31 May 2009

A Scientific Icon.

This request comes from actor, writer, and visual artist, Steve Sweere. Steve asked me to make a painting of Charles Darwin in the style of a Russian Icon. I did that...kind of.
I was thinking about the icon of King Solomon gesturing toward a tiny church suspended in mid-air. In his icon, Solomon is pointing to his truth. He is upholding the Church. In my painting, Darwin gestures toward some half-evolved prehistoric aquatic animals eating one another. This is the carnal truth this version of Darwin is upholding.
I stole this unusual fish-chomping image from the cover of a Penguin Classics edition of Darwin's Origin of Species. The painting on the cover actually shows a much larger scene which includes a short necked dinosaur biting the head off of a long necked dinosaur. Talk about a perfect visual representation of natural selection. I guess we now know why we have no more long necked dinosaurs.
Anyway, I think the style I used for Darwin ended up more Byzantine Slavic than it did Russian. The grotesque aquatic animals are more 19th century Victorian clip art. I did, however, incongruously paint the background red because that translates to "Russian" ... right?
Well, the painting is what it is and I'm happy with it.

Here is my narrative:
Imagine a 19th century Russian monk iconographer who is largely untalented and obsessed with Western scientific thought. He decides he must make a painting of Darwin in an outdated and foreign style. All of his friends in the monastery are confused but try to be encouraging. They hang his odd "science icon" in a corner of their living quarters where no one spends much time. It's by the closet, just above where they keep the hats. One day the Czar comes for a surprise visit and all of the monks are filled with excitement ... but the mood becomes a little uneasy when he notices this icon ...
I'll let you image the rest.

Thank you, Steve!

25 May 2009

Soon, We Will All Be Real...

I imagine this to be the last page of a children's book. Or the second to the last page. This is where the Man-Fairy turns Pup-Pup and White Monkey into being real "lovies". The last page would have them frolicking in a field of clover with a shy fawn and friendly but grumbly badger.

A couple of months ago I donated a gift certificate for this blog to my five year old son's elementary school fundraiser. Just last week I heard back from Ellie Feldman who was the lucky one who won it. (She probably thought she was bidding on the spa basket).
Ellie wanted a painting of her two sons', Ethan and Toby's, "lovies". She provided me with plenty of pictures and I took it from there. I painted them in front of a blue background, but then decided I needed some kind of context. Something to build a story from is more satisfying. So, I went with the Pinocchio-Velveteen Rabbit toys longing to be real scenario. There is a sweet sadness to this that still, as an adult, gets to me.

Beth drew her own suggestion for this painting. As you can see, her idea was to have the "lovies" patiently waiting for a table at the Red Lobster. While I loved this idea, and considered it for a little while, it seemed just too random. I could imagine the Feldman Family's confused looks as they opened the envelope. But who knows, maybe the Red Lobster is special for them. I doubt it (though it is a fine establishment).

On a similar topic, someone was kind enough to start a fan page on Facebook for this blog. Over the next couple of weeks I'm going to post some of the preliminary drawings that I (and Beth) have done for these paintings on it. Some I actually think are more interesting than the paintings and some display moments of really bad judgement on my part. I'll let you decide which is which. Check it out...you don't want to miss that...right???

Thank You, Feldman Family, for supporting the school and giving me an excuse to paint "lovies"!

11 May 2009

The Dragonfly In The Ether.

Lately, I have been meeting my friend Nick Kouzes for coffee once a week before work. We meet at the Spyhouse on Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis. We started doing this with the excuse of discussing my making a painting for him. Kouzes also makes art and works as an art director for a marketing company. I told him I would make him a painting in return for him helping me design a card for myself. (I'm not so good at that kind of thing). He agreed so we, in theory, are discussing that as well. Instead, however, conversation usually digresses into swapping stories about the Greek characters that we know in the community.
Kouzes asked me to do a painting that visually addressed the connection between analytical thinking and creativity. We discussed this some (in between speculating on Costa's wresting career in the old country). I told him that when I paint, I go through phases of just letting it fall out of me and then going back and measuring and balancing everything. I'm usually very analytical at the start, with a very specific plan, but I then I ruin that plan, and go back and fix things in a different (hopefully better) way. I'm part scientist, part chimpanzee.
We talked about ways to visually represent this; different quadrants of the surface representing different kinds of thinking through different kinds of mark making That kind of thing.
However, I chose to approach this painting like a poem. It turned out to be the Dragonfly in the Ether. This idea did not come from my analytical mind. I looked there but all I got was over used symbolism. So, I coughed the dragonfly up from my gut.
As you can see, I used a different wood then usual. A few weeks ago, I visited Leon Mott ("Axis Bold As ... Something", among other commissions) to see the guitars that he makes and rebuilds. He kindly gave me a piece of padukah and suggested that I experimented with using it for a painting. I thought it would work for this one. It was a thin piece, so I made a back frame to hang it from instead of the simple hangin' hole I usually drill in back.
I also broke my own "acrylic paint only" rule and used india ink for all the black to get a different effect. I opted not to put down any gesso at all. I sanded down parts after I painted to make the background less defined, more hazy.
I don't know if any of this worked, but I feel I need to start moving it and doing some things differently. I don't want to make the same painting over and over, again. I don't want to end up at booth at the mall drawing funny pictures of Barbara Streisand and Jamie Foxx. But this is "Paint-on-Demand", so maybe that's where I should be.

I've had some questions as to why I haven't posted Beth's "Axis Bold as..." painting yet. Well, she hasn't finished it. She told me that she thinks painting is boring. (She has a point). If Beth doesn't finish soon, I'll post the unfinished version on that entry. It has a rattle snake in it.

Efharisto poli, Nick. ... And thanks for the wood Leon.

01 May 2009

Donovan Imagines Himself Made Holy At His First Communion.

Pattijo Verdeja commissioned this as a gift for her son Donovan on the occasion of his first communion. She wanted me to paint something having to do with how a child might relate to this experience. I agreed but had no idea where to begin.
I know very little about Catholicism, so, I decided to seek advice. I contacted Fr. George Byers, in Lourdes, France and asked if he had anything that would help me. A few weeks back, I made a made a painting for Fr. George (see St. Augustine and the Jackass) that was commissioned by a devout woman in Minneapolis who loves his blog bloggingLOURDES. After seeing that painting, Fr. George immediately contacted me to tell me how much he liked it. I found him to be a kind and interesting man and, half kidding, asked if I could consult him for future paintings that involved Catholicism. "Of course", he said. He really came through for me here.
I emailed and asked Fr. George to write a couple of sentences about his first communion. Instead he suggested a painting along with reference images. He did the work for me, so I went with it. He suggested an image of the boy from the waist up with crossed hands and a glow around him as seen on images of the Guadeloupe. (I thought that his suggestion to reference the Guadeloupe was amazing, I didn't tell him that the family was Mexican. Of all the Catholic images to pick). He also suggested the image of the Eucharist glowing within him. These were great ideas. And since they came from a Catholic priest, obviously appropriate for their church. I added the dove and lily on top for good measure.
I think painting children is very hard. They often end up looking like small adults. Children have odd proportions that I have troubles wrapping my mind around. Big heads, narrow shoulders, short arms. I don't know how much this actually looks like Donovan, but I think it's close enough to understand that it is a symbol for him. Many times, even photographs don't "look" like the person. Look at Facebook pictures. You'd think all of your friends were models.
I would like to wish Donovan the best on his first communion. I hope it is a beautiful and spiritually rich experience.
And of course my greetings and thanks to Fr. George for his collaboration. (I may call on you again).