Universal Love

 

Universal_Love

Universal Love, 2017, 11″x14″, permanent marker on paper

 

In honor of the lives lost at the Pulse nightclub shooting, the 50th anniversary of Loving Day, and the ongoing fight for equality and LGBTIQ rights worldwide, I’ve added this drawing to my charitable giving initiative.

 

25% of the sale price of 11″x14″ prints of this drawing will be donated to the buyer’s choice of OutRight Action International (formerly known as the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission) and / or the ACLU.

 

This piece is inspired by love in all its forms, part of a series of marker drawings I’ve been working on lately exploring energy, geometry, and how we visualize and symbolize the forces that drive us. (I’ll do my best to get photos of the others up soon).

 

You can buy prints here in the Shop.

 


Art for Syria

I’ve been considering the relationship between politics and art quite a bit lately, as seems inevitable in such tumultuous times. I’ll have more to say about it once I’ve better organized my thoughts, but one of my key concerns is how to make art that is responsive without necessarily being reactionary. That is to say, how do I make work that addresses and engages with global political turmoil, yet stays authentic to my practice and comes from a sincere place?

 

My heart aches watching the ongoing suffering in the Syrian refugee crisis and imagining how dehumanizing it must be to be torn from one’s homeland and treated with such brutal conditions in camps or hostility in unwelcoming foreign countries. I thought about how deeply rooted I am to the area in New Jersey where I grew up, looking across the bay at New York City where I’ve lived almost my entire adult life. I am haunted by imagining that all of this place that I know as my home could just be gone. Every building and landmark in Manhattan reduced to rubble, once familiar neighborhoods now occupied by warring factions bent on destruction, fearing my own government may gas my family for being ethnic or religious minorities. It is an absolute nightmare, with no end in sight for the millions of displaced Syrians except to start over somewhere new and try to make the best life possible in the worst situation.

 

I envisioned Syrian refugees building new communities, finding friends in foreign lands who empathized with what they’d been through and did everything they could to make life a little easier. I wondered what might happen if people started treating each other as fellow humans instead of isolating each other with mistrust, and the image of a tree rising from the tumult of history started to coalesce in my mind.

 


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Sanctity, 2017, 11″x14″, permanent marker on paper

 

An olive tree of peace growing out of the historical colors of Syria’s flags, this image adapts the tree of life motif in response to the Syrian refugee crisis. I thought about how plants and trees are a form of healing for the planet, cycling soil, air, and water and transforming patches of uncertain and even hostile land into lush forests of stability and growth. I was filled with hope at the thought of eventual peace and restoration of humanity that will allow displaced Syrians to heal, grow, turn their history into new roots, and thrive with time and better conditions.

 


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Nurturing Hope, 2017, 11″x14″, permanent marker on paper

 

The second vision I had was full of hope and optimism, that if we welcome others with community-mindedness and nurture compassion, we can all grow together like a blooming garden. Instead of being disturbed or afraid of the chaos and violence in every culture’s past, we could use history as a wellspring of wisdom to guide us toward a kinder, more peaceful and harmonious future. I thought about the beautiful tapestry of backgrounds and traditions woven together in sanctuaries like New York or Los Angeles, and I pictured each person’s roots twining together to form the alchemical magic of a city that celebrates diversity and learns from each other. I know it is an idealistic vision of egalitarianism and compassion, but if we don’t have the audacity to imagine it, how can we ever make it real?

 

Inspired by the #WomenForSyria day of action, I’ve added prints of both of these drawings to my Charitable Giving initiative, where 50% of their sales price will be donated to the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) and/or the International Rescue Committee to support humanitarian aid and refugee resettlement.

 

Individual prints are $40 each, or they can be purchased as a pair for $60. I hope with all my heart that these images can provide support to the people whose indomitable strength and courage in the face of such inhumanity teaches us all how to turn to our better natures, persevere, and resist.

 


The Allure of the Recognizable

I draw in public a lot, especially while riding the ferry or taking the subway. I don’t think much of it, since I draw all the time, but I realize it may seem unusual to watch someone attempt a detailed ink drawing while a subway car is jerking around. Then again, these are New Yorkers, who surely have seen everything.

I figured my drawing was largely unremarkable since people rarely remarked on it. Part of that might have been that I often have headphones on while I’m drawing, but I think it’s also the actual images, when people catch glimpses of them (I’m not the sort of person to hide my drawings with my coat sleeve, but I’m also not exactly putting them on display while I work on them). When I drew mostly abstract images, undulating folds and that kind of thing, few people commented, although once a teenage boy was delighted and asked to take a photo of this drawing.

Around Valentine’s Day, I did two drawings that were actually attached to real subjects, one a clumsy thing that turned into a rose, the other stemming from the idea that two people who were too much alike would end up attacking and consuming one another:

I happened to be sitting next to a guy who was telling his friend about his bitter divorce. Maybe he was more attuned to the subject matter on some subconscious level, and I think he figured I couldn’t hear him with my headphones on. He gestured toward me and said, “Jesus, that’s a hell of a drawing,” then asked his friend if he saw it. He may have gotten the same sense from an abstract field folding in on itself, but I believe it was the recognizable aspects of teeth, biting, and creatures with form that allowed him to have a visceral and immediate response to it.

Most of why I started carrying my sketchbook again and drawing more is because I want to get better at drawing. (Isn’t that ultimately why most people draw, in some way?) I’d like to more effectively marry what goes on in my head with what comes out of my hands, without relying on words and statements to do the heavy conceptual lifting. To that end, I realized that if I wanted to draw figuratively, I needed to actually draw figuratively, including specific, recognizable elements from the real world, or at the very least presenting the figures of my imagination in a language that others can understand.

I realize that feedback from strangers on the subway is hardly a gauge of whether art is successful or not, yet I do trust spontaneous comments to be a little more genuine than the studied, thinly veiled sarcasm masquerading as intellectualization and application of theory that I used to get during MFA critiques. After all, people don’t have to say anything, yet they do feel compelled to tap my arm and say something, even when I have my headphones on. Refreshingly, they don’t comment on the obviously “beautiful” drawings of plants and flowers or organic forms from nature. It’s almost always the drawings of hippogriffs, sea monsters, and bird creatures in bizarre surreal landscapes that elicit commentary. People struggle to find what they want to say exactly, because you don’t really want to call a monster beautiful, but they express an admiration of technical skill and a striking image, typically, “That’s really, really good.”

Anyone who’s been to art school in the last 10-15 years has probably been told, ad nauseam that figurative art is dead, that “no one paints that way anymore,” that to try to present something real in a fundamentally flat, Greenbergian plane is an amateurish fallacy, a dalliance with naivete, an utterly passè and dull pursuit. Yet human beings living in time and space are continuously drawn to things they recognize, to images that evoke memory and association, to triggers that don’t just “seem like” something they recognize, but actually are the thing in question. I think it’s a mistake to be as dismissive of popular opinion as artists and art world folk seem to be; when I really consider the art that’s praised and the art that’s dismissed, the overwhelming experience is one of the emperor’s new clothes, and someone’s got to be the one to say this is all nakedly absurd.

When I think of my all-time favorite paintings, very few are pure abstractions, even though I incessantly defend the liminal and sophisticated emotional power of abstraction. Usually I am drawn to abstracted versions of recognizable images, van Gogh’s wheat fields and skies, Cezanne’s adorable houses in the middle of wooded hills, Georgia O’Keeffe’s moon reflecting in a somber lake, or even Tiepolo and Veronese’s attempts at describing sunlight and euphoria with pink clouds and Prussian blue skies. Maybe my taste is hopelessly pedestrian, or I’m drawn to these images for purely sentimental reasons, but I just plain like them, and I don’t have to wrack my brain to sort out what in hell agonizingly clever game the artist is playing. Is accessibility in art an inherently bad thing? Is obscurity used as a shorthand for depth and insight?

I recently read a fascinating article by Jerry Saltz, discussing the tendency for current contemporary artists to retreat into a sort of post-postmodern insider game of deconstruction, secret coding, and layering with obscurity. His identification and attribution of the sources of these tendencies are spot-on, I think, and the more I’ve talked about his ideas with fellow artists, writers, and historians, the more and more insightful I’ve found them to be. People whose vocation used to be marked by a fearless openness and sensitivity to the world are now becoming the secretive, reluctant hipsters of caged messages and creations so overwrought with concept that one requires a Wikipedia entry to sort out what the hell is on display.

I can’t help thinking about how easily my generation has accepted the dismissiveness in Homer Simpson’s snide appraisal of Marge’s figurative painting (in the Jasper Johns episode), “Oh, honey, I’ve always liked your art. Your paintings look like the things they look like.”

People have been making images for millennia. Up until the past fifty or sixty years, the vast majority of that has been figurative, taking aspects of the real world and reimagining them in a new language or interpretation. As a species, we like the physical, material world, and as entrancing and delightful as abstraction is (and trust me, that’s most of what I do), I really believe there is still a serious, relevant place for figurative works, evidenced simply by the allure of the recognizable that I and my fellow subway riders experience every single day.


Thinking more than painting

As I mentioned in my last post, I finished the sketchbook I’d been keeping, from the spring of 2010 through May 2011. I scanned every page of it (save for one that was a list to myself), and you can view them all here, or as a slideshow, if you would like the experience of flipping through the pages.

I’m pleased with what I’ve learned about drawing and composition through this book, and I’m really happy with some of the ideas I explored in more depth than I usually do. I can see that in the second half, I moved from essentially doodling to actually thinking about form and how to represent it and communicate about it.

How this applies to painting remains to be seen, since I am most frequently consumed with schoolwork lately, or obsessing about nature.

But what matters to me right now is that I am thinking, that I’m in a really open and enthusiastic place in how I’m looking at the world and experiencing it. It’s lamentable that I lost my focus during grad school and got so overwhelmed with my personal life that my painting became half-hearted diagrams of scattered emotions, but that time has thankfully passed.


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This afternoon the light was coming through Venetian blinds in my window, and a gentle breeze was moving the trees and leaves outside, as well as the blinds themselves. This cast an array of shadows that I found utterly enthralling, across the corner of the painting currently on my easel.

In response to this subtle but powerful observation of a moment so small and ephemeral, something started tugging fiercely at my heart. I know, in my soul, I need to paint more.