Thursday, September 23, 2010

works in progress...part one...


Beginning in the waning days of spring 2010, I began work on a series of paintings to be hung this fall at Katie Gingrass Gallery. The work is part of a group show entitled Urbane: Portrait of a City. I suppose my inclusion makes a good amount of sense as I have been making drawings around the city for a number of years now. The current shift in my process has been venturing out loaded to paint. As a set-up it requires a bit more than works on paper. I have an old hiker's frame that I use to carry my french easel, complete with pigments and brushes. In the pannier baskets I carry my medium, a can with solvent for clean up, rags, and some snacks. Its cumbersome nature was an initial factor in keeping me closer to home for this work. All of my locations were within a couple of miles from where I live, on the near west side of Milwaukee. Working off the side of the bike also dictated the scale as it does with works on paper. Perhaps, there is a cargo bike in my future, should I choose to scale up?

In the early stages of the work, while scouting and drawing, the panels were strapped to the gear on the hiker's frame. It wasn't until the painting began in earnest that I installed the panniers.

location: Washington Park Lagoon 2

The short film at the heading of this post was shot on location in Washington Park and was the site of the second of two paintings along the Lagoon. Since 2005, I have made numerous monotypes that are loosely based on memories of a shoreline. Over the prior winter, I completed a suite of those prints and with several of the "ghosts" I developed painterly images working on top of the prints with Sennelier oil pastels. Though these works on paper are all inventions relying on memory of past observation, they seem to have acted as a genesis for this summer's painting, which was made exclusively and faithfully from observation.

Washington Park Lagoon 2: underdrawing

...with imprimatura applied

...following the first session of painting work during the final session of painting

...detail from Washington Park Lagoon 2

In recent years I have cultivated a special relationship with this park. In part because it is close to home, and life with small children requires park time. There is also a certain quality that this particular space has that is difficult to pinpoint or describe. Maybe it is some echo of its grand past? Afterall, it is one of the flagship spaces in Frederick Law Olmsted's "Grand Necklace of Parks" designed for the Milwaukee area in the latter part of the 19th century. Formerly known as the West Park Zoological Gardens. It is positioned in such a way that it is bordered by neighborhoods that run the gamut of social and economic strata. To the east and some degree the north, you find some of the deepest poverty in the city. to the south you find a more entrenhced middle and working class. And to the west you find an avenue lined with wonderful stately homes one of which is the the domicile of our current Mayor. All of this means that the park ends up being utilized by a very demographically rich group of people as they comingle, excercise, play or perhaps find respite before returning to their life circumstances.

location: Washington Park Lagoon 1 the end of the first session of drawing

...underdrawing with imprimatura applied

...after the first session of painting

...after the second session of painting

During the early part of this past decade I spent time teaching on the college level. On more than one occasion I found myself speaking to how often one's process and even life trajectory may be cyclical in a way that is akin to a telephone cord (for those of you that can remember phones of a bygone telecom era). The cord does travel forward, but it constantly circles as it coils. Metaphorically, one may find their own work mimicking such a path. As you progress you simultaneously cross your prior path, mining your past as you move ahead.
One of my earliest, outside of school, art program experiences was taking part in a summer camp run by Fred Silver called Art Street Studio, in the early 1980's. The first year I signed up the program was held in Washington Park and was based in a commons building (which is now home to the Urban Ecology Center of Milwaukee, west campus). This is an area that is very close to the location of these paintings. In the program, there was a theatre troupe that would roam the park exploring experimental and improvisational modes of expression. The Milwaukee music legend, Berkley Fudge, ran a camp for jazz musicians. The sculptor Tom Queoff headed out the sculpture program and finally there was a 2-dimensional program, which is where I landed. back then it could be pretty rough in the park and we only lasted a few weeks before relocating to Lake Park (another Olmsted designed space). It's fascinating to me that after a quarter century I have returned and continue to utilize this park as a source for my artistic endeavours. What may be even more intersting is that during this summer's work I had more than one wonderful and slightly educational conversation with curious kids wondering how & what I was doing. Only now I was in the role of mentor.

Friday, April 30, 2010

May Day

At 7am I will ride off from a super 8 motel in Delavan, WI on a 200k journey that will take me just south of the Madison area and back. It is the start of the brevet season. Last year I only managed this same 200k (though the route has been changed). Hopefully, this will be the first of a number in this 2010 season. The weather looks favorable....on the warm side with some chance of rain. though the winds could be stiff for the first leg to Brodhead. I will follow with a report of the day

Thursday, April 22, 2010

studio visit...

*The workbench circa 1998@ BGSU

Back in the mid days of my grad school experience I had the interesting fortune of a studio visit by the renowned Bay Area painter, Bruce McGaw. As an even younger student; I was wholly captivated by the Bay Area Figuration of Richard Deibenkorn, David Park and Elmer Bischoff. Bruce McGaw was part of the “second generation” of this loose knit group of painters. And he has been part of the Academic royalty on the West Coast for many years. He also happened to be one of the teacher/advisers to my studio mate, while my peer was doing his BFA at the San Francisco Art Institute.

Open to Closed Panel 5 of 6 1999
oil & emulsion on panel

At the time of this visit I was just beginning to find my way to what would become the work of my thesis. It would involve a penetration into self-portraiture in the manner of the Old Master’s. With the guidance of key mentors I was actively trying to understand and implement an age-old process that despite its lengthy history, very little has been transmitted verbatim over time. In fact generations of restorationists and conservators have devoted time and whole careers to a practice of art sleuthing in order to preserve centuries old work. I was moving deeply into an arcane realm of art-making that embraced craft, draftsmanship, process & material and some dose of the super natural. And as James Elkins expresses eloquently in, “What Painting Is”….the resolution sought by an alchemist was not that different from that of the painter. It is hard for us to imagine how powerful it was to be able to transfix a likeness on a substrate that could mimic a sitter. And, in affect, “cheat” death by achieving some sense of immortality. In either atelier…the art and the magic began with earthen materials and goopy substances, brought together with the hope that the sum total of these parts would transcend the ordinary and evolve into a form that is precious and rare….gold on the one hand, immortality on the other.

*working at the bench circa 1998 BGSU

It is fair to say that the work Bruce saw in my studio was seemingly self-absorbed and perhaps even a bit misguided. I had a number of self images drawn up on small panels that were adopted from Polaroid SX-70 images. I shot scores of these as reference material and made short sequences with a given number from a ten pack. Eventually, these would help to inform the format my thesis work would take. I was also making Xeroxes of these and collaging with gum arabic, pigment and beeswax on panels and paper. Some of these constructions were treated with heavy hand-built framing elements, mostly in Cedar. The studio presented an olfactory experience along with simply looking at the images. On some level I wanted to be as much the alchemist as the painter…if that is even possible in…what was then…the late days of the 20th century? Our conversation lasted some portion of the afternoon. In summary, I wouldn’t say he had high regard for what I presented that day. In fairness, I wasn’t really yet able to articulate my concerns. I was working from a very visceral place and could only talk around the issues. And, I was admittedly awe struck by a painter who, only years before, was a figure from recent art history. He was someone to study in a book. Not someone sitting next to me, in my studio, speaking to my work. The takeaway comment that left an imprint was that I was “so Midwestern” in the way that I cared about craft, from his perspective it seemed to reduce my practice to menial, manual labor. And I remember that he almost seemed perturbed as though I was trying to perpetrate high art crimes.
I certainly did not articulate my position well, but I think Bruce missed out on the idea that, I then and now, have a deep reverence for the materials I choose and how I go about bringing them into one conversation. The art is not only in the final piece, but also in the bicycle drifting in search of images and formal structures to transcribe. It is also in the selection of groupings of work to present in a space. And it is present in all aspects of the final presentation of a given piece.
I have found that one’s practice can be quite circular. As we age and continue to grew we may till the same soil, but from different directions. I have continued to pursue self-portraiture, but not recently in painted form….”drawing off the bicycle” and the bicyclejazz short films have taken the place of the painted image…for now. And to that end, while working in the shop crafting frames for a current show, I took the opportunity to document and edit two new films. handmade 1: hone & handmade 2: the joint. Perhaps they may further illuminate the point to the earlier portion of this submission?

*photos by Matt Gamber shot one day in my studio at Bowling Green State University

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

observation & improvisation

I am currently showing 17 prints & drawings at Meritage a local fine restaurant on Milwaukee's west side. 15 of those are pictured above and have not been shown before. The other two are from the begining of my current artistic endeavour that began off the side of my bicycle in 2008. This particular presentation is a benchmark for me, in that, it has exposed a notion of the work occupying a space between memory and location. Roughly 1/3 of the work in this grouping is from life and the rest, including all the monotypes, are invented or in a sense improvised. In either case, there is a grammar that has been developed that seems to move freely between these two polarized being immersed in the landscape, trying to make some reasonable sense of light, space, atmosphere and the ever present flux of time....the other working in the studio inventing, recalling past experience, as well as, referencing my own personal canon or artists from history.

Monday, April 12, 2010

hand made

The wood working sector of the basement will be in full operation this week....16 frames need cobbling to present new work at a local Culinary week.

...cherry stock ready for joining. A frame I have built for years employs a simple drawer construction "finger joint". Cut by hand with a Japanese dovetail saw....finished with an antique oil rub....sounds a bit sassy when put that way.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


....I don't claim to be involved in racing, but I do like occasionally riding fast while being unencumbered. The only other "race" bicycle I have owned and ridden was a Waterford, and with one "test" ride I can say that this vintage beauty is everything that frameset was and perhaps then some. I may have an extra handful of grams on the Puch, given it is a 531 tubeset and the Waterford was a 753, but the more relaxed geometry of the Puch feels perfectly dialed in. I look forward to seeing how far afield this machine may allow that feeling to be maintained...100k?...or beyond?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Parts is not parts...

All the pieces to this bicycle puzzle are coming together. As mentioned in the prior post, some of the parts that I will use on the Puch build come from the stock of items that I have held. On friday, I received an anticipated package from Velo-Orange containting a number of items to flesh out the project. Not pictured is the Wheelset. It is currently at my preferred LBS. The front needed to be rebuilt and the rear needed to be brought back to tension. I would like to be the one doing my own wheel work, but my experience is limited, as is my lot of tools for such a job. I have found out the hard way that without a tensiometer and many wheels under my belt it is just money well spent to let a pro handle that job. So then, here is the list af parts that will be involved in this project:


crankset~Stronglight Cyclotourist 175mm
chainrings~TA double 48-32 (compactish)
f. derailluer~Simplex
r. derailluer~Simplex sx630
pedals~Lyotard w/Avocet cages


rims~Rigida 700c
freewheel cassette~ Suntour perfect 6-spd 12-28

brakeset~Suntour Supurbe sidepull
pads~VO squeal free road
brake levers~Gran compe
h-bars~Nitto Randonnuer 45cm
stem~SR 70mm

Arguably, not a purist build...though one that I think will still be somewhat faithful to the period of the frameset. And one that is loaded with my own personal preferences. That seems importnt, as this bike will be ridden and not hung for the ages. Not mentioned above is the saddle and post, nor the tires I intend to use. In the outset, I will be swapping the Selle An Atomica from my Raleigh. It is mounted on a Nitto post. I am hoping to get a set of Grand Bois Cypress 700c x 30.