Thursday, May 2, 2013

Our Schizophrenic Present

The haps:
I recently updated my website with the paintings I have been working on this year.  At the beginning of 2013, I dedicated myself to making one 24"x 20" painting a month to build my portfolio.  At the beginning of May, I have completed five and am close to finishing the sixth.  Next friday, May 10, I'm traveling to New York for a week to visit my friend and fellow artist, AJ Sapala.  When I return I will be starting work for my summer job at Rocky Mountain Day Camp and moving in with my girlfriend.  Moving needs to be done by the end of the month because camp is starting and some friends from Illinois are visiting the weekend that turns May into June.  So May is going to be pretty hectic and probably not very accommodating to painting.  
For my next paintings, I've decided to switch sizes.  I'm getting a little tired of this format and want to work bigger.  The break for travel and moving offers a nice transition period.  My girlfriend's dad, a skilled carpenter, has constructed two 3' x 4' canvas stretchers for me. Those paintings will be my project for the summer, perhaps working on them at the same time.  I also acquired two small oval plaques to work on as well.  So a lot is on the way and I'm very excited about it.  

I have teased in recent posts that I will be offering some process and explanation about  the paintings I've been working on recently.  The painting currently fronting my website is called Our Schizophrenic Present.  Since it was one of the more interesting and exciting paintings for me to complete, I'll start my explanations with it.  
My starting point in creating my idea was the horse.  The horse is a prevalent subject throughout art and painting history, and I wanted to contribute to that dialogue.  I started with referencing my book on Frederic Remington, the American master at rendering horses.  My original vision was to paint several horses emerging radially from the canvas, so I was sketching some of the more interesting poses from Remington's drawings and paintings.  Those are what I shared in my last post.  I also knew that I wanted to feature a rose in this painting, contributing to the spiraling nature of the composition.  The horse and the rose are both sort of romantic American images, and I wanted those preconceptions to contribute to the affect of the painting. 
As I was sketching, I was having trouble fitting several horse bodies in with the rose in a way that made sense visually.  I was starting to reconsider my idea a little bit.  As well as Remington, I was looking up pictures of the horse skeleton in some animal anatomy books.  I was getting a bit frustrated, but was no less determined to find how these elements could piece together.  The spiral of the rose seemed to lend itself better to the fragmentation of bones than the fleshed out horses.  The textures of bone and petal even seemed to have similar qualities.  A moment of clarity found me, and I arrived at my answer:

The alignment of the eye and the center of the rose made some very interesting overlaps in structures of the skull and the rose petals.  Using a reference photo for each, I created a mock-up in photoshop, carefully stretching the rose petals so that they aligned with the features of the skull. 

The color choice was very important for this painting.  I wanted the artwork to feel very warm and enlightening.  Before this painting I had read The Mission of Art by Alex Grey, and was considering what spiritual and personal value was present in my artwork.  The use of yellow in the works of Grey and James Jean always brought me to a contemplative state, the saturation of the color awakening the mind and making me more attuned to the deeper meanings in the imagery.  Yellow and gold has been used all over the world in altarpieces for many religions, recalling the earth's need for the sun, and subconsciously cueing us to the presence of the holy and serene.  
The painting was also influenced and partly inspired by the song Lateralus by Tool.  The lyrics discuss the idea of a spiral, living life in a way that is open to change and expanding consciousness.  Red and yellow are also referred to as colors reaching out and helping to see infinite possibilites.  The musical and lyrical structure of the song are also partly aligned with the Fibonacci sequence, a complexity in the song writing that was really ambitious and amazing to me.  The inconspicuous details  of work by Tool, Grey, Bosch, and Dali have been inspiring me this year to make more complex and challenging artwork.  

On the process:  I used a projector for the first time on this painting.  It was an exciting tool to get to work with.  The projector was especially helpful in this painting because it allowed me to isolate the layers of the photoshop image while I traced, giving me a better view of each element.  To elaborate:  the rose image was on one layer in photoshop and the skull was on a separate layer.  I first projected the layer with the skull and traced it, then projected the layer with the rose and traced it separately.  Overall, it helped make all the intersecting lines of the two images a lot less overwhelming to work from, and helped me see both images clearly so I could proceed to invent their interactions.  It's also really cool to see the image projected on the canvas.  In the future, I'd like to explore the idea of using this process for installation artwork.

The following are phone pictures of the painting in process.  My goal was to work intuitively with the interactions between the images, attempting to avoid making one more powerful or pronounced.  I wanted the final to be an exercise for the brain to view, shifting focus between the two images but having trouble taking it in as a whole.

The name Our Schizophrenic Present came from artist Lanny DeVuono when she was on the Untitled Art Show podcast.  They were discussing the duality of our lives in the physical world and the virtual world, how our personae between the two can become different versions of ourselves.  She used the phrase "our schizophrenic present" to describe the situation most of us find ourselves in with our physical interactions and those in social media.  
I was working on this painting while listening to the podcast and that line seemed to perfectly describe what was going on in front of me, though in a different context.  The skull and the rose portray the struggle of mortality and the duality of the living.  At face value, the painting has a dead thing and a living thing intimately intertwined, much like the cycle of nature.  The horse was a vivid and beautiful creature when it was alive, but is now decaying bone.  At the same time, the flower is also dying.  The incredible beauty of its bloom is fleeting and soon it will wither in the same way.  So it is with our own lives:  even in the times we feel the most alive and beautiful, we are in a sense dying as well.  Memento mori.

Our Schizophrenic Present and other recent works can be seen on my website.

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