EXPLOITS: The 2017 48 Hour Create-A-Thon – Two Gardens

Richard Bledsoe “Two Gardens” acrylic on canvas 24″ x 30″

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It was that time again. For the last three years I’ve taken part in Camelback Bible Church‘s 48 Hour Create-A-Thon. Starting on Friday night February 24, a group of artists gathered at the church, where we were presented with our inspirational theme. By 4pm on Sunday February 26, we needed to have a completed artwork created on site, ready to share at a reception. Throughout the weekend, the public was invited to visit with us to see the artistic process unfold.

This year I had a different experience than how the 2016 Create-a-Thon started. For 2017 we had two juxtaposing inspirational passages: Genesis 2:8-17, the description of the Garden of Eden, and Matthew 26:36-46, the story of Jesus’s agony in the Garden of Gethsemane,  where He prayed to escape his destiny if possible, but put himself in God’s hands.

This year, as soon as I heard the subject matter, the vision came. I saw the image in my mind; now I just had to bring it out so everyone else could see it.

I immediately laid in broad planes of textured colors. I don’t like working straight off a white canvas. In this shot I’ve actually flipped the canvas over to get better access to the blue area; in the completed work, it’s the upper right corner. I stayed until about 9 pm that night, just getting the under painting laid in.

A fast start

I was there around 9am the next morning, and stayed until almost 5pm, a good solid working day. I didn’t even take a break for lunch, as the church provided us lots of good snacks, and cup after cup of coffee.

No time to lose, had to get the drawing in right away

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The first thing I did Saturday was crudely block in my two essential elements: Christ and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Then, with wide swoops from the shoulder, I dragged loops of white paint over the blue, and gray over the yellow. These were the faint beginnings of Eden’s hazy atmosphere and Gethsemane’s tangled branches. The rest of my time spent on this painting was spent revising and refining these loose beginnings.

An action shot from the 48 Hour Create-A-Thon

My wife Michele Bledsoe was there for support. She wrote her own blog post about the experience, “Marathon Painting and the Art of Sitting on the Sidelines.” She spent her time drawing and taking pictures and videos. Michele spends a lot of time on her art. She jokes if there is ever a 480 Hour Create-A-Thon, she might take part.

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Finishing touches

By the time I came back Sunday morning, I was well positioned on the painting, and I spent time on all those little details and touches that can make or break a painting. One of my ongoing quotes about this stage is “That’s why painters go mad.” Anyone who has ever seriously engaged in painting has probably had that experience when the most minuscule adjustment or mark can make a work spring to life-or crush it into a mess. As an intuitive painter, I never know in advance what mark that may be. I have to discover it.

To see my art is to see me, performing my role as a conduit for something else 

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So the question for me becomes, if the Create-A-Thon shows I can complete a resolved and meaningful painting in really less than 48 hours, why do I normally work on them for months?

In that environment, in that experience, the Spirit really moved me, I suppose.

The Remodernist’s job is to bring God back into art but not as God was before. Remodernism is not a religion, but we uphold that it is essential to regain enthusiasm (from the Greek, en theos to be possessed by God).

-The Remodernism Manifesto

COMMENTARY: Art and the Heart of Darkness

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Richard Bledsoe “This Man Has Enlarged My Mind” acrylic on canvas 14″ x 11″

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“All great and beautiful work has come of first gazing without shrinking into the darkness.”

-John Ruskin

Darkness exists not only externally as a physical absence of light, but also references the state of mystery that abides inside every person. Part of the task of the artist is to go into that inner darkness and bring its contents to light. To reveal the hidden lets us know ourselves, and each other, better.
Visionary analyst Carl Jung referred to this as the Shadow Aspect of ourselves. Darkness does not necessarily equal evil, but evil is part of the terrain we must navigate in there. There is something in us all that remains primitive and covetous, the old animal nature, snarling over its prey.
In one of my favorite books, Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad took his own particular experiences working in the Belgian Congo and translated them into a universal exploration of the corruption of power.
His character of Kurtz was a great man gone wrong. He went into the jungle thinking he would bring enlightenment to the  savages. But like many a Classical playwright could have warned him, overestimation of one’s capacities leads to tragedy.  Hubris made Kurtz into the worst savage of all, a demon god demanding worship and tribute.
I’m very comfortable in my own shadowy depths. I see the dangers of it, but also the wonders contained therein. There is great vitality stored in there, forces beyond my own limited resources. It’s exhilarating.  In the Conrad book a ragged, youthful sailor  gushes about Kurtz, “This man has enlarged  my mind,” ignoring the poles festooned with severed heads of Kurtz’s victims all around him. Carried away with enthusiasm, he has lost all perspective.
But Kurtz himself, who unleashed those great capacities, who tried to live like he was above good and evil, can not avoid acknowledging the consequences of his own choices. He is left murmuring about “The horror” with his dying breaths, a confession of the life he sees flashing before his eyes-an admission of his ultimate failure.
Good intentions are not enough.
The ends do not justify the means.
I am humbled in the presence of the Shadow. I don’t make the mistake of believing its power is my own. I can accept the flaws it shows me I have. And as a artist, I can translate its secrets into a shared experience.
“Spiritual art is not about fairyland. It is about taking hold of the rough texture of life. It is about addressing the shadow and making friends with wild dogs. Spirituality is the awareness that everything in life is for a higher purpose.”

1917: A Shattering Discovery From The Year Art Went Into The Toilet

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What happened to R. Mutt’s “Fountain”?

For the last few days, inside the cocoons, there is much shock. As out-of-touch elitists in the would-be ruling class are processing an historic rejection of their presumptions, it’s worth revisiting a defining and divisive moment in elitist art history.

Recently, in some random reading I was doing, I came across a surprising story that may actually solve a genuine art world mystery.

I’m very critical of the nihilistic stylings of the contemporary establishment art market. I’ve written at length on its dynamic as both an elaborate con game and as an insidious effort at social programming and control.  Conceptual Art is the official art of the New World Order. Talentless cynics like Jeff Koons and Tracey Emin are promoted as pinnacles of achievement, and showered with elitist money and accolades. These conceptual artists claim that just having an idea is good enough to be considered art, as long as the right people agree.

The conceit of conceptual art, like most of the abuses of this decadent Post Modern era, comes from a thirst for power. Anything can be art if the gatekeepers say it is, and you better submit to their superior opinions. Contemporary art has become a wedge, a means for primitive tribal virtue signalling. You can divide the population up based on savvy insiders who prattle on about a dirty, unmade bed in a museum as a fascinating comment on normative functionalism, versus those mundane types who recognize a feeble failure when they see it.

A certain segment of the glitterati like to flaunt their ability to see shit as sophisticated art as a badge of honor, for some reason.

We are coming up on the 100th anniversary of the totem these poseurs use as credibility for their if-it’s-in-a-gallery-it-must-be-art attitudes. In April 1917, New York City’s Society of Independent Artists had an egalitarian idea for an art show: anyone who paid the fee could show their art, which would be hung in alphabetical order. But the organizers were shocked when they received an anonymous submission, called “Fountain.” It was a sideways urinal, signed “R. Mutt 1917.”

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Marcel Duchamp, sporting a reverse mohawk

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One of the organizers was French artist Marcel Duchamp. When the committee balked at showing the urinal he resigned in a huff. Years later he spread it around that it was actually his piece.”Fountain” was a Dada assault on taste, a rejection of artistic skill, an undermining of the noble purposes of art. Duchamp and his advocates like to say it poses philosophical questions about what art is. Regardless, the piece can be seen as the harbinger of the whole empty, alienating, transgressive mess the contemporary art world has become. “Fountain” has been used as the justification for turning art into an ironic elitist assertion, rather than an uplifting communal experience. It’s a truly nasty legacy.

But did Duchamp even make the piece? Evidence suggests he stole credit for the piece from a female artist, Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, an wildly eccentric friend of his. She was part artist and part public nuisance, an exhibitionist, kleptomaniac and poet, who often dressed herself in food and utensils. The urinal would have been just her style.

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The real R. Mutt? Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven

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On April 11, 1917, Duchamp wrote in a letter to his sister: “One of my female friends who had adopted the pseudonym Richard Mutt sent me a porcelain urinal as a sculpture; since there was nothing indecent about it, there was no reason to reject it.” So it seems while he may have submitted it to the show, Duchamp was not the one who came up with this iconic gesture. By the time Duchamp started to claim “Fountain” as his own, the mentally ill Baroness was long dead and forgotten.

It would match Duchamp’s character to perform such a swindle; he lived his adult life sponging off of, using, and abusing a series of women. He really was a cad.

It is so fitting the impetus of our contemporary establishment art world is most likely based on lies, theft, corruption and exploitation. But the originator of the piece is not the mystery I’m writing about.

What happened to the original “Fountain”?

Avant-garde gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz snapped a picture of it, but we are told the original was lost. The versions of “Fountain” now on display in museums around the world are “replicas” Duchamp commissioned in the 1960s to cash in on the notorious reputation of the piece.

I just found a surprising clue to what happened to “Fountain” in an unexpected place, while I was reading about a very different type of artist.

William Glackens (March 13, 1870 – May 22, 1938) was a significant painter in the early decades of the 2oth century. He got his start as an artist journalist. Before there were photographs in newspapers, illustrators had to create the imagery. They had to work fast, and since they were covering the news, they were used to depicting the common people as opposed to esoteric artistic subject matter. Glackens’s most notable journalistic work occurred in 1898, when he accompanied Theodore Roosevelt’s troops to Cuba during the Spanish American War.

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William Glackens artwork from the field of battle

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After he left journalism, Glackens continued to make an art of the people, as compared to an art of the Academy. He was a key figure of the early American art movements The Eight and The Ashcan School, realist painters that rebelled against the stuffy elitist attitudes of the art establishment of their era. Glackens and his colleagues were considered controversial and gauche at the time for their depictions of everyday life.

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William Glackens “The Shoppers”

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I love reading artist biographies. So when I was recently at the library and saw on the shelf William Glackens and the Eight: The Artists Who Freed American Art, I was very excited. I knew about him and the Ashcan School, and I see the art movement Remodernism as fulfilling a similar role for artistic renewal now.

The book is by his son Ira Glackens, written in 1957. It is full of amusing and affectionate anecdotes about both of his parents; William was married to socialite and artist Edith Dimock. She is the central figure depicted in the painting of the shoppers above.

As William Glackens was one of the most important artists of his day, he was involved in many major events. I was thrilled when Ira Glackens wrote about when he was a little boy, during the legendary 1913 Armory Show that introduced Modern Art to America. He met visionary painter Albert Pinkham Ryder there, one of my favorite artists. But I was stunned when he recounted a story about 1917.

William Glackens was the president of the Society of Independent Artists committee that received “Fountain.” Another artist on the committee along with Duchamp was Charles Prendergast. Here are Ira’s words about how the  “Fountain”  situation was resolved:

It would be difficult to visualize W.G. [William Glackens] in an executive capacity, but nevertheless he proved a very valuable man, especially when an impasse was reached. The story of how he solved a great dilemma that confronted the executive committee was later told by Charles Prendergast, and he laughed so hard telling it that the tears ran down his cheeks… Everybody perhaps knows the story of the “Fountain” signed R. Mutt, a nom de guerre of Marcel Duchamp which the creator of the “Nude Descending a Staircase” submitted as his entry. This object was a urinal, a heavy porcelain affair meant to be a fixture, and it caused a great deal of dismay in the executive committee…The executive committee stood around discussing the thorny problem. Presumably the best art brains in the country were stumped.

Nobody noticed W.G. leave the group and quietly make his way to a corner where the disputed object d’ art sat on the floor beside a screen. He picked it up, held it over the screen, and dropped it. There was a crash. Everyone looked around startled.

“It broke!” he exclaimed.

By the 1950s when this book was written Duchamp had appropriated credit for “Fountain,” but it had not yet become the cultural touchstone it is now considered. I see no reason why Ira Glackens would just invent a story like that, or why their family friend and fellow artist Charles Prendergrast would say such a thing about the mild mannered and low key William Glackens for no reason.

We now have some hearsay evidence about what happened to the original “Fountain,” which has been overlooked for decades. There’s no way to prove it, but it’s a compelling conclusion to a sordid tale. As far as I’m concerned, William Glackens was on the right track and did the world a favor. If only it had ended there.

The pissy head games of elitist art need smashing, now more than ever.

11/22: Welcome Instapundit readers! Check out some of my other posts to see more about the state of the arts from a Remodernist perspective. -RB

EXHIBITIONS-Russian Stuckism: Registered in Moscow and Moscow Region

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The exhibition in Moscow

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“Communion has been one of my artistic goals for as long as I can remember.”

-Ron Throop

It’s been a very busy year.

I am thrilled to announce Michele Bledsoe and I were invited  as special guest artists for a July exhibition in Moscow, Russia. Also featured is New York painter Ron Throop, who has been very busy himself with an ongoing DIY cultural exchange with the Russian Stuckists who organized the show. He documents their exploits on his blog, Round Trip Stuckism.

I wrote about Ron Throop’s vision when they first launched the project. I really admired the initiative and enthusiasm shown. Grassroots painters separated by half a world and some really intense history were using art to come together, to learn from one another, and to provide support, despite vast physical distances, language barriers, and cultural differences. It’s really inspiring. Ron’s achievements were recently recognized when he was awarded a grant from the New York State Council for the Arts Decentralization Award Program.

The art they are making is fantastic.

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Andrew Makarov

“The Pretty Lady Takes the Andrew Makarov’s Phone Number in the Yard of the Ministry of Labour and Sotsrazvitiya”

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Stuckism, the most visible manifestation of the Remodernist art movement, has spread to 236 groups in 52 countries. It truly is an art of the people. We have a mighty task to accomplish: to redeem art from the crisis of relevance that elitist malpractice has inflicted on the culture.

I was very grateful when Andrew Makarov sent me a Facebook message inviting us to share our paintings. Michele and I sent works to Russia for the show, and included a copy of our children’s book The Secret Kingdom as a gift. I’m looking forward to more exchanges with these creatives. We all speak the universal language of art.

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Michele Bledsoe “Forever” acrylic on canvas 5″ x 4″ 

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Richard Bledsoe “Diver” acrylic on canvas 5″ x 4″

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From the Handbill:

“Russian Stuckism, registered in Moscow and Moscow region — an exhibition at a Moscow gallery “Skolkovo”, July 2nd – 30th. The exhibition is based on works of Moscow painters, who has joined the Stuckism International about a year ago: Alexey Stepanov, Andrey Makarov and Lena Ulanova. Their artistic way highlights the meanings of collectivism, equality between process and the result, and registering the events around them without judging the events. Alongside with the Moscow representatives of the Stuckism, you will see their colleagues from St. Petersburg (Ilya Zelenetsky and Sergey Uryvayev) and American artists Ron Throop, Richard and Michele Bledsoe. When exhibited together, the works of these artists suggest one of the answers to the question on the place of picturing in the modern art.”

ART QUOTES: Billy Childish

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Laid back:

Billy Childish “Man on Chairs (Peeling Orange)”

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“Great art is essentially timeless. The fact that people want to put it into a time frame is fine, but the actual resonance of it has nothing to do with the time it is made in.” 

-Billy Childish

I reference him all the time on this blog, the co-founder of Stuckism and Remodernism. Working with Charles Thomson, Billy Childish defined the first significant art movements of the 21st century. Their comprehensive critiques of art world excesses recognized the culture had at last reached a dead end. Corrupt Post Modern stylings of sophistry and status signalling have led to a crisis of relevance in the arts. The only way forward is the resurgence of first principles: art as a form of spiritual communication, where personal expression transcends into universal communion.

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Billy Childish “The Great Banks”

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But with the general lack on knowledge about contemporary art that exists these days outside the elitist art bubble and the maneuverings of the entitled culture industries, I see the need to share more about this cantankerous creative. Who is Billy Childish?

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A man of many hats

Childish does more than paint. He’s the masculine face that unwittingly inspired countless hipster handlebar mustaches.  He’s a dyslexic writer of painfully frank confessional books. He has been making raw garage rock since the punk 1970s, as front man of Thee Headcoats and many other variations. He’s failed to cash in with admirers like Kylie Minogue and Jack  White of the White Stripes, by giving them his honest opinion of their own musical efforts. He even left the Stuckist group shortly after he helped to codify their mission.

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Billy Childish “Amongst Cactus”

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You won’t find much by Billy Childish on many art quote sites, but as an intriguing multimedia figure with lots to say, interviews with him are plentiful. I find wisdom in his words and excitement in his ideas. His example shows a way to create with integrity in today’s confused and troubled times.

“We are all creative but some of us have it in our nature, or necessity, to maintain this and give whatever art form we choose preeminence in our lives. I believe that all these attributes are non-personal and from God: any minor investigation into reality will reveal that we create nothing within the universe; we merely manifest within it. What we are is not very clear to us.”

“I’ve dubbed myself as an amateur, not because I work in different field, but because I do what I do for love.”

“Art hasn’t got any better than the art that was made in the caves, but that doesn’t stop anyone doing it—it remains relevant, this very strange joining with the creator, picking up a burnt stick and joining in with creation.”

“People often talk about how contemporary art’s a success if it reflects who we are in a material, low way. Some people need that. Whereas I try to reflect who we really are—transcendent, spiritual beings which are not fixed in time at all.”

“Tradition is the platform to freedom.”

“In the past, I painted from a dark place and although no one liked that work at the time, it’s what people like now, because today people think that dark is cool. But I’m not interested in ‘cool’ in music, art or life, or even ‘cool’ as a term. I’m more interested in beauty and truth… it sounds so simple but it’s hard. I mean, that feels right, but how you get out of the way and commune with that? Because that is God. That is communing with God and finding a way to get out of the way and drop the bullshit. The struggle is to stop struggling and just drown in it, but that is difficult – we all want to be glamorous and get fucked-up because it seems much more compelling.”

“Writing manifestos and forming groups is a way of playing a game, and playing is very important because it gives us a lightness of touch in all this difficulty…To engage in the world in playful way is to really honor the fleeting nature of being and existence.”

“Before my ‘overnight success’ five years ago, I was surprised I rarely sold paintings, now I’m just as surprised that I do. But either way I just paint—doing as the painting requires—I’m its obedient servant.”

“It is an artist’s duty to be on the wrong end of the see-saw.”

“It’s like a love affair between myself and the world. That’s what my life is: a love affair with my family and the world and the paintings and the world. I’m in love with my wife and with my children, and they are the things that surround me, so they are the things that I celebrate. That’s how God made me.”

“Recognizing the world is what growing is, and recognizing truth is what growing is. There is no teaching as such. When you find out any great truth, you think, “I already knew that!’ It’s the same if you read a great book, you sometimes think, ‘I should have written this… I think I will!’ That’s what great art and music does – you encounter it and you think, ‘I should have done this… and I will!’”

-Billy Childish

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Billy Childish in his studio

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Billy Childish “Erupting Volcano”

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Billy Childish “Son of Art”

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Billy Childish “Edge of the Forest”

BOOKS: Used Book Treasures

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“What we read and why we do so defines us in a profound way. You are what you read, I suppose. Browsing through someone’s library is like peeking into their DNA.”

-Guillermo del Toro

I received a very special St. Valentine’s Day present from my wife Michele Bledsoe. For the first time in several years we attended the annual Volunteer Nonprofit Service Association Used Book Sale. On Sunday February 14 we spent the morning at the Phoenix Fairgrounds, going through an immense exhibition hall crammed full of super affordable used books.

We are thrifty people, so it worked out great Valentine’s Day was Half Price Day. Michele and I share a love of books. We’ve even written one together, “The Secret Kingdom,” which was quite an adventure in itself.

Once inside the VNSA Book Sale we both went to the Art section, excitedly showing each other new discoveries. Eventually Michele headed off to explore some other favorite topics, but I stayed, determined to see everything. By the time I left the section, I had already found so many books it was hard to carry them.

Art books are very important to me. Art is a continuum; what we are doing now in art right is part of an on-going story as old as humanity itself. I love to see what was done before, because real art is always remains relevant, no matter when or where it was made. I find it inspirational, plus exposing myself to all those pictures and ideas is crucial to the process I call “feeding the image bank.” I never know when what I see might trigger the visions so vital to my own work.

We found many other wonderful books that day, books on faith, history and nature, and some fiction as well. But the most exciting part for me were the volumes on art. All told, we probably spent less than $30 on an immense boost to our art library. I was very selective. I put much more back than I actually bought.

In review of my purchases, I can see now how what I actually picked was influenced by a growing concern in my life: the nature of the American artist. What is the art of this very special place, and what does it look like in these times? You’ll never find out by looking at the offerings of the art establishment. That’s why contemporary art is suffering a crisis of relevance. That is why Remodernism is rising to sweep away the corrupted old hierarchies and renew the art spirit.

Here is a list of our Art Book finds that day, and some notes on their significance. Listed roughly in order of size:

  1. Thomas Hart Benton – mostly black and white images from the American Regionalist painter
  2. Dali Jewels – color photos of jewelry designed by the great Surrealist
  3. Oskar Kokoschka – brief biography and mostly color images by the Expressionist painter
  4. The Wordsworth Dictionary of Symbolism – as a painter in the Symbolist tradition, I am very aware that at its best my art is full of archetypal meanings that come upon me from outside of myself. Like in a dream, I’m shown a picture that is full of significance. Afterwards, looking up the visions that appear to me is very educational, and help me understand what is being conveyed.
  5. Rodin: His Sculptures, Drawings, and Watercolors– Biography, commentary, and black and white images from across the range of Rodin’s artistic output
  6. Great Housewives of Art – a fun collection of domestic themed art
  7. O’Keeffe & Stieglitz – biography on one of the great romances and partnerships in art, between Georgia O’Keeffe and photographer/gallerist Alfred Stieglitz
  8. Alfred P. Ryder – A real score, a color and black and white illustrated book on one of my favorite artists, Alfred Pinkham Ryder
  9. American Visions: The Epic History of Art in America by Robert Hughes – another real score, a book I’ve wanted for years, by my favorite art critic. Even when I’ve seen it used at other locations, I considered it too expensive ($20+). Here I paid $3.50 for a pristine hardback version. I was thrilled.
  10. The Mode in Costume – drawings of clothing styles from 3000 BC to the 1940’s, when the book was made. This will be a great resource for me, as I love evoking history in my paintings, and outfits provide a powerful time reference.
  11. Rhapsodies in Black: Art of the Harlem Renaissance – a lavishly illustrated overview of an exciting movement in the Modern Art era
  12. Russian Lacquer Legends and Fairy Tales – beautiful color photographs on the bold, graphic style of Russian miniature paintings
  13. Passionate Visions of the American South: Self-Taught Artists from 1940 to the Present – a wealth of information and images on Outsider art, including the amazing Thornton Dial
  14. An American Vision: Three Generations of Wyeth Art-full color book on a talented family of painters
  15. The Writer’s Brush: Paintings, Drawings, and Sculptures by Writers – as an artist who writes, it is very interesting to see the results when they come at it from the other way around

STUDIO: Seeing and Judging

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Turning assumptions upside down

Since I work as an intuitive artist, trying to give form to what inner visions reveal to me, it can be tricky understanding when the painting is doing what I want it to do. I don’t have another image I’m trying to copy. How can I tell when the elements I am assembling are working?

Spending a long time revising an image leads to a kind of tunnel vision about it. It becomes so familiar I can lose the sense of it as a whole.

I defeat this tendency with a technique I adopted from the masterful book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. The exercises in this book did more to teach me about how to actually draw back in the day than years of public school art classes.

One of the first exercises is to recreate a line drawing, but upside down. This overcomes the tendency to draw what we think we know instead of what we are actually looking at.

I have found this same technique allows me to analyze weak areas of my paintings in progress. It becomes a matter of just looking at relationships, shapes and colors. I flip the painting around consistently as I work on it, painting it from top, bottom and side perspectives, and looking at it that way as well.

So much of painting is just looking at what you’ve done, so you can understand what you still need to do. Eventually you see that there is nothing left unresolved, and the painting is done.

I also look at works in progress in a mirror, and next to completed paintings, for the same reason. It helps me to see what is missing.

Painting is judgement made visible.