December 28, 2009

Eyes of Blue I.O.U

This December one of my commissions was actually an IOU - a painting made as an in-kind service to graphic designer Rachel Bair Ficek. It is nice to have this painting finished and feel that everything is squared away and even for the end of this year. The painting was of Rachel’s two children and her sister’s three children - five little portraits to get right on one canvas. How daunting!
Because portraiture requires accuracy I spent a long time making a transfer grid and preparing a grisaille. For the grisaille I used red and umber earth tones with touches of shell white over a rose colored ground. The painting above is this painting sketch, or underpainting. Besides making certain that everyone is sitting where they ought to be on a canvas, the grisaille also brings out any defects in the canvas such as scratches or uneven paint that has to be corrected. There were two areas that had to be patched and allowed to dry before proceeding.
One by one, the children appeared in full color as I applied pigment over the grisaille. The second child to be completed is the pleasingly plump boy to the right. I found the children’s hands to be very expressive and included them in the painting to add an extra dimension of personality.

December 27, 2009

A Dog Named Bear

A Dog Named Bear
Artists’ work in December often runs towards the small and intimate. It is the Christmas market. Craftsmen busy themselves turning out trinkets. Large and ponderous work falls by the wayside as all hands work for the immediate gift giving market. It is a strange time of year for artists-for-hire; fulfilling the desires of others.
Unexpectedly, I had small commissions and large commitments to complete on short notice. As they were gifts for other givers the subject matter and execution was somewhat outside my usual repertoire. They consisted of two small paintings of beloved dogs for their person companions and one group portrait of five children to be given to their grandmother for Christmas.
It was a challenge at first to become motivated to paint subjects that were of much greater sentimental value to people other than myself, but times being what they were, and still are, I rose to that challenge. One of my subjects was a little dog named "Bear." As I sized up Bear and began to paint his visage on a small panel I reminded myself that although I don’t know him, I could at least do a decent job of making an oil painting of him. In order to interpret the photograph I was given in a more artistic manner, I eliminated some of the floor board lines that were cutting across his body and created deeper shadows along the edge of his form.
As I painted that perky little face I was surprised that I began to see something of a presence of animal consciousness. It was looking at that curious consciousness that pets have when perceiving their person companions and aware once more of the mutual adoration of human with animal. It then occurred to me that I was painting something like a small icon. Little Bear reminded me of how emotionally attached people become to their animal companions despite the folly of investing so much time and heart to a living thing with a limited life span. The painting I had completed the week before was of a deceased pet and poor Bear was also not long for this world so I was told. I do hope that he continues to bring his family joy for just a little longer and that my painting will warm the heart for years to come.

December 12, 2009

Slips Showing

I recently participated in the jurying of an international arts exhibition and wrote a blog about the fascinating process and the extraordinary art work that was included in the entries. I uploaded this writing after I heard that the judging results were officially posted. Apparently at that time not all of them were and I may have inadvertently scooped a part of the show. I had also been interviewed about the exhibition in the mistaken understanding that this was something that everyone had agreed to do for the membership. It hadn’t been agreed upon. I apologize for any inconvenience these slips may have caused. Words cannot express how embarrassed it makes me feel. The only word I can think of to capture the feeling is a non word often uttered by Homer Simpson, "DOH!"
In any case, I’ll publish the article I wrote again some time later when feelings of acceptance and rejection are not so near the surface nerves of everyone’s skin. I’ll add to the article both sides of the art competition equation - with shows that I had been juried into or juried out of. In the mean time, in honor of slips, I am for now posting a revised version of my short piece on Freudian Slips.There is a fine meeting of human psychology and creativity in one of the theories of Sigmund Freud. It is perhaps the only theory (or should I say observation?) of Freud that I actually find so entertaining and amusing that I put it into unconscious practice. This is the serendipitous art of the Freudian slip. These slips of the tongue purportedly point to unconscious desires and feelings about a subject as the speaker inadvertently mispronounces something. Truth? Or is it freudulent ?
So what does it mean when I say to my husband when we get into the car, "You drive, I’ll nagivate.?" Of course anyone can be free to nagivate with a captive audience in an enclosed space on a long trip. What better time to bring to light that laundry list of unfinished business?
Another one of my favorite Freudian slips, albeit unconsciously created, is my reference to our beleaguered utility room. This is the room that most people are familiar with. This is the very room where everything that you don’t know what to do with ends up. This is that limbo space where you put things that you don’t know how to deal with , and would rather not see or have anyone else see . This is where everything that confuses and frustrates belongs - things that one unconsciously wishes to lose - equipment that you can’t figure out or have forgotten how to use. Things that can no longer be matched with written instructions can be put there, and maybe a few hopeless people, too. When my husband asked where such a thing could be put I answered with my characteristic fatalistic charm, "Oh, just put it in the futility room." I am quite confident that I am not the only one in this world with a futility room.
A very odd word construction came spilling out of me when someone described to me a group of language teachers who had gone back to school to retrain in a different field because their university no longer had a use for their skills. I tried to use the word "recycled" but instead the word "resuckled" came out. So is this the fate of people who have lost their usefulness in this world? Send them back. All the way mother’s relive infancy, childhood, adolescence and young adulthood so they can get it right this time. There are definitely those who need to be resuckled.
A woman who was abusing her power of attorney in order to withhold medical information about a sick parent from other family members I was "slipped" into describing as "Sarah’s Power of Eternity." The distress she caused that was described to me most assuredly seemed like it would last an eternity. There is something in the nature of unpleasantness that causes it to seem without end. And it is often the feeling that a reprieve is no where in sight that makes an unpleasant thing all the more intense. That is the power of eternity.
And what of those days spent chasing down information lost to bureaucracy? Or days spent catching up on tedious chores put off? I spent an entire day recently doing both. I described it to someone as a day spent "running errors." I quickly corrected myself and said that I was running errands. These errands including returning an overdue library book, filling a lapsed prescription, tracking down reports that were never faxed to the appropriate office, tracking down a check payment to a credit card company that got lost in the mail and getting the late fee from the said credit card company dropped. On second thought I believe I was right the first time. I was "running errors."
Sometimes errors of the human unconscious can even come from non-human sources - like spell check on my computer. Whenever I type in my description of my art specialty, "mosaicist," I see a red word flashing in the corner of my screen that says "masochist." Et tu PC? Considering the fact that we live in a fast paced, time is money capitalist society, specializing in an art form that slowly pieces together hand hewn chunks of rocks and ceramic does seem to encourage a sort of artistic suffering. My PC also insists that my surname is an erroneous spelling of the word "cheesecake," but I was never able to figure out what the digital unconscious was trying to tell me. Whether digital or human, the hidden truth is uncanny.
My story of slipped truths is illustrated by my painting of a young man sporting a gar fish on his head. Why it strikes me that a gar fish, that useless fossil-like weird thing, should be Freudian I cannot say. Perhaps it is something in the surreal juxtaposition of a man out of water and this fish on his head. Perhaps there is something secretly phallic about the strange shape of the gar. Or perhaps it is meaningless. After all, sometimes a gar is just a gar.