Tag Archives: Oil Painting

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Susan Stuart: In the Details – Large-Scale Painting

In The Details - Susan Stuart - House and Home

Creating Large-Scale Paintings
By Artist Susan Stuart

GETTING STARTED
My process of working with oil paints begins with stretching a medium textured, unprimed, linen canvas onto a stretcher frame. This canvas is then primed with three coats of a sizing glue. This special glue is applied while hot and brushed onto the surface of the canvas to protect the fibers from the oils in the paint, which (over time) would actually disintegrate the fabric. Once dried, there is a roughness to the surface, which holds the oil paints and soft pastels.

In The Details - Susan Stuart - House and Home

UNIQUE TECHNIQUE POINTS
The dried sized canvas is as tight  as a drum and will withstand the pressure of applying the oil paint, the pressure of rubbing the soft pastel into the wet paint and the occasional rubbing of pumice into the wet paint, as well. Because the glue is clear and because I love the natural tone of the linen, I will sometimes leave some of the primed surface showing through.

In The Details - Susan Stuart - House and Home

SKETCHING
Once the canvas has been prepped, I begin to sketch. I either draw freehand directly onto the surface, or I may use a projector to project an image onto the canvas. The image is drawn using a soft pastel. Once an image has been drawn, I block in large areas of color. Following this, using the oil paint and a #2 round easel brush, I do a final contour line drawing on top of the pastel image. This then becomes the “bones” or underlying “structure” of the painting.

In The Details - Susan Stuart - House and Home

In The Details - Susan Stuart - House and Home

PAINTING
As I’m painting, I place the canvas on a horizontal surface, intentionally positioning the work so that the image is actually upside down. With the canvas positioned this way, I’m less conscious of the actual image, and, therefore, I am free to concentrate solely on the shapes and colors before me. While layering in details with the oils, the soft pastels will be intermixed with the wet paint to create subtle variations in color. Often I paint holding as many as 3 round easel brushes in my hand at one time. These multiple soft bristle brushes create an active surfaces of color and brush work.

In The Details - Susan Stuart - House and Home

Photo by Rob ONeil

THE SURPRISE
This initial stage of applying the paint is the most exciting for me as I don’t know the effects of the color and brush strokes until I set the painting right side-up in a vertical position on my studio wall. Then, stepping back to look at the work from a distance, I see the image for the first time. I will continue working on the painting in this manner until it requires to be positioned vertically. At that time, the canvas will remain in this traditional vertical position as I finish the work.

In The Details - Susan Stuart - House and Home

In The Details - Susan Stuart - House and Home


Stop by Main Street Arts to see Susan Stuart’s paintings in our current exhibition House and Home (runs through August 19). View her work online at www.susanstuart.com. Contact Susan at susan@susanstuart.com.

Take a look at our previous Inside the Artist’s Studio blog post by painter Christopher Baker.

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Robert Samartino

I paint as much as I can and embrace a variety of figurative content in my work. What remains constant to my creative process is best described by the habits and rituals I use to eliminate distraction. I paint where I live and I allow the practicalities of my life to influence the direction of my work. I keep my workspace lights on and my materials are always set up to be used.

photographed in workspace

26″ x 32″
oil and wax on linen
2015

I take and collect pictures constantly; of anything that captures my attention–this allows me to include my time away from painting into my work. I review these images routinely and allow my intuition to select and/or combine them. This improvisational state is enhanced by working on multiple paintings at once–changing the channel in my mind to remain in a trance. My sculptural work is literally made in the space and time between my palette and whatever canvas I am working on. Accretions and Inclusions grew as accumulations of paint and wax wiped off from my palette knife.  I am motivated with a fetishization of accumulation; by applying and removing layers with an unclear motive my art is grown to reflect the path indecision inevitably takes.

6" x 5.5" x 6"  oil, wax, discarded materials on ethafoam 2015

6″ x 5.5″ x 6″
oil, wax, discarded materials on ethafoam
2015

5" x 5" x 5.5" oil, wax, discarded materials on ethafoam 2015

5″ x 5″ x 5.5″
oil, wax, discarded materials on ethafoam
2015

Manual labor, in particular roadwork, fascinates me in its similarity to my own layering process. I began depicting men at work with the first of a three part series titled Concrete Labor. Its source derives from a scene I photographed on 23rd St. in Manhattan, the workers were positioned in front of a darkened storefront which is omitted in the translated painting. The attention becomes concentrated – their labor objectifies into our infrastructure as its utility becomes universal in the function of a roadway.

26" x 32"  oil and wax on canvas 2013

26″ x 32″
oil and wax on canvas
2013

26" x 32"  oil and wax on linen 2015

26″ x 32″
oil and wax on linen
2015

Stop by Main Street Arts to see two of Robert’s paintings in our current exhibition The Human Figure (runs through July 1). View his work online at www.robertsamartino.com.

Take a look at our previous Inside the Artist’s Studio blog post by ceramic artist John Brien.

Inside The Artist’s Studio with Kari Ganoung Ruiz: Small Bits

I’m back! Thank you Main Street Arts for inviting me to offer my thoughts in another blog entry; this one corresponding with the opening of the Fifty Landscapes exhibit which includes 4 of my paintings.

As nature awakens after its winter slumbering, so to does the painter feel the pull of nicer weather.  Spring is an excellent time to gather thoughts about the why and the where; to put together a map and plan as a guide throughout this plein air season.

When I started on this journey, I didn’t have a clear view of what to paint. I only knew that it was super important to paint from life; to step out of the artificially lit studio and experience nature in person. People said “paint what you know”, so I went back home to the family farm.

Shady Recess 8"x10" oil on panel, one of my very first plein air paintings!

Shady Recess 8″x10″ oil on panel, one of my very first plein air paintings!

As the painting season progressed, I got out in nature with all my gear as much as possible; attempting to capture a wide range of subjects. The big vista, a little outdoor vignette of a scene; where was I heading? Then this happened:

a pivotal moment while painting in the Adirondacks... The Flume Rocks 8"x8" oil on panel

a pivotal moment while painting in the Adirondacks… The Flume Rocks 8″x8″ oil on panel

During the 2014 Adirondack Plein Air Festival, I went to paint the Wilmington Flume, a series of awesome waterfalls along the Ausable River. I spent a while at the location, attempting to figure out how to capture it. The day was getting long and in frustration, I turned my little cardboard viewfinder away from the big scene. Suddenly, this group of boulders snapped into focus; I found my painting! At this moment I found my raison d’etre: to explore the beautiful intricacies of light and shadow in the small bits of a greater scene and find the essence of the place and moment. I was hooked!

Painting on Oak Island, Waterloo NY during the Memorial Day festivities. Photo by Lisa Duprey

Painting on Oak Island, Waterloo NY during the Memorial Day festivities. Photo by Lisa Duprey

This has continued to be the focus of my plein air and studio work. Sometimes I’ll get caught up in the majesty of a giant vista, but I’ve found that the magic is really in the subtlety of the zoomed-in scene for my work.

The big vista at Frederic Church's Olana in Hudson, NY

The big vista at Frederic Church’s Olana in Hudson, NY

At Olana in Hudson NY, I was caught by this view from the Bell Tower where Church would paint and have visitors view the sunset with him. The house and the entire property was designed by Frederic Church to take in the grand vistas of the Hudson River and Catskill Mountains. (uh, awesome!) I decided to tightly crop the view and turn my panel vertically. This piece is included in the exhibit:

A Quiet Sunset 8"x10" oil on panel

A Quiet Sunset 8″x10″ oil on panel

Well, that will do it for now… it’s time to get out and paint!

Follow along with Kari’s painting adventures at KariGanoungRuiz.com and her new blog GoPaintOutside. Stop by Main Street Arts to see Kari’s paintings in our current exhibition, Fifty Landscapes (runs through May 13). Take a look at our previous Inside the Artist’s Studio blog post by needle felt artist Victoria Connors.

Inside The Artist’s Studio with Emily Glass

I spent my childhood outside in rural Vermont, taking care of animals and watching wildlife grow. As a kid I photographed my surrounding world extensively, always documenting, always looking. I loved art classes in high school and first worked with oil paint at the State University of New York Potsdam in 2004.  I found the challenge of oil exciting and completely engrossing.

24 by 42.5 inches, Oil on Canvas, 2015

I Discard (in progress during the residency), 24 by 42.5 inches, Oil on Canvas, 2015

I think of my work as a mix of abstraction and realism.  With it, I seek to communicate subtle narrative and commentary on our current culture. I am beginning a shift into using more plant-based imagery and questioning what it means to have a particular plant on a dinner table or in a yard.  The privileges and beliefs that come with iceberg lettuce versus arugula (or dandelion leaves versus cabbage) reveal differences in class systems and political associations.

My residency studio at the Vermont Studio Center

My studio at the Vermont Studio Center

In the Flora and Fauna exhibition, four paintings were started at a residency at Vermont Studio Center (VSC) in June 2015.

Here is an excerpt from my time there:

While parts of the country were fighting drought, the Vermont sky opened up with rain.  I would keep the windows open, breath in the wet air and paint for hours.  When the rain broke (about every two days or so), I was exhausted from painting and needed to think before beginning again. During those breaks in the rain I spent my time walking, writing and reading outside, documenting what caught my eye and turning over thoughts. Everything was so green, so rich.

Studio Workbench

Studio Workbench

It was summer but the rainy days were cold. I wore a fleece hat and kept an extra pair of dry socks in my studio for the next rainfall painting session.

I have only mentioned my working habits at the residency, which was one half of the experience.  The other half were the 45 or so wonderful visual artists and writers that were also residing at VSC and whom I shared my meals with.  The experience is one I recommend to anyone looking for a nourishing and intensive space to develop work.

My Agent Says the Neighbors are Nice, Oil Paint on Canvas, 43 by 180 inches, 2014

My Agent Says the Neighbors are Nice, Oil Paint on Canvas, 43 by 180 inches, 2014

During the year I teach painting and drawing at Rochester Institute of Technology and spend as much time as possible in my home studio, developing oily canvases and putting together plans for future works.

View Emily’s artwork online at emilyglassart.com. Stop by Main Street Arts to see Emily’s work in our current exhibition, Flora and Fauna. The exhibition is up through Friday, February 12. Take a look at our previous Inside the Artist’s Studio blog post by encaustic painter Kristen T. Woodward.

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Zach Dietl: Defining Your Space

Wear Flannel EverydayMy name is Zach Dietl. I’m a painter and sculptor, born and raised in Rochester New York. Currently I’m showing downstairs in Structurally Speaking as well as Upstairs at Main Street Arts in the Self-Portrait Invitational. This is my first blog post with Main Street Arts and I’m excited to share some of the thoughts and processes behind my work.

With a bend and a twist, it turns into this

Translation, Steel, 52″ x 23″ x 18″. 2014.

My background is in painting and sculpture. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Visual Arts from SUNY Geneseo where I focused on oil painting, metal fabrication, and mold making. I recently finished my Masters of Fine Arts at Rochester Institute of Technology, where I extended my practice to include Metal Casting.

My work is an attempt to explore, organize, and define the complexity of the world around us. While making Translation, I was interested in the work of analytic philosophers such as Bertrand Russell and Gottlob Frege, who attempted to use logic and math to explain the natural world. Translation is a geometric form which captures a simple movement. I started by welding tines to a length of 1/2 square steel. I then simultaneously bent and twist the middle of the square steel to transform the flat object into a graceful form.

Amplifier, Steel, 24" x 24" x 24"

Amplifier, Steel, 24″ x 24″ x 24″. 2014

Translation does not tell a story, or refer to other objects. It is an object of pure geometry which focuses on form, proportion, and movement, and material. These simple qualities are defined and presented as evident truths, without commentary or question.

For more information on Zach Dietl you can visit his Behance site at www.behance.net/Zachdietl. Stop by the gallery to see his work in our current exhibition Structurally Speaking and in our Self-Portrait Invitational.

Take a look at our previous Inside the Artist’s Studio blog post by laser cut jewelry artist Kelly Nye.

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Melissa Huang

Painting is a very relaxing process for me. It’s the one thing that  clears my mind and allows me to focus. Painting is great for brainstorming and letting your mind work through all of the thoughts and concepts swimming around in your head.

My studio space is currently set up in the living room area. The natural light is something I really enjoy.

My studio space is currently set up in the living room area. The natural light is something I really enjoy.

A lot of my artwork focuses on things like trinkets, porcelain dolls, and other beautiful childhood objects. I’ve always been a collector, and I filled a bookcase full of fossils, crystals, and ornaments when I was younger.

Artists like Audrey Flack have greatly influenced the way I view still lifes. Symbolism is very important in Flack’s work, and I try to focus on the symbolism in my work as well.

Melissa Huang, Self Portrait, Oil on canvas, wood frame, sculpy objects, 48" x 36" plus frame, 2012

Melissa Huang, Self Portrait, Oil on canvas, wood frame, sculpy objects, 48″ x 36″ plus frame, 2012

I enjoy painting from life, but find creating photographic reference images to work from really helps my process. By rearranging objects and photographing them in different situations and different angles I can find compositions that capture the emotional intent of the piece.

My oil paintings are intentionally soft and feminine with melancholy undercurrents. Broken dolls and figures intertwine with bright and colorful flowers that could represent new life, or possibly death. We are intruders, viewing these figures from an intimate perspective.

Melissa Huang, In the Flowers, Oil on canvas, 24" x 18", 2014

Melissa Huang, In the Flowers, Oil on canvas, 24″ x 18″, 2014

Melissa Huang, Muhammad, Oil on canvas, 20" x 20", 2014

Melissa Huang, Muhammad, Oil on canvas, 20″ x 20″, 2014

Melissa Huang, Sammy Mouse, Oil on canvas, 20" x 20", 2014

Melissa Huang, Sammy Mouse, Oil on canvas, 20″ x 20″, 2014

Recently I’ve been using gold leaf in my paintings. During my study abroad in Florence I visited as many churches as possible, and saw many beautiful altarpieces with gold leafed panels. The subjects of the paintings were made more important by the glimmering leaf. I wanted to lend a similar sense of importance to the subjects I painted.

JordanMaya

Melissa Huang, Philip, Oil on canvas, 48" x 36", 2013

Melissa Huang, Philip, Oil on canvas, 48″ x 36″, 2013

Melissa Huang, Garden, Oil on panel, gold leaf, 6" x 6" (each), 2014

Melissa Huang, Garden, Oil on panel, gold leaf, 6″ x 6″ (each), 2014

Using gold leaf in my work allowed me to play with a sense of depth versus flatness, as well as brought a more graphic quality into some of my paintings. If you’d like to learn about the gold leafing process I’ll be leading a gold leaf workshop at Main Street Arts on Saturday, February 21st, from 1–3pm. This workshop relates to the current Solid Gold exhibition, featuring nine artists using gold leaf, gold paint, and gold lustre.

Working on paintings on gold leafed panels

Working on paintings on gold leafed panels

Melissa Huang, The Aviary, Oil on panel, gold leaf, 6" x 6" (each), 2014

Melissa Huang, The Aviary, Oil on panel, gold leaf, 6″ x 6″ (each), 2014

Come see Melissa’s paintings in person during Solid Gold, or check out her upcoming exhibition Upstairs at Main Street Arts.

You can see more of Melissa’s portfolio at www.melissahuang.com or on Instagram: @melissahuangart. Take a look at our previous Inside the Artist’s Studio blog post, by painter Amy Vena.

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Kevin Stuart: Painting People

I feel that how I describe what I’m going for in my paintings has shrunk. Life is dynamic, life is poetic, life is often a swing from paralyzing beauty to debilitating pain. I often find myself in public space feeling things and noticing things about people, each thing noticed and seen the beginning of a mystery; a realization of my own point of view and someone else’s at the same moment. The face we walk around with in public when we feel invisible is a face that puts on a show for no one. It reacts and shows its back story. It is one of the most honest faces we make. It is a face that is about to change.

Kevin Stuart, Koala Bear Caretaker (pedestrians at evening), oil on panel, 6 x 7.5

Kevin Stuart, Koala Bear Caretaker (pedestrians at evening), oil on panel, 6″ x 7.5″

When I’m painting my paintings (which tend to be larger than my body) I feel as if I’m thinking about these faces and people; their potential, how they look when they laugh or smile. On the train as I sketch these people I am always amazed when the face in front of me changes, catches a glimpse of something, smiles after receiving a text from someone who can’t see them smile back, thumbs through a phone bored, or stoically works through some inner turmoil. I feel as if I paint the most impossible thing to understand: someone else.

Kevin Stuart, Tree climber (Commuters on an elevated platform), oil on panel, 5 x 8

Kevin Stuart, Tree climber (Commuters on an elevated platform), oil on panel, 5 x 8

I try to show a life outside the painting; I try to make the figures more than figures in space but people with lives, beautiful poetic lives. The scenes created often don’t quite add up because I don’t want them to, I want them to leave someone wondering what that person is doing or what that person’s life is like, because the people around us are exciting and I still don’t know quite what it is they do.

Kevin has two paintings in our Small Works exhibition. Stop by the gallery to see his expressive and mysterious paintings in person.

Check out our previous Inside the Artist’s Studio by woodworker, Mark Zeh.

Inside the Artist’s Studio With Trina May Smith: Chasing the Work

MIssoula

I grew up in Missoula Montana, a liberal arts college town nestled in the Rocky Mountains. As a kid I wanted to be a writer and was always writing stories and poems. In seventh grade I wrote and typed a 15 page single spaced story for fun. I read constantly, and just knew that writing was my thing.

I had a free elective my freshman year of high school and decided to take an art course. Taking that art class had a profound effect on me. I gave up writing and have been an artist ever since. I completed my undergraduate work at the University of Washington in Seattle and then ran an art program in a middle school for five years. After five years of asking students to reach for their potential I felt that I needed to walk the talk and go to graduate school. I was accepted at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and had an amazing three years of developing my work and gaining an understanding for more seriously pursuing a professional practice. Upon graduating in 2012 I became a lecturer of art at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, teaching painting and Drawing. I plan on continuing to teach at the college level and to persist with my desire to chase the ever-elusive carrot as I pursue my artistic intensions.

The Studio:

WPStudio

The studio is a very complex space. It functions as a physical place as well as an emotional and intellectual space. I have had a variety of studios over the years but have currently converted half of my large living room in my house into my painting studio. I have always been interested in minimizing the separation between everyday life and the work. I am guessing that it is not coincidence that once I established my studio in my living space, the work began to get more personal. In the past when I went to my rented studio space I was essentially “going to work” and when I left the studio there would be a distance between my art making and the rest of my life. Now when I come home I am also in the studio and am always aware of the work regardless of if I am actively painting or not.

WPStudio2

wppaint

In my undergraduate studies I had a professor that suggested that you should be in your studio at least 6 hours a day. That you should live with the work, look at it, exist with it in order to develop it. At the time I thought this was a bit idealistic and reflective of his own process but not particularly relevant to my work. Now I understand what he was trying to say. Making paintings is more then putting paint onto a surface, it is understanding WHY you are putting paint on a surface. It is wanting something from the work that has little to do with the pictorial subject and more to do with the process of making itself. The more paintings I make, the more I want from them, and the more of my own history goes into them.

The Work:

Fire 2  Oil on Panel 6x9" 2014

Fire 2 Oil on Panel 6×9″ 2014

The series of Fire paintings played an interesting role in my practice this past year. They acted as a sort of bridge between the work that I have been producing for the past 3 years and my current work that is based on my personal ideas and experiences.

In Graduate school I began a series examining industrial decline and urban decay. This series stemmed from having grown up in Montana where every industry is declining. I took multiple trips to Montana as well as through the rust belt cities such as Detroit, Gary, Pittsburgh, and St Louis.

Stripped. Oil on Panel. 7x10" 2012

Stripped. Oil on Panel. 7×10″ 2012

I documented the urban settings that had the mark of degrading industry and invested in the duality that these spaces represented. They simultaneously signified progress and failure, growth and loss, change and nostalgia, and spoke not only of large companies but also of people’s lives. The abandoned houses became particularly important to me. Growing up working class in Montana with a logger Grandfather I know well of the stress of seasonal work and the complexities of how industries surge and cycle. I was compelled to capture these abandoned houses as a mark of time, a portrait of circumstance, and a narrative of lost hope and change. The paintings’ small size and careful application fell in line with the importance of remembering. They took on a precious, jewel-like, quality and had a specificity that felt intimate yet spoke of a broad idea.

Forced. Acrylic and Oil on Panel. 6x30". 2012

Forced. Acrylic and Oil on Panel. 6×30″. 2012

When in St Louis I noticed a particularly large number of houses that had been burned. I was lucky to have a friend whose mother lived and grew up in St Louis. She agreed to come with me one day as I took pictures and gave me a great deal of insight. She said that neighbors would purposefully burn the houses to deter people from squatting in them. It was used as a strategy to keep neighborhoods in decline as safe as possible. I then watched a documentary called Burn about the fires of Detroit. The statistics of how many fires were set to abandoned structures was startling. In the documentary they talk about how setting abandoned houses on fire became a sort of past time within certain subsets of the population. There were so many fires that the fire fighters had to pick and choose which fires to fight at all. Whether the house had been abandoned, or caught fire while inhabited, the sight of a burning house evokes an emotional response. It asks you to question your own security and circumstance in a much more immediate way then the abandoned houses did. Fire is simultaneously beautiful and alluring, yet scary and dangerous.

Burned House in St Louis

Burned House in St Louis

WPFire

As I painted the series of houses on fire, I began to look at them more and more as abstractions. The repetition of the fire from piece to piece began to interest me and I began to look for other visual elements that intrigued me. I started looking at the plywood on boarded windows as both a signifier of abandonment and beauty of nature. I saw traffic cones as urban guides to navigate and wanted to place them in forest scenes as imposters. I am interested in the tension of not wanting the cones to be in the natural setting and enjoying the visual experience of them. They are both misplaced and desperately trying to “belong” or “fit in”.

Imposters. Oil on Panel 6x10". 2014

Imposters. Oil on Panel 6×10″. 2014

Imposters 2. Oil on Panel. 16x20" 2014

Imposters 2. Oil on Panel. 16×20″ 2014

Boarded 4. Oil on Panel. 27x58". 2014

Boarded 4. Oil on Panel. 27×58″. 2014

Boarded 4. Oil on Panel. 36x36". 2014

Boarded 4. Oil on Panel. 36×36″. 2014

I feel like these plywood paintings and traffic cone paintings speak of the industrial decline tensions and urban circumstance but also have my own translation or spin. They open up the possibility for humor and for a more playful or painterly approach. The plywood paintings also allow me to revel in the things that I love about the process of painting, which is mixing paint, thinking about color, and the simple pleasure of putting paint on a surface. I am excited to open up the possibilities and continue to bring my own desires into the work in addition to thinking about the social and natural environment that we live within.

Boarded 5 (Detail)

Boarded 5 (Detail)

Trina has three Fire paintings in Main Street Arts’ Small Works exhibition, and won Best in Show for her unique and thought-provoking paintings. Stop by the gallery by December 29, 2014 to see Trina’s art in person.

Check out our last Inside the Artist’s Studio post, by watercolor jewelry artist Alicia McGloon.

“Paintings, Made Outdoors” by Terry Oakden

Terry Oakden currently has a solo exhibition Upstairs at Main Street Arts. “Painting, Made Outdoors” includes expressive oil and acrylic paintings on paper and board made outside and in the Finger Lakes region.

Terry Oakden, "Through the Vineyard 'Seneca'", Acrylic on board

Terry Oakden, “Through the Vineyard ‘Seneca’”, Acrylic on board

These paintings are full of vivd and sometimes unexpected colors. Splashes of bright pink contrast with bright green grass, swaths of red, blue, and yellow create deep, beautiful skies.

Terry Oakden, "Addison", Acrylic & oil on board

Terry Oakden, “Addison”, Acrylic & oil on board

Terry Oakden, "St. Mary's 'Corning'", Acrylic on board

Terry Oakden, “St. Mary’s ‘Corning’”, Acrylic on board

The exhibition combines paintings on paper with paintings on panel, emphasizing the spontaneity of Oakden’s work. His brushstrokes have a loose quality that add so much emotion to what would otherwise be a simple landscape.

Terry Oakden, "Paintings, Made Outdoors"

Terry Oakden, “Paintings, Made Outdoors”

Stop by to see Terry Oakden’s solo exhibition Upstairs at Main Street! His work will be here through September 27, 2014. You can see more information about exhibitions at Main Street Arts here.

Exhibition Dates: August 5–September 27, 2014

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Sarah Sutton

Interstice Series on the way to Main Street Arts to be installed!

Interstice Series on the way to Main Street Arts to be installed!

I am originally from the central Appalachian mountain region in northeastern Pennsylvania. My ancestors on both sides were immigrant coal miners from Eastern Europe. The area I grew up in now rests over flooded and burning mines and is surrounded by abandoned coal breakers and shake piles. This industrial world that had once meant so much for so many people was, to me, a dead metaphorall around and underneath memeanwhile life went on.

fire-in-a-coal-mine-under-centralia-pa-irish-640x480

This intermeshing of worlds and realities continues to inspire me. I am specifically interested in how people internalize and pass on socio-historical traumas through generations, such as the Knox coalmine disaster in 1959. In a single day, illegal mining broke through the riverbed, wiping out the local anthracite coal mining industry. Decades later the consequences of that single day are still palpable- in the landscape as well as in the people who once inhabited it. Through the paintings in this body of work, I create a visual language that depicts the complexity of perceptionhow historical and internal experiences interweave and intertwine.

In this blog entry I am going to explore three thoughts on representation and abstraction and address how I see these categories as changing in the digital age; a conversation that greatly affects my work.

1. Excess and Overload as Abstraction

Typically, abstraction has been associated with reduction or abbreviationreducing something to its “essence”. However, I am interested in a different kind of abstraction. When there is an overload of information as with media saturation we do not process a “whole” or “essence” at all. The sheer quantity of images and objects creates a type of pattern-based processing, making it more difficult to focus on individual components and promoting more of a time-based processing. This is explained by Jeffrey Rian in the article, The Generation Game:

 A child born into the electronic age learns his or her way into the world under the influence of disembodied voices and images, piecing together a world in collage pattern that absorbs ‘everywheres’ and everywhens’ into a cacophonous present. With electronics, sensory life is made more complicated because of the abundance of unrelated sounds and images… Experiencing free floating and unanalyzed images, which are integrated as tactile experiences, may offer a level of familiarity, or low level stimulus that engenders a variety of memories…

-Jeffrey Rian (The Generation Game)

Wall of thoughts and inspiration

Wall of thoughts and inspiration

2. The Visibility of the Invisible

Spaces that once only existed as imaginary are all over the Internetfrom hidden corners of the Amazon, live broadcasts of acts of terrorism, webcams of outer space, to videos of surgeries showing the intricacies of the internal body.

After the advent of photography, painting began to explore the notion of the “unknown”internal worlds, complex and amoebic states, and images of the “otherworldly and surreal”. Since almost everything can be “seen” online, it has become more and more difficult to imagine the “unknown” as a singular image.

In my work, painting becomes a way to envision relationships that are seemingly impossible to imagine (even and especially on the internet), because they involve time, different perceptual and sensory information, and the subjective. Ultimately, I am interested in making an image that captures how internal experience and memories are projected onto the external worldwhich becomes personal and involves both recognizable and non-recognizable imagery.

Supplies in the studio

Supplies in the studio

3. Legibility of Illegible

In his book, Six Stories from the End of Representation, James Elkins contrasts the use of the blur in art to what it means in astronomy. Where artists often intentionally blur to obscure an image, astronomers look at skies full of blurs that have never been seen “in focus”. In fact, the paradigm of being “in focus” or legible vs. “out of focus” or illegible does not apply when looking at the sky, as sharpening can cause a loss of information. By moving pixels closer together or turning the lens to focus on one area, contours and shapes that exist in the spaces in between are lost. In this case, the quality of being out of focus leaves the register of human perception all together, and clarity does not necessarily mean seeing something better. I am interested in the paradox of making information less legible, less recognizable, and less reliant on gestalt principles in order to expand on ways of seeing.

 

See our previous post: A Studio Visit with Sarah Sutton