The nude figure is such a dominant subject in the arts. It’s hard to forget that humans, in general, are sex obsessed perverts. But hopefully we can set that aside for a minute and start this post off with a little look into one of the subtler aspects of this imagery. Clothes offer such obvious and immediate signals about the time, the place, the status, even the mood of the people wearing them. That is pretty common knowledge, and it can be difficult to look at the image of a clothed person without quickly forming some judgement about what their clothes say (or what they may be trying to say with their clothes). If we strip away the clothes, the viewer is forced to look elsewhere in a piece to find meaning. Also, humans, in general, are sex obsessed perverts that like to sneak a peek at the naughty bits.

This has always been one of my favorite parts of painting nudes (and similarly portraits). Since the context that is normally established by the subject’s clothes is missing from these images, I can start to explore more indirect ways of framing the stories told by my paintings.

Like a lot of people, I have a romantic nostalgia for the aesthetics of older technology. From the soft warm look of old film photos, to the ubiquitous sound of a guitar through a tube amp pushed to its limit, it’s hard to dismiss the beauty imposed by the analog processes of the past. That said, I am not foolish enough to overlook the signatures left by more current technologies. The noise in an image of an older digital camera, or that overly saturated, overly sharp look that people seem to love, or love to hate. The day will come when we look back fondly on the aesthetics of this era, and in the meantime, playing with these aesthetics feels like a great way to more quietly give a place and time to a composition.

So, I have always tried to find ways to make my paintings mimic, or mock, the marks left by todays tools. Over sharp, over saturated video, and photos are one of the unique looks of today. It grabs attention, it looks incredible at first glance; and I would bet that a lot of the same photographers that romanticize the cheap film of the past, probably view this aesthetic as in poor taste (at best). Honestly, those contrasting feelings are exactly why I have always thought this was a good place to play. So I looked for ways to bring some of that look into my paintings. If you look at some of my older paintings, the skin tones are vivid. They are mixed to feel real, but brighter, without using any earth tones. The look is three dimensional, but flat at the same time. I used multiple reference images with different focal points. So nothing is ever really out of focus, nothing falls back, everything is painted sharply.

Now that I have found some more effective ways to bring these ideas into my paintings, I am ready to admit that a lot of my previous attempts flat out failed. I just don’t think anyone really saw what I was trying to do, I don’t think the paintings were really communicating this connection effectively.

As I have been approaching the glitch paintings, finding ways to use the marks left by the different tools used to create the source images has been one of the biggest challenges. One painting is created from high resolution photos and live observation, and one is created from a glitchy, compressed text message image taken from a cell phone; the amount of information available in these two sources is worlds apart. So decisions must be made. Details have to be invented for the low resolution file, and obliterated in the other. Somehow a link has to be formed between these two, very different tools, so that the resulting diptych works together as a single composition.

And now I am trying to make similar connections, except using glitchy video files as a reference.

We have all seen the marks of highly compressed digital video files. The blocky fragmentation of images, the stuttering of quick movements, shapes exploding and merging when frames are dropped. Videos collect scars and the ghosts of past lives remain visible as files are repeatedly sent and saved. The degradation is not as graceful as old film, but the artifacts that develop as digital files reach the end of their useful lives can still be beautiful.

For a long time, I have been thinking about a series of paintings that would explore a single moment, and all the possibilities for the next moment. A series of images that would depict the hugely different effects and subtly different reactions possible at any moment in time between two people. The idea has tantalized me for a while, but I couldn’t find a way to make it visually interesting, until I stumbled on to this idea of slowly degrading image files. Now I have something that helps anchor the idea in time, and allows for very similar images, of very similar situations, to slowly degrade into nothingness.

For now, I only have the first frame to show you. A painting in progress that will become the center panel for this triptych. The best case scenario in this imagined situation.

vid-glitch-panel-1-nick-ward-painting-wip

And a little peak into one of the possible moments to follow.

vid-glitch-panel-2

I am planning a full post about the latest painting soon. In the mean time, I talked to Poets/Artists Mag a little about this series of glitchy paintings. I know I have talked a bit about these pieces already, but if you find yourself wondering – “WTF is he thinking with these paintings?” – this is the best place to start. Follow the link below to check it out…

EDIT: It looks like the link no longer works, so I will re-post the text below.

portraitfromweb-2-web


Please explain the process for this work. Tell us about the series in general.

This series focuses on the disconnect between our digital, and real world lives. Since more and more of our time is spent interacting online, and photographs are no longer constrained to one (or at most, a few) copies, our images are increasingly subject to misuse by anonymous strangers. This is especially true for attractive young women, who often find their most private digital moments taking on a life of their own.

For these paintings, I asked volunteers to send me a text message, or email, with an image that they would normally intend only for a significant other to see. I take this image and crop it so that their face is hidden; so their identity is somewhat lost, and sexual nature of the photograph takes center stage. Next the image file is corrupted using a script that randomly changes bits of the code. For me, the resulting image glitch signifies the end of the useful life for this image. The point where if the image had been shared, the image would no longer be beautiful enough to be forwarded along again. This version of the image is used as reference for the first panel of the painting.

Once I have started working on this panel, the model is asked to visit the studio to sit for a more traditional portrait, exposing her face so that she can reclaim ownership of the image of her body.

Working on this series has been an interesting challenge. Because, the first image is taken by the model herself, I have no real control of the starting point of each diptych. Because the image is sent to me in a text message, it is generally fairly low resolution. Finding ways to integrate the two images into a more composed piece has been problematic. Information has to be added to the low resolution text message image and edited out of the formal portrait, so that the two paintings can meet in the middle with similar levels of detail. At this point, I am starting to figure it all out, so I’m starting to be pretty happy with the resulting pieces.

Where do you see it going?

At this point, I am just happy that most people seem to understand what they are looking at without some big artist statement. I’m planning to make at least 5 or 10 of these pieces before I give up the series so hopefully, once I have a few more, I will find somewhere to hang them all together. Beyond that, I don’t know. I have started experimenting a bit with using glitched video files as reference for another related series, so you should be seeing the first of those soon.

I feel like there is probably more than one art professor out there that is going to roll their eyes at me for this one but, I am really learning a lot about what these text message paintings should be after working a few studies. I think I still want to try one more idea before I move into the full scale pieces but, here is the latest attempt in its current state. As you can see there is a bit more blank canvas to work but, I think overall it is looking pretty solid.

Private Message Study 2 In Progress

I’m excited to get started on a large scale attempt but I am trying to contain myself here… I still need to find a good way to integrate the look of the traditional portrait so that will make sense hanging next to this glitched looking image so, the next attempt may have to be a half scale attempt at the full diptych. Overall, I think that once I work out the bugs, this is going to be a really interesting series of paintings.

It has been an exciting summer at my studio, which has taken its toll on my artwork. I got married, did some traveling, enjoyed the small window of warm weather that Boston offers and now, I am refreshed, ready to hit the ground running in the lead up to Fall. With that in mind, its time for a summertime wrap-up post.

First things first, crucial thanks to a few people that helped make the wedding great. Nathan Fried-Lipski took amazing photographs of the event. Not only did he risk life and limb by laying down in the middle of Atlantic Ave (a very busy three lane road for those of you not familiar with Boston) to get the shot he wanted, he also went above and beyond the call of duty by helping keep Margaux sane and happy during the days stressful moments. I can not recommend him enough, everyone should head straight to his blog to take a look at a few photos from the day, and then go ahead and like his page on Facebook. Seriously, he is a great guy and a talented photographer.

Next up, Eli at Alabaster and Chess. He does custom tailored suits for a good price and had me looking better than I probably ever will again. Beyond that, he was also just a really great guy and super easy to do business with, which counts for a lot in my book.

If you want to live vicariously, you can check out some photos from my travels by following me on Instagram.

Okay. On to some art related news. I know I have been talking a lot about the Street Diamonds show but, that’s because it is good. Silva Naci pulled together a nice mix of artists and it really is worth seeing. You’ve already missed the closing party but there is still time to see the show. It will be up through September 7th so, head out to Fourth Wall Project and have a look.

Speaking of the Just Platinum Rings and Street Diamonds closing party, I am told ALLDAYEVERYDAY was there shooting video for an upcoming Cheryl Dunn documentary. It should come as no surprise that I happily ride the coattails of those above me so, I am interested to see what they do with the video they took Saturday night. Keep your eyes open for that and, maybe I will be in the background of some shots, lurking awkwardly behind people, trying to gauge their interest in my paintings.

On to some paintings. I have done a little editing on this piece and plan on dropping it off at Sloane Merrill Gallery tomorrow (there is a good change that a couple new pieces will follow closely behind). I really loved the idea of consistent using four panels for this entire series of paintings but, I have just never thought it worked right for this particular piece. So I have dropped one. It is now a triptych and, since Sloane Merrill is interested in selling paintings, they have convinced me to allow them to split up the series. I still hope to keep all three together but, if you have had your heart set on a single panel from this painting (I know there are some of you out there), this is your chance. Head over to the gallery before I change my mind…

And finally, here is a quick update on my latest, large scale, piece. I lost my way a little bit with this one but, the solution has finally come to me. There will be some moderate editing done on this piece—don’t get used to her red hair—but, it is still turning out to be a pretty good looking painting. Stay tuned for the completed image and, enjoy the final days of summer.

casey_progress_8-26-2013

I briefly mentioned in the last post that I am participating in the next show at Fourth Wall Project which is curated by my friend Silvi Naci. Fourth Wall is always putting on good shows and making waves in the calm pool that is the Boston art scene so, I am pretty excited to be a part of this. The show will be up from August 10th through September 7th with a closing reception on August 24th.

Street Diamonds II at Fourth Wall Project

Fourth Wall & Silver Oris Present STREET DIAMONDS II

Curated by Silvi Naci, Street Diamonds II reflects on areas of street culture in relationship to personal triumphs and battles according to Diamond and Diamond. Utilizing various techniques from cut-out paper, murals, painting, photography and sculpture, each artists provides a different entry way into their progression to make an impact in the world as a whole.

Featuring Artists:

  • Faring Purth
  • Heather McGrath
  • Jacob Bannon
  • Silas Finch
  • Nick Ward
  • Nineta
  • Randal Thurston
  • Kenji Nakajama
  • Robert Maloney
  • Lego
  • Fourth Wall Project is located at 132 Brookline Ave in Boston (near Fenway). It is open from 1-6PM on Wednesday through Friday and 1-5PM on Sundays.

    There is a point, about two thirds through the completion of a piece, where it starts to become clear what painting I am actually working on. As much as I have ideas that I am trying to articulate with each piece, and despite my best efforts to plan everything out before I get started, there is really no telling what is going to happen once paint starts hitting the canvas. Lately, I start every painting with the intention of bringing more abstraction and diversity of marks into my work.

    Then I start painting.

    I start painting and each piece begins to be tighter and more controlled realism than the one before it. I just can’t seem to help myself. I get sucked into the world that I have created for myself where each tiny brush stroke gets its little load of paint mixed independently of every other tiny brush stroke and details that nobody will ever notice are of the utmost importance. Then I get to that point. The point where I finally step back and remember what I was trying to do. The point where I see what kind of painting I am actually making. The point where I have been looking at the tightly controlled paintings and fantasizing about ways to ruin them.

    This is when things like the bright red line in this painting (that everyone loves to hate) start happening.

    This tendency is only amplified now that I am preparing pieces for a show that I will be taking part in at Fourth Wall Project. Suddenly I am not bringing the biggest, brightest, freakiest pieces to a show filled with traditional paintings. Instead I am bringing the most traditional paintings to a show of people pushing boundaries. Here is the painting I am currently working on, that I hope to finish for the show, right at the point where I find myself searching for the most interesting way to finish (or ruin) this otherwise lovely piece.

    painting in progress

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    At my house, we often joke about how our favorite news anchors feel like another member of the family. These are people we have never met but, they talk to (at?) us every morning and we enjoy their (virtual) presence in the house. Just like any other member of the family, we grow and change with them, we notice if they are sick, and when we don’t get to watch for a few days, we miss them. I know we are not alone feeling this way but it is worth mentioning because I have noticed that I experience a very similar feeling when I am working on paintings.

    Right now I am working on this, rather large, piece:

    portrait in progress

    My friend Cassandra was good enough to model for the painting. She is a pretty interesting girl who normally spends her time hanging with famous (infamous?) Bostonians, doing the sort of cartoons that seem to be rough drafts for comedy performances, and creating her own paintings. Despite all these great qualities, and the fact that we have generally enjoyed each others company, we don’t really manage to see each other all that often. Now, normally this would not really be note worthy. Everyone’s life is busy and most people probably have a handful of friends they love the idea of seeing more often but don’t actually manage to visit. However, in this case, I have just spent a couple of weeks closely studying and painting an image of this person. Strangely, this has left me feeling like I have spent the last week or two hanging around with the real Cassandra. Just like the newscasters, who I have never met, spending this time with Cassandras image has left me feeling closer to someone, who I rarely see.

    Beyond the, sort of silly, feeling of bonding with someone I have not actually seen, realizing this has helped reveal some other trends in my work. I have found myself struggling more than usual with the last few paintings and I was having trouble figuring out the problem. Suddenly it is making more sense and I have discovered a few things about my process.

    The first thing I do when paint in a portrait, or figure is the eyes. I like the start off by establishing that this piece of wood will soon be “human”. Once I can look a piece in the eyes, it becomes easier to figure out how to approach the rest of the image. Two of the pieces I have been struggling with were figures that were not facing the viewer. I was unable to look the image in the eyes and establish that connection. It sounds so strange to say that out loud but, it seems to make a big difference when I am actually in the studio working.

    I also started to see a pattern developing when it comes to the models in my most successful pieces. Most of the people that have modeled for my paintings have been friends of mine. This makes sense when you are trying to establish yourself as an artist and money and deadlines are tight. Friends are willing to show up at odd times and work help out for free. I have discovered that having a personal connection with the model offers another advantage. I am going to be spending weeks or months working on a painting. Since, in some strange way, it feels like I am spending this time with a real person, it had better be someone I want to hang around for that long.

    The curious things that happen when you spend too much time in the studio.

    I know that was sort of a long strange post for a Monday morning but, let me know what you thought. If you liked it, I will do more longer posts.

    Also, if you want to see a painting that I struggled with (but ultimately, became a good piece) head over to Sloane Merrill Gallery on Charles street and see my latest sunbather piece. It will be hanging in the Back to Back show for another week or two only. The weather is great, the gallery is beautiful, and Charles street oozes Boston charm so, take a walk and enjoy Spring.

    Originally I was planning on waiting until this painting was completely finished to post and update but – plans change. Recently I had the opportunity to talk to CNN about working with my friends at TurningArt. Since it looks like a fair amount of people are tracking me down after seeing the clip, I thought that I should post an update on the progress of the piece I was working on when the segment was filmed.

    Check out the video on CNN:
    http://money.cnn.com/video/technology/2012/06/22/t-ts-turning-art.cnnmoney

    And then, see the painting in its current state.

    I still have some work to do on this piece but, I am pretty happy with how it is progressing. Check back soon to see the final piece as well as an update on this collaborative portrait.

    I jumped into this new painting fairly quickly without any real plan as to where I wanted to take it. The model came by and we ended up with this image that I loved so I just went for it. Unfortunately, I now find myself halfway through the piece with a lot of questions to answer – or maybe the painting will just take me where it wants to be? Not sure about the yellow, not sure about the way the paint is hitting the canvas but, I still love the overall composition. I guess that is always part of creating, getting lost, choosing a direction and just going for it. I feel like this piece just needs more… maybe someone will come by Open Studios this Sunday and give me some good advice.

    Working on paintings is always so much like dating. The start of a new piece is always filled with excitement, I end up staying up late into the night painting and when I am forced to leave its side, I am still daydreaming of the endless potential of my new fling. Unfortunately not all relationships are like the movies, some thing are just not meant to last and sooner or later every minute is pure torture. This latest painting started out easy but, putting the finishing touches on it seems to be dragging out endlessly. While I am happy with how it has come out, I can hardly stand the idea of working on it another minute. I think that means it is time to put it aside (for now) and start something new.

    While I was trying to finish this piece, and dreaming of the next painting I received some great news. I walked out to my mailbox expecting the normal assortment of junk and was instead greeted by a letter from the Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation notifying me that I have been awarded a grant to help fund my painting. Needless to say my idea for the next painting went from, “make some small paintings to sell at open studios” to, “make the biggest best painting possible.” So I immediately stretched myself a monster canvas and got to work. The new piece is all laid out and the under painting is nearly finished so, check back soon too see what the next piece will be.