Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Building up my Portfolio

I actually thought that I had posted some of this earlier. Now with so much, I'll have to stretch it out over a couple of weeks.
As has been my practice in the past, I start up my creative engine with simple abstract composition. Just 3 points/areas of complimentary color interspersed with dark/light value contrast. Throw in some texture, and that's it.

I also restarted a favorite theme from the past: fish skeletons. So, the fish graveyard series continues. With the same simple design equation. I added more delineation and combing in this one.

I went heavy on the fabric dye and blending on this piece, as well as some wet-on-wet mixing. The blurry texture was the desired effect.

I included the side-by-side pics below to show an example of the same piece "filled with layers" and then sanded down to reveal the hidden patterns. As with most of these quasi frescoes, I have to seal the plaster to protect the surface and enhance the color.

The other option that I use to seal a piece is to pour a two part table top epoxy/resin over it. This creates a glass like layer approximately 1/8" thick (hence the glare on this photo). Aside from the danger of scratching the epoxy surface in the future, the layer is virtually "bullet proof". The real downside is the ideal conditions required to mix and apply the stuff (have to use a respirator and all!).
In this abstract work, I resorted to an outlining of more geometric shapes. Followed by 2nd and 3rd layer filling.

I have wanted, for the past couple of years, to build a portrait on a skeletal drawing by using layers of acrylic glaze. Here's the first step.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The 2015 CIVA Conference: sharing the High Points

I was able to attend the CIVA (Christians in the Visual Arts) 2 weeks ago at Calvin College, in Grand rapids Michigan. Due to time, money, and locations I haven't been able to participate but one other time...about 35 years ago when it was also held at Calvin College! It's a bi-annual get together of Christian artists from all over the US and Canada. What was unique about this particular conference was it inclusion of topics on theology which catered to pastors, church leaders, and scholars. This broader focus brought in a wide range of speakers and discussion panel members (you can go online and see the specific names, like Calvin Seerveld, etc.). (the 2015 CIVA Conference)

The schedule for the three plus days was demanding and choices had to made about which afternoon sessions to attend (like I wanted to see more than one each!). Below, I've included some of my key inspirations, notes, and thoughts. It's a little mixed up and I failed to list the speakers for each session. Hey, just pick out what is impactful to you. Sorry, I didn't think of bringing a camera...and my flip phone takes lousy pictures.

“Between Two Worlds: Contemporary Art and the Church”

Thursday night
Q&A #1, what was it like being a Christian artist when CIVA start in the late 70’s?
- A Christian worldview must be practical.
- Reformed Theology is a natural partner for the visual arts. Art/creativity is a gift from God.

Q&A #2, can a Christian contribute to contemporary art without it being “modern” (ie, the philosophical concept as compared to the art movement).
- A Christian’s artist doesn’t need to be overtly Biblical or convey a Biblical narrative.
- Redemptive art is used by God to redeem part of humanity.
- The Christian artist needs to discover the design and context vocabulary to speak Christianly through their artwork.
- What are some goals for current Christian artists to pursue? Focus on your faith, be passionate about your work, and study art history.
- The Bible has more to say about “images” than art as a concept. In fact, the Bible deals extensively with images and is therefore linked to the visual arts.

Best personal point: The artist who is truly passionate about making art will pursue projects that don’t necessarily gratify them personally. It means to enthusiastically taking an assignment that you may “hate”.

Morning Session: Contemporary Art and the Church
Seeking to define what the church and contemporary art is, given the record of art history.
The word “between” refers to the space where conflict, overlap, and blending take place. These two spheres are not interchangeable. Posture is just as important as content. The Christian artist is bilingual and bilateral. There are two different narratives, values, and objectives. Effective communication can come about only if illiteracy, on both sides, is dealt with properly. Once an attempt has been made to reconcile the two camps, seek out “ambient content”. Don’t worry about the distinctions, but work on the definitions and the posture.
The interrogative posture is to ask honest questions. The church comes from the posture of a pilgrim; we’re just passing through. While the world sees this life as all that there is.
Neither camp is a closed set. They are centered sets with strong gravitational energy. They are each cultural sets. And it is in the arena of criticism where the conversation will take place or not.
It is unproductive to approach the worlds with “word pairs” (eg, “I and you”, or “me and it”). rather, address the work; is it worthy of a response? Host opportunities for the conversation rather than focusing on the distinctions and creating division. What is the common ground of belief, rather than what is not held in common.

Afternoon session 1A: Art’s Witness to the More
- We, as Christian artists, are to use grace and hospitality in reaching out to the world. It’s like Daniel and his three friends living with Yahweh in Babylon.
- let’s consider the missional community in this endeavor.
- we are free to use metaphor and symbolism as the Bible does without having to communicate or translate such in a direct way.

Afternoon session 1B: Theology and the Visual Arts
- liturgy and repetition, along with metronomic time, even as represented in the Mass, becomes an example of systolic time. Whatever we do in this systolic way is worship, no matter what the pattern: eating, watching programs on TV, having sex, etc.).
- phenomenology has to do with the quality of space.
- effectiveness of using performance art. My criticism: rather than focusing on a negative connotation (ie, cutting something down, emphasizing what’s wrong with America, etc., or being “anti-this-or-that”), how about present something positive (ie, promote something like the fruit of the Spirit, virtue, honor, truth, justice, devotion, faith, etc.).
- performance art was used a lot in the Old testament through prophets like Ezekiel,, Jeremiah, Hosea, and Jonah.
- repetition has the danger of becoming empty ritual or can become a useful tool for meditation.

Evening Session*: Visual Art and Corporate Worship/Contemplation
Depth of meaning in the visual arts can be illustrated through a semiotic chart: symbol, then icon (representation), then, the most direct, index (result, affect, imprint).
            Qualities of the visual image consist of 1) simultaneity, 2) permanence, and 3) monumentality. There can also be a meaningful comparison between syntagm (sequential relationship) and paradigm.
- Contemporary art is dialectical, marked with an ongoing process of personal and social spiritual development.
- sacred art is primarily “index” and impactful, not through an emphasis on technical or skill level, but on context.
- how do we invent or reclaim corporately shared making and looking at art?
- Christian worship is both based on presence and narrative (story or illustration). The impact of visuality needs to begin with presence; otherwise the congregation will stop with the story

*Some of these notes came from the 2nd morning session.

Saturday morning session: Contemporary art as community outreach
Evangelism through intriguing image and design.
Testimonials of effect outreach programs, for the down & out, unsaved, and struggling artists, especially in the inner-city.

Afternoon Session 2: what is the relationship between theology and contemporary art?
- Moses and the burning bush. Moses looks once and then “sees” it, through contemplation. God uses images for relational purposes.
- Light reveals art and allows for communion.
- St. Augustine believed in 3 types of sight: corporeal (retinal function), spiritual (emotional and psychological), and intellectual (begins the eternal realization).
- The mode of art is always significant.
- The world cannot and never will be able to provide resolve or even meaningful contemplation concerning death. All the world can do is recognize the problem. They have no solution. While Christianity has the answer.
- Creativity requires parameters, challenges, or restrictions…otherwise the art will be nothing more than self expression.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Encounters with Silence, Karl Rahner

Yes, School is over for the Summer...which means that I can get caught up on some blogging! Here are some favorite quotes from contemplative Karl Rahner as found in his book, Encounters with Silence.

           But when I love You, when I manage to break out of the narrow circle of self and leave behind the restless agony of unanswered questions, when my blinded eyes no longer look merely from afar and from the outside upon Your unapproachable brightness, and much more when You Yourself, O Incomprehensible One, have become through love the inmost center of my life, then I can bury myself entirely in You, O mysterious God, and with myself all my questions.                            p.9

           Grant, O Infinite God, that I may ever cling fast to Jesus Christ, my Lord. Let His heart reveal to me how You are disposed toward me. I shall look upon His heart when I desire to know Who You are. The eye of my mind is blinded whenever it looks only at Your Infinity, in which You are totally present in each and every aspect at once. Then I am surrounded by the darkness of Your unboundedness, which is harsher than all my earthly nights. But instead I shall gaze upon His human heart, O God of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and then shall be sure that You love me.                        p.17

           Thanks to Your mercy, O Infinite God, I know something about You not only through concepts and words, but through experience. I have actually known You through living contact; I have met You in joy and suffering. For You are the first and the last experience of my life. Yes, really You Yourself, not just a concept of You, not just the name which we ourselves have given You!

            You have seized me; I have not “grasped” You. You have transformed my being right down to its very last roots and made me a sharer in Your own Being and Life. You have given me Yourself, not just a distane, fuzzy report of Yourself in human words. And that’s why I can never forget You, because You have become the very center of my being.                                                            p.30-31                                                                                      
The Problem of God’s Silence
That must be the way it is, since You are the last answer, even though incomprehensible, to all the questions of my heart. I know why You are silent: Your silence is the framework of my faith, the boundless space where my love finds the strength to believe in Your love.
            If it were all perfectly evident to me here on earth, if You love of me were so manifest that I could ask no more anxious questions about it, if You had made absolutely crystal clear the most important thing about me, namely, that I am someone loved by You, how then could I prove the daring courage and fidelity of my love? How could I even have such love? How could I lift myself up in the ecstasy of faith and charity, and transport myself out of this world into Your world, into Your Heart?
            Your love has hidden itself in silence, so that my love can reveal itself in faith. You have left me, so that I can discover You. If You were with me, then in my search for You I should always discover only myself. But I must go out of myself, if I am to find You – and find You there, where You can be Yourself.                                                                                                                    p.56

The Struggle with Being an Imperfect Witness
And that is precisely the burden of my life. For look, Lord: even when I announce Your pure truth, I’m still preaching my own narrowness and mediocrity along with it. I’m still presenting myself, the "average man”. How can I bring my hearers to distinguish between You and me in the frightful mixture of You and me that I call my sermon? How can I reach then to take Your word to their heart, and forget me, the preacher?
I want to be a transmitter of your light, and to do so, I must nourish it with the oil of my life. And yet I can’t avoid placing myself before the lantern, coming between Your light and the searching eyes of my fellow men. I seem to be good for nothing at all but making the already dark shadows of this world even darker and longer.
…Any grace that goes out from me is Your grace. Whatever of mine goes out of me is nothing, only a hindrance or, at best, a means You employ to test my fellow men, to see whether their instinctive love can recognize You, even when You disguise Yourself, almost beyond all recognition, by appearing to them in me.                                                                                                        p.74

My personal note: I'm sharing these thoughts as a Christian artist because the life of any artist is an interior one. Dealing with self is a must. Distinguishing between soul and ego is essential (which comes from another book by Steven Pressfield...which I will share about in a future post); or as the Bible puts it: between spirit and flesh. If things are not right internally, or if one's relationship with God is unstable, then the creative process is hindered. 
Spiritual darkness, God's silence, or His elusiveness have to be understood in the language of faith. Because art comes from inside, the Christian artist is a preacher; a witness to the message matter how simple or complex that message might be (eg, "The sky is beautiful", etc.). Not every Christian, or artist for that matter, struggles with the internal world, but those artists who do are being called to a prophetic life. And it's a dangerous journey...even spiritually deadly.

Monday, May 25, 2015

End of the School Year

 Well, I had to set aside any major art production while making it through this first year of teaching full time. This piece was an old "unfinished" abstraction left over from my Paducah days.
 This will be one of the last large panels on which I'll be working. It was an attempt to revive a "water current" series from quite a while back.

However, this piece represents my new direction: simple "excavation" series (multiple layers of plaster, tempera paint, and dyes built up and sanded down) with layers of epoxy resin poured over the top. Each layer of resin has images and artifacts imbedded into it. I've tried to print on tissue paper to create a transparent or translucent fiber that disappears into the resin. Also, the dried resin layer readily accepts acrylic paint.

The only downside is trapped air bubbles released from small objects. Sweeping the surface with a propane torch has to be done a few times while the resin is settling in order to eliminate those air bubbles.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Art in the Dark

Okay, I've been delinquent in keeping up with these posts! I have been creating some work, but I haven't been pleased with any of it. Just lacking inspiration, partly due to my focus on teaching these days.
This image goes back to a series I had done 20 years ago. Kind of a 50's retro abstract expressionism. As with 20 years ago, I glazed with oils over the sealed surface in an effort to create form and depth.
I used one of my mega bike tour photos from over in Italy as inspiration for this Newfresco. I glazed with acrylics where needed. There was a part that did not come through well after the initial sanding and, after and attempted repair, I pretty much gave up on the piece. Repair jobs with this sort of medium are rarely successful.
This is another reaching back into the early years of my production. I had done several still life pieces like this and they all sold. It's not like I need to sell something, I was simply trying to tap into an inspiration from the past.
Lastly, I thought that I would try a little wildlife image. Nothing special, had a old small frame with a little piece of lauan and there's a parrot! A little too "cartoonish" for me, but some of my students liked it.
I do have more work under way and will be using up some of my old epoxy resin material to encase these new "excavation" series pieces. I should have something to  show for it in a month. So, until's more "art in the dark".