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I have posted This description of one of the process for one of my paintings, followed by a short video showing its evolution from start to finish, a couple of times over the past nines years.  I thought it might be a good time to revisit it as there are many new readers who may not be familiar with how my work comes together. I paint in two distinctly different processes, one being a reductive process where I put paint on the surface then remove much of it and this process that is additive, with layer after layer of paint building up. Here’s what I wrote in January of 2011:

I worked on a new piece the last couple of days, a large canvas that is 24″ by 48″. I had already gessoed the canvas with a distinct texture and applied a layer of black paint. I had vague ideas of where I thought the painting might go from a composition standpoint but knew that this was only a starting point in my mind. Like most of my paintings, the finished product is often drastically different than what I imagined at the beginning. As I paint, each bit of paint dictates the next move and if I don’t try to force in something that goes against these subtle directions given to me by the paint the piece usually has an organic feel, a natural rhythm in the way the different elements go together. A cohesion of sorts.

Knowing I wanted to use a cityscape in this piece, I started in the bottom left, slowly building the city with geometric forms and rooflines in a red oxide paint that I use to block in my composition. I prefer using the red oxide because it gives a warmth under the layers paint to come that shows through in small bits that are almost undetectable at a quick glance. 

At this point I still am unsure where the painting is going. I have thoughts of filling the canvas completely with the cityscape with the smallest view of the sky through the buildings but am not married to this idea. The paint isn’t telling me enough yet to know. But it has told me that I want a path of some sort- a street or canal- through the composition. I make room for one near the center before starting on the right side with the buildings there. I go back and forth between the right and left sides as I build the city, constantly stepping back to give it a good look from a distance to assess its progress and direction. 

 At a point where the city is nearing the halfway point on filling the canvas, I decide I want this piece to be less about the cityscape and more about how it opens to the open sky beyond it. I extend the road that started at the bottom and twist it upward, terminating it at a bend in what will be now a field beyond the city edge. The sky, though still empty, is pushing me ahead, out of the city. The piece has become about a sense of escape, taking the street from the cityscape and heading upward on it towards the open fields and sky. Painting faster now, another field with a bit of the road appearing is finished beyond the first lower field. I have created a cradle in the landscape for the sky to which I now turn my brush.

There’s a certain symmetry at work here and I decide I want the central focus of a sun in this composition. I roughly block in a round form, letting it break beyond the upper edge of the canvas. I pay little attention to the size of this sun except in its relationship to the composition below it. My suns and moons are often out of proportion to reality but it doesn’t matter to me so long as it translates properly in the context of the painting. If  it works well,  it isn’t even noticed.

I finish blocking in the sky with the red oxide, radiating the strokes away from the sun,  and step back. [The video below basically begins at this point in the process] The piece has began to come alive for me and I can start to see where it is going. The color is starting to fill in in my mind and I can see a final version there. This is usually a very exciting time in the process for me, especially if a piece has a certain vitality. I sense it here and am propelled forward now, quickly attacking the sky with many, many brushstrokes of multiple colors. working from dark to light. 

There are layers of a violet color in different shades that are almost completely obscured by subsequent layers. I could probably leave out these violet layers but the tiny shards that do barely show add a great depth to the flavor of the painting for me and to leave them out would weaken the piece in a way. 

I have painted several hours on the sky now and still have a ways to go before it reaches where I see it in my mind. There are no shortcuts now. Just the process of getting to that final visualized point. But it’s dinnertime and my day is now done. I pick up and step back to give it one final look before I head out into the darkness. This is where the painting is at this point, where I will start soon after I post this:

GC Myers Process jan-2011-pt-2 In the blog post with the final version I then wrote:

Above is the tentatively finished version of the painting I started earlier this week, a 24″ by 48″ canvas that I am considering calling Escape Route. I showed the first few steps of the painting process on this blog two days ago, ending with the sky being near finished and the composition blocked in. I’m not going to go into all the steps and decisions that went into completing this piece. Instead, I put together a short film that shows the painting evolving to the finished product.

I will say that the final version is much different in many ways than I first envisioned with the first strokes of red oxide that went on the canvas. Each subsequent bit of color, each line that appeared, altered the vision in my head just a bit, evolving the piece constantly until the very end of the process. Even the last part, where I inserted the treeline that appears on the farthest ridge, was not seen in my mind until just before the decision to proceed with them was made. I decided to go with this treeline to create a final barrier for the road to break past on its way upward toward the sky. A final moment of escape.

This painting has given me a great sense of satisfaction after finishing it. I spent much of the late afternoon yesterday just looking at it and taking it in. I don’t know if it will translate as well on the computer screen but this piece has substantial size at 24″ by 48″ which gives great weight to the blocks of color from the buildings and the light from the sky. There is a sense of completeness here that I could  only struggle to explain, but as I said, brings me great satisfaction. I feel as though the evolved painting has exceeded what I imagined when I first started this piece. While I can’t fully explain that, it is all I can hope for from my work.

I will spend some more time over the next several weeks looking at this painting, determining if anything should be tweaked or altered.  A highlight added here, a line made crisper there. But as it stands, it feels as thought it has taken on its own life and I will probably leave it alone as it is.

 

991143 Escape Route 2011

And here’s the video, only about a minute long, that shows how the piece came about.

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One part of my show that opened Friday night (and continues to hang through the month and into July) at the Principle Gallery was the first public exhibition of the Multitudes series that consists of masses of faces. The response to these pieces was very strong, more than I had anticipated with a couple of the pieces finding new homes. I knew that the potential sales aspect of this series might take a bit of time at the start just to get viewers acclimated to the work. But  I wasn’t confronted by anyone who felt uneasy by them and that is a victory of sorts. At least, a good first step.

I was pleased with the way these pieces blended in with the more typical body of my work. I think that plays well into the idea that we are all prisms with multiple facets that are not visible to everyone at all times. While this work may not have been evident before, it was still there in place. As much a part of who I am as any other piece in the body of my work. Just a different aspect.

Below is a slideshow of the pieces at the show.

https://spark.adobe.com/video/zyiabQaWWtnmm

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I never made a person look bad. They do that themselves.

-August Sander

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I came across a video this morning that I want to share. It is a PBS produced film called What This Photo Doesn’t Show and delves into the backstory and meaning of the photo shown here, Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance, taken by the German photographer August Sander in 1914.

It’s an a provocative photo, one that provides plenty of material for one to create narratives in their imagination. So, to learn more about the young men and the story behind the photo adds an additional layer of interest.

August Sander (1876-1964) was considered the most important German photographer of the of the early 20th century. Sander was widely recognized for a collection of portfolios of his portraits taken over a couple of decades. Titled People of the 20th Century, it contained hundreds of his photos that documented a wide spectrum of the German people of that era, from the working classes to the more privileged classes to the homeless and forsaken.

He also produced a book in 1929, Face of Our Time, that contained a group of 60 of these portraits. Under the Nazi regime a few years later, this book was banned and the printing plates for it destroyed. He was allowed to continue working as a photographer but kept under the radar. His son, as a Socialist, was sentenced to ten years in a German prison, where he died in 1944, near the end of his sentence.

That same year, 1944, a bombing raid destroyed Sander’s studio, destroying many of his negatives. Two years later, an accidental fire destroyed the remaining archived negatives of his work. It was said there were around 40,000 negatives at that time. Sander basically stopped working as a photographer at that time until his death in 1964.

The August Sander Archive, even with the great loss of the fires, contains about 5000 photos and 11,000 negatives.

If you have about 9 minutes, take a look at this video. I think you’ll find it interesting and informative.

 

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Have a lot of things to get at this morning so I wasn’t planning on  writing anything. But I came across a painting from an artist unknown to me that I thought I would share. The artist is Todros Geller, a Jewish American printmaker/painter who was born in Ukraine in 1889 and, after immigrating to Canada in 1906, in 1918 moved to Chicago which remained his home until his death in 1949. I don’t know much about Geller but found this painting intriguing along with some of his other works which I urge you to look into.

Strange Worlds, above, is a 1928 painting which depicts an older man, most likely a newspaper vendor under the steps of the elevated rail in Chicago. The composition really pulled me in as did Geller’s treatment of his colors and tones. Just a wonderful piece.

I also found a nice video on this work that better interprets the painting and explains the background and history behind it. I am normally not thrilled with these kinds of interpretative art videos but this was well done and really felt that the information provided here filled out this particular painting nicely. Please take a few minutes to watch and see what you think.

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I was listening to some music early this morning and came across this song, one that I hadn’t heard in a number of years. Thought it might be a good one to share if only to show the painting that adorned the album cover from which it came.

The painting is from Pieter Bruegel the Elder from 1559. It is titled Netherlandish Proverbs and contains depictions of at least 112 proverbs or idioms used by the Dutch at the time. Some are still in use, such as “Banging your head against a brick wall” which you can see in the bottom left hand corner. Others have faded from usage, like”Having one’s roof tiled with tarts” which indicates that one is very wealthy.

If you go to the Wikipedia page for the painting there is a great list of the the proverbs along with the imagery for each. I am enjoying it as I work my way through the list. Even without the list, looking closely at a Bruegel painting is always a great pleasure.

The painting was used on the cover of the Seattle based Fleet Foxes‘ self-titled 2008 first album. The song is White Winter Hymnal which works well for this time of the season. The lyrics are actually kind of nonsensical but the song is lovely and the video is interesting. The song has also been covered by the acapella group Pentatonix.

So, take a look at the painting and hopefully you will enjoy the song and video. Have a good day.

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Diego Rivera- Zapatista Landscape 1915

 

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As an artist I have always tried to be faithful to my vision of life, and I have frequently been in conflict with those who wanted me to paint not what I saw but what they wished me to see.

–Diego Rivera

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Big fan of the work of Diego Rivera (1886-1957), the great Mexican painter/muralist and husband of Frida Kahlo. There is much I love in his work such as the way his colors harmonize and soar off the surfaces, the sheer brilliance of his compositions, the scale and breadth of his murals and the fact that his work was beautiful and powerful in whatever genre or style he chose at any given moment. He was also fearless in expressing his political and philosophical beliefs in his work, often becoming a strong element in his work.

I also admire his absolute devotion to his own voice in his work, as noted in the quote above. He painted his own vision, not what others desired him to see. That’s a big thing for any artist and not something easily done. Too often artists try to work for the approval of other eyes, for people who want their work to remain as they have always known it.

It’s understandable from the perspective of a viewer to want an artist to remain in that space that first attracted the viewer. They know and like the work as it is and perhaps can’t imagine it becoming more than it is if it somehow evolves or changes. Or they fear it will become less or something that doesn’t speak to them in the same way. As I said, it’s understandable.

But from the artist’s point of view this present a threat in that this may stop them from expanding their creative vision. They begin to be afraid to go off their own beaten path, to try new things, to move out of their comfort zone to challenge themselves, and to grow their self-created universe. They remain in a known space and may never know how expansive their vision might be if they only tried.

From what I know, Diego Rivera always moved to new creative spaces with his work. He painted with his own voice, even in his commissioned murals. I still stumble on pieces of his that surprise me.

A true inspiration.

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Diego Rivera’s Mural at the City College of San Francisco

Detroit Institute of Arts Mural Segment

Diego Rivera- Flower Seller

Diego Rivera- The Alarm Clock

Diego Rivera- Nocturnal Landscape 1947

Diego Rivera- Symbolic Landscape 1940

Diego Rivera- View of Toledo 1912

Detroit Institute of Arts Mural Segment

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The words above are on a wall at the United States Holocaust Museum. Most of you are most likely aware of them. First They Came… is a poem written by the German Lutheran minister Martin Niemöller in the aftermath of World War II. In the early 1930’s, Niemöller was initially a nationalist— yes, there’s that word again–and strongly supported the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party. But as the Nazis increased their persecution of those they saw as inferior, he began to sour ( even though he still sometimes used anti-Semitic rhetoric in his sermons of that time) on Nazism and eventually began to speak out against their policies.

He was arrested in 1937 and spent 1938-1944 in prison camps including Dachau, narrowly escaping execution. In the aftermath of the war Niemöller spoke openly of his regret for his early support of the Nazis and the fact he did little to help their victims in that time. He became an advocate for pacificism and an opponent of nationalism in any form. First They Came… was a poem that he used often in different iterations in his speeches and sermons after the war.

Its themes of persecution, irresponsibility and cowardice are pertinent in any time when autocrats seek to take control through scapegoating and division.

These themes were employed in a 1951 poem, The Hangman, written by Maurice Ogden. It is a poetic parable about a hangman who enters a small town and erects a gallows. As in Niemöller’s poem, the townspeople stand idly by as he takes their neighbors. They believe because they are somehow different from their neighbors, they will be spared.

But, of course, they are not.

The Hangman was made into a an acclaimed animated short film in 1964. It is pretty crude when compared to today’s animations. But that crudeness seems to add a sense of menace to the power of this parable.

Perhaps you don’t see the parallels between this film or Niemöller’s poem with the events taking place in the world today. Perhaps you not concerned with the huge rise in anti-Semitic here over the past two years, the election of an openly fascist leader in Brazil this week or the widespread surge of nationalism and racially biased hate groups around the globe. Maybe you even think the so-called caravan of death and disease is a real threat, as ridiculous as that whole thing is.

Maybe you think that you are safe and secure, hardly a target for hatred or persecution.

That is exactly why you should speak up for those who are targeted now. Because when you become the persecuted, who will be left to stand up for you? The cowards that allowed things to get to that point will not suddenly gain the courage to defend you.

Take a look at the film if you have the time. It’s about eleven minutes in length. You can also read it by clicking here.

Speak up. Don’t look the other way. And vote hard. 

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