Art

In my other life I was an art student. I still do things from time to time when I can. Below is a selection of some of the pieces I still have laying around, sometimes with a little explanation. The quality of the images is far from professional and in some cases downright awful, but if you squint a little and use your imagination to enhance the colors and adjust for weird lighting a bit they kind of look right. What can I say, it’s been a long time since I had access to professional-quality equipment for shooting a portfolio. Sometimes clicking on the pics gives you a bigger image that looks a little better, shows more detail, etc..

First a few things from my student days:

Model on Chair, life drawing. Charcoal on Newsprint (1992-ish)

“Model on Chair” (life drawing) Charcoal on newsprint, 1992.

In the conservative Southern school I attended at the time these were done, the models were clothed. Unusual to be sure, but it gave us added dimensions to work with in terms of the drapery effects, wrinkles, etc.

Life drawing, trois crayon on newsprint. 1992-ish.

“Model on Chair 2” (life drawing) Trois crayon on newsprint, 1992.

Deer Skull, colored pencil & charcoal on paper. 1993

“Deer Skull” Colored pencil & charcoal on paper, 1993.

This one was one of the more fun assignments we had. The task was to draw an object three times from different angles on the same sheet of paper and turn it in. The skull was just something in our still life kit. I did three charcoal studies of it then did this piece based on a composite of the studies. Kind of overdid it on the assignment parameters but I still think this is one of the better results of my classwork. Absolutely fell in love with colored pencil as a result of doing this one. I like the desolate but still beautiful emotional connotations of this piece too.

Here’s a pair I did for a contest. These pics are horrible but I don’t have better, unfortunately. I recall getting into the show with these but not winning anything. It was cool just to see them on the wall. I later wound up cannibalizing the frames I’d used for other works of the same size that I was giving away to someone but I still have the paintings.

"Left" Acryllic on panel, 1992-3.

“Left” Acrylic on panel, 1992-3.

"Right" Acrylic on panel, 1992-3

“Right” Acrylic on panel, 1992-3

As you can tell by the names they’re meant to hang side by side. At the time I was really interested in themes of change, spontaneity and order. I spent a lot of time reading thinking about how things move from chaotic states to ordered states and then back to chaotic states again, and about how to represent that in painting. I was also thinking about language and it’s role in giving order to experience–experience that in many cases was more immediate and direct than language could adequately represent. Unsurprising that I landed in philosophy, really, though at the time the only philosophy I was acquainted with was Eastern philosophy and that only passingly.

The basic idea here was that the “scribbly bit” represents the chaotic element. The imposed color choices represent the element of order. The “exploding” fringes are supposed to indicate the dynamic nature of the movement from chaos to order and back again. The flat colors are an echo of my admiration for the color-theory work of artists like Ellsworth Kelly. I did other, similar paintings where that influence is more pronounced (e.g. with all primary colors) but I’ve given those away over the years. I see pieces that look like this all the time these days. It always makes me smile a bit. Nice to know the idea wasn’t all bad.

In addition to Kelly, early-to-middle period Kandinsky and Willem DeKooning were also artists I really admired. The painting below was an attempt to work with the same themes but with a freer hand. I was trying to get out of the way and just let the painting develop naturally. The result was much more pleasing to me, personally.

"Tourmaline Big Bang" Acrylic on Canvas 1994-5

“Tourmaline Big Bang” Acrylic on canvas 1994-5.

I did about three paintings like this. One was awful, one was good enough that I traded it for a lovely piece of Japanese calligraphy from an artist in the Tokyo area. This one I still have. One thing I did get from the exercise of doing these was the idea that nature was the best possible theater for studying order, chaos, change, and experience. I found I like the palette of natural colors more too.

The late 90’s and early 00’s were busy years for me. Grad school, the PhD, an international marriage to a Japanese woman.  I didn’t do a whole lot of art in this period. Mostly drawings like this one, of a stone fountain at Eiheiji, done from a picture I took during one of several trips to Japan.

Stone Fountain at Eiheiji. Pen and ink on bristol. 1998-9

“Stone Fountain at Eiheiji” Pen and ink on bristol, 1998-9.

Here’s one from the same period done from a flower taken from an arrangement someone had sent us as a gift:

"Stargazer Lilly", pencil on paper, 2001-2.

“Stargazer Lilly” Pencil on paper, 2001-2.

Not too long after my first child was born I started hiking again. I had a relative living in Colorado at the time and would fly out to visit once a year or so. Being in nature led me back to where I’d left off with painting, and if you don’t get inspired in the Rocky Mountains, well…you’re probably dead.

"Snow Coming in Over Mt. Quandary", watercolor, 2004-5ish

“Snow Coming in Over Mt. Quandary” Watercolor, 2004-5.

Not long after this I wasn’t married anymore and became a single parent of two. That doesn’t leave much time for art, but once in a great while I get the time. Here are a few of the more recent ones:

"Dawn" Acrylic on canvas, 2008.

“Dawn” Acrylic on canvas, 2008.

This one came from mythology–another way of putting order to chaos. I’d been reading the Odyssey and could not get the phrase “Rosy-fingered dawn” out of my head. It got me thinking of how early religion so often anthropomorphizes nature, and how much sense that makes. Nothing is by turns as unpredictably chaotic, ordered, beautiful, or treacherous as a regular human. When nature behaves in these ways, to anthropomorphize it is just putting like with like. Another thing I liked about the phrase was how gentle and sweet it made waking up sound. As anyone who has survived substantial difficulty of either the physical or the emotional kind can tell you, though it may not always feel that way at the time waking up tends to be waaay better than not waking up. Maybe there’s something of that in the ancient Greek idea of the dawn goddess too.

The last is one of only a handful of recent paintings. Single parenthood and a full time academic career don’t leave much time left over for personal pursuits. When you don’t have a lot of time to make art it’s a great idea to always have a sketchbook with you. Every now and then something comes walking across your path that’s worth drawing. Here’s a pair of geese from a fishing weekend with the kids.

"Geese", black gel pen on sketch paper. 2008-9

“Geese” Black gel pen on sketch paper, 2009.

Birds, generally are interesting. Even mythical ones:

"Thunderbird" Acrylic on panel. 2009

“Thunderbird” Acrylic on panel, 2009.

I dashed “Thunderbird” off in a late night session. There’s kind of a callback here to my really early stuff, as I tried to use a similar method to that seen in “Right” and “Left”. The big difference is that I tried to do a little bit of the same “getting out of the way” as in “Tourmaline Big Bang”. The goal here was to let a semi-representational form emerge instead of an abstract rhythm. It was a fun experiment. There are a couple of these but I like the colors in this one best of the lot.

Next, a piece on ambivalence and ambiguity. Also an attempt to do something a bit more in a contemporary mode, with a recognizable human form and with more accessible emotional content and a bit of a return to Kelly-inspired noodling around with color theory. I wanted an iconic figure so I went with a “Venus of Willendorf”/eternal feminine kind of form. I wanted her to be pensive though–more of a rational eternal feminine–thinking something through. Hence the pose and the longer dress. There’s definitely a little Matisse homage in there too. I’ve come to appreciate his work more and more as the years have gone on.

"Indecision in a Green Dress" Acrylic on canvas, 2010.

“Indecision in a Green Dress” Acrylic on canvas, 2010.

That’s about it at present as far as finished works of which I have non-completely-atrocious pictures. I am still working though. Current project is a series of smaller abstract paintings based on pictures of flowers from hiking and just walking in the neighborhood. Here’s the first of the series:

"Flower Series, no.1", acryllic and charcoal on canvas 2013.

“Flower Series, no.1”, Acrylic and charcoal on canvas, 2013.

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