Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Writing the damn CV

I've been trying over the past few days to assemble a curriculum vitae to submit along with my portfolio to some art associations and galleries.  To that end I've been poring through my old websites on the wayback machine and trying to piece together what events and I did and when exactly they were. 

I've always had a pretty crappy memory, as anyone who's ever known me can tell you.  Perhaps then it's not so strange that I keep finding myself dumbstruck by how much I've actually done over the years.  From 2001 to 2007, I had about 20 solo shows, participated in nearly a dozen group shows, performed 17 public painting demonstrations, and was once featured in full colour on the front page of the Boston Globe doing one of those demonstrations.  I used to be very much out there and incredibly active, but had forgotten the extent of it. 

For the past few years, I've been working privately, but damn it, I'm back, and this time, I have some clue what I'm doing.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Got out of work early and came home to paint

I love peeling back layers of colour with air and rubber
Sometimes when it's slow at work I get the option to come home early.  Tonight was one of those nights so here I came.  Meghan's friend Juliette had come to visit so we chatted a little and then I sort of left them to their conversation to get some painting done.

As usual, I had Pandora playing on the computer in one ear and the radio playing in the other, but additionally, a conversation taking place in my aural periphery.  These sorts of extraneous input I find quite helpful when I need to let go and stop thinking about the work so I can let it happen.
I also love stars and fire
I have one of a bunch of upcoming dental appointments tomorrow morning before work so I knew I wouldn't be able to paint or to blog and wanting to do both, did them tonight.  Sometimes I need to remind myself that I can't call myself a painter unless I'm painting.  Other times it's an all-consuming self-flagellation. Sometimes, I just paint and it has nothing whatsoever to do with anything other than the simple fact that I can and there's no other thing I'd rather be doing.  Those are the best times.  Tonight was one of those nights.

I always look at my abstracts as landscapes
I don't have a name yet for this painting, but I think it's about the unknowable nature of whatever it is in this universe that makes it possible for the universe to exist.  Meghan and Juliette and I were discussing the subject just before I turned my chair around to get to work and I think there was some psychic spillage.  I was explaining that I'm working under the assumption that as a hairless ape on a backwater planet I lack the essential capacity required to imagine (let alone actually understand) the sort of force that could be singularly responsible for all creation, and that given this assumption, I find it troubling that I still find myself pondering the basic unanswerable questions.  I mean, if I've really established that whatever the great answers of the universe are my meager simian intellect is utterly insufficient to conceive of them, why even bother trying?  Perhaps it's just a human thing.  Struggle for the sake of struggle?  I'm not sure- I'm just a paint-flinging ape.  Anyway, the painting feels like it's about order from and through chaos, and that may be as close as I'll get in this lifetime to conceiving the face of God.  I'll let you know when I've got a clever name for it.

Monday, March 28, 2011

My Art Teachers Over the Years

I like to think of myself as an essentially self-taught artist, but when I get right down to it, this really isn't strictly true.

My first art teacher was probably my father.  He had a sign shop which he'd inherited from his father next to the house where both he and I grew up.  There I learned how to use knives and chisels to shape wood, how to prime and paint and letter a board, and all the basic wood shop skills I still have to this day, even if I currently lack the space and the equipment. 

My father hated making signs.  In his heart, he was a sculptor.  I remember as a child there was a dragon named Helga he'd carved which people came from all around to gawk at.  Helga was maybe 36 inches of graceful neck on which perched a regal head.  She was carved from a single block of wood and mounted just below the peak of the wood shop which sat just next to the road. Her tongue was long and forked, peeking out just inches past her deadly teeth, but went 12 inches down her throat, as perfectly carved as the ridges of her esophagus- again- all one single block of wood. She was horned and armoured and lacquered and simply majestic.  She wore a gold-leafed collar and much as you could imagine her cutting the fog at the prow of  a proud viking vessel, so did she make one feel safe knowing she was watching out for us down that long road out of town.

 My father is at once one of the most scattered and yet at the same time meticulous people I've ever met other than myself (and as I'm learning, my son).  All my earliest ideas about how and what and why to paint came directly from him, and many of them linger to this day. 

The piece to the left here hung in our living room for the entirety of my childhood.  Actually it still hangs in this exact spot even now, all these years later, long after my father left us, in the same living room where my mother still watches TV. It's one of his earlier sculptures, from what I understand.  I've never gotten a straight answer from him about who the subject of this one is.

The simple composition, the attention to detail, and the mysteriousness of the whole thing (there's no obvious narrative here, but yet still a distinct sense that something's going on we can't see) have all become part of my own work.

In some ways, I'll probably always idolize (read: idealize) his work in my own mind for the simple fact of its patient virtuosity.  Whether you liked his art or not, if you saw him in the shop literally sweating and sometimes bleeding into these things, you'd probably feel much as I do about his sincerity in purpose and unblinking focus on the task.  This has been both an ideal to which I've aspired and a burden I've sought to unload at various points in my life.  My father has always represented to me the ancient and the traditional, and these are things against which I think it's natural to rebel but difficult to avoid respecting.

In elementary school, I had a really amazing art teacher named Mrs. Douglas.  From kindergarten through fourth grade, she and I met once a week and I got to do pretty much whatever I wanted.  I loved that place.  Here's a link to an article I found which she wrote which describes how her classroom functioned.  Check it out.  In Mrs. Douglas' class, I was presented for the first time with a safe and consistent place to experiment with various media.  I don't recall there ever being assignments so much as demonstrations which could then be utilized or ignored as I saw fit. 

While at home my father would look over my shoulder and tell me either how to draw what I was drawing better (more like he would draw it), or why I shouldn't be drawing what I was drawing (monsters and demons were not the sort of thing I was supposed to think about), at school Mrs, Douglas would look over my shoulder and ask me if there was anything I needed at hand to make what I was thinking.  Under her tutelage the seed of my rebellion was planted.

In middle school, from the ages of 10 to 13, I had a new art teacher, Mr. Anderson, who was a fucking idiot and had no business whatsoever teaching children anything, art the very least of all.  He would stand up at the front of the class next to an overhead projector and draw animals.  We would be graded based on how well we duplicated his drawings, and then he would hang up everyone's drawings in order from best to worst.  During this time, I started to hate art.  I knew it was a part of me I could not sever though, so I suffered through middle school hoping high school would be better.

And it was.  By the time I was in high school, my father was long gone, living in the hills of New Hampshire, so I was free at home to paint and draw what I wanted, but most of what I did was in Mrs. Weyand's classroom at school.  She taught me how to stretch and gesso a canvas and gave me more and more freedom over the years to pursue my work in private.  A sort of unspoken agreement was reached in which I would complete my assigned work in record speed to demonstrate I'd understood whatever underlying principle was being taught, and was then given free rein to create additional work of my own from materials in the classroom. 

My junior year of high school however, Mrs. Weyand and I, after having become something like friends, had a major falling out.  I had built an extra-credit bong out of clay, cleverly disguised as a monkey-faced Neptune candleholder.  I intended it as a gift for a friend of mine who lived in New Hampshire with his mom with whom my dad had been shacked up at that point for a couple of years, but when Mrs. Weyand saw me packing it up to bring home for what was probably Christmas vacation, she told me that she wanted to put the piece in the annual high school art show at the public library.  I told her the piece was promised as a gift to a friend and that since I could only see him a couple times a year, I needed it now. She informed me that because the work was made of materials purchased by the school, and fired in the school's kiln that it was still the property of the school and therefore I had no choice.  I unpacked it and stalked out of there in a huff to eat my lunch.  I spent most of my time in school in the art room though, and I knew her schedule as well as I knew my own.  So I went back there while she was at lunch and the art room was being watched over by a teacher's aide.  I was often in the art room for independent work time, so it was not unusual to see me walk in and box up the piece.  I knew I couldn't hide it in my locker if Mrs. Weyand came looking for it so I went up to the office and asked them to hold onto it for me.  Half an hour later as I sat down in my social studies class she stormed in demanding to know where the sculpture was.  I told her it was beyond her reach and she couldn't have it.  I told her it ceased being the property of the school as soon as I completed it and my copyright took effect.  I told her that even were that not the case, she'd never find it anyway so she'd best forget about it.  She never forgave me, and we were no longer friendly. 

My senior year, the school enacted a new scheduling system and Mrs. Weyand left.  We had a new art teacher, Mrs. Barnes, who allowed me the same level of access Mrs. Weyand once had, and since I was an AP Art student which under the new schedule gave me about 3 hours of self-directed time in the art room, I was able to make whatever I wanted.  The idea was that I was supposed to compile a portfolio to submit to art schools.  Instead, I took that opportunity to make whatever I felt like making.  I'd often come into school, go to the art room, draw something in pastels so I'd have an excuse to go outside to spray it with fixative and therefore have the privacy required to smoke a little pot.  Then I'd go back up the classroom stoned as hell and paint demons in boxes or crying people, usually.

I never put together a real portfolio, so I wasn't able to apply to any real art schools.  I have a penchant for shooting myself in the foot.  I was somehow accepted into Bridgewater State College though, and enrolled as a Fine Arts major.  Through a mistake in the printing of the course selection books my first year there, I was able to get into a painting class and a 2D design class despite not having the prerequisite drawing class under my belt.  I took both of those classes with Professor William Kendall, who I think can perhaps lay claim (if ever it becomes the sort of thing to which anyone would wish to lay such a claim) for being the single most influential person in the formation of my artistic identity.

Dr. Kendall and I had a rather contentious relationship based on a mutual respect.  He would assign complicated projects with a great many specific elements he said would be required to demonstrate understanding of a particular concept.  I would then create a piece in which I had done exactly the opposite thing in the case of each and every single specific required element while still demonstrating I understood the underlying concepts. 

The painting to the left here is a perfect example of this relationship.  His assignment was to paint a group of simple biomorphic objects from life in earthtones and greys arranged in a line on a horizontal surface, building up layers of colour using the impasto techniques of some old Italian master or something.  I instead painted a single biomorphic object from my imagination in bright and contrasting colours sitting in an impossible space on a vertical canvas, but still using the impasto technique at the core of the lesson.  This one is called "Bowling Ball Smashing the Unsmashable Bottle in Three Prophetic Flashes of Memory, and an Afterthought."  I got the only A in the class for this project.

Once the administration realized they'd accidentally allowed me to skip over taking a drawing class, they forced me to do so before they'd let me take Painting II.  After 2 weeks in that class, I dropped out of school altogether.  I was like FUCK THIS SHIT.  And I was out.  Done.  They wanted me to sit and draw the same object like 50 times in a row.  No constructive criticism.  Too big a class.  Looks of derision from the professor who seemed to assume I was just another loser taking the required art course with no intention of being an artist.  I couldn't take it.  I had to leave.

Officially, that's when my self-education began, and so the story might end there, but there are two other people I feel require mention here.  The first is Danielle De Feo, who was my girlfriend for a couple of years.  The photo to the left is of her hands as works on an installation piece at my apartment at the time called Hypergraphia, which was about her near-compulsive need to write constantly.  We covered the walls with black cloth which she then took about a week to cover entirely in text taken from her writings over the previous year or so- everything from IM messages to her graduate course work to poetry in Chinese.

Danielle challenged me constantly to maintain a mindfulness of meaning in my work.  Living together for some time, we discussed the nature of art almost daily it seems now.  At the time I was insistent that my work in its purest form had no meaning other than as an imprint of my state of mind.  Danielle forced me to look deeper and find more. 

Finally, I want to mention Michael Costello.  Michael is a very talented and well established painter working in South Boston.  A few years ago I started modeling for artists around the city and eventually found myself working with Michael very regularly. We got along quite well and I enjoyed his work immensely.  Michael didn't teach me anything about how or why or what to paint.  What Michael taught me in our short time was how to be an artist.   Michael showed me a life and a lifestyle built around his art and supported by it.  I learned from him the importance of relationships.  Relationships with the audience, with galleries, and with other artists.  I also learned from Michael that if I ever want to make my art the driving force in my life I need at some point to take a risk or two if necessary and just do it.

These have been my art teachers.  I still have much to learn (and unlearn) but I will.  There is always a new teacher.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Things. Going on.

I've been really busy lately and it's been wonderful.  Until today.  Maybe this is a migraine?  I'm not sure, but it fucking hurts, and while not in the places where my injury was, bringing with it a similar photosensitivity in my left eye to that I had after the accident.  I've called out of work and took a nap and some pills.  Now I'm up again and thought I'd try to gather myself together and catch up on the blog, but damn.  Even with the blinds drawn, my eye patch in place, and the brightness turned down low on the netbook, this is probably a dumb idea, but fuck it- here goes:

A couple of weeks ago, I saw an ad on Craigslist written by an artists' agent's assistant offering essentially to look at online portfolios if one were to email a link.  So I did, and then got an email the following morning from the agent herself saying she liked the work.  After a little online research into the agency and a phone interview, I decided to go ahead and set up a face-to-face meeting.  The bottom line is essentially this:  I am confident that this woman is legitimate and can potentially ratchet up my chances of getting shown in a really prestigious gallery in the next 4 or 5 years, but still need to contact one or two artists she represents- in person- before the paranoid center of my soul is placated. Once that's done, assuming I get positive references, I'll need to really hunker down and save up the cash for her fee.  I'm probably going to need to set up a kickstarter page for that, because it's significant, but I think it's worth it. More on that later.

She gave me some homework to attend to while I'm saving up her fee, to put me in a position that will make me a little easier to market when she takes me on.  One of those things I've never gotten my ass into gear and actually done is write a proper artist's statement and CV.  I've also never fully cataloged my work or assembled an actual portfolio.  So those've both got to get done. She also strongly suggested I look into applying for membership in some the area's Arts Associations, about which up to that point I'd never heard before. The Cambridge Art Association's members are selected through a jurying process four times a year. To be accepted would be an honor.  I'm going to apply, and go out for some other ones as well. To that end, I've started putting the CV together (which is difficult, given my terrible memory and utter lack of reliable record-keeping skills) and am still working on that, but barring any major edits from Meghan (whose editorial word is fairly close to gospel for me, which may be why I avoid it sometimes), I'm pretty sure I've got my artist's statement ready to go.  Ready?

Jason Randolph Burrell is a narcissistic paint nerd living and working in Cambridge prone to severe bouts of social paralysis, run-on sentences and British spellings who withdrew from art school in 1998 as soon as he perceived, accurately or otherwise, that his artistic gifts were under attack and at risk of being perverted by the conventions of his professors.  Since then he has laboured in relative isolation, raising his son on weekends and pursuing his own meandering art self-education by experimenting primarily with poured and splattered paint, observing its properties under various conditions, and contemplating his spiritual connection to the work, seeing the flow of paint as always running parallel, somehow, to his life. 

"Untitled Funnscoop Experiment #1"  
In other news, I sold two paintings this past weekend to a good friend of mine who decided that he wanted to get in early before the price of my work skyrockets. His optimism is refreshingly heartening and frankly both much appreciated and needed.  Originally I thought that money would be the first chunk I save for the agent's fee, but I'm realizing it makes much more sense to use it to pay off the hospital and the dentist and to buy paint (which I'm running out of... um... out of which I'm running?  ...whatever).

"Untitled Funnscoop Experiment #2"

On top of everything else going on, I've also gone back to work after a two-month medical leave, and have to try to find time to paint and be a father to my son.  But right now?  I'm going to take another nap.  My head hurts.  This was a dumb idea.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Confluence. Catharsis. Blue.

I painted this close to two years ago, just after Meghan and I moved into this place here in Central Square.  I've always felt this piece was heralding a new era for me.  You know that rush you get when you realize you may have god-like powers of creation?  Sometimes I get that feeling right after finishing a painting.  More often than not, the feeling fades.  Some pieces bring it back each time I see them though.  This is one of those for me. 

"Confluence. Catharsis. Blue." Jason Burrell 2009 Acrylic on Canvas. 8" x 8"

People often ask me what my work is about, and what I most often tell them is that essentially, there's a lot of insanity floating around in my head, which I want simply to channel elsewhere, which I do through the paint.  So the images you see are like fossil imprints- frozen moments of emotion.  This means that a lot of the time, there are a bunch of what to other people must likely seem like entirely unrelated elements going into any particular painting, so I usually let people interpret the work as they will. It's easier than trying to explain the  relationships between all the disconnected shit in my head.  I mean, that's why I paint, so I don't have to talk about these things.But I'm going to try anyway for this one, as best I can.

This painting is about having a sense of direction but no sense of control.  It's about synchronicity between living beings.  It's about the relationship between the moments just before and just after an orgasm.  It's about the power of hope and the hope of power.  It's about beginnings, inbetweenings and endings all unaware of one another yet forming a singular whole.  I love this fucking painting, and hang it in the hallway where I also hang my coat so I can look at it every day before I leave the house.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The only paint I'll ever really love

I hate paint in tubes.  I want my paint to come in cans.  

Years ago, back when I started painting, I was working at the paint counter in a hardware store in Brockton, MA.  At the time, we carried a couple brands of paint-- Pittsburgh and California Paints.  Pittsburgh was sort of on the way out at the time, as the brand was faltering.  We started being heavily courted by sales reps from Benjamin Moore and they had a superior product to Pittsburgh's, so we began stocking them too, but California Paints will always be my very favourite brand (for my artwork, anyway.  For walls, there's nothing on the market I've seen which even comes close to the quality, ease-of use, and economy of Ben Moore's Aura line- that stuff goes white-over-red in ONE rolled coat).

In particular, I've been obsessed for close to a decade (yes- obsessed) with California's Larcoloid (that links to a spec sheet, if you're interested). One thing with which I have to grapple when shopping for paint is the fact that the properties which the paint were designed to exhibit through the selection of certain rheological modifiers and so forth are not the properties in which I'm interested.  When they test this stuff (I know!  I've toured the California factory TWICE- once back when they were in Cambridge and then again when they relocated to Andover), they're  applying the product in very precise (and thin) coats, and in single colours.  They don't care about the properties of the paint in the kind of situations I create.

Back when I was working the paint counter at Irving's,  I used a lot of different paints under circumstances a person normally wouldn't, in the pursuit of the perfect color match.  I used maybe every major brand at one time or another (old cans from people's basements and fresh stock from competitors) because homeowners and contractors alike would need colours matched from them.  A lot of my very earliest painting experiments  happened in between customers on slow days mixing paints loosely in cups at the paint counter.

One thing crucial to my work that I discovered there, and then explored more fully in my studio at home, was that different paints have different relative densities.  This isn't anything that would normally come up.  You'd brush a coat on, let it dry, and then apply another coat.  But because I'm creating deep pools of one color and then putting another into it, the paint can do things it was never meant to do. I need to maintain a mindfulness of these relative densities at all times when I'm working or else whole sections of a piece can disintegrate as the colours on the surface of the pool slowly seep down underneath. 

In the beginning, I was using whatever house paints I could get my hands on cheaply.  At the time, this was for the most part "mistints."  Mistints are cans of paint at a store that were made the wrong color and are irretrievably over-saturated with colorant.  There were a lot of paint stores in the area that would sell me gallon cans for between $1 and $5, or give me pallets of them for free if I just took them no-questions-asked.  I'd augment this motley collection of paints with the purchase of various brighter colours, blacks and whites at the store at regular price.  Back at the studio, I'd play.

And this brings me (finally) to why I'm in love with Larcoloid.  As I found to be true with ANY paint, the yellow and red pigment particles are denser and smaller in size, and therefore are very difficult to get to stay up on the surface where I put them, but with Larcoloid, this effect is significantly lessened. The facts that the product is also self-priming, high-gloss and very flexible when dry are all  bonuses.  What really matters to me is being able to concentrate on the work itself without battling the paint at every turn.  Because the relative densities seem to be much more uniform across all of the Larcoloid products, this becomes very easy.

I've noticed recently that Ben Moore reps seem to be specifically targeting California dealers, and more and more, it's getting very difficult to find my paint, as stores slowly begin stocking the former instead of the latter.  One day, I may no longer be able to get my hands on it and if that ever happens, I'll have to embark on a new product search.  I hope that day never comes, but whatever happens, Larcoloid, you're the best paint I ever had.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Untitled Nude

Last Thursday was my last free day before going back to work on Friday.  I had an appointment with my neurologist that morning which went wonderfully; confirming that I was recovered sufficiently from the skull fracture that I could resume my work duties, and then when I got home I got a text message from Katie, who said she was in the area and asked if I wanted to arrange a sitting.  I texted her right back and told her I'd be thrilled to work with her.  The timing was perfect.  After Wednesday night's painting, I was psyched and prepped and seriously ready to go.

I've worked with Katie on numerous occasions.  She embodies all of what I think to be the best qualities in an artists' model.  She's always on time, never flakes out at the last minute, knows and can control her body very well, is an enthusiastic and engaging conversationalist, and is quite simply beautiful.  On each previous sitting we'd arranged over the past year or so, I'd just been sketching her to get used to working with her.  Thursday, I knew I was ready to paint her.

"Untitled Nude" Jason Burrell 2011. Acrylic on Canvas. 20" x 16"
A close-up of Katie's beautiful face.
A little bit of magic in the upper left corner.

There are some obvious problems with the piece.  Her fingers are too big and her legs are too small.  For the former, I can honestly say I simply haven't yet mastered making finger-shapes in liquid paint. This is a current limitation of my interaction with the medium, but one I know I can solve.  The latter is pretty much a fuck-up, and that's all on me. I'll have to just keep at it.  Another issue I'm having with this one is that I've been unable to achieve a certain subtlety in the colour (especially in her skin tones) that I've frankly come to expect from myself.  I suspect this may be because I'm used to working with my full set of 31 bottles, and for this used only 5. Basically, If you have 5 colors of paint (black, white, red, yellow and blue), and want to have one single bottle for each combination of colours, you need 31 bottles.  That will give you one bottle for each combination of 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 colours so you never have to worry about cross-contamination anywhere.  I only used the absolutely necessary 5 colours.  It simplifies the process and allows me to work faster. So either I'm was going for a more primal minimalist approach or I was just being lazy here.  I'll have to think about that one.

All in all though, I'm really happy with this piece.  It's the first of these I've done in a long while and it felt good.  I've learnt some lessons I can carry into the next one, and even with its shortcomings, the painting, I think, is beautiful. A big part of that is the fact that she looks pretty in this.  You look at this painting and even if you find yourself thinking there's this problem or that problem, I doubt there's a question in your mind that this is a painting of a pretty girl.  Which means I did what I set out to do. 

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Whoops! I accidentally painted a landscape

Last night my new friend James Neville, who's experimenting with paint in ways similar to mine, came over to see how I paint.  We met at an event at which Meghan was reading some of her work a week or so ago, so this was the first time he'd seen any of my paintings in person.  Below are some pictures of what I did while he was here last night.  It started off as an abstract set of exercises to show him how certain techniques worked, but it gradually turned into a landscape I'm calling "Two Old Souls."

"Two Old Souls" Jason Burrell 2011.  Acrylic on Canvas.  20" x 16"

Close up of where the grass meets the stream. I love the bare canvas.

More great blank space around one of the trees...

... and a closeup of the plant at the base of the other one.

So that's what I did last night.  I think I might paint some more today.  I went to the neurologist this morning and got the clean bill of health I needed before I could get back to work tomorrow, so I want to take full advantage of the time remaining to me.  My model should be here in 20 minutes or so.  I figured, what the hell- I haven't painted a landscape in a while either, so why not a nude?  I'm lucky to have a model who texts me when she's in the area just in case I feel like working today.  Katie's definitely my favourite model right now. Both her carriage and her timing are perfect.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

New art over the past few days

Over the past few days, I've been getting some good work done.  By "good" I mean both satisfying and educational.  And the paintings are beautiful to me.  According to this video, that means one of two things:
either a.) I possess virtuosic skill,
or b.) I am not evolutionarily viable.
Given that I've already bred, I guess that means I'm awesome in either case.

This is another TED talk.  I watch these a lot.  Watch it.  It's worth your time.

Anyway, back to me. These photos are of a t-shirt I stretched between two wooden frames.  This gave the fabric enough tension to support the weight of some paint without sagging in the middle, which would cause the paint to form pools.  Then, to keep paint seeping through the fabric to get anywhere else, I taped a large piece of aluminum foil to in the front inside portion of the shirt.  Then I taped up the rest of it under foil on the back so I wouldn't get paint anywhere but in the magic square I'd made.

For this piece, I used one of my three favourite tshirts.  They are identical.  I bought one a couple of years ago and liked the way it fit so much I bought 2 more the following week.  I wear these shirts constantly, so they've been pretty much everywhere I have.  These shirts have painted with me, slept in my bed, gone to work, and held my son.

I wanted to keep the black background intact for a few reasons, foremost of which is probably simply comfort and wearability.  A close second though was that this was (as it always is for me) an experiment.  I wanted to see if small drippings would dry sitting up on the surface or if they'd be absorbed by the fabric.  I assumed a certain amount of absorption, of course, but I wanted a range of paint volume from place to place in the composition so I could observe the reality of it.

Here are some closeups of the wet paint still sitting up on the surface.

These were taken almost immediately after applying the paint (Side note: this phase was done using the funnscoop).  You can see here that I've got some great textures going on here, and the paint is nice and plump, sitting up on top of the fabric.

Here you get a better sense of the texture, but can also see some of the absorption I was watching for around the edges of the paint.

By this point, the absorption is actually pulling the textures apart and muddying up the paint considerably.  I've noticed properties in the red and yellow I use that should have suggested this possibility to me earlier (a side note to future me reading this: don't forget to write an entry about Larcoloid), but I hadn't thought about it.  Oops. (?)

Eventually, I decided to use another tool I've recently constructed (but had only used once before, and about which, future me, there is also not yet an entry- get on that) and added a second layer of paint.  You can see in the picture here how the initial red/yellow/black layer had seeped considerably into the fabric and gotten all muddy in most places while in others the original colours and texture were still perched proudly.  I tried to add the second layer keeping two things in mind:
a.) I wanted to keep all the best parts from the first layer visible, and
b.) I wanted to put the heaviest applications of the second layer on the places where the first layer had seeped the most, assuming the red/yellow/black would act as a primer and keep the blue/white from seeping too badly as well

This picture was taken yesterday, when I wore the shirt to my friend Rahkeen's house.  Which brings us to another piece, about which I'm actually really excited.

When I first moved to Cambridge back in maybe 2004 or so, one of the very first and closest friends I made was Rahkeen Gray.  He and I met at a fashion show put on by 280 Studios where we were both showing our paintings.  Then we realized we were passing each other on the sidewalk everyday on the way to each of our respective jobs, and then again in the evenings when we came home. We started hanging out a lot and were the best of friends for a few years.  We've grown apart over the past few years though, and I've been missing him a lot.  When I broke my skull, he and his girlfriend Madelyn came to visit me in the hospital and since then we've both been trying to make more of an effort to get together.

So the day before yesterday, I texted him and asked if he wanted to get together to make some art.  He was a little busy that day and asked if I could come over the next day (yesterday), and I agreed.  I had been thinking we'd just do some work side-by-side and it turned out he'd been thinking we'd collaborate.  We hadn't had a real conversation about anything, I just sort of showed up at his place with the bare-bones essentials of my studio:  2 canvases, 5 squirt bottles, 5 cans of paint, 3 silicone sculpting tools, 1 funnscoop, some rags, and my painting trough.  What ended up happening was that I got to do a sort of a private demonstration for Rahkeen.  He hadn't seen me actually working in so many years that the processes were all new to him. 

The piece is still is his studio drying, so I can't get a picture for a couple of days, but here's one I snapped before I left last night:

"Tiki Barber's also back" Jason Randolph Burrell 2011. Acrylic on Canvas.  20" x 16"

I wasn't sure what to call it so I decided to try out an idea I'd been discussing with Meghan the other night and just go to the headlines of the moment on my news feeds and create a title from those.  The idea was to extrapolate meaning in the art from the up-to-the-minute zeitgeist of the public consciousness.  All the headlines were about Charlie Sheen and Libya though, and neither subject I thought lent itself to the work, so I went to GoogleTrends to see what people were searching for.  The #1 search term: Tiki Barber.  Apparently he's a retired athlete coming out of retirement announced as of yesterday. I've chosen to take that as a sign that I've picked the right moment to come out my "retirement" as well.  This painting is, in my opinion, the best thing I've painted since I cracked my skull, and possibly since I met Meghan.  I feel like it heralds the dawn of the next phase for me.  In this piece I did some things with my silicone brushes I've never tried before, and overall was able to achieve a composition much more intricate than I've attempted recently.  I feel good.  I'm back.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

My art in terms of my dad.

My father came to visit yesterday. I feel that if I were more like most people, this would be a fairly mundane bit of trivia.  In my case though, it's kind of a big deal.  I saw him last summer up in Maine for the first time in maybe 5 years, and yesterday is the first time he's come to visit me in 6 or 7 years.  These two visits are the only memory my son Jarvis has of his grandfather.  And the man may not be entirely sane.

A few years before my father met my mother he was dating this woman who had some kids.  They broke up and apparently he was pretty much stalking her after that.  I've heard a few different versions of this story over the years from various people, but from what I can gather, one day he got all drunk and convinced a friend of his to drive him to this woman's house where she promptly threw him out.  His friend got him back into the car to take him home, and at some point, my father started ranting about having to go back to her, opened up the car door, and jumped out of a vehicle driving on the highway.  He broke his skull and was laid up in the hospital for quite some time.

About 7 years later, he developed a seizure disorder which the doctors attributed to the head trauma.  I was a baby at the time.  Originally, they put him on Phenobarbital to control the seizures, but then they started coming back around the time I was 4 or 5 years old.  They were pretty bad.  I remember a couple of times when I saw him having a grand mal seizure being scared out of my mind convinced he was about to die.  Up until that time, my dad was awesome.  We played all the time.  He taught me how to build and operate an electromagnet.  Tinkertoys.  Whittling. Nature walks and camping. 

But when the seizures came back, his doctors started him on Dilantin, in addition to the Phenobarbital.  According to my mother, this is when the real decline in his mental health began.  It's hard to describe what it was like living with him.  His whole life was some kind of Native American delusion.  He called himself Medicine Hawk (even today, most people know him as Hawk), and styled himself a Wampanoag medicine man.

I was raised by him to be Niantaquut, which was a religion he told me was an ancient tradition- the worship of Nianta, the Earth Mother- but which as I've realized after much research later in life he just made up.  He spoke with spirits, wouldn't allow me to use colouring books, draw skulls, or hammer nails into trees. He said the Wolf was my totem spirit, because even then he could see I craved both solitude and the comfort of a pack. He became a leader in my Boy Scout troop when he learned they were going to begin teaching us how to shoot rifles because he'd "be damned" if anyone else was going to teach me how to handle a firearm.  Being ex-military, he stepped in as our riflery instructor.  At home, he was teaching me how to throw knives and tomahawks.  I built my first wig-wam when I was about 8 or 9 years old, but he'd get so mad if you called it a wig-wam.  "That's a white man's word," he'd say (my father is white), "it's called a we-tu."

Like in most father-son relationships (according to what I can figure out from television), my father was endlessly disappointed in me and I was endlessly trying to gain his approval.  The thing is, when I wasn't with him, I was out in the rest of the world where I learned pretty early I had to keep his "teachings" to myself or risk a fistfight.  I once beat up a kid because his father had moved to town, bought up a bunch of land, ripped the trees out and put in houses.  Not because I was avenging the trees, but because at 7 years old, we got into an argument about whether or not it was possible for anyone to "own" land.  On the other hand, when I was with him, I had to embody the philosophies he was teaching me. I had to compartmentalize everything to make life bearable.  For years (until I was maybe 7 or 8?), he and my mother kept me in a cage (two cages, to be precise- one in the backyard and another in sign shop).  I didn't know at the time that this was abnormal, but still I knew I had to keep this from other people.  I knew they wouldn't understand.  It wasn't all the time, just when they were busy and needed to keep me out of trouble. By the time I was 13, he was bat-shit insane and the balancing act was getting damn near impossible for me to maintain. 

My grandfather, Wentworth Burrell, started the a sign shop which was on the same property as the house I grew up in. My father took the business over when Grampa Burrell came down with the cancer which eventually killed him.   For over 50 years, all woodwork was done in the front building by the street, and the sign painting was done in what we called "the barn," even though it had never been used as a barn, out back.  This was to make sure sawdust never got into wet paint and that paint splatter never got on unprimed wood. As my father slipped further into his delusions he became much more insular and started moving all the woodworking equipment into the barn.  He constructed an elaborate plastic tent in there which he could retract up into the ceiling using a system of ropes and pulleys so he could keep the wood and paint separate, but this was just a symptom of his drawing himself away from the world.  It allowed him to never have to leave the barn.

I remember around this time he got a squirrel infestation in the barn, so he replaced the ceiling in there with industrial width aluminum foil.  This allowed him to follow their footsteps as they walked around under the floor of the upstairs part of the barn.  This in turn allowed him to use a blowgun and poison-tipped darts to take out the vermin.  He would also sit upstairs in the barn with his compound bow and shoot woodchucks that were invading the garden.

The summer I turned 13, I was away at summer camp when he finally snapped.  He chose a day that mom was at work and my little brother was at a friend's house or something, packed up his pickup truck and disappeared.  When I came home from camp, no one knew where he was.  It was hellish in some ways not knowing what had happened, but in other ways, honestly, it was a huge relief.  I couldn't explain to people what had happened, but on the other hand, I didn't have to deal with the craziness either.

Eventually, we got word back from him.  He was living up in New Hampshire, working as a home health aide for an old hippy named John who had MS.  I visited him for a couple for weeks during the first couple of summers.  He was still crazy.  If anything, he was getting worse. When John died, my father started moving from place to place in the area, alienating people everywhere he went, from all reports, until he finally decided to live his dream and go live in the woods.

Contact was rare during this period, and I certainly never visited him during this time.  He married this cross-eyed woman named Betsy and they built themselves a we-tu in the woods someplace.  Apparently she had some kids that lived with them there.  I can't imagine how horrible that was for them.

There was a very specific moment when I pulled the plug on trying to get him to be "normal," stopped caring about garnering his approval and pretty much cut off all contact for a few years.  During this living-in-the-woods period, his mother died.  He came back down to East Bridgewater for Gramma's funeral and went just a little too far for me to handle.

Standing over his mother's casket after it had been lowered into the ground at the end of the ceremony, in that single silent moment before the people at a funeral start forming little groups and talking among themselves, when all eyes were still on the hole in the ground and therefore on my father standing right there, he starting looking my cousin Jessica (his sister's daughter) up and down leeringly and told her (for some reason in a bad Irish accent) she was a fine looking lass and it was too bad they were family. I walked off immediately rather than further ruin Gramma's funeral with a the righteous outburst I felt he deserved but would not understand, and I didn't speak to him for years after that. 

The last couple of years have been very different though.  He seems to have his medications straightened out.  He says he's not having seizures anymore.  He's living on disability and his army benefits.  He has an apartment in Maine and can actually hold up his end of a conversation.  He works with wood in his apartment and keeps a large garden nearby which I saw this past summer and which at the current rate of expansion might be more accurately termed a small farm in a couple of years.  He's given the best apologies of which I think he's capable for what he's done over the years. 

I started speaking with him on the phone about 2 years ago on a fairly regular basis as he became more lucid and seemed to be actively trying to piece together some sort of life.  I was living with Meghan by then and both her parents are dead, which made me think a lot about not wanting to lose what opportunity I had left to salvage something of at least a knowledge of, if not a relationship with, my father. I wanted Jarvis to have Hawk in his life.  As crazy as he can still seem now, obsessed with his agriculture and his "native heritage," making terrible puns constantly and paradoxically being in love with both his pacifistic spirituality and his guns, there are a lot of things he can teach the boy that I no longer can. Things like fishing, wood carving, the identification and care of edible plants, and throwing tomahawks.  These are things I loved as a kid and which Jarvis seems to love now (based on our visit up-country last summer), but things which I blocked out pretty effectively after Dad left and wouldn't trust myself to properly teach the boy.

When I broke my skull two months ago, my father, being the way he is, saw it I think as a sign of the synchronicity between his life and mine.  He's always told me it was there, and I've always tried to escape it.  I spent years fearing I'd become just like him.  After the accident it was almost like he was sort of happy that we had this shared experience now.  In the same way that after Jarvis was born he had to come down-country to make his presence known, the occasion of my skull-breaking was momentous enough to warrant a visit.

My father, despite (or because of) all his many faults, is one of the most amazingly talented artists I've ever known.  He's also for that reason probably the single largest influence on my having become an artist in the first place, but at the same time embodies for me the artistic establishment against which I've always revolted in my own work.  As a kid, he'd look over my shoulder while I was working on something and say "don't do X because then Y will happen," but all I ever heard was "if X, then Y."  I've brought that attitude into every artistic endeavor ever since.

I used to do makeup and acting years ago, before Gramma died, at a haunted house.  One night Dad came to see what that was all about.  I was wearing a full cranial goblin prosthetic I rebuilt from scratch every night and stilts that made me 8 feet tall and ran around outside making teenage girls cry and little kids pee their pants.  At the end of the night I asked him what he thought and he said "well, it's a start," which is very much a quintessentially Hawk way of saying "are you sure you're not wasting your time?"

The point in time at which I cut off all contact after Gramma's funeral was still a few years down the line, but it was at this point that I stopped sharing my art with my father.  He was all about scale and perspective and realism.  He was all about planning and forethought and painstaking attention to age-old tried and true techniques.  If before I had just been ignoring his instructions, now I actively rebelled against them, although I can't say this was all necessarily conscious at the time.  Free of his critical and irrelevant gaze, I was able to hone my own personal style in relative peace.

So yesterday he came over to visit, see how I was recovering, and share some of his canned bounty from last year's garden.  I've got the apartment absolutely covered in the work I've done since Meghan and I moved in here so while I wasn't about to ask him for an opinion, I was fairly certain I'd get one.

My, how things have changed.  He was frank on the matter and said simply that he doesn't understand the work.  Non-representational art is totally foreign to him and he doesn't "get" it.  But he was immensely interested in and impressed with my process, techniques, tools and materials.  Like to him it was magic or science fiction or something. It felt like nothing short of victory for me, because I knew in Hawkworld, I had just ascended to the position of Teacher.  Which means I both have and yet no longer require his approval.

One of the medications the doctors have had me on since the accident is called Keppra. They said it's now standard practice to administer Keppra to people for a month or so after a head trauma to keep the patient from eventually developing a seizure disorder. Keppra didn't exist when my father broke his skull.

Perhaps this all simply shows ours paths have diverged enough that we can now start to come together again.  He wasn't there for me during those years when I probably most needed a father.  Even if he had been, that would likely have been even worse. I thought for a long time that the man he was when I was small had been lost forever, but perhaps there's a chance he can be a proper grandfather for Jarvis and make up for for all the pain he caused to family he didn't even have yet when he jumped out of that fucking car.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Not trying to change the world.

I been obsessing over something for some months now, and I think I need to go into a little more depth on the subject here than I did in those 3 or 4 sentences I posted on Facebook a couple of weeks or so ago.  I'm a big fan of TED talks and just yesterday I was watching this video on their website,  It's a talk by a French street artist calling himself JR. It's really inspiring stuff.  He travels the world and goes to places where he's heard about terrible things happening to underrepresented populations, and uses his art to give those people a voice (and some cases, their first-ever waterproof roofs).  It's really amazing what he does, and I have to admit that there were a few points in his presentation when I teared up a little bit at the poignancy of the whole thing.  In the end he wraps up with a plug for a new global art project he's starting which is designed apparently to bring people together to essentially clone his work all over the world.  It's really really amazing.  Watch  the video.  I put a link above, but once more, to make sure you see it so you understand what I'm talking about here's the full URL: Go and watch it.  Preferably before reading the rest of this post, if you have the time.  It's about 25 minutes long.

All of that having been said (and I really can't stress how important I think JR's work is, and how much I respect what he's doing), I just feel the need to say for the record that this is not something in which I have any interest whatsoever in being involved.  At all.  Why?  Because I'm not here to change the world.  My art is not a political tool.  I don't want this to be interpreted to mean that I don't think there's a time and place and a even a need for there to be artists doing that sort of thing, but it's not for me, because I feel I have an even greater calling: Beauty.

That's it.  Just raw beauty.  And the places where I find it-- mixing my cream into my coffee slowly, following rainbow-splayed auto oil as it runs in street puddles, staring at clouds that striate across the sky tiered upside-down making impossibly huge waves, and in splashed paint-- are not places that are easily politicized.  In fact, I think it might be fair to say that if I assume the optimism that must be present in any revolutionary trying to change the world, it must be possible that one day in the future, there will not longer be a need for JR's poignant images to be plastered across the world.  No one will care anymore about those faces in a few hundred years if the revolution is successful and global controls are set in place which make things like famine, thirst, disease, corruption, poverty, human rights abuse, climate change, war, rape, inequality, and a whole host of other human weaknesses and blights obsolete.  An artist who is a true optimist and who believes firmly and unalterably that humankind can become a better species has an opportunity, and perhaps even a duty, to find ways to communicate beauty which transcend politics.  Beauty for its own sake.  Beauty that is beautiful at any time, in any place, under any political situation, to any person.

I won't go so far as to say that my work achieves this ideal, but I will say it's something for which I strive.  I'm not trying to change the world.  I'm trying to create beauty within it, knowing that nothing I can create can make the world more beautiful than it already is, but can perhaps help other people see beauty they might have otherwise missed. 

That this is anything other than a noble ideal is one I can't fathom, but somehow, seeing work like JR's (and other revolutionaries like him) is making me feel lately like kind of a jerk.  I mean, who the fuck am I to say that the pursuit of new and better ways to make swirly paint more swirly is somehow more important than bringing impoverished communities together under a banner of hope and giving them a voice, right? 

For the moment, I have to admit this is something with which I'm still wrestling. Perhaps I'm wrong, but for the moment, I'm going to continue working and experimenting under the assumption that Beauty, not Politics, is the highest ideal. I'm not trying to change the world, I'm just painting in it.


Thursday, March 3, 2011

In the time it takes to smoke a cigarette, what can I do?

I've been looking over the past few entries and thinking about the fact that the explanations I provide of my techniques probably don't make much sense by themselves.  So I decided to create a sort of assignment for myself.  A self commission, if you will.  I wanted to create a piece that might communicate some of the turmoil and confusion I've been dealing with since I broke my head, but I wanted to capture the entire process on video so I could share it.  And I wanted the video to be short enough that people might actually watch the whole thing.  And I wanted a cigarette.  The answer was simple:

Here's a video I just made of me painting a piece I'm calling "Turbulence" for the time being.  To lend some freneticism to the process, I decided that I would only paint what I could in the time it would take me to smoke one cigarette.  I placed my ashtray at the edge of the camera's view so you can check my progress. My tools were squirt bottles, silicone sculpting tools, a scratch awl, and a tool I've built called a funnscoop.

The camera was oriented so the painting is upside-down in the video.  Here are some photographs of the piece right side up so you can get a closer peek at it: 

"Turbulence" 2011 Acrylic on Canvas

A little closer...

I love the lava-like and explosive texture in the lower left corner
... But I REALLY love the stars peeking through at the top here.

 This is obviously a very simple painting, but hopefully this video will give you some clue about what I'm doing. Like what you see?  Have questions?  Just ask!  Maybe later on I'll post some videos of a more intensive process I'm currently calling paint collage.  Until then, have a great night.  I'm going to go make a t-shirt.  Maybe.

What am I doing?

In my early 20s, I really thought I was the shit.  I'd never heard of Jackson Pollock and I really thought I'd come up with something totally new and different with this whole thrown paint thing.  The very first time I exhibited my work I had a solo show at the East Bridgewater Public Library (in the town I grew up in) and was shocked and dismayed to find that the movement I thought I would spark and the notoriety I assumed I would garner had all played out already- 50 years earlier- for someone else. After about the 9th time that 1st night that I heard someone say "These look a lot like Jackson Pollock," I started to doubt that I really was special at all.

But my work was fundamentally different in so many ways I just kept at it.  I made a point out of bringing it to the next level.  I did tons of solo and group shows around Massachusetts, joined the local Arts Council and started doing painting demonstrations at art festivals all over the state. Eventually I started organizing events on my own, and attending events I wasn't even involved with just to network. Myspace was new then and I blogged there incessantly about my adventures.  I developed a fanbase and momentum.  A couple of times I think I even got a tiny taste of what fame must feel like when I was recognized by strangers in public who were excited to have actually met me, or met women who wanted to sleep with me because they liked my work.

And then something changed a few years ago.  I'm not sure how to define that change, but I've been battling it ever since and trying to find ways to get back to how I was.  The thing is, I think I got tired of the whole thing.  It's a lot of work to insert oneself into the social consciousness, and while I'd convinced myself I was good at it, I just couldn't keep up the effort.  Even with all the support I seemed to have, it was only coming from other artists.  I never sold enough of my art to even come close to living on.  The best money I made independently was when I was asking for donations at the door at art parties I used to throw.  At some point I became so obsessed with figuring out what I could paint that people might actually give me money for that I lost all sense of what sort of ART I actually wanted to do. 

I stopped painting.  Just like that.  It was like I had nothing more to paint about.  For a little while at the end there I was still doing some shows here and there, but I was showing the same old stuff that I'd had on my table for years at that point.  There was nothing new.  So then I stopped doing shows too.  I haven't shown my work publicly in years now.

In fits and starts since then, I've been trying to paint again, but it's only been in the last two years (basically, since I've been with Meghan) that I've been able to tap into that childlike part of me that can allow himself to just explore and play in any kind of comfortable and consistent way.  I prefer to work experimentally, but not scientifically.  I need to find out what's possible but have to avoid hypotheses and other preconceptions.  It's coming back.  I'm finding it again.  Or it's finding me.

I feel like I'm operating in a vacuum sometimes now though.  I've lost touch with so many people over the years.  I'm entirely out of the loop.  My painting experiments are going well, and the work is getting good again, but I'm starting to get antsy- I want to get out there and show this stuff to people, and I want them to like it- and be able to tell me WHY.  I'm getting paranoid that perhaps it's best to keep the work private and operate as though my art-making is simply a hobby just so that I can maintain some sense of honesty and purity in the work.  And not expose myself to criticism.  It's not that a critical word is in itself unbearable.  I often crave a good honest critique.  The problem is that that criticism can have a destabilizing effect on the headspace I need intact to create new work afterwards. So I've been afraid to make the leap and get out there. 

I think I've been placing an inordinate amount of blame for the whole thing on my job.  My schedule there (which I can't seem to get them to change) is Monday through Friday (thankfully- this lets me see my son on weekends), but from 2pm to 10:30pm, so it's basically impossible to get out there and do art openings and self-curated shows, or go to the right parties, or any of that stuff.  But the internet has changed everything.  If I can get enough people interested in my work online to make the investment viable and logical, I want to set up a marketplace where people can order prints of my work.  I want to finally assemble a proper portfolio to submit to real galleries.  But I need to know that there are people out there who want the work to be available.

The comments on my blog are unmoderated.  Check out some of my other entries.  Check out my website.
And if you like what you see, please let me know.  I really need some encouragement right now.  If the comment box won't work, email me at  Please. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Up early and entirely unmedicated

There's a distinct possibility I may post twice today. 

Recently, lacking anything even vaguely resembling a schedule, I've been waking up pretty much whenever.  By this I mean roughly anytime between 8am and 2pm, although I find if I get up before noon I pretty much get up, have a smoke, take my Dilaudid to remain ahead of the headache curve, and then go right back to sleep, in which case I might not actually get out of bed until maybe 4pm.  Even under the best of (pre-skull fracture) circumstances, I require a couple of hours to get up and moving, so this means it's been pretty often that Meghan's been getting home from work around 7pm and I've barely even begun my day.  These narcotics, while they seem to have been the only thing capable of reliably maintaining a pain-free day, have some rather significant side effects.  First and foremost, they make me drowsy, so even if I'm not up until 4pm, I'm likely going to crash again (hard) by midnight.  My days are short, so by the time I'm feeling like I'm able to accomplish something, I've got a very small window of time before I start to get tired.

But today might be different.  I've been actively weaning myself from the Dilaudid over the past week, starting with an abrupt halving of my dosage last Tuesday from 4mg every 4 hours to 2mg every 4 hours (Side note:  this dosage schedule, which I've been on for like 6 weeks, requires I break my sleep schedule into 2 four-hour blocks, which means I can't allow myself to actually sleep the entirety of the night) and then gradually reducing my dosage or skipping certain doses altogether.  I've officially been off the Dilaudid for 2 days now, and yesterday, I only had to reach for the Tylenol twice to manage the withdrawal headaches.  I had a weird thing last night trying to sleep where the soles of my feet were convinced that something was just about to attack them, which kept me awake pretty late ( 'til 2am or 3am maybe?), which is likely another strange withdrawal symptom, because I never have trouble sleeping, but then I managed to miraculously still wake up this morning around 9am.

I've done a little grocery shopping this morning and am working on my first cup of coffee.  I'm feeling relatively good.  Of course I have a headache, but by this point, part of me seems to have come to expect that the pain may never entirely dissipate, and I'm learning to live with it. The point is, I might actually get some painting done today.

Which brings us to this:

This is a piece I've been working on for quite some time now.  More accurately, it would be fair to say I've been sitting here staring at it for months.  The background was created using a combination of a few techniques I've been developing.  Basically, two or three colours go into a squirt bottle together, and I give the mixture one or two really good shakes before immediately squirting them onto the canvas.  This begins but does not finish the mixing process, so that right away creates a certain texture in the bottle.  If I do it just right, I can create a situation where the paint actually has air bubbles in it which then get delivered to the canvas along with the rest of the paint and then begin to rise through the paint, complicating the texture.  I then tip the canvas in various directions, using gravity to create an overall sense of motion to the pattern, employing the use of a clay sculpting tool which resembles a paintbrush but which instead of bristles has a chiseled silicone head I can use as a sort of a squeegee to gently manipulate certain parts of the pattern to go where I want them to. 

I then let the whole thing dry, knowing I wanted to use it as a background for something but being entirely uncertain for what that might be.  Then, as happens more often than I probably ought to admit, I was inspired (unlikely as the photo above should suggest) by pornography.  I happened across a video of a couple coupling underwater, filmed underwater.  The weightlessness of the whole thing was mesmerizing in its own right, but the film was also edited in such a way that it looked very convincingly like neither of the people involved ever had to come up for air.  It was like they just lived down there.  Beautiful.

I started running Google image searches for people swimming underwater.  The character above is based on a photo I found of a swimming baby, so I like to imagine him as a baby robot.

I'm never quite as confident anymore as I used to be when working with brushes.  After all these years of experimentation with liquid paint, I always feel a little rusty.  As you can probably see, the baby-bot needs to be filled in and fleshed out considerably.  He doesn't have any real weight to him.  My plan for today is to get a good start on fixing that.  And if I can get on a roll, and want to tackle another project, it's possible I may work on my sketches of biomorphic nonsense shapes.  See that yellowish patch in the lower left corner of the painting?  I want there to be an object there for which the baby-bot is reaching and yearning the purpose or name of which will be entirely unknowable to us mere humans.

I'll be honest though.  For some reason this piece intimidates me.  I'm fairly certain I'll be doing some sort of artwork today, but it's very possible that this evening's post might be about some other project entirely.  We'll see, won't we?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Intro to Funnscoop

So, what's a funnscoop?  Simple.  It's a painting tool I've developed over the last year or so which like so many inventions is the combination of two existing tools- in this case, a funnel and a scoop.  Thus, "Funnscoop."  Sure, it may be kind of a dumb name, but there are two parallel yet independent logics at work here.  The first I would think is fairly obvious: the name is simply the words "funnel" and "scoop" mashed together.  The second is that in my hubris I envision a future in which it's possible that there's a new school of painting based on my work in which case many of the tools involved will be those I'll have developed over the years.  One day, there might be an  obscure painting tool known as a "Burrell," and when that day comes to pass, I want it to be a more impressive innovation than the funnscoop is, as much as I love the thing.

The Funnel end, where the paint goes in.

The Scoop end, where the paint comes out.
The thing this tool does is allow me to mix many colours together simultaneously and create unique patterns when the paint begins to pool on the canvas.  This one was built using a plastic funnel from the hardware store, a scoop-shaped cardboard insert that came in one of a pair of boots I purchased last year, two wooden dowels and some plastic zip ties.  There are also some rubber bands I use to adjust the tension on the handle and some paint was used to seal the gap between the funnel and scoop components.

Below are some close-ups of a painting experiment I did some months ago.  The background texture was created by pouring a few colours of paint onto a pressboard and then gently manipulating them with a length of PVC pipe in much the same way one might use a rolling pin.  The patterns on top were then created by mixing paint in the funnscoop and then letting it drip very slowly over the surface.  This painting currently does not have a name and so I will not show the whole thing in this entry.

Hopefully it's obvious why I love this tool so much.  It's becoming a major player in my current experiments and I suspect it will remain so for quite some time.  Who knows?  Maybe one day in some bittersweet victory this tool will come to be known as a "Burrell."