March 29, 2015

painting and photos--an argument with John Seed



 
* see note below






















I recently received the following call for submissions for an issue of "Poets and Artists" curated by John Seed, professor of art and art history at Mt. San Jacinto College in Southern California:

The Canadian artist and filmmaker Jack Chambers has defined Perceptualism in visual art as involving “a profound reflection of primary sensory experience, not simply a reproduction of it.” For my curated issue of Poets and Artists I am seeking paintings that are true “perceptual paintings” which emanate from the senses. In particular I hope to discover paintings that demonstrate the ways that sensory experiences can be heightened and amplified in the painting process. Please submit only works that have their beginnings in observation and which do not rely on photos as references. Feel free – and even encouraged – to submit works that show how emotion and imagination can alter perceptually based works.

I had a negative emotional reaction to John Seed’s description of “perceptual painting”—which has something to do with my own questions about using photos as a basis for my work. So I thought I might to use what he says here to clarify some of the issues I have about the senses and painting from photos.

1. Seed’s definition of a “true ‘perceptual painting’” as one which “emanates from the senses” implies that paintings can be related to the senses either directly or indirectly.
This seems true to me. Some paintings are not at all interested in observation. Andy Warhol’s ‘figurative’ paintings do not reflect a struggle to “see” Jackie Onassis or a can of soup, but rather to play with her image and its associations in the popular culture.

2. Seed further suggests that he is interested in work that “emanate[s] from” rather than “reproduce[s]” sensory experience.
Here he takes a further step and suggests, I think, that among those paintings which seem to relate directly to sensory experience, some merely “reproduce” a sensory experience.
Seed doesn’t explain this distinction, but what I imagine he’s thinking here is the difference between an artist standing in front of a model painting and the same artist standing in front of a photo of a model and painting. And, if this is so, he’s also suggesting that the artist using a photo is only “reproducing” a sensory experience.

3. Seed confirms this line of thought, when, at the end of the call he says:

Please submit only works that have their beginnings in observation and which do not rely on photos as references

Here Seed’s distinction between direct sensory “observation” and second hand sensory reproduction which “[relies] on photos” is made explicit.

I find this view of painting from a photo to be completely wrong and fundamentally insulting.

I work from photos:
a. because working from photos relieves me of the complex emotional response I have to working in front of another person. Having a model in the room with me actually obscures my ability to observe clearly and respond directly.

b. because working from photos allows me to observe details of human expression and interaction which I simply cannot discern in the moment of their occurrence. In this way photos allow me to have a very direct experience of events which I could not experience without them.

c. because [and here I’m getting more vague] working from photos allows me to observe without naming things. My immediate or “direct” sensory experience is often the most superficial. My initial response to a scene I wish to paint is to sort out “figure” and “ground” or “background” and “foreground.” These sorts of distinctions are precisely what I often work to overcome in my painting. The longer I work with an image the more connections I begin to see between this eye and that corner of a chair or this flesh tone and that shadow on the wall.

So to me the idea that we could distinguish between paintings that “have their beginnings in observation” and those that “rely on photos” is completely misguided and deeply spurious. The important question for me as a painter is WHAT I want to observe and whether working from a photo is the best way to explore that observation.



*I just have to note that the photo accompanying the call shows John Seed standing with Caitlin Karolczak's beautiful painting "Between my Chest" at the Center for Contemporary Art, Las Vegas—a work which almost certainly relies on photo references.


January 23, 2015

group show: the artist's gaze: seeing women in the 21st century

Here's a link to American Art Collector's site for the show: "the artist's gaze: seeing women in the 21st century."

http://www.upcomingshowsonline.com/show/theartistgaze

December 10, 2014

john

"john" 96" x 96" house paint, acrylic + pastel on board










































This is a mural size portrait of a man I met near my studio at Healthcare for the Homeless. He's an artist and a vet. When I met him he was working on a painting of a sculpted block of ice.

The painting will be included in an exhibition at the Albuquerque Museum in January 2015.

flesh

in this here place, we flesh no. 3






































“She told them that the only grace they could have was the grace they could imagine. That if they could not see it, they would not have it. ‘Here,’ she said, ‘in this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard.’” [from Beloved, Toni Morrison]

What would it be like to love the flesh;
to love, without shame, the weeping, laughing, dancing flesh;
the flesh which so rarely takes the shape we expect and respect?


These paintings are about loving that flesh. Hard.

October 22, 2014

October 21, 2014

in this here place...

"in this here place, we flesh no. 1" oil on canvas. 24" x 24"





































here's a beautiful passage from Toni Morrison's Beloved:

“She told them that the only grace they could have was the grace they could imagine. That if they could not see it, they would not have it.

"Here," she said, "in this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard.
Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it. They don’t love your eyes; they'd just as soon pick em out. No more do they love the skin on your back. Yonder they flay it. And O my people they do not love your hands. Those they only use, tie, bind, chop off and leave empty. Love your hands! Love them. Raise them up and kiss them. Touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on your face 'cause they don't love that either. You got to love it, you! And no, they ain't in love with your mouth. Yonder, out there, they will see it broken and break it again. What you say out of it they will not heed. What you scream from it they do not hear. What you put into it to nourish your body they will snatch away and give you leavins instead. No, they don't love your mouth. You got to love it. This is flesh I'm talking about here. Flesh that needs to be loved. Feet that need to rest and to dance; backs that need support; shoulders that need arms, strong arms I'm telling you. And O my people, out yonder, hear me, they do not love your neck unnoosed and straight. So love your neck; put a hand on it, grace it, stroke it and hold it up. And all your inside parts that they'd just as soon slop for hogs, you got to love them. The dark, dark liver--love it, love it, and the beat and beating heart, love that too. More than eyes or feet.More than lungs that have yet to draw free air. More than your life holding womb and your life-giving private parts, hear me now, love your heart. For this is the prize." Saying no more, she stood up then and danced with her twisted hip the rest of what her heart had to say while the others opened heir mouths and gave her the music.” 
― Toni MorrisonBeloved

October 5, 2014

on meditation

mark horst, oil on canvas. 18 x 18"






































"The idea here is to immerse yourself in the feeling-tone of you and consciously access thought-free wakefulness in order to experience yourself with clarity. The practice is to be so unthinkingly in the now, so present, so involved with feeling what's actually happening now, that you override your conditioning about who you are--giving rise to a new experience of you.

Breath awareness during motionless sitting is one of the very best techniques for this..."

[from Eric Schiffmann, "Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving Into Stillness"]

about me

My Photo

These studio notes are scraps of poetry and ideas that feed my work as a painter. I hope they establish a bit of context for the paintings and my intention in making them. Whatever I paint, I’m trying to create some space for us to sit with the questions that are not meant to be answered.

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