Power Weekend, pt. II

Thanks to everybody who made it to the TK Street Fair. This weekend starts early: THURSDAY, August 7th: First Thursday reception for MANIFEST
There is no way to experience this show on the internet. Come on out!

There is no way to experience this show on the internet. Come on out!

                      I am very proud of this show. It deals with illusionism, history, land-use, the miraculous, and the literary. Some of the work is heady, some of it earnest, and some causes visitors to laugh out loud. (It's like hanging out with me, but you get to talk more.) Also, it features a beard-tool photo booth, an 8'3" cardboard giantess, and paintings of Jane Jacobs and Jesus. Come and see.   SATURDAY, August 9th: LxWxH Pop Up Art ShopScreen Shot 2014-07-31 at 6.15.04 PM               Just for fun, and only open for Georgetown Art Attack and Saturdays in August! LxWxH will present all the work in its inventory from past and present LxWxH artists. Buy a piece and take it home that day! A few of my Memory Paintings will be on offer at very modest prices. Also, I will be on hand enjoying the summer weather, the air traffic, and the cheap beer. Say hi!
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POWER WEEKEND, Pt. I

If you're one of the people that sees me regularly, its likely you haven't seen me in a while. I've been running an intense teaching schedule, and finishing an ambitious new show. For the next two weekends, my work and I will be appearing at a number of events. You are earnestly invited to all of them: FRIDAY, August 1st: Remarkable work by remarkable youth: Portfolio Intensive Show at Gage Academy of ArtScreen Shot 2014-07-31 at 5.58.09 PM SATURDAY, AUGUST 2nd: TK Building Street Fair, feat. MANIFEST at Core Gallerytkstreetfair  
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Art and Ecology: Understory

Two of the Rensing Center’s missions are Ecology and Creativity. In my residency this May, I pursued a project at an intersection of these two issues.
Blackjack Oak with Climbing Hydrangea, 12"x8", oil on paper

Blackjack Oak with Climbing Hydrangea, 12"x8", oil on paper

I began making small paintings of trees at the Rensing Center. Initially, my concerns were aesthetic: Explorations of green, a color I rarely work with. I was attracted by the variety that occurred as light interacted with the translucent leaves, creating dozens of blues, greens, yellows, and violets. I wanted to track the shifts in color across the structure of the trees, abstracted against an empty background. I was excited by the complex light environment created by the architecture of the different trees, and how that architecture defined patterns of color. I focused on small, understory trees which allowed me to comprehend the entire tree in a single image.
Hickory (leaning), 12"x8", oil on paper

Hickory (leaning), 12"x8", oil on paper

As the paintings progressed, the trees required more intimacy and understanding. They were shaped by their species and by their context. Some understory trees may live only a few years in the herbal layer, and languish on the dim forest floor. Larger trees either occupy the understory permanently- living in the half-light, or as adolescents reaching for light on their way to the canopy. The trees record reaching up, reaching over, reaching down, for patches of sunlight. Some lean hard or change direction as the canopy changes.IMG_20140507_152028 The genetics of each tree species determine its form and patterns of growth, but many trees in the understory bear the patterns of damage and recovery. As the canopy changes and neighboring trees fall, many of the understory trees are limbed, bowed, and split by the falling timber- recovering into strange forms.
White Oak, 12"x8", oil on paper

White Oak, 12"x8", oil on paper

While these paintings are far from scientific, they are based in a process that underpins both art and science: direct observation of nature. Careful, focused observation is a primary principle of art and of ecology. After a few hours of earnest attention, patterns reveal themselves, new information surfaces, questions arise. These paintings are a documentation of those hours, and several weeks earnestly listening to the understory.
Re-Maple, 12"x8", oil on paper

Re-Maple, 12"x8", oil on paper

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Portfolio Intensive at Gage

Painting Intensive student with here self-portrait. Photo by Spectrum House

Painting Intensive student with her self-portrait. Photo by Spectrum House

Each summer, I take some time away from collegiate teaching to work with the teenagers at Gage Academy of Art. For the last four years, Jethaniel Peterka and I have been team-teaching intensive programs for teens at Gage. We were paired up like a buddy-cop-comedy: Jethaniel, a classically-trained realist, and me, a representational painter with Modernist tendencies. He teaches painstaking protocols descended from the French Academy. I teach abstract seeing and color theory from the top rung of a stepladder. This complementary approach has been immensely satisfying for us, and it keeps the students on edge.
Drawing Intensive, photo by Spectrum House

Drawing Intensive, photo by Spectrum House

This year, we've been asked to take up the mantle of Tenaya Sims and Kimberly Trowbridge and teach the Portfolio Intensive Program. This is five-week program designed for young people, aged 16-18, to help them develop outstanding drawing and painting portfolios. Students will spend two weeks of intensive drawing training with Jethaniel in the "Classical Studio," followed by two weeks of oil painting with me in the "Contemporary Studio." The program culminates with a fifth week of critiques, museum visits, and an exhibition of student work. (This happens throughout July and the fist week of August.)
Painting Intensive student with self-portrait, photo by Spectrum House

Painting Intensive student with her self-portrait, photo by Spectrum House

I am deeply proud of the work we do with young people in these programs. Every year I push the students, imparting the most valuable things I've learned in the studio. Every year, the students surprise and impress me with their dedication, insight, and character. I wrote last year, "My small tribe of teenagers has courageously endured nearly a month of my verbal abuse, haphazard demonstrations, and esoteric metaphors. They are champions. On Friday afternoon we look at their work, and I finally tell them how proud they've made me." Young artists: Get your applications in. Let's get to work. Friends of young artists: Help them get their applications in. Below, a few more images of work done by youth in my Gage programs, who, are here nameless and uncredited because they were minors:
Drawing Intensive, Narrative  Portrait

Drawing Intensive, Narrative Portrait

Painting Intensive, Still-lifes

Painting Intensive, Still-lifes

               
Color Drawing, Portrait Study

Color Drawing, Portrait Study

Painting Intensive student with his portrait of a model

Painting Intensive student with his portrait of a model

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Rensing, Week 1

I arrived here at the Rensing Center five days ago, where I was immediately greeted by a small herd of very friendly Saanen goats, a handful of indifferent cattle, and 26 acres of Appalachian woodlands and rolling pasture.  (I was also greeted by some other artists-in-residence and Rensing Center staff.) goats The phenomenally pleasant weather has urged me outdoors, where I've been painting en plein air, using the folding French easel I brought with me. (I used the easel as a carry-on, which was a source of immense fascination for the fine people at airport security.) Working out in the open, with a handheld palette makes me feel very self-conscious- Instead of Courbet heroically venturing out into direct contact with nature, I feel a little more like someone in two thirds of a Bob Ross costume. In any case, I go hours without seeing any other people out here and Bob Ross is a beloved fixture of American television.
View from the back door of my studio.

View from the back door of my studio.

I've taken on the daily task of painting understory and immature trees.  I'm learning a lot about green, as well as the varied pattern, shape, rhythm, and balance of different species. I'm treating these works more like color drawings than paintings- painting only the tree, without context or picture plane- onto a clear, white paper. (Don't tell my MFA students I've ignored the responsibility of the picture plane!)
One of the small tree paintings attached to the blacksmith shop-turned-studio.

One of the small tree paintings attached to the blacksmith shop-turned-studio.

I've got a number of other projects going on, including some night paintings and an absolutely homeric sheet-mulching endeavor in the summer garden. More soon!  
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There’s much more on Instagram

Now you have one more thing to do with your phone.

Now you have one more thing to do with your phone.

I put way, way more good stuff up on Instagram than I do on this blog. Go to my page. Follow me. Now you can look at my sketches, studio shots, and new works while you're riding the bus, waiting for your latte, or pretending to read important work emails on your phone.
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Appalachian Spring

photo by Jennifer Rabin

photo by Jennifer Rabin

For the month of May, I will be fleeing the damp, dark, proto-spring of Seattle for an artist residency at the Rensing Center in the foothills of western South Carolina. I am thrilled about this. For several weeks, I'll be making drawings and paintings, wandering the 26-acres of woodlands and farmland, and ignoring my phone. I am strangely excited about that last aspect. My plan is to pare things down to eating, painting, and helping out in the vegetable gardens. (This loops back to the eating part elegantly.) The plan is to make lots of small works on paper, and I'll be updating this blog a lot more than usual to keep everyone posted. Stay tuned!
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Questions for Educators

I’ve been teaching studio and academic classes for more than seven years now, and I am occasionally asked to write a Teaching Philosophy to explain my thoughts on this work. In my hands, this is often a stiff, miserable document that combines labored self-consciousness of the artist statement with the unctuous professionalism of the cover letter. Those who’ve worked with me know that my teaching philosophy is working in every decision I make. My colleagues have heard me passionately intone Gandhi, Paulo Freire, or Joseph Beuys over questions as simple as, “Do you need a classroom with desks or tables?” My students are compelled to engage in an open dialogue on the nature of justice whenever they ask to submit late work. (If we’re not here to perfect our characters, what’s the point of deadlines?)
Heads will ROLL, people.

photo by Zahra Amiribadi

I’ve had a few opportunities to study from, and work beside truly gifted educators; they are rare. My experiences with them and my time with students have taught me to ask myself the following questions:
  • What if we resolutely loved and respected our students?
  • What if we continually invested trust and autonomy in our students?
  • What if all our efforts were design experiments?
  • What if learning was valued over assessment?
  • What if authority was derived from leadership?
  • What if students and schools were unable to have interests in conflict?
  • What questions are we failing to ask?
This list is probably incomplete and not carefully ordered. You may also notice that is has nothing to do with painting or with art history- or the professional practices of curriculum planning, sequencing, and classroom management. (Any professional can manage these things with enough guidance.)  I feel these questions demand creativity, careful thought, and complete sincerity. I feel they are the reason I still find teaching meaningful in a climate of degradation. I am enormously grateful to the educators who have taught me these things, the students who indulge my experiments, and all the students who suffered through my clumsy, early days in the classroom.
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