Nicholas Baxter

Blog posts tagged “realism”

Blood Rituals: Redux

Photoshoots for last year’s Blood Rituals series of still life paintings yielded several interesting macros which did not fit the aesthetic of classical still life that evolved out of my initial brainstorming sessions. I extracted four compositions from these photos, and after perfecting them in the digital darkroom, recreated them as hyperrealist oil paintings. This miniseries pursues a different avenue of exploration of the same subject matter, presenting another aspect of my artistic vision and skill set as a painter.

These claustrophobic and intimate closeups border on the abstract, as the complex color patterns of wrinkled plastic bags and condensation covered glass lose their original context of setting and scenery. Within this unfamiliar space, the jarring appearance of blood is a beautiful, rich and vibrant color that makes these compositions pop, while providing symbolic depth. The narrative of what’s happening and why is largely absent from these images–intentionally–as they strive for a disorienting sense of wonder by honoring the genre of true photorealism. Uncanny likeness to the “real” provides an illusion that in turn may open up new ways of perceiving the ordinary, mundane objects of the world around us.

Our physical reality contains infinite detail, but to help us move efficiently through the world, our brains eliminate much of what our eyes are capable of perceiving. When given an up close, sustained glimpse of the material complexity we inhabit, the result is often overwhelming, surreal, and disorienting, as our simplified view explodes with new detail. This is the point at which assumptions and certainties are compelled to crumble, opening the intellectual space for new truths to be realized and deeper understanding to form.

 

BLOOD RITUALS: REDUX

(untitled), oil on linen panel, 8 x 10 inches, 2016

 

(untitled), oil on linen panel, 8 x 10 inches, 2016

 

(untitled), oil on linen panel, 8 x 10 inches, 2016

 

(untitled), oil on linen panel, 8 x 10 inches, 2017

In The Studio 5: Reworking Plein Air Landscapes

Something I’ve never been a fan of doing is revisiting older paintings after some time has passed. The process of reconstructing or even merely re-approaching the original mindstate, inspiration, and vision for the painting feels spiritually regurgitative in some unclean way. Like digging up a dead issue in a relationship with your partner. I’ve never been one to want to dwell in the past, favoring the pursuit of new goals and the exploration of new territory over the retread of old ground.

But since embarking on a landscape painting journey over the past few years I’ve seen some of the masters of the genre doing just this–picking up old plein air studies to breath new life into them, perhaps making them more presentable as a truly finished piece to a buying audience–and had stared at some of my early plein air studies long enough to realize how I too could push the sense of drama or atmosphere in them.

View From The Studio, before (L) and after glaze layer.

Not to mention, more hours logged in the practice of landscape painting, more hours logged studying weather and outdoor light with more intention and discernment, has had the natural and inevitable effect of expanding my critique ability of what I’ve previously done as well as eased some of my fears about ruining those original results. This shift is the tangible, or at least quantitative, proof that learning is happening–awesome!

So in a brief fit of discontented boredom lately I pulled a few early landscapes off the wall and put my glazing knowledge learned from many hours of studio still life painting to use on some formerly alla-prima studies that looked a little flat.

Oil glazing truly does replicate the phenomenon of translucent–but not completely transparent–atmosphere that we live in and see through every time we gaze into the distance. Which makes it a perfect tool in the landscape painter’s skillset. For advanced stages of realism in any genre I find it to be absolutely indispensable, and enjoyed the practice of applying it to my new pursuit of landscape painting mastery.

A little 4 x 6 inch study of my former backyard bridge, given a more dramatic late afternoon shadow treatment.

Blood Rituals Review, Part 2

After completing the review of my recent gallery show that I mentioned in my last blog post, staff writer at tattoodo.com Ross Howerton sent me some more in depth questions to learn more about the origins of the series. This interview made it into another stellar review of the exhibit on tattoodo.com, which you can read at the following link:

“These insanely realistic still lifes at Sacred Tattoo tap into mankind’s deepest veins.”

Source: Nick Baxter Draws Inspiration from His Own Blood | Tattoodo

 

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Banquet Of Suffering, oil on panel, 18 x 24 inches, 2016

For even more in-depth commentary that didn’t make it into the article, here is the complete interview:

RH: How does working in different mediums, like tattooing and painting, affect you artistically?

NB: Each medium feeds off of and informs the other, in a cycle of experimentation and learning that results in a more well-rounded skillset.

RH: What is your favorite medium to work in?

NB: For pure, unfiltered expression with deep symbolism I prefer painting, but for more illustrative or graphic work, and especially for the collaborative creative process between client and artist, tattoos are a perfect outlet for other aspects of my creativity.

RH: As far as painting goes, you seem to have a preference for working in realism; why is that?

NB: I love form—the way light illuminates the world we perceive—and I love seeing the illusion of a reality that’s so convincing it can transport your mind into the world of the painting.

There’s a subtler aspect of realism that I also enjoy, which occurs with the most convincing pictorial illusions: that brief moment of disorienting wonder, a tiny temporary crack in the veneer of mundane certainty when the viewer who thought they were looking at a photograph realizes that’s not at all what it is. I’ve heard that moment described as the point where “emotional certainties waver, and taste loses its bearings.” I like trying to access that vulnerable place with what I do, I think an artwork can be impactful there.

RH: How and why did you first become inspired to use your own blood as a reference point for your oil paintings in Blood Rituals MMXVI?

NB: For as long as I can remember I’ve been fascinated by the human body, the medical sciences, and all that’s hidden within us that makes us what we are. Blood in particular is such a powerful and universal symbol of life, and ironically, of death as well. I wrote in my artist statement for the exhibit at Sacred Gallery in New York City that blood “is the liquid life force that feeds our physical vessel, the container of our soul. Its hidden presence sustains us; the breach beyond its borders horrifies us. It plays an ever-present and meaningful role in the human lexicon, as a symbol of love and sacrifice, of familial bond and battle alike, its deep scarlet hue representative of passion and our most powerful, primal urges.”

I’ve had my share of exposure to it through routine bloodletting procedures I must undergo for a condition of iron overloading in my blood called Hemochromatosis. Over the years I’ve compiled quite a nice collection of reference material from these sessions, which of course set the creative gears in motion over what to make with it, and eventually the idea of the Blood Rituals series was sparked. Luckily I had the help of my dear phlebotomist friend through this process, and her arm appears in the exhibit’s large centerpiece painting as the only bit of a human figure depicted in the entire series.

But one of my primary goals, or hopes, with this series is to use blood imagery and symbolism in a way that doesn’t evoke the shock value of gore or the campiness of the horror genre, and I’m not trying to comment on a specific medical condition or treatment. So I wanted to surround it with unlikely juxtapositions and temper its visual power with an understated classical sensibility.

My use of blood-related subject matter has several layers of symbolism, from personal struggle and loss to the brutality inherent in all human civilizations, ancient and modern. I hope these images cut through any immediate reactions of fright or repulsion to access the vulnerable state of emotional freshness or tenderness that lies at the core of all our psyches. The fact that it intersects with my personal life makes blood more powerful for me as subject matter, and I hope some of that translates to the viewer.

RH: What was it like doing such an intensive artistic study on your own blood?

NB: I had a lot of fun with it. Blood is just fun to paint, because it’s a living liquid that does so many things. Of course it’s visceral and shiny and incredibly vibrant in color, but it also separates, clots, coagulates, dries and cracks, forms bubbles, changes color. It presents so many great artistic possibilities, to say nothing of its powerful symbolic potential.

RH: Why did you choose to paint only still lifes for Blood Rituals MMXVI?

NB: Still life is my original genre, the one I learned foremost in art school and have the most comfort and familiarity with. I love the other classical genres too though, so I included a small nod to landscapes and figurative work in the series’ large centerpiece mentioned above, called Pull Me Through Time.

RH: Do you consider the paintings in Blood Rituals MMXVI as still lifes or self-portraits?

NB: Primarily they’re still lifes, as most of the symbolism is impersonal enough to have universal meaning, and many of the arrangements are mysterious enough to invite multiple narratives or interpretations.

However, they are all quite intimate to me, carrying personal narratives inspired by certain events and struggles in my life, featuring various objects I’ve collected over the years. And needless to say, the blood I used for reference is me, in a very literal and existential way.

One of the paintings is actually intended to be a much more direct reference to the self-portrait, and it’s titled as such. The viewer is invited to interpret the objects as parts of me and the arrangement as representative of my existence.

RH: How would you recommend that viewers try to interpret the profound oil paintings in Blood Rituals MMXVI?

NB: I love when people viewing my work engage with it deeply enough, and are informed enough generally about visual art, to formulate their own ideas about it. Hearing these is always fascinating to me; they’re like a mirror, reflecting back to me the effects of my visual communication, the aspects of it or elements within it that spoke something to someone. As an artist and a maker of visual communication, I can always learn valuable insights from these.

On the other hand, I created this series with a very specific artistic vision and a premeditated intention, and with that comes the desire for people to engage with the images from a certain mindset. There are layers of symbolism and art-historical references that some viewers probably wouldn’t know how to decode without some prompting, so I included the artist statement quoted above with the exhibition, for those curious to know where I’m coming from.

Aside from the statement, when a viewer sees the gallery show, I’d feel like the works achieved their aim if that viewer felt a quiet somber darkness, and the existential sadness of loss, which is something all the paintings depict in one form or another. The blood is lost from the body, the weathered shelves and rusted metal have lost their former shine, the skulls and various bones, the wilted flowers, the tattered books—all have lost. But all still remain.

I imagine viewers perhaps also piecing together a loose semblance of a story being told by the remnants of some mysterious recent event—the artifacts left behind in the form of a still life arrangement. But I don’t need them necessarily to feel what I feel, or anything in particular, I just hope that they feel something.

RH: Just to give us a sense of the symbolism behind your still lifes, what meaning do you intend a piece like “Banquet of Suffering” to convey?

NB: Speaking of stories, I wrote a short parable about that particular piece, as an accompaniment to a future publishing of the series in book form:

“In a world much like ours, there was a race of conquerors who spread death far and wide to finance their empire. They drained all the land of its lifeblood to hoard it for themselves and hunted those who dared oppose, a once vibrant population now reduced to a grizzled band of vagabonds and scavengers.

One autumn eve, as frost turned the last of the green to black and night descended, this race of false heirophants and infant gods and gluttons gathered for a feast to celebrate their conquest. Drunk with power, intoxicated by greed, they gorged themselves deep into the night. Grown soft in their decadence, gloating in their spoils, they grew accustomed to the dark–indeed, foolishly thought their revelry would never end.

But eventually the morning did come, as it always does.

In the cool dawn, scavengers found the remnants of depraved merriment: a candle still burning, blood still fresh in silver bowls, chunks of bread and flesh as if frozen in mid-bite. They ate from the scraps and sipped cautiously, weary and watching for their vanished oppressors. As the rising sun revealed the murky depths of the banquet hall, they saw the bloated corpses, and realized with sudden relief that they were safe: the conquerors had gorged themselves to death.”

RH: Do you have a favorite painting from Blood Rituals MMXVI and why?

NB: I don’t have a favorite. I think some are more successful on an artistic level than others, in terms of vision and execution, but this is just a technical self-critique.

Each piece carries its own particular meaning for me, and the process of developing each into its final form contains a series of memories, problem solving, and minor struggles, so they are all important and meaningful to me in unique ways.

RH: What draws you to painting landscapes?

NB: I’ve always been a nature lover, plain and simple, with an explorer’s urge instilled in me by my father, to adventure in the lesser-traveled and wild places of this planet. I’ve been determined lately to combine this with my artistic passion, so painting landscapes is a natural fusion of two important parts of myself. I especially enjoy the raw directness of plein air painting, which is an old term meaning on location, out in the elements. It’s a great counterpart to my controlled finesse process of studio painting.

RH: As a painter and tattooist, who and what are some of your greatest influences?

NB: Classical realism painters from antiquity and modern times, photorealism and its various offshoots beginning in the 60’s and 70’s, and too many other genres, periods, muses, artists, and amazing tattooers to name. I’m lucky to call some of them friends and colleagues.

RH: Do you have any other art projects currently in progress and, if so, what?

NB: For now, I’m just continuing to paint a few more related still life ideas that couldn’t make the gallery show deadline, as well as attempting some more complex and larger scale landscapes.

Additionally, I ended up culling a few pieces from the Blood Rituals series in order to keep the desired aesthetic and narrative intact, as a few of them veered into pure photorealism and lost touch with classical still life. In the future those outcasts will form their own offshoot series, since I love photorealism just as much as I love classical realism, and they turned out just as good as the ones that made it into the series.

IGOR at 1261

igor1261-1

I just shipped out my painting “Dying In America” to Gallery 1261 in Denver, for the 11th annual International Guild of Realism juried exhibition, mentioned in my last blog post. My painting is for sale and available through the gallery for the duration of the exhibit, so please contact them with inquiries.

I had a chance to check out the online preview of the entire show and WOW, it’s full of nothing but mesmerizing realism in representational art. It is a stunning representation of classical painting and drawing technique, that as you will see here, is still very much alive and well today. I am honored and humbled to be included.

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I won’t be able to attend the opening reception or see the show in person but if you’re in that area of the country, do yourself a favor and have a look. Digital and printed reproductions of this genre of art, and especially the oil painting medium in particular, do absolutely zero justice to the live experience of the paint’s luminosity and depth.

"Dying In America," 2015, oil on linen panel.

“Dying In America,” 5 x 14 inches, 2015, oil on linen panel.   Also, check out my recent technique blog post about this painting.

 

 

Anatomical Study from Cadavers

One major artistic discipline for which I have the least formal study is anatomy. I find the human figure and its underlying structures infinitely challenging in all of the complex shapes, sizes and movements they’re capable of. I’ve logged many hours of figure drawing practice from live models as well as a few painting sessions but never have had the opportunity for long term, in-depth study, starting from the inside out. Which is why I jump at the chance for any opportunity to briefly work on this artistic area, and recently was given a rare and unique invitation to observe and paint a cadaver dissection at a local training facility for medical school and EMS students.

Knowing about the rich artistic tradition of anatomical study from cadavers, which began in earnest during the Renaissance in Europe, I was thrilled to uphold and carry forward this practice as a contemporary artist. In recent times the tradition has mostly faded, and I relish the privilege I was given for a day to revive it and link my artistic practice to that of the old masters and forefathers of modern Western art, like Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Titian, among others.

Leonardo Da Vinci, Studies of the Shoulder and Neck, c. 1509-1510

Leonardo Da Vinci, Studies of the Shoulder and Neck, c. 1509-1510

Which isn’t to say that I regard myself to be in their rarified company in any way whatsoever, especially artistically. My accomplishments and artwork are quite meager in comparison with their mastery and all they left us with. What I mean is that, they started and passed on a beautiful tradition of deep artistic study melded with science–a tradition that I, in some small way, have been able to carry on, by practicing in a similar manner.

This day of training, although completely fascinating and enthralling, was not easy. We were set up in an examination room kept around the temperature of a refrigerator, due to, of course, the presence of a draped cadaver in the center of the room. Needless to say, these temperatures are difficult to be in for long periods of time without a lot of physical activity to keep one’s blood flowing and core temperature at a comfortable level. So after a while, painting with cold stiff fingers and shivering chest became the biggest challenge…and amusingly, allowed me to relate in a strange way to the severed and dissected arm of the cadaver perched on a crumpled medical drape in front of me, cold and stiff in its own way.

After observing the technician peel back the layers of skin and fascia on the forearm, all the while listening intently to his explanations of the detailed anatomy and its functioning, my friend James and I then watched in amazement as the arm was severed at the shoulder joint (quite easily) from its cadaver, and placed before us for further study. I gloved up and made a pleasing arrangement with it, and then got to work for a short hour and a half oil sketching session. Here’s the final result of an amazing day of learning and painting:

Study of an Arm, oil on panel, 9 x 12 inches, 2016

Study of an Arm, oil on panel, 9 x 12 inches, 2016

Notes & Advice 11

The popular text message shorthand TMI, as most of us growing up in the cell phone era know, means “too much information.” Normally not a good thing–except when it comes to my realism oil painting strategy.

To be specific, I find it useful to paint as much information as possible in the beginning stages and opaque layers of my photorealist paintings, so that I can pick and choose where to obscure it during the final (semi-transparent) glazing layers. There’s perhaps a bit of inefficiency involved in this approach, but it allows for a more organic development process overall, and a greater degree of control during the final artistic choices of what to emphasize or subordinate into shadow.

Dying In America-shadowglaze1

“Dying In America” (detail). Before and after the final shadow glazes. Note the subtle loss of detail/information in the rose petals.

The human eye is capable of seeing every detail of any given view, but the brain, our computer processor of sorts, is wired for efficiency and baseline survival, and as such is instinctively tuned to only allow us to focus on what is most important in any given view. Details and countless bits and pieces of any scene get stitched together from memory, assumption, and expectation, while a vast majority of the remaining minutiae are simply discarded as inessential to whatever task is at hand.

Some of my favorite realism artists were masters of this concept, knowing exactly what to emphasize or subdue in order to pull the viewers attention towards their focus and tug at their heartstrings with an effective narrative or use of symbolism.

Notice in John Singer Sargent’s portraits how little attention was paid to large areas of dress, allowing inessential areas to become black or brown silhouettes with no detail. He created a hierarchy of importance within the picture that mimics the way our brains naturally function, using the aforementioned technique to subordinate certain areas.

Madame_X_(Madame_Pierre_Gautreau),_John_Singer_Sargent,_1884_(unfree_frame_crop)

John Singer Sargent. “Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau),” 1884, oil. The dress and background, which comprise nearly all of the painting, are almost entirely flat areas of dark value.

Andrew Wyath used the technique of reserve just as brilliantly towards the goal of depicting scenic vistas and landscapes with a completely lifelike–yet surprisingly graphic and simplistic–appearance, setting the often somber and peaceful mood with just enough detail to draw us in and keep us looking.

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Andrew Wyeth. “Sea Boots,” 1976, tempera. Details in the boots and foreground tempered with the geometric simplicity of everything in the top half of the composition.

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Andrew Wyeth. “Barracoon,” 1976, tempera. Just enough accurate rendering in the figure and folds in the fabric, juxtaposed with large open fields of color and diffused texture.

 

And so I too try to keep the artistic concepts of hierarchy, subordination, and reserve in mind while envisioning my final result, with the goal of creating a visually appealing image, rather than chaotic overload containing a factually truthful amount of information, yet lacking cohesion and harmony.

I think these concepts become especially important when painting anything approaching the photorealism genre. Micro details are common and often necessary to complete the desired illusion in this style of painting, and yet conversely, a closed-minded and strict devotion to every detail of one’s photo reference or still life arrangement can result in a less aesthetically pleasing work of art.

"Dying In America" (detail).

“Dying In America” (detail).

Visual information, as with most things in life, can in fact become too much of a good thing. To make sure I hit my desired sweet spot on the information spectrum, I’m not afraid to paint more detail than will ultimately be needed, only to lose it in deep, rich, believable shadows. The most effective of these shadows will still contain the faintest traces of the details underneath, yet not so much detail as to clutter and distract from my desired focal point.

"Dying In America," 2015, oil on linen panel.

“Dying In America,” 2015, oil on linen panel.

Singularity

Singularity, oil on canvas, 18 x 20 inches, 2014-15

Singularity, oil on canvas, 18 x 20 inches, 2014-15

Here’s the recently completed work mentioned in my last blog post. Mankind’s increasingly intimate yet perilous relationship with technology and machines is the idea I’m working with here, and would like to explore further…

Realized with influence from creative sources such as

  • Ray Kurzweil
  • Michel Foucault (“biopower”)
  • Neill Blomkamp
  • Guy DeBord
  • H.R. Giger
  • Terminator © franchise
  • Metal and Industrial music
  • Postmodern alienation
  • Medical-industrial complex

 

That’s all for now, but more soon!

In The Studio 4

After an awkward and disconcerting hiatus from regular painting while my new studio space was being built and furnished, I’ve been fortunate enough to spend the past month back at the easel on a regular basis.

I’ve been working on a half-finished painting that was begun after its original spark of inspiration occurred during the early summer months of 2014. It was then picked at sporadically through the fall and left dormant in winter, until finally undergoing the last push toward completion in the past few weeks.

Occasional and intermittent work on a serious and challenging painting is one of my least favorite phenomena. On the contrary, steady and regular progress on a painting keeps the spindly and often ephemeral thread of inspiration intact long enough to keep the nipping dogs of self-doubt and overquestioning at bay. So now I have uncertainties about some of the choices made in the progression of this painting, but done is done. I’d love to carry on the themes and subject matter of this one into future related works, though. We’ll see how that pans out. So many ideas and images in my head…so little of it turns into a physical object in this shared reality.

Here are some progress shots from last year and this month. The completed piece will be unveiled soon, after I hopefully think of a title.

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Grisaille.

Color block-in.

Color block-in.

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Applying splatter texture to the block-in.

 

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Building up rust textures.

Adding fine details and highlights before the final shadow glazes are applied.

Adding fine details and highlights before the final shadow glazes are applied.

 

 

 

 

Notes & Advice 9

“If you wish to make certain your painting will succeed, a minimum of three things must come from you–and only you. The first thing is knowing why you want to paint your subject, the second is an analytical grasp of what you see, and the third is the skill to control the process of painting.”

Richard Schmid

This quote I recently came across, written by a wise and very accomplished alla prima realism painter, got me thinking about the underlying structure that comprises the task of creating art. Schmid divides this structure nicely into 3 primary, foundational elements. This striking simplicity belies the complexity inherent in most forms of art, especially realism, and that simplicity bodes well for artists and laypersons alike–the so-called “uncreative” types, those who mistakenly regard themselves as “not having an artistic bone in my body.”

Here’s my interpretation of Richard Schmid’s quote, expounding on his 3 main tenets and how they (encouragingly) apply to everyone:

  1. “Knowing why you want to paint your subject” refers to concept and theory. In other words, the philosophical side of the craft, the ideas and meaning the artist is working with or wishes to communicate through their work (I’ve written a lot about this here and here, with a future post coming as well). This relates to the study of your own mind, to “knowing thyself” and formulating ideas about life and the world around you. I believe that everyone has ideas about themselves and the world around them, because our living brains naturally and instinctively generate thoughts, and we can always translate those thoughts into words and images.
  2. “An analytical grasp of what you see” refers to active observation: true “seeing” rather than merely “looking.” Seeing is active analyzation of visual information, whereas looking is passive receiving of visual stimuli. And of course, all but the visually impaired can train their minds and eyes to work in concert, to more deeply understand the structures and lighting of the physical world, in order to convincingly reproduce them on paper or canvas.
  3. “The skill to control the process of painting” refers to technique, achieved through practice and repetition, like army boot camp or working out at the gym. Skill and control in painting depend on hand-eye coordination and mastery of materials, i.e. knowing which pigments are transparent or opaque, which mediums to thin your paint with in order to make it do a specific thing, which brushes produce certain effects when combined with specific hand motions, etc. Anyone can train their physical body to remember certain tasks and movements like those involved in painting, even those who don’t consider themselves to be artists. It just depends on one’s level of motivation and available time.

Notes & Advice 8

If you’re into oil painting or realism and somehow not already a fan of Jeremy Geddes, do yourself a favor and check him out. He is a modern master of the fantastic realism genre. When I found out that he recently did an interview about his process and thoughts on realism art, I eagerly read it and found some pearls of wisdom in his humble and deftly concise responses.

Especially helpful to me as a painter were a few choice reminders about the process of completing larger or more ambitious works, including this advice:

One mistake I often catch myself in is launching into a full sized painting before I have addressed and resolved all the potential problems in small scale studies. It means I can spend days or weeks in rework for an issue that could have been sorted out in hours if I had followed the correct procedure. Tampering down enthusiasm with pragmatism can be a tricky thing to hold onto sometimes, but it is almost always worth it.

And then there’s this insight regarding the public perception of “fine art” and the communicative power, which is a timely reinforcement of some of the conclusions about modern art I described in my “What Is Art?” essay:

…the disconnect between the intended meaning of a conceptual work and the meaning that  ‘Joe Public’ will take from it is obviously huge, the work is most likely buried in decades of obscure theory that the public has no knowledge of or participation in.

You can read the entire Geddes interview (as well as interviews with three other great modern painters too!) on the noeyeddeer blog.

Shenpa II

Here’s a process sequence for a tiny diptych painting I did a few months ago related to the recurring theme in my work of healing wounds.

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Tinted panel with drawing, color block-in, building detail, adding final glazes and highlights, and finished painting.

 This tiny little pair will be included in the forthcoming art catalogue Pint Size Paintings Volume 2, which compiles these small paintings completed by members of the worldwide tattoo community, and features them in a traveling art show.

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Shenpa II (Toward Healing), oil on panels, 4 x 3 inches (diptych), 2013

I wrote about the Tibetan Buddhist symbolism surrounding my use of the hook symbol last year, after completing Shenpa I (which now resides in the collection of the amazing and prolific figurative painter Shawn Barber!).

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Shenpa (Toward Healing), oil on panel, 11 x 14 inches, 2013

9th International 2012-2013 ARC Salon Catalog

I’m very honored to be featured for the second straight year in the Art Renewal Center’s annual juried catalog! This year’s book features my painting “Anointing” on page 61, selected for the figurative category.

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Regarding the annual Salon, the ARC website states: “With an approximate 2000 entries this year by over 850 artists, the competition was steeper then ever. Even with an additional category, and expanding our finalist cut up to the top 600 entries, the finalists only include the top 30% of works submitted.”

One of the best and largest surveys of contemporary realism art executed in the traditional mediums, this year’s salon catalog is now available for sale here.

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Anointing, oil on panel, 24 x 24 inches, 2012

Notes & Advice 6

I came across this quote today by a plein air pastel artist, and found it to be a perfect description for the process of realism painting. In my own work, time and again, I find I need to come back to basics in order to accurately portray the form and mass of an object or the atmosphere of a scene–to see things simply, before choosing to add complexity and detail. The ongoing challenge that all of us who undertake the realist genre have is depicting the true, unmistakable essence of an object or scene without being a slave to reference or the infinite detail of reality.  When we manage to accomplish this tightrope walk, we create an illusion that ironically seems more real than reality, in turn creating a sense of awe and wonder in the viewer.

Simplify the Scene

by Richard McKinley

“Because light changes, it’s important to work with efficiency and power when you’re working en plein air. Detail is not an artist’s friend; it’s easy to believe it holds the answers, but in fact it becomes the diversion. Simplifying what you see is a necessity. Remember, it isn’t individual blades of grass that make the field rise and fall across the landscape.

“Without light, we see nothing, so light falling on form is the key to communicating what we see. It’s by arranging shapes and creating the form that you represent the scene to the viewer. Your goal isn’t to create a painting that’s polished and finessed, but rather to capture the essence of the light and the magic that captured your attention in the first place.

“Ever since the arrival of photography, artists have had to fight the urge to see it as the master of what is real. There’s no doubt that photography, used carefully, is a valuable tool. What limits its usefulness is the belief that it can’t tell a lie. That can prejudice your thoughts more than you realize. Try to imagine what artists thought the world looked like two hundred years ago. It’s difficult to do when you’ve never known a time without the printed picture as a part of your consciousness.

“When you take photos back to the studio to use as reference, be sure to ask yourself: What is it that the camera won’t capture? That’s what you want to infuse into the painting.”

Invocation Of Trust

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Invocation Of Trust, oil on panel, 4.5 x 8 inches, 2013

Here’s a recent piece I completed for submission to an upcoming charity art exhibit at The Egan Gallery in Fullerton, California, curated by friend and fellow artist Cody Raiza who is a passionate animal welfare activist.

 

Rescue me flier frontandback - web

This tiny painting was inspired by events this summer at my house in Austin Texas involving the rescue of 2 baby raccoons from a rain catchment bin in my backyard by my partner and I. These two little fuzzballs, normally capable of being quite ferocious, were reduced to  feeble, trembling snugglebugs by their traumatic night spent flailing and trying not to drown. They instantly grasped and climbed my extended arms seeking warmth and comfort, and stole our animal-loving hearts in the short time before we entrusted them to the care of an area wildlife rehabilitation center.

Of course, never one to miss any artistic photo-op, I snapped away with my iPhone camera and ended up with some gorgeous, heartwarming shots, which after the usual in-phone editing, made their way first to Instagram*, and then to the easel when I realized they were perfectly suited to the theme of this upcoming art show.

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Edited reference photo from my Instagram account.

 

Here’s the evolution of this image, which just as the title declares, was intended as an invocation of trust in my life, to overcome barriers of fear and isolation, and to elicit sacred tender moments of unity between humans, other beings, all life.

invocation_of_trust-process-lowres

Pencil transfer drawing and Grisaille, followed by color block-in and 2-3 layers of color adjustment and glazing.

 

(*This is the first time I’ve painted an image originally intended solely for my Instagram gallery…not sure how I feel about that. I routinely attempt to post content there which is reminiscent of my paintings, and certainly aligned closely with my overall artistic aesthetic, often self-critiquing them afterwards as if they were paintings…but I really despise the over-saturation and cultural-race-to-the-bottom of social media, despite my own degree of participation in it. I’m curious to see how the Ig creative outlet will affect my art in general. To be continued…)

Transfiguration

Here’s my newest painting in The Apostasy series, in progress since early March and finally completed this week:

 

transfiguration

Transfiguration, oil on panel, 48 x 24 in, 2013

 

The Transhumanist agenda: Raze the wilderness, extract and exploit, leave nature gutted, concentrate populations in urban cages, destroy their mind and body sovereignty, keep them atomized, drugged, distracted and entertained, parade the false hope of technological salvation, take absolutely everything, repeat, repeat, repeat…

 

Here are some detail shots:

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Stay tuned for another post soon with process photos spanning start to finish.

Shenpa (Towards Healing)

My newest completed painting originated out of the photo shoots I conducted for my 2010 series Rebuilding.  The image of extracted hook with bloody gauze rag was leftover reference from that time, a powerful symbol I had always wanted to paint but ran out of time before the exhibition was to occur at Last Rites Gallery in February of 2010.

Searching for an idea to paint before embarking on a recent trip to New Mexico, I came across this reference photo and decided the time was finally right to complete the artistic thought.  New Mexico feels like a healing place to me; its nickname “the land of enchantment” rings true in the way my mind and emotions feel whenever I visit.  Happily, it turned out to be the perfect place to manifest this painting based on an ancient Tibetan teaching related to emotional and spiritual healing (especially having the good fortune of working on it while staying in my dream home!).

One of my favorite writers Pema Chodron has studied this teaching extensively, offering a very clear modern interpretation:

The usual translation of the word shenpa is attachment. If you were to look it up in a Tibetan dictionary, you would find that the definition was attachment. But the word “attachment” absolutely doesn’t get at what it is. Dzigar Kongtrul said not to use that translation because it’s incomplete, and it doesn’t touch the magnitude of shenpa and the effect that it has on us.

If I were translating shenpa it would be very hard to find a word, but I’m going to give you a few. One word might be hooked. How we get hooked.

Here is an everyday example of shenpa. Somebody says a mean word to you and then something in you tightens— that’s the shenpa. Then it starts to spiral into low self-esteem, or blaming them, or anger at them, denigrating yourself. And maybe if you have strong addictions, you just go right for your addiction to cover over the bad feeling that arose when that person said that mean word to you. This is a mean word that gets you, hooks you. Another mean word may not affect you but we’re talking about where it touches that sore place— that’s a shenpa. Someone criticizes you—they criticize your work, they criticize your appearance, they criticize your child— and, shenpa: almost co-arising.

That’s why I think this shenpa is really such a helpful teaching. It’s the tightening, it’s the urge… it’s this drive, too. This drive. It really shows you that you have lots of addictions, that we all have addictions. There’s this background static of slight unease, or maybe fidgetiness, or restlessness, or boredom. And so, we begin to use things to try to get some kind of relief from that unease.

Something like food, or alcohol, or drugs, or sex, or working, or shopping, or whatever we do, which, perhaps in moderation would be very delightful—like eating, enjoying your food. In fact, in moderation there’s this deep appreciation of the taste, of the good fortune to have this in your life. But these things become imbued with an addictive quality because we empower them with the idea that they will bring us comfort. They will remove this unease.

We never get at the root… . The root in this case is that we have to really experience unease. We have to experience the itch. We have to experience the shenpa and then not act it out.

[Chodron, Pema. “The Shenpa Syndrome: Learning To Stay.” Shambhala.org. Shambhala International, Sept. 2002. Web. 1 May 2013.]

shenpa hook

Shenpa (Towards Healing), oil on panel, 11 x 14 in, 2013

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Shenpa (Towards Healing), detail

shenpa hook-stages

I managed to photograph the major developmental stages, though not always in the best light while traveling.

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Painting in the inspirational interior of an Earthship.

Glorification

My latest installment in The Apostasy series, and the last for 2012, is now complete.  Four times as big as the next smallest piece in the series, and by far the largest painting I’ve attempted in oil at 48 inches square, this was a grueling endeavor.  Quite frankly, I’m just relieved it’s over, but on the positive side, I feel much more prepared and able to take on the next (and second to last!) piece in the series, which will be in the same large size range.

Here is a visual walk through the process of making this painting, which for now I’ve tentatively titled Glorification:

oil on canvas board, 12 x 12in, 2012

Glorification (study), oil on canvas board, 12in x 12in, 2012

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Projection Tracing

Starting Grisaille

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The Special Sauce

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Glorification, oil on panel, 48in x 48in, 2012

Happy new year everyone! May we all enjoy success in our continuing endeavors, and a progression in awareness, happiness, and health from an individual level to a global scale.

 

 

 

Notes & Advice 4: Clear Seeing and Accurate Drawing

Earlier this month I attended a 3 day intensive drawing course hosted by an artistic mentor of mine, Edward Povey.  This course started from the absolute  foundations of drawing–clear and simple seeing, lines, and shapes–and progressed by the third day, after a brief foray into tone and value, into a full-fledged classical still life.

While I had taken a similar foundations of drawing course around a decade ago (wow, that sounds like I’m old…and an “adult.” Wierd.) in art college, I wanted to revisit these incredibly important disciplines in order to sharpen up my artistic skills.  Edward taught the course with a combination of classic drawing exercises, and insightful personal anecdotes about the nature of seeing. His philosophy emphasized the faithful recording what we see, in the tradition of “the humble craftsman.”

Exercise: reproduce the Picasso drawing upside down, without regard to subject matter. Simply observe line, shapes, and proportions.

Many of the exercises were taken directly from the popular book by Betty Edwards Drawing On the Right Side of The Brain (which I personally have never read, but can now vouch for after this experience), such as the Vase/Face exercise which you can see here.  One of the most demonstrative exercises consisted of trying to reproduce a complex line shape in exact precision while simultaneously counting aloud, from 50 to zero. I won’t spoil the amusing results of conducting such an experiment by describing them in detail here, in case you should decide to try it yourself. But let’s just say, it puts the two sides of your brain into a major state of conflict.

All drawing consists of, is working with one’s own mind.

The most poignant lesson that was reinforced for me over the 3 days was the emphasis on clear, simple seeing.  Much like a meditation practice, this places emphasis on simply seeing the physical reality before us in all of its detailed truthfulness, without the confusion nor illusion of belief. For example, our mind knows and believes that a human arm may be approximately 3 feet long, but when seen in sharp perspective, the appearance of the arm becomes far shorter (aka ‘foreshortened’), and we must account for this when drawing it on a 2-dimensional surface.  This cognitive dissonance between our belief about the arm and the reality of how it appears on our retinas (and therefore must appear on the paper) is the reason why drawing complex forms with complete accuracy is incredibly difficult.  Therefore an artist must learn to disconnect from certain areas of thought in their brain, and tune into the unembellished truth of reality, breaking it down into simple criteria of line, shape, and negative space (the areas or shapes between/around featured subject matter).  Extreme precision in this task can be achieved with measuring techniques and devices, but it is not impossible to do so completely with one’s own eyes and mind.  It takes patience, practice, and a willingness to let go of our ego and all of its beliefs.

Words of wisdom.

As a painter of realism, this practice is indispensable for me.  All of my aesthetic illusions must be grounded in, must stem from, the fundamental truth of how objects or spaces look in reality, or else their believability will be compromised.  Not to mention, the strength of all representational art in the first place, regardless of chosen specialty or chosen illusions, lies in the accurate reproduction of 3D forms onto a 2D surface.

Subjecting oneself to the rigors of classical drawing training is the most efficient way to stay sharp, no matter how advanced or practiced one is. It’s the same concept as strengthening muscles by going to the gym.  After a while, certain drawing exercises are likely to make less of an impact as they become more familiar/easier, and just as with physical strength, the artist can increase the artistic challenge by adding time limits or more complex subject matter. I strongly encourage all artists to revisit the simple disciplines of drawing as a way to “work out” their skills of observation and their representational accuracy.

Here’s my completed drawing from the final day of the class:

Form & Emptiness, Graphite on Paper, 2012, 12in x 9in

Form & Emptiness (detail). The title of this piece is a reference to the Buddhist teachings on the nature of reality, as represented by the dominating dark form in the center of the composition bearing my reflection, and of course by the empty glass and mug. This title is also a reference to the similarities between the clear seeing techniques used for drawing, and the awareness cultivated in meditation practice.

8th International 2011-2012 ARC Salon Catalogue Now Available

Earlier in the year I announced that I was chosen as a finalist in the Art Renewal Center’s annual juried competition, in the still life category, for my painting “What Love Is.”  Though I was not selected for any of the grand prizes, my status as finalist means that my painting is published in the print catalog that the organization produces each year to commemorate the contest.

What Love Is, oil on panel, 2011, 16in x 24in

That catalog for last year’s competition is finally out, and available through the Art Renewal Center’s website.  If you order one, look for my piece on page 92!

The quality of realist and representational art in the catalog is astounding and truly inspirational for anyone who appreciates skill, technique, and humble craftsmanship in the visual arts.  Bucking the postmodern trend of concept over quality, the ARC gives hope that classical knowledge and disciplines are still alive, even when subject matter evolves to incorporate modern elements and motifs (as my own work does).

Being recognized by a group like ARC is an honor for me, as my own work attempts in part to honor the traditions of realism in representational art. In fact, my over-arching artistic goal is to achieve the combination of masterful old world skill with cutting edge commentary on the world I presently inhabit, and where we are headed as a species: the pinnacle of past, present and future.

“The 2011/2012 ARC Salon was our largest turnout yet with over 2,100 entries and over 800 artists participating. There were a large number of high quality works that did not make it into the finals. This was true even after extending the original 300+ expected finalist pieces to over 500. All 500 plus finalists are shown in this catalogue. To have become a finalist and be showcased in this catalogue is even more difficult than before and is a huge accomplishment.”

Secret Knowledge

BBC World Presents: David Hockney’s Secret Knowledge

Yesterday I was shown a fascinating and intriguing exposé documentary on the origins of the “camera obscura,” which is the first known use of optics in the creation of art. For those who don’t dispute the evidence of its existence, this primitive lens system (utilized several centuries before the invention of the modern camera) marked the birthplace of realism painting in 1420.

 

After about 15 minutes of the video, the phenomenal significance of this research dawned on me. Because although I’d previously known about the camera obscura, I had never investigated the full story in any depth–and never realized the profound implications it has on the placement of my and all other realist painters’ art, in the canon of art history. Thanks to this video, I’ve had a very encouraging revelation about the tradition I am participating in, and I’m honored to be carrying on a nearly 600-year-old lineage into the future, adding my drop of life’s work into this magnificent bucket.

Thankfully, some kind soul has uploaded the entire video on YouTube.  If you’re a nerd, an artist, or both you’ll surely enjoy: