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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, June 28, 2011

From the book, Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art, by Stephen Nachmanovitch:

Lets return to Michelangelo's idea of removing apparent surfaces to reveal or liberate the statue that had been buried in the stone since the beginning of time. Michelangelo claimed that he was guided by a faculty he called intelleto. Intelleto is intelligence, not of the merely rational kind, but visionary intelligence, a deep seeing of the underlying pattern beneath appearances. Here the artist is, as it were, an archaeologist, uncovering not as ancient civilization but something as yet unborn, unseen, unheard except by the inner eye, the inner ear. He is not just removing apparent surfaces from an external object, he is removing apparent surfaces from the Self, revealing his original nature.

I love this idea of intelleto...for all that we speak and write about our work, there is something compelling us in the studio that is best described as "something as yet unborn, unseen, unheard..." And as much as viewers of art like to know the background story, the intellectual underpinnings, the influences and what the art critics have to say--they too recognize this search and respond to it in a similarly wordless, gut-level way. However individualized (and highly so, in each artist) that searched-for unknown is a universal experience. When an artist is following the intelleto path there is a sincerity and honesty that shines out.

I also love the idea that what is searched for in the work is right there within the self, to be uncovered by chipping through various preconceived ideas and influences. But while there is some casting aside of unnecessary or false leads, there is also an over-riding positive, compelling and joyful aspect of this process--the probing and exploring of memories, thoughts, visual impressions, and what the medium we work with can do to express these. In the Michelangelo analogy, I think it is his trust in the process that speaks of his genius as much as the final sculpture.

(Plenty there to contemplate in this quote, isn't there? And it is just one paragraph from this remarkable book, recommended to me by two painter friends on separate occasions-Carol Beth Icard and Janice Mason Steeves.)

The image above is Landmark 12"x12", oil and mixed media on panel.
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
  time to leave

How does an artist know when it's time to depart from a gallery? I have left a few in my career (and a few times early on, I was asked to leave, which is another story!) I think it is important to consider both intuitive feelings, and objective, business oriented facts --and to re-consider both from time to time also, since situations can evolve slowly away from what is workable. Both the subjective and objective views need to be basically positive...I know I've lingered too long at galleries where I felt welcomed and appreciated, but was selling nothing, and on the other hand I've done the same at galleries where I was making money but losing self-respect.

The easiest galleries to leave, of course, are those getting poor marks in both categories. Why would anyone stay with a gallery if it leads to frustration, constant misunderstandings and anxiety, all the while not selling anything and being subjected to unprofessional business practices? Actually, of course, that isn't terribly uncommon...there are some poorly run galleries out there, representing plenty of artists. It's easy, especially early in an art career, to regard gallery acceptance as a sort of prize, something that gives an artist legitimacy and status. The urge to hang onto that prize no matter the price is understandable. But since an artist and gallery enter a representation agreement as equal business partners, it has to work for both.

In the remainder of this post I am assuming that the artist is doing all that he or she can to make things work, including keeping the gallery supplied with fresh work and updated images, meeting commitments and never undercutting the gallery's sales. Those are the artist's responsibilities, and if not met, troubles can't be blamed on the gallery. As a further note--I want to emphasize that the majority of my own gallery experiences have been very positive--I have worked with, and continue to work with many wonderful, insightful, supportive and thoroughly honest people. I have never been one to gripe about galleries, and I owe my career to the great galleries that represent me. But I'd guess every working artist encounters a few difficult situations sooner or later, and the ability to know when to move on can be hard won.

Policies and practices in artist/gallery relationships vary quite a bit, and until one gains considerable experience it can be difficult to know what's acceptable, and what should raise a red flag. An example of the latter is an artist placed in uncomfortable or compromising positions as a result of the gallery trying to please a client. Perhaps there is a drastic discount offered without the artist's approval, or promises made about delivery of a commission without checking the artist's schedule. There are plenty of other ways a gallery can be difficult to work with--failing to understand the artists working process and pushing for unreasonable outcomes, handling the work carelessly--resulting in damage--or failing to keep accurate records. All of these have happened to me in galleries that I have left. I did not leave over any one issue, though. Instead it was an accumulation of problems, and the accompanying gut feelings of "I've had enough." Perhaps the objective fact of the problems alone should have clued me in, but in a busy life it's certainly easier to stay put than to make a move, and until I started to feel the emotional need to leave I stayed put.

On a more philosophical note, I've been considering the idea that money represents a flow of energy from person to person, and thinking of where this flow is impeded in my own life. Of course, my thoughts land quickly on places where my work sits but does not sell. I have already begun to move out of certain galleries and look for others in places with more potential.

The hardest situations to leave, of course, are the ones where feelings are good all around, the relationship between artist and gallery is solid and long-standing, but for whatever reasons--the market or some shift in what fits with the gallery--sales dwindle to nothing. The hope is that things will improve, and this hope can derail a more hard-nosed business approach. This was the case in my departure this week from Circa Gallery in Minneapolis, where I have been represented since 1998. The decision to go was quite agonizing, but I could no longer afford to leave work there when it was not selling. When I loaded up my station wagon and pulled away on Tuesday, I thought, "It's the end of an era." At least in my life it is.

(Painting pictured above is Stack, 12"x 12" and will be exhibited in my show at Woodwalk Gallery in Egg Harbor, WI, opening July 3.
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
  summer schedule

Last year at this time, I was at the beginning of a steady stream of activity and commitments that carried on right through November. For better or worse, I had accepted nearly every teaching gig and exhibition opportunity offered to me for the summer and fall, which left little downtime, and resulted in a lot of travel and complicated scheduling. In one three week period in late September through October, for example, I had two shows, two workshops and a speaking engagement, all far from home. I learned some things from this crazy-busy time... I know first hand now that this kind of pace is exhausting and occasionally mind-numbing, and I'm learning to say "no" when I sense that I'm getting in too deep.

At the same time, though, when my schedule does get heavy (in spite of all intentions otherwise) I feel more confident that I can handle it. Gradually over the past year, I've realized that I do not need to worry about getting everything done, because...well, I always get it done. After years of feeling anxious whenever my schedule got full, it finally dawned on me that, in fact, I'm pretty good at time management, and I always meet my commitments. Considering that, I've been able to keep more calm when things get busy, and just count on myself to pull through.

Prior to last year's busy time, I told a friend that I was feeling nervous with so much ahead to do and all the logistical juggling involved. Her reply-- "Actually Rebecca, it sounds like you will have a lot of fun and adventure,"--proved to be right on target. That is exactly how it turned out. Exhausting and difficult at times--yes--but overall it was an exciting and memorable season. My friend's take on the situation made me consider how much my own attitude could influence the outcome of the months ahead. Of course, I had some frantic and stressful days, but her words were helpful, and remain so.

The summer of 2011 now looms--not as packed as last year, but I do have a steady flow of plans, and only small stretches of down time. Although travel is tiring for me, there is plenty to look forward to...and like last year, I expect the highlights will include meeting a lot of wonderful artists in my classes, visits with old friends and family, and spending time in some of my favorite places in the country (and elsewhere!)

First on the schedule is an exhibit that opens July 3 at Woodwalk Gallery in Egg Harbor, Wisconsin. The painting above (Stripes #4", 12"x12" oil and mixed media on panel) is one that I will be taking to the gallery along with a dozen others of various sizes. Woodwalk is in scenic Door County, the "thumb" of the state that extends into Lake Michigan, and it's always a pleasure to visit--I will drive the work over and then visit with a friend for a few days before the opening. I have shown at Woodwalk for a number of years but this is the first time I've had an exhibit there, and I've been working hard to get the work ready.

Later in July I will again pack up paintings in the car, this time bound for Santa Fe, and an opening at Darnell Fine Art on 7/22--this one is a two person show with painter Bill Gingles, whose work I admire and am eager to see in person. I think my work and his will be very complementary--we share in interest in rich, organic surfaces and gestural mark-making.

A few days after the opening, I will head up to Telluride, CO to teach a 4-day workshop at the Ah Haa School for the Arts. I had a fun time there last October...Telluride is a beautiful town with plenty of charm and character, great food and good art. There are still some openings in this class, if anyone reading this would like to join.

August will be dedicated to finishing work for my exhibit at Gormleys Fine Art in Dublin, Ireland. I've already started quite a few of these paintings--there will be a dozen or so, mostly 16"x 16" works on multi-media board, and I'll need to have them ready to ship by the middle of the month. The last weekend in August, I'll be at Shake Rag Alley School of Arts and Crafts in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, teaching a Level 2 Oil and Wax Workshop (this class is full) and then, after relaxing for a few days with a couple of art friends from out of town, I'm off to Ireland for a 3 week residency at the Tyrone Guthrie Center, followed by the exhibit in Dublin, and a little touring around with my husband who will join me for the last week or so. When I return to the US in October, I'll have one more Level 2 Workshop to teach--again at Shake Rag Alley (there are still openings for this class, designed for those who have already had an intro session) and then, I will be quite ready for the quiet part of the year, late fall and winter, when I avoid planning anything other than painting...
Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Now that this painting, Cloak #2 (commissioned through my Santa Fe gallery, Darnell Fine Art, for the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas) has been received by the hospital, and the word is that they love it, I feel free to discuss the process and personal story in more detail than I have up until now (I've put a photo or two on Facebook in the past couple of weeks, but have not written much.)

A commission of this size (it measures 5 ft. x 8 ft.) is a huge honor, and it was exciting and challenging (in a good way) to create...but it's also been, frankly, a bit nerve-wracking and I am now exhaling in relief after hearing of its safe arrival and positive reception in Texas. Helping to load it into the truck from the packaging company in late May, I imagined several disasters that could befall it. And even though I'd sent photos and had followed all the specified requirements (this one is based on an earlier painting, made to a specific size and horizontal orientation) I was still eager to hear that the client was pleased when it arrived.

Actually, the painting process went very smoothly from the first day I worked on the piece--my concerns were mostly logistical. Would the custom built panels arrive on time (travel plans already in place when I heard about the commission made studio time with the piece less than ideal)...and would they fit together correctly when bolted? How would I handle the painting physically since it is so large, and how would I handle any transportation needs of the finished work? Happily, all of these issues resolved in positive ways. The panels were a few days late, but because the process itself went so well, I ended up with plenty of time, and the guy who does my bolting was very pleased with how well they fit together (there are 9 separate panels in the piece.) My husband helped me each time the painting had to be moved in my studio, once it was bolted together and became awkward to manipulate. As for transporting it, I was able to get the piece to and from the woodshop in my Subaru wagon, by partially unbolting it, and the final aspects of transport to Texas were handled completely by my gallery. All I had to do was paint the painting, and by arrangement, the rest was taken over by the packing and shipping pros.

I have a few photos that illustrate the painting process. This first shot is the painting that the client chose as the basis for the painting, Cloak from 2006. I was pleased with this choice--it's a painting I really like, and I enjoyed revisiting the color choices in the main panel, which I had not used for several years. This photo is fairly degraded (it's from back when I did not understand digital photography at all!) but I had a fresh print-out to reference from the gallery. The colors in the main panel are actually very close to the way they turned out in the commissioned painting.

This is the very beginning, when I planned out how to arrange the panels. Because the proportions of color areas would be different from the original painting, when made larger, and the visual weight changed when it was viewed horizontally, I decided to break up the surrounding panels to add more visual interest.

This one was taken on the first day that the panels arrived, and I got everything covered with a layer or two of paint.

In this photo, all of the color areas have been established and somewhat developed, but it is far from done.

The process of making Cloak #2 was very different from my usual search and discover method of painting. I was rather surprised to find that my experience with layering color allowed me to successfully predict and carry out the underlying layers in a fairly logical and step by step manner. This was a bit of an eye-opener for me, because I do not choose to work this way normally and past commissions have not demanded this level of complexity. In this case, the expected end result was fairly clear, and I seemed to know how to get there. Because of the scale, and because I have learned a lot since painting the first Cloak, the surfaces of the new painting are far more intricate--which gave me a place to try new things, experiment and not simply copy my old work. This last photo is a close-up shot of an area in the lower white panels.

I definitely engaged emotionally with this commission, as I was constantly aware of where it would be hung. My father died of cancer eleven years ago, and numerous others in my life have been affected at one time or another. Currently, a dear friend is struggling along with Stage 4 cancer in various parts of her body. Above all I wanted to make a beautiful painting that would pull the viewer into a meditative state. A friend of mine, who saw the finished painting before it shipped out, commented that it made her feel happy to look at. I guess I could not ask for more.
Thursday, June 02, 2011
  new gallery

This is a short post to announce my new affiliation with Elaine Erickson Gallery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. My friend Allison B. Cooke introduced me to this gallery, and yesterday I met the owner, Elaine Erickson, viewed the space, and dropped off five small paintings. It is a great location in Milwaukee's Third Ward art district, which has become quite vibrant in recent years, and I am excited to see what may develop. Allison and I are tentatively scheduled to exhibit there together in April 2012.

I'm in Davenport, Iowa now, teaching an Oil and Wax Workshop for the next three days...more later!


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       Rebecca Crowell