Monday, July 3, 2017

Busy l'il hive o' activity









"Wild Life"  44" x 40"

 I finished this piece, which took over 6 months and then I thought...NOW WHAT?!?!?!?!? 
I decided to do some rondels...because they are fun...low pressure (or so I imagine at the outset)


 And then I finished this one into a full piece:

“Immigration Policy” 26" x 20"


 So then, NOW WHAT?!?!?!?!?    I hate starting pieces...so I decided to start a whole bunch on the theory that they would cancel out each other's scariness.


"Luster" 12" x 13"
The above small piece was a study...but I never investigated finishing it as a larger work.  So I started that and voila! She turned into a cow.  (Last summer I read "Prometheus Bound". )


 Here's the glass pieces for the character to be turned into a window at some point.

  Then there was the election...so I did this rondel:

And then after that, I began this one:

 This one was more of an experiment.  An experiment I call "How can I avoid painting the boring parts of the human body? (I.e. everything below the neck)."

 Here's the sketch. 
And then there was THIS....sitting around in my pile of stuff, unresolved:




This blue thing is how she began life.  So I chopped out the head and gave her a new body which you see above.  But I didn't like it either.  So she sat around in a tray.  So recently, I re-thought it and remade it and she looked like this:


 

Again, I liked it better, but yet again, the proportions seemed wrong.  So YET AGAIN, I re-thought it and remade it and she looked like this: (and finally I can sleep at night.)





 I also had this experimental figure lying around awaiting attention:


 

Again the proportions seemed wrong to me.  So here is how she turned out after I rethought her:

there will be a table or something she is leaning on  someday....


 This sketch was in my pile o' stuff:


So I made this figure in glass and here she is:

 I was very pleased with this one on the first try. 

Here are two head kissing on my light table.

I also made this.  She supposed to be holding a snake.  Someday.
And then there is THIS!  You know what an emblem is?  Look it up.  "Semper Idem" means "Always the Same" and this is my favorite emblem and I have wanted to interpret it for a while now.


 
    
The glass

The sketch


 And...then there is this sketch:






Monday, May 29, 2017

Five drawings

Here are five drawings for new pieces.  Actually, they are officially cartoons, meaning they show how I am planning on cutting the glass.
I often start with a gawdawful collage of images of body parts, some drawn by me and some culled from the interwebs. 
Example:
Her head and bust are existing glass I have already made.
That sketch is enough to get going in glass, but I am procrastinating.  So I decided to draw them nicely.  I thouhgt it might be a good idea to be influence by the drawing style of John Flaxman--an engraver with a particularly clear and coherent way of drawing.

This one is based on an emblem I particularly love.  "Semper Idem" means "always the same", fyi.




Tuesday, November 15, 2016


I am really very upset by the election, and this doesn't begin to address what I think is needed in these times, but I had a few thoughts on the role of art.
Prediction:
The issue the arts will grapple with in upcoming weird times will be empathy.  I thought this before the election, and I thought of it independently, but then I started hearing he word crop up in conversations about often enough that it could not be a random thing.  And then the election happened…and suddenly, empathy is a DefCon Five thing, in the arts, and in everything.

In 1993 Dave Hickey said beauty would be the big issue of art in the 1990’s.  It kind of fizzled, if you ask me, but at least it became a topic one could actually reasonably discuss.  Before that, to mention beauty in a conversation about art was to sound hopelessly retrograde and right wing.  Beauty was Miss America in all its oppressive obnoxiousness. I bring beauty up in a conversation about empathy, not just apropos predictions but because of the relationship between them.  I will get to that presently, but here’s the spoiler, as phrased by Rodgers and Hammerstein, if you can’t wait: “Do I love you because you're beautiful, or are you beautiful because I love you?”

What the world needs now is empathy, sweet empathy…that aspect of loving your neighbor that requires that you imagine yourself in their shoes.  And by neighbor, I include your enemy, first and foremost.  Because empathy untested by that level of discomfort is mere words.
Before the election, I had luxury problems and one of my favorites was to fret over the role of IMAGINATION in the arts.  Now I know.  Without imagination, you are merely staring at your neighbor’s shoes, with no avenue for inhabiting them; such is the tyranny of separate consciousnesses.  Imagination is no luxury; it is the main gateway to empathy.  So this is a call for artists to insist on the value of their imaginations.  Show me what’s in your brain, so I can better be at one with you!  Show me how I can use my imagination so you can inhabit mine!

The second thing about empathy is near and dear to my heart and yet another thing that seems like a luxury problem.  Why is handwork important? I am sick to death of the post-Industrial Revolution notions of handiwork being good for the soul, that handcrafts are virtuous.  Sometimes they are just indulgent and escapist and sometimes craftspersons are creeps.  Why should handwork matter in our age?
Because it engenders empathy.  Here’s how.  Look at a manufactured item and look at a hand made one.  The manufactured one has no trace of handwork, but obviously the handmade one will.  Now, I hate to bring up Mirror Neurons because a philosopher friend of mine once made a terribly cogent argument to me that Mirror Neurons merely locate something miraculous that we have known for eons and that is that we have the potential for compassion and empathy.  Who cares that a scientist discovered where and how and named them?  The fact was always there.  OK, whatever.
When looking at a handmade object mirror neurons go into action and do their funky thing.  Even without a maker present making the object, one is virtually forced to imagine the act, thereby inhabiting the reality of another person’s human consciousness if only by proxy and only for a second. And that is damn well better than nothing.  Better, even than the idea that by being craftsy it will keep you from stealing cars or whatever weird virtue you ascribe to crafts.  (But that’s good too.)

Finally, empathy and love are obviously related…and they relate to the notion of beauty in the arts.  Beauty, as I always like to remind people, is not the same as prettiness.  Prettiness is pleasant and pleasing as well as measurable (Think golden rectangles, and Fibonacci sequences).  Hickey, in “The Invisible Dragon” where he attempts to resuscitate beauty, mistakenly defines beauty as “the agency that caused visual pleasure in the beholder”. But beauty, of course can only cause pleasure insomuch as it can cause pain…JUST LIKE LOVE DOES.)  Beauty, like love, truth, the divine and other grand abstractions must exist at the nexus of mind and body, they must be yin/yangs that give rise to their own opposite, in order that it be a full spectrum authentic experience.  In order to understand each other we must understand and love them as flawed, unresolved, contradictory and difficult.  And we must understand this in own selves as well.  When you love someone, this must happen and when you love an artwork it is the same. Artworks are, after all, human souls encoded into non-human form, so that we may have a chance to echolocate off them and discover our own consciousness in some "cosmic" context.  Beauty (I repeat: not prettiness) is the visual equivalent of love.  It is an experience without which we suffer as individuals and as a human race and often that suffering, that depreivation leads to extinction.  Because if who cares…then who cares?


So I will say it again, in these coming weird and possibly terrible and frightening times, the issue in the arts will be empathy. Long live love!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Art, literacy and images and politics, religion and science, oh my!

Seeing is believing!

 “Eros the Bittersweet” by Anne Carson, “Does Writing Erase Art”, Chapter 7, in Ellen Dissanayake’s “Homo Aestheticus", “The Spell of the Sensuous” by David Abram and an article by Marshall McLuhan and R.K. Logan called  “Alphabet,Mother of Invention” from 1977, all discuss literacy and make points of great interest to anyone working in the mode of visual images. 

The main point they all make is that literacy changes how we think and how we perceive—for better and for worse. Now, before you go on a rampage, know that none of these authors is suggesting we go back to pre-literate society (and they are all writers, after all!), but they are pointing out that literacy has a cost.  It may sound elitist, or even racist, as though saying pre-literate culture is somehow primitive, or predisposes one to supernatural thinking.  On the contrary!  This is not about making a judgment.  Literacy, as does any concentrated learning will, re-wire the brain.  And there are consequences to that both for better and for worse.
Literacy changes images from embodiments to representations.

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An ameliorative opinion is proffered here:
“In Louder than Words, cognitive scientist Benjamin Bergen draws together a decade’s worth of research in psychology, linguistics, and neuroscience to offer a new theory of how our minds make meaning. When we hear words and sentences, Bergen contends, we engage the parts of our brain that we use for perception and action, repurposing these evolutionarily older networks to create simulations in our minds. These embodied simulations, as they're called, are what makes it possible for us to become better baseball players by merely visualizing a well-executed swing; what allows us to remember which cupboard the diapers are in without looking, and what makes it so hard to talk on a cell phone while we’re driving on the highway. Meaning is more than just knowing definitions of words, as others have previously argued. In understanding language, our brains engage in a creative process of constructing rich mental worlds in which we see, hear, feel, and act.”

Regardless, it is incredibly foolish, as a purveyor of visual images, to assume that this remedies the situation.  To me, it just means, the news isn’t all bad. And even though I am more than willing to pay the cost (I love being literate!) I find all of this to be of crucial importance as it might have an influence on how I make images. 

Other points in four sources mention at the top:
·      Alphabets create separation—specifically, they create separation between our heads and our senses (thereby further enabling the Cartesian mind/body split). 
·      Writing allows for knowledge to be encoded outside our bodies and our experiences, into abstract marks on a page, which fundamentally changes how we understand reality and our knowledge thereof. 
·      Literacy changes how we understand abstract symbolic representations.  This change is evident when comparing oral cultures to literate ones.  In short, once something is written down, it has a more fixed meaning based on the unit of “The Word”.  Categories of abstractions are enabled like “the truth” or “goodness”, or, as I will point out “Art”.  These things now exist outside ourselves as cardinal fixed points of reference but have no specific referent.
The sorting out and pigeonholing starts before words are even formed. Alphabets separate each phoneme and designates it a sign. Reading and writing are processes of exclusion. Something must happen in the brain like this when reading: “chair” as the brain decides the word is “not a bed”, “not a table” and so forth. One of the books above (I forget which) talks about how reading is best done in a quiet area—without too much sensory stimulus beyond the text, while spoken words involve experiencing the breath (and sometime saliva) of the speaker.  Breath=inspiration, metaphorically speaking, a speaker is very much alive.  Written words, not so much.
In order to read, we  (westerners) are taught to interpret marks seen on a surface as corresponding to sounds.  This involves using our eyes, obviously and therefore the part of our brains given over to visual processing.  It has been pointed out again and again that although we are “hard wired” for spoken language, literacy is not an innate human inevitability.  Alphabets had to be invented. Abstract marks on a page…is that not drawing? But of course it is.  I wonder, does drawing lead to phonetic alphabets?  It certainly leads to pictograms, hieroglyphics and the like. 

  This accounts for the shift from “seeing is believing” to “seeing is interpreting”, and therefore more opportunity to interpret incorrectly.  We begin to shift from relying on dictionaries, not our senses.  I am not sure if I read this in one of these books or if this is my idea, but surely this repurposes our image-interpreting abilities.


In oral culture, things don’t always have a one to one correspondence to single words, but to phrases, which are sensory experiences with many nuances. We don’t speak by pausing to mark the end of each word, what we hear is an issuance of integrated sounds.  To wit: when you hear the Beatles' song “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds”  you are free to hear “the girl with kaleidoscope eyes” or “the girl with colitis goes by”.  The context determines the meaning, (not the symbol with its dictionary definition).
A girl with colitis goes by
In literate cultures one can have single abstract words, like “truth”, which are connected to concepts and are ratified by dictionaries which makes them less mutable.  In oral cultures, one can have examples and embodiments of “a truth”, demonstrations of “ a good thing” etc, but an overarching, separate, non-referential abstract category is not so easy to comprehend without being able to single out the word and hold it above other things as an entity unto itself.  Because it is not a singular identifiable entity as anyone trying to define “truth” or “goodness” can tell you.  It’s not a tree!  And if it were, you might have to explain why each tree is different from the next.

As anyone who has written an artist statement, mission statement or any kind of manifesto or declaration can tell you, its very uncomfortable deciding what words to use when writing something down.  Its such a commitment! Writing has the potential to survive, possibly forever, quite apart from any human body, in a way spoken language cannot.  Writing creates laws, contracts and other codifications with dire consequences in a way speaking does not.  What good is law if you can’t write it down?  Without writing you just have “he said/she said” chaos and laws that change based on the power and will of the biggest bully in the room.

In literate cultures an image is understood as a symbol, not analogous to the “real” thing but a representation, inherently an unreality.  Literacy precipitates a much stronger “fourth wall” as it were.  Literacy makes false idols possible. 
To oral cultures, images are “presentations” not “re-presentations”; they are embodiments and instances, a real thing, an exemplar, a truth unto itself.
In oral culture, seeing is believing and in literate culture, we are taught, “don’t believe everything you read”.  Needless to say, seeing becomes suspect!  How could it not when we are seeing sounds! Don’t believe your eyes!  A whole cascade of events occurs which make images more superficial and suspicious.
One could go so far as to claim that images are only sacred when they are embodiments.  They are profane when they are representations. There was a time when it was believed that holy icons were embodiments, not illustrations.  The icons were deployed as actual shields during invasion in the belief that whatever saint depicted would protect them.  It’s possible that it even worked if the invaders were reluctant to spear a holy image. 
Seeing is believing!
 And we all get to have these experiences first hand, for as children we are pre-literate for a while and we all create images that are nothing short of magic, with the power to evoke that which we wish to call into reality.  The idea of an image as a re-presentation comes when we learn to read; I’m guessing that’s when we become interested in “realism” and documentation.  But as most artists believe, images without spirit are bereft, boring and disappointing.  This is why so much art suffers.

Art in oral culture is tied very closely to ritual and religion, and possibly politics and has no separate category to identify it as anything other than “the stuff you need for rituals and ceremonies”.  In a literate culture, “Art” is a word, like “truth”, without a solid referent. “Art” became a category until the Renaissance, and its no coincidence that this is the time “Fine Art” became a Liberal Art and became “teachable”, in theory.

As an image-maker, I would think, it is important for an artist to be keenly aware of all this.  One might attempt to reclaim their visual cortex for a more pure vision, or at least encourage it to multitask.  At the very least, artists should be aware that they can’t see like they used to before first grade (or whenever reading and writing is taught nowadays).  In deploying narrative or even “subject matter”, one should have a sense of how this will be “read” rather than seen. 

As for artists using text in their work, it is not enough to use a lovely, poetic turn of a phrase or a profound passage of prose in conjunction with appropriate accompanying visuals.  There’s something about text art that reminds me of the child who was using a machine gun for target practice.  The text outguns the image.  They can look pretty together, they convey a veneer of profundity, but that’s about the extent of it and the words largely render the image subordinate, if not irrelevant.  

A second thing is the McLuhan article has the following passage: “The very word idea is indicative of the revolution in thinking that took place with literacy.  This word, which is not to be found in Homeric Greek, derived from the word eidos indicating ‘visual image.’”
Well now, how very fascinating!  Because I can tell you, I find the word “idea” as it is used in relation to art to be very, very tricky indeed, especially in my own practice.  The word “idea” is tossed around carelessly, with the presumption we all know what we are talking about.  But do we? How many people think in images?  I think its almost zero.  Even amongst visual artists, wherein on would hope to find a larger instance, I think its close to none.  I don’t know of any tests, but I would love to hear about them if you know.

At this point in our art culture ideas are fetishized to the point of nauseating, authoritarian doctrine.  Ideas are Important! Very, very Important, of great Importance, in fact! Being “thought provoking” is the entire enterprise of art! 
No young artist is granted a diploma until they memorize the following bit of dogma and are able to repeat it ad nauseum, ad infinitum in the manner of a spy being interrogated who repeats only his name and rank with glazed eyes and the fixed puils of a zombie: “I choose my materials to fit the idea.  Not vice-versa.”
Baloney.

I have ideas for artworks all the time.  They are all words—shopping lists for the most part.  And even when I am able to sketch something that has to do  with those “ideas”, the correspondence between the sketch and the thought is flimsy and insubstantial.  If I were to “make my ideas” I would be making garbage for the most part. It becomes further corrupt when I am in the phase of actual making.  I don’t conceive in glass and turning a sketch into glass is a matter of reinventing everything from the ground up.  By the time I am finished, whatever passed for the original “idea” has dramatically changed.  I am willing to say that there is no such thing as “ideas” in visual art.  There is only materials, process and design. Ideas are what happen at the opening.

To be as reductive as possible, there’s only one subject in art: “The Truth” (this is why we crave authenticity and sincerity, for what is the truth without it?).  That can be expressed as three arty topics: political truth, scientific truth or spiritual truth.

But, what is “truth”?  Is truth something to do with “goodness”?  Or is it something to do with “reality”?  Is it something observable or something deeper and invisible?
Is the essence of a thing what is “true” or is its appearance?  Is reality something perceived by our senses or does our thinking create it? Second of all we understand “truth” to be “good”.  But is truth good as in “accurate” or good as in “virtuous (moral, educational, etc)”?  How can truth be these mutually exclusive things at once?

Observable reality, it ain't pretty.

And this is why beauty is always at the crux of art, whether in disrepute or dogma. Because beauty suffers from the same problem.  Is beauty a synonym for the truth as Keats once said?  Or is it a method of concealing reality?  Is beauty perceived or constructed?  If beauty is the truth, then it must be good!  But is it good as in “sensual pleasure”?  Or is it good as in “good for you”?
If  “truth” is “observable reality” then art is either stuck being a falsehood, an artifice, removed from reality, at best mimicking it as a kind of lie.  Or it can do what it seems to be doing now and ally itself with the “truth” that is our current version of “reality”, science.  Hence we have a lot of science-y looking art these days. 

My point is that subjects for art tend to exist at the intersection of “beauty” and “truth”, and beauty and truth niggle around like agitated atoms at the intersection of body and soul.  Are we talking physical truth and reality here or mental?  They never seem to be able to take a fixed position (at least not for long). However, when they approach balance between the two, perhaps that’s the definition of great art right there.

There was a time when truth was clearer and it was defined by religion and for the most part, cultures were segregated enough to more or less agree locally. The truth was not even slightly in the eye of the beholder.  It was the exclusive property of God.  Art, in this case allies itself with religion.

Now, things are a lot more diverse.  God apparently died during the Modernist period and we are busy eradicating nature for financial greed.  Perhaps science will save us?  Empirical thinking seems true enough.  It ensures repeatable, peer reviewed results.  It is based on observation!  So now we see art making an alliance with science.  Hey, that rhymes!  It must be true…

As for politics, in this case, we see artists who strive to convey a moral truth.  One that is corrective and good for us.  One that makes up for what we lack, perhaps.
Political art is usually anti-aesthetic, probably because it wishes to impress upon us the harms of social wrongs.  When political art stands opposed to a cause it is usually ugly, as its “truth” is an ugly one.  When it is for a cause, it is seductive and attractive, as it is necessary to persuade nonbelievers in their “truth” (which they find lovely, presumably).

The problem with all these as subject for art is how to remain an embodiment and avoid being an illustration.  How to be an instance, a primary experience of this truth, and not propaganda, or a reflection of it, or merely a symbol of it.

To create things that exist at the very nexus of spirit and matter, to traverse, redress, and redeem the mind/body gap is at the very essence of what it means to be an artist. 
To favor ideas, to fetishize them, is to miss the point entirely.



Monday, August 25, 2014

"Dark Matter” Exhibition Opening!!!!

Hooray! I have a one-person exhibition opening at Claire Oliver Gallery September 4th. This exhibition will be the debut of my cast glass sculptures! In addition, there will be new stained glass pieces on view as well.
The opening reception will be September 4, 6-8 pm. Please join me if you are in the area! (see below for details)

A catalog is available here. (It is pricey, but you should know, I don't set the prices, nor do I get a profit.  But its real purdy!!)

Preview:
Detail from "The Birth of Eve"

"New Ghost"
"Lean Into"

"A Play About Snakes"

"Minotaur"

"Sleeping Girl"
“Dark Matter”
September 4th, 2014 - October 25th, 2014
513 West 26th Street, New York, NY 10001
Tel: 212.929.5949 / Info@ClaireOliver.com
www.claireoliver.com

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!

detail

detail

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

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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).


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“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