Friday, January 31, 2014

New Website!

The extremely cold weather the last couple of weeks has made working in the studio an uncomfortable option so I have spent the time working on the long over due project of doing a massive overhaul of my website. Though it may still not be perfect (I could stand to rephotograph an number of pieces) I think it is a substantial improvement over the old one. Check it out if you are so inclined - Yay! 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

More Messiness

After finished the recent batch of paintings on plywood, I decided to apply the same, messy, loose style on constructed solid wood boards. With both of these pieces, I repeatedly cut, glued, and re-cut to create a series of off-set faults that are highlighted by thin strips of cherry and walnut. Once assembled, I cut the boards into unique geometric shapes.
Cutting Board
mixed media on wood
20" x 31"
Once prepped with a smooth, clean surface, I started adding and subtracting numerous layers of shellac, acrylic paint, epoxy, oil pastels, and graphite, making sure to create grooves, marks, and scratches as I removed layers, sometimes with course sand paper (by hand and with a Festool obital sander) as well as with a card scraper (it is the fastest way to clean up a surface but it is also a great way to leave marks if you are intentionally rough with it). I even drilled some holes to create more imperfections.
Cutting Board (close-up)
In all honesty, I wasn't thrilled about this work in the beginning, but I decided to just trust the process and assume that I would end up where I wanted to be. Thankfully, as I continued, they started to grow on me.
mixed media on wood
24.5" x 32"
I found that there is a lot to like about them. For one, there are a lot of contrasts that make them interesting -- between the formality (with tightly defined geometric shapes) and the informality (with random, amorphous abstract colors); between the rough, textured wood and the smooth, perfect (french polished) shellac surface; between the visible lines and the sections hidden underneath the paints; and between the beautiful color combinations (including multi-colored brush strokes) and the "ugly" messiness.
 Home (close-up)
One of my major goals in creating them has been to develop a lot of depth, something that would have a lot of layers for a viewer to continually look beyond; which is one of the reasons I chose to go back to using figured wood (curly maple and curly birch) after working with plywood. Once you look beyond all the layers of paint and shellac, you can see the three dimensional waves in the wood that reflect light differently than the opaque sections. I hope that, in this way, it draws the viewer in closer and closer, deeper and deeper, to a place of contemplation, discovery, and mystery.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Charles Ray's Hinoki @ Art Institute of Chicago

Next to seeing Anish Kapoor's "Bean", any visit to Chicago should include a trip to the Art Institute of Chicago because, even if it is all you see, Charles Ray's Hinoki alone is worth the price of admission. 

In brief, Hinoki is a sculpture of a fallen redwood tree reproduced in Japanese cypress (hinoki). As described in the artist statement posted in the gallery (a room that was built specifically for this one piece), the sculpture took ten years to complete, four of which were spent on the actual carving. Ray contracted the work out to Japanese reproduction specialist Yuboku Mukoyoshi (who normally works on Buddha sculptures) and his team of artisans.
Japanese cypress
It is beyond debate that the piece is a phenomenal effort of pure labor and skill. Just to conceive that something like this could be done is an accomplishment, and the quality of the reproduction, complete with insect tracts and bark remains, is remarkable; but what interests me about it, and makes me continue to think about it weeks after viewing it, is the concept of preserving a rotting tree in sculpture.  
Hinoki (end view)
(note: hollow all the way through and the inside is carved with same effort as outside)
In addition, one of the most interesting questions the pieces raises for me is why I find this sculpture appealing while, in contrast, Ellsworth Kelly's minimalist wood "trees" and Roxy Paine's stainless steel "tree", both of which I wrote about a couple of years ago, didn't.  
branch joint
I think one of the key differences with this piece is that, by expending so much effort to recreate an object that most people would normally walk by, it forces them to consider the beauty of the natural object that inspired the sculpture. I don't think either Kelly or Paine's sculptures really connected me back to their inspiration. In contrast, I felt their work was more about the maker than the object. In addition, by selecting wood as the medium for the sculpture, the reproduction retains some the warmth of the original and appears to be more of a collaboration with nature. In contrast, I don't think Kelly or Paine's trees could be called "warm", both had a very sterile and cold feel to them.
Furthermore, Hinoki demands that viewers examine the quality of the reproduction because of its medium and its size (if it were simply a cast of a wood log, it would not be nearly as interesting), and by looking at the details the viewer is forced to ask why the details were worth reproducing, which thereby leads the viewer to conclude that the details are intrinsically beautiful and have value on their own. 
Joint (closeup)
(the main body is assembled from five or six sections, each about five feet long)
So, with Hinoki, I feel good about the trees that sacrificed their lives to make it. That their lives weren't in vain because people that see the work gain insight and appreciation for their fallen brethren as well as those that are still vibrant and growing. In the simplest terms, it is a piece that is easy to appreciate for the shear will it took to accomplish, but what truly makes it a great piece is how it makes the viewer think and see the world.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Bumper Sticker Update

In May I wrote a post about my bumper sticker series. In summary, the series is intended as an antidote to the typical dogmatic bumper stickers that describe the world in black and white terms and try to convince everyone of their point of view in three words or less. One day I realized that, even if I agreed with the sentiment of these stickers, they made me feel uncomfortable, so I decided to make a series of bumper stickers that didn't have any words and didn't try to convince anybody of anything.
3" x 10"
limited edition of 5
As I started designing the stickers, I ordered them in editions of five (although the company printing them would often send more than I paid for); and I offered them to friends for free because I couldn't see charging for such a small item and because it felt like a gift to me that someone would want one on their car. To my surprise friends liked them, so, as I ran out of an edition, I would design a new one. Soon I was talking about them with people I just met and offering them stickers for free as well -- it just felt better to give them away than to ask for money.
3" x 10"
limited edition of 6
I also found that I really enjoyed the process of designing the stickers and wanted to make more but figured that I couldn't afford to give an unlimited quantity away so I devised a rule that I'd give anyone one bumper sticker for free but that if they ever wanted a second one, I'd have to charge them $10. I haven't sold many at this point but maybe sometime in the future, when cars are being replaced and people need another one, I'll start making money; I don't know, making money with these stickers isn't really the point but, at the same time, I don't want to go broke giving them away; but at the same time, I enjoy giving them away and if I could afford to give everyone in the US a free bumper sticker, I would. 
3" x 10"
limited edition of 6
Secretly, I have a fantasy that this project would start of a movement in which mysterious bumper stickers would suddenly fill our roadways and people would start asking about them. I love how the work causes people to ask questions to which there is no right answer and I love how that starts a dialog.
3" x 10"
limited edition of 10
Additionally, I really like the idea of filling our road ways with abstract art. The public roadways are an underutilized canvas for making our world more beautiful and interesting, so I feel that I'm doing something to promote the beautification of our roads as well.
3" x 10"
limited edition of 10 or 11
When I first wrote about this work, I didn't offer them for free to the general public because I feared going broke giving them away. But as I've thought more about it, I decided not to worry about that because I can still decide not to give them away if it is costing too much and because my blog isn't so popular that I expect to get hundreds of people asking for them. So I'm now offering them to the general public with the caveat that if you ever need a second one, I'll have to charge you $10; and I'm only offering them to people with US addresses. Just email me your address and I'll send you one. I'll post images of new ones on this blog, and if I need to change the rules for distributing them, I'll state them here as well. Regardless, I hope that making them available more widely will give me a reason to design more (if enough people express interest in them).
3" x 10"
limited edition of 10 or 11
As of January 14, 2014, I still have two copies
I have to say, it is fun to be somewhere and see one of my stickers, especially if I don't know whose car it is. I have been asked a number of times why I don't sign the work or leave some kind of indication where they come from and I have responded that self promotion isn't the point, the bumper stickers shouldn't have any words on them and I really like the idea that they are mysterious -- that if someone is interested in them they have to ask the car's owner about it. I also like to hear stories about these interactions. That is far more satisfying than putting my name on them (which would answer questions and cause them to be easily dismissed as merely self-promotional).
3" x 10"
limited edition of 11
As of January 14, 2014, I still have eight copies
So if you want one, and you have a US address, let me know which one you want and I'll send it to you (only the last two are currently available, I'll post more as I design more). Though I might not get rich giving them away, it makes me happy and makes my driving experience more fun, so I'll do it as long as I can afford it.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

New Paintings

A few years ago (see here) I started a series of shellac paintings on Baltic birch plywood to experiment with taking the wood element out of my work and just using the shellac as a stand-alone paint to see what kind of effects I could create. Over the summer I was digging around some old pieces and was inspired to revisit the series. Having some scrap plywood lying around, I started to play with some new ideas. With all of these pieces I started by priming the boards with gesso, painting in perpendicular directions to create a textured base for the shellac to settle into.

The first of these pieces were minimalist, single color, geometric shapes inspired by one of my "Barn Art" pieces (see here).
Blue First
shellac and gesso on board
22" x 29" x 1.5"
July/November 2013
The process of painting with shellac creates a very original effect. Along with the gesso, it looks something like a fabric has been stretched over the board; in addition, the sensitivity of shellac allows for the wood grain in the plywood to subtly be seen. 
Blue First (close up)
With these next two piece I started to add acrylic paint.
One Greenish Hexagon
shellac, acrylic, and gesso on board
40" x 27" x 1.5"
October 2013
I really like the surfaces of these. The process of repeatedly rubbing the pieces to blend, smooth, and fill gaps with the shellac reveals the beautiful texture of the gesso.
One Greenish Hexagon (close up)
The piece below was made at the same time and was originally intended to be part of the one above but because it turned out very different, I left it separate.
Autumn 2013
shellac, acrylic, and gesso on board
26" x 19"
October 2013
Autumn 2013 (close up)
I then decided to purchase a new sheet of Baltic birch so I could go bigger. Unexpectedly, the work became "messier." I started to integrate more texture with scratches and sanding marks throughout, as well as shellac spillages, pourings, and splashes. This work is much more abstract expressionist. I like the unintended effects that are created with the free-form techniques.
October 2013
shellac, acrylic, and gesso on board
43" x 48"
October 2013
Though these last three pieces are very 'messy," there is a tremendous amount of working, reworking, and refining to form a contrasting smooth, shiny, surface that takes advantage of the ability of shellac to create the appearance of depth.
October 2013 (closeup)
When I was in New York City in November I saw an incredible show of Brice Marden's minimalist graphite drawings at Matthew Marks Gallery which inspired me to get some graphite and add that as another element of the work. While what I came up with is nothing like Brice's drawings, I think the idea of adding more materials and experimenting with their effects is a good direction.
December (1) 2013
shellac, acrylic, and gesso on board
44" x 40"
December 2013
In this close up you can see the run/drip marks of the blue shellac, which I find interesting, especially the ghost-like faded quality of it, but what I particularly like are the wavy sanding marks created by my Festool sander, it is a unique pattern which I think it adds to the mystery of the piece.
December (1) (close up)
Here is the final piece. I've debated how to title them but think that a date title might be the best solution because it captures a specific point in my life and in the series of work I've created.
December (2) 2013
mixed media on board
40.5" x 45"
December 2013
My favorite part is this yellow section below, especially the sanding marks toward the bottom.
December (2) 2013 (closeup)
While I'll leave it to others to judge whether the pieces are successful, I find them interesting, with a lot of surprising and contrasting elements that can capture a viewers attention. At the very least, they make me look and think about them for quite a while.