Books and Influences

I’ve been thinking about my influences lately and I realized I may be stuck in that advent of modern art sweet spot, in which artists were enthralled by the idea of finding a subject’s essence.1 

When we talk about an abstract of a long academic paper, we mean something that is composed of the main points of the actual paper. When Picasso deconstructed the image of a bull, he was leaving only the main points that without anything else could still represent the idea of a bull. When we think of abstract art today, I think we’ve gone beyond this; even though, at the same time, it is what we have always been doing when creating abstract art.

When we recreate what we see, it is in the fashion of what one sees. When an artist can acknowledge this, she can be guided by more than the idea of a given object. When she sees a vase, for example, she might not just see a vase but something about that vase, and it is that something that she can try to convey.

It could be a mood or an indefinable quality like charisma or elegance. It could be “pretty” without anyone being able to explain why.

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While in school, I would love browsing the library and found myself returning to a specific aisle in the book stacks and introducing myself to Klee, Kandinsky, Picasso and Van Gogh. I knew that what I was looking for would not be found in The Impressionists and in hindsight I think I was looking for structure and good line work.

I would later find out that many of the artists from the 1920s were influenced by Japanese art prints.

When I look at Hiroshige’s abstractions of human figures, birds and flowers, I think Hiroshige was trying to convey not a mood or quality that stood outside the idea of an object. He looked instead at the lines themselves. When looking at a flower, for example, it is like looking at the design of that flower. The line work is very purposeful and neat. It is also meant to be seen. Each piece within an object is like a building block that helps compose an overall idea.

There’s a balance. It’s almost mathematical.

Sketch of flower from Horikiri no hanashobu by Hiroshige3

When I look at the flower above, I don’t imagine it toppling. It looks poised. It maintains what Klee might describe as a “balance of proportions,” which he discusses in the second section of his Pedagogical Sketchbook, II Dimension and Balance. There’s a great line from the next section2 and that is “To stand despite all possibilities to fall.”

I marvel at the flower because it is supported not just at the base but by the imagined weight of the leaves and the relative sizes of its parts. Each part, moreover, is outlined in black ink and highlighted as an individual piece with its own qualities of line and flow, which in turn follow a path that responds to and influences the disposition of its surrounding pieces.

In words this sounds complicated but in appearance it’s very simple. Or it’s very simple for an audience to see everything at play, all at once. It may not have been so simple to compose the flower to begin with.

When drawing this flower in my sketchbook, I was always tempted to draw the lines longer than they were so as to accentuate the flow of the line, but doing so disrupted the balance of proportions. So I had to redraw and shorten the line while maintaining the flow of the line.

I believe the art of Hiroshige’s drawings are in this balance: maintaining the qualities of multiple aspects — line, form, balance of proportions and color — while creating a scene a viewer can take in all at once.

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1 I’ve written about this before and spent some time arguing how one may be inherently biased, the essence of a subject may not exist and therefore whatever we might believe is the essence of anything may only be something one imagines.

2 Section III Motion and gravitational curve

3 Melanie Trede, et al. One Hundred Famous Views of Edo. Taschen, 2015

On the Subject of Success

I

It’s a question of how you want to spend your time. Which is a big question.

In my head I see the idolization of icons who worked tirelessly day and night year after year. But, to put this in modern terms, this doesn’t look like a healthy work-life balance.

Everyday there will be a choice. Maybe you really do want every morning to be a slow morning. What if every morning was a slow morning in which you could watch the sun rise and smell the coffee brewing, the aromas of a warm breakfast being cooked on the stove? Could you be content with that choice if it meant you chose not to do other things instead?

Ok, maybe this would be an easy choice, but given “the rest of life,” it doesn’t feel like there’s a choice because how you spend your mornings involve responsibilities that, if not fulfilled, can make you and others very unhappy.

Maybe you have a family to feed. Maybe you have chores to complete. Maybe you live in a commune. Maybe I’m not clear on who my audience is. 

Either way, it’s likely you had the question of how you spend your time answered for you as a child, while as an adult, you might wake up one morning realizing you had yet to answer such a basic but all-encompassing question.

How do you want to spend your time (given the time that has not already been allotted to something else)… ?

II

It’s a matter of perspective.

We’ve seen a wealth of biopics looking into the lives of great men and women, and for the audience, there is the task of sussing out the legacy from the life.

Each person has a unique mind and psychology. What makes one person happy might not make another happy. Or how one spends one’s time might not have been for the sake of happiness.

Or, looking at modern times, maybe we are not seeking happiness anymore because it’s too evasive of an idea. Maybe we are content with chasing a feeling. Maybe it’s all a matter of psychology.

What if it’s become a matter of idolatry or idealization of one’s life. We tell ourselves stories about ourselves through the lens of social media. We look at somebody else’s legacy and draw comparisons to our own lives. We might even be fully aware that part of one’s audience is oneself.

Yes these stories can be comforting or just a bit of fun. But it creates an interface between oneself and the idea of one’s life.

Even though life is not a mere idea.

III

It’s not a matter of discipline.

Or discipline is an approach but not the end goal. Of course there are exceptions. You might want the discipline as apart of how you see yourself. Discipline in this case would be an idea.

It could also be an integral part of getting to the end goal. It could be your approach to achieving some meditative state. For many it is difficult to achieve a meditative state without first carrying on an activity that leads one there.

Maybe, for some, this is success. The work itself. Or achieving some state of mind.

But this brings me back to that first question. How do I want to spend my time? Is the work itself enough?

Or am I looking for a payoff… any payoff just to stay motivated … because the dream of that ephemeral idea of success is such a great idea. What drives me to do the work really? Do I only want to feel like I am on the path toward achieving something bigger and greater than myself?

Is it only a matter of ambition and obsession?

Looking back in hindsight, I can (fortunately) say that these two elements of my psyche have lessened and I am looking for value in the end goal.

I am looking for something that is more than an idea.

Scream

Scream 30″ x 18″ Chinese Ink on Xuan paper

Happy Halloween everyone!

I drew this image in 2018 on four 11″ x 14″ sheets of drawing paper and I’ve wanted to redraw this for a while on a single surface. It recently dawned on me that I could use xuan paper which is the perfect size.

It was also a good chance for me to practice line work with a Chinese brush, which was a lot of fun, as the color and weight of the paper makes the drawing feel delicate and vintage while the quality of line from a brush is more varied and every now and then allows for the texture of the surface to show through.

Flowers II (2020)

I started Flowers II in 2018. I didn’t like how I painted the flowers, initially, so I did some editing. Then, when I was [overwhelmingly] happy with the flowers, I wasn’t sure how to paint the vases. I was a wee bit nervous about getting the colors wrong so I decided to put it off to the side and wait for myself to calm down.

For a brief moment in 2019, I had the idea of painting the vases in monochrome, specifically, with Lipton Tea.

I first made a master copy of the outline of the flowers and vases. I then planned out which parts would have how many layers of tea. The more layers the darker. I used Frog tape to cover the areas that would be lighter than other areas and then removed the Frog tape one set of areas at a time, as I applied more and more washes of tea.

I may have given certain areas a bit too much tea because a part of the surface, at the bottom, has spots. Moreover, with so much tea, the Frog tape let some of the tea seep under the edges so the lines it created weren’t very clean.

I want to say that helped take the pressure off of not “ruining” the work, but I still wasn’t sure how to do what I did for the flowers as I might for the vases.

This last week, I finally said F*** it and stuck to the most obvious choices. (I had to let go of the ambition to go beyond what I was already doing and to just complete what I’ve started.)

I first aimed to make it look like the original, so the only change would’ve been the flowers. But, using watercolor pencils, I couldn’t find the right combination of colors to have the same color scheme. Eventually, I realized I wasn’t thinking about the wash I’d made with the tea. It goes very well with the red of the flowers but it also makes the entire color scheme more somber or “rustic.” (The original Flowers II has no wash so the background is bright white and the color scheme is bright and cheerful.)

Going through so many sketches, I could also see the benefit of having a lighter hand. (It’s more delicate and makes the vases more of a supporting element for the flowers.) I decided to use each color twice, making it either lighter and more transparent or darker and more opaque.

To make it lighter, I applied the pencil lightly over the surface and then wet the brush without dabbing it (much) to give the area a wash, and then dabbed the area dry with a towel. To make it darker, I applied the pencil more heavily. I also wet the brush and then swiped it across a dry towel before applying it to the area.

Once I had an idea of what the colors would be for a single vase, I used the carbon copy I made in 2018 to produce the outlines for a study that included all the vases.

I used the following colors from a set of 72 watercolor pencils by Arteza: Lime Green (a600), Pear Green (a603), Shamrock Green (a605) and Fern Green (a612).

Flowers II (2020) 18″ x 24″ Ink, water color and tea on paper

There’s a small part of me that wants to color in the centers of the flowers on the top row to follow through with what I was doing with the tea. But … It might make the work a little off balance and make me inclined to add a leaf on the left side. Or I may be over thinking it and should just be happy with what I have.

Influences

I was thinking mostly of Joan Miro’s The Poetess and other similar works. But I’ve been browsing Saatchi’s website and, clicking on the subsequent ads that show up in my hotmail account, I discovered Ebru Acar Taralp, who has a style that seems to be very similar to what I’m doing with Flowers II (and Trees). There’s also green composition by Rafa Mateo.

I want to say I’ve seen a couple of other artists making it a part of what they’re doing, but I don’t remember their names. Well, all this to say, It must be a thing.