Sunday, September 30, 2012

Panotpticon Gallery visit September 22nd

     At the Panopticon Gallery in Kenmore Square, Boston, there was a Harold Feinstein retrospective that took up most of the main gallery.  It was a treat to see so many of his images together and as actual 16” X 20” prints as opposed to reproductions scaled down in a book.  The way Feinstein was able to capture people so comfortably candid is amazing to me.  In some of the photographs the subjects were willingly aware of being photographed, while others captured completely unaware people engage in the kinds of common activities we tend to forget, but with which we can’t help but relate.  Feinstein’s framing of his images are what really makes his photos stick in the minds of the viewer.  One photograph shot at the beach shows two portly aging men in bathing suits, turned slightly away from the camera, but still in enough profile to see there round bellies bulge above their bathing suits.  They seem intent on discussing with each other something that demands their interest, while in the background, framed between their bellies, runs a young girl on the beach, presumably someone that one of these gentlemen is charged with watching.  The photo is so unflattering, but so true, and comical in the lay script that runs through the viewer’s head.  Another amazingly framed image shows a Korean war service man reposing with his feet propped up, smoking a cigarette, and looking at the camera.  The camera angle stats at the bottom of his propped up shoes and looks down at the resting service man.  He fills the entire frame, and this angle foreshortens the rest of his body in a way that makes one think of being curled up in a nest.  And another image I really love is of a dark eyed dirty-faced gypsy girl who stares openly at the camera.  This girl’s head fills the right half of the image, while the left side is filled with a blurred and spinning merry-go-round that is behind the girl.
     Also at the gallery was work by Stephen Sheffeild.  Most of his images were 16” X 20” silver gelatin prints, but there were also some larger images constructed with a series of individual prints tiled together to form the larger image and then coated with resin.  Most of these larger images I felt like the images themselves were great, but the execution was still in need of perfecting the process.  His smaller works were all beautifully exposed and printed, and his metaphoric subject matter I found beautifully haunting.  Most of his images he used himself as a model, and was always suit-glad, and face obscured by cigarette smoke, shadow, or some other means.  I used one of his photographs for my artist comparison paper.
     The third artist represented was Alipio Hernandez.  There were just about a half dozen of his pieces, but they were very interesting.  Black and white negatives were silver gelatin printed, cut up, and pieces toned in different color toners.  Then the images were stitched back together with thick black zigzag stitching.  All of the images were portraits of people, and I thought the most successful of these images were the ones that focused on creating a single image of a person with different shapes and colors within the face, like the different parts of an individual’s personality, as opposed to the images that repeated a person’s likeness over and over in multiple colors.  I also preferred when the color shifts between sections were subtler, for the jarring color shifts didn’t seem to meld as well with the subject of portraiture for me.  I felt overall his work was very intriguing, and an excellent idea, but I also felt sometimes he let his idea of process and his excitement with it sometimes get in the way of creating a successful image.  But I am very curious where this path will lead him because I think he’s on his way to somewhere exciting.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Meeting with Shellbure on September 22nd

     Shellburne said my work is more about ideas than about forming a concrete image.  I want to see what I can’t see.  And she asked do we see with just our eyes?   She said I seem to be dealing with the 'Life Force' issue.  She said it makes her think of “when dissecting a frog is the frog still there?”  Her comment made me think of a quote from a novel she had told me to read: “Fact explains nothing.  On the contrary, it is fact that requires explanation.”  Marylynne Robinson, Housekeeping, Farrar, Straus, Giroux, New York, NY, 1997, page 217
     She said there is a sense of self-erasure in my work.  Shellburne said the way we protect ourselves is to frame our experiences.  Shellburne wondered if I was trying to break through that 'frame' in my images.  She said in my best images she has no idea what I took a picture of.  In these images she doesn’t think the source important, rather she is concerned with where the images take her, as well as what am I trying to find.  She said there is a question of Primacy in my work.  What is more important to me: the structure, or what is outside?
     Shellburne’s big question to me was: Why do I continually frame structures, that should appear sound and permanent, in ways that makes them seem fragile, or less solid, than the natural growth around them?  The best answer at this time comes from my own questioning as to why I was drawn to the Old Man.  I think what I really loved about this old man was that he and the cats and his house exposed the changeability, the fragility, and tenuousness of life.  They had all crossed a line that no longer tried to keep the harshness of nature out (he had various pieces of household furniture out in his yard that he used), but seemed to accept and embrace rather than fight the rhythms of nature.  And I felt drawn to the way the cats, the old man, and the house – no matter how seemingly cast aside or broken – supported each other, held one another up, and kept each other going.  Life is tenuous and fragile and constantly changing, and the things we construct around us to make us feel safe are as fragile as we ourselves, unless we all lean into each other and help hold one another up.  But these are all things I need to think more about.
     Shellburne also said, like she has said in visits past, my subject matter is one that treads a very fine line, and can easily become sentimental and cliche.  She said so far I have not crossed it, but I need to be very aware of this fact so that I don't.

Artists Shellburne wants me to look at: Kiki Smith, Neil Welliver, Charles Burchfield, and Charlie Harper

Friday, September 21, 2012

Last Weekend was Quite Interesting

Saturday, September 15th
     Last Saturday I wanted to go to Portsmouth, NH, to photograph at Strawberry Bank.  I arrived there just before 1PM, and was told they were closing at one for a special event.  Well, it’s a long way for me to drive to Portsmouth, so I couldn’t make the trip for nothing.  So I figured I’d go check out Don Gorvett’s new galley.
     If you don’t know Don Gorvet, he is a print maker who primarily works with reductive woodcuts.  This is a link to his website:  While a student at USM Don came and gave an artist talk to one of my drawing classes.  The talk was open to friends and family and other students, and he gave a great talk.  I enjoy the bold and animated lines in his work, so I thought I’d go see what he was up to.
     What a great visit!  Don was very interested in AIB’s MFA program.  I think he’s going to recommend it to a young printmaker who works at one of his galleries.  We talked a lot about printmaking and art, and the various ways of making prints in conjunction with photography.  And then he gave me a long talk about supporting yourself as an artist.  He said if an artist couldn’t find a way to turn their talent into “currency” they would end leaving their art behind for some other profession that pays.  He said artists are terrible at thinking of their work as currency.   He said currency is the result of one’s labor, and if the result of one’s labor is a work of art, then the work of art is the currency of the artist.  And he said he hated seeing artists grovel at the feet of gallery owners.  He said artists should see their work as valuable and take pride  in actively promoting it.
Sunday, September 16th
     Sunday I went back to the Old Man’s house (see July 22nd post).  This is an old farmhouse and barn in Buxton that I drive by regularly.  An old man used to live there, and I would see him outside with hundreds of cats.  There was something about him that made me look forward to seeing him when I drove by.  But one day he wasn’t there.  And for a long time after, as well.  When the house went up for sale I knew the Old Man was gone.  I felt sad, but now I knew I could photograph his house.  A couple of the images I brought to the June residency were taken at his house.
     This summer the farm was sold.  The place really needs a lot of work, so I thought the chance was great that the place would be torn down.  But instead the barn began to swarm with workers.  I don’t know why, but I just had to see the inside of the Old Man’s house before all trace of him was cleaned and painted away.  So I got my courage together, along with my camera and my weird request, and went to meet the new owners.
     Mellissa Perrin welcomed me right into her house, told me to go anywhere and everywhere, and to come back again.  She didn’t think my request was weird.  But maybe that’s because she has a BFA in painting.  Or maybe it’s because she likes the old man, whose name was Bud, too.  She said, “He died here, so I know he’s still here.  This place has great energy!  And we’re going to fill this barn full of horses and turn this place back into what it once was.”  She hopes the cats come back.  I told here they were around, because I'd seen cat trails in the long grass.  Hopefully when the barn is done, and before the snow flies, the cats will come and let new people to care for them.
     September Farm is what Mellissa calls the place.  And I think the name fits.

September Farm