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, #16: Gina TECHNICOLOR Ceylan

Gina Ceylan is an incredible person. Every time I’m with her, I’m amazed at her intelligence, engagement, and desire for true connection and meaning. I knew I had to include her in my Becoming The Student project.

TechnicolorGirlGina TECHNICOLOR Ceylan, Gouache and Colored Pencil on Paper mounted on Panel. 20 inches in diameter. 2014.

Click the image to see this piece larger.

~

Gina has a genetic condition which has caused her eyesight to degrade over time, and she is – essentially – blind. In spite of this she has developed an extremely acute vision of where education, science, and societal conditions are and where they could be. She’s a passionate student and teacher (she holds a PhD in Science Education). She’s a lover of music and public conversation. She loves to foment deep thought in herself and others.

Part of her experience of losing her sight has meant that her brain is rewiring, taking into account the lack of external visual stimulus and creating manifestations of color and form in Gina’s mind’s eye. Because of these inner experiences, she has taken to talking about her Technicolor experience in grand terms. In some of our past discussions, the story of the blind men and the elephant has taken center stage in the Technicolor arena. I even created a psychedelic elephant for her Facebook page, as seen below:

1795397_10103821001738749_391203280_o

There is so much I could write about Gina, but I’ll let a few of her own thoughts speak for themselves (with a few key parts emphasized by me).

“I don’t like this phrase “time management” though; it doesn’t sit well. We don’t manage time; we strive for dynamic thought-task coherence through time. Let’s go with thought-task conduction. That’s better, closer to what’s really happening when we work towards our little purposes. Got to love it when the little Technicolor light bulb goes off. Understanding AND potential improved use of the scatter-mind. Score.”

“Some of us dance a little closer to chaos.”

-from Thought Patterns & Thought-task Conduction – December 17, 2013

“Ignorance isn’t something so much as it is really the lack of something [relative awareness maybe], the way darkness is the absence of light. But it behaves like a something, a disgusting kind of living evil something, because we bring it to life. Here’s the worst part: it’s not intentional. Ignorance doesn’t mean to destroy anything anymore than a wisteria vine or kudzu intends to cover the landscape and choke out all other life. The vines are often planted with good intention, and with no knowledge of how they will take root and thrive at the expense of everything.

Life is a collection of countless choices. Our reality emerges through these choices, but there’s too many of them, so our relative subconscious takes care of most of it, and we let society decide so many others. And ignorance emerges, without intention, and without anyone noticing, spreading over everything, choking the life out. Hell is real, you know; it’s a place in our minds and we bring it to life and make it real in our world. The road to hell is paved with ignorance. I think we’re getting there.

I know only myself [pretty big accomplishment]; I’m a fool’s fool. I know nothing else. Which is to say I have a great many well-founded, poorly articulated suspicions that shed just enough light for me to see my ignorance. At least I’m a happy fool, and not in the false bliss of ignorance but in my knowledge of it, and in my pleasure in tearing it up by its roots, possibly burning it just for good measure. It’s a ridiculous effort, the task is too big, but it’s fun.”

-from Ignorance, Intentionality & The Road to Hell – December 8, 2013

Girl at gym: “I want to go to med school and be a pediatrician, but…”
Me: “Well, why not go for it?”
Girl: “I’m scared… scared I’m not smart enough”
Me: “That’s crap! Someone lied to you about the nature of intelligence!”

“What kind of education system teaches people to be afraid of learning to be what they want!? [To hell with] a system that instills this kind of fear in people! We ought to be smarter than that.”

-from a Facebook Rant, April 15, 2014

“Think of The Future possible pathways, sprawled out in front of us in all their dendritic splendor… Yes, for all the same reasons. One choice at a time, travelers.”

-a Facebook Status, December 31, 2013

~

Keep dancing close to that chaos, Gina. Thank you for grabbing some of us off the sidelines and getting us to dance, too.

To learn more about her, read this article about her life and work. It’s a fantastic read.

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.

Working with the Adonit Jot Touch 4 and Sketchbook Pro

I recently began working with the Adonit Jot Touch 4 stylus. It’s a really phenomenal tool. As an artist who has been learning, working, and teaching in analog painting and drawing for almost 25 years, I have a really high standard for the feel of the art making tools I use. The Jot Touch 4 has been great to work with.

photo 3Interior of a Church, Digital Sketch created with Adonit Jot Touch 4 in Sketchbook Pro on iPad Air, 2014. 45 minutes.

Pros:

* The Jot Touch really does have analog level pressure sensitivity. It’s not really like drawing with a pencil or moving a brush, but it’s close enough to allow for the intuitive knowledge I have of those traditional approaches to apply.

* Excellent feel – the Jot Touch has the weight and surface quality of a fine ball pen. Holding and moving it feels natural and I soon forgot that I was using it. The mark of a good tool is that it feels both necessary and melds seamlessly with the nature of the task. The Jot Touch does this for me.

* Effectiveness. Particularly when paired with a nice application – I use Autodesk’s Sketchbook Pro on an iPad Air and a Kindle Fire – I find the Jot Touch 4 to be exactly as advertised. I have always been frustrated with different stylus options I’ve tried in the past but this thing does basically everything I need.

Cons:

* Price. The Jot Touch 4 is not something most people can just buy on a whim. It was recommended to me by a friend in the iPad app development field; I expected that it was a quality item. In exploring the device I could see how superior it was to basically every other stylus out there (except the Sensu brush, which I’ll talk about in a later post). The Touch 4 is expensive, but it’s worth it for graphic designers and artists. It just feels so much more natural than Wacom tablets or lesser stylus options.

* The palm rejection isn’t sufficient. I tend not to use it since I almost never simply rest my palm on a surface while I’m drawing. I view drawing as an action that originates in the body, especially in the shoulder. Even when sketching in a seated position I tend to keep my hand off the surface. It’s not writing essays, it’s making a drawing. That said, I think that a broader, more robust palm rejection area could be useful. I have tried it out a few times and just don’t feel that it’s effective at this point.

photo 1My Daughter Painting, Digital Sketch created with Adonit Jot Touch 4 in Sketchbook Pro on iPad Air, 2014. 20 minutes.

In the month since I started using the Jot Touch 4 I’ve made dozens of drawings, but a few really highlight how I use the device. Below are three movies that show a process of building a drawing. These are the prototypes for more developed demos that I will create for an online Beginning Drawing course at The University of Missouri next fall. The first two – portraits of friends – show the development of pieces made for my Becoming the Student series. Watch out for the posts about these two portraits coming up soon!

Digital painting of my friend Kevin Stark. Two hours.

Digital painting of my friend Michael Winters. One Hour 45 minutes.

Still Life Demo. One Hour 30 minutes.

All in all I’m really pleased with the Jot Touch 4 as it works within Sketchbook Pro. I have used the Sketchbook series of drawing apps for about a year and a half and have enjoyed them. The Pro is the best yet, and for the $5 price it’s completely worth it. Even without a stylus Sketchbook Pro is glorious.

Below: Red French Press, Digital Sketch created with Adonit Jot Touch 4 in Sketchbook Pro on iPad Air, 2014. 3 minutes.

photo 2

Color Drawing, Fall 2012

We’re halfway through another great semester of Color Drawing. Below are just a few examples of some of the standout work from this year. Click for higher res!

Danielle Wallace, Chalk pastel of reflections.

Emily Brewer, Oil pastel study of colored and fluid filled glass.

Emily Brewer, Oil pastel large arrangement of reflective and glass objects.

Jessica Bremehr, Colored pencil study of a lamp.

Jessica Bremehr, Oil pastel large arrangement of reflective and glass objects.

Jessica Bremehr, Chalk Pastel study of reflective surface.

Ginny Algier, Oil pastel large arrangement of reflective and glass objects.

Kevin Moreland, Chalk Pastel self portrait in a reflective surface.

Julie Bennett, Oil pastel large arrangement of reflective and glass objects.

Click HERE to see more of my posts on my Color Drawing class glory!

Venus Transit 2012

Click on the image to see it large.

Yesterday I had the great opportunity – another with a few thousand other people from Mid-Missouri – to view the Transit of Venus at Mizzou’s Laws Observatory. We had great weather and clear skies for the event. The University handled the situation well – there were perhaps 15 viewing stations beside the larger domed telescope that sits high atop the Physics Building on the eastern edge of campus. See here for more information about the mission and outreach of Laws Observatory.

Exiting Painting MFAs

Jacob Johnson, Jackie Lin, and David Spear all graduated from the University of Missouri Art Department this semester. I was on each of their graduate committees and was with them from the first days of their graduate experience. I could write a lot about their work, their thesis writing, and the things they’ve been trying to do. Instead I want to share just one piece of work (or so) from each of them.

Above: Jacob Johnson, Untitled (Neil’s Back, Green), Oil on Canvas mounted on Panel, 72 by 48 inches, 2009.

Below: Jacob Johnson, The Professor (Portrait of Matt Ballou), Oil on Panel, 8 by 6 inches, 2012. This was a tribute piece Jake made for me…

Above: Jackie Lin, Stir Fry, Oil on Canvas, 66 by 52.5 inches, 2010.

Below: Jackie took my family out for Peking Duck at House of Chow here in Columbia, MO as a gift to me… it was amazing!

Above: Harrison Bergeron (managed, directed and produced by David Spear), Who Are We, Where Do We Come From, Where Are We Going?, Oil on three Panels, 114 by 31.5 inches, 2012.

Below: Me and Harrison hamming it up at the Multimedia Extravaganza that was the thesis show…

The paintings above are three of my favorites from the production of these artists. I’m proud to have seen them develop and strive and fail and scream and leap for joy over these years. Here’s to many more years of learning to fail well.

Discussions and Digressions

“In places like universities, where everyone talks too rationally, it is necessary for a kind of enchanter to appear.” – Beuys

“Theory can only describe; it can never justify.” – Ballou

Above: Me with some grads after one of our early sessions, Spring 2012

This semester I got to dig deep with a group of graduate students here at Mizzou. In the discussion-based course I presented a series of texts – grouped into several general themes – and used them to attempt to open up the grads’ approach to thinking about, making, and viewing art. In our reading, discussion, and reflective writing, we took on some of the alternative histories/literacies that function within the art world. I wanted to use this post to give a general overview of the topics and content we touched on this semester, as well as offer a selection of some of the provocative ideas we read. I do this as a huge thank you to the individuals whose work we sampled; their words were encouraging, challenging, enraging, and powerful. I also wanted to take this opportunity to thank the students who took the journey with me. So here’s to Aron, Bethanie, Charlie, Chris, Danielle, Eric, Greta, Jahner, Jane, Matt, and Ron; none of us could have had the experiences we had without each of us being a part of it. As David Abram (or Bachelard, or Emerson, or Dillard) might say – all things are in relation.

Above: A grad class?

1) We began by discussing some key dichotomies through the easy-to-access survey work of Leonard Shlain. Contrasting ideas such as Image/Word, Nonverbal/Verbal, and Truth/Fiction were explored in a number of texts and films, the latter being most importantly represented by Herzog’s Lessons of Darkness and Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi.

“Of all the sacred cows allowed to roam unimpeded in our culture, few are as revered as literacy.” – Shlain

Key Works:
Reggio, Godfrey. “Koyaanisqatsi.” Color Film, 1983.
Shlain, Leonard. “The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image.” 1998.
Herzog, Werner. “Lessons of Darkness.” Color Film, 1991.

2) Tightening our resolution from the expansive binary tensions in our initial overview, our second focus was to look at how the more central ideas and modes of art and aesthetics were defined/redefined and questioned in the first part of the twentieth century. Looking at early pragmatist philosopher/scholars of art and religion like George Santayana and Ananda Coomaraswamy we took the temperature of a certain corner of the institutional establishment in the throes of the Modernism moment.

“To be sensitive to difficulties and dangers goes with being sensitive to opportunities.” – Santayana
“The artist is not a special kind of man but every man is a special kind of artist.” – Coomaraswamy

Key Texts:
Santayana, George. “Reason in Art.” Originally published in 1905.
Coomaraswamy, Ananda. “Christian and Oriental Philosophy of Art.” From a 1956 Dover edition.

3) In our next group of readings we found ourselves looking away from socialized and received notions of making meaning and gazed into the huge vault of human biology itself. Using primarily Rudolf Arnheim and Ellen Dissanayake, we discovered that a very profound kind of knowledge precedes the cognitive ideas that may calibrate our understanding of art: the psychology of kinesthesis and developmental biology. We took Dissanayake as a jumping off point to engage with Evolutionary Psychology as it pertains to art, art-making, and meaning. Touching on the work of Denis Dutton (as well as his critics), we explored how biology has calibrated how human beings make meaning and put it to work in the world. Coming back to pragmatism, we saw how Dewey and Kupfer connected aesthetic experiences with moral growth.

“It is important to recognize that in large measure everything we know is ultimately based on our bodily senses: what we see, hear, and touch, in particular.” – Dissanayake

“The work of art symbolizes all the levels of reality that lie between the phenomenon and the idea.” – Arnheim

“We take pleasure in watching an athlete break a record, hearing a soprano in full flight, or reading a philosopher of depth and insight. Human accomplishment is the ultimate spectator sport. Apply as much historical analysis to it as we wish, and we’ll not unlock all its mysteries. The continuous capacity of genius to surpass understanding remains a human constant.” – Dutton

Key Texts:
Arnheim, Rudolf. “Toward a Psychology of Art.” 1966.
Dissanayake, Ellen. “Homo Aestheticus.” 1992.
Dutton, Denis. “Aesthetics and Evolutionary Psychology.” The Oxford Handbook for Aesthetics, 2003.
Dewey, John. “Art as Experience.” 1958.
Kupfer, Jospeh. “Aesthetic Experience and Moral Education.” Journal of Aesthetic Education, 1978.

4) Once fully ensconced in the notion that our biology (and the way that biology structured our thinking and making) is key to any real understanding of what art is and does, we looked at the intellectual analysis of artworks. This examination of interpretation – or, as it might be, overinterpretation – was overseen by Arthur C. Danto and Umberto Eco, with a significant dash of Richard Rorty thrown in for good measure.

“Interpretation is in effect the lever with which an object is lifted out of the real world and into the artworld, where it becomes vested in often unexpected raiment. Only in relationship to interpretation is a material object an artwork, which of course does not entail that what is an artwork is relative in any further interesting way.” – Danto

“From a certain point of view everything bears relationships of analogy, contiguity and similarity to everything else.” – Eco

“Reading [artworks] is a matter of reading them in the light of other [artworks], people, obsessions, bits of information, or what have you, and then seeing what happens.” – Rorty

Key Texts:
Danto, Arthur C. “The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art.” 2005.
Eco, Umberto. “Interpretation and Overinterpretation.” 1992.

Above: COME AT ME BRO!

5) In some sense our exploration of the hyper-intellectualized/philosophized interpretation of artworks took us from culture into a kind of ritualized, rarified space – albeit a secular one. From there we took a tack back toward culture-making and onward through it toward a more spiritual kind of ritual. We looked first at key texts from the famed philosopher of religion Mircea Eliade. Our perspective was updated to the mid-90s with Suzi Gablik’s The Reenchantment of Art.

“The numinous presents itself as something ‘wholly other’ (ganz andere), something basically and totally different.” – Eliade

“Ritual signifies that something more is going on than meets the eye – something sacred.” – Gablik

Key Texts:
Eliade, Mircea. “The Sacred and the Profane: the Nature of Religion.” 1959.
Gablik, Suzi. “The Reenchantment of Art.” 1991.

6) At this point we began to entertain the implications of the alternative histories/literacies we had explored over the semester. We aimed more directly at poetical understanding, beginning with Emerson as a representative of the American Transcendentalist Movement of the 19th century. From there we allowed Annie Dillard and David Abram to bring us up to the present day – and blow our minds along the way. In this section we spent a good amount of time attempting to understand an intuitive mode of aesthetics as opposed to a rationalist one.

“The life of [humanity] is a self-evolving circle, which, from a ring imperceptibly small, rushes on all sides outwards to new and larger circles, and that without end.” – Emerson

“The feelings that move us – the frights and yearnings that color our days, the flights of fancy that sometimes seize us, the creativity that surges through us – all are born of the encounter and interchange between our life and the wider Life that surrounds us. They are no more ours than they are Earth’s” – David Abram

“I’ve an eyeful of fish-scale and star!” – Dillard

Key Texts:
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “Nature and Other Writings.” 2003 edition by Shambhala.
Abram, David. “The Air Aware.” 2009.
Dillard, Annie. “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.” 1974.
For your listening pleasure, click here to hear David Abram read The Air Aware.

Above: They (the grads) were in some frightening trees (grad school)! Click here for more information…

7) Our final readings of the semester centered on Gaston Bachelard. This master dreamer – a giant of 20th century philosophy who influenced Foucault and Derrida – helped us grasp the constellations that populate our own inner universes. Bachelard gave us – through his inflected intonations of the words of Rilke and Baudelaire (among others) – a sense of how our intuitive manifestations might transcend the “geometrical ontological determinations” that dominate the empiricist, rationalist approach to contemporary art-making.

“Everything takes form, even infinity. We seek to determine being and, in so doing, transcend all situations, to give a situation of all situations.Man’s being is confronted with the world’s being.” – Bachelard
“By means of poetic language, waves of newness flow over the surface of being.” – Bachelard

Key Texts:
Bachelard, Gaston. “The Poetics of Space.” 1994.

I want to thank all of the grads for going with me on the journey this semester. Spring 2012 FTW!

Inspiration – Trudy Rogers Denham

I’ve worked with Trudy in some capacity for her entire graduate career – sometimes in classes, often just as a contributing committee member. It’s always wonderful to see an artist come into a graduate program and make huge changes while maintaining a core of truthfulness about who they are and what they want. Though I’ve seen Trudy’s work shift dramatically, there’s always been a knowing thread through it all. In the first class she took with me we were able to understand drawing itself as that propulsive linear element that moves within any work – whether it be performance, installation, or more traditional forms. I’m so impressed with Trudy’s work and proud to have been able to witness it.

Here are some installation shots from her thesis exhibition – Residuum – please come see it as soon as you can!

 

Wide view of the first room.

 

Wide view of the second room.

 

Professor Daniggelis engaging with the work.

The poetry of the chairs…

Chromatic Intensities

 

Glory in Color Drawing 2

Marcus, the Assistant, casts chroma

Null’s large drawing in anamorphic distortion

The array of shadows in Color Drawing 1

And another view…

The box, electric.

Did I mention that I love teaching Color Drawing? Epic, every semester. Stay tuned for good shots of current students’ works.