Saturday, October 8, 2016

301: Savage Virtuosity–Tribute to Louisa McElwain

A gallery I follow recently asked the question, “Can you name five women artists?” In the comments section I typed Mary Cassatt, Georgia O’Keefe, Lee Krasner, Louisa McElwain, and Debra Teare. The last name was a bit of promotion, but I justified it by being satisfied that I included two living artists. Curious about McElwain I searched for recent work and was saddened to learn that she passed away in 2013. I had never met McElwain, nor really known much about her except that her work incorporated a rare and savage virtuosity.

As I browsed for images of her paintings I saw many masterpieces from previous decades. I became increasingly interested in her methods when I stumbled on a photo of her posed in front of a canvas with two spear-like sticks with palette knives duct-taped to the business end. The impression was of an artist who had a cultured disdain for over-civilized technique–instead embracing a visceral, almost primitive energy.

There are many images of her paintings online and I’ve seen a few videos where she demonstrates her technique. But like all great artists she makes it look easy and, in the end, what she does seems more like magic than art. But I do connect with her instinct to distance herself from the surface of the canvas by using brushes and palette knives on the ends of sticks. I intend to give that technique a try. On several occasions she likens painting to dance, incorporating the motion of arms and body as an essential factor of painting. With my larger paintings I've felt there is an aspect of motion and rhythm that projects onto these large, new acrylic paintings a quality lacking in my smaller, less spontaneous works.

I’m grateful for the contribution artists like Louisa McElwain bequeath and the legacy she left us. I only wish she could have created many more decades of vibrant, beautiful, and savage art. Rest in peace.

Brad Teare –October 

Sunday, October 2, 2016

300: Rise of the Artistic Polymath

–TWO decades ago I was speculating with a fellow artist about the future of fine art. I predicted that after the turn of the century there would be a focus on the handmade. This shift in taste, away from highly rendered and polished art forms, would result from the public's fatigue from an overload of perfect and overly rendered digital imagery.

Although the trend is not evolving quickly the principle is sound and is unfolding as imagined. I think the coming years will only increase the demand for art forms that manifest the artist's presence.

A few years ago there was a study showing how original art had more power than prints or reproductions (I have since been unable to find this study. If you know of a link please post in the comments section). There have also been studies that art increases the blood flow in the brain. Such studies will help original art to have more appeal to a wider audience–which is greatly needed in a world distracted and numbed by computer generated special effects and other digitally enhanced entertainments.

For fine art to continue its evolution it must be esteemed by larger portions of the general public. The avant garde's strategy of making their art more valuable by making it increasingly less understandable and less accessible is no longer a viable strategy.

Observing these inevitabilities I make a further prediction: that artists will be increasingly freed from the demand to specialize. Artists who survey broad fields will be increasingly esteemed. And they will be increasingly free from the demands of virtuosity. In my recent foray into abstraction I realized that rejection of virtuosity was one of the impulses of the abstract expressionists movement. What were artists to do whose personalities did not permit them to swim effortlessly in the demanding environment of academic discipline? This question, and its answer, led to broader art forms that allowed for a wider expression of creativity.

Hand-in-hand with an acceptance of art forms that revel in the mark of the artist's hand I believe we will see a demand for art that synthesizes a wide array of disciplines into a single work, as well as exhibits that allow for wide expression of forms within a single exhibit.

As I approach galleries with the intent of establishing professional relationships some have scoffed at the idea that artists might develop broad skills in a variety of media. Such views are archaic at best and will doom such galleries to failure. The term Renaissance Man is no longer relevant, for obvious reasons, but also because the pursuit of technical virtuosity, even in many fields, is no longer a means of differentiating yourself from the artistic herd. Standards of technical perfection are now so impossibly high as to be untenable except for a select few particularly suited to such intense, olympian focus.

The future belongs to those who believe in the future–and that belief is best expressed by the broad and continuous evolution of one's creative abilities and vision.

Brad Teare –October 2016

Friday, September 2, 2016

299: Respect the Line (book review)

Click to view book
–A THWARTED dream of mine has been a print show exhibiting the sketches that inspired the final woodcuts. Such an exhibit would rightly express the origin and intent of the printmaking process–the small black and white sketches revealing one end of the color woodcut spectrum.

Such ruminations remind me of the importance of the sketch, not only as an aesthetic end in itself, nor as a means to a final work of art, but as an expression of an artist's journey. To discover who we are as artists is to find those aspects of our creativity which are indispensable. I recently rediscovered that the sketch is not just something that gets buried in a painting but an elemental part of my process–and needs to be fostered and preserved.

A recent book, Adolf Menzel, Drawings and Paintings, is an excellent reminder of one artist's devotion to the art of the sketch. This volume reminds me of cherished journals of Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Van Gogh–which I poured over as a young student. The selections, along with a fascinating introduction, are by James Gurney, an artist whose mastery of the field sketch, as well as his current focus on gouache, gives him unique insight into Menzel's methods and motivations.

Gurney makes many salient points, one of which is that Menzel's approach to the sketch and his choice of subject matter presage the more intellectual view of the modernist movement. A prime example is a penetrating, seemingly anachronistic portrait, which bisects Menzel's face. Other fascinating examples are a decidedly modern looking sketch of row houses, a factory with a smoking chimney, and the interior of a steel mill–all masterfully depicted with an unromantic, analytical insight.

Menzel's subjects range from candid to formal portraiture–from the sublime to the mundane. One example of the latter being an odd perspective of a bicycle wheel. The depictions are authentic and, we assume, pictorially accurate, without partaking of narrow optical precision. Some of the sketches were drawn from memory, exhibiting an astonishing visual acumen. As Gurney explains in the introduction Menzel was not tied to strict interpretations of reality but allowed his memory to modify the more academic approach of his peers.

There are 130 images, of which 32 are in color. An addition I particularly enjoyed as a printmaker are 20 prints at the end of the volume. Identified in the text as woodcuts or wood engravings (to my eye they are almost certainly metal engravings) they demonstrate that Menzel's keen observations translate well into other media.

This book is a welcome addition to my library and a refreshing reminder of the role of the sketch in my own process.

Brad Teare –September 2016

Saturday, August 13, 2016

298:Learning Art Online

AS many of you know I've experimented with online learning although the major venue for my videos has been Youtube. I've logged over 1.25 million views and Youtube is primarily responsible for my large internet footprint, for which I'm grateful. But over the years I've been increasingly discontent with their business model and have searched for alternatives.

I have two videos on Vimeo–with an embarrassing 603 views. I tried Gbox but found uploading videos problematic. Although I still supposedly offer content with them a recent visit shows they are specializing in sports videos (as a content provider I received no notice of this shift in focus). I was approached by Teachable but found their pay-to-play business model initially off putting. They have several plans ranging from $40 to $300 a month. They have a free trial option, which is tempting, and if my calculations are correct they waive the monthly fee and charge 14.3% per class (not exactly free). But his option might work and I'm tempted to create a ten lesson course about painting with thick texture in acrylics as a test.

About a year ago I was approached by the online course and gave permission for them to use my Youtube content, add their own course features, and charge for the videos. I was surprised to learn after checking my dashboard that I had earned $250. Not a lot certainly but better than I thought they would ever do as evidenced by my cavalier attitude and not logging in for over a year. Strangely, but apparently par for the course, I have never heard from them since the initial contact.

Teachable claims that content providers can make loads of money, and maybe it's true. But I would love to interview an artist who has actually connected with an audience via Teachable. One of their users, Angela Fehr, claims to have made substantial income via Teachable. The claim seems a bit difficult to believe–a feeling which was not assuaged by a webinar I participated in that seemed a little too hard sell for my tastes (although the moderators seemed affable and sincere). If the claims are correct it would allow content providers a means to substantially up their game and provide superior content for students.

If any of you have had experiences with online learning please let me know and how it compares with the Youtube learning experience. I would love to know what works and what doesn't from both a learner's perspective as well as the perspective of content providers.

Many thanks.

Brad Teare –August 2016

Monday, August 8, 2016

297: Finding Your Style

–AT A CRITICAL moment in my plein air development I attended a prestigious art festival. My studio painting was in a precarious evolutionary phase–I was slathering on huge amounts of highly textured oils–and I opted to replicate the technique in my plein air routine.

Although I painted a few satisfying paintings at the festival overall the experiment failed and I left feeling the need to develop an alternative technique. I was disappointed because I really enjoyed the festival and looked forward to a return visit.

But more importantly I felt an obligation to further develop my style–to push my technique further. On the upside the disappointment made me rethink many ideas about painting both in the studio as well as in the field. Much of my current success is attributable to that public failure.

I began to wonder why the thick paint of the oils didn't translate well into plein air oil painting. In contrast I wondered why my sketches of the event were so strong. How did I lose something so critical between the sketch and the final painting? The answer was that adding heavy texture caused me to focus on surface texture rather than overall design. 
The more verisimilitude I included the less the abstract design could carry the composition. This discovery answered the question why my woodcuts achieved a higher aesthetic appeal than my paintings generally did.

In an intuitive leap I began doing acrylic abstracts. Painting abstractly I was able to explore design while using texture untethered from the real world. This further reinforced the idea that recreating realistic surface texture is generally irrelevant to my artistic project. It simultaneously demonstrated that realistic values shifts were equally irrelevant–my concern was with value relationships and using value to create focal points. I also started using palette knives exclusively which helped maintain sharp lines and sharp linear detail–a strength also seen in my woodcuts.

During this process I discovered that my artistic concerns were very different from many painter's concerns with verisimilitude. Any attempt to imitate such success by painting images dependant on highly nuanced value fluctuations and realistic surface textures were bound to fail. Those virtues, as beautiful as they are in other people's paintings, were not relevant to my artistic journey.

I needed to focus on broad patterns, heightened and invented value shifts that reinforced design, and pleasing but arbitrary surface texture. Tellingly these were all aspects I accidentally incorporated into my woodcuts. I succeeded as a woodcut artist because woodcut effortlessly fused all my intuitive strengths.

These insights have clarified the path forward–I need to focus on broad, puzzle-like design, invent or interpret value contrasts to reinforce design, and add surface texture for aesthetic effect rather than verisimilitude. Following these guidelines yielded the painting seen above, which was painted in acrylics in the field. The results satisfy my expectations for a properly painted motif while tapping into all my strengths yet eliminating aesthetic elements that require strengths I don't have.

The above painting is not an exact portrait of the observed motif but, more importantly, it captures the essence and energy of the scene. It also has deep texture and exists not only as a painting but as an artifact of that particular moment. It is also a style that is uniquely my own and essentially inimitable. For these reasons I find the painting deeply satisfying.

I wish you the best in finding a style that is a unique expression of your unique view of the world.

Brad Teare –August 2016

Thursday, August 4, 2016

296: An Interview with Dan McCaw

Work in progress, 48' x 48', acrylic
–I FIRST met Dan McCaw at a guest lecture at Utah State University when I was studying illustration and Dan was pursuing a successful career as an illustrator in the impressionist tradition. I was 23 and Dan was 33 and I sensed that he was already on a unique path.

Although I own his excellent book on painting (A Proven Strategy for Creating Great Art) I hadn't read or heard anything from him for years until I stumbled onto this interview conducted by painter Anne Ward.

I agree wholeheartedly with his philosophy–making art can be frustrating and the resistance we encounter is an essential part of the process. I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I did.

Brad Teare –August 2016

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

295: Acrylic Landscape/Abstract fusion

–IN this video I demonstrate how I fuse my experimentations with abstraction with conventional landscape. I use the underpainting not only as a map to indicate features but as a foil against which to play the final colors. The underpainting provides additional field effects, as I leave patches and scrape down in places. The underpainting also provides the necessary texture for a broken color effect.

In the final step I add pointillistic dashes and dots using my newly acquired acrylic markers. The markers give an extremely spontaneous stroke although they don’t have any texture–they go on extremely flat. But this thin, flat layer can be sanded as soon as the paint is dry to reveal the rough textures beneath.

It’s a very flexible technique that promises lots of opportunity to explore. I won't get bored any time soon.

Brad Teare –July 2016

Thursday, July 7, 2016

294: The Art Paradox

IS ART the most important aspect of human culture? Or is it of no importance at all? Many might deem such extreme perspectives unnecessary claiming the importance of art lies somewhere in between. But author Elizabeth Gilbert, in her latest book Big Magic, states that art is both absolutely essential and completely meaningless.

Her willingness to wrestle with such paradox evolved from an interview she conducted with singer/songwriter Tom Waits. He told her his extreme views of creativity, embracing the classic titanic struggle of the tormented artist, gave way to a more reasonable and healthier attitude as he saw his children effortlessly enjoy the creative process. His kids didn’t go through convolutions of loathing and self-doubt as they created–they simply enjoyed the process. After adopting his children’s approach Waits described his songs as intracranial jewelry, a term indicating a more philosophical, and humble, approach to his creations. The term allowed him to distance himself from his songs by acknowledging that they are, after all, just songs. 

I found this attitude refreshing and it allowed me to accept the next concept in the book–that artist’s have no right or entitlement to anything. Surprisingly, this was a new concept to me. After all, aren’t artists responsible for all the bright and beautiful things in the world? Wouldn’t earth be a dreary place in the absence of our work? Yes, but if we didn’t do it someone else would. Artists are no more special than anyone else on the planet.

This is perhaps obvious to most. But artists have strange backgrounds and are often acculturated by an educational process that deems them worthy of special consideration. In my case such entitlement was entirely subconscious. Like most people I felt a duty to embrace the tenets of humility and egalitarianism. Yet there smoldered within me an ember of entitlement placed there by an equally entitled art establishment–which I unquestioningly accepted.

So what has changed with my new attitude? I now no longer feel belittled when I’m not accepted into a show, or am rebuffed by galleries, or ignored by collectors. I’m now fully conscious that I’m entitled to nothing and subject to the same vicissitudes of life as anyone else in any other profession. Fate will smile on me, or storm, depending on factors that are largely out of my control. Such an attitude is liberating and frees me to relax into my work. It allows me to treat both my successes and failures as expressions of the same chaotic force. I can simultaneously be in awe of a well painted passage yet realize it is, after all, just a smudge of paint.

I often work late at night when I’m completely exhausted and regret I’m unable do my best work. So what? I often make great effort to finish a painting only to have it rejected from a juried show for which it was specifically painted. So what? These are problems of little importance.

So what is important? The work, the actual process of creating, the finished paintings, the minor breakthrough after a long season of frustration, the small miracles that, for reasons unknown, allow me to paint beyond my ability. Those things are important.

But as important as those things are they can never overshadow the importance of good relationships, good friends, and a good heart. Fostering those traits are the most essential of all. And paradoxically, as I free myself from entitlement, I enjoy more fully those simple pleasures.

Brad Teare –July 2016

Monday, July 4, 2016

293: Adjusting a Painting

Spring Road, 12" x 16"
–I PAINTED this painting at last week's workshop. I did 90% of it with palette knives and the last 10% with brushes. When I got home it was late so I placed the painting in the bottom rack of the freezer. The cold will keep a painting wet for months if necessary. [Note: you should not place a painting or paints used with mineral spirits because they are toxic and will contaminate anything else you store in your freezer. I didn't use any solvents in this piece since I cleaned the brushes with facial tissues throughout the painting process. I use solvents only for cleaning my brushes after my painting is finished.]

The following video explains some of my thinking as I adjust edges, shapes, values, and add minor details. I didn't mix up any new paint–I just picked up bits of similar hued paint from excessive dollops on the canvas. I especially look for mechanical strokes to modify as I add texture when I am redistributing the paint.

I hope this is helpful to all those who attended the workshop.

Brad Teare –July 2016

Thursday, June 30, 2016

292: Painting with Markers

–AFTER my abstract painting reception (tonight at 8pm) I will be starting a new project. A few weeks ago I went on a plein air trip and experimented with painting with acrylic markers. Although I lacked a full palette of colors I had good results and decided to combine daily painting with plein air painting using markers–a combination that employs drawing skills with the discipline of daily painting.

I use the term daily loosely as I intend to paint an average of four small paintings a week. Most daily painters are not dogmatic about numbers–the idea is to create good paintings on a regular basis. It is the kind of discipline I need to push my plein air work forward.

Below is a video showing how I prepared empty acrylic markers for work in the field using Golden High Flow Acrylics. Let me know what you think.

Brad Teare –June 2016

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

291: Thursday Artist Reception

—AFTER several incorrect posts I finally conferred with the gallery director and confirmed that the artist reception for my abstract show is this Thursday, June 30, 2016 at 8pm at the Maralade Hill Library on 280 West, 500 North (a few blocks northwest of the Capitol). So if you are in the Salt Lake City area Thursday night I hope you'll drop by and take a look at the paintings. 

As always I appreciate your support.

Brad Teare —June 2016


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