Monday, July 25, 2011

Productive Daze

Yes, we all know those days when you - or outside powers - miraculously make things happen in spite of yourself. Or perhaps serendipitous and harmonious moments make the day seem to pass effortlessly. Today was one of those days. But I'll get to that later when the veil can be lifted on what came about.

Continuing on with the theme of collaboration and the making of "The American Beast", I should mention that every artist should experience at least once a collaboration. And if you find someone with whom you gel and you can look at your finished work together and recognize that neither of you could have created just such a work of art without the other, then you can call yourselves fortunate.

Working with someone other than yourself is a matter of chemistry, forthrightness, clarity, shared vision and perhaps the special art of allowing yourself to speak up and knowing when to acquiesce.

When Michael and I began working on the piece we knew there was going to be a short time-frame so there wasn't a lot of time to plan a strategy and come up with CAD files or even develop a maquette (note: I did however make handy use of a 7-11 coffee cup folded in such a way to show how we could lower the piece down from the skyward rafters down to the terra firma. Oh Thank Heaven™.)

No, we just had to start. And so where we left off last, there was now structure - a wire frame ready to be "skinned".

We were ready to determine how the surface material would go in place. Either by plane (Taking a stained glass approach of one polygon at a time) or by "skinning" it - much like one would stretch fabric over an airplane wing. In the end, we did both - reserving one face of the piece to the polygonal approach and the other as a skinning.
Both had beautiful characteristics and personalities. One took longer to execute while the other was relatively easy and faster. We decided to bifurcate the piece wherein one side was going to be the skinned side and the other, the pieced side.

It is on this "pieced" side that much of the textural beauty can be seen after you assimilate the side (skinned) that exudes the light.

There were visions of Jasper Johns' "4th The News" painting I kept seeing in the textural work which somehow made it into our "Art Talk" at the gallery a few weeks after the piece was unveiled.

Next time I will write about the final moments leading up to the installation and unveiling of "The American Beast".

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Beast Within

There's a reason I have been remiss in posting a recent blog. A very good one. Sometime around mid-may, when I first began this blog, I got a message from fellow artist Michael Christopher who was asked by gallerist Kirk Hopper of Kirk Hopper Fine Art to make a "light" sculpture for his sculpture courtyard.  Michael needed a hand and needed space with which begin construction. He had a vision!

I share an 8,000 sq ft warehouse studio in West Dallas with 4 other artists and we have at our disposal, a 3,600 sq ft of indoor/outdoor common space where we store steel, reclaimed tree wood, billboard vinyl, hydraulic lifts, reclaimed metal and various other future objet d'art.

With roughly a 3-week turnaround, we began welding the first steel rods to reflect the footprint, which at this time was roughly 13' by 3' in a somewhat paramecium-like shape (thank you high school biology class). The silhouette of the piece we knew was going to be similar to Michael's past pieces, inspired by Mesmamerican steles.

As the rods were bent, cut and welded, the shape took form and the "fin" silhouette became apparent and we playfully assigned the notion that this began to look like the Egyptian pyramid on the back of the US dollar bill with the Latin inscription "Novus ordo seclorum" - or "New World Order" - on the verso. Though we didn't want to be too literal in its narrative, it was a precursor to its title as well as helped us to filter through a lens with which to accept happy accidents.

If you know Texas weather, you're aware that our summers are brutal. Add a long-sleeved shirt, leather gloves, jeans, steel-toed boots, a welding helmet and a white hot welding arc, and you have perfect impetus to buy stock in Gatorade. But we persevered and built what became the skeletal structure of "The American Beast".

The next blog will be my reflections on the process, followed by mid-construction photos. Stay tuned.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Studio Nightmares

After watching every episode of Chef Gordon Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares on Hulu a few weeks ago, I had somewhat an epiphany. Well perhaps epiphany is a bit too strong a sentiment. Let's just say, I had a moment of clarified butter.

The essence of what Chef Ramsey does in each episode is that of an efficiency expert. His mission is to distill from the personalities, egos, service and product, where inherent weaknesses lie. He's also a blunt force of awakening, not unlike that of a Nagual, without the shape-shifting.  Granted, much of the on-air friction is fodder for reality junkies, with amped-up emotions and creative editing, but at the core of the show, there are some true gems in terms of advice for creators - whether they're chefs, actors, entrepreneurs or artists.

Ramsey is called in to a troubled restaurant wherein the owners, chefs and staff are at a loss as to why they're not as successful as they should be.  The advantage Ramsey has - like any efficiency expert - is that he is not at the mercy of the immediate local politics and personalities associated with its demise.  He enters into each scenario with a higher level POV.

His first observation is the exterior and interior; First impressions and general curb appeal. His second step is to sample the fare, looking at presentation, taste, service, intent and technique. Next, Gordon meets the artists in the kitchen and the management.

The moment of clarity came when I began to see a common thread in each episode. Two things: The product is not up to snuff. And two, the personalities & egos behind the product are either in denial or are ignorant of their product's failings, usually both.

I began to see the parallels in how this blunt force trauma of having been told your work sucks works for just about any profession. Specifically for artists.

Artists who cannot figure out why they're not selling their work - or who are not getting asked to show their work in galleries and group exhibitions - need to have their product tasted by an unbiased party. Preferably by someone who knows art and critiques from the love of their own industry and not for any reasons of schadenfreude.  If your work sucks, it's time you know now rather than later, when changing course can be a daunting, time-consuming maneuver.

Secondly, if your audience (or critic) pans your work and your reaction is that of stubborn anger & reticence and you can't seem to find the credence in the review - yet you still cannot seem to make a sale, then perhaps it's time to suspend the ego temporarily (if it's sales you're looking for) and be open to the idea that you can be doing your job better. As artists, making art is our job and we owe it to ourselves to be our Employee of the Month - every month!

That said, I think artists should watch Kitchen Nightmares and pay special attention to how egos and personalities get in the way of recognizing the work is lacking. And keep in mind that the product is not the end of the experience for your audience. Craftsmanship, attention to detail, higher quality ingredients, presentation, freshness, intent and the managing of your business all go into your audience's experience of you.

So in the words of Ice Cube, "You better check yourself, before you wreck yourself".

That is all.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Working Sabbath

I found myself working on Easter Sunday. All of my family is in the San Antonio vicinity, for one. Boerne, Texas - Bergheim, Texas - and San Antonio proper.  It is 270 miles from my Feng Shui-approved red door to my mother's 50-year old green screen door.  I don't mind the drive at all - I love driving. It's somehow transcendental for me. It's just I'm not 100% sure my little truck can make it lately. Little Reddy is showing her age in truck years. She still purrs, but her paws are in need of a mani-pedi.

Yes, we're still talking about my truck, not my mother.

Normally I make the trek for major holidays, because with everyone's mixed schedules and priorities, holidays are the only time we can seem to find a way for everyone to be together in the same room.  That's what I have missed most this day - that time-lapse documentary of where my nieces and nephews are now. Who's pregnant and who's been on any adventures lately.  Who's got the dirtiest joke and who wants dessert.

Me?  My family thinks I live some outrageous lifestyle of swinging gallery openings and elbow-rubbing with celebrity art collectors. But in reality, I spent Easter Sunday in the studio 2 miles from here, painting up samples for an art consultant for a new project.  They came out okay, but I'm not at all that jazzed about hospitality gigs other than the occasional high-volume work.

No, I'm more excited by a new body of work emerging from the drawing board that has been simmering for several months.  A series of drawings and sculpture based on my warped-since-birth hearing and how music & conversation has it's own swirling amalgam of tablature and distortions. Sometimes with fascinating musical results, not to mention fabulous non sequitur dialogues.

More on that as it develops.

But for now, I reflect upon trying to discover the hidden correlation between Jesus the Christ's cruel death and a 20-foot high blow-up bunny? At least both seemed to look to the heavens in hopes of being delivered.  All I wanted was some killer tacos from Fuel City where this photo was taken.

Happy Easter indeed.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Ex Nihilo: The Artist

To make something from nothing: Ex Nihilo. No one can argue the God-like parallels in being a Creator. We are all endowed by our own creator inclinations, talents, strengths and weaknesses in making something of our lives with the hopes that in the end, we have left our mark - whether literally, as with the artist - or figuratively, in having re-created other versions of us.

The idea that an artist can leave this planet with everything she or he has within them having been said, does not seem possible. It would seem the body or the faculties may run themselves ragged before the Genie within our studio walls (Thank you, Elizabeth Gilbert) plays its final tacit note.

From nothing: Words.
From nothing: Beauty.
From nothing: Love.

From nothing: Something.