Richard Bledsoe “Reef” acrylic on canvas 24″ x 24″
2022 got off to a great start, when I finished a painting on New Year’s Day. After watching countless nature documentaries, I realized any colors and shapes can be applied to the complex ecosystem of a coral reef. I invented this imagery, keeping it all loose and aquatic.
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Scott Fraser “Lemon Spiral” Oil on board 44″ x 29.5″
Even though I tend to paint from imagination rather than life, I have the greatest respect for artists who can accurately depict the natural world. And I agree that realist art has an immediate impact to the audience. It’s good news if the art market is becoming supportive of actual skill and talent, instead corrupt Postmodern conceptual hackwork.
Sprick shared an illustrative anecdote about overhearing a snippet of conversation between a couple leaving a museum: “They were walking out of an exhibit of incomprehensible, conceptual stuff, within earshot. The man said to the woman, ‘I know that guy was a genius, but sometimes I want to know it’s good artwork just by looking at it.’ realism is self-evident and needs no explanation.”
Sprick believes realism remains not only relevant, but also flourishing in the twenty-first century.
“There’s no sign of loss of interest among artists with sincerity who want to be challenged,” Sprick said. “I don’t think realism is ever going away. There’s a groundswell of young people finding training outside universities, in ateliers, in private studios, with somebody who has gained academic skill and teaches others.”
Scott Fraser “Pencil Wreck” oil on board 25.5″ x 18″
It’s a little hard when you are adults, with no kids around, to find the proper level of Christmas decorating for the home.
To not decorate at all would be bleak. It would be an unhappy break from a lifetime cycle of excitement and fun around the holidays, as well as missing out on commemorating one of the definitive miraculous events in human history.
But to go for an 8 foot live tree with all the trimmings and a giant outdoor display seems excessive. There are other complications as well. Our cats were too intrigued by even the small artificial tree we used for a few years, leading to some unfortunate episodes. And we don’t even have an outlet on the outside of our house to plug lights into.
In 2012 my wife Michele Bledsoe came up with a great solution. We were both painters-why not make a painting of a Christmas tree that we could bring out for the holiday?
Inspired, we made a quick trip to the art supply store and got to work.
2012: I began with the star and some vague spots of color as a base coat for ornaments
Michele’s sister Sherry was living with us at the time, and joined in creating the tree and decorations. The idea was just to roughly block in the shapes at first. Then, every year at Christmas time when we bring out the painting, we would continue to work on it.
Sherry and Michele, adding details
Michele took on the role of clean up and enhancement. Since her paintings are so precise and intricate, she excels at getting images resolved.
2021 marks our ninth season of painting on the tree. There’s still room to add new ornaments, and plenty of opportunities to refine the elements we’ve already depicted. I imagine we will be working on this the rest of our lives.
When the tree is not on one of our easels, we put it on our family room floor, surrounded by presents. It’s been a wonderful tradition. And the cats don’t try to climb it.
“Christmas Tree” acrylic on canvas 36″ x 24″ 2012-2021
Michele Bledsoe, Richard Bledsoe, Sherry
I don’t fundraise off of my blog. I don’t ask for Patreon or Paypal donations. If you’d like to support the Remodern mission, buy abook. Or a painting.
Richard Bledsoe “At the Crossroad” acrylic on canvas 24″ x 30″
I’ve written before about how vital music is in our studio, as the soundtrack of our art. Recently my wife Michele Bledsoe and I took our musical influences to an even greater intensity. One afternoon while we were painting, we identified songs that we felt epitomized the way that each other approached creating our art.
You see Michele and I have very different methods to the way we paint; we are diametrically positioned, which is why being a married artist couple works so well for us. Opposites attract. We both act as conduits in our artistic expression, but it’s very different forces that we channel.
Michele has spent years watching me paint in a kind of frenzied trance, taken outside of my normal senses in service of the art. While I paint I tend to pace, curse, pray, rant. It’s an ecstatic process for me; not just in the sense of happiness, even though it fills me with joy. It’s so intense I’m not paying attention to the way I’m behaving. An unknowing witness would not understand all my frantic swearing is actually a sign of overwhelming engagement, as I push further.
Michele’s song for me is “Crossroads” by Tom Waits, a collaboration with writer William Burroughs. The story it tells shows the sense of abandonment to the demands of creation, no matter the personal cost. There is nothing diabolical about what I’m going for, but the reckless commitment is there. I always say painting is my healthiest addiction.
Click the image to see the video “Crossroads” here:
Now, George was a good straight boy to begin with, but there was bad blood In him someway
and he got into the magic bullets that lead straight to Devil’s work, just like marijuana leads to heroin;
you think you can take them bullets or leave ’em, do you? Just save a few for your bad days
Well, well we all have those bad days when we can’t hit for shit.
And the more of them magics you use, the more bad days you have without them So it comes down to finally all your days being bad without the bullets It’s magics or nothing Time to stop chippying around and kidding yourself. Kid, you’re hooked, heavy as lead
And that’s where old George found himself Out there at the crossroads Molding the Devil’s bullets Now a man figures it’s his bullets, so it will take what he wants But it don’t always work out that way
You see, some bullets is special for a single target A certain stag, or a certain person And no matter where you aim, that’s where the bullet will end up And in the moment of aiming, the gun turns into a dowser’s wand And points where the bullet wants to go
George Schmidt was moving in a series of convulsive spasms, like someone With an epileptic fit, with his face contorted and his eyes wild like a Lassoed horse bracing his legs. But something kept pulling him on. Now He’s picking up the skulls and making the circle.
I guess old George didn’t rightly know what he was getting himself into The fit was on him and it carried him right to the crossroads
Michele’s mode of painting could not be more different.
Michele Bledsoe “The Great Fear of Falling” acrylic on canvas 14″ x 11″
I have spent years watching Michele work tranquilly at her easel. She sits down and the art just begins to flow out of her, methodically, with great order. Layer upon the layer the intensity builds without interruption until she has crafted a mysterious and moving environment. She calmly renders complex compositions with profound depths and eruptions of otherworldly expressiveness.
What musician other than Ludwig Van Beethoven could reflect such a method?
My song for Michele is Beethoven’s Symphony no. 7 in A major, Op. 92, the second movement, Allegretto. It starts so quietly, but goes through cycles of growth until it is truly cosmic in scale. Such precision and feeling. That is how Michele makes her art.
There aren’t any lyrics, but there’s no need for those when the music speaks so eloquently on its own.
Click on the image to see the video for the 7th Symphony, “Allegretto” here:
What would be the theme song of your artistic method?
“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 Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living” (1991)
The arts are undergoing a crisis of relevance. People have been so alienated by the weird dysfunctions of the establishment art world for so long, there is little awareness of what is being advanced as the visual representations of our culture.
This stuff matters more than people know. Art shows us who we are, and it shows us how to be. Right now the arts are dominated by destructive nihilists. Look at what they do, to understand what the elites are trying to program as our way to live.
There is a longstanding artistic tradition of the momento mori: “remember you must die.”
The reality of our own mortality, and coming to terms with it, is a vital function of traditional art. Making something exquisite out of the way of all flesh is a transcendental act. It has been expressed in many ways. Throughout art history, skulls make appearances in paintings, on jewelry, on clocks and watches. Dutch masters painted beautifully naturalistic oil still lifes referred to asvanitas, which included images of bones, snuffed lamps, and hourglasses. They not only celebrated the refined talents of the painters, they implied pending decay.
Pieter Claesz “Vanitas Still Life” (1630)
The tradition continued over the centuries. In a more recent example, Modernist American painter Georgia O’Keeffe utilized animal skulls and flowers to similar effect. It’s the kind of universal communication that makes art so powerful.
Georgia O’Keeffe “Summer Days” (1936)
As Christians, we understand our true life is not limited to this earth, but is life eternal granted by the grace of the Son of God. Still, awareness of the briefness of our time here on earth is a powerful motivator. “I am writing this book because we’re all going to die,” mused Beat author Jack Kerouac. He was determined to deliver his story as a supplication to the Lord. Kerouac wanted to make something holy out of all his striving, opening himself to God before the darkness came.
Contemporary art has a different message for us: death as something awkward, gross, and shameful. This is typified by the richest living artist in the world: Damien Hirst.
Choke Artist: Damian Hirst
Hirst has been well rewarded for making death seem supreme. It’s said this hack is worth $1 billion. What put British artist Hirst on the fast track in the first place could be seen as a momento mori of a kind, but with some important caveats.
Hirst was trying to make that connection in his title. Called The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, the 1991 piece was a fourteen foot long taxidermied tiger shark suspended in a tank of formaldehyde. Since its creation it has changed hands several times, for a price suggested to be as high as $12 million.
Now, Hirst did not catch the shark. He did not stuff the shark. He did not build the tank, or suspend the beast in it. He is a “Conceptual artist.” The idea of Conceptual art is all the artist needs is to have the idea. Others execute it, often by just putting some already existing item like a shark into a new context of a gallery or museum. The artist then acts as a well-networked and “controversial” spokesmodel for their commercialized brand. This business model was most visibly pioneered by Pop artist Andy Warhol, who made some vanitas himself.
Andy Warhol “Skull” (1976)
While Warhol usually sold product placements and celebrity portraits, HIrst’s brand is carcasses. It’s claimed nearly 1 million animals have been processed through his industrial scale artistic abattoir, ranging from butterflies to zebras. He’s advanced from having them merely displayed; they are sliced, diced, contorted and flayed, as per his “vision.” As Hirst has callously stated, he wants to “kill things in order to look at them,” and “Cut us in half, we’re all the fucking same.”
Damien Hirst “Piggy”
I don’t claim any special virtue for myself. I’m a happy meat eater, and I understand what that means. But what Hirst promotes is far from the traditional momento mori of art. There’s no acknowledgement of the urgency of human experience, the profound significance of life in the face of its certain end. The hands off approach from its originator removes the spiritual resonance of creation in spite of destruction. Hirst implies we are just meat to be manipulated and exploited. It’s an ugly and empty message.
Hirst doesn’t even provide quality in the work he has done in his name. Despite the hype, I’ve seen descriptions of encounters with the shark which say what was once was a magnificent animal looks about as impactful as an overstuffed sofa, lost in the white void of the museum. The original shark rotted away in its tank, and had to be replaced. The contemporary art market is place of such cognitive dissonance there is a hearty debate on whether swapping the shark out meant the artwork was now worthless.
My take? It was worthless in the first place.
Hirst seems to have gotten into the carrion business because he lacks real artistic talent or discernment. After Hirst became a brand name, when he wanted to come up with a mass production way to cash in, he produced the inane spot paintings. I can’t picture a bigger failure in imagination or interest than these generic Twister rip offs. Still, thousands of these have been cranked out by hired help, selling for tens of thousands of dollars each. It’s a way for tasteless but wealthy patrons to partake in Hirst’s rotten prestige in a sterile way, without worrying about formaldehyde leaks.
Some People Actually Pay For This: A Hirst Spot Painting
Hirst is still flogging dead horses and more to maintain his top tier art market status. His latest gimmick is ironically putting paint onto a canvas himself, though I wouldn’t go so far as to grace the efforts with the status of paintings.
Spotty Accomplishments: Hirst Cherry Blossoms
Ultimately elites celebrate artists like Hirst because they have a death wish: they wish the rest of us would die, or at least be as passive as corpses while the powerful abuse and pillage our society. The establishment contributes to our destruction by replacing art with icons of physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual deterioration.
Richard Bledsoe “Alternative Evolution” acrylic on canvas 24″ x 36″
Humanity is not perfectible. All efforts to defy our natures through our own efforts lead to division, fragmentation, conflict and failure. Modernity was an accurate representation of the spirit of its age, of the schisms that develop inside and outside of people when we make ourselves the center of the universe. Modern art documented the frantic casting about for a solution, trying out this theory, that theory, this aesthetic, that approach, but all such efforts are doomed. “These fragments I have shored against my ruins,” Eliot wrote, but the ruin will always break through in the end.
What the Masters had was a sense of integrity the Modern world rejected-integrity in the sense of wholeness, a sound condition. This is the spirit of Remodernism. We can learn from and use all the discord and ruptures of the last century and put the pieces back together. The Modern experiment failed. It did not bring perfection into the world by using human intellect, a feeble and limited tool under the best of circumstances. What is called for is a new mode of understanding, which is actually a very old mode of understanding. Enduring wisdom is greater than the equivocations of rationality.
This article from 2013 addresses why the achievements of Modernism fall short of the works of the Masters.
“Yet the achievements of a Michelangelo — those that have survived — simply dwarf those of the Bacons, Freuds and the rest, in spite of all the resources of modernity. What changed? Was it, in Max Weber’s phrase, the ‘disenchantment’ of the world? Last month the New York Review of Books carried a previously unpublished talk by T.S. Eliot to a Cambridge literary society in 1924. In it, he defined modernity as ‘the movement which accepted the divorce of human and divine, denied the divine, and asserted the perfection of the human to be the divine’.”
An earlier version of this article was posted June 3, 2015
Miriam Elia illustrates a point
In America, older generations than mine grew up with “Dick and Jane” books. The simple words and clean cut imagery of these works were meant as a teaching tool for young readers.
It seems the British version was “Peter and Jane.” The names might have been different, but the intent was the same: an educational experience for kids, presented in an easily assimilated, non-threatening format.
As society grew more cynical, succinct statements like “Look Jane, see Dick” took on an unwholesome, ironic taint. The images now evoke a whole vanished era, a time of earnest naivete and lost innocence.
UK artist and writer Miriam Elia took full advantage of this gentle nostalgic vibe in 2014. She released “We Go To The Gallery,” appropriating the traditional format associated with Ladybird, the British publisher of children’s easy reader books. But in Elia’s version, the kids are being subjected to the soul crushing ordeal of viewing contemporary establishment art.
In panel after panel, Elia skewers the nasty nihilistic productions of the decadent cultural elitists.
Along the way many recognizable conceptual art works are referenced, with the Mummy character spewing the stale turpitude so essential to post modern poseurs. The corruption and presumptions of culture industry hacks make them ripe targets for such mockery.
On her site Elia used to advertise a lecture on “learning principles”:
-Helping children understand there is nothing to understand
-Ensuring the child’s own opinions match those of the arts elite
-Preparing young people for a lifetime of crippling uncertainty
She’s presenting this as a joke. But when I realize that is exactly what our institutions are actively doing for real, I find it less amusing.
When I first discovered this book in 2015, it was unavailable. It seems the traditional publisher didn’t appreciate the mockery and some legal shenanigans ensued. In some of the images on the internet the character names were changed to John and Susan, and I wonder if that wasn’t an effort to bypass some of the copyright concerns. Now, in 2021, We Go the Gallery is back at Amazon; the site explains: “The 2014 limited edition of We Go to the Gallery was threatened with a lawsuit by Penguin UK (owners of the Ladybird imprint), which was withdrawn following a recent change in UK copyright law allowing for parody and satire.”
There is an extreme disconnect between the feebleness of contemporary art and the attitude of sophisticated superiority the elitists display. Irony was once their weapon. Now it is their shield. Soon it will be their tomb.
A generation’s worth of careers, reputations and investments have been built in a dead end, a pitfall of decadence and power lust. Outside of their carefully screened zones of consensus they are meaningless. But we can’t cede the custodianship of our civilization to these perpetrators. It’s time we start invading their enclaves and confronting their failures both as artists and as human beings.
Concise observations like Elia’s, presented with inescapable deadpan humor, will be the death of the current art bubble. Smart people are looking for the exits already.
Richard Bledsoe “The Bear That Ate the Stars” oil on canvas 30″ x 36″
As a young artist, as I started to discover what truly intrigued me in my art, I found I was following parallel explorations to the Symbolist artists. Even as I’ve become aware of the cutting edge contemporary movement of Remodernism, following my own natural inclinations keeps my works grounded in Symbolist traditions. Remodernist artists find inspiration in the art forms of the past, expressed not by mindless imitation or appropriation, but by finding in ourselves the universal source of love and excitement that moved those earlier artists. Fascination with the fantastic, mythical and religious imagery, the spiritual connotations of darkness, light and color, an underlying sense of order; these concerns of the Symbolists continue to arise spontaneously in my own art.
This article touches on the works and life of formative symbolist Gustave Moreau. Key quote:
” Eccentricity and provocation are two defining characteristics of symbolist artists, all of whom created their own artificial world, built on their own imagination and emotions. Rejecting naturalism and impressionism, at the same time the artists challenged themselves to stimulate and evoke the observer’s emotions. Longing for sensation and artfully hidden implications, it seems only logical that every artist brings his unique touch to a common concept.”