On July 2nd, I had a studio visit with Peter Frank, senior curator of the Riverside Art Museum and frequent contributor to The Huffington Post and other journals. The visit was made possible by April Game, director of Art Pulse, of whose Mentor Program I am a member. Peter will be curating a show at Pulse Gallery here in San Diego featuring the work of the participants of the last Mentor Program, a group of diverse and talented artists whose insight and friendship I have come to highly value.
This was an amazing visit. Peter has a way of articulating the essence of both the process and visual vocabulary of artwork that hits the nail on the head. The result of the visit was a renewed sense of confidence in both my work and process as well as new goals and challenges I could give myself.
What follows are some highlights.
It began with a discussion of my fondness for the work of Arshile Gorky, the Armenian American painter who was perhaps the major forerunner of the Abstract Expressionist movement. Peter mentioned that when he first saw Gorky’s work, “it really bothered me because they looked technically unfinished but they worked pictorially, In other words, they looked unfinished but you couldn’t figure out how he could possibly finish them”. He went on to say, “Gorky is always in flux. In fact, what I am looking for and to a certain extent finding in your work is doing that your way, not his way. You are looking at the same world he did but from a different vantage point”. On the subject of sources for imagery, I mentioned that Gorky’s were always grounded in nature, to which Peter noted that “He (Gorky) was always working from a still life, an interior, or when he moved to Connecticut and did plein air abstraction. I do recognize that these (my paintings) are not referential and I prefer them that way”.
Turning to the topic of process, I told him that my images and compositions are arrived at through the means of automatism (pulling shapes and forms from random scribbles). Peter noted that it is a time-honored approach, then asked me if I consider my sketches fully fledged artworks, which I do. He then mentioned that “You are a good colorist, but an even better tonalist”.
In surveying all my pieces at once, he noted, “What I notice in this group is a range of effect with a consistency of approach, which is what you look for in a painter. That you are not turning out the same painting each time, and that you are making something that is you each time. This is an impressive bunch“.
In comparing my current body of work with the otherworldly creatures I was painting a couple of years ago, he said, “It’s a different context of expression… and there is a continuity from there to here. You are speaking a different language with the same accent. The consistency here is remarkably sophisticated, that’s the best way to say it. In painting, what frames the artwork conceptually is where you want the sophistication“.
As for the purpose of my artwork, he noted, “You are conscious of satisfying your urges without indulging them. In other words you are doing what you need to do without loosing sight of the fact that you’re not doing this for yourself, that you have to create an object that has a graphic appeal. But that acknowledgement is not an impetus. In the best sense, this is very professional work”. He went on to say that “So many artists make the mistake of thinking they are doing work as therapy for them. The only people that an artist should be doing therapy for is everybody else. Your audience needs the therapy”.
On the level of abstraction, he said that “These (my paintings) are not pictures. They are experiences. And they are not entirely optical experiences either. You show an understanding of themeaning and tradition of abstraction. That its not a reduction or a manipulation of what is seen, but a manifestation of what is sensed otherwise. I can hear these. Or taste them“.
Noting my technique, he stated that, “A couple of things that bother me are the brushwork in the ground… it would bother me except that you handle it in a convincing way. In fact, that’s what ultimately optically is so gratifying about this brushwork, for all the brushiness that it maintains, it gives the ground a sense of space and allows you to model the figure and push it forward, making the components more complex”. He then suggested that, “For your signature, do it big, on the back. The images need their own space”.
Among his other suggestions, he thought I should do a series of drawings, perhaps in gouache and/or colored pencil. “…when you are exploring drawing media – reverse the process. Evolve some of the drawings out of what you are doing on canvas.” He also mentioned doing variations on a theme, noting that, in my paintings, “the manipulation of space and form in each of them relates in a certain progressive way to the others”.
After touching a bit mere on technique and process, he concluded the visit with these parting words of wisdom. “You can’t tell people what to see, you can only tell people what you see, and if they are smart, they will accept what you see and build on it”.
The show will open on Friday September 7th, 2012 at 6pm. 2825 Dewey Road Suite 103, San Diego, CA 92106.