This is the first larger-scale oil painting I've completed in a while, thanks to things like working and being a semi-responsible semi-adult. But here it is, 34 X 40 inches, oil on canvas. Its name is Bloodgood. Why? I was watching an extremely stupid game show and the contestant's last name was Bloodgood (she was not smarter than a fifth grader, FYI), and I thought it was a good name--far better in fact, than this particular woman deserved--and this was the image that sprang to mind when I thought about it. Strange how things work out.
It's far more graphic than I usually work, which comes with its own set of difficulties, like keeping lines and color areas clean and clear and sharp, and using rulers to make sure lines are straight and match up properly. Creating the large background areas was also a challenge, as the color had to remain consistent. The pattern shapes were made using a stencil.
I'm happy with the result, and especially with the lollipop trees to the left, there. Usually, I have the image of the completed painting in my mind from the outset, and I work until I reach that image. Bloodgood was one of those paintings that worked out very easily, coming to its conclusion without much stress.
Now that I've ranted sufficiently, we can get back to our normal routine. You know, the one where I disappear for a while and then resurface with new work. Like I said, I normally try not to get emotionally invested in political (or pseudo-political, as the case may be) stuff, but certain things just get me...oooh.
Anyway, I got a commissioned illustration job for Circle of Grace, a spiritual group who was holding a lecture series on emotional dependence. The subject matter was all about learning to become more of an emotionally healthy individual, and the illustrations all centered on various concepts within that theme.
All of these are watercolor, pencil, ink and gouache on Arches paper (which is the best paper ever, if also the most expensive). As you can see, I used lots of patterns and chubby birds in these images, and I also experimented with (rudimentary) fractals, which was fun.
There are about 30 of these illustrations in total, and they were hard work. I stayed up past 4 am for these and watched 3 complete DVDs of the Daria complete series to keep myself awake.
I'm also working, when I can, on oil paintings and hopefully I'll be able to post them soon.
And no more socio-political rants, I promise.
Tara McPherson has an impressive resume. She's a writer, painter, printmaker and sculptor. She worked on Futurama while still in college, has a line of toys with Dark Horse Comics and Kidrobot, and is currently working on a graphic novel with DC. She has made countless promotional posters for the Melvins, Beck, Kings of Leon, Mastodon, Shonen Knife, and other bands. Plus she's got great tattoos AND work that translates really well into tattoos (which is something I'm thinking about...)
McPherson is sometimes identified as being part of the "low-brow" or "Pop Surrealist" genre, which is a loosely defined art movement that draws inspiration from pop culture: TV, cartoons, comics, underground music, and all the stuff that's generally not thought of as "art" in the traditional, academic sense. Now, I consider myself an academic, but I also think everything is art, and I consider pop culture to be a barometer of sorts for discerning where society is in terms of its values, fears and wishes. I mean, it's either pop culture or politics, and politics gives me a headache.
McPherson's art resonated with me immediately. It's pretty obvious by now that I really get into the synthesis of seemingly opposing ideas, imagery and themes in art. Her work is brightly colored, kitschy, cartoonish and fun. It's easily accessible to many people. But it's also full of body horror, mysterious imagery, and a sense of both alienation and introspection seen in her use of the fantastical planets and vast recesses of space where her figures float. It's like watching a slightly malevolent cartoon in a language you can't understand, one that makes references to a culture you are only dimly familiar with. I find that McPherson's art also sparks the ideas of where art and decoration meet, if they are different, and what those differences may be. Are these pictures merely decorative, the artistic equivalent of Saturday morning cartoons, or is there something more to them? Are those cartoons actually making a veiled statement about something? Do cartoons and decoration have to stand diametrically opposed to art and meaningful social discourse?
McPherson also makes sculpture. I included an example of it (second picture down). These guys, who can also be seen in the top image and in other paintings, are collectively known as "Mr. Wiggles," and I kind of really, really want one of them. The sculpted versions seem to come in turquoise, pink, and black, and I want a pink one. She also makes sculptures (I believe they're all fiberglass/polyurethane. I think) of the skull flowers that can be seen in the background of the Melvins poster. She's also got a line of merchandise (which also creates the discussion of commercialism and art--do the essay topics never stop??) on her website. Check it out.
I would like to start off this post by saying that I hate painting on circles. Seriously. Circles are just awful. Someone bought me a circular canvas about, oh, six or seven years ago now, and except for the layers of erased charcoal smudges, it's still blank.
Circles are stupid.
They just are. I have no issue with ovals, and none with squares or rectangles. I can create a composition on any of those shapes just fine, but not circles. Everything magically looks cheesy on a circle. If it's a regular composition, like a portrait or a scene, you think, okay, but why is it on a circle? Why not on some rectangular shape? How is the circle relevant to the image? Or, worse, people try to get clever with circles and paint things like planets or celestial vistas or something and they always turn out just embarrassingly trite. I've seen some abstract work turn out successfully on circles, but I'm not an abstract painter. And meanwhile, I have this 18-inch circular canvas kicking around and I kind of just want it to go away.
I think the only time a circular composition is justifiable is when the circle on which one is painting is an object, rather than merely a canvas. This, for example, is the sawn-off base of an old Yule tree that I found in the yard. It's small size (about 3 inches in diameter--yes, I have little hands) and its nature as being a slice of tree trunk saves it from Circle Doom. If this was on a larger canvas, it would be kind of a fail. I was thinking of doing more of these, since we have some ancient firewood in the basement that I could cut up. But that means using the beastly circular saw (irony!) and I never really feel like doing that. Yet another reason why having a band saw would make my life easier.
So this is the Bird Girl. I was thinking of screwing a hook into the top (it's about half and inch thick) and making her into some kind of ornament, but for right now she lives on the kitchen table.
If you look to the right hand side of this blog, you'll see a quip about cupcakes in the "About Me" section. It's true. I do find cupcakes, and all gooey baked goods, for that matter, to be somewhat sinister. I don't know why. Something about all that prettiness and sweetness...you just know it has to have a dark side.
I made these paintings a few years ago, when I was tired of using the darker, more jewel-like tones of the medieval-style paintings and wanted to do something a little brighter. I was also interested in the idea, especially after working with ideas informed by sacred art, of the line between high and low culture.
So I went out and bought some glitter.
Because glitter, many believe, has no place in good, grown-up art. It's for kids. But I say not so. First of all, I don't use just any old glitter. I use Martha Stewart brand glitter, which is seriously the highest-quality glitter I have ever seen, and comes in a wide variety of colors not generally associated with glitter (olive green and brown, for instance). I also bought Martha Stewart brand cupcake wrappers, some of which were collaged onto this painting and some of which were used to make actual cupcakes. Martha has a section dedicated to her wares in craft stores like A.C. Moore and Michael's, and a good time can be spent there pondering over how anyone could come up with this stuff. Say what you will about Martha, she knows how to make fancy, useless, amazing crap like a pro.
These paintings are the first in which glitter is used. For these, I mixed the glitter with neo megilp, which I had been using for the rest of the glazes, to create a glitter paint. The glitter use, compared to what I've been doing lately, is modest, and even hard to see in these pictures (it's mainly on the wall behind the figures, accenting the designs there). I've also found that I prefer using it with stand oil--because stand oil makes everything better. They are also the beginning of what I've been informally calling the "Trash" line, which uses a lot of pink and glitter and really bad taste as a way to explore the ideas of what taste is, what is acceptable as far as art is concerned, and what kinds of implications arise by using childish (and typically feminine) colors and symbols and calling it art.
The Cupcake Diptych is unfortunately quite delicate. Besides the collaged cupcake papers, there's a brittle batch of gesso underneath which requires they be kept in a safe place (like, not my closet). I'm not, looking back on them, quite satisfied with them as far as the modeling goes, but I can appreciate them, at least. More Trash coming soon!
Long ago, like, sometime in July, I introduced the the hoodie as a staple of my painting symbolism. Here are some more of them. These, like The Protector, The Discovery of a False Moon, and the other paintings on patterned cloth, these three are part of a body of work I call the Home project, which I discussed in the same posting in which I discussed The Protector as being a study of origins, so to speak, exploring the symbols developed in childhood and how they inform life as an adult. The images concentrate on memory as a space, with the objects within that space taking on a symbolic existence, standing in for people, concepts and emotions. HINT: The hoodies are all me. I wear hoods a lot.
From the top:
The Homestead, oil and collage on patterned cotton. Featured here is a homey bird, a plump, goose-like fowl that symbolizes being at home and being content there. We also have more floating trees, which are less involved with symbolism and more a reflection of how I remember treed areas--I can visually recollect the canopies, but often the trunks get forgotten. Basically this is what it looks like in my head when I remember areas with trees. I'm not weird you're weird. Anyway, incorporated into the image are scans of nineteenth-century photographs. (The originals are mounted on a thick cardboard, and I didn't like the idea of using the originals anyway) The photographs came in an album as a gift, and I am completely unrelated to any of the sitters. The painting is about the concept of home, what makes a home and what happens to a home when it is left and its inhabitants forgotten.
The Reunion, oil and collage on patterned cotton. I still don't know how I feel about the name. Besides just being a hoodie, this one is a skullheaded hoodie, or a skullhoodie. I amuse myself. The general reaction, when I showed this, was "Oh, how cute, a little fawn--WHY DOES SHE HAVE A SKULL FACE THAT'S FRIGHTENING." Collage elements are silver leaves, bought on a whim from an art supply store. This is something of a companion piece to the painting below, and deals with the idea of reconnecting with the past version(s) of oneself as a result of introspection, or as a link to personal understanding.
The Bone Gatherer, oil on patterned cloth. Hoodies and deer again. This is kind of the precursor to The Reunion, about delving into, and at times confronting, one's past as a way to figure things out for the future. It's the same hoodie, too, although in The Reunion she seems to have lost her boots. I'm quite pleased with the way the birch trees came out--they have many a layer of white and purple-black glaze.
So basically, the Home project is something of an attempt to communicate to the outside world what it looks like in my head; these are, in a way, still shots of how I remember and imagine (and some combination thereof) things. I'm surprised, in a way, but also quite pleased, with the fact that I am finally able to create these images. There are more Home pieces in the works, though I've been shamefully remiss about my painting. This whole having-a-job thing really cuts into my painting time...
Due to the fact that I have not yet installed a decent photo editing program onto my new computer, I can't upload the new photos of the newest (complete) paintings without their having a weird white space where I've cropped the pictures. So here is the latest of the old photos, a painting called The Protector. As we saw in The Discovery of a False Moon, there are some floating trees. Unlike some of the other symbols, I don't really know why I like the floating trees so much.
The figure on the left is a Hoodie. I started drawing these hooded silhouette girls about a year ago, and they are essentially symbols of myself--shorthand self-portraits, I guess. The deer-headed man is my dad, because I associate him with deer. Disney's Bambi was my favorite movie as a child, and Bambi's family structure basically mirrored my own at the time. Therefore my dad has antlers. I also was under the impression that Bambi started life as a girl and grew up to be male. Anyway, deer and hoodies, as well as some other symbols, show up later in the body of work that includes The Discovery of a False Moon, the Huntington paintings, and Croton Point, that is collectively called Home. The concept behind Home is memory and personal symbolism, or the way that children, and later adults, use specific images and objects to inform more nebulous aspects of their lives. For me, for example, deer with antlers are symbols of my father. Home is still in the works, with a few more paintings planned. I seem to have three veins in which I work: the Home style, sort of soft and faded, with dense patterning and natural settings, the medieval style that has broad areas of jewel tones, and a bright pink and glittery style that I haven't unveiled yet (mwahaha) that I'm calling the "trashy" style. There are similarities between the three modes, and the symbols found in Home appear in the others, and I think to an extent they each reflect an aspect of my person.
The Protector is oil and neo-megilp glaze (yes, that is really what it is called and I have no idea why). Neo megilp was called "atmosphere in a bottle" by a painting teacher of mine and she was quite right. It creates a soft, filmy glaze and it dries fast. I love stand oil, but the speed at which this stuff dries is amazing. The patterns on the figures were traced from a piece of wrapping paper.
So as soon as I can figure out/feel like getting the other pictures together, I'll put them up. Till then...
I've always liked patterned fabric. I have, currently, an overflowing grocery bag full of scraps of old clothes stuffed in the back of the terror-jungle that it my closet. I've made a few quilts with them, starting from the traditional patchwork squares to the one I'm currently "working" on (quotes signal that in this context, "working" means "leaving it sitting on my dresser for the past six months") is more of a landscape, complete with silver raindrops (old curtains left over from when my room was space-themed in middle school) and elephants. Anyway, that's not the point. The point is that I like patterned fabric because for me, it evokes memory, the way that old clothes and blankets do.
For a while, I was in the habit of painting very intricate patterns in the backgrounds of my paintings. You can see some of them in the Woods series that I discussed earlier. It was, to put it bluntly, a pain in the ass. So one day in the summer, I stretched and primed these three canvases--er, non-canvases. Huntingtons I and II are primed with clear gesso, which I don't recommend as it dries to a weird, sandy sort of texture that is difficult to work with, particularly on a small scale. It can also fog up the fabric itself. Croton Point is primed with acrylic gloss medium, which s nice and smooth and wonderful. (Note: If you choose to try this, be sure to coat the front and the back of the cloth several times with the priming medium, as fabric like this is much thinner and has a more open weave than canvas.) They are quite small, the largest of them being only a foot square.
Painting on fabric is really fun. For one thing, the painting surface becomes part of the image, and you can fade it in and out of the painted areas with a pretty nice effect. These are all based pretty literally on photographs. Huntington I (Shadows), top, and Huntington II (Starfields), center, are taken from photographs of my mother and aunt as kids with some of their younger cousins. They're weird photos, in that little square 1960s format, taken by kids in strong summer sunlight, lending them a strange and spontaneous sort of quality. Croton Point, at the bottom, is based on a photo taken by me, of my friend and his now-ex-girlfriend, about two years ago. The weird brown animals are my own invention. Fittingly, my mother brought me the fabric samples of the Huntingtons, and the green piece I bought at a vintage shop in New Paltz. These are the first paintings in which I dealt with memory as a place, and I took a fairly literal approach, using photographs, which are what people commonly use to preserve memory.