Driven to paint Plein Air

Newberry, Sunrise Hwy, oil on canvas, 9x12"

The day before yesterday we were scheduled for an electricity outage 9am-4pm. I got up early to cut out a wood palette fit to measure my French easel, grabbed Frida, and went for a drive on the justly named Palms to Pines Hwy. The cows reminded me of how rural the area is. About 30 minutes later I was in the 100 degree desert, making a loop I found a spot between Salton Sea and Borrego Springs to paint. High noon and not a shadow to be had. My students will tell you I veto painting things with no shadows, broke my rules, and decided to paint with the focus on the soft dusty arid colors. I painted for about 40 minutes, really it was too hot, Frida couldn’t wait to get back in the car. The rest of the drive ascending from valley to valley was gorgeous and I was grateful to arrive home to the mile high coolness of Idyllwild.

Oil Paint Color Study

Newberry, Color Study 1, oil on canvas panel, 9x12"
Newberry, Oil Color Study 1, 9×12″, private collection.

I painted this color study last night watching the Dem debate, quite tricky in the sense of getting all the colors to “rest” on the surface, so there is no sunken or dead colors, and if I can bring it to the surface the color feels alive. I have a kind of magical touch in pastel but painting doesn’t come as easy to me, so this was a way of challenging my oil skills. In life and art I like celebrate my strengths and I always work on my weaknesses, a saying I believe in is that you are only as good as your weakest link. Raise your weakness to a strength and your confidence and inner strength become genuine.

Pushing the Composition Envelope, Melissa Hefferlin Still Lifes

Effortless Complexity and Boundless Imagination

Decades ago, Melissa Hefferlin told me that growing up, whenever she did something wrong,  her scientist dad would sit her down with paper and pen to make columns of pros, cons, and alternatives to her bad behavior. She dreaded these episodes (apparently they took place fairly often). But they served her artistic mind very well, especially in composition.

Challenge to Picasso and Vermeer

Art is very complex with many elements such as color, light, form, emotion, imagination, subject, etc. But composition is the granddaddy of fine art. Composition in painting and drawing is the arrangement of contours on a flat surface. Two important parts of it are groupings and the balance of the entire work. To try to create something new in composition is a daunting task and throws down a challenge to Vermeer and Picasso. It seems that Melissa is unfazed by the project. 

In full disclosure, I mentored Melissa in the early 1990s, but I can’t claim any credit for her brilliance since then. 

 Groupings

Hefferlin, Journey of a Higher Hare, oil on linen, 36” x 29″

In Higher Hare, my photoshop markups below reveal the play of a triangular pattern in the cloth, table, and part of the wall. When an artist is composing they have some flexibility to accent patterns they see or sense, Melissa takes full advantage of utilizing these angles. Another artist might not see them and paint only what he/she literally sees, but that doesn’t create these almost music-like beats. 

Continue reading “Pushing the Composition Envelope, Melissa Hefferlin Still Lifes”

The Great Fraud, How Postmodernism Abuses Art

Michelangelo, Study of Haman for the Sistine Chapel, 1511, red chalk.

TuftsPUBLIC: Jenny Polak: ICE Escape Signs

Tufts University is running a protest against ICE–in the guise of being art. Everyone involved in this project may be well intentioned, but what does this have to do with art? The message of the protest has nothing to do with art, but as art it’s one I am disgusted by: the anti-conceptual degradation of art.

Art has a very special aura of the sublime, the ultimate, and the universality of a higher nature. The best in art is evolutionary. It elevates our knowledge, expands our emotional capabilities, and enriches our senses. For instance, Monet furthering our knowledge of colors of shadows and natural light. Michelangelo showed us what a fearless stance against huge obstacles looks like (The David), and he did so with his revolutionary means of transcribing touch to sight. And Polyclitus showed us how the science of beauty works through proportions. These artists and many more, both in history and contemporary times, amongst whom I am proud to count myself, contribute towards giving art profound meaning.

The Tufts project by Jenny Polak does two things that are now-classic postmodern sabotage. They use the esteemed status of art, made possible by great artists, to elevate a protest to a grander status. And by dedicating their reputation, resources, and their art department to juvenile protest posters scattered around the campus they suck the life out of aesthetic innovation, advancement, and the soul of art.

Michael Newberry
Idyllwild, July 20, 2019

Below is from the Tufts University website.

TuftsPUBLIC: Jenny Polak: ICE Escape Signs
Weems Atrium / SMFA, Media Wall / Aidekman
Various Locations throughout Medford Campus

JENNY POLAK: ICE Escape Signs is the 2018-2019 Tufts PUBLIC project, a program of yearlong, temporary public art projects designed for spaces outside the Art Galleries and throughout the school’s Medford/Somerville and SMFA campuses.

Jenny Polak makes site and community responsive art that reframes immigrant-citizen relations, amplifying demands for social justice. Originally from England, her work draws on her background in architecture and socially engaged projects, as well as her own family history of migration. She focuses on detention centers, racial profiling, and strategies for surviving hostile authorities. As an exhibiting artist in the upcoming exhibition Walls Turned Sides: Artists Confront the Justice System (coming to TUAG Spring 2020), Polak will work with the Tufts community to create a series of site-respondent signs throughout campus beginning in the fall as part of her ongoing series – ICE Escape Signs. A decentered public art project, ICE Escape Signs are designed for specific floorplans and draw attention to the fact that people are living in daily fear of being caught in a raid by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Postmodern vs. Evolutionary Art

The following is a version of my part of a joint presentation with Stephen Hicks given at the first ever Malibu Summit student retreat hosted by The Atlas Society on June 29, 2019 at Scorpiesse in Malibu, California.  

June 29th, 2019 at Scorpiesse – Stephen Hicks talks with Atlas Advocates at The Malibu Summit. 

An Impasse Between Creating and Destroying

The contrast between postmodernism and what I call “evolutionary art” is both epistemological, in the sense of how the art is made and the knowledge behind it, and metaphysical, what kind of subjects are important. Postmodern art is about seeking new means and content to challenge the very concept of art. Evolutionary art builds on the contributions of great artists and great art movements with new insights into human psychology and aesthetic means. Philosopher and The Atlas Society Senior Scholar Stephen Hicks, Ph.D, summarizes the difference this way:  it is the difference between a master making a stained glass window and the moron that throws a rock and smashes it!

Louise Bourgeois vs. Martine Vaugel 

Louise Bourgeois at MOMA. “Untitled” (1998), fabric and stainless steel at center

The postmodern works I am including are considered important by important art institutions. A defining moment and lifelong obsession of French-American postmodern artist Louise Bourgeois was the trauma of discovering her father’s affair with her governess. Bourgeois was a member of the American Abstract Artists Group and had her own salon called Bloody Sunday. She referred to her early to later work as “fear of falling…art of falling…and the art of hanging in there.” Not an abstract artist, not a competent drawer or sculptor, with no discernible standards of any kind, she didn’t use art as a means of personal evolution, to grow both technically and soulfully. Instead her works convey that she remained stuck in a regressive emotional intelligence state, which conveyed the only kinds of emotions available to a hopelessly incompetent artist – pain, anxiety, and confusion. 

A great example of her arrested development is this untitled head shown at her retrospective show at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Clumps of wool clobbered together to form a cylinder base and a cotton ball-like head, which is then crudely sowed over with pink-flesh colored compression wrap bandages, wrapping the nose, stitched over mouth, and stuffed into the empty eyeball sockets. A cauliflower ear is formed grotesquely out of the same stuff. One has to call into question, not how pathetic her work is, but what is her motive for exhibiting it, and what are the motives of the critics, curators, and directors who give her a reputation that only the awesome prestigious power of New York’s great art institutions can give. Empathy for humanity may be in the press release, but there is a deeper motive that they may not want to examine. 

Martine Vaugel, is a contemporary French-American sculptor whose bronze figure and portrait sculptures are, in her words, the “expression of my love affair with the human spirit.” She is the founder of the Vaugel Sculpture Method, a method of clay modeling based on her knowledge of human anatomy and mastery of structure.

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Ex-Student Chan Luu’s Recent Painting Floating Flowers

Lovely new painting from one of my ex star students

Chan Luu, Floating Flowers, oil on linen, 2019

Today Chan sent me her newest work finished today. I wrote back to her, “It is has mystery, and it seems the petals form from chaos, beautiful use of the white and darks, and very elegant composition, a masterwork.”

Chan Luu is a fashion designer icon, yet 10 years ago she came to mentor with me and to learn everything she could about painting, drawing, and pastels. About a year ago she stopped studying with me but continued painting on her own, I am so proud of her ability to make such powerful and delicate works. I am always excited when students gain the knowledge to create whatever they want and have acquired the skill set that gives them that freedom. Yay to Chan and all my ex-students who have matured so beautifully as artists.