Sunday, February 24, 2013

John Allen: Little Known Minimalist Along the Hudson

I came across the above sculpture at The Marina Gallery in Cold Spring, NY... I immediately fell in love with it.  I have a thing for minimal sculpture, especially the kind made with found objects or natural elements.  The little brad nails outlining the contour of the reddish brown ovals staggered up and down this white washed serpentine stick stirred me and put my mind into a quiet contemplative state.  Work with this degree of abstraction, simplicity, texture, and intimacy of size awakens my senses.  When I lived in Berkeley, CA on top of the hills I would take midnight strolls in the moonlight through patches of fog along the ridge trail overlooking Wildcat Canyon.  The smell of the eucalyptus and knob cone pines; the sounds of an orgy of frogs from the valley below and occasional screech of a bird from one of the scores of massive rolling hills trailing off into the darkness; the texture of dirt, rock, pine needles, and dry grasses crunching under my every step... moments like that I will never forget.  I felt a sense of ecstasy, of being alive on those quiet, slow, strolls on the outskirts of Tilden Regional Park.  Sculpture like this, give me a piece of that deep feeling of calm and connectedness I sometimes experience in times of solitude and meditation.

The maker of this lovely work of art is John Allen of Garrison, NY (I believe) and member artist of The Marina Gallery.  I was unfamiliar with his art so I did some research on-line and found a few more images of his sculptures.  In his own words... "John Allen is a little known, essentially not-for-profit artist who lives nearby and makes a living doing something else"

Below is what John had to say regarding the moving sculpture in this video as published in the New York Times...
The sculpture “pending” originated in my desire to make a piece that has the sense of how I feel about the environmental destruction that we humans have so blithely initiated. (I was drawn to call it tocsin, for a couple of reasons, but it is unsuitable, for a couple of reasons, not least because tocsin has an imperative ring to it.)
My secret hope was somehow to transcend the obvious ominous and find another way to emotionally process the information. As it turns out, that has not happened. I sat in the gallery yesterday afternoon and found that the intermittent mild hammer tap was easy to ignore, I think in the same way that we ignore repeated upsetting new information documenting climate change. It gets absorbed into and becomes part of the shifting dark background status quo (which we can bear), rather than transformed into action.
Regarding changing people’s minds there is a book “Moral Ground,” that considers this problem. I think it is like other matters that do not yield to simply intellectual processes, i.e., “How do you encourage compassion, teach gratitude, embrace self acceptance, etc.?”
The answer being you keep working at it, tap, tap, tap, while keeping your heart open….
The timing of the hammer drop is adjustable, from a virtually silent 1 – 2 minutes to a noisy 5 seconds. The geared speed-reduction component rules this, plus the longer interval keeps the surprise annoyance factor fresh, rather than a constant unseemly grinding sound.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Christopher Knowles: Autistic and Awesome

Christopher Knowles is a poet and visual artist from New York City who was diagnosed with autism as a child.  He has had a long and successful career since he was fourteen years old... he is now in his fifties.  Christopher is exhibiting new oil marker drawings on canvas at Gavin Brown's Enterprise in Manhattan.  The show will be up for one more week... go see it.

I was not familiar with his work before I saw this show and so I didn't experience the exhibition from the perspective of his previous body of work.  What I see in these drawings of his is a tremendously bold and original visual language at play.  His drawings are fun, absent of a sense of effort or forcefulness, and fresh.  His compositions of football players are a dazzling display of flattened 3D forms transformed into abstract puzzle pieces.  His fruit drawings on the other hand, are boiled down, bare bone compositions that magnify the simple repetition and subtle differences shape to shape.

Let us examine the subject matter these works.  Football players, the Twin Towers, fruit, beer advertisement, rustic village cafe scenes, a traffic light, word play, an abstract geometric shape, fictional (maybe "made-up") characters... all of these things are of the ordinary, things you might see on TV, or things of the imagination of a child.  Interestingly enough there is only one emotionally charged subject: the Twin Towers.  But here Christopher doesn't portray them from a  melancholic or tragic angle... instead he accentuated their abstract character and flattened the Brooklyn Bridge, in the foreground, to create a visually interesting composition of contrasting simple and complex shapes that seem to make the image oddly 2D and 3D.

I appreciate the drawing of modest, non-political, and emotionally indifferent subject matter.  I think Christopher is just drawing the things that he has a visual interest in... and I think that this kind of motivation behind the creation of his art is in some cases more sincere or "real"  than artists that have supposed "good reasons" for making art... whether it be work that is political or cultural in nature, or is art for art's sake.  

Sunday, February 10, 2013

My Wife and Newborn Sons: Drawings and Paintings

At 2:30am on Friday my wife gave birth to our twin sons Jackson and Dayton!  The coming Sunday (today) we had scheduled doing a charcoal drawing to accurately render Jacque's massive growing belly.  Its purpose was to serve as a kind of relic to remind ourselves of this special time in our lives forever.  Instead, we missed our opportunity, but in exchange I was given the chance to paint my two wonderful little boys and Jacque with a shrinking belly.

Needless to say, I have a lot I'd like to express about this event... but instead of painstakingly putting it all into words, I'll let my art do the talking and share with all of you this extraordinary moment.

Jackson James Galas;

Dayton Thomas Galas;

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Gerhard Richter: Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind

All these years I was under the impression that Gerhard Richter's art was overly conceptual and cerebral... Even his abstract paintings, I remember being told that they were planned out ahead of time so that he had a very good idea of what the outcome would be.  Evidently you can't believe everything you hear as a college student, especially if it's from another college student.  Both the person Gerhard Richter and his art are completely different from how I imagined them to be.

Here are two thoughts of mine about Gerhard after watching this film, which is a movie that primarily focuses on his process of painting abstract pieces.…

-He is a champion of painting… painting is an act of discovery and an improvisational dance with each individual piece; all assumptions of where the painting was supposed to go are thrown out the window and the painting is allowed to go where it wants to go.

-Gerhard is a modest, charismatic, and wise man.  The instance in the movie when he was not feeling connected to the paintings he was working on, he expressed great sorrow and explained that as an artist there is no worse feeling than the sensation of being disconnected from and unhappy with your work.  I thought that was very honest of him and he must have felt quite vulnerable to express those feelings on camera.  Also, he bravely admitted to the interviewer that he seldom knows what to do next when painting abstract pieces... we might have expected that such a great artist as Gerhard would never arrive at a moment while painting when he does not know what to do.  But I think that this indicates his greatness because in reality, us artists are always trying to figure out how to resolve the piece that we are working on, and we sometimes stubble through its creation ungracefully.  It reminds me of the book titled "Zen Mind, Beginners Mind" by Shunryu Suzuki, which implies that the master's and the beginner's frame of mind is in essence no different from one another because of their adherence to the 
continuous process of becoming.  Gerhard understands the full value of insecurity when it comes to art... to be insecure is to be open, and to be open is risky business.  But when no risk is taken, there is no opportunity for freedom... and it's that ability for the artist to transcend their medium and create an intangible aura or presence from material that when experienced by an audience jolts us into that necessary deep connection with our true innermost self... it brings us home to our roots and fills us with catharsis, or compassion, or pathos, or love.

See the documentary for yourself and let me know your reactions.