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Month: July 2011

Hamlet in the Park

Hamlet in the Park

Last year Sam and I attended our first Independent Shakespeare Co. production in Griffith Park, Much Ado About Nothing.  This year we decided to come back armed with food and a blanket.  We were unfamiliar with the content of the play last year, which made things even tougher.  This year, though, we decided to start with Hamlet.  Everybody knows Hamlet, he’s the “thou dost protest too much” guy and the “to be or not to be” guy… etc.  We got to the spot about 75 minutes prior to showtime as last time we learned our lesson on the merits of coming early.  We were forced to sit way back behind the lighting posts last time.  This time we were much closer.  The photo below was taken from our blanket.

The following photos were taken once the place started to fill up, but not after the play had started, as they warned us there was to be no photography.  I’m not sure how successful they would be in enforcing that since this was a public event on public property – but I wasn’t going to be the only one “breaking the rule,” so I stuffed my camera away. They have a gallery of shots on their facebook page here of what is essentially what we saw.

The play seemed tighter and quicker than last year (both good things).  The lead was much stronger than last year as well, although some of the supporting cast not as memorable.  I think they had less actors on hand this year as the ghost of Hamlet’s father would show up as other characters, which would have gotten quickly confusing if the other characters weren’t so different from the silent creeping ghost.

Gertrude kept reminding me of Lwaxana Troi with the Betazed outfit she wore the entire duration of the play.

The next day Sam decided to put on her chef’s hat and cook something up.  See if you can guess the ingredients:


The Perils of People Thinking You’re an Artist

The Perils of People Thinking You’re an Artist

I wanted to be an artist since I was very little.  At first I wanted to draw comic books, and tried to create my own several times.  I don’t mean I went to a publisher, I mean I bought a sketchbook, created my own characters with a storyline and filled up the sketchbook like it was a comic book.  In high school I dropped the artist thing for the musician thing.  Of course, even though my mother prodded me to apply to Berklee my ego was too frail to imagine I’d ever be accepted.  When it became clear I had to go to college SOMEWHERE I decided to go to Ohio State.  At first I thought I discovered a passion for industrial design.  Being rejected by the ultra-exclusive program three times (mostly because I didn’t have an internship in design on my resume or an existing Bachelors in engineering) caused me to drop that dream too.  Time was running out to choose a major so I switched to Fine Art, which shared many of the same prerequisites as industrial design.  Since I’d been drawing probably before I could talk getting into the Fine Arts program was effortless.  I already had at least one professor on the review committee urging me to apply since my first drawing class.

Three years later I graduated With Honors, but with a BFA that I would find virtually useless outside of applying for a job as a fine arts graduate student.  The graphic design software that I’d been noodling around with in my spare time was what actually kept me employed and still does.  Painting instruction didn’t exist from a technical standpoint in my experience at OSU.  Painting classes consisted of abstract artists giving the class a theme and turning them loose.  There was little to no information on mixing, glazing, etc.  We had to learn how to make our own canvases in the wood shop though – they made sure we could do that.  Putting something intelligible on it when it was done was something else.  Anatomical study consisted of drawing naked people in drawing class and no more.  Who needs anatomy knowledge when you’re going to get an A+ for throwing balloons filled with paint at a canvas anyway.  I wasn’t alone in my disdain for the program, there were a few others (who I still speak with to this day) who were extremely frustrated with the focus of the faculty on encouraging us to become more like Jeff Koons than Alphonse Mucha.  It wasn’t until years later that I discovered that young Mucha’s went to art schools specializing in illustration – not state schools specializing in “free-form artistic freedom.”

(note: the one advantage of attending a state school was that I was able to take other classes and get minors in business and art history as well as a more liberal rounded education with classes in math, astronomy, biology, english, etc. that would not have been part of the curriculum at a “real” art school)

When I graduated and moved to California I was so fed up with my failure to paint that I didn’t bring any supplies with me.  While in California, working as a graphic designer by day,  I would try to start bands for a few years at night, eventually giving that up.  Every couple of years I would get excited, buy supplies and try to paint again -but with no idea what I was doing my attempts would end in dismal failure.

And then, in 2009 (five years since leaving Ohio State), something miraculous happened.  I started business school.  I have always been a master of time management and productivity.  Having to study again forced me to evaluate what I was doing with every minute of free time.  Also, a few months earlier a friend had clued me in to the downtown art walk, and I began following artists online.  In the past few years many artists have stated process blogs.  It is just like it sounds – they blog about the process of creating their work.  I learned more about how to actually paint in the next six months from studying these blog posts from artists like Eric Fortune, Julian Callos and JAW Cooper (just the tip of a massive iceberg) than I learned in five years of “art school.”  Of course, these artists went to “real” art schools like RISD, Pasadena Art Center, Art Academy and so on.  If I had it to do all over again I would skip OSU and head straight to Pasadena Art Center – but I can’t, so the best I can do is learn from these bloggers.

For an example of the progression of my work.  Below is one of my “best” paintings from college:

And here is the result of me tackling the same theme again in 2009:

Just look at that foot.  That foot looks better than anything I did in college right there…

So I started painting again, and now, knowing a little bit about how to do what I wanted to accomplish, my work was starting to look better.  As I often note on this blog I still struggle with backgrounds, unfamiliar textures, complicated lighting, etc.  What I run into frequently is that people who have no background in art assume that because I can paint a naked woman I can surely paint them a nice teddy bear or pineapple or bagel or car or whatever.  Not true.  That’s a little like asking Shaq to throw a curveball for your baseball team just because a baseball also happens to be round.  One of the most stressful assignments was when Sam asked me to paint her portrait.  Not only did I have to try to paint a person that looked real – but it had to look like her.   This was a fresh challenge and I blogged about it a little over a year ago here.  After the first, she requested another done on the same size canvas so she could hang them together.  I started in on the project with some crazy ideas.  I bought fabric to stencil in a background, started using metallic paint, etc.  But the end result was… less than satisfying.   I started with the face first, as nothing else would matter if I couldn’t get her face right.  I had to redo the face many many many many times to get it right.  Finally, when I felt I had gotten it right, I realized that the painting as a whole was doomed.  It just wasn’t going to work.

The image above was after doing work on the face and just starting to put in some hair.  I think perhaps the hair is where it all went wrong.  I had imagined a “glamour japan pop” kind of thing with hair flying around and little sparkly things and patterns in the back.  Like a still from a pop singer’s music video with CG stuff whizzing around.  But this is what happened:

No, there are no eyebrows.  Eyebrows always go on last.  It was right about this stage, seeing hair that was starting to look like the black symbiotic suit from SpiderMan 3, that I had to force myself to give up.  I’d been working on the piece off and on for months in between my regular Hive show pieces, so it was very disheartening to give up on 6 months of planning and grinding away.  It also meant I would never have the piece ready for Sam’s birthday, which was the intended due date.

So I decided to do something drastically simple, since complicating things had worked out so poorly.  I picked out a photo that Sam and I both liked of her from one of our trips to Point Dume.

This time the figure would be simple, the face wouldn’t even be visible and the background would be a blurry sea meeting the sky.

All three previous photos in this post were taken by cell-phone camera – not sure why I don’t have any real photos.

The eventual finished painting is not without its faults – but it came together much easier and faster than the previous effort and now hangs on the wall in Sam’s apartment.  This is the last work I did that was not for a show.  It may be the last work I’ll do for a while on canvas as I’m beginning a mural in a friend’s office building next week.  I’ve never done a mural before so that should be exciting and/or frustrating.


Art Walk July

Art Walk July

Since Sam was in China I attended this month’s Art Walk by myself.  My first stop was the “last bookstore,” which, unlike what I predicted last month, was still operating and seemed to have more books than before and things like fake wooly mammoth heads on the walls.

The bookstore is on the first floor of the Spring Arts Tower.  The gallery upstairs is technically called the mezzanine gallery I believe, but I always just think of it as the “upstairs” gallery.  There is usually nothing worth seeing up there.  I think the building used to be a bank as there is always an old bank vault (or something that looks like that) in one section.  Lately they’ve been putting “artwork” in the vault.  Below is what they had this month:

I should mention that there is now a regular artist at this gallery that does nothing but goldfish watercolor paintings.  I like her work, so I shouldn’t say there is NOTHING worth seeing up there.  This month there was one more piece worth seeing.  Uziel Duarte had a painting called Hers.  His web site is terribly unfinished, so here is my crappy shot of his piece below:

I stopped taking “Good” photographs of paintings a long time ago.  90% of the time if you take a picture of the piece (to remind yourself what it looks like) and then a photo of the tag you can find a good image online.  I’m always disappointed by artists like Uziel who can’t get their digital act together; if only because it takes me more time to write about their work.

Next, I came to one of the many food truck and art fair parking lots.  The grilled cheese truck was making another appearance, and like every other, even though I was there extremely early – the line was already down the block.

At this point I’ve gotten used to stopping by the booth for Branch of Life and chatting with the owner.  This month, however, he had half a booth stuck directly in front of a DJ speaker (how annoying!).  The owner wasn’t there, but I helped someone who was manning the booth (his sister maybe?) set things up so I could snap some shots.  She said that he was set up with the rest of the plants in another parking lot.  I looked in every parking lot I could find – but never found the other half of the plants.

Down Spring Sobe was setting up their “Event” again in the same parking lot they always inhabit.  This time there were more arts and crafts vendors (they seem to be spreading the vendors out now instead of bunching them up in one parking lot).  Far off to the right was a large delivery truck converted into a makeshift gallery.  I expected a bunch of crap (I mean.. a delivery truck? c’mon..), but I was surprised with this:

Down on Main the old bank building was open but very dark inside.  Upon entering I saw many open umbrellas mounted facing me and a large framed print that said “Storm of Life is a continuation of Biagi’s recent series of works examining common cultural superstitions – – their origins and the stigmas attached to them — while questioning the extent to which we let these notions infiltrate and effect our daily lives, and how we can unconsciously accept them as dogma despite their unfounded nature. The exhibition as (sic) a means of liberating the artist (sic) own fears and irrationalities (sic).”

I entered and started wandering through Mattia Biagi’s – Storm of Life.

Through generous use of projection, umbrellas and fog machines the artist succeeded in creating a surreal other worldly experience.  In thicker fog banks it was easy to lose my orientation. There were projection screens at various locations showing some kind of female knife throwing documentary (or something like that).

When I got back on Spring I headed west.  The truck below announced the location of the Blue Canvas show:

This month Blue Canvas had moved their show to the old Los Angeles stock exchange building.  I’d always found this building interesting from the outside (the big ornate gold doors alone grab your attention), but the inside was amazing.  The architecture both outside and in seemed a mix of different influences but made me think of Egyptian and Art Deco.  The show started off downstairs with a hallway filled with the usual customized Scions that are at every Blue Canvas show.

In the adjoining room was the art gallery.  Below are some of the best pieces.

The four pieces above were by Soey Milk.

The two pieces above are by Rodrigo Luff – but after looking him up I found some other even more amazing pieces on his web site.  The piece below really struck a chord – but maybe just because I’m now halfway through reading every single work of H.P. Lovecraft on the Kindle Sam gave me.

There is a large stairway just inside the front door of the exchange building that leads to the second floor where the actual trading floor used to be.

The old trading floor is now an upscale lounge with a giant dance floor that can be rented out.  Blue Canvas used the dance floor for live painting demos and the lounge areas for more gallery space as well as live digital painting demos and live tattoos.  Because of the architecture it’s a very impressive space to walk into.

Walking around upstairs I said to myself “my god, this looks familiar”… thought about it for a minute… “this looks like the club scene from Social Network.”  But then I told myself that I was just imagining things since surely that was a San Francisco club..right?

WRONG!  That scene was shot in the very place I was standing:

It turns out the old stock exchange is now a club/lounge called Exchange.

The artist doing the live body painting (as opposed to dead body painting) actually had a piece at the hive a few months ago that I liked.  I’m not sure what she was going for here as when I was there all she was doing was covering these women in black paint.  Maybe she was going to wipe away some kind of tribal design later?

I spent a good amount of time on the steps in front of this massive screen waiting for people to move out of the way.  Then I realized it would make more sense to have a crowd shot so the scale could be seen.  If you don’t recognize what is on the screen – that’s photoshop.  It was a live digital painting demo.  An interesting aspect of this screen in the dark room was that when a pixel was not lit (black) the screen functioned as a mirror.  Below is a show with the actual artist doing the demo there on the right.

Above you can see Captain Obvious making another cameo appearance in my photo by pointing to the screen showing the closeup of the live tattoo obviously being done right in front of him and his friends.

Down Spring a few more blocks was the Temple of Visions.  I think the art was new this month – but I’m unfortunately getting tired of the trippy hippy stuff.

The above painting is by Mykal Aubry.  I tried to get this image off his website, but he had a proprietary image management system that obscured the real file name/location even when you look at the source code.  I’m curious whether he did this on purpose – as it was quite easy to get the image from his facebook page… thus negating the effort he took to prevent people from “stealing” images from his personal web site.  For that reason alone I’m NOT posting a link back to his page.  Facebook doesn’t tell you when someone links to your photo – so he’ll never know I’m “stealing” it to put on my blog (unless of course he was smart enough to sign up for Google Tracker – in which case he’ll see his name in this blog entry).

The image below is of some man-size 3D box with multiple color shifting pieces.  No idea what it is supposed to signify.

The Hive next door was so packed it was hard to get in and out of. There was a Tarot reader outside as usual:

and three live painters/airbrushers

Near the entrance (past the first two featured artist walls) was this crazy giant head by Alex Chiu called (what else) Big Ass Rainbow Head:

Below are some of the pieces from this month’s show that I liked:

Salah – Pleasure of the Hunt.  Salah is always making sculptures of Asian women in various states of undress, which is something I naturally can’t complain about, but she also gives each one a personality.  A lot of them are “animial spirit” warriors like the one above with accessories and a great paint job.  The poses are always interesting and the details are intricate as these pieces are never more than six inches high.

A left over Chiodo Killer Clowns sculpture from last month.

There was one piece that really stood out.  The painting below by Alan Kocharian reminds me a lot of Audrey Kawasaki’s work.  Considering her current status on the new-brow scene that is a high compliment.

What you can’t really see is that some of the small lines in the piece, like the edges of sections of hair, were painted with (or etched away to reveal) brighter metallic colors to give the piece an interesting intricacy of detail that isn’t usually seen.  I’m a fan of these amorphous scratchy backgrounds in figurative work.  Perhaps I should try developing my own version of this as I always struggle with the backgrounds in my work.

Then, of course, high on the wall deeper in the gallery was my contribution:

My goal for this show was, after giving up on my “robot graffiti artist” piece, to make something really wacky from one my sketchbooks.  I had a sketch of this strange shaman figure riding around on a floating organic platform.

I didn’t intend to make the platform so phallic – it just turned out that way.  I’m also uncomfortable with how the little flying blue guys came out – I’m still having a tough time making tiny details with acrylic paint.  The birds and spaceship were late additions after the painting was nearly finished as the painting seemed to need something to balance it out on the left, and the entire blue sky seemed too empty.  Plus, I figured if I added a spaceship the viewer could at least imagine a story for this character – that he’s an alien from a crashed ship… something like that…

The hands coming from the platform weren’t in the original sketch – and they probably should have stayed that way.  They (along with that reptile critter and his blue flying friends) look way too cartoony.  Looking at it now I can also see that the background mountains are too bright.

I’m going to have something completely different for you next month – and at the same time I’m working on a more “traditional” larger figurative piece.



Art Bubble

Art Bubble

I try to keep my finger on the pulse of the art community.  Lately there have been whispers of an art bubble.  Of course, we’ve heard this more than once before.  I don’t know if there is such a thing as a bubble in art.  Many collectors buy no matter what the price because they simply like the work – and many artists have regular buyers.  Famous work usually doesn’t go down in price and fame in the art world, while fickle, only increases with age (or time after death).  For an example we can look at Cy Twombly.  Cy’s work used to be pummeled by art critics and his famous peers.  It goes without saying that the $15 million selling point he earned on a canvas a few months ago (while still alive) is much more than what he made twenty years ago, or forty years ago.  Before his death he was known as one of the top ten most expensive artists in the world.

So actual price probably doesn’t have much of a bubble.  Sure prices may dip temporarily in a recession, but a famous artist’s work doesn’t stop selling.  Why is that?  Simply put, most good (or even most bad) art is out of the price range of 90% of the population.  A painting of any decent size (a few feet) by even an unknown artist is going to have a selling point of at least a few hundred dollars.  For a well known artist, ad a zero to the end.  For someone like Damien Hurst, add multiple zeros.  The 10% that can afford to buy art (or even have somewhere to keep/display it) are not the folks seen at gallery openings, and they’re not (as much) affected by recessions.  Often collectors are given the chance to view art privately before it even goes on sale (ever wondered how all those “hot” pieces where already sold when you went to the opening of a show?).

On Friday Sam and I tried to attend the Corey Helford Gallery 5 year anniversary show.

We expected to check out a bunch of pieces by artists we’d been following for a few years now.  What we got instead was a long not moving line going to the other end of the block.

After 20-30 minutes of the line not moving we decided to scoot on out of there.   Clearly based on the above photo one would think that this is an indication of an “art bubble” preparing to burst.  The new-brow art scene has been expanding every year in the past half-decade and has its own set of celebrities (Audrey Kawasaki, Tran Nguyen, Dabs Myla, etc.)  However, what has been happening is a renewed INTEREST in the work, but not by those 10% that have the ability to purchase, they’ve always been there.  Sure, there are more purchases since there are more people exposed to the work.  But I have a feeling pieces bought by “average joes” are rare.

I almost bought a Julian Callos piece a few months ago – but I decided I just couldn’t spend that much money.  Good thing I didn’t as in the last two months I’ve had my washing machine break for $400 and mechanical work on the Mazda for $300.  If I’d have purchased the painting that “surprise!” money would have been much harder to come by.  I’m a guy extremely interested in art and I know how to save money.  And yet, I still haven’t purchased anything.  What are the odds that the average joe’s that show up to a gallery like the above actually purchase anything? Not high.

This is, of course, why many of the celebrities of the new-brow movement have started selling limited edition prints of their paintings.  Now the average joe can buy something.  At this point a gallery opening does two things:

1) shows the originals to attendees so they can decide if they want a print

2) sells the originals to collectors

You may think #2 is the usual reason for having a show; “well of course they sell the originals to collectors!”  However, the reason for an artist to have a show is probably less to do with making money from the sale and more to do with keeping the marketing system of showing at a gallery going.  The artist doesn’t actually make a lot of money off of a gallery sale.  Did you know that most galleries take a 50% cut of the selling price?  If you do the math, even the new-brow celebrities aren’t getting rich purely from sales at gallery shows.  They’re making money from print sales.

Exhibit A.  A run of 300 prints, $200 each (without frame).  Gross revenue was at least $60,000.  To make that much gross off of a gallery show her paintings would have to be all over $5,000.  While some approach that, remember that is GROSS.  Divide in half for NET profit off of a gallery show because of the gallery commission.   Now, before we even compare any longer a gallery show to a print let me remind you this is ONE PRINT.  If she made and sold prints in this manner for TEN PRINTS from a ten painting gallery show she would have a gross of $600,000 from the prints.  To make that amount of gross from a ten painting show she’d have to sell each painting for $60,000.  Not happening.  (not yet, anyway)  And you can be sure that the printing and mailing cost for those prints isn’t 50% of the selling price.

I would assume, for Kawasaki, gallery shows are an advertising method to funnel print sales.

Galleries (good ones) today serve as a sort of verification process for the public.  Anybody can be an “artist” and sell (crappy non color calibrated or signed) prints online, check out the 12 million members of DeviantArt.  Of which probably 11,999,000 aren’t very good.  Hard to get people interested in “real art” that way, isn’t it?

By featuring an artist or group of artists in a popular gallery, they are verified as “quality” artists worthy of the price tags.  Of course a gallery opening has the additional punch of being a social gathering spot for the subset of the population that actually enjoys art.  Unfortunate for folks like us who are there to study the work, and not stand around looking at each other.

The long lines seen at CHG last Friday are just an indication that the stand around and look cool population is growing, not that an art bubble is about to burst or even exists.

Of course this is only the opinion of an outsider looking in.  From down the street.