Sunday, November 5, 2017

How to ACTUALLY SURVIVE as an Artist- A Practical Compendium

I HATE self help books, those unending nags in the bookshops or online that will inevitably point out flaws- of which I don't like to be reminded , thank-you very much. They are very much like trying on clothes in a department store dressing room where the prison like lighting is designed to ricochet off every quivering piece of cellulite and eye bag.

Mind you I have taken MANY stabs at self improvement, a shrink, meditating, Weight Watchers, fasting, a very LOOOONG week in a woodland cabin without electricity or locks on the door- all designed to prop up my inner artist- but never have I ever looked at the practicalities. I thought because of my "genius" the world would catch on. Well it hasn't (sniff as yet), so at an advanced age I have taken to sniping and bitching- HOWEVER I find myself in excellent health with all my teeth AND according to when my relatives have croaked, I have a few good decades left- minus a few for lots of wine.

During a day trip to Vermont, I found myself at a book store-somewhat akin to a rat seeking cheese, I saw a small yellow book that was pestering me. It was Joanneh Nagler's "How to be an Artist Without Losing Your Mind, Your Shirt, or Your Creative Compass". I took it home and looked at it for a week reproachfully, out of the corner of my eye, until fortified with a bit of Chardonnay I read it. I loved it, it was the kind of book that I wished I had had at the onset, or even the middle of my career. It is a wonderfully simple guidebook that addresses the practicalities of supporting yourself , living your life, while pursuing a career in the arts. Ms Nagler  honestly dissects her own problems, especially with that eternal bugaboo money. It made me confront destructive and wasteful behavior patterns- painful? yes!

It is such a useful little and cheap book $13 or so on Amazon. This is a great book even (especially) for students, who unlike me, face the daunting task of student loan repayment. It is worth every cent.

One caveat: Her advice to re-use old canvasses and cheap paint should be looked at with a grain of salt. Yes, Pollock used cheap paint and canvas but some of those house paint swirls are delaminating- falling off in one piece- impossible to restore. Also unless you are a rank beginner, do not paint over old canvasses as the under-painting will eventually show through as oil paint thins as it get older, an effect called pentimento. I find it is best to use the best paints you can afford,as they are fully pigmented unlike the student grades.  I use them twice covered in aluminum. You can save money by buying poly canvas or acrylic primed canvas. Here in Providence, an artist I know goes around to the trash bins when the Rhode Island School of Design students are leaving for the summer. He picks up bagfuls of first rate hardly used art supplies.

Here is the best info that I can find of surviving and paying for your art education:;postID=3135514257669357249;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=18;src=postname

Saturday, October 7, 2017


I think I have always been aware of just how imperfect a species we are, not godlike in any way but downright specious and feckless as well. My perception has only worsened  since the election of a cretinous and reckless president.

Is making art a hopeful gesture? I do not want to go into whether or not it is pointless- it is; but therein , I think lies its beauty. I really am a simple artist, I can lose myself in a work that engages me for the flimsiest of reasons. Will workboots work on a figure in a tutu or let's make that orange scream against a cobalt?. It is to enter an arena where you have an illusion of control, unlike the world spinning around you and weaving dangerously close to extinction. My painting is a tiny world I think I can make perfect.

Artists of surpassing genius like Mozart, Velasquez, Michelangelo etc. have worked in eras that far exceed ours in human desperation and horror. I am always perplexed as to why we have so few artists that produce work of sublime beauty but batter away at their canvasses with stale polemics, decade after decade. Is it perhaps because some of us have become aware that we are sliding down the final rabbit hole?

However humanity occasionally surprises me and challenges my increasingly gloomy perception.
Coderch Malavia

Beautiful sculpture:

A Thai Life commercial:

A fawn rescuer:

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Derain and the Fear and Loathing of the Modern Figurative Artist

The figurative artist today is considered an artistic Luddite, somehow quaint, but is dismissed as outdated as a prairie poke bonnet.  Recently in a New York Times article about Andrew Wyeth, critic Ted Loos wrote "Wyeth is often dismissed as a talented realist — generally not a compliment in today’s art world." This flimsy article does not warrant further reading as the author displays a remarkable ignorance vis-a-vis figurative painting, and is only useful to illustrate the typical dismissal of the genre. On the other hand, Cindy Sherman, that dirty underwear neurotic sends a New York Times critic into to paroxysms of artspeak over her new breakthrough: the  making public her Instagram account.
Cindy Sherman "Ready for my close-up Mr. DeMille"

It is difficult climate for the figurative artist, there are very few serious venues. The major galleries only show "realism" if your work is filled with snark, political messages, and irony. No sincere bathing in beauty here- are you mad!? I have been asked if my art is kitsch by gallery owners before seeing it. It may be but I assure you it is quite unintentional on my part.

I love the figurative but it is both a joy and agony to paint; is it too photographic or slick, should I try some faux  naive stylization? No not that- too dishonest but what? I find that often I try to do the best I can,and quite simply let the results lie where they fall. It is a quite humbling not to mention, painful experience when you realize that the final result in no way resembles the radiant, museum worthy, art book canonization of your original vision.

The tilt of art towards abstraction was challenged by Derain, Giacometti and Balthus. Here is a review of the show written by Jed Perl, one of the few remaining sane critics in the art world. To say this review gave me wings is an understatement. Jed Perl makes subscribing The New York Review of Books  worth it. I don't know if you are able to read the whole review without a subscription but you can read part of it. I included the insightful last paragraph,

An excerpt: All these artists, Derain as much as Picasso, embraced the fundamental modern discovery that the essence of the visual arts wasn’t naturalistic truth but pictorial truth. A work of art was first and foremost an arrangement of forms, which had both emotional and symbolic implications. With Picasso and Matisse, the constant rearrangement of forms became a way of generating emotions and symbols that reflected the artist’s kaleidoscopic personality. Derain, Giacometti, and Balthus were troubled by what they saw as the subjectivity of such constantly mutating forms. While they were too thoroughly modern to revert to the old idea that a painting was a mirror of the visible world, they wanted their imaginary worlds to have a logic and inevitability that transcended their own emotional appetites.
Derain "Nude in Front of a Green Curtain"
Derain  "Harlequin and Pierrot"

"To all of this skepticism the magnificent exhibition currently at the Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris responds with a clearheadedness and an intrepid confidence rare in the museum world. What we have here is nothing less than another side of the great modern adventure. That Derain, Balthus, and Giacometti are so absolutely insistent on rejecting irony in favor of sincerity and magic in favor of metaphysics gives this exhibition a particular urgency in our own dark times."

Further reading: Jed Perl's take on Cindy Sherman.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Chandra Battacharjee

  Every once in awhile I encounter an artist that brings me to my knees.  Bhattacharjee  is a contemporary Indian artist from Kolkata. It seems that much contemporary art is from nowhere and reflects more a loft in Brooklyn, that the artist's native home.   In the instagram age we are buried in seemingly trivial imagery. His work is profound, lyrical and elegiac. I understood it without his "artist's statement". It is timeless and yes, beautiful. These made my day and lifted my spirit.

Notwithstanding his lyrical approach, Bhattacharjee was a trained and skilled draughtsman who did not just luck out. 

Painting, especially from life, and unlike photography compels you to look at something for a longer time, uncovering hidden layers beneath surface appearances.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

We are Cowards- too many Artists have Given up on Beauty.

Beautiful paintings are not cool today, they not done- they are sneered at and we the artists, have for the most part cowered under the critics. I am not not talking about the endless simpering creations of vapid neo-victorian landscapes and other treacly greeting card images, but images that are deeply, personally challenging and heart stoppingly beautiful and human.,We have to trick out our art with onerous messages and unsightly images for no reason, desperate to show just how serious we are as an artist, the real deal the reason we are paying off our student loans .Worse we have to resort to callous indifference and mine the obscenely rich with clever, sleazy, insincere, showboating crap, anything! to get their jaded and worthless attention. Rare indeed are artists like Kathe Kollwitz who manages to combine beauty and deep humanity. Most of us in the west are poseurs at faux agony. Much of the misery we experience here is self-pity; no-one appreciates our work, can't get a gallery, can't afford to live and work, but even at our nadir we are not in Raqqa, Syria watching our children's heads being blown off. Suffering will not go away, beauty might.Why can't we make work that justifies people's faith in the basic goodness of man? Suffering morphs from one century to another, but our beautiful planet might not continue exist as it is. We are complicit in this.

The National Gallery of London is Having a glorious show of Dutch flower paintings. I can smell the blooms from here.


And if you are not in London, sniff, The Boston Museum of Fine Arts is having two excellent shows- Matisse and Botticelli. I saw them I almost died and went to heaven.  Come to think of it, one of the last things I would like to see, other than loved ones is Botticelli's Primavera, not Jeff Koon's balloon animals or Damien Hirst's shark tank!

Botticelli "Primavera" not in the exhibition but some beauties are. Will add my pictures later.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

You may already be a winner, or don't worry about never having won a big art prize. Sic Transit Gloria

The big shakers and movers in the art world of the past, like Matisse, Picasso, Renoir, Manet, Monet etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, the names that come to the tip of the tongue and mind were never as far as I could ascertain, big prize winners of anything. 

Below is a list of the hot artists of the era that coincided with the aforementioned artists up until 1960, when I believe the last prize was awarded. It is a list of the disappeared. this is an absolutely hilarious link to les oeuvres des oubliées of the Prix de Rome. I was struck at how overwrought each composition was, more was more, more agony, more figures, more pomposity, more pretension. Again I was struck by a similar vein mined at the current Venice Biennale, where each country is outdoing each other in bombast and in political allusions- oh how cute, how done. Who the hell is going to know what this pretentious political crap refers to 100 years from now, if the planet is still here. 

Personally, I have never won an art prize, not a single one that I can remember offhand. Oh yes, sorry, I won a Sagendorf  prize (Copley Society) for a portrait about 20 years ago. Again in the second grade I won 10 dollars for a patriotic essay for the Daughters of the American Revolution, something I would be hard put to write today. Since then it has been mostly downhill. I have been refused entry into art shows in my home state of Rhode Island, even one recent exhibition for women- ouch! I have entered enough contests whose fees undoubtedly would aid the national debt if not mine. I could paper the walls of a large house with the letters of regret. I doubt I have even gotten an honorable mention- I may have gotten a few finalist accolades. I am like most artists, depending on what the future, fashion or taste holds, either lucky or unlucky.

And I am neither fashionable nor unfashionable- I do not rise to the collective art consciousness. I am obscure.

But for those of you who are hovering with me over the abyss of anonymity I give you the tale of the not so immortal Georges Rochegrosse. 

Dancer Undressing $3,485.16

From First Dibs
  "Georges Rochegrosse was abandoned by his father as a child, and when his mother remarried he became the stepson of the great poet Théodore de Banville. In this new intellectual, artistic family environment he began receiving guidance from Alfred Dehodencq. Then, at the age of 12, he became a pupil of Gustave Boulanger and Jules Lefebvre at the Académie Julian, where he later taught draughtsmanship. While enjoying the benefits of the more liberal teaching at the Académie Julian, he enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts, and was a finalist in the Prix de Rome competition twice. In 1883 he won the Prix du Salon, which enabled him to visit Italy. He subsequently traveled to Belgium, Holland and Germany. Around 1890 he married his great love Marie Leblond, who became the model for the heroines in his paintings for about 30 years. From 1900, Rochegrosse and Marie spent the winter months in El-Biar, in the hills above the Bay of Algiers, where the painter often found the Oriental backgrounds for his compositions. In 1920 Marie died and Rochegrosse sought solace at the Société Théosophique de France (French Theosophical Society). In 1937, a year before he died, he married Antoinette Arnau. He died in El-Biar, but he was buried in Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris. Having grown up in the shadow of a literary colossus, Rochegrosse adventurously followed in the footsteps of Delacroix: in his first period he took his subjects from the Egyptian, Roman and Byzantine civilisations, for which Banville helped him to reconstitute the authentic details. The end of this period was marked by the huge success of his Death of Babylon at the Salon. Banville died in 1891. Now almost totally forgotten, in the 1880s and 1900s Rochegrosse was a fashionable painter. His fame was international, commensurate with the ambitious nature of his major historical, mythological and literary compositions. In Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle praises one of his paintings. Nowadays there is more reticence about the artificial theatricality of his great, but merely narrative, 'machines', in which gesture often takes the place of true emotion. Nevertheless, when a retrospective based around this period throws up one of his compositions, his skilful draughtsmanship, pictorial technique and the positioning of his figures are striking, as is the painstaking detail of the action and the backdrops in his complex heroic scenarios. In 2003 his work appeared in the collective exhibition The School of Algiers (L'École d'Alger) at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Bordeaux."

If you go through a list of the Grand Prix winners of the French Salon onWikipedia, it is surprising how very few are known today. Manet never won a prize, was refused many times, but his model for Olympia, Victorine Meurent) did get in. She also thought little of his paintings. 

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Vive la France! Vive Macron! Vive the European Union! Vive tolerance! Vive the denial of Racism and Hate.

Delacroix  Liberty Leading the People

Hooray France- you got it right. When you are finished with Macron we will exchange him for Obama. Macron will still be younger that that fat, racist creep - Trump!