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Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Ai Weiwei and Franz Xaver Messerschmidt



I recently visited the Belvedere in Vienna to see works by Klimt and other Austrian painters. 
Upon entering the formal gardens I was faced with a collection of strange bronze animal-head sculptures around a traditional ornamental pond in which floated an enormous lily-pad made of life jackets. Something was up! The frisson between the refined architectural backdrop and the brutality of the life-jackets was exciting. Ai Weiwei was in town and his installation, "Translocation - Transformation" was occupying several spaces in and around the main buildings. My expectations of a calm morning were quickly adjusted.


I was particularly entranced by the three mythical creatures suspended above the staircase of the Upper Belvedere. Hand-made in the fashion of kites, with white silk stretched over a fine bamboo framework, these beings seemed to fade in and out of visibility against the white marble background and, depending upon your vantage point, sometimes interacted with the architectural details of the space. 


After the excitement of these unexpected floating sculptures I headed to the galleries and spent a couple of hours in quiet contemplation of paintings by Klimt, Munch, Schiele and others. I then entered a small room containing a circle of "character heads" by the 18th century sculptor Franz Xaver Messerschmidt. The discovery of these seriously contorted faces by an artist previously unknown to me was as exciting as the life-jacket-lily-pad in the pond outside!  I was told by a very stern gallery attendant that I could not take photos so I tried to capture some of the expressions in my sketchbook. 
These drawings were done with colored pencil over yellow ink.


   

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Horses v. Camels


It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted. As more and more time has passed I have become increasingly intimidated by the unspoken expectation of important thoughts and witty delivery. So the time has come to pose an important question with which I have been much occupied:

Why is it harder to draw horses than camels?

I recently went to the Sierras for a couple of days to watch the Tevis event – a horse and rider endurance race over a hundred miles of mountain trails between Squaw Valley and Auburn CA. I was surrounded by horses and I had taken my sketch book so was expecting great things. Wow, was I disappointed! Most of my attempts at catching a likeness of these beautiful animals were so bad I will not post them.


 Yet…. when in Morocco two years ago I came face to face with camels – literally – and really enjoyed sketching them. And, if I may say so, I don’t think the results are too bad.
So the horse, a beautiful animal common in our culture, is much more difficult for me to draw than the camel, a strange-looking creature not usually seen on the West Coast of the US.


So perhaps odd things are easier to draw? (I do quite a bit of figure drawing and I admit to struggling with beautiful models.) Do we pay more attention to seeing those things with which we are not familiar? Does the beauty of a horse lie in subtle proportions much harder to capture than the camel’s bumpy pre-historic weirdness?


Of one thing I am certain – I could never draw a kitten!

Monday, May 2, 2016

Productivity

Collage and acrylic paint on panel (unfinished). 42" x 72"


I’ve been thinking a lot about productivity.

I’ve been to local galleries, art fairs and art museums recently and have seen successful artists who work quickly and sell healthily. I scold myself for only producing 15-20 paintings a year. I like what I do, but it takes a long time.

So, a few days ago, I’m at my worktable gluing old posters to my panel (see photo) when it hits me:  I’m spending a lot of time on the layers which eventually get obscured.  Making a living is hard. If I cut my process time I would produce more. Couldn’t I just gesso the panel and get straight to the final image? Or perhaps get an assistant to do the under-layers while I paint the final layer? I have been having this argument with myself for a while.

In defense of my process:
  • ·      Each layer is considered and informs the next layer.
  •      Each layer feels like a piece of art in its own right.
  •      I have a lot of fun building the layers. I feel like I am “growing” the painting.  
  •     The viewer gets little hints, but only I know what lies underneath and what has helped me to get to the final painting.
  •     I LOVE my process.


The productivity/income formula is still not right but I guess I’ll be sticking with it for now.... and perhaps buying some lottery tickets.

Thanks for reading.


Friday, April 15, 2016

Homage to 1890 Bryant St.



This weekend I will be opening my studio to the public as part of the Mission–wide Open Studios event.
I’m lucky enough to have a space at 1890 Bryant St. which many consider to be the jewel in the crown of San Francisco’s artist community. Over the last eight years, as my work has developed, the neighborhood and the building have changed too.  This corner of the Mission district now accommodates Heath Ceramics, fashion designers, small businesses, and a host of new restaurants and bars; while the building, though still scruffy on the outside, now boasts elevators and a complete new top floor of artist studios with fabulous views of the city.


During the building’s painfully slow metamorphosis its tenants had to put up with working in what was essentially a building site. Dust, noise, piles of building materials, asphalt-stained water pouring through ceilings, no elevators - all part of our daily life. It was hard and many of us grumbled.

But for me there was a good side to all of this. I love building materials and holes in walls and I get excited about spaces in a state of change - scars left behind hinting at things ripped out. I started to go into the building on Sundays and sketch quiet corners which seemed to be taking a breath between the noise and chaos of weekdays.

At my Open Studio this weekend I’ll be showing sketches and paintings of 1890 Bryant in 1890 Bryant - the building which allowed me to start my life as a full-time painter. There’s a good feeling there.




Open Studio
April 16th & 17th
12.00 – 6.00pm

1890 Bryant St. @ Mariposa
Studio # 204
San Francisco, CA



Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Mission Theater




I recently visited the newly re-furbished New Mission Theater, now the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, in San Francisco. Built in 1916 and remodeled in the Art Deco style in the 1930’s, it closed down in the 80’s and has been dark ever since. Here’s me in the fabulous lobby on the very fabulous carpet, smiling because I was remembering the last time I was in there – in the dark by myself. But more of that later….








In 1996 I arrived in San Francisco and started to paint. I explored the neighborhoods and was drawn to abandoned buildings with architectural merit and a story to tell. I discovered the New Mission Theater on Mission Street, the entrance shuttered and the 70 ft tall marquee shedding its paint and neon. So I painted the marquis. Each letter had its own canvas and there were eight panels in all. It wasn’t until I placed them together that I realized how tall the piece was. I had just joined a new gallery called Hang (a gallery which I credit with kick-starting my career as a painter) and the director decided to show the painting which was so tall it reached through the lighting grid! It sold within days to a Seattle loft-dweller.


Ten years later in 2008 I had a beautiful studio in the Mission (still have it) and a contact who was friendly with the owner of the building. I had heard rumors that it was going to be knocked down for redevelopment and I was desperate to see what remained of the interior. After several attempts I persuaded the owner to give me access. I didn’t realize that he would let me in, pull down the shutter, and tell me to call him when I wanted to get out. And I didn’t think to take a flashlight.There was minimal lighting in some areas but none in most.
I spent nearly two hours in there by myself and boy was it spooky!  
Every time a truck went by on the street the metal shutter would rattle and the sound would bounce down the lobby, around the auditorium and end up as a rustle just behind me. My heart nearly jumped out of my chest several times. 

The seating had recently been removed from the auditorium, leaving curved lines of circular holes in the concrete floor. There were beautiful details and lots of graffiti. 


Using a cinder block as a portable stool I completed several sketches before the need for a bathroom made me dial for my escape.

          

From these sketches I worked on some paintings in my studio:




A San Francisco landmark has been saved and is now a great place to watch a movie while having dinner.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Small Rooftop Paintings




Open Studio
Saturday 7th & Sunday 8th November
11.00 - 6.00

1890 Bryant St. # 204
San Francisco, CA 94110

Here are some of the bite-sized (12" x 12") rooftop paintings I'll be showing among the larger pieces in my studio this weekend. Don't forget to visit!