Friday, August 20, 2010

Mentor meeting with Harmony Hammond

Today's meeting began with an incredible slide show of Joan Snyder's work spanning her very early (maybe even college) work to more mature work. Harmony accurately guessed that what we miss in this program is the opportunity to view work with an advisor/teacher and discuss it. We're told to go "look up" this or that artist. But we don't then get to have a conversation.

Harmony wanted me to see how personal iconography develops over an artist's career. How it's not a linear thing, but rather these things come in and out, and resurface. It was wonderful listening to Harmony just describe what was in the work. The way particular marks are laid down. Do the horizontal marks appear to start from the outside and move to the inside? Or do they go back and forth. To see from the beginning the interest in the materiality of painting (including bringing in non-paint materials, like gauze) and the body. How personal events and states of being and relationship appear. In the early work, the "pimples" (my word) of paint foreshadowing the eventual cuts in the surface, the sutures, and the poultice of paint filling the cuts. I never thought about Snyder's use of the grid, and it was so interesting to see the way she used it and broke it and how it changed in function and form over the years.

No Skeleton for Evsa, 1971. oil, acrylic, and spray enamel on canvas, 78" x 108" ( (c) Joan Snyder 2010

Altar Painting III, 2009. oil, acrylic, cloth, on linen, 48" x 48"( (c) Joan Snyder 2010

I feel I brought in two successful paintings that I feel excited about:
From 2010 August
From 2010 July
These a have a boldness and freshness that I am drawn to. There's this idea of the direction of the stroke and coming in from the edges toward the center. There is layering and you can see through to the layers below. I like the idea of looking through something (a screen, a fence) and both of the source photos did this. In one the "screen was flower petals" in the other, it was a gate with a landscape behind it. The paint has a substance and surface. At the same time the color is working (Harmony noted that I am using the source as a reference for my palette, and it's coming from the landscape). I also didn't bother will all the cropping of the source images. I just began, and only used the source very, very loosely. Harmony picked up on this and suggested allowing the palette to come from the source, and not so much the composition. That is where I can be inventive.

Then, tough love.

Surface Surface Surface

The absolute biggest issue I need to address is the surface: the flatness of the material (separate from pictorial flatness). The challenge is learning how to create a surface that is alive and interesting. Right now my paintings -- in general, and specifically on canvas and panel -- don't have a painting presence -- they are flat. And it is about the surface and materiality and their readability as a paint object and art object. Some of them read okay online. We talked about how this is a dilemma of the times -- not that my painting dilemma is of the times, but that so much art is seen on-line and it's a flat way of seeing things, and it can mask a lot of deficiencies of surface (Barry Schwabsky alluded to this in his talk at AIB/BU, "What Not To Paint and How Not To Paint It". I completely agree with this and I remember talking to Deborah about this my second residency. I'd done a couple of larger paintings, and I just felt there was this surface issue that I couldn't figure out -- and I remember talking about the rest areas being plasticy and flat and just not working for me. I couldn't figure out why and what I was doing (or not doing) that was making it look unsatisfying to me.

So, how to I work through this?

Above all, Harmony said just do a lot of painting. There is no thinking my way out of this. I have to paint and paint and paint.

Load up the brush. Harmony noted my tendency to "scruff in". In my notes I drew a big circle with a line through it. She mentioned this last time. So far my successes have been on paper. Moving to canvas requires a lot more material.

Look at a lot of paintings. Observe the surface and how paint becomes material. Harmony gave me a list of galleries to regularly visit. (I still don't know if I can get to NYC or LA).

Learn to go back into a painting. This has been an ongoing issue for me. Harmony suggested approaching the painting as if each time I work on it was going to be it (forgetting about this idea of building up in a more traditional way with an underpainting, etc.). Again, I need to just do this a lot -- discover how I go back in.

I brought the issue of oil paint up again. I just think I should be painting in oil.


I have really worked to de-personalize critiques of my work in this program. And I decided that I would be open to suggestions and be willing to take advice. Harmony acknowledged this as a positive thing. At the same time, she encouraged me to begin drawing some lines: just because something is observed, I don't have to take the advice. I can accept it as an observation; nothing more. It's important to develop my own choices and my own judgment. I'm beyond the point of needing "assignments".

Bring it up to the present

Harmony's suggestion for research was to bring it up to the present. Her feeling is that it's great to look at history (the Baroque period, the AbEx period, etc.), but that it would be more relevant to look at what is happening today. I interpreted this specifically to mean to challenge myself in developing the skill of visual analysis. One suggestion was to do a visual analysis of work by somebody like Joan Snyder (who is both "historic" and contemporary) and Tomory Dodge or Benjamin Butler. I'm excited by this idea.

So, Harmony felt (and I completely agree) that the primary task for me is to tackle this surface challenge. My goal is to paint a lot and consider all the possible ways that I can build the surface, whether that's preparing the support, using acrylic thick out of the tube, using oils... I need to figure out whatever that needs to be or works for me. In the studio, pull down everything except my "successes" and let those be my guide. I've got six weeks until our next meeting and two papers mixed in there.

On the one hand I feel a small let down that I'm not where I would like to be. On the other, I feel completely energized and excited.

Things to go see

Milton Avery at Riva Yares (through Sept. 26, 2010)

Georgia O'Keeffe, Abstraction (through Sept. 12 2010)

Wayne Thiebaud: Mountains, GP Gallery (through Sept. 25 2010)

Squeak Carnwath: A Little Light, Turner Carroll (through Sept. 13)

Jay De Feo at Dwight Hackett

1 comment:

  1. love those two paintings too, especially the one where the strokes all converge in the center!