Exhibition Spotlight: Salt Lake City
“Excited to see each other and paint . . . . “
The 16th Annual Partners Exhibition at Art Access
In “The Geezer Cubist,” the title character is not painted in correct Cubist style, showing how he looks from different angles.|1| Rather, in a kind of psychological cubism, his consecutive masks are clustered into a compendium of faces that captures his moment-by-moment shifting consciousness. The dominant feeling is shock and frustration at what he and we see, which is a banana peel dropped on the floor, and at the implied comparison between the original peel—one artist’s signature artwork that was displayed this summer at the UMFA—and the skill, training, practice, and discernment it took our “Cubist” to conceive and execute the work that here re-presents it. As well as any, Sam Wilson’s painting announces the theme of Partners, an exhibition at Art Access that caps the organization’s annual mentoring project. In 2010 seven successful artists took eight relative beginners in hand in order to identify the components missing from their skill sets that were holding them back, and if possible to supply those missing tools. Wilson took apprentice Barry Wright into the studio to try new materials; to drawing classes; then to galleries, exhibitions, and installations to see finished work. Other mentors tackled more specific hurdles, like stretching canvas and building frames. Of all the tasks Art Access takes on, this is their signature project: getting promising but physically challenged artists past individual roadblocks, liberating them to succeed or fail like any other artist.
Since the triumph of Duchamp—not as painter, but later, when he invented Conceptual Art—it’s become possible for an artist to be a professional: someone who earns a piece of paper in a classroom without learning how to draw on it: without learning to think visually and create original images. Gone then is the traditional apprenticeship to a working artist, which for centuries had allowed each generation to stand on the shoulders of those who came before, to build a history, a narrative of cumulative change. An artist like Sam Wilson learned under the supervision of someone who knew how to do some of what he wanted to do. So he teaches in turn, calling it “payback” and arguing that teaching advances his own learning. As for the theoretical notion that ideas alone make art at its purest, “The Geezer Cubist “ is his answer, the reason he teaches.
Barry Wright’s figure drawings are competent, but the skills they display are only the nuts and bolts that hold art together; the completed images don't connect to something beyond themselves the way we expect art works to do. What happened between Sue Valentine and Katie Felgar is another story. Most artists are eager to learn, but also wish to forget: to return to a naive state and draw with Felgar’s direct feeling and visual innocence, with a child’s fresh response to the power of direct vision. Felgar’s flat visual patterning in "Whimsical Animals" would have thrilled Matisse, while in “3 Red Apples” |2| she matches his accomplishment coming from the opposite direction. Meanwhile, Sue Valentine, whose Grandma’s House walks a sophisticated line between realistic and pictorial rendering, seems to have loosened up on “Puppy Looking For a Home,”|3| which ought to be the default subtitle for every painting ever hung for sale.
It’s hard to imagine two representational painters with less in common than mentor David Krenzer and apprentice David Adams.|4| Krenzer evokes specific places, using a meticulous range of colors to suggest space while pulling the picture together into a unified visual experience. In “Day at the Beach,” |5| an almost abstract sky, anchored by sharply rendered figures, makes an incandescent impression. Adams’ bolder colors, contrast, and flat rendering combine with energetic brushwork to bring his media-inspired icons to life.|6| While Krenzer’s careful weighing of everything within the frame may have encouraged Adams to make more thoughtful choices, Adams’ spontaneity and verve encouraged Krenzer to be more spontaneous. Meanwhile, mentor Steven Sheffield showed Kent Ainsworth the precise steps that produce his atmospheric landscapes. Yet while one could tick off the similarities—small size, high horizons, near and far elements in compositions that lead the eye into the painting—Ainsworth’s landscapes cannot be mistaken for Sheffield’s. Call it mood or weather, but the feel is different. Despite the different results, the message is the same: no teacher can turn a student into a copy of himself.
Nor can even the best teacher guarantee the student’s success. Not all the pairings worked, so it's good to see evidence on the wall that Fidelis Buehler and Paul Alusa, who share what they call "a heritage," enjoyed working together. Making art is ultimately solitary work, and no amount of encouragement or help can lift the burden of doing ones own work. But the companionship that often begins in school, in working in tandem, can periodically recharge ones batteries. The things they shared—culture, attitude—rarely made it into the art, but they helped make the art happen.
Hints 'n' Tips
A Pep Talk for Artists Struggling With Confident Brushwork.
If you are like me and you love paintings that tug at your heartstrings with juicy direct brushwork then you will undoubtedly like what you are about to read. Loosening up isn’t for everyone, but done right it can have an astounding effect. If your goal is a tight rendering and a photographic depiction, then you don’t need to loosen up at all. But if your aim is to represent your vision of a subject in a painterly fashion with feeling and strong brushwork, read on!
A loosely painted subject that is done with confidence and know-how, is a beautiful sight to behold. Think of the works of Rembrandt, Franz Halls, Sargent, and Sorolla, or, more recently, Clyde Aspevig, Matt Smith, Dan McCaw, and Zang Win Xing. Their works ooze with feeling, drip with the visual rapture of a single brushstroke that “says it all.”
To the artistically uninitiated or the artistically jaded individual this type of painting may seem rough, perhaps a little clumsy (in the case of a field study), lacking all the “detail.” Look deeper and sharpen your visual understanding in order to appreciate the deceptively simple nature of these works of art. This type of painting requires something of the viewer – visual understanding and emotional experience -- in order to complete the message. To develop this approach in your own work the first thing you must do is study the works of others whose work embody these characteristics. Then move forward with fearless determination . Fear of failure is one of the biggest pitfalls to loosening up and being yourself. Each person has to approach this task a little differently because no one knows yourself better than you do.
A few tips on freeing yourself up and painting in a loose manner are as follows: Close your eyes, clear your mind, trust your abilities; keep a clear focus and know what your ultimate goal is. This may require some preliminary work like thumbnails sketches, charcoal renderings and small oil studies to prepare for a large studio piece; the time spent in study will be well worth the effort. Working out the problems beforehand in this manner can free up your expressive abilities when the real painting starts. Don’t be sidelined by self-doubt and never give in to negative self-talk. Look at mistakes as opportunities to learn a valuable lesson and try not to repeat them the next time, remember also that mistakes are part of the learning process. Do not expect too much of your initial brush marks. Just try to put the right values and right colors in the right place and allow the painting to take shape, almost in a magical way; it’s all about relationships, one color next to another until the painting begins to take shape. Right doesn’t mean an exact match to what you are looking at, it just means right in relation to the other color notes in your painting.
Literally loosen up and paint from the shoulder. Use as big a stroke as possible, allowing the various forms in the painting to merge into beautiful interesting edges; finer points and details can be worked in toward the end of the painting session. Don’t put a lot of pressure on yourself, just try to respond to the scene you are painting and make lots of comparisons to get it right. Comparisons should be made constantly with regard to drawing, color, value, edges and texture; keep your eye on the whole painting and don’t let it become unbalanced because of too much emphasis in one area. Save the juicy thick brushwork until almost the end and always remember to enjoy the journey, this is the real thrill of painting. Feel the sun on your face and thank God you are alive, it will be reflected in your work! Remember, you have nothing to lose, it’s just paint and a little slice of canvas, so have at it and create a little piece of yourself while you are there! If you feel the painting is starting to go south, step back and clear your mind. This is not the time to tighten up; success is often one step past defeat! Don’t think, “What can I add?” Think, “What can I eliminate?” What can you simplify? Ask yourself, where did the painting start to lose its focus? How has it veered from the original concept? It may well be that the thing you thought was wrong is not the problem at all; it could be the mass or object next to it. Correct that and see how it affects the painting. Keep the painting as a whole in mind at all times and don’t be afraid to take out something that is just not working, that’s one of the reasons for a painting knife. Scrape, baby, scrape!
I hope this helps. The next time you are in a gallery or a museum, study the paintings that really speak to you. Try to understand them in artistic terms like drawing, color, value, edges and brushwork, why the painting works. Make a sketch of it and record in words your feelings and try to come away with something you can employ in your own work. Above all enjoy what you are doing and pass on your knowledge to others; you will receive far more than you give!