Monday, June 16, 2014

Fleeing Foxes

Here is a recently finished piece called "Fleeing Foxes"
Stained glass (flash glass, sandblasted, engraved, hand-filed, vitreous paint, copper foil).  The size is 35"x 32". 

"Fleeing Foxes"

Wow--the flaming aqueduct really looks like crap in this image.  I am not sure why as its fine on my computer screen in preview, photoshop et al.  Well, so be it. Please know that there is much detail and subtle nuance in that section of the piece!



The bottom section was engraved into blue lambert's flash glass

These are two of the photoshop sketches I used....trying to decide if it should have a human figure or not.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Five Small studies

I did them for a few reasons: for the sheer fun of it (and they were fun), and some are tests for work I want to make bigger.  Also, I neglected to order the glass I needed to finish the large window I am making and the final sculptures were not done being cast, so I had an open couple of weeks.  That will not do!!!

So, when I say “for the sheer fun of it”, I mean that part of what I wanted to do was explore motifs and techniques in a “safe” way—i.e. low stakes because they are small and not all that time consuming or expensive.

Here’s the dirty low on each one:

“Threshold” 16.5” x 7”
I keep returning to this figure that is banging on a door.  Like a cat, I imagine she wants to be let in if she’s locked out or she wants out if she is locked in.  I made this particular figure in b+w last year, but decided to finish her as part of this series.  The other one is not done yet as she will have a color test which is taking a bit longer.
Here is a piece from 1999 with the same motif.  It is in the V+A in London. 

Birdbath”, 35” x 18”
Why am I so obsessed with this theme?  I dunno.  Paging Dr. Jung!
NOT DONE YET!  9" x 5"

“Murder of Crows”  10" 10"
Three stages of painting
 I doodled the head and figure separately, as I often do.  I wanted to make at least one roundel as I consider myself to be rather massively influenced by this tradition.  Here are some awesome examples from Ye Olde Country (England).

“Ennui”  12" x 14"
Three stages of "Ennui" in progress
(Alternative title, “Ageing Cheesecake”):  Yeah, I’m 53 so whadaboudit????

“Luster”  12" x 13"

three stages of painting Luster in progress
A kinky suntan or maybe not. Maybe its you who are the pervert? The chain is not attached to anything.  I like you to interpret these things, not me.

 “Three Tiered Cosmos”  12" x 15"
 three stages of painting “Three Tiered Cosmos”
This I can say the most about.  In the post below I am going on about “The Mind in the Cave” and that’s where I got the idea of what to do with this sketch.  I was originally imagining her on a “desert island”—one of those tiny comic strip trope islands, big enough for only one person.  Reading about the universality of the three tiered cosmos got me thinking as I wanted to depict her island surrounded by fish which I was sort of loosely associating with the subconscious (or, in macrocosmic terms, the underworld).  By using the concentric ovals, I put the sky surrounding the whole thing.  I just needed to make her desert island into some sort of yin/yang because design-wise, I was making the underworld dark and the heaven light and the middle had to be both but the dark had to be touching light and the light had to be touching dark for it to work metaphorically and visually.  Does this make any sense?  See examples!!!

Like this!
Or this!!!  (Robert Fludd)
Or this!!  (Outside shutters of Bosch's "The Garden of Earthly Delights"

"Waiting Room" NOT DONE YET

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Mind in the Cave

Currently I am reading The Mind in the Cave: Consciousness and the Origins of Art by David Lewis-Williams.
What a fascinating book!!  As much as it is about the origins of art, it is also about the origins of human consciousness.  Some of the themes of the book I find most interesting are his connecting normal, universal neurological activity to our conceptions of reality. For example, many, many cultures conceive of a three-tiered cosmos; a “normal” level at which “normal” life and perception take place, a lower level and an upper level (in our culture that might be hell and heaven).  The author believes this conception arises from neurological activity that affects our awareness in altered states, like dreaming and hallucinating.  They tend to take on either the qualities of pressure and sinking feelings or soaring and flying sensations.  Hence, they are later explained as an underworld and an overworld.
Mayan universe
Ancient Hebrew universe

Another theory he develops is that mark making also follows universal tendencies, those being grids, stars, zigzags etc.  These “images” are what we see when we close our eyes and are called “phosphenes.”  (More on phosphenes here). 
As he states on P. 127, “People in this condition are seeing the structure of their own brains”. So, then when we make these marks, when we idly scratch away at notepads, we are drawing our own brain.  Whoa! Pretty amazing.
“Phosphenes”  28” x 24”, 2008  (yes, this is exactly what the inside of my brain looks like.  That's the whole point, is it not?)
But I am most interested in his theories on the origins of image making (and, by extension, art).  What’s interesting?  Well, one thing he says is that it could not have arisen from body art. Wow, jewelers, fashion designers, tattooists, scarification aficionados et al: you have just been demoted!  Could this be the origin of Craft vs Art?  There's a thought.

Lewis-Williams believes that 2-D representations, which he calls “parietal”  (stuff on walls) art are a wholly different paradigm. He says that order to “invent pictures”  (my quotes, not his) one needs a socially agreed upon context, something that relies on language.  He also notes that it’s a real chicken and egg dilemma: what arose first?  Our ability to perceive images as meaningful or our ability to make them?  He dispatches with some popular theories too: that drawing arose from cavemen with charcoal embers scratching in the ground out of boredom and happening to notice they look like something.  Or that the shapes of rocks looked like animals so they just kind of helped them along with pigment.  No, these images rely on there being an existing “database” for 2-D images having meaning.

OK, I am no anthropologist and I may wish I was a neurologist, but, sadly, I am not one!  How frustrating as I wish I had enough knowledge to really discuss this. I still find value in the theories he is disparaging.  What about all those facial recognition modules in the brain?  What about how we see shapes in clouds?  That is surely nature and not nurture  (although I gather his point is that without the social context of language, those images we see would remain “autistic” and locked away in our individual experience and even un-remembered as we would not have the language to codify them and to a great extent would be just more useless detritus of being alive.) 
What about this kind of image from ancient humans?  Is this "representational" or "mark making" or both?
Aurochs.  The most important animal you never really thought about in the past 30,000 years.
He points out that there is no evidence of stages of inventing drawing/image making.  No evidence of an “artist” trying out different subjects or styles.  And this really gets me!  Why, oh why, is there so very little images of humans and of human faces?  What is with all the bison and aurochs?? I get it, bison and aurochs were very important to them, but surely so were their own faces and bodies. I am really astounded by the fact that we did not choose to draw ourselves!!!

One thing the author doesn’t discuss (but I am not finished yet, actually, so maybe he does in the last 80 pages) is how images making/drawing develops in children.  Children make scribbles for a while, which seem to gradually coalesce into something more meaningful.  Then they go on a trajectory of attempting “realism” and I think (but can’t say for sure since I am also not a child development expert) that they compulsively draw human forms.  Is that nurture?  Could be.  But I think the draw (pun intended) towards figuration is very deeply encoded into us…so why didn’t the cavemen do it??
Representation of a human puking by me at age 3 or 4.
Someone go do a Ph.D. thesis on this, please!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

What have you done for them lately?

What have you done for them lately?
"We need to get the art community to recognize stained glass as art!"
"We need to get the art community to recognize glass as an art form"
"We need to get the glass community to recognize stained glass as an art form!"
I have been to enough GAS conferences, and Facebook forums to see those folks saying "we just have to get the fine arts to recognize GLASS” so I guess stained glass is even further down the food chain.


There is so much wrong with these statements I hardly know where to begin.

Let's start with manners, shall we?  When asking a monumental favor of someone, it is the barest modicum of respect to have some basic knowledge of whom you are asking and if it might be possible for them to actually grant this favor.  First of all, there is no monolithic art world that was in a position to grant seals of approval. Secondly, could it be the glass artists and stained glass artists are blissfully unawares of the credibility issues with the Art World?  Its not like its is brimming with respectability.  Itwould appear, judging from the press the fine arts generates, that they need to spend all their resources rationalizing what 99.9% of the world finds utterly contemptible (even if they are too pompous to recognize this themselves).  Thirdly, it would be lovely, not to mention appropriate, to know that the artistic concerns of glass artists and stained glass artists are at least remotely in concert with those of "The Art World" whom they are desperately courting.  How many fine artists are role models for stained glass artists?  How many really and truly know what philosophic, technologic and aesthetic issues are "trending" these days?  Are they YOURS?  Probably not.  I rest my case.

But, you say, we don't really care about them—their approval is still what we seek, in order to sustain our dying art form!  Well, if its not some philosophic, aesthetic simpatico you are after, then it must be the money and glory you are after.  HAHAHAHAHAHA!  Don't get me started.  Glass artists are much better off, especially if they are still object makers.  They are even better off if their work is aesthetically pleasing.  Stained glass artists are even better off as they still have the church as a patron as well as some private clients.  Most artists don't make money from art at all.  Those who exhibit typically are funding their careers with second and third jobs.  They fundraise and grant write and their art is more or less supported by non-profits.
The exceptions are the super famous.  You know they are just sitting around waiting to endorse your stained glass. Because, you know, you deserve it! Uh huh, sure.

And here's a special message to the stained glass people who are concerned because they can't even get the respect of GAS and the studio class community.  Here's the history: this all began in the 1960's with Harvey Littleton who was a ceramist.  He put a hot shop in an art school. What does this have in common with the history of stained glass?  Um…exactly zero. Stained glass follows an entirely different trajectory—one that is much older and much more interesting, actually (IMHO). Later this happened: glass as a studio art form was more or less entirely popularized by Dale Chihuly. Stained glass was given a real shot in the arm in the early 20th C by Tiffany. Two artists who, I am betting, never once had whiney temper tantrums wondering why they weren’t being adored by the art world.  If you want recognition…do something to merit it.  The sense of entitlement astounds me.  What are we offering them in return??

Anyone?  Buehler?

Asking to be rescued is nauseating.  What a victim mentality. What a loser mentality!
 I don't think either glass or stained glass needs outside help.  We need less crappy work, that's for sure.  I will say this, though: at least those in the stained glass circles don't lie about why they use stained glass. They do so out of knowledge and/or love of the material. Glass artists who say they only use it because it "just so happens to be the best material for this particular sculpture" (and yet, they keep using it, now, don't they?) are dishonest and also undermining the notion that dedication to a singular material can be a path to enlightenment (as I have stated previously).

As someone who has straddled all three worlds for about 30 years, I all say this.  If it has to die, let it die, already.  Its not the worst thing that could happen (unless someone went around, Cromwell-style and destroyed all the existing work.  Or they started actually outlawing stained glass and arresting the straggling practitioners.  That would suck.) There's no way we can foist it off as "the next thing" since, obviously it was the next thing circa c1200.  And that's pretty cool, actually.  Working in a dying medium is a very interesting thing to do.  It shows intense dedication, it shows a willingness to buck trends and it shows a type of intellectual nerdiness/ nerviness I find nothing short of honorable, laudable and really, REALLY cool.
So keep going stained glass people, stained glass is dead, long live stained glass!

Now here's a fun picture.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Doodles and drawings

Most of this stuff is very recent.  Click to embiggen.
 All of these are done in meetings, lectures and other times when I cannot pay attention if my hands are not moving.

 Judith and the head of Holofernes.  A favorite theme.  I am not sure why...
 This one is older--but unusual and I thought, interesting.
 This is my "real" sketchbook (as opposed to a note pad or some handout).  When I can I like rougher paper than Moleskine and also the lines are helpful in keeping me from trying to make a "drawing".  (When I try to make a "real drawing" I immediately default to some weird perfectionist state wherein creativity is utterly inhibited and I just repeat myself.  Which I do anyway, but why exacerbate the problem?)

This is a compilation of all the figures I have that seem promising.  Most were made by attaching sketched heads to various bodies in Photoshop, which allows me to mix and match.  This porcess brings great glee to all my obsessive tendencies and sometimes I just keep rearranging things and going in circles for what seems like eternity.  The possibilities are so dazzling and final decisions!
 These are screen captures of my "best faces" files

Sunday, February 9, 2014

I am not a Glass Secessionist!

I am not a Glass Secessionist!

Well, what a world we live in that I am making such a post.  But there you go.  I really feel compelled to make some sort of a statement as my name has gotten tied in with the group known as Glass Secessionism, hopefully not anywhere but Facebook but I know GS is making headway publicity-wise into print, conferences, etc (and my name has come up, apparently) so I wish to be crystal clear. Although I thought I was clear enough here.

I am not a Glass Secessionist!

I was really enjoying the conversation in the Facebook Group, which is why I stayed a member of the page.  But since that is confusing to some, I have since left the group.  I did not intend my participating in debates on FB pages to constitute some sort of philosophical allegiance.

I didn’t want to say anything one way or the other because:
1.     Tim Tate is a personal friend and I didn’t want to hurt his feelings.  GS is his baby and I didn’t want him to feel slighted or disrespected.  I am glad he is ambitious enough to really create some waves. 
2.     Why would anyone possibly care what my alliances is in terms of labeling myself?  Surely it doesn’t really matter.  If I get to pick, then I am a Militant Ornamentalist.  At least for now. 

So here’s why I am emphatically not a Glass Secessionist
1.     I fundamentally disagree with their stance on “concept”. To me concept cannot ever be separated from process and material. NEVER EVER  EVER.  So a sentence like “concept is more important than material” is not only utterly wrongheaded, but close to impossible from my POV. (Or at the very least leads to art works that are as bereft and disappointing as work that is entirely technical.)

2.     The point that historically speaking studio glass has favored the technical is wrong.  Any movement predicated on an historical misunderstanding is a problem for me.  My experience…and I was there (working in glass since 1980) is that ever since I have known it, glass artists have been SCREAMING and YELLING about how important concept was.  To hear glass artists talk you would think close to every last one of them was a dyed in the wool conceptualist.  (Not that they were, but they sure talked a good game.)

Paul Marioni, "Nerve", 197?

Thank you for your attention.  And now back to our regularly scheduled programming.  (I will be posting something soon of a stained glass nature… also my revised skill paper)
Yoko Ono, "A Hole to See the Sky Through" 1971
Duchamp's "The Bride Stripped Bare etc." 1915-23

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Contemporary Contemptible Art

A student sent me this and asked for a response.  Here it be!

I get caught between sympathy for the impatient and frustrated author—a person who is part of the elite culturati who knows full well the rap that justifies Tracey Emin et al—and my own open mindedness and desire to understand contemporary art on its own terms.

On the one hand, its so easy to claim "The Emperor isNaked!!!" (But since when is nudity so awful?  OK, maybe that's not really the point of the parable.  Or…maybe it IS!) I get it, contemporary art can seem disingenuous, ironic and nude-nudge-wink-wink stabs at what we hold to be dear.  Sometimes it feels like outright violent stabbing at what we hold dear, actually! It can seem a harbinger of doom owing to its (de-)evolution from skilled mimesis and earnest attempts at profundity to what seem like gratuitous toss offs made to appeal to those intent on throwing away money owing to economic hubris and a sick need for flashy swagger. The artists are having a laugh at our expense!  They are getting rich by fooling the gullible into seeing value where there is none!  
Contemporary art can seem downright misguided and just plain AWFUL, if not outright evil.  I think what people hate the most is not only the awfulness, but the galling suggestion we take it seriously ("Sometimes I wish I possessed the requisite attention span to absorb endless amounts of totally pointless bullshit.")  and the fact that some people are paying $$$ for their artwork (and not ours!)

Tracey Emin's 'I've Got it All' (2000) 

ON THE OTHER HAND, and maybe I have been persuaded by my own open-mindedness a la "Strawberry Jam Syndrome”, perhaps there is some value to this type of work.
Certainly we cannot endorse cultural stasis or nostalgia for the "good old days" when artists did things "right" or "better".  Who are we to judge?  Tracey Emin has, perhaps, gone to great effort to put forth her work.  I think we like to assume she got her stellar career handed to her with no effort and I can't really say, because I don't know. But I do know that plenty of artists who proffer what I consider to be the most cockamamie, meaningless, unappealing crap have done so via enormous sacrifice, and……….wait for it……….they have done so for the exact same reasons I believe that MY work is what humankind is desperate to receive.
For these reasons, I found the author of the article's standard that one should "explain this exhibition to an alien or a medieval time traveler." to be a bit stringent.

I regard my own opinions and tastes as having a higher priority than others, as do most people, I assume. It is only natural to be suspicious, if not fearful, of the unrecognizable. I am guessing this serves an important purpose in that I can recognize potential danger and flee for my life. But, alas, we are no longer hunter-gatherers and there is some sort of mass-accumulation of human wisdom. Suspicion and rejection of artwork not to my taste can close my mind to artistic avenues worth considering. All this should be obvious to anyone who has ever been lectured on the immorality of prejudice (interesting side note: I originally spelled that as “prejucide”!) 
Similarly, there have been times I felt changing my mind was a corruption of my purity of vision and my sterling principles.  I worried that if I allowed myself to love an artist some people see no value in I was becoming a brainwashed art-zombie. Surely a stronger mind would stick to their guns. But I have come to see it the other way around. I am reminded that the flexible buildings are the ones that survive earthquakes. 

When it comes to opinions and judgments about art, I think its wise to question authority.  But one can never, ever forget that the most important authority to question is one's own!  If learning to love something, despite the fact that it might be “bad” or “tacky”, is even a remote possibility, then surely that merely adds to the Gross National Income of happiness.  How can that be bad??

Finally, I think its a ever so slightly biased to assume those who DO enjoy Tracey Emin's work to be doing so out of a lemming-like fear that they will be rejected from the In-Crowd or that they have been indoctrinated by some evil art conspiracy.  As with the seemingly insidious adoration for artists like Thomas Kinkade, one human's genuine appreciation and experience of authentic emotional connection with a work of art is another's human's poison.  Vive le difference!
How dare you say its not true love?
So the point is, no one ever died of an open mind in the arts!  One of the highest ideals of humankind is to love what's loathsome and to embrace the unknown. If it turns out the emperor seems naked?  Seen another way, he is nude.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Where DO you find these images?

 This post is inspired by the plethora of responses I get when I post some of the pictures I find on my FB page.  “Where DO you find these?” or “Can I get a link?”.  So I want to post this here so every time someone really, realllly wants to know I can send him or her a link to this blog post and then THEY will be the sorry ones!
The images I post tend to fall into these broad categories:
Emblemata, Illuminated manuscripts, illustrations of fables (Aesop, Fontaine or otherwise), and images from alchemical texts.  Old illustrations liberated from their text have a tendency to suddenly become evocative and fabulous, I love them dearly.  Text is so problematic, no?  Just get rid of it!  That's why they invented Photoshop.
I don’t typically find things by doing a google search for a certain topic.  I come upon them in the course of surfing the ‘net. There are a number of sites I check every single day which reliably post interesting images.  So they are a source.  But then I am apt to follow one link to another until I am so hopelessly lost that tracing any breadcrumb trail is impossible.  Its surfing the net, after all, not spelunking the net or doing archeological digs of the net.  I am skimming across the surface covering tons of ground and paying very little attention (if any) to sources, credit or any information about the images, which might somehow identify or explain them.  See this post for why. 
For those with an urgent need to know more about the images, Google now offers a reverse image search.  It’s very easy.  Drag the image you’re wondering about to your desktop and from there, drag it back into the inquiry box of Google images.  It will prompt you to “drop image here”.  This is not only informative, but it can also lead to discoveries since it will find visually similar images as well.
Finally, I will say, I love these images.  I started out with a sort of casual wish to make the point that weird art work has been around for as long as there have been humans.  I think its hard to be truly weird.  Most images that set out to be “Weird” are contrived and silly: therefore they are automatically, ironically, not in the category of weird at all.  To be strange, there has to be enough of the typical to persuade us to drop our guards.  Then, BAM!
Hey--if you can't get enough of this type of thing, please check out my tumblr!

Below is a list of blogs I like.
(If you do not subscribe to Tumblr and weird images are your thing, well go and get an account.  It supplies you with a feed...a yummy, yummy feed, indeed.)

/// sfumato