Monday, December 7, 2009

From December painting and sources

12"x12", acrylic on canvas board

My mentor, Page Coleman, suggested that I try rendering the sticks -- trying to really get the shapes and closely investigate the colors. So, I worked on pulling out the thin branch in the center. I'm resisting making something recognizable. Still, this is a good exercise. I may even try a more representational series of sketches to see where that goes.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

From Sources Nov 2009 / sticks & stuff

From Sources Nov 2009 / sticks & stuff

From Sources Nov 2009 / sticks & stuff

From Sources Nov 2009 / sticks & stuff

From Sources Nov 2009 / sticks & stuff

From Sources Nov 2009 / sticks & stuff

Semester 1 Summary

Jill Christian
Advisor: Laurel Sparks
Semester 1 Summary
1 December 2009

Semester 1 Summary – Mixed Bags

This first semester has, I think, been successful, but not in any way I’d imagined back in June. I left the first residency with enthusiasm, planning to complete at least 12 paintings (I envisioned large). I was going to set up arbitrary rules and use a timer to force myself to switch brushes, colors, or techniques. I was going to work on a single painting for 30-days, and see what happened to myself and the painting over time. I was going to experiment with scale, proportions, distortion, and asymmetry. Instead, I experienced a series of frustrating dead-ends and blocks. And so I’ve returned to working smaller and on “the basics” of painting. This has led to a bit of a break through and I anticipate working this way for the next several months, and into next semester.

The first two months of the semester I began three large canvases, each exploring three different ideas. I had on my mind not only to shake up my mark-making, but to explore my “idiosyncrasies” – a recommendation from the residency. Specifically, I set out to explore what I found attractive in Baroque painting, selecting an image of a Rubens painting to examine and use as a jumping off point. I also stumbled upon a book of Indian Miniatures and decided to explore these color schemes (I later read that Amy Sillman also points to this source as an early influence in color choice). At the same time, I started working off of photographs of flowers and plants – specifically from my recent trip to Kauai.

One result was my “30-day painting.” It began as a painting of an abstracted flower. Then, I introduced elements taken from a photo of bathers on a beach. On top of that, I painted forms referencing an Indian miniature. It became a bit unruly. I found this painting particularly frustrating because it felt new every time I worked on it. I wasn’t sure where it was going, other than it would last for 30-days. The most successful of the larger paintings was the one based on the Rubens painting. I have for now put aside these three paintings as well as the larger format.

I discovered in late August, with my mentor’s help, that I had taken on multiple projects, and that I was still working in the same way as before: fast, all-over compositions, all on the surface mark-making, and unresolved color. She felt that I might be better off focusing on technical issues, working smaller, and restricting myself in subject matter. She recommended that I work on painting fundamentals. Specific issues that need to be addressed are: color; figure/ground and spatial relationships; subject matter/source material; the ability to sustain a painting over multiple painting sessions; recognizing when a painting is working or not working; and being realistic about personal time and energy constraints.

I tried (though I rebelled frequently) to work in a reduced palette. I stopped even trying to make paintings. I switched to working on paper and did a number of really small, quick abstract color studies – just colors and shapes.

A breakthrough came with three events: I took a two-day color theory workshop, I wrote a paper that focused on the role subject matter plays in the work of several artists I’m interested in, and I decided to focus on painting sticks. After witnessing me working from a ton of different reference materials – mostly photographs – my mentor and I thought that it would be best to paint from a primary source – ideally from nature. And, noticing that many artists set up projects for themselves (i.e., Amy Sillman drawing couples for the work that ended up in her Third Person Singular exhibit), I began collecting sticks. I’ve been doing a lot of walking in the Bosque along the Rio Grande, and I’m fascinated by the shimmery grays and golden hues in these broken, piled up Cottonwood branches scattered in the woods. There’s a subtle beauty in the colors resulting from varied states of desiccation and sun-and-weather fade. More than anything, the connection with nature re-energized me, and finding a single thing to paint felt like a lifeline.

So, finally in this last month I feel that I’ve hit on a subject that will allow me to paint “something” while working on technical issues of color and pictorial space. I began a number of 12x12” studies of the sticks that I will continue through December. I think that working in this way will do two things: allow me to work quickly and complete a number of paintings—which I find satisfying; and also really explore this subject matter. I also am trying out painting on artist panels, and I have found that I like working on the hard, smooth surface – a surprise. On the first pass, there is almost a sense of there being a resist on the surface, and there’s an opportunity to work with underglazes before I begin putting down thick strokes. It was recommended that I try oils; but after a couple muddy attempts, I’ve decided to stay with what I know for awhile. One thing that has intrigued me is that these little studies of stick piles end up looking like landscapes. I like the idea of a part, closely-focused, resembling the whole.

In these studies, my mentor has suggested that I work on my color vocabulary – really look at the colors in the grays and spend time mixing and selecting color schemes. I am also going to try different painting tools and vary the surface qualities. Another commitment is to spend more time on each painting. This continues to be a major stumbling block for me. I have a real palpable distaste for going back. I like to work quickly and move on. My mentor suggested that I need to learn to recognize the problems that need to be worked out in a painting, and to know when it’s “finished”. I am getting a sense that I have a need to “discharge” some kind of energy as I work. I spend a lot of time in my head, thinking about things, and then I shoot them out. I am experimenting with giving myself permission to do quick one-offs on paper, if I need a break. I may need to find a way to work this almost physiological need into my studio practice at the same time I learn to work longer on a painting and to go back and edit.

My reading this semester has been all about abstract painting (though I have been reading a bit in more general areas as well). A recurring theme to critiques of my work is that it seems to be an “adaptation of a pre-existing style”, rather than a result of an inquiry. Though I do understand this conceptually, when I look at any one specific painting, what this looks like and means becomes less clear. So, I’ve been finding more contemporary references (beyond De Kooning, Mitchell, and Pollock) in order to start to think more expansively about what abstract painting can be about--to understand abstract painting as more than a style that continually refers back to the 1920s to 1970s (in my case specifically to New York school abstract expressionism). My major challenge with the reading is that I want to read everything. Like with my painting, I can tend to get a number of texts going at the same time, and I would like to be more focused and disciplined, particularly with making sure that I take time to write summaries of the readings. I particularly struggled with Briony Fer’s On Abstract Art. As I was reading, it made sense, but I have difficulty re-articulating her major points. I found a “critical reading worksheet for texts from art and theory” from an art history course, and I am going to use it to organize my reading and note-taking.

Two things that I find very challenging with the low-residency MFA program are pacing the work and the lack of peer interaction. On my agenda for next semester (see footnote) is to be more disciplined with scheduling the work I need to do each month. At the beginning of the semester, I had a very difficult time working 40 hours at my office, parenting, and getting in the minimum hours for the MFA program. In September, I negotiated a 32-hour work-week with my employer. This has made a huge difference. Still, I feel like I am adjusting to find the right scheduling rhythm. I have been looking for ways to meet other artists and students. Taking the color theory class helped. The teacher offered to help introduce me to other art students and through her I heard about graduate reviews at The University of New Mexico. I connected with two students and we’re looking for a time to get together after the holidays. I also want to see more exhibits locally. This can be challenging given my current schedule, but remains a goal for next semester.


List of things to work on and improve for next semester:

Collection of tear sheets from magazines, books, or fabric that have palettes that interest me, with attention to the ratio of warm to cool, light to dark, vivid to muted in these palettes / do some studies based on these.

Journal. Looking back, I wish that I had more consistently journaled after each day of painting. I have lots of scraps of paper that I wrote notes on, but I feel being more systematic and organized would be very helpful. I am going to begin to do this now at the end of the semester, and continue it through next semester.

Struggle with “going back”. I paint intensely for a while and then really don’t want to go back to the same painting. Trying out the 30-day painting was challenging, because it really became a different painting every time – different shapes, colors, ideas. I found it to be exhausting and draining. It might be interesting to try this again, but smaller and using a very specific source.

Refer back to notes and my agenda. This can serve as a kind of “beacon” for me. I need to allow for spontaneity, discovery, and change, but I have a strong tendency to move quickly from one thing to the next, and my mind is always busy. The thing to watch for is the tendency to move on before I can fully explore something, or decisively decide to abandon it for something else. I’ve been doing some career coaching, which involved some pretty extensive aptitude testing. I tested quite high in “idea flow” and “diagnostic reasoning”. These two things combine to make me apt to move from one thing to the next (jack of all trades, master of none) and to be highly self-critical. I need to keep aware of this and make sure to note my successes. Goals and agenda are a good tool for this.

Commentary/suggestions from Laurel: “I just want to emphasize that intuition plays a very strong role for many abstract painters. Keep trusting your instincts, while taking more time to reflect upon what you have done. Let the work be your teacher at the same time as you impose structure.”
“…Continue mining the topic of what it means to be making abstract expressionist paintings in 2009. The premise for the UCLA Hammer show Oranges and Sardines is based on dialogue among contemporary abstract painters and their influences. If you haven't picked up the book from that show, I strongly encourage you to do so.”
“Focus directly on the painting process and allow meaning and content to emerge in retrospect. Imposing subject matter can often restrict the work before it ever gets the chance to BE anything.”


Artists Researched
Daniel Brice
Cecily Brown
Mary Heilmann
Udo Noger
Jackson Pollock
Amy Sillman
Charline von Heyl

Books read
Ashton, Dore. Cecily Brown/Des Moines Art Center Catalogue. New York: Rizzoli International Publications Inc, 2008. Print.
Batchelor, David, Chromophobia.
Dimand, Maurice. Indian Miniatures. New York: Crown Publishers/The Folio Art Books, ?year. Print.
Elkins, James. What Painting Is.
Emmerling, Leonhard. Jackson Pollock 1912-1956: At the Limit of Painting,. Koln: TASCHEN, 2009. Print.
Garrels, Gary. Oranges and Sardines: Conversations on Abstract Painting (exhibition catalog). Los Angeles: Hammer Museum, 2008. Print.
Gibson, Add Eden. Abstract Expressionism: Other Politics.
Howard Hodgkin, Nicolas Serota ed.
Jackson Pollock: New Approaches, Kirk Varnedoe ed.
John Currin Selects. Boston: MFA Publications, 2003.
Perry, Vicky. Abstract Painting: Concepts and Techniques. New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 2007. Print.
Schwabsky, Barry. Vitamin P: New Perspectives in Painting.
Scribner III, Charles. Rubens. New York: Harry N. Abrams Inc., 1989. Print.
Tuchmann, Maurice, et. al. The Impact of Chaim Soutine (1893-1943): De Kooning, Pollock, Dubuffet, Bacon. Galerie Gmurzynska. ISBN 377579103.
Varnedoe, Kirk. Pictures of Nothing.
The Abstract Impulse: 50 Years of Abstraction at the National Academy, 1956-2006, Marshall N. Price

Books in process
Bois, Yve-Alain. Painting as Model.
Fer, Briony. On Abstract Art.
Rosenthal, Mark. Abstraction in the Twentieth Century: Total Risk, Freedom, Discipline. New York: Guggenheim Museum, 1996. Print.

“Want to read”
Art History Versus Aesthetics. James Elkins, ed.
Nickas, Bob. Painting Abstraction: New Elements in Abstract Painting.
Godfrey, Tony. Painting Today.
Krauss, Rosalind. The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Myths.
Elkins, James. Why Art Cannot Be Taught.
Sarup, Madan. An Introductory Guide to Post-Structuralism and Postmodernism.
Storey, John. Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: A Reader.
Storey, John. Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: An Introduction.
Albers Josef. Interaction of Color.

Mayer, Musa. Night Studio: A Memoir of Philip Guston. New York: Da Capo Press.1997. Print.
Ashton, Dore. American Art Since 1945. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Articles (partial list)
Barliant, Claire and Christopher Turner. “Painting Paradox.” Modern Painters, Summer 2009.
Bell, Kirsty. “It’s Own Reality.” Frieze, May 2009: 92-97 Print.
Green, Tyler. Modern Art Notes: Amy Sillman at the Hirshhorn. Web.
Rubenstein Raphael. “Provisional Painting”. Art in America, May 2009 122-135.
Letham Jonathan. “The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism.” Harper’s Magazine, 59-71.
Von Heyl, Charline. “1000 Words: Charline von Heyl Talks About Sabotage, 2008.” ArtForum, October 2009: 330-339. Print.

Alice Neel
Art 21 (Seasons 1 and 2)
Ayers, Leslie. “Graduate Review.” University of New Mexico, Albuquerque. 6 Nov. 2009. Discussion.
Hammer series; Oranges and Sardines
Heilmann, Mary. Art: 21 - Mary Heilmann. PBS. Web. 1 Nov. 2009. .
Sillman, Amy. “A Conversation with Amy Sillman.” Hirshhorn podcast. Web. 25 Oct. 2009. .

Albuquerque Now, The Albuquerque Museum
Udo Noger, Gerbert Contemporary
Daniel Brice, Chiaroscuro Gallery
Phillis Ideal, Chiaroscuro Gallery

Modern Painters
Art in America

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The James Kalm Report

Yesterday I met with a prospective mentor for the third semester, Phillis Ideal. I have to share a great resource for those of us far from New York: The James Kalm Report.

James Kalm takes a video camera with him to gallery shows in New York, providing commentary along the way. If you can't be there, it's an amazing glimpse into parts of the New York art scene.

Here's the official description:

James Kalm is a working artist living in Brooklyn New York. He has been an active critic for over twelve years writing for the controversial Brooklyn Rail For more high resolution videos, writings by James Kalm and views of the paintings of Loren Munk visit

Here's where you can go to see the videos:

YouTube: The James Kalm Report
Website: Loren

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Could it be procrastination?

So far today I've run with the dogs -- twice -- did 45 minutes of pilates, shredded a two-foot high stack of papers and tossed other junk, organized my collage stuff and other art paper and stuff, read Psychology Today, balanced my checkbook, and fought the day-before-Thanksgiving crowds at Wal-mart for.... a roasting pan, floss, and a tube of toothpaste. Could I be avoiding my semester summary paper?

So, in the spirit of being as self-revealing, I am avoiding this end of semester review for lots of reasons. I don't feel I've logged the paint to surface hours I wish I had (lots of time was spent doing the one step forward, three steps back dance...lots of time agonizing over color theory...lots of time angsting whether I have the personal fortitude and qualities and self-discipline to make this a go...lots of time staring at a blank canvas on a dogs wish I'd spent lots more time with them running (the poor souls are both Australian Cattledogs)...I actually think my kids are okay since their friends play Hannah Montana much better than I do, and my 6-year-old is completely happy going to galleries with me if I give her a sketchbook (she actually sketches the paintings on the walls, and has me "pose" beside them for added compositional interest). My partner totally wants me to be happy, so grumbles, but gives me the time I need.

Rambling on, I am actually thinking about incorporating "The Artist's Way" 12-week program into my MFA program. So much of this crap is just about throwing off handed- down conceptions of productivity and what it means to work. I'm still working out issues about it being okay to be an artist in the first place. I feel this need to be productive to "society" in some way...some way that makes it easier for me to think about being a UPS driver than a painter (and I love my UPS driver and I mean this as a compliment!).

So, now that I'm done rambling, the last paper will be finished before I head off to sleep tonight.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Friday, November 20, 2009

Prayer for today

Acrylic on paper, 6"x8"

The Summer Day
Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

This and other poems can be read on Poetry 180.

from New and Selected Poems, 1992
Beacon Press, Boston, MA

Copyright 1992 by Mary Oliver.
All rights reserved.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


Had one of those strange coincidences occur yesterday. I had ordered a used copy of "Abstraction in the Twentieth Century: Total Risk, Freedom, Discipline". It arrived yesterday, and upon opening the front cover, I found an inscription. The inscription was not addressed to a particular person, but was dated 2/23/96 and signed "Happy Birthday". My birthday is 2/23. Hmmm.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Research Paper - "The Subject Is the Object"

Jill Christian
Advisor: Laurel Sparks
Research Paper
6 November 2009

The Subject Is the Object

“You get bored with yourself and say, ‘what is it that I am interested in?’”
–Mary Heilmann, Interview, Art:21

This week I attended a graduate painting review at the University of New Mexico. The painting student Leslie Ayers presented paintings that were luscious, painterly large-scaled abstractions of interior spaces, with skewed perspectives and overlapping lines reminiscent of recent work by Amy Sillman. During the talk, Ayers was asked, “Is using the space simply a way that you can even make the painting at all?” While Ayers talked about wanting to create a space that can be inhabitable while expressing her particular fascination with the light and geometry of interior spaces, her painting seemed to be about the push and pull of space and color –- bringing you in enough (through perspective and color relationships) visually to engage your interest, yet halting your entrance through your unexpected encounter with a shifted plane, an opaque object, or advancing color. Although she understood her process as intuitive, she began her paintings with one-inch by one-inch thumbnail sketches, which she then blew up to letter size using a xerox machine. Her palette and grid-like structure of the compositions belied a logic and formal decision-making process that seemed more studied than intuitive and emotional. Was her subject matter a necessary and idiosyncratic springboard for painterly exploration rather than the true subject matter of her painting? Or both?

Listening to her presentation and the conversation of the student and faculty, I thought more about the question of subject matter in abstract painting and how painters use reference material to inform their work –- and to what degree it matters that these reference materials are visible to the viewer in the final work. How subject matter can serve as a scaffold, a jumping off point, or a way of disciplining or restraining the work with a project or question.

I’ve been thinking about subject matter and restraint during this semester because I encountered a severe block in my painting process when it was suggested that I shift to a different kind of reference material. My mentor suggested that I was taking on too much –- too much historical references; too much reference to images taken from books and magazines and combined together. That this all-overness is exacerbating the all-overness of my painting and preventing me from exploring basic concepts like the creation of visual space through push-pull, warm-cool, contouring, and size contrasts.

In my last paper, I discussed works by two minimalist artists, Udo Noger and David Brice. I was asked if there was something that these two artists have that I want for my own work. I think that what I responded to most in their work was a focus that allowed their paintings to explore a particular thing through a sort of project. I have begun researching how several abstract artists have used subject matter in their process as an aspect of focus; and ultimately as an expression of their particular interests. While painting in and of itself can be seductive, eventually, as Mary Heilmann said in an Art21 interview, “You get bored with yourself and say, ‘what is it that I am interested in?’.”

Mark Rosenthal discusses the dilemma of early abstractionists, in terms of Kandinsky’s questions, “What should replace the missing object?” He argues that this is the “crux of the dilemma for all abstractionists” and that “from the start, abstractionists needed to define their position with regard to subject matter, with each artist proposing his or her own solution” (Rosenthal 36). In spite of the formalism seemingly inherent in abstract painting, the subject has not gone away, and how a particular artist approaches subject matter is as important as (and influences) formal and process considerations. Amy Sillman echoes this sentiment in a Hammer lecture associated with the exhibition Oranges and Sardines, saying that “everything is absolutely idiosyncratic”.

Cecily Brown is one artist who relies on specific subject matter to create figurative, gestural abstractions. In her interview with Lari Pittman included in the 2008 exhibit catalog for the exhibit, Cecily Brown, she states that she begins with specific imagery in mind. “When I’m painting, I think figurally. I’ve started calling my paintings abstract narratives, because almost everyone who sees them says, ‘Oh, they’re so abstract.’ But when I’m making them, I need to know what it is that I’m painting; it has to be something very specific“ (Dore 28). Like many abstract artists, she expresses a certain degree of ambivalence about whether the viewer needs to know the sources of the work in order to fully experience the work. Brown says, “I don’t know whether I’ll indicate the subject in the title of these recent paintings or just not worry if nobody else sees the goat, or the flying monkey, or the tent, or whatever it is, and accept the subject as simply necessary to me in order to make a painting” (Dore 28). And perhaps knowing would lessen the visual experience of the viewer. Brown, for example, says that she frequently uses the shape of a tent as a beginning structure, but it serves more as an armature than an interpretable symbol within the world of the painting.

Merging and mixing sources is a frequently used strategy for many contemporary abstract painters. Brown suggests that it is the way she merges her sources into visual imagery that is what interests her: “I’m lost without having some kind of imagery from the outside world. But there’s never just one source. It’s the fusing of references that makes something new. And not just still visual images, but books, music, movies, TV -- they all help” (Dore 28). For Brown, the interest lies in creating something that doesn’t exist outside of the world of the painting, but which can take on life in her own mind -– and in the minds of her viewers. She defines a successful painting as one that is visually compelling enough that it “continues to review itself” over time. To her the importance lies in the creation of associations that stir memories –- "like daydreaming," she says (Dore 28).

Like Brown, Charline von Heyl talks about her method of abstraction as a desire to create something visually new and beyond the existing visual world. (Bell 93).
Whereas Brown seems to build up a multitude of images on the verge of recognition, von Heyl engages in a process of covering up. Von Heyl “would begin with a motif or image, and proceed to destroy it through a process of over-painting, until its origins were no longer recognizable and the activity of painting itself became the organizing principle for the canvas’s composition”(Bell 94). Unlike Brown, von Heyl claims that she does not have a pre-conceived idea when she begins a painting (although one could argue that a motif or image inherently carries ideas) and does not make studies. Instead she allows “the works to be determined rather by the decisions that arise in the process of their making” (Bell 95). However, von Heyl separately produces collage on paper, printmaking, and has created at least one artist book. If not explicitly translated into her paintings, it seems likely that these activities inform her subject matter.

Working in a very different and more “old-fashioned” (as she calls it) way is Amy Sillman. Sillman has pulled subject matter from the landscape and the figure, saying that she is interested in exploring the space between abstraction and figuration. Sillman’s work created for the exhibit, Third Person Singular, is based on very specific subject matter: drawings of couples in their environments. She chose the subject, not only to create a “exploration” for herself to “build a new vocabulary for form”, but also because of her interest in the built in psychological tension of couples. Like Brown and Heilman, she engages in a rearranging and working over of the original imagery. After drawing the couples from life, Sillman recreated drawings from memory. Describing her process in a the Hirshorn podcast, A Conversation with Amy Sillman, Sillman says:
I would try to redraw them. I thought those drawings were very funny because they were kind of distorted. And then the distortions made it really obvious that those drawings from memory were the real meat. Because they were the things that were linked to the obvious process of abstraction, but also draining the kind of boring content away and putting more interesting content in. Making it go from an act of perception to an act of imagination.

For Sillman, though the work could not exist without the original subject matter, the interest lies in peeling away the particular of the subject matter that do not add to the imaginative interpretation of the subject, leaving those things that specifically interest and are peculiar to Sillman’s vision.

In the documentary film, Alice Neal, Alice Neal talks about her own figurative work and its relationship to abstract expressionism, which was the overriding style as she began her career. She says, “The human brain is incapable of inventing something they haven’t seen.” Similarly, Gary Garrels in the introductory essay to Oranges and Sardines says, “Painting as a physical phenomenon retains linkages to material existence, to the visceral, obdurate, and fragile characteristics of life. It reflects the body and mind, tied up into on indivisible knot (13). Brown, von Heyl, Sillman – as well as Leslie Ayers – are not so much making up something completely new, but by working with a range of subject matter creating new connections and ways of depicting, and thus seeing our world (the physical and psychological. These abstract artists all use their subject matter as a starting point, whether that is an interior architectural space, a motif, or a couple in relationship, and from there through manipulation, distortion, augmentation, and destruction create new visual realities that allow themselves and the viewers to see in a new way. As Brown says, a painting can create “an unpredictable situation where one sensation leads to another, so that looking at it becomes a complex and layered experience. I think the absence of fixed meaning is liberating” (Dore 29). In a strange way, such intense exploration of a particular subject matter can create new aesthetic and emotional experiences beyond the original meaning or source.

Works cited
Art:21 online video - Mary Heilmann
A Conversation with Amy Sillman (podcast),

Bell, Kirsty. “It’s Own Reality.” Frieze, May 2009, p 92-97.

Dore, Ashton. Cecily Brown. New York: Rizzoli International Publications Inc, 2008. Print

Garrels, Gary. Oranges and Sardines: Conversations on Abstract Painting (exhibition catalog). Los Angeles: Hammer Museum, 2008. Print.

Rosenthal, Mark. Abstraction in the Twentieth Century: Total Risk, Freedom, Discipline. New York: Guggenheim Museum, 1996. Print.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Sticks and a red rock

Started working with the sticks I collected. Here's the result:

From Sources Nov 2009 / sticks & stuff

12x12, acrylic on canvas

Thinking about: space through warm/cool, thin/thick. Not using straight out of the tube colors -- picked a combination of two complements, blue/orange and red/green with some blue/green and yellow. Made sure I mixed up a warm and a cool neutral using the complements. Also thought about brush stroke - large/small; slow/fast.

Listening to Be Good Tanyas, Po' Girl, Michelle Shocked, and The Duhks.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Ghost Ranch and Rio Chama Sketches

Dave and I exchanged commitments at Chimney Rock on Saturday. We had a fantastic time hiking; the rest of the time he fished and I sketched/painted.

Here are some sketches (I was inspired by a UNM grad review -- Leslie Ayers to do some quick thumbnails; loved it!).

From Sources Nov 2009 / sticks & stuff

From Sources Nov 2009 / sticks & stuff

From Sources Nov 2009 / sticks & stuff

From Sources Nov 2009 / sticks & stuff

From Sources Nov 2009 / sticks & stuff

From Sources Nov 2009 / sticks & stuff

From Sources Nov 2009 / sticks & stuff

From Sources Nov 2009 / sticks & stuff

From Sources Nov 2009 / sticks & stuff

From Sources Nov 2009 / sticks & stuff

From Sources Nov 2009 / sticks & stuff

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sticks and stuff

Today I worked on ideas for my paper. Texts I'm working with: Briony Fer On Abstract Art, Oranges and Sardines, Abstraction in the Twentieth Century: Total Risk, Freedom, Discipline (Rosenthal), and Pollock Reconsidered. I also listened to the panel discussion from the Oranges and Sardines exhibit and read/listened/watched interviews with Cecily Brown and Amy Sillman and articles about Charline von Heyl (I CANNOT believe the University of NM fine arts library does not have the catalog from the Sillman Exhibit, Third Person Singular or the Cecily Brown book edited by Dore). My thoughts haven't quite cohered. I am interested in thinking about space. About abstract space and how it's dealt with--something that Fer talks about in relation to Malevich and Mondrian. How space is dealt with by different abstract artists. What structure is used.

Something struck me in my mentor meeting. I was confused about the discussion of space and flatness and the eye wanting to see things coming back and forth in space. So I asked something like, well, so are you talking about traditional space, like landscape, seeing things recede and come forward... and I don't know why, but it's just kind of sitting there as some kind of unformed question. That got me thinking about Pollock and the alloverness and why it worked. And why it doesn't work for other painters and becomes decorative. What is it about it? So anyway, I've got a jumble of thoughts about what I'm reading about the abstract vs. the decorative, and traditional (Sillman referred to her process as "old-fashioned") space and methods vs. a "something else".

So, I collected all these sticks (and an action figure) today. They are absolutely lovely. I also had these orange california poppies blooming today -- my loud color fix). I told Dave about the stick painting project. He listened quietly, asked a few questions: "So you're going to be drawing and painting these sticks... well, and I'm not sure what the 'word' is... is it 'concrete'? I mean you're an abstract painter, and that's not really abstract painting is it?". I really love talking to Dave, because he's not a painter, but he's really perceptive and he asks really good questions. So, maybe drawing and painting sticks is or isn't abstract. I don't know yet. I guess I'll find out.

I'm also thinking about a comment Laurel made in my last paper, a question about whether Brice and Noder were "antidotes" to my struggle, or whether there might be something in their work that I want for my own work.

My mom and I talked today about poetry. She visited the John Greenleaf Whittier house/museum yesterday and while there read the poem, "Snow-Bound". She said she thought about the Brice and Noder paintings. The snow meeting the sky as one. The uniqueness of the color and transparency. Poetry and painting try to get at the same thing -- one through words, the other through physical imagery. Anyway, it's an aside, but it just got me thinking about how powerful some subtle visual statements can be. And that I've got a pretty cool mom.

Here's my visual journal for the day. I am not sure what painting will come of it yet.

From Sources Nov 2009 / sticks & stuff

From Sources Nov 2009 / sticks & stuff

From Sources Nov 2009 / sticks & stuff

From Sources Nov 2009 / sticks & stuff

From Sources Nov 2009 / sticks & stuff

From Sources Nov 2009 / sticks & stuff

From Sources Nov 2009 / sticks & stuff

From Sources Nov 2009 / sticks & stuff

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Friday, October 23, 2009

Idea for a Pink Painting

Oops. Guess I forgot about the gray sticks.

From October pink painting

From October pink painting

From October pink painting

From October pink painting

Mentor Meeting 10/23

Today I had a good meeting with Page. I haven't made very much progress this semester, which is frustrating. But, all I can do is keep working.

I have switched to working smaller and on paper. However, I am falling back into the same habits of all-over gestural mark-making, which results in a shallow space and nowhere for the eye to find interest or rest. I am also perhaps hooked on the "fresh look" -- again, not going back and eliminating information/reworking:

From October

I've also been doing very small, quick studies:
From October

From October

Page had some other good ideas:

- Go back over the sketches I brought in today. render light changes smoothly, eliminating the brushstrokes. See what that does.

- Start intuitively, but then that has to be backed up with knowledge and technique. Think about the underlying structure. Even Pollock had a very well thought out structure.

- The mark-making now is all on the surface -- too much to look at. Too much on one plane (decorative???). It pushes you away from the surface instead of drawing you in. What drives the choices to put certain colors in certain areas? Again, what is the structure?

- Some of my gestural lines could become ribbons moving back and forth in space. Think about depth, undulation, really pushing certain areas way back, others very far forward. Think about tilting things.

- Oils? The acrylic doesn't lend itself to scraping away and editing. Maybe I need to pull out the oils...

So, I think I need to set up some kind of project for myself -- something that takes some of the variables out of the mix (not a new idea, but one I haven't been successful following through with. I am thinking about just focusing on painting the fallen sticks and stumps I thought were interesting down in the bosque. Page suggested collecting specific sticks (rather than work from photos) and bring them back to the studio.

I feel that I need to jump in this afternoon and paint. I was needing to put the paint away and focus on writing my next paper, but I feel if I don't dive in right now, I am going to get discouraged and stuck.


After the meeting, I headed over the the Albuquerque Museum to see a show, Albuquerque Now. I particularly liked Jennifer Nehrbass, Angela Berkson, Reg Loving, Holly Roberts, and Jane Abrams.


Also, loved an Elaine De Kooning painting, "Juarez". I can't find the image, but here is one from the same series:

Elaine de Kooning, Bull, 1958, oil on canvas, 72x84. Grey Art Gallery, New York University Art Collection. Gift of Harold Diamond, 1961.42.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

October 24 is International Day of Climate Action /

This post is not about painting, it's about an organization -- -- that is advocating reduction of atmospheric C02 to 350 ppm -- a "magic number" that scientists believe (see their website for references) will allow the planet to continue functioning as we have experienced it.

I was brought to tears listening to an interview with the president of the Maldives, Mohammed Nasheed (Maldives government dives for climate change). I am not very hopeful about Copenhagen, but feel more hopeful that the Obama Administration will do a bit better than past administrations. I feel especially discouraged talking to neighbors where I live -- the dialogue is all about how "the market" will take care of this and how it's not their fault if certain people live in unsustainable geographic areas. We are all trapped in this particular energy system and it's really difficult for people to think their way out of it -- especially since the solution really requires quick action on a much larger scale than all of us walking a little bit more and turning down our thermostat.

So, here's a revision of e-mail I received from

You're reading this post because I thought you would want to join in something important to solve the climate crisis.

On October 24, 2009, millions of people around the world will take action to spread the number 350, the safe level of CO2 in the atmosphere measured in parts per million, and make sure world leaders are on course to reach that target.

I'm hoping to find a event near me because I want to be part of the solution. Please check out to find or start an October 24 event near you.

It's urgent that we act together and build a movement that will solve the climate crisis and ensure a safe and just future for the world. Please join me, and help build this movement at

------------------ is an international grassroots campaign that aims to mobilize a global climate movement united by a common call to action. By spreading an understanding of the science and a shared vision for a fair policy, we will ensure that the world creates bold and equitable solutions to the climate crisis. is an independent and not-for-profit project. needs your help! To support our work, donate securely online at

To subscribe, visit
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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Working smaller, working more

So, still feeling frustrated, but persevering. During the first meeting with my mentor, she alluded to not being so "precious" in approaching a painting. Good advice, but hard to take nevertheless. I've been painting for years now, and it is really quite difficult to not think about presenting a finished canvas. I like to think of myself as a reasonably humble, fairly self-aware individual...but really wanting to make paintings that are "good" -- really wanting to please -- is a heavy shackle to bring into the studio. On a morning walk, I talked to Dave about how I don't really know "what" it is that I want to paint anymore. He had such a wonderful response -- that my approach is intuitive, so the most important thing is getting past my avoidance and just mess around. Eventually something will happen. It's challenging as a self-critical person to read articles about abstract expressionism that say it's become such a familiar idiom that it's been reduced to random doodling... well, here's the quote I'm thinking of:
"abstract expressionism is now so embedded in our culture—accepted as a kind of brand name—that new work too often reflects our complacency with the style; the visions are bland, sloppy, or ill-conceived, aspiring to little more than unfocused doodling (à la early Cy Twombly) or, worse, inoffensive mélanges of color that corporations buy for their lobbies" (Shuster, Robert, "Virginia Martinsen's 'Face on Mars' at ATM Gallery", The Village Voice, Tuesday, October 6th 2009, ). Yikes! What's a confused MFA student / AbEx painter to do?

I've been thinking about space alot while reading Briony Fer's On Abstract Art. I've been encouraged to think about creating traditional space through color (warm/cool; light/dark; small/large) -- traditional means of creating illusionistic space. What if that's not what I'm interested in? I'm not very far along in reading Fer's book, but I am fascinated with the first chapter where she discusses Malevich (and other artists) and collage -- characterizing his work in part as a "reworking of collage in the idiom of painting"; and collage as breach in representation rather than a step or building block to abstraction. She also talks about Malevich's seriality ("an act of originality endlessly repeated") and how this repetition imagined as originality (the contradiction within this) is "constantly repressed within modernism". Perhaps more interesting are her explorations of how Malevich/Suprematism addressed issues of representation. She discusses "the ways in which method was revealed in the picture to who that representation in art is only one of the ways, one among the materials available." Related to this is a discussion of fantasy, the role of the spectator in the creation of this fantasy, and the question, "what space of fantasy can there be in these pictures?". More later; I just got called to dinner :-)

As an aside, I'm also reading a cool little book, "John Currin Selects" that I picked up for $8 at a used book store. I love his unapologetic embrace of the idea of the masterpiece and of the figurative. There's some point where you just really have to declare what you love. Regardless of whether a style is worn out, over done/done before, there's really something that keeps people painting and loving the image. I look at my 6 year old and it's such an innate impulse to make sense of the world through depiction and interpretation (perhaps even cataloging). Some of us just keep wanting to interpret and express in this particular way.

So, here are my attempts to let go of preciousness (back in July, high on the residency, I stretched and primed a whole slew of large canvases on which to expend my efforts and be an "A" student). I've put them aside for now.

I had fun and enjoyed my day painting today (still using the Fagan color wheel, and I've enrolled in a color-theory boot camp class next weekend). Since I'm supposed to be keeping a "journal", painting today was done to Bob Dylan, BB King, Bonnie Raitt, and slack key guitar.

From October

From October

From October

From October

From October

From October

Friday, October 2, 2009