#24. Abstraction is in the details (or: painting pieces of paintings)

Painting a piece of a painting…? I’ve played with this idea in the past (not very successfully)– to isolate a small section of a painting, and reference it to make a large painting. If only I could magnify the immediacy and verve that live in those sexy little sections that were produced through spontaneity and intuitive mark-making, and create BIG paintings echoing those same qualities. Sounds easy. Ha.

So my last post showed the large piece I recently finished— “New Territory”.

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“New Territory. 53×65”. mixed media on Fabriano paper. ©2014 Karen Rand Anderson

What I didn’t say about it  is that it’s actually referenced from a very small detail from another painting, “Shadow Walk”, 36×36”, mixed media on wood panel. See the loose reference? This detail is about 4×6″. (I left out the dead tree in the 53×65″painting.)

Imagedetail, “Shadow Walk”

Here’s the quick journal sketch: Image

 And here’s the original painting:

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Shadow Walk, 36×36″. mixed media on wood panel. ©2014 Karen Rand Anderson

I still like the detail best.

 Abstract expressionist Franz Kline  was able to maintain that freshness from small sketches to gargantuan canvases.  He loved the quality of the mark-making in his small quick brush sketches, and in 1948 when his buddy Willem de Kooning turned him on to the Bell-Opticon opaque projector, he discovered he could project those small energetic strokes as enlarged abstract gestures. He grabbed a big brush, some black house paint, and used the projected images as templates for some very big paintings, which became huge calligraphic statements on the canvas.

ImageFranz Kline in studio, 1954.  Fritz Goro photo.

When Kline first projected one of his small ink sketches onto the wall, this is what he described:

“A four by five inch black drawing of a rocking chair…loomed in gigantic black strokes which eradicated any image, the strokes expanding as entities in themselves, unrelated to any entity but that of their own existence.”

Sounds like abstract expressionism in a nutshell.

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Franz Kline (American, 1910-1962). Untitled II, ca. 1952. Ink and oil on cut-and-pasted telephone-book pages on paper on board. 11 x 9 in. (28.1 x 23 cm). © 2010 The Franz Kline Estate / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 Here’s a short, jazzy little video from the MoMA about Kline’s painting process. 

Keep in mind that the bigger you go, the more you spend— time, materials, energy. Bigger brushes=expensive; bigger canvas or panel= way expensive; more paint (oil or acrylic) = way, way more expensive.  Klein used black enamel house paint because he could get it inexpensively, and loved the workability of it. [Oh well, I’m a coloroholic, I’ll  admit it. Also I use water-based materials. No more toxic stuff in my studio] So, big for me is say, 60 or 70″. Big for Kline was, well, REALLY big.

While Kline sometimes used a projector to magnify his images, I take small digital detail pics with my iPhone and then make awkward sketches of them in my art journal before attempting to translate the image into a larger scale. I wonder. Should I find a projector?

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detail, from “Vermont Reflections” On it’s way to becoming a big painting…. maybe.

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“Vermont Reflections” 24×24″. mixed media on canvas. ©2014 Karen Rand Anderson

#19. “More Snow”: building a painting while wishing winter was over.

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photo by Laurel Casey

This winter in New England is… enough already. I’m not alone in feeling this. But in truth, it’s beautiful, in many ways. I’ve been doing some blue and white paintings as a result. Here is the process of my recent “More Snow”, mixed media on wood panel, 24×24″ (When I say “mixed media” I refer to the fact that the painting is not ONLY made of acrylic paint, but also pencil and water-based crayon.)

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First a couple of quick value and color studies in my art journal.

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I toned the panel with a random mix of phthalo blue, green shade; a small amount of lemon yellow; some teal; a little white. First time I’ve decided to use this teal color as a ground. Sketched out the image with hot pink pastel pencil. I like breaking rules, although I really don’t have too many in my studio.

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Laying in darks, lights and starting on some mid-tones… Also lots of scribbling. I love scribbling. Mark-making is important to me; I love the freedom of letting the marks make themselves through my hand.

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After I get things pretty well established, I often begin to get fussy, which is always a no-no. I take a lot of breaks, turn away from the painting, eat lunch, check my email, go back to the painting, play with my dog Theo,  plan the next painting, go back to the painting, sketch some other ideas, read books, check FB, (oops), go back to the painting.

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Anyway, after a few days, I decide it’s done, and here’s “More Snow” 24×24″ mixed media on cradled board. (My personal title is actually “More F$%^&ing Snow.” )

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“More Snow” 24×24″ mixed media on panel. © 2104  Karen Rand Anderson

Theo, faithful studio assistant

Theo, faithful studio assistant

 

#15. That Nasty Voice Again; or, WTFAYD?

So things seem to be going pretty well in the studio; you’re feeling that elation that is the divine experience of not thinking, not judging, not wondering, but just doing. Like a meditation through painting/making. And then you step back to look at the work. Shit. There’s The Voice. “WTF are you doing??” it says. Of course, I am not talking about you. I’m talking about me.

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Photo courtesy unlockthedoor.net.

It is rather constant, The Voice. When I googled “artist inner critic” the results were pretty staggering. Here’s a particularly good take on it, complete with some awesome advice by artist and full-time human being Janice Tanton.  Other terms that denote the inner critic are  “the judge” or “the gremlin” or “the little man.” (Janice’s term.)

It’s tempting to think that the really brilliant artists are/were free of the gremlin, but we know that’s not the case.

Henri Matisse:  “After a half-century of hard work and reflection the wall is still there. ”

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Henri Matisse, “La Tristesse du roi” (Sorrows of the King), 1952

 Claude Monet:  “For almost two months now I’ve been struggling away with no result.”

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Claude Monet: “Impression: Sunrise” 1873

And one of the most prolific and best painters of the 20th century, Richard Deibenkorn, said: “When I am halfway there with a painting, it can occasionally be thrilling… But it happens very rarely; usually it’s agony… I go to great pains to mask the agony. But the struggle is there. It’s the invisible enemy.”

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Richard Deibenkorn: “Berkley no. 22”  1954

However– it would appear our inner critics can be useful, according to this interesting article on the Behance website 99U.com. The author says: “The trick is to get the Critic back “onside,” delivering genuinely constructive criticism. Like the inspiring mentor who urged you to do your best and didn’t accept anything less – but with a supportive and encouraging tone of voice.”

Abstract expressionist Joan Mitchellwhose intense, energetic work I adore, had a particularly interesting relationship with her complex inner creative persona. In this short clip from a bio-documentary she talks about how she deals with “Little Joan and Big Joan.” I love it.

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For the full 57 minute documentary “Joan Mitchell: Portrait of an Abstract Artist” (Marion Cajori, 1993)  click here 

It’s no secret that meditation practice or mindfulness  is one strategy for helping to silence The Voice, as is allowing yourself to become immersed in that place of just making art. (easier said than done… damn that complex ego-thing.) As Robert Henri  wrote in 1923 in “The Art Spirit” (still one of the best books on art-making ever written) : “The object isn’t to make art, it’s to be in that wonderful state which makes art inevitable.” best. feeling. ever.

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 The bottom line? For me, it’s keep doing the work, and lock the gremlin outside the studio door, like Joan did. And look at what she produced.

#12. The Last Creative Third (or 1/4, as the case may be)

#12. The Last Creative Third (or 1/4, as the case may be)

 piece of pie

If life is a pie, mine is at least two-thirds gone; no way of telling how much of it is left, of course, but it’s a pretty good pie, all things considered. Not to be cliché, but we’ve all heard that this aging thing is not for sissies. Turning sixty is not like turning 59, no matter what they try to tell you. So, I’m toughening up. And as an artist, I (once again) decided to reinvent what I’m doing, at 60. Women artists reinventing themselves is not uncommon. One of my absolute favorites is Beatrice Wood, who, in her late 30’s after years of dance, theater, art, travel, love and passionate liaisons with fascinating people, including Marcel Duchamp, found her true creative path through ceramics. Her pie was a wonderful, rich and large one; she lived passionately until 1998, aged 105, creating extraordinary art until the end. She was known as”the mama of Dada”, and the character of Rose in the film “Titanic” was based on Wood. An incredible life story.

I shock myselfBeatrice Wood’s autobiography. Best title ever.

When I turned sixty last spring, I had no idea where my work was going. I knew that I was pretty much finished with the work I’d been doing for the previous eight years, which was metaphorical, emotion-driven, symbolistic, and based on personal narrative. 

unsafe hanging72“Unsafe Resting Place”  2009. charred paper sewn with bronze wire, canvas, acrylic, branches, bird. 22x24x41″ ©2014 Karen Rand Anderson 

my message

“Getting the Message”  2010. graphite, acrylic, gouache on paper. 38×50″ 

©2014 Karen Rand Anderson 

Enough, already. “Let it go”, said my inner wisdom. “Move on. Do something healing. Like, paint landscapes, of places you love, that are beautiful.” OK, I said.  I will. Georgia said something similar, and through her passion, drive and creative commitment,  immersed herself completely in her beloved New Mexico landscape until her pie was gone, at age 99. More about Georgia O’Keefe here.   (I can never get enough) Like anything newly begun, I’ve  having an awkward time trying to get to where I envision my current work to be going. I had a show in the fall of 2013 of some of these new paintings, and.. well, let’s just say, the work wasn’t ready to show yet. Nevertheless, I put it out there, for better or for worse. Live and learn.

krause showSome of the new landscape work, Krause Gallery, Providence RI, September, 2013

One can spend time & energy going back over the would-haves, could-haves, should-haves.. hashing over the choices that were made in art + life, (not to mention relationships), but it doesn’t get you anywhere. It’s far more productive to stop looking back, and focus on going forward.

not looking back“Not Looking Back” 2010. graphite + gouache on paper, sewn onto linen. 32×38″

© 2014 Karen Rand Anderson 

One more extraordinary woman artist:  German-born Meret Oppenheim (1913-1985.) Meret was the “enfant terrible” of the surrealists, moving to Paris at age 18 and connecting with artists Hans Arp,  Andre Breton, and Alberto Giacometti  among others, including Duchamp. This  December 2013 interview with Meret’s niece, Lisa Wenger shares wonderful details and anecdotes. (With thanks to Hyperallergic)

oppenheim book

I was gifted this incredible book  by my professors when I graduated from my MFA program at Johnson State College/Vermont Studio Center, in 2010.

Oppenheim was also a muse for Man Ray,who did a 1933 series of nude photographs of her.  (Scandalous…) Sculptor, conceptual and installation artist, painter, photographer, Meret made art until her death, at age 72. As for moi, I’m just going ahead now with these paintings of place, season, energy and light, reflections of what I’ve seen and where I’ve been and how I feel about it all.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“Late Light on the Marsh I” 2013. mixed media on canvas, 30×30″. ©2014 Karen Rand Anderson 

Which is not to say that I won’t be doing ephemeral sculptural installation and mixed media stuff again…

chairs“Forgiveness Bower” sculpture and “A Tentative Embrace” drawing, from my show at Cate Charles Gallery, Stonington, CT, 2010  ©2014 Karen Rand Anderson 

I just never settle for one medium, one concept, one process, one creative endeavor. My life as an artist would be much easier and well-established if I could focus on one thing and do it well, but — I can’t. So be it. In the meantime, the pie is constantly being nibbled at. Every so often, I think about that, and wonder how much (or how little) is left of it. There is no sense in worrying about it. But I find that I feel a sense of urgency these days, to get into the studio as much as possible, to get lots of work done, and to be patient with myself. The energy level is not what it used to be. So– whatever gets done will get done. And that’s OK with me.

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Postscript:  Interesting to note that all three of these incredible women artists did not choose motherhood, as I did; they chose their work instead. They sure as hell made the most of their last thirds. Good inspiration for a sixty-year-old starting over…

#10. Stopping Trying

Confession: I used to try to be a certain way, look a certain way. I wondered if I was beautiful enough, smart enough, cool enough. Wondered how others would see me and/or my art. If my art was “good” enough, different enough, unique enough, powerful enough, inventive enough..If it was really meaningful. And on & on. Although I’ve consistently fought this stupid and annoying monkey on my back, it’s a constant process to shake it off. (“What? You think that’s GOOD ART? who are you kidding? who do you think you are?” ) This stuff is all a product of fear. Fear of what? Being rejected? Being hurt? Failure? Being seen as stupid? Being found out that I’m not really who I pretend to be? (see: impostor syndrome)

I know I’m not alone. It seems so many young (or not-so-young) emerging creatives are SO concerned with being edgy, cool, hip, trying their damnedest to impress. What about just DOING? Making? Saying? I know the feeling so well. Wanting, desiring, hoping for acknowledgement and “success”, wanting to stand out in the crowd, be “different”, get “known”.  Don’t all artists?

Maybe not.

“If we are willing to open ourselves up and be laid bare, to respond to the moment and without hesitation, to connect deeply with our audiences’ eyeballs and the minds behind, we will be freed of the bullshit that holds us back. We will tap into the deep wellsprings of creativity that lie beneath our artifice and style and self-conscious crap and hesitation and self-deception and excuses and fears. We will make art of truth.” Danny Gregory

Artist/writer/thinker all-around amazing and inspiring human Danny Gregory recently wrote a truly brave post regarding fear.  I’ve been ruminating on this topic quite a bit recently, and interestingly enough, over the past few weeks, I’ve been coming across references to one of my favorite books on the subject, which if you never read (in art school, or out, or whatever) you’d best find it– “Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmakingby David Bayles and Ted Orland. (1993, folks, and still as timely as ever.) Funny how when something is percolating, references keep showing up. Somehow, my old copy of Art&Fear has been missing. I was actually looking for it yesterday, in my studio, when a visitor happened to mention it in our conversation. No luck. Then this morning, reading some comments on Danny’s post “The Fears of a Clown“, there’s yet another reference to the book.. so bingo—-I look in my bookshelf (where I’ve looked a ton of times before), and find it immediately. (dust-covered.) Obviously I’m supposed to re-read it. So I will.

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 To quote Danny Gregory, again: “At their core, drawing, painting, clowning, all art, are about letting go, responding from your gut, trusting, working hard. Can you let go of all your preconceptions and finally, truly, truthfully see? Can you embrace and trust your audience rather than trying desperately to impress or con them?… Art is not entertainment. It is the way to what matters in our lives. To conquer our fears, we must face them, turn their ugly lies to beautiful truth, and share what we have made of them on the page or the stage.”

 Funny thing. As I’ve begun stopping the “trying”, I realize I no longer worry about what others think, so much. I’ve begun just “doing”. {I will not quote the famous footwear company here, but you know the deal}

“There is no try, there is only do.” Yoda

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# 9. New territory

summer house sketch.72

Territory: Terrain. Ground. Land. Place… Striking out into new territory implies leaving the old one. Exciting, intimidating, courageous. Over the past six months I’ve made a conscious shift from the sculptural mixed-media work and text-informed drawing I had been doing for some years to landscape painting. In my distant past I painted (didn’t we all?) — everything from figure + still life to landscape. Later on, around 2006-7, I was exploring the idea of landscape through abstraction and energetic expression– not painting places, but playing with shape, color, line, etc. and turning it into landscape. Now I’m re-exploring landscape informed by intuitive mark-making, layering of color, gestural brushwork, and spontaneity, and referencing place. It’s a revival of my love of nature, beauty, land, vista. And a departure, a welcome one, from the emotionally-driven, personal narrative work of my (fairly recent) past, which focused on relationship, using metaphor and/or symbolism, specific imagery, objects and text. Which is not to say that at some point I won’t go back (or forward, as the case may be) to doing sculptural work again. I love the hands-on manipulation of 3-D stuff, especially burning paper and sewing it with bronze wire  as well as playing with all sorts of materials for collage and assemblage. (Bring on the glue!)

Landscape, to me, is more than painting pretty pictures. It speaks of place, wayfinding, “carving a path”… In the words of author Dominique Browning:  (“Slow Love Life”)– “We don’t find paths, do we? We carve them, into what seem like impenetrable terrains, never certain where exactly we are going even when we are certain we are fooling ourselves.” At this point,  I’m not certain of where I’m going, or whether or not I’m fooling myself. But I’m in the studio, being brave, consistently challenging myself even as I ask “why does the world need another landscape painting?”

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Although, I can answer that too: it’s about the energy of the work, the intention, the quality of place, mark-making, and letting go of the desire to shock, stand out, or say something “profound.” It is, for me now, the experience of creating the painted surface, infused with passion and beauty. The word “biophelia” comes to mind : “an innate love for the natural world, supposed to be felt universally by humankind” (Also: Bjork’s  project .)

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So– I’m striking out, one stroke at a time: curious about where the path is leading, where I’ll be going this year to find even newer territory, and leaving you with a question: Are you making radical shifts this year, in your life/work/medium/concept? Is your territory new or comfortably old? I welcome your comments– after all, the real reason I’m striking out here is to expand my tribe, my vision, and my work, and hopefully yours as well.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“Barrington Summer House”  30×30″.  mixed media on canvas © 2014 Karen Rand Anderson

#3. Getting the Urge to Sing

Why blog now?

Zillions of artists are blogging. Multi-gazillions of non-artists are blogging. It seems like they’ve all been doing it for years. What strikes me is that so many people have so much to share in their fields, and have found out how to show and tell it so WELL. (The little monkey on my shoulder is screeching “What on earth could YOU have to contribute, Karen?” Maybe my next post will be about him, the rascal.)

I too have a creative voice, and I’m suddenly getting the urge to sing…  To be engaged and involved with an online community of other artists, and cyber-visible to more than the occasional passer-by of my website. My intention here (more about setting intentions from some Very Smart Girls) is to bushwhack a trail for myself in this huge forest, which will serve not only as a path for me to continually explore and follow but also for you to be curious about, and want to follow too.

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“Sand Beach Path & the Beehive” mixed media on panel, 12×12. ©2013 Karen Rand Anderson

Since discovering the work of Alyson Stanfield and her vibrant and helpful ArtBizBlog, I want to make blogging an integral part of my art practice, expanding my personal creative quest. Spicing up the journey. Thinking, talking, writing about it all. Embracing the awkwardness about putting myself out there (or in here, as it happens).

British artist and blogger Natalia Komis gives some good advice about it, saying “If the studio is where you practice your making, your blog is the place where you can practice your writing… and open up a space for a critical and analytical dialog between yourself and your work.” And, other artists and their work. Cleaning Up the Studio is my other studio. A new place to make, think, look, create, question, wonder, share. Maybe weep. Maybe laugh. And when you find it, please do come in, sit down, pick up a pencil, write a memo, or draw a picture. Engage. Thanks.