Friday night was my Red Sofa Artist Talk at Kunstort ELEVEN ArtSpace! #kunstortELEVENartspace
The Red Sofa Artist Talk is an open forum for Resident Artists. You can talk about anything you want – ideas, projects, passions…..you can even perform if you wish! When you have that kind of freedom it can be tough to decide on a compelling subject matter! I thought about spending 20 minutes talking about why I love bacon so much, but instead I opted for a more art-related theme: Me!
I had traveled a long way to get to this particular Red Sofa in Starzach, Germany. It was over many miles and many years. My career and my creative interests had many twists and turns; over mountains, and through valleys, where there were challenges, and obstacles, risks, and rewards. I blazed trails when there was no path at my feet, guided always by a distant light on a distant horizon which beckoned me to keep moving forward. I thought that all of this creative exploration might be a good topic for my Talk, because the fruits of my journey may be beneficial to other Artists – especially those who are just starting their career.
So I introduced myself, and told everyone that I was from the United States – a little town just north of Providence, Rhode Island. I explained that that’s in the northeast part of the country, and where I live I’m an hour from Boston, three hours from New York City, and six hours from Montreal, Canada.
I used this map to show where home was, and how far I’d have to travel to get to Starzach, Germany!
Then I continued with my Talk:
I have been enjoying my time in Germany! I LOVE Germany! One of the things that I miss most about home, though, is…..The Ocean! Back home I’m close to the Atlantic Ocean, and I spend a lot of time there. I love it! This is a place called Beavertail State Park in Jamestown, Rhode Island. When I’m not swimming or laying on the beach, I’m here. I like to close my eyes and listen to the waves.
Somebody said that you have an Ocean on this side of the world too, but I haven’t seen it, so…..I just don’t believe it….
When I first started my art career back in the 1850’s, I was motivated by two very strong urges: I had a burning desire to create, and a burning desire to avoid conventional employment. So I started working in charcoal and pastel on acid free paper. I could work in my studio, the materials were inexpensive, and so I did a lot of portraits, and I sold A LOT of portraits!
This one is titled “Mother and Child”:
Black and White Charcoal and Pastel pieces soon gave way to colorful Pastel paintings. They were quick, and expressive, and I liked using my fingertips to blend the colors.
Pastel portraits of children were always very popular:
And then I talked about painting Murals!
Painting Murals has been the biggest part of my business. The weird thing is….I never set out to be a Muralist – never even considered it as a possibility. Then in the early 90’s, someone asked me and my friend Charles Clear if we would paint a large mural on the exterior of a French restaurant in Quincy, Massachusetts, which isn’t far from Boston. We didn’t know anything about painting murals, so naturally we said……yesss! Now this was so long ago that I don’t even have a picture of that mural. I don’t think cameras had even been invented yet. All I can tell you is that we were paid several thousand dollars to paint that mural, and we thought that that was an insane amount of money! We thought we were rich! It wasn’t, and we weren’t, but at the time that’s what we thought. So we’re going to “work” – which didn’t feel like work – and all day, everyday, people are coming up to us and complimenting us and our Mural, and telling us how great we are. While we had never thought about mural painting before, we were thinking about it then! So we started painting murals, and we decided to call our company The Art Of Life.
This is a historical mural that we painted in Bellows Falls, Vermont back in 2001. It shows their Town Square at the turn of the previous century:
This is me working on a highly detailed Fenway Park mural inside a home in Rhode Island:
This is a scenic mural in the cafeteria of Rhode Island Hospital. In this picture I just started painting a woman jogging over the bridge. The manager of the cafeteria was quite the ladies-man, so we thought it would be funny to secretly paint him into the mural, looking at the pretty woman jogging. His face is hidden in the rock at the lower right. Can you see it?
And this is the completed mural:
I don’t know if it’s the same for other Artists, but a lot of times the thing that’s really driving your work isn’t the money, it’s the Challenge: Can I do it? Can I take this design and paint it giant size on the side of a building? Can I paint it fast enough to meet the terms of the contract? What if I can’t do it – what if I fail and make a fool of myself in front of everybody? And that’s the thing – that Challenge, that Risk…..that’s what makes it exciting to create art on commission in the public eye!
The problem is…..If you do what you do long enough, you’ll get so good at it that there’s virtually no risk of failure. But when there’s no risk, there’s also no reward – or at least it won’t taste any where near as sweet as it once did. And then what are you left with? A job. It might be a creative job, but it’s still just a job. And I think we all know how Artists feel about jobs….
So when Mural Painting started to feel like a job, I started making…..MOSAICS! Mosaics are always a challenge! After all, who would be crazy enough to cut a zillion pieces of tile by hand, one at a time, then glue them, one at a time, and then grout and clean everything? Um……me!
Mosaics were exciting! I jumped in with both feet and started mosaicing EVERYTHING. I did countertops, back splashes, mailboxes, tables, lamps….everything!
The biggest, best mosaic commission so far was a 12′ x 6′ mosaic floor which surrounds the baptismal font on the altar of a Catholic Church. It was commissioned by an architectural firm, and features a Byzantine center that flows outward into a more contemporary design.
This is me grouting the mosaic:
I traveled all through Europe in my early twenties. I saw a lot of….everything….including the works of the Old Masters, which seemed to be everywhere. But I also saw a lot of mosaics that filled me with awe. They weren’t by any known superstars of the art world – they were by the calloused hands of unknown craftsmen. Their Work had a power and a glory that affirmed the depth of Love in an Artists heart – for to draw order slowly from chaos with the placement of each piece is surely an act of love. So that is definitely my inspiration when it comes to mosaics.
But about my other work? “What is your Inspiration? What Artists inspired you?” Those are questions that I’ve heard a lot over the years, and the truth is – I don’t know how to answer it….or…..maybe the answer keeps changing. For some people, the answer is simple: Like if you’re an Elvis Impersonator, no one needs to ask you who influenced your work – they can tell by the giant sideburns and the white sequin jumpsuit. But it’s a difficult question for me to answer because for me, art is like a buffet where you sample aesthetic edibles – a bite of this, a bite of that….
The Impressionists, The Pre-Raphaelites, The Old Masters of the Renaissance; but it doesn’t have to be a movement or an Artist – you can glean small pieces of inspiration from every other artist. Sometimes this happens consciously, and sometimes you pick it up without realizing it. So as you look at the work of the great Artists, you’re learning and being influenced by the impasto of one, the chiaroscuro of another; which colors were chosen and why; brush strokes, composition, energy….
So as much as I wish I could give you a more direct answer about the source of my inspiration, I’m still sort of figuring that out myself.
What is it? It’s pure creativity. It’s where I put pen to paper and the pen just goes. It’s like I take a back seat to the work, and let the creativity flow through me and go wherever it wants to go….
I have filled pads with automatic drawing. I have drawn over a zillion scraps of paper, on books, newspapers, everything!
The designs are whimsical, lyrical, intricate, unpredictable, joyous!
The eye – especially the Artists eye – follows around each piece, pausing to discern patterns and structures. It’s like an unknown language that you’re trying to comprehend because it seems so familiar….
Art What?? Artware! After filling sketch books and scraps of paper with my automatic drawing, I was still hungry for more. So I started drawing on other things, and by other things, I mean everything!
Like this silver rimmed porcelain platter:
And this cup and saucer:
After I ran out of plates, then I started drawing on my shoes, and it seemed like a good idea, but I know what my friends and family were thinking: At what point should we notify the authorities?? But I didn’t care. I had more shoes. And pocket books. And shirts. Nothing was going to stop my Automatic Drawing!
After my drawings went from pads to plates to shoes and shirts, they then went to other surfaces – but this time I was drawing my lines with strings or cords, and then covering them with metal.I liked what was happening! It was as though I discovered a whole new world where I could let my creativity loose!
The thing with creativity and the creative process is…..sometimes you have an idea, and other times the idea has you. Weird, right?
So what happened is that I started adding objects – found objects – into my metal covered relief drawings. And I thought that was really interesting!
And then I took it one step further and started adding found objects and metal-covered lines to other found objects. And that was interesting too!
I made a zillion different metal pieces in my exploration of this new medium.
But then I made an important discovery – perhaps the most important discovery that I’d made in my entire career: For years and years, I was using my talents in an effort to create beauty, but I didn’t need to – the beauty was already there…..it had been there all along, in everything, everywhere, and it was just waiting to be revealed! Once you realize that, you will look at the world in a different way; you’ll see beauty in everything….even things that are not pleasing to the eye will become more beautiful, because you’ll know that they really are beautiful…..and their beauty is just waiting to be revealed!
For example: This is some old piece of scrap wood that came to life. I call it “Machine”. I just love the texture!
This is a discarded can, flattened by many tires. I metalized some of it, and left the rest as rust. I call this one “Roadkill”. It’s beautiful, isn’t it?
This is titled “Shaman”. It’s a Mixed Media Objet Trouvé sculpture measuring 9.5” x 6” x 3”:
And this….this is a Classic! It’s an old bottle of coca cola that I found in the woods behind my house. It had probably lay in the dirt for 50 years or more, waiting for its beauty to be revealed….
As Artists, our creative journey has many twists and turns; and if we are faithful to our craft, our creativity will lead us to places we never dreamed we’d go. My creativity took me all the way to Starzach, Germany, and I am doubly blessed by the opportunity to spend this time with all of you!
I did it! My Talk was over and everything went smoothly! At this point I stood up to go and I tripped on the cords going to the laptop, which nearly destroyed every piece of audio-visual equipment in the room! Now that’s what I call a big finish!
After my dramatic and incredibly embarrassing exit, it was time for Ki Dong Kwon’s Red Sofa Artist Talk. He passed out some programs, and then showed some of his beautiful paintings. He was, of course, wonderful! Ki Dong is a brilliant Painter from South Korea who started his career as an abstract Artist and then turned to realism. He’s an engaging speaker and it was a treat to hear his Talk! Visit his website to see his amazing work: https://www.kidongkwon.com
After Ki Dong’s Talk, we were all treated to Kaiserschmarrn, a traditional Austrian dish with delicious food and bread, all homemade by Sarah Iris Mang, a Performance Artist from Austria who is also an amazing Chef! Visit her website to see her unusual and thought-provoking work: http://www.sarahmang.at/de/
These lovely ladies are Sarah, our gracious Chef, and Hiroko Oikawa, a multi-talented Artist from Japan. Visit Hiroko’s website at http://o-hiroko.sakura.ne.jp to see her fabulous work!
After all of the festivities I sat outside in the Courtyard and looked at the stars. It’s so rural here that the stars seem to touch the ground! You can see the Milky Way, and falling stars, and more constellations than you can count! It’s usually pretty quiet at this time, but on this night there was a wedding party at the Castle on the hill, and I could hear music echoing in the valley…..
Now that my Red Sofa Artist Talk is behind me, we have a lot of catching up to do!
I’ll keep you posted!