31 January 2009

A Very Active Aquarium.

This order comes from Susan Woehrle in Minneapolis. She requested a very active aquarium with fish, a diver, a crab, a castle, coral, and lots of bubbles; all very colorful. I was pleased to oblige. With this one I didn't show a lot of refined taste. As I was mixing the pink, I realized that I had never made the color before (for anything). When I got into this one it became a little addictive. I actually had troubles getting myself to stop painting. So many more things could be added. (Right now I'm regretting the absence of a sea horse, but I don't know where it would fit). I emailed Susan yesterday and asked her to tell me more about herself and aquariums, mostly out of my own curiosity. (Sometimes I pretend like there is a social science edge to this project). She mentioned the calming effects of watching fish. It can lower your blood pressure. She remembered a fish tank in the waiting room of her dentist's office when she was a kid that made the experience more palatable. Unfortunately, I don't know how soothing the painting I made is. The pink and orange gravel is a little crazy making. Does nothing good for my blood pressure.
For me, I think the calm comes from looking into a world that seems completely detached from ours. It puts things into perspective. The fish all have there own little watery concerns and seem oblivious to us in their quiet little microcosm. We are only existent to them during feeding time and then we must seem like rain.
The decorative divers and castles a add a strange literal narrative for us that the fish are oblivious to. However, I must be part fish because I don't completely understand the narrative either. I get that the divers are supposed to be fortune hunters that are scavenging for treasures from sunken boats, but what are we supposed to make of the castles. Do they suggest that are fish are swimming in some long lost sunken medieval Atlantis or that there is a kingdom of sea-monster-people underwater that are waring with our fiddler crabs for primacy? Anyway, aren't the fish sometimes trying to eat other enough of a narrative?
The castle I made was a composite of several I saw online on aquatic supply store websites. I do realize that mine looks something like a quaint Alpine Ski Lodge with minarets. I put the skull on front just to add some intrigue and some stairs in front to keep the legless mermaids out.
I hope you like it, Susan.

28 January 2009

A T-shirt that says "Baby Electricity".

Here is the request from Dawn Schot Klotzbach. Plain and simple, a T-shirt that says "Baby Electricity".
This story goes back years, to a nap from which Dawn woke herself up screaming and demanding "I want a T-shirt that says "Baby Electricity" on it". I don't think she completely remembers the dream that prompted this, but the speculations could be endless. Where to start. A power station with toddlers crawling fast in wheels? Want-to-be mothers aligning their fertility to the pulls of the magnetic fields of the Earth? Questionable scientists sneaking into nurseries with a Tesla Coil and giggles? But, the question is, why would any of these things be commemorated on a lousy T-shirt?
However you interpret it, here is the T-shirt I painted. I decided to make it old and crappy and well loved and probably a little smelly. It hangs on a nail that is pounded into void. Maybe it used to be Dawn's favorite party T-shirt but now she just sleeps in it, letting the baby electricity just seep in through her pores. I don't know, you'll have to ask her.

25 January 2009

What are these Strange Monkey-Beasts?

If you were to have told me, even two months ago, that I would paint cute pictures of cats and post them online I ... well here we are. It turns out to be part of this gig. Why not?
These tiny requests come as part of a family pack of three paintings ordered by Dawn Schot Klotzbach. Her son, Sander, who is 3 1/2 requested a cat jumping on a bed. Her daughter Ivy, who is 1 1/2, copied a little and asked for a kitty drinking from a milk bottle. Dawn's painting will be posted later but it involves a T-shirt and baby electricity. This is a lot of baby.
Getting a request to paint for some one's children is both flattering and slightly intimidating. For some reason, I feel like things made for kids need to be super magical. No one wants to be the guy who disappoints the kids. Right? But I'm pleased to do it.
When starting these, my first realization was that I had absolutely zero understanding of cat anatomy. Luckily, I find that there is no lack of cute cat pictures on the Internet to reference. (I might go as far as to say that the Internet is for looking at cute cat pictures). I've had pet cats before, but I obviously didn't pay any attention to them. When I really looked at these cat pictures, the animals looked alien to me. "What are these strange monkey-beasts?", I thought. I marvelled at how their legs seemed to bend the wrong way in the wrong places. But I slowly worked it out like a scientist. In the science of cute.
I approached these paintings with the intention of making something in the style of illustrations from a classic American storybook. (This is opposed to the wacky "Hang in There" poster style, or "lasagna and a nap" Garfield style). The cat drinking from a the antiquated milk bottle seemed to beg for images that harkin back to days of olde.
On the milk bottle painting, I sanded down the edges to suggest something ethereal. I know that kitties and the ethereal don't go hand in hand, but think of it as a child's dream kitten. He mischievously sneaks milk from the bottle that is about to tip. In reality, this scene is the start of a mess that would probably provoke some yelling and end with a crabby clean up. But here it is quaint. (My wife pointed out that this seems to takes place on the same table as the Tiny Flemish Feast. The kitten must have already eaten the lobster, and hazelnuts and drank all the wine. Thanks for the sharp observation, Beth.)

With the cat jumping on a bed painting, I tried to make a narrative. A little bit of a Good Night Moon thing, maybe. The cat flying in bed at the end of the day. Are cats nocturnal?
Anyway, I'll spare you anymore deep thoughts . These are cat paintings.
Keep watching, I have three more paintings to post this week!

16 January 2009

Teddy Roosevelt's Sad Goat Charge Up San Juan Hill.

This request comes from my long time friend Charles Russell. Charles has an interesting history with a string of unusual jobs including a couple of stints working as a park ranger in Alaska. Because of this, I wasn't too surprised when his request for a painting involved the "rough rider" and outdoorsy former President Theodore Roosevelt. He asked for a painting of Teddy Roosevelt "goat charging up San Juan Hill". I know Roosevelt became a hero in the Spanish-American war for leading his troops on a successful campaign that captured San Juan Hill and that this was some how important, but what does "goat charging" mean? When I wrote back and asked Charles he told me I could "run with it" and interpret it however I wanted. So here goes.

I chose to re imagine Teddy Roosevelt's later life. I imaged Roosevelt as a retired president who had become tired of his earlier adventures of big game hunting and boxing and the like and now prefered just kicking around his house, intermittently working on his incoherent memoirs which were never to be published. In my version, he lives on a large piece of land in some wooded area in the midwest. Stray animals sometimes wander onto his property. Mr. Roosevelt usually kills and eats these animals but sometimes, for whatever reason, one will tug at his strange little heart strings and he will take them in. His favorite of these "pets" is a rather large goat that he named Juan, in memory of his past glories in San Juan Hill. Later he is told by a local Mexican blacksmith that Juan is a male name and inappropriate for his female goat. Teddy Roosevelt has become even more stubborn with age and refuses to change the goat's name to the suggested "Juanita".
As time goes on, the former president becomes more and more attached to the goat and begins to insist that she is his son. He stops writing down his memoirs and begins only dictating them to Juan, who is told to store them in her memory "like priceless jewels".
Shortly before his death, Mr. Roosevelt decides to take Juan on a trip across North and South America with the intention of revisting important places from his past. Cuba is one of those places.
I think I'll let you re imagine the rest ....

12 January 2009

Tiny Flemish Feast.

I asked my friend Yuri Arajs for a request. Yuri is a minimalist painter/printmaker and a curator who lives in British Colombia. He asked me to make something that looks like those old Flemish paintings of a feast. Very decadent and unexpected from him. This is a tall order for a 3.5"x 5.5" painting, but why not. The old Belgian/Dutchy masters used food settings to show off their technical abilities, to wow us with the way they can show light bouncing off of the curves of a wine glass or the subtle sparkle of a droplet of water rolling down a grape. I knew I would have to dumb it down.
I did some quick research of Dutch and Flemish Baroque painters and decided that Jacob Van Es' style would be the best for me to rip off. It seemed to me that the trick was to cut every color with burnt umber and gloss medium. It kind of worked.
I choose food that I thought would be fun to paint rather than things that make sense. That's why it looks more like a lunch table with a very strange menu. But that is what you often see in these paintings. There are meals that consist of a bowl of grapes next to a bowl of olives with a freshly killed rabbit stretched out in front. The table is strewn with cracked hazelnuts and there is always plenty of wine served in ridiculous Rococo stemware.
I think I captured the proper mood here but maybe I should have done a few things differently. The lack of ominous shadows might be a little disappointing. I've also been told that the lobster looks a little too alive, like it could hop up and start hosting the feast. At any moment his flaccid claw might lift to snip off a piece of that terrible crusty bread for us, serving it up with a jerky, robotic thrust. What a party!

06 January 2009

Why is the Panda Licking on a Light Bulb?

If you tell someone that you are a painter, the first thing they are likely to do is ask what kind of paintings you make. Then you stumble with words trying to explain years worthy of ideas and theory in a few sentences. From their blank expression, you can usually tell that they are not listening and can't wait to tell you what they like and what you should be making. And this is fine.
I don't consider myself a self-centered snob but my work generally is very personal and sometimes contains references that might be bordering on the esoteric. However, I believe that the personal often addresses the universal and that many things can be understood at a gut level rather than intellectually. With that said, I always have the concern that I'm living far too much in my own head . I don't want to be just rubbing my nose in my own stinky armpit again and again. But, sometimes it's hard to know.
My wife has a treasury of art ideas that I don't use. They don't fit what I generally "do". About two years ago, we were in the car and I was bouncing around thoughts about what kind of piece I would make for a painting class I was taking. I think my bright idea had something to do with my then painful hernia. (I love medical themes). My wife just spouted out off of the top of her head, "You need to paint a panda licking on a light bulb". I thought this was a bad idea and tried to move on. She kept insisting that it was what I needed to do. Eventually it turned into an argument. I didn't paint the panda or the hernia.
Three weeks ago, at a loss for an inexpensive Christmas present, I remembered the panda and painted it for her. I did it in small scale (3.5"x5.5") not only to make it go fast but also because I like small pieces . It did go pretty quickly, materials didn't cost much, and I actually enjoyed making it and thought it turned out well.
This gave me the idea. I can remove myself from my own head for a while and just use my hands. I can take requests and custom make paintings for people, painting whatever they want, however they want, without restrictions on subject matter or content. As long as I work small scale, I can make a painting pretty quickly while keeping the quality high and charge at a low flat rate.
So, I'm doing it and am excited to see what people might want. Or think they want.
This blog is going to document my journey through this project. (If it were a social services program that somehow helped inner city youth I would call it "Project Panda Licking on a Light bulb" but it's not so I won't).
I will post an image of every painting I make along with commenting on the subject matter and the experience. Right now I am working on a small handful for friends to iron out the kinks before I really begin. The first will be posted soon.