I know this is a lot of words, considering this blog is normally just pictures of art, and it’s the internet and all. I’ve included pictures, though. Thanks for looking.
One of the things I get a lot is “why don’t you just paint from photos?” Other than having a handy, ready-to-go reason why I can’t do a painting of your late grandma (unless you have her corpse handy), feisty dog, or paint your baby as a sweet little angel instead of the screaming, purple-faced demon that just sent another blown out diaper to the landfill, I have a few reasons.
One is that “no photos” is just one of the rules I’ve given myself. I paint because it’s something for me to do, and it takes rules to make things interesting. It’s like being a glider pilot; the point isn’t to long for an engine while looking for a safe place to land. Instead, the limitations of not having an engine make the pilot exploit other possibilities, like air currents. I’m not a luddite who is opposed to the use of photography (or other tools) in art-making, it’s just not what I’m doing.
Also, I am a lousy photographer. I haven’t put in the time or effort to be able to make a camera see what I see. Too many times, I’ve had to narrate photos I’ve taken; “you can’t really tell here, but this was really cool looking! If you’d been there…” I just bought my first “real” camera two years ago, and it’s primary job is photographing paintings. Think of it like the plane that tows the glider up into the sky.
I just like doing some things the hard way.
Another thing about me: I hate to travel. Or, I should say, I don’t do it well. When I was a growing up, we never took the classic “vacation”, and I’ve never really learned how to relax on a trip. If I’m being served food, I’m thinking about how I’m going to pay for it, and if shuffleboard was so great, wouldn’t we all just have it at home? So, to enjoy traveling, and get out and see the world, I need some rules. I need something to do.
For the longest time, my “no photos” rule with painting effectively limited me to my studio. Great for seeing people naked on a couch, but after a while, it became too limiting. I like to see other people doing their thing, other than sitting on my couch naked.
A few years back, I had an occasional gig as a van driver/merch sales guy/roadie for a salsa band. Perfect. I got to go to places, and not just hear some fantastic musicians play, but I also got to see the behind the scenes workings of the show. I’m one of those people that takes the household appliances apart to see how they work, and seeing the inner workings, green rooms and back stage areas in greasy night clubs rekindled the interest that had been lost years ago due to the overwhelming smell of vomit, and catching the occasional elbow to the face on the dance floor. (Blame my generation for inventing that kind of “dance”). And, when I wasn’t selling t-shirts and CDs, or sitting at a bar listening to a sound check eating the cold Tater Tots that the club had provided us as our “dinner” I’d draw the band on stage.
What I learned, or really re-learned, was what my teacher Clyde Fowler had insisted on, what Kimon Nicolaides insisted, and what I insist on now as a teacher: if you can really understand the nature of the thing that you are seeing, you can draw it. All of the rules of proportion will be of little help if you are trying to draw a drummer who’s entire body is constantly moving. You have to have a living model of the thing in your imagination.
About two years ago, my friend Erin, who had done some modeling for me while she was in Richmond studying dance, hipped me to the circus arts scene she’d gotten into in New York. It was punk in the way that I like; a real DIY attitude towards art making, but as an audience member I was spared the all too familiar elbow to the face (I did have a rather attractive performer who was wearing little more than fishnets stand on my foot the entire time she was waiting to go on at a crowded venue in Brooklyn, but I was totally ok with that). It wasn’t long before I was going to New York with a box full of art supplies and sleeping on gym matts beneath trapeze rigging in pursuit of a painting.
I didn’t want a painting of a show, of what the audience sees. You can buy a ticket and see that for real (and you should some time, if you haven’t). I wanted a painting of the behind the scenes work that went into it all. The two places I’d visited were multi-use, live/work spaces. People cook dinner and gossip in makeshift kitchens while a few yards away, an act is being rehearsed. Come in four hours later, and the entire space will be transformed into a show venue.
I normally would have felt completely out of place in a world like that, since I’m about as athletic as a beanbag chair, but, I think there was a certain mutual understanding; I was an artist doing my thing. I even hung up a little show of paintings and drawings to coincide with an evening of performance at one point, and was happy to be referred to as “part of this big, crazy family” at another. The grouchy uncle who sits on the couch drawing and drinking coffee all morning, but like the dancer standing on my foot: I’ll take it.
On to the painting itself: This is the interior of a circus arts space in Williamsburg called The Muse. (check them out here: http://www.themusebrooklyn.com/about-us/) Following my infiltration of the circus arts world, I brought this painting home and hid it, or hid from it, all winter. I’d worked directly from life, and the main quality I’d gotten was how disjointed and chaotic it appeared. After a few weeks with my memory, imagination, and a stack of sketches done on site, I’m pretty sure that it is done. It’s still chaotic, but now maybe a little more “busy” than “disjointed”. I’m fine with both, really, because that is the reality of the scene that I was painting.
So, here’s the painting. It’s the interior of a space in Williamsburg called The Muse. (If you want to learn how to flip around in the air on silks or a trapeze, they have you covered, and they put on shows there as well). It’s medium-big (for me): 38×48″ I’m not entirely happy with it, but I never am. It’s got it’s moments, good and awkward, but so does life, and overall, I did what I set out to do, painted what I saw, what I imagined. Much respect to my circus friends in Brooklyn, and thanks for letting me in.