June 28, 2019

A Chair as Art

I have been working on images of chairs. The chair, in all its various permutations, serves as a poignant symbol of the human condition. It can invite the guest in to the fold of company. The chair can validate a person’s sense of community belonging, as the expression "having a seat at the table," implies. Yet the chair constrains as well, with its subtle imperative not to rise but to "stay seated." A chair can even frighten or intimidate as a possible item to be bound to. An empty chair can serve as a reminder of solitude and loss in its haunting vacancy.

In order to create my art with chairs, I have started with documenting chairs that have a certain character. I found this chair on a porch of an abandoned home. There was this curious looking toy frog stashed under the seat.

Although my painting takes this subject from reality, I decided to paint it as an hallucination, naming it "Sit back and Let the Frog Inform Your Mind." The butterflies are painted from those found around the zinnias in my garden. As I painted, they became super-sized, as did the frog.

One small detail that most viewers would not notice is the small embryo at the tip of the frog’s tongue. I painted this after reading the news of neighboring southern states rolling back women’s constitutional rights to abortion. I never understood the logic behind the granting of greater civil rights to an embryo than to the fully grown person who carries it. Hence the strange hallucinatory, irrational quality of the painting.

June 15, 2019

Tyrone Geter: A Message Across Media

In the summertime, my art work slows down. This is in part due to hotter weather and the need for more attendance to my gardens. People seem to be more outdoors than inside looking at art, leading to a more leisurely paced commercial life for me. And lastly, as a former educator married to an educator, my circadian rhythms are permanently set to a school year.

The seeking out of inspiration in numerous museum and gallery exhibitions, however, along with opportunities to exchange ideas with colleagues and generally catch up with fellow artists becomes more lively in the summer months. In this last regard, I was finally able to devote some time to studying the last figurative artist in a series I started nearly a year ago.

Gallery Neema, in Charleston is now hosting an exhibition of the drawings and paintings of Tyrone Geter. Many of these are new works so this was an exceptional treat.

Entering the gallery, I saw monumental mixed media drawings. These included works such as "Trouble and Pain" and "Freedom." Too large and heavy to be hung on the walls, a number of these giants were instead propped up against it. This had the benefit of bringing the subject closer to an intimate eye level, for a greater appreciation of the seamlessness of charcoals blending with black fabrics.

Many of Tyrone Geter’s recent figurative drawings feature exuberant - hair that seems to take on a life of its own as it rises from the body, transforming itself in to fantastic botanical forms. This exhibition did not disappoint in this theme. Yet the hair of the woman pictured in "Blown Away" took on a more aggressive presence, seemingly slicing through its paper surroundings. Ruminating about the unsettling disappearances of black women while creating this piece, the artist’s lament becames palpable in the wrenching tears of paper - like the shedding of tears in tearing.

Other topical pieces in this exhibition included "Six Weeks," a visual representation of the recent draconian anti-abortion legislation sweeping through the south, in particular in states like Alabama. The embryos in this piece - proto-human life forms now granted more civil rights than fully formed living teen age and adult women -were symbolized by a glass full of multicolored dried beans with a pastry brush stuck upright in the middle (I did a little research here and found that a human embryo at six weeks is indeed about as tiny as a bean so this is quite clever). Hovering above the dried bean offering was an oil portrait of a half hidden child, obscured by vegetation, her own personhood neglected. The presence of an ivory carving beneath her portrait, brought a modicum of hope to an otherwise somber piece.

Throughout the exhibition the artist flexed his artistic technical prowess in tackling a richness of painting, drawing and mixed media techniques, like a linguistic translating ideas into various languages. I particularly enjoyed the delicate portraits painted entirely with a palette knife, and the surprising little details embellishing the surface of charcoal drawings, like the ivory colored cowrie shells affixed to a portrait.

The complexity of this well considered exhibition and its rich variety was a worthwhile experience, and elucidated unequivocally why the artist, Tyrone Geter has recently received so much acclaim both regionally, as a Verner Award recipient, and nationally as a Yaddo Fellow.

The exhibition is up through June 30 of this month.

Next Blog: A Conversation with Tyrone Geter




June 1, 2019

A Better Place: A Verdant View of Norway

I favor working in black and white. Pencil and charcoal are the best media for making my information packed illustrations and gestural figurative work. But public sentiment requires color and a certain sweetness, especially if an artist is to remain solvent.

So today I finished a large oil painting which I have entitled "A Better Place." It is too sentimental for my taste but hopefully someone will be moved to acquire it. This would seem to be more likely than finding a collector for my drawing, "My Wee Brain Sampler," posted earlier. But I am often surprised at what clients may or may not like. People do collect my complex drawings - just not as often as my oil landscapes.

The title for this painting, "A Better Place," is purposely ambiguous. Initially it seemed to be literally a better place for it is based upon a scene I came across in Norway last summer. "A Better Place" dovetails with the old saw about "the grass being greener," in one’s neighbor’s yard. Norway in the summer was lush and verdant, though. We were present at a good time to take a break from the heat, both in the literal climate and in the heat of the social/political life of the United States. I spent time talking to Norwegians about their lives and work. Coming from the United States, it was difficult not to be envious of six weeks of paid vacation a year, paid maternity leave, paid child care, free college and universal health care.

Norway seemed a better place for the country’s commitment to renewable energy and reduction in waste. This was quite clear in even the most mundane daily experiences like having breakfast in a hotel lobby. There were no plastic, paper or Styrofoam utensils. Instead there were ceramic plates and silverware - all washed to be reused the next day. There were no packaged goods. A freshly baked loaf of bread with a cloth over it graced the serving table, guests cutting off the slices that they needed. What a contrast this was to the post breakfast bulging bags of plates and utensils in an American hotel or service center.

So there was this memory of Norway that informed the title "A Better Place." A place that seemed clean and humanitarian. Of course it is always wise to remember that this visit was during a summer vacation. Who knows what sentiments a long, dark winter would bring, or that strange feeling of isolation that being apart from one’s native land stirs. So "A Better Place" is something of hyperbole, in its verdant and sanguine beckoning.

"A Better Place," because of its empty chairs, could be interpreted as referring to that colloquial expression for departed souls having moved on to "a better place." I am not religious, so it took me a while to realize that a viewer could interpret the work in this way. But I have no qualms about such an interpretation if it gives someone comfort.

May 21, 2019

New Scanner New Drawing for Babinski's and Other Signs of the Foot

We just installed a new scanner/printer and here is my first scan of a new drawing. The drawing has the cryptic title, "Babinski’s and Other Signs of the Feet". The title was derived from a medical textbook chapter on how to read reflexes. (Babinski’s sign is an aberrant reflex in the foot.) This illustration is part of my ongoing research on ways to overlay medicine, literature and art.

In neurology, certain brain and nerve lesions can be located by how they cause reflexes in distant parts of the body. Like many diagnostic techniques, there is part art, part science to it. With advanced technology, however, it might be easier to just stick a body in a tube and scan it. But might reliance on technology eventually cause a loss in human skills and observations? This occurred to me after I happened across Babinski’s Sign in the chapter on reflexes and realized that a practitioner I had seen some months before had not done this reflex test as instructed in the text. The instructions clearly called for drawing a stick or pen from the heel upwards to the ball of the foot following a line near the side of the foot, then across the ball of the foot - like drawing an upside down capital "L." The practitioner just drew a straight line up the center of the foot. I subsequently noticed some other medical practitioners doing the same thing. I cannot know if this makes a difference or not but I found it interesting that a few steps were left out and wondered if depending upon machine technology made learning these manual techniques a simplified, perfunctory routine.

The art overlay in this illustration relies on my knowledge of Chinese seal script. In ancient China, shamans carved this somewhat pictographic written language on to stone seals in order to work their magic. It was believed that what was written, if written in this certain ancient way, could evoke desired changes in the natural world. One example of this was a stone seal inscribed with the words "keep going forward." Legend has it that this stone seal was pressed in to a wet footprint of a tiger, should one come across it in the wild. This would encourage the tiger to continue on his way and not come back to devour the wanderer in the woods.

Wondering what that print within a footprint would look like and not having any tigers on hand, I decided to use my own footprint. Since this would be a detailed pencil drawing, I decided to use liquid graphite mixed with ink for the printed seals and foot. That stuff was a bit too tacky on the bottom of my foot and dried out rather quickly but I was able to obtain a print.

The print in the center of the foot reads "Eternal Joy," not a bad wish. On the heel the square seal reads "Health," although I mistakenly printed it upside down. No worries here. I am not superstitious. Floating out to the right side of the footprint is a seal that reads "Spiritual Resonance."

The art of reading reflexes has not been entirely erased. Fortunately, in 2009, zhuan seal script was declared a UNESCO world heritage art form in need of cultural preservation. So this art form hopefully won’t completely die out either.



May 7, 2019

New and Restored Paintings for Beaufort

Late winter and late summer have been the traditional time for me to paint South Carolina landscapes. This is because my Beaufort gallery includes these paintings in their spring and autumn open gallery evening art walks.

This summer, however, it looks as though there will be a third event inserted in to the middle of the year. A surprise event that also takes me by surprise because this calls for new work. My new work actually is a combination of older work, revised work, and new pieces. The work below is called Pillar of Kudzu, and was featured in a book about kudzu some years ago. Now the painting has been brought out of storage and will hopefully find a better home than my utility room.

The painting, Red Tobacco Barn, above, is painted over an old canvas of a scene from Nashville. I was never comfortable about the Nashville painting so it has now become rural South Carolina. Painting over a base painting has allowed me to use the palette knife to trowel on colors, then overlay with transparent glazes.  At least one painting, The Red Shed, seen here, remained unaltered.

The painting, Tar Roof, is a reworking of an older painting. I liked the black tire hung on the side of the building that offsets the tar roof.

April 26, 2019

My Wee Brain Sampler

While doing research for my illustrated book on navigating the medical system, I came across an intriguing article about a phenomenon referred to as "expert blindness." This essentially mean that a strong, narrow focus can cause an expert to miss information that is might be highly visible and pertinent because it is outside of the search field. This problem was demonstrated in an experiment with radiologists who were given an x-ray to review. The x-ray included a small but clearly visible gorilla. A stunning 80% of them missed the gorilla! The reason given for this is that the specialists were instructed to look for a specific finding and tried so hard that they did not see something obvious.

I thought that this would make for a great illustration to add to my book. The illustration is a pencil drawing derived from an MRI of a human brain. The entire picture is redesigned to look like an early American embroidery sampler. Hence the title: My Wee Brain Sampler. The interior of the brain houses butterflies and the exterior features decorative designs that include two seahorses. The seahorses refer to an anatomical part of the brain called the hippocampus, so named for the Greek word for seahorses.

The elaborate composition would not be complete without my signature border design. In this case I used back to back images of dendrites arranged in a decorative pattern.

April 24, 2019

Gestural Dancers, Once Again

The box of dance sketches is almost finished. I have been finding creative ways of finishing these with inks and charcoals. The ink brush that I am using is the tradition mao bi that Chinese calligraphers use. Mine is a very fine hu kai brush, which makes a variety of marks in a broad range of thick and thin.  The drawing below was based upon a study of a modern dance with ordinary bed sheets.

The Chinese mao bi makes such fluid calligraphic marks so reminiscent of my days training as a Chinese calligrapher, I decided to paint some of my studies of dancers as if they were a page of characters. Hence the name for this piece below, Characters. The word "character," here can refer both to types of people and also Chinese words. (Chinese symbols are refered to as "characters"). In this piece, I have used familiar brush work found in zhuan, xing,grass, and kai styles. Even the arrangement of the figures on the page has a kinship with how some works of Chinese calligraphy alternate large, heavy forms, with lyrical, wispy ones. I often recall how some calligraphers made the first character very prominent, almost akin to the medieval capital that western artists might be familiar with in illuminated manuscripts.

Some of my work became increasingly abstract, with the dancers barely recognizable.

The last ink and charcoal drawing featured men dancing in tuxedos. I decided to add something just terrifying on this one - five nooses! I had been reading about the Salem witchcraft trial and the five "witches" that were hung. Interestingly, I did not get many "likes" when I posted this work on social media.  I wonder why?

What followed were ink drawings literally scraped from the bottom of the barrel, or in this case, the dregs of the box.  There were a number of tiny scraps of paper that I almost threw away but did not. I did not erase the accidental drop of ink that looks to be a projectile that the hapless man at left is futilely trying to stop.

April 9, 2019

Gestural Dancers, continued...More than one in the Picture

I created a number of gestural drawings in ink, charcoal and pastel of my dancers.  To begin with, most of these featured a single dancer, like the Big Man series, or this strange one of a modern dancer pretending to be a winged insect.

  After a while some of the dancers became twosomes.

I began to add some color to these, and environments.  The two isolated child ballerinas now had a setting like a riverside in the spring. 

The compositions became horizontal and began to include more than two dancers, like these three masked dancers on a road.

A study of several young dancers in a performance rehearsal.

April 5, 2019

Gestural Dancers, Continued

After finishing the series of drawings, Big Man Dancing, I began to revise other sketches of female dancers that I had observed.  For some of these, I began to dabble in color. 

In the pieces that remained black and white, I employed the Chinese ink and brush in traditional calligraphic ways. 

Dots, lines, and masses were embellished with textural details and tonal gradations using charcoal pencils, pastels and vine charcoal.

Some drawings evolved in to something almost magical, like this dancer on a tree stump whose hands appear to dispense something that unravels and becomes integrated in to the tree.
Other dancers seemed to become trees themselves...

April 3, 2019

Big Man Dances

Freedom.  It was the second concept that came to my mind after a change of commercial art venues caused me to wonder, “What next?”  My faithful agent had retired, and with that the freedom to basically paint, draw, or sculpt whatever I wanted, as she had a broad range of clients with a variety of tastes.  My remaining commercial venue served clients with a much more limited collecting range - mostly paintings of South Carolina architecture with some folks who swing a bit in to mosaic masks.   I don’t mind these subjects and these art forms.  I am truly grateful to have collectors interested in any of what I do.  But this is  just a small portion of what I do and where my interests lie. 

So what to do with all the drawings, works on paper, sculpture, musical instruments, paintings that are not South Carolina architecture, and mixed media works - stuff that now clutters my home and would be costly to store outside of this friendly abode?
Generally, when faced with an art bottleneck of this kind, I seek to continue to create art  but without generating more stuff to store until times change.  This can be accomplished by perusing my unfinished work of the past, or work that seemed to be finished but could be better.  By working over old sketches and old paintings I can continue to sharpen my skills without adding to my excess studio fat. 
To begin, I had a box of sketches of dancers that I made years ago during live performances.  Dance has always  been a favorite subject of mine for both drawing by observation and also as a participant.  Over the past few weeks, I have been embellishing these pencil sketches with brush and ink, charcoals, and pastels.  In fleshing these drawings out, they have acquired new meaning.  One figure kept returning.  I called him simply, “Big Man.”  Big Man wanted to dance.  He had a Herculean grace that belied his size.  A story line almost seemed to emerge.  I have yet to decide, however, who “Big Man” really is.