Artist collaboratives can be a tricky business, but try doing it with neither the internet or even a computer. Years ago I collaborated with the brilliant, contemporary composer Henry Brant on a piece called “Inside Track“, which was played at the Holland Festival. My part in it was that I made slides of dozens of paintings on paper that were displayed on four projectors, which were “played” by two percussionists. Since the piece was performed in Holland, I never got to see it.
Let’s break down that last sentence. “I made dozens of slides.” We are talking about real slides, physical slides; slides that take a week to process in a film lab; slides made out of film and cardboard, that can’t be cropped, but rather have to be taped with physical tape to block out anything you don’t want the viewer to see. “The slides were ‘played’ on four projectors”; yes, these were slide projectors, all mechanical, nothing electronic about them. They were noisy, had different lenses, could overheat and burn the slide. Or if you used the projection long enough, the slide just faded or turned brown. The button to forward the slides was not always reliable, nor was it easy to control the speed of the advancement. The percussionists must have been very talented.
The New Artist Collaboration with Composer Thomas Oboe Lee
Recently the Boston composer Thomas Oboe Lee asked me to collaborate with him. He made two music videos using my paintings. In this case, I uploaded the images to dropbox, he downloaded them to his computer and edited them to his music. By that night I received the video in an email and we both posted it to “the world” on Youtube and Facebook.
A couple of weeks ago I dreamed that I had sex with Frank Stella under a boardwalk on Fire Island. We were both young. When I was the age I was in the dream I did this painting — clearly the “love” child of our astral meeting:
Leslie Parke, “Primary One”, oil on canvas.
Last night I dreamed that Anish Kapoor was courting me. It was all quite elaborate. I can’t wait to see how this will show up in my work. Harold Bloom would call this the “anxiety of influence”, I call it “having sex with artists.”
Most of my Facebook friends are artists. As I scrolled through their posts this summer, I found that I was most drawn to work of modest means, that I felt had a monumental impact. Three of these artists are Lori Ellison, Wilma Vissers and Paul Pagk.
Lori Ellison, Ink on Notebook Paper
Lori Ellison has been singled out by Roberta Smith, so my observation of this work is in no way unique. What I like in particular is the way Ellison creates her pieces on common paper or school grade notebooks. She is immediately tempting you to compare her work to doodles, and not the doodles of a great artist, but the doodles of a student. The mastery in her work occurs on many levels, not the least of which, is to not fall into any doodling cliches. This is not Zentangle, after all.
And her work echoes eloquently the work of past maters, as in this piece inspired by Matisse — or this one that brings Brice Marden to mind.
The rigor of Ellison’s simplicity, is what I admire. I love how her work engages me in the process. They almost beg you to try to imitate them — and perhaps it is precisely in this process of putting pen to paper, that you begin to feel her decision making, her clear and precise choices — how the image sits on the page, how it relates to the edge, how it interacts with the lines on the page.
These drawings have an impact that is emotionally complex and visually exciting.
Lori Ellison in her studio.
Wilma Vissers’ drawing are ones that I come back to over and over. They are often executed in drawing notebooks and I have come to feel that the middle fold of the page is very much a part of the composition.
In fact, before I figured out that they were in notebooks, I thought she was purposefully folding the page to create a line from the fold and something that signaled a reverse side, a second part or a mirror image. She sometimes has a solid shape with a hairy line.
She has built a vocabulary that is strangely compelling.
Vissers drawings are either studies or a separate work from the objects she creates. The objects or wall pieces to me appear to come from the tradition of Richard Tuttle. Each object made in a unique material. Frequently small, the odd bits have a feeling of rightness, an inevitability that I also see is Tuttle;s work.
Some Wilma Vissers’ pieces on the wall of her studio.
Paul Pagk decided to post a series of drawing and studies from a few years ago. To me these are moments of pleasure. Each piece seemed to celebrate a line, a shape or a color.
Paul Pagk, oil, pastel, ink and silver crayon on paper.
In this piece, I was taken by his use of blue. It made me think of Matisse’s blue cutouts and Diebenkorn’s use of blue. After scrolling through his drawings my response was, “Damn, I wish I did that.”
Look at the placement of the drawing on this paper.
A quarter of all of Gustav Klimt’s paintings were landscapes. When I finally saw them all at an exhibition at the Sterling Clark Museum in Williamstown, Massachusetts, what struck me most was their flatness — even Bonnard’s landscapes recedes more into space. Klimt did not paint panoramas, but rather simple motifs: gardens, meadows with fruit trees, farmhouses surrounded by lush vegetation, and details of the lake and its shoreline. Perhaps it is not surprising that the landscapes appeared flat, considering the decorative nature of his other paintings, but it soon became apparent that something else was at work here. Klimt used a variety of viewfinders; initially, a simple piece of cardboard with a hole cut out of it, and later an ivory plate or an opera glass. [austria.info/uk/art-culture]
He also used a telescope. He would stand on one side of the lake and look through it to the opposite shore. The telescope made the landscape appear flat. Klimt used the pointillist’s mark to create his landscapes. However, he did not use it in the same way as the pointillists did, to optically mix colors. His landscapes were organized into blocks of colors and shapes.
Klimpt with Telescope
When you examine one of Klimt’s landscapes close up, a couple of things become apparent. First, he leaves a fair amount of the canvas showing through. And, he frequently outlines things, like the edge of flowers or leaves. I have seen Joseph Raffael do a similar thing in his watercolors. It seems that, especially with watercolors, if you let the edge of, say a leaf, just be the place where the color ends, your whole sense of the leaf as an object disappears, something seems quite off about it. Reinforcing the edge with a line helps it hold its space. This was most obvious in Klimt’s paintings of flowers.
Here is a short video of Joseph Raffael fine tuning one of his watercolors.
“In [Van Gogh’s] studio, he kept a lacquered box containing balls of brightly colored yarn that he endlessly twined and untwined to test the interaction of colors – exactly the procedure described by Chevereul, who had developed his theory as director of dyes for the royal looms at Gobelins.” [Van Gogh: The Life, Steven Naifen and Gregory White Smith]
Its decided, my first lithograph is going to be of “Almond Tree – Biot”. There is some method to this madness. Since this is my first attempt at lithography, I want to learn as much as I can from the process.
If I could do anything in lithography, I would like to do a print of the Almond Tree close to the size of the original painting. The painting is 60 inches by 70 inches. It seems to me that I could do this by putting together nine sheets of paper 22 inches by 30 inches, which is a standard size. It could be printed with the image running off the edge of the paper and then either hung together or in nine separate frames. But it might be a tad ambitious to start with that.
So, how do I get there from here. There are several questions I need to answer to go forward. One of the main ones has to do with the method I would use to create the colors. Should I use what printers call “process color”: cyan, magenta, yellow and black; or should I use “index colors” — colors selected from the painting itself, such as beige, pink, yellow, and black. The only way I can know for sure would be to do a print of the same image using these two approaches and see which one I prefer. Once I know that, I would know which version to use on the 9-part print.
Since this image is so complex I couldn’t draw out the different color layers just by looking at it. So I asked artist Chelsea Nye, who has lots of experience with photoshop to work with me to separate out the different layers for both color versions. Here is a sample of one of those layers:
In order to make the two versions of this print, I will be creating ten different plates that look something like the above. Each of these plates will be about 22 inches by 24 inches. I bought a magnifying glass with a light and look forward to drawing these plates. Could I have made this any more difficult? I hope that I will be able to show you the proofs sometime before the next millennium. I will be interested to find out which version you prefer. This piece is so complex I feel as though I am heading full speed toward black ice. I think that this project will either be great or it won’t work at all. Fingers crossed.