Connection

In this fast pace city where everyone is scrambling to chase down the next dollar, fix something,  get connected or just survive, there is no time or capacity to think about aesthetics, the environment, preserving structures, etc. Its an interesting disconnect as these ever present chaotic wires are often connecting to screens filled with fantasies, dramas, beauty etc..

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Statues in Mexico City

 Mexico City is an interesting mix of old and new. Its a crazy busy city that and seems as if the sensitivity to preserving the old is outpaced and out numbered.  Beautiful old buildings are not preserved as well as they could be and some statues have graffiti on them.  I saw an apple store in what looked be a historical building.

Artwork

A few images put together in photoshop to be used as reference for new paintings.  The satellites have sent their last signals and another form of communication has gained traction again.    

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I took an old PrimarFlex II camera and adapted it so I could take pictures through it with my iPhone. The results are nostalgic, gritty, and unpredictable with interesting light halos and depths of focus. The iPhone automatically adjusts when I focus the lens on the camera. The whole thing closes up and travels so I will be taking it to my residency in Mexico. Below are just some quick test photos.  

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Four photos of the parking meter each week in September.

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parking meter installation

I moved the parking meter deeper in the woods and buried it level with the forrest ground.  The sides were removed but the meter is still attached to the platform so I'll be able to transport it with the  surrounding vegetation that will hopefully grow

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Parking meter installed out on my best friends property in South Dartmouth, MA.  I'm going to plant asiatic bittersweet vine around the base.  He has two small kids and I built them a camera stand, I'm going to pay them to take a photo every week from a fixed location for two years. My friend will document the kids participation in this project, will teach them about responsibility, work, and art.  It will be an interesting element to this project to witness the next generations involvement in this urban decay project. I'll create a time lapse photo slide show as part of my thesis along with the actual parking meter. I built the structure so it can last outdoors and be transported to the gallery.

Two invasion species-humans and the bittersweet vine.  Asiatic bittersweet, Celastrus orbiculatus, is an invasive non-native species that wraps itself around tree trunks and other structures in forest canopy areas.  It does this to climb up to higher elevations to reach greater sun exposure. The thick vines however can kill the very living thing it climbs. As it grows it shades the tree from sunlight, the added weight can break or uproot the structure, and the thick vines can choke off nutrients to the rest of the tree. Bittersweet is a strong competitor in its environment, and its dispersal has endangered the survival of several other species. In addition the bittersweet is celebrated for its colorful fruits and is often used in holiday decorations, the name lends itself to this contradiction. 

I don't think the the human connection with bittersweet need be explained.

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urban decay series and Mexico residency

I'd like to explore collage, abstract work, iconography and pop art while not abandoning my painting abilities. The subject matter will express my personal views in regards to politics, corporations, commercialism, religion, sex etc.... and the hypocrisy of it all.

Urban decay subject matter still holds my interest but needs to be less one dimensional, fully explained, rendered,  and neatly presented.  I want to expand my universe.  The below images I captured are an entry point to this new approach.  There is so much meaning inherent in these antiquated dishes sending out and receiving their signals.  

 Lots to explore with these tools of communication especially when I visit Mexico for my residency. The day of the dead celebration is all about communication through performativty.  Communicating and honoring the dead.  What do these tools look like in Mexico and what does urban decay mean to them?

 

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This 4-week critical program offers competitive professional opportunities for international emerging and mid-career artists, curators, art historians, and students age 22 and over.

This unique program offers critical approaches to the representations of Death in Mexico as a source of national identity. Through the exploration of the myths of its origins, the program will present a complex perspective of the Day of the Dead celebrations. The goal is to provide tools to understand its performativity by approaching complex nuances, including sentimental representations, material culture, and the historical transition in the meanings of death. Through the program, participants will conceptualize their art by engaging their own art practice and medium in critical perspective while observing cultural practices, including mortuary rituals, food offerings, and familial solidarity. The program will also put into context the construction of popular imagery departing from the tension in baroque representations of death, modernization and the macabre, death in the invention of Modern Art in Mexico, and its political implications with visual culture. Participants will also have a chance to place their own art practice in context, having the opportunity to learn diverse art techniques directly related to the imagery and spatial construction of ofrendas (altars) which are central to the celebration of the Day of the Dead.

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Street performers are also something that interest me.  They are sending out messages in a different way.

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religion and political icons 

 The Great Depression imagery interests me with its muted colors, vastness and wasteland vibe.

The Great Depression imagery interests me with its muted colors, vastness and wasteland vibe.

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ARTIST REFERENCE

Elements of the below artists work I enjoy and would like to have influence my new work.

 

Robert Mars (earlier work)

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Martin Mull

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Adriene Ghenie

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Douglas Schnieder

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 Takato Yamamoto    

Takato Yamamoto 

 

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Semester 2 papers

 

 

 

Brian Sage

Peter Rostovsky

Group 2, MFA VA

3 December 2017

 

Semester Summary

    

 

    I had a few different art projects going this semester that divided my time so no one particular project seemed to fully capture my undivided attention.  In the past I was one dimensional working only on oil paintings of a particular style and it was nice to switch gears and explore different mediums. These projects included; an installation in the woods, building a camera, and last but not least oil paintings.  I then attended a month long residency in Puebla, Mexico which was an inspiring experience that influenced my work and rekindled my interest in history.

    With all these new experiences and mediums its was easy to get distracted.  This overload of ideas, which I’m used to, always reminds me of a quote by Rumi, “If you are everywhere you are nowhere.”  Usually when I feel this way I just get moving or force myself to pick a lane so I can narrow my focus. I sometimes think of myself as an energetic dog who needs to be run to dissipate some energy so he doesn’t chew apart the couch.  The first thing I did was to get moving out to my friends woods and planted a parking meter.  I set up a fixed camera stand on a tree and had my friends kids take a photo a week for me.  The change from late summer to fall was a nice transformation to capture.  I planted some clippings from invasive bitter-root vines that will hopefully take and wrap the parking meter up by late next summer. I’ll most likely bring the actual parking meter into the gallery as part of my thesis along with a video slide show of these images.

    The next project involved an old Primar Flex 2 camera that I found in a family members  attic.  This was my moms fathers camera and I wanted to use it without spending money trying to find rare old film.  My solution was to make it digital by encasing it in a box with a slide for my iPhone at the right distance over the view finder.  My iPhone then auto focuses to the view finder and captures images digitally.  The results were a gritty nostalgic image with this strange halo effect.  In Mexico I decided to take it a step further and made comic book transparencies for over the view finder to create an analog type image. I’m still working through where I’m going with this but it’s an interesting start and I’m pleased with the results thus far.

        The other photos I took in Mexico were with my traditional high resolution camera. I mainly focused on urban decay scenes especially on the margins of the city. The buildings had a beautiful aesthetic with their various states of structural integrity, graffiti, overgrown vegetation and general decay.  I walked miles in the evenings and mornings capturing the dramatic light on these unique structures.  In my travels exploring the city I also became fascinated by VW bugs. Puebla has an unusual amount of these old cars and they, like the buildings, had a unique urban decay aesthetic.  I ended up taking hundreds of photos of them from a particular vantage point which will hopefully manifest into another project. 

        My art residency in Mexico was a  wonderful experience and gave me many ideas that might alter my trajectory in regards to future work.  The break of routine was a much needed escape that prompted new ideas and solidified old ones. The program definitely sparked a new fascination with history, especially in regards to the colonization of the Americas.  The program directors curriculum was aimed at shifting our thinking towards the established narrative of colonization of the new world.  This interest was further encouraged by a fellow artist at the residency who was a history geek that worked in ceramics.  He created small super realistic historical figures engaged in odd narratives that the history books would never mention.  These included such scenes as Ben Franklins womanizing escapades and Hitlers fascination with Disney.  We talked about other interesting historical figures and their darker untold stories.  He recommended I look at a site called history porn that dives into some of these obscure stories.  This might be an area that I would like to explore with my traditional oil paintings.

    My oil paintings were put on the back burner for the first part of this semester. After working only in oils for so many years it was a nice break to explore different mediums, especially with all the new information and insights gained through school and my travels.  I researched and mapped out about a dozens painting ideas earlier in the semester that I’ve now circled back around to. I completed a few paintings in Mexico which were painted on newspaper clippings from the area and focused on local urban decay elements and VW bugs.  These were studies that had a more painterly quality to them but in keeping with my style. One conversation I had with a faculty member down there did confirm something that I’ve been thinking about for awhile now.  We talked about the importance of traditional paintings throughout history and the importance of quality.  He mentioned that I have acquired a high level of skill and my work demands attention.  What do I then do with this attention? This was my thought when I created my urban decay series last semester.  I wanted to focus on a subject that connects with the way I feel about heartless corporations and the environment. The series was painted in a traditional style with an aesthetic that is recognizable and pleasing, offering an entry point for the viewer to stop and complete the sentence that the work started.

    So this brings me to my current state of mind upon entering my third semester in the MFA program at Lesley.  I’m encouraged with the progress of the other work I’ve explored this semester and will continue with them.  My oil paintings are going to continue to evolve and be more interesting and complex but I think they will maintain a traditional style.  The content however and how it relates to my artistic voice will be the main focus in my future work. This will require more thoughtfulness and research on my part to lead me on the trail of what is important to me and worth pursuing in oil paint.  The technique will be the studium and aspects of the subject matter will be the punctum.  Many artists organically reach a state of genuine expression brought on by intense experiences; race, gender, heritage, social economics etc.. Then these feelings and ideas will manifest in their practice to varying degrees and reflect their level of confidence and skill. Some artists acquire the voice and the skill at different points in their life.  For myself the technique was what was first acquired and the voice is now getting louder.

 

A Bugs Life in Puebla

    As I stepped off the chaotic streets of Mexico City into the Museo de Arte Popular I was  immediately confronted by something unexpected - another car.  This car however didn’t have me scrambling for my life in a cloud of combustion, but rather was quietly parked just steps inside the foyer of this beautiful Museum. It is a 1990 Volkswagen Beetle covered with some 2,277,000 beads by the Huichol tribe craftsman of Mexico depicting their shamanic traditions and rituals in intricate bead work.(Chute) The VW beetle is unmistakable, as it’s a classic cultural fixture back in the US.  This decorated car has a fitting and stoic presence here in the museum, but why did the team of eight artisans invest 4,760 hours on a VW beetle of all cars?(Chute)  Little did I know at the time the connection this vehicle has with Mexico and how this car would serve as a ambassador for me during my art residency at the Arquetopia Foundation here in Puebla.

     It is early October and the weather is warm but drops quickly when the sun falls behind the snow covered peak of the Popocatépetl volcano.  Spanish cathedrals silhouette the skyline around the city and tower over the colorful buildings lining busy one way streets. There is a disconnect walking around Puebla, especially at night. Many buildings as you get further away from the Zocolo are in various stages of decay, peppered with graffiti and some overgrown with vegetation. If I were to find myself in an area that resembled this back in the states I would be more anxious, however my feeling here in Puebla is quite the opposite and the aesthetic of these structures I find honest and welcoming.

     Navigating around the city I immediately learn that the people of Puebla are kind and more than willing to help in any way.  The colorful buildings and its citizens are inspiring for an artist wandering the streets with his camera.  I quickly learned that many do not like their picture taken, something which I was warned of, so I shift my focus to more urban decay imagery and the various old vehicles around the city.  One vehicle in particular kept catching my attention and it seemed to be all over the city in various conditions, colors and uniqueness.  I was amazed how many classic old Volkswagen Beetle’s were in Puebla. No where else in my travels had I seen so many of these cars but there is a reason for their popularity here in the city.

    Lets first get a quick history lesson of the Volkswagen Beetle to get a better understanding of its unique qualities and its connection to Mexico, in particular Puebla. The “Volkswagon” or  “peoples car” emerged out of post WWII Germany.  Hitler wanted a cheap, simple, efficient, mass produced car for the people and to utilize the country’s new road network. He contracted Ferdinand Porsche in 1934 to build such a vehicle. The German regime did lay the groundwork for the Beetle but production did not occur during the Nazi era.  Only after the war in 1945 did the company regroup and Ferndinand Porche’s design went into production. The Beetle quickly gained traction and by 1955 the US was its most important market.  The Germans revered the Beetle as a symbol of the country post war reconstruction and of Americas acceptance.  The cars simplicity and humble characteristics resembled nothing of the regimes aggressiveness and posed no danger to Detroits larger, powerful, less efficient and more expensive vehicles.  The Beetle quickly was established as a cultural fixture in the US and by 1960 was in a variety of cultural niche environments in the US from the surf culture to campuses and middle class suburbia. (Rieger) Volkswagen soon expanded its production and in 1962 the first Volkswagen assembly plant was established in Xalostoc, Mexico and then in 1967 the first Volkswagen Beetle rolled off the assembly line at the new plant here in Puebla. (Volkswagon)

    Mexico was the country to fully embraced the early German regimes vision of a genuine people's car. After 60 years an estimated 1.1 million Beetles roamed the streets of Mexico accounting for 20% of the national passenger car fleet. (Smith) The people here in Puebla call the VW Beetle “Vocho” and its owners have a sense of pride in the vehicle, it truly seems like the peoples car here.   Its interesting to see the various conditions of these vehicles from the dilapidated to the completely restored along with the locations where these vehicles are parked; run down neighborhoods, schools and various businesses. The lower to middle class seem to be driving these vehicles but its apparent the upper class still share the same love for the Beetle. "It's a car for all kinds of people. You can be rich or poor, young or old. The VW is like the joker in the deck," said Carlos Pinzon, who gave up his veterinary practice to run a used-parts shop called La Casa del Volks. (Smith)

    I quickly became fascinated with Vochos and would hit the street each morning in search of my subject. I would let the bugs dictate my root as it's unlikely to go more than two blocks without seeing that distinctive shape around a corner or down the street. I would often walk, unknowingly, a few miles outside the main area of Puebla as I’m led on my bug hunt. There are few foreigners outside of the more touristy areas in the heart of Puebla and I easily stand out from everyone with my height, light skin and of course the classic tourist camera around the neck. 

    Capturing images of the Vochos was by far the most dangerous part of my trip as I often have to step out into the street timing the traffic to snap a quick photo.  In taking these photos I found a welcoming response as many would smile and say “ Te gusta vocho” or “ El vocho es mio!” It was a nice unexpected connection to make with the people here, an innocent common interest of an unlikely classic car that made its way to the Americas from Europe.   I often would catch up to a Vocho at a light and ask if it was OK to take a picture. Owners would smile and give me the thumbs up, they were happy in my taking an interest in their car and smiled.  On these few occasions, in the fleeting moments at a light, owners would quickly rattle off something positive and informative in Spanish as they sped off.  I was happy to not have time to reply other than a thumbs up myself, having very little idea what was quickly said.

    The VW Beetle has a classic presence and a feeling of humble integrity here in Puebla. There is a soul, and a timeless connection with these cars. The people here live for a living and are more present  in their daily lives than what I’ve experienced back home in Boston.  Greetings are never overlooked and gatherings, such as lunch, are not rushed.  Business lunch meetings can go on for hours as everyone gets acquainted and then at the very end business concerns get addressed. Connection is something that stands out in contrast to the US. Children hold hands with their parents until a later age unlike their US counter parts who would have long ago written that off as not cool.  Girlfriends hold hands or walk down the street arm in arm and couples aren’t shy about public affection. There also appears to be a more lighthearted sense of play with the children I’ve observed. Men and woman take the time to help each other.  I saw a group of men huddled over the engine of a Vocho trying to figure out how to fix something with tools spread out on the dimming street. The Vocho has a place in the Mexican family, generations have been taught to drive and fix these cars. (Smith) This connection and sense of community is essential to living and I believe is a macro nutrient that many back in the states are lacking in there busy daily lives.

    It’s very dynamic . . . it’s almost Mexican, and besides, who hasn’t had an adventure aboard one?” states Hector Garnelo another artist who chose a Vocho for his canvas. He spent two years and nine months covering a 1994 Beetle with some 20,000 semi-precious painted stones, such as jade and obsidian, decorated with mythological creatures and deities and other features of Teotihuacán. (Diaz)  Murals have significance in Mexican art during the turn of the century.  Artists such as Deigo Rivera chose this art form for political activism and education.  What Hector Garnelo created was a traveling mural telling the story of his people. 

    So this brings us to one final Vocho to mention. This one is an “Ulitima Edicion” Volkswagen Beetle, its baby blue and in mint condition.  It might be the most popular of all the Beetles, with the exception of maybe “Herbie the Love Bug”.  This car is the last of the classic model Beetle’s and it is the very last one ever to be produced.  The date is July 30, 2003 and the location is Puebla, Mexico.  This last classic Vocho slowly rolled off the assembly line with its hood decorated with red, white and green flowers between two rows of factory workers. (The)  

    There will never be another classic Vocho  produced or another so honored anywhere in the Americas or world for that matter.  I’ll see a few back in the states from time to time, an old bug in the slow lane or maybe one with a surfboard on top in some sleepy beach town.  I know their owners will share the same love for  their aging Vochos as do our neighbors to the south.  For me it will take on a different meaning, an unexpected reminder of my trip to Puebla and its warm-hearted people - a symbolic traveling mural of my experience in Mexico and furthermore it will remind me to take more notice of the important things, connect, and maybe move over into the slow lane.

 

Works Cited

 

Chute, James. “Bead-Encrusted 'Vochol' Now Parked at San Diego Museum of Art.”                 Sandiegouniontribune.com, 1 Feb. 2012, www.sandiegouniontribune.com/        entertainment/visual-arts/sdut-San-Diego-Museum-of-Art-Vochol-2012feb01-htmlstory.html.

Díaz, Verónica. “Después Del ‘Vochol’, Llega El ‘Vocho Maya.’” Milenio, 3 July 2017,                 www.milenio.com/cultura/vocho-maya-festival-obsidiana-teotihuacan_0_915508448.html.

Rieger, Bernhard. “From People's Car to New Beetle: The Transatlantic Journeys of the                 Volkswagen Beetle | Journal of American History | Oxford Academic.” OUP Academic, Oxford University Press, 1 June 2010, academic.oup.com/jah/article-abstract/97/1/91/719502/From-People-s-Car-to-New-Beetle-The-Transatlantic.

Smith, James. “Mexicans Still Love the Bug.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 16 Mar. 1998,         articles.latimes.com/1998/mar/16/news/mn-29537.

“The Old Beetle Goes Away for Last Time.” CNNMoney, Cable News Network,                     money.cnn.com/2003/07/30/pf/autos/bc.autos.vw.beetle/.

“Volkswagen Beetle in Mexico.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 30 Oct. 2017,                 en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volkswagen_Beetle_in_Mexico.

 

Brian Sage

Peter Rostovsky

Group 2, MFA VA

1 October, 2017

Suburban Decay: Martin Mull

    The image of the perfect suburban family was marketed vigorously after WWII, pushing the narrative of what the typical American family should look like.  This happy nuclear family was a shared national dream, unique unto America, and still has its hooks in our culture.   The painter Martin Mull grew up in this era and uses the iconic media images of his youth in his paintings, weaponizing these hooks hinting at the origins of a psychological decline amid a picturesque back drop of the American dream.  The “buy more stuff” and “keep up with Joneses” postwar commercialism aimed to produce a constant state of deficiency which revved up the consumer machine.  The marketing ploys of today are no different, just riddled with more complexities brought on by technology.  Mull’s use of photographic reference from this nostalgic time is a classic reminder of what lurks behind the facade. Why are we drawn to Mull’s work and these dark narratives of the human condition?  How has Mull utilized the powerful notions in photography known as “studium and punctum” to produce a visceral response to his critique of mid-century America. 

    I’m not alone in my fascination with ruin, America has a fascination with the dark. It seems our consumption cannot be satiated.  Screens fill our lives with their explosions, tragedies, serial killers, zombies, doomsday video games and the evening news, all to an almost numbing effect.

    There is no easy explanation why these images are so appealing. Evidence is thin and motivations are complex.  The tragedy paradox offers one such explanation suggesting the sadder the aesthetic experience, the greater the viewers enjoyment will be.  Sad emotions can provoke a more powerful response than good emotions.  The German word schadenfreude suggests another idea; it describes the pleasure that one gets after seeing someone’s misfortune. (Jaffe)  Mull’s work offers a possible glimpse back at the origins of the more heavy handed and less thought-provoking misfortune imagery that has captured audiences in our mainstream culture today.

    Martin Mull’s career is a fascinating contradiction, just like his paintings.  Many artists rebel against the hypocrisy in our society, challenging social norms pushed by pop culture. Mull, ironically, is a card carrying member of this mainstream machine - Hollywood.  In my research of his work, images of this goofy looking TV actor kept popping up among the dark and psychological paintings of mid-century suburbia.  I was convinced the artist couldn’t be the same guy who appeared on the Golden Girls, Rosanne, and countless other similar films, TV shows, and commercials. Wikipedia finally proved me wrong and the rebellious artist side of me didn’t want to give this guy any attention. The roles he played in his acting career seem such a disconnect given the type of paintings he produced over the past few decades.  He did get some artist “street cred” from me as he earned his MFA in painting from RISD and he mentioned in an interview that painting is his first love and true passion while doing the other“show business stuff on the side.”(Martin)

    Raised in the 1950’s among perfect manicured lawns of western Ohio, his youth was informed by Hollywood's fantastical landscape of Oz“aimed to convince an entire country that there’s no place like a Caucasian middle class home.” (Figge)  Mull uses pop art, photo-realism and iconography to give a social commentary ofhis childhood in white suburbia.  He explains, “My work is all about tensions: between colors, textures and edges, between figures and symbols.” He uses snapshot type images set against one another in a collage type style in his paintings that border on photorealism. (Freeman)  In a TV interview on Chicago Tonight, Mull explains, “The world has changed in so many ways, and this country has changed in so many ways, I feel compelled to lay down this madness that I was raised in – the idea of suburban America as this kind of picture-perfect thing. Of course, it wasn’t. It wasn’t all Ozzie and Harriet.” (Figge) 

    The effectiveness of Mull’s photographic use is one of unique duality which reflects aspects of Barthes’ definitions known as“studium” and “punctum.”  Barthes’ notions in his book Camera Lucida define these two terms relating to photography.  “Studium,” he explains, is a general understanding or education of an image, a civility that informs the viewer with the intent of the photographer promoting little more than interest.  Barthes cites journalistic photos as an example stating, “I glance through them, I don’t recall them, no detail ever interrupts my reading; I am interested in them (as I am interested in the world) I do not love them,”. Barthes goes on to explain “punctum”  as “that accident which pricks, bruises me”.  It’s the detail in the image that disturbs; it’s the “element which rises from the scene” and changes the meaning of the photograph, filling the viewer with intrigue. (Barthes) 

    In Mull’s paintings, the pricking sting of “punctum" is achieved in a different more subtle way.  Mull creates tension in his work with the co-presence oftwo images.  These images occupy the same arena and time period, but are drastically disconnected in feeling.   If either of these photographic references or “snapshots” was isolated and viewed away from its counterpart they could be defined as more “studium.”  However the juxtaposition of the two photographic references together creates a jarring intrigue that can be described as “punctum.”  Mull is then not confined by the limits of photography and uses his painterly skills of color, contrast, and texture to further magnify this unusual relationship.  The result is a subtle but biting critique of this unique time in American history.  His exploration of the hidden undercurrents of the “happy” image can easily be compared to modern America’s use of social media.

    The post WWII “model” of the perfect family was pushed out across the American landscape through the media outlets of the time. Today the same promoting of the ideal image has been compounded by social media.  The constant posts through Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are not an accurate representation of the individual but rather a select self curation of the ideal image, message or thought. The bombardment of these posts are then perpetuated by the viewer who can’t help but compare his or her life to the “perfect” and “I've got it all figured out life” image on the screen. These self filtered images often mask the depression, hypocrisy andsense of lack so many feel behind the glow of the screen, the very thing Martin Mull shines the light on through his work. 

*If you see this paper on social media or my blog please leave a positive comment or hit “like”.

 

Works Cited

 

Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. The Noonday Press, 1988. 

“Figge Art Museum.” Adventures in a Temperate Climate: A Retrospective of Paintings by         Martin Mull, www.tfaoi.com/aa/7aa/7aa6.htm.

Freeman, Samuel. “MARTIN MULL | THE EDGE OF TOWN.” Samuel Freeman | Artsy, 10         Oct. 2015, www.artsy.net/show/samuel-freeman-martin-mull-the-edge-of-town.

Jaffe, Eric. “6 Scientific Reasons You Can't Stop Looking At Ruin Porn.” Co.Design, Co.Design,     2 May 2017, www.fastcodesign.com/3033210/6-scientific-reasons-you-cant-stop-looking-at-ruin-porn    .

“Martin Mull Witnesses The.” RISDwww.risd.edu/news/stories/martin-mull-witnesses-the-madness/.

 

Brian Sage

Peter Rostovsky

Group 2, MFA VA

1 September 2017

Art and the Covert Contract

    Artists forge a unique path in our culture, they beat the drum and carry the banner as they veer off society's carefully scripted and predictable parade route. This is the critical artists mission; to push against this system with integrity. As we grow as artists and individuals we become more self-aware and gain insights to our environment. There are, however, aspects of our lives that can go morally unexamined for reasons of self-preservation and self-elevation. This willful ignorance I call the ‘covert contract’ and it is as apparent in my life as in my art practice. I created work that appealed to the very people whose values and lifestyles I often oppose. In this paper I will shed some light on this contract and how it relates to my work and then turn my focus to this same contradiction that is systemic in the art world today.

    Artists are among the few on the front lines pushing back and questioning the “matrix” we live in. The politics, cultural structures and corporate influence inform our thinking, pushing us towards being passive predictable consumers. The French Philosopher Michel Foucault’s writings on social theories offer insight to the pervasive depth of power that influence our lives. In an article on his writings the author states, “He has been hugely influential in pointing to the ways that norms can be so embedded as to be beyond our perception – causing us to discipline ourselves without any willful coercion from others.”(Power/Knowledge). This perfectly explains the pervasiveness of which society has infiltrated our behaviors and defined them to be true. Foucault writes, “What we perceive as true is a result of the regular effects of politics and the social rituals which is then reinforced by? cultural institutions, the media and changing political and economic discourse. What we perceive as true or what is appropriate as we function in society one must question who defined this “truth”.” (Foucault 1991). 

    Art can spark intellectual discourse to these “truths” and disrupt passive communication. At its most potent form art prompts questions, disrupting long established social norms and patterns. This intellectual effort can lead to awareness in areas in our society where energy is stagnant as it concerns social awareness and injustices. Foucault explains, “discourse transmits and produces power; it reinforces it, but also undermines and exposes it, renders it fragile and makes it possible to thwart” (Foucault 1998). In my own art practice, especially earlier in my career, I had little regard for this essential role of the artist and the little regard I did have was almost unconsciously disregarded.

     My upper middle class upbringing in a small Connecticut town informed my art practice when my career gained traction. I grew up around the phatic settings of cocktail parties and country clubs that did nothing to nurture new perspectives and free thought. My creativity and talent that I mined was quickly, yet subtly, diverted and repressed appealing to this social elite class. I was familiar with this group and could speak their language but often I silently rooted for their demise. My complacency in pandering to these individuals and corporate elitist types with all smiles was such a disconnect compared to how I lived my life as an artist. I revolted against the lifestyle I was exposed to growing up and saw it as shallow, materialistic and self-serving. On the surface, however, this non-materialistic, spiritual surfer type and advocate for the environment often pushed against these individuals and what they often represented, until I needed them. This veiled influence that I silently submitted to was superficially offset and made palatable by my outward identity. 

    There is no better example of this hypocrisy than my experience that has played out at dozens of times at the top art shows along the east coast. Very wealthy individuals exhaustively negotiate with me on the price of a painting, pleading and forcing my price down. I play along and say all the right things and make the sale. Often times it seems to be a sport, and they just default to muscle memory when making a deal. I always think if the roles were reversed I would not negotiate and want to support this valuable member of our society and honor his talent. I remember in one instance, after extensive negotiation, a man had me carry his painting to his 200K Mercedes where he then explained how he wasn't sure which house to hang it in. His lack of regard for an artist who has chosen an unpredictable path was shocking. Equally as shocking was my lack of regard for my art and self-worth. The reason for this was simple: self preservation. 

    My moralless agenda was to make money, sell my work to the people who could afford it to keep my career going. I was familiar with these wealthy individuals and knew how to appeal to them. I had conscious access to these feelings but didn't give this contradiction much attention. Self-preservation can have a profound influence on behavior. This was my covert contract that I ignored as I developed as an artist. This relationship is a microcosm for a larger contradiction that is present in art institutions.

    Its no surprise that the top art collectors and donors to museums worldwide are financial executive types, the same individuals that were directly to blame for the sub-prime mortgage crisis. As the gap between the rich and the poor grows to historic levels of inequality, wealth consolidates. Those who can afford luxury goods and the those who deal art in this sphere often benefit. (Fraser)

    One might regard the museum as the mothership of the art spirit, pushing through the discursive seascape with its flags flapping in the wind. The museums however are even more beholden to these wealthy patrons. Museums plead their fundraising case and negotiate acquisitions to the wealthy. Multi-million dollar expansions and renovations to these institutions proceed despite any economic downturn. All the while museum workers get paid low wages and exhibition budgets are tight. (Fraser) The archetypal struggling artist often seek these positions in the name of their ideals. Museums don't even pay the artists to show their work. I know the exposure is valuable but why not both, the money is there. I recently saw an ad in the New York Times for the Robert Rauschenberg retrospective.  At thebottom below the Bank of America symbol it states “Bank of America is the Global Sponsor of Robert Rauschenberg.”  It didn’t specify an organization he presented or another other than just the artists name? What if there is another approach at an individual level that relinquishes to these veiled energies and redirects them? 

    Art has profound effects on society but it pales in comparison to the ultimate power: money. Why not leverage artistic skills and pander to the elites without moral contradiction. I know many artists who do this one dimensionally but they often lack the moral compass needed to then move this energy towards something other than self-interest. The abstract effects of critical art vs the funding for social projects and organizations of integrity almost seems like two different languages within the same culture. One is clear, universal, and understandable and the other an elite hybrid cryptic slang. Simply put, take their money and do something good with it. The artist can walk this line and produce other more personal and experimental bodies of work in tandem. This may however expose the artist’s integrity to weaken. Everything is in flux, nothing is fixed and as humans are subject to compromise, the system currents can be insidious and erode values. New organizations have emerged and embraced this sentiment, providing a platform for artists to make a difference in society. 

    Dose Projects out of Brooklyn, NY is one such organization. This is an alternative art model that pairs artists with charitable causes. The artist selects the cause that is important to them and then 50% of the sales goes directly to that charity and the other 50% to the artist. (Dose) This organization and others like it have encouraged me to donate in a similar way to organization. The art I’m selling is a different type of work that I enjoy but is created mainly to generate income separate from my personal narrative pieces which are more critical and contemporary.

    There is nothing wrong with creating something beautiful and marketable, even if it’s for some wealthy guy’s house in Nantucket. The academic artists of the 19th century created beautiful works but for the purpose of highlighting good moral values and virtuous behavior . In contrast the modern work of Mondrian and Kandinsky was ambitious in their efforts of a spiritual awakening through their art, serving as a guide of inspiration away from the materialistic world to something greater. (Witcombe) This is a lot of pressure to put on a work of art and perhaps another approach is needed as well.

    The role of art to social change in this increasingly divided and globalized world must be effective on many fronts. A large part of this new approach I think must start with confronting disowned parts of ourselves and re examining our role as artists in the context of todays world. This redirecting and circulating of energy will have positive effects on both the individual and that which he or she holds dear in our culture.

Works Cited

Dose Projects, doseprojects.com/about/.

Foucault, M. (1991). Discipline and Punish: the birth of a prison. London, Penguin.

Foucault, Michel (1998) The History of Sexuality: The Will to Knowledge, London, Penguin.

Fraser, Andrea. “There's No Place like Home.” Http://Whypublish.wikispaces.com

Power/Knowledge Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977 Michel Foucault            panthoen books, New York, 1980 

Witcombe, Christopher. “Art for Arts Sake.” Modernism: Art for Art's Sake, witcombe.sbc.edu/    modernism-b/artsake.html.

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Brian Sage

Group 2

Semester Summary

It was great arriving at this residency more familiar with the program and having some bandwidth cleared up to focus on other things throughout the day. It was also nice knowing what meals to skip and people to avoid (just kidding about the food). Overall, I was pleased with this summer semester. The students and faculty were great, and I made some new connections with artists. One of the real strengths of this program is its diversity.  The artists range in age, race, gender, and background which brings them to produce different types of work and perspectives.

The critiques were informative, as always, with some dialectically opposing suggestions, but after taking them in totality, certain patterns emerged and insights resonated.   I chose to focus on a completely different body of work for this residency: abstract color studies along with my more traditional impressionistic paintings with a heavier narrative.  I became tired of hearing myself talk about my work.  Listening to my recorded critiques I realized that my responses were shorter and more to the point as we neared the end of the semester. 

I didn't want to abandon my style or medium but rather change the subject matter to a more thought-provoking narrative that is personal to me.  Corporations that push heartless, unhealthy products with no regard for anything but the bottom line frustrate me.  McDonald’s sponsors the Olympics and advertises its garbage food to kids. The hypocrisy and lack of empathy for the environment, animals and “Main Street” business is astonishing. 

In my urban decay paintings, nature is reclaiming the landscape as the ruined iconic buildings are taken over as animals and vegetation move back in.  Nature is connected more directly to a universal intelligence that is effortless and has balance.  We are not disconnected from this universal intelligence that beats our hearts, but our ego and powerful minds can jump the rails. The urban decay series painted in my classic style worked well, but were somewhat safe and a bit of a one-liner.  I need to push this further and expand my universe while not being so one dimensional in my approach.  I could crop my reference material to compose more interesting perspectives, adding more abstract qualities.  The cliches in the photoshop images that I quickly pieced together to paint from could be exploited and exaggerated to add interest and offer a path to explore.   

The multi-paneled color studies I felt were a much needed departure from my usual repertoire, especially early on in the program.  The abstract fish print was new for me and a further departure into new territory, helping me break out of my comfort zone. During this process I realized that I need some structure to inform or give some order to the unpredictability of this new work.  The separate panels were interchangeable and fit together to form larger work.  The abstract fish print was informed by images that were glued on the back of the rice paper and were ghosting through.  This gave me a foundation to consistently refer to as the work progressed.   I pushed myself to explore these new directions so that my more traditional work would be informed and knocked into a new trajectory.

Critical Theory 2 had some dense readings as expected .  I could, in some cases, just follow all the concepts in the readings, but some were more difficult than others. The writings of this David Geers character was out there, he seems like a real wack-a-doodle.

The purposefully difficult writings could be written so much more simply. One of the strengths of our Critical Theory 2 professor is that he has a great way of simplifying these complex theories and connecting the dots for us while still walking the line of their complexities.  My only suggestions for the class would be to separate or group similar theories with visual references right after the text discussion rather than at the end of class. This paired with a few key points written on the board would be helpful for comprehension and for distinguishing theories.  I understand the challenge of this program is time and of course it would be better not to push through so much if we had the option.

The articles are written for peers and academic scholarly types and therefore need to be somewhat cryptic and more difficult to comprehend. It was challenging to fully grasp certain theories that were buried in the many fancy words, foreign names, places, and related periodicals.  A fancy word or reference that I have no comprehension of easily confused me and bumped me off the path.  I realized that I need more art history knowledge and to expand my vocabulary so I can follow the ideas more completely.  

The article Accelerant Manifesto, was the one article I breezed through and fully comprehended because I’m familiar with the language of politics.  The words, names and references in the text I understood. These terms are the connective tissue to understanding the main ideas.

One of the most positive parts of my semester was a relationship with a group 5 graduate. Over the last semester and the beginning of this one, I avoided engaging with this person because he was off-putting.  I didn't understand much about him and didn't want to. It wasn't until I was signing up for critiques with group 5 and saw he only had 2 people signed up under his name that I decided to reach out.  I knew he was well intentioned, different, and from a different area of the country.  I signed up for a critique with him.  The next day he said “ So I see you signed up for a critique.  What, no one else worked with your schedule?”  I explained to him that wasn't the case at all and that I wanted to get a different perspective on my work and was looking forward to our discussion. To make a long story short we had a great critique, talked more in our elective and got along great.  I understood more about him, and our interactions from that point on were positive.  At the end of our student exhibition for Deborah Davidson, the two tall guys had to stand in the back, and he put his arm around me. That’s what it’s all about, reaching out with an open mind to better understand others and ourselves.  

 

Semester 2 mentor

Emily Eveleth

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I had a wonderful first meeting with Emily at your studio!  She had some great insights and the artists she recommended were exactly the direction I'd like to steer my work.

Semester 1 papers

 

    

Brian Sage

Advisor: Jan Avgikos

7 March 2017

 

    Maturity and Time Reflected Through the Works of Tansey and Fischl

 

    Emerging from the minimal and conceptual art of the early 1970s, Neo-Expressionism in New York returned to recognizable imagery. Two artists with a less extravagant style were hard at work in their NYC studios, one with a historical metaphorical narrative and the other with a personal psychological voyeuristic approach.

    “Rejecting the restrictions against imagery and gestural treatment set by their Minimalist and Conceptual teachers and contemporaries, the Neo-Expressionists revived the formal elements of German Expressionism and Abstract Expressionism, often on a heroic scale.  As the “new” Expressionism this style reiterated the subjectivism associated with the earlier forms, marked by flamboyant textural brushwork and distorted figures. In their work the Neo-Expressionists took up a variety of cultural-mythological, nationalist-historical, erotic, and “primitivizing” themes” (Guggenheim).

    Eric Fischl (b.1948) and Mark Tansey (b.1949) were born just one year apart and both attended Los Angeles based art schools.  After finishing their education, they eventually descended on the NYC art scene and joined the Neo-expressionism movement.  I chose to explore two popular works painted decades apart, Sleepwalker (1979) by Eric Fischl and Reverb (2017) by Mark Tansey.  In my search through the Google image library I organically gravitated towards these pieces without question. I realized the factor that played a significant role in my visceral reaction and intrigue of these specific pieces was - time — time as it relates to identifying with the figures and time in how it relates to my level of maturity and comprehension. 

    There is nothing subtle about Sleepwalker at first glance.  In this image we see the awkward body language of a naked boy grabbing his penis set amid a typical suburban backdrop. The shadow of the boy peers back at him in a mixture of confusion and excitement.  A kiddie pool rests still and shallow in the yard but the depth of swirling emotions of the standing figure is anything but. There is an unfiltered honesty in Sleepwalker that is welcoming. The powerful drive of puberty in the boy is over poweringto what society would consider appropriate.   The innocent beginning of male sexual exploration is literally front and center stage.  This is a confusing and intimate moment caught almost as if under a spotlight of the circular pool and lawn. “The pool is still.  The lawn chairs bear silent witness, as do we” (Nichols).

    What Tansey’s Reverb lacks in upfront shock value, it more than makes up for in subtle and layered complexities. In this painting a woman and a man are in mid conversation, her mirrored reflection peering back at us in a somewhat disassociated state. Similar conversational gestures of cultural figures (Woody Allen, Groucho Marx and Marilyn Monroe) are visible in a massive framed wall display. Framed images in a elegant setting are usually reserved for portraits of dignified family members or noteworthy historical figures, not Hollywood icons who are anything but dignified in most cases.  One could easily catch a glimpse of such photos on magazine covers while waiting in line at a grocery store.  As the images recede in the distance the framed pictures change to line graphs of subatomic particle equations. The male figure who is speaking is more directly situated in front of that same mirror and has joined the collage of conversations on the wall.  “Reverb contains more than one hundred and fifty collected images on the themes of reflection, symmetry, and perception that pervade Tansey’s oeuvre”  (Gagosian).

   I can’t help but to associate the male figures in each piece although they are portrayed at different stages of maturity. These two paintings completed decades apart roughly correspond with the advancing age of the individual in both pieces, Sleepwalker, 1979 and Reverb, 2017.  Each offer complexities associated with a male of different ages but highlighted in drastically different arenas.  

    It seems life was simpler back in adolescence with summer vacations and innocent crushes, I’m sure the boy in the kiddie pool would disagree. So much of our lives is shaped by early experiences as we are not self-aware but rather just reacting to our hardwired human condition and the fate of our environment. The powerful emotions of adolescence can now be understood but from the safer distance of middle age.  Our experiences in our youth, from the trivial to the traumatic, are like etched grooves in a record that will later be played over and over again to differing degrees.  We can push against this and rewrite certain lines of the music if we can hear it clearly enough.  Reverb adds static to this music with its complexities and metaphorical contradictions. Modern life compounds this abundance of this noise. Technology offers a constant bombardment of information, further pushing society’s narrative and prompts us to question our own position in it. 

    The two different paintings can conjure any number of emotions and responses. As with all art and the life for that matter, our interpretation is subjective. Our bias and points of view are as unique as our fingerprints.   Aside from any internal interrogations, age and sex alone have enormous influence on how these pieces are interpreted. If I were shown these two images as an adolescent my response would be one of indifference to both. I would have little patience and understanding for the complexities and contradictions in Reverb, while my lack of confidence and embarrassment when seeing the raw relatable image in Sleepwalker would immediately put me on the defensive and shut me down.

   Now, as a man of age of 42, both pieces are more easily understood.  Sleepwalkerstill remains potent but I’m able to explore, reflect and compartmentalize those uncharted urges. 

   I can appreciate the artists honest depiction of a sensitive topic and find it liberating. At the same time Reverb cannot be so easily dismissed; the painting prompts more questions as I explore the confusing subtext of the interactions. I’m reminded of countless personal discussions with friends, family and ex-girlfriends where ego, words, emotions, and societal influence collide. Society has had pervaded our lives since the storybook endings and innocent crushes of our youth, understanding and truth can be more difficult to discern. These interactions remind me of a line from one of my favorite poems by Theodore Roethke:  “Of those so close beside me, which are you?” (Roethke).

    Mark Tansy’s and Eric Fiscal’s work reflects societal and personal factors as they developed as artists and individuals.  Their art offers use a unique glimpse into their lives and how they make sense of their experiences. Their thought provoking paintings were at the forefront of Neo- Expressionistmovement in New York City and their work offers us a point of entry to help us reflect and maybe make more sense of our own lives.

Works Cited

Fischl, Eric.  Sleepwalker.  1979Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. 

  http://glasstire.com/2014/12/22/eric-fischl-at-the-modern-art-museum-of-fort-worth/ 

“Gagosian-Mark Tansey”. Gagosian, 2017 http://www.gagosian.com/artists/mark-tansey

“Neo-Expressionism”.  Collection Online, Guggenheim, 2017

      https://www.guggenheim.org/artwork/movement/neo-expressionism

Nichols, Emily, editor, and The Art Story Contributors, compilers.  “Eric Fischl Artist Overview         

    and Analysis”.  Theartstory, 2017 http://www.theartstory.org/artist-fischl-eric-artworks.htm 

Roethke, Theodore.  “The Waking” The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke. Doubleday,

    1961.

Tansey, Mark.  Reverb.  2017.  Gagosian.

 

    

Brian Sage

Advisor: Jan Avgikos

5 April 2017

Building Block - The Influence of Japanese Woodblock Prints on Claude Monet and Frank Loyd Wright

    In the Mid 1800’s new trade agreements with Japan exposed Europe and America to Japanese artifacts for the first time.  This wave of new and refreshing art came crashing over the west. One particular art form, Japanese Woodblock Prints or Ukiyo-e - “pictures of the floating world” became a powerful source of inspiration for artists. Two unique and pioneering artists who where avid collectors of these prints and embraced these fresh artistic elements were a painter from France and an Architect from America.

    My examination of Japanese Woodblock Prints influence on the works of Claude Monet and Frank Lloyd Wright are not going to get into details of specific works, ironically lack of detail is one thing that interested these artists in Japanese prints.  My focus is rather going to be on uncovering the essential elements of Ukiyo-e that resonated with their intuition and emotions to help answer this question. What was the essence of these Japanese prints that had such a visceral impact on these two artists.         Ukiyo-e prints contradicted western academic art and was widely admired for there non-European characteristics.  The following is a brief rundown of this style of art:

  • decorative motifs often portraying ordinary townspeople and nature
  • simple large flat areas devoid of value
  • well defined lines, never blurred with emphasis on sensitivity, flow and rhythm
  • space between the lines often left empty
  • bold color
  • forms stylized to simplify and exaggerate with no soft edges
  • asymmetrical compositions, diagonals and silhouettes 
  • bold cropping and design (Tyrrell) 

    Monet was among a long list of impressionists painters to gravitatetowards this work.  He drew inspiration from nature and the working class as well and embodied a sense of freedom from the traditional and academic establishments. The handling of composition was among the most prominent feature of Ukiyo-e that had an impact on Monet.  The use of asymmetrical and non linear composition went against the format of the Academy’s classical symmetrical arrangements. The bold and imaginative cropping of these prints offered a new compositional approach. Monet spoke on the matter “In the West what we admired most of all was this bold way of cropping images; these people taught us to compose differently” (Maloon)

    Simplicity of form and use of color were other distinct features that captured Monet and his contemporaries.  The Japanese prints simplified form to its essentials and tackled these shapes devoid of value while pushing vivid colors and contrast. This gave Monet’s paintings a brightness of color, often in a light tonality, in which he then added ranging value to the shadows.  Monet’s brushstrokes were alive with energy something that the Japanese prints addressed with a boldness, rhythm, and expression of line. It was clear this style had such a prominent influence on the painter. In a conversation with a critic in 1909, Monet stated: “If you insist on forcing me into an affiliation with anyone else . . . then compare me with the old Japanese masters; their exquisite taste has always delighted me, and I like the suggestive quality of their aesthetic, which evokes presence by a shadow and the whole by the part.”(Looking East)

    Frank Loyd Wright response to the Japanese Woodblock Prints was similar to that of Monet.  He was first drawn to the simplified compositions and the artists ability to eliminate all extraneous information.  I find it interesting that an architect could be so affected by an overly flattened 2 dimensional art form.  This shows the impact of these Japanese artifacts across multiple disciplines. The honest integration of form, purpose and material were described by Wright as “organic”.  This minimalist sensibility evoked by this art form validated and influenced his architecture practice.(Peter) 

    Like Monet the subject matter of the prints also connected with Wright.  Ukiyo-e prints in Japan were cheap and therefore affordable to the working class.  These works often depicted a narrative of the every day life of common people and included animals, birds and landscapes.  Wright saw this as a celebration of the working man’s connection to the land while being unaffected by materialism.  He found these works had a spiritual sense linking man to his natural surroundings.  “The Japanese print artists reverential presentation of naturealso attracted Wright; in his architecture he too sought to integrate buildings with their natural settings.”(Peter) Wright in a conversation with apprentices said "I remember when I first met the Japanese prints. The art had a great influence on my feeling and thinking.... When I saw the print and I saw the elimination of the insignificant and simplicity of vision, together with the sense of rhythm and the importance of design, I began to see nature in a totally different way.”(Transcript, Wright)

    It is apparent that these two artists experienced a visceral response to theJapanese prints. I believe at the heart of this response is simplicity, simplicity as it both relates to form and to living.  Wright said “Simplicity and repose are the qualities that measure the true value of any work of art.”

    I am certainly not the first person to point this out, simplicity in art has been discussed by old and new masters of every discipline to exhaustion. In my research I came across endless articles and quotes on the matter.  But if this is so obviously why is there so much written in all corners of the art world and philosophies on life itself?  Why am I writing about it now?  The answer is that simplicity is difficult. Vincent Van Gogh who, like Monet, was equally inspired by Japanese Prints stated“How difficult it is to be simple.”

    I view Japanese prints as the foundational blueprints for simplicity that many artist successfully built upon.  Our minds can make sense of the Japanese woodblock prints with their stylized solid forms, sharpness of line, contrast and color. There is then within these strong compartmentalized elements room to create, expand and explore.   There is no struggle to make sense of an endless amount of information and detail, we can take in the simple elements and essence, finding refuge in simplicity. 

 

    Often times it is easy to get caught up in the throws of inspiration and dive head first into an art endeavor and forget about this key ingredient. Monet and Wright intuitively knew the power of simplicity and the Japanese prints confirmed their beliefs and propelled them to go further with confidence.

    I often think of simplicity like that inner voice or intuition we all have that does not have to speak loud because it knows it will win in the end. We might start out with holding this intention close but our egos are loud and want to dazzle with brushstrokes, details and extravagant colors all over the place to show the world what we can do. It is only when we take a breath and step back that we see that we ignored or muddied this power.

    Hawthorne said it best in the first line of the chapter on landscape painting. “The weight and value of a work of art depends wholly on its big simplicity- we begin and end with the great spots in relation one to another.” (Hawthorne).

 

   Works Cited

 

Hawthorne, Charles “Hawthorne on Painting” 1938 Dover Publications p.53

 

“Looking East: How Japan Inspired Monet, Van Gogh, and Other Western Artists”          asianart.org Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Oct. 20, 2015 Accessed 28 March.         2017.

Maloon, Terence. “Monet and the Impressionists exhibition brochure”. asianart.org          Art Gallery of New South Whales, Sydney, 2008

     http://www.asianart.org/press_releases/41

Peter, Carolyn.  “Wright and the Architecture of Japanese Prints” hammer.ucla.edu         Hammer Museum 2005.

    hammer.ucla.edu/exhibitions/2005/wright-and-the-architecture-of-japanese-prints/  Accessed 2 Apr. 2017.

Transcript of Wright's talk to Taliesin apprentices, Sept 29, 1957. Frank Lloyd         Wright Foundation.

Tyrrell, Katherine “Making a Mark”.  makingamark.blogspot.com  March. 2008,             makingamark.blogspot.com/2008/03/elements-of-ukiyo-e.html. Accessed 1 Mar.         2017.

 

 

Brian Sage

Advisor: Jan Avgikos

June 1, 2017

Creativity and Flow in Artistic Practice

 

    The artists mind is armed with refined skills, practiced over the years, and has acquired a vast amount of relevant references. In the throws of inspiration we show up to express our ideas and creativity but not without the all too familiar default setting of the minds distracted states.  This is especially true for the artist who is often in the solitary and idle atmosphere of a studio with no external distraction.  As artists we need to quiet the mind to fully explore the nature of our experience and express it fully in our work without the ego’s influence.

    nIn this paper I’m going to take a look at three areas of study: art, science and spirituality to try and shed some light on what is responsible for creativity and flow. We all have experienced these moments where we are on auto pilot in our element working away effortless as time and sense of self disappear as something unique is created before us.  What is this mysterious, creative, intuitive intelligence and how might we open ourselves to access it more often?

   Our minds are great tools, we can build bridges, solve problems, and learn skills.  I’m not going to get into all the minds complexities and its power but its safe to say its nothing short of amazing.  We engage our minds in almost all situations as we try to best navigate the world. Often times this super computer between our ears can jump the tracks and take us in all sorts of unintended directions, it can overthink, obsess, point the finger outward or inward.  If we had control, which we don’t, we would then simply choose the best and most appropriate thoughts.  

   When talking about spirituality it is easy to go down many paths and get lost and confused, however generally speaking all these paths lead to the same place. Nonduality is a term used in many areas of religious and spiritual thought. It simply means “not two” or “nonseperation”, stating that “we are all one”. Whatever ever you want to call it, awareness, spirit, god, consciousness, we are all part of the same fabric.  “This realization has ontological implications for humanity: fundamentally we are individual expressions of a single entity, inextricably connected to one another, we are all drops of the same ocean.”  (Nonduality)

   The eternal gaze of consciousness is witnessing our thoughts and is not in flux but ever present as if you notice its disappearance this noticing is precisely what it is.  It is the universal intelligence that effortlessly beats our hearts and grows massive redwood trees.  It is patient, nothing can rush to reach its full potential, trust and surrender need to happen to let this inherent intelligence do what it does effortlessly.  Why then wouldn't we surrender aspects of our lives to this same force to varying degrees? Don't get me wrong intent and effort need to be applied but there is a balance and trust that needs to be exercised as well. The ego can not comprehend this giving up of control and pushes back, will argue with reality. We all have had the experiences of things unfolding organically; chance meetings, things falling into place, new opportunities, people or insights come into our lives. All usually occurring while we are busy in our lives and not forcing our will. Artist especially need be aware of this state in the process of creation.

   The artist job is to explore the presence of this consciousness using elements of the objective world, the art created is the result of this inquiry. Attention must be placed on this awareness and the ego must take a back seat.  Our sense of separation must be dissolved to more honestly inform our art. (Spira)  The filmmaker Passolini once said on the topic “I am trying to restore to reality its original sacred significance.”

   The inquiry and curiosity into this timeless creative realm is pervasive through all artistic disciplines. The artist view on the subject is of course more poetic but connects with the same undercurrents.  Isabelle Allende told aspiring writers “Show up, show up, show up, and after a while the muse shows up, too.”  When asked in an interview about creativity, Pablo Picasso responded “To know what your going to draw, you have to begin drawing… When I find myself facing a blank page thats always going through my head.  What I capture in spite of myself interests me more than my own ideas.”  Picasso is stated what artist have been talking about since recorded history,  the best work happens when rational thought and the discriminating mind gives was to intuitive flow.(Popova)

      As the artist makes manifest his or her inquiry into reality in such a direct way, so does the scientist but through a model of reality based on research and data. Its important to have an understanding of these processes in the body to better inform us of what is going on.  

    The scientific community often refers to this state as “flow” where action and awareness merge and our sense of self disappears giving way to heightened performance which includes creative performance. Beta brain waves slow from a normal waking state to slower alpha and even theta waves which are associated with REM sleep.  This lower brain wave pattern combines ideas and thoughts in new ways enhancing creative thought.  The prefrontal cortex temporarily goes off line quieting the sense of self and the inner critics voice and gives way to more creative and courageous ideas.  The brain also gets flooded with norepinephrine, dopamine, endorphins, anandamide and serotonin. These neurochemicals enhance performance and increase pattern recognition boosting creativity.(Kotler) You can sign me up for that, but how?

    This question is why I decided to research this topic.  From the artists perspective the answer often takes on a mythological and spiritual tone.  The artist’s view is that one must show up and work with discipline endlessly as to show and court this elusive thing in hopes it will infiltrate thoughts and feeling thus informing our work in an honest way.  Commitment and intention on the artist part through work must be made clear to the scared. Through this effort hidden treasures within may surface or the muse might just see your studio light on late at night and come gently rapping at your door.

    Going from the most abstract to the least, science has ideas about how to influence the body to the states mentioned earlier.  Researches have been able to induce these states by targeting parts of the brain through trancrainial magnetic stimulation.(Kotler)  Chances are you don't have one of these machines laying around the studio so we’ll move on.  Research finds that sustained periods of intense focus of concentrate without interruption is any entry point to creativity.  This means goals are outlined so the mind doesn't have to search for what to do next and there are no distractions.  The challenge to skill ratio must reach a certain threshold in the individual to further engage attention and focus. Working in a group with like minded individuals and shared goals can produce flow.  I remember in art school painting from a live model in class and experiencing this.  The heightened enriched environment of students put me in a state that I was intuitively reacting and my sense of self disappeared. 

     In his book Flow Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explains that the human body can only process a certain amount of information, thats why you cannot understand two people talking at once.   There is not enough attention in this focused state to monitor how your body is feeling or what its thinking or doing. Existence is temporarily suspended. So when you are completely engage in the process of creating, identity disappears from consciousness. (Mihaly)

    Meditation is a common practice in spiritual circle to connect with the state of eternal awareness and stillness. This is a rather difficult state to produce art in yet it is fertile ground for artistic ideas and intentions. These artistic inquiries have to be explored and practiced with curiosity. Attention must be void of the ego with its preoccupation with getting love, power or avoiding pain.  We must learn to surrender and trust allowing ourselves to be open and gain access to the gifts of the spirit.  Margaret Paul Ph.D compares this access to something we are all familiar with, the internet.  ”Staying locked into our own mind is like being cut off from accessing the Internet. She writes “Our personal computer is like our mind - programmed only with what we have put into it. Yet, just as we can use our computer to access the vast information on the Internet, we can use our mind to open to the infinite love, peace, joy, information and creativity that is available to us from Spirit.”(Paul)

    As unique as works of art are so must be the artists relationship and understanding of this sacred unknown.  We all must adjust and redefined over a life this relationship with our higher selves as we grow.  A good place to start is to start is to approach these things not from a place of fear but of genuine childlike curiosity. Picasso said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

 

Works Cited

Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. "Flow, the Secret to Happiness." Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: Flow, the Secret to Happiness | TED Talk | TED.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 June 2017.

Kotler, Steven. "Flow States and Creativity." Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, 25 Feb. 2014. Web. 04 June 2017.

Nonduality, Science And. "Nonduality." Science and Nonduality. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 June 2017.

Paul, Ph.D. Margaret. "The Spiritual Power Of Creativity." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 10 Oct. 2016. Web. 04 June 2017.

Popova, Maria. "Picasso on Intuition, How Creativity Works, and Where Ideas Come From." Brain Pickings. N.p., 12 Sept. 2016. Web. 05 June 2017.

Spira, Rupert.  Interview with Daphne Astor - Consciousness and the Role of the Artist, 2002 | Rupert Spira. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 June 2017.

 

Semester 1 mentor

Joshua Meyer

Cambridge, MA

www.joshuameyer.com

cab496236254d98ac863277b8033bbf3.jpg

 1/24/17

First meeting with Joshua Meyer at the MFA

*recommended artist to research

*recommended DA DA movement (proceeds surrealism)

*shared my current work in progress

-no one liners then your done, need more layers of thought to your work

-politics could be a starting point but not the ending point of your concept

-more process, more layers, more background

-people should want to look at it years from now

-there should be no easy answer, stick the viewer in the middle

-give enough openings to involve viewer

-power of storytelling, mix media to explore this

 

 

2/26/17

Second meeting with mentor in my studio

-went over current work and new ideas

Semester 1 independent study

Artists:

Cynthia Packard

Jeremy Geddes

Mark Tansey

Eric Fischl

Steglitz (291 Gallery)

Robert Longo

Walt Kuhn

Ashcan School

Carol Benzaken

Kanishka Raja

Bosch

Mark Ryden

Goya

Hopper

Mark Tobey

Paul Balmer (Adren Gallery, 129 Newbury Street Gallery)

Percy Fortini-Wright (Rafius Fane Gallery)

 

Study areas:

American regionalism

American pictorialism

Dada

 

Visited:

Harvard Museum - Windslow Homer,  John Peter Russell, Eric Heckel, Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet

Nesto Gallery, Deborah Davidson exhibition

MFA Boston meeting with mentor -Robert Rauschenberg, Mark Bradford, The Clock, Monet, Van Gough, Henri Regnault 

Chase Young Gallery, Cynthia Packard (First Friday South Boston)

ICA with faculty

 

Art Talks: 

Coe Lapossy,  art talk and performance, North End Boston

Jan Obando, art talk mixed tape screening

MFA Boston

Images I created in photoshop to use as reference for paintings.

These urban decay photos of mainstream companies are inspired by the current political climate.  The heartless, inhumane, self serving, environmentally detrimental etc…companies (politicians) create a nice facade to the public that is not truly representative of their one and only interest - money.  My vision in these paintings is that a balanced, honest, natural order will ultimately prevail. 

McDonalds copy.jpg

 

Ideas I'm working through:

City Scenes

-monochrome with more color underpainting.

-street perspective with more figures looking out activating the space (engaging for the viewer)

-statue of Liberal being constructed in France or other symbols of freedom (tension, is it being constructed or destroyed?)

Dust Bowl Carnaval

-HBO series Carnaval of the Dust Bowl

-Simple and dusty landscape with Carnaval figures 

Politician, Priest, Janitor - Collage

-politician/priest made up of striper card

-janitor made up of superman cards

"the Eye looking for itself" 'what you are looking for is what you are looking from"

Historic, family found images of struggle- figurative images in new setting and relating to each other and the environment

 

Fishing Lure Mobil

-fishing lures with 3prong hooks attached to a mobil.

-concepts art of each representing positive and negative temptations (Makaveli symbol with figure, female body, money, power, truth, lies, the search for rest, etc..)