Hello and welcome back to the Studio Sessions blog. This is the first of weekly posts scheduled for Wednesdays. In these posts you will learn about various updates in my studio. These updates can be about current works in progress, my methods of making, the conceptual themes that orient my experimentation, and artists who inspire and influence my process. I hope you are as excited as I am to begin this weekly commitment with you.
For the first Wednesdays in Progress, I want to share some visuals of ongoing works in progress in my studio. Today I spent the first half of my day in a zoom call with students from Olivet college discussing my experiences in graduate school. After that I began the first layer of color on the Keep It Up Neighbor prints which will wrap up tomorrow and ship out on Monday next week. Its been a busy day, but I'm glad I had time to share what's happening in the studio.
First I'll show you a few paintings that are almost done, halfway done, and just started. If you're familiar with my work I think you'll have no trouble deciphering the stage of completion for these. The first few are paintings that explore the neighbor character that I've been sharing. I'm eager to push the logic of this character and develop the world I think it could live in. I'm most excited to blend a sense of imagination and realism for these paintings.
In this first one I sketched out the composition with my new bottle of safflower oil medium from Gamblin. I bought it thinking it would make oil painting in the colder months much safer in my home studio. I don't have an air filter for this space so I'll look for other ways to maintain a safe studio environment. So far I can't say I enjoy this medium as much as their neo megilp (my tried and true medium of choice). The safflower oil is a lot thinner (no body) and shiny two qualities that seem to get in the way when glazing IMO. The image was centered on the pose of the figure looking up towards the sky. From there I settled on an outdoor scene with a suburban backdrop.
The stage of the image above is after the second session of painting. In this session I resolved the object the figure would hold which was something that I couldn't decide on in the drawing stage. I started thinking about the neighbor character as a flexible body that can act like a doll. In some paintings I might dress it up with symbols that are heroic and "good". In other paintings I want to explore the personality of the antagonist which is what I chose for this little painting. I started thinking about Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17 year old shooter who traveled to Kenosha during the Jacob Blake riots. Since I'm a native of the Kenosha area, these events really shook my sense of reality during a year that already had. I started thinking about the social sides for this young man. I've been seeing supporters and haters sharing why they feel the way they do about what Kyle did. For the painting I thought why not borrow some of the objects Kyle was seen with the night of the shooting. I tried to mimic the color of his shirt, the strap for this gun, and the light purple gloves (all of which have yet to be fully rendered).
As you can see the gun in my painting is a water gun, a much more forgiving weapon and one I find more appropriate for someone Kyle's age to be toting around.
I like the vibrant fisher price colors of this object in contrast to the influences for the painting. The skin of the figure will follow my complexion though. In this painting I want viewers to imagine if Kyle didn't have peachy white skin. What would his supporters be saying otherwise? You can start to see where the ring of a light hits the figure and reflects part of the fence which corners them. The painting still has a few passes of glazing to go but I already enjoy how its coming along. Here's an image I found during my Kyle Rittenhouse reference searches.
Next up we have my latest "experimental painting". While every painting is in some way an experiment, I like to think of ones like this as really pushing the unknown for combining materials. It started as a test print for the "Keep It Up Neighbor" image on paper and eventually was mounted to wood for oil painting and collage.
Here's a slideshow of process images and close ups for where it's currently at. Use the arrows to navigate through. The image with the spray paint is the earliest image I have for the process of this painting.
The first thing I did with the print was paint a blue cartoonish eye on the face. This was the first time I chose to render a "human" attribute onto the head of this character which is otherwise very alien/fantastical/surreal. I can't say I love this choice and will most likely avoid it in the future. Once I finished the eye and the blue collared shirt I began adding in other objects and patterns like the ice cream cone. The process this painting took was very layered and intuitive. I used it as a work that could be a lot of different things all at once. Its not finished yet, but I'm happy with the different routes its already moved through.
The last "neighbor" based painting I'll share is this pink one. A few weeks ago I primed three 6" x 8" panels with a yellow, pink, and blue color. I have yet to paint on the yellow one but this pink one will be the first nude of the character. As you might be able to tell its a male figure in this painting. In the future I don't know if I'll keep the neighbor character as only a male figure. I certainly don't think so, but for right now its easier for me to express my thoughts through a male body. I'm thinking it will stay in this composition of a reclined figure in a small pool holding a drink in a backyard. I like the voyeuristic perspective it has already and hope I can push the sense of intimacy. I want viewers to connect with this figure and understand it through familiar activities and spaces. While swimming nude in a small pool isn't necessarily familiar for everyone I think it allows the viewer to see the figure in a vulnerable and highly revealing state.
The final work in progress for today's post is of this nearly complete 11" x 14" painting which is currently untitled. I started this piece as a graphite drawing on Bristol board at the start of the pandemic when I was still in my final semester of graduate school. I was feeling a lot of emotions during the month of March from anticipation and excitement to confusion and heartbreaking disappointment. When the Covid restrictions first swept the country I was one week away from the reception for my MFA thesis exhibition titled The Barn. If you haven't yet I strongly encourage you check out the portfolio I've put together for this body of work which consumed 8 months leading up to March 11th: the day MSU went online.
When I made the drawing for this painting it was sometime in April or May. I was still processing the sense of loss for our show being postponed and locked away from public view. The entire time I was making the work I was considering the public experience of viewing the pieces. I was constantly aware that this might be the only time I'd show this specific body of work and in this specific gallery space. To be honest I'm still overcoming that feeling of loss and disappointment which has manifested in many conversations of complaining, something I'm not at all proud of. What's worse is that I believe I was in a minority with how I felt. Very few people around me seemed to grasp what the MFA show experience became for my cohort and I. This only made my feeling about it worse. I quickly became resentful towards people who I felt should've understood best what it must have felt like to lose out on this once in a lifetime moment in our careers. These people included MFA alumni, professors, other current graduate students. On the cell phone in this painting is a depiction of the Instagram profile for @SocialDistanceGallery. An account created by Benjamin Cook an adjunct professor at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. On the one hand I appreciate Cook's decision to highlight and curate an Instagram feed based on graduating art student's exhibitions and portfolios. On the other hand its easy to see the benefits Cook is gaining from his time creating the Social Distance Gallery Instagram account. Looking at his professional CV on his artist website, I found he's listed numerous publications the account has been featured in, including Forbes magazine. Being a graduate student I saw firsthand what the climate of academia is like. Professors are all competing for tenure track positions and it seems more times than not our CV's take precedence over the visual impact of our work. It didn't feel right to have my largely sculpture-based exhibition introduced to virtual audiences of SCD, but that didn't mean I wasn't following along to SCD posts.
In some ways too it felt my entire devotion to this show was cut monumentally short where I may have finished school with more opportunities had I pursued teaching positions and other job related hunts instead of working in the studio. Again, I'm still processing what this year has been especially after 2.5 years of growing an expectation in my mind for my last semester of the MFA experience.
I don't know how well that describes the context for this painting, but I know its the truth and it is relevant for what I was going through when the drawing was made. On top of the MFA show getting restructured Megan and I had planned a trip to Spain for June that was cancelled, I had plans to propose to her in March, commencement for graduation didn't happen, there's no ceremony for the show, my nephew's first bday party never happened, and my MFA "talk" happened through zoom which was interrupted by racist idiots and some random penis. The spring of 2020 was one of the most difficult periods in my life. What was supposed to be a time of celebration became a time when all of us were clueless and the façade of security evaporated. With all of the challenges I experienced, I know I'm still very lucky and fortunate. Thanks to my family, friends, and Megan I've been able to shift momentum into time that is productive once again. Also having my work to devote these intense emotions towards is helpful too.
I've put together another slideshow to show the details of this WIP. I'm hoping to finally finish it up in the next few weeks and certainly before the end of the year. The top left corner and the taped up sign are two of the few spots to finish. I'm stuck on what to add in the poster. I know whatever I decide will be taken into consideration for the rest of the painting and I don't want this space to go carelessly. However, I'm likely placing too much emphasis on this decision which is what's keeping me from finishing it I'm sure.
Even though there are a lot of negative experiences that inspired areas of this painting, I do think it's one of the best compositions I've created this year. I love the sense of depth and atmosphere in the image and the range of light from the flashlight to the cell phone to the disco light on the bottom right. I enjoyed inventing the sense of direction these lights would have. Painting without reference is something I've been prioritizing in recent works. Especially when I'm drawing I've enjoyed coming up with my own forms and believable subject matter based on my imagination. If you follow my work closely you'll see trends and themes within the recent work. Many of which repeat in form and lighting.
Let me know what you think about the new paintings. Thanks for reading the first of my Wednesdays In Progress posts. I hope you enjoyed this close up peek into a few of my recent paintings. If you haven't yet make sure to join my giveaway for this week's Sunday Sweep! Each Sunday I share a post on the blog which covers shop news and a giveaway opportunity. I'll be announcing the winner for each giveaway on the Sunday Sweep so make sure to check back on Sunday to see if you won!