A few months back, I wrote a post about receiving my second Elizabeth Greenshilds Foundation grant, and my plans to use a portion of those funds to help me put together a show of portraiture. Since that initial post, my focus has been more on the development of my own work, than it has been on the development of that show. However, now that I am starting to find my way through these glitch paintings (more about that soon, for now see what’s up with those on Instagram), it’s time to talk more about the show. I think the best way to start, is to introduce the artist that inspired me to consider stepping out of the studio and pulling an exhibition together.
When it comes to works of art, I would like to think that my tastes are pretty varied. I try to approach different styles of work the way I would approach people speaking different languages. If you are open to it, once you can pick up a few words, you will find that new worlds and experiences will quickly open up to you. As a realist painter, I do have my biases. I don’t expect all artwork to be speaking the same language, but I do prefer work that is visually appealing. For me, successful pieces of art combine interesting ideas, with beautiful execution. So often work is beautifully crafted, but lacking a voice; or incredibly insightful, but looks like the page of a sketchbook. But there is something else. Above all that, successful pieces have the ability to force me to see something in a new way. Exceptionally successful pieces find a way to fight through my biases and change the way I think.
A while back, there was a bit of a trend in the realist art community. Like a lot of trends, it showed up in a many different forms, but the general idea was always the same. Do a painting every day. The internet was flooded with blogs documenting peoples attempts at this challenge. Some were run by skilled artists, selling small pieces or offering demos. Others were run by students documenting the development of their work. A lot of the work that these artists were creating was beautiful, but like a lot of trends, I never found much to get excited about. At best, it seemed like a nice exercise to build some painting skills. At worst, a silly gimmick.
Every time I start heading down the path of dismissing an artistic process like this, an artist will inevitably turn up and show me how wrong I am. In this case, that artist in Karen Kaapcke. Like I said, successful pieces can find a way to fight through biases and change the way you think. When Karen and I fist met, she was in the midst of a project that had her creating a self portrait every day, starting on her 50th birthday.
“I woke up, thinking – what to do today? What does one do when one turns 50? My paints were in my studio, but the only thing that made any sense was to sit myself down right away, and take a good honest look at myself before I had any time to think. I found a watercolor block, and my drawing box and thus began a project of drawing myself every day for my 50th year. To live 50 as a painter, taking a good look each day, whether I have 2 minutes or an hour, and whether I want to or not. And in the way that iterations are not just repetitions but change due to the very fact of being repeated, I will live the year of 50.”
Within the first five minute of talking with Karen, she had already found a way to completely flip my opinion of the painting a day projects. She had taken something that seemed like a silly gimmick and made it feel honest, given it substance.
The more I looked at her project, the more I loved it. Each piece, in most cases, was small and simple. Some were nothing more than quick sketches, others were more developed pieces, but taken together they became something bigger. As the series grew, the individual pieces stopped speaking on their own, instead creating a chorus of voices working to deliver a more powerful message. Viewing a week’s, month’s, or a whole year’s worth at once told an amazing story.
As we talked about this project, I started thinking more about my own work (I am still an artist, so unfortunately everything comes back to my work). I am spending two months on a large portrait, while she is spending the same time creating a portrait consisting of 60 small pieces. The intent of both of these processes is to tell a similar story. Taken together, the dialog created between these two approaches adds a little something interesting to both.
Sometimes these things just stick around in your head until you can’t ignore them any longer.
For everyone who wants to learn more about Karen, see more of her work, and see where she has taken this project, head over to her website. Her work is always interesting, and constantly evolving. http://karenkaapcke.weebly.com/
To see where the project mentioned above ended up after a year, check out the project blog: http://unprimedcanvas.blogspot.com/