Laura Hoffman is red wine, resin, power tools, prints and parties. I have NEVER stopped by her studio without being welcomed and shown fabulous art and a great time. I’m not sure how we met: the Barracks and SOFA seem miles apart in more than distance. How to characterize her distinct style? Monumental, fractured classical ladies in gender-bent attire, with a mythic twist? The feminine archetype of all ages, tweaked? Beamish frabjous Alices, like Lewis Carroll on oil paint fumes and Sonoma wine?
The Wine Emporium, source of viticulture and visual delights, hosts wonderful art exhibitions. Many thanks to James Haug and his exquiste palate (or is it palette?) for both wine and art. Laura’s show can be enjoyed, along with the Wine Emporium’s signature tastings, until early January. If you haven’t been into the Wine Emporium in Sebastopol, you’ve missed James’ extensive knowledge, a stock of hard-to-find fine wines, and his open hospitality. My slideshow below show’s Laura’s opening, and the Wine Emporium site hosts an online galleryof Laura’s work. My show starts Labor Day 2012. Do drop by to taste the wine and see Laura’s ladies.
As for the power tools, well, you’ll have to ask Laura. In January I’ll be playing with her sanders in her studio. We’ll be trying interesting new techniques for collaging whole animals and people on to our surfaces! Just kidding. Well, sort of.
Mythic News: Laura invites so much to play in her paintings. The collage borders teem with action and embedded symbols. Look at the little stories embedded in the details: a swingset in a watermelon, ships, nuts, shells. I particularly like her baroque little horizon lines which sprout more heiroglyphic narrative. Take a look at the wonderful photo in the slideshow of an avalanche ofher collage sources: they seem like the thoughts the ladies are thinking– coy, oracular, silly, or dreamy.The huge delicacy of the work is, well, a delicious, huge delicacy. Sweetmeats for the holiday indeed. Fruits of flesh, seasoned with a saucy mind. Pastries for the soul. Lauradorable.
What’s a large painting for you? 12 by 12 inches? 6 feet by 6 feet? A mural? Anything on canvas?
What’s a large series? Two paintings? A hundred?
In Sunday’s Saltworkstudio Paint Large class, our goal was to clarify our intentions for a series and begin to paint on larger surfaces. For the purposes making headway in a four-hour class, I suggest students bring half to full sheets of watercolor paper, or three identical canvases up to 30 inches on a side.
I won’t share the entire process of the class, but it did result in the stunning headway on painting series you can see in the slideshow below. All paintings shown were done in class on Sunday, and they are very fine starts. Some students came in with well-developed ideas, and some came in “blank.”
I had to figure out how to model and convey my own process when working on a large series of big surfaces. We used some of the ideas below as guidelines.
A large painting is not a small painting “blown up.” Start fresh. “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas any more.” You are in a new, large, foriegn country. Explore it.
Composition is critical. Plan a minimal, flexible composition format or idea. It could be “Golden Mean” or “Diagonal.” OR it could be quirkier: “Large X-Ray Animal in the Middle” or “Floaty Fractal Bubble with Connectors” or “One Line High Horizon.” Vary each painting in your series, but stay within one compositional “meme.”
Texture your surface first, then put on large swathes of color or paint BEFORE “starting” the painting. Keep it very loose at first. You’re getting hold of your surface, getting acquainted with it…developing a relationship. The start is like a first date.
You need big ideas for large paintings. Work in your notebook. Catch the ideas and desires that hang at the periphery of your conciousness. We’re like Adam naming the animals of our imagination into existence… and some of them are very odd creatures! Don’t be afraid of titling your paintings right at the start. You can always change them later.
Remember, it’s only paint and canvas. Sure, you might fail. So what?
Enjoy the slideshow! The Mythic News and Studio News are after the slides. Students, please leave some comments about your process and your series concepts and names. I’m amazed by your work.
Mythic News: You can get great abstract painting titles from myths and legends. I just bought the beautiful, witty book American Indian Myths and Legends, selected and edited by Richard Erdoes and Alfonso Ortiz. Here are some titles I’d love to use for abstract paintings: The Origin of Curing Ceremonies. The Well-Baked Man. Blood Clot. Jicarilla Genesis. Emerging Into the Upper World. Great Medicine Makes a Beautiful Country. The Theft of Light. A Trick of Moon. And more. At the end of his life, my father told me that my great-grandmother was Native American. It was the skeleton in the closet and a family secret. At last I had a context for my resonance with ancient art. Is there a DNA for visual desire, the passions of the eyes?
Saltworkstudio News: All my classes are full through March! I’ll be posting the next Spontaneous Construction date and time in the new year.
What’s collage painting, mixed media painting, or combined media painting? How does it differ from collage?
How can you use collage elements in painting without being highjacked or overwhelmed by the collage image?
Here’s a simple rule of thumb: A collage painting is more paint than collage elements. The paint is 60% or more of the painting. The collaged parts merge and meld seamlessly into the whole.
How to do it? Here are 5 tips. All paintings shown here are acrylic paint on paper or canvas. I affix collage pieces to the surface with glossy acrylic gel medium.
1. Use only your own images whenever possible, including photographs, text, and your own sketches and handwriting. You can also use copyright-free black and white images. Copy and recopy the same images in larger and smaller sizes at a copy store or using a laser printer. Black and white is easier to incorporate, and leaves the color elements to the painter and paints. I prefer to avoid colored magazine images, as tempting as they are. The more you play with a single image by altering size, color, dimension, the more freedom you will gain in painting. You’ll own the image, rather than the image “owning” you.
2. Choose a theme. I used non-copyrighted Dover deer. Avoid themes that are intensely personal, like pictures of your dog, your mom, or your child. You need to have a bit of distance to use images effectively, or to rip one up. Eventually you’ll develop image banks of differing themes that become your private visual language.
3. Paint first. Put color on the surface, or paint a very sketchy painting, then affix images, then paint some more. Painting first, before applying images, establishes that it is more a painting than a collage. For all of these I chose a crucifix composition and applied paint first. Then I put down ripped black and white collage images. A warm background is good, as it can glow up through layers of paint.
4.Be willing to sacrifice the image. Let go of the image you love and let it disappear, if the painting demands it. Show only a part of it. If you want to keep it perfect, do regular collage, not collage painting. This is one of the hardest parts of using collage elements in paintings.
5. Cover your images with glossy gel medium or UVLS varnish as you apply them. Then you can pile on coats of paint and still wipe back to find them.
Toss the collage boxes and go back to only a few images. Use them thoughtfully in series of paintings. And have fun!
Please use the comment section for questions on the collages or techniques. I’m happy to share what I know. If you’re one of my student who gets the blog, please share something about your experience with collage painting.
Mythic news: Deer are symbols of sacrifice and purity, often used in Christian iconography. It was said that deer gathered at the foot of the cross where Jesus hung. I used them here in these three works floating up and down through a penetrable horizon of birth and death, ancestor souls. Collage itself belongs to the realm of Kali: dismembering of paper , appropriation of image, rebirth of pieces into a new whole. The goddess of Necessity wields the scissors and snips the thread of life– or the image.
Salamander Winter, acrylic combined media on Fabriano paper, 23″ x 23″, Suzanne Edminster
Last night I closed my open studio after an impromptu party with three muses , one rather hairy, in which the absinthe bottle of La Muse Verte was emptied. Scott, Ed, and I ended up at the Ira Glass show at the Santa Rosa Wells Fargo Center. Ira Glass, a semiotics major made good as creator and host of NPR’s This American Life, spent a long time giving out his trade secrets of storytelling, or story cultivating, or story minding, or whatever it is he does so well.
I felt like I was watching– or rather, hearing, as the show celebrated the audial life of the radio– an alchemist giving out his “secret” recipes for turning lead into gold. Open secrets: everyone can hear them, but only a few can use them. Storytelling, he said, is a semiotic pattern. One thing happens, then another thing happens, then another thing– an Ariadne’s thread out of the labyrinth– and it doesn’t matter a bit what the story is or who’s telling it. At the end there’s a bump, a pause, and a moral. The elements of the story are the abstract bones. If the substructure is strong, any story propels us into the other world. Anyone and anything might work in these stories. And you can tell thousands of them, like Scheherazade. Or Ira Glass.
This reminded me of abstract painting. We move away from the subject, and into bones of pure visual action. The structure of the painting carries us along even without subject matter or explanation. First one painting element happens, then another, then another…. it’s fashionable to avoid the word “narrative” with abstract or non-objective painting. But there’s a story embedded in every piece, if we know how to read it. The composition rocks and rockets us toward meaning.
Glass paced the stage, IPAD in hand glowing like magic tablet of a new Moses, as he expounded on the world’s oldest art form, storytelling. In the story of the painting Salamander Winter, you may find Scott building salamander “houses” in our back yard. We lay down boards on the damp winter ground on purpose to be salamander homes. You can find two kinds of California salamanders in our yard, little wormlike Slender Salamanders and classically newty Arboreals. We encourage them to raise their tiny, slimy, cute babies there, and we lift the check their progress. We identified them through this wonderful site, Identifying California Salamanders.
My Ariadne’s thread is tangling here, so I have to quit. The Open Studios went well. Paintings bumped their way to new homes: I’ve posted one here. My thanks to all who visited and to my collectors. The semiotic form of the blog requires that I ask you a question or two, to encourage socializing. So I have some: did you like my studio? huh? huh? and, hey, did I invent the worst blog title ever, or not? And the moral: Know Thy Salamanders. Do you?
Mythic News: Theseus dumped Ariadne after she saved his sorry self from the Minotaur, but a god (Dionysius) ended up marrying her, so it all worked out. She traded up. The Alchemical Salamanders in my painting go through fire unscathed, faith enduring after earthly passions smolder.
Studio news: the Open Studios were successful. The Barracks Artists, in the old Finley Barracks in Santa Rosa, are emerging from the mist. Guerilla artists in the mist. Come visit me by appointment.
Opening a studio is like cleaning a window into the inner life of the artist. Down the rabbit hole we go!
It’s more intimate than having people into your home, because you give your hospitality to everyone. They can luxuriate in your colors, drink in images, and dine on your line. The public sees the traces of your best effort and your worst nightmares, the deep and superficial. The artist tries to be fully with each question, from sublime to inane, without falling into the pit of sales obsession. It’s quite the wine-and-cheese marathon. Unless your heart is open, it can be nerve-wracking . But when someone really sees your art– and really loves it– there is no greater high.
A few times people have burst into tears in front of one of my paintings. James Elkin explores the phenomena in his Pictures and Tears: People who have cried in front of paintings. The book is a strange and fascinating exploration reactions to art when the eyes in our hearts have opened. Museums used to have nursing stations where patrons overcome by art could recover… I think the Louvre still does. Have you laughed or cried over a piece of art?
Turquoise Window World is a sort of threshold or sill where the everyday table starts to tip over into the extraordinary, like the tables that the spirits move. Strange fruit converse. Flowers march and sprout angels, and a grove of spirits wavers in the background. The painting expands domestic motifs as an un- still life , animated. The turquoise paint, that bright opaque, came from my time living in India, where houses are unabashedly brilliant blue as a Kodachrome sea.
Saltworkstudio and my friends the Barracks Artists are open November 5-6 at 3840 Finley Ave, Santa Rosa, California. Drop by to visit 24 artists in one location. I’ll be painting.
In a Mythic News today, I introduce Jeremy Joan Hewes, Caren Catterall , Mardi Storm, Paula and Cliff Strother, Kathryn Kelsey, Maris Peach, Claudia Rhymes, Monica Lee-Boutz, and Chuni Anello. We will be having a party on Saturday between 4 and 6. All our studios will be open. Join us!
Jeremy Joan Hewes is a dynamic, subtle printmaker, photographer and my friend. In her words: Sometimes you walk into a room and a discover an alluring mystery. That’s how I think of this image of subtle colors, dynamic pattern, and silhouettes, which I made at a recent workshop in Coupeville, Washington. I kept returning to that room as the day wore on and the light changed, each time taking more photographs. Color and light, with a little bit of “what is this?” thrown in. Come see this photograph and some new mixed media pieces in studio 250 at the Barracks Artists open studio on November 5 and 6 – this weekend!
Don’t be fooled by Claudia Rhymes’pixie glasses or shy demeanor. Her new series of urban landscape grids over bright backgrounds rocks, and she’s a gifted, secret graffiti artist. She also has one of the new, larger downstairs studios. Claudia is our hidden wonderchild in this Open Studio.
Paula and Cliff Strothershare the studio with the most beautiful outlook on the hills. Paula paints in acrylics and Cliff in oils. Visit this newly established studio to enjoy lush landscapes in a room with a view.
Kathryn Kelsey’sfascinating mixed media work changes every year. Dedicated to wild animals, the environment, and indigenous peoples, her textures and materials are a delight. I love her mixed media with dried radishes. She is the Editor of the Barracks Bulletin and writes a blog. Her downstairs studio is filled with the calm green light of nature, one of my favorite places to sit and relax.
Maris Peachis our very own Joseph Cornell. I own a piece she made, the Alchemist’s Arcade. In her words: I tell stories using the flotsam and jetsam of life’s leftovers. Sometimes I begin with an object, sometimes I build from a concept, sometimes I fiddle and nuture a dream memory until it becomes an elaborate narrative. Othertimes the story is sparsly simple or even hidden, revealing itself through the beholder’s eye. Don’t miss her intricate, fascinating workshop and studio.
Monica Lee-Boutzis an energizing force of nature! She paints in watercolor, is an accomplished collage artist, and has had several recent exhibitions. Visit her studio upstairs across from Paula and Cliff.
Chuni is from Madrid, has a new studio downstairs, and absolutely unique mixed pieces using fabric, fiber, and wool.
Collage is a natural for Halloween, the dark hinge in the year that creaks as something opens the door. The bits and pieces of paper are ghosts or forlorn spirits, no longer “alive” in their original context. You cut them, dismember them, rip them up, seek underworld messages from scraps of text, and bury theme in paint. You can “skin” them as well. Then, like good little ghosts, they march out and live again, speaking in paper whispers.
Yesterday, in the class I teach at Sebastopol Center for the Arts, I was trying to model how to develop a series theme. I shared to the class that in my notebook I had written that I wanted to do a series that was like “Edgar Allen Poe on acid.” I like to read horror stories and murder mysteries; husband Scott actually prescribes them for me as an antidote if I get too bound up in art books or my secret indulgence bonbons, preachy self-help books, which I love but invariably depress me with how much help I still need to add to Self. I had been hanging on to scratchy black and white compositional studies for years; liked ’em but didn’t know how to take them further. The Choirboys had been altered into a very damaged acrylic skin. I tore them up into two pieces and mounted them on two paintings, paired with a quote from a cave painting book, and my landscape transformed itself into the River Styx. Mixed media included Utrecht Pro Gesso as my white paint… love the opaque chalkiness… and Derwent Inktense pencils for the purple automatic writing marks. Payne’s Grey makes a gorgeous blue/black. If this little group comes to your door tonight, I wouldn’t open it.
Mythic News: Avernus, a crater lake of Italy near Naples, is supposed to be the entry to the Greco-Roman underworld. Our own Crater Lake in Oregon is creepy enough… dead, because not fed by springs. Dead, because the volcano crater goes down, down to the center of the earth, or near enough. Birds and fish often avoid these lakes as well. I’ll see Avernus around Christmas on our Italian trip.
Saltworkstudio events: We have our annual Open Studios this weekend, November 5 and 6, 2012, at the old naval airbase , 3840 Finley Ave, Santa Rosa. I have a new series of B/W paintings and you can see the top of a WWII bunker from my studio window. Drop by Saltworkstudio. I will be doing demos and would love to visit with you.