Nihonga: Practice with metal leaf

Metal leaf with nihonga, white. Done with the materials I still have around. Taken from sketches of clouds made from an airplane last December. Very eager to go deeper with this medium.

Recent Playfulness: Mighty ugly nihonga (black rain)

I recently took stock of, in a very simplistic way, how I’ve ended up exploring nihonga — a more or less completely new medium — when I don’t have sufficient time to develop my work in one medium (clay).

  • Ink-wash drawings on mylar in college
  • Interest in metal leaf/foil fostered by ceramics professor Eddie Dominguez and the idea of icons
  • A continued interest in the use of natural materials to create beautiful artworks (as opposed to more processed materials such as plastics and even steel)

Here’s an interesting article on color, suggesting that artists have given up artistic quality but using commercially available paints: Do natural pigments offer more to modern painters

Recent Playfulness: Mighty ugly nihonga (red)

There wasn’t much information with the nihonga starter kit that I received, so I’ve had to rely on the interwebs to learn the craft. Further, the pigments are not labeled, so I don’t know if they are actually made up of the minerals that die-hards will grind themselves. Regardless, I’m getting my feet wet with the kit and hope to further my skills throughout the year.

Recent Playfulness: Mighty ugly felt

I love working three-dimensionally; I’ve prefered it to drawing or painting for the past 10 years plus. However, when it comes to portraying certain aspects of one of my few favorite subjects, storms on the prairie, I’m starting to wonder if certain two-dimensional media will serve me better. Actually, I’ve been wondering this for more than a year now.

So about six months ago I started messing around with felt (still three-dimensional) and nihonga — a Japanese technique I first heard of about six years ago now when introduced to Makoto Fujimura — after my wife gave me a starter set for my birthday. For Christmas I received some powdered graphite, another new medium for me that has shown real promise in helping me portray the kinds of light and spatial nuances wood and clay may not be best suited for.

Prior to last year, it had been an unfortunate long time since I played around with a new media, since I let myself approach a piece of paper with no other intent besides learning. I felt pressure to produce something for a reasonable portfolio (a goal I had set for myself) every time I sat down to create something. I wasn’t setting out to create something Mighty Ugly while engaging in this recent playfulness, but if the paper ended up being ugly there were no worries.

As much as discipline is important to being a successful artist, so is playfulness. So here starts a new series of my recent ugly works, starting with this felted cloud from my very first foray into felt, four plus months ago.

Christmas XII

Via Gordon College

Tanja Butler’s Mondrian and the Magi

Christmas IX

Hand-painted post card.

Another affirmation of the Great Plains

Cody Jean Carson Brown's Migration

One of the things that makes central Nebraska really unique is the Spring migration of the Sandhill Cranes. All sorts of events go on during the month of March in response to the roughly 500,000 cranes descending on the Platte River Valley. Earlier this week my wife and I enjoyed the opening reception of Stuhr Museum’s annual Wings Over the Platte exhibit.

It’s quite a good show, worth seeing if you’re in the area. I was glad to see acquaintance Doug Johnson getting Best of Show. His recent work is going in a creative and wonderfully unexpected direction, which is sometimes lacking in Midwestern art shows. Another fascinating piece was the mixed media (but mostly ceramic) wall sculpture by Cody Jean Carson Brown pictured to the right.

However, the most interesting thing at the exhibit was not visual. It was the bio/artist statement from featured artist Jason Jilg.

Born and raised in Broken Bow, [Nebraska], Jason could not leave the Great Plains fast enough. The world pulled with all its exotic lands and cultures, so Jason joined the Navy and traveled the world to see these locations . . .

. . . If I were given the choice of traveling Europe or some location in the American Plains, I’d probably pick the Plains . . . This part of America that is “in between.” In between the American West, American South and the very different American Midwest in terms of not only geography, but also time, place and memory.

This is interesting to me, if you haven’t figured it out yet, as yet another validation of the plains, the prairie: Lampooned by so much of America, loved by so many that have taken the time to observe it.

Jason’s photography is some of the better photography I’ve seen in recent memory. The exhibit wasn’t perfect; it lacked a focal point as a whole and some of the prints were pushed a little too far — a la Ansel Adams. But it’s obvious Jilg possesses the necessary skills to excel at the craft. He’s careful about choosing and composing his subject matter and uses the frame very well. His sense of scale shooting on the prairie as a subject is also very acute. I’m looking forward to seeing more of his images in the near future.

Nikko Mueller: Paintings from Google Maps

Get Away, 2009. Acrylic on canvas over panel.

Nikko Mueller is probably up there in my top five favorite painters at the moment. He works from Google Maps, which isn’t entirely unique, but he seems to do it with an unexpected expressive sensibility. Composition and use of color are also fantastic, and there seems to be some incredible textural elements in the paintings as well — although I can’t tell on-screen if the texture is palpable or trompe l’oeil.

I’d love to own one of his works. You can see a fairly extensive gallery at the Angles Gallery. My favorites are the more desolate landscapes, such as the one to the left. Other interesting subject matter includes the U.S/Mexico border crossing and African refugee camps. He doesn’t seem to have a dedicated website.

I first saw his work featured on the oh, what a world, what a world blog.

Art vs art for the woman

My wife is presently reading a Nineteenth century tome titled Middlemarch by George Eliot, a portion of which she quoted on her blog yesterday.

“‘And what is a portrait of a woman? Your painting and Plastik are poor stuff after all. They perturb and dull conceptions instead of raising them. Language is a finer medium.’

‘Yes, for those who can’t paint,’ said Naumann. ‘There you have perfect right. I did not recommend you to paint, my friend.’

‘Language gives a fuller image, which is all the better for being vague. After all, the true seeing is within; and painting stares at you with an insistent imperfection. I feel that especially about representations of women. As if a woman were a mere coloured superficies! You must wait for movement and tone. There is a difference in their very breathing: they change from moment to moment. — This woman who you have just seen, for example: how would you paint her voice, pray? But her voice is much diviner than anything you have seen of her.’”

Gustav Klimt's The Three Ages of Woman

Intriguing dialogue indeed, and I find myself as a visual artist not attempting to defend the visual arts here but continuing the conversation by suggesting that writing falls short then of music. If we are talking about the woman’s voice, how can we neglect its auditory quality — the thing that makes a voice — by suggesting that the art most apt to describe it is merely ink on paper. Just like a painting, pigment on a surface. Music is both reverberation and story. Why isn’t it the best portrait of a woman? What about opera then, or theater, taking the element of story even further and giving us visual aids?

The crux of these arguments is that each artistic form, each craft has its own qualities different from the other. Every one has some weakness and some strength when pitted against its competitor. And all of them fall short, go figure, of representing an actual woman.

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The unmarketing socially benevolent artist

Not that I dislike the idea of being an artist on and of the Great Plains, but this would be the life. It seems to have all the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster. (Is that a good thing? Since it’s starting out in real life, I’m using it as a good thing in this context.)

Create for yourself a persona and carry out creative acts of artistry to bring awareness to social injustices around the world. JR, a French photograffeur, was awarded this year’s annual TED prize with accompanying “One wish to change the world.” The artist is very protective of his true identity, at first wearing sunglasses and a hat pulled down over his face in a Skype interview with TED.

A number of JR’s monumental photographic installations are “unauthorised,” pasted on the sides of buildings as inconspicuously as possible while officials who will most certainly object to the message go about their socially unjust business. One such installation was going up in China when he was being interviewed by the New York Times; JR was worried they might get into trouble. “We went into the building next door, and it was empty, and we went up to the tower, and nobody stopped us, so we just started working,” he said in the article. “It’s crazy. This city is so huge and overgrown, the more you’re in the middle of things, the more you feel transparent.”

The money the artist garners from sales and prizes go back into more ambitious projects around the world acording to the Times’ interview. See the artist’s installations on his website.

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