There is something about photography, something missing. I have had a hard time identifying exactly why, but I just can’t convince myself to give photography the same attention that I would pay to other visual art forms. When I see a beautifully composed photograph, or one with exceptional subject matter, I will stand in front of it, and I will try. I will try to get pulled into the image. I will try to stay focused, and really consider the piece. I will try, but I will usually fail.

Obviously, creating a great photograph takes a lot of planning and precision. I am not trying to claim that photography is easy, or that it is not a useful and potentially powerful form of art. Maybe it is because I spend so much time using photography as a tool to create prints or paintings. Maybe it is because I spend too much time on the internet, burning hundreds of throwaway images into my eyes each day. I don’t quite know the answer, but I default to treating photography (even the really good stuff) the same way I treat my Instagram feed. Quickly stopping in front of the ones that catch my eye, then moving on about my day without ever slowing down to collect more than an immediate impression.

Last Friday, I set out to check out the Jacob Collins show opening at Adelson Galleries here in Boston. Now, landscape and still life paintings… are not exactly my thing. This is not the kind of subject matter that would normally motivate me to get up off my couch and across town on a Friday night. In this case, I hoped to find something in Jacob’s process. By all accounts, he is a talented realist painter, and while I am not generally concerned with following traditional methods, I still know enough to see that there is a lot I can learn from them. So I headed to the show in hopes of finding some technique that really spoke to me. I wanted to be dazzled, not by his imagery, but by his process.

I left that show after not much more than a quick lap around the gallery.

Instead, I found what I was looking for in Dell Hamilton’s photographs at SubSamson. As I walked into her space (she is the current resident artist at SubSamson), Dell was describing her work to another visitor, and I was immediately pulled in. She was describing exactly the problem I had been having with so much photography. Creating a great photograph takes planning. It takes technical precision. It is not an easy process to get right, but most of the work is done before the act of actually hitting the button. A lot of what I respond to in a work of art, has to do with the process. There is a lot of magic that can happen, after the plan has been established, but before the final product is presented. The act of creating, of working through problems, of making mistakes, and then finding a way to use them to your advantage; this human touch lends an air of importance to art work, and it is missing in a most photography. In the case of the photographs Dell was showing, composing and taking the photograph was just the beginning.

She described using the initial photographs as the basis for improvisation, experimenting with traditional analog, as well as digital techniques to introduce distortions and allowing each process to leave its mark along the way. Some of the marks are identifiable, key codes from old film, dust or fingerprints collected along the way; others are harder to pin down, distortions introduced by older scanners, glitches from editing software. The resulting images combine that nostalgia for old analog mediums, with the visual ques that may one day arouse similar feelings (future nostalgia?), in a way that really sings.

The work, and Dell, really speak better for themselves, so I will simply say that I left inspired, and recommend that you pay her a visit.

DH

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.

Working on this painting has been a struggle. In fact, working on pieces with this particular model, has been a struggle. I don’t want to cast the blame on her, though, this struggle is mine, she just stumbled into it. To be fair, she may be the most experienced, easiest to work with model I have ever had the pleasure of dealing with. She showed up when she said she would, she was beautiful, charming, and had an incredible ability to position herself in just the right way for each image. By all measures, she nailed it. Unfortunately, this sort of thing just doesn’t help me make good paintings.

Now, let me elaborate on that. This sort of thing would help immensely if I had the opportunity to have her in the studio for an extended time, so that I could work from life. The reality is that I just don’t have the budget to do that yet. The reality of being an artist, working in a style that is not exactly in fashion, is that I have to stretch a dollar. The reality is, I have to work primarily from photographs. Nobody wants to hang around my studio for weeks on end, staying as still as possible, without a really good reason (if anyone wants to volunteer, I would certainly prefer to work from life). This is not a complaint though, I accept this reality and, to be honest, for someone who is often accused of being a photo realist painter (an accusation which I would adamantly deny), I just don’t spend too much time worrying about what things actually look like.

Here I am, struggling away in the studio, hardly caring what things actually look like, barely even looking at a bunch of shitty photographs (did I mention that I am a shitty photographer?) to make sure that all the body parts fall roughly in the right place, trying to create representational art. Not exactly the best case scenario but, sometimes it works. The times that it works, are the times that I am painting people who I know. People that I know well enough to paint a convincing likeness within these less than ideal parameters.

Back to my struggle. In this case, like the other paintings I have attempted with this model, I am breaking that pattern. I am staring hard at the reference images, trying to figure out if my painting actually looks anything like her. I am trying so hard to figure out if I am on the right track but, in the end, I just don’t know all that well what she really looks like. I am spending a lot of time worrying about this, when it really shouldn’t matter. After all, what I am trying to paint is not what someone actually looks like, but the feeling of looking at someone (or something like that), and since I don’t really know what looking at Jessica feels like, I struggle.

In any case, while I am not sure that this painting looks anything like her, I think I am finally happy with the result.

“But, How did I get to.. Now?”

48″x48″ oil on canvas

But, How Did I Get To Now..

Those of you that hate the text paintings will be happy to see that I restrained myself here.

For anyone in the Chicago area, this piece is headed out that way in April, more details on that show will be posted soon. I will be out for the opening so, if you show up and claim to actually read these posts, I will buy you a beer.*

*if I have any money.

People often ask me to participate in group shows with the stipulation that the piece should be small. I can understand that, they want to fit a lot of art into a limited space, it makes sense. Unfortunately, I have found that trying to reproduce the paintings I have been doing in a small scale just doesn’t work. Read the rest of this entry »

We had a great open studios weekend out in South Boston at The Distillery. Thanks to everyone who came out and made it all the way to the end of the map into my little studio. I have been told we had over 700 visitors to the building and I enjoyed meeting everyone.

We set up the photo booth again on Sunday and tried to collect as many people as we could for a little photo record of visitors to Studio 11. Although we frequently got busy making new friends and talking about art and forgot all about it, we still talked quite a few people in to have the portrait taken. So, follow this link over to Flickr and check them all out.


Click on any image to go see the full size version on Flickr.

This was really just for fun so, if you see your picture up there and hate it, shoot me an email and I will take it down (unless of course I decide you are a fool and it is really the greatest portrait ever shot). On the other hand, if you like a picture of yourself, download it, use it for whatever you like or email me and I will send you the original file. If you got into the booth and don’t see your picture up it is not because I don’t like you, its just because we messed up the shot and you came out blurry or out of frame or something else went wrong.  Anyways, enjoy the pictures and if you met me last weekend, leave a comment to say hello.

Last night I went back and checked out all the photo studies I have done for the make up paintings. I found a few that, while they didn’t fit into the normal 4 panel format, were still pretty interesting photos so I decided to upload them to my Flickr page. Some are better quality than others but they are all fun images. Maybe I will use these for screen prints or something but, for now, hopefully they will brighten your day on this cold, rainy Friday in Boston.


Click on any image to go see the full size version on Flickr.