Friday, June 12, 2015

REVOLUTION: To Revolt or Revolve?

Detail of Wave painting by MB Boissonnault

I have been thinking about revolution and what it means to an artist. The word is loaded with meaning - to revolt or to revolve? It also contains the word 'evolution'. So the question arises in my mind, are we really tearing down the status quo and forging new paths in art, or are we simply evolving and revolving around the same concepts as we always have?

For me this is a personal and philosophical question that can be directly applied to my art. To dispense with the rigid and rule based in favor of exploring and rebelling to create new work. But we can see that revolution within society also creates strong ripples in the art community. As the collective intuitive of the group of artists turns its attention to the tide of new thinking they incorporate these ideas into their work, knowingly or unknowingly.

Many feel that artists are the canary in the coal mine – the first to notice and say what others are too afraid to voice. The first to feel the change and not be able to repress their reaction to it. Recently a local show went up in Ojai called Water Works II. The show had been formulated far in advance of the recent drought in California but what was surprising was how many artists were looking at water as a subject to explore.

When artists pull the collective attention to a dire issue they facilitate the evolution/revolution of the conversation and ideas by giving it a visual focus. It is the horrible/beautiful that art can be, such as Delacroix and his view of the the bloody and violent French Revolution, that stands the test of time once all the revolutionary rhetoric has faded away.

Liberty Leading the People, Eugène Delacroix

There is an old saying, "Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it." By arming ourselves with the knowledge of the past we promote a revolution in ideas, but the lack of knowledge dooms us to another revolution around the same path of history as before. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Seeing the Light

Venice Beach Laundry © Taylor Barnes 2014

"Seeing the Light" may refer to the many levels that "light" is experienced when creating a piece of art. This recent painting posed the challenge of rendering a dramatically lit nighttime scene (alá Edward Hopper). In some ways, dramatic lighting is a cheap trick because if you do it at all well the result is a magical and dramatic work. Lighting used to portray a story within a story is something photographers and filmmakers understand only too well. A scene filled with dramatic lights and darks just screams to be interesting. Think, film noir.

I have passed this laundry for years and watched life play out in front of these well-lit windows. Some nights there is a line around the corner for the homeless to do free laundry, compliments of the management. Every night there is a congregation of homeless hanging on the steps trading information and hitting up the well-healed patrons of the Whole Foods Market next door. This laundry represents a true class intersection that is practically symptomatic of the entire economic displacement of people happening in Venice Beach. 

Through these windows, the light reveals a whole society of people normally hidden from view. "Seeing the Light" refers to the technical aspects of how this work is painted as well as the story it reveals. The emptiness is probably the future of this place. As wealthier families move into the area, they won't need a laundry. In the past, this was where neighbors gathered to meet neighbors, exchange information, or find a helping hand. Local artists painted the walls and there was a sense of an extension of home. The landscape is changing and some of the soul of Venice is leaching away with that change.

Of course, it is only a laundry mat but it is also a symbol - if we look, we can see the light.  The final part of the journey of this painting revolves around communication. In my effort to communicate clearly what I was seeing I rendered the white letters of "Venice Beach Laundry" with the precision of a sign painter. I failed to see the painting that was the engine to the image – until I showed it to both my mother and my daughter. Each, independently of the other, said the letters were too dominant and should be pushed back. Their critique helped me to "see the light." I realized that the danger of leaving the painting and the world it creates in favor or the literal world is to loose track of the dynamic of painting. By being too literal, I was loosing the spontaneity of the brush and what set my work aside from a photograph. Texture, depth of color and – lighting – were my tools. I pushed the letters back to a rougher form and the work was complete. 

In the end, I find each painting is a psychological journey into some aspect of my thinking that has yet to be revealed to me. This painting was about seeing the light, literally and spiritually. It is a little like playing God in your own personal universe, “… on the seventh day God said, 'let there be light' and there was light."

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Good Beginnings and Good Endings

Convergence, Jackson Pollock, 1952

When I start a painting, I want to lay down a great base to work from but when I finish a painting, I want to recognize the perfect moment when I should walk away from the canvas. It is similar to a love affair – in the beginning; you are on your perfect behavior, trying to create a great impression for your lover. As the affair starts to lose steam, you still remember when everything was a beautiful event making it difficult to recognize the moment to say enough and walk away. You don’t want to destroy the gorgeous memories you have already made with one bad memory of the end. Beautiful beginnings leading to graceful endings are the ideal.

The start and the finish are the big moments in life and in art – everything else is just getting to or from one of those points. The ability to see these two moments is what separates the experienced artist from the student. Looking at the Jackson Pollock painting above, you have to ask yourself how he knew when to stop. How did he know when he had the perfect amount of paint on the canvas? Yet some artists never see an ending - Claude Monet was rumored to travel to museums with a small paint set in his coat and when visiting one of his paintings, he would pull out the set and touch up his work. I suppose you could call that a series of revised small endings.

There is energy in life and art imitates it through process. Embarking upon the journey starts with the first step (to paraphrase the famous Chinese proverb.) Ending the journey requires either knowing where you are headed or at the very least, recognizing it when you arrive.

So here is to the journey, which starts with the energetic and hopeful first step but ends with an elegant final step and a look backward to view the progress that was made.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Painting to Remember...

Ara Bevacqua © Taylor Barnes 2014

This is one of my recent works on a series about the people and places that are disappearing from Venice Beach. It is easy to try and create a more layered and symbolic back story for a series of paintings but the truth is this was born out of a very simple observation.

One afternoon I was in the French Impressionist rooms of the Los Angeles County Art Museum and decided to sit and sketch a Pierre Bonnard painting of rural life in France. I sat there looking closely at these works and realized these painters were simply painting the life around them but the pieces had become invaluable because of their historical context. They chronicled a life that had disappeared. Upon reflection, I saw the same thing currently happening in my city of Venice Beach. The subjects of my paintings may be simplistic to the current observer but I hope that someday they will stand as a historic record of a life that disappeared here as well. I can never totally escape my journalistic tendencies.

Painting has a unique way of capturing the artist and the emotion of the subject. The evidence of the artist's hand in the work lends another level of emotional interpretation. As I work my way through this series I hope that each piece, when finally shown collectively, will offer a summary of palpable emotion for the loss of a way of life. Venice lives in a tenuous state of gentrification which is wiping out a once seemingly indomitable creative spirit.

In the tradition of the Impressionist painters, who ventured out into a Paris of another era, they painted their city because they loved what they saw - I am doing the same with my Abbot Kinney Blvd., the Ocean Front Boardwalk, and the rapidly disappearing Rose Ave. I can't seem to shoot my reference photos fast enough. But these paintings will be the record of my emotional connection to Venice. And then it will be time to move on because the Venice I know and love will be gone - except for within my paintings.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Space... The Final Frontier

S  P  A  C  E 

It       is       


                                                   Informative (even in the absence of information)

            b  e  g  u  i  l  i  n  g

... it is an artist's most understated tool for expressing message and emotion. Space in the mind and on the canvas is pregnant with possibility. It is the promise of something more. Space is the hidden but implied message that is defined by the surrounding elements. 

Many years ago, I went to a retrospective show of Mark Rothko's color field paintings. In most circumstances, these paintings are shown individually but for this particular show, they were hung chronologically. The very theory of color and space and shape conveying the powerful emotions of Rothko's torment were so available in this setting. It was the hidden message in the space between the works that was compelling – the empty wall space that led you to the next work and the next revelation of the inner conversation within the painter’s mind. 

Lately I have been listening to a lot of music on my headphones in an effort to create a free space in my mind. The music occupies an image free area but generates it’s own image. My painter's brain solves the problem by combining the random images with the design on which I am currently working. This is one part of the creative process. Throughout the process my mind needs the S P A C E to think, to breathe, to sigh it's way into a relaxed state of inspiration. Similar to dreaming while awake (not to be confused with daydreaming.)

Emotion is another element that takes up space in my work and my mind. It needs to be directed or I find it difficult to creatively problem solve. Emotion expands and creeps into space even when you think it is not there. Rothko's paintings are a good example of harnessing powerful emotion and infusing it into the creative decisions he made as a painter. The work grabs you and insists that you feel as you view. It is undeniable what emotions are being conveyed because of the impeccable use of the space, color, and emotion along with a cultural and psychological reference. Through it all, space is the container – it gives room for the color to expand and enfold you into it’s spell. It is in a word, "beguiling."

Space to think. Space to create. Space to process artistic challenge. I am trying to be conscious of the spaces in my mind and what I fill them with because eventually it will all find a path into my work.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Does the Age of Communication Herald the End of Creativity?

Birds on a Wire © Jessica Kerwin Jenkins

Birds on a wire... a visual allegory for humanity perched on the wire of technology. It's precarious, and like the birds, humanity seems to be blissfully unaware of the imminent danger we are sitting upon. But should technology slip our grip, it will be our split second survival response (our creativity, our wings) will be the only thing that saves us. Dramatic I admit but how far from the truth?

I read the title for this blog post in a daily horoscope and it gave me pause. I had to stop and really think about this since I straddle the analog and digital eras within my career. I have certainly struggled with how to integrate and authenticate my artistic voice into my digital work. I have been outraged by the lack of innovation and rampant copyright infringement that abounds on the internet. But this question – so personal – begs to be contemplated.

The Age of Communication is a daunting title. There seems no definitive value to the word 'communication' within this label so I am led to believe that it encompasses everything from reality TV to Stephen Hawking. But along with other era titles, such as The Age of Enlightenment, or The Dark Ages, there is the burden of imbalance. The pendulum must swing back in favor of anonymity, authenticity and personal privacy.

Where do we go as designers once we have been sucked into the vacuum of this new age? It's easy for us to overvalue the tools we use, the messages we send, the marketing force we create BUT is it an authentic contribution to the world? Is it really for the betterment and advancement of mankind?

Communication is God right now. Communication is unbridled and stripped of all its checks and balances (honesty, respect for privacy, attribution) and running rampant as it irresponsibly educates the population into rules and ethics that are hardly worthy living by. Communication is in its most pervasive and destructive form right now. The NSA digging into our every move, webcams being hacked, personal conversations splashed across websites without the permission of participants, invasive sales tactics, and our personal information being sold over and over again in an effort to encourage us to buy more and more useless things.

As a designer it would seem that I am biting the hand that feeds me by raising these questions but I see a deeper responsibility here. This may be the Age of Communication but there is an almost childlike selfishness about living in the moment with this new mindset.

Which brings me to the question of creativity. As more work is distributed to a less than critical audience where does the creative process belong in a world that really only values the revenue that is generated? There will always be a place for true creative geniuses but the audience that can truly appreciate their work may be shrinking. Creative process does not follow the linear pattern of binary code. It rambles, twists, and turns. The spark of an idea is in the the DNA of the person, in the rapid firing of our brain synapses, and the seemingly illogical combining of various influences.

Creativity is divine but the scientist will seek to define it, corral it, map it, and regenerate it. Can they? It is my hope that as we identify smaller and smaller molecular and atomic structures we will see that there is no end to the genius that is nature. We are drunk on a little bit of power and a little bit of knowledge but in the greater scheme of the inner workings of the universe we are completely ignorant. The pendulum will swing back to embrace the unknown, the spiritual and creative spark that works in tandem with our logical minds. And if we do it right The Age of Communication will create new ground rules for humanity.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Creative Collaboration - Can't live with it, Can't live without it!

Playing for Change - Stand By Me

Creative collaboration is something that happens in every artist's life. It is ironic that we are so dependent on the sharing of our work and processes with others when we spend so much time alone in our minds during the creative process. It gives us the illusion of autonomy but actually we are always working in tandem with someone or something.

As I watched the video above I thought about how much more powerful the outcome is when we collaborate with joy and the willingness to share our gifts. No ego. No hierarchy. No leaders. Just every voice, every creative effort being heard as part of the whole. Our current culture of narcissism has spawned an attitude that all art springs from the individual.

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, has a wonderful TED talk titled, "Your Elusive Creative Genius" and you will see she has a compelling argument for why this me-centered creative mindset has not always been the case. She argues that in ancient times all creativity was thought to come from the divine, the gods, and channeled through us. Therefore the responsibility to be brilliant lay elsewhere rather than our own egos. Who can argue that you don't feel a connection to something greater than yourself when you are tapped into the creative flow?

Which brings me back to collaboration. I think that technology has created an environment where collaboration is easier and more accessible and perhaps in the future we will begin to redefine the process of creativity with less of an "I" culture and more of a "We" culture. I have noticed among the artists I work with that the older generation seems a bit less inclined to share the process and the credit but my younger artists are all about collaboration and experimentation. Perhaps this is due to the fact that in their culture no idea is sacred once it is made public on the internet. Everything can be copied, modified, changed, remixed, redrawn, and redefined without regard for the original creator. So doesn't it make sense that they would embrace creative collaboration?

Once the process is embraced that leads to some wonderful outcomes because the collective creative consciousness is more powerful than the single voice in the end.

I will leave you with Pharrell Williams "Happy" video project, a huge collaborative of creative people dancing to his song. This one is from Hong Kong. Had only one person been the expression of the song it would not have been nearly as powerful as the collaboration of people around the world for the sake of feeling happy. Imagine if this example of creative collaboration was applied to all aspects of our culture; finance, politics, food distribution, industry, and on and on... what type of society would we have with a grander collaboration of humanity?