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   Welcome to my blog! I'll be posting thoughts about art, photos, happenings, and other things that strike me--and hopefully my readers--as interesting. And please visit my website by clicking the link to the right--thanks!

   Also please check out my second blog, The Painting Archives to see older (pre-2004) paintings for sale.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007
  a surprise
Today when my weekly google alert for "abstract painters" arrived on my email, this link appeared at the top of the list--what a surprise....amazing things happen in cyberspace. The curator's statement that I wrote for a local exhibit of abstract art here in Wisconsin was picked up by about.com via the blog of Philip Edson in Spain.

This reminds me that I really need to update my blogroll with all the great artist blogs I have come across lately, including Philip's of course. A little job for tomorrow--
Saturday, January 27, 2007
  moving on
Yesterday was the last day of high school for my younger son, the potter. He had enough credits to graduate early, mainly because he's been on a fast track for math and science since middle school. These are some of his recent bowls. A few days ago he received his acceptance from Northern Arizona University at Flagstaff, which has an excellent, world-class program for wood-fired ceramics--my son's passion.

Naturally, I'm really proud of him and excited for his future as an artist. And also naturally, I'm feeling kind of sentimental and squishy about the impending empying of the nest. Images of both of my boys from baby and childhood keep popping into my mind. Since this is an art blog, I won't go into details with that, and they'd probably hate it anyway! But art and life are always mixing it up.
Thursday, January 25, 2007
  thought for a studio day
My painter friend Mark Horton paid a studio visit today and offered the following thought...in creating art, when one acheives a balance of a play with serious intent, creative flow is acheived.

For me, "play" in this case includes enjoying the paint (its colors and sensuous qualities,) thinking up new ways to use it (recently I have been getting a kick out of some rubber squeegees from the hardware store) and being open to surprises. It's trying new ideas without wondering too much about the outcome, just curious to see what will happen. It's the energy you feel when you're entertaining yourself without much thought of what anyone else will think.

As for serious intent, that's when ideas and concepts become important, and holding oneself to a high standard. It's considering what a viewer will gain from the painting. It's when you analyze with a critical eye and understand the need to make a deliberate change, or when you steer a painting in a certain direction that is dictated by meaning as much as by what pleases the eye. It's the energy that comes finishing a painting that has presence and coherence.

How amazing that all of these currents can and do come together, at least on a good painting day!
Friday, January 19, 2007
Today in two hours or so, I put together most of a very nice portfolio of large, glossy photos of my recent paintings (I'm getting ready to approach a few galleries.) It was easy, really--thanks to previous experience with picture files, font choices, text boxes, print options, and so on. It was even fun. I'm so pleased! And also amazed at how digital cameras and better printers and software have so completely changed the process of documenting and presenting work.

It seems not long ago at all that I would use up a whole roll of slide film (at $10/roll) to shoot a few paintings, bracketing exposures and making sure I had enough good originals. In the dead of winter (I was shooting outside) this would involve removing snow from in front of my shooting wall (to avoid bluish reflections) and then spending up to an hour photographing. (Brrrrr.) Then the film would have to be taken into the photo place 30 miles away, retrieved the next day (another $10 for developing) and if for some reason the slides weren't good enough (viewed, of course, with a projector which had to be set up) I'd have to go through the whole process again. I'm sure most of us have similar stories, or perhaps paid a lot of money to have someone else do all this stuff.

Now, even when I shoot outside (which I still prefer to do) it only takes a minute or so per painting, and a then just a little more time on the computer to get what I'm after. The camera was an investment that I'm sure has already paid for itself, and I have much more control over the outcome of the images. Printing is quick and easy...again my mind goes back to the "old days" when I would pay a lot of money for disappointing photos made from slides, when the need arose for photos.

Happily, it seems most galleries, grants, and other places to which one applies ask for jpegs now, or digital photos, or CDs. I'd guess even "slide talks" these days are being done on power point (I haven't done one myself for awhile.) All this great technology means more time for painting (and blogging, emailing and web surfing too...the dark side of these electronic marvels is they way they entice some of us to stay parked at the computer far too long...)
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
  a respectful rejection
There are all kinds of rejections that eminate from the gallery world. Sometimes you don't even get past your first inquiry...like once in NY I asked a gallery person if I could submit my slides, and he asked if I had a NY studio and I said, uh, no, actually I'm from the Midwest...to which he sneered, "Then not a chance in hell!" Other times you get a form letter back ("Dear Artist") which is certainly better than no reply at all, which also happens. Or this--recently I got my SASE back with all the materials inside that I'd sent, including the cover letter, but absolutely nothing else to say anyone had even glanced at it, let alone write me a little note. Once in awhile you do get a nice letter, maybe even with something complimentary about your work. My favorite of that genre was this--"Your work is beautiful and intelligent, but unfortunately we don't feel it is right for our gallery." (I figured they must prefer ugly and stupid.) And of course there is the Brush-Off letter..."Thanks for contacting us, and we'll keep your name on file."

But yesterday, I had the nicest rejection I've ever had. The gallery director called me (actually, we had to play phone tag for awhile--but he persisted til he got hold of me) and explained in detail the gallery's situation and the reasons why he did not feel my work would go over with their particular clientele. But he seemed to think highly of my work, and encouraged me to approach other galleries in the area, and even gave me tips about how best to do that. He closed by saying he'd like me to stay in touch, update him every now and then. This was perhaps coming from personal interest in my work, rather than offering any possibility with the gallery, but I appreciated it in any case. So, though he and the gallery shall go unnamed, I offer my thanks to him--and this story as encouragement to anyone suffering a bleak "NO" from someplace. It's an intense, stressful, competetive business, but there really are some very decent and polite people running galleries (I know and deal with quite a few, actually.) In the context of a rejection, that is something to appreciate.
Friday, January 12, 2007
  further thoughts
This is a follow-up to the last post and my thoughts on tension/energy and flow. I've had a few days in the studio to mull them over in relation to works in progress--looking for the main source of energy or tension in various paintings and trying to see how other aspects of the work either support or compete with that source. Playing off the idea in modern dance that the area of energy pulls the rest of the body along, I've been looking for a similar flow in my work, and trying to see where it's lacking and why. It seems to me that a small amount of resistance to the main flow is OK, and may add a bit of spark--but the energy of a painting can't be siphoned off in too many places or it definitely looses its strength.

Lately I've been working on a couple of new paintings in my Column series, and in studying these it's pretty obvious that their main energy comes from the overall format--the tall vertical dimension made up of contrasting horizontal divisions. So within the individual panels, images, lines and colors work if they complement rather than compete with the vertical grid of the composition...some have horizontal or vertical aspects to their composition, others provide color contrast that creates visual breaks between panels. When a Column painting is successfully resolved, the individual panels yield overall to the upward flow of the work.

That seems simple, and I'm sure I've been aware of it on some level or I wouldn't have any successful Column paintings! But it hasn't been very far forward in my mind, and lacking this awareness, I've spent a lot of time messing around with various textures, colors and compositions that didn't work. So, note to self: when a painting isn't working, figure out where the main "pull" comes from--how it is generated, what aspects of color, composition, contrast, etc. are involved. And then ask what aspects of the painting are clumsily straining in some other direction, sapping the strength of clear intention. Make this a very conscious process, a clear analysis. (Ah, finally a New Years resolution that grabs me!)
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
  tension and flow

Here are a few things I'm learning in my modern dance class with painter/dancer Barb Shafer (which has evolved into a weekly private lesson...other students have dropped out for one reason or another) along with my thoughts on how they might relate to painting.

Barb's classes are based on the ideas of Martha Graham, pictured here. The graceful moves of this kind of modern dance come about through contraction and release of muscle groups.

In dance, the deliberate contraction of certain muscles creates an energy or pull that brings an unfolding, natural movement in its wake. The contraction is often created in surprising locations, from the perspective of ordinary movement. An example: you are lying on your side, with the lower leg bent at the knee, and the upper one extended straight with foot on the floor. Your lower arm is also extended along the floor (in line with the upper leg) and the upper arm rests straight on your upper thigh. (You're all one straight line except for the bent inner knee.) Now you want to sit up. The obvious move for most people would be to bring the upper arm down and to use that hand to push off from the floor, bringing the other arm in with bent elbow to push the toso upright. So you would be doing these various separate moves, and it might not look very graceful.

But in modern dance, muscle contraction is often used to pull rather than push, and the result is a very flowing movement: in the example I gave, what the dancer would do to come upright is to pull out and down with the muscles of the upper, straight leg, aided by the abdominals, sliding the upper foot out along the floor. This brings the whole torso upright naturally and smoothly, the arms just glide along with no strain, and it all looks very nice (at least when my teacher does it!) At the same time, it isn't just a "pretty picture"--there is obvious strength and resolve manifested with this move, an impressive simplicity, and an element of surprise to the viewer.

Are there parallels to painting in this approach (or am I always just so obsessed with painting that everything has to relate?)? I think there are, really--perhaps more easily seen if you substitute the more visual terms "tension and flow" for Graham's "contraction and release."

It seems to me that a good painter establishes the strongest tension and energy through one main aspect--it may be color, composition, sense of movement, scale or some other element. Take away that central energy and the painting falls apart or becomes something completely different. And if several aspects of a painting compete strongly with each other--pushing/pulling in too many directions at once, the painting tends to look awkward or confused, without clear direction or force.

When the tension eminates from one strong aspect of the painting, there is potential for flow and balance to the work. As in dance, the source of that tension might well be unexpected or not at all obvious, even to the artist. But nevertheless, its "pull" on the other aspects of the painting can guide them into subordinate and supporting positions.

This is a new perspective for me...from my experiences in the dance studio, it makes sense to me at a gut level, though perhaps not fully developed. So--I'm off to the painting studio now to see if I can apply any of this in a real, practical way. Stay tuned!
Sunday, January 07, 2007
  new painting
This one, Strata, is 78"x24," comprised of four panels. The layering of shades of white/grey/gold in the top panel is quite nuanced, the top layers removed in places with solvents to create depth. The lower panel is an intense, glowing red,and the two middle panels earthy, kind of metallic looking.

The title refers to the geological layers, but also on a more personal level, to hidden or buried aspects of experience.

As I was working at arranging these panels, I originally had the white panel configured with several other cool, subtle panels (see early version below on 12/17--in this photo you can also see the red panel arranged with others of similar color.)The effect was pleasing and calm and I was inclined to finish it off in that direction.

But when I placed the cool white one in relation to the warm, bold red panel, these two somehow complemented and enhanced one another in an unexpected way...I abandoned my earlier arrangement, which now seemed more "timid" than "calm."

When my husband Don and son Ben saw this one, both responded with what I call a "wow" reaction (not necessarily involving that actual word, but conveying it nonetheless.) Since a lot of my work requires thoughtful, quiet contemplation on the part of the viewer to appreciate, I don't expect or intend to elicit many outright "wows"--but when they do happen, I have to admit it is satisfying.
Thursday, January 04, 2007
  self-imposed rules
Recently, a couple of conversations (one by email, one in person) have made me think about a few fairly unconscious "rules" that I have made for my work. These seem to come about when a painting, or a series of paintings is successful, and my response is --"hey that works, I'll just engrave it in stone someplace so I'll have it next time." On some level I must be looking for answers that always work--not exactly condusive to growth and discovery.

Both of these revealing conversations had to do with my Column Series, which I have come back to after a break of six months or so. The Columns have definitely been successful, not only in my own evaluation, but in sales--all but three of the first ten (of the numbered series) have been sold. Somewhere along the way, I seem to decided on several rules for the Column Series to insure their continued popularity.

One of these, I now see, was that "the panels within the Column Series shall be distinct from one another in terms of color and surface treatment. They can and should relate, but not duplicate." This rule evolved out of the work of the first ten Columns--although they each centered around a related range of colors, each panel within was unique. (This is not always evident in photos but it is when seeing the actual paintings.) However, I broke this rule when I got to Columns 11 and 12, recently completed and posted below on Dec. 27. In these, there are two panels in each that are very close in color and texture, red in one case, blue in the other.

I didn't really recognize that I'd broken my rule, since it was unconscious--I just felt vaguely uneasy with my results, and kept poking away at those two red and two blue panels, making little changes. Then, painter Anthony Falcetta wrote in an email that the "rhyming" of the two similar panels in each Column seemed to collapse the space, "making the formal qualities of the columns apparent first, with associations and evocations happening just after." So the object, abstract quality of the work was enhanced, while the narrative receeded. Which is actually something I've been after for quite some time.

The other rule I have recently broken (with help from my son Ben) is that "a painting in the Column Series shall be 7 to 8 feet in height, comprised of no fewer than four panels." Again, this came out of the first ten paintings of the series, nicely matching in their format. The other day Ben, who's home from college for the holidays, came into my studio to see my work in progress. Ben is not an artist himself, but has always had an excellent eye. We were looking at various arrangements of panels in one of the new Columns I'm working on, and I said "No, this way it just looks too clunky." Ben (not shy about expressing his opinions) said, "Mom, the whole thing looks clunky!" Clunky is not something I want. Then he asked if there was some reason I had to have all those panels--that he thought there were three that would work together as a whole. We tried it, and I had to agree. The painting is now only 5 1/2 feet in height, and I have a new way of thinking about the whole series. There it is at the right, in its present state. There is a lot more detail and luminosity that is not showing up in this photo, taken on my studio wall.

So thanks, Ben and Anthony, and thanks to all the others who over time have given me excellent and honest feedback. Sometimes we need eyes other than our own to see which of our rules are good and which only hold us back.

PS: Some self-imposed rules are positive of course, such as "studio time shall take precedence over housework." But I think those tend to be more conscious than the ones that are limiting or negative.
Monday, January 01, 2007
  new year's day

Happy New Year! After a depressingly rainy Eve day, the snow arrived last night, and the sun this morning. I went out with Louie on my x-c skis for the first time this year...the photo to the left was taken right across the road from our house, on the lane leading to our upper field.

Every twig and bit of dry foliage had a layer of white, illuminated by the morning sun shining through. It took me back to one of my early childhood memories, from about age seven...crawing underneath tall, snow-laden weeds in a vacant lot near our house. Surrounded by white forms, with everything quiet and still, I had a strong sense that day of merging with nature. Perhaps being so young, with my sense of a separate self only newly formed, I found the boundary between self and nature more easily breached. These days, it is harder to turn off the brain and be fully aware in that same way. But on this quiet, sunny snow covered morning, the first day of 2007, there was really something mystical present in the woods.


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       Rebecca Crowell