Place on Page: Musings from the Studio

Summer News and Events

First, a new studio...

It is unfortunate to announce the loss of my studio at Fowler Arts Collective.  Lia Post started Fowler over five years ago and provided amazing, affordable studio space for artists in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.  This year we got slammed with a 50% increase in the rent and it was just no longer a viable option.  Such is life in NYC. However, when rent hikes hand you lemons, you make lemonade and pour a ton of sugar into in.  This summer I will be working out of Saint John's Prep School (the High School where I teach) while the building is empty for the summer.  Located in Astoria, right off Ditmars Blvd, I'll have over 800 square feet to create some really big work.  I am very excited to implement projects that have been on hold for a long time!  Once I'm set up I'll be doing studio visits during the summer.  Stay tuned for updates and pics.

Then, some events...

Thursday and Friday I will be participating in Eumetadotos a fundraiser for Openings, an artist collective that I am active in.  The exhibit will take place at Novella Gallery on June 26 from 6-10 and on June 27 from 12-6.  You can bid on auctions through Paddle 8.  All proceeds go towards our exhibits, operating expenses and residency scholarships.  Its a great cause and some seriously great work for auction check it out!

Sunday, June 28th from 5pm-7pm I will have work up for the Ghostbird Press Book Launch at Fatty's Cafe in Astoria, Queens. The event will have readings of original poetry from two authors as well as books for sale and my work on view.  Fatty's Cafe is located at 45-17 28th Ave Astoria.  The paintings and works on paper will be up unit August 2nd.

Finally, a workshop...

I am so happy to have been invited back to the Art Students League to teach Color Theory for Beginners.  This workshop will take place August 19-21 from 6:30-9:30.  There is nothing more wonderful than teaching in that historic space.  The workshop will cover paint mixing with acrylic, in-depth discussion of the color wheel and how we perceive color as well as hands-on projects creating abstract paintings using color and pattern.  Check out all the information here: Color Theory Workshop

Vermont Studio Center Residency Recap

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I just got back from an amazing residency experience at the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, VT.  Well actually I've been home almost a month, but its been really difficult to explain and express what happened up there and what kind of work I produced.  It was my first residency, and although two weeks of secluded painting in the chilly north is a long time, it was also a really short time as most people stay a month or longer.  That said, I worked like the devil was at my heals, produced over 300 drawings (see pile in picture above), finished close to a dozen paintings and started another three before it was over.  I worked in watercolor, oil, acrylic and ink and in the end made strides that would have taken me a year if not for the freedom to create and the group of artists inspiring me everyday.

Oh hey, that's my studio behind me...yeah the huge one next to the river.  

Oh hey, that's my studio behind me...yeah the huge one next to the river.  

To recount this trip I decided to cut the overly self indulgent language and nostalgic, misty eyed reminiscing and simply post about 60 some odd pictures in roughly chronological order.  What you will see is the space I worked, some of the landscape of Johnson, VT and most importantly the work in progress.  As its chronological, you'll get a sense of how I worked, and how the paintings evolved over the two week period.  There are also a few shots of the great pals I made while up there.  I special nod to Hiba Schahbaz, Andrew Fish and Wilhelm Neusser.  Three amazing painters that pushed me and my work in a new direction.   I'll have real images of the paintings on the site soon, but for now this is the best way to see the new work, and there is one final shot of some new work in progress in the studio in Brooklyn.  

 

Before the pictures though, I'll give a quick recap of how the VSC residency works and what the day to day is like.  Johnson, VT is about 6 hours north of NYC.  The Center takes up what I imagine is the majority of the town.  A cross section of the Main Street and Pearl Street makes up the bulk of it.  And no, there isn't a traffic light, or a stop sign for that matter.  People literally stop driving to let you cross the street.  The main building is the Red Mill, a repurposed mill on a river that served as our dining hall, gallery and lounge area.  Its open 24/7 and its the real heart and soul of the place.  Speaking of dining hall, the food is spectacular and they don't skimp.  Three squares a day, delicious and various and healthy.  I could do a whole post just about the food.  They put you up in a very comfortable old house either on Pearl or Main Street and everything is within two minute walking distance.  There are also studios for writers, which made up a little less than half of the residents, a couple of studio buildings for visual artists, a sculpture building, a yoga studio and a meditation building.  There is also an old church/theatre like structure that was converted into a lecture hall. There are visiting writers, artists and an open studio event as well as resident slide nights and impromptu gatherings like bon fires.  In short: art camp + the single best moment ever in grad school + beautiful landscape and did I mention a meditation building? = Vermont Studio Center.  

Knowing I only had two weeks, I set up a regiment for myself that would allow me to not only produce, but work through ideas all at once.  I did two hours of drawing each morning, broke for lunch and then worked into paintings in the afternoon.  Pictures are posted below. Enjoy!

Bethany

Tree line sketch, Christmas Day, 2012

Tree line sketch, Christmas Day, 2012

For the past few years I have been painting, sketching and taking pictures of a stretch of tree line in Bethany, Connecticut.  The location is the back view off my in-laws deck.  To the first time viewer it may look like a nice vista, or a relaxing bit of earth to act as background.  For me, however, it is much more for no other reason than I took my time with it.  

The first drawing I ever made was in winter sometime around 2007.  The watercolor is little more than a few splotches in a small notebook.  I recall it was quite cold out and my hands, ungloved were tightening in the twilight chill.  It was the sunset across a crisp blue sky that caught my attention and had me standing out in the cold.  The way the trees created a black trestle across the fading orange and pale pink was so beautiful and fleeting, I felt compelled to capture it.  After that moment I would always bring a small set of watercolor and some drawing materials whenever we would visit.  Season over season, from the lush verdant summer, to the orange and red tipped horizon of the autumn trees, I made pictures of that landscape.  In spring, the trees would sparkle with new buds and create a fog of color across the line while in winter, the trees were most prominent and that crisp, ethereal sky would appear around dusk.  From births to deaths, celebrations and loss, holidays and random visits, I tried to capture that landscape and see more than the trees and lawn and sky.  When I wrote my proposal for the Openings Fall Exhibition I knew I wanted to capture these moments in a painting.  Pages and pages of drawings and paintings on paper inspired the canvases for the 1). All of the Above exhibition at St. Paul the Apostle Church.  

It took a long time to even begin.  With so many moments with that landscape I couldn't decide on the approach.  At first I envisioned a collection of moments overlapped, an abstract approach to time and the passage of seasons.  In the end, I realized I wanted to get back to what initially drew me in about dusk in winter.  That time of day, for me, demands a pause.  It is a quite almost solemn time just before the bustle and preparations of the night and day ahead.  I wanted to capture that pause and create a moment of reflection.  The name Bethany is also a biblical reference.  The New Testament town of Bethany was supposedly home to Mary, Martha and Lazarus.  In Luke 10:38-42, Jesus stays with the two sisters of Lazarus.  The passage is one of Jesus' rare rebukes.  Mary sits at Jesus' feet and listens to him teach, while Martha busies herself with preparations for the meal and the guests in her home.  She asks Mary to help her and says to Jesus, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”  Jesus responds, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”  Although the paintings do not directly relate to this passage, I loved the connection between focusing on the correct thing, not work or preparations but reflection and meditation.  I wanted the general shape to not only evoke an altar piece, but also represent each of the siblings: Martha, Mary and Lazarus.

Below is a gallery of the evolution of the paintings.  You will see in some of the pictures, photos and drawings that were used.  I realized half way through that working from photos was a real hindrance and was blocking all my experience with the actual place.   I eventually ripped them down and worked solely from memory, and my past sketches.  

Studio Visit

Oh hello, come on in... 

Oh hello, come on in... 

Its amazing what a white wall will do. 

I've been plugging along all summer on two bodies of work and I thought it was time to dust off the old blog here and send out an update on what has been going on in the studio.  As I mentioned when I started the new site, one project is a series of paintings for a show in September.  I'll post some updates on that in the next week or so.  I don't want to make a big reveal until that project is closer to completion.  However, a series of abstractions that I have been working on for a little over a year are coming together nicely.

When I say it's been a year, it has more to do with my process for making a picture than the actual labor over one single image.  For almost all of my career as a painter I have struggled with this notion of how to make an abstract picture.  What constitutes a contemporary image, color or mark?  How can one refer to past movements but stay fresh and relevant?  Once in grad school a student said that every time you pick up a paint brush you pick up the entire canon of painting history and must deal with it.  At the time this seemed like an end game.  The idea was completely daunting.  I decided that to make a modern picture (modern in the sense of now , not the movement in art), one had to deal with their own view of the world they currently live in.  I approach painting through abstraction because it helps me understand the world.  It forces me to think critically about what I see and never take anything at face value.  Abstraction begs multiple perspectives and multiple lenses.  It also demands deep looking and time, something that our current paradigm of quick, visual stimulation does not always foster.

So what does that have to do with process?  For me, process is  how I get to the deeper questions I am trying to answer.  I approach a work initially through color, and over time I scrape off, wipe away and severely edit the picture.  I use industrial tools like squeegees and trowels to apply and remove paint allowing for layers to reveal themselves over and over again.  Sometimes after months of painting, a final layer will be applied that completely closes off a section and creates a visual block.  other spaces that remain scraped away act as entry points.  In the end, these paintings  have one foot in an idea of "landscape" and the other in a completely process driven approach to paint, color and mark making.  Below is a gallery of some of these paintings and the early stages that I changed.  You'll see some images of first stages and then the almost finished paintings.  Enjoy!

Lake George Residency Recap

The Old View...

Our view from Saint Mary's on the Lake, The Paulist Father's Retreat Center on Lake George and home to the Residency. 

Our view from Saint Mary's on the Lake, The Paulist Father's Retreat Center on Lake George and home to the Residency. 

When I was young my family would head up to the Adirondack Mountains for a week or two on the lake.  My dad would start preparing three days before, laying out his lists of things to pack; fishing pole, pie plate, pocket knife, etc.  

We would head off first thing in the morning and he would drive, white knuckled, listening to 880AM for the traffic.  Eventually we would cross the Tappan Zee Bridge and we would watch as he physically transformed, eased back into his seat and gripped the wheel lazily with one hand.  He would put on this tape of folky americana music and that was it.  He was on vacation, in the mountains and everything else was melted away.  

The other thing he would do is remark at how large the Hudson River was as we crossed it.  Hours later as we pulled off the NY Thruway into the back roads of the Adirondack Park, he would wake us up to show us once again the Hudson River.  Except this time, as it ran through the town of Minerva, NY it was little more than a creek.  I think I learned a great deal about looking from my dad.  He was always pointing out these small moments and attaching great significance to it.  What he called the "old view," (a scenic parking area off the highway) was more than a spot to stretch your legs, it was a moment to pause and take it in, to really take notice.  I thought about this a lot while we headed upstate to the Openings Residency on Lake George.  I even pointed out the size of the Hudson River to Julian, but he was way more interested in eating his Elmo crackers.

We went up to the residency mid week so I admittedly only had one and a half full days to work, but I think I got some good drawings finished in that time.  More than the actual work created, it was a great experience just being in nature, and although I was working more or less en plein air, I was also trying to get a sense of the growth, color and organic structure of the landscape in a more abstract way.  All of these aspects are becoming more and more a part of the paintings I am working on as I start to combine the real landscape and the abstract space I am creating.
 

 

Upcoming Residency

I am participating in the Openings Annual Artist Residency this week.  I'll be up in Lake George for four days working on a series of drawings and works on paper.  These will be preliminary studies in anticipation of the Bethany Series.  I find that as I continue to work on these landscapes, this notion of "looking through,"  layers of light, color, branches, trees and leaves becomes more and more interesting.  I am hoping to get inspired by the Adirondack region and I'll post some progress when I return!

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New website, new projects, new version of me...

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If anyone other than my wife gets the above reference to a once terrible/still terrible television show Felicity opening sequence, well I'll eat my paint.  But seriously there is a lot of new stuff going on here!  First as some of you may have noticed, I am in the process of setting up this new site.  After many, many years with my old site I finally decided to switch over to what I think is a cleaner and more engaging representation of my work.  Stick around and I think you'll be pleased.

Bethany, Connecticut in winter.

Bethany, Connecticut in winter.

As for some new projects, I am working simultaneously on two bodies of work.  One is building towards an exhibition in September with the Openings annual fall show at The Church of Saint Paul the Apostle, on the Upper West Side.  Last year the show had over 1,000 guests at the opening reception, so I am very excited to be involved again this year.  The work is a landscape triptych loosely based on the biblical town of Bethany where Martha, Mary and Lazarus lived, and the actual town of Bethany, Conn. where my in-laws live.  There is a stretch of tree line off my in-law's deck that is relatively unimpressive other than the fact that is a pleasant view.  However, after years of sketching the trees from that view I have built up a significant body of work representing them and have found real beauty in the subtlety of that landscape.  More on this project later, but I will say that the piece will evoke an altarpiece, and the narrative of the seasons of that landscape.

 

Sketches and studies of knots and color.

Sketches and studies of knots and color.

The second body of work is a series of evolving abstractions that are continuing with my recent explorations into nautical knot systems, the landscapes of the East Coast and Long Island and an intuitive, abstract approach to color.  This dozen or so paintings have been changing back and forth for over a year now and I am very happy with each layer that I add or scrape away.  That process is very much what these works are about and I'll post some of the transitional shots as I go along. 

And the new version of me?  Well let's just say that I am happily in my studio more now than any time since graduate school and it is showing in the work.  Recently I was awarded an artist grant for the Vermont Studio Center.  I will be there for a residency in the beginning of November, and I will be sure to post about that trip as I start gearing up.  

Not bad for a first introduction.  I'll keep these postings short and sweet, some reviews of shows or musings on art and ideas.  I'll also keep an update of what is going on in the studio as work progresses.  Stay tuned!