In The Studio #91

So far, this Fall has been about choosing how to wrap up several dangling projects from
earlier in the Summer and from my VSC residency. I have half a dozen potential
projects I’m working on now and I think I just need a win in some column so I can
develop the momentum to go on. One of the problems I’m having has to do with
transitioning back into my studio space again. The workflow and ease of access with my
studio in Johnson Vermont was so fluid and comfortable that returning to my overly
cramped environs at the Banana Factory just feels stifling. I also think I fed off my
colleagues at that residency in a way that I’m not exactly doing with folks I’m around
now. This is in no way a judgement against the awesome artists at the Banana Factory.
It’s just that I know what they do creatively and the work I saw in Vermont just seemed
fresher to my eyes.

The biggest responsibility I came back to painting-wise this last month were my
commission works. I’m working on two commissions currently. One is of a farm scene of
a field in Branchburg New Jersey at Two Rivers Farm. The work is a 4 x 6-foot painting
of an imagined scene stitched together from 5 or 6 photos of hay fields my client took
me around of his farm. The property is of course lovely, and idyllic. What I hoped to
capture in the composition I chose designed was a sense that this field could go on
forever. The tricky thing in working on the piece is how to differentiate the various
greens of the grass in the foreground with those greens on the horizon. The piece is
currently at the color story phase of my four-part painting process and is currently ready
for finishing. During this last stage I think I’m going to largely leave the sky alone.

Here are the photos I used to make the composition for ‘North Field At Two Rivers‘ “

The last two large landscape paintings I did, the sky proved to be the hardest things to
get right, this time it’s the foreground. In all cases I found that I was in my head a lot
during the process, I think having a client commission a work can do that. There’s
something about the nerves or worrying if the client will like it that infects the process.
Having received no complaints of work to date means all this insecurity IS all really in
my head. I do think I have to concentrate on making “North Field At Two Rivers” richly
varied regarding the paint strokes I make. I’ve given the work a couple days since
finishing the color story, to study what I’ve done before so that once I attack it once
more, I can create the nuanced work I know I can create.

The other commission I’m working on is an abstract piece about Julius Rosenwald. I’ve
been working on this piece for about 4 month and it’s the most difficult piece of the Fall
for me. The composition for the piece I’ve had locked down for a couple months but
blending my technique along with all the asks that the client is looking for is proving to
be very difficult. I also think the subject is weighing me down some because it is so
heavy. Julius Rosenwald was a financier who helped found and run Sears-Roebuck.
When Rosenwald asked Booker T Washington what could do to help out African
Americans in the country Washington encouraged Rosenwald to support education for
blacks I the south. He established thousands of “Rosenwald Schools” from Texas to
Maryland. Many of these schools are today historical landmarks, having played crucial
roles in providing education and opportunity for generations of black children and
teaching professionals. Making a painting about this subject which includes images of
Rosenwald, a star of David to signify his Jewish faith, Booker T Washington and a
Rosenwald school is no small task. So far, I’ve painted a decent background, which I
love. I’ve also started layering in my collage elements as well. One thing I kept thinking
about when doing my research while at VSC were the eyes of former students of these
“Rosenwald Schools”. I believe I have a strategy that works which will incorporate a
collaged perimeter-of-eyes in the work within each of the four corners of the piece. How
to fold in the Rosenwald school, an image of Booker T Washington, and Rosenwald
himself are my next challenge. I told the client I would have the piece for him by the end
of October, so time is running out to get something done.

“Here is where “Rosenwald” is today with a little more than a month before its due”

As always with me a pesky bit of fear inhibits my creativity. It’s funny though how when I
just get to work and ignore that negative chorus in my head, the work tends to just flow.
Within a week from writing this post I will surely have a handle on these two pieces,
after I tackle some smaller pieces which will remind me that I can still innovate.

“Here are some beautiful late summer afternoon and evening skies I’ve recently seen here in the Lehigh Valley”

I’m sometimes late to great music and it makes me feel like I’ve been spending all my
time with my head in the ground. I can get so focused on making work or avoiding some
obligation for as long as I can that I can miss whole genres. That’s the feeling I had
when I rediscovered Donny Hathaway. I can remember as a child hearing his gospel
music but never really thought much of it, but recently in one of my nostalgic modes
where I just let Pandora or Spotify just play, I came across “A Song for You” and just
cried, it was so beautiful. It’s been often redone over the years, but I still think
Hathaway’s rendition is the best.

In a similar but more upbeat mode I came across Taana Gardner again during the
residency. Gardner has been elevated into my diva pantheon and will be featured
prominently in my upcoming “Black Jesus” painting. “When You Touch Me” was one of
the songs on constant repeat in my studio during my art residency. For this guy who
refuses to dance for any song at all, this Gardner song got my bootie shaking.
However, I featured that song a few posts ago so this time around I’d like to feature “We
Got To Work It Out”. Here are the YouTube videos of these two tracks.

Despair and dystopian visioning are easy for artists and I believe both are a copout. I
have often in my own practice drank deep from that well of misery, thinking the world is
just too far gone to be rescued. I have often sought some emotional solace from
describing the many evils and injustices in the world and I will no doubt continue to do
so. But let’s face it, this is easy for creative people to do. I believe it’s far more
challenging to be hopeful in these times. Artists are the vanguards of society. Where we
direct, others – who are too busy or limited by some circumstance – will follow. How
much better would we all feel if edgy clever utopianism was featured at say the Whitney
Biennial or in local reginal or national exhibitions. Can we blame our audiences for
preferring covered bridges and landscapes when what we tend to serve them is a litany
of woe in all the conceptual works which are featured most prominently in our most
vaunted visual arts institutions. I’m not trying to be pollyannish here, art should and
always will ‘tell it like its is’, I just think the pendulum needs to swing back a bit. Art
should I feel at least be funny as it tells us all is lost. I’ll travel further down this rabbit
hole in other posts. Until then do be well and chins up because it not all that bad.

“Here a lion for courage and a flock of my art students drawing a lovely tree at Northampton Community College, both images I looked on these last few days to give me a little more hope and strength to marshal onwards”

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