Becoming The Student #17: Mike Seat

photoMike, Pastel on Paper. 14 by 13 inches, 2014.

Mike Seat is a pillar of the community here in Columbia, MO. He’s deeply embedded in the art world here, and has a gentle and calming presence. I’m lucky enough to get to hang out with Mike on the Board of the Columbia Art League where we both serve. He is really a wonderful man who is generous with his time. I always feel recharged after a few minutes with him. When beginning my Becoming the Student series, I knew I’d get Mike in there. Our conversation while he sat for me was so pleasant – and he always feeds me well when I visit! If you’re in central Missouri, get to know this guy.

On What Made Him Come To Art

“As a kid growing up, my dad was a painter and a photographer. I think I picked up a lot of respect for art through him. Then in high school I made art and thought about going to Art School but that didn’t work out. After that I went out into the world, started making a living… and art seemed like just a luxury for me. I didn’t have time to do it. But it was always something that was working within me. I loved aviation and went into air traffic controlling; that was the main thing for me for a long time. In the back of my mind was always a deep respect for painters and sculptors – artists in general – and that stuck with me. After retiring and moving here to Columbia – and one reason we moved here was the art culture here –  I just threw myself into the art community here. One thing I never thought I’d learn to do was wheel throwing pots, but I got to do that right away at Access Arts. That reignited it all for me. I got to sense again that great experience of making art. So after a couple years, especially while volunteering at the Columbia Art League, I started making my own work more seriously. At the At League I got to see really fine artists’ work along side amateurs aspiring to that higher level. That inspired me.”

On The Power of Art

“Making work is always a great experience. That alone is worth it. But having the piece left over as a record is important, too. The icing on the cake is getting to talk to people about it. What moved them. Getting their feedback. And it really is about expression, capturing a moment, sharing the moment, and trying to display the significance of the moment so that when a person walks away from a piece of art they have really experienced something.”

On The Feeling He Looks For In Art

“I really rely on the past. Art is a tradition. I often think about the artists who have made art over the thousands of years of recent history and know that a lot of them are unknown to us… (In terms of specific artists) I do tie in to the Impressionists. I identify with them a lot. They were painting quickly, capturing suggestions, capturing feeling, and opening new territory. I aspire to carry on there. That’s one thing about connecting with other artists; we’re all sort of doing the same thing. We’re all somewhat aware of this other plane of experience. So it’s hard for me to pin it down in words… but for me, sometimes, a single brushstroke can feel make me like I’m so much in the zone – like hitting a tennis ball in the sweet spot – and that immediate emotional feedback you can get from yourself can be so addicting. And what a great joy it is to savor what you see, to savor shapes and colors as they come together to manifest some beauty you’re experiencing. It is, in some ways, like having a very good meal; I could eat up that paint it’s so good sometimes.”

On What Makes A Good Portrait

“When a genuine, honest moment of humanity has been shared.”

You can see Mike’s photographic work beginning at the end of September at Imago Gallery and Cultural Center. Mike will be showing with the ceramist Yukari Kashihara and the show will be on display September 30 – November 7, 2014.  reception for the show will take place on Friday, October 10 from 6-9 PM.

The Chrysanthemum Powder (A Portrait of CaiQun)

I’ve been working on a portrait of CaiQun for over 6 months now. The resulting image is, perhaps, actually more of a self-portrait-via-still-life. The significance of the chrysanthemum powder is huge: it was CaiQun’s last daily material connection to China for many months after she came home with us. The first two years of her life she drank the warm beverage before mid-morning naps. We quickly learned her routine and, informed by the orphanage, purchased many bags of the powder to bring back to the US with us. I saved the last bag we used. It has, like so many other seemingly inconsequential objects, become a part of my studio environment. As I observed it over the weeks and months after China, it transformed into a kind of icon.

Since I tend to be an observational, perceptual painter, I like to keep items I might paint near me as stimulation and inspiration. I placed the bag into one of my paint boxes. There it sat, situated among paint and brushes and sketches for quite a long time, until one day it grabbed my attention with force. The addition of a few other elements – bottles, a sketchbook I’d used in China, a sketch of festival lanterns – and the stage was set.

Chrysanthemum2014The Chrysanthemum Powder (A Portrait of CaiQun), Oil on panel, 16 by 16 inches. 2014. Click to super-enlarge it.

Anyway, I really love this painting.

It goes up in an exhibition next week. If you’re in the mid Missouri area I hope you’ll stop by to see it, another piece I made, and the work of a number of other artists from Mizzou and China. Here’s some info about the show:

East-West Dialogues: Paintings by Chinese Visiting Scholars & Their Hosting Art Professors

Participating Artists:

Zhonghua Gao, Min Li, Rujing Sun*, Ruiqin Wang, Matt Ballou, William Hawk, Mark Langeneckert, Lampo Leong

Show: August 4-15, 2014
Reception: Tuesday, August 5, 2014, 4-6pm

Craft Studio Gallery, University of Missouri-Columbia
518 Hitt Street, N12 Memorial Union, Columbia, MO 65211, USA
http://craftstudio.missouri.edu/gallery/
573-882-2889
Gallery Hours: Mon-Thurs 9am-6pm, Fri 9am-4pm, Sat 12-5pm

Exhibition organized by the Office of the Vice Provost for International Programs, The MU Confucius Institute, and the MU Department of Art.

*Rujing spent a great deal of time with me in my Color Drawing classes during the Spring of 2014. She’s a wonderful artist and was a pleasure to have in my classrooms.

Becoming The Student, #14: JJ

I’ve been teaching at The University of Missouri for seven years. In that time I’ve served on many graduate thesis committees and developed a number of great, long-lasting relationships with grads. But it wasn’t until Jane Jun arrived three years ago that I was a “Main Advisor” or “Head of Committee”. The opportunity to work closely with Jane for those years was a huge benefit to me. As Jane progressed through the program she made huge changes in her work and found ways to grow that were both necessary and surprising. She rose to meet difficult challenges when she really needed to. Her thesis work – which dealt with female Asian identity, diaspora/immigration, stereotypes, societal (and personal) expectations, as well as the ways portraiture and self-portraiture have been transformed in recent years – was illuminating and meaningful. Her thesis writing was excellent and was important for me, as the father of an adopted daughter from China, to spend time thinking and dialoguing about on so many levels. It was a privilege to be up close and see all of her work come together.

enchanter-whatgradclassisJJ and me at Shakespeare’s way back in her first year of grad school.

Now JJ is heading back to South Korea to begin her post-grad school life. I have to admit that the annual exodus of grads is hard for me. So much mental and emotional energy goes into working with my students, so much hope and desire for them to do well. Add to that my sentimental nature and you can probably imagine my mindset each May.

2014-05-18 23.02.38JJ and me at our last Shakespeare’s hangout last month. We point off into the heights of a glorious future.

In creating my Becoming the Student portrait of JJ, I wanted to maintain my method – a short session from observation, with only minor changes after the fact – while at the same time celebrating her achievement. I’m glad she agreed to pose in her cap and was willing to maintain a calm – if a tad pensive and sad – expression. If you know anything about her work (click here if not), you know that the seriousness of her pose and quietude of her face here are nothing like what you’d normally see in an image of her.

JJportraitJJ, MFA. Oil on panel, 8 inches in diameter, 2014.

I’ll sure miss her shouting “SIRRRRRR!” when she sees me.

I already do.

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!

My Favorite Artist Turned 4 Today

My first-born came into the open air of this reality four years ago today. She is glorious and wonderful. She is sensation and awe. She is questions and answers. She is being and making and trying. She is joy. And look at the authority with which she handles those paint tools!

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Becoming The Student #10, Ryan Davis

My friend Ryan Davis – metal-head, Jesus-freak, post-punk-boy, husband, and leader – is my next Becoming the Student subject. When he walked into my studio he was carrying the Iron Maiden-themed TROOPER beer, which bode well for the evening. I began the portrait with Ryan giving me a lengthy narrative on his musical back story, his influences and interests. It was an interesting and winding tale, as any story starting with Kenny Rogers and ending with Anthrax must be.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARyan With a Twenty Year Old T-Shirt, 18 by 18 inches, acrylic on panel. 2014.

On Loving Heavy Metal

“Part of it is that I never want to feel too tame. Maybe it is about recapturing something, or feeling younger… but metal just makes me feel more ‘up’ – other music doesn’t do that. These days I sense that I’m getting back into metal more because I can’t really relate to what my friends are into. But all music is worship. I can see God in any music. In metal they’re telling you truths about the world – often about what’s wrong – and looking for some sort of hope and don’t know where to look. I feel as if most metal I listen to has a social message to it. Many of the bands I listen to are speaking out on injustice or the rape of the environment. Of course, there are party songs and pure anger songs, but that’s not all of it.”

Ryan is an incredibly vulnerable man to his friends. Our conversation during the two hours I worked on his portrait moved from things that were seemingly frivolous to intensely deep heart issues. I’m thankful that he was willing to go there in so many areas of his life. Most of these things just can’t be shared in a public format, but I feel that my painting was a kind of subjective record of the narrative journey we took. Ryan is a guy of integrity and strong emotion, and it was humbling to witness his openness.

On Living a Life Not Based on Affinity

“Now, as a Christian, I no longer have so many relationships based on affinity any more. I mean, if you look at who God has put into my life – the people who I’m the best friends with – on paper our friendship doesn’t make sense. People could easily think, ‘they’re not into the stuff you’re into, they don’t like the music you like; how can you like them?’ For me the answer is just that they’re awesome people and they love Jesus. That’s it.”

On the Time Modest Mouse Played in the Basement

“So, they played the KCOU festival one year. They were supposed to play outside, but it was raining. For some reason my house was thrown out there, so they came over and played in my basement. There weren’t 200 people in my house, but there were a lot. There were maybe 50 people down there at the time. I’ve seen that band twice and I love them, but back then the singer just wanted to do drugs and fool around… phone booths and whatnot. Yeah.”

On Our Healthy Future

“Maybe we’ll both get into CrossFit and we’ll lose a ton of weight, be totally ripped, and work out so much we puke.”

afterlightTROOPER beer!

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!

Stabilizing a 19th Century Painting

I recently was presented with an opportunity to help stabilize an old painting for Schilb Antiquarian, a rare book/map/art seller here in Columbia, Missouri.

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The painting hanging inside the front hallway of my home.

The piece came to Schilb unstretched and rolled, showing a variety of problems including craquelure and some loss of paint adhesion. The provenance of the piece as described by Schilb is as follows:

Unknown artist. Estimated mid to late 19th century. This painting was located in Peru at Hacienda de San Isidro Chonta, a farm that was established in 1703. In the 1960’s, President Juan Velasco Alvarado seized farming properties from around the country and, subsequently, peasant farmers took what they could from the farm, including this work from the ‘paroquia’ or house of worship. The piece comes to Schilb via an estate sale.

Here’s my breakdown of the situation and my plan to stabilize the piece:

Project:

Crafting a stabilizing substrate and support for a mid to late 19th century South American painting of Christ with Crown of Thorns (Artist Unknown).

Overview:

Work is approximately 24 by 20 inches. Medium is oil on linen and an indirect glazing technique. The surface of the work presents with general craquelure. Some areas of paint film exhibit contact, rolling, and loss-of-adhesion damage, but these are limited. The work has obviously been rolled for a significant period of time. Verso state of linen appears to show standard degradation of fibers consistent with exposure to oil paint and solvents over time. The painting has been framed in the past, and the surface of the work – which is currently unframed – was once stretched over 20- by 16-inch bars. Nail holes are visible around the edge. No special marks appear to be visible on verso or recto; no maker’s marks or indicators of provenance are present. Since there are no important marks on the back of the painting, it seems reasonable to cover the back of the work for protection and longevity.

Project Outline:

My plan is to use a PH Neutral Polyvinyl Acetate adhesive to attach the painting to a quality linen substrate. Once joined and dry, the two components will be laid over a wooden panel (which will also be treated with PVA sizing to make it resistant to atmospheric conditions) and sealed down. In this process the painting will gain stability and presentation quality. The surface of the painting will no longer be moving, so the existing surface damage will be contained and slowed. The verso of the work, which currently presents raw linen to the air, will be sealed in a PH Neutral environment and this will serve to slow the oil-based damage to the linen fibers.

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In my workshop, after the piece was attached to the linen substrate and about to be stretched over the panel.

It was an interesting experience to work with this painting. I figure that no person other than the artist has touched the surface of this work more than I have. In photographing it, examining it, planning the stabilization, and then executing the process I found myself thinking about the history of the piece and where it’s been. A minor work, obviously vernacular, and without much to distinguish it other than its subject, the painting is still the work of a real artist who lived and worked and tried to be something. I’ve thought about that artist; what hopes motivated him or her? Perhaps they created dozens of these Christ paintings, maybe it was a single job to make ends meet. In 150 years will someone come upon one of my own works – a piece of little note or distinction – and find the time and desire to make sure it lasts a little longer? I hope so.

Here’s a high resolution shot of the piece in it’s state before the mounting. Click to see it large.

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Thanks to Scott Schilb for giving me the opportunity to meet this painting!