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.