PAINTINGS: Climb, Climb

Richard Bledsoe “Climb, Climb” acrylic on canvas 24″ x 30″

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Another 2017 painting. This one was begun long ago; the vision that produced this one was triggered by the lyrics of a Meat Puppets song, “Climbing.”

Climb, climb, I always climb
Out of bed in the morning on a mountain made of sand
And I know this doesn’t rhyme
But the clutter on the table has been getting out of hand

The image is not a literal illustration of the lyrics, but I appreciated the sentiment.

Back when I started the drawing came quick. However, piece then joined the works in progress stack of paintings stuck in the corner of the studio, where it lingered.

One of my mantras is there is nothing more inspirational than a deadline. When I was asked to be the featured artist for the exhibit “The Journey” at Desert Springs Community Church’s Call To Art, I knew this painting had to be part of it. Thinking about my own journeys in life got me very excited about finishing this piece.

I often describe painting as a series of interlocking contrasts: light and dark, abrupt passages and gradual passages, color against color. Another element I like to contrast is the naturalistic and the stylized. Here I put a very exaggerated figure into a rather subtle and realistic appearing landscape. Of course it is a green mountainside, which is not expected, but that was the vision I had. At my best I’m just taking dictation.

STUDIO: A New Painting in Progress, Part 2

At Work on “The War You Will Always Have With You”

For me, making a painting is a process of continual adjustments.

Define and revise big areas before focusing on details-the finer the detail, the later in the painting it will occur.

Start working on the background, moving towards the foreground. Go back and make changes to the background, working forward again, over and over. The idea is to keep moving the piece towards an overall level of consistent finish, layer by layer.

Creating a space

At first the lion was floating in a yellow void. That has very little resemblance to the vision in my mind. I needed an environment to enclose the animal. I think about Medieval art, and the fantastic Bestiaries they used to render. The influence appears in the painting.

One of my painting mantras is “It’s just a base coat!” I am open to covering every inch of the existing painting over with new colors and brushwork, obscuring what came before, if needed.

The trick is seeing along the way what passages work, preserving them, enhancing them. It’s an intuitive method. Recognize which mistakes to keep.

I preserve the integrity of the initial composition, unless I find I made a catastrophic drawing mistake. When that happened on some of my pieces in the past, I’ve flipped the canvas upside down and started the stage one drawing all over.

Highlights

I went back in with white and loosely defined some areas, working fast and brushy. Some will indeed wind up being white. In other places, the white is a base coat for glazes: transparent layers of color laid over the white will create quite a glow, one of my ongoing painting fascinations.

This is still the early phases of this image. I anticipate I will be working on it for several more months. Additional progress reports to come.

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.

-The Stuckists Manifesto

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Earlier Installment:

A New Painting in Progress Part 1

ART QUOTES: Taurus Artists

Joan Miro “The Bull Fight”

“The picture should be fecund. It must bring a world to birth.”

-Joan Miro

Joan Miro wrestles with sculpture

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I don’t believe the stars control our fates, or can be used to tell our fortunes. But life has proven to me again and again the time of year a person is born does seem to influence their personalities.

Why would this be the case? I have no idea. But my observations show me the universe is full of patterns, cycles, all evidence of the great underlying order beyond our limited human perceptions. The pseudo-science of astrology is the result of centuries of study on human behavior. Somehow we find echos of our souls projected out into a cosmic scale; around and around we all go, playing our variations of the 12 eternal roles manifested in symbols of animals, mythical beasts, and human archetypes.

We are now in the time of Taurus (April 21 – May 21). They are symbolized by the bull, a summation of their temperament: a powerful beast, earthy, persistent, often placid, but capable of being provoked into an element rage.

Taurus  Traits

  • Determined
  • Practical
  • Patient
  • Down to earth
  • Stubborn
  • Self Indulgent

Can you see the Taurus personality reflected in the work and words of these artists?

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Bridget Riley “Movement in Squares”

“It seems the deeper, truer personality of the artist only emerges in the making of decisions… in refusing and accepting, changing and revising.”

-Bridget Riley

Bridget Riley at work, 1963

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Salvador Dali “The Old Age of William Tell”

“Give me two hours a day of activity, and I’ll take the other twenty-two in dreams.”

-Salvador Dali

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Keith Haring “Untitled”

“My contribution to the world is my ability to draw… Drawing is still basically the same as it has been since prehistoric times. It brings together man and the world. It lives through magic.”

-Keith Haring

Keith Haring, at one with his work

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Willem de Kooning “Woman with Bicycle”

“I make pictures and someone comes in and calls it art.”

-Willem de Kooning

Willem de Kooning takes a smoke break

ARTICLE: The Death of University Art Programs, Part 3: Ignorance as a Method of Critique

Professor Walter Gaudnek: He recommended an anatomically correct, if not politically correct, addition

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“You should just paint a vagina on it, it would be much better,” Walter Gaudnek, the professor, is accused of telling an undergraduate last semester. “You can’t paint the Virgin Mary like this, she would be fucking pissed,” he added, according to a letter of instruction placed in his personnel file and provided to Inside Higher Ed via an open-records request. News of the letter was originally reported by The Orlando Sentinel.

-LINK to the ARTICLE: Critique vs. Harassment by Colleen Flaherty

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So I don’t know how this guy beat the normal witch hunt that gets whipped up every time someone offends a special snowflake student with a questionable comment. Professor Gaudneck is getting off light, with a slap on the wrist it seems. Perhaps it has something to do with the bigotry of low expectations for university arts programs. In the article another art professor comments as far as standards go, “art is ‘a low-coherency field in which experts routinely disagree about even foundational principles…’”

With colleagues like that, who needs enemies? Low coherency indeed.

Perhaps there is some anti-Christian bias working in his favor here. Without seeing the student work in question, it’s hard to know the context of his criticism. If the thrust of the painting was a sincere religious effort, then of course the Academy would support deriding it. Who cares if the backwards Jesus people get offended? They are an approved target in the crypto-Marxist hellholes our colleges have become.

Gaudeck seems a pretty unremarkable establishment Post Modern artist, appropriating images from Classical artworks and redoing them as crude coloring book illustrations. He also seems to have an affinity for painting Hitler.

Walter Gaudnek: Again with the Hitler

Reading about this strange little controversy reminded me of my college art school experiences, and also filled me with dread. Back in the 1990s I experienced the decaying practices of upper level art education. I can only imagine what the bullying identity politics and virtue signalling of Progressives have turned university art programs into for today’s wishy washy Millennials. From what I have encountered, sophistry has completely devoured the credentialed art world, and inside that bubble, specious double talk stands in for artistic accomplishment.

I saw the evidence this was coming during my student days. In retrospect I can see the pattern. The older professors, trained under the more rigorous standards of an earlier era, tended to talk less, hanging back while we students engaged with our work, and only stepping in with technical pointers and observations as needed. It was some of the younger teachers, the adjuncts and the graduate students, who just wouldn’t shut up.

Instead of focusing on studio experience, the favored practice of this newer generation of instructors was to assign projects as homework, to be brought into the classroom for the grim slog of the never ending critique.

So many of my classes ended up falling into this dynamic. Imagine a group of more-or-less introverted teens and twentysomethings. These are visually oriented as opposed to verbally oriented people: aspiring artists. Because of their youth and lack of training, they are profoundly ignorant of solid intellectual concepts and analytical processes. This is not an insult, merely an acknowledgement of their level of maturity and education. They’ve come to a university to try to improve these deficiencies.

But ultimately it’s a bunch of inexperienced students, who are very engaged and passionate about making things-which happens to be very different than talking fluently about making things. And yet the expectation and the emphasis being placed by the teachers was on words, words, and more words.

These types of classes were very repetitive. Projects were usually not too structured, we were just expected have work to present in class. We’d bring in our pieces, pin them to the wall or set them up on easels, and sit in a ragged semi-circle to contemplate them. Then the speechifying would begin.

The critique model was very different than the group critiques I had taken part in during my beginning art classes. Back then the emphasis had been clear cut discussions of craftsmanship in regards to specific assignments. But now, what little guidance we received from the instructors of the upper level classes aimed our dialogs into the more rarefied atmosphere of Concepts.

Now this might have been productive if we had actually been led in discussions that allowed us to gain understanding of the meanings, methods, and purposes of art. However, the instructors were not much assistance in making this critique method practical. They were usually right there with us novices as far as the quality of their commentary went. Their blather was only distinguished by a larger vocabulary of buzzwords, a greater working knowledge of art history, and an air of dubious authority.

We knew we were supposed to be engaged in a discussion of the successes or failings of the work presented. But what it came down to was a bunch of mostly inarticulate kids trying desperately to sound smart and insightful about art, a subject which is historically infamous for being difficult to put into words. We sure didn’t know how to go about this, so we’d just throw out whatever and hoped it would connect.

It was usually an awkward and halting free for all. The mood was brittle. We’d take turns; everyone got their moment under the microscope. The discussion would go around the room. We were given the chance to make a brief statement about our own work, and then the rest of the class would comment.

We’d try a little of everything in response to the works we were looking at: offer irrelevant suggestions, go off on tangents, tell meandering anecdotes, make inappropriate confessions, hurl accusations, violate the rules of logic and decency in trying to make some obscure point, complain, change the subject, grand stand. At last the teacher would swoop in with some kind of cynical and pontificating final judgment, and we’d move on to the next victim.

This went on week after week, class after class.

Virginia Commonwealth University prided itself on being a school for so-called advanced art. Abstract, non-objective, and conceptual pieces were in. It became obvious it mostly didn’t matter what caliber of art work you showed up with; as long as you adopted the highfalutin jargon of the academic world to discuss it, it was taken seriously.

Just how to make all this this ill-informed opinionating into something usable was beyond me.

In the blind alleys we were directed into, the criteria being used to evaluate the works seemed on the surface completely arbitrary. But in fact, the more feeble the efforts were, the more opportunities it gave to launch into peripheral diatribes regarding half-baked sociology, aggravated psychology, convoluted technobabble and the like. This was the kind of talk that got these teachers really excited, subtly reinforcing that this was where our attention ought to be focused.

Rewarding certain behaviors encourages more of those types of behaviors. And so most students were dutifully herded into producing slapdash experimental works, and talking about activism, therapy and pedantic minutia, rather than trying to understand if an artwork functioned effectively on its own terms, as art. It was easier to adopt the lofty lecturing tone of the instructors, to curry favor by asserting the approved beliefs and attitudes.

Encouraging attitudes of grievance and victimization, or highlighting incidental matters of process or technique, does not lead to powerful art. But it does lead to the generation of thought police, dependent personality disorder types, and detached technocrats-all useful cogs for the Leftist machine. The indoctrination continues.

I participated in the tedious discussions, but I was always felt we were missing the point. We were not taught about how genuine art is made, or why. We were trained to substitute opaque discourse and tribal signaling for skillful achievement.

These endless deconstructive debates might not have done our art much good, but it was sure setting us up to take part in the approved modes of the establishment art world. They think if they pile enough words together, they can justify anything. However, they are profoundly wrong. Real art is self evident, and does not need to be propped up with a bunch of meaningless art speak.

 

We don’t need more dull, boring, brainless destruction of convention, what we need is not new, but perennial. We need an art that integrates body and soul and recognizes enduring and underlying principles which have sustained wisdom and insight throughout humanity’s history. This is the proper function of tradition.

-The Remodernism Manifesto

Click here for THE DEATH OF UNIVERSITY ARTS PROGRAMS PART 1: ERIC FISCHL

Click here for THE DEATH OF UNIVERSITY ARTS PROGRAMS PART 2: THE CORCORAN COLLAPSE

 

EXHIBITIONS: The Stuckists at Cass Art Islington, London England

Richard Bledsoe “The Portrait of Emmeline Grangerford” acrylic on canvas 30″ x 24″

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The Stuckists at Cass Art Islington

April 18 – 28, 2017

The Cass Art Space

66-67 Colebrook Row

London N1 8AB

Mon-Sat 10am-7pm (Wed 6pm)

In April, I am honored to be included in an exhibit with an international group of artists. In “The Stuckists at Cass Art Islington,” I will be showing alongside artists from the UK, USA, Spain, France, Australia, China, Russia, Greece, and the Czech Republic.

There are a lot familiar names participating in this exhibit. Many of the same artists were featured right here in Phoenix, Arizona’s 2014 exhibition International Stuckists: Explorers and Inventors. In this blog I’ve previously featured Ron Throop and Alexey Stepanov in their collaborative project, Round Trip Stuckism. And I’ve been fortunate enough to interview Charles Thomson, the co-founder of both Stuckism and Remodernism.

The ideas Thomson documented in his writings have inspired artists from all around the world, as this show demonstrates. Along with co-founder Billy Childish, they created manifestos which describe an open source art movement entirely different from the corrupt, elitist art market status quo.

Their passionate articulation of art practices based on authenticity, revelation, and connectivity changed my life when I stumbled across them so long ago, during some random late night internet surfing. They communicated in bold, frank language observations I had also made, mostly to myself, about the failures and potentials of the contemporary art scene. I never was able to present my thoughts in such a concise fashion before though. I learned much from their example. Stuckism/Remodernism has been inspirational to me not only as a painter, but as a writer and an arts activist as well.

Billy Childish moved on to follow his own idiosyncratic path, but Charles Thomson has stayed to do the hard work with the movement. He has lent his organization skills, encouragement, and enthusiasm in creating opportunities throughout a worldwide community, currently listed as 236 groups in 52 countries. He has made the grassroots go global.

Some day I hope to be able to make a personal appearance at one of Stuckism’s international shows, wherever it may be.

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The Stuckist gives up the laborious task of playing games of novelty, shock and gimmick. The Stuckist neither looks backwards nor forwards but is engaged with the study of the human condition. The Stuckists champion process over cleverness, realism over abstraction, content over void, humour over wittiness and painting over smugness.

-The Stuckist Manifesto

 

 

STUDIO: A New Painting in Progress, Part 1

A Beginning in Yellow

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 I am currently at work on my latest large scale piece-large for me being in this case 36″ x 36″.

I had originally built this stretcher with a different image in mind for it. But life intervened before I got started. New thoughts developed and took on more urgency. The current subject came to me in a vision, as my imagery often does. I changed my mind about what I was going to commit the next several months to working on.

 Right now I don’t have to fulfill any commission. I don’t have create a piece for any particular theme show or call for entries. Being so free to choose out of the many painting ideas I have could be challenging. However, as an intuitive artist, I am provided guidance. I know the right idea to proceed with because it’s the one I keep thinking about. I can’t get out of my mind. I’m going to need to paint it out.

I don’t like the white void of a fresh canvas. It lacks an entry point. I almost always begin a painting by laying down a field of color. In this case, it was several coats of Lemon Yellow acrylic paint, all over.

Then I was ready to draw in the major form of the piece.

A rough sketch to begin, right onto the canvas

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I would never use a projector to translate imagery onto a canvas. It’s an unsavory practice, an unacceptable shortcut. Real art will never arise from a shortcut mentality.

Be a brave artist. Use your own hand, heart, mind and eye. Don’t rely on a machine to make your discoveries for you.

I also don’t work from separately created preparatory drawings, even though I know that’s the classical technique. I dive in and paint it out directly on the canvas. It’s a flexible, forgiving medium. Most of my painting time is spent fixing mistakes and shoring up weak spots. Since I’m working from imagination, this involves lots of staring, and comparing what is happening in the painting to what I can see in my mind.

Recognizing which mistakes to keep is what makes a painting come alive.

Like many of my works, this vision came presented complete with a title. My new painting is called “The War You Will Always Have With You.”

I do enjoy puns.

I feel this work is very much in sync with the spirit of this age, and now was time for it to be made. If I serve as an effective conduit, by the time the piece is finished, its relevance should be apparent to everyone, without me even having to use words to say it. The painting will speak for itself.

I will continue to provide periodic updates as the painting progresses.

An Artist Against the NEA, Part 1: The Case of Karen Finley

Karen Finley: This is what you get when art and politics mix

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“All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.”

-Benito Mussolini

The wailing commenced as soon as the numbers appeared. After decades of threatening noises from concerned conservatives and fiscal hawks, a Federal government budget was produced that eliminated funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

As an American artist, I think this is a wonderful development, long overdue.

Defenders of the NEA make the usual accusations, conflating being anti-government intervention in the arts with being anti-art. They justify the expense by pointing out how little the expenditures are out of a budget now reckoned in trillions. And they make the great leap to define withholding state funding of the arts as censorship. All of these assertions dodge accountability for results. How has the NEA improved the artistic life of America?

The NEA was the creation of the corrupt President Lydon Johnson in 1965. One quick measure of the program’s success is whether the visual arts are in better condition now than they were then.

On the contrary, contemporary art is undergoing a crisis of relevance, with hardly any interest and engagement from the public. I would suggest it’s the top-down direction of arts development encouraged by the NEA and its fellow traveler, grant-giving foundations which have helped cause this great alienation. Far from encouraging a vital, thriving culture in the United States, the handout and non-profit mentality is propping up a sick and decaying model of art as an elitist virtue signalling endeavor.

Make no mistake, the cultural institutions supported by such programs hold the values and founding principles of America in contempt. It’s key for acceptance. The long march was so successful that the entry to the establishment now requires allegiance with globalism, Post Modern relativism, and Cultural Marxist deconstruction. It’s the partisans of these ideologies that get the funding and support.

The art world has been warped by the priorities of the subsidizers. If you want their checks, better get on board with their agendas. Leftists have to taint everything with their politics, their own petty little version of God, and their fantasy of the all powerful state as a benefit dispensing Utopia. There’s no way I want anyone subject to such delusions in charge of recognizing artistic achievement.

Many years ago, I had my own special encounter with a NEA star, a typical example of what elitist culture has to offer.

She’s nothing but a historical footnote now, but in the early 1990s performer Karen Finley was big news. She was one of the so-called NEA Four. These controversial artists were up for the federal agency National Endowment for the Arts grants, and came under intense political criticism. The artists had their grants vetoed, although they eventually won a court case about it, and got paid.

However, as a result of the firestorm the NEA ultimately stopped funding individual artists. At least Finley can take credit for helping end that particular abuse of tax payer resources. But at the time I encountered her all the legal maneuverings were still in flux. When she came to speak in Richmond, at Virginia Commonwealth University’s  sculpture building, Finley was still notorious as a casualty of the Culture War.

Finley is a performance artist. Her claim to fame was hooting obscenities while smearing her naked body with yams. I wish this was a joke or an exaggeration, but it isn’t. Of course it was all about gender roles and social critique and whatnot, so that made it Serious Art.

We students didn’t know what to expect. Would we be spattered with tubers? Should we wear raincoats like we were going to see a Gallagher routine? Anticipation ran high.

As it turns out Finley kept her clothes on, and no vegetables were applied anywhere unusual. I suppose a group of mere students didn’t warrant the full Karen Finley experience.

She addressed the standing crowd gathered around her from a podium. I can’t tell you anything she actually said, as nothing she said was memorable. But we weren’t there for an insightful or intelligent lecture, we were there for a Serious Art Performance. And after her remarks, still standing behind her podium, Finley let us have it.

A Serious Art Performance, to Karen Finley, apparently meant yodeling, rolling her eyes and whipping her head around for a couple of minutes.

It was an annoying and mannered display. I felt the burning sensation of folly receiving the institutional stamp of approval. If that was art, then I’ve seen plenty of schizophrenic meth addicts hanging around convenience stores dumpsters that must be undiscovered geniuses.

Coming from her, it was all so phony. Her actions didn’t seem passionate or intense at all. It was clearly a ploy, a unconvincing simulation of being in a shamanistic frenzy.

My problem with Karen Finley’s art wasn’t because it was immoral; it was because it was stupid. There wasn’t an issue with obscenity, the issue was the failure to present a genuine and creditable work of art. And this is representative of the cultural experience our Washington elites wanted to throw money at.

As a bit of compensation for the dumb histrionics, Finley did show us a few nude video clips. She apparently liked to strip down in museums and pose next to actual art. That was kind of funny. The University was obviously putting all our student fees to good use, bringing in talent of such caliber.

During her fifteen minutes of fame, Finley got to play cultural martyr. She became a symbol, the fulfillment of the art world’s conceit of itself as an oppressed band of brave rebels.

The fact that what she called her art was a contrived, pathetic display was overlooked in the rush to the barricades. Her stated political agenda trumped any concerns about quality.

Finley has drifted into obscurity now, safely cloistered away  in New York City’s Tisch School of the Arts (annual undergrad tuition over $53,000.00), still trying to spark some interest in her sagging shock art. Museums are willing to throw her an occasional opportunity. In 2014 she did AA one better, and came up with a 13 step program for artists whose “lives have become unmanageable because of art.” Here’s a helpful hint: I wouldn’t blame art for the need to seek attention through grotesque displays.

Finley serves as a nice bit of trivia and nostalgia, a walking wounded veteran of the culture wars. The establishment takes care of its own. What they haven’t been taking care of is our society’s need for real art.

The NEA has failed in its mission. They’ve squandered their credibility. We will be better served by trying to find new ways to express an authentically American culture, one than the bureaucratic ideologues of the NEA never believed in.

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“It is quite clear to anyone of an uncluttered mental disposition that what is now put forward, quite seriously, as art by the ruling elite, is proof that a seemingly rational development of a body of ideas has gone seriously awry.”

-The Remodernism Manifesto

“I was not expected to be talented.”

Karen Finley

Update: Welcome Instapundit readers! Please see other articles here for more commentary on the state of the arts.