Saturday, April 24, 2021

The Artist as Highwaywoman

A rough sketch I just did after seeing the image in my mind about an hour ago. So this is a Surrealism day, I guess. Someone in 17th century costume about to get into a Prius is pretty surreal - (unless of course said someone is going to a sci-fi convention or a Renaissance faire).

But I'm not doing either; this is just one of my visions that I deemed good enough to set down on paper. I get lots of them; people ask "where do you get your ideas?" Ideas are the easy part, execution is the challenge. I've been reflecting on my own creative process lately. I hear my '60s youth saying "Trust your gut," which is all fine and dandy, but my current old lady says, "But for God's sake let your head exercise some judgement!"

Whenever I lie down to sleep, dozens of images rush through the field behind my closed eyelids. Even if I could remember all of them, most are basically worthless as picture starters. I choose to realize, i.e., make real, a select few. They vary widely but the ones I keep have a foreground and a background, often one or more human or quasi-human figures, and the content is at least marginally coherent, even if bizarre.

And so I continue to make Surrealist artwork, although these days it's interspersed with other stuff based solely on external reality. (See my previous post about a digital piece I'm working on.) I've never attempted to "explain" my Surrealist images, but while I do them they feel like a different dimension of reality. But it's a dimension that I recognize as related somehow to my own personal idiosyncracies; the task I set myself as an artist is to make something that might speak to others as well.

So this one is for those of you who, like me, always loved the stories of the old highwaymen of the 17th and 18th centuries in Europe. Their clothes were rad! And a full moon with clouds scudding across it is just too dramatic and evocative of adventure, romance, legendary deeds, to ignore. And I've always wanted to buckle a few swashes.

Other surrealists' works, with the possible exception of Rene Magritte's, are often shocking or slightly repellent. Mine are pretty tame, I guess, compared to Remedios Varo or Max Ernst. And I'm beginning to realize there's a clown buried deep in my psyche; maybe I'm the first of the Comic Surrealists. I could do worse, I suppose.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Warhol was just putting us on

Read an article on today about Andy Warhol.

’ "Andy Warhol's Oxidation paintings, perhaps more than any other series in his oeuvre, embody a striking paradox: they are at once aesthetically rich and gleefully transgressive," reads the description of The Oxidations on the website of upscale auction house Christie's. According to the site, one of the paintings, which features a coppery background interrupted by green splotches, sold for nearly $1.9 million back in 2008....Its surface offers up sensual delight in its coppery iridescence, and its composition is enlivened by elegant splashes that radiate outward with visceral energy," ‘

Warhol and one of his assistants urinated on a copper-coated canvas to produce what some call his “piss paintings.” Artwork which, according to Christies, which sells absurdly expensive art pieces, are “aesthetically rich” and “offers up sensual delight.” Of course to command the prices Christies does, they have to convince buyers that the works at auction are worth the dollars spent. Art galleries, by contrast, do seem to make some effort towards identifying and supporting new talent. The auction houses, handling works by established artists, exist to extract the maximum revenue from each sale. And they prove that the value of any object is whatever people are willing to pay for it.

Lest we forget, Sotheby’s, the other outrageously expensive auction house, got over a million dollars for a Banksy painting that shredded itself immediately after being sold. So what’s the point? I think the point is that both Warhol and Banksy recognized that the people who buy stuff, especially arty stuff, at places like Christie’s and Sotheby’s have more money than brains. Or maybe they’re laundering ill-gotten gains from selling drugs or guns or trafficked people. Whatever the source of their money, Christie’s and Sotheby’s customers will pay big bucks for just about anything.

Warhol undoubtedly learned about the relationship between art and commerce as a commercial illustrator, his earliest professional experience. And it could not have escaped his notice that there are lots and lots of talented, skilled artists around, especially in New York City; he was just one among many. The lesson that I surmise he learned is that very few artists can ever maintain recognition of their work over the long haul; the influencers of the art scene are fickle and their followers are shallow. So Warhol switched from making art to attaining fame and fortune by encouraging people to convince themselves that anything that came from The Factory, his industrial-chic studio, was wonderful because why else would all the glitterati be hanging out there?

It’s important to remember that Warhol was a “real” artist – I mean, he could draw and everything. In fact, his drawings were quite nice: Unseen Warhol drawings. His early work was quite respectable Matisse-influenced-trending-toward-expressionism painting. Warhola early art. But even in 1947 his work was often tongue-in-cheek: Two Dogs Kissing?! And in 1959, he collaborated with Suzie Frankfurt to publish Wild Raspberries, a set of lithographs of fantasy “recipes,” such as Greta Garbo Omelette, Baked Hawaii, and Roast Iguana Andulusian. The last one doesn’t have a recipe since “this reptile is not met with on the American market...suffice it to say they are prepared like the burmese lizard.” Wild Raspberries on Pinterest. I wish I could afford to buy a copy of the collection – it goes for 10 to 15 grand at Christies – because never have I seen such a perfect sendup of the pretensions of rich foodies. Somebody needs to send one of these to Gwyneth Paltrow.

And from this beginning grew the Campbell’s soup can paintings and the derivative silk screen prints of other people’s work, e.g. photos of famous beauties like Taylor and Monroe along with rhinoceroses and elephants. He stopped bothering to create anything original, because nobody really cares anyway. The perfect banality of these works holds a mirror to the taste, or lack thereof, of those who buy art as an investment. It doesn’t matter what the picture is, or if it moves the viewer, it’s just another commodity. I think Warhol realized this and based his later career on the quintessentially American assumption that there’s a sucker born every minute.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

YES, damnit, it IS SO art!

The other night I struggled with a moral dilemma. An ad for came through my Facebook feed - this is a company that turns art into fabric design. I instantly wanted to do lots of designs quickly so I could make money. But then it occurred to me that I was trying to do a cheap and dirty thing, just extruding trash to make cash. There's a word for artists who do that - "hack."

I don't want to be a hack. But it takes so long to produce something decent - and in the meantime other artists are selling their work. Competition. I thought about how I was struggling with the texture of the ground in "Blue and Gold Road" (not finished yet) and that I was using the Photoshop brushes to "cheat." Rather than creating my own design elements, I was using the brushes to stroke a premade texture onto the background.

I was feeling very conflicted and stressed while thinking these thoughts. But my Good Parent intervened and asked me to determine how I could utilize the readymades in an authentically artistic way to create good product. What I concluded was that I can play with stuff like the brushes but in a goal-directed way: think about what attracts me to the object, and build on that. Be "spontaneous" - let the readymades help me create a design but look at what their major "thrusts" are - for example, the brush I was using last has striations - parallel curves arranged around a more-or-less horizontal curved axis which is a double stroke with space between the two lines. The flattened curve and the "spines" are the thrust.

Having identified the main visual components I can develop them further into a finished visual object. So my aim should be to articulate what components matter, evaluate what their visual impact is, and add altered versions of said components in a harmonious arrangement. This is making use of readymades in a legitimately artistic method.

Relecting now on my internal stuggle, the Bullshit Detector part of me says: Are you effing crazy? You never heard of Duchamp, Warhol, or Banksy? You're worried about "cheating" by using Photoshop brushes to create an image, while the abovementioned artists (1) sent a urinal to the Armory Show, (2) painted an exact, albeit enlarged, replica of a soup can label, (3) used what must have been a clip art image to be present on paper just long enough to get shredded. I think I'm entitled to use whatever the hell I want short of parts of specimens of endangered species and do whatever the hell I want short of robbery, assault, homicide, or terrorism. So there, goddamnit!

What is art, and what do you care anyway?

YES, damnit, it IS SO art!

The other night I struggled with a moral dilemma. An ad for came through my Facebook feed - this is a company that ...