Kevin’s Details

One thing I do as an educator is take images of my students’ works as a record of their greatness and as a kind of research for myself… what worked, what didn’t. Periodically I peruse the database and come across examples that really stick out. Today I’m sharing some images of drawings – and a number of details – that highlight a former student and his attention to surface quality and chromatic density.

Kevin Moreland took Color Drawing with me many years ago but he’s consistently stayed involved with the Art program at Mizzou and every once in a while peeks into my exhibitions. Its great to see him every time he’s around. So enjoy his drawings. These were pretty large – just about the biggest any student of mine has ever made – up to 6 feet on the long side. He went all out on the pastels, too. Really fun to look at.

RIP Beverly Cleary

Like many kids I was I influenced by the work of Beverly Cleary. She died today at age 104. That’s a solid life.

Perhaps as important as her writing were the illustrations and book designs that went with them. This one in particular has stuck in my mind for more than 40 years:

Cover of the 1970 edition of Runaway Ralph.

This particular edition – put out by William Morrow & Company – was in my home. I think the font, the colors, and (obviously) the illustrations by Louis Darling made a huge impression on me. I recall thinking about how the motorcycle that Ralph rode was depicted to show speed, how the idea of “small” was presented, and how the story could be shown with such subtle, one-note clarity.

Time to break it out to show my kiddos.

Rest easy, Beverly.

Inauguration Bernie

After Bernie’s mittens and folding chair pose at the Inauguration went viral in January, many people tried to memorialize the tableau in their own ways. Many, many memes followed.

As a part of the online LEGO MOC (My Own Creation) community, I’m always looking out for cool creations that touch on moments in popular culture. One of the best MOC makers out there is @ochre.jelly – click that handle for more of their work.

Anyway, ochre.jelly made an awesome version of Inauguration Bernie, and I liked the design, so I decided to do a version myself. Here’s ocher.jelly’s version:

LEGO on the left, Classic Inauguration Bernie on the right. Click here to see ochre.jelly’s original post on Instagram.

Below are some shots of the two versions I made. I tried to make some different choices in regards to the hair (wilder!) and jacket arms (more puffy!) in particular.

And here he is in his acrylic case. This is one I made for my friend Allison for her birthday this year. I also made a second copy, which has some slight differences, that you can see below:
I used more curved pieces on the arms, and tried a different plate for the “mask” area. Below you can see my alternative chair design as well.

If you’d like to see more of my LEGO MOC works, check out these links here:

My LEGO version of Stephen Hawking, also based on a design that went around the internet years ago.

My LEGO sculptures on display at The George Caleb Bingham Gallery at The University of Missouri (where I teach).

One of my favorite LEGO Star Trek ship designs, of which there are many.

Traumaversary

Five years ago today I suffered cardiac arrest. Every year I pull up the imagery and look at things – I was completely out when these images were made and it’s strange to see my ghostly, unconscious face in some of them. I have all of my various scans and catheterizations from the event, and I also have the placement of the stent, which I’ll share short clips of below.

Early morning of 2/18/2016

Thank you to Alison, Mechell, and the EMTs and cardiac folx who helped me survive those initial hours. Thanks to Danno and Mr. C, Christopher and Julie, Daniel and Sharon, and Sarah (among many others), for coming to visit me. Thanks to Mom Bourgeois for much aid through her own time of grief. Thanks to my dad who gave me two aspirin 30 minutes before my heart attack and thus probably saved my life. Thanks to Bobby Schembre who flew out and drove us back after it all. Blessings to my students, grads, and fellow faculty who helped maintain all of the school things, and mad props to the cardiac team at University Hospital (including my drill instructor cardiologist) who helped make me much healthier today than I was when it all happened.

It’s a weird life.

A Proposed Array of Pedagogical Modes in Fine Arts Education

I’ve been teaching in some capacity for almost 20 years now. In that time I’ve had the opportunity to not only evaluate my own modes of teaching but also to look back and analyze how my favorite (and otherwise) teachers approached the central tasks of instruction.

The core of that reflection is contained in my Teaching Philosophy (I’d be happy to send you a copy if you’d like to read it) as a three-fold charge: Facilitation, Encouragement, and Tact. I’ve tried to live out those values in my teaching, and I think that the best teachers I’ve had have demonstrated each in unique, powerful ways.

From Mrs. Ebensperger and Mrs. Goodwill (1st and 2nd grade) through Mrs. Carpenter (8th grade) and Mrs. Dudley (Middle and High School Art), most of my teachers could be said to embody thoughtful, encouraging modeling of concepts and strategies for learning. I would say that most of my early teachers functioned as allies and guides.

Once I got into the specialized realm of art school, though, there was more of a continuum between those who taught their own particular praxis and those who taught a broader, more generous approach. This is when I started to think about a tension between The Gatekeeper and The Advocate. I wonder if we end up teaching from a context of our own traumas and learned experiences… perhaps those who have had mostly positive and affirming experiences are often most able to extend them to others. If, however, person’s central project is to ensure the validity of their own perspective it is certain that their teaching will favor their values, their aims, and their sources of knowledge.

Of course, this kind of implicit bias is not limited to people in the arts nor is it always bad. But I think it makes sense to be aware of it. When I first sketched the graph below 10 years ago, I was thinking about these issues.

A proposed array of teaching modes in Fine Arts Education.

I think the continua expressed here are fairly obvious. It makes sense that The Gatekeeper would be invested in maintaining the integrity of particular theoretical and conceptual details while The Advocate would probably be more interested in a gestalt openness and investment in the potential for broad exploration within intersecting contexts.

In every instance where I felt most seen and understood as a learner, it was because my teacher heard me openly and talked to me as if I were like them – a student and artist and explorer. Lisa Gregg Wightman, my drawing and printmaking professor at Pratt, was just like this. She did not scoff at my novice ideas or weak technique; she facilitated my growth in strategies and skills. She asked me serious questions and drew out my self-reflection. This demonstrated “generosity of spirit,” a concept later described to me by Barry Gealt (my main professor in graduate school at Indiana University). You can read more about that here.

If you’re a teacher, where do you think you fall? Here’s a link to my chart – feel free to play around with it. I don’t think that one way is inherently better than any other way, but I do think it’s good for us to pay attention to our own proclivities, asking ourselves what works and what best serves our students.

Reconsidering Dolores

This 10 episode podcast on Lolita by Jamie Loftus is just astoundingly great.

As in: IMPORTANT IMPORTANT IMPORTANT.

The way Ms. Loftus deals with the intersections of so many huge issues is MASTERFUL and full of authority, quality research, and INSIGHT. The best art should, in the words of Gregg Bordowitz, “return [us] to [ourselves] strange” – that is, great art causes us to reflect and see our experiences and understandings from other angles and in new light. That’s what Loftus does. LISTEN.

I first read Lolita the summer before beginning college, and the book led me into a long love affair with Nabokov. That first year as an undergraduate I read Glory, Invitation to a Beheading, King, Queen, Knave, and The Eye all in quick succession. Later on came Ada and Pale Fire and other works. I read these works mostly in a vacuum; until I met my future wife I had no one else with whom to discuss the works.

I think this solitary reading dovetailed with certain aspects of my upbringing in such a way that I missed a LOT of the cultural assumptions surrounding Lolita. Assumptions (projections) such as: the notion that it was a “love” story, that Dolores Haze was some kind of “femme fatale” who manipulated Humbert, or that Humbert was misunderstood and relatable. I read the book as what it was: the testimony of an unreliable, unfaithful narrator who was attempting to make me, the reader, complicit in his abuse by convincing me of the ultimate appropriateness of his attitudes and sensibilities. The ultimate gas-lighter, Humbert obfuscates and violates the truth even as he destroys Dolores – a 12 year old who has lost her mother, father, and brother only to be intentionally captured by a predator.

It is not a love story. It is not cute. It is devastating and heart-breaking.

A couple years after reading the book the 1997 Adrian Lyne film adaptation was released on Showtime. I taped it on VHS at my friend Peter’s house. I was confused by the film. It seemed to miss the point of the novel, and much of the horror and oppressiveness was lost, left to be shown in just a few moments (perhaps the best one is where (Dominique Swain as) Lolita screams at Humbert, “I EARNED THAT MONEY!! MURDER ME! MURDER ME LIKE YOU MURDERED MY MOTHER!”). In my own first reading, I had more than one instance of having to pull my car off my the side of the road or go into my bedroom and close the door to cry. The sadness I felt for Dolores at the end, the disgust I had for Quilty’s conniving, and the anger I felt at Humbert’s pathetic audacity (re-imagining the Dolores who had finally gotten away from him back into his lust-vision as a way to comfort himself) were nothing like the gauzy sex-dream of the movie.

Loftus unpacks the socio-cultural background that informs how Lolita has been received and promoted over more than half a century, bringing important research to the fore. Through interviews and archival footage, she examines the construction of the myth of Lolita. In this Loftus clearly demonstrates the value of the original material and honors not only the character of Dolores Haze, but also the women who have played her over the years. This podcast is REALLY, REALLY worth your time. I appreciate the way it caused me to reexamine my own attitudes (What WAS I thinking when I read it the first time? Why DO I love Lana Del Rey? In what way SHOULD we approach telling the stories of people who have been abused as children? What IS my susceptibility to culturally-promulgated ideas about “nymphets” or “spring/winter romance?”).

GO LISTEN.

Mark Staff Brandl Is On To Something

I’ve been following Dr. Mark Staff Brandl for quite a while now. I particularly enjoy his Dr Great Art podcast, which has, of late, begun to feature some ideas from chapters of his forthcoming book (to be published by Bloomsbury).

Two current works in progress.

His most recent podcast episode, linked below, definitely intrigues me and syncs up with a lot of the ways I’ve been thinking over the last couple of decades. Specifically, my wheneverWHEN and An Ensign For Miyoko Ito works are borrowing significantly from the kinds of ideas Professor Brandl is elucidating. My 2019-2020 collaboration with Joel T. Dugan, Phoneme, also deals with some of this.

An Ensign For Miyoko Ito (#16). Ink on paper, 12×10 inches, 2018. Private collection.

This is how I talk about some of the motivational ideas for these series of works:

“…I seek out the compacted and the overdrawn; the enclosed and the layered; the transformed and the solidified. I look for shapes, colors, and spaces that go far beyond a simple tension between figuration and abstraction, trying instead to suggest a layered arena of observational and haptic information.

Miyoko Ito (Japanese-American, 1918-1983) – whose work has been a key influence on me over the last 20 years – was able to activate subtle surfaces with the illusion of space and an evocative sense of palpability. This is what I’m investigating: the experience of perception apart from particular, representational depiction. In my exploration, questions arise: Does flat form appear to move away from my angle of view? Will color resolve into both static surface and suggested movement? Can space and color align to reinforce both static structure and an expression of time? Might the poetics of silent, unmoving images actually produce phenomena akin to those found in dreams, memories, ecstatic sensations, and atemporal musings?”

Take a listen to the Dr Great Art podcast and see if maybe some of the things I’m saying resonate with how Dr. Brandl is thinking:

While there are many points Brandl brings up that are worth exploring (I greatly anticipate getting to read his book once it comes out), I find myself particularly drawn to the explications he makes regarding ambiguity and conceptual blending. In these areas he distills and clarifies a number of philosophers and intellectual traditions into something artists can really wrap their minds – and artworks – around.

WHENEVERwhen (Michigan), inks on paper, 10×7 inches, 2018. Collection of the Artist.

Beyond the artists he references in his text, I think that there are a few more that very strongly connect with Mark Staff Brandl’s ideas, particularly Marcelo Bonevardi, Nicholas Byrne, Diebenkorn, Vincent Fecteau, Magalie Guérin, Miyoko Ito, and Kyle Staver, among others.

It’s exciting for my own passion for these artists to dovetail with the serious scholarship that Dr. Brandl is bringing forward. I know that I’ll be incorporating concepts from his book into my teaching for years to come. I hope you’ll join me in listening to the podcast and exploring what these ideas can mean for making and experiencing artworks.

The Greatest

Chan Marshall – she who records as CAT POWER – released the album The Greatest at a peculiar time for me… then again, when isn’t it a peculiar time?

It was 2006. I had finished grad school at IU and my partner and I had traveled to Italy to tag along with the IU summer trip. I was full – having seen many masters, finished a years-long course of intensive study, and imagining myself among my constellation of heroes.

My desire to do well and be great – to be masterful, to matter, to be effective – was intense. When I heard Marshall’s opening lines to The Greatest I burst into tears. It took me months to listen to the song without welling up.

“Once I wanted to be the greatest
No wind or waterfall could stall me
And then came the rush of the flood
Stars at night turned deep to dust”

“Melt me down…

Leave no trace of grace…”

“For the lead
And the dregs of my bed…”

“Lower me down…

Pin me in
Secure the grounds
For the later parade…”

Nearly fifteen years later it’s still powerful. I think Marshall saying “ONCE I wanted…” is even more poignant to me. In 2006 I resonated with the desire to BE great. But there is also the other side… the desire to HAVE BEEN great. To have wanted to be great “once” and then kind of learned and grown and gotten over it.

Easier said than done. Easier still when one has done something actually great. Worse when one has had the potential but has never been able to get there. To have been afforded so much, to have had so many chances. To have missed them.

Maybe getting older successfully is being able to say that “once I wanted” part without feeling desperate sadness. I guess I still have hope that I can do something transcendent as an artist. But we, in some sense, just do what we do. And what I have done isn’t particularly remarkable.

It’s nice to be able to surprise myself sometimes, even now.

But it’s a difficult time of endless distractions and urgent day-fillers. The days fill to weeks and weeks to months. What used to take a week now takes 18 months. Someday there won’t be 18 months left.

Never mind enjoyment or ambition. Just trying to get anything out takes just about everything.

Oh, well.

Skull of Teacups, Vectored in Triangles

Miranda Grace Makes Interiors

My eldest child, Miranda, is quite the artist (on top of being intense, defiant, powerful, passionate, and smart). Recently she’s been making these very interesting flattened interior spaces.

Miranda, the artist. Aged 10 and a half.

The drawings show an interest in categorization and organizational meaning, which are two interconnected ideas that Miranda has always been focused on. Placement and scale appear to be very important to her right now, too.

Grandma Valerie’s Tea Party
Colored pencil and ink on paper, 11 x 8.5 inches. 2020.

There is also a straightening and flattening of space in these new pieces. This is a little different for Miranda as she does understand perspective to a degree and has shown knowledge of recession of space in the past. However, these works seem to me to be more about the idea of the scene and less about naturalistic space or light.

Aunt Clarice’s Dinner Party
Colored pencil and ink on paper, 11 x 8.5 inches. 2020.

The way that forms extend unnaturally or terminate on two dimensional lines are unique aspects of these drawings. Above, see how the door extends into the floor or how the shelves stop right on the separation between the floor and the wall. These characteristics make the drawings function more as tableaux rather than structurally “correct” space depictions.

I’m interested to see how she combines the symbolic spaces of these drawings and the more expressionistic and observed spaces from her other drawings/paintings. I think that the organization and delineation of objects in her recent drawings are related to a desire for control. When she’s feeling more tense and uncertain, she wants to establish control. When she’s feeling more at ease and free her creates much more expressionistically and with fewer hard lines and forms.

I’ve taken Miranda on solo dates to museums a couple times (see most recently below) and she loves to do sketching from the master works and take in the quiet, calm spaces…

I am sure Miranda will keep growing as an artist and hone a unique way of making her experiences take shape in the world. ❤️