The Atlantic…

water oil pastel 15 Oct 2017If you remember, “more water drawings” was on my list of “10 ideas”, and I have stuck to my resolution of not having any more ideas until I use up the ones on my list.

These two oil pastels are the first I’ve done since getting back from Portugal last month. It was refreshing to be on the Atlantic instead of the Mediterranean (or Aegean) for a change, but I was the only one in the water without a wetsuit – which might explain while I was only in the water for about two minutes.

In fact,  now that I look at these drawings, I realize I had forgotten that I was not the only one in the water without a wetsuit: The man on the left with the green towel also went for a swim for a couple of minutes.

In fact, his towel was blue, but there was already too much blue in his drawing for me. And in the interest of full disclosure, he was facing the other direction when I photographed him. And he was further up the beach. And the guy next to him – wasn’t.

(A digital camera and Photoshop are my 21st-century equivalent to 19th-century sketching in oil pastels… But I still love the oil pastels.)

water oil pastel 13 Oct 2017

 

 

Art Activity and Embodied Consciousness from Enrique Martinez Celaya

“I eliminated from my painting anything that anybody has ever said that I was good at. So if I was good at drawing, I took it out. If I was told I had facility with color, I took it out. And then I said, “Well, if I give up all these things, what is painting, for me?”

That is exactly what I did back in 1990 during my first year in graduate school at MICA when a visiting artist came into my studio at Mt. Royal, looked around at my paintings, said, “Nice,” and then proceeded to engage me in conversation about Baltimore or something else without another word about “my art”. When I asked him why he didn’t want to talk about “my art”, he said he didn’t think it was necessary, because I was already, in his exact words, making “perfect paintings”- so he had nothing to say, I should just keep on doing what I was doing.

That “keep up the good work” was what prompted me to “eliminate what I was good at” to find out what was left. Paradoxically, the moment I decided to head off in an unknown direction was the moment that I knew I had a direction.

But what’s most interesting to me all these years later about the words above is that they are not my words: They belong to Enrique Martinez Celaya.

I had never heard of this “physicist, philosopher and painter” until a few days ago when a friend sent me a link to an interview he did with Krista Tippet for her radio program, “On Being”. Quite frankly, I was a bit wary when I saw the image that came with the link, but trusting in my friend’s judgement, I started listening to the interview. From the very beginning, I felt like I’d found a kindred spirit. The way he described working in his studio, how he thinks about art – I just kept thinking, “Yes!

Now, if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time you may have noticed that I very rarely post work by other artists (and if you’ve only started reading recently, you’re probably wondering if I even write about art at all!). That’s “my bad”, and I will try to devote more time to this in the future. Sharing “some consciousness” from Enrique Martinez Celaya seems to me to be the perfect place to start.

So, below are some paintings along with some quotes from the “On Being” interview.  (To find out more about Martinez Celaya, here is a link to his his web site.)

“I think paintings are odd, in the sense that it seems to us that everything that is important is on the surface and visible. Unlike, say, science: we expect that we have to go in deep to understand what’s really at play in an equation or something. But that’s very deceiving. I think paintings have a complexity, a relationship to presence and reference in the work of art, the tension between what seems to be and what is… Rather than just be representatives or embodiments of a consciousness of the producer, they themselves having some consciousness: I guess animated, open engagement. There’s nothing intelligent I can say about it other than a feeling that I have that this is the case…

Enrique Martínez Celaya, The Fourth Angel, 2010, Oil and wax on canvas, 30 x 24 inches, Private Collection, Ocean Ridge, FL

One of the most obvious examples, I think — and it happens to me every time I encounter any work by Van Gogh, no matter where it is, and the moment I see it, something happens. There’s an intelligence at play in the work itself and a sense of something I can only describe as a consciousness in that work that engages me, forces me to be a witness, forces me to be a conversation partner, places me in a very unstable place. And there’s an instability in that exchange that is more, simply, than just looking at a bunch of marks and thinking of how Vincent might have made them or something like that. And this is a rare thing, I think. But I will suggest that somewhere around that, one could construct the definition of what art is, as opposed to an art activity. It’s when something has the capacity to embody consciousness in a way that it can be unfolded…

Enrique Martínez Celaya, The House (from the Sea), Oil and wax on canvas, 2015, 19 1/2 x 15 1/2 x 1 1/2 inches (framed), Collection of Lydia Cheney and Jim Sokol, Birmingham, AL

“When you go to a museum, and you look around, most works are forever trapped in their moment in a way that they are completely historical. But then the great works of art are always ahistorical. Regardless of the historical condition, they speak to you in the present…

Image result for enrique martinez celaya

“It seems that both in science and art and anything — in anything, the truth is not screaming that much. And I think that you have to be attentive, silent enough, be able to look and listen very, very carefully. And even then, you have to be very lucky to hear something…

“Even though sometimes people don’t realize it. I think that one of the most important ways in which (a background in science is) alive is the treatment I have towards my studio. I approach it not as a factory, which has become very much the way of artists looking at the studios in the last 40 or 50 years, but rather as a laboratory, as a cross between laboratories and a monastery, that kind of hybrid place…

“Many of my experiences with academic art and art theory has been the tendency to want to be scientific — or pseudoscientific. And when I came to art, I came to art without apologies. And that gave me a great deal of freedom…

“A lot of people talk about art as freedom when, in fact, it is the constraints that allow the possibility of art to happen. And color constrained under the pressures of these relatively small dimensions is beauty under compression, which is always an exuberant form of beauty…

Enrique Martinez Celaya, The Nebraska Suite, No. 17, watercolor on paper, 2010

(When asked about “what it means to be human, this is his response:)

I think the thing that is most pressing that comes up when you ask that question is compassion. I think — not because it comes naturally but because it doesn’t, to me. And I find that at this age, with four kids and with a world that everywhere one turns — and not just in the news, in just about every encounter with every — every person is carrying something. And I think what I’m reminded constantly is, to be human is to be aware of that, more than intelligence, more than anything else. And it’s increasingly urgent and increasingly hard to remember that.

 

Prognostication

21st-century Ecosystem

If you’ve read some of my earlier blog posts, then you may know that I decided to take 52 of these postcard-size collages and turn them into a deck of fortunetelling cards. It seemed the logical thing to do, since the number of people really interested in looking at artwork seemed infinitessimely smaller than the number of people interested in my providing them with some kind of insight into their worlds. The Art Fortunetelling was my way of saying “ok”.

As I may have mentioned earlier, it was way easier for me to find some meaning in the cards than to try and put some meaning in them intentionally. Again, seems logical, if we get talking about art as a subconscious rather than a conscious carrier of meaning. In fact, it seemed to make so much sense that I decided it was time to make a second deck.

And considering that we are in a sort of transition stage – Will we be moving to Foça in September? Or will I just be going up to teach a couple of classes, and coming back down to Bodrum until we can get our act together and finally head (a bit) north? Will I even have students sign up for the classes? Will I get involved in something else even more new and interesting? How will our garden grow?

As soon as I finish up here I will probably go ‘throw the I Ching’ (or as the web site says, ‘toss coin virtually’), but in the meantime, I could go for some interpretation.

Let us say (for sake of argument, and so I can show off my newest collages) that I picked (without looking) the card “Lust”as my first card, my present subconscious, Lust

and then I chose (this time looking at all my choices of cards) the card “Mom” Mom

to go with it.

I might interpret that as consciously trying to step back and look at a situation with multiple aspects/possibilities in a cooly detached way, seeing the beauty of all the possibilities, while beneath this was a seething mess of desire and fear of the unknown.

How lucky I might (or might not) feel when this turned up as my card of the future, Burning Down the House

“Burning Down the House” –

As I like to remind people who turn up “The Death Card”,

in the metaphorical world of fortunetelling, this is not necessarily a bad thing…

 

What’s going on?

water  pastels 2605 gibi

This is the latest of my ‘water oil pastels’ – water scenes, done in oil pastels.

The scenes are imaginary, a combination of photographs I’ve taken to use as ‘sketches’ and imagin-A-tion.

In the case of these drawings/paintings, this means that you are not the only one who doesn’t know exactly what’s going on.

Neither do I.

And, interestingly, neither do they.

 

 

Oleanders

The oleanders by the side of our house/apt have just started to bloom! It’s late, I know, but we don’ get so much sun on us (a Good Thing for an Aegean summer), and our oleanders are probably not looked after as well as they should be. We only have a few – just enough for some color and shade.

We’ve got the kind with ‘single’ flowers – in white

Zakkumda Kus Detayi 2 (Bird in Oleander Detail 2)

and then we’ve got the kind with ‘double’ flowers – in pink.

Bird with pink oleander

I’ve been waiting for them to come out to do some more painting – but the Princesses are still taking up space in my ‘outdoor studio’ and the so-called ‘construction ban’ apparently hasn’t started (at least no one’s told the builders next door – and they’re almost done, so let them finish – please, lord…)

This means I should be in the ‘indoor studio’ working on some more ‘water drawings’.

For more paintings of oleanders, have a look at these mixed-media pieces from my exhibit at the now-defunct Ayna Gallery from a few years back.

Indolence…

water pastels boat trip 070516

It’s the lazy season around our house these days.
Next door there’s banging – lots of loud, house-building banging – which is unfortunate, because it’s just the time of year when my ‘outside studio’ is at its most pleasant.

The banging (and the occasional excruciating whine of metal slicing through metal) has been a good excuse for not carting the princesses up to the roof and buying a new piece of plywood to replace the studio table-top that rotted away in the winter rains – the two things that would need to happen to get the ‘outdoor studio’ functioning. But I’ll get it together before the summer heat makes the ‘indoor studio’ the less pleasant of the two workplace options. Right now I’m very happy inside – especially since my discovery of a few pieces of Canson in a lovely shade of blue at my local stationery store, just after I managed to rescue a new order of Sennelier pastels from the Customs…

So I’m enjoying – thoroughly enjoying – making more ‘water drawings’.

And I’m very pleased to say that the two most recent drawings are of ‘swimmers’ rather than ‘drowners’. (Although I am slightly worried that there might be an imminent shark attack below…)

water pastel 070516 swimming lesson shark

“Shoot the Artist at the Right Moment”

There’s some saying I heard once somewhere about how to create a masterpiece:
“Shoot the artist at the right moment.”

Basically, what that’s saying is that artists tend to overwork, never know when to quit, and in the process of going after perfection, end up fucking things up.

I was in the studio yesterday for the first time in what seems like ages (drawing table having been taken over by sewing materials, as it were), and after a couple of minutes, I stopped working, and this is what I saw:

water pastel 300416a

And  I had to work hard – really hard – to stop there.

I actually felt guilty that I could have finished a drawing so quickly. I felt like I was cheating if I didn’t keep going. A mix of Jewish guilt and Protestant work ethic and the sense that I was somehow getting away with something.

Luckily, I managed to overcome all this. Because this is one of my favorite water pastels of all the ones I’ve done so far (series – A4 paper – check out earlier posts if you like).

I’m not sure if I managed to maintain the same sense of spontaneity in this one:

 

water pastel 300416b

Luckily, I had to go cook dinner….

 

 

 

 

Big! Bigger!! Biggest!!!

Foca landscape 4 fishing day

What a misleading title.
But then again, I think these photos are misleading, too.

Foça Fishing Day 1

When I look at them, it makes me want to make BIG paintings.
Which is kind of interesting, because I NEVER want to make big paintings.

Foca landscape 3 fishing day

But I could see making these big. At least as big as a couch painting.
A COUCH PAINTING!

Foca landscape 2 fishing day

How big do you think these are, anyway? Come on, take a guess…

Lone Fisherman

Well, at the moment, they’re big enough – or small enough – to fit in a daypack.
Which is pretty convenient when you’re out for a walk in the woods, or a stroll by the sea.

Thanks to recent technological advancements, I am seriously thinking about making these big. At least bigger than a backpack. After that I’ll just need someplace to put them.

Any takers?

Foca landscape 1 fishing day

 

But seriously, folks…

Whenever I’m asked about who has influenced me, I always think of my undergraduate printmaking professor at Washington University, Peter Marcus, and my favorite quote from him: “Make it big, do it in color, and have 100 by Friday.”

Well, I might not have had 100 by Friday, but I certainly liked doing them big and in color. We were lucky to have a very large press (Peter liked doing large prints himself), and so I was doing prints that were at just about a meter tall – just as large as the press could handle.

Back then it was mostly technology that dictated the size of my work. Nowadays it’s storage space.

Confession: While it may have been storage space that got me started doing small works, it’s the idea behind them that’s kept me going. (My friend Hüsnü used to tell people I was a conceptual painter, after all… )

I like the idea that people have to stop in front of my drawings and get up close to them to see what’s going on in them.

Not that they always do.

In fact, they mostly don’t.

But I’m stubborn, and I will continue to try to get people to pause.

And pay attention.

Buddhist mindfulness, and all that.

Heads Above Water

I think that’s going to be the title for my most recent oil pastel drawing in my series of water drawings.

Water Pastel 010416

When I was finishing this drawing, part of me wanted to paint out the white ‘waves’ so that the drawing would be just 2 disembodied heads in a field of blue.
But I kind of like that there is some consistency in how I’ve drawn water over the years.
Consider this drawing of a Bodrum landscape from a few years ago…

Pembe Sis

And then again, I thought of how the video that was part of my ‘Homesickness’ installation was also basically an image of somewhat disembodied people in the water…

inst13

Maybe it’s time to make some more videos…

 

 

Take me to the river, drop me in the water

Water Pastel 040316

Well, not the river but the sea, and I am feeling immersed in it, even though I am presently sitting well above the high-water mark inside a cafe overlooking the sea and Kos. The waves appear to be coming from the west – a reverse-migration? You might not believe me, but the lit-up waves are looking to me just as they do in this picture.

I believe this is a picture of a father and son, son inside a little plastic blow-up tube, probably hasn’t quite learned how to swim yet. The swimming lesson may have been interrupted by something they’ve seen…

Water Pastel 050316

The drawing above started out as two girls talking to each other as they crouched down in the shallow water. Somehow it morphed into two men holding onto a sinking rubber boat, waiting to be rescued…

I was getting a little depressed finding that all my swimmers were morping into drowners; so, I decided to draw a kayaker. She appears to be doing okay, although heading towards a rocky shore…

Water Pastel 090316

I got a message the other day that there the Citizens’ Advisory Council (“Kent Konseyi”) is organizing an exhibit of Bodrum artists; we all get to have 2 pieces in the show. That makes me happy, because I won’t have to choose between swimmers and drowners. I can have both. Bodrum. Just like I pictured it.