Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Muse

The Muse, Oil on Canvas, 12x36, Fall 2006 (sold)
This was a vision I had while waking up one morning. I didn’t know where it came from necessarily, but instead of sitting around and wondering, I just started painting and kept going… and this is what came out… hence, the title.

I actually did part of it as a demo for a class I was teaching. While talking about adding a thick more opaque layer over the thin layers underneath, I added the red nose and white face paint for the demo. Since this painting wasn’t using anything as a reference (ie. photo or model), the class was surprised with my additions. I distinctly remember a collective *gasp* when I did it.

If I stop to think about this particular painting, I can see pieces of other paintings I’ve done previously compiled into this one. This is something I noticed in hindsight…
hmmm.. let’s take a look…
I’m definitely seeing some similarities and influence here…

Here’s some info I found about the word ‘muse’ that seemed appropriate to this painting and to my experience painting it…
- Muse: the term refers to a source of inspiration, accessible by artists and generally restricted to artists (artists in a broad sense). The muse is not in itself a delusion, or hallucination, but rather a myth to which writers, musicians, painters and more are able to credit the conception of their art to - those times when the artist has not been actively designing a piece, but spontaneously has an idea for one.
- Muse in modern day terms refers to a guiding spirit or a source of inspiration.
- To be absorbed in one's thoughts; engage in meditation
- The condition of being so lost in solitary thought as to be unaware of one's surroundings
- To think or think about carefully and at length
- To experience dreams or daydreams
- To reflect deeply on a subject

The Muse came spontaneously, but that spontaneity comes from a combination of several aspects of myself – from life, art, other paintings I’ve done, other paintings I’ve seen, dreams, etc - all put into this one painting ...and hopefully others I do as well.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Paintings Inspired by a Feeling

Tree Woman, Oil on Canvas, 48x48, Summer 2005
The Harmony of Twilight and Nostalgia, mixed media, 10x13, Summer 2005

These paintings come more from a feeling, and less from a technical sense. Regarding the technical issue, though, I want to note that these two pieces were experiments with the medium(s), and were conglomerations of feeling and technical from the standpoint of having acquired what skill sets I have over the years, and then just letting go and painting what I felt. Also, I am very inspired by trees in general.

What I do want to say about the word feeling – for me, a feeling is not a word or a description of what a feeling is, it is the feeling – something that is not an easy thing to wrap a definition around, nor does it need to. If I throw a definition out there, then we all get a canned description, or a group of words that tells us how we’re supposed to feel – a tangible aspect to an otherwise intangible thing.
Tree Woman
When I painted this, I was very excited to start it. I had been told a story that inspired me to paint this. It comes from the visual that I got when the story was being told to me. It’s not the same as the visual that was in my head, but I’m satisfied with the result. This was the first painting that I tried the medium Galkyd. I like it a lot and have used it frequently since. This was an experiment with it, and I suppose being an experiment, it allowed me to free up and just paint whatever comes out. Sometimes what happens with me is that I let myself be swayed by outside sources, and have to have some sort of validation for being ‘free’. Also, in part, because I think people are jaded by the word ‘free’ when it comes to painting – and occasionally I have let myself be persuaded by other people. For me, I think it’s when free and technical cross over that things get cloudy in terms of art – and well, probably equally in life as well. I mentioned finding the balance in my first post regarding my self portrait. I’m seeing a pattern here.

The Harmony of Twilight and Nostalgia
This painting is a mixed media piece. It’s traditional and digital. The traditional aspects are painted textures in acrylic and oil. The woman is painted digitally, and the tree is a photograph that is painted into and added to digitally. The stars are from a photograph of a really cool wrought iron umbrella at the San Diego harbor. The tree is a beautiful huge tree that stands in a large open grassy area in front of the Mission San Luis Rey, and it is quite a tree. The digital parts are painted and cloned, and burned and multiplied, and well, very experimental in terms of procedure. That’s the way I work digitally, for the most part because it allows for a different kind of freedom.

In terms of my own work, these two pieces are two of my own personal favorites currently. It’s about the feeling I had that inspired me to paint them, the feeling I had when I painted them, and the feeling I get when I look at them. And that part I can’t quite wrap a definition around.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Portrait in Memory of Scott Helvenston

Portrait of Scott Helvenston, Oil on Canvas, 12x16, Summer 2005 (commission/sold)
Scott Helvenston was one of the four contractors who were ambushed and killed in Fallujah, Iraq, March 31 2004. (click here to learn more).

With any portrait, it’s important to have a focus before you begin. I felt it was important to make sure that this would be a portrait that could instill happy memories, and could transcend the memories ensued by March 31, 2004.

This was a commissioned portrait. I was given several different photos for reference, from which I pieced together the best captured expression, lighting, angle, etc. There are so many variables just in terms of getting a likeness in the physical sense, and then there are so many other aspects to take into consideration as well. I feel this changes with every portrait I do. This could really go in several directions, but in the case of this particular portrait, there were a couple main issues that came up while painting this that I thought I'd touch on because they are issues that come up occasionally with other things at different times as well.

Visuals from outside sources that were getting in the way.
These particular visuals, however, were very motivating in a sense, but I had to get past it all in my own head in order to paint this portrait in the way that it needed to be painted. I do want to point out that I intend not to write any definition of my visuals, or describe them in words, in order to keep with the focus I noted above. I remember seeing the pictures of the incident in Fallujah on the internet. When I discovered that this man that I was painting was one of the four men involved, and the stories unfolded as I read more and more about him, I had to remind myself to stay focused. Also, considering I was painting this for someone in his family, it was very important to me that he was depicted in a positive light, with a lasting memory of happiness.

I didn’t know the person I was painting. And this will not be an uncommon aspect in my career as an artist. This is one of those times in general when it becomes most apparent that as artists, we put ourselves into our work. To paint something deeper than a likeness without knowing the person can be a bit tricky. So if we are injecting a feeling, then it inevitably has to be our own. This is also an example of the incredible connection of the nature of things and the contagiousness of energy. When we paint what is indefinitely our own feeling, and especially when we feel very strongly, it will always hit a universal chord. That’s not to say that everyone will feel the same about the painting, but there will be something being said that will touch a place deeper than the surface. And I think it would make sense to hope for different interpretations too. What made this one tough were the feelings that I had that were caused by the things I saw. Ultimately, it's up to me to influence the energy in the right direction.
My client was a close friend to Scott’s family. She gave me photos to work from, and could give me feedback as to whether she thought it looked like him and I could get a sense by her comments and reactions whether it felt like him or not. In this portrait, there is nothing being said about the visuals that were committed to memory from the incident in Fallujah. This could make for a very powerful message, but would entail painting an entirely different type of portrait. It was important to me that I did not have any of that energy in this painting. This commission was to be straightforward in the physical nature of the painting. As far as feeling, it is straightforward as well. He has a commanding presence - strong, confident, and happy - and heroic, as he had lived his life. I felt that this was how he and his family and friends would want him to be remembered.