One of my best students, (and someone who’s become a good friend) Marcus Miers, was profiled in the Columbia Daily Tribune this week. Check out the article here. You can also see some of his work here. And below is one of my favorites (click for a larger view):
This weekend I printed and framed the last of the Lamentations 3 Series. I’ve talked about it before here, here, and here. It’s been a long journey: 20 months, lots of rocking on the mezzotint deck, the production of beautiful coppery glory, and a ton of revision. Tonight I pack them up for the trip to the Gordon College show. Here’s a preview of the last two, freshly finished (click for larger view… sorry, close up viewing is a little blurry; look for a super clear set of the whole 16 mezzotint series in a few months):
Lamentations 3, Verse 16
Lamentations 3, Verses 19-20
Wow… super intelligent/interesting stuff here in an interview with Matt Woodward on BadAtSports:
“There’s a kind of portent that arises with repetition. And I think this is essential to the work. There’s an anticipation in repeating something, as if it will, naturally, be repeated again. A waiting for it to repeat again, to return to repeating itself. Like a machine or a pattern locked so deeply in place it doesn’t know it’s there. If it’s there at all, having forgotten the name of the world that put it there.” -Matt Woodward
Twenty-five years ago today I was a third-grader in Grove City, PA. It was a special day – my class would get to watch the Shuttle launch carrying Christa McAuliffe, a grade school teacher, to space. 73 seconds into the flight – right after the “go at throttle up” confirmation from commander Dick Scobee, the Challenger exploded.
Regardless of what you think about President Reagan, politics, or government in general, the speech crafted after the disaster and delivered by Reagan was amazing and has been a kind of lodestone for me, a testament to attempting great things, to loving this wonderful universe, and respecting the men and women who explore its secrets at all levels. You can see the speech here.
Perhaps the genius of the speech was its use of John Gillespie Magee, Jr’s poem, High Flight as its coda: “We shall never forget them nor the last time we saw them, as they prepared for their mission and waved good-bye and ‘slipped the surly bonds of Earth to touch the face of God’.”
It still gives me a lump in my throat.
I can’t really explain to you what this event meant for some people of my generation. Many people I’ve talked to who are a generation older than me are a little taken back that it matters to so many of us. During one of my undergraduate classes back in 2000 or so, the professor – who’d lived through Civil Rights and Woodstock and Vietnam – reamed us kids out for caring about a failure of the “military industrial complex” and the loss of merely seven lives. He thought we’d romanticized it and weren’t realistic, that we didn’t have proper perspective. We hadn’t lived through years of seeing the names of the dead in South East Asia scrolling over TV screens every day. If we had, we’d know what a waste NASA was and how appropriate it was that the dream was shattered. Maybe he was right in a way, but not ultimately.
That’s because, unfortunately, we’ve had that chance he spoke of: we’ve been in this current wartime for many years. We’ve seen the lists of the dead. And we’ve had another Shuttle disaster. In my mind there’s a dramatically huge difference between the two. One is the result of governments and power brokers and militants and corporations and terrorists and yea-sayers creating – nay, manufacturing through manipulation – a war. The other is the result of a genuine human attempt to know more about our universe, to care for our world, to craft unity in the midst of our diversity, to develop important technologies to help us help ourselves and each other. I weep over the lives of men and women who die in foreign lands for governments who use them as pawns in their global power plays. But those who die in the attempt to learn more, in the fierce determination to go farther and see more of what we are and where we live – these fallen lend their force of life to all of us and it is not wasted. If the strong have to die, I’d rather they die in the service of all humankind, not in support of fallacies, tribal rivalries, illegal land-grabs, and inane prejudices.
That’s why the Challenger Disaster is important to me. It makes me proud of humanity. It highlights the best of us. But these wars and attacks and shootings and bombings – like the recent gun attack in Arizona and bombing in Moscow – display only the worst. Hubris, destruction, the desire to dominate others. These things are wrong.
So yes, I am romanticizing the Challenger shuttle and her crew because they represent a lot of what is right with humanity.
I have two pieces up at Fontbonne University’s show “The Figure Now” – Michael Grimaldi was the juror. The mailer invite card is below, and below that one of my works from the show. If you’re in/near Saint Louis over the next month, stop over and check it out (and my two other current shows (in VA and WV) are on view now and will be up for a while).
The Angles, graphite on paper, 42 inches in diameter.
Just two more mezzotints to print in the Lamentations 3:1-20 series. One is entirely complete while the other is 2/3 done. I expect I’ll be printing them by Tuesday. It’s been epic and challenging working on this series for the last 16 months. In some ways the works are so far outside of my instincts… in others they’re right in line with my sensibilities. I am super excited to see them up in just a few weeks at Gordon College. I’ll post images…
Back in 2007 I was teaching a Beginning Drawing class at the University of Missouri – one of the first of my time here. I was challenging my students’ notions of process and rendering. So many young people come into art classes believing that mere transcription – literally photographic-type replication – is the standard of quality. Basic verisimilitude rules their ideas of what is good and they have little to no idea of material, process, or context.
Early on in the semester I told them that if they used the strategies I was trying to teach they’d be able to do more than merely replicate what they think they know: they’d be able to feel an experience of the space and air and object-ness of their subject matter; they’d be able to move beyond trying to recreate the surface details of a photograph and begin to sense the deep masses of shape and movements of light that under-gird formal composition and communicative meaning. I told them that – moving from these general underlying abstractions, through a process of accumulation, toward the specifics of forms in space and light – they’d be able to do far more than attain photo-realistic images; they’d be able to make evocative explorations into the nature of being.
I don’t think they really believed me.
They didn’t realize that the subject of our class was not the simple manufacture of pictures, not the creation of images that corresponded to their referents in a sterile, monocular, photographic representative mode. Instead, what we were aiming at was (and still is in my Beginning Drawing courses) an exploration of sight itself. The subject and aim of my classes is to help students become aware of their own conscious seeing, and to inform that sight with particular sorts of logical and intuitive approaches to what is before their eyes.
They’re always dubious, but I think most of my students go with me on that journey of discovery and awareness.
In any case, that first class in 2007 challenged me. They essentially said, “you can’t use these observational, sighting-and-measuring, general-to-specific, experience-not-execution techniques to make something better than a transcribed photograph.” They asked me to try my hand at tin foil – crinkled, wrinkled up, then spread back out again.
Above is the final drawing – click through for a detailed view. Below is an animation of the process – I took images to show the students how I moved through the construction of the drawing (click on it to see the procession of images):
Above is the awesome stone relief featuring Coyolxauhqui. Check out her story about embarrassment and dismemberment here.
Below is my mezzotint print illustrating Lamentations 3, Verses 10 and 11.
I was inspired by Coyolxauhqui’s stone disk and tried to give my piece some of the energy of that image of the ancient Aztec goddess of the Moon.
This piece and 15 others based on Lamentations 3, Verses 1 through 26 (as well as drawings and paintings of other subjects) will appear in my solo show at Gordon College in Massachusetts this February and March.
“On Spirituality: Emerging Visions of the Spiritual”
Marshall University, Gallery 842,
842 4th Avenue, Huntington, WV
Jan. 21- Feb 18th.
Opening Reception: January 21st, 8-6pm
My statement for the show:
“These works on paper are part of a series exploring the formal elements of an ancient geometric form called the dodecahedron. Made from twelve pentagons, the dodecahedron was thought by Plato to be the physical shape of the universe. It was the fifth – the quintessential – of his famous Five Solids. This Solid carries with it a number of metaphysical meanings, not the least of which is the notion of an amoral stage or arena within which the machinations of reality take place. In my works, the angles, shapes, and semi-tessellation of the layered dodecahedra bridge the distance between the organic and the mathematic, between the known and the unknowable, between physical description and metaphysical intuition. These contemplations re-imagine those of Saint Augustine, who saw spiritual epiphany as inherent in rational inquiry.”
One of my works in the show, Quintessence #4:
One of the best things Barry Gealt – my primary professor at Indiana University (I got my MFA in Painting there in ’05) – ever convinced me of was the fundamental need for artists (and people in general) to develop and project what he called “a generosity of spirit”. It was one of those obvious things we so often need to be told to see as obvious.
But what did it really mean? I think Barry meant it in a few different ways… at least I interpreted it in a couple key ways and continue to refine my understanding of it. At the time, I thought of generosity of spirit in two main ways:
First, I thought of it as consciously extending basic good will toward other artists. When an artist is in the studio, when they work hard, when they spend time with ideas and words and thoughts and images, they deserve some true consideration, some assumption that they’re not just pulling the wool over an audience’s eyes. People who really dedicate years of their life to art-making aren’t doing it just to craft a lame inside joke; they’re doing it because they love it, they believe in it, and have made huge sacrifices to do it. That sacrifice deserves respect – it deserves the generosity of believing the best about them.
Secondly, Barry stimulated me to think of generosity of spirit as a kind of networking principle. This wasn’t the crass, dog-eat-dog networking of just using people to get a leg up on the competition. Yet it went beyond the quid pro quo angle as well. It wasn’t just doing one thing to get another, it was taking initiative to actively create opportunities for others. It went beyond doing something nice in the hopes that you’d get something nice in return later on. It was a lifestyle choice, a way to create a culture of support and encouragement for artists in general. If enough people got on board we’d all be giving and receiving something far beyond “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” – we’d get a sea change of the human equation. Generosity of spirit was Barry’s “pay it forward” concept.
In this sense, generosity of spirit sort of rests on a rhetorical question stemming from the bible: “what do I have that I haven’t received?” Obviously I’ve received everything – life, breath, language, mental capacity – and could do NOTHING to obtain them in the first place. While I am responsible for fostering and developing them over my lifetime, recognizing that I did nothing to get them and couldn’t replace them if they were taken from me instills (or should instill) a deep perspective of gratitude and hopefulness in the finite contingency of my life. This perspective should cause me, in appreciation and good will, to seek the best for others, to hold others up, to be a friend, to be compassionate, to be joyful and proactive in what I do. Why? Because I know that I am not what I am because I “deserve” it, but because I have received a great treasure in the form of being-ness and consciousness, and a great fundamental dignity in the form of being human. In the light of these things I must recognize the essential value and significance of others. They too received what they could not manufacture for themselves; we’re all in the same boat. Knowing that I couldn’t even live – or continue to live – without what I’ve been given causes me to value giving in itself. When I value giving, I do it for its own sake and work to create opportunities and possibilities for others. We should give because we have received.
At this point I tend to think about generosity of spirit as just this: grace. Grace: unmerited favor. Giving and extending goodness and honor to others without considering their “worthiness”. Grace: purposely working to be thoughtful, honest, loving, and considerate to everyone, regardless of what they can do or can’t do for me. They are human – Imago Dei – and so am I, so I must recognize, value, and uphold their dignity through true appreciation, encouragement, and good will. I fail at this all the time – I am so easily swayed into favoritism or laziness – but it’s what I try for.
Anyway, over the last couple of months as I’ve worked to finalize artworks and frame them for the shows I have coming up this year, these ideas of generosity of spirit and grace have been coming up again and again. People have been endlessly helpful to me. People like my wife giving me time to work long hours, allowing me to take over the entire house as my own personal workshop, and editing/proofreading my writing. People like Matt Moyer, David Spear, and the Larsons providing me with vehicles for collecting materials and shipping artworks. People like Shannon (a former student of mine) giving my current student Danielle detailed information about their areas of interest just because I asked. People like Brooke and Danielle hanging out with my wife to encourage her during this time of intense work. People like Jake and Aarik building me up, supporting me with IPAs, pizzas grilled outside in the snow, good talks, good music, and a vision for the future. People like Natalie creating such a beautiful arena for ideas (and for getting engaged to the Kilngod). People like Ian and Bruce selflessly working with me on upcoming shows.
There are so many more. I could write dozens more names, reflect on hundreds of blessings from people near and far. And I could write and write, finding more ways to define generosity of spirit. The ways of understanding the reality that we have nothing that we have not been given are endless, and they’re an endlessly worthy engagement.
Be generous, friends.