STUDIO: Twenty Minutes of Rattling Around

table

Vital Art Supplies

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I’m truly fortunate to have a dedicated studio space in my home. But even with all the supplies set out waiting to go, it takes me awhile to actually get to painting.

I refer to this as “twenty minutes of rattling around.” The production of art does not just come from the availability of the tools. The correct creative mindset must be achieved, and for me that involves setting the correct studio atmosphere.

Once I decide to paint there are a myriad of little actions needed to set the correct tone.

I change into painting clothes. I have specific pants and shirts I wear that are perfectly comfortable, ragged and paint spattered already. I tend to wipe my brush on my left sleeve when I’m in a painting frenzy, so all my painting shirts are asymmetrical, with strange multicolored passages on only one side.

I make a glass of iced tea and take it to the art table. I clear off any books or papers that have accumulated. I have to clean the cat’s litter box.

I have to pick out the appropriate music-this can be very time consuming. I might need to go rummage around in my collection for minutes just to identify the correct CD for the mood.

I might have to switch the painting on the easel out for a different one, if I need a shift of gears. Or I might flip the painting upside down, or sideways, and steal glances at it while I wander around. Trying to see what I need to do.

I make sure my notebook and pencil are handy. I’ve started taking notes about the brushes and colors I’ve used in various areas. I used to lose this information while working in a creative daze. Now I’m attempting to be more deliberate in my process.

Finally I fill the plastic tub for rinsing brushes and push play on the stereo. I’m ready to go.

If I had to set up all my art supplies before enacting this ritual, I’d never have time to actually paint at all.

STUDIO: A Full Day in the Studio

Crystal world

Richard Bledsoe “The Crystal World” acrylic on canvas 20″ x 24″

My first completed painting of 2016

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2016 and suddenly we find ourselves inundated with projects. I always say there’s nothing like a deadline for inspiration. Well, Michele Bledsoe and I have lots of inspiration right now.

This past Saturday, having so many time sensitive requirements pending led to a wonderful event: pretty much a full day in our studio, painting together.

Michele and I were both accepted into Inglorious Arizona, an upcoming exhibit co-sponsored by Artlink (a downtown Phoenix arts organization) and the Arizona Republic newspaper. We’ll be part of an upcoming Art Detour 28 group exhibit commemorating some infamous Arizona history. I’ll share more details on the true story I was assigned to depict in a future blog post.

Pieces for this show are due by early February, so we are in a real time crunch to get them done. Michele especially takes a long time to craft her elaborate and detailed imagery, so she has already been in extreme painting mode for days now, ever since we were notified of our acceptance.

On Saturday, when Michele woke me up at 7am she had already been at her easel for hours. Before I joined her I had to take care of some typical tasks and errands: exercise, shower, an abbreviated internet news and Facebooking session, then a quick run to the grocery store for the week. But by about 10am I was done and at my own easel, where I more or less spent the next 12 hours.

There will meals long the way, and even a brief nap. But the majority of the time we were both blissfully painting away.

Did I say blissful? You might not think so if you heard the way we act when painting. There is cursing sometimes. And screams of horror.

As we are intuitive artists, working out our own imaginations, we are trying to create something never seen before. Sometimes the struggle to get it right leads to some raving. We are passionate people, very engaged with a complex task, and occasionally we need to vent. Loudly.

However, the appearance of being upset is misleading: we are having the time of our lives. Like the Stuckist Manifesto counsels, “Painting is the medium of self-discovery. It engages the person fully with a process of action, emotion, thought and vision, revealing all of these with intimate and unforgiving breadth and detail.”

Like usual in the studio,  we played music to keep our energy up. Yesterday’s play list included:

Woven Hand – Woven Hand

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – Soundtrack

Mark Lanegan – Blues Funeral

Electric Light Orchestra – The Essential ELO

Kaizers Orchestra – Maestro

Paul McCartney –Ram

Rimsky-Korsocov – Scheherazade

Inglorious Arizona is just one of the projects happening now. Another is a show I’m curating at the Firehouse, one of Phoenix’s leading alternative art spaces. The exhibit is Epilogue: Contemporary Literary Art.  It’s kind of a sequel to Booked, a previous literature inspired show I assembled at the Trunk Space.

I’ve been working on my own contribution for this show, and during yesterday’s painting frenzy I completed it: a work inspired by author J. G Ballard’s strange apocalyptic novel The Crystal World.

I’m looking forward to many more days like this in the upcoming months as we keep making art happen.

ARTICLE: The Bluesman and Artistic Entrepreneurs

Tigercat Blues

Richard Bledsoe “I Woke Up to a Song Called the Tiger Cat Blues” acrylic on canvas 12″ x 16″

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Article-DELTA DAWN: How Sears, Roebuck & Co. Midwifed the Birth of the Blues

I love blues music, especially the early acoustic recordings, with their air of mystery and eeriness. Despite the drawbacks of the crude audio technology from the beginning of the twentieth century, the archetypal power of the performers, their soulful and impassioned delivery, reaches across time to speak on the human condition in a universal way.

Such is nature of all great art. The significance of the individual experience of the vast cosmos during a specific time, in a specific place, is given a specific form. The artist’s work creates a world, and seeing their world informs us about our own existence. That person’s particular story becomes the story of us all. Art is a vital reminder of the fellowship of life.

The heyday of the blues was long ago, despite the mighty influence it continues to exert on our music and culture today. Part of the fun of appreciating this type of entertainment is identifying and following the ongoing traces of blues which still surface in contemporary creative efforts.

But once upon a time, the blues wasn’t just a obscure hobby for culture junkies-it was party music for hard working people, being played live in juke joints and house parties. The article linked above gives a different perspective from the usual undiscovered-genius-of-the-Delta, romanticized vision of these musical innovators.

Blues musicians were entrepreneurs-they used their talents to improve their situations, despite the harsh conditions and limited opportunities they faced.
Now we have resources undreamed of by earlier generations. Our technology has brought us incredible communications and education. Such amazing potentials exist! This is what gives me such hope and excitement about the future of the arts. Starting almost 100 years ago, a small group of rural folk changed the course of culture with nothing but cheap mail order instruments and their own determination. How much more is possible to us now?

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Pokeweed

Richard Bledsoe “Pokeweed Foster” acrylic on canvas 16″ x 20″

STUDIO: The Soundtrack of Our Art

CDs

Essential Art Supplies

Painting is my passion. But music is my hobby.

My music collection has been decades in the making. It’s mostly CDs, which I regard as an endangered species these days.

I was sad when CDs overtook vinyl back in the 1980s as the dominant form for music releases, but I adapted. I’m glad vinyl still exists as a popular format, however I haven’t kept up purchasing records. Going digital  is unappealing to me. Part of the fun of collecting is having an actual object.

A big driver of the music collection is inspirational painting music.

My wife Michele and I always have music playing while we paint in the studio we share. We turn it up loud enough to make an impression but no so loud we can’t talk to each other.

Michele and I have very similar tastes in music, though I go to more weird extremes than she does.  She has been enjoying movie soundtracks lately, and they really set a great epic tone to work to.

When Michele takes a nap I put on headphones and listen to obnoxious punk rock and abstract hip hop.

This is the stack of CDs that have accumulated in our home studio recently. These could be seen as the soundtrack for our recent work:

Black Keys – El Camino (2011)

Last Wave – Last Wave (2014) Amazing local music

The Damned -The Black Album (1980)

Devotchka – How It Ends (2004)

Film Soundtrack -Only God Forgives (2013)

The Monks – Black Monk Time (1966)

Mark Lanegan – Field Songs (2001)

Blind Willie Johnson – Dark was the Night (1998)

Love – Forever Changes (1967)

Film Soundtrack – Trance (2013)

Pink Floyd – Obscured by Clouds (1972)

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Tender Prey (1988)

Pearl Jam – Vs (1993)

Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork (2013)

Forest Swords – Engravings (2013)

The Police – Synchronicity (1983)

Tom Waits – Bad As Me (2011)

This Is What Happened: Reviews of Vintage Music-HAIRWAY TO STEVEN

A version of this originally appeared a few years ago in the print version of AZ KAOS, a classic punk zine created by a nice bunch of folks.

BUTTHOLE SURFERS-Hairway to Steven

Released on Touch and Go 1988, re-released by Latino Buggerveil 1999

Man, there was a lot of acid going around in the 1980’s. Despite its association with the beta male values of hippie culture, LSD is not all about peace and love. What Hunter Thompson described as “the grim meat hook realities” of existence becomes clear to the fractured ego and expanded consciousness. The horror and weirdness of life is exposed, and there is no coming back from that mountain peak experience.

So once you realize you’re in the shit, what do you do? Wallow in it. Make it a party. At least that was the solution the Butthole Surfers came up with. They were a bunch of nice Texas kids gone chainsaw massacre crazy, and they were on a mission to spread the word. The group, especially in their earlier stages, was more a troop of confrontational performance artists than musicians. Influenced by sources like fellow Lone Star acid causality Roky Erikson and space rockers Hawkwind, the Surfers pursued their own agenda. Tagged with a name that couldn’t be even said on radio or TV, endlessly touring, featuring absurdist word stew lyrics including the silliest case of pottymouth since Frank Zappa, presenting sick, aggressive noise orgies supported by sensory overload stage shows, accompanied by a naked go-go dancer with poor hygiene, and reveling in drug-fueled excess-it’s hard to imagine a band with less commercial potential.

Hairway to Steven was the Surfers fourth full-length album. Their previous records featured lots of sound collages and snippets of experimental racket as opposed to more conventional song structures, crudely recorded in piecemeal fashion. But during the grueling grind of gigs, repetition was leading to skill-the Surfers grew as songwriters. When this album was recorded, the Surfers were capturing songs honed by years of performance. It features better production values than its predecessors, and was created during a focused recording session. Hairway captures the Butthole Surfers transition from balls-out Dada psycho punks to studio-savvy alternative elder statesmen. Hairway to Steven is light years away from Butthole Surfers’ gold record Electriclarryland, radio hit “Pepper”, and guest starring role in Guitar Hero, but the elements that led to mainstream accessibility have been added to their psychedelic hardcore spew.

Is that a good thing? Although the band’s later softening is disappointing (All agents defect, and all resisters sell out-William Burroughs), in Hairway chaos is still celebrated, it is just done in a more sophisticated fashion-if you can call an album illustrated by crude drawings of pooping deer and peeing baseball players sophisticated. Song titles aren’t stated on the actual album; instead, the tracks are indicated by scribbly scatological doodles. Fans have had to figure out the listing based on titles given to live recording releases of the same songs.

Album opener “Jimi” weeds out the weakly. The song can be described as a warped cover of Hendrix’s “3rd Stone from the Sun,” but it’s virtually unrecognizable. Over powerful primal percussion and screaming guitar, a Satanic growling voice seems to be torturing a helium-voiced victim. “What do you know about reality?” the monster snarls. “I am reality!”  The savage song degenerates into lumpy slabs of feedback and orgasmic grunts-and then is slowly reborn into a pastoral, meandering acoustic piece, rounded out with gentle, murmuring voices and animal sounds.

In “I Saw an X-ray of a Girl Passing Gas,” surreal rambling lyrics gradually float up into a soaring cosmic groove. “John E Smoke” comes across as a pseudo-live piece because of a random tape loop of audience cheers; it tells a shaggy dog story of visionary John (perhaps from the Book of Revelation?) who “was a crippled little lesbian boy but he stood 10 foot tall with a knife.”  And “Julio Iglesias” is a scorching rockabilly number about catching VD from your sister.

“Backass” wanders in a wailing Public Image Ltd wasteland; “Rocky” goofs on REM jangle pop. And “Ricky” chugs away with high velocity hardcore, perfect in its distortion.

Crusty, obscene, scary and sublime all at the same time, Hairway to Steven transcends genre, and becomes a lysergic sacrament performed by shamans.