EXHIBITIONS-Russian Stuckism: Registered in Moscow and Moscow Region

Russia Stuckism

The exhibition in Moscow

.

“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.

andrewticket1

Andrew Makarov

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

.

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.

Forever (2)

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

.

deep diver

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

.

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.”

Advertisements

ARTICLE: A Profile on Michele Bledsoe from 2005

MoonLiquor

Michele Bledsoe “Moon Liquor” acrylic on canvas 30″ x 24″

.

While searching through my email recently I stumbled across a long forgotten gem, from all the way back in 2005. It was a profile I had written for an online art site about my wife, artist Michele Bledsoe.

The website, “ARTish,” is long gone. It was based out of Phoenix, and at the time it was a nice venue to share images and happenings on the local arts scene. Looking at the submission email, I can tell I was still in the midst of my artistic crisis; the message I wrote was so tentative and apologetic about “being out of the loop.” But the response was positive, and the one article I produced for them was online for many years.

Full disclosure: this piece is written about the woman I consider the most wonderful and fascinating person in the world, so I am biased. But as a professional artist and cultural activist I stand by everything I said. In the decade that has passed Michele has continued and expanded her amazing creative work.

Some things have changed since then. This was before I discovered the international arts movement Remodernism; it was before we made “The Secret Kingdom.” But what I wrote then still holds up. Here, I present in its unedited entirety, a piece written almost 11 years ago.

.

Like Writing Down a Good Dream

A Profile of Painter Michele Bledsoe

 

It’s hard to say when art started happening in movements. There has always been change in the visual arts, but cultural evolution used to take decades, even centuries, to manifest itself. Like any profession, most people working in the arts were competent rather than inspired, talented tradesmen fulfilling orders provided by the all powerful Church or State. Occasionally some regionally isolated genius would appear, and create innovations that would be refined and dispersed by acolytes and imitators, but this would be a slow process in an era when travel was difficult and reproductions of artwork were rare.

But easy mechanical reproduction, as it developed, changed everything. When photography came along, painters lost their role as the primary image-makers. The artists learned their lesson when machines replaced their jobs; they became moving targets.  Maybe this is when the pace picked up, as artists had to redefine their purpose in society. It seems like the definition of what is quality in art has been in constant flux for over a century. No longer would the powerful dictate forms or content, artists would figure out it for themselves, using the works of the past only for a contrast. When groups of like-minded people agreed at least temporarily to a set of artistic priorities, and created bodies of work exhibiting shared influences, a movement was declared, either by the artists themselves, or interested observers. The attitude was usually, forget all that other stuff that happened before-at last, it is we who have gotten it right.

One of the more memorable –isms that moved through the culture was surrealism. The idea of it survives today even to the mainstream, even if it has been reduced to a synonym for weirdness. Starting off as a mainly literary group, surrealism moved through the door kicked open by the irreverent Dada movement, who rejected the “rational” way of life that allowed the disasters of World War I. Dada might have been the work of some wry practical jokers, but what they unleashed took on a very serious nature. Through that door they breached lay all the darkness, perils and delights of the non-rational.

Surrealism embraced the darkness. It admired art by people considered uncorrupted by bourgeois concerns-primitive tribesmen, children, the insane. To discover the pure impulses that inspired these outsider artists, the surrealists looked to dreams, the subconscious, spontaneous gestures, and odd juxtapositions.

The idea of being part of an “art movement” seems kind of dated. The experiments and fads of the past can be analyzed more objectively now all the hyperbole has passed. And there is much to learn from the past for contemporary artists. Surrealism may be history, but the tools of exploration it identified are still useful today.

Phoenix painter Michele Bledsoe is a surrealist, although she didn’t set out to be one. All she does is represent what her imagination shows her. Looking inside, she views a twilight world of planes, steps and corners. Placed throughout these shadowy structures are seemingly unrelated objects-fragmented toys, body parts, plants and small animals, streaming ribbons, curling ivy leaves, pastries, all in a soft focus, but highly detailed. These items are familiar, solid-but they are also disarranged and jumbled. There is a feeling of contradictory movement between the various elements, a disorienting swirling sensation. A mysterious story is unfolding, a secret that only the artist knows.

Michele describes her choice of content as “Memories I have, things I saw or thought about when I was younger, mixed up with current thoughts.” When asked for an explanation for the various motifs that seem to repeat throughout her work, she rejects any calculated reasoning: “Not everything has some deep symbolic meaning; I think its more personal than that. Symbols are more universal. I’ve made up my own language.”

Surrealism is a tradition of art that prizes the unexpected, yet Michele’s painting technique is very methodical. She paints in acrylics on canvas, using tiny soft bristle brushes. There are no brushstrokes visible, even though every millimeter of the surface has been worked over and over again with layers of subtle analogous colors. She avoids the extremes of chiaroscuro, creating tonal works dominated by soft grays, purples and greens. There is also control exerted over composition: “The composition is intentional. I like to drag people through my paintings,” she admits. “It’s kind of a guided tour.”

But where the automatism of surrealism comes in is the objects that wind up appearing in the paintings. “The composition is one of the few intentional things that happen. I’m the one in control of where I put these things, and how I present them. But all the imagery is stream of consciousness.” As for the repetition of some of her content, she asks, “Ever get a song stuck in your head? It plays over and over.” She can’t verbally describe what goes through her mind while she is working. “While I’m painting I disappear. I disconnect-or maybe, reconnect. I can do it anytime I sit down to paint, for me it’s simple.”

Michele painted for almost ten years before she ever sought out any chance to exhibit her art. She worked alone, practically “in my closet” she laughs. “It never occurred to me to show them. It was my sister who finally convinced me to give it a try.” Now she has been exhibiting around the Phoenix area for about five years, and recently has become one of the studio artists of the Paper Heart Gallery. Experiencing public response to her work has been intriguing. “I paint for myself. I’m not painting for audience, I’d paint even if I didn’t have an audience; but I like to show my work because it’s nice to see the reaction. It’s almost like getting connected to somebody else’s imagination for a brief moment, plugging into some else’s deepest thoughts.”

Michele views her work as in a constant state of modification. “I like to look at my work in order; when I look at my work from 10 years ago, I see that I’ve come very far.” But she considers she has still further to go. “It’s a personal journey to get my skill to match up with my imagination, to bring it out clearer,” she says. “I’m looking forward to it.”

 

lost and found

Michele Bledsoe “Lost and Found Again” acrylic on canvas 30″ x 40″

EXPLOITS: The Fine Art of Childhood

Watsonandtheshark-original

John Singleton Copley “Watson and the Shark” 1778

When my wife Michele Bledsoe and I co-authored “The Secret Kingdom” together, I was pleased to know it was intended for children. What we did for the book was write poetry inspired by Michele’s existing body of paintings.

The art came first, and was not created specifically for kids. These are just the paintings Michele makes naturally, her visions made visible. The works just have such a mysterious fairy tale atmosphere about them which makes them accessible to all ages.

SalvationAndDesire2

Michele Bledsoe “Salvation and Desire” acrylic on canvas 18″ x 24″

I love the idea of presenting such wonderful works to kids. Art is for everyone, even children. We are doing a real disservice to youth today by assuming that doodles and cartoons are good enough illustrations for children’s books.

Why not give the kids something intense, beautiful and mysterious? Why not present them with real art?

I speak as someone who grew up with some pretty serious fine art reproductions decorating my room and our house. I’m sure having them around at an early age fed into the artist I’ve become as an adult.

I’ve already written about my dinosaur fascination and its connection to my art. I also gained inspiration from some more traditional masterpieces.

I grew up outside of Washington DC. I must have been in second or third grade when we made a school trip to the National Gallery of Art. I came away with some souvenirs-some beautiful art prints I picked out myself. My mother hung them up in my bedroom; for many years afterwards, as I grew up, I contemplated these images.

I had the taste of a little boy. The lurid “Watson and the Shark” was one of the pictures. There was also a Raphael painting of St. George and the Dragon, and a spooky dungeon scene by Giovanni Battista Piranesi.

I don’t know what ever happened to the actual prints I used to have, but thanks to the magic of the internet, it was easy to find the images.

Saint_george_raphael

Raphael “Saint George”

Piranesi_carceri XIV

Giovanni Battista Piranesi “Carceri XIV”

My parents also had a nice framed reproduction which hung over the fireplace in the family room: “The Haywain” by John Constable. As I spent countless hours in that room watching TV, I also would stare at the picture over the mantle.

the-hay-wain-1821

John Constable “The Haywain” 1821

Being exposed to truly great works from a young age enriched my life, and gave me the sense of the action and beauty art is capable of. I see echos of these images I grew up with in the art I make to this day.

BOOKS: The Journey to “The Secret Kingdom” Part Three

secret front cover
PART THREE
We stuck to the plan. Only after a month’s worth of production, when we had more than enough content to create the book Michele had in mind, did she turn her attention to finding a publisher.
We already knew we were going to self publish, which fits our DIY philosophy.  The traditional publishing house model is dated, and increasingly unnecessary.  Advances in technology are removing the barriers to independent artistry.  With enough determination and labor, creative people can now reach a worldwide audience, without having to submit to the machinations of the establishment’s filters.
Why humbly petition for the approval of others to determine if we could release the book we wanted to make, a process that could take months, or even years? We didn’t seek permission from anyone to express our creative vision. Rather, Michele just researched what print on demand publishers offered the best terms for us.
This could have been another stumbling block. Despite the joy and momentum of the project, Michele was still facing intense inner doubts and fears. Such a major decision, which would lead to such a big commitment, was intimidating. Going with the wrong publisher could ruin everything.
The project could have ended right there, with us so paralyzed by the thought of making the wrong choice that we’d make no choice at all.  Michele chose to have faith. She set another aggressive one month deadline, and threw herself into publishing industry research. She compared companies, consulted blogs, researched complaints, calculated costs and returns, educated herself on copyrights and technical specifications. She was determined: at the end of the month she would make the decision, and we would move on, without wavering or second guessing.
It was helpful Michele had a clear vision of what she wanted the book to be like. Even though it would add to the cost, she knew it should be a hardcover. This would give it more presence as a beautiful object. Each painting would be printed with a simple black border around it. This is the same way her original art is displayed, in plain black frames, which she has learned is an effective and elegant presentation for her paintings. In a way the book would be like visiting a gallery full of her artwork.
The research we started doing into other contemporary children’s books showed there was nothing else like Michele’s paintings being offered. Everything seemed to be illustrated  with cartoons, doodles, or computer generated stuff. It was all overwhelmingly generic and forgettable.
We felt, why shouldn’t children get exposed to real art too? Art is for everyone, even kids. Exposing to them to enriching, surrealistic visions from a young age can only reinforce their powers of imagination and creativity. If the atmosphere is a little dark or eerie, then the art totally partakes in the tone of the fairy tales everyone grew up with. The writings of Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm are full of darkness and the bizarre, just to name a few of the prominent examples we were inspired by. The fact these disturbing stories are universally understood  to be intended for children reflects a kind of wisdom our politically correct age  recoils from.
Basically, Michele designed the kind of book we would have both loved when we were children. The kind of book that creates future artists.
The publisher Michele selected ended up being a good choice. During the preproduction phase, she communicated with them on an almost daily basis, asking questions, giving clarifications, making decision after difficult decision, each one a step towards finishing the project. The level of fear and intimidation remained high, but with prayer and each other’s unwavering commitment, we trusted we were moving in the correct direction.
 Such was Michele’s determination throughout the entire process that it came together more quickly than we ever imagined it could. On March 5, 2014, Michele had the conversation with her sister Patricia about using existing paintings for a children’s book. On July 9,2014, Amazon listed “The Secret Kingdom” as published, available to a worldwide audience. From idea to completed book took about four months.
Of course it helped we had twenty years worth of Michele’s artwork to draw from. But in only a third of a year, to enter the entirely unknown realm of children’s literature, and to utilize an entirely new means and medium to share our creative work, still feels miraculous to me.
This was only the beginning of many new and exciting challenges in our lives. We’ve done book signings now in venues ranging from a museum to a coffee house, from an elementary school to an upscale art gallery. As anticipated, we are reaching an audience far beyond the market for original artwork; many moms, dads, grandparents, teachers, poets, and even children themselves have picked up copies of The Secret Kingdom. They’ve  listened to us read from it, and tell the story of how it came to be. We’ve received reviews both good and bad; some worry the strange paintings will somehow frighten children. Comments like that makes me wonder how well those people remember what being a kid is like.
But even the negative reviews mention the intensity of the art, and the unusual nature  of the book. This is the type of work that would have never been released by timid and conventional commercial publishers. And there’s plenty more where that came from: we are already working on our next book.
Whatever comes next, for us The Secret Kingdom represents what can happen these days when vision is coupled with drive and the possibilities inherent in our technological age. We are standing on the verge of a new Renaissance, where independent creatives have a new freedom to bring their ideas into reality and  disperse them all across the globe. The opportunities are amazing for those who will take action.
Past Installments of The Journey to the Secret Kingdom

Books – The Journey To “The Secret Kingdom” Part Two

LupusInFabula

Michele Bledsoe “Lupus in Fabula” acrylic on canvas 14″ x 11″

THE JOURNEY TO “THE SECRET KINGDOM

PART TWO

We’d talked before of creating a children’s book together. Michele decided it was time to work towards this goal. Michele had a story idea,  but since she did not think of herself as an author,  we would collaborate on the writing. Michele would create all the paintings for the story; aware of her methods and pace in regards to the number of paintings she wanted to illustrate the book, we estimated it would take about two years to complete.
This seemed like a good solution. Although we have no kids of our own, we both loved children’s books; in fact, it was the beautifully illustrated books of our youth that inspired us both to become artists. We reasoned a book could reach a larger audience than an original artwork could, and the cost would be more reasonable.  Michele could keep her paintings and still share her art. Best of all, we hoped that some of the kids who saw the book would also be inspired to become artists.
Despite the extended timeline associated with the project, it felt good to have a specific goal, and a new direction to explore. We knew nothing about publishing , so we assumed a big part of the time would be spent researching that industry.
The day after we decided to pursue this course, Michele was sitting in her art studio, painting and talking on the phone to her sister Patricia in New Jersey.  Patricia is a blogger who reviews many  books, including children’s literature. Michele was hoping to get some insights from her on how the market works. Michele shared the idea for the children’s book and anticipated completion date, and asked Patricia for her thoughts.
Patricia basically told Michele she was being stupid.
Patricia did not mean this in a derogatory way. Instead, this was just her strong reaction to the fact we were overlooking something so obvious. “You are already surrounded by the pages of a children’s book,” she informed Michele.
Michele turned her head and looked around the room, surveying the walls of our studio, which are lined practically floor to ceiling with dozens of her paintings. “I don’t have a story for these,” Michele said.
“It doesn’t need to be a story. Just write some poetry,” Patricia replied.
The Secret Kingdom was born right then and there. Michele was so excited by the new insights, after she got off the phone she wrote three wonderful poems before she remembered she wasn’t an author.
During her talk with Patricia, Michele came to realizations about the steps forward needed. She recognized until we had a complete book ready, any research about publishing would be a distraction. Before we did anything else, we needed to write the book. I was still recruited as co-author, but now I would be creating poems inspired by Michele’s art, instead of creating a narrative for her pictures to illustrate. In The Secret Kingdom, the art came first.
To go along with momentum this new idea inspired, Michele set a very ambitious new deadline: we would write the content for the book in one month. Every day we each selected a painting of Michele’s which might be incorporated into the book and wrote a poem about it. In the end we would have plenty to chose from, and only pick the best ones.
Each painting poem took on its own character: some were guided by the imagery of the piece, others just by the mood the art suggested. Michele’s signature surreal and dreamy style set a perfect tone for a most unusual bedtime book, which we imagined both children and adults could linger over and enjoy.
I needed some initial guidance. I take part in spoken word events and poetry readings, so I was used to writing for an esoteric literary audience. My first efforts were long, complicated poems full of obscure references. But once Michele managed to convey to me the nature of what she wanted her book to be, I was able to get into the spirit of it. I came to understand it as a matter of rhythm mostly, and the power of the brief but evocative phrase. It was an enjoyable challenge, the effort to be direct, thoughtful and beautiful all at once.
In the meantime Michele continued to produce amazing poems of her own, experiencing a surge in her hitherto unknown talent for writing.  She often had complete poems suddenly occur to her, fully formed and without any need for editing. She even had to get up in the middle of the night to capture ideas that came to her. The Muse doesn’t keep predictable hours.
With practically daily  production from both of us, within the month we had plenty of accomplished poems to accompany Michele’s intense paintings. It was a wonderful project to go through as a couple, as we remained delighted and surprised by each other’s efforts throughout the process.
We were ready for the next step.

Books – The Journey to “The Secret Kingdom”

AndThenYouBlink
Michele Bledsoe “And Then You Blink” acrylic on canvas 11″ x 14″
THE JOURNEY TO “THE SECRET KINGDOM
PART ONE
“We sentimentalize children, but they know what’s real and what’s not.”
-Maurice Sendak
Over the past year, I have had the pleasure of being both a participant in and witness to a remarkable artistic transformation. I am referring to the creation of The Secret Kingdom, the first children’s book completed by my wife Michele Bledsoe.
Michele is a self-taught artist. Without any formal training in painting, she developed her own techniques through patient practice, determined to bring the clearest expression possible to her vision. This pursuit began before I met her, when she didn’t even know any other artists at all.
Her art during this phase was mainly a night time activity, and not only because she was employed in various full time day jobs. In this era Michele was an insomnia painter. Unable to sleep, she would approximate the dream state in front of her canvases, depicting slow wave depths that remained inaccessible to her physiologically. The images she created fulfilled the missing sensations normal dreaming would have provided.
Being conscious so much of the time gave Michele powerful awareness of her own inner configurations. This awareness was translated symbolically into the iconography she developed. Michele’s pictures came to represent an imaginary terrain she describes as the inside of her head. It’s Wonderland in there, peopled by assembled beings, fantastic creatures, and self-absorbed toys with expressions that range from the bemused to the serene. The repetition of certain pictorial elements speak of a consistent underlying comprehension, obsessively depicted. There is a sense of decay made restful with soft cool colors. The depictions are rendered with realism, but they are not naturalistic; curling leaves, ribbons, tangled twigs, rough hewn lumber, planes, pedestals, and layered walls  are exquisitely arranged in front of an ever-present darkness. There is always an opening left that beckons towards the mystery.
Michele wasn’t making her art for public recognition; for a decade, she worked without anyone other than family members seeing the results of her nocturnal explorations. Her isolation kept her pure.  Detached from commercial pressures, careerist ambitions, and art world tropes, Michele simply concentrated on giving her paintings the aspects and resolutions she desired. The results of her extreme focus were remarkable.
When Michele finally did begin to publicly show her work, she was surprised by the intense reactions it caused. It’s when I found her, at her first art show. Her paintings were a love at first sight experience for me, and once I encountered the artist, I wanted it all. I needed the totality of this fascinating woman in my life. I drew Michele into my lifestyle of a DIY artist and gallerist in the energetic Phoenix art community. Her previously unseen talent caused quite a commotion.
There was nothing else like her paintings being displayed, which brought a lot of attention and spontaneous appreciation. But she had no interest in taking part in the art world cant  that drives the contemporary gallery scene, the high-flown but empty rhetoric others used to justify high -flown but empty art. The current wordy academic approach to art making was alien and irrelevant to her. Her work came from intimate, genuine experience, not theories and references. She saw no need to talk about what she had already made visible with her imagery.
Even more importantly, Michele realized she hated parting with the paintings she had created. Despite demand, Michele was very reluctant to sell her work. Purchases evoked emotional distress in her; to this day, she mourns the loss of some of the pieces that enthusiastic patrons were able to obtain from her.
So the question became how to cultivate Michele’s  life calling for art without having to compromise the integrity of her outlook and approach. For 10 years we experimented with various approaches.  The jaded institutional art world felt too small and elitist, its priorities unsatisfactory. But to continue to treat her painting like a hobby for weekends and evenings would never give it the emphasis it deserved. We needed a solution. So we took a leap of faith.
In early 2012, despite the wretched economy, Michele left her corporate job to focus full time on creativity. Her art was already mature and accessible. The key was finding a way to connect with a supportive audience for it.
We tried many plans along the way. The books of Steven Pressfield were inspirational, and set realistic expectations about what happens when you commit your life to your art. It was comforting to understand the trials we were facing were actually signs of progress. Most importantly, we prayed. We needed to, with all the uncertainty and doubt that challenged us.
It was in the hardest time yet, a crisis where our dream was almost abandoned, when Michele’s prayer was answered. She had hit her limit and surrendered; she had to turn over control. Very difficult for someone with such an iron will. However, It was that letting go of personal control that finally revealed a new possibility.
NEXT: PART TWO