Back, and stickier than ever

The Philosophers I remember attending the Roger Gastman street art lecture at the Corcoran earlier this year and hearing him speak disdainfully of stickering. Too easy, I think, was his criticism. Instead of having to go to the trouble to surreptitiously spray ink on a wall, any schmuck can grab a pack of stickers and take to the streets. I’m no stickler for process, so I’ve embraced stickering.  Not only are they convenient, but they allow me to be faithful to my original drawings. And it's fascinating (at least to me) to take the same image and see it interact with various environments.

Anyway, it’s good to be back! My blog-abandonment has been due to not having a permanent address until the middle of last month, but I am pleased to say that I now have spacious studio set up that’ll allow me to do some damage. Also, I will be participating in a pop up gallery for DCWEEK this year, so stay tuned. In the meantime you can see the most recent work I've done on my Tumblr, and also subscribe to my drawings via Project Dispatch.

Why being passionate makes you an asshole

A common conversation topic, usually among girls, is listing qualities most desired in a mate--and often, the word "passionate" comes up straight away as criteria. This made sense to me at first, until I realized that when I think of my favorite people in the world I would not describe them as passionate--or, if they are, they're passionate about things that I don't particularly care about (e.g., raising puppies, Bauhaus architecture), or can't be described as healthy (e.g., drinking, blond 23-year-olds). Granted, I  understand why you would not want your partner sitting on the couch all day in his underpants, but having interests and enjoying life can all be done without the daunting requirement of being passionate. And in my experience, passion does not necessarily make you more interesting company, or even likable. Often, it makes you an asshole.

We artists are excellent examples of passion gone wrong--misguided, arrogant, insufferable. Marc Rothko, whose passion led to him to live in a squalid apartment building to pursue his painting career, thought so highly of himself that he became annoyed when "common" people dared to stop him in the street to say hello; I can name at least two professors and met countless fellow artists whose passion is so extreme that it leads to a sort of tunnel vision, wherein they elevate their works' importance to near cancer-curing levels.  Artists, much like celebrities, are often given a free pass for being arrogant too, which always struck me as unfair--the underlying philosophy being if you're that talented, you're allowed to act however the hell you want.

This is not a black and white issue, of course. If you're an artist, maybe this attitude is necessary; maybe in order to create anything truly important, you have to be unhinged enough to think that what you're doing matters more than anything else. But the term 'passion' is thrown around as such a good, necessary requirement for art-making, that I get bothered not just by the cliche, but because it is so often indicative of not being quite in touch with reality. A good thing, maybe, if you're in love with someone--I am all for partners so passionate about each other that they can overlook flaws, unless abuse is involved--but when you can't look at what you do objectively, I think it makes it that much harder to do it well. I say, be curious about the world around you. Be thoughtful, be a good friend, and sincere. Be interested in people other than you. Hell, be obsessive, even--just so long as you're self-aware enough to realize it. Love your art, and also hate it for never being good enough. But don't be passionate, because that will just make you annoying.

Related: AA Gill on why being mediocre means more people will show up at your funeral.

Name-dropping at Artomatic

I went to Artomatic yesterday evening to drop off the guest book for our show. I didn't have much time to linger before it closed, so I decided to take a quick look at the work of people I already knew who were exhibiting. Pictures and assessments below. John Guernsey I met him briefly at Pyramid Atlantic last year, and after having a pleasant chat about art-making, he purchased one of my screenprints for $20. Nice guy! I think I might buy one of these etchings, if they haven't sold out yet--at $175 they're obscenely underpriced, and would look awesome above my couch:

John Guernesy

Also, I was charmed by his artist statement. Short, honest, and mananges to use the word "subconscious" without sounding pretentious:

John Guernesy statement

Andrew Wodzianski I remember when Andrew was a TA at MICA in my freshman drawing class and painting huge religious-looking allegorical portraits--plus ca change...well, not really. Though looking at this work is akin to Caravaggio deciding to create Roy Lichtenstein comic panels (er, best analogy I can come up with for dark realism going pop art). The photos below are the ones that caught my eye (Lenny Campello apparently liked the same one as me):

Andrew WodzianskiAndrew WodzianskiAndrew Wodzianski

Marty Ittner My former screenprinting buddy has done some luscious encaustic colleges on floor 5, which make me remember why I was obsessed with fish imagery for awhile:

Marty Ittner

Allegra Marquart Another MICA connection--I took Allegra's Illustrative Print class as a student, and was pleasantly surprised to find her work on the same floor as me. Every piece of art of hers that I've seen has been playful and flawlessly executed, and these glass sculptures were no exception:

Alegra Marquart

A note on my trajectory

I am a crappy illustrator. I realized this the hard way, after graduating with an illustration degree, taking a few insultingly low-paying jobs ($25 for a spot that took five hours was probably one of my professional low-points) and deciding that one of my worst fears had indeed come true--I'd devoted four years of my life studying something I wasn't meant to be doing in the first place. Fortunately, I recovered from this emotional blow, and found that I drew better when I didn't have the pressure of earning a paycheck associated with my art; and my work continued to evolve as I kept doing it, as it tends to do. And I still love illustration. I even love the way the word sounds (so flowery!), and looking at the work of other illustrators to steal color schemes and ideas. And although I failed at being able to draw for a living, I flicker with pride when I tell people I have an illustration degree, and bristle when I read art reviews that deride work for looking 'too commercial.' Illustration forces you to take shortcuts, to get your work to communicate directly, but still artistically--two objectives that can clash in a medium that often relishes in being vague.

As a result, I am now by default a "fine artist" which means I get rejected from galleries instead of art directors. It's a somewhat unnatural title, but I don't mind it at all if it gives permission to draw whatever I feel like, without needing to consider what I'm doing it ahead of time.

I was thinking about all this tonight as I stared at a blank sheet of perfectly square paper and tried to come up with some ideas for a show I was going to submit to this weekend, which required your work to be based on a well-known female artist. Since I draw so effortlessly now, I was certain that I could at least crank out a few decent starts, but I found myself facing the same dilemma I had when receiving an assignment from an art director--the moment there were parameters I had to adhere to, I was stuck. I drew some awkward looking shapes, sipped red wine and listened to an audiobook while starting off into space; I contemplated taking a nap and remembered that I had to run to the drugstore before it closed (which I did, but not before ruining both sides of the expensive paper with false starts).

Deadlines and dining room tables

Workspace as I prepare for Artomatic It feels good to return to my roots of listening to audiobooks while doing artwork, which I haven't done in awhile. I finished Columbine a few weeks ago (a superb piece of journalism) and am almost done with The Abstinence Teacher, which I am also thoroughly enjoying. With certain books, usually non-fiction, you want to finish reading them as soon as possible. Absorb the knowledge, acquire enough new fun facts to have something intelligent to say at parties; then it's time to move onto something else. Other books you know you're going to miss like old friends, and don't mind taking your time. I have maybe an hour or so left of The Abstinence Teacher, and am certain there's going to be a literary void when I complete it.

Mural painting at National Stadium

Dana Jeri Maier - National Stadium MuralFor the most part, I had a good time painting on Monday. It was a bleak chilly day but I was happy to be there, listening to an engrossing audiobook (Columbine, the new David Cullen account of the tragedy--highly recommended, by the way) while crowds of people wandered over to the ballpark behind me. Towards the end of the game, the fans filtered out of the stadium a little drunker and chattier, saying "Hey, nice painting" in a way that implied they didn't think it was a nice painting at all, but then I was interviewed by NBC which was a bit of a pick me up. When I was in art school, painting always followed a predictable pattern. First there was that euphoria--I'm painting! And it looks good so far!--which slowly melts into frustration---uaugh, this looks horrible, now what the hell do I do?--which lurches back into  desperation and/or acceptance--okay, I can save this, I can make it work, etc. This pattern held true on Monday. First the work seemed good, then bad, then acceptable; then it started to rain, and I didn't care anymore because I was hungry and wanted to go home.

During one of the low points I called my dad, who knows what it's like to be disappointed in your own work (excessive self-criticism was evidently passed onto his eldest daughter).

Okay, you don't know it's not good, he said. Let me tell you something. I once did a mural that seemed seemed terrible. I mean, I was so ashamed I wouldn't let your mother see it. And now, more than anything, I wish I had a picture of it. It's your history. And it's probably not as bad as you think.

"He Disappeared Into Complete Silence"

There were a lot of remarkable pieces in the Louise Bourgeois exhibit at the Hirshorn but I was struck in particular by the etchings series, "He Disappeared Into Complete Silence." This is from plate one: “Once there was a girl, and she loved a man. They had a date next to the eighth street station of the sixth avenue subway. She had put on her good clothes and a new hat. Somehow he could not come. So the purpose of this picture is to show how beautiful she was. I really mean that she was beautiful.”

It was a sad series (I read in the catalog later that Bourgeois had meant for the etchings to document her sinking into a deep depression), but that first piece made me erupt into giggles.


New critic in town

A few weeks ago I was wandering around Eastern Market and though, what the Washington DC art scene needs is a critic. The best critics in my mind are the ones who are both thoughtful, accessible and interesting, but also have a way of talking about art that seems above all, extremely accurate. And just for good measure, the critic should probably also be a little bit of a jerk, insofar that nothing is more galvanizing to an art community more than a common enemy and artists can often get very defensive. I would nominate myself for this role, save the fact that I don't have a thick enough skin for the job, and also that as an artist myself, there may be a conflict of interest. By the same token, I have nothing to lose. The last artistic achievement of mine was having a drawing selected for the 2008 Transformer auction, which didn't sell; at the last count, my website has received an average of 1.7 hits a day, most of which last under twenty seconds. In other words, I'm obscure enough to be unthreatening, but also genuinely interested in the art that is being created in Washington DC, and would like talk about it some sort of forum.

So stay tuned. The next entry here will be a piece of my own work, but also cover whatever show I happen to see, and I promise to hold nothing back.

Landscapes, and unrelated thoughts about insomnia

This past year I've undergone frequent bouts of insomnia, which can be very convenient, artistically--on a good night I stay up late, have some crappy cable show running in the background, and crank out a few masterpieces. But lifestyles and schedules change, and on the nights that I can't sleep, I now only turn to drawing reluctantly, after staring off into space has worn itself thin, and I need to do something to pass the time. On a sort of related note, artists who manage to channel their rage, or pain, or unhappiness into art impress me. Personally, I've found that if I'm feeling horrible about something, there's just no place for those feelings to go, especially not towards anything particularly creative. Even when I am feeling sad and somehow manage to extract a drawing from it, the result usually winds up looking like a caricature of sadness, rather than the real thing.

Anyhow, the two drawings below were done in non-witching hours, in short bursts on my commutes. The one on the bottom is in the process of being screenprinted.


The Bus Ride