonehenge paper 8" x 10"

In this drawing, I used a compressed charcoal stick to draw with and then smudged some areas with a gum eraser. I like the contrast between softness and rough lines which I don't achieve as easily with pencils. I have a few black wax rubbing sticks I am going to draw with as well. The advantage to them, besides the waxy texture, is that the drawings don't need odiferous fixative sprayed on them afterwards!

There are predictions of another storm for tomorrow, so I will stay in the house and draw!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Hours Seven, Eight and Three

Hour Seven, acrylic on canvas 16" x 24" 
This sketch was very frustrating the day before yesterday. While the paint was still liquid, I wiped it around with a rag, creating the mottled grey background. I like the way it is not all one blank shade of grey. Then I used the paint left on my palette in wild strokes with the palette knife. Today I added a few brown leaves on scratched-out stalks. The rhythmic strokes with the palette knife add excitement to this sketch. I like the thick paint and the scraped effect. This sketch reminds me of the paintings by Romeo Savois, one of our Acadian artists where I live in Canada.

Hour Eight, acrylic on canvas 16" x 24"
I began Hour Eight yesterday, laying in the background colors and moulding paste to create texture. I used 'Pouring Medium' for the runs, which helped the paint consistency a great deal. Today I added more color with a palette knife. I tried a small brush, but it was too fussy. Referring to photos I had taken of dried flower stalks in the snow, I suggested the skeletal stems by dragging the palette knife lightly over the dried paste. This sketch seems still and contemplative.

The Eleventh Hour, Stage 1, acrylic on canvas 36" x 48"
On this canvas, I decided to see if I could maintain the lightness and freshness of watercolor. I looked at the Hour One sketch while I worked. The canvas as a substrate behaves differently than watercolor paper, but it has possibilities. There are some interesting patterns and textures emerging from the paint applied at different stages of drying. At one point, black was too dominant, as it ran over most of the other paint. With a spray bottle and paper towel I was able to remove most of it. All of the colors moderate when the paint dries, which is probably a good thing!

The next stage will add a contrasting element to the softness of the wet paint. Perhaps I will use some dried weeds printed onto a few areas with a bit of scratchy pen and ink. I could add accents of thick paint scraped with the palette knife, I'll see what seems to work best.

As I worked I thought of Helen Frankenthaler. I watched a short video of her pouring from large paint cans onto her canvas and talking about her work. Joan Mitchell also stained and splattered some of her canvases before applying thick paint in rapid brushstrokes. I was able to observe this first hand on  Chamonix at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

Hour Three, revised, acrylic, graphite and collage on paper
Hour Three seemed under developed as it was. I ripped a few holes in the leaves to vary them and I followed some of the pink stained edges with a pen and brown ink. There is more variety and interest now.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Update on Oil Paints

Hour Six,  Sketch, Oil sticks and Titanium White 16" x 24" on canvas
In my last post, I was jubilant over my new oil sticks! This morning I worked with them again and discovered that I am still allergic to oil paints. This is very disappointing! I will have to find a way to make the acrylics work for me. Perhaps using gloss medium mixed with the matt medium will give me more range. Gloss is more transparent, although I don't like the plastic-like shine when it is used by itself. I have used gel medium with varying success as well.

I'm finding the small format and the one hour time frame challenging! Large formats are beginning to appeal to me again!

In my sketchbook, I have been drawing several ideas and I have been using Photoshop to simplify and combine certain images. I am still in the developmental stages and looking forward to meeting with my mentor in ten days time.