I’ve spent this summer working on a show called “How To Be Friends” for which I’m joining my wonderful friend, Maggie Stern, a very imaginative artist whose work is carried by The American Museum of Folk Art, The Barnes Foundation and many other museums and shops. The show is at The Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown, MA just outside Boston and will be up from September 3rd to November 3rd. The opening is September 10th from 3-5 pm.
The inspiration for the show came for me when I looked at what Maggie had been making for some months. They were playful scenes of people, animals, fish and birds made of painted wood, and also some stitched drawings of the same. She said her work is really about connection. It seemed only logical then to work on the idea of friendship which is not always entirely straightforward.
At first, we’d been given a small space in the Center to show our work so it didn’t seem like a big deal for me to complete my part of it for which I already had a clear idea. I began working in a relaxed way in mid-June amid happy thoughts of a laid-back summer stretching ahead. Then, mid-July, Aneleise Ruggles, curator of exhibitions at the Center, invited us to take over the whole spacious ground floor of the building. And we said yes, and without a moment’s hesitation. Always good, I think, to say yes to yes. Of course, there was a moment or two of panic—the work I’d originally planned wouldn’t fill this larger space at all. What would I make next? Could it be done on time? I got the inspiration to make posters, something I’ve already done, and started drawing and exploring ideas. I love posters because I can approach ideas in them and the making too with some ease. An added bonus is that they’re affordable, a good thing too. Luckily, Maggie also remembered a set of four paintings I’d done a few years ago—”The Mahatma Gandhi Hat Company”—which is very much on our theme. I’m very grateful to The Arsenal Center for giving us the opportunity to both create and share work some of which wouldn’t exist without this support.
Here’s a look at my part of the show waiting patiently on the stairs to be hung. Tomorrow I’ll see how it all looks in the space when hung and displayed beside Maggie’s wonderful work.
Hello! Early June, I finished up my second online sketchbook class, Making Art a Practice/ In and Out of the Sketchbook, via Carla Sonheim Presents. I’m still amazed at how much we can accomplish together online. We had a fantastic group of artists who participated on the Facebook page and everyone really stretched out. The basic idea was to learn to experiment so we can find what lights us up. Thanks to everyone who joined!
I’ll be working all summer on the art for my upcoming show with Maggie Stern at The Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown just outside Boston where I’m so lucky to teach and have my studio. Maggie is a great friend of mine and we’re calling our show “How To Be Friends“. Because friends are what we all need to be on this planet. The hatred has to end. I’ll be showing drawings, paintings and small sculptural pieces.
Finally, I’m just back from a very brief swing through London on route to a visit with my publisher Thierry Bogliolo in France. (Nice to have a foreign publisher!) One of the things that Roberta Miller, our wonderful new director at The Arsenal Center, is initiating is explorations into creative place-making. Here’s the wiki definition:
“Creative Placemaking is an evolving field of practice that intentionally leverages the power of the arts, culture and creativity to serve a community’s interest while driving a broader agenda for change, growth and transformation in a way that also builds character and quality of place.”
I’m excited to be on this committee to enliven and transform areas of Watertown which is a small and fantastically diverse town with immigrants from all over the world. Until recently, it was a tad neglected but things are changing rapidly and we can be part of making really imaginative changes. I had my phone out in London trying to catch some inspiration. I love the ragtag casual and transitory nature of most of what I found. It has the feeling of life being lived. (And, yes, old London is disappearing fast. Everything is transitory, even cities. Despite the loss of older buildings the city feels really vibrant. We counted 42 cranes and buildings are going up everywhere as you can see in the last shot taken on The Wobbly Bridge in front of Tate Modern. We missed seeing the new addition to the museum, alas, which just opened.)
More soon on all fronts. Thanks for stopping by!
I’m just home from a fantastic week in Seattle filming a new online class for Carla Sonheim Presents. The class is called MAKING ART A PRACTICE / In and Out of the Sketchbook.
Here’s the blurb—
“In MAKING ART A PRACTICE: In and Out of the Sketchbook, we’ll spend two days drawing in the sketchbook with a focus on color, line and shape then jump out of the sketchbook to do a bigger project. We’ll draw and paint the world around us— food, clothes and the objects in our homes, plants and landscape, and people. And we’ll do so in different ways—painting using only lines, making cut-paper images using only shapes, then bringing line and shape together in different ways.
Our goal is to draw and paint in experimental ways and to get ideas for our own work. We’ll mostly work on a larger scale outside of the sketchbook and try things out. We’ll approach everything we do with a spirit of adventure and discovery!
This is a new and different class to the first “Making Art a Practice.” If you missed that one, no worries—this class is for everyone. And anyone who would like to is invited to post work on the private Facebook page for this class. At the beginning of each week, I’ll introduce the class in the online forum and offer some examples from well known artists that might inspire us as we do the exercises. We’ll all share comments and I’ll offer feedback and a few additional ideas every weekday morning.”
Steve Sonheim has done an amazing job of directing the filming of the class. Drawing live on camera and talking at the same time is both fun and challenging. Steve always keeps us on track and heading towards the bigger picture. I’m so grateful to be working with Carla and Steve and really looking forward to this class. All are welcome.
Class starts APRIL 19th, 2016 and goes for six weeks.
The code to enter the Facebook page and full instructions will be given upon registration.
My work continues on some new “records” for my Sun Records project, painted wood “vinyl” records that include words. I like to think we can put on the music that lights us up any time we want. We get to choose the messages we want to listen to. That’s the idea behind these. The execution is, for me, so much slower than the idea. It takes experimentation and usually involves a bit of failure too.
Right now, I’m doing a series of 45 rpm’s, smaller in scale, of course, than the original 33’s. For the label, I’m doing portraits of the artists and the smaller scale makes some things tricky. Too much color and detail detracts from the main point—the words. So I’ve been working to mute them a bit. But, day by day, I am getting closer.
In September 2017, I’m having a show at The Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown, MA with artist Maggie Stern. I’m continuing with the Sun Record series I began last year—33 rpm “vinyl” records with various (imagined) artists and the words to their hits song written on the vinyl, “spinning” around, endlessly. I like the idea that we can put good stuff out there and it keeps spinning. Now, more. I’ve cut some 45’s out of wood, and some record jackets too. These are both new ideas and I can’t wait to start painting them and exploring. Today primed and sanded all the wood. Will get started on Monday. Stay tuned!
The corner of my studio wall is now filled with small Tantra homage paintings. It’s fun to do them—like having a conversation with another time and space. Of course, I don’t have the deep Hindu references of the artists who did the original abstract Tantra paintings. But I try to keep my focus on the Yin/Yang qualities I see in the original works—expansion and contraction, dark and light, old and new, balance and imbalance etc. The original artists created true harmony and sense of mystery. Their work takes us to a good place.
For me other references keep creeping in—Sonia Delaunay sometimes or Ellsworth Kelly, old friends. I don’t plan, just sit down and begin. It’s a beautiful morning meditation. I like seeing what happens. Some days I paint over one of them that doesn’t feel right or whole the next day. I keep showing up and small paintings are made.
I’m making more very small (4″ x 6″) Tantra Homage paintings. Tantra is an ancient Hindu tradition of beliefs and practices that seeks to channel the divine energy of the cosmos into our human life here. A couple of years ago I found a beautiful book about it, Tantra Song. Inside were curiously modern-looking abstract paintings of great simplicity all made in the 17th century. The artists were anonymous but came from a tradition in which painting was a kind of meditation in which the artist might connect with something sublime and make it manifest.
And so I took to trying. First I altered what I saw, then I took to just showing up each morning and beginning. I don’t plan but work slowly and in silence, like a meditation. In the original Tantra paintings there’s always a focal point, some sense of time in the weathered paper, of accident and purpose, of the artist’s hand. There’s Yin and Yang—expansion and contraction, dark and light, chance and purpose.
I’m quite sure I don’t achieve the exquisite focus of the Tantra artists but am having fun anyway. I never know what will show up to meet me when I sit down to make these paintings so I just keep at it until I feel happy something has. Then I go on to other quite different work.
All good things must come to an end, as they say, and so does my online sketchbook class, Making Art a Practice, via Carla Sonheim Presents. At least temporarily! It was my first time teaching online and it turned out to be so inspiring! We had people from all over the world from the US and Canada, to the UK and Europe, to Brazil and Australia. It was so interesting to see the drawings and paintings everyone made. There are some amazing artists in this world and it was great to see doors opening to new dimensions of art and life as the weeks went on.
And now to plan the next installment! Coming March 2016.
This summer, for a month, I made a small painting almost every morning when I arrived at the studio, an homage to the Tantric art I’d seen in a beautiful book called Tantra Song. Tantra is an ancient Hindu tradition of beliefs and practices that seeks to channel the divine energy of the cosmos into the human microcosm. The book showcases a series of curiously modern looking paintings made of great simplicity that nevertheless hold our attention and create a sense of wonder. They were mostly made in the 17th century though Tantra itself dates to the 5th. The artists who made the paintings in the book were anonymous but came from a tradition in which painting was a kind of meditation in which the artist might connect with something sublime and make it manifest. We artists are always trying to do that, of course.
Seeing these beautiful, simple images inspired me to begin my own experiment: to sit down in my studio in the morning and make one simple painting every day on a small board. I didn’t plan, just sat down and started. And every day something different arrived, often a surprise. I felt happy when I did them. Not Tantra but a small homage.
(Second row, left. Poster by Matt Jatkola.)
Very happy to announce that my new book, The Drawing Club of Improbable Dreams, is now available in the UK and in the US. In the book, I tell the story of the drawing club I’ve been running in Boston for almost ten years. Each week we make experiments in drawing and so often discover more and more who we are as artists. And what we learn in making art we can bring into the whole of our lives. The book tells how to run a club and offers exercises for the first year as well as ways to invent new ones.
Here’s a beautiful quote from Kurt Vonnegut that says it all:
“Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or how badly, not to get money or fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.”
If you’re in the UK, you can buy the book here. And in the US, here.