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Showing posts from December, 2012

1000th Blog Post!

After three years, thousands of words, dozens of interviews, 100 web videos, thousands of photos uploaded, it's finally here: this is the one thousandth post on this blog.

In my first post, at the end of December 2009, I quoted John Ruskin, from whose great autobiography I borrowed the title for my blog:
Ruskin also said that he would write "frankly, garrulously, and at ease; speaking of what it gives me joy to remember at any length I like ... and passing in total silence things that I have no pleasure in reviewing." I think by and large that I've followed through on that. My reason for starting this blog at all was for the purposes of self-marketing, to talk about my studio work and to lure potential buyers of my art (complete failure on that score, so far). But I quickly started using it not only to record my thoughts about my own work, but to seek out other artists and invite them to talk about their work and process, as a way of finding out about creativity in gen…

Last 2012 Studio Session

My trip to the studio this Christmas Eve will be my last for 2012. I used the time to work on some panels that I have been adding to for a long time, some of them from the beginning of 2011.


The ghostly 'coal circle' forms you can see are buried under many layers of slightly opaque white paint, acrylic gels, moulding paste, covered over and excavated lots of times. Today I painted those dark circles in a mixture of acrylic paint and airbrush pigment. When they were dry, I erased them slightly with wire wool:


And then squeegeed over a fresh layer of matte medium mixed with a little white paint:



When that layer is dry, I want to paint more circles and partially erase them with the wire wool, too. The idea is to create this effect of a small panel from the middle of last year, which I still like:


And that's it for 2012. Last year I got to the studio 70 times, this year I feel it was slightly less, though I did finish a public art project away from Chicago, and organised a sh…

How Can it Be Right When It Looks So Wrong?

A couple of posts ago, I wrote something about seeing Matisse's "Bathers with a Turtle" in the St Louis Art Museum, and how it's only now being acknowledged as one of the seminal works of early twentieth century art. Right in front of it is his sculpture "Decorative Figure", which was modelled around the same time, in 1908, and is as revolutionary for the language of sculpture as "Bathers" was for painting. It's another of those works that I have known about for decades, but only saw in books or online before. Being in front of it is an experience akin to seeing the Empire State Building or the pyramids for the first time: it both fulfills and exceeds your mental picture of it.

It's an extraordinarily bold piece of work, almost breathtaking in the liberties Matisse took with the figure. Every proportion is 'wrong', with the head being too large for the body, the hands and feet only approximately and occasionally fashioned, the bre…

Every artist needs a cat

I finally watched the documentary about Chinese artist/activist Ai WeiWei, Never Sorry. I thought it was terrific. I've liked his work for a long time, though not all of it. A lot of the 'confrontational' gestures, like raising the middle finger in front of monuments, are hardly outrageous in any part of the globe - unless there was a society that was isolated from the rest of the world for so long, and kept under the iron control of a totalitarian regime, that it simply had no contact with the social and artistic trends of, say, the USA, and so flipping the bird seems to be incredibly brave. Oh, wait ...

But I think his installations, when they hit the mark, hit it big, like the Sunflower Seeds at the Tate Modern that I did a piece about. And in watching this film, you realise that his opposition to the Chinese government is sincere, and that he has genuinely put his reputation and even his physical person in danger by pursuing it. I expected to finish watching the film …

Six of the Best: Part 22

Part 22 of an interview series in which I invite artists to respond to six questions about art, process, and creativity  (previous interviews: 123456789101112,13,141516171819, 20, 21). I am honoured this time to post an interview with +Juanli Carrión, a multimedia artist who was born in Spain and now resides in New York City. I was fortunate enough to encounter him when I entered a silent auction and won the right to commission a small print from him. іGracias, Juanli!

Philip Hartigan: What medium do you chiefly use, and why?

Juanli Carrion: My main medium is site-specific interventions, and then photography, video, installation, sculpture and drawing as a result of the mentioned interventions. My creative process works as a reaction to a situation or in some cases as an encounter between a pre-existing idea and the location of the right place at the right time. For these reasons every project talks about a specific concept in place and time, and that'…

From the Studio

It's probably a mistake to have posted so much work in progress here in the last two years, when my work is so much in flux at the moment, and what you see here might not even exist next year. But anyway, I'm doing a few things that I will keep on file, even if they don't develop into extended projects.

Here are the latest 'swirling shapes over coal circles':



I drew over the collaged coal shapes with a fine pen and India ink. I notice that as soon as I picked up a brush, I started creating these bounded forms, which take on a sculptural quality. Frankly, I think it was a way of not drawing so many circles and spraining my wrist.

I did some pours on another picture, using thick pools of acrylic gels with micaceous pigment in them. The following pigment shows how the poured shapes sit up off the surface of the picture:


Matisse Now and Forever

During a quick visit to St Louis last weekend, I dashed into the Art Museum for a few hours before joining my wife for her reading late Sunday afternoon. The museum is not easy to get to on a Sunday, without a car, being in the middle of a park on the western side of the city. It was worth trekking across the fields from the metrolink station, though. It’s not just the high quality of the collection that amazed me, but the fact that there were three or four works that I was seeing for the first time, more than thirty years after becoming introduced to them from an art history teacher in my high school.


One of them was the head of a peasant woman, by Van Gogh. My impressions: smaller than I imagined, only 14 inches by 10 inches, maybe; very dark earth tones, just like my teacher talked about; a feeling of painful honesty in the expression of the face, partly due to the labour, the slight lack of ease, in the way it was painted; the way that the left side of the face (to the right as y…

Recycling old prints

Last year, when I was making the 100 page accordion book of prints, I took a long signature of folded paper and did a few trial prints, to test that the colours were right and that I had mixed up the lithographic materials correctly. It was just a set of offcuts, really, that I put aside because they were not bad enough to throw away.

Well, recently I tried to add some stuff to these pages. I first covered them in the coal-circle pattern, using thinned acrylic paint. Then I drew some abstract shapes on them in ink, using a fine point steel nib. The combination of these different things produced something not too bad:






The brown and blue lines are the paper-litho transfer prints from last year. Everything else was added on top of them.

Do Exactly What I Say

Continuing with my following the recommendations I've given to students:

This is what I added to those 5" x 4" circle drawings:




That is, swirly drawing with airbrush pigment, thin lines with India ink, and a bit of poured/dried acrylic paint collage. Bish bosh, sorted.

In other news, I added a coal circle pattern to something I started a few weeks ago:


Do As I Say

When I teach, one of the pieces of advice I often give to students, if I think they're developing a good idea, is: That's Great. Now do 20 of them.

So I decided to follow my own advice. I took up about 20 offcuts of various bits of printmaking and watercolour paper, and drew the coal-circle shapes on them in thinned acrylic paint:


Each one will end up as miniature (5" x 4") versions of the larger works on paper that I have been writing about in the last few months.


Good/Bad Public Art?

I saw this sculpture on Clark St., Chicago, just south of Diversey Avenue. It's just been placed there in the last few weeks, and all credit to the city again for continuing with its huge drive to install sculpture all over the place in the last few years.

I don't know its title or who the artist is, but I assume it's made from steel. I sort of liked it, at first, until I began to see a sort of Halloween witch emerging from it, particularly that pointy-hat shape at the top. For some reason, I was disappointed as soon as I began to 'read' it as something representational, and something representational in a banal way. Is this fair or unfair of me?

Too Many Notes, Herr Mozart

The title of this post is from "Amadeus", and according to Maynard Solomon's superb biography of Mozart, the film at that point reflects at least a partially accurate view of how Mozart's music was considered towards the end of his life:

"The later 1780s really were for him a period of consolidation, during which the splendors, challenges, and sometimes unbearable beauties of his work were being confronted and assimilated. This was not an easy process, even for sensitive or professional musicians, for whom Mozart's music was somehow profoundly disturbing in ways that could not be quite explained. 'Mozart is unquestionably a great original genius,' wrote Dittersdorf, 'and I know of no composer who possesses such an astonishing wealth of ideas. I only wish he were a little less prodigal of them. He gives his hearers no time to breathe; as soon as one beautiful idea is grasped, it is succeeded by another and a finer one, which drives the first from…

Writing and Printmaking

I've just spotted two things in my internet RSS feeds that are close to my heart. The first is an article from the excellent blog about printmaking, That's Inked Up. It's a long, informative, nicely illustrated piece about British engraver Clifford Webb. Here is one of his book illustrations:


And the winners of the Arts Writers Grants for 2012 have just been announced. Here are the winners in the blog categories (with links, where available):

Caryn Coleman, The Girl Who Knew Too Much.
Farrah Karapetian, Housing Projects.
Meg Onli, Black Visual Archive.
Harbeer Sandhu, Critical Condition.

By the way, it seems weird that two of the winners in the blog category have blogs that are difficult to find! But as an erstwhile art writer myself, it's good to see this format being recognised in this way.

UPDATE: A reader pointed out to me that the AWG also awards grants to blog proposals, so that's why there might not be any links to some of them yet.