Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A Life of Contrast

It's been a few months that this post has been brooding in my head. I've finally realized that the quest for contrast is what I constantly look for in life - things lacking hard edges simply don't interest me.

I recently came back from an Antique art fair, where tons of soft 18th-19th century paintings graced red felt walls of many booths. I was so incredibly bored with them. They didn't have the punch of hard lines or complimentary colors juxtaposed next to each other, no delineated lights and darks. I couldn't sink into these paintings, couldn't dissolve.

William Guy Wall, Silver Cascade

I also incidentally spent a few days with an atmospheric abstract painter, and what I thought was always lacking in her work - a grounding of sorts - she noticed was overly prevalent in mine. She hated my rendering of trees for instance - saying they create a grid which interrupts the flow of the painting....After that critique I attempted to do without my typical hard branches and all I see is mud and chaos.

I guess we each seek and value key features of our personalities in our works and the works of others. It's never the opposites attract phenomenon. OCD'd like myself find order amidst chaos. A Buddhist finds a calm meditative space.

But then...I used to love radical people - those with a strong personality and unwavering opinions. Maybe it's because I'm too mainstream and blah? But now I see that these people are simply not tuned in to the world around them, they don't see shades of grey, don't see any nuances in human relationships. And I get to thinking that perhaps that is what's supposed to happen to my art - more nuances and less expression? That is what growing into your own means?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Melting away...all masks

As much as I try, I can't get away from reality. I can't reach within and call forth images sitting deep in some innermost layer.

So my new answer to all this representation is melt the reality...melt it away like the Wicked Witch of the West, remove all those built up textures, all these layers of masks.

The process is really difficult on me as it requires so much patience. It's the antidote to my fierce piercings with a palette knife.

What it does is slowly bring out all these unexpected nuances in color relationships, plays of textures that are so different from what I typically employ. Drips fall like tiny tears, so difficult to extract, always from unpredictable little caves, opening newer hideaway places, shifting priorities. It's like reliving a dream, peeling its meaning bit by bit, the unwilling truths. Bubbles of bile all of a sudden explode into fireworks of new answers. If all masks could shed like this, leaving room for brutal honesty with self and with the world.
This is a work in progress...the tricky thing is knowing where to stop...The media is oil paint and wax, which is then melted down with a heat lamp.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Brushstrokes - it's not what we say, it's how we say it...

I've spent some time with a friend art therapist this past week analyzing my work. I doubt I'd take up art therapy as even she stopped painting once she got deeply into the analyzing part. You begin overthinking your every move, every compositional element and color that goes onto your canvas.

However, what she said to me as part of her insights was truly simple and dumbfounding - "How about you play with your brushstrokes?"

When I thought of the perfect formula for a successful painting, I forgot this crucial ingredient. Yes, there's composition and line, and color, but it's this element that adds movement, forms depth and instills a personal style into the piece. Without paying attention to it, a painting is too polished, too void of emotion.

It's like a conversation that leads nowhere, or offends, or discloses too much. Perhaps certain intentions were there but the execution was lacking. So my goal for the next 'green' painting is to focus not so much on the content, but on the way of delivering it.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Simple matter of palette observation

My work is always about color but it seems I always arrive at it accidentally. Somehow one hue ends up next to another and forms a perfect relationship. I'm not able to mindfully replicate it. It just sort of happens every time. However, all these trials end up on a palette and it can be part of practice to simply remember what works well with what, based on my own preferences of course, as it's all subjective.
We discussed with my mentor how this attempt to arrive at a formula that ws orks for the art world doesn't quite work. One's palette is truly a phenomenon of the left side of the brain, and simply pours out subconsciously. I still think it's doable, however, without it turning into automation.
Just say to yourself, pale green and subtle pink is a pair, and so is violet and lemon yellow, cadmium red looks stunning next to sage green...Or am I just now naming opposites on a color wheel, impressionist style?
Well, I tried to take these relationships to heart with this latest piece, and I think it sort of works, no?
I was also thinking that I always hated the color green, as it's so blah, and difficult to capture in all its various hues. But when I look at my work, it seems the parts I enjoy the most are the subtle relationships of various greens. So the idea for the summer is to limit myself and simply create a green painting...

Friday, May 10, 2013

On losers, or thoughts about immigration and Tsarnaev brothers

A few weeks had passed since the marathon incident. Lots has been discussed, including some outrageous remarks on Fox News about immigrants breathing the same air as Americans, getting showered with food stamps, education, etc and US being repayed thus by whom their own uncle called 'losers' unable to adapt to the American way of life.

I just celebrated 20 years in America. I've gotten an Ivy League education, managed to climb a career ladder and get paid decently, brought two sons into the world in Boston's best hospital, but have I been able to assimilate? No. I live in my little Russian speaking bubble, just like many of us here in the States. I have very few American friends, and despite all my privileges and the comfort level of my living arrangements - I still can't honestly call this country my home. I think it's the destiny of any immigrant to live in the netherland - you're neither here, nor there...ever. And honestly, the fact that Tamerlan Tsarnaev had an American wife - well, that's quite an accomplishment! In my book, if you've gotten that far - then you're pretty assimilated. You've accepted someone else's culture as your own and show it on the daily basis.

So what I'm trying to say is immigration isn't easy for anyone. Some try to break away from their native culture entirely, like my ex-boss for instance. They take up golfing, do endless networking and charity events, and they pretend their exotic accent is from some British provence. Others never leave their little ghettos. But then some of the best doctors in our hospitals are immigrants, and people managing 4 star hotels, and restaurants, boutiques, etc. This whole country is made of 'losers' who their whole lives are trying to adapt. But they won't blow people up. They will simply keep on trying to carve a place for themselves in this world, in Boston, in US.

And I honestly felt a bit of pain when their uncle called them 'losers' unable to adapt. I guess it's because it makes me a loser as well? This isn't why they hurt all these people. They simply weren't quite there, just like Adam Lanza, or the guy behind the Oklahoma City bombings, or tens of thousands of American-born criminals who kill people every day.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The said and the unsaid

I went to the Sackler museum at Harvard a few days ago, thanks to my dear friend, Anna. What got me the most once again were the Chinese screens - their delicateness yet
simplicity. Every time I'm in front of those I'm amazed at how much empty space there is and how it makes perfect sense - it lets your mind complete the scene, there is no need to spell out every detail on the lace neckpiece or every wave in the endless sea. Don't get me wrong - the exquisite lines are also there to depict tree branches full of emotion and the vibrant garments of little soldiers, ane yet the silence is golden.

In Western tradition we're so preoccupied with perspective, form and shadows, that we give no credit to the onlooker at all, we leave no room for their imagination. It'd be so lovely to just be able to let it be - there's so much mystery and beauty in the void.

Anna mentioned in her post similar tendencies for importance of silence in Asian movie making, literature and music. I also wonder about plain conversation - do we say too much? Can the other person guess our correct emotions, moods and thoughts, even if they're masked by shallow conversation?


Friday, March 15, 2013

The ying and yang - finding harmony

I read today that caligraphers in China attempted for centuries to get away from interpretations of their lines as trees, clouds, pretty much any type of representational form that can be detected in their forms. When they finally accomplished this - they called it harmony in caligraphy itself. It's that strive for reality that constantly challenges a painting. If only I could see past it into the work itself, if I could shut down reality on the outside and access inner realities - that would be harmony.

The well known trick of turning the canvas sideways and upside down helps see more clearly. Then you can inspect every square inch in the piece and make sure it works. Or you squint your eyes and somehow see the whole message, not its multitutes of questions and realities. And if you stare into one random spot like the yogis and you search for that place inside that has harmony, that you can call home.

Enjoy the latest...

Friday, March 1, 2013

Judgement and Inspiration

Why is it so easy to look at a dirty palette and judge it beautiful? Or someone else's finished piece and immediately know where it's lacking color for perfect balance? And yet it's ridiculously difficult to objectively judge your own work? Every time you step back and attempt to see what's missing - it's like you're dumbfounded, blind to your own mistakes. Sometimes, at a very magical time, the work leads you places and that's one happy moment of ecstasy - but to catch that wave - it's so difficult. The inspiration fairy doesn't visit every time you're at work - it's a fickle creature. Its presence it what makes or breaks the work though - you know that if you'd succeeded at following it - you're golden, and if it never materializes, the painting is doomed.

Here's one of the latest favorites where the inspiration fairy had visited, a few times...

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Doesn't everyone love ice cream?

That's the consistency of oil paint when it's mixed with wax and it almost feels like you can taste the different flavors: sweet red or tart green or chocolate brown. It just feels so malleable and soft when the hard edge of a palette knife brings it all together.

Now the palette knife - its main quality is scraping, having new color intrude on the old but not kill it, rather let it peak out in just the right proportions. That's why everyone is so into Gerhard Richter's work with scratched out surfaces. It marries the old and the new in unexpected combinations  - the flavors of ice cream never before attempted together.

You see the function of color best in Monet, Rothko, Pollock, Kandinsky. De Kooning I think was a total anti-colorist just as Picasso before him. Vuillard and Bonnard, Matisse - the fauves are seeing color in a completely separate light.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Switching hats: art sales vs. art creation

Love the story line disappearing into abstract background

Sam Francis - blobs of paint in opposite colors
So I was wearing an old hat last week, that of an art consultant attempting to sell some art to the somewhat interested public. It's amazing how quickly a different mindset kicks in. Within an hour I programmed myself to disregard artists trying to peddle their wares, to snob students and event organizers, and to hate dealers pushing the same things for less and being successful at it. What a thankless and personality-altering job it is to be in sales. A true salesperson forgets to be civil unless he gets paid for it, would only pretend to be a team player to somehow benefit from it and will wish you good luck or congratulate you on your sales hoping you fall to the lowest depths right after this one successful transaction.

And though I thought that having been in this world would help me in entering it as an artist, it seems that my mind cannot function simultaneously in various roles. I can look at art as a dealer, judging what might sell well and for how much. I can look at art as an art critic for its successful formal aspects. However, I cannot apply the same principles to my own art. I cannot tell myself to do this or that in accordance with current trends in the market. My voice just sort of comes from within and that's the end of the story. However, here're some of my personal favorites from the show and why I liked them.



Thursday, January 17, 2013

Inspiration from children's thinking

I knew teaching children would inform my own art, I was just curious how quickly some of these insights would come and how I could accomodate them. It's incredible how a child's mind can wander uninhibited, and so can a story in their drawings. A pencil sketch doesnt't necessarily relate to the forms being colored. New elements can overtake a piece and then it leads you in a direction it wants to go. This very precious moment of letting go that I so seek and treasure - they have it all the time. Their minds make all kinds of connections and color can simply flow, just as much as the line - a true goal of abstract art. Meanwhile, I have such a hard time deviating from an object to be depicted. It's that freedom which I hope is contagious and applicable.