The Undercurrent

Quotidian Pyramid
Quotidian Pyramid

I recently wrote notes regarding what I thought qualified as meaningful art. I quickly became lost in contradictions. Craft and construction are unavoidable with regard to making art. However, quality craftsmanship does not necessarily guarantee successful art. For example, fastidiousness can bring attention and value but it can also obscure a message or expressive exploration. Success can inevitably be connected to a counter balancing perspective. A key problem I felt was determining what gave artwork its authority (i.e. what made it relevant). Prior to photography artists were closer related to artisans and had more clearly defined roles. In the digital age we are awash in imagery, and for this reason it may be harder to gauge lasting relevance.

Considering monetary value or where art housed does not identify its complete importance and arrives short of its essence. This central issue seems to require a study of cultural undercurrents. Underneath implicit technical or conceptual intent are hidden messages. Some of these messages may occur by chance and reveal more about our desires and true feelings. We detect covert information by the way it transcends proprieties (e.g. branding does this with clear visual markers of status) aimed at bringing about certifiably acceptable results. When we find art we lose ourselves of the gallery, the artist, the price tag, and acknowledge the message.

Found Pen Tests

I would encourage others (myself included) to consider more deeply the concept of “living off the grid”. Extreme examples may not be possible for most people. However, there are degrees in which we can test our independence (i.e. living somewhat off the grid). When realizing our potential we are gaining the best tools to understand humanity and art is a reflection of our humanity. Insight can be gained from fixing broken products, planting trees and vegetables, writing creative letters, cooking from scratch, among other activities. Along side manually problem solving, mining for revelation is critical (i.e. a higher or alternative plane of thinking). This is not a prescription to master life, rather an effort to be deprogrammed. Inquisitiveness is a foundation. If one chooses to paint, sculpt, write, or make music in a creative way, then art may be found in the undercurrent of events.

Kip’s Pen Tests

Tree Farm

I have a particular memory from childhood of being on a tree farm at night. Because the trees were small (pine trees for Christmas I assume) the sky seemed big. I remember my father being there. We were separated from cars, houses, and other people. Most of my life I wanted to recapture this sublime feeling of harmony,  fresh air, and beautiful sights. While my memory of this experience feels palpable, I am uncertain what was real and what I am imagining to be true.

To duplicate this scene with all of the complex emotions involved is not possible. However, I can inch toward it through art and an openness to new experiences. Through artistic practice, a window can open to more to deeper feelings. To create with less willful intent allows magic to happen in its own unfolding way. With the tree farm fresh in mind, I decided to make a pine tree of my own. Differing from trick or illusion, true magic provides an evocative spark that could arrive even with a solitary tree.

Untitled, Vector Drawing, 2016

Side By Side

Midsummer Night’s Dream: In progress and further along.

At the beginning of the year I asked three questions. This post attempts to address two of these questions (see below).

1. The absence of an explicitly planned outcome means that an unconscious element is at play. Yet, how deep is this connection to the unknown and what is its relation to a wider collective unconscious?

2. While mysteries are uncovered, are they substantial? Do they extend beyond the small mysteries of how a picture comes together (i.e. in a way that is slightly different than the creator would expect)?

Over the past couple months, I worked on a drawing where my mind was both engaged in the artistic process and focused on these self prescribed questions. My growing understanding is that the answer to the questions above are felt and exist on a middle path. In eastern philosophy there is a way of dealing with paradox and seemingly intractable problems by finding what is called the “middle path”. To accept a yes/no (i.e. boolean) answer to a multifaceted and speculative problem is not possible, yet there is a solution. The solution is not to seek more facile words. Rather, the answer is to look for a means to eclipse the contradiction. This is perhaps where art can be most relevant because its primary function is to display something that words alone can not full-fill (this would include poetry which uses words but grasps at a vision beyond one dimensional meanings).

What is felt, intuitive, and unconscious surrounds this path, because it deals with the unknown. While interpreting the realm of dreams has merits, it can also reveals the limitations of summary description.  We begin to see patterns of formulaic conclusions (e.g. the dream is about loss, fear, a hint at the future etc.).  If we only look at where the unconscious intersects with the conscious, it will remain shallow. However, where the dream is unpredictable and varied is in the texture of its details and its relationship to a wider context. Likewise, one can not merely look at the material surface of art to find its depth. Art has a middle path. Descriptive words alone are not expansive enough. The texture, form, and trace of action point to something timeless. Without the skills to realize a middle path one skips the ability to see alternatives, additionally there is little chance to know the smell of roses.

In a global way, what we gain from a perspective that has more than two sides and is not neatly summarized is a more genial and attentive society.


Coat of Arms, Protection For the New Year

As an exercise, I created a coat of arms that was meant to offer a symbolic protection as well as a reminder of key virtues. What began as primarily a written exercise that listed noble qualities became a visual interpretation in which the written part was minimized.

Title: Coat of Arms, Media: Water Color, Ink, & Acrylic Paint, Size: 16″ x 12 1/4″, Date: 2015

At the time I did not know the degree to which the unconscious played a roll in the making of this picture. What began as an image of mountains and towers became a type-rope act. The central tower or totem exhales smoke. The background was a puzzle. I wanted the shield to stand out, but the earthy colors around the edge that offer a contrast also relate to compost and decay (this perhaps a reminder of mortality). There was more anxiety in the picture and in my life than I wanted to admit. While the image is not devoid of charm because of more wide ranging elements, it did not give a clear sense of well being that I was searching for.

Title: Coat of Arms #2, Media: Water Color, Ink, & Collage, Size: 16″ x 12 1/4″, Date: 2016

After realizing an unsettling result, I wanted to try this exercise again. The rounded the edges of the new shield immediately hinted at a warmer result. While an eclectic mixture of subjects were subsequently added, I leaned on brighter colors and made certain the balance was in favor of a more optimistic forward looking protection. Beyond a kind of self therapy this process brought up questions I had:

1. The absence of an explicitly planned outcome means that an unconscious element is at play. Yet, how deep is this connection to the unknown and what is its relation to a wider collective unconscious?

2. While mysteries are uncovered, are they substantial? Do they extend beyond the small mysteries of how a picture comes together (i.e. in a way that is slightly different than the creator would expect)?

3. While not an empirical study (i.e. it is not objective/scientific study or an attempt to recreate a time and place), I see here a process that is related to romanticism. Focusing instead on issues both formal and political, It seems that art in the vanguard of critical attention has largely moved on from a palpable imaginative place. What role does a personal and emotional place represent? Does a lack of interest in this realm mean that while flavorful it is a limited exercise that gets repeated over and over?

Given my belief that a blog post should be a short read, I will not attempt to answer these questions at once. Like the case of making a second coat of arms, sometimes one has to ask questions and be allowed to come back after time for a more precise solutions. Also, This sets up questions and challenges for 2016 that are invigorating and worthy of time.

For Better or Worse

When one teaches art in the “ivory tower” it shapes one’s practice and when one survives as a gallery artist (one who principly makes a living on sales) this also shapes one’s art. Expectations follow each pursuit. The answer to how the work gets shaped and what the work becomes is a bit less clear. Whether the goal is to be a little sharper, cleaner, or attention grabbing, the goal is to fit in (at least to the extent that an ongoing career is feasible). The context might shift but the psychology is the same. I feel that the impulse beyond the need to survive and make more falls under two branches. One branch is an existential drive (a primal need to build and keep the eyes and hands busy). The latter branch involves a spiritual impulse; this involves a determination to make an inner spark outwardly visible.

Over the past two years, I have been disconnected from teaching and from commercial aspirations. This has led me to question motives and to ask why continue? In a round about way, this question was given to me when I posted one of my recent pictures on Google+. A person I did not know asked (I think sincerely) why I had made the work. I said something to the effect of ‘for the enjoyment of making it’. In this case, the artwork did not have to make sense or be pretty. It was something that I wanted to experience and see.

For the time being, there is no rush, no need to make lots of pictures, and no one is asking to hang artwork on a wall for others to see. Sometimes I glue paper to paper and keep at it out of an unexplainable need to keep moving. Other times I feel like I am tending a garden because sustanance and transendant connections can be found in the order of artmaking. For the better, I continue.

Work in progress, “Coat of Arms”,  2015