Yearly Archives: 2015

Letters mark-adams4

“With our calculated sensitivity we artists are able to see and to some degree reproduce nuances that others may know of but not be able to express. That’s why we’re so highly paid.” Every once in a while, in a workshop or a speech, I mention something like the above. Funnily, this line always gets a laugh. Artists roll their eyes and think, “Oh yeah — highly paid — who does he think he’s kidding.” I’ve never thought I was kidding.

Letters christoforos-asimis_voreina

Around Cycladic archeological sites, in the museums and even the sunscreen shops, are small and large figurines chiseled from local marble. They have the look of the Moderns — smooth and stylized, with blank, polished faces. The locals call them Kouros, or “man” — a term now used for all male figures in Greek sculpture. Near the village of Apollonas you can scramble up a rocky bank where an 11-metre-long marble Kouros lies across the hillside overlooking the sea at the edge of the quarry from which it came. He’s thought to be a statue of Dionysus — the god of wine — abandoned mid-chisel around 600 B.C.

Letters Anders-Zorn_Emma-Zorn

My friend and fellow artist Joe Blodgett devised a system he calls “The 14 Golden Stations.” At the time he was concerned with procrastination and time wasting — conditions that attack some artists. It works this way: You need a clock or a watch with an hourly chime. On the hour changes — generally from 8am to 9pm — you make a one-word note in a journal accounting for what you catch yourself doing. For yesterday mine looked like this: Walking, emailing, painting, painting, varnishing, driving, dreaming, planning, painting, painting, reading, snoozing, painting, painting.

Letters linds-redding

The Cycladic island of Naxos is dotted with white, cube-shaped houses clumped along the hillside in spaced, diminishing line-ups or stacked in a town labyrinth, an ever-narrowing grid climbing to a cloudless, cerulean sky. The edges are hard and soft with flat, angular shadows creeping across the summer walls in warm and cool greys. Balance and function make room for eye-stretches, patterning and design glee. I’m a rubbernecker on the back of the quad bike, grabbing at shapes and inhaling feelings for future art meals.

Letters dianna-poindexter_painting-Levi-Leisha

My studio is now silent. Visitors have evaporated to their own spaces. It’s late at night. The brush dashes here and there. Is it habit, addiction, pastime, a need to connect again? Why am I so absurdly happy? I’m thinking of Maya Angelou: “A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.”

Over the summer artists have written — out of the blue — to confide the nature of happiness. Although varied, many of the remarks spoke of a universal idea — along the lines of Arthur Schopenhauer’s idea: “Happiness belongs to those who are sufficient unto themselves…

Letters chiura-Obata_Horse

Three types of clutter invade painting: too many design elements, tightness and over-stroking. Cull compositional elements or zoom in to simplify and strengthen design. Try to focus on the features that, when combined, excite you most. Tightness is a product of fear – fear of getting into a colour mess or losing control of the composition. It creeps in with insidious ease when using a too-small or same-size brush throughout, and when over-rendering, over-detailing, over-focusing or hanging onto things. Instead, look for opportunities for obfuscation, mystery, paucity, joy and other painterly moments. Over-stroking diminishes the value of the strokes that count

Letters Edgar-Degas_after-the-bath-woman-drying-her-nape800x754

Toulouse-Lautrec remarked, “A professional model is like a stuffed owl. These girls are alive.” He was referring to the women in the brothel. He had a point. A pose, while worthwhile for its own sake, is also static.

I often wonder what Michelangelo would have done with an instrument that froze his models in mid-action and left him to work them up at his leisure. As every artist who has used the method knows, photography’s a loyal slave and a tyrannical master. Here are a few ideas to prevent her from getting the better of you:

Letters paul_cezanne_still-life.800x647

Like Mozart and Michael Jackson, Picasso was pumping out masterworks before puberty and demonstrated the key features of early bloomers: he was prolific, energetic, intuitive, idea-driven and speedy. At 15 and while still in art school, young Pablo painted his sister Lola in The First Communion — you can see it at the Museu Picasso in Barcelona with many of his other adolescent efforts. University of Chicago economist David Galenson, after analyzing auction results, concluded that Picasso’s earliest works are his priciest and therefore his best. According to Galenson, the poor guy peaked early.

Letters marcel-duchamp_chess

In the jargon of the critic or art historian “serious artist” is often equated with “important.” I’ve always taken it to mean something else — someone who takes his or her work seriously.

If you accept this latter definition then the idea of quality is left out. An artist may struggle for a lifetime of seriousness in a morass of inadequacy. Top notch work is illusive, even for us geniuses. This thought is so depressing that it has been known to drive some people into chartered accountancy.

Letters Basquiat_bird-on-money900x657

A subscriber who wishes to remain anonymous wrote, “Recently, I put four of my paintings into a new gallery that takes anything and everything. Two months later, my artwork was put in a closet. If I want to stay there, my only option is to rent a wall for about $155 a month. Contract signed, month-to-month, this way my artwork will remain hanging no matter how many artists they bring in. What good is having art in a gallery if it’s put in a closet?”

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