Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Sometimes, I Do Consider Money as a Motivator...

Lately, I’ve been considering a change in my preferred mediums. A painter at heart I could never easily abandon my palette mixing and kung-fu action painter moves. There is a simple majesty to being able to build flawless compositions with only a myriad of colors and image defining contour sumi-e ink lines.

Yet, I’m also interested in returning to sculpture, most specifically figurative work in clay; a medium I haven’t done much with, professionally, in a decade. Remember an earlier post of my newly acquired kiln… well the guilt of neglect is beginning to set-in… so I’ve been sketching figures for a new series of clay forms. Maybe nothing will come of these small designs, then again maybe I need to review the commission standards for sculptors versus painters in commercial galleries. I know a few of you may be scratching your heads at this point, wondering what commissions have to do with anything, well the industry standard is 50/50 for paintings and 60(artist)/40(gallery) for sculpture. Not huge differences but definitely something to consider for all those little college art students unsure of choosing a 2D or 3D major in Art. – DN

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Sunday was Samuel’s 5th birthday. He loves baseball and we planned on buying Cardinal’s tickets to take him to his first game on the special day. Then about a month ago he said that he wanted a Superman birthday party with all his friends, a big cake and piñata. He’s never had a big party… these past years we’ve lived too far away for family to attend and he’s always been too young to have many friends since he hasn’t yet been school-age and we have done our level best to abstain from organized religion.

This month, we enrolled him into pre-school two weeks prior to his birthday, just so he’d have a large group of friends to invite. Friday came and went and no one had responded to the RSVP as requested, we did our best to prepare ourselves for the onslaught of tears to come on Sunday. On the 26th, the house was full, nearby family did what families should do and filled the void left by friends. Not one of the twelve invited children arrived. A few cousins came, but the age difference is drastic. I slowly recalled being told more than once that this nice southern town took it's time accepting new residents. However, the day was not lost, Samuel was glad in his gifts and his younger brother helped him break-open the piñata. Everyone had double helpings of cake and ice cream, so he wouldn’t notice the leftovers.

Later that evening as he prepared for bed, I asked him how he felt about his day. Samuel said that he had fun then paused and said, “It was too bad my friends couldn’t come, I wanted to see my new best friend Keaton, but at least my family is big”.

I’ve come to realize, in fatherhood, that some people are simply born stronger than others and no amount of growth or life-long conflict can match that inborn strength. Knowing this about my son, I realize that I probably learned more from this experience than he; then again... maybe we would have all just been better off if I had purchased the goddamn Cardinal’s tickets. – DN

Monday, August 27, 2007

Just one question, before continuing to the next painting.....

Stories are as important to my work as the finished paintings. Having said that… how much of this “new” art movement is about travel and how much is just a consuming desire to find a good personal narrative? – DN

Friday, August 24, 2007

Minor Artists Living Major Lives

Morris Graves gained a minor notoriety for outrageous pranks such as one in which he filled a baby carriage with rocks, made a trailer for it of toothbrushes, and pushed it into the dining room of the Olympic Hotel, the forerunner of the Four Seasons Olympic. He placed a rock on each of several chairs around a table, and sat down with them to order dinner.

In 1953, he staged the first Northwest art "Happening," although that word still lay several decades in the future. Museum officials, collectors, and art world notables all had expressed a desire to see a house he was building of cinderblock in a wooded area north of Seattle. He and several artist friends sent invitations to everyone on the Seattle Art Museum mailing list (a list surreptitiously obtained) saying, "You or your friends are not invited to the exhibition of Bouquet and Marsh paintings by the 8 best painters in the Northwest to be held on the afternoon and evening of the longest day of the year, the first day of summer, June 21, at Morris Graves' palace in exclusive Woodway Park."

Recipients chose to believe that the invitations meant they were invited. They arrived by droves, some formally dressed, to find the gateway to his house blocked with a table that held the moldy remains of a banquet 10 days old, complete with tipped cups and wine-stains, soaked with the drizzle from an overhead sprinkler. A recording of "dinner music" was interspersed with a recorded pig fight. Graves stayed out of sight, laughing nonstop as he observed the outraged guests through a chink in the cinderblock wall which abutted his gatehouse. - DELORIS TARZAN AMENT (author of Iridescent Light: the Emergence of Northwest Art, University of Washington Press, 2002).

Graves never took society or the formalized business-aspect of the art world too seriously. Though few outside the art world or the Pacific Northwest may recognize his name, Graves’ works are housed in the permanent collections of many of our country’s major museums. There is often a fine line between conceptual art and prank and although I assume that Graves never considered himself a conceptual artist, it’s fairly obvious that his dedication as a “process-oriented” artist overlapped into his daily life. The life of a seemingly “minor” artist is often no less fraught with adventure and dedication than that of any of the critically proclaimed masters. – DN

Thursday, August 23, 2007

New Faces

Driving south to the delta lowlands, this morning, I passed a caravan of Mexicans towing empty vehicles. My assumption was that they were hauling auction-purchased vehicles from St. Louis to the deeper reaches of the south for resale at used car lots. It wouldn’t have been even a noticeable occurrence if it had been just the standard one car pulling another via chain as is so often found in the southern Midwest… but this was literally a troupe of seven to eight vehicles dragging that same number of ratty trucks and beater vans down the interstate with little more than a rusty chain and a prayer. The fact that all the drivers were Hispanic in a region once empty of their presence… jolted me.

This place I once called home has changed drastically in the ten years I’ve been away. The corn and bean fields of my youth have been replaced with rice paddies… driving-up the number of mosquito infestations in the region, without the added beauty of the terraced hills found in stereotypical National Geographic images of southeast Asia… few mountains exist in this flattened river bottomland and occasionally I forget the loveliness of the people and the food and the culture and my reasons for living here… and simply dream of once again climbing high and reaching for distant mountain peaks in other places I once called home. Not all change is for the worse, in fact often change is nothing more than a new face on an old routine.

I’m putting the final touches on my scroll paintings for the show at the Morris Graves Art Museum in northern California. Morris Graves, the artist, traveled the world and eventually found his solace in the northwest, painting the last of the evening light as it dangled over the Pacific. Rebuffed by critics for his ink paintings on paper that resembled Asian motifs and adopted-imagery, slammed especially hard for his attempt to create hanging scrolls in place of traditional stretched and framed canvas. I find a kinship with this man, a commonality in practice, though our work may present differing views of society. I feel justified in this next show, a natural progression in my travels… to exhibit in a place named for a fellow traveling painter imbedded in the process of making art and the arrogance to continue painting when not everyone “gets” it. – DN

Monday, August 20, 2007

Shoplifting Greatness

Woody Allen On Ingmar Bergman - "To meet him was not to suddenly enter the creative temple of a formidable, intimidating, dark and brooding genius who intoned complex insights with a Swedish accent about man's dreadful fate in a bleak universe. It was more like this: 'Woody, I have this silly dream where I show up on the set to make a film and I can't figure out where to put the camera; the point is, I know I am pretty good at it and I have been doing it for years. You ever have those nervous dreams?'" - The New York Times 08/12/07

On occasion, even the most formidable of master artists feel unworthy of the burden brought on by the creative process. Then again, there is always an abundant supply of critics to stomp on one’s life’s work and remind the masses that no one is special…

"Nearly all the obituaries I've read take for granted Mr. Bergman's stature as one of the uncontestable major figures in cinema.... Sometimes, though, the best indication of an artist's continuing vitality is simply what of his work remains visible and is still talked about. The hard fact is, Mr. Bergman isn't being taught in film courses or debated by film buffs with the same intensity as Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles and Jean-Luc Godard. His works are seen less often in retrospectives and on DVD than those of Carl Dreyer and Robert Bresson...." - The New York Times 08/04/07

Sometimes we just have to follow the path of desire to learn how one piece of art can influence the creative process in other artists and their works…

Still selling briskly at 50, "On the Road" "has far outlasted many other cult classics. Part of the reason for the novel's staying power is that popular artists keep referencing it. (A new movie version, directed by Walter Salles, who made 'The Motorcycle Diaries,' is scheduled to go into production early next year.) Everyone from Bob Dylan to the Beastie Boys has been inspired by Kerouac. ... But keeping it on hand can be difficult: among book-world insiders, 'On the Road' is known to be a heavily shoplifted work...." - The New York Times 08/15/07

How often does the critic claim an artwork or artist to be kitsch, when simply the act of deriding the work or person is the essence of the cliché?… the unrefined masses are occasionally more apt to recognize greatness… how many shoplifters are known to work at the New York Times… wait don’t answer that.– DN

Thursday, August 09, 2007


“Day after day the visitors arrive, armies of them, primed to take their expensive plunge into one of the coolest collections of modern Western art in the world. That’s the bottom line: You go to museums to see art; MoMA owns fabulous art.

And a surprising amount of that art, which was once in the vanguard of culture, is about very old-fashioned things, like love and death, and landscapes and seasons, and one season in particular: summer.” – New York Times 7/27/2007

Not long ago, an art critic in Albuquerque mentioned the process of recognizing the change of seasons within the individual locales of my paintings. It was an unconscious effort on my part to paint the seasons; I was painting time and progression of life within a region… that has not changed in my most recent works, since moving to the South. I used to tell my students only one thing mattered in life and that was this: time is more valuable than money.

I live this life as the poor traveling artist, wandering the landscape for any opportunity to cast my line in that long-forgotten stream; cruising the terra firma scanning the perfect spot to set-up my easel for that singular quality plein-air painting moment. I paint when I have nothing to say; I paint when I can’t shut-up about the problems of my world. However, I don’t spend as much time as I should on the logistics of running my life as a business. I’ve read the articles; I’ve heard the lectures – what I need to do to sell in volume instead of quality. Christ, I produce more annual paintings than any other artist I have ever met… so being prolific isn’t a problem… but I’m also that maestro who has skipped an occasional sale because I refuse to send my paintings home with an unappreciative collector. I’ve been repeatedly informed that this will be my downfall. I have a family to raise, I’m often told… as if I could have forgotten the mops of blond and brown hair begging for attention in my studio whilst dreaming aloud of their own lives as adult artists.

If you don’t like the story behind the work… if you find it dreary or offensive… go to the mall and buy a giclee print of some mundane cottage glowing with light and framed with a triple-mat and copper plate displaying a corresponding New Testament passage. I’d rather spend my evening hours swapping stories with a fellow liar over gin and tonics than to waste my time convincing someone that my painting is grand. I’m a painter not a salesman.

It may be near the close of the season, but it is still summer or did you lose track of time? I may no longer be close to my mountains or hidden high-altitude glacial lakes, but I still have my green-eyed little boy that begs for drawing lessons in the evening. The remaining time in this late-summer is running off, but not without me. I have to seek out new early morning drives, there are two paintings in the studio I want to finish and children that need to be shown that time, for it’s own sake, is still rewarding and handsome in the face of ridicule and self-doubt. – DN

Tuesday, August 07, 2007


I ran across a call for submissions to a "Realism-only" salon exhibition in New York city. My knee-jerk reaction was... who still hosts or shows in traditional Salons, anymore? I clicked on the website and was slapped with the standard slew of anti-modernism/anti-abstraction slogans. Once again, my initial reaction was to stop reading and relegate the "organization" to the ever-growing pile of "I don't know art, but I know what I like" doctrine.

Then I stopped and noticed something... the images on the site were very nice, very accurate from a technical standpoint.. and even interesting from the perspective of composition... unlike "other" movements I've mentioned in this blog, these hacks actually had talent... in fact maybe they weren't hacks at all.....

The Art Renewal Center is building an encyclopedic collection of essays, biographies and articles by top scholars in the field.

ARC is the Eye of the Storm, at the core, hub and center of a major cultural shift in the art world. With a growing body of experts, we are setting standards to become ARC Approved™ for artists, art schools, systems of training, museum exhibitions and historical scholarship, to bring guidance, direction, goals and reality to an art establishment that has been sailing rudderless for nearly a hundred years.

Additionally, the Art Renewal Center is a non-profit educational organization committed to reviving standards of craftsmanship and excellence. Only by gaining a full command of the skills of the past masters can we create the masters of tomorrow. This is a step forward for our culture. Experimentation and creativity can only succeed and prosper when built on a solid foundation of past accomplishments, with the tools which empower artists to realize their visions.

Nothing has been more restricting and debilitating than the theories of modernism, which eliminated these tools, along with the skills to employ them. We are providing a forum for artists, scholars, collectors and the public to appreciate great art, and to recognize that they're not alone in their suspicions about the emptiness of modern and postmodern art. These suspicions are fully justified by the overwhelming body of evidence and historical facts. – Art Renewal International

On their website there are lists of ARC-approved schools, artists and instructors... this is the main road-block for me, I find it difficult not to question the dominion of of a self-imposed authority or critic. Once again, I doubt I'm hard-lined-enough to ever fit within their rigid structure... as I've mentioned before fundamentalism in any form scares me... I still fall within the camp of 'do what ever you want artistically, but have a masterly discipline and knowledge of the traditional techniques'. In the end it's all subjective. Art, Philosophy, Religion, BBQ (wet vs dry ribs...) - DN

Friday, August 03, 2007

Avoiding New York?

Peter Young’s art is a blast from the past that singes the present. His almost-major career, which flourished during the fashionably mythic late 1960s and early ’70s, has been drifting just out of reach for decades, a tantalizing medley of dotted, stained, gridded and geometric paintings, rarely seen but not forgotten. Now his work has been gathered into his first museum show anywhere and his first solo show in New York in 23 years.

Together these shows reintroduce a maverick Zenned-out hedonist who was also a process-oriented formalist with a sharp painterly intelligence, a genius for color and a penchant for the tribal and spiritual. They also revisit the efforts of an ambitious artist who got to the brink of a big New York abstract-painter career and took a pass, dropping almost completely from view and fading into legend.

Mr. Young was a painter of the 1960s in just about every sense of the word, up to and including the early use of LSD. Born in Pittsburgh in 1940, he grew up precocious near Los Angeles in the Santa Monica Canyon. His parents collected tribal art, as did family friends the painter Lee Mullican and his wife, Luchita. (Their son is the artist Matt Mullican.) By his teenage years Mr. Young had mastered a semblance of an Abstract Expressionist style. After studying art at the Chouinard Art Institute (now CalArts) in Los Angeles and Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., he moved to New York in 1960 with his wife, the dancer and choreographer Twyla Tharp.

By 1969 he was part of a generation that would tinker incessantly with paintings’ fundamentals and had most of his ducks in a row for a big career. The high point was a two-man show with David Diao at the Leo Castelli Gallery. But when it opened, Mr. Young was on a four-month sojourn in Costa Rica, living among the Boruca Indians, painting on cloth stretched on four sticks tied at the corners. His marriage was over; he had an itch to travel; and his tolerance for the New York world was ebbing. (Upon his return from Costa Rica he retitled two paintings “Capitalist Masterpiece.”)

He roamed about the American Southwest and spent several months in Spain and Morocco. By the time one of his dot paintings made the cover of Artforum in April 1971, he was gone for good. In 1972 he settled more or less permanently in Bisbee, Ariz., where he continues to live and work. – New York Times

Click here to read the entire article.

Occasionally, the methods by which an artist lives a life is equally if not more inspiring than the process by which the artist creates work. Peter Young learned early on that the honest life of a painter is often marred with unpopular choices and career decisions that are initially met with skepticism when viewed through a purely capitalistic lens. He was at the cusp of his mandatory modern artists’ “good ten-year-run”, when he chose to walk away from the hype. Young followed his instincts to travel wherever the painting process took him - galleries and critics be damned. After all these years his work is finally getting it’s due, hopefully history will justify the decisions of his life, as well. If refusing to live and work in New York can work for him, maybe there is still hope for the rest of us wandering travel artists trapped in a "New York-centric" art world. – DN

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Travels in America...

I've been following the exploits of a New York Times travel writer for most of the summer. While I wouldn't have chosen all the same stops or turns he's made along his journey... I find solace in knowing of other travelers that still find America among the most interesting of pilgrimages.

Click here to read his stories.