Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas as we know it: An American Phenomenon

A lot of people seem to be really upset about Christmas.  I don't really get it.  Christmas is the All Purpose Holiday.  On Christmas, you decorate your house, see your family, eat too much, exchange gifts, and maybe even wear that special Christmas sweater just for the occasion.  It's like Thanksgiving, Halloween, and your birthday all rolled into one. Which is AWESOME.

Some Christians get upset that we pay less attention to Jesus than we do to Santa Claus on Christmas.  Pagans remind us that Christmas is celebrated when it is because of the Winter Solstice and that many of the traditions we associate with Christmas, like Christmas Trees and the exchange of presents, are throwbacks to the Pagan Solstice celebrations of old.  Then there's that tired "War on Christmas" gimmick that's been tossed around for a few years now by the Evangelical extremists. 

I think folks should just get over it.  Christmas is obviously winning.

And besides, all the history associated with Christmas is essentially irrelevant anyway.  What's celebrated in America today that we all call Christmas is as distinctly American a holiday as the 4th of July.  And it's fucking awesome.  You don't have to be a Christian to celebrate Christmas.  I'm not. 

Christmas is a time for families to gather just as the days begin slowly to lengthen and to reflect on the year before New Year's Eve erases it from our memories.  It's meant to be a reminder that we're loved and whether that love originates from Jesus, Santa or Grandma is entirely immaterial.

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Monday, December 19, 2011

"Decide and Conquer"

I've just completed the largest painting I've done in many years.  I last mentioned this panel a few entries ago in "Works in Progress, November 2011: Part One."  At that time, my intention was essentially to paint a big pink and black flower.  When I started getting going on it though it turned into something else entirely. I originally spoke about the panel used in the piece way back in April in "White Birch Paralysis." At the beginning, I was totally intimidated by the very idea of painting it at all, so this one's come a long way.

The picture to the left here is a detail of the piece.  The Pink Bunny, Gilded Axe in hand, is faced with a choice between descending into the square hole in the ground and blazing a trail through the brambles ahead.

In this moment he considers each option, fingering the axe, eyes fixed firmly on the golden light beyond the tangled thicket. 

"Decide and Conquer" Jason Burrell 2011
Acrylic on Wood Panel: 24" x 36"
The square hole is no rabbit hole- no place he wishes to go- and yet it beckons to him, being the easier of the two choices.  Naught to do but fall and hope the end comes sudden- unexpected. 

Hacking through the thicket- thin enough to do so only just at the edge of the square hole- promises to be an exhausting, all-encompassing labour.  However, only this way will ultimately lead him to the light.

I've chosen to call this piece "Decide and Conquer." The Pink Bunny can conquer himself by overcoming his weaknesses and persevering or by giving up and throwing himself in the pit. The decision is his and his alone.

Like much of my work lately, this painting is a fairly transparent and possibly over-dramatic exercise in self-portraiture.  I suppose this is only natural with all the changes I've made in my life recently, many of them born of a realization that one needs to earn his dreams if he wants to live them. 

I plan to have "Decide and Conquer" on display at my show next month at 29 Newbury.  I'll post more details about that show as I get them.  For now, I have about a dozen paintings to complete before Christmas so it's off to work I go!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

"That's When I Grew Up." -Me: 2043

I've been thinking a lot lately about how much my life has changed since I was kid.  This has included a certain amount of reminiscence, as I suppose is natural, but lately I've been turning much of my attention on the subject of change to consideration of the future in a way I'm not certain I've done before.  Sure, I've always had hopes and dreams and so forth- but if I'm perfectly honest about it I have to admit that up until relatively recently I've done very little to substantially create the future me I want to one day be.

So as a part of becoming that man, I've been spending a lot of time painting and drawing and planning as I generally do, but also working actively to get the work actually seen, a duty in which I've been remiss in recent years.  I currently have single works hanging in group shows at UForge Gallery and Thos. Moser Showroom, with receptions on the 10th and 15th, respectively, of this month.  There's also a solo show in the works for next month at 29 Newbury, and hopefully a few more not long after that.

Beyond that, I've been actively submitting to other shows for which my work was rejected, which actually makes me happy.  It feels like progress when I get a rejection notice in a way I hadn't expected.  It means I've actually taken a risk and am thereby closer to the goal of self-sufficiency I've set forth.  I'm applying the lessons I've learned about being unafraid to fail in painting to my life and it's working.  Sometimes it seems paint is the best teacher I've ever had.

I'm 32 years old and have seen great change both in the world and in myself over that time.  If I survive another 32 years, I'm sure I'll see things I can't now even imagine becoming commonplace on this strange and wonderful planet.  I hope that in that time I too change and grow and become the man I've always merely dreamt of being and that as that man, look back on these times and say "That's when I grew up."

Here are the details of my two upcoming receptions in case you'd like to attend.


Minatures Group Show at UForge Gallery

Saturday, December 10th, 2011
6:00pm- 8:00pm
Uforge Gallery, 767 Centre Street, Jamaica Plain, MA

On view: December 1st- 23rd, 2011

Holiday Group Show at Thos. Moser Showroom
To benefit Toys For Tots: We suggest each guest kindly bring an unwrapped gift.
Thursday, December 15th, 2011
19 Arlington Street, Boston, MA 02116

On view: December 6th- 27th, 2011

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Small is Home, and Far Away

"Small is Home, and Far Away" Jason Burrell 2011
Acrylic on Canvas: 2" x 2"

I finished this painting this morning.  If you follow the blog, you might be thinking, "Jason, you spent all week writing about works in progress and this was not one of them.  WTF?"

Suzanne mentioned the other day this contest being put on by u.forge gallery and said I should enter.  They want miniatures:  pieces measuring no more than 3" on a side.

I have a bunch of pieces I did on old business cards a while back, but that means the long side is about 3.5", so those were ineligible.  Since the deadline to enter is tomorrow, and I only found out about the show on Thursday, I had to work fast.

So this is what I've been doing.  I found these miniature canvases at this new art store in Central Square and decided to go that route rather than build custom wooden panels as had been my original plan.

This piece is supposed to be about the idea of home receding forever to the horizon.  The American Dream never realized.  I also wanted to create the sense of a huge space on what is officially the smallest painting I've ever done.

All in all, I'm very pleased with the piece.  Maybe I'll even win something.  Either way though, I like how it's come out, and I have 4 more of these itty-bitty panels to play with now.

Edit:  As of January, 2012, this piece is now available as a print on my FineArtAmerica page.  Check it out!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Works in Progress, November 2011: Part Five

progress as of last night...
Welcome to this week's final installment of Works in Progress.  In my head you just heard that from a TV announcer.  Thought you should know.

This is the painting I've been working on the most this week.  I may even be getting a little obsessive about it. 

I'm not going to go into a lot of detail about what it means until it's finished, but do want to point out that this piece is the first painting in which I'm combining my poured techniques, cartoon characters and the brushwork I started bringing back into my work in Moonlit Room.  I can't think of any other way to express how good this feels other than to simply finish the piece, so you can expect an update about this one relatively soon.

I want to take this opportunity to give a little shout out (that TV announcer you heard earlier is now a radio DJ, by the way) to Suzanne Schultz over at Canvas Fine Arts.  Suzanne is an artists' representative with whom I signed about a month or so ago.  I don't know if there's really a causal relationship between the two things, but since I've handed over the reins of promotion to her, I've been painting so much I can barely keep up with myself.  It's a very freeing feeling to know that there's someone working on getting my work seen so I can focus on art making.  She's already booked me at two shows and pointed me at a few contests to help build my CV, not to mention given me plenty of concrete, salient advice on how to move toward making an actual living as an artist.

Years ago, when I was last actively promoting the work myself, I often did shows under the name Vox Ominous, dressed as a vampire, complete with white contact lenses and pointy ears or as an evil clown.  I often wore stilts to be 8 feet tall and would make it interesting with a certain amount of drunkeness.  It was exhausting.  And ridiculous, really- the costumes and makeup had nothing to do with the art.  So yeah, it feels good to finally, once and for all, lay the fucking clown to rest.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Works in Progress, November 2011: Part Four

The entries I'm posting this week are making me realize how many paintings I have to complete.  On the average evening lately after work, I spend about 5 or 6 hours painting before I fall asleep.  It's a little strange sometimes because my office (for work) is at the foot of my bed and then I use my bed as a workbench for the artwork, and then I clear it off and sleep on it.  If my grocery shopping is up to date, I might go days hardly moving more than 15 feet from the spot where I sit now writing this.  On the average evening I'd guess I do some work on 3 or 4 paintings, kind of bouncing around between them.

Today, I'm going to introduce a few pieces that are in their earliest stages of infancy.  There's not much to say about these panels at this point, I suppose, for that reason. At this stage, most of my pieces are simply meant to wander. 

The assumption I make is that whatever is supposed to happen to a piece will suggest itself to me eventually, at which point I'll generally stop to think and sketch and plan before continuing on. 

These first two paintings are brand new, the former on Masonite I had laying around and the latter  on a wooden panel with a hole drilled through the center which was originally intended to be a clock and which now may or may not become one.

This one I actually thought was finished a while back but recently decided to paint over completely, which sort of rewound the clock a bit for it.

And this one I think I said a while back I'd never paint over.  I lied.  It hasn't happened yet, but it surely shall.

Tomorrow, I'll show you a piece I've been obsessing over this week which features a dead clown.  Or maybe he's just passed out drunk.  I can't tell if he's breathing or not, so I guess I'll let you decide for yourself.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Works in Progress, November 2011: Part Three

Today, I want to show you a couple of pieces that have been in progress for quite some time.

This painting was the first one in which I experimented with superimposing a cartoony figure on a poured background.  I posted about this piece way back in March and at that time it was a few months old already. In all the time since then, all I've done to it is paint that little guy red.  I've been otherwise stuck and only recently realized why.

I made a significant error.  My approach was all wrong.  What I've found works really well is to paint my background and then do a ton of sketches incorporating a figure over some element of the existing painting.  Then when it's time to paint it in my hand knows the shapes I want instinctively and the figure can grow organically as both a part of its environment and very much its own unique self.  What I did with this piece instead was to refer to photo, project it on the canvas, and then draw the figure (with some obvious edits- this was a photo of a baby swimming underwater and I painted him as a one-eyed robot) for the very first time on the canvas itself. 

This was a mistake for two reasons:  First, I never got a chance to get to know the character before I tried to introduce him to his environment.  Second, the fact of its superimposition, as opposed to a more desirable incorporation, becomes entirely inescapable.  It looks like he was slapped on after the fact because he was.

So the plan at the moment is to treat the existing character as an element of the background and invent a new figure designed both to cover up the baby-bot and to fit more naturally into his world.  Additionally, I intend to add a second figure emerging from the lower left-hand corner.  Aside from a general sense of the relative weight and placement of each figure I honestly have no idea what either of these guys are about or what their relationship is to each other.  But that will come.

This next one gets me all excited.  I think this painting has more than any other heralded the changes that were about to occur in my style, not only in how it's developing stylistically and materially, but also in its theme. 

The figure there may or may not remain skeletal.  His looking that way at this point is more architectural than anything else.  He's standing someplace dark and foreboding, peeling back the very fabric of his reality somehow to reveal what will be a bright, pastoral landscape at sunrise.  This piece therefore not only marks a significant change in how I was approaching the work but is about the idea of significant change, initiated by the individual. 

It's actually sort of annoying when my paintings are smarter than I am.

At any rate, I'm looking forward to finishing this painting.  There are a couple other pieces I'm more actively engaged in right now (which I'm going to show you on Friday) and which are taking up my painting time, but once those are finished, this one's likely next on the list. 

There's a pretty big mistake in this one too though.  See that weird wavy white line leading away from the figure through the field of darkness, receding off the panel on the left side?  Yeah.  That shouldn't be there.  I have a plan for it, but I would much rather if the background weren't besmeared by it.  Unfortunately the nature of my process precludes the possibility of recreating the background texture over the line, so I'll be making a new piece of ground for the figure to be standing on. 

Tomorrow, I'm going to show you four paintings which are still so young that I have literally no idea what direction they'll take.  Until then, I leave you with a thought: what percentage, do you think, of the matter in the universe is formed into beings which can think?  How rare and unlikely and amazing you are!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Works in Progress, November 2011: Part Two

Today we're going to look at a few pieces I thought up until relatively recently were finished but which I'm now certain require a little more work. 

Remember this one?  I posted a video about it some time ago. You can watch it if you like, but be forewarned: it's long.  There's the silhouette of a figure standing at the end of this road.  It's currently called "Where Might This Dark Road End?"

The plan now is to replace the figure in this piece with another one from the newer, cartoony style I've been experimenting with recently.  I will also likely repaint the road itself and possibly replace the water with stones. It's unlikely I'll make a video of that, but I'll take plenty of pictures.

This one was originally not intended to be a work of art so much as a sign.  At 18" x 24", it's just slightly too large for the plastic tubs (which I call my paint troughs) in which I can safely pour and splatter large amounts of paint. 

However, there's a big ugly grey metal circuit breaker box on the wall of the apartment and this canvas is exactly the perfect size to hide it.  When I moved into this place, I put the then-blank canvas over the breaker box to cover it but wanted to- you know- paint something on it.

I have a bucket of wall paint I got from the landlord in case I need to touch up the walls, so I used that as the background for this painting.  I figured since the painting is especially meant for this particular wall, it was appropriate to make the transition as seamless as possible. In retrospect, for that reason, I should have used a 3/8" nap roller instead of a 3" sash brush, but I'm not too worried about it.

When I was a kid there were these boys that lived next door for a few years and we used to play together.  Sometimes we'd hang out in the unfinished attic over this weird old storage barn attached to their house.  The light fixture and bulb in this painting is as I remember the lights being in that space.  These crazy old-fashioned (hand-blown?) bulbs in ceramic fixtures attached to conduit pipes of some kind, jutting a few inches down from the rough-hewn wooden beams.  Obviously in this piece I chose to attach the bulb instead to a blue table.  The panel now serves as a sign marking the location of the circuit breakers- sort of a private absurdist joke.  I think I can make something more special out of it though.

In light of the recent changes I'm making in how I'm painting, I want very much to revisit this piece and really flesh it out.  There should be texture and light and the rest of whatever room that bulb is in.  I want it to be darker and dirtier and more like that weird old dusty attic space. 

Finally, this piece is the first painting I did of my friend Katie back in March.  In the following months I've almost just painted over this one a bunch of times.  There are some bits I love but for the most part, I'm just endlessly disappointed with it. 

Katie'll be leaving Massachusetts in a couple of months to go traveling and I want to complete a really good painting of her before she goes. 

Treating what's here as a blueprint of sorts, the completed painting will look very little like what you see now.  More context and more detail.  And brushstrokes.  It's funny- I've been violently opposed to brushstrokes for over a decade now and now they're becoming a necessary part of everything again.

Tomorrow, I'm going to write about a couple of works which have been in progress for quite some time. Both of these pieces were prophetic in their own ways, suggesting the changes that I would eventually make in the creative process, and each of them has a significant flaw which needs fixing.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Works in Progress, November 2011: Part One

This week, I'm going to show you what's sitting at the forefront of my pile of works in progress.  Literally.  And it's a huge fucking pile.

This first one today is a piece I wrote about back in July.  I was blackout drunk when I began it, not long after Meghan and I broke up.  Since finding it the following morning I've been wanting to continue the piece but it wasn't until maybe a couple of weeks ago that I did anything with it.  It's still not finished.  I'm not sure what the next steps will be but I know the success of this painting hinges on how well I take advantage of its impalement. 

Its origins may be murky, but it's come to represent (for me) time as measured by the sun, the inescapability of gravity, violent fucking and breaking through to a fresh way of thinking.  These are the underpinnings of its intentions; its growth marked by them. 
I took some video of the paint on the stick dripping onto the canvas to try to illustrate how some of the patterns actually form.  I'm not sure how much of the footage will prove valuable, but when this one's done I'll write an entry dedicated to it and showing the entire process.  As much of it, anyway, as I can remember. 

This next one is so far the front half of a pink and white pair of ladies' underpants pressed into a pool of blue and white paint.  More and more, I anticipate this piece will prove difficult to complete. 

I've had this painting hanging on the wall in various places around my studio for a couple of months now.  I keep moving it thinking maybe that will help me figure out what next to do with it, but frankly, I have no clue.  I simply have to trust that at the right moment, I'll know.  Hm.  I just read that paragraph back to myself.  It sounds like I'm painting about looking for love.  Go figure.  I guess I'll keep that in mind.

Now this one is one I'm really excited about.  Way back in April I wrote about this panel here. I was sort of afraid of fucking it up because of the religious training of my childhood. I go into a little more detail in the entry I just linked you to, but basically, I was raised to be Niantiquut, a religion my father, as near as I can piece together, pieced together himself especially for my brother and me.  One of the bits of Niantiquut taken from Native American lore is that the white birch is sacred and holy.

In the same way that my mother sometimes refers to herself as a Recovering Catholic, I sometimes refer to myself as a recovering Niantiquut.  So there you go.

It should be noted that this piece is a collaborative effort between me and Rahkeen Gray.  He was here when I was dripping the black on it and I asked him to contribute to it with one of my squeegee brushes.  He essentially determined the trajectory of the piece from that point onward with a single stroke.

Anyway, since the time I bought this panel and others like it, I've pretty much stopped painting on anything but birch panels.  They are in every way I care about entirely superior to canvas.  This particular piece is either a hair's width from completion or so far from being finished that I can even begin to see how it may end up.  I have very particular intentions for it but will keep them to myself for the moment out of superstitious reverence and because, well, I'm wrong a lot of the time.

Tomorrow, I'll post about some pieces I thought were finished but which I now know are not, and exactly what my intentions are for each of them. Altogether, I plan to share 15 works in progress over the course of the week.  Stay tuned!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Defining Desire

'Desire' Jason Randolph Burrell 2011
Acrylic on Wood Panel: 11" x 14"

This painting may or may not be finished.  I decided last night to forgo painting and hang out with my friend Dez instead.  But then I got home around midnight all drunk and had to paint, so I finished (?) it.

I might change one of my arms in this.  I may touch up the carrot a bit.  I may do neither.  I'll have to keep an eye on it for a few days to be certain. I need a fifth sentence in this paragraph beginning with "I."

This is one I originally started a few weeks ago and was unhappy with.  I'd had company not conducive to the process at the time and ended up with what was basically garbage.  So I sat on the panel until last weekend when Katie (who as I mentioned in yesterday's post is ideal creative company) came to visit.  Most of this painting was completed during her stay, basically everything except the handless, footless man and the floating carrot.  Those I sketched while she was here and painted in her absence over the past week.

The relationship I have with desire is complex at best and downright mystifying more often than not.  At least, it seems that way to me when I attempt a definition with words.  View this painting as a self-portrait.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Moonlit Room

A while back, I posted about a painting in which I was experimenting with starting fires on top of wet paint.  The intense heat of lighter fluid burning in pools on top of the paint made the acrylic sort of curdle.  The panel looked terrible but I loved the texture.

'Moonlit Room' Jason Randolph Burrell: 2011 
Acrylic on Wood Panel: 18" x 9"
So I decided to continue forward with the piece a couple of weeks ago when my good friend Katie was visiting.  More than once over the past few months she's inspired me.  But then, that's what she does, being a professional muse. And damn good at it.

Originally when I was setting it on fire, this was meant to be a painting of the cage I was often kept in as a kid.  I was ramping up at the time to do a big project about imprisonment which I eventually abandoned (postponed?).  Since that time, I've been feeling increasingly as if maybe the way things worked out is actually allowing me to more fully explore the feelings of solitude to which the cage of my childhood first introduced me than I might have been able to had the project, as originally intended, panned out.

Detail of 'Moonlit Room'
Of the original painting, all that can now be seen is what shows through the window.  In this space, you can see the bubbles the curdling effect had on the blue and white paint, as well as the bare wood (stained slightly from a combination of watered-down black paint and smoke).  The moonlight shining into the room is actually the product of intense heat- like  the sunlight reflected off the moon.

The window is the last remaining evidence that this was once a painting of a cage.  The room itself does not exist.  Nor do any of the other things I've placed in the room.  While reminiscent of the space in which I actually live, this is definitely not meant to be a literal representation of it.  There's a significance to each item in the room, but it's of primary importance to remember that none of them is real.

While painting this piece I was imagining myself laying on the floor looking up at the effects of moonlight on a room while being unable to see the moon itself.  Much like we can't actually see the fire which made this painting possible or the sun at night, or hear what people say about us when we're not there, the unknown and the fleeting are often relevant.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

How it's happening right now.

My process is always evolving.  Art as exploration, right? For this most recent series, a new process is developing. 

To the left here is where this particular painting began.  I'd been building up layers, playing with textures and so forth like I always do.  Normally, I want to find that breaking point in the piece at which a focal point begins to emerge and then essentially attack that point with attention.  If it survives, the painting is finished.  If not, it gets recycled and continues to grow.  For this series though, I instead allow only the suggestion of a focal point to develop and then I work in my sketchbook for a while to figure out how best to incorporate myself, as a cartoon, into the piece at that point.

This is the first of a series of sketches I did to prepare for the next stage.

This is a detail of the painting after I got myself in there.  I had originally planned to add a bunch of other bits and pieces- props I suppose- like bombs falling and barbed wire, but ultimately decided I preferred the starkness and solitude this little guy invokes on his own.

This is the piece in its entirety.  For the moment, for reference purposes, I'm calling it "Alone on the Battlefield," but frankly, I don't like this as a title and will likely change it.

I think I've successfully shown that frenetic feeling I often get when I'm alone and overwhelmed.   There's too much to do; everything depends on your ability to keep a level head and get shit done, but instead all you can do is shut down and feel guilty while the battle rages around you.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

My Quantum State of Hiding/Not Hiding

So I've been in hiding again for a while. In the meantime however I've been painting.  A lot.  And most of it's been good.  I'm only going to post one picture today, but will endeavor over the next few days to catch you all up on what I've been up to.

This piece I'm calling "The Division Between Our Separate Hells is Made of Heaven."  This one has sort of kicked off a new series of paintings into which I'm incorporating the cartoon characters I've been doodling for most of my life.

Both of these characters are me.  I'm exploring here the fact that somehow I've been turning away from the world and hiding but at the same time trying desperately to escape this self-imposed solitude.  The elephant in this tiny room I live in is the fact that as miserable as I've allowed myself to be, the reasons for it are actually all very good things.  I have stability and a home and I'm not dependent upon anyone else to make that possible.  The blue and white field is that slice of heaven which is self-sufficiency but which itself might be keeping me from actual happiness.

All in all, I've been very lucky.  I recently signed with an agent who is helping me get my work out into the world.  Thanks to her efforts, I've got two shows lined up over the next few months in venues a bit beyond my own ability to book.  So that's good.  I'll post more details about those shows as appropriate.  In the meantime, stayed tuned.  I'll be adding more new work to these pages very soon.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Painting Live @ Fallout Festival. Come.

I will be painting live at Art Attack Entertainment's Fallout Festival this coming Saturday, October 1st.

You should come and see.  There's a $20 cover to enter the festival but you'll get to see graffiti artists, bands, DJ's, trick bikers, and b-boy dance competitions.  And me.

So come on down and see it.

S.A.C Club Shrewsbury 
438 Lake Street, Shrewsbury, MA
As a side note: because of my involvement in this show, I will be taking down the Brookline Lunch show a day early, on Friday, September 30th, so if you were planning to go see it on the 1st, you'll be too late.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Art Fuel

Coffee, rye, cigarettes and sorrow. Yup.

Colour and composition- these are things I understand.  But I suspect I'll never fathom people.  At least if I can never find any lasting connection (or fleeting ones) I'll find plenty of fuel for the soul.

It seems it's always based in disconnection, my inspiration.

I've loved often and deeply, but never well.  And every disconnection makes me more distrustful and paranoid.  Makes me overly cautious.  Makes me me doubt my every thought and feeling.  Fills me with this darkness or perhaps more aptly bleeds the light from me.

Nobody loves you when you're down.  You're like a panhandler asking for kisses.

In the center of a turgid flood of heat and dark, I extinguished my cigarette.  This is the flower's ashen stigma.

I'm jealous of sociopaths.  It must be so easy for them.  Me though, I'm always trying so hard to connect and in failure being drawn further from the possibility.

 Blue and white are home and peace collectively.  In this second piece they are evaporated by rage and embarrassment.  Like tears on a hot sidewalk where flowers want to grow.

I never did paint that flower last night.  I wanted to.

I'm nearly out of paint again, but there's no shortage of material.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Show is Hung

I now have a dozen paintings hanging at Brookline Lunch and there they shall remain until Saturday, October 1st.

They're open from 8:30am to 4pm everyday except Tuesdays, when they're closed, so if you're primarily nocturnal, come in for breakfast (served all day).

They're located at 9 Brookline Street in Cambridge, MA, half a block off of Mass Ave., so they're pretty easy to find. 

All in all, I think the show looks good.  Come check it out!

You know what's weird though?  Now I have all these empty walls at home and it's unsettling.  It makes me wonder if perhaps a primary reason I paint is simply that I have a fear of empty spaces and need to fill them.  How's that for Freudian?

Strike while the iron is hot, stupid.

I had my favourite model at the studio on Wednesday and for perhaps the first time since she and I started working together, I was entirely unable to make the painting work.  We decided, since we'd already booked another session in a couple of weeks, to finish the piece then.

However since then I've been thinking that perhaps I should just abandon figurative work altogether.  Maybe even abandon any kind of representational work too. 

I think I've been telling myself that I need to prove something by creating paintings that are easily recognizable as nouns in order to validate myself.  Like somehow the work I really love- the abstracts that make me fall in love with paint each time I make one- require some sort of counterpoint based in the stark reality of life in order to be taken seriously.  The more I think about it, the angrier I become with myself.  I haven't sorted this out yet, but I intend to do so soon. 

Perhaps it's not the right time.  Or perhaps it's not the right thing.

Last night I went to the ICA with a beautiful woman.  She and I have met in passing, obliquely, for years now but never spent any real time together and she always seemed so smart and engaging. I asked her to go with me hoping to find some connection.  I think I may have.  I can't tell.  Maybe I'm stupid.

There's a common thread of indecisiveness lately in the troubles I've found for myself.  I seem to require more time to think about, digest and consider the ramifications of a thing than the world wants to allow me.   The world moves so fast and I'm so damned slow.

My mind is as disorganized as my workspace.
At one time, I was much more impulsive.  I made snap decisions and stuck to them.  And I was often wrong, having created uncomfortable, untenable situations.  This works well in my art, because I can always edit or paint over what I've done.  But I can't paint over my life, try as I might (and have).  So I've become perhaps overly cautious. 

I'm hanging my show this afternoon at Brookline Lunch in Cambridge.  I'll post again, separately, with all the details this evening once it's up, but for now, I have to ask myself- do I really want to show anyone the nudes I've painted?  More and more every day lately I find the whole endeavor to have been entirely childish both in the ideation and the execution.  What the fuck!?  I'm hanging a show in 6 hours and can't even decide what to hang.

I want so desperately to grab the bull by the horns, but I can't decide which bull and I'm spending far too much time analyzing the horns.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

"Where Might This Dark Road End?"

I painted this last night and finally this morning got the video all edited and so forth (by which I mean I broke up the whole thing into 3 Youtube-uploadable-sized pieces and added titles to them- I haven't edited anything out).

It's about 43 minutes altogether. You've been warned. In the background is music leaking in through the windows and the road crew next to my building being loud at around 10pm.

This piece is about taking advantage of opportunities when presented and hoping they lead to greater purpose, fulfillment and understanding.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Painting tonight

I'll post the video once it's properly edited. Here's what I painted tonight. I'm calling it "Where Might This Dark Road End?"

Saturday, August 27, 2011

A protest? A flood? A RIOT?

I'm curled up in my favourite chair with my coffee and I hear a crowd of what sounds like thousands slowly approaching the square. As the volume grows, so does my curiosity. A protest? A flood? A RIOT?

No. A motorcycle, in traffic slowly coming to a halt for the light, with a kickass sound system cranked to 11 which plays a track recorded live at a stadium now echoing from the storefronts on Mass Ave. Standing there at the window, I am both relieved and disappointed.

Then the light turns green. I return to my seat, listening as the crowd recedes, to finish my coffee. I think, "Wow, this is good coffee."

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Light Dawns

Holy shit. I know I mentioned this in passing in my last entry, but I just actually realized- I need to paint 5 or 6 really good pieces in just over a week to get ready for this show. FUCK.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Upcoming Show @ Brookline Lunch in Cambridge

A few years ago, I did a few shows through Out of the Blue Gallery here in Central Square. At the time, I was still down on the South Shore with my mum. Tom Tipton, who runs the gallery, sets up monthly shows at restaurants, coffee shops and bars around the area.

I decided a little while ago that I had to make a real effort to get my work seen, so yesterday I went over to talk to him and set up a show.

On Saturday, September 3rd I'll be bringing a 12 or 14 paintings down to Brookline Lunch on Brookline Street, about a block from my house, and setting up an exhibit of my new work.

There's no reception or anything. It's not that sort of venue. But people will be able to see the work and that's all I really care about at this point.

If you'd like to check it out, head on over to 9 Brookline Street, in Cambridge, MA anytime after the 3rd.

The only potential problem I foresee is that I don't have 12 to 14 paintings with which I'm actually happy right now. Well, I've always thrived on deadlines. I guess there'll be a lot of painting in my immediate future.

But not tonight. Tonight, because I have my evenings to myself again, I'll be headed over to the Cantab for their weekly open mic poetry slam. Not that I'll be reading anything- but I've always liked what they do there, and it's literally been years since I've had a Wednesday night off.

Monday, August 22, 2011

About that painting of Durod

I'm torn. I kind of hate the painting. Then again, I seem to feel that way at some point about nearly everything I paint, so the feeling is immediately suspect. I wanted to get back to the heavy black line that worked so well for my still-favourite painting of Ms. Catalano, but it came out all cartoony.

On the other hand, when Jarvis came to visit this weekend, he was immediately like, "Is that Durod?" So I suppose the likeness isn't too terrible.

Tonight, I'm going to get drunk with another of my favourite artists, Rahkeen Gray (Grey?) I should check that. He has been one of my best friends since I moved to the city, so I should probably make sure I'm certain how to spell his frickin' name.

But yeah, when Rahkeen and I get together, we drink. It's what we do. Hopefully I can squeeze out some of his insights into this painting after a beer or three. I need the opinion of someone I trust.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Cage?

Sometimes, you get that for which you've asked. I suspect occasionally the trick has something to do with how the asking is done.

When I learnt that the company for which (not for whom! I don't care what the law says- corporations are NOT people) I used to work was closing their Boston location, I knew I needed a plan. Frankly, the idea of working for another corporation was rather unappealing but there's a lot to be said for having enough scratch to meet one's responsibilities.

I concocted a two-prong plan. On the one hand, I was going to look for a job. On the other hand, I had this idea for a conceptual art piece requiring I live in a cage for a year, so I was going to try to raise funding for that instead.

I got totally serious about both plans with the intention of doing whichever panned out first. To be perfectly honest, with everything we're all hearing about the job market these days, I think I really thought I had a much better chance of scraping together 40k in donations through Kickstarter than I did of finding employment in the few weeks the company had given me.

The job came through first. I'm two weeks into it now.

And what I'm finding is that it may actually be that both plans have come to fruition in their own way. I now live and work in the same 300 square foot room and only leave during the day to pick up supplies. I've been able to get a certain amount of partying into my evenings though. So that's good.

If you're ever planning to build yourself a cage, be sure it includes a well-stocked bar.

And a place to paint.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Tonight I painted a good friend of mine I call Durod. We'll see in a few weeks if I still like the painting, but for now, it feels good to be working again in any meaningful way at all, and overall, I'm happy with it.

I've moved my painting bench to the window which now precludes the possibility of working with a model with my paint trough on the bench. So I've taken an old blanket and am using it as sort of a dropcloth on my bed, put a large piece of Masonite over that and then set up the trough. This allows me to be within easy reach of my materials on the bench and still work facing the model.

Durod's never posed for a painting so I kept it pretty simple and just had him sitting in a chair at the table across from my bed.

Of all the paintings I've done of Jen Catalano (the prospect of whom painting again has significantly increased lately- we've now got two sessions scheduled over the next few upcoming weeks), my very favourite is one that relied heavily on thick black lines, so I decided with this one to revisit that approach. I don't think I was able to achieve the balance I was looking for, but the blockiness is just what I wanted.

I was also able to work in my spider plant, a corner of the painting I did a month or two ago when I was drunk and stabbed the canvas with a wooden dowel, and my very first paint sketch of Jen into the composition. I'm not sure when the last time was I actually paid attention to my living space as potential subject matter. I may explore that more fully later on.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

I thought it would all be sorted by now...

... but I can't seem to drag myself up out of this moribund little funk.

I choose to blame myself. Because that's what the media shower tells me to do, and I'm a good little soldier.

And so I will make plans. I will then either follow through on them or not, depending. And if I do not, it will obviously be only squarely on myself that blame will lie.

I will be painting tomorrow night. That's the plan.

Tonight was drinks with Meghan.


I wasn't sure what to do this evening, so I went out with myself on a date. Rendezvous in Central Square has been one of my favourite places since they opened, so I walked over and splurged on gnocchi and roasted chicken. And cocktails. And coffee. And read my book. It was nice. A little too expensive for a guy like me, but then it wouldn't really be splurging otherwise, now would it?

Then I met up with Alexandria and drank more coffee and smoked cigarettes. We walked around a bit and then settled down on my favourite Central Square bench. She's always such a trip. And so socially unabashed. Inspiring, really.

Before I went out I was working on a little project about which I can't really speak right now ( I will when there's something to show for it) which involved some wood carving. I loved whittling as a kid in my dad's sign shop, and it always feels good to get back to that.

An a separate and totally unrelated note, I don't think I've had a migraine in nearly a month, which is awesome. I've been pretty stressed out intermittently lately so it's a little surprising, but perhaps this just goes to show how much difference a little change in one's eating habits can really make.

All in all, today was a good day, even though I didn't do much in the way of making art. I'm in something of a rebuilding phase right now and collecting psychic material with which to work. Spending time chatting with Alexandria always makes me feel like I've been productive, even when (or possibly especially when) I haven't actually done anything at all. She can't help but challenge me intellectually and creatively, so I'm always left with this feeling like I've really accomplished something simply by virtue of having survived the experience- which is probably why I like her so much.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Distracted by tub scum...

Haven't been painting much. A couple sketches here and there, but that's about it. I've been getting distracted.

I'm all alone in this place now. I've always wanted to live alone, but never really had. Now it's happened and on the one hand, I'm really happy about that but on the other, I'm lonely. So that's interesting. Interesting enough to serve as a distraction anyway.

With the new job I'm home all day already and a certain amount of socialization is necessary. Being careful not to become a total hermit, I've been making it a point to either have people over or to go out pretty much every night. That's been fun, but also a distraction.

And then there's also been this weird thing where I've become some kind of compulsive neat-freak. That's a huge distraction, I have to say, since I'm already a compulsive slob.

So yeah, hopefully tomorrow I'll have a picture of something interesting to show you, but for now, I have to go scrub the bathtub. And the walls. Oh god! I just started actually looking at the walls! This is going to take forever.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

I'm on Fire

I've been neglecting the blog. Excuses, excuses, blah blah blah.

That's changing now. I've reorganized the studio now that Meghan has moved out, and I've gotten a new job which allows me to work from home, which in turn seems to have somehow turned me into a neurotic clean-freak. There are certainly worse things than having a spotless apartment smelling equally of incense and bleach. I haven't yet decided at what time everyday I'm going to be posting, but that is the intention from this point forward, barring any particularly unusual circumstances. I suppose it will depend on what kind of schedule I create for myself with this new job, but there will be daily posts from this point forward.

New experiment: do you know what happens when you use a tiny squeegee dragged across a puddle of wet acrylic paint to create a channel, fill that channel with lighter fluid, and then set it alight? Well, I didn't either, so I found out.

The paint curdled in a way I hadn't expected, but looked kind of terrible. This will require more experimentation. I'm pretty sure there's something worthwhile to be found in the space between the paint and the flame.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Making a Movie

Before I cracked my skull in January, I wasn't painting much but still requiring a creative outlet, I hooked up with my friend Duval Rodrigues (I call him Durod) to act as producer for a series of short films.

Our primary project was about a guy on a bike who simultaneously exists in two separate timelines- one in which he dies in a bike accident of a broken skull and another in which he doesn't. He finished the filming in the fall and had moved on to the editing phase.

After my accident I realized I really needed to get back to my painting and Durod and I had a conversation that was sort of like an artists' breakup. But he's still one of my very best friends.

Anyway, during the editing phase, we realized we needed to re-shoot what's probably the most important scene. It was the very first thing we'd shot and we sort of fucked it up. So we're doing it tomorrow.

My son Jarvis has been in integral character throughout the piece and will be in this scene. I think he's looking forward to it nearly as much as I am. Last year, Saturdays were movie days and I think he misses it. I guess this will be a cool sort of segue into his birthday.

When it's all done and edited, I'll see if I can get some still shots from the final product up here. Durod wants to submit to festivals and so forth, so I won't be able to post the film itself for a while.

Should be fun :)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

I'm a Slave to My Desires

It's interesting though because so many of them seem either mutually exclusive or at the very least at odds with one another. My friend Alex helps me put these internal relationships under a stark light and examine them more closely. Meghan was telling me yesterday about a thing she was reading about how the natural state of a person is extremely narcissistic and so we must all accept responsibility for that and choose constantly to instead do what's right and good.

Father; artist; lover; employee (in order of importance)- how shall I balance these things? I'm not certain of the way, but I am certain of the means. This is going to come down to some serious introspection coupled with enough meaningful socialization to keep me from getting too depressed to address these issues.

So yes, I'm a slave to desire, but I have an escape plan, vague though it may be.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Having nothing and everything to do with my intentions

Jane told me I should read this. She was right. And you should too. Kakfa totally gets me. Too bad he's dead. I imagine we'd have had a wonderful time together.

A Weird and Wonderful Life

For years, I had this sense of surreality surrounding me nearly all the time. This idea that I could measure the quality of my existence by its strangeness. I've been missing it for quite ahile, but lately, shit's getting weird again, and it's wonderful. Makes me feel like I'm coming back to myself.

Even when I'm not bringing paint to panel on a regular basis, I'm always painting in my head. Last night was one of those nights that brought everything into a sort of unreal focus. Today I'm home from work with another headache, but smiling anyway.

There's of course lots I need to do in a practical sense to keep things afloat, but that feeling of floating that makes it all worthwhile and it's returning to me.

There may or may not be a picture of me in an upcoming issue of Stuff @ Night with the beautiful Alex Long on our Davis Square excursion last night. Me looking totally pimp and hopefully not quite as drunk as I was. Later on, I spent a couple hours drinking and smoking on some random person's stoop nearby with this totally cute art student and then took a cab back to Central with one of those cabbies that makes you wonder...

Meghan's back at the apartment for the next two weeks or so while she gears up to move into her new place around the corner. Which is no longer awkward. Pretty nice actually. We make great roommates if not lovers.

I've been sketching out ideas for the My Life in a Cage project (about which I'll go into more detail in another, dedicated post), and researching places to make that happen. As much as I'd prefer not to, I may have to give up my sweet studio in Central to make it work. The pieces slowly coming together, reshuffling, etc.

There's a sense lately of a pending rebirth. Like the universe is pregnant with possibilities meant especially for me. And there was something about that art student last night...

Monday, July 11, 2011

There's a gentleness to her she tries to hide...

But I see it.  I will try to make it real for the rest of you too. My paints seem perhaps too harsh a medium to properly express what I see in her, so I'm going to try with charcoal.  If she'll let me.  Maybe after dinner tonight or maybe months from now or maybe not at all.

7 Rules

I refuse to be intimidated.

I refuse to water the seeds of doubt. 

I refuse to say "yes" when I mean "maybe" and "no" when I mean "please." 

I will be honest and forthright and consistent but I will not be afraid to change my mind.

I will not ignore the naysayers. 

I will embrace them instead and make them see.

I will navigate the gauntlet with love and art in my heart.

Sunday, July 10, 2011


There're a couple of obsessions in my life lately. 

There's this one amazing woman in particular.  I suspect she doesn't want me going into too many specifics in this very public forum, so I'll forgo that, but I just want to have the record show that I realize I really should have gotten to know her better when we were sleeping together all those years ago, and now that I am getting to know her better, I can't seem to get enough.  She's bold and brash and beautiful, but at the same time, smart, sensitive and entirely sincere. Entirely lovely.

Another recent obsession is with the cages my parents often housed me in as a kid.  In reality, they were technically pens, but they called them each (jokingly, I see now in retrospect) "the cage."  I've submitted a proposal to Kickstarter for a project in which I will lock myself in a cage for a year (with time allotted, of course, to see my son, Jarvis), and produce 366 paintings and a novel on the topics of my particular imprisonment as a child, again (as part of the project) as an adult, how this has affected nearly every aspect of my life, and how universal I suspect a lot of the feelings and implications of this kind of situation are.  I just got confirmation the other day that they've accepted my proposal so now, while I plan the nuts and bolts of the project, all I can think about is cages.

... and that impossibly beautiful girl, who makes me feel like there are no such things as cages at all.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Birthdays and changes

On my birthday Monday, Jen Catalano came over to visit.  I made a delicious lunch (if I do say so myself), and then she posed for this painting (or rather, what I'm calling a paint sketch).

I was trying to paint fast and loose and not pay too much unnecessary attention to creating a likeness.  The point here was to capture a mood.

When I blend Larcoloid French Blue and Porcelain White, I've noticed, into my ubiquitous swirls, it always conjures for me a feeling of home and comfort.  Reminiscent of open sky and clean water and somehow, warmth.  Instead of trying to capture the subtle smile she wore laying on my bed, I wanted to treat her face as a window to home.  She looked like she was exactly where she belonged.  Or maybe she just really liked my steak and roasted veggies.

I'm getting to the point now where I'm feeling a lot more comfortable with life and therefore with my art.  In a few weeks, Meghan's things will be gone from the studio, and I'll be able to move my painting bench over to the window, at which point I might be ready to do something I've never ever done, and paint landscapes from life, being totally unconcerned with trivialities like superficial reality.  Instead, I want to paint Central Square as I've experienced it over the years.  This painting may prove in retrospect to have been the jumping-off point for that work.

As a side note, I am at this moment smoking what I hope to be the last cigarette I ever allow to touch my mouth.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Haven't felt so good in ages

Went to a great party near my house last night and met some fun people.  My buddy Matt invited me to swing by a friend's place and it turned out to be a group birthday party.  One of the birthday girls was named Sai and she and I had a great conversation about pigments, solvents, and whiskey.  There was this other girl Katie who I thought was cute but whom I may have scared a bit with my enthusiasm about, well, everything.  Oh well- I was in a good mood.  At some point in the night the cops showed up because it was so damn loud, but they were super cool and were basically like "it might be a good idea to close the windows and unplug the guitars, guys."  I fucking love Cambridge.

I drank a lot and think I blacked out on the walk back to my apartment. I woke up around noon with an epic hangover and found that I'd apparently been painting when I got home last night.

Usually when I post pictures of the work I'm doing I like to discuss my processes and motivations, but I only have the vaguest memories of this one.  I had my music on loud (headphones), dancing around my apartment naked at about 3 o'clock in the morning, and at some point, I think I was looking for my paint can opener and instead stumbled across the broken cross piece from a wooden coat hanger and skewered the canvas with it.  Upon further inspection this morning, it seems I had the presence of mind to balance the tip underneath against the stretcher bars, so it would stay in place.  (As a side note, I still can't find my paint can opener).

I have no idea what this painting is about.  Not really the point though.  What matters is I'm painting again, and finding myself able to be free and exploratory.  THAT's what matters.

It'll be my birthday in a couple of days.  For the entirety of the weekend, I'll be celebrating myself.  Today I feel like for the first time in a long time my happiness is in my own hands and not based on being accepted or wanted or getting laid.

Meghan's been kind and understanding enough to be away for the past few days staying with friends and I think the combination of solitude and unfettered socialization has helped me find myself again.  She'll be moving into her new place at the end of the month. 

Things are starting to feel good.  There's this feeling of incredible potential.  Simply the fact that I can ogle guiltlessly has made a huge difference, but being able to paint again (even if the finished product isn't any good) is what's really making everything seem worthwhile.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Prints now for sale!

I will be making more artworks available for sale through Artist Websites in the future, but for now, I have 5 of my favourites available for purchase.

Click here to get your very own Jason Burrell print.  Please.  No really, I mean it.  I'm pretty much broke and I need your help.  Besides, these guys do an awesome job.  Check it out!

Thursday, June 16, 2011


Living in a studio apartment with your ex-girlfriend is hard.  Probably in no small part due to the fact that it's at least as hard for her (or, in this case, likely harder, since I'm the one staying and she's trying to find a new place).  She's totally stressed out, and I don't blame her.  I'm trying to be supportive and understanding, trying to make this transition as easy and painless as possible, but I'm the one who said it was time to end it.  No matter what happens from this point on, let's face it, I'm the asshole in this situation. We're looking at least another two weeks like this, and possibly more like four or six.  And it's awkward.

I can't seem to paint.  I can never quite get comfortable. Strangely though, I've been drawing a lot lately.  Or maybe not so strangely.  I always have my  sketchbooks in my bag.  I use them for everything from calendars to to-do lists to canvas layouts to shopping lists, so they're always handy.  So now my sketchbooks actually have a few sketches in them.  Which is weird on the one hand because I rarely draw, but on the other, not so weird at all, since all the drawing I've done has been anywhere but at home.

I sort of want to just crawl into a hole by myself and hide for the next few months, but I'm afraid of what may emerge if I do that again.  I've handled a few breakups that way before, so I know what's possible, and it's not always pretty. But I can't, even if I were sure I wanted to.  There's no place to hide right now.  Drifting, it feels like, in some sort of limbo.

I really want to paint.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Tumultuous Times

Major changes. 

I haven't been posting lately because I haven't been painting lately, with everything going on.  Meghan and I have decided to break up.  I'm not going to speak too much about details here, but obviously, this impacts my life and my art significantly, so it bears chronicling.  

The romantic period in our life together seems to be ending amicably, hopefully leaving open the possibility of a strong friendship.  The day to day things may be strange for a little while though, at least until we've sorted out new living arrangements.

I'm not really certain how to explain this all to Jarvis.  He's known her since he was 7, and has really grown to like her a lot over the past few years.  He's nearly 11 now, and has gotten to know and trust her very well.  I hope this isn't too tough on him. 

And I'm not sure what this means for my painting. In some ways, I think I may feel freer, but I'm also very sad about the breakup and worried about its implications in the utilitarian aspects of my life.

We'll see what happens.
"Panta Rei": everything flows. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A series of successful experiments culminates in a failed painting.

I think I painted this last week, approximately.  It's been something of a blur lately, with everything going on.   Sometimes, I end up with something I will never put on display, because it's essentially meaningless and falls significantly short of my standard of beauty, but which I will also never paint over, because I don't dare forget the lessons learnt.

With this one, I was playing around with a couple of things.  First off- the pink.  Normally, I only use the three factory-mixed primaries, black and white (what I call my Basic 5).  I used to work a lot with custom-tinted paint back in the day, but the liquid colourants they use at the store behave in a fundamentally different way than the powdered pigments they use at the factory, so I discontinued their use years ago when I started standardizing my materials.

However- the last time I was at the store to pick up some paint, I happened to spy a few cans of mistinted Larcoloid (the only paint I'll ever really love) being sold at a hefty discount.  There were two quarts of slightly different bluish-greens and a gallon of this fantastic pink, and all three of them colours I can't quite duplicate with my Basic 5.  And at $5.00/qt and $10.00/gal, I almost felt like I was stealing them when I cashed out at the register.

This panel started off basically as a place for me to push a ton of this pink paint around with a squeegee and experiment with laying other colours and combinations of colours over it to get a sense of the relative density of the colourants.  This way I could figure out how to incorporate the pink into other works without too many unexpected consequences.

Also, I wanted to see how the paint (in general, not just the pink), would behave if I created areas of very different depths in the paint.  Normally on a canvas, the weight of the paint forces everything to pool slightly toward the center, but I'd noticed that on these birch panels I'm using pretty often now the paint seems to stay put better, and I wanted to push that envelope a little.  How much paint could I pool up in one place without it sliding around past where I'd put it into areas of very thinly-applied paint?

At some point in the process, as usually happens, I got a little distracted.  This is often a good thing, especially with these sorts of experimental meanderings.  In fact, I generally try to create a situation in which I have a few different kinds of stimuli to keep me from thinking too much about what I'm doing.  On a really good day, I can have Pandora playing from the netbook, a CD in the stereo, a little spillover from Meghan's headphones and whatever song she's got cranked up on single-track repeat while she's writing, sidewalk construction outside, making the floor vibrate intermittently in delayed-reaction staccato to the cracking of jackhammers on concrete, the smells of cigarette smoke, hot, aromatic coffee with too much sugar, and last night's glass of bourbon next to the sink all competing for my attention.  This overstimulation seems to have the dual effect of increasing the possibility both that I won't get too obsessed with any one particular detail and also that I'll accidentally do something I hadn't planned for. 

What happened here was a really cool accident with that yellow you see toward the center.  I had mixed the yellow with a tiny bit of black and drizzled it over a particularly large pool of relatively deep pink and black.  Then I took a large squeegee, which still had a little of the pink paint on it, and dragged the pink and black from the top to the bottom of the panel, figuring it would mix the yellow into the pool and create some interesting streaks.  But instead, the yellow disappeared completely.  I had inadvertently wrapped the yellow up in a pocket of pink and black, like a bubble. 

So I stood there and stared at it for a while, waiting to see if the yellow would seep up back to the surface, as can sometimes happen.  It didn't.  This was totally unprecedented.  Awesome.  But of course, who fucking cares if there's a bubble of paint hidden down there where no one can see?  So I popped the bubble.  I took one of my larger brushes, and basically slapped it.  The yellow shot out, twirling slightly in the air, pulling some of the black along with it, and then splashed back down on the surface.  Then little air bubbles started to burble up, creating a really fun texture.

The blue and white up top, with the black "V" in the corner was a series of inquiries about working subtractively and then re-filling voids to get simple concise lines.  That worked out fairly well too.

So now I've got a better sense of how the pink will behave with the rest of my palette, I know that I can pool the paint up significantly deeper on a wooden panel than a canvas one, I've learnt a bit more about this additive/subtractive thing I've been playing with for a while, and I discovered a cool trick I'll want to try to recreate again later.  Was it because of the pink, or can I do that with any combination of colours?

However, the painting itself isn't particularly appealing.  The composition is a little trite and cheesy, and there's as much much emotional depth as there was emotional input (zero).  Most of the time when a painting ends up this way, it goes into the "to be painted over" pile under my workbench.  Not this one though.  It'll never see a gallery, but I'll keep it on my wall to remind me what I've learnt.   

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Is my art linked somehow to my pain?

I don't normally post twice in a day, but I'll keep this one short.  Because I have to.  Those of you who read my blog regularly are probably sick of hearing about my skull fracture back in January, but it's impossible for me to forget, because ever since, I've been plagued by migraines, which keeps the experience pretty relevant.

And I have another one coming on now.  I'll have to take my pill momentarily, before this thing makes me feel like a fucking baby and start to cry.   I had two last week, and now another today.  They seem to be increasing in frequency.

But the art has gotten so much better in the meantime.  Will this pain be the price I have to pay?

Bad Art, Good Art, and a little Magic

This painting is unfinished, based on a photograph I took a few years ago of a model who prefers to remain anonymous. I decided I needed to stop avoiding the brush, as well as the idea that a painting should be completed in one sitting.

The problem is, I think now I may have been right all along. When I stop partway through a painting with the intention of completing it later, I nearly always end up getting so bogged down that it feels more like the goal is to fix the painting instead of to simply finish it, and this always leads to a certain frustration. I paint moments. It's not enough, apparently to work from a snapshot. I need to live the snapshot. It's not just about taking a slice of time and then recreating it later. It's about living and painting in the moment. I've started (and not finished) 3 or 4 paintings based on this photo alone, and I suspect this piece will join the rest in that pile.

I only realized this very recently though, and not before I managed to mangle a few more panels. Two weeks ago, I had Katie Marie over for a session, and decided to continue exploring this idea that a painting could span a couple of sessions.

When our three hours was up, I had gotten as far as what you see to the left here, and I was very optimistic about the potential of the painting. Having stared at it for weeks now though, and compared it to the reference photo I took, I'm totally disheartened. I know now that when Katie next comes over to sit for me, if I try to simply finish the piece we started, it's going to be nothing but frustration. I may just paint over it.

I started suspecting this to be the case about a week ago, when Jen Catalano and I had our last session, but I still hadn't entirely convinced myself it was self-defeating to try to paint outside the moment, or to stretch moments into weeks. Jen has been a real inspiration for quite awhile now. She reminds me of myself at her age, except female, and we seem to understand each other very well, so I thought that perhaps the problem with the painting of Katie was (sorry, Katie) perhaps Katie herself. Maybe I needed to be working with a model I know well to space a painting's process out over multiple sessions.

But I was wrong. And I'm so disappointed now with the painting of Jen I'm embarrassed to even post this picture of it. I don't even know what the hell I was doing that day. Obviously paying attention was not it. I painted her so disproportionately it's not even salvageable. Garbage.

We have a session booked next week to finish this one, but I'm just going to start over. I've learnt my lesson: paint in the fucking moment, idiot.

So obviously there must have been a turning point, right? Some moment in which I realized what an idiot I really am? Yes. And I'm chagrined to admit that this moment actually occurred before any of these paintings were started- I was just too stupid to realize it.

This piece I painted a few weeks ago. It happens fairly often, especially with my more experimental abstracts, that while I may learn a neat trick or perfect a certain technique, that the painting itself, useful to me as it may be, essentially fails. These panels lay around the studio waiting to be painted over most of the time. The black, yellow and red you see here were all painted nearly three years ago. The panel went into my junk pile and sat there patiently until I pulled it out to experiment with a few new tools I've been trying out, and so I figured that it would be a perfect place to prove to myself that I can create a successful painting in layers, instead of always having to work in a pool of wet paint. I was so happy with it when it was done I totally neglected to realize that the reason it worked out so well was that I encapsulated a perfect moment, despite the underpainting, not because of it. It took the three failed paintings above for me to finally see what I'd done.

So last Friday, I got a message from Barmy Sansculotte. She and I worked together last summer when I was doing a lot of sketches, and had a great session. She's got a very unique body and very soulful eyes, and I loved the work I did that day, so I invited her back for another session a week or later, and she totally flaked on me. From certain previous posts, you may already be aware of how deeply that affects me. I pretty much wrote her off. This was last August, but since then, despite what happened, I've been looking periodically at the sketches I did that day, wishing I could just paint her.

I wrote to her a few weeks or a month ago, asking if she was still modeling and would she like to set something up. Her schedule and mine don't mesh well, so it was a little tough. But Friday she wrote to me to let me know she'd had Monday (yesterday) open up unexpectedly, and to ask if I'd be interested in painting her.

Of course, I jumped on the opportunity immediately. It sounds a little crazy, but Barmy has become something of an obsession for me. I can't quite explain it. I mean, there's the obvious fact that she's beautiful, but there's something more to it. Maybe it's how little she talks when she's modeling. I never know what she's thinking, so perhaps I feel the need to observe her more closely than normal to get at the heart of her. Or maybe it has to do with this feeling that it's totally worth the risk that she might cancel on me, because I know the work will be superb if she doesn't.

I knew that no matter what happened, I needed to get the painting I wanted of her finished in a single sitting. This was a moment I'd been hoping would come for quite awhile and I didn't dare screw it up.

She arrived promptly at 10am, and by 10:20 we were working. By 11:30 or so, I'd realized I'd totally fucked it up. I'd centered the composition on her breasts, and then tried to still squeeze her face and arm into the piece, which quite simply didn't work. It was a mess. I had until 1pm to salvage the piece, and was sort of freaking out. I wanted this painting so badly.

So I started over. The painting to the left here was completed by 12:45pm, so what you're seeing represents just over an hour of work, and about the closest I've ever come to capturing a perfect moment with a model. I didn't get her face down exactly right, but the moment? Perfect.

And then she went and did something amazing. We still had 15 minutes left in our session, so she asked me if I wanted to get any more work done. I told her that there really wasn't time to do anything but perhaps take some photographs, so she could consider the session over. But she sort of pressed further, like she really wanted me to photograph her. I tried to explain to her that while I've photographed many models over the years, I rarely if ever actually get a worthwhile painting from the pictures, due largely to the fact that everything I know about how to frame a shot I seem to have learnt from pornography, so while I might enjoy the pictures immensely in their own rite, I couldn't promise that they'd have any redeeming artistic qualities.

Basically, she laughed and told me to grab my camera, and then we proceeded to shoot photos for another half an hour. I told her I couldn't be trusted to direct, because I'd turn it into a softcore porn shoot, so she just went pose after pose through her repertoire. I think we could have gone on for quite a while longer if I hadn't had to leave for work. Below is one of my favourite shots from those final magical moments. It's funny how it's come full-circle. I finally convince myself that I've got to stop working from photographs, and create this wonderful painting, but now I want so badly to paint from those photos. If I'm smart, I suppose I'll just file it all away mentally and if she ever turns up for another session, paint her from life.

Maybe in the meantime though, I should work on sketches from these photos, so I can get her face right in the next painting. We'll see what happens. In the meantime though, I have a bunch of new failed paintings I need to paint over.