Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Serendipity of Objects

I had individual critiques with each of my first year students from my beginning still life class at PAFA.  I thought instead of a group critique, which we had many of throughout the semester, a chance to talk one on one might be a better way to end.  I usually wrapped them up with the question, "Is there anything else you'd like to discuss, ask, get feedback on?" And one student said, "Yes, why do you paint still life objects in your own work?" Hmmm.  Good question.  Hard question to answer in that situation.  I said something like, "They seem important to me because they are constantly around me, in my life, standing in and easy to draw memories from."  Is that why?  Partially.  I think also because they are so good to construct a painting from for me.  I feel an ease with their shapes and a freedom to invent so that the painting works and unexpected relationships come to be .

googly eye and scissors photo courtesy of Things Fitting Perfectly into Other Things

A few days ago, I stumbled upon this article, The Existential Satisfaction of Things Fitting Perfectly into Other Things, in The Atlantic (a publication I have really been enjoying for its thorough reporting and on the pulse discussions) and the writer gives words to something similar: the odd satisfying sensation of objects unexpectedly being perfect for each other in the real, physical world.  The notion is silly in a way but poetic in another.  It's such a small thing when the coin in her pocket fits in her iphone cover perfectly but its like a talisman for the serendipity that can be found in the world, and that is so comforting to stumble upon.

Laptop and cookie sheet   

So today when I went to pack all my paintings for my solo show into my friend's pickup (which was not the car I thought I would use but turned out other options were too small), I felt so, so good, good beyond what is logical about the fact that they fit in perfect line with the edges of the truck.  I've been into these external signs from the physical world and this one takes the cake.  The uncontrollable, night-sweats, chill-inducing anxiety of this thing was least for the drive over to the gallery.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Images from FIGURATION @ Nancy Margolis



The show at Nancy Margolis ended this weekend.  I made it up for one more visit and snapped some photos.  Here are the installation shots, info on the pieces is up on my website here.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Solo Show @ McCleaf

The proof of my card for my first solo show came in this week.  I'm excited.  And anxiety ridden.  But I'm happy with the card!  I'll be getting the bulk of them this week and sending them out.  If you would like one please email me or leave a comment here.  

I spent a lot of time thinking about a title.  I think it is so important for the title to strike the same note as the work.  I hate titles that are pretentious, I hate titles that are didactic, I hate titles that are airtight or snarky.  I didn't want anything too whimsical for this show as this work is a little darker.  But my work is grounded in my life and in humor.  It needed to be just like the work when at its best -- inviting and relatable in a direct way but also weightier, intangible and more complex as it shifts into focus.  So Spaghetti for Breakfast.  

 The title also relates to paintings I made of this actual event, which was on my mind after reading passages (Chapter 2 and 11) of Wind Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami a few times.  The mood he creates looms large over my thinking in creating this body of work.  Half of the paintings were already done when I read it for the first time and just felt like what I was doing was being confirmed by an outside source, like I was tapping into a wavelength already out there. 

The show opens in less than a month, Friday January 8th from 5-7pm.  It's a really short month with New Year's and school starting back up.  Here goes nothing...

Monday, November 30, 2015

Philadelphia's Winter Light

Wolf Kahn, Silver Foliage, 1997
I saw it today -- that silvery, gray light I know only to be winter in this city.  I woke up and instead of that little bit of warmth, that orangey yellow of fall and leaves reflecting back into the atmosphere, it was the cool light that pierces through empty branches.  Bittersweet feeling.  It's the best painting light to me but the reminder of a long season ahead. 

Nicolas de Stael, details unknown

 I have a feeling soon the nights will be looking like this:

Paul Metrinko, details unknown

Monday, November 9, 2015

Aesthetics with Time as a Constant Variable

Raoul Middleman, 2004, Nancy

 I've had this thought ruminating in my brain in the last few weeks about how the perceived beauty or ugliness of a piece of work is its power and how that perception changes over time and as a result changes that power. 
It started when I had students in my expressive drawing class read this interview:  Beer with a Painter: Raoul Middleman.  I don't particularly respond to his work and I knew my students (mainly graphic design majors) would really struggle with it.  But we are working on portraiture and the figure and they need to stop being so preconceived and clean with their drawings.  I like what he has to say throughout the interview, here is an excerpt:

"I try to keep the primitive quality of a painting. I paint fast, because if I spend too much time on a painting, I might bring it back to a place where it becomes a palliative condiment to assuage the nerve endings of a jaded public. I would rather keep it at that point where it is a frontal assault on our central nervous system."

He goes on to discuss how many of the great masters Rembrandt and Titian and De Kooning were using ugliness and vulgarity to "attack a closed moral system", to get people to see again when looking at a painting.

Marcel Duchamp, 1917, Fountain

A week later I found myself at the Audubon to Warhol: The Art of American Still Life exhibition standing in front of Duchamp's Fountain.  I have looked at it many, many times, always thinking about what art historians say about how appalling and shocking it was --sometimes going with friends or family and passing on the story to them.

But as I stood there last week by myself and looked at it, I thought, its actually kind of beautiful.  In 1917 the urinals were glazed porcelain with tiny imperfections.  The shape of it is something you might find in a Guston painting.  Any hipster scrolling through Etsy would find this object delightful.  Maybe that's being a bit facetious but it was truly a different statement then than now.  Now our toilets and readymade industrial world has gotten to be so much more standardized, disposable and pedestrian that this object looks interesting to me in a way Duchamp did not intend.

Philip Guston, 1977, Black Sea

As I look at work from the past, how much should context actually be considered?  I think I got more from it by genuinely engaging my 2015 eyes and thoughts than I ever did by thinking about its importance in art history and its time.  Of course I needed to know its past to think about it this way but maybe the best work can evolve in why it is powerful, as I think Rembrandt and Titian have.  And work that is only important for its shock at the time and has no way to transform forward should no longer be part of the canon (you know who you are)...  And I guess that eventually will happen.

Which brought me back around to Middleman's idea that many times artists are noticed, in their real time, for making work that is shocking to the aesthetic of the day.  For so much of western, relatively recent, art history that has meant doing things that seem vulgar or ugly or unconsidered.  But does it get to a point where what is shocking to our central nervous system is work that takes on an aesthetic of exquisite beauty and overtly considered design?  I think that would be work that would be hard for me to look at and believe to be genuine and good.  Which is why I had students read the Middleman interview in the first place -- because the illustrative, preconceived designs aren't strong and won't be taken that way by the contemporary art world we live in.

But simultaneously I think the art world is tending towards work that is more thoughtful and subtle and beautiful.  Which is different than being illustrative or preconceived.  More interest in the evidence of the hand and the handmade.  Hmmm.  Not many answers in this post but that's never really what good art and thinking ends with anyway, right? 

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Philadelphia Exhibitions Seen and To See

Christopher Knowles, Institute of Contemporary Art
So many good shows to behold here in Philadelphia!  I have seen some and I have some on my list of must-see to share.  First, those that I have seen.  

The Institute of Contemporary Art has some killer painting shows right now.  Christopher Knowles is downstairs in the biggest space.  His work spans a range of years and materials.  I gravitated most to paintings like that above and the typewriter word poems.  It is a chance to look inside a really unique process, Knowles is an autistic artist who has been making this work and performances since the early 70s.  I recently heard an interview with him and his wife, stumbled upon completely coincidentally, on KCRW's The Organist, podcast.  I wish it had more from him and less from her, when he talks you can hear the way memory is ever-present in his mind and it gives the work context.  The show feels equally visual and audio, as you read the words in your mind, the rhythm on the page and the rhythm of the words work together in beautiful ways.

Christopher Knowles, Institute of Contempory Art (photo courtesy of ICA)

Becky Suss, Institute of Contemporary Art

Upstairs is a show of really good painting by Philadelphia artist Becky Suss.  I have liked her work for a while and remain a fan.  Here is a nice review of the show by Samantha Mitchell on Title Magazine.

Jan Baltzell, Schmidt Dean Gallery

A lyrical show about color and line is at Schmidt Dean gallery.  Jan Baltzell, a former graduate critic of mine, is showing new work.  Ranging from charcoal drawings to paintings on mylar to large scale canvas paintings (above) those formal concerns are engaged in masterful ways.  I could almost not bear to put up this photo as it is such a bad representation of such a good show but it is the only one I got in such a crowded opening and a show that needs to be shared and seen in person.  Here is a link to an online catalog with much better images but see in person!

Yvonne Jacquette, Seraphin Gallery
A show that doesn't seem to be getting much notice but is worth seeing is at Seraphin.  Some interesting paintings by Yvonne Jacquette there.  Again the image does no justice here to the rich, dense build up of black night sky in this drawing.

There was a very good show at Gross McCleaf of paintings by Ying Li which unfortunately closed yesterday.  Where are the months going?  You can still see it digitally on their website though.

Now for the things I want to see but haven't yet...

Jennifer Bartlett, Untitled(Hospital), 2012 (Image courtesy of Locks Gallery)
I have been making paintings that are much darker and so I was interested in Jacquette's show and am also curious to see this series of paintings by Jennifer Bartlett on view at Locks Gallery through November 13.  They are all done from the viewpoint of a hospital window or hallway. 

Neysa Grassi's show has one more week at the Delaware Center for Contemporary Art.  I don't see how I will make it but I really hope time stops and I find myself there, her work is always so good in person.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art just opened its Still life show Audubon to Warhol.  Still life is the best.  It is an under appreciated genre that I think has so much material for curators to look at.  Glad this show is up, hoping to take students to it but I will certainly be there a few times before it closes January 10.

Pagus Gallery in Norristown has a show with some really good abstract painters.  The website is pretty bad but the line up is good: Mark Brosseau, Clint Jukkala, Lucy Mink, Brooke Moyse, and Enrico Riley.  I'm going to try to get up there this week, the show closes November 13th.  Below is a photo I was able to find via facebook.
Clint Jukkala, Mark Brosseau and Enrico Riley, Pagus Gallery show Walk the Line

There is a show of three good painters that just opened at Cerulean Arts too.  Laura Adams, Claire Kincade and Joyce Werwie Perry.  They are giving a talk Sunday November 8th at 2pm.  

Finally, there is a good Review Panel hosted by PAFA.  Discussion by artists and critics of shows in the area.  So much cross-over!...The Philadelphia art world is a good place to be a painter right now...

"On Wednesday, November 18 at 6 p.m., David Cohen will be joined by guest panelists Sharon Butler, Edward Epstein, and Clint Jukkala to discuss the following exhibitions:

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Sunday Pick: Nick Miller

Self reflected with nature & Constable, 2003. Oil on Linen, 61 x 82 cm
Portrait of John McGahern, 1998. Oil on Linen. 86.5 x 95.5 cm. Niland Collection, The Model Sligo

Bed With nature. 1998, oil on linen, 168 x 183 cm

Man and Nature. 1998, oil on linen, 12 x 137 cm

I was recently introduced to the work of Nick Miller and had to take a quick minute to share it here.  One of the best bodies of work I have seen in a long time.  British born and Ireland based, Miller has many paintings on his website to take in.  They are felt and the color is gut wrenching, its so good.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Figuration @ Nancy Margolis Gallery

I'm part of an upcoming group show at Nancy Margolis Gallery in Chelsea.  It is titled Figuration Inside/Out and features the work of four women who paint the figure.  Figures have been inching their way into my work a lot in the last year so I am happy to have a chance to show them in this context.  It opens Thursday November 5th 6-8pm. 

As a side note: Fall has been totally chaotic for me.  Like work all weekend busy.  I am teaching three courses and decided to apply to a residency, curate a show, possibly two, write a review, reference letters for my students, the list goes on.  I'm not only getting work ready for this but I have a solo show upcoming in January at Gross McCleaf in Philly.  Even though I have made a ton of paintings (that I think are pretty good actually), when shows draw near the only way to quell my anxiety is to paint more and more.  Which means I put off all the things at the beginning of this paragraph.  And besides that I have a ton of cradling and framing to do.  Not trying to make excuses may be a little while before I get around to posting quality, non self-involved items here.  In the meantime, here are a few new paintings of mine that will be in the show...(there's the self-involved posting I was just  referring to...)

Bed's Edge, 2015, Oil on Panel 24 x 24

Bitchy Brunch, 2015, Oil on Panel, 40 x 40

The Thinker, 2015, Oil on Panel, 24 x 24

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Jean Cooke and La Beauté

Jean Cooke, Jamais je ne pleure et jamais je ne ris, ca. 1972
This self-portrait by Jean Cooke is one of my all time favorite paintings, I think.  I can't be sure because I have not seen it in person.  But someday I hope I can confirm that.  She captures such a specific type of day and light and season.  That light and space, in a sweater, coupled with her piercing gaze makes me feel like I am looking back at myself.  Like the painting has become a mirror.  I look at this image and feel like I know what the rest of the world she lives in looks like, I know the rest of the room and the adjoining den and the warm kitchen and the quaint neighborhood and I have taken a walk down that street on a blustery day.  Her outstretched arm references the canvas beyond which she is painting this painting on.  And everything folds in on itself.  

She titled it "Jamais je ne pleure et jamais je ne ris (I never cry and I never laugh) after a line from a Baudelaire poem La Beauté.  I took french in school but can not get the subtle meaning that poems possess so I looked for translations.  Adding to my thoughts on translating literature re: Murakami post below, translations of a poem are even more complex.  There are many english versions but at the bottom is the one I like best.  The way the painting simultaneously succeeds and fails at capturing a fleeting moment in time seems just like Baudelaire's expression.  On the one hand that gaze painted more than 40 years ago feels like it is in the present, like it is my own gaze.  On the other, the simple existence of the painting which references its own making in her outstretched hand means the moment has passed, fleeting.

La Beauté

Je suis belle, ô mortels! comme un rêve de pierre,
Et mon sein, où chacun s'est meurtri tour à tour,
Est fait pour inspirer au poète un amour
Eternel et muet ainsi que la matière.

Je trône dans l'azur comme un sphinx incompris;
J'unis un coeur de neige à la blancheur des cygnes;
Je hais le mouvement qui déplace les lignes,
Et jamais je ne pleure et jamais je ne ris.

Les poètes, devant mes grandes attitudes,
Que j'ai l'air d'emprunter aux plus fiers monuments,
Consumeront leurs jours en d'austères études;

Car j'ai, pour fasciner ces dociles amants,
De purs miroirs qui font toutes choses plus belles:
Mes yeux, mes larges yeux aux clartés éternelles!

Charles Baudelaire


I am fair, O mortals! like a dream carved in stone,
And my breast where each one in turn has bruised himself
Is made to inspire in the poet a love
As eternal and silent as matter.

On a throne in the sky, a mysterious sphinx,
I join a heart of snow to the whiteness of swans;
I hate movement for it displaces lines,
And never do I weep and never do I laugh.

Poets, before my grandiose poses,
Which I seem to assume from the proudest statues,
Will consume their lives in austere study;

For I have, to enchant those submissive lovers,
Pure mirrors that make all things more beautiful:
My eyes, my large, wide eyes of eternal brightness!

— William Aggeler, The Flowers of Evil (Fresno, CA: Academy Library Guild, 1954)

Friday, September 11, 2015

Nicholas Vasilieff

 I found a little book on this obscure Russian painter, Vasilieff, at the library this week.  Although he moved to the US in his 30s in 1923 and spent decades here, exhibiting quite a bit, his work does not seem to be around or known much anymore.  

The book shows about half the work as portraits which I don't find to be very good (although I like the way he paints people holding their pets, see last image), the still lives are really bizarre and solid.  A lot of them are reproduced in black and white so I'm not sure how they really look but I like the shapes and contrast.  Although almost none are dated it seems like they were mostly painted in the 50s and 60s.  The book is from the William Benton Museum of Art which had an exhibition of his work in 1977.  Almost 40 years later it would be nice to see his work pulled together again.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Kerry James Marshall Drawing

Study for Blue Water, Silver Moon, 1991, Conte Crayon and Watercolor on Paper, 49 3/4 x 38 1/8 inches, MoMA collection

I love this drawing by Kerry James Marshall -- it has a masterful play with value, solidity, liquidity, flatness and space all in a narrative context. As I get images ready for a new semester, this stopped me in my tracks as it has many times before.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Maximilian Vanka

Still life tabletop with vegetables and vessels
I ran across a few paintings by the painter Maximilian Vanka(1890-1963) recently.  They were really nice compositions and odd takes on color and perspective.  I can't find much on him online but this painting above is a nice example.  It's echo of the teapot in the painting pinned to the wall behind the painted teapot references dimensionality in such a 2015 meta, ironic sort of playfulness.  I think he has some work in Pittsburgh, I'd really like to see more.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Murakami and Language


I've gotten around to reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, by Haruki Murakami finally.  It has been on my to-read book list for years now.  I think it is really exceptional so far (still have about 1/3 left).  

I keep finding myself thinking about the fact that it was originally written in Japanese.  So many of the passages are exacting to experiences or thoughts I have had.  Like someone finally put words to it in just the right way.  Like this one:

“I decided to make spaghetti for lunch again. Not that I was the least bit hungry. But I couldn't just go on sitting on the sofa, waiting for the phone to ring. I had to move my body, to begin working toward some goal. I put water in a pot, turned on the gas, and until it boiled I would make tomato sauce while listening to an FM broadcast. The radio was playing an unaccompanied violin sonata by Bach. The performance itself was excellent, but there was something annoying about it. I didn't know whether this was the fault of the violinist or of my own present state of mind, but I turned off the music and went on cooking in silence. I heated the olive oil, put garlic in the pan, and added minced onions. When these began to brown, I added the tomatoes that I had chopped and strained. It was good to be cutting things and frying things like this. It gave me a sense of accomplishment that I could feel in my hands. I liked the sounds and the smells.” 

The way he switches from the empty act of cooking to his semi-conscious thoughts about the music to a reflection at the end is so true to actually living in that moment. 

I wish I could read the book in Japanese because I keep wondering how two languages that have different structures and words could relay the same feeling to a reader.  But maybe its even better in Japanese?  But that seems hard to imagine, the words seem so well picked.  I guess what I keep turning over in my mind is how universal the human experience is even when miles and languages should make it seem more distant.  

Which ultimately brings me back to painting and a particular painting I keep looking at recently.  Its a Fairfield Porter and it conjures up a feeling in me that has no english equivalent I'm aware of.  I guess nostalgia is the word closest, but its nostalgia without the sickening, sweetness. It's the way looking at a summer night sky, something supposedly ordinary strikes a sublime chord and makes it feel like a lightbulb is in your stomach.  

Someone sent me this link to words with no english equivalent a while back.  And the Japanese word "aware" stood out to me, the article says it means "the bittersweetness of a brief and grading moment of transcendent beauty."  Maybe english is just too dry to contain all that in a single word, or maybe it exists and my vocabulary isn't good enough.  But either way I am thankful that paintings and visual experiences need no translation.  Nothing is lost or mitigated when looking.

But even if something gets lost in translating The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle there is enough power in it to overcome the gap and express that universal transcendent beauty.  Highly recommend it.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Heavy Animation

 This is an animation of a story told between mother and son on StoryCorps.  I've listened to these recordings for a while but this one blew me away and continues to devastate me.  At the end of the audio episode they explained that StoryCorps has recently partnered with POV to create an animation set to the voices.  It is poignant and depressing and disgusting and timely.  I think the visual is well done and the use of a medium that is usually light and humorous in such a contrasting way heightens the devastation of the story. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Resources and Renovations

We moved a few months ago and a big part of why I have been semi-absent here and stressed out in other areas of my life and feeling like its all pointless anyway because there are much more important things going on in the world (previous post) is because I've been spending way too much time trying to make this new place feel good.  

I think its getting to that point.  While I love the creative energy that goes into design and composing little nooks, I am totally spent in that department.  After 20 nooks, they get a bit old.  So I figured a way to put a stop, or at least a pause on all that is to post a few of the best resources I found in the process and maybe that will make me feel like some of the universe's time that I wasted at 3am looking for a pillow online can be saved if other people don't have to repeat that same slog. 

I did find a pretty sweet pillow though.  The kilim pillow pictured above came from the Decolic Kilim Pillow shop on Etsy.  As I write this there are 1,797 beautiful items in the shop that come directly from Turkey and the prices are way better than many similar shops -- they range from about $15-$30.

Another thing I spent way too much time trying to find is furniture.  I refuse to buy new dressers, tables or other items made of wood.  There are so many beautiful old pieces at thrift stores and on craigslist and keeping them out of the waste stream for cheap is really necessary when you see the shitty shitty crap crap that Overstock or Target sell for 4 times the price.  

The best stores I found like that are: Bryn Mawr Thrift (so much furniture!  I got a dining set for $140 with 6 chairs and two leaves)  
All Things Shoppe in Hatboro (its a little further out, like 45 minutes from center city, but so worth it, the prices are actually good unlike so many similar stores in northern liberties)
Craigslist -- where I got the above deco dresser painted this beautiful blue for $100.  
Estate Sales (if you sign up at they send you a weekly circular of sales nearby.  Again the city ones are priced high but we drove out to Springfield and got a few great things including this chair which was $20.  Also the email usually has links to hundreds of photos so you can see if the type of things you are looking for might be at each particular sale)

I guess I can't save anyone time on this one, but ebay was a place I figured out how to work way better for interesting things.  I got a pair of these sconces above for $25.  I basically started typing in weird combinations of words one night: tole + candle + flower or lamp + poodle + milk glass and got results that didn't come up in more general searches and were not being 'watched' by 200 people.  It seems like there are weird corners of ebay that don't get picked up by the search and its kind of like the slot machines you have to get three random terms to line up and get lucky.  Sort of fun when you have nothing to do and two glasses of wine -- a game I won't be playing for a while though...

Another thing I've been doing a lot of is refurbishing old things I have.  The mirror next to that sconce was gaudy gold and I painted it a bright green which seemed to give it new life.  And then the nightstands above which were Alex's brother's growing up --  I totally hate for their clunky wood and top heavy ways (literally they fall over sometimes) but I couldn't rationalize buying more so I painted them and put a rope handle on, and I think I can live with them for a bit longer.

I'm back to dying things with indigo dye -- had half a packet left and figured what the hell?  I think this lampshade looks a bit less generic.

Last thing we decided was living in South Philly, it is so densely populated and concrete, more plants inside would be a good idea.  They are also pretty inexpensive and good quality at places like Produce Junction or Home Depot (the one on Columbus has a weirdly great nursery) so every time we go there for something random, which is about every night, we buy a plant.  A friend taught me how to make the hanging planters above, it takes 5 minutes (google it) and I've been using chairs (Alex's sister's growing up -- why don't they take any of their furniture -- I don't know perhaps we are the most desperate) as plant stands.  

So that's that for now.  I am resuming my regularly scheduled life with teaching and painting, a few exciting shows and such upcoming -- I'll be back here with details asap.