Location, Location

I'm thinking of a place, in a time. I have a loose understanding of the word 'landscape'. A landscape is just the way the world unfolds and re-folds. You go to a place, you experience it, and you extract from that experience. Afterwards, you have the extraction, and nothing else. But some places you revisit. Then your extraction is thrown on the world like a net. Some things match, some don't. You inhabit a newer, thicker space for a time. Then you pull away again, and extract something else: it's the same, but more tangled. It never matches with what came before, and it grows wilder the longer you are away. 

I don't think we were ever meant to leave.

I first looked at the blanket of experiences as something more veil-like, but now I'm not sure the separation is that simple. Mustn't the veil have holes and tangles, places where real and experienced are knotted up? That would make it more of a net. Anyway, I think about that separation of experiences a lot.

Right now, I'm drawing the drawing. I'm looking at art as memory, and understanding my world as a series of re-seeing an image. There's an emphasis on the line and mark. The mark is everything. The mark is depth and presence. The mark is all we have after we train our computers to replicate everything. My paintings need to be more drawer-ly, and I need to use thinner brushes.

My process is a chain of discoveries. It's a long interaction where I capture things I find on the canvas or paper, and develop them. I avoid critique at every step. The work feels so lifeless when I can see exactly how I made a piece. A feature of 21st century engagement with art is the impossibility to isolate work. It can be compared to an - for all intents and purposes - infinite amount of images available online, and inherit lines of critique that are dead weight to the experience. I had to take down all the scraps and clippings from other artists' work that I've gathered over the years because they were suffocating my studio. So we can choose to dialogue or to discover, and the latter seems to lead to the real dialogue we want in the first place. I have to be in a specific mood to make those discoveries, and I know quickly when my time in the studio is going to be fruitless.

Here are some notes on how I move through the painting space right now:

  • Always work from observation. Draw the drawing ad infinitum - in every translation and extraction, there is a chance for discovery.
  • Preserve the marks that you don't want to lose.
  • Lead the viewer through the space.
  • Alternate between warm and cool colors, line and field to create depth and movement.
  • Let the work breathe; let light through the work. Don't leave marks sitting on top of the space.

To understand the world simply and richly, I think, is the secret desire of every artist: to be free from that giant mental burden of unpacking every way the world swims around your head. Extractions leave us hoping for a simple, beautiful truth that we can live fully and presently, not in memory or in faintness. When the space of the canvas doesn't co-operate, I long for a world that would make enough sense to put my studio into storage. That would be the easy way out. But I move and extract because the world is always asking me to. The whole trick of art is finding the one thing I can show people better than anyone else. What does the world need from me visually, specifically? I have to speak about where am and what I see. 

The Case Against Art as Protest

Richard Prince has just disowned one his Instagram portraits of Ivanka Trump. The portrait was a large inkjet print of the President-Elect’s daughter, bought by Ivanka and her husband. Prince has now declared the work illegitimate: “This is not my work. I did not make it. I deny” he stated on Instagram. A direct response to the Trump family and the current political situation. Setting aside the possibility and meaning of disowning one’s work, it is clear that we are entering a moment of art as political action in the institution of high art.

Prince's post denouncing the work.

Prince's post denouncing the work.

 

 

Already, the voices of contemporary art critics and artists are nearly unanimous in their outcry against the imminent Trump administration. Their language is urgent, loud, and at times violent. Jerry Saltz, Vulture critic, has used his own Instagram (note the trend of social media) to call artists to action and rail against the other. The dominant narrative seems to be that artists are required to protest with the nature and content of their art. High art must use its power to save the world that the Trump administration is threatening. Art must protest or it will be irrelevant. However strictly this life of the protest artist is conceived, that is the life that is being recommended for the next for years.  

 

Should protest be the role of art? Has that ever proved a successful role in the past? In these past few decades, we’ve seen the effect of art that attacks, preaches, and politicizes. For the most part, the effect is… none. A large part of the country has ignored the institutions of high art because of its dogmatism, its abrasiveness. Artists create and solve their own problems. To walk into the most up-and-coming gallery in your city is to be lectured on what part of your race, gender, or belief system has been oppressing another person’s. So when art does trickle into the mainstream, people aren’t prepared for its tone or message.

 

Art as protest only serves to divide, not to heal. It splinters progress without furthering it. Each side - the artist who protests and the audience who is supposed to listen - will only become more stubborn and frustrated. This same approach defined the election season. Rhetoric drove our political parties apart, and as the volume increased, so did the gap. Flooding the art world with political statements may drive away the few outsiders that still lurk in the gallery space. Art has no credibility for political change right now.

 

I believe our culture needs a different strategy. The creative world has a critical opportunity to engage in what artist Makoto Fujimura describes as “Culture Care,” a mindset of healing our country through beautiful, generative art. Our artists need to listen and to welcome. We need optimism, not accusations. We need more public work that brings strangers together, more museum shows that nurture the souls of people searching for meaning. Don’t close the art museums in protest; people need to dialogue for change to happen.


There will always be a place for protest in the civil sphere. When a voice needs to be heard urgently, we must act. When injustice rules, we must respond. But act with dignity. Speak with grace. Escape the trap of politicizing - show, don’t tell. Make art that astonishes. Make art that transforms. Make art that listens. Make art that unifies. Be the first to give the “other” a chance. Don’t make the next four years a campaign of rhetoric that will exhaust you. Find ways to heal. Protest if you must, but earn the right to be heard.

The Stone Launch

Check out the online publication of The Stone, an interdisciplinary academic journal my friend Sarah Helms launched this last month. Released in both a softcover booklet and online, it brings together interesting essays from all different fields, written by my friends.

You can read the journal here.

I actually have a poem and a photo in the journal. You can see the photo below and the poem here.


...But Sometimes I Just Flip a Coin

"Is it finished?" 

This is a question that two types of people are asked. The first type are criminal masterminds and people who plot nefarious deeds. Usually their henchmen use these words, hesitantly, to ask about some part of the mastermind's plan which cannot be referred to directly for secrecy's sake. The words "Is it finished?" could, for instance, refer to the scheduled deed of decapitating a hostage and then sinking his headless body deep into the Hudson River.

When this question is asked to the second type of person, an artist, it is usually done less treacherously, though maybe with the same furtive tone. A person may stand looking at a painting with the artist who created it, and ask "Is it finished?" quietly, wondering if the artist has reached a point where he or she will no longer apply paint to the painting's surface. 

(click on the arrows to scroll through more pictures)

Since I am both of those types of people, I get asked this question a lot. I am fortunate that my informants keep me in tight control of the criminal underworld, and unfortunate that my style of painting is slow and process-based, which often means I don't know exactly what I want the final painting to look like.

Some paintings flow naturally. I always have a general direction that I work toward, but at the same time I look for qualities in the form and color that could be improved. I like to work with systems, meaning that I create rules or patterns for myself. That way, the painting takes certain steps, and I can at least move forward without having to plan my whole process. The process isn't random, but I like to invite in an element of chance. 

The pictures above show the slow evolution of a piece I now call "Veil III," or, "Radiance Washes Over This Threadbare Universe." As you can see, it went through several major changes. Over time, I rotated the painting, worked on it on the floor, stretched it over plywood and used ink rollers. Once I got tired of the painting's direction, the best thing to do was to start a new idea. In the end, I'm looking for something elusive, something that makes me wonder how I even made it; I'm looking for the art to become more important than the artist.

The painting went from looking like this...

The painting went from looking like this...

...to this.

...to this.

So how do I know when to stop? It's usually a long process of looking and sensing. Eventually I have to say there's nothing else I can do that will improve the work. Right now you can see the final painting on my buy page. This means that, as far as I know, the painting is "finished". 

 

Ryan

My Future Salary is at an All-Time Low Right Now.

I wrapped up my last semester at W&L with, among other classes, a poetry workshop.

Now, before you start rolling your eyes, let me be the first to say I've never been much of a poetry guy. I don't claim any significant technical knowledge of the art. It's still foreign to me, and I'm often confused by poems. Since I merely have to keep a pulse these next five weeks to officially get my diploma, I suppose I can make some educated guesses about why that is.

First, poetry never really comes up in day-to-day life the way art does. My friends don't get lines of poetry stuck in their heads, or wait in line for poetry slams. Poetry doesn't show up in our newspapers like photography or even prose. It's not in our TV, our movies, our advertisements. It's not at the forefront of political opinion, celebrities don't endorse it, there aren't stadiums for it. It rarely gets framed in museums, and people aren't getting killed over it (as far as I know). Poetry is undercover and out of sight. 

Second, I think (I wildly generalize) that a lot of people feel the way about poetry that they do about Telemundo. Sure it is probably entertaining if you know the language, but that's a lot of effort to put in if you don't. You encounter poetry and Telemundo about the same - usually on accident - and you might be pleasantly surprised when you do, but only if it's Napoleon Dynamite with Spanish dubs. In the same way, you might like a poem if you can sort of understand it, and it's funny. 

Finally, there is a problem of over-complication here. Because the people who write poetry are often viewed as very intense, very other, it doesn't strike most people as something they can do. But poetry is a form of writing, of organizing thoughts, which everyone has to do. Most of writing poetry is observing. We used Wendy Bishop's excellent book Thirteen Ways of Looking for a Poem for our reading and writing exercises. The biggest help for me was seeing the work of many poets and identifying with styles that were similar to my way of thinking and writing. Knowing how a poem should look and sound is helpful for writing your own. 

I found that writing simply and telling a narrative were often the most effective ways to get ideas across. Best of all, the class forced me to write frequently. Like most people, I'm more committed to the idea of a journal than the actual daily practice, so writing on a schedule kept the ideas flowing. 

I've posted a few of my poems on the page "Poetry." They all follow specific prompts from the Thirteen Ways book.

You can see them in blog form right here. The titles are:

For Sale. 1924 Kimball Upright Piano. VERY HEAVY!!!

The Artist's Credo

In Praise of a Sleepless Night

Griselda

Elegy for the World We Knew

To the Moon and Back!

 

Ryan

How to Print a Door

-click on any image for a closer view-

This process started with a door I found in the senior painting studio. I propped it up against a wall for several days, thinking I might paint on it for fun. But every time I walked by the door, I was drawn to its aged surface. Several layers of chipping paint revealed a slow, ambling history. I started thinking about places the door might have been, and what kind of rooms  it might have ushered people into. Alone, leaning against a wall, it had a serious manner to it that bordered on being religious. Since I'd printed household things like mattress pads before, I decided one day that I wanted to print the surface of the door and show some of that texture and history on paper. 

I thought I might be able to print it using our press. The length of the door was not a problem, but it was just about 2 cm too thick to fit between the press bed and the roller. This meant I would have to hand-press the door. 

I cleaned the door and peeled of some really loose paint flakes. Using standard printmaking brayers and a mix of cobalt, ultramarine, and titanium white, I carefully inked the door. The panels didn't get inked because they were at a lower depth so they would be hard to print. 

Time for a test print. I would do most of the pressing using a large litho roller I found. 

I used cheap paper for the test. Since the door was so large, I had to improvise a little. After I laid the paper down, I stood on the roller, braced myself between two tables and slowly walked it across the door. The hope was to get a consistent print. As you can see in the images below, it didn't work very well.

 Now for the real paper. I used a large roll of Arches paper, roughly 4'x 8'. It was too large to soak in the normal trays, so I tried to dampen it as evenly as I could with wet towels. 

I decided to use the roller again, and then hand press with direct pressure on the corners and other tough spots. I used extra paint this time. The result was stunning. 

The print produced some interesting textures that you can see below. I left it sideways because I like the simple asymmetry and the way it plays on the ideas of both a door and a window. 

Ryan

Introducing My Senior Thesis

I’m a senior at Washington and Lee now, which means I’m working on my senior thesis project. What is a senior thesis? Put briefly, I have to finish a series of about 15-20 works. The goal is to develop a cohesive artistic vision through those pieces, and to be able to articulate those ideas through a statement. As both a painter and a printmaker, my series right now is a combination of works on canvas and monotypes on paper. 

Monument I.  Monotype 41"x29".

Monument I. Monotype 41"x29".

In my work, I keep returning to the ideas of sacredness and mystery in visual form. What makes an object visually sacred? When does a person begin to see beyond the canvas and paper into the spiritual world? What kind of visual cues does it take to make that process begin in the mind and which cues are most effective? I’m interested in the conversation that happens when a person looks at a work of art and is suddenly made aware of another reality.

There is much more I could say about those ideas, and about spirituality, but to keep things short I will simply state that I operate within the assumption that our physical existence is only part of the truth about who we are. 

Monument I,  detail (top middle).

Monument I, detail (top middle).

I enjoy the surprises and complexities that come through layering and repetitive process. I usually begin my work with a firm image or symbol from the natural world. Then I find ways to alternatively obscure or simplify the inspiration. I manipulate the image by extracting formal elements I find appealing. The end result has its basis in reality but is carefully constructed to center around visual elements that hint at the more, the spiritual.

Diamond II.  Monotype, 41"x29".

Diamond II. Monotype, 41"x29".

The process of monotype is extremely intuitive. I paint layers of paint on a single sheet of plexiglass. I then scratch marks, roll with brayers, mix chemicals, scrape with a squeegee, or otherwise alter the paint. Next, I place a sheet of paper on the plexiglass. I run the paper and plate through a high-pressure press, and the result is a detailed, one-of-a-kind print on paper. I can alter the thickness and tack of the paint, the wetness of the paper, and the pressure of the press to create different results. I can even print woodblocks or other painted images onto the plate. Finally, to really explore the unexpectedness and subtlety of the material, I use the same plexiglass for all of my prints, printing over and over and over again. That way, colors and textures reappear from previous prints. I love when a print has elements that surprise me; it creates for me a moment of awakening when I realize that the art has an unintended power of its own. 

Evergreen.  Monotype, 41"x29".

Evergreen. Monotype, 41"x29".

They are quiet prints, and sometimes they don't cooperate with the viewer. I want you to spend time with them, to have the conversation that they invite. Maybe you aren't drawn into them immediately. By nature, I think we have different responses to the invitation to be quiet. That doesn't change when we approach art. 


Symbols II  and  Symbol III,  Monotypes, 41"x29". 

Symbols II and Symbol III, Monotypes, 41"x29". 

 

My ideas are still in process right now. My technique is such that I stumble on more successful ways of achieving my ideas by trial and error. This means that I'm working on a few related projects at the same time. One of those is my Symbols series that you see above. The idea here was to pare down the complexity of my prints into simple but powerful symbols that have the same ambiguous staying power as my other prints. They take advantage of the sacredness of text and language. Symbols II and III are almost an 8, Z, S, 5, &, or any number of symbols, but not quite. I don't think of them as postmodern; quite opposite, they speak to the power of the invisible, the immaterial. 

Spire.  Oil on canvas stretched over plywood, 8'x4'. 

Spire. Oil on canvas stretched over plywood, 8'x4'. 

Just last week, I returned to painting. I'm trying to apply some of my same processes on a monumental scale. This painting, Spire, is my first attempt. It's currently in progress, and I'm documenting each stage to make another post later. I have many inspirations for my work, but here I'm specifically drawing on Rothko's scale and quietness. After I layer multiple times, the end result will be a much softer piece, and you might not even be able to see the spire at that point. I'm looking for that stage wherein the painting is in limbo between the transcendentally spiritual and the invitingly familiar physical states. I want these pieces, whatever direction I end up going, to act as a veil upon a deeper, richer existence. 

Rejected prints. 

Rejected prints. 

Ryan


Ideas, 100 Years From Now

John Baldessari is a conceptual artist, an adjective that is both his greatest strength and greatest weakness. If you don’t recognize the name, you probably recognize the work. He’s 83 years old and still exhibiting around the world. There are many ways to summarize his lengthy career, but this video probably does it best. At just under 6 minutes, it’s worth your time to get a picture of the man’s art and work:


The whirlwind tour you just witnessed is strange for the way it both gives you a headache and makes you feel like you didn’t see anything. The headache is understandable; it was produced by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, who have directed feature films and shorts, and who were commissioned by LACMA to make a very short film about Baldessari for one of the museum’s exhibitions. They did a great job of capturing the life and style of the artist into a funny, engaging short. But do you feel like you witnessed the life of a great artistic pioneer? Does this man strike you as someone worth caring about? Or do you agree with his statement that he will be remembered as “the guy that put dots over people’s faces”?

 Above: "Cutting Ribbon, Man in Wheelchair, Paintings (Version #2), 1988". Source:  NPR

 Above: "Cutting Ribbon, Man in Wheelchair, Paintings (Version #2), 1988". Source: NPR


                           

The dot paintings look like what you’d expect. The artist intended them as a means to explore visual language, and wanted the viewer to explore parts of the painting that he or she normally would not pay attention to. His point is well taken when we look at “Cutting Ribbon” and take notice of the hands and ribbon as dominant subjects of the piece. If we could see the faces – smiling, no doubt, at the ceremony – we would undoubtedly focus attention on the human expressions. There is a slightly sinister atmosphere, where cutting a ribbon could possibly be something treacherous. Baldessari changes the narrative of the work and makes it open for interpretation. He makes his point…and then makes it again and again in hundreds of other dot paintings.

                                                                         Source:  The Wall Street Journal

                                                                         Source: The Wall Street Journal

Or take of one his text paintings as an example. Once we read it and see that the artistry is not in the written word (i.e., the painting has no poetic value), we have no choice but to take the painting at face value. It is a list of pointers about popular paintings which – and here is the big conceptual twist – has been made into a painting. At our current point in art history, Tips for Artists Who Want to Sell has become relatively famous, so those in the know can share an extra chuckle about Baldessari’s sly move.


My aim is simply to bring up the question in the video: how will this art be seen years from now? Baldessari is not unique in the realm of conceptual art, but he stands out as one of its most famous heroes. If he is the ‘dot guy,’ what about the hundreds and thousands of artists who are engaged in the same type of conceptual gimmicks?


One of Italy’s most famous contemporary artists, Maurizio Cattelan, is known for his satirical work. Most of it is profane and vulgar, relying on the artist’s wit to make an indirect point about religion, art, or politics. At the 1993 Venice Biennale, the acclaimed international art fair, his piece was Working is a Bad Job. There, he leased his allotted installation space to an ad agency, which installed a billboard promoting a new perfume. Can you imagine the poignance that piece will have a hundred years from now? I can’t either.

...It looked like this.  Working is a Bad Job,  1993. Source:  Art Sales Index

...It looked like this. Working is a Bad Job, 1993. Source: Art Sales Index

I’m not trying to pigeonhole all conceptual art into a place of irrelevance. There are different levels of skill that go into pieces, and some gimmicks (like Duchamp’s urinal) that stand the test of time for the way they impacted generations and shifted ways of thinking. There are times and places for art that is a call to change. But performance art, conceptual art, and installation art, as well as many other forms and media, are powerful because they link to the present. Whether that art makes a lasting impact on future audiences is up to the skill of the artist. Is Baldessari’s art something that pesters the mind and sits with you for longer than a trip to the museum, or can you move on from it once you’ve seen his point? He, after all, is someone that many artists look to as a genius. But perhaps that is saying something about the art being made today: artists making art for other artists. The sad danger is that the great artists of today might just be sharing inside jokes, and that a hundred years from now we will still talk about Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti - High Renaissance sculptor, painter, architect, and engineer - but not quite remember the name of the ‘dot guy.’

 

 

 

The Bear: A Walkthrough

 

My final project in this semester's printmaking class was an exploration of memory. The prompt called for a piece based on a visual narrative from my childhood. I generally consider my memory as poor and unreliable, but when my past does linger, it sticks around in short overexposed movie clips and golden voices. I was excited for this exploration. 

I chose to do one long print about the first time I saw a bear in the mountains. It was the sort of scene you wouldn't expect to forget. I wanted to do an etching so I could capture the fine details of the moment. The final product was 10"x 100" long, which is a more elegant proportion than your mind is going to picture. I chose this strip format so that I could highlight the story-like aspect of my encounter with the bear. Because of the dimensions and the media, I had to do a lot of planning and improvising with the physical materials. 

 

A teaser: plate 6/10

A teaser: plate 6/10

 

I saw the bear, a large black bear, outside our family's cabin in Red River, New Mexico. Our aptly named dog, Scout, proclaimed danger with her "bear bark" just as dusk began to settle. The bear bark was a mix of a high wail and a gruff guttural sound that she reserved exclusively for mammals six times her weight. Every time since, that bark has sent my heart running laps.

On her signal, my family gathered safely behind the back windows and watched as the bear ambled along a barbed wire fence. In the finished print, the 10 plates each capture some part of the bear along the fence. I don't remember how the bear looked so much as how much it made me feel.

I turned to my uncle, a photographer, for pictures of the space around the cabin. It was important to me to try to reconstruct my memory by including plants and details from the environment; if you look closely in one of the plates you may be able to spot the stinging nettle that was the bane of my forest excursions. 

 
Photos by  Steve Burkett , wildlife provided by  The Carson National Forest .

Photos by Steve Burkett, wildlife provided by The Carson National Forest.

 

Photos in hand, I began sketching. I isolated moments in time that I wanted to bring alive. I referenced photos of plants in the area. I played with several compositional formats. I loved the idea of a series of small scenes, each on its own plate. That is what led to my final format. I chose ten zinc plates, each 4" x 4". Each plate was large enough for a detailed scene, but not large enough to stand alone. I believed (with very little evidence) that I could find a way to print them all on the same sheet of paper. The ten pictures would work together, each informing the other ones. Sketches complete, I began to prepare the materials for my etching. 

 

 A little about etching. At its most basic form, etching is a process in which an image is cut into a metal plate so that those incisions can be filled with ink and printed. In etching, acid does the dirty work. First, a zinc or copper plate is covered with a thin layer of chemical (a ground) from the acid's dissolving power. Then the artist scrapes away parts of the ground, revealing the metal beneath. The plate is submerged in an acid bath for a short time, and tiny grooves are created (this is called the bite) wherever the metal was unprotected. The remaining ground is cleaned off plate, and then the artist spreads ink all over the plate. The ink is wiped off the surface and the plate is run through a press at high pressure. Paper is pushed into the grooves of the plate, collecting the ink and making the print. 


To prepare for this, I cut two 9" x 12" zinc plates into 10 squares, each of them 4" x 4".  My classmates and I carefully tore the 10" x 100" strip from a long roll of Rives BFK paper. I then covered the plates with a hard ground.

After that, I etched each plate with sharp needles. You can see below the silver lines where I've etched. The acid will eat into the exposed silver parts and create a groove where ink can rest.

 
The brown is the hard ground, and the spiral death tool is one of my needles.

The brown is the hard ground, and the spiral death tool is one of my needles.

 

I soaked the finished plates into a solution of nitric acid and water for about an hour. Air escapes from the zinc and rests on the plate, which means I have to brush off air bubbles with a turkey feather every now and then to let the acid do its job.

 
The turkey feather is not attached to a turkey at this point. 

The turkey feather is not attached to a turkey at this point. 

 

You'll notice none of the plates so far have a bear in them. I wanted to show the bear in a different way from its environment, so I chose to do it using a technique called aquatint. After taking the plates out of the acid, I wiped off the hard ground with mineral spirits. Then I took spray paint and covered all the plates with a thin spray. The spray paint does the same job as the hard ground, resisting the bite of the acid. But if you spray lightly, there will be an even but incomplete spread of paint across the surface; that means the acid eats away lightly, creating a soft tonal look, much like a halftone. I then had to mask off the rest of the surface with hard ground again so that only the bear would appear in aquatint. I put all the plates in the acid once more, this time for only 6 minutes. 

The plates with a bear in front of the fence had to go in the acid a third time (with the bear covered in hard ground once more). I left out the fence and some of the foliage so that these would not appear to be in front of the bear, but had to etch these details after the bear was completed in aquatint.

 
You can't see the spray paint because it's white. You can see my  Chacos , though.

You can't see the spray paint because it's white. You can see my Chacos, though.

 

Once my plates were all etched, I had to soak the paper. This step was a tragedy. In any kind of etching, the paper has to be soaked in water and then slightly dried so that the paper will pick up all of the ink details from the grooves. Normally, you would soak the paper in a large container like the one in the left section of the picture below. My paper was too long, so I chose to soak it vertically in a clean trash can filled with water (the middle picture). I moved the bin and wrote an informative note which was apparently not clear enough. Another student accidentally threw away an inky paper towel, so I had to perform an emergency paper rescue. My paper received a small tear in the process, and I wasn't able to dry it as well as I wanted to. I'll admit in hindsight that using a trash can for any delicate process is a risky move. 

 
Note to self: notate more noticeably.

Note to self: notate more noticeably.

 

With my paper damp and my spirits low, I had to move on to the harrowing process of printing. My task was delicate: to carefully manipulate a damp piece of paper and lay it just right on the press bed so that the images printed cleanly with the right spacing.

First, after removing all of the hard ground and spray paint remaining, I inked up the plates. This involves wiping ink into the plate's grooves and then removing the ink off the surface with tarlatan and paper wipes. The big metal rollers will press the paper into the grooves of the zinc plate.

 
Meet the press.

Meet the press.

 

You may be poor at judging distances, like I am. But that press bed, on which the paper and plates are laid down, is only about 80 inches long. Too short for my paper. I reasoned that the best way to print would be to tape down plates 1-5 on the bed, print those images, remove the paper and rotate it, replace plates 1-5 with plates 6-10, and print again.

 
Plates 1-5 were taped down...

Plates 1-5 were taped down...

 
...and printed with the help of Amira, one of my artist friends.

...and printed with the help of Amira, one of my artist friends.

 

I couldn't have printed without Amira's help. After we carefully place the paper and printed the first five, I ran the paper back through the press and removed it. We printed plates 6-10 the same way, rotating the paper and staying careful to keep the ink from smearing. At one point, it took three people to maneuver the half-printed image so that it wouldn't be ruined. After all the images were printed - cleanly, and with no hiccups  - we left it to dry. 

 
Pictured: a sigh of relief and a small tear that still frustrates me.

Pictured: a sigh of relief and a small tear that still frustrates me.

 

The actual printing took about thirty minutes in itself. The rest of the steps took much longer, but the result was truly satisfying.

The print is meant to hang so that the viewer has to walk along and take in each frame, or 'window,' on its own. The bear is obvious in some plates and almost completely obscured in others, so it takes the whole print for the scene to unfold. A few of the final images are below. To see clear pictures of all the prints, go to the section on my website called "The Bear."

 
 
 

 

 

 

 

Work in Progress: Goose Creek Trail Series

I'm currently working on a small series of prints inspired from nature. I hike the Goose Creek Trail nearly ever summer, when I go to New Mexico. The trail's path, foliage, and colors are vivid in my mind, so much so that I can see the trail unfold before me as I work. I use a combination of charcoal, woodcut, and etching to produce the images.

"Goose Creek Trail #1"

Ryan 

Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Artist?

 

 

              Are you afraid of art? Does it make you uncomfortable? You go to a museum and enter a room full of paintings. Are you immediately at home in a world of aesthetic expression? I'm talking mostly about Modern and contemporary art here. Museums are supposedly preserving our cultural and/or national heritage; do you feel like you are a part of that?

               I'd like to suggest that art doesn't have a routine place in our cultural experience. Given the chance, most people opt for a concert or a movie rather than a trip to an art gallery or museum. Music satisfies most of our aesthetic appetite. Songs are easy to buy, store, and listen to. We can stay away from the ones we don't like. We can invest ourselves in the music groups that produce the ones we do like. Music is an accessible, anonymous form of expression. We can 'skip' a song we don't like on Pandora. We don't even bother listening to genres that we don't understand or don't enjoy. Songs are quick and, for the most part, easily accessible. Movies are much the same way. They require a longer investment of time, but no effort. Visual and auditory information is fed directly to us; our only challenge is to find the most comfortable seat position where we watch them. Think about this: when was the last time you went to a concert that you knew beforehand would have music you didn't like or understand?

               That is a frame of reference for thinking about the contemporary art, or lack thereof, that is part of your life. We go to the Impressionist exhibits because we know we will like looking at the pictures. We do everything to avoid Francis Bacon exhibits because his distorted, ghostly figures make us uncomfortable and anxious. A suggestion for museum-goers: do less. I'll cover museum etiquette in a later essay, but for now, stop the timid observation of catalogues and placards that tell you what to see. Don't leave your emotions at "uncomfortable," "outraged," or "bored". Ask yourselves why you feel the way you do about art. Apathetic reactions to contemporary art are not entirely your fault. Art appreciation classes don't exist because people are ignorant about art. Contemporary art is to blame, more than the average museum-goer. This is the part of the essay where I get to the information relevant to my current situation.

               I'm in Oxford, and it is 2nd week of Michaelmas Term. My primary tutorial is an art history course called "Art After Modernism." Basically, I meet with my tutor - a doctoral student - once a week and write a lengthy paper for each meeting that we discuss in full.

Christ Church College, where my tutorials are held. Don't be fooled, the classrooms are ugly and cramped.

Christ Church College, where my tutorials are held. Don't be fooled, the classrooms are ugly and cramped.

 I go to relevant lectures around Oxford, but spend most of my time reading in the beautiful libraries around the city, and also in my room because it rains a lot. I just submitted my essay on Minimalism's role of de-materializing the art object while successfully critiquing Greenberg's Modernist vision. If that sounds like rubbish to you, again: you are not altogether wrong. I came into the tutorial wanting to understand the thought that goes into contemporary art. As a more skeptical person might say, "Where did it all go wrong?" Really - and here's the secret - much of the art (again, the 'out there' art in some big city gallery) you see is about dialogue. It is about art responding to other art. It is about one artist rejecting another's vision and proposing his own. It is about responding to current events, politics, societal norms, all in a way that is relevant and grabs the attention. Art has been in a constant conversation ever since people started trying to explain it rationally. Critics and historians have just as hard a time categorizing and understanding what they see as you do. To keep up with the forefront of art means to know the latest art-world events and opinions. Most of the reading I do is primary source, artists in dialogue with other artists. So far, I can say my understanding of Modern and Contemporary art has been drastically improved by engaging the delicate context that a lot of work operates in.

               No, you aren't a troglodyte for entering a Minimalist art exhibition and accidentally sitting on a sculpture. Most people who look at those pieces don't really understand what is going on. Art's complicated past is hardly transparent. But ask yourself what you see when looking at a Donald Judd sculpture:

Donald Judd,  Untitled  , 1966.

Donald Judd, Untitled , 1966.

              "There's so little to see, right? It seems like it is barely art.

               There's no interplay of form. It's theatrical and just too literally a set of boxes."

               *That is what critics on Greenberg's and Fried's side said*

            

               "All I see are squares.

               I have almost nothing to go on, but it has a basic power, a basic wholeness.

               There is no display of craftsmanship, the object just seems to exist."             

               *That is how Judd defended his art*

              

               "I've got to find meaning somewhere.

              The boxes have a different look when I see them at a low angle.

               They seem to take advantage of the space around them.

               The idea is important here: maybe I'm contributing

               something to this art's meaning."

               *That is how the next generation of artists began to

                 come up with Conceptual, process, and installation art *

 

Not so much to be afraid of, right?  The confusion doesn't just lie with you, but with everyone involved. Modern art is a party, but no one knows who the host is. 

 

Ryan

               

Wherein the Author Conducts an Unofficial Experiment.

Mausoleum. A tomb. It's a Greek word that originates from the grand resting place of the satrap Mausollos, a place that was once one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The British Museum hosts friezes and statues that once decorated the outside of that somber and glorious establishment. I was walking among a few of these pieces and noticed a striking statue of a man that is usually assumed to be Mausollos. It stands around fifteen feet tall and is missing some of its head and most of its arms. The intact body is shrouded with fascinating drapery that curls around the body and has a freshness and sharpness that is not typical of weatherworn original Greek sculpture. It didn't draw much attention. I can forgive that, because the British Museum has an astonishing collection. I had a moleskine with me, so I sat down to do a quick sketch (museums are one of the few places I will use a sketchbook).

 I should say here that as an artist, I have a lot of time to think. Without going into too much detail on my artistic process, I need a combination of seeing and thinking through my subject to get any work done. In an open area, like the British Museum, there's a relationship with the crowd that I struggle to deal with. I know that when I put pen to paper, the dynamic in the room changes. At that moment, there's a room with an artist in it. Or student, or however people see me. He's taking this seriously. He's observing. So I think about the art and the people in the room, and they think about me a lot less, I'm sure of it.

I set to work on a 5-10 minute sketch of the sculpture. Something gestural. Soon after I began, the mood in the room changed. People came in, saw me, and then followed my gaze to the sculpture. Some approached the inscription. Some pulled out their cameras. Others stood quietly for a minute or so to scrutinize Mausollos. The power of suggestion. Someone is intently observing, so it must be important. Or historical, or however else people justify their change of attitude. I took a tally to the left of my sketch: eight pictures taken of the sculpture while I was drawing. No pictures were taken for ten minutes after I stopped drawing.

Some people, sadly, need to be told what to see. They need a museum to prop up a sculpture on a plinth and give them a wall text that tells them exactly what to look for. I don't have any secrets, I just observe. And I skip the rooms with all the ancient coins and jewelry  because I think they are boring.

Ryan

 

The sketch

The sketch

London

I'm in London right now. I know this because I'm at a Starbucks and I can hear conversations in English, English, French, German, and other languages. I also know this because of the rain, which I can't escape even indoors because of a leak in the ceiling. I will be gone for the semester with my studies at St. Catherine's College (St. Catz), Oxford University.

I will be taking two tutorials, one in post-1945 art history and the other in creative writing (short fiction).

Needless to say, I'm really excited for the experience and a full immersion into Oxford life. At the moment though, I'm in London, like I said before.

What makes up a city? I enter a city like London and everyone here belongs to the city, just for a moment, maybe an hour. And then I spot my first American tourist, and I shake my head. She's wearing a bedazzled camouflage shirt and she doesn't belong here. She isn't the city. From then on my eyes pick out others like her. They walk slowly, they walk in groups, their eyes take in too much. This city is not their own. And then more: I notice others who certainly aren't American. But they too are on the outside. Europeans from the continent, who don't have the city confidence. (Is it confidence or is it conformity)? Others who are here to look and see rather than to live. I had dinner in London's Chinatown last night - is that part of the city? There is an obvious attempt at insulation here that can't be solely for marketing purposes. Yesterday morning my tube ride was filled with silent strangers, taking up their space like electrons being where they are supposed to be. They don't talk, don't interact. Worlds crisscross for a moment and then go their separate ways, to the bank or the gyro shop. These people, comfortably distanced, easily interchangeable: might they be the city? But each schoolchild and each club-goer has to return home at night. Every sullen face that walks briskly by you has a place more permanent to it than others. The street regulars return to a time of private identity before facing the city again the next day. Is there a city?

I have in my carry-on a great book that I keep meaning to write on. The author, Nicholas Wolterstorff, makes a great observation about cities. They are fundamentally shape our aesthetic experience. How much of life here is dominated by the road? In London especially, the road carves gray scars in the earth that regulate our decisions. Where we go, whom we go with, what we see. We are bound to tread the earth the same way. The car and bus (and here, the tube) are inventions to which we've sacrificed a lot of independence. You walk by a park in London and could have the thought "Oh good, my city-sanctioned nature quota." Someone decided that park was enough of the outdoors for Londoners to need. I could write about the buildings which have the same effect of regulation, but I think you get the point.

I hope to keep you updated regularly on Oxford life. I have brought some paper and materials to sketch with, but I don't know how much time I will have to make art. I'll be completing my orientation here in London this week, and then I go St. Catz on the 8th.

Ryan

 

Sketchbook Anxiety

               I've never liked sketchbooks. As an artist, you get a sketchbook for every art class. It's an obligatory teaching gesture: "You might use this at some point, and it really makes art class seem like it has non-art-class homework." You're told to be creative. To be fluid. To not think of it as a sketchbook. More like a diary, a way to get thoughts out. Use and abuse it, because it will be a jumping off point for your "real" art. But the reason I have six sketchbooks - some with only a few used pages - is not because I develop my ideas or experiment with ideas. I simply feel obliged to use them.

               When a person uses a sketchbook, an inevitable narrative develops. Because the sketches are bound together, they affect each other. When I use a sketchbook, the narrative is flustered, missing several chapters, and written with a bum hand. Seeing a flurry of empty pages flusters me. I start something, only to wish it were on better paper. I'm cramped by the fixed nature of the book. Trying to accomplish anything in those pages dooms the drawing to necessary incompleteness.

               Many artists I know use their sketchbooks to jot down ideas and compositions. I find this to be a laborious extra step. I take an idea straight to the full size paper and free it from a cheap binding. At the very least, I use newsprint to work freely and aggressively. The artists who consistently fill moleskines with doodles and studies, I feel, are precisely the ones who need a sketchbook the least: they already have the ideas and energy to be working full size.

               Of course, sketchbooks aren't like this for everyone. I believe a lot can be learned from artists (I'm thinking Da Vinci and his folios) who turn the sketchbook into an art form. But if you ask to see my sketchbooks, I will either politely decline or carefully select a few worthy sketches while making excuses for the rest.

Ryan

 

Concerning the Italy Series

I went to Italy with my school's drawing program this past spring. Even for a trip to Italy, it was an unbeatable experience. The program was five weeks long and very intensive in drawing. The first, third, and fifth weeks were spent at a villa and studio near Corciano, a small town in Northern Italy. The second and fourth weeks were travel weeks. Florence, Rome, Venice, Assisi, and Naples were a few of the destinations.

We went to went to as many museums and churches as we could, going out of our way for the odd Caravaggio painting or Giotto fresco. It was about the art, but also the encounter. We pursued and then responded. The physical experience of being in a place so rich with history and art was a common ground that each student on the trip confronted through a series of artworks.

If you go to the 'Italy Series' link, you will find twelve pieces that don't go well together. It is a less of a series and more of an arrangement. But the Art in America critics haven't found this website yet so I can get away with this misidentification. Most of the pieces were responses to different places - given by the title - that I saw. I toyed with several themes before I settled on my more or less "official" series, the first four drawings.

The first three drawings are the ones I enjoy the most. They are a response to the way I saw history on the trip. I find it fascinating that Italians live with so many layers of history surrounding them. In America, we don't get to commute past thousands of years of civilization. We aren't constantly faced with our past. It doesn't stare at us through rosy marble eyes or loom monolithically over us in our parks.

The particular notion of layers of history - not just archeological but cultural as well - was what grabbed my attention. Each of these three drawings began with a casual photograph I took on my travels. In the studio, I painted a simplified acrylic version of the photo, using three or four colors. After that, I used pastels to layer on top of the painting. I gradually worked towards an even tone throughout by using the same colors in different arrangements. By the end, I had about ten layers. The layers were separated by fixative but the colors still interacted with each other. Early layers pushed out visually, while later ones might recede. The color was deep and satisfying to look at. The original subject didn't matter at the end. It was obscured, but influential: like layers of history and the slow process of time, this was an exercise in obscurity.

Ryan

Welcome

As I prepare to finally publish my website, I need to admit something. I'm terrible at finishing. I don't like endings. If it's the last bite of food, I push it around with my fork. If it's the last sip of a drink, I pour it out. If it's the final chapter of a book, I read as slow as possible.  

This is a problem for many artists. Finality seals the fate of an artwork and separates the creative process from the aesthetic response. A line or a slight color change can alter the meaning of a piece. One might reach the end of his intended vision, only to realize that he is only halfway through the achievement of a much better idea. Finality is not to be taken lightly.

All this is to say that I should have finished this website several months ago.

A little about the site 

I am going to use this website primarily to post the art I make. It is an easy way for you to keep up with what I'm doing. I've already got several galleries of work up, so check them out. 

I will also be posting weekly about my art, other people's art, and other topics that inspire me. This material will be accurately linked through the "Blog" button on the sidebar. 

I will soon be selling art. I'm still researching the best way to do this. 

Please feel free to browse the galleries and my artist statement. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

 

Ryan