I have a queue of dog paintings that will keep me busy through the summer, so I’m taking a little break to get some human faces done. Tory is 36 x 48″ and this is whipping up somewhat quickly — to my surprise. I was in the studio over the weekend for hours, mostly putzing around with a series of distractions which serve to keep me from ruining it (Which podcast should I listen to? I think I’ll make tea. Should I rearrange the paintings on the walls?), but eventually I settled into it. After a couple of hours, I got into the flow and just kept going, until I had painted the face. I didn’t touch the mouth or the cap, just focused on mixing skin tone hues with siennas and umbers and blacks, and brushing it on. (It’s not done, by any means – but it’s almost there.) As I realized that I worked for a couple of hours before hitting my stride, it occurred to me that maybe this is how I work, but I just never saw it — that I have to work for a couple of hours before anything substantial gets done. Good god, I hope not.
I like to support local, independent businesses, and give a shout out, occasionally. My local bookstore has a superb staff that knows their stuff and always has the book I’m looking for (or can get it seemingly overnight for no extra charge), the local Indian restaurant was making me these delicious special meals without telling me that the dish I was requesting wasn’t on the menu, and my car guys never try to rook me into unnecessary work on my old dogmobile. So, I figured I should do this with artists, too.
Thing is, as a studio artist, I tend to focus on my own painting and neglect that aspect of the work that requires us to actually go out and see other work. It’s not that I don’t want to expand my horizons and expose myself to new inspiration and build rapport with galleries and support other artists; it’s just that I haven’t been researching shows and scheduling the time. (Yeah, I should work on that.)
But when Rafius Fane Gallery in the South End showed Percy Fortini Wright’s show “Identity Crisis,” I went. I had been a fan of Percy’s work on social media since a friend suggested his style as being somewhat compatible with my own in perspective, and I was blown away by it. So, I hopped on a train and popped in to the opening.
As soon as I walked into the gallery, my glasses fogged up. This was not a buttoned-up, white-bread art opening, but a dance party. Hip-hop was blasting and people were dancing. A woman stood facing a wall-sized abstract piece while the artist spray-painted a portrait on the back of her coat. I gravitated over to the urban landscapes, bypassing the faces altogether, and just stood there, taking them in. When I started painting again, several years ago, I thought that I would paint urban scenes — streets, subways, alleys, things like that. But then faces just started happening and I went with it. Now, standing at this wall, I stopped breathing for a moment. Yes. Why am I not painting city scenes? No, I need to focus on faces, Wait. Do I? So, yeah, I was inspired.
Moving along to the next wall, the streets started to blend toward faces, until it became a wall of “Children from Beyond,” and I recognized the work I had seen online. Percy blends oils with spray paint in a way that makes you wonder why this hasn’t been popularized. Graffiti meets classically painted brick wall, and it just fits. In the faces, there is an ease with which the features are applied (or, sprayed) that reveals such familiarity that you wonder if he just whips them up in three minutes. I think of myself laboring over a 48” portrait with my #6 brushes, and am puzzled by the ability he seemingly has of just spraying the same sized face with such quick and effortless strokes.
Anyway, at the risk of sounding like a blathering fangirl, I’ll just wrap it up here by saying that you should go and see this work, for yourself. There is so much more than the few I’ve posted, and the artist’s ability to blend urban graffiti with classical style is worth a peek. Rafius Fane Gallery is at 460C Harrison Ave in Boston, and the show is up through Feb 17.
When my friend Kimbo posted this selfie to Facebook a couple of years ago, it was accompanied by the text “Writing new songs. Feeling inspired and angry. Grateful to be in the present emotionally. Living fearlessly with truth, love and as always Solidarity!”
I looked at the picture again and I just didn’t see the anger. When someone asked “Angry?” she replied “You know… the habitual violence and abuse in the world, The destruction of the environment. I have written songs lately with those feelings of disdain and discouragement but also when I write angry music, it is almost a way of staying productive, causing my mind to think what else? How can I change this? How can I spread awareness? Starting the healing and opening a dialogue of ways to change and better ourselves and the world. I’m angry and want to do what I can with my music to help this world. I want to continue to see the real truth. I feel truth is enough to cause anger. If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention. In my music it inspires me. Anyway, I’m rambling but YES I’m angry and proud of it.”
I was compelled by the image to try to capture the expression. I dabbled at it over time, putting it aside to work on commissions, but I was never happy with how the face turned out. I’m good with the hair, the sweatshirt, the ribbing on the hat and the puke-green wall of the fluorescent-lit public restroom. But the face was horribly insufficient; too smoothed out, and definitely not angry enough.
As I struggle to avoid the stigma of painting dogs (i.e., paintings vs “pet portraits”), I feel a strong need to steal a little bit of time to generate some meaningful work to be taken seriously as an artist. I knew this image of anger had potential, so I put it back up on the easel to rework the face.
Kimbo is a folk-punk artist and I listened to her songs in the studio to access that anger. I took larger brushes than I’m used to, and dabbed on darker swathes of color, trying to resist the urge to blend it in, perfectly. Harder colors — more Ivory Black and Raw Umber. Shadows (not just as metaphor). I widened the eyes and mouth and jaw. I realized that when I first painted this, well over a year ago, I was existing in a bubble of optimism and happy dogs. But now, as we begin to witness the results of the 2016 election, access to that anger is becoming easier for me.
“Narcissism.” “Ignorance & apathy.” “Lack of empathy.”
My box sat on a pedestal in Somerville’s Nave Gallery, quietly soliciting slips of paper with the anonymous confessions of visitors scribbled across them. What disturbs you most in others? I asked. Then below it, in smaller writing, Oh, go on. No one’s looking. Jot it onto a scrap of paper and slip it into the box…
“When people don’t listen! Drives me NUTS.” “Hateful ignorance.” “Lack of attention to history and civic duty.”
When the call went out for the “boXed” show, curated by Susan Berstler and Jesa Damora, we hadn’t yet elected a new president, but we were deeply submerged in the swamp. The theme of the show was, of course, things in boxes. What do we box? Well, we certainly box those parts of ourselves that we don’t wish to acknowledge; that inner swamp best kept tucked away. That which is suppressed by our conscious self doesn’t disappear, but becomes what Jung called the shadow.
“Nearly nobody says what they mean.”
Although (or, because) we don’t recognize it in ourselves, we see it in others, and it scratches at our surface.
“Anything that reminds me too much of myself.” “Today, it’s hypocrisy.”
What else goes in boxes? Ballots. Maybe not so much, anymore, technically; but the ballot box was definitely on people’s minds. It’s not like they’re unrelated, these shadows and ballot boxes. If we each have a shadow, then collectively we must have a humdinger. The Collective Unconscious can be a powerful force once triggered and expressed. Although I can’t find the source, I had read that “when people would ask Jung, who met Hitler, how he manipulated the psyche of the German people, Jung replied ‘Hitler didn’t manipulate the psyche of the German people, he was the psyche of the German people.’”
“Coldness. Cold eyes, cold voice.” “Giving up.” “They’re in my way! Get out of my way! Go away!”
When creating the box, I didn’t realize that Trump would actually be elected; I was merely disgusted that he had gained enough support to propel him to the GOP nomination. By the time the show opened, he had been elected and my little progressive corner of the world (sometimes Somerville can even make Cambridge look stodgy) was in a state of dark disbelief. I was looking forward to seeing what people would slip into my box.
People will do anything, no matter how absurd, to avoid facing their own souls, said Jung. And so I put it on the box. Whoever wrote “Their ego and sense of superiority, especially when they don’t realize who I am” deserves a hat tip for cleverness; but the one that truly captured it all was “Their inability to sit down & have a cup of tea with their own darkness.”
I had put a little hole on the far side of the box with a tempting Look inside! and arrow, then attached a mirror inside the hole. This displeased some. I have heard that art can sometimes provoke an emotional reaction, but I am not sorry for stirring that in you.
Openings are great opportunities for artists to meet each other and share their concepts, processes, and aspirations. As one who tends to avoid being in a room full of strangers, this is the exception to my rule. Give us badges identifying each other, and we migrate toward our ilk, exchanging greetings and compliments and, sometimes, our business cards. I met artists from all over the country and look forward to following their future endeavors.
The show was curated by Priscilla Vail Caldwell and is up until January 28. The Blue Mountain Gallery is located at 530 West 25th St, in the Chelsea district of NYC.
Several years ago, when I found myself unemployed, I decided to pick up my paintbrushes and start painting again after about 20 years, and my friend Dennie proved a worthy subject. Getting back into the groove was frustrating, finding that I had to grease some gears that hadn’t been turned in so long. It’s a fairly crude painting, brushstrokes thrown on without any precision, and lacking the details that separate her as an individual. But I plodded on, knowing that it was just practice to get myself back into the waters and… whatever.
I was exhibiting my work during Somerville Open Studios a few years ago, and because most of my work is commissioned and hanging in other people’s homes, I pulled out pretty much everything I had to display. I love Open Studios weekend because it’s an opportunity to talk with lots of diverse visitors, see their reactions, and hear their feedback.
In the afternoon, a guy came through with his young daughter, perusing the paintings and pointing at the dogs. Finally, he pointed to Dennie and said to me “I think I know her.” With a raised eyebrow, I thought Mmm hmm. White guy comes through and sees a woman of color with dreadlocks, and he knows her.
“Really?” I asked.
“Yeah. God, what was her name… I worked on the Governor’s Council with her…”
Wait. Dennie was appointed by Gov. Patrick to sit on one of his councils. Can this guy really recognize her from that painting??
“Dennie,” I replied
“Dennie! Yes!” and he continued talking about her. I laughed, saying that the painting wasn’t that detailed and how impressed I was that he could see her in it. He responded that she has a certain essence which was captured.
It’s ironic that, to this day, one of the greatest compliments I’ve received on my work was on a painting that is most certainly not my best. My thanks to that stranger. Interactions and comments such as this linger forever in an artist’s mind, and remind us that we are merely the conduit for a rendering far more complex than our limited human brains can comprehend.
The contents of this site are constantly changing – Artist’s Statement needs revising (always!), new paintings need to be added to the done, things like that. Today, I was focusing on the description of commissions. Not the process, really, as much as trying to steer the concept of the painting. Some see my work and contact me to do a commission, saying “I like your unique eye,” or “Your composition is interesting,” then they send me pictures that are straight-up head & shoulders serious images, and balk when I crop it or suggest a goofier expression. I’m a sucker for trying to please everyone, but a lot of time can be saved by being more clear in what I will and will not accept.
Anyway, while I was in there, I also edited it to remove most references to dogs. I know, I know – everyone wants a painting of their dog; but, I love painting people, too.
This painting is from 2012, but it was never posted here. It’s a bit flat, but I do wish more people commissioned paintings of themselves with their dog.
When a dog tucks a front paw under his/her chest, it indicates comfort; but crossing the front paws is pure contentment. Not all dogs cross their paws when they’re happy, but I’m fortunate to have one that does.
I have a gajillion pictures of Rupert, but knew that this (taken about a year ago) would be the one I’d paint, so I was relieved of that agonizing process of choosing an image (I’m not so good with decisions, as it is!). This was taken one night after being in the studio for hours. We were about to head home and then I started taking pictures of him because I love the crossed-paws look. He hates having his picture taken and was really just ready to go home and eat; but he obliged, in that male Swissy complacency sort of way.
Rupert is 11 now. His hikes have become trail walks and, though he still enjoys them with the other dogs, he’s starting to slow down. I figured I should squeeze in his portrait now, while he’s among the living, because doing so after he’s left this world may just be too painful.
I’ve painted about eight Swissies, and I think a lot of people assume that they are all my own dog, Rupert. I had been meaning to paint him, but I just never knew which image of him to paint — until I took this picture. It’s nothing special, really. Just a dog laying on the studio floor, rolling his eyes at me for taking pictures of him when he really just wants to go home and have supper. This one is 24 x 48″
Osa in Sheets (40 x 30″) will differ from my usual process in a couple of ways: first, because the dog is covered in sheets, she must be painted first; and second, I am going to try to morph some of these folds into an unfinished dry-brush technique as I work out toward the edges.
Osa actually worked up pretty quickly. She’s about 75% done, but needs to dry a bit before I finish the red of her carpal and add the white hair of her muzzle. It’s somewhat odd to be working on a dog painting but not be working on the dog, but I was enjoying getting into the intricate lines and shadows of the folds of the sheets. I was just rubbing a small brush, kind of smashing it into the shadows, and will start applying paint next week.