While carving the other day, I found myself thinking about the relationship between Nature, art and perfection. There always exists in my work process the struggle to reconcile the ideal of perfection with what I can actually achieve. I believe that this is very common with artists, and can be a very crippling issue. If the piece that you are working on is not as beautiful as you wish; if your technique falters; if your ideas seem flawed; or if the finished piece does not measure up to the image that you envisioned at it's inception, then there can be real disappointment. At its worst, you can feel like a failure at any point along the creative process. As I pondered this, I was struck by the realization that Nature does not worry at all about such concerns. Quite simply, Nature doesn't explain. It simply exists, and is often imperfect. Despite those imperfections, or often because of them, beauty can be present. It is important as an artist to accept this. The struggle towards perfection can be an enemy to the success of an artpiece. If you labor too long on one area, and make it look as perfect as possible, another area will appear scanted. The balance vanishes. If you work to make the entire piece absolutely perfect, it can become arid, and can appear stiff and overworked. The trick is to try constantly to do your best work, but to stay loose and as accepting as possible of the work that appears. That work will not be perfect, but it may with luck be very good indeed. The flaws may be quite small, and if they do not damage the overall success of the piece, will not need explanation.
Last Saturday, I went with friends and family to visit BAMPFA, UC Berkeley's new Art Museum (http://bampfa.org/). They have a wonderful inaugural exhibit, entitled "The Architecture of Life." This is not a show featuring art objects that are necessarily well known, or even that are normally considered art at all. Instead, it is a very thoughtful theme-based study of the way that life - from the molecular level to the cosmic - is represented in visual imagery. Unifying this theme is the idea of architecture, or inherent structure, that is present in everything from buildings to baskets. This wide-ranging show included pieces from Native American Pomo baskets to fiber and shell navigational charts from the Marshall Islands to Ruth Asawa's hanging crocheted wire sculptures (http://www.ruthasawa.com/crochetwire.html). What I found of particular interest were the clay vessels made by George Ohr, the ceramicist. Ohr, according to Wikipedia, "was an American ceramic artist and the self-proclaimed "Mad Potter of Biloxi" in the state of Mississippi. In recognition of his innovative experimentation with modern clay forms from 1880–1910, some consider him a precursor to the American Abstract-Expressionism movement" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_E._Ohr). The only parallels that I have encountered that even resemble his work are Japanese, and occasionally Korean, ceramics. This is hardly what I would expect from a 19th Century craftsman living in the American South. Their level of delicacy, and the originality of form and execution, is stunning, and a personal inspiration. They, alone, are worth a visit to this thoroughly engaging inaugural exhibit. This is a show that should not be missed. It closes on May 29th.
George Ohr "Bisque Pitcher" BAMPFA, 2016
Yesterday concluded my two day exhibit at the ArtSpan Hunters Point Shipyard Artists Fall Open Studios (http://shipyardartists.com/). ArtSpan (https://www.artspan.org/home) does a great job helping local artists with Open Studios, and I have participated in their program for over 20 years. This year, I was among the artists featured by Ellen Reilly in the October posting of the FLAX CANVAS blog (http://flaxart.com/flax-canvas/). FLAX is a HUB partner with ArtSpan, and their Hub Exhibition Program program connects SF Open Studios Artists with local, art-friendly businesses by putting their artwork on display across the city. FLAX is working with ArtSpan to promote Open Studios to the public, and blogs like this help a lot to get the message out. I am pleased to say that I sold several painted carvings to new collectors this past weekend, similar to what happened at Spring Open Studio. There are still 3 weekends left of Open Studios in different neighborhoods in SF - go take a look!
Maple & Vine Triptych (Seedpods, Vines. & Branch) - each panel 4 ft. x 1 ft. - Mixed Media on Carved Panel - Sold
Today concluded my two day exhibit at the Hunters Point Shipyard Artists Spring Open Studios (http://shipyardartists.com/). I am pleased to say that I sold five carved paintings to new collectors and old friends alike. I have been doing Spring and Fall Open Studios for almost 10 years at The Point, and it has always been a great event for meeting new people and displaying my latest artwork. This year, I was among the artists featured in the April 24th posting of our local online blog Bernalwood, which reports on news and events of interest to my San Francisco neighborhood of Bernal Heights (https://bernalwood.wordpress.com/). This article explored the backgrounds and artwork of five artists who live in our 'hood, and who were showing at The Point. It's always great to have publicity, and very fun to see that it is helpful, because some of the people who stopped by were directed by their post. At our Open Studios, they could be sure to find art that they like, whether it is mine or another artist's. This weekend, over 140 artists were displaying their work. Lots to see, and plenty to choose from!
Bernal Wheatgrass - Acrylic and Graphite on Carved Panel - 10 in. x 8 in.
I will start my post by thanking all of my friends and patrons who came out to my Open Studio at Hunters Point this past weekend to look at my latest artwork. Many came by to talk and to purchase, and the weekend was quite successful.
Today I am back in my studio, and have the pleasure of focusing on work again. I began by picking a lovely stem of flowers growing next to a school on Valencia Street here in SF. I then spent several hours drawing it. It is a real delight to draw, and to look closely. I find that I never truly see a plant unless I have drawn it, and then am reminded that nature truly is infinite in her shapes and variety. The picture that is featured shows the plant and the drawing, just before I transferred the drawing to a birch plywood panel for carving. I have not yet identified the plant, but I will do so soon!
Last week I was flying out of Milwaukee, and took the opportunity to stop by their art museum just before my flight. It was a very brief visit - less than an hour - but well worth the effort. The architecture of the building is stunning, with an appearance like that of a ship. Since the museum is located on Lake Michigan, this is no accident. The architect is Santiago Calatrava of Spain, and the design includes "wings" that raise and lower. Astonishing!
The art collection is very strong, too, with excellent holdings in the areas of German and German Expressionist art. They also have a fine collection of modern American art, including pieces by Warhol, Lichtenstein, Morris, and the lovely painting shown at the left by San Francisco's own Wayne Thiebaud. I needed several more hours there! Take a look at their website, and by all means visit if you have the chance. The site is http://mam.org/info/.
On Friday I visited the de Young Museum here in San Francisco with my friend Amy, and was delighted by their annual "Bouquets to Art" exhibit, which ended today (http://deyoung.famsf.org/deyoung/exhibitions/bouquets-to-art). This is a tribute to the creative synergy that arises when talented floral designers respond to works of art in their collection, and there were many such juxtapositions seen throughout the museum. The flower design seen in the picture to the left was done by Im and Tom Chan of Im Chan Designs in Milpitas. They are responding to Robert Motherwell's painting from 1950 titled "At Five in the Afternoon". This is a fine painting, and a lovely and unusual arrangement. The graceful tropical fronds, the erect but spindly calla lilies, the white hydrangeas laid in the simple black tray, and the inspired ceramic vase are a strong complement to the poetry of Motherwell's painting. This is a thoughtful and well attended event, which belies the artificial distinctions made between art and applied design. I am looking forward to visiting next year!
My latest carved painting is called Spring Blossoms, Spring Buds. It celebrates the arrival of Spring in San Francisco, and the profusion of cherry blossoms on the trees here. I chose to use a much higher key of pink/magenta than is found in the actual blossoms, but I feel that this represents the visual intensity and deep renewal of this lovely season. Below is a picture of Union Square taken today in downtown San Francisco at my outdoor art show. The cherry trees seen here are of the same variety featured in my carving. It is truly a lovely season!
Yesterday I had the privilege of visiting the Paul Thiebaud Gallery (http://www.paulthiebaudgallery.com/) and seeing an exhibit of Wayne Thiebaud's paintings called "Memory Mountains." It was the last day of this wonderful show. There were over 40 images spanning fifty years of his career, all thematically connected by his interest in mountain landscapes. The painting pictured here, "Cloud Ridge", is an oil on canvas painted in 1967, and was on loan from a private collection. It is representative of this body of work in several ways: Thiebaud's engagement with the tactility of oil paint, his very personal palette of fluorescent-tinged color, and his strong sense of whimsy. In this painting, the trees and structures threaten to slide off of the vertiginous mountaintop. They are halted only by a large cloud, hovering like a comic exclamation point in the sky, commanding them to stop. The sun shines from the left, out of the picture plane, and highlights the edges of everything, casting three dark shadows on the side of the mountain.This is a picture that shows Thiebaud at the beginning of this series, and he stays strong and inventive throughout its long span. Very few painters are still painting when they are 93 years of age, and fewer yet are improving as they go. Thiebaud, in this regard, is like Hokusai (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hokusai), the great Japanese painter and printmaker who described himself as the "old man mad about art". Each were living for a very long time, had a great sense of humor, and were artistic masters completely committed to their craft.
The photo at the left, taken with a camera phone in my studio, shows my process for arriving at the leaf images on the left side of the panel. The piece is called "Sycamore", and the leaves in the right side of the photo were collected from the grounds of Huntington Park on Nob Hill, in my hometown of San Francisco. I taped those leaves onto a piece of mat board, and then carefully drew them on the panel. This enabled me to do the composition ahead of time, and allowed me to draw directly from life, which I really enjoy. This also spared me having to draw them first on tracing paper, and then transfer them to the wood, as you see in earlier blog postings. Once the drawing was done, I carved out the area inside the drawing, using hand gouges and chisels. The next step after this is to paint the carved area with a warm Burnt Sienna acrylic color, and to finalize the patterns and shapes on the remaining parts of the panel. Using an earth tone for creating the positive shape of the leaves is a departure for me, as I usually use black and graphite. The finished piece should look really sharp!
I am a San Francisco artist who enjoys making art and visiting art exhibits.