Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘MUltitudes’

Funny how the mind works sometimes.

Lately I’ve been showing some paintings from a new series that features masses of faces. Last week I wrote that these groups of faces reminded me of the artifact from the subterranean layers from my Archaeology series. I thought that was a new observation as was the whole idea of this series.

But yesterday I was going through a bin of old work that I haven’t looked through in years and came across the piece shown above. It was done in the early days of 2008 when I was trying to break from a painting funk as I prepared for my annual show at the Principle Gallery that June. The Red Tree had been firmly entrenched as my trademark in the eight prior shows and I felt that it was boxing me in and that I was running out of gas.

It was becoming harder and harder to create the excitement in myself from the work that was needed to make it come alive.

So I turned to a task that a 5th grade art teacher had given me years before. He gave us large sheets of paper and told us to simply fill them, in pen and ink, with anything that came to mind. It could be simple shapes but he suggested making it a junkyard of objects. So I would start at the bottom of the page, drawing things piled on top of other things until the page was full.

It was an exercise that became a regular thing with me in adulthood as I would doodle this way in the margins of newspapers and in journals. Being blocked as I was back in early 2008, I pulled out a Sharpie and many sheets of watercolor paper. I spent a week or so just filling these sheets and at the end of that time the idea of the Archaeology series evolved from this work.

But since then I had completely forgot that I has did one of these sheets with simply drawn faces. It’s not particularly great in any way. It is rough and sloppy but I can see in it the beginnings of the Multitudes series. Around that time, I was drawing faces with a blunt Sharpie, trying to create an expressive face with as few lines and detail as possible. Here’s are two examples from that time taken from an old art business calendar that used as a sketchbook.

So, the idea that I am currently chasing is not new at all. It was forgotten, sitting in some far corner of my mind, biding its time until I was ready for it. Apparently that time has come.

Funny how the mind works sometimes.

Read Full Post »

************************

Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, one by one.

Charles MacKay,

Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds

**************************

I am still in the midst of a frenzy of faces.

I call this group of work, like the newer painting above, a 20″ by 20″ canvas, Masks or Multitudes. This particular piece is still untitled although I am seeing it as The Crowd for the moment.

Still not sure what the meaning is behind these pieces.

Maybe there is no meaning. Maybe they are just familiar shapes and it is a matter of color and form that is attracting me.

Maybe attracting is the wrong word because it is not really attraction that has me painting them. A better word might be compelling. I feel compelled to paint these at this time.

Why is another thing altogether.

On one hand, I see it in the terms of Walt Whitman‘s voice in Song of Myself, as I wrote here recently– I am large, I contain multitudes. In this rationale, the faces are part of me, individual pieces of a whole. It makes sense as I have been seeing these faces all my life. They seem part of me.

Maybe that is what these paintings are.

But then sometimes I see something different in them and think that they are quite something else. Something less benign. Something more strange.

Strange because I have become more and more averse to crowds, especially the collective behavior of crowds. While I try to subscribe to Will Rogers‘ mantra of I never met a man I didn’t like, I find myself leery of crowds. I would change Roger’s line a bit, to something more like I never met a crowd I liked with one caveat–I only feel somewhat comfortable with crowds at my gallery talks or openings. I don’t fear and sort of understand the common denominator of those groups.

But mob thought in general worries and alarms me. It seems too easy for one to be swept up in the frenzy of a mob, to sacrifice aspects of yourself for a collective aspect that might not normally be seen in you when you as an individual.

That might even apply to the overall intelligence of a crowd. You would think the level of intelligence would rise with the inclusion of more minds but actually it seems to lower to compensate for the common denominator. As the late writer Terry Pratchett put it:  The intelligence of that creature known as a crowd is the square root of the number of people in it.

As a result the crowd is subject to manipulation, to being led astray from what the individual knows is right when they really consider it in solitude. It becomes easy to believe things that might otherwise seem ridiculous or outrageous.

We have plenty of examples of that in our current state of affairs here in the USA.

Sometimes I see this work in that way, as representing the mob. But then again when  look deeper and see the faces individually, they seem less threatening and more along the lines of Whitman’s thought.

I just don’t know. That they compel me might be all I can say with any certainty. I find myself being both uneasy and comforted by this work. And there’s something to be said for that paradox and contrast. They are important aspects of art, the part that imparts meaning.

Hope that is what I am looking at.

Read Full Post »

*********************

Walt Whitman: Song of Myself, Part 51

 

The past and present wilt—I have fill’d them, emptied them.

And proceed to fill my next fold of the future.

Listener up there! what have you to confide to me?

Look in my face while I snuff the sidle of evening,

(Talk honestly, no one else hears you, and I stay only a minute longer.)

Do I contradict myself?

Very well then I contradict myself,

(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

I concentrate toward them that are nigh, I wait on the door-slab.

Who has done his day’s work? who will soonest be through with his supper?

Who wishes to walk with me?

Will you speak before I am gone? will you prove already too late?

 

*******************************

The image shown on the right is another new painting, a 36″ by 18″ canvas that is part of a new group that has drawn a great deal of my attention lately in the studio. They are large groups of faces that are painted in an almost subconscious manner, with little if any forethought given as to how they relate to the surrounding faces. They emerge from dashes of paint and quickly rendered shapes that cause me to simply find human form in them.

It is very intuitive work. It reminds me very much of the process involved in painting the subterranean artifact layers in my Archaeology series. Just make a mark then transform it into something tangible, something possible.

I have known most of these faces for forty or fifty years. They have lived in me, have emerged periodically on bits of paper, on journal pages and in the margins of the newspaper. Some have shown themselves individually in some of my work through the years– the Exiles, Outlaws and Icons series for example.

But they all seem familiar to me. Some possess a pleasant and friendly aura and others much less so. Some are ugly and bitter in appearance. Some even seem evil and worry me a bit, causing me to ask if they are all just variations of my own self.

I don’t really know.

Part of me says yes. I was instantly reminded of the line from Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself  (shown above):  Do I contradict myself?/Very well then I contradict myself,/(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Whitman’s grand poem had him speaking as the voice of the collective consciousness of mid-18th century America, a voice that encompassed all sorts of people and attitudes that make up the stewpot that is this country, then and now. As an artist, the hope is that your own work taps into that same vein, that it speaks to connects with the wider spectrum of people. So, in doing this, in attempting to access this collective multitude, to pull them all from your own inner self.  To do so, you have to find that part of yourself that is part of all of them.

Can it be hope and love? Fear and anger? Or just the emotion of being?

I don’t really know.

What I do know is that there is something in this work that seems right for the moment.  Seeing these groups of faces had me wondering how this had slipped by me for so long. It feels natural, like it should have been part of my work for some time now.

So how had I not did this before? I think the answer is that I needed to develop the skills and visual vocabulary to do these pieces in a way that used the faces in the most impactful way. If I had did this years ago, I think it would have been lacking the color, rhythm and forms needed to make them effective. Those are all things that have come from years and many tens pf thousands of hours in the studio. For me, these paintings are a great coupling of subject-these crude faces– and those elements– color, rhythm and form. I find myself attracted as much by the colors and shapes as I am by the individual faces.

I am considering calling this group Multitudes from the line from Uncle Walt. Or it might still be Masks from the for the appearance the faces have with their dark eyelessness.

I am still trying to figure this out so excuse this off the cuff writing. There are a lot of thoughts emerging and growing even as I write this so I reserve the right to change to contradict myself at some later point. Like Walt, if I contradict myself, so be it — I am large, I contain multitudes.

 

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts

%d bloggers like this: