STUDIO: The Mirror Test

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Mirror mirror on the wall:

A tool for self critique

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No matter how cleverly you sneak up on a mirror, your reflection always looks you straight in the eye.

-Louis Cyphre, Angel Heart

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The image above is not me; it is my reflection in our bathroom mirror. Michele Bledsoe snapped it while I was contemplating one of my works in progress.

It’s a problematic piece, one I’ve been working on for a long time without resolution. That is why it’s getting the mirror test.

I’ve written before on painting as being a process of seeing and judging, and the various ways I have to tweak the way I ponder on my unfinished paintings so I can see them with fresh eyes. I look at them upside down or sideways; I put them near completed paintings for comparison. Even moving them to different locations, like outside on the front porch, lets me break out of the tunnel vision that can develop while a work is being created.

As an intuitive painter, you have to be own worst critic. Since you are creating a world out of your own unique vision, only you will understand where that world fails to conform to its own principles, where the spell is broken. You must fearlessly identify the flaws and weak spots of the image. All these variations on looking break the limiting habits you fall into while staring for so long at the art being created.

The mirror test involves looking at the image in the mirror, and seeing it all reversed. Michele says it’s a great way to identify drawing issues. I look for ill defined passages, places that lack the dramatic interplay and balance that every good painting distributes across its entire surface.

Just like looking at ourselves, looking at our art in the mirror is a ruthless means for self knowledge.

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“Spirituality is the journey of the soul on earth. Its first principle is a declaration of intent to face the truth. Truth is what it is, regardless of what we want it to be. Being a spiritual artist means addressing unflinchingly our projections, good and bad, the attractive and the grotesque, our strengths as well as our delusions, in order to know ourselves and thereby our true relationship with others and our connection to the divine.”

-The Remodernist Manifesto

STUDIO: The Image Morgue

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These fragments I have shored against my ruin: a sample of my reference material

 

“The model is not to be copied, but to be realized.”

-Robert Henri

In painting, there really are no rules. But understanding painting as I do, there is a prevalent practice these days which I find completely undermines the integrity of the act.

Projector artists. Artists who cheat themselves and their audience by projecting an image onto their canvas and doing a paint-by-numbers routine to create their works. Artists like this have reduced themselves to a mere cog in a mechanical reproduction process, not creating, but taking dictation from their gadgets. They let their tools make their discoveries for them. It is an inferior mode of creation.

If you’re an artist, do your own rendering.

Now I am not rejecting the use of source material. I learned the hard way, through years of artistic practice, I lack the omnipotent powers of observation and recall to paint strictly out of my own mind and produce the results I want.

How do a frog’s legs attach to its body? How many wings does a mosquito have? What is the musculature of a horse? These are just some of the composition problems I have encountered. I can’t see clearly enough into my memory to reach the level of realism I want in my paintings.

So I use source material. Not all the time, but when it’s important to get something right, and I can’t summon the depth of detail I’d like to. When needed, I find photographs on the internet of what I want to portray, print them out, and study them.

But then-and this is the really important part-I put the photograph down, and paint what I remember about it, what I learned about it.

The image passes through the filters of my consciousness and becomes more me. And that is vital in art: depicting your own unique sensibility.

I leave a scattering of paint spattered sheets of paper lying around the studio. But then, my wife Michele Bledsoe comes along and rescues them, and files them away in our office. Safely stored in a drawer, there’s a manila folder bulging with pictures. It’s my image morgue.

A morgue file is an old hard-boiled term, dating back to the days of gumshoes and ace reporters. It was a way they described the newspaper clippings they collected for quick reference. The idea still creates a powerful tie to the past.

Looking back through this folder today, I was amazed to see a history of my paintings unfolding before me. Seeing the crumbled pages brought back memories of the times I was actually utilizing them in my artistic struggles. It was like visiting with old friends.

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A small sampling that I can relate back to 6 different paintings

ART QUOTES: “All Toys are Icons to Begin With.”

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Malcolm Morley “Approaching Valhalla”

“The toy is the child’s earliest initiation to art, or rather for him it is the first concrete example of art, and when mature age comes, the perfect examples will not give his mind the same feelings of warmth, nor the same enthusiasms, nor the same sense of conviction.”

-Charles Baudelaire, French Poet

In contemporary life, toys have been largely replaced by gadgets and product placements,  just as art had been replaced by commodities and brand name recognition.

The degradation of simple enriching joys into ugly trends is an unfortunate characteristic of this age, but it is not irreversible. The sense of wonder and play that both real toys and good art can create is accessible to authentic individuals who still value curiosity.

English artist Malcolm Morley understands the power and use of toys, and applies it in his art. Much of the content of his paintings are based off of toys he’s found, or created himself.

Morley states:

“All toys are icons to begin with…I don’t call them toys. I like to call them models. The thing about so-called ‘toys’ is that there is an unconsciousness in society that comes out in its toys. Toys represent an archetype of the human figure…it is the underbelly of society of which it is not aware. So it is unguarded. These things are more than toys. The other factor is their scale in relation to you. Your perception of yourself in relation to these figures is that you are giant, like a God with an omnipotent view.”

He traces this fascintation with toys to a formative event from his youth. As a boy in WWII London, Morley build a balsa wood model ship and set it on his windowsill, intending to paint it the next day. That night a German bomb blew the front of his house off; the boat was destroyed.

Morley’s  work has evolved throughout his career; in the 1960s he could be said to have invented Photorealism, though he never accepted that label. At first he painted ships-or rather, he painted from postcard pictures of ships.

Morley Ship

Malcolm Morley “SS Amsterdam in Front of Rotterdam”

But through the years Morley incorporated toys into his artwork: using lead soldiers, kachina dolls and miniature cowboys as subjects for paintings.

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Malcolm Morley “Arizonac”

He also constructs three dimensional models of ships, planes and buildings from watercolor paper and encaustic paint, which he then uses as still life arrangements for paintings.

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A Morley Tableau

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Malcolm Morley “Margate”

Malcolm Morley Crusade, 2000 oil on linen 38 3/16 x 46 1/8 in. (97 x 117.2 cm)  SW 00053

Malcolm Morley “Crusade”

In my own work, I want my art to have that sense of playful purpose Morley describes.

Recently I had an opportunity to work on the subject of toys quite literally. The Firehouse, one of Phoenix’s leading alternative art spaces, held a toy-themed show. My contribution captured the sense of implied storytelling I enjoy so much. Working using toys as models was also my way of doing a tribute to Malcolm Morley, an inventive and adventurous painter.

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Richard Bledsoe “Dragon, Fireman” acrylic on canvas 8″ x 10″

Dynamic explorations such as Morley’s are a perfect illustration of a statement from the Stuckist Manifesto:

It is the Stuckist’s duty to explore his/her neurosis and innocence through the making of paintings and displaying them in public, thereby enriching society by giving shared form to individual experience and an individual form to shared experience.

 

STUDIO: Painting in Progress 4-Completion

A Tale of the Forked River

Richard Bledsoe “A Tale of the Forked River” acrylic on canvas 36″ x 36″

On March 15 I posted a picture of a blank canvas I had just built. I finished the painting on Sunday June 28.

As we share our studio space, my wife Michele Bledsoe and I also share observations. We’ve been able to identify how we can tell our paintings are completed.

This is important for intuitive artists, working out imagery that comes from the imagination. Technically a painting is never really done. You just have to be able to recognize an effective stopping point, where the piece has reached a place of integrity: the sense of being whole, where even the contradictions are part of an overall unity.

A work in progress is full of problems. As we paint we zero in on the problem areas. Each adjustment creates a new set of issues. During this process all we can see on the paintings are the problems needing to be fixed.

As a painting nears completion, we start to see the entire image again.

So what does my painting “A Tale of the Forked River” mean?

Hopefully what I show you speaks for itself.

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Flashback: The Beginning of the Painting

Earlier Installments

Introduction: Creating a Canvas

Painting in Progress 1

Painting in Progress 2

Painting in Progress 3

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)