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Let’s Talk About Me

Before I go much further into my thoughts about art I’ll tell you a little about what I’m doing with my art practice these days and where I come from as an artist. Yesterday someone asked me what my art background was. I’m afraid I rattled on for way too long telling my circuitous career story. I won’t bore you with that now, although I might bore you with it in a later post. I’ll just say I was that kid who drew all the time, my parents encouraged it and kept me in art supplies because it kept me still and quiet. They didn’t call it ADHD then. I majored in art in college and went on to work in just about every art related job from animation to zookeeper (I managed a group of designers). I retired from that management job in 2009 and have done some freelance design work since then. In 20017 I decided to start painting again, something I hadn’t done since the 80s. I cleared out a corner of my basement and set up a tiny studio and started slinging paint.

Right my work has a split personality. One side of that split is my representational work. I’ve been doing landscapes, portraits and still lifes in what I think of as an impressionist style. I use acrylic paint, and lately I’ve been using Golden Open acrylics for this style. I like them because they dry more slowly than standard acrylic paint so they can be pushed around and blended for a longer period of time, which really helps creating soft edges and smooth transitions.

This is one of my most recent landscape paintings

I don’t consider these to be the primary focus of my work. I enjoy doing them, I like the challenge of representational art and I also believe that the discipline involved really helps develop my ability to see.

The other half of this split personality is my abstract work. I’ve been interested in abstract art since I was in college. Much of the work that I did in college and in the early 70s was abstract. Then as now, the process is improvisational, I start making marks, look at what I have and respond to it with more marks. My current process involves putting down a thick impasto layer using Golden Heavy Gel Medium mixed with color and sometimes a little pumice to create texture. I often press objects into the wet gel to create different textural effects. Then I start working in layers, sometimes using opaque paint and sometimes glazing. Lately I’ve been sanding the surface to bring up colors from previous layers. I repeat the process until I’m happy with what I see. Sometimes I repeat the process until I’ve ruined the painting. There’s always a risk involved, I think a big part of creativity is not being afraid to try something, even though you know there’s a possibility that it’s going to be one step too far and you’re never going to be able to make it as good as it was before you took the leap.

One of my abstract pieces

That’s a little bit about what I’m doing right now, in the future I’ll be talking about individual pieces, problems and solutions, and what’s at the front of my mind in terms of my practice. More to come.

I Don’t Know Anything About Art, But…

Some time ago I set out to start writing about art. This creates a strange paradox for me. On the surface I should be well qualified to write about art. I’ve been creating art since I could hold a pencil, I majored in art in college, I have a pretty broad knowledge of art history, and most of my work life involved art in some form or another. However, somehow I feel like I know nothing about art. I haven’t paid much attention to the fine art world for years, and I really struggle with understanding some of the avant garde trends of the last half century. Actually I couldn’t even come up with an example of current avant garde art. I am clueless about aesthetics and haven’t read a word of art criticism in probably half a century. I only darkened the door of the Walker a couple of times since they moved into the new building. I rarely go to galleries and I very rarely have a conversation about art. So that’s where I’m coming from as I start this endeavor.

So here’s the approach I’m thinking about. I will be spewing my thoughts about art in general. I’m also going to use this as a journal to record my thoughts about my art practice and feature some artists, contemporary and from the past, that I admire and that inspire me. And of course there will be a certain amount of shameless self promotion.

A long time gone.

It’s been over three years since I’ve posted here. It’s time to start writing again. I’ve been thinking about doing some writing about art. One reason for this strange urge is that I want to explore what I think about art, and I think about it a lot.

On one hand, I could be considered somewhat of an expert on the subject. I’ve been creating art since I could hold a pencil. When I was very young, my parents gave me pencils and paper to keep me from drawing on the walls and in the margins of books. With my two siblings grown up and out of the house by the time I was five, I was virtually an only child. An only child with ADD, which of course no one had heard of at that time, so an only child who was just weird. I don’t think my parents really knew what to do with me. When they figured out I would spend hours silently drawing, my dad started bringing home typing paper and pencils from his office. Reams of typing paper and boxes of pencils. I would lay on the floor in front of the TV with a pad and pencil and silently draw rather than bounce off the walls and get into trouble. I know the television of the fifties from the audio, I wasn’t watching I was drawing.

I majored in art in college and when I graduated I tried to make it as an artist and a printmaker, but I really didn’t try very hard. In my twenties I had the perfect job for an aspiring artist, I tended bar at the Black Forest Inn, near the Art Institute and frequented by the local art crowd. I could get by on working 3 shifts a week so I had lots of time to develop my skills. But like so many things in my life, I was distracted by another obsession. I was addicted to pickup basketball, and I spent that time working on those skills. All I have to show for that is really bad knees. But that’s a different story.

I moved on to “commercial art.” In quotes because it’s an old term that folks in field absolutely hate. I plan to address the artificial divide between “fine art” and the applied arts. Something I’ve never quite understood.

I worked as an illustrator, an animation inbetweener (yes that’s a job title), a production artist, a newspaper layout artist, a graphic designer and unfortunately a manager of a group of artists. I say unfortunately, because I was the poster child for the Peter Principle, I sucked at management.

On the other hand I don’t know shit about art. I was at best a mediocre art history student. I’ve never read much about art theory or aesthetics. I do love museums and galleries and combing the internet for art of all kinds. But I can’t make any claim to being a critic or knowing anything about current trends in fine art.

So, this is the beginning of a series of posts about art. I’m not doing this to educate anyone but myself. Hopefully you won’t think it’s complete bullshit.

Pickled

You know when you’re over the hill when your mind makes a promise  that your body can’t fill

Old Folks Boogie, Little Feat

pickleball
Photo provided by Dabruins07 under a creative commons license.

Today was my first experience with pickleball. It was also Becky’s second day of being unemployed, but more about that later. Pickleball is a racquet sport played with a low net on a badminton court. The ball is similar to a wiffle ball, hollow, plastic and full of holes. If you’ve ever played the great American pastime, wiffle baseball, you know you can hit the snot out of a wiffle ball and it won’t go very far. You also know that they do really weird things when spin is applied.

We played at the local YMCA, they have pickleball on the schedule three times a week. It’s part of their AOA program. Active Older Adults. I’m definitely older. But I’m not very active, and I guess it depends on how you define “adult.”

About 20 players showed up, ranging in age from, hell I don’t know to I’m not sure. As you get older you lose your ability to judge people’s ages. Any way, from old to older. But it was a fit crew and some of them could move around pretty well. There were two courts, so playing doubles we had eight players going at a time and everyone rotated in and out.

I haven’t really tried to play any kind of sport since the year of the knee, so I was a little apprehensive about actually having to move quickly and even more scary, stop quickly. After one of my stumbling forays after a shot, I heard, “Remember the first rule, no point is worth a trip to the emergency room.” No one ever said that when I was playing pickup basketball.

It went pretty well, Becky, of course, picked it up faster than I did. If you’ve played tennis, it takes awhile to get used to the fact that the ball just doesn’t bounce. I swung over the top of it so many times it was insane. And I kept going all the way to the net to volley, which isn’t permitted.

Now I’m suffering for my efforts. I hurt all over. It used to just be my knees now it’s my hips and ankles and back and shoulder. It sucks to get old.

In the Woods

Crow WingI’m sitting in a converted Barn situated on the Crow Wing River west of Brainard. It’s an idyllic spot, the quite only occasionally interrupted by 50 caliber machine gun and howitzer fire. The other side of the river is Fort Ripley, a National Guard camp, and the boys are playing with their toys. I’m on one of those storied ‘boys weekend up north’ trips. It started as a fishing and golf trip, but has turned into mostly a drinking and golf trip. Since I neither drink or play golf,  I’m kind of the fifth wheel. I’ve spent the last two days in the solitude that I get most days working at home. But it’s a pretty spot and I’ve been woodshedding on the guitar and doing some meditating.

Of course in these awful days of connectivity, I’m also ending up doing some work. As little as I can get away with, but work none the less. And of course it’s around a big emergency technical problem that is beyond my pay grade. It’s a good thing that I have a great support network, but it’s just kind of a pain having to stay connected to monitor the progress, sooth the client and try to apply my feeble reasoning to the issue.

And then of course there’s the issue of having that nagging voice in your head telling you to worry about the outcome. Taking full responsibility for the mess and not being able to give myself over to the moment. The meditation helps with that. In fact, I’ve been able to have extended periods of adolescent foolishness without the job even crossing my mind.

Tomorrow the boys aren’t golfing so we’ll have some extra time to spew stories and lies and think up ways to get into trouble. I believe that we are going to try to put our host’s portable dock into the water and then move it 50 yards upstream to a new position. So five guys in their sixties in the river with a large metal construction, four of whom will certainly be inebriated to some extent and the fifth with really bad knees and crappy balance.

What could go wrong.

Old Dog New Tricks

Photo courtesy Yvonne Larsson
Photo courtesy Yvonne Larsson

Can you teach an old dog new tricks? That’s a question I’ve been asking myself a lot lately. I’m an old dog and I’ve been trying to learn new tricks. I retired from my soul sucking corporate job five years ago, with the intention of doing freelance work. I’m 65 years old, I think most people are winding down and looking at real retirement at that age. I tell people I’m semi-retired; my 401k got hit by a semi. Continue reading Old Dog New Tricks

Writing about writing

If you’ve been following this blog… wait, who am I kidding, no one follows this blog. If anyone was actually following this blog and you were that hypothetical person, you would know that I’ve been in a major productivity slump lately. My writing isn’t so much blocked as it’s embedded in concrete. Every time I sit down to write and manage to think of something to write about, my first conclusion is either “That’s not something I want to share with the world,” or “No one in the world would be the least bit interested in that.”

I noticed awhile back that the word “I” shows up a lot in my posts. And I guess I concluded that was a bad thing. I decided I was going to write more about ideas and causes and art and all that important stuff. But then I came to the conclusion that I didn’t really know enough about any of those things for anyone to care what I had to say. After all, no graduate degrees here. I guess that’s the perfect recipe for concrete. Continue reading Writing about writing