Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Shadow Notes.

June 6, 2009, 10:30 to 11:45. Jackman Hall, Art Gallery of Ontario. 'Shadow Notes' was a moderated panel discussion on (Leica) photography influenced by music, and held in conjunction with Luminato. Given that tickets were only $15.00 I was surprised the auditorium was only about half full. There was a small table by the door selling Ralph Gibson's book 'State of the Axe' and Andy Summers' 'Desirer Walks the Streets'.

Started 15 minutes late. Moderator Robert Enright (who did an excellent job moderating, by the way) opened by introducing the panel, photographers Danny Clinch and Ralph Gibson, and musician/photographer Andy Summers. The atmosphere was relaxed and intimate and the discussion lasted about an hour. Facing the stage moderator Enright sat on the left followed by Summers, Gibson and Clinch to the right respectively (in case the photos are not clear enough to make the distinction).

What I came away with. Early on Andy Summers wanted to learn to paint as a creative escape from his all consuming music. Photography went a long way to satisfying the need to produce visual compositions and was a much better fit for a musician always on the road. When he's on the prowl with his camera he's taking everything in, his eyes bouncing around looking for the next picture. Always autobiographical, his photography has travelled the globe along side the music. In my opinion Summers is a gifted shooter and his books well worth acquiring.

Ralph Gibson was studio assistant to Dorothea Lang and later Robert Frank in the 1960's. Then subsequently the founder of Lustrum Press, an important early publisher of art photography books. Since then exclusively an art photographer (and icon). Ralph told us that Dorothea Lang gave him the best advice ever which he imparted to us, damned if I can remember though. He also said he never picks up his camera without knowing the exact image he's going to photograph. A passionate guitar player he has taken inspiration for his images from both instruments and musicians.

Danny Clinch has photographed many of the great musicians of our time. With the persona of a musician and respected as an artist in his own right, he moves freely in the subculture that has grown up around sex, drugs and rock and roll. Clinch related to us what it takes to break into a career like his. His 'Johnny Cash by the Stage Door' photo was his last of an hours long session with the star but he knew it was the photo he'd come there to take. He also talked about getting Neil Young into an old Cadillac for a photo shoot.

All three are confirmed Leica film camera users, the suggestion of digital brought groans from all quarters on the stage. After the discussion Ralph Gibson and Andy Summers made themselves available for a book signing.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Art Follows Technology

The absolute value of picture making is that it is always cultural and always of its time. Great art, or at least best efforts, provide valuable insight into the intellectual capacity of people far distant from us. Pretty much all painting was representational prior to the 1940's, which makes for a convenient yardstick to judge the relative merits of various periods and individuals against the whole.

The learning curve to becoming a realist painter is as it always has been (and believe me it can take years). In a sense too the materials have remained much the same, paint, canvas/board, pencil and paper. With that, it's of interest that art's great dramas, the renaissance, impressionism, et al. are often tied to innovative changes to these basic materials.

In Europe until the end of the 14th. century fresco (colored plaster paint) and tempera (pigment in egg yolk and water) were the standard. Both needed an inflexible surface to remain viable, the former walls and the latter usually wooden boards.

Generally speaking Jan Van Eyck is credited with inventing oil painting around 1410. The wisdom then was that these works were inferior in every way to tempera painting, but within a generation or so the vastly superior qualities of oils became widely appreciated. This opened the door to Leonardo Da Vinci and the Italian Renaissance that followed.

The process of painting, regardless of the medium, was laborious. Pigments that came from all corners of the known world needed to be sourced and a supply maintained. Every day paint had to be ground fresh. Studio assistants, often apprentices, were vital to the tasks of picture making. And so it was until the 19th. century, paintings took time, unwieldy equipment and manpower to produce, artists were thus tied to their studios. Paintings themselves however, regardless of size suddenly became portable thanks to the flexible nature of oil paint and the advent of canvas.

Modern paint generally consists of the pigment (color), binding agent (oil, etc.) and a suspending agent to maintain a consistent texture and prevent the pigment and binder from separating. Ready made paints first became available during the early 19th. century with the introduction of pig bladder containers, and in complement industrial paint manufacturing began then also.

In 1841 John G. Rand invented the revolutionary zinc tube, followed by the discovery, in the 1850's, of suspending agents that would keep the paint a consistent texture almost indefinitely. With portable, resealable colors artists were suddenly free to travel along with the tools of their trade. This set the stage for the next upheaval, Impressionism.

It didn't take long for these innovations to manifest themselves. Within a decade the Impressionist painters had evolved a "radical" new look to their work. This early modern art is at least as much opportunism as genius and probably inevitable from the moment tube paints hit store shelves. The idea that photography alone is responsible for the demise of classical painting is nonsense. The post Impressionist possibility that pictures no longer needed to be literal opened the door to an examination of the elements that compose a classical painting, color: Fauvism, and the line: Cubism. Many of the movements that follow (expressionism, abstraction, etc.) are lesser offshoots of the initial deconstruction of realism.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Shadow Notes at Luminato

Photography note: As part of Luminato, an arts and culture festival in Toronto Canada, The Art Gallery of Ontario is hosting 'Shadow Notes', Jackman Hall, Saturday June 6, 2009 at 10:30 am.

It's a moderated discussion featuring Danny Clinch, Ralph Gibson and Andy Summers (of Police fame). Quoted from the Shadow Notes page, "Connected through their passion for the guitar and devotion to their Leica cameras, the artists explore themes of urban life through the musician's perspective."

As of now there still appear to be tickets available. The discussion is in conjunction with a free photo exhibition by all three at Younge-Dundas Square.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Header Image for This Blog

The header image is a painting entitled 'Dead Grass/Self Portrait'. Acrylic on canvas, 22" x 28", ca. 2006. It's my work. 

The painting riffs on an oft seen device in art photography. That is to say where the photographer introduces his shadow into the frame to make an image that is somewhat autobiographical. 

Friday, April 17, 2009

Eating Our Young

Except for those under the tutelage of a "master" or in a historically fertile environment (Paris 1900's, New York 1940-50, etc.), visual artists on average tend not to find a mature "voice" until they hit their mid-thirties.

Artistic maturity is in essence having a solid base of work experience, a toolbox of seamless solutions to the craft of creating a work of art. In my opinion and this is the point, it's because visual art is the least intuitive, most contrived of the creative disciplines.

The practice of galleries and speculators in looking for the next "art star" genius straight out of art school consistently disappoints because schools don't teach how to make amazing, relevant artworks. They merely expose students to possibilities and to each other, the real work begins later. The chances of acquiring a really terrific Rock band at an art school are much greater.

In my final year I remember the owner of a prestigious local venue telling another soon-to-be graduate exactly what to paint to show in his gallery. She looked ready to burst into tears, it was also the last I saw or heard from her. Although common, fishing in this manner hit new heights with English art collecting impresario Charles Saatchi, whose gift it is to elevate anonymous neophytes to national treasures with a wave of his check book. He is soon set to host a reality TV show on "picking the winners". Early on Saatchi is credited with discovering the likes of Damien Hirst, Tracy Emin, et al. which has really given his street cred traction.

Bad practices only contribute to the cynicism and disinterest the public in general feel toward visual art. The mind blowing potential often becomes a mind numbing experience.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

I'm currently working on a painting titled "Sorry We're Open".

This post is my first foray into blogging and spur of the moment so I'll let it stand for now.