Really – what a couple of weeks! The past two weeks have been the busiest of the semester for me so far. Gearing up for our guest artist visit with Jennifer Meanley on 4/8 and 4/9, I kicked it into high gear (well, even higher gear) over the last two weeks, culminating in a weekend spent actually sleeping in the studio to make sure I finished as many pieces as humanly possible before my critique on Tuesday, 4/9. I texted my husband that I was coming home when everything was done Tuesday night and his response was: “And you are?” 😀 I finished 4 new encaustic pieces (mixed media works made by layering heated and smoothed wax and spray paint, drawing, oil paint or collage) and made significant progress on 4 others (a couple of which, depending on how I feel after a little more time, may actually be complete – sometimes I have to sit on them a little bit to decide).
Jennifer Meanley was our guest artist for the spring semester. Her art can be viewed here: http://www.jennifermeanley.com/. On Monday, she gave a lecture discussing the history of her work and some of the themes that are interwoven throughout her pieces. Ideas of home and place in physical or mental space and nostalgia are very important to her work, the sensation of longing for something no longer present and how a person carries it within one’s memory. Her paintings and collages seamlessly balance simultaneous color and simultaneous contrast, placing complimentary hues parallel to each other, as well as light next to dark. She is very interested in what happens when objects meet and what happens to the space in between, using the tension of the contrasts in hue and tone to adjust the speed at which the viewer’s eye travels through the piece. She is the first artist I recall listening to that discussed color in terms of tempo and velocity, rather than just temperature. By the end of the lecture, my brain was humming with so many things to think about that I was afraid it would just short-circuit and not be able to process it all. I can’t claim to have understood all of the theoretical principles discussed in her lecture (or my critique for that matter), but if I can integrate even half of the ideas into how I think about making my own work, my pieces, especially the oil paintings, will likely improve dramatically.
In total, for my critique, I showed 3 large figurative pieces (at various levels of completion) from my Dialectic Personae* series and about 15 encaustic pieces (some finished & some in progress). I wish I’d thought to take a picture of the wall with everything displayed together, but I got caught up in other preparations. It was a really good feeling seeing how many pieces there were all together.
Jenn’s main critique of the Dialectic Personae pieces was that they looked like I was really trying to show that I know how to paint, but that the figures themselves came across as being handled in a manner that was “too self-conscious”. The viewer really needs to question just what the heck is happening in the image, rather than seeing a couple of reasonably well-painted figures. She referenced the artist Isabel Bishop for me to research, looking at the unselfconscious observation of urban working class women beginning in the 1930s, as in “Tidying Up” http://www.imamuseum.org/collections/artwork/tidying-bishop-isabel and the weird, slightly creepy, yet almost Renaissance style work of John Currin for the odd but beautiful factor (http://aphelis.net/john-currin-paintings/). “Be weirder” will now be my new painting credo! Jenn also suggested that I tear back into the color of the pieces to help make them pop, make them more energized, and guide the eye around each piece better. I had taken a break on working on these larger pieces this semester to work on the encaustics so I could feel like I was making some progress after being stuck on the slower paintings for the past year or two, but I feel like I have enough distance now from the bigger works that I can dig in and make some major changes.
Jenn also suggested that I look at Art Nouveau artists (http://www.nga.gov/feature/nouveau/exhibit_intro.shtm), including Gustave Klimt (http://www.klimt.com/), for ways of blending abstract design with more realistic figures. That may be a way to incorporate some of the layering techniques and design choices from my encaustic pieces into my oil paintings. A lot of thoughts to digest, but I feel like this will be a stepping stone to much improved work.
*The Dialectic Personae pieces are based on the idea that many of us live dual lives – we present ourselves one way during the day (i.e. I am an administrative assistant) and another way at night (wacky MFA student). I have done several modelling sessions with women who do roller derby, burlesque, or polesque (pole-dancing combined with burlesque) and have 3 paintings started, at varying levels of completion.