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.

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MarCusPortraitMar Cus (High Waters and Duct Tape)

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

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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.

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To close, here’s a little throwback:

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

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June 28, 1914 – Sarajevo

20140627-090903-32943303.jpgAbove: My modification of the historic newspaper illustration depicting the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the event which precipitated World War One. iPhone image, Afterlight, Glitché, and Instagram modifications, variable dimensions. June 27, 2014.

Here’s the original:

Murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand

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History is a strange and chaotic dancer. It chooses odd dance partners. Each pas de deux influences, inflects, and infects us all. How weird it is to think that from such a small flash on one street corner were launched the boots and bombs of a thousand beachheads. How horrific to consider the vast interconnections of sociology, politics, aristocracy, nationalistic fervor, punditry, demagoguery, and despair that weave the blood of the Archduke with the blood of Sgt. Thomas Z Spitzer (the most recent American killed in Afghanistan, June 25, 2014). How frustrating to consider the wasted lives and resources of one hundred thousand hills and fields. How high the cost. How distracting the efforts. How pathetic the justifications.

World War One formalized the concept of  – and effects of  – total war.

We will never live it down.

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PS: If you’re interested in more background on World War One I suggest this course from The Great Courses. I took this class in 2007 to supplement my knowledge of the subject and found it highly illuminating and a springboard for further reading and study.

Halo Nostalgia

It’s been well over a year since I fired up the old XBOX360 to play Halo. I had played pretty consistently for a few years after my good friend Pete bought me the system back in 2009. We had some fun nights on Multiplayer in Halo 3 and Reach (as well as in ODST, Halo 4, and various campaigns). I have to admit that some of those maps became special to me. They ended up becoming iconic spaces where Pete and I could chat and laugh while playing the game. They were as memorable as many of the real world places in which we shared life.

Screen Shot 2014-06-25 at 3.15.03 PM Screen Shot 2014-06-25 at 3.08.36 PM Screen Shot 2014-06-25 at 3.16.17 PM

Above: Several versions of my Halo Avatars, Halo 3, ODST, and Halo 4.

Unfortunately for me (and my main teammate), my performances were often less than stellar. Don’t get me wrong, I sometimes put it all together and did well (I achieved Legend status in Reach [I know, I know – not super impressive, but at least competitive] and I completed the Halo 4 campaign on Legendary difficulty), but things often went like this:

output_pKhwSmAbove: Me killing myself with a grenade fail about 2 seconds into the start of a game.

Below: Again, taking myself out with an ill-timed grenade.

Above: But sometimes I redeemed myself.

Many thanks to Pete for documenting these highlights of my gaming career.

Anyway.

As I said above, many of the arenas in which Mutliplayer games took place became evocative spaces that have stuck with me. Periodically I’ll find myself dreaming about running through or flying above one of them. Every gamer knows the feeling of nostalgia that can take over when they venture back into Hyrule or dust off the old NES for a run through of a classic game. So in the spirit of this strange kind of experience that’s unique to the last 30 years or so, I’m posting screenshots of some of my favorite Halo maps. Who knows if I’ll ever get time to load these maps back up, but I enjoyed them while it lasted.

Reach_MP_theCage04Above: From Halo:Reach, The Cage. One of my top three maps to play.

Reach_MP_Pinnacle04Above: Pinnacle, from Reach.

halo-3-20070815070841226Above: Halo 3’s Narrows. Launching across that gap was always fun.

Reflection_mapAbove: Reflection, a map for Halo:Reach, always reminded me of a creepy, abandoned mall. Check out a fly-though of the level here.

H3_MP_Guardian_Env4[1]Above: The legendary Guardian arena from Halo 3.

map_boardwalk2Above: The multilevel Boardwalk map from Reach. Watch a fly-through here. Pete hated this one (he detested having to run after opponents)

swordbaseAbove: Sword Base, with its room of carnage, was always a good map… unless the servers selected it too many times in a row.

multiAsylumAbove: Forge World/Asylum, from Halo:Reach, was a remake of Halo 2’s Sanctuary.

There were many other great maps (Valhalla, The Pit, Epitaph, Complex, Construct, Haven), but the ones above really were quintessential Halo fun for me. Many thanks to Peter for all those hours…

My long-dormant XBOX account says that I played Halo Multiplayer for 30 days, 10 hours, and 20 minutes over the course of about 1,200 days. Now those hours generally go to my girls at home, but I still have that old muscle memory for the hand/eye coordination of Halo… maybe one of these days I’ll break it out again. Or maybe I’ll get out the SNES instead…

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“SSSSLAYER!”

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.

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.
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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.
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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.
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2014-05-03 16.00.58Amanda Bradley, Art Major. Master Copy after Dutch Master, 24 by 18 inches, Colored Pencil.
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2014-05-03 16.00.38Shayna Painter, Business Administration Major. Master Copy after Kupka, 18 by 18 inches, Colored Pencil.
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“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.
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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.

Banality

I’ve had a number of what could be termed crises of faith over the last few years. Given that my life isn’t particularly compartmentalized, arenas slide over and influence one another. This can be for good or ill: A car needing to get fixed shows up on my choice of palette. The sickly child informs my lesson plans. A poorly executed drawing demonstration syncs up with indigestion.

One of the difficulties I have found in teaching the fundamentals of drawing and painting (something I’ve been doing for nearly a decade) is that I have become more and more detached from the epic expansiveness of potential meaning I once saw so easily in everything.

If that seems counter-intuitive, you’re right. On the one hand, I’m opening up this huge world for students and advocating for its meaning-making properties. Sometimes I do a good job at this; sometimes it clicks. On the other hand, however, often I have to break things down so far that they become divested of their mystery. This is probably because I’m not the best teacher – nor the best student – I could be.

But it is also that, amidst the urgency of schedules and diapers and curricula and learning goals and policy committees and trying to eat right and falling off ladders and mowing the lawn and hoping I’m a good dad, the horizon of my universe has shrunk. I can no longer connect to the mysteries. When I look in their direction they seem blank – I seem blank. I look at pictures that used to inspire me and fire me up… I can feel the echoes of what I felt 10 or 20 years ago, yet they seem vague, hollow, incomplete, impotent, and affected attempts. I painfully sense the depths to which I once could swim, but realize I no longer try those fathoms. The shallows, it seems, are the extent of my aesthetic, spiritual, and intellectual submersion these days.

All of the hard-fought attempts I’ve made as an artist and writer seem to, generally, make little or no connection to others. This is not a statement meant to engender pity toward me. I’m not begging for praise. I simply recognize that the average viewer/reader receives perhaps 10% of the passion, reflection, or depth I intended. I am thankful for that 10% of understanding. I’m thankful for every picture I’ve had the honor to show or sell and grateful for every piece of writing I’ve had the privilege to publish into the world. Yet I feel that I can no longer put so much time or energy into these things. It’s not that I don’t want to do it, it’s that I don’t have the depth anymore. Those corridors are closed off. I have shrunk. The extent of my vision has stalled. The infinite chiaroscuro of the universe has fled from me.

I’m not writing this to garner sympathy. I’m just trying to be honest. I think this is part of the life of an artist. Perhaps this too shall pass. I only know that my ability to believe in the value of plumbing the depths is all but gone, and I’m almost not even sad about it. What happens when you no longer feel tethered to what used to be your deepest motivation?

So much of what happened in the best work I’ve made over the last 20 years can be chalked up to faith. I can see passages of paintings and drawings where I had faith, where I had belief in the work. What happened in them was beyond technique and ability, beyond solid ideas or philosophical underpinning. The best ones went far beyond my knowing how to make them. When you lose that faith, how can you ever see or do those things again?

I know I am lucky. I get to teach, get to make paintings and drawings and prints. I get to show my work. But in doing all of that I can see how things atrophy and become stilted. The raging river stagnates. Will I be making tame pictures of flowers in 20 years? I hope not. Yet I feel a domestication growing. When one has a creative itch to scratch but no longer has emotional, spiritual, or intellectual access to the deep things of life the result is often the height of banality.

So artists, pundits, and mass-shooters proliferate. Another day, another war, another hundred thousand more orphans. Google knows what Star Trek-themed trinket I’m most likely to buy (and I actually consider buying it). I remember less and less of the awkward dreams of the 20-year-old me while the 40-year-old me who can no longer run with his kids comes more and more into focus. Perhaps it’s all an episode that would pass with a couple more hours of sleep each night, or with actually cutting red meat out of my diet. Or perhaps it’s just how things are, and I’ll have to figure out how to reach those old depths again after another decade and a second wind.

#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!

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