Monday, December 8, 2014

In Pursuit of A Great Liberation Through Seeing

Over the summer I reworked my dining room table, adding an experimental acrylic painting to the surface. I liked how it turned out, and especially enjoyed the surprises that would arise in the painting process. Each of the geometric shapes had a blend of colors, unplanned, that contrasted with one another in a way that emphasizes the brush strokes.
Home Coming (closeup)
acrylic on wood
So I decided to try the same technique on non-functional pieces.
October 2014a
acrylic and shellac on wood
26" x 17" x 2"
On these I couldn't help myself from adding a shellac french polish process to the work. I've thought a lot about this and, on one level, feel that if I could resist, the work would take much less time and I wouldn't mind offering them for less, perhaps even helping to sell a few.
October 2014a (closeup)
But I really like the effect shellac adds. Not only does it add depth, it also changes the painting from something that is apart from the sculpture to something that becomes an indistinguishable part of it while adding mystery as to how it was applied.
October 2014b
acrylic and shellac on wood
30" x 26" x 2"
And the process of rubbing shellac on the surface over many many hours is so ridiculous, so obsessive, that it sets the piece apart from other paintings, adding a recognizable sense of caring. I know this doesn't come through well in images, but in person I hope viewers can really feel an intense emotional dimension to the work, even if they can't know how many obsessive hours I spend finishing a piece.
 October 2014b (closeup)
However, on another level, I feel that the shellac work devalues the art, that the polish might trigger an association with craft and furniture which is, by its nature, devalued. And honestly, I want people to make that association but I want it to be made in a way that doesn't devalue it, which may be an impossible challenge.
October 2014c
acrylic and shellac on wood
22" x 37" x 2"
Regardless of what people think, or how much they value my process, I have decided I to do it this way; I can only hope that at some point the appreciation will follow from my own appreciation and obsessiveness.
October 2014c (closeup)
I've also thought a lot more about my choice in using wood as a medium for sculpture. In theory, something similar could be done in stone, or ceramic, or metal, or numerous other media, but I love how wood, more than any other medium, adds an indisputable uniqueness. That the work cannot be replicated on any level -- from the base, to the shape, to the paintings on top, to the finish -- is especially important to me. I like how it is completely impossible to copy any of these pieces.
November 2014a
acrylic and shellac on wood
9.5" x 46" x 3"
I also love how wood, being organic, adds warmth. I know if I painted the same thing on a bronze they would feel very cold.
 November 2014a (closeup)
Additionally, I have to say that I absolutely love each of the little "painting-ets." I feel they have a beautiful spontaneity, each completely unique and surprising, which adds a level of fun and joy.
 November 2014b
acrylic and shellac on wood
13" x 38" x 3"
But personally, i also feel the "painting-ets" add an aspect of spirituality to the work. I see each of them as body-less "beings" with their own personalities and histories, floating though space and time, joining or splitting off from other "beings" as circumstances dictate.
 November 2014b (closeup)
The truth is, I listen to an audio recording of The Tibetan Book of the Dead (as read by Richard Gere -- and he does an excellent job of pronouncing all those funky words, I assume) too much. I have it on my iPod along with a very eclectic mix of music, set on shuffle, so that various chapters pop up at unpredictable times in the most incongruous segues (though Modest Mouse followed by a chapter on the wrathful deities seems about right). 
 November 2014c
acrylic and shellac on wood
35" x 8" x 4"
But I like it because it is important to know what to do when you no longer have a body, and to know that it is the same, in many ways, as when you do have one. I figure it must come through my work, though perhaps I'm just projecting onto it.
November 2014c (closeup)
Anyway, that is what I see, and think about, when I look at this work.
November 2014d
acrylic and shellac on wood
33" x 8" x 4"
As The Tibetan Book of the Dead is subtitled The Great Liberation Through Hearing, if I were to be truly successful in this work, they could be titled The Great Liberation Through Seeing.
 November 2014d (closeup)
And though I do consider myself completely delusional in many aspects of my life, I have no expectation that I would ever accomplish it. But that doesn't mean I won't try either.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Another Way To Say Nothing

I've really enjoyed my bumper sticker project over the last year and a half for a number of reasons -- they are fun to design, they are easy to talk about, people respond to them, and they have a concept that I think is important: saying nothing -- not telling people what to think, do, believe; and giving them something that they can interpret for themselves incongruously placed where they would expect an overt message.

Over the summer I got the idea that I could raise the volume of my silent propaganda by doing the same thing on a billboard. The thought scared me at first (and, actually, it still does) because the significant increase in expense, but when I realized the thought wouldn't go away I became resolved to the the fact that I would do it. As it turns out, I realized the vision pretty quickly, settling on a spot in Queensbury, New York, Route 9 (north facing), installed on November 11 for a four week period.
Queensbury, New York
10'5" x 22'8"
I like how it came out, and I like the juxtaposition with a liquor store and a fast food restaurant, but I am now very curious how it is received or whether it will be noticed at all. I saw it in person on the November 12. During my visit, I didn't get a sense that anyone had a thought about it -- I didn't see anyone looking at it and the one person I asked hadn't seen it yet. I get the feeling that it is one of those things that you'd have to pass several times before you give it a second thought so, in that way, I'm glad it is in an area that local people would likely drive by to work or shopping on a regular basis.
Queensbury, New York (second view)
When I committed to the space I was under the impression that at the end of the rental period the billboard would be destroyed as part of the process of putting a new one up, but, to my surprise, I found that it is printed on a woven plastic fabric that I can actually keep when it is taken down. So, instead of it being a ephemeral installation, I can actually retrieve and sell the piece. As a result, it is theoretically possible that I could get enough money from a sale to afford another. It would be wonderful if I can make this an ongoing series in different locations around the country. Hence, I've been aggressive sending out press releases with the hope that I can generate enough publicity that the piece will have value when it is taken down.
Queensbury, New York (third view)
Admittedly, there is a crazy element to renting a billboard with no words or identifiable image (though, I believe, all good art is at least a little crazy so this gives me hope that making it is the right thing to do) but since I couldn't ignore the idea, realizing the vision alone is worth the effort and expense. Still, I have hopes, and my desire is that people see it and have a response -- any response. Perhaps it is seen as a crazy, irrelevant, self-serving, esoteric, opaque, and/or just plain confusing, but even a negative response is self-generated thinking from the viewer, so I feel the process is positive even if the emotion created is negative. However, if viewers see it as I intend, as a gift of mental space, as an object that is purposefully not telling people what to do and, thereby, saying "be," I will be even happier.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Summer Home Improvement Projects

Once the snow melts and it warms up enough to set up the miter saw in my carport, I can start a number of long over-due home improvement projects, one of which I have been thinking about for over ten years.

The first project was to paint a new fiberglass door. It was installed the previous fall but I didn't have time to paint it then. As with all of these projects, I am glad I waited because having the time to thing about them allowed something unique to bubble to the surface, had I done any of these quickly, they would have been like anyone else's, and not very interesting.
Carport Door (exterior)
As a side note, I'm particularly happy with the header over the inside of the door, it is much more interesting than if I had used the standard ninety degree cuts, and now I can enjoy looking at it too.
Carport Door (interior)
The door inspired me to paint my kitchen island in the same style. I had built it out of baltic birch years ago for another purpose and since it wasn't a well made piece of furniture and could use some jazzing-up, I thought making it a work of art was the most reasonable thing to do with it.
Kitchen Island
Here is a second view of the island. You can see in the background the original construction of my stairs, which I also worked on this year. The colors in this image didn't come out very well in that the color above the orange on the right is much more green than it looks here. I like that orange/green side the best, and admire it often after finishing washing dishes. 
Kitchen Island
I bought my dining room table in 1998 and though I never regretting getting it, I was never happy with how the maker had finished the top. It is made with some really beautiful curly maple but the boards were very roughly flattened in a joiner/planer that had dull knives so it had a lot of tear-out and there were ridge lines the entire length of the boards where the knives had pits/gaps. In addition, the finish was too dark so the grain was totally obscured. Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures of the origin condition, I can only attest to my belief that it is much better now. 
Dining Room Table (side one)
The legs and apron were made with regular hard maple so I felt fine just painting them.
Dining Room Table (side two)
I filled the tear-out with black epoxy then cleaned up the top with a combination of a card scraper and my Festool sander. After I painted the acrylic geometric patterns on top I finished it with polyurethane. The title of the piece is Home Coming, which is appropriate in that it is the first thing I see when I walk through my door but it has a more personal meaning as well.
Dining Room Table (top)
You can see in these last few pictures how intensely figured the boards are. I really had no idea how great they were until I started brushing on the poly.
Dining Room Table (top)
Dining Room Table (top)
The biggest project for this summer was to work on my stairs. I've been living with the rough carpentry stairs since 2005 but had been avoiding working on them because I was never sure how to do the finish carpentry (how are the sides suppose to meet the risers and treads?). As with most things I do, I still had no idea how to do them when I started but I figured the only way I'd figure it out was to just jump in and hope that I could figure it out as I went along. Humorously, I had to restart three times before I figured it out, and that isn't counting the hours I spent trying to install the first section of stringer. In addition, I hurt my back after the first day from all the bending over and had to wait another week before going back at it. But once I figure out what to do/how to do it, the work went smoothly enough.  
I ended up using sixteen colors (not counting the handrail or pantry doors). When I finished I found it interesting how much fun it became to ascend and descend. With ever step I'd gain a different perspective on the painting in a way that makes it feel like a living work of art.
Stairs (view from top)
The hardest part of the painting was tying it into the existing kitchen. I think I repainted the kitchen side three times before I found a combination I liked. The title is One Orange Polka Dot. I particularly like having a set of stairs that has a title, which must put me in a very exclusive club.
Stairs (kitchen view)
Once I finished the stairs I started working on the under-staircase pantry. The shelves inside were simple enough but thinking through how to make the doors, cut them precisely to fit, and hang them was a little more complicated/stressful. Thankfully, I worked through it okay (though I still feel I thought about it more than I should have). I ended up using 1/2" Baltic birch plywood because I wanted something light (so I could put the hinges on the short side of the big one) and stable (so they wouldn't swell much in the summer).
Pantry Doors (exterior)
I like how the painting wraps into the inside of the door, so I get to enjoy it when I open the door too.
Pantry Door (interior)
I ended up mixing all the colors on the door myself because I got tired of buying paint and I couldn't find cheap colors I wanted either; however, now, if I ever need to touch up the color, I'll have to repaint them with something new.
Pantry Door (interior)
The final home project of the year was to install an official (legal) handrail. I tried to limit the color on it to grey, red, and black, but after I finished I felt it still needed some blue and a couple of other shades in the red family. I may still add more (maybe a red/orange?) but I'm trying to keep it from being too busy next to the stairs. I'm fairly proud of the rail brace extension at the top. I didn't want anything too clunky or jarring and I feel like this is sturdy but still appropriately elegant.
I'm happy with how everything turned out and I'm glad I took the time to do something different. Now, when I look around my house, I often think "a crazy person must live here" which I think is a good thing because good art has to seem a bit crazy, and if I think it is, and others do too, I must be doing something right.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

"Reflections" @ The Kent Museum

I'm feeling like I should have my artist license revoked for belatedly announcing a exhibit of my work in a museum but luckily for me I'm license free so I'm allowed to continue my profession regardless of any malpractice on my part.

 So . . . Last Saturday, September 13, was the opening reception for the exhibit Reflections @ the Kent Museum in Calais, Vermont. The closing reception is Sunday, October 5, from 3:00 to 6:00 and the show is open to the public Friday through Sunday 10:00 to 5:00, as well as by appointment.

The venue is unusual as a museum space but it is also wonderful in its own quirky way. It is located on a dirt road in a town of about 1500 people, it has no collection, the lighting is non-existent, and the walls are perpetually in the same state of "under repair" for lack of funds. But it is also that unfinished state that makes the space great because -- with the exposed lathe, multiple color painted walls with patches of new plaster, and peeling, multi-layered wallpaper -- the interior is a work of art in its own right.

The show features thirty artists, including ten of my new pieces from this year. As I was installing the work I was particularly impressed with how my sculpture/paintings interacted with the walls and I felt that the title, Reflections, was particularly apt because they seemed to reflect each other.

My two most recent pieces were also included in the show -- August 2014a and August 2014b. From what I remember, the mixed media on each includes shellac, epoxy, graphite, acrylic paint, spray paint, and oil pastels.
August 2014a
mixed media on wood
49" x 9.5" x 2"
August 2014a (closeup)

 August 2014a (closeup)

 August 2014b
mixed media on wood
57" x 9" x 2"
 August 2014b (closeup)
 August 2014b (closeup)
Even though the site is remote, the location is so beautiful it is worth the drive if only for the view from the outside. I especially like the contrast of the historic structure and rural setting with the contemporary sculpture of Judith Wrend. As foliage season emerges in the next few days, the view will change to spectacular.
8'7" x 10'2" x 10'2"
Judith Wrend

Monday, September 15, 2014

Fear of Triangles

In August I was asked by the architecture firm Gossens Bachman Architects to paint a metal garage door on a warehouse building next to their offices in Montpelier, VT. This was an especially fun commission because, just like my last one, I was given free reign to create whatever I wanted without any discussion, plans, or drawings. This is how I prefer to work so it is a blessing to find clients who are brave enough to go along with my madness. In fact, the extent of our conversation about the design was the following:

GBA: So, do you know what you'll do?
RH: I have a vague idea.
GBA: Do you know how long it will take?
RH: Until I'm happy. Maybe a week, maybe more, or I might go super-minimalist and decide that I'm done when I show up the first day. 
GBA: Ok.
Fear of Triangles
exterior latex paints and stains on metal
144" x 138"
 I ended up using twenty-two colors and creating twenty shapes. I visited all the local paint stores looking for mistints so I could find random colors cheap but ended up having to mix some of my own because, with a couple of exceptions, the mistints were dull/boring colors and I was looking for bright colors that would make the piece highly visible from a distance.
Fear of Triangles (site view)
 The painting is located in an obscure industrial section of town but it is visible, especially in the winter months, from Barre Street, a highly traveled side street. I'm happy to report that the feedback has been positive and GBA is happy with the results. I look forward to finding more opportunities for outdoor paintings because my dream/vision is to eventually start painting buildings. I'm hoping I can find a client brave enough to hire me because I don't have the money right now to buy my own structure.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Bumper Sticker Update #3

Here are my latest four wordless bumper stickers. I'm thrilled to continue having incentive, and inspiration, for making them and being able to find people who are interested in getting one, however, I recently modified the rules for giving them away -- as always, the first bumper sticker is free for anyone with a US address (just let me know where to send it) but I'm now insisting the people agree to stick it on a vehicle, for everyone else I charge $10.
3" x 10"
limited edition of 10
With these amorphous designs people often tell me thing that they see in them which I always find interesting because I have nothing in mind when I create them, but my favorite interpretation is when someone saw the one below and immediately said "Oh, its a T. rex tail!" I love the image of T. rex tails being green polka dotted.
3" x 10"
limited edition of 11
3" x 10"
limited edition of 11
With this last sticker (my twentieth!!!), the printing company had made a mistake with the violet shape, sending me stickers with something that was too close in color to the background, making it difficult to see, so when they corrected the printing job they made a couple of extra to make up for the error, hence the edition of 12. As of today, August 21, 2014, I still have ten copies of 080214, so if you want one, let me know. All others have already been distributed and are no longer available. If you would like to see my latest designs as they become available I recommend following my Facebook page because that is where they are posted first.
3" x 10"
limited edition of 12

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Messiness Continues

Over the last few months I've continued to explore an abstract expressionist style, over-laid with geometric abstraction. This process involves layering different media, removing them, and then layering more, repeatedly until I'm happy with the results. Media include acrylic paint, shellac, oil pastels, spray paint, graphite, epoxy, gesso, and milk paint (I think that is a complete list but I can't guarantee it). Except for this first piece, I've titled them with their date of completion because I didn't feel comfortable with any other title; I could have left them all untitled, but that would have been too confusing, and I felt that any descriptive name would have felt forced or been too revealing. Instead, I want the viewer to find their own way with the work. Another reason for date titles is that I feel the chronology of the work is important, and revealing, in how the work evolves over time.

This first piece, One Whitish Orb, is a recycled shellac painting from 2010. I struggled with it for several months but finally felt it come together when I added the polka dots.
One Whitish Orb
mixed media on board
35.5" x 29.25"
I especially like how the acrylic polka dots overlay the shellac polka dots (which I didn't realize were polka dots until the acrylic ones were added).
One Whitish Orb (close up)
I've also completed two more two-sided paintings. With these, however, I decided to paint, and have wood exposed, on both sides. I also split them into two pieces and off-set the sections. 
May 2014a (side one)
mixed media on wood
13" x 53" x 3"
65" high from floor
There are saw marks and scraps that gouge the wood in these pieces, adding a layer of linearality to the messiness. I think it is also interesting how the abstract expressionist mess is framed by geometric abstraction.

May 2014 (side one close up)
This is the other side.
May 2014a (side two)
mixed media on wood
13" x 53" x 3"
I think the saw marks, filled with epoxy and may other things, cutting into the clean wood section adds a aspect of minimalism to the piece in addition to tying the two sections together.
May 2014a (side two close up)
The base is made with black cherry and 1/2" stainless steel rods.
2014a (base)
wood and stainless steel
This other two-sided piece is made in the same way except I used 1.5" thick lumber instead of 2" as with the one above.
May 2014b (side one)
mixed media on wood
8.5" x 30" x 2"
61" high from floor
May 2014b (side one close up)
May 2014b (side two)
I like how the imperfect saw kerf epoxy filling gave me a chance to add different colors and create a miniature abstract painting within.
May 2014b (side two close up)
The base design is the same as above, though a little smaller.
May 2014b (base)
In living with my first two-sided paintings for a while, I began to feel that they had a "presence" -- I felt a personal relationship with them as if they were another being in the room with me, and I thought the feeling could be accentuated if I used the same technique vertically. As I started working on these last three pieces, I thought of them as independent spirits with complex personal histories recorded over millennium, with each mark and layer representing events that are obscured, but never forgotten, by the next series of events. I like how all of these layers can be seen as messy and "ugly" on one level, but when viewed as a whole, and appreciated for what they are, it can also be seen as very beautiful and wonderful.
June 2014a
mixed media on wood
41" x 10.5" x 2"
With these last three I also cut circles into the wood, filling them with epoxy and other things, to add another layer of geometry to the work.
June 2014a (close up)
June 2014b
mixed media on wood
53.25" x 9.5" x 2"
June 2014b (close up)
June 2014c
mixed media on wood
47" x 9" x 2"
June 2014c (close up)
I'm really happy with the emotional content of these pieces, I can really feel them, but I'm curious, and looking forward to, seeing if and how others are affected by them. Thankfully, I won't have to wait too long because they will be on display in mid-September -- look for an announcement soon.