14 March 2012

Friends and Quotes.

I met a few very good artists at a show in the Municipal  Art Gallery of Los Angeles. The show was "Saving Paradise. The Symbiosis Between Landscape Painting and Environmental Awareness." A mouthful. Organized by the California Art Club and curated by Jean Stern  of the Irvine Museum of Art.

I met again with one artist I admire. Junn Roca. Almost invariably I tell him how much  I admire not only his beautiful work but the fact that he transitioned form a job in animation (painting backgrounds fro Nickelodeon) to a career in fine art. With two kids in tow and a mortgage, Junn, who is also a Filipino immigrant, decided to pursue his dreams of being a full time artist. It wasn't easy. He almost faced foreclosure, not to mention the pressure o two college-bound kids. His wife Frannie wins the award for supportive spouse in my book.

Junn Roca in front of his "Tejon Ranch" piece.
Friends invariably tell me that at least I have good benefits through my job . It is true. I like my job also.
I don't think I have the nerve to do what Junn did. Even with no kids or a mortgage. (Because I have no kids or a mortgage?) . I told Junn I really wouldn't want my tombstone to read "He had good benefits" however. Then again the jury is out on whether I'll get to that tombstone earlier rather than later without the medical insurance. I might not afford the darn thing anyway.

I think artists have an arsenal of quotes they draw from when it comes to facing one's fears and doubts. Invariably , many of them  highlight the paradox of leading a safe life instead of  connecting with the groove of your heart.  I like the funny ones. "Many are ready to suffer for  their art but only a few are ready to learn how to draw."

For good conversation, plenty of fun, quotes and rebellion, my friend Molly Lipsher   is another staple. I always tell her that doing art "keeps her off the streets". She is feisty and incredibly talented with her pastels. I am so happy I get to see her from time to time. Here she is in front of a beautiful piece by David Gallup with the lovely and talented  Debra Holladay .

Molly Lipsher (in orange) and Debra Holladay with the luxuriant hair.

And here a picture of the boisterous Alexey Steele just for fun. 

Alexey Steele.  Startist extraordinaire.
  Talking about quotes, I recently read  The Art Spirit " by the wonderful Robert Henri. That book is nothing but printed encouragement and good advice. "Don't worry about your originality. You couldn't get rid of it even if you wanted to. It will stick to you and show up for better or worse in spite of all you or anyone else can do." Amen.

13 March 2012

Quang Ho Demo (2)

Romanesque Room, Pasadena's Castle Green

Besides the interesting lecture, Mr Quang Ho also demonstrated his skill with the brush.
Sarah Streeter was the beautiful model on hand, illuminated by warm spot lights. I took a few notes of his work approach but I think, in this case, it is clear that  it is a philosophical shift that has to occur before trying to adopt his particular habits or style. 

My notebook. Quang Ho's demo
The palette he uses is pretty standard.  
A set of colors: 

-Cadmium red
-Cadmium Yellow
-Cadmium Yellow light
-Alizarin Crimson
-Ultramarine Blue
-Cobalt Blue 
-Sap green.

The browns get their own room: 
-Yellow Ochre
-Transparent Red Oxide
-Terra Rosa
-Burnt Umber

Brushes are the ones everyone and their mother uses :  Rosemary brushes and  also Signet brand long filbert for that "Far East" feel, they have a life of their own. I think those brushes certainly add a calligraphic quality to the strokes. 

The setup. 
I couldn't see the support. It looked like a standard primed board. Not too slick but smooth.

Quang Ho rarely uses any medium and, when he does, it is usually Liquin. He likes fluid painting so he avoids sticky thick mediums.

Quang Ho's palette.
He explained every painting starts with a concept. In this case, it was the flash of luminosity and the contrast between the edges (of the face) and the receding shapes where the edges got lost like in the hair and background. The main "idea" of the painting has to be clear before you even start. Is it about color, an interesting design, movement, etc....

He started by creating a warm greenish brown base, very loose and abstract, flying around the basic shapes of the model.  It was mostly monochrome. When he was satisfied with the placement of the stain, he started by adding the base color, the "main" color as revealed by the light, right on the face, forehead area. He didn't get into the shadows until much later. This "starting with the lights" he says is unusual on him but he apologetically said he did it "because he wanted to."

"No ears, no nose or eyes, just shapes, only then you can see how important the eyelid casting  a shadow on the pupil and the shawl providing most of the light within the cheek  and neck are...."

Very washed out picture. If someone has a better one, please send it. 

"If you make a choice of color, it's always the right choice." He said. "It's when you don't choose that things go awry". His brush work was determined, singular, no flashy scrubbing despite appearances, no  dabs, no massaging. One brush stroke at a time.

"Where the light meets the shadow, that is where most interesting effects occur." The area of transition between light and shadow is where the local color really makes an appearance. The attention to the face underscores the focal point of the painting. But he mentioned that everyone disagrees about where the focal interest of a painting lies and one shouldn't be too obsessed with trying to create one focal point. The viewer always brings a bias.

There were no details for a long while, just chiseling of shapes with the flat brush. A keen observation of big shapes and gradations of color across the shape of the face.

The  tremendous speed at which the portrait gained form was in step with the precise handling of large swatches of color . Every brush stroke contained the elements of shape, color and value. The "fun" as he called it started when he finally started leaving the face and building the clothing and hands, where the abstraction was more welcome.

About 25 minutes into it

12 March 2012

Quang Ho Demonstration

I decided to reward myself attending a demonstration by artist Quang Ho. I really didn't know much about him but I had a bit of a desire to get inspired. So I browsed some of his paintings online. Definitely a Richard Schmid pupil, I thought. Why not.

I've never been disappointed attending a demo no matter what actually happens in one. And this one was special in a different way as well. Quang Ho demonstrated his painting at the very end for about 45 minutes. But the first two hours were devoted to a very inspired philosophical lecture on art. Now, normally, had I been warned, I would have run away but seeing how I didn't know what was coming I was sitting in my chair at the Romanesque Room in Castle Green (Pasadena) when me and about a hundred other lucky people got to listen to one of the best and most profound speeches on art making I've ever heard.

Since I want to keep a record of it for myself and also share a bit of it, i am going to try and synthesize my hasty notes in here. Keep in mind, it's my version of what I heard.

Quang Ho was born in Vietnam, his father was taken from the family at an early age and he, eight siblings and his mother emigrated to the US, Denver area, sponsored by a church. His mother was a single mom. His mom died. His father turned out to be alive decades later. Quang Ho recently visited him in Vietnam and  did a series of beautiful paintings in that country. No portraits of the father. His superstitious wife says that if he paints him, he'll die soon.

In his lecture, Quang Ho started by displaying some slides of galaxies and microscopic pictures of sand. He wanted to point out that in nature, there is no repetition and yet, everything forms part of a whole. He thinks art is similar in the sense that it must be a whole and yet non repetitive. He calls this characteristic of nature "the divine specific". I love that. In nature, everything is a part of something else but is in itself complete. Later on the lecture, he would display a lot of cropped details of his paintings to demonstrate how any segment could have worked as an individual abstract piece regardless of the position of the segment on the painting.

At Quang Ho's demo

Then he told us about his definition of art: "The byproduct of our search for what is true". Wow. Hold your horses.  But if you think about it, it is pretty dead on. Then he added he also loved Joseph Campbell's definition:  "A real artist is the one who has learned to recognize and to render... the 'radiance' of all things as an epiphany or showing forth of the truth."
In other words, art is the ability to perform (technique) combined with inspiration(intention).

So the "rendering" and "performing" mean you need to know your brushes, you need to know how to draw and draw a lot, you need technical ability. The "inspiration" and "recognition" come from the intention of the artist, the exploring of the visual truth in its shapes.

OK, so far, pretty heady stuff. But he soon got to specifics. You've heard it before, it's line, color, value, edges ,textures.... Not so fast. Those are the ingredients and they need to be combined so as to enhance each other, yes. But the combination of those elements  need the artist's decision making process, the intention, so as to achieve  a maximum randomness, an avoidance of repetition. All the edges can't be just sharp or soft, degrees abound, "If you pick the painting from one corner, you shouldn't be able to just lift a piece, everything must come up with it, everything will be connected". 

Rules conflict with our search for the truth. Rules are helpful if they help us think but then you still need to squint and seek the visuall truth. What kills a painting is a lack of decision. Have you ever noticed that the more you look at an area of color, the more this area becomes larger and larger and with more color and more nuance that you can possibly paint?  Why do we struggle trying to capture all the tones and gradations on the sky? All we need is a "gentle awareness", not being bogged down by rules like "The back will always be cooler" or ""warm colors come to the front" ....  PICK a color already . The color you see. Stick with it or change it but do not fumble. If nothing else, this piece of advice should be engraved on my easel.

What we are talking about  here is learning how to see an apple as if we had never seen an apple before.  I think abandoning preconceived notions is partially what  this search for the truth implies. No labels or concepts. Just a "gentle awareness" of  what's in light, what's in shadow, what is the source of a reflected light or a cast shadow, where are the gradations of tone...What other purpose does squinting have but to remove the noise of "things" just so that we can see the whole.  A painter makes decisions. 

He told us there are really about eight different approaches or intentions. The first four have to do with the natural world.  Think of "approach" as what the painting explores.

There is the "light and shadow" approach. Things as revealed and affected by oblique  light and shadow.

There is the local tone approach. These are paintings that actually play with a few notes of local color, no light and shadow or very little. Like during an overcast day. (Fechin, Van Gogh, Degas, Diebenkorn). When we talk about "high key", "low key" paintings, they usually fall in this category. Van Gogh was a mediocre "light and shadow" painter till he discovered his local color approach.

Frost Hill.
Also, the silhouette approach. Backlit scenes. Dan McCaw comes to mind.

Yellow Dancer 20x20
And the form or frontal light approach. Think Georgia O'Keeffe. Little modeling. Shape predominance.

Four other visual approaches are as follows:

Lines. Lines have a tremendous expressive potential. Think Toulouse Lautrec. Some people refuse to believe in lines as an expressive medium (David Leffel, for example). To each it's own.

Pattern. Specially a dark/light pattern. This is at the heart of many paintings as what we would call a grayscale  approach. A painting that is just done in black and white r brown and white or any other two tone combination.

Color. Some paintings are driven by an exploration of a pleasing color combination or harmony. The dahlias below are just a study in white and green plus an oblique light. The lady in red is clearly a masterpiece driven by the seduction of the red fabric.

One final approach Quang Ho has explored a lot is the "equalization" in which the whole painting seems to achieve a maximum randomness pattern , almost an abstraction, a total interconnectedness of the pieces. Even inside the painting SHAPES are the gel that combines this controlled randomness into a coherent total. 

Painting is about paint. It is the paint itself that creates it's own ecosystem. Nothing else. There are atmospheric painters like Quang Ho and more graphic painters like , say, Maynard Dixon. An atmospheric painter seeks to provide motion, interlacing of all the notes at his disposition, gradations of color and  values, texture and flow. 

In my next installment of Quang Ho's demo, I'll get more into his actual painting technique.