So where ya been anyway? It’s true. I haven’t posted anything in quite a while. I'm amazed to see that it's been over a year. And I haven’t put much new art up on the site lately either (the Extemporal Suite being the exception). The reasons for this are varied, and I address them below.
After the completion of the Divine Beauty series there was a gap where I reflected on which direction to go next. Ideas are never the problem with me. There are way too many rolling around in my head at any given moment. It’s deciding on one that could occupy the next few years of my life that’s problematic. This gap in production began two years ago as my parents went through serious illnesses and eventually died. So things slowed. There were a few smaller group shows, but it's been a transition period for me.
Two new ideas
A year ago I embarked on two new series. Embarked; don't you like that? Sounds like I got on s ship and sailed off on a painting expedition. Anyway, the Extemporal Suite came about by accident really. When I taught high school I would do quick painting demonstrations in class. Students randomly selected images from a box of magazines to use as subject matter. It might be a dog, or hip-hop singer, or a bad filmmaker; you never knew.
Sometimes I combined multiple selected images. The paintings were usually completed in around 45 minutes as I spontaneously responded to the subject matter provided by the students. I never thought too much of the resulting works, but I saved them. A couple years ago I had a studio sale and I decided to sell the demo painting cheaply if anyone was interested. Visitors responded enthusiastically, snatching them up. This response shifted my perception and I began taking this spontaneous way of working seriously. So that’s what I’ve been doing. This spawned a couple sub-categories including the Chrome and Renee works. The Renee works are based on images I made of my wife way back in college, when she was my girlfriend. The chrome series were recently exhibited in Beijing China.
Post Divine; yes I like women
The other series I’m working on is what I am calling for now, Myths, Lies, and Allegories. Maybe the title will stick; you never know. As I write this, I’m nine paintings into the series, but I still haven’t yet fully formulated my thoughts on the direction I’m going, so I haven't posted any yet. As I move forward the work may lead me in as yet unimagined directions. As I often do, I’m referencing historical art traditions that embody archetypes both in painting and society. Divine Beauty featured the sexualized male figure, and up to now this work deals somewhat similarly with female subjects, playing off formulaic conventions that exist throughout history. By placing antiquated themes—ancient mythology, female allegorical figures—in modern social contexts I’m casting society and history in equally critical lights.This is where things get complicated. In my last series I did a lot of image appropriation. As the work progressed I became concerned about issues surrounding fair use provisions of the copyright laws. I have no doubt that my work falls comfortably within the guidelines for fair use, but the recent Richard Prince verdict, among other things, demonstrates that fair use arguments sometimes fail. Prince can afford the court costs and income loss. Me, not so much. So I decided not to appropriate imagery for a while. I guess that’s the chilling effect at work, but it was time anyway.So if I want to continue doing figurative work I have to use original sources i.e. models. In my case this means friends, or friends of friends—mostly but not exclusively women—who volunteer their services, because I prefer working with people who are doing it for the art or the adventure or the ego boost, rather than for money. My studio-mate Richard Huntington just wrote an online story about this, which can be read here. Though there are varying degrees of stylization in these depictions, I endeavor to imbue the likenesses with some aspect of each subject’s character, relating that quality to the chosen theme, which in many cases is partly determined by the subject.
A note about women as subject matter:
I’ve always been conscious of Gaze theory, specifically the much discussed male gaze concept that argues (accurately I believe) that artworks done by men tend to assume a male viewpoint and present women as subjects of implicit male visual appreciation. Art critic John Berger for instance found in historical art a tradition of male-constructed sexualization of the female image that reflects the inequality of gender relations. Not a big surprise really. These ideas all emerged in the seventies, but they still impact art today. As an artist who primarily works with the human figure I have consciously striven in the past to undermine or comment on the male gaze. My Tattooed Women series, for instance, depicted women outside conventions of the male-defined ideal, who uncompromisingly define beauty on their own terms. In the Divine Beauty series I focused largely on men in advertising who are objects of female or gay male desire.I have lately come to grips with the ugly fact that I am a heterosexual male, and women are in fact subjects of my appreciation. I am facing this realization head on by painting in a manner that reflects this appreciation. I still prefer unconventional beauty though; there will be no Will Cottonesque super models or pop singers in my work.
Commissions and other opportunities
I was further delayed in the development of my new series by a couple wonderful commissions and other opportunities that have come my way. The first commission came from a collector in NYC who saw my work on the PS1 Studio Visit site. He purchased a small work and then after considering whether he had room for one of the largest Divine Beauty works, he decided instead to inquire whether I would be willing to go back to do one more work from that series as a commission. I agreed. This collector challenged me to take this work beyond what I had done before. It took months to complete, including time to research new materials and techniques, including gilding with 23 carat gold leaf. I just got done the other day and I plan to show it at a studio party before shipping it off. Friends and other interested parties will be invited.Later this summer I will be working with international muralist Augustine Drose on a mural on Elmwood Avenue here in Buffalo. Planning the design for that has taken weeks and the business details have taken more time.
Finally I am in talks for another commission with a businessman and professor from China. I have recently signed a contract agreeing to allow him to sell my work online in China. Neither of us knows whether this will be successful, and the weeks and months ahead will tell. If it works out, I will be “curating” other artists’ work on the same site. Stay tuned.