In the Studio #84

I’ve been really productive in the studio these last few weeks, but as always I feel like half of my ideas, and my life in general, is dancing on the knifes edge of financial strain. I have to say I’ve always played fast an loose with my time, income and sanity, but with about a dozen works in some stage of development simultaneously I feel like I may have bitten off too much this time. I always manage to grab victory out of the jaws of defeat somehow and I’m sure this time will be no different, but with the pandemic now – delta variant notwithstanding – seeming like its winding down, its seeming like there will be an increased appitite for art and art buying and I want to make work to ride this wave I sense is coming.

With that attitude in mind I’ve been busy making variously sized works in my two main styles to make sure I capture every potential price point out there. Three works I’ve been particularly proud of lately have been two cedar shingle works titled “When Ken-Ken Whistled Sweetly At Me” and “Sweet Child Asha We Still Sing You Lullabies” which I finished earlier last month, and a flower landscape painting I’m working on now I’m calling “Ethereal In Minutiae Shared”.

Above “When Ken-Ken Whistled Sweetly and Me” and “Sweet Child Asha We Still Sing you Lullabies”, followed by “Ethereal In Minutiae Shared”

My creative work schedule this summer has been on the ridiculous side intentionally because I find that I operate well under stress. I have the good fortune of working a job that’s given me a structured leave of absence allowing me to work 4 day weeks to accommodate all the work I’m trying to produce, but even that won’t likely be enough time to do everything, which is okay. I like, when tackling too much work, to go where the spirit moves me most. Right now it’s going into the large landscape I mentioned before but I can already feel the pull of another large piece which I think will be my most ambitious work of the year. That’s another cedar shingle work, this time tackling the Tulsa race riot, which I call an American pogrom. Because this piece deals so explicitly with race I feel like it’s important to get it right, which presents several logistical challenges.

The most critical issue for me with this new piece involves getting the messaging right and doing it with nuisance. I tend to be explicit in any messaging I do in my more political paintings, usually that message is telegraphed in a really charged title. But in this work I want to get at the ubiquity at the heart of racial traumas in this country. This is why I’m thinking compositionally of using video game iconography in the work. This usage I hope will allow me to get at the constant reset or cyclical nature that I think helps drive racism in this country. My great worry though with the piece and all the others I do in cedar shingles are that they become dated.

I remember when I was an undergrad at Amherst College in the 90’s and going to BSU meetings in the Octagon near the “front” of campus. At these meetings we’d speak about what ever charged subject most dominated the day regarding race or class; mostly people spoke to hear themselves speak. Conversations often devolved one way or another. When conversations would meander I’d stare at the artwork on the walls, mostly from the 70’s and I thought about how old they looked. Artwork of that era is very obvious to our eyes today, often employing black power idioms and color schemes. While it is possible to make work in this vein and it remain timeless, more often then not employing any black political messaging in art makes the work protest art, limiting its audience and sometimes it’s potency. But you know no one ever calls Francisco De Goya’s “Third of May”, protest art. It’s just art, that’s been absorbed into the canon. That delicate transmutation from one type of “reading” to another is what every artist who deals with political subject matter hopes for.

Here’s Francisco de Goya’s “Third of May”

I recently received a commission from my coworker Terry of a lovely beach scene. The image he gave me, along with several from my recent trip to Harrisburg Pa., are the wedge works I’m working on immediately this week as they all paid gigs. I expect that once they’re in the bag as it were, I’ll turn my attention to this large race riot piece and hopefully finish my lovely flower field work too. Here’s images of my small commission works.

I’ve been listening a lot to the new Tyler the Creator record “Call Me If You Get Lost” but on a break from that obsession I discovered the relatively new Hiatus Kaiyote Record “Mood Valiant”. It kind of reminds me of the Tyler CD in that it doesn’t neatly break into tracks, and I appreciate to type of old style record making where collections are valued over hit-singles. Again, I wish more artists would follow this time tested tradition. Here’s one track I really like on the record, “All the Word We Don’t Say”.

Sometimes over the last few weeks when I needed something softer to listen to, other than the really active artists I just mentioned, I went back to Unknown Mortal Orchestra. One track I overlooked in my obsession with them from a few weeks back is “Weekend Run”. Here’s a video of it:

Much of what it means to be an artist with artist friends is to find the strength to be happy for your friends success without growing bitter and wondering when its going to be your time. At those moments I find it useful to be grateful that one is in the “game” at all, and remembering that many artists go through long periods of obscurity before being discovered, or rediscovered, since I think these things happen cyclically. I also try to think in these moments about what one’s principles actually are. What do I as an an artist hold most true about my agenda. I think folks are hungry for authenticity and flock to where they can find it. I think there’s an effortlessness that goes with being a confident artist that patrons and audiences find magnetic. As I celebrate with my friends they’re richly deserved successes of late, I most appreciate how honest, courageous and genuine they are. They’re not only my friends but my teachers and I love them all. Okay next time I think I will try to tear into my thoughts on that big cedar shingle work more. Until then do be well.

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