November 20, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Movies have tried to bring superheroes into the real world, but illustrator Alex Ross can claim to do it better with his dynamic watercolors.
Ross’ work will be shown at the Norman Rockwell Muse um, opening Saturday, Nov. 10, through Feb., 2013.
Best-known for block-buster comics, like “Marvels” and “King dom Come” that took characters like Superman and Spider-Man into realms of hy per-realism, Ross includes Rock well as one of his influences, which is unusual for a comic book artist, but Ross’ work isn’t like typical comic book art.
Centering on the form of superheroes, Ross strives to render the fantasy characters in realistic terms, whether with fully-painted comic book interiors or covers. Ross says that his innovation wasn’t the use of gouache watercolor paints to illustrate comics — that had been done before. The difference he made was the choice of subject matter.
“I just applied it, in frankly the most commercial way possible,” he said. “Many painters had preceded me, who all did more original and experimental works that got away from the main commodity of comic books, which is trading on superheroes. I was whole-heartedly embracing putting these figures in the light and rendering them as fully and as realistically as anything I could imagine being rendered, with the attempt to try and make it all as a believable thing.”
He traces the turning point to his time in art school — he attended the American Academy of Art in Chicago — when he first worked with live models.
“Working with live models was an eye opener for me,” Ross said. “The feeling that I was looking closely at reality and immediately putting it down, that showed a dramatic impact upon what my work could do and how it could grow.”
“Everything I was doing beforehand, I did with the thought toward comics, which is that you draw everything out of your imagination, that you don’t look at reference or people or anything, other than your interpretation of these things. If you study life as most fine artists always have, and then use a direct reference, that would be life that you were directly absorbing and reinterpreting.”
Ross was determined to not practice “a reductive art style” that would rely on “a caricature of life, or simple contour outlines based upon inking of forms” in his comic book work. His realization that he could not only achieve and satisfy his artistic goals for the level of detail and rendering that he demanded, propelled him forward with his vision.
The challenge was to take characters entrenched in a well-accepted unreality and usher them into a new dimension, while still maintaining the qualities that make them desirable and interesting in the first place. Ross would center in on the artistic interpretation most associated with the character and work with that design for his own.
“I have a love for the version of Robin that was around for decades before I was born,” said Ross. “This is a character that wears, arguably, the most unlikely costume of all. I want to win over the audience and convince you, just even for a split-second, that you could believe that character was legitimate and real, wearing that classic outfit.”
“It might take a certain amount of shadow, a certain amount of lighting control, just even the posing of the figure, but I’m going to make that attempt to try and sell you on something that I know doesn’t necessarily hold up as well to modern tastes.”
Women superheroes often have their challenges. It’s no secret that a good number of them were designed for pure titillation, rather than any reality of what a powerful woman fighting crime might look like. As Ross examines how any character should appear, he takes into account the character’s history, psychology and the philosophical concepts of how that character’s power and place in the world should be reflected by outward appearance and costume.
“One of my greater innovations would just be that Wonder Woman seemed to have a little bit more heft, in terms of some muscle tone, that wasn’t clearly just the model body type that maybe she had been drawn as before, but also that I gave her flats,” Ross said. “To me, that was enough of a little additional tweak to her look. You would realize that, of course, Wonder Woman should not have high heels. For one thing this is a tall, tall woman, she is imposing, and there is no need for her to add this unnecessary heel that, frankly, makes running or walking very hard.”
“Her costume seemed to be maybe more a thing of armor, that the eagle that she’s emblazoned with is something made of a strong metal, not that she’s necessarily covered so carefully because she obviously is mostly running around in a bathing suit, but that her imposing shape coming forward makes you not think about that as exposed, but in a way you’re seeing a character of strength and that strength is completely exposed, much like The Hulk runs around half naked.”
Ross must juggle these absurdities with a layer of reality, as well the understanding that these characters do not live in our world. Their home is a fictional one with different social and psychological reactions to the strange and fantastic circumstances reflected in fashion choices.
“If you’re going to have varied characters running around in a single universe, occupying a given city, the absurdities of design or the graphics that they are wearing become blended when you think that there are a whole lot of those people around,” said Ross.
“You yourself might think, ‘Hey, I’m an athletic guy, I think I can go out and fight crime,’ and then you compose an outfit and you start doing it, and don’t necessarily stand out. People could look at you and think, ‘I don’t know what powers that guy has, because I know this guy over here, who dresses like a fool, has a lot of powers,’ so maybe the more brightly-colored outfit indicates the level of power the person has. You have a fashion world that we don’t live in that they do.”
Ross takes equal care when depicting the environments his characters inhabit — in his hands, Spider-Man’s Manhat tan is the same one any of us have been in. Seeing such a recognizable fictional character navigating a space that we now share with him is part of the power of the drama, bringing fiction into our own world and melding the two through Ross’s lens.
“It was important to me that the world that as represented had as much reality to it as possible,” he said, “especially because the mainstream com ics style had been to frankly research as little as possible and to draw things so interpretive of life that you almost had no sense of the real world entering and intersecting with these fantastic people.”
“I realized in creating a more grounded drama, if you see city streets and see automobiles, or whatever it is, especially if it’s a period piece, that truly ground you in that place and that time, that will make everything seem that much more elevated.
Ross’ conceptual prowess extends beyond his artwork, though that does remain the anchor. An equal amount of detail and effort goes into his concepts for plot, situation and character, and creates opportunities for collaboration with strong writers.
“I was envisioning crafting whole dramas when I was young and however they would be written, whether it was by me or somebody else,” Ross said. “The projects that everyone knows me for, the ones that I didn’t write, were ones that I conceived, and then brought to the companies.”
“All those things were a great way to use the resources of another person who’s actually trained as a writer where, of course, I never have been, but over time, you read need enough comics, you start to think that you can do that job too, and maybe to a meager degree I can be passable for one or two projects here or there. But for the most part, I’m still contributing ideas to get projects off the ground and then the net’s cast out to find the right talent to execute that concept.”
In the next month, Ross will return to illustrating the full interior of a comic book for the first time in years with the debut issue of Masks, from Dynamite Entertainment, featuring classic pulp characters like The Shadow, the Green Hornet, Zorro and the Spider. He won’t continue with the series after that, but it’s largely his concept, a work that Ross has teamed with writer Chris Roberson to bring to life. Painting a full comic on regular basis is a huge stress, and the level of commitment required can be debilitating and affect other projects negatively.
The bulk of Ross’ work will continue as it has, specializing in covers and pulling from the same tradition as the pulp novels that Masks pulls its heroes from. It’s all part of the vision he had so long ago, still being realized fresh again and again.
“It’s like anything, if you were fighting to salvage something from your childhood that you believed in so strongly then, that you want others to share in that same belief. You don’t want it to be dismissed, and putting all that effort that I can and using my strength and hopefully helping to make all of that more relatable or sellable, or whatever goals I can achieve with that.”
August 7, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Painter Maggie Mailer pulls on her artistic heritage to expand her interest in narrative. Paint and text unite on the gallery walls to further her end of the world art epic.
Mailer’s new show, “COVET – The Starry Outpost” opens Saturday, August 4, at 6 p.m., at the Ferrin Gallery, 437 North St.
Previously, Mailer has created a body of work with a loose narrative regarding intense destruction — perhaps even the end of the world — and the reaction that gets from the people enduring it. In “The Volcano Sitters,” Mailer crafted her own response to the attack of 9/11 — which she viewed live from the Brooklyn home of her father, Norman Mailer — as a series of paintings pulling from classic landscape painting styles of the 18th Century and depicting scenes of catastrophe and the genteel society dealing with it.
Her follow-up, “The Balloonists,” took the narrative further. The upper crust had taken to hot air balloons, narrowly floating above the destruction, gadabouts on the cusp of potential extinction.
Now, Mailer has partially formalized the story, or at least offered that option to viewers. The paintings in COVET will be accompanied by snatches from an imaginary novel that will give some hard background to the images presented, a narrative that is available to anyone who wants to grab onto it.
“It’s not the only way to read the paintings,” Mailer said. “It’s one way into the paintings.
I hesitated to do this for several years because I never wanted to do something that set up a definite interpretation. But then I decided, why not do it and it can always be optional.”
The story follows the travels of an architect and his secret love. They are part of a crew of aristocratic end-time enthusiasts in the 18th Century who are waiting for deliverance to a distant star called “The Starry Outpost” and the race of Tantric Beings that live there.
The architect suffers from amnesia and builds a palace designed to hold any memories he retrieves. Meanwhile, the secret lover is a painter, recording the events unfolding at the end of the world as part of a field study.
“She develops this method of allowing the paintings to complete themselves by way of her magical brushstrokes,” said Mailer. “For me, the story relates back to painting, the painting process and the idea of finishing something, or even not being able to finish, and wanting it to continue forever.”
“I was alluding to these ideas before and thinking of the paintings back then as machines that generated their own momentum and continued to generate energy and continue to complete themselves after I stopped working on them, and that’s something that I continued in this storyline.”
Mailer says she has been thinking about these ideas for a long time, endings in context of painting, as she says, “the end of the brushstroke and what it means for the next brushstroke.” The narrative she created for this new series is as informed by her thoughts on the nature of time in the process of her artwork as it is by any historical research she did.
Mailer’s plan is to install each text chapter above and possibly below the paintings, in order to create a loop that will require viewers to walk from one end of the display to the other and then back again in order to read the writing. The paintings will not be placed together in a narrative order, but rather a thematic one, pulling on aesthetics and theme. It will be as if time registers differently in the visual aspect of the show than it does in the written, and the truth will be somewhere in between, or even in, both at the same time.
“If you decide to enter it via the narrative, then it takes a bit of work to figure out how everything is related,” Mailer said. “I like to make things as complicated as possible.”
By placing the narrative in a loop, Mailer creates a circular story that constantly hints at an ending without forcing one onto the viewer. An end might be viewed as something imposed on a story, and by reducing time to its purest form and removing sequence as a human understands it, Mailer can be seen as playing with temporal perception in a way that mirrors her own painterly practice.
“I’m talking about traveling through time, and the way that I paint relates to that,” she said, “because I’m always scratching back into previous layers and going under the surface, or sanding things down or going back to something I worked on three years ago. So because of that process and that attitude, the paintings and the narrative shift around.”
And despite the circular nature of the presentation, this all does point to a future for the work. Mailer’s plan is to relate whatever work comes out of her to this current body.
“I can structure the narrative so that it would form a framework for any future work that I do,” Mailer said. “I do have this habit of wanting to work on lots of genres, like landscape and portraiture and abstraction and diagrams, and they don’t always fit together in any obvious way, so the narrative is informed by structure for the paintings to relate to each other.”
The previous series of paintings were focused on things coming to an end, but Mailer believes her focus has changed into a more horizontal approach that allows her to flit between the moments she captures to build the narrative. Part of this was accomplished in the process of paintings first and writing second.
Mailer says that the writing was integral in that it helped her see things in the paintings that weren’t previously jumping out at her. It created a dialogue bet ween her and her own work and another dimension that began to exist somewhere between her visual and literary halves.
“I feel happiest because I’m able to explore and flesh out these two needs that I have, but it makes me a little uncomfortable,” she said. “I’ve been presenting paintings only and I haven’t presented writing in any serious way, so for now, it’s fun. But we’ll see. I might switch into writing.”
Mailer says books are at the center of her inspiration. Her current reading material, Sal mon “Satanic Verses,” has pro vid ed her with structural guidance she didn’t expect when she first picked it up, and her father’s legacy is also a part of that for her.
“He’s always there,” Mailer said. “He was probably one of the main inspirations for me to work every day. I think writing is in the blood. I think it’s something I’ve been trying to avoid for a long time, but it also feels a little bit like coming home. It’s kind of a relief.”
“I still find that when I’m stuck, I turn to books. I don’t go enter the fields and draw trees. If I lose interest in working, I’ll probably pick up a novel, and that’s what keeps me going. The writing is be coming more and more important. That’s where this is headed. I guess the idea of a book is my savior. It’s what I turn to when all else fails, so it make sense, the next destination.”
Though it would be an obvious move, Mailer doubts she will retroactively go back to the previous bodies and add text to them. There’s always the fu ture, though, and Mailer’s particular work method is one that leaves her with possibilities, and she’s surrounded by these as she goes through her daily creative process.
“I have 30 paintings going at any given time,” she said. “Some of them lie around for years in the studio and I wonder if they’ll ever have a life, and then when the time comes, I’ll pick one up and it does turn into a new painting. The layers of time and the layers of paint, and ideas and thinking and experience, that go into each canvas, it’s hard to replicate them. But there’s a lot of them lying around, so there’s a lot of material to work with.”
June 30, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Calgary artists Jennifer Saleik and David John Foy pile it all out there for everyone to see, leaving multi-layered canvases that capture their two minds working as a singularity.
Saleik and Foy are part of “Oh, Canada,” showing at Mass MoCA.
“The big piece in Mass MoCA, when we finally got it complete, we just stared at it forever,” Saleik said. “I was so pleased at how awkward it looked. It was sort of this awkward teenager, not really sure of itself, and then Dave says, ‘Ah, it’s like a self-portrait.’ Oh, yeah, that’s totally how I see it.”
The couple met eight years ago while finishing art school, and though they describe their styles as very different at the time, it was their compulsion to enter into the other’s work that made it impossible for them to go their separate ways. Along the way, the styles have melded as they have created their own language with which to work.
“We definitely have learned from each other for sure; there’s no way we couldn’t. And then I think together we make one competent artist,” Foy said.
As time went on, they began to put more into their work together — literally on the canvas, its all their thoughts and efforts making the painting cluttered and piled and saying many things at once. Their paintings contain such a complex system of strokes that it can takes months to finish one — “And the Voyager Returned” at Mass MoCA took more than a year to complete.
The couple’s paintings are often sprawling works that stand as reflections of and constructs by their “over-saturated minds.” They say their multi-layered creations are the result of their attempt to create a nexus between painting, sculpture and installation, a rich physical representation of mind-maps of their own psychological space.
“Everything starts as a concept, but then, because we’re painters in Alberta, we can’t really deny the fact that we have a very formal background, have formal training,” Saleik said. “I think there’s always that fine line. I think Dave and I need to root ourselves in materials because that’s how we communicate effectively.”
Foy added, “We never have a completed concept at the very beginning. We have a loose idea of what we want to do and just have the paintings evolve through layers, so dissolve the narrative and all that stuff slowly gets added, and we don’t really, necessarily know where it’s going to go in the end. We have a basic idea.”
This makes any given painting a journey with a mystery at the end, and the process wraps in anything and everything that might happen during the course of a day, and builds on these. The couple attempts to split duties so evenly that co-authorship with the appearance of singularity in conception and realization is at the center of their practice — they want it to look like something that was made by one person.
They try to work on pieces at the same time as often as possible, which makes larger works more amenable to their process, but each has veto power on the other’s concepts. One of them might think they have a great idea, but part of the process is convincing the other that it is so.
“More often than not, we just compliment each other’s ideas and build on them and change them slightly,” Foy said.
Both Saleik and Foy agree that one of the strengths of this type of partnership is that it is possible for one unit of the whole — that is, one of them — to function for both of them and keep the idea moving in the absence of another.
“You can leave a little while to go get a drink or something, and then you come back and the painting’s actually changed somewhat significantly, so you get surprises,” said Foy. “And then other times you can get stuck on something and then the other person can just come in with fresh eyes and finish it.”
Saleik describes it as a free fall. If the process is one of discovery, and where the work ends is an unknown at the beginning of the process, then what each individual brings to it is a whole other level of unpredictable. They may work as one, but they each represent different sides of the painterly super-organism’s psyche, and any given work is the result of that confluence.
Though the process allows for freedom, it also has some limitations at the end. It isn’t so easy for either in the couple to just look at something, decide it didn’t quite work out like they’d hoped and manipulate some brush strokes to correct the problem. The brush strokes are buried under layers of resin that bind every artistic decision or flourish to a form of eternity.
“We do a layer of paint and then we pour a layer of resin when we’re happy with that layer,” Foy said, “and then, in order to adhere the next layer of resin after, and the paint, we have to sand it to give it some tooth, and that frosts out everything from behind. So the further and further you get out, the less you can see of what you’ve done before. You’re always working a little blind.”
“Right until the end, you don’t know what the finished product is going to be, but those surprises can be really great,” Saleik said. “That’s the free fall aspect of it. But sometimes you find yourself desperately trying to reign something in right at the end. It’s a very interesting mind puzzle.”
Because of the process they employ, the works represent not only the couple’s prowess at painting, but their ability to create solutions. Any given piece is an example of the two of them positing their own problem and then working to bring it to a conclusion — what’s left is the result of that process, with the steps laid on top of each other for visitors in a gallery to ponder. Sometimes these solutions only come at the last moment. Sometimes they elongate the process far past the original perceived schedule, but they always eventually happen and that is at the center of the couple’s artistic concerns
June 9, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Canadian painter Mario Doucette has been committing history to canvas, but in his investigation of the Acadian Expulsion, he’s part of a movement to reclaim the truth that has been systematically stolen in Acadian heritage.
Doucette’s work, which is on display at Mass MoCA as part of the “Oh, Canada” show, examines and critiques the expulsion, which began in 1755 and continued for nearly a decade. It involved the British government forcing citizens of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island to be relocated to, first, the colonies that would become the United States, and later to France. The move was in reaction to the Acadians’ refusal to pledge allegiance to England, and resulted in nearly 12,000 Acadians sent away and thousands dead.
A poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1847 – “Evangeline,” one of his most famous works – cemented certain myths about the expulsion and has since come under fire for its notable historical inaccuracies. It’s come late in the game in Canada, however, where generations and generations of Canadian children, including those of French and Acadian descent, were taught the victor’s account of history.
Doucette’s paintings attempt to correct those problems by taking on the popular paintings of Sir Frank Dicksee and Benjamin West, whose visualizations of Longfellow’s poem took the white-washing to a higher level, depicting the Acadians as passive to the events.
“If you read history from the personal witnesses of those events, it was anything but calm and romantic,” Doucette said. “It was chaos. They would separate women and children, separate families, there was a lot of violence, a lot of chaos at those times.”
Doucette is also concerned with the reality that it was not just a moment in Canadian and British history, but American as well – some in the colonies took direct action against the Acadians, although the paintings tend to obscure that. Dicksee, in particular, had depicted many scenes from “Evangeline,” all of them divorced entirely from the Acadian point of view and pushing historical inaccuracies.
“Dicksee had painted mostly British uniforms, but in a lot of areas, it was mostly Massachusetts provincial troops, which had blue uniforms,” said Doucette.
“Provincial troops from Massachusetts and the governor from Massachusetts, they were the real instigators of deportation. I would take these paintings and say, ‘well, the Acadian perspective is absent from everything, from all these paintings’ perspectives.’ I would reinvent my own perspective on what would have happened if we base history on fact and not fiction.”
In Doucette’s view, the historical paintings have become pure propaganda, perpetuating the official government view of events and defining history to that benefit. This has unsettled French-Canadian identity in such a way that the pursuit for truth has become a much larger movement that functions as a mass awakening. “There’s also a question about identity,” Doucette said. “French Canada, east of Quebec, is mostly Acadian and it has gone through a lot, so people always question what is myth and what is fact. There’s always this question, it’s always this gray area. It’s also recently that some facts and truth that are coming out are being accepted. I think for me, it’s very interesting in that way I’m trying to figure out what is true, what is not.”
Doucette grew up in Moncton, in New Brunswick, where he was educated in a skewed history of his own people.
“It was like a formalized history for Acadians, where we were very docile like sheep and put on boats and that was it,” he said. “When I read the facts after I went to school, I was amazed that there was actually an army and there was huge guerilla warfare, and there were people who were heroes and all of that was forgotten, but it’s slowly coming back that people did stand up for survival and to defend their homes and their towns, and that was not talked about at all. What was taught in schools was mostly the religious aspect, Protestants and Catholics, and I guess that came from the old teaching of Acadian history, which was mostly taught by pastors.”
This wasn’t what he wanted the focus of his artwork to be, however – he thought the entire subject was far too depressing.
“I wanted to do something fairly modern, because you’re taught at school that you should be modern and have modern subjects and not take folk subjects like Acadian history into account,” said Doucette.
That changed when he was sent on a trip to France in celebration of the 400th anniversary of Samuel de Champlain’s discovery of Acadia, where he was asked to create artwork based on the event. He started researching Champlain more and, in turn, “I got interested into history and got entered in my own history,” he said, “which I thought I knew, but when I started reading about it, I didn’t know much at all. And it’s super interesting how propaganda was set forth at first to distort history.”
Doucette’s paintings did not take on a hyper-realism in uncovering real history – rather, he pursued the absurd and sometimes surreal as he not only presented history, but made commentary as well. His paintings might include the beasts from coats of arms, like lions and unicorns, as well as dragons, in an examination of how cultural myths enter into reality.
Some early work incorporated superheroes like Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and The Flash into historical events. Doucette saw the Justice League of America as representative of American super power, even vigilantism, brought on by his own background as a huge comic book fan – he tried cartooning briefly, but did not pursue it, even though his painting style retains those qualities.
“It was so influential in what I do now. I do have a comic book aesthetic for sure. It’s like a blending of art history with comic books,” Doucette said.
“For that work, I was trying to figure out who was responsible. A lot of these areas, troops were mainly from the U.S., before the U.S. became the U.S., the colonies, and not the British, so you still had the sense of Americans becoming independent because they were making decisions not really asking permission from England but taking it upon themselves to invade another territory, which was the maritime provinces.” In his take on Benjamin West’s portrait of Robert Monckton, which hangs at Mass MoCA, Doucette examined what happens when a powerful figure asks to be represented as a de-facto superhero, and how history is manipulated because of that.
“Monckton, as a figure, is very controversial,” said Doucette. “The city of Moncton is named after him but he’s recognized as someone who participated in the genocide of Acadians and so this portrait by Benjamin West, he wanted his portrait done as a conqueror andWest did that in the original painting of him. You see him with his arm extended like the statue of Apollo, which is someone who is supposed to be noble and someone who had a huge victory.”
Doucette engages in his own distortion of reality as part of the collective known as Collectif Taupe, which instigates performance type interventions or pranks, such as making fake announcements about proposed land use.
“There was an issue here in Moncton about land developers taking over green spaces,” he said, “so we went to a residential area in Moncton, and they have a very old little park called Bromley Park – and we put up this huge sign that this park is going to be converted to a strip mall, and if anybody wanted to rent space to please inquire.
“We had a telephone number and we set up a fake development company. Within one day we had calls from lawyers and very angry people yelling at us and then yelling at the city. Those types of things. We make people angry, make people aware that it is a prank, but this stuff can happen and we’re happy that people reacted, because people just want to accept stuff like that easily, I guess, so it’s nice to know, even if they’re frustrated when we do stuff like that.”
Other times, their work is on a more subtle level “Sometimes we travel and we’ll got to WalMart of whatever town we’re in,” Doucette said. “In their art section, you can buy a Van Gogh for like $5 or a Monet, for 10 bucks. We’ll buy that and go back to our hotel and then put our own artwork in them and then we’ll go back toWalMart and return our paintings and get our five or 10 dollars back and put our artwork on their shelves and sell our artwork for five or 10 bucks. And hotels, too. We change artwork on the hotel walls. That’s very tricky, because a lot of these paintings are secured on the walls, but we found a way to do it anyway.”
Doucette thinks that the “Oh, Canada” show is an unique opportunity for the country south of the border to get a more distinct flavor of what the Canadian art world is like – and that information reveals something that might be very unexpected. Does the lack of national identity qualify as a national identity?
“Canada is a huge country and I think people might be surprised by how regional Canada can be, how the eastern part is so different from Quebec, which is so different from the western part. I think maybe people at Mass MoCA will figure out that Canada is not really, in the art world anyways, is not really a unified community of art, as people are from regions and many people comment on their regions and about French and English and native, it gets very complicated, but is somehow intact despite that.”
“The only time I think we’re really, really one people is in hockey. Nobody goes, ‘Boo, Canada!’ Everyone jumps on board.”
August 27, 2009 § Leave a Comment
With his show at Mass MoCA, artist George Cochrane is taking the populist form of the graphic novel and mashing it up with Greek literature and gallery art in order to offer a new language — it’s the result of years of trying to find a way to express himself.
As a painter, Cochrane had become frustrated with what he wanted to do and what his medium allowed him to actually accomplish.
“I’ve always been aware of what I couldn’t express as much as what I could,” Cochrane said in an interview this week. “I always wanted to tell stories and did my best in the world of painting by creating painting cycles and series of works and bodies of works that attempt to approach the notion of some sort of narrative tissue that would attempt to connect the work. Ultimately, I remained unsatisfied with what I could say in paintings, such that in the back of my mind somehow, I was always hoping that something else would come along, though I had no idea what that would be.”
The answer came not as a working artist, but in his role as a teacher at Fairley Dickinson University in New Jersey — a eureka moment initiated by a student who wanted to draw comics and needed a program of study mapped out for him.
Cochrane fashioned one from his brief working knowledge of the form, and watching the student create his pages ignited inspiration within Cochrane’s own mind.
“It just came to me in a flash — why don’t I do this?” he said. “I can tell a story. I don’t know where it came from, and I have no explanation for the idea, but in a flash, it was to make a graphic novel, base it on a day in my life, base it on ‘The Odyssey.’
“’The Odyssey’ is 24 books — there are 24 hours in a day, each chapter will be an hour, and ‘The Odyssey’ is also ‘Ulysses’ by Joyce, so I’ll look at those two texts as a way to provide the structure to telling my story,” he explained.
There was one problem, though — he hadn’t read any graphic novels between 1987 and when he re-read those same graphic novels in preparation for the student’s curriculum. He had a lot of work to do familiarizing himself with the history of the form — like Odysseus and Steven Daedalus, he had a long journey ahead of him. « Read the rest of this entry »
July 24, 2009 § Leave a Comment
If some art can present a conundrum to its viewers, the paintings of Mark Mulherrin are proof that it’s the process of uncovering meaning that is the engine of the artwork.
Mulherrin’s work is the subject of an all-summer retrospective at the DownStreet Art gallery at 28 Holden St. featuring 30 years worth of art compiled by three different curators. Mulherrin’s creations through the years are divided up into three parts, the second of which, “Plausible Kingdoms,” opens on Friday, July 31. This middle section will gather paintings from his decade in St. Croix and his recent years in North Adams.
Mulherrin’s imagery asks the viewer to penetrate the meaning without begging for some ultimate one — which, he acknowledges, can be frustrating for some people who look at the paintings like puzzles to be solved rather than questions to be pondered without a set deadline.
“When people look at my paintings, they look like they mean something,” Mulherrin said. “They do, but what they don’t understand is, they will ask me ‘what does this mean?’ and I’ll say, ‘Well, I don’t know.’ They’ll say, ‘Yeah, but you made the painting,’ and I’ll say, ‘That doesn’t mean anything — but I do think the painting means something, though your guess is as good as mine.’ Usually at some point in this conversation they think I’m pulling their leg or they think I’m being evasive or just a pain, but I’m really sincere about that, like I have a really definite reason why I do it that way.” « Read the rest of this entry »
June 12, 2009 § Leave a Comment
Chazelle’s work is currently the main attraction in the NoAma Gallery (in the former Delftee building on Route 2), the result of two summer residencies that had him produce numerous oversized works that benefit from the space of the old mill buildings that now house them.
Chazelle’s paintings mix science with philosophy and poetry into a visual alchemy. With a background in performance, he has fashioned a series of paintings that move as much as any human before a crowd — and change with that movement.
Chazelle’s paintings are huge acrylics on acrylic and Plexiglas, large swashes that transform in a viewer’s perception depending on their placement in the room, the viewer’s vantage point and the direction of the light moving through them. His work changes throughout the day, and the perfect way to view it is through several trips over a 24-hour period. The works are little slices of reality, captured to be viewed by human eyes but still beholden to time.
“I want to work on the retina and the conception of reality,” Chazelle in an interview this week. “First I present something that seems to be abstract, and at last when you’re really into it, you discover the combination of the form. I’m talking about a transparency which is in between all of us but is in fact of the exact same matter as what composes us — and we never imagine it.”
« Read the rest of this entry »
August 17, 2008 § Leave a Comment
In her new joint show with her husband, painter Joshua Field, Melissa Lillie investigates the idea that it’s all about your perspective. Lillie’s paintings are colorful blots that she describes as both macro and micro, layers created from slices, worlds flattened. They are the result of her experience — she’s worked in three-dimensions for years — and her source material — aerial drawings of city parks
“All you see are the walkways that go within the park and the tree stands that define certain areas, but you don’t know that they’re trees,” said Lillie. “They’re just flat color, lines that show the walk way and then these blocks of green represent the trees, so it’s a bird’s eye view of what a city planner might look at.”
Lillie says that’s the macro portion — the micro involves taking those lines and layering in color. This translation of vantage points can make her paintings look like microscopic images blown up onto giant canvases.
“I’m so three-dimensionally oriented that the paintings are taking that element out and flattening it so you’re ending up with just color and just shape, which is almost a complete turnaround from the world that I usually work in,” said Lillie. “It’s like an exploration of three-dimension, but on a flat plane, very, very simplified, I’m going the complete opposite direction where there’s no volume in the painting, there’s no shading, there’s no depth, it’s just all about the color and shape.”
Part of being a three-dimensional brain in a two-dimensional world involves translating — taking what would be apparent in three dimensions and qualifying what the space means in a flattened view.
“I think of it as volume and negative space as a volume of green, a big expanse of color,” said Lillie. “That is a volume of color and by taking other colors, you’re filling the volume. I definitely don’t purposefully look at it and try to think ‘What’s behind that color red?’ It’s just all about that one vantage point that I give you on the canvas.”
Lillie sees such things in the real world and they inspire her imagery, as well as further her understandings of the space that she explores.
“I’m drawn to images like old fishing nets,” said Lillie. “They’re all jumbled in a pile and a lot of times they’re nets of all different colors and when you see them in a pile, you want to make sense of them all. It’s a big jumble that I’m trying to make sense of.”
The ideas of chaos and organization play a large part in Lillie’s work — if she’s busy making sense of fishing nets, which are planned structures that fall into disarray in someone’s old sheds, she’s also using the same thought process on multiple items.
“I’m always drawn to pictures of things that seem chaotic, but I can see the organization within that chaos,” said Lillie. “I guess it’s a way of my brain organizing things better, things that seem complicated.”
In this way, her artwork relates to her job as a visual stylist for Pinecone Hill. It’s Lillie’s job to prepare items to be photographed — in other words, Lillie must take a bed and fix it so it represents perfect kind of “bed-ness” representing all beds. The work that goes behind the representation often goes unsung, much as with artwork
“When you shoot a bed, it looks beautiful when you’re finished with it,” said Lillie, “but when you show the picture to somebody, they just see a beautiful bed, they don’t see all the work that goes behind it. You try to take every crease and every fold and try to make it perfect, it’s hard and it takes a long time.”
Also, as with artwork, photo styling involves taking something, simplifying it and presenting it in an understandable way — just another venue for artistic skill. Lillie’s artistic creations are not bound by one medium, but her work in all mediums are joined by the idea of formatting the chaos.
Lillie got her start at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore where she focused on costume design fashioning body-related art and headdresses.
“My inspiration was higher power and elevated importance through what you wear, similar to the pope wearing a big hat, which makes him more important,” said Lillie. “You can change your appearance and people’s reaction to you by how you present yourself and what you put on your body, so I started out doing that, but I was incorporating a lot of different materials.”
The nexus of information categorization and the idea that beautiful plumage that play roles in Lillie’s art may well have found their beginning in her upbringing as a zoo keeper’s daughter. Her father worked at the National Zoo in Washing-ton, D.C., and this brought her in close proximity to the intimate live of animals. Over the years, Lillie’s father worked with elephants, giraffes, hippos, bison, antelope, cheetahs, bats, small monkeys and more.
“I would go to work with him,” said Lillie. “I was the cool kid who, we’d go on field trips to the zoo, and I’d say ‘That’s my dad’ while he was feeding the giraffes or he’s in the elephant cage. It was really cool. My sister and I had close encounters with all the animals; we’d feed the hippos and the giraffes and the kangaroos, we got to ride the elephants.”
Lillie was also exposed to the flotsam and jetsam of zoo life — stray animals that were dropped off at the zoo because it seemed like the logical place.
“The keepers would sometimes volunteer to take animals home,” said Lillie, “so he would come home with a flying squirrel or a peregrine falcon and we’d have these random animals every once in a while. One time, somebody brought a rooster to the zoo and threw it into one of the bird houses. We were always around animals.”
In order to achieve the central point of her work — taming chaos — Lillie requires a certain amount of disarray surrounding her in order to get busy. Her lack of embrace of one medium is perhaps the first point of chaos in a larger concentration.
“I’ve always struggled because my interests lie in so many things and I’ve never been able to concentrate on one thing,” said Lillie. “I get bored easily, being knowledgeable in so many different mediums and so many different things, I think I need the stimulation. I always tell people that in order for me to thrive, I thrive on a small amount of chaos. Not bad chaos, like when you’re dog dies or something like that. Good chaos like when you go on a trip or going to visit somebody out of town.”
Travel is the most consistent chaos for Lillie — a practical opportunity to work her skills that also offers a chance to see things from a different viewpoint, much like her paintings.
“It gives you a different perspective and it brings you back home to where your life is,” said Lillie, “but then you have that chance for a little breather, a little bit of room to get away from your life and then come back.”
December 13, 2007 § Leave a Comment
Art and science are not always considered natural bedfellows, but painter and MCLA art professor Gregory Scheckler has long seen them in embrace. Scheckler has traditionally considered himself a landscape painter in the Hudson River School, but lately the subjects of his work have been part of a wider scale of viewing — the universe itself. Scheckler has a life-long passion for science and it has always crept into his work, but more and more he finds himself turning to dark matter and super novas as subjects of painterly study.
“I like to extend my work in a broader sense of making images that center on our experience and knowledge of nature beyond what we can see,” said Scheckler. “The scientific imaging, use of a microscope or a telescope or science graphics or compute models, allow me to talk about or incorporate those things that aren’t visible but that we know about it.”
Paints, brushes and canvas aside, Scheckler’s tools aren’t different from any science re-searcher and he uses these to create dualities in his paintings that reveal the scope of personal experience in contrast to the larger scientific truths. In “Starry Night,” he juxtaposes imagery from Fish Pond in North Adams with sights captured through his telescope — in “Supernova Mass Ejections,” he does the same with wobbly telescope image and a microscopic view of fungus.
“Long ago, I used to mistakenly think that the sciences were all cold logic, even a little boring,” said Scheckler, “and I thought that art was where it is, where the heat and the passion and the creative culture making is. I just simply couldn’t have been more wrong about that conclusion, because the sciences are messy and passionate and creative and fun and equally as entertaining as anything else.”
As Scheckler views it now, there is not much different between artists and scientists in any meaningful way — both are disciplines that require originality and creativity, passion and discipline, and both are attempting to get the root of larger truths, focusing in on universal meaning through observation.
“A lot of both art and science is gathering raw data,” said Scheckler, “and for me that means use a telescope, use a camera, use a computer, use my eyes, draw a sketch — and combine them all together into the artwork.”
It’s really the end product where the disciplines diverge the most.
“The big difference is that the scientist ends up with a published article or a new theory or a thesis or a book,” said Scheckler, “whereas a lot of artists end up with a painting or a sculpture, so the outcomes are different, but the process and the creativity that goes into it are messy on all sides — and passionate and intense. You get a lot of wacky people making up all sorts of interesting things and finding interesting information.”
Scheckler’s personal embrace of science as a guiding principle in his art can be seen simply in his diptychs, which take a position on different perspectives in order to understand the one thing at the center. The constant examination of the two extreme areas and the efforts to qualify the space between can often get confusing to outsiders in either the arts or the sciences.
“The issue is the difference be-tween what we perceive and what we know,” said Scheckler. “What we know is always changing and evolving as people do new experiments and new data comes in and new experiments, and so you get this weird point of confusion where if you’re not in on the sciences, it’s very hard to track what’s going on. Likewise, if you’re not in on the arts — there’s the esoteric, weird world of high art where, if you’re not in on it, it can seem very strange, too. I think it’s just a result of how intense the creativity of the scientists and the artists really can be.”
The real key is to marry the arts and the sciences more often. As Scheckler points out, it happens all the time in forms like nature documentaries, where scientific principles are photographed and conveyed in artistic ways all for the purpose of communication.
“There’s this sort of cultural stereotype, which is that the math kids all go into math and the art kids all go into art and the two never talk,” said Scheckler. “The question is whether they can communicate in ways that make both better — I think they really do. The disasters are when good art is paired with bad science, or pseudo science, or supernaturalism, or, worse, when bad art communicates good science and does so poorly, because then everybody gets turned off to the science, which is kind of naughty, because it is inspiring and it is interesting and it is real information about the world.”
The current vogue is to play up the rise in religious fundamentalism, but a market irony is that, at the same time, science-oriented films, toys and books have never been more prevalent in stores and entertainment — and never been bigger sellers with kids. This shows that the area uniting the arts and sciences do resonate on a popular level — as does the continuing phenomenon of science celebrities like Michio Kaku and Neil Degrasse Tyson. Much like art and entertainment, science is becoming not just a place dominated by shining stars of the human variety, but of attainable celebrity built around the thirst for knowledge. So why is it still at arm’s length for a number of Americans?
“I think it comes down to people’s perception of the sciences and their thinking about it as cold logic that is hard to understand, difficult to do and you have to go through 10 or 12 years of graduate school to be any good at it,” said Scheckler. “Who’s got the time? It is complex and it is hard to understand, but it also does a lot of very simple things that an artist like me is able to do — such as pick up a digital camera and got get Sky and Telescope magazine, read how to use it, and try it out.”
In this way, science can become a collaborative discipline even more than art and entertainment, especially if you are looking to the skies.
“Astronomy’s one of the few sciences today where a kid in his back yard with a telescope could make a good solid contribution just by sighting something unusual and telling people online that they should go check this,” said Scheckler. “They can look at it and before you know, you’ve got a new asteroid or something else that people haven’t found before.”
Scheckler was certainly that kid — and still is in many ways.
“I was the kid who didn’t want to go to the circus, I wanted to go out to the woods and look at bugs,” said Scheckler. “It can be the same thing with art shows — I don’t want to go to an art show, let’s go bowling or go on a hike, let’s go look through a telescope.”
Scheckler’s mother studied botany and began her working life as a lab assistant — later on, she became a harpist and music teacher. His father was a medical professor, but has now devoted himself to photography.
“There’s always been this back and forth in my family between art and science and where they meet,” said Scheckler, “and what’s great is that all sides are incredibly creative. It’s not like the arts have a monopoly on creativity.”
Scheckler admits to some years of searching and investigating, being interested in religion and the supernatural, including a period of studying contemporary shamanism and mysticism. His inclination, though, was to not just believe — instead, he demanded proof and devoted himself to reading and studying not just the literature that supported such ideas, but also the works of the skeptics.
“The more I got into it, I realized that I wasn’t really wired to believe in I,” said Scheckler. “It and that it was much more fun and much more interesting and aesthetically pleasing to go for a walk in the woods and look at nature and read what other people have said about it. I think I just got lucky that I was bored by all the mysticism eventually and I think that boredom is how I got into skepticism.”
Scheckler also found himself separated from contemporary art theory, which he found too internal and subjective — the art world equivalent of slavish devotion to the paranormal. What Scheckler found in landscape painting and science and rejected in contemporary art and mysticism was the representation of general, attainable truths, not personal ones that no one else can access, that have no bearing or connection to anything other than its own self.
“What I do is very much about going out in the world and having a shared experience that other people could also have,” said Scheckler, “and that gets translated and filtered and edited and refined into the artwork. That’s why my approach is science-oriented, as opposed to fantasy-oriented. I think, in the arts, it does take all types — you do need fantasy-oriented, sometimes out and out delusional kooks, to help the art along and keep it entertaining, I think that’s an important part of the arts, but I fear that when that happens, it also sometimes misleads the audiences and tries to persuade them that something is true when it really is not. You can lose sight of the illusionism that’s going on.”
For his inspiration, Scheckler has turned to scientist communicators like Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins, science writers like Timothy Ferris and science topics ranging from the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland to the Northern Saw Whet Owl project in Hopkins Forest in Wil-liamstown. Particularly exciting to him is NASA’s Gamma ray Large Area Telescope, which will bring new information about the nature and existence of dark matter and the origins of the universe itself.
He also takes heed from the wider lessons. One particular event brought Scheckler to the realization that he had to take this path of skepticism and rationality and make it more a part of the one place he really spoke to and examined the world — his artwork.
“9-11 was a turning point,” said Scheckler. “It became blindingly clear that certain world views are intended to harm other people. That’s when I started to feel that I needed to take the direction of my artwork more seriously and figure out what it would propose to people about the world and why that would be important. Some of that is an ethical stand, as well as a philosophical one.”
Despite the urgency of this realization, Scheckler has never let it overtake the real reason behind his work and allows himself to revel in the scientific beauty he sees all around him.
“I find it really awesome and awe inspiring to look through a telescope,” said Scheckler, “and I just think it’s really incredibly amazing that when you look at the moon, you can realize that people have been there. You can walk out your door, as I did last Sunday night, and take a pretty astonishing photograph of the moon. That’s the kind of thing that inspires me and makes me want to wake up in the morning and go explore the world. I think that’s what has kept me on the science side of it.”
January 12, 2006 § Leave a Comment
New York based painter Kamrooz Aram is applying his unique artistic vision to the walls of Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art for an original work that will be part of his “Realms and Reveries” show.
Aram was born in Shiraz, Iran and moved to the United States when he was 8 years old, settling with extended family in Cincinnati, Ohio. He now lives and works in New York City and his paintings reflect the comfortable soup of multiculturalism that is native to that metropolis. Aram’s work can be deep swirls of color and patterns, with stylized flowers and fireworks adorning the canvas, presenting something of almost oriental beauty infused with a cartoon-like sensibility, something likely to come through in the mural once he has finished it.
“I will use sometimes in the paintings graphic elements that are derived from Persian carpet patterns,” said Aram, “and in this there will be some of those as well, it will just be a little further down the line. I want to set those up so that they will be a tree pattern when you look from outside, if you stand in a certain spot, you’ll see them in the window, but if you stand somewhere else, you won’t. It has a lot to do not only with the experience of viewing it up here but also outside and how that can change.” « Read the rest of this entry »