Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Where do you fit?

[Images from left: Woman of Algiers, Marlene Dumas; Unflinching Self Portrait, Alice Neel;Mea Corpa, Bailey Doogan; Two Girls, Spanish Harlem, Alice Neel; Installation at the Met, Kara Walker]   

As a contemporary artist, it is imperative to question your place in art history.  Although we may all wish to be off on our own doing something completely original, we are all affected by similar surroundings and, therefore, we may find kindred spirits with other artists. For a young artist, it is sometimes harder to do this because you compare yourself to those who have painted and lived so much longer than you.  

For a very long time, figure painting has gone in and out of style.  Even non-comformists still conform when they do not realize it.  Some artists change with the times while others, like Alice Neel, spend a lifetime studying the figure; well, not the figure, the people.  The artists whose work I have chosen are all, with the exception of Alice Neel, living idols of mine.  Each has mastered the figure in their own way and does more than just "paints a nude."  

Marlene Dumas, a Netharlands artist originally from Cape Town, is known for her large scale portraits of ghostly figures that emerge from a slew of well place brush strokes. Dumas' portraits captivate the viewer and make you question why she painted them in such a way (like unsettling, wall-sized portraits of babies.)

When you go to Alice Neel's website, you will find images of paintings that rage across almost 60 years.  Living in New York, Neel spent most of her life painting the people around her, whether it was the yuppie gallery owner in the Village or the man at the bodega in Spanish Harlem, she painted her surroundings and captured the essence of the people in her paintings.

Another artist I look up to is Bailey Doogan.  Something that I love about her work is that she says she does not paint the nude or the figure because those are art terms.  In her artist statement she says that she paints "the mutable body where flesh moves, changes and has infinite variety."  Doogan paints the flesh in its truest form.  She embraces imperfections and takes special care to show them with her rich and realistic paintings.

Finally, Kara Walker is someone who I have admired for a long time.  She is one of those "love me or hate me" artists.  It seems like it would be difficult not to be when you tackle hot issues like the history of racism and sexism and how it is still prevalent today.  Referencing the black silhouette paper cutouts from colonial times, Walker uses this traditional portrait technique to create entrancing installations.  When the viewer walks into the gallery, they are amazed at the beautiful black on white and all of the care that went into cutting these figures.  Then they notice what they are looking at, disturbing images of rape and killing.  Walker has gotten a lot of criticism for her work, but I would be more worried if she didn't.

These are a few of the artists that I look to.  They are my art heros.  Everyone has them, so I urge you to find where you fit in art history.  

Monday, March 23, 2009

You Can't Please Everyone

Last Tuesday I had the wonderful experience of my first show reception.  There was a great turn out and all of the work that went into it was worth it!  One of the best things was meeting new people and getting an unbiased opinion from people I did not know.  I am very aware that my work, while thought-provoking, is not something people may wish to hang in their foyer.  One of the best things that happened was that I was asked to take one of my paintings down.  To me, that means I have accomplished one of my goals.  I was able to put the painting up for the night, but then had to take it down.  Even though people were not comfortable with the image of a man in a ski mask, it sparked conversations and made them think!  Once I was able to explain my concept, the distaste they felt previously seemed to be replaced with questioning and insight.  

In contrast to the paintings that made people uncomfortable, I also showed a painting of my best friend.  This proved to be the favorite, hands down.  I do love that painting, but the response got me thinking.  My goal for my art is to make people think and confront their judgments and those they judge.  At times I know that the discomfort they make feel by looking at those characters may discourage them from paying attention, I thought that a room full of them would force them to confront those feelings.  In actuality, however, the people who came seemed to cling to the most pleasant painting there.  I got questions about the others, but there was a lingering audience in front of the only female nude in the bunch.  Even though I had a price list, I knew ahead of time that there was only one sellable painting being shown.

The question then is, who do you please?  Should an artist compromise his or her original intentions to sell art?  I know that I am far from being the first to debate this unoriginal question, but as a senior in college, I realize the dilemma.  There is a balance between doing the art that you love and letting it pile up in storage and doing what you are good at, and others love.  How do artists get to that point where they can do what they want and have others appreciate it.  Frida Kahlo is not famous for beautiful self-portraits, but people like Madonna have paid millions of dollars for her paintings.  So what do you do if you are not famous and museums do not want your paintings and people do not yet know your name.  It is a catch 22.  If you do not sell paintings, you cannot afford to paint as much because you must have a job.  However, you will not be known as the artist you want to be if you sell out.  

Although I do not  have a solution to this problem, I can only hope that in my own art I will have the will power to be the artist I want to be.

Monday, March 16, 2009

You Don't Know their Story

I was asked to hang some paintings at a local wine bar.  The idea of showing my work somewhere other than school or my parents house was was exciting and nerve-racking at the same time.  Although it is just 5 paintings, it is a bigger deal to me than I thought.  I first planned on bringing in some paintings from my Abstract Painting class.  Mostly non-representational, larger, more marketable and pleasant paintings.  To my surprise, however, they wanted me to hang my more current pieces.  As it turns out, I am not the only person who likes controversy (who would have thunk it?). The Wine Vault has a main room with all of the wine, a larger room to relax, and a smaller room where my paintings are.  But the reason they're in the smaller room is because that is where they do all of their wine tastings.  People can drink wine and talk about my "thought provoking work."

The real problem here was hanging the paintings.  Since they usually only show smaller works on canvas or photographs, they hang the pieces by a hook attached to ribbon.  This, of course, did not hold my 6-foot-tall paintings.  The ribbon was holding, but not the hooks so I got some plastic hooks that I nailed in and hung that from the ribbon.  The next day I got a call saying my largest painting had fallen.  I reinforced it with two more hooks and it seemed fine.  Then, the next day I found out that all of my paintings had fallen.  Finally, I went to my dad.  Picture Hanging Wire!  Why didn't I think of that?  Now I just had to take them all down and put them back up again.  I never realized what went into hanging art work.  I always  assumed that my paintings would be easy since the stretchers are thick enough to just hang on two nails and that would be that.  You never know though, and you should always be prepared for where you will show your work.  Know your location and your materials (i.e. size and weight of your work).

Kudos to the real professional artists who know what they are doing.  I guess we all need a good learning experience.  It would be no fun for anyone if you always got it right on your first try.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

My paintings aren't finished, they are hung

We are all, no doubt, aware of Vincent van Gogh's infamous signature. However, in viewing a recent show of his work, my father brought to my attention that some paintings were not completed with his signature, "Vincent." This observation then led to a question I have asked many times: when is a piece of art finished? In regard to my own work, I say that my paintings are not finished, they are hung. My father does not consider a photo or drawing finished until he has signed it. So, could we then assume the same for van Gogh? Imagine how art history could be reinterpreted if we stop assuming that all of these works were finished. Just because we would feel more comfortable knowing that the paintings we have studied are finished does not mean that the artist felt that way.

I find myself always revisiting work. As an artist, you must grow to some degree or cease to call yourself an artist. This is because the word "artist" is synonymous with "student." As I "finish" one painting, I have already started on another. Especially in working with the figure, each painting is likely more successful than the last and I constantly wish to change the one before. However, the reason I say my work is hung, and not finished, is because I have to just move on. It is completely possible to paint one painting for an entire year and not even begin another. So many times artists paint numerous paintings on one canvas in hopes to "complete" the original. What I now realize is that although my paintings may not be finished because they are not perfect, it is imperative to move onto the next in order to progress.

All this makes me wonder is if the great painters of the past may have struggled with the same things. Maybe then, I have an explanation as to why Vincent did not sign all of his paintings. And maybe we can humanize those great painters that have become immortal in history.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Teacher! Teacher! He's Cheating!

If you copy an answer off of a test or from a paper you found online, you will get in trouble.  You cheated and you undoubtedly know that.  Yet somehow, art makes a simple, cut-and-dry situation complicated...again.  What is "copying" in art?  What is the artistic equivalence to citing your sources?  And when can you say that you have made something your own?

I am sure that everyone has heard about Shepard Fairey and the legal issues that have resulted from his "HOPE" painting of President Obama.  If not, the Associated Press is suing Fairey for using a photograph taken by Mannie Garcia, an AP freelance photographer.  Now, the problem we must address is, at what point are we copying art?  One could argue that clothing is art.  And by these standards, a fashion photographer is plagiarising the clothing designer by "copying" the design.

I do appreciate the argument that the painting is a direct representation of the photograph, but it is not a photograph of a photo.  The painting in and of itself is original because it was created by the artists hand.  Not to mention, the graphic technique and other changes make the new work a unique piece of art on its own.  At the very least, Fairey is not the first.  Apparently many have forgotten about Andy Warhol.  We do not assert plagiarism on Warhol's work.  Apparently, we believe that Andy Warhol changed enough of the image to "make it his own," but Shepard Fairey did not.

Fairey used an objective, practical photo and created his own image.  This image became the icon for the Obama campaign.  I do believe the artist should give credit where credit is due, but... HE DID!  The AP did not even know that he used one of their images until 7 months later when he said so!  At most, the AP lost the licensing fees they would have charged for the actual photo, which Fairey offered to pay.  As an artist who sometimes works from photos for reference, I sympathize with Fairey.  I think that his intent was for his HOPE painting to help Obama's campaign.  He just so happened to be one of those really lucky artists who got his big break.    

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Craft...a four letter word

If there is one thing I know, it is bad to be crafty in the art department. Well, let me start by saying..."I'M CRAFTY!" After countless classes learning about technique while simultaneously developing coherent concepts, it's nice to sit down and crochet a scarf or or play with doilies and construction paper to make cute little Valentine's Day cards.

Now, craft can be just for fun, but why is it so often looked down upon in the fine arts? Fibers has been a huge influence in my concepts, my paintings, and how I see and use my materials. Everyone thinks of fibers and thinks of basket weaving. They also believe that that could not be fine art. But what makes something fine art? Why is it that in our contemporary art scene fine art can be made of traditionally unrelated materials, but not from "crafty" materials. The image above on the left is "Eight Women in White" by Ghada Amer and it is acrylic, embroidery, and gel medium on canvas. The piece on the right is one of mine. I used craft materials such as embroidery hoops and needlepoint canvas to create a corset with horribly unrealistic measurements (34"-10"-34"). From farther away it is beautiful, but the paintings on the silk are actually overlapping pornographic images, similar to Amer's embroidery.

I guess my question is "why are craft based media looked down upon in regards to fine art?" If an artist can use old car parts and spray paint to create a piece of fine art, why not pipe cleaners? I think that it is all in how the materials are used and the concept behind them.

Monday, January 26, 2009


balance...Something they don't really teach you about. Aside from your 2-D Design class where you learn about balance in your drawing or painting, they don't teach you about balance in your life. How do you balance your readings and analysis in Art History, creativity in Painting, and a presentation in Marketing? Well, maybe most art students don't have to deal with that last one, but I'm sure they have something similar, whether it is Global Connections or Earth Science. How do you balance all of that...and then your job...and you boyfriend...and your friends...and every other responsibility you may have?

The hardest thing is switching gears. When you have 3 tests to study for, you can plan your time and set study times for each subject. But how do you plan creativity? How do you say, "hey, I'm going to paint at 6 pm and it is going to be wonderful." Maybe it's just me, but sometimes you just don't have it in you. And sometimes, you have that mind-blowing idea that you just have to get out. My solution? Art comes first. Keep a sketchbook and a camera with you at all times. You never know when you will be inspired. You can always make time to study, just make sure you fit it in and don't put it off until the last minute. Sometimes you have to put your art on hold, but if you keep that sketchbook with drawings and notes, you will be able to conjure up that inspiration when you are in your studio.

For those who are not in school, the same applies to you. Unfortunately, we can't all make a living as an artist. Life gets in the way. Stay on track and draw, write, or record any ideas you have whenever they come to you. Trust me, you don't want to forget your best idea for a painting because you were at work and too busy to write it down. Remember, it's hard being an artist...but it's harder not to be one :-)