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


Attempt at the Fagan Color Wheel

Sometimes your best teachers are your fellow student buddies. Janet Fagan shared with me a color formula that her mentor shared with her. I'm afraid that I've totally screwed it up since she described it to me over the phone and I just couldn't quite visualize it.

[Other color theory resources suggested by MFAers: Josef Albers, Interaction of Color (purchased and on the way); Johannes Itten, The Elements of Color; David Batchelor, Chromophobia. I also found a local color theory "crash course" 10/17 and 10/18. The Guardian website also had a bunch of short color exercises such as "Mixing the colours: mid-tones".].

From October

The idea is that you put blobs of red, yellow, blue (or whatever combination you want to work with) on the top and bottom of your palette. Then you mix a blob of neutral gray in the middle. Then, on the left, you mix each of the colors with the neutral, then add blue. These are your cool colors. Then you create lights and darks by adding whites to these. On the right, you mix the three colors, then add yellow. These are your warm colors, etc.

So here are my sketches using this palette:

From October

stuff-tossed 1, 10/2/09

From October

stuff-tossed 2, 10/2/09

Here are just joyful things:

From October

From October

From October

From October

From October

what happens when a kid gets her first guitar, 9/24/09

Two Coats of Paint - "How I Paint" : Cecily Brown and more...

The Sept. 20 post at Two Coats of Paints highlights an article in the Guardian, in which Perri Lewis and Cecily Brown talk about the painting process. You can read it here.

Also worth looking at, has a series called "Guide to Painting", which includes "How I paint" interviews with a variety of artists.

Paper 2 - Looking More: Thoughts on the Abstraction of Daniel Brice and Udo Nöger

Jill Christian
Advisor: Laurel Sparks
Comparison Paper
1 October 2009

Looking More: Thoughts on the Abstraction of Daniel Brice and Udo Nöger

The two paintings I have chosen for my comparison are S.F. 3 by Daniel Brice (Figure 1) and Links-rechts (Figure 2) by Udo Nöger.

These two artists and the paintings I observed appear to be very far from my own style, concerns, and techniques. However, seeing these works, I was drawn into the paintings by the beauty and subtlety of the ranges of cool and warm whites, the spare compositions, the structure, and energetic quietness that seemed to emanate from their surfaces. And I started to think about how they might connect to the struggles I am having with my own painting this semester, and what I might learn.

Although both artists are minimalist and abstract in their overall visual approach: simplified shapes and forms, limited color palette of variations of white on white; there are vast differences in these works that require close looking. Kirk Varnedoe in Pictures of Nothing: Abstract Art Since Pollock cautions that abstract art is “also crucially about experience and about particulars. The less there is to look at, the more important it is that we look at it closely and carefully. This is critical to abstract art. Small differences make all the difference” (Varnedoe 8).

Brice’s S.F. 3 is deceptively simple: a relatively small (28”x24”) overall white painting, divided roughly in half by two black curvilinear lines that are almost flipped mirror images of each other. As I looked more closely, however, I found surprises in the work, specifically in the illusion that the painting is structured around collage elements.

In S.F. 3, Brice has used a grid structure to divide the canvas into roughly four unequal quadrants, delineated by overlapping rectangles and two curvilinear lines originating at opposite corners of the painting. Though the geometric quadrants appear to be created through a collage process, Brice has in fact carefully built up the surface, using paint and medium, on an underlying structure of stretched burlap, creating raised relief-like edges at the intersections and edges of the geometric forms, imitating the effect of paper collage. The surface has a smooth, encaustic-like texture, which Brice has created through a process of repeatedly applying, sanding down, and painting over. Brice allows color elements to show through from below (the ruby red line running across the bottom of the canvas and the orange line running halfway down the upper right side of the canvas, as well as hints of color barely visible through the waxy surface). This creates veils of whites, some cool, some warm.

From Paper Images

Figure 1. Daniel Brice. S.F. 3. 2009. Mixed media on burlap, 28"x24". Courtesy of Chiaroscuro Gallery, Santa Fe.

The linear elements, which at first appear to be paint, are in fact created with charcoal. Both lines begin off the edge of the canvas, suggesting the space beyond it. The edges of the line vary -- at places crisp-edged and hard. In other places, Brice allows the edge to smudge into the white surface where it seems to become encased in the surface. At the intersection of the lines with the edge of the collage overlay, the edge of the white overlay comes transparent. Most interesting, the linear element that begins in the top right corner almost seems to slip in between the white paper edges, travel in back of it, and then re-emerge on the other side.

This is one of the most interesting elements that I noticed in Brice’s work – a sense of shapes being cut out and pieced together. A sense that a surface is being penetrated and woven through. Almost as if you could pick up a corner of one of the white layers, lift it up and peek behind it.

In Udo Nöger’s painting, Links-rechts, you literally could lift up the surface to peer behind the canvas. Where Brice “tricks” the viewer into seeing collage with his use of surface materials, Nöger hides the “trick” inside his canvas.

Nöger creates his ethereal paintings using three layers of canvas. The back layer of canvas serves as a backing, which Nöger in some paintings will push forward towards the middle layer. The middle layer is a combination of cut outs and painting on the surface, worked to create specific shapes and light effects. The top layer of canvas is an intact piece that has been soaked in mineral oil to make it translucent, and then dried. This process creates a structure that allows ambient light to penetrate through the outside layer into the other layers and back out to the viewer, like a light box.

From Paper Images

Figure 2. Udo Noger. Links-rechts. 2007. Mixed media, 60"x80". Courtesy of Gebert Contemporary, Santa Fe.

The effect is a glowing, ethereal surface that appears to have little to no hand of the artist visible. Unlike Brice, where you can see his interaction with materials, there are no brushstrokes visible on the surface of Links-rechts. This creates a strange disorientation. Before I inquired about Nöger’s process, I spent a great deal of time trying to figure out how the two bands were created across the center of the canvas. Equally mysterious were the small, barely visible, undulating curvilinear shapes playing across the surface. I think of scrim used on a stage to capture light and create atmosphere. I was also reminded of “light and space” artists like Robert Irwin. But rather than creating illusions of surfaces in a gallery space, Nöger is dealing with, as he says, “the guts of a painting, the rough parts of the painting back coming forward, a sort of inside out expression” (e-mail correspondence with Lynda Foshie, Gebert Contemporary, 9/28/09).

I am intrigued by the difference in approaches of these two artists: one building up thick translucent layers of paint and medium on a burlap backing; the other constructing light boxes inside his canvases, deconstructing the interactions of paint and canvas to create a painting where light literally interacts with paint, cutouts, and canvas. On some formal level, both pieces share some of the same qualities. Both deal with a reduced color palette and a simplified, geometric structure.

Interestingly, both Brice and Nöger, speaking of their own development, touch on how their particular forms of minimalism developed out of earlier work influenced by a “busier” and “louder” tradition. Nöger specifically mentions his German Expressionist influences in a 2005 interview with Rocky Mountain News, saying that in 1991 he was doing “the typical thing that German painters did at that time” (Voelz Chandler). Of his own work, Brice says, “I’m a very physical person, so when I first began to paint, I was attracted to the expressionists and the idea of putting myself fully into the work,” Brice remembered. “I thought the work needed to reflect that with gouges and splashes. I realized later that I didn’t need the external marks to show that I worked through this thing” (Cook-Romero 28).

According to the 2005 article in Rocky Mountain News, “Around 2000, Nöger began to move from dark to light, and to experiment with painted, multilayered canvases dipped in mineral oil, which renders the fabric translucent. ‘It was logical,’ Noger said, ‘to try to reduce things you do to a minimum.” Daniel Brice, in his 2007 artist statement, also mentions reducing his concerns: “My escape in this world comes through the act of making somewhat organized sound. The atmospheric considerations and the linear line are the limited palette, which I feel comfortable working through (Artist statement, Chiaroscuro)

I remembered, and unearthed, a paper I wrote in 1991, titled “Emptying the Object: The Minimalism of Barnett Newman and Kazimir Malevich”, in which I compared Malevich’s Suprematist Element, White on White of 1918 (MoMA, NY) and Barnett Newman’s The Voice of 1950 (MoMA, NY). It is interesting to me that 18 years later, I am drawn to works embodying similar minimalist styles, rather than something more akin to the abstract expressionist style I practice. I was attracted specifically because of the phenomenon Varnedoe speaks of – that “the less there is to look at, the more you need to look”. I looked at two paintings, which initially seemed “simple” in composition and execution. Yet, the more I looked, the more nuanced, complicated, and challenging the work became.

Vardenoe says, “the history of abstraction is not, as popularly conceived, a history of libertinism, a history of playing tennis without a net, of allowing oneself every possible freedom. In fact, quite the opposite! Abstraction is to be seen more as a history of denials, of self-imposed rigors and purposely narrowed concentration” (244).

And, reduction of vocabulary, as seen in the work of both Brice and Nöger, has enriched rather than impoverished their images and their psychological effect on me as a viewer. Aside from an aesthetic attraction, I was drawn to these paintings in a time that I have been turning my eye and mind to quieter expressions, as I struggle with the imposing limits on my own work. Whether a paring down becomes a logical step, or a building block for a more personal and complex gestural expression, these paintings demonstrate the richness of “narrowed concentration.”

Works cited

Brice, Daniel. Artist statement. 2007. Chiaroscuro Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Cook-Romero, Elizabeth. “Pentamerous Perspective.” Pasatiempo/The New Mexican, June 30-July 6, 2006, p 26-28.

The Grove Art Series. From Expressionism to Post-Modernism: Styles and Movements in 20th Century Western Art. Ed. Jane Turner. London: Macmillan Reference Limited, 2000. Print.

Varnedoe, Kirk. Pictures of Nothing: Abstract Art Since Pollock. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006. Print.

Voelz Chandler, Mary. “Two Galleries Create Big Chill.” Rock Mountain News. May 20, 2005.