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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, October 26, 2010
  memory lane

I've been clearing out old file drawers to make my office space more usable, and musing over their contents--documentation of art business in all its many forms. The oldest files go back over 25 years to my undergrad years at the University of Wisconsin, and graduate years at Arizona State. Others are more recent--but almost all predate my heavy reliance on the computer, and provide a look at those times when conducting art biz was a bit more labor-intensive.

Some of what I came across:

*Dozens of entries to the same few grants and publications, never successful, but sent off year after year--with accompanying slide sheets, of course, carefully labeled...remember how many hours those paper and slide applications could take? I dreaded the whole project, but felt compelled to go through with it every time.

*Piles of files from various group and juried shows, many of which have long since fallen off my resume...but important enough to me at the time that I saved every scrap of correspondence, publicity, and other documentation.

*Plenty of gallery correspondence, both with those that represented my work and those that I wished would. One of my favorite rejection letters of all time: "While your paintings are beautiful and mature, they do not fit with our current aesthetic direction"..."so, what you're looking for is ugly and adolescent?" I was tempted to write back.

*There are also files on various galleries that ended up representing my work for 6 months or a year, and then sent it back to me citing a lack of interest by their clients....in retrospect, the lack of interest was at least as true of the galleries themselves. It took years to connect with galleries that were truly excited about my work, and could sell it well.

*Carbon copies (!) of resumes, cover letters and such...I should probably save these for their value as ancient relics.

*Lots of art supply product information sheets, price charts, brochures from framers...the kind of thing that is now easily accessed with a few mouse clicks, on a need-to-know basis.

*A thick folder of artist statements, dating back to college years...with draft copies and rewrites of everything. The earlier statements tend to be long and detailed, and include accounts of profound childhood experiences. The more recent statements are less grandiose, more concise and thankfully, much less embarrassing.

I'm tossing out most of this stuff, obviously, and feeling quite happy that with almost everything now on in computer files, new paper files have stopped accumulating so thickly (although my e-files too could use some clearing out!) That old paper is going to make good tinder for my winter studio fires, and as I feed it into the woodstove piece by piece, I'll be reminded of the hard work and persistence in the years behind me-- the hopes, ideas, plans that fell through, as well as those that came to be, and those that still remain as possibilities. Makes me feel a bit old--or maybe "seasoned " is more like it. I'm just glad that the toughest struggles for recognition and representation--which these old files testify to in such excruciating detail--are behind me now. And very grateful too for the cleaner, more organized computer systems that now make art business so much easier and more efficient.
Friday, October 22, 2010
  it's complicated

Like many artists, I find that the way that I paint--dancing back and forth between various approaches--is complex and hard to explain. My work includes pure abstraction and also hints of landscape...spontaneity as well as careful editing...definitive mark-making along with color fields and very subtle textures. I find energy and inspiration in this mix, but it is also difficult to describe--and this makes teaching a real challenge. I'm now at the tail end of a month of workshops and endless talking about my work and other people's work...things have gone very well, and I'm happy and satisfied, but acknowledging the difficulty of what I want to get across when I teach. It's not just technique, but technique as inseparable from conceptual aspects of the work and process. Each class is different and brings a new challenge in explaining and demonstrating what I want to say.

One thing I try to do is dispel the idea that an exploratory, process-oriented approach to painting relies heavily on happy accidents and random occurrences. The techniques I present, when practiced over time, become tools to be used with foresight and decisiveness. There is plenty of thought involved in finding the direction of the work, its structure, and the many choices and decisions that shape the final piece.

At the same time, I believe that preconceived ideas and reliance on photographs (even those of abstract subjects) are inhibiting, at least with the approach that I teach. The goal in my process is not to render something in paint, but to allow the paint and wax to suggest a path through the work as it develops. The artist remains in charge of what to keep and what to discard, and how to structure and organize the image.

Many artists in my classes understand all of this at a gut level and already use this basic approach in their work. But for at least an equal number, it requires a lot of effort to understand, and in some cases a huge shift in perception. So, it's a challenge to work through these ideas, often one small step at a time--and it's very rewarding when the ideas do take hold and there is an "ah-ha" moment for the student.

When that understanding happens, it seems to open up a great deal more patience with the process--one of building up rich color and texture over time, rather than leading directly and quickly to a finished painting. (As an aside--I see patience as an extremely valuable quality for any artist, no matter what personal style evolves--and I do encourage personal direction, always. Even in approaches that lead to faster results, such as plein air or very gestural abstraction, patience plays a role in the big picture of perfecting one's work.)

The painting above is Chronology #2, 20"x16", oil and wax on panel.
Thursday, October 14, 2010
  two exhibits

My husband and I are back home after three very full weeks of travel, from San Fransisco to New Mexico to Colorado. Although preparing for this marathon back in September was stressful and exhausting, I guess it paid off --that and a little luck-- because aside from a few car issues, everything went amazingly well. The two Hot Wax/Cold Wax Workshops that I taught with Shawna Moore were full to the max, with excellent students and facilities. And both openings--at Darnell Fine Art in NM, where it is always a pleasure to be (bottom photo) and at Telluride Gallery of Fine Art in CO (above)-- were fun and well-attended. It was especially good to finally meet the excellent, friendly staff at Telluride and the owner of the gallery, Will Thompson, and to find some time to explore the town and surrounding mountain landscape. I cannot say enough good stuff about how we were treated by the gallery and by the school where Shawna and I taught, the Ah Haa School for the Arts.

Our commute to the school from the (really nice) accommodations they provided was by ski gondola. Although I have a fear of heights, I managed to get over it enough to love floating over golden aspens with snowy peaks beyond...this photo was taken from the window of the gondola.

So, I'm back to an emptier studio and (aside from a class I'm teaching next week at Peninsula School of Art in Door County, Wisconsin) a quiet few weeks before we head for Spain and the Canary Island of Lanzarote in November. I know, I know, it's all a little crazy--a lot of travel, an unusual amount. I'm taking stock of this as I go, thinking about pulling back next year on the number of workshops I teach. But as I've mentioned before, there is nothing that I'd have wanted to leave out, and so far I'm holding up well.

Of course it is studio time that suffers in all of this--the main reason for wanting to cut back on time away. I brought or shipped 27 paintings for my two exhibits, and all but a few were done this year-- most in the past 6 months. I don't exhibit anything I'm not pleased with and feel sure about, so it's not that I think the quality of the work has suffered. The issue of producing so much in a short period (there were two long trips and several shorter ones during this time) is more one of feeling rushed through a crucial stage--the one in which I process and learn from my own work...consider, analyze, and soak it in.

I also had to divide the work into two separate bodies to supply each gallery, and lacked the opportunity to study it all together. Deciding the best way to split up the work was not easy, and eventually it was the result of hours and days of moving things around the studio into various groupings.

The good thing is that I did find the opportunity at each of my exhibits to study the work as it hung, when things were quiet. Viewing it in the pristine and well-lit gallery space was a valuable way to see connections and new directions. I am pleased with the strong graphic quality of paintings like Coiled (in the top photo) and also with some new color and compositional ideas that have begun to creep in.

Well, it is always a juggling act--how to keep things in workable balance--energy, travel, solitude, studio time, down time. Sometimes I push pretty hard in one direction, but I also feel that things even out in the big picture. I'm looking for a good mix and taking past experience into account as I plan ahead for 2011...
Tuesday, October 05, 2010
  still on the road
My husband Don and I are still on our Western trip, and although we're assured by our house sitters that all is well, I'm starting to miss home...the familiar people and things, and the beauties of Wisconsin in October. We're in Colorado right now for a few days of vacation in between exhibits and workshops, and of course, it's completely gorgeous in the mountains (a good antidote for my touch of homesickness.) I took some photos of rocks and lichens today during a long hike near Frisco. I love the rusty colors of the kind of lichen shown above, especially glowing against the gray rock. The colors and textures of the woods and rocks were very soothing after a couple of fairly hectic weeks on the road--certainly enjoyable in many ways, but also exhausting.

When I last wrote, I was in California. Much has happened since then, including good visits with family and friends, an opening at Darnell Fine Art in Santa Fe, and the Hot Wax/Cold Wax Workshop that Shawna Moore and I taught there last weekend. It was a large class, 15 people, and as always the energy level, curiosity and creative output of the students were impressive. Shawna and I will be doing the same basic class (and exhibiting our work) in Telluride, CO later this week. The class there will be smaller, probably ten students, and the logistics much easier since it's being held at the Ah Haa School for the Arts (in Santa Fe, we were renting a space, and had to handle everything ourselves--from registration to lunch orders and renting tables.) After that, home. I sincerely appreciate all of these opportunities, even though they have been packed pretty tightly into just a few weeks... maybe it is as Shawna put it, simply an economical use of time!


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       Rebecca Crowell