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Monticello Road is a community arts project in Charlottesville, Virginia. Through photography and a series of public events, we explore how an art can be an essential, integral and everyday part of a healthy community.


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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Sources and Inspirations


Amherst, VA 2008.


A few years back, I went to the show of one of my art heroes Glen Rubsamen. He paints silhouettes of trees (black) on either a white or vividly-colored background. I love his work for many reasons and the exhibition was amazing. Of course I couldn’t afford any of the big oil paintings but I had to have something so I bought the catalog. It was entitled Those Useless Trees” and it featured a strong black and white painting on its cover. It was shrink-wrapped and I didn’t open it until I got to the subway.

I was in for quite a surprise. There was not a single image of a painting inside. Instead, the book was full of his source photos: unusual-looking trees, mostly—though not exclusively—in his native Los Angeles. I had never seen anything like that before and it was very interesting not only to see his working process, but a bit more objective view of the origins of his inspirations. In that spirit, my upcoming exhibition Scratch will include a section dedicated to the source photos from which the scratch boards and prints derive.

As I edited the images on my computer then arranged them on my work table, I was impressed at how strong they are as works of art. I probably shouldn’t be surprised: I have been playing with a camera since I was a child, and photography represents at least as much time and effort as the entire rest of my oeuvre. Not only do the pictures hold their own in the exhibition, they might well be its strongest leg. In the exhibition, they will be presented mostly as small, poloroid-sized, prints with a few enlargements to show detail.

There will be a companion to the exhibition catalog dedicated to these sources and inspirations. Perhaps I should call it “Those Wonderful Trees!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Scratch


Two of a Kind (scratch board) Oil pastel on inked mat board, 4"x6" 2010.


I have never been the type of artist to hitch my career to any single set of materials or techniques. For me, art is about a way of seeing and I will employ whichever media come to hand or whatever makes the most sense for the project. That approach will be on display in my new show at McGuffey Art Center, in which I explore and re-explore images of my familiar subjects—tree and sky views—through three different media: dry point prints, scratch boards, and photographs.

Untitled dry point. 2" x 2" on 10" x 10.5" Tiepolo paper. Edition of 6. 2009.

Last autumn a friend of mine who is a master printer suggested that I try my hand at dry point, a very simple and direct engraving process wherein the artist scratches lines on a copper plate with a nail or stylus. I began with the expectation that I would feel constrained by the tool’s sharpness and its seeming irreversibility. The opposite happened: I felt completely liberated and in spite of the deferred gratification inherent in the printing process, it felt free and spontaneous. I worked with her to produce the eight small (2”x2”) prints in the exhibition.

There has always been one big limitation to printmaking for me however: the images are black and white (or with a very finite set of colors). I set out to discover a way to combine the dry point’s linear poetry with the kaleidoscopic spectacle that is my visual experience and my scratch boards are the result. I make them by inking a piece of mat board, coloring the background area with luscious Sennelier oil pastels, then scratching through the pastel with a stylus to reveal the dark board underneath. There will be about twenty small scratch boards (approximately 4”x6”) and a few of them reverse the technique by using dark pastel on a bright board.

My creative approach begins with photography—I carry a camera around like a sketchbook to record the ephemeral and visually stunning moments that fill my life. I wanted the exhibit to include at least a glimpse of that part of the process by showing some of my sources. Something larger started to emerge as I arranged the dozens of small Polaroid-like pictures—a few which have been enlarged to reveal details and hidden surprises. The images carry a strong sense of my particular vision of the world and they each stand on their own merits as creative expressions as well as being part of a cohesive whole. They comprise the third and perhaps strongest leg of the show.


Scottsville, VA 2006.


Though the three sets of pictures employ three distinct techniques, all originate from a single library of images. Indeed, some sources appear in two or all three of the groups. A few of them are tributes to artists whose work I admire. The collected works, all created in the past few months, reveal a vision that is specifically my own. They profit from multiple looks and the strengths of multiple approaches, unencumbered by the parameters of any specific technique.

Scratch is on display from June 1 to June 27, with an opening reception Friday, June 4 5:30 to 7:30. McGuffey Art Center is located at 201 Second Street NW Charlottesville, VA. Hours: Monday through Saturday 10 am – 6 pm, Sunday 1-5.