Becoming the Student, #20: Graham Higgs

imageProfessor Graham Higgs Gloriously Lit. Digital painting, dimensions variable, 2014. Click to view LARGE.

In this post, I want Professor Higgs to speak for himself. If you have a few minutes, please read the story below. If you give the narrative time to work, I’m certain that you will sense both the great truths and the gentle spirit that animate Graham’s life.

~

The Cry of the Spirit Leaving

By Graham Higgs. Posted here by permission of the author.

It was one of those blazing hot, dry days at noon in a small village in Southern Africa, where I lived as a child. Not a soul was stirring. The sky shimmered with heat, and the only sound was the empty shush of a dry breeze against the screen on the porch, where I lay on my back, shirtless against the cool concrete floor.

I watched a fly circling in slow motion and finally settling on the floor a few feet from my head. My cheek felt cool against the floor as I watched the fly brushing its wing with one of its six legs.

Suddenly, from a distance in the back yard, I heard a man’s cry, “Nyoka! Nyoka!”

This was truly startling. “Nyoka! Nyoka!” the cry rang out.

In the Swahili language, the word “Nyoka” means snake, but not just any snake. It means dangerous snake. The odd thing about this was that snakes were very rarely seen in the heat of mid-day. I heard the cry again, and I heard the back screen door slam as my father left the house. I jumped up and left the porch at the front of the house and ran around back to see what was going on. When I reached the back yard I could see my dad crossing the field behind the house toward the garden. In the middle of the field, a tall, barefooted man wearing only khaki shorts and carrying a long stick was standing and pointing in the direction of the garden.

My father reached him and stopped. They slowly advanced, and then I saw the big old king cobra that they were watching. It was slowly moving toward the garden. They followed it, and it became aware of them, suddenly rising up high off the ground and displaying its broad, golden neck with two hypnotic dark eye-shaped spots.

My father and the garden man froze. The snake dropped back to the ground and began to move more quickly toward a large pile of brush near the end of the field. Several other men arrived and all began to pursue the snake, which continued toward the brush pile and then disappeared inside. The men surrounded the huge pile of brush. With long sticks they poked into the pile, jumping back, afraid the reptile would attack. King cobras are known to be aggressive when provoked.

While all this commotion was going on, many of the villagers began to come to see what was going on and stood in the shade of the tall eucalyptus trees that lined the field. Women and girls stood and watched while curious boys ran with sticks and threw stones at the pile. Mothers called out at them and tried to get them to be careful. The men stood and watched and pondered what to do next. The day was very hot and dry, and some of the men receded to the shade of the trees. A sentry of 4 or 5 men stood guard around the brush pile watching for any sign of the snake. The crowd of onlookers swelled to include just about everyone in the village. Some of the boys kicked a soccer ball around in the dust, and a dry breeze lifted the fine dust into swirls around their ankles. Sweat ran down the cheeks of the men watching the huge pile of brush.

One of the men walked over to my father, who was standing with me in the shade. I heard him say, “Baba, we could set the brush on fire. That would surely drive the Nyoka out so we can kill it.” No sooner had he suggested this than a man came running from the village fire with a burning stick, and the brush pile was soon a blaze of heat and crackling light. Visible waves of heat radiated away from and above the fire in visible auroras. The intensity drove almost everyone away and back toward the trees and the shade. Even in the shade you could feel the heat of the fire across the field. The fire cracked and popped, but no snake appeared. An hour went by, and no snake had come from the now smoldering fire. People began to mumble, and some began to return to their huts in the village. Women took their children and said they had food to prepare.

About this time, a quiet whistling sound began to be heard coming from the pile of ash. The whistling became louder, and everyone in the near vicinity could hear it. It became louder still and began to sound like a woman crying in a high-pitched tone. Now the sound could be heard throughout the village, and it became an ear-splitting scream. People looked at each other, terrified. The Nyoka was crying! What could this mean?

One wise, elderly woman said that she believed that the men had tried to kill an ancestor spirit. “What Nyoka ever comes out into the heat of the day?” she asked. “It is a sign” she said, “a sign that we did not heed. In our rush to kill this Nyoka, we may have tried to kill an ancestor who was trying to talk with us. See, she does not come from the fire. She waits, and she will certainly take her anger out on us. Just you wait and see.”

This prediction filled the hearts of the villagers with foreboding and fear, and those who had returned to the fire to see what the commotion was fled from the scene, taking their children and mumbling in low, fearful tones. After a few minutes the crying became quieter and slowly died away. A few men stayed with my father and watched the last of the smoldering coals. Then, as the day became long and the sun began to reach the horizon, my father and the other two men began to poke into the ashes with a long stick. At one point near the center of the ash pile, the stick hit a metal object.

With a shovel and a large stick, they found that a sheet of corrugated metal roofing was at the base of the fire. When they turned it over, the Then, as the day became long and the sun began to reach the horizon, my father and the other two men began to poke into the ashes with a long stick. At one point near the center of the ash pile, the stick hit a metal object.

With a shovel and a large stick, they found that a sheet of corrugated metal roofing was at the base of the fire. When they turned it over, they found the king cobra coiled in a circle. Its mouth was open and the fangs exposed. It had been cooked by the fire, roasted under the corrugated roofing. I recall my father thinking for a few minutes after this discovery and then saying to the two men, “It is now clear to me what has happened here. As the snake cooked, it began to boil, and the moisture in the snake steamed out of its mouth and past the fangs, which created a whistling and crying sound, much like a penny whistle does.” The men looked puzzled.

One of the men was horrified. “Oh, no, Baba, this is not the case. This sound was the cry of the ancestor spirit leaving the snake. We have certainly offended one of our ancestors, and this is a very grave thing to have happened.”

He quickly left the field and returned to his family. That night as the village gathered to eat together and drink beer and tell stories around the communal fire, the talk was about whether to consult the Nganga (witch doctor) to see how they could make reparations to the ancestor. They believed that they had ignored a natural sign. They believed they had violated an ancestor, and they would be punished. My father tried to explain that this might not be the case, but the villagers would have nothing of it. They had their animistic beliefs that kept them in balance with nature. It was an evening of low talking and fearful discussion. Many retired to their huts earlier than usual. Only a few of the older men, including my father, sat and talked late into the night.

Early the next morning a 3-week-old infant died mysteriously while she slept. It was then the people knew that they had indeed angered an ancestor. The Nganga and a spirit medium and herbalist would need to be called to perform a ceremony to placate the ancestor. Women were asked to prepare extra beer, and the herbalist retreated to his hut on the outskirts of the village and pulled out his stock of hallucinogenic herbs and tinctures. Men sat around the village fire and talked while the women served beer and food and in their own groups ate and sang and danced. A couple of drummers and mbira (thumb-piano) players worked themselves into a chanting rhythm and flow that began to persuade those who participated to sway and bob with the beat. The Nganga mixed a tincture and filled a pipe that he lit and passed around the group of men, and the tincture was swallowed by the spirit medium, a man who normally was a very odd fellow, said to possess special powers of vision and the ability to talk with the ancestors.

The spirit medium fell into a trance and passed out on the ground under the watchful eye of the Nganga, who bathed his face with cool water. The chanting and singing became more communal, and some men began to get up and dance. The women, including my mother, joined in the chanting and clapping of hands, and pretty soon, everyone was singing mournful and yet energetic songs of placation. Late into the night, the spirit medium began to speak, and the Nganga called for silence.

The spirit medium spoke in a language that no one but the Nganga understood. After listening to the strange sounds coming from the spirit medium, the Nganga conferred with the village chief, who called for a moment of reflection. Then he spoke about what the ancestor had advised. He said that tomorrow we must kill a goat and 7 chickens and prepare a feast in honor of the ancestor. In addition, we must begin to respect each other and to watch out for the children of others as well as we watch out for our own children.

We must work more regularly in the peanut fields, as the crops are almost ready, and we must always treat strangers with caution but respect. After a list of these sorts of things, some directed specifically at a few members of the community, the ancestor related that life would return to normal. Within a few days, the community had come together with a new commitment to work productively and live in peace as the ancestors intended.

~

I broke some of my rules while working on Graham’s portrait. I really wanted it to live up to the power of his story and the quality of his deep, quiet mind… so I spent a lot more than 2 or 4 or 6 hours on it. While drawing him in his office at Columbia College, I had the advantage of seeing him silhouetted against a bright spring scene, the intense near-white greens illuminating his head as if with a halo. I worked this portrait back and fourth in Sketchbook Pro and Art Rage v3, with some editing and shifting in Afterlight, for several months. I used both the Adonit Jot Touch 4 and the fiftythree Pencil to do the work. I’m thankful for the conversations I’ve had with Graham and I hope to have more in the future.

VINCENT

Andrew Vincent was one of my favorite students. He has a quiet presence, a quirky sense of humor, and the uniqueness that comes from arriving in middle America from somewhere else. In his case, it was South Africa. His father, a scientist and professor at Mizzou, brought his family to the US in time for Andrew to start 3rd grade. In many ways he retains a beneficial sort of otherness in spite of having lived much of his life here in Missouri.

Andrew made some amazing work for me in my Color Drawing classes, work that I have shown to several semesters of students. Here are a few of his pieces:

DSC07844Andrew Vincent, Spilled Milk, Oil Pastel on Paper, 15 by 30 inches. Drawn from an image created in Autodesk 3Ds Max. 2011.

DSC07025Andrew Vincent, Study After Vermeer’s The Milkmaid. Oil pastel on paper. 30 by 22 inches. 2011.

VincentA-Grid1-S11Andrew Vincent, Grid Study #1, Chalk Pastel on paper. 24 by 18 inches. 2011.

Also a gifted digital artist, Andrew has worked with Autodesk’s 3Ds Max for a while. Here is a render he created for a recent project:

10677326_10152670991425049_971583360_oAndrew Vincent, Naivety. Autodesk 3Ds Max. 1920 x 1080 PPI. Output dimensions variable. 2013.

~

Andrew has taken the opportunity to move to Auburn, AL to work at the Jule Collins Smith Museum as a preparator. He’s aiming to enroll at Auburn sometime in the near future. The guy is on his way to an awesome future. I’m thankful I got to know him in my classes and in the time after he graduated… and I’m certainly looking forward to witnessing what he gets up to in his ongoing education and career. Here’s a portrait I created of him when he visited my office/studio before he left town:

VincentVINCENT, digital drawing created in ArtRage and Sketchbook Pro on an iPad. 2048 x 1536 PPI. Output dimensions variable, 2014.

I’ve always enjoyed my conversations with Andrew, and they have always been far-ranging. We have discussed, faith, meaning, culture, humor, analog and digital drawing/painting tools and concepts, and so much more. I have the feeling we’ll have the chance for more conversation and mutual encouragement going forward.

One of the best parts of my job as an educator is getting to see my students go on to become colleagues and truly function as fellow artists. Keep going forward, Vincent!

Becoming The Student, #15: Mar Cus

One of the most significant relationships of my adult life has been with a former student and current colleague, Marcus Miers. Right now he’s finishing up his MFA at The University of Wisconsin at Madison, but he undertook his BFA at The University of Missouri. Marcus was among the most interesting, confusing, and outstanding students I’ve had at Mizzou. He is, so far, the only student I’ve had as an undergraduate who came back to work in the classroom with me as an assistant in the very classes in which he distinguished himself.

The semester where he worked with me as an assistant to my Color Drawing courses remains a highlight of my teaching experience. As fun as that was, however, his participation in Color Drawing as a student was more transformative to me. He consistently challenged the premise of each project. He pushed me to go beyond my standard explanations. He devoted significant time and intellectual effort to grasp as much as possible in the classroom.

At one point during his second tour of duty in Color Drawing (this time in Intermediate Color Drawing), Marcus turned away from the assignment I gave. We had been working from the model for weeks, and his work was large, energetic, and chromatically intense. Yet one day, out of the blue, he simply set up his easel outside the parachute I’d hung as a barrier to block general views of the model. I had learned to trust him, though I found it somewhat cheeky of him to ignore just about every aspect of the project I’d just assigned. I sat back and watched as the beginnings of what would – eventually – become the foundation of his MFA work began to gestate right before me.

Forgoing the figure, Marcus turned instead to direct perceptual effects. He would not turn back. Light and color, intensely dense and saturated, were the basis of his rigorous investigations. The work (here’s an example) became smaller and, oddly, more spectral. It hovered over the counter-intuitive field of non-focus that forms the basis of all representation. He was seeing through depiction toward an intensity of hue and luminosity that is basically felt rather than taught. It makes perfect sense that he would soon become passionate about Josef Albers (and in particular Albers’ notion of halation). I learned more through witnessing that single aesthetic and educational maneuver than I had in my previous years of teaching combined.

~

MarCusPortraitMar Cus (High Waters and Duct Tape)

Charcoal and Pastel on Paper, 30 by 20 inches. 2014.

~

Below I’m posting three contemplations on Marcus that I made prior to the portrait above. They were created after a photo I took of Marcus at the Milwaukee Art Museum last year.

2014-04-04 19.30.15

The Sublimity of the Duct Tape Painter (Portrait of Marcus Miers with Tears)

Dimensions variable, 2014. Created in Sketchbook Pro and Artrage with alterations in Afterlight. April, 2014.

 

2014-04-04 22.22.42The Apotheosis of Mar Cus (Portrait of Marcus Miers with a Rocket)

Dimensions variable, 2014. Created in Sketchbook Pro and Artrage with alterations in Afterlight. April, 2014.

1977309_10104000276785119_1550973951_nThe Artist is Absent (Marcus Missing From the Milwaukee Art Museum)

Digital painting, Dimensions variable. Created in Sketchbook Pro and Artrage with alterations in Afterlight. April, 2014.

I am so thankful that Marcus has participated in my life over the years. We have shown work together (more than once). We have traveled together. Next year I will curate an exhibition of his work at Imago Gallery and Cultural Center in Columbia, MO. Knowing Marcus (and his brother Sam) has been so rewarding, so educational, so important. I’m just grateful to get to celebrate him and share the images above with everyone.

On top of it all, it’s his birthday today. So happy birthday, sir. Thank you for your friendship and encouragement.

~

To close, here’s a little throwback:

DSC06563Marcus working on one of the last figure drawings he made in Color Drawing. October, 2010.

~

Inspiration: Students

I started this blog five years and two days ago, and one of the things I’ve enjoyed most about it is sharing the work of my students. I never try to over-sell it. Most of my students are not Art majors. Many of them have had very little art-making experience before they take my classes. Yet they always make transformational movements, always end up showing themselves things they never imagined doing. I want to share a few of my Spring 2014 students’ works and words below. They were inspirational to me this semester. All images and words shared with permission.

photo 1Tayler Newcomer, Undeclared Major. Self Portrait Study, 14 by 11 inches, Graphite.

“Everything changed when I walked in this classroom at the beginning of this semester. This class has changed the way I thought of drawing, and even my perspective on life. I found myself more focused and calm when I drew instead of anxious and judged. It helped to bring back this hope and urge to draw that I used to have when I was a little kid and I’m not sure if I can even fully explain what that means to me. What I’ve taken from this class is honestly a little more uncertainty, but I know that’s not a bad thing… I just had thought to myself that I could never be an artist or a musician or a writer. Yet I still draw, still play music, and I still write on that novel I’m almost sure I’ll never finish. I want to go out and appreciate this wonderful gift of life that has been bestowed upon us.” – Tayler Newcomer.
imageTayler Newcomer, Undeclared Major. Self Portrait Study, 18 by 24 inches, Graphite.
~
2014-05-03 16.00.51Emily Crane, Graphic Design Major, Softball. Master Copy after LeRoy Neiman, 24 by 18 inches, Pastel.
“I want to see things through others’ eyes and be open to change! In the rest of my life I want to keep trying to be slow to anger and quick to love, and care as Jesus would. I pray my life will be a light for people in one way or another!” – Emily Crane.
2014-05-03 15.55.14Emily Crane, Graphic Design Major, Softball. Self Portrait Off Third Base, from a M, 24 by 18 inches, Pastel.
~
image[1]Blessing Ikoro, Psychology Major. Self Portrait Study, 14 by 11 inches, Colored Pencil.
“If it were not for a sense of the whole I would not be me when I draw my self portraits. I would not be such a pronounced image within the scene that I draw; it is the universe itself that helps pronounce my image. The drawing then has a sense of the whole as well.” – Blessing Ikoro.
image[2]Blessing Ikoro, Psychology Major. Study of Busts of Caesar and Apollo, 24 by 18 inches, Charcoal.
~
2014-05-03 16.00.58Amanda Bradley, Art Major. Master Copy after Dutch Master, 24 by 18 inches, Colored Pencil.
~
2014-05-03 16.00.38Shayna Painter, Business Administration Major. Master Copy after Kupka, 18 by 18 inches, Colored Pencil.
~
“The way you see something and the way you experience it are so different. The visual aspect of anything isn’t more important than what you learned from it or now it made you feel.” – Hunter Whitt, Elementary Education Major.
~
These young women were just a few of the outstanding students I had this semester. Here’s hoping they continue on with the art impulse.

#montanniversary

A year ago today I got to participate in one of the most amazing events of my life – I officiated the wedding of two of my former students, Amanda and Keith. They are awesome. The wedding was incredible. I was just honored to be involved (and get to quote some Hafez, too!).

8917217604_3b7ac9c6fd_oHere I am preparing for the ceremony. Photo by Keith Montgomery, June 1, 2013.

One of the gifts the new couple gave me was an awesome sculpture made of graphite, created by Batle Studios in San Francisco (click there to see the objects – they’re beautiful). To honor them on their anniversary, I decided to draw a small picture with the sculpture itself. Though not quite as easy to use as a standard pencil, my graphite shell was perfect for the task. I drew a small china plate with a chunk of bread on it – a tableau I had seen at the wedding (Keith and Amanda shared Eucharist together during their wedding).

2014-03-02 20.26.07Here I am beginning the drawing, back on March 3, 2014. Below is the final product:

keith-main

Congratulations on your first anniversary, Amanda and Keith! Thank you for all that you are!

~

 

 

Becoming the Student, #13: Kevin Stark

Way back on St Patrick’s Day Kevin Stark and I sat down to share some Guinness and make a portrait. After a long while I’m finally posting it. It’s one of my favorites of the Becoming the Student series, and I am very happy I documented its creation in a video. See that video at the bottom of this post.

2014-03-18 17_17_11Kevin Stark. Digital drawing created with Adonit Jot Touch 4 in Sketchbook Pro on iPad Air, 2014. Click for enlargement.

On Shared Experiences

“I try to be present. I don’t like it when I’m not. That’s why I’ve been doing this game night thing. The games themselves are a blast – I love the strategy and going for the win and all – but I really love the way that games reveal things about people and you get to know them. I’ve always been big on shared experiences. I derive quite a bit of joy from knowing and being with people. Like, I’m not so interested in going to see a movie with someone. But, for instance, going to the True/False festival with someone – doing something you have to journey through together – is something I love. You’re participating in it together, sharing it together, and every connection between you is growing. Those are the kind of things I’m big on.”

On His Rebellious Childhood

“Everything that I’m into now I said I hated as a kid, like Star Wars, the Red Socks, and The Beatles. My dad tried to introduce me to each one of them and I was like, ‘NOO!’ I’m glad I grew out of that ‘cause they’re pretty awesome.”

On Mellowing Out

“I’m more OK with people mellowing out. I used to be annoyed that this concept of a ‘restless youth’ thing was just a youth thing. The idea that people sometimes become confortable with things… I guess I’m mellowing out about mellowing out.”

On Music

“I’m really into discovering new music right now. There’s too much. Too much. I really like Daytrotter. It’s a download website where a bunch of bands from around the world share four song sets and they get posted.”

“And Destroyer. You ever heard Destroyer? Oh, man – it’s great! Get into Destroyer. He has two albums that have affected me greatly.”

“I’m annoyed at how much I’m a sucker for long songs.”

On His Portrait

“Thanks for not making me make a stanky face for two hours.”

Digital painting of my friend Kevin Stark. Two hours.

Becoming the Student, #0: Geo the Woodworker

I first met Geo when my wife and I lived up in Evanston, IL. He was iconic on our street, his long gray hair always a sight to see. He and his family own several of my artworks, and I have always enjoyed my conversations with the man. He is a gentleman and a scholar, and given to grand gestures and deep sincerity. Once, back in 2009, he drove 8 hours (one way!) to see an exhibition of mine and take me out to dinner. He’s a really unique soul and I’m glad to know him.

In late 2013 I had the opportunity to draw Geo at a pastel workshop I was giving at the Evanston Art Center (in conjunction with an exhibition I was in there). I was glad that Geo was willing to sit for me; I’d always though him a man possessing a regal bearing, similar to a Founding Father or deity.

DSC_0412Geo the Woodworker, Pastel on toned paper, 24 by 18 inches. 2013.

After I began working on my Becoming the Student series, I realized that my drawing of Geo was, perhaps, the true initiation of the project. So, in the spirit of Becoming the Student, I asked Geo to tackle a few questions for me, and his answers are below. After reading through them, be sure to check out his website to see his fantastic work!

On How Long He Has Been a Woodworker

“I started in with wood even before I knew it.  Then in college I had the opportunity to study with a real master carver and through that experience I just knew… it seemed to be in my blood. That was back in 1975, so at least that long.”

On What Life Lessons and/or Epiphanies Working With Wood Has Given Him

“I guess I’ve learned that it – the work, regardless of subject or use – is all the same. Here’s the bottom line: it is not what you do but HOW YOU DO IT. Every stroke of the chisel counts, whether you are carving The Baby Jesus, the Presidential Shield, or just making a Push Stick to use on that big table saw. You must come to know that everything counts forever or nothing matters at all. I would suggest that you move toward the light in all things.”

On The Most Beautiful Work of Art He Has Seen or Heard

“First, a poem: Maud Muller, by John Greenleaf Whittier.  Second: my Foo Dogs. My wife gave them to me for my 50th birthday and they are as good as good gets!”

On How His Creativity Had Changed Over The Years

“I believe it has gotten thicker, not just longer or with greater elasticity. This is a blessing to be sure. But all things considered I’d have to say it’s thicker, yeah. More thick.”

On What Values Motivate Him as a Man, Dad, and Artist

“OTHERS! All my life, it has been the ability I have to help others, to inspire others, to challenge them. That’s what I love.”

On How To Recharge Creativity

“Go outside. OPEN your eyes. Read a book. Take in a beach, a mountain, a river. Go to the Wailing Wall. SEE and BE. Remember: hard work is hard work. The ‘best you can do’ is rarely the easiest answer.”

On His Earliest Art Experience

“I’m not sure how old I was, but I have clear early memories of my aunt sitting in a kitchen somewhere knitting. I asked what she was making and she said, “Another sweater, just like the one your uncle is wearing.” Well that seemed hard to believe: ‘YOU made THAT??’ Sure enough. At the time I didn’t know yet that my mom and her sisters could knit like that: an Irish fisherman’s sweater with those rope patterns up the front. How could a person do that? It was impossible for me to imagine how it was done. It’s like at the Consecration, but even better. I mean, you get to WEAR the sweater. Yes, I was raised Catholic; I always thought that catholic meant, ‘closer to the real Art’.”

On How Being a Dad Has Changed His Work

“My son is here to remind me that we are all but links in an endless chain. As the old poem (Thanatopsis, by William Cullen Bryant) goes:

‘The youth in life’s green spring, and he who goes

In the full strength of years, matron and maid,

The speechless babe, and the gray-headed man

Shall one by one be gathered to thy side

By those who in their turn shall follow them.’

The speechless babe, and the gray-headed man–Shall one by one be gathered to thy sideBy those who in their turn shall follow them.
Read more at http://www.poetry-archive.com/b/thanatopsis.html#I2Z2Tok0sel6VB3M.99

SO LIVE!”

~

imageGeo’s self portrait before the portrait demo I made. Epic!

~

Thanks, Geo, for your friendship and exuberance over the years!

Two Shows Going Up Soon!

I’m involved with two really great group shows based on the landscape right now. One is at the Deines Cultural Center in Russell, KS and the other is at IMAGO in Columbia, MO. The IMAGO show – Landscape: Idea and Ideal – is the inaugural exhibition for this new downtown gallery space. It’s really beautiful and I’m honored to show with a group of friends and former students Eric Norby, Matt Rahner, Megan Schaffer, and David Spear.

imagoimageA panorama of the Imago interior – it’s a beaut! Click for enlargement.

The group show at the Deines – called Finding Balance – is also about landscape. Curated by Joel T Dugan, the show features 15 artists from around the country and the catalog for the show looks really sweet. Norby and Schaffer are also in this exhibition, as is my good friend and former student Jacob Maurice Crook, who just recently earned his MFA from Syracuse University. Glory all around!

findingbalanceNice to see Norby’s work on the cover of the catalog – Click to download it!

Becoming the Student #9: Michael Winters

Michael Winters is the Director of Sojourn Arts and Culture in Louisville, KY. I got to know him when I had a two-person show at the gallery he formerly directed, The 930.

Recently Michael stayed at our home while coming through Columbia. He was a blessing, and a gentle soul to be around. I was glad to sit down with him to discuss art, life, family, and The National.

IMG_0117Michael Winters, Digital drawing, Dimensions variable. 2014. Created with an Adonit Jot Touch 4 in Sketchbook Pro on an iPad Air.

You can see a video of part of the process of building this digital painting here.

It was a powerful couple hours talking to Michael. There was a great deal of vulnerability and humanity on display in our talk, but perhaps that is best represented by our shared love of bands like the The National:

On The National:

“Over the last year I’ve listened through all their albums heavily again. And with the new one that recently came out, I feel that the instrumentation is just so precise. So spot on. And his (Matt Berninger) voice fits it, too. At first, a few years ago, I thought his voice was – without careful listening – a little hokey. But that changed. I take it seriously. It’s for real.”

Favorite Line on The National’s “Trouble Will Find Me“:

“Everything I love is on the table…”

On the Power of Music:

“There are no short cuts. It only works because it makes you pay attention.”

On Art:

“If artwork is not going to emphasize craft then I’m going to expect a lot of it conceptually. So often that seems lacking. I’m looking for serious content.”

On an Under-known Musical Artist He Loves:

“Somebody pointed me to an album by Austin Crane under the name of Valley Maker. All of the songs on it related to the book of Genesis, but it’s all done really well. There’s a lot of interpretation there and getting into the mind of the characters. His most recent album, Yes I Know I’ve Loved This World, is very personal, very kind of first-person; his songs, his stories. I think it’s extremely profound. It’s just good song writing.”

On my Digital Portrait of Him:

“It’s wonderful to be seen.”

~

Thank you for visiting, Michael!

Becoming the Student #8: Joel T Dugan

Joel T Dugan is an amazing painter and educator who works as a professor at Fort Hays State University in Kansas. A few weeks ago my family had the honor of hosting him for a few days and the time we spent together in the studio were some of the best drawing hours I can remember. Our conversation ranged wide. We spoke of everything from “ignorant faithfulness” to the “chase” aspect of painting. Especially beneficial to me was sharing our experiences in teaching. It was an epic evening.

IMG_0023Portrait of Joel T Dugan, Digital drawing, Dimensions variable. 2014. Created with an Adonit Jot Touch 4 in Sketchbook Pro on an iPad Air.

~

On Reality and the Ignorantly Faithful

“In terms of reality… I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the notion of individuality and that how we perceive worth can be so saturated with our own assertions we might experience certain things as so much more impactful than anyone else could.

What do we know? What do we expect? What do we allow to resonate? In my life, so many things have happened – circumstances have aligned themselves, so many nuances have taken place – that you almost wonder if there’s a Suspect at work, something that we might call fate.

But the very notion of fate is so saturated with the hoax-y, with… the ignorantly faithful, those who… allow themselves to… view things in terms of a Divine Plan or Divine Timing while not… taking responsibility for their own choices and motivations. That’s also about not being willing to accept any of the obvious cues that something might not be what we think it is. It’s often a cover up for really not wanting to engage with deep concerns. “

On Perception and Ignorance

“I wonder about perception. I wonder a lot about what truly is valuable. But then you just completely get lost in the kids and it’s always a great release to see that pure innocence and awe. I fear for my kids, that they’ll lose that wonder.”

We’re all subjected to selective ignorance. We utilize that state by default without even knowing it. We’re creatures of comfort in the sense that we love to feel like we’re right. It makes us feel like our efforts are fulfilling, that our existence is poignant.”

On Painting as Existential Chase

“I question myself about the impact of the things that I do, questioning what is the true exchange that takes place when creating art. Being able to share, or even just include, the viewer in the mystique of the work, of that chase… that very much is a kind of lustful relationship. And I just keep thinking to myself that if I could get closer to that same feeling of epiphany, of surprise and recollection that takes place when you struggle with doubts and failures – even after absolute trust and immense security – and you think to yourself ‘I’m a fool. Today is not the day’ so you turn away, put on your coat to leave…. But then you glance back. And you think, ‘That’s not too bad. You know what, with ten more minutes that could really be something.’ And after all the rest of that time it’s almost like you stole it. Almost like you took something that was just a failure and you ripped it from the hands of mediocrity and re-purposed it. If that moment could be shared with everyone you would never have doubt that it was worth it. But how the hell do you do that without just saturating it with your own judgment?”

 On Teaching

“One of the hardest things about teaching is asking people to be both more accepting of judgment and more confrontational with opinion. I just love seeing the light bulb turn on in their heads. You lay the cheese in front of them and they think they found it themselves; that’s when learning how to learn takes place.”

~

If you ever get a chance to spend time with Joel, do it. He’s a man of faith, family, and joy. My daughters really fell in love with him and he gave them such positive attention and care. Our youngest, CaiQun, asked, “Can Mr Joel could be a part of our family forever??”

IMG_0521Mr Joel and CaiQun working with the Sensu Brush in ArtRage on Joel’s iPad.

  IMG_0560Joel breaking down one of Eric Norby’s paintings.

~

On the Drawing I Made of Him:

“I’m glad you love my head.”

I was blessed to get to hang out with Joel for a few days – everyone is better for a few hours with the guy. Thank you, sir!