Monday, February 23, 2015

What's the BIG deal! The idea of painting smaller.

So many times i've been told, " why did you make it so big?" Most of the time i say to myself ... " that's none of your concern," but i typically give a generic answer. I am a artist who paints both large scale painting and small works, because I find that sometimes a small whisper carries just as much punch as a loud scream. My work deals with controversial issues like race and beauty so i have to be careful in my practice not to come across as angry or resentful. Large scale painting tend to me to be historic and powerful and makes us all mortal in front of them. I love that!
Last night I had the chance to meet artist Jack Whitten at a lecture here in Austin. It was amazing to here him speak on potency of doing large scale works long side smaller ones. He champion this notion that if the message was clear and succinct size didn't matter. I agree with that statement! Look, if i were paint a 2in by 2in painting of a lynching which is very disturbing but draws you in closer to view it then i have done my job as an artist. Smaller works tend to be less threatening and easier to approach.  I can spend an whole afternoon in a small Emile Bernard painting especially the ones from Pont-Aven.  Small works are valuable because they tend to house much more than other works because of their size. And a subject that most artist don't want to talk about is that smaller work sell for less and are more affordable to the general public. YIKES... did I just say that! The upside is that smaller works are easier to store and if you are in a small studio space like me, you just don't have the room for larger works. Not to mention shipping and packing smaller works versus freighting larger works across the country or world. Then there's this notion that painting bigger makes you more of a serious artist and opens your practice to more attention from gallery directors and museum folks. I don't know if thats true or not but its an interesting hypothesis.
There's so much that goes into making art, it truly is a business and some of the decisions we make effects our livelihood if not made correctly. I must confess I love the freedom of painting on a large scale, but for now the smaller the better.
Buckwheat Harvesters at Pont-Aven 1888

Jack Whitten and Kellie Jones

Friday, February 13, 2015

ART vs Politics ... Is political art turning you off?

Is political art turning you off? I guess to most artists who haven't really been under the shoe of oppression might think that making political is boring, limiting and overused. I was asked in my thesis defense, "Haven't the art world had enough of Black beauty?" I am paraphrasing but you get the meaning of the question. What does one say to a question like that? When we look at beauty magazine covers on news stands few if any have a Black face on the cover. In the current issue of InStyle magazine featuring Kerry Washington  the editors thought "lightening her skin" was acceptable. Her beauty wasn't in question, her skin tone was. I think art and politics go hand and hand, it's the "politics of respectability." Below is segment of my views on gaining respectability through the use of grotesque imagery.

The Grotesque in Art History
Theorists and historians have explored the social and cultural contexts
of the grotesque in art history through the lens of the Western idea of beauty.
This critical examination has shown how artists have used grotesque imagery to challenge complex issues and traditions in a modern society that cherishes and rewards beauty. Grotesque images have a tendency to contradict common realities and push cultural boundaries beyond what society is accustomed to. There are several characteristics associated with grotesque images like humor, trauma, distortion, and ugliness. These are tools used to satisfy the need for humanity to recognize and engage others in social and political dialogues. Also, grotesque images have a propensity to raise questions and at times speak for the invisible in communities. Clearly, one of the most intriguing aspects of using grotesque images is that they are very visceral and give a unique approach to issues of identity.

Many artists have used this medium to express issues of misogyny, racism, poverty, and mortality. One of those artists is the 17th century painter English William Hogarth (1697-1764) who used realistic portraiture and comic strip like images to act as a political agent and social critic. At the very core his work challenges poverty and classism. Hogarth’s work ran the gamut from deliberate, exaggerated forms to beautiful painted portraiture of everyday people. Hogarth challenged classism by arguing that an artist’s function was to uncover social norms that were politically, morally and socially unfair and did not include all
its citizens. Hogarth posits, “His works should not be viewed as ‘contemptible caricatures’   but a new genre that was in ‘between the sublime and the grotesque.’”  In other words, he championed the notion that the grotesque features merely brought attention, humanity and honor to the common worker. 
Theoretically, he used his works as provocation to expose the similarity that existed in all humans, which enable us to see ourselves in other people.
By invoking Foucault’s ideologies with respect to power, Hogarth’s caricatures’ darker, serious sides were intended to be a symbol of the result of the damage conflict, or lack of power that was put on a particular group or person(s). The same can be said of Kenya born artist Wangechi Mutu (1972) whose works challenge notions of the surreal, beauty and human grotesque forms. Like Hogarth, Mutu constructs her images in ways that communicate a social injustice that presents itself in today’s society. The outward appearances of her works evoke a powerful emotional response from the viewer when examining the relationships of identity and humanity. Prompted by the ideas of sexuality, cruelty and beauty Mutu’s horrific yet imaginative works empower the women in them by giving agency to the voiceless and marginalized. Mutu’s use of cut out pieces from fashion and pornography magazines to translate grotesque images into social commentary acts in the same way as Hogarth’s drawings and paintings. Both Mutu and Hogarth used their work to create visibility for the invisible by shortening the distance between culture, social structure and gender. The collage images Mutu uses show fractures as well as harmony, which allow the viewer to move beyond the embodied grotesque to see humanity in the faces of the women she creates. In order to reach for a greater universal truth we must explore both the effects and the social politics of beauty. 

I believe that all art is political, you just have to look closer when viewing it. Check out the dailyserving latest article on Art and Politic.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Art World ... No excuses

So, like most of you I want to do well in the Art World! Mostly, for myself but partly because of the people who think its impossible to do so. I get it, it's not easy, but if this is the one thing that give you a sense of purpose you have to go for it! Yesterday, I meet a older artist who gave me so many excuses to why he hadn't found any real success that I wanted to throw up once he explain the reason for his lack of success. First, there was his fantasies about how the Art World works, then there was this notion that if he just made work the business end will take care of itself. Then there was the idea that,"My work is too powerful for the masses" then in the same breath... "No one will show me, (pause) if i could just have a solo show show ..." or this one "My work is about the Black experience." Really, because no ones ever done work on the Black experience before! Ok, ok, ok, now here's the kicker,"I really don't paint that often maybe a couple of times a year."  A year! That's your creative process, painting a couple of times a year. Wow, Its so hard to get any momentum going in our practice I can't see anyone not working constantly at this. Granted, most of us have to have other jobs to sustain a moderate lifestyle but .... c'mon man!
I don't know about you but I work really hard at my practice! I read as much as I can and listen to past and present lectures from notable artists, theorist and social activists. I'm always looking at anything that can aide my practice like, looking at art periodicals for insight or calling up other artists to vent, complain, laugh or talk about any art materials i'm grappling with.
This road we're on is not for the faint of heart, so no more excuses. Check out this website a friend turned me on to.
Resources to Present, Promote, Market Your Art