The illusionist exhibition at Studio Channel Islands in Camarillo, CA. April 6- May 21, 2019
Oh god, the exhibition is a living nightmare. I prefer the worst/best of postmodernism, at least Duchamp cleverly matched ends and means. But, with only a few exceptions, this show is about classical technique with creepy content. You can see the show online on critic Joseph Bravo’s Facebook page.
It would be horrific if we saw a woman opening her chest to let birds fly out or the dancing skeletons of a pair of baby conjoined twins! But the technique is so bland and plastic-like that it leaves us feeling nothing about Yagi’s subject matter.
I was a happy kid. One of my earliest memories was listening to Al Hirt’s Java on my toy-like portable record player. I couldn’t get enough of it, and I would dance as I listened to it over and over again. Then shit happened: school compulsion and family discord. Both of which I hated. They cut into my joy and my sense of freedom. Painting soon replaced dancing and a different kind of music replaced upbeat jazz.
I discovered pop music with classical components like the bands Chicago, Electric Light Orchestra, the Beatles, and Elton John. But they missed something. After art school my paintings began to take on more depth, time, and themes. I was going crazy listening to pop radio stations. They kept repeating the same hot songs. Out of frustration I turned to the classical music station, not so much because I loved it, but at least it was complex and varied.
Cutting to the chase a painting that is flat is more like a cereal box than like a Rembrandt. What makes painting interesting is transforming forms, depth, and light from the real world to a canvas. It is a very complex visual language that conceptualizes how we see, and it triggers suspension of disbelief, rewarding us with the perception of movement and light. A painter cannot just cut and paste reality to the canvas, the transition deals with how we perceive, how light bounces off forms and textures, painting techniques, and oddly, even how well our studios are calibrated for light.
Some years ago I was having trouble painting. I would stand back and see a mistake and try to paint a correction, but when I got up close to the painting I just couldn’t capture the nuance I was hoping for. I was getting near 60 years old and I decided to totally re-educate myself about painting (even though I already had four decades of painting behind me). The project was to paint a sandstone orb that has personal significance to me. My studio has the greatest daylight from 11 am to noon, and I like to paint into the night, so figuring out the artificial light was essential. I painted each orb under different artificial lighting conditions. I also used every painting technique I knew, from thin liquid applications to scumbling to super thick blobs of paint. This series of nine alla prima paintings, all in private collections, were the result of these explorations.
I have noticed lots of artists including myself are drawn into drawing abandoned places, scruffy landscapes, weathered shacks, and stone ruins. While a manicured lawn or polished mahogany conference table inspire a blau reaction. There is something visually exciting about the chaos of ruins but what is it that is triggering our vision? And why are paintings or drawings so boring when they are of pristine subjects? Vision scientists Jan Koenderink and Andrea van Doorn (a link to their abstract on pictorial space) talked with me over beers in Glasgow pub about how the eye goes blind if it cannot move about and compare and contrast tones and hues. Using my artist’s logic it makes sense that on the opposite end of the spectrum the eye becomes excited when each hue and tone is varied. My pastel of a rickety courtyard gate in Rhodes, Greece illustrates this.
Notice the gate is drawn with all kinds of unrepeated colors. The plastered gold side of the wall has countless hues ochre, and medieval stones are equally varied with its shifts between brown and gray. It seems like a lot to try to do in a 50-minute drawing, but I was helped along by all the setting’s details were all extremely varied. If you are an artist looking for something interesting to draw look for differences in everything. That will keep your eye busy and excited and the viewers’ too.
There is a smoky quality to dark pastel paper that has a depth and softness of the infinite. I am surprised that some conceptual artist hasn’t done a show using store bought pastel paper with nothing drawn on them. Nonetheless the paper calls for light, and I try to leave much of the original paper to give a depth and mystery to the shadows. The bowl’s cast shadow on the left and background right are almost pure paper. If I draw careful gradations of light from a smidgen lighter than the paper to the brightest lemon-white I create a hierarchy of tones which in turn is a part of giving the feeling of light. An equally important but overlooked part of drawing/painting light is to place the marks through space, like stepping stones from beneath our feet that extend off in the horizon. Combining the dusky shadows, light, and depth transforms flat paper into an alternative reality. This bridge is what I find magical about art.
Death touched my life when three people near me, in the same year, died. The horrible result was that I felt nothing.
One of them was a Dutch woman I didn’t know very well, but we were related in a sense. I knew she had been ill for some time with breast cancer. She had a husband and four children, the oldest being eleven or twelve years old. I was told that she was ready to die, and I was also told that she would like to meet with me the next day. Continue reading “Rend”
Don’t follow a map, don’t read anything, don’t ask, don’t look at other people, don’t try to make it worthwhile, and don’t try to “get it.” Just start walking, glancing as you are moving quickly along. Don’t feel bad if nothing “speaks” to you; just keep moving on. It might be in the 10th room, but there will be some work that will grab your attention. Stop there and just look at it. And look until you feel you are ready to move on. That is it.
You will find that experience lights a spark. In a nutshell, it is a personal experience of art. After that you might be interested to research art, movements, and artists. But none of that replaces the unique spark that speaks to you.
First they came for black and removed it from our spectrum. Next to go were the colors of light and shadow. They said that color was a power in its own right, not to be used as a slave to luminosity. The real, they said, was freedom from restrictions.
They came for form, claiming that the canvas was flat. Next to go were proportion and spatial depth. They said that painting projected the outside world, like looking through a window was a lie. The real, they said, was that paint was paint and it shouldn’t look like something it is not. Continue reading “First They Came for Black”
Jon Wos, congratulations on the portrait. The pose is thoughtful, the proportions elegant, and you make great use of “Bouguereau” silver lining lighting. I like the texture and lighting of the dress, particularly the brilliant curve of light at the hemline that merges imperceptibly into shadow. And congratulations on being a romantic, though it can be tough because romanticism can trigger bullies, especially ones who can’t do better. I think my favorite painting of yours is the self-portrait with the lamp. I love it. The lighting, colors, forms, and the mysterious story are exceptionally well-integrated. The little dog sheltered underneath the wheelchair is very touching. The lamp lighting the scene is masterful; I prefer yours to some of the famous De La Tour paintings. I can’t put my finger on the mystery of what you (in the painting) are looking for, but the optimism of the colors, the brilliant clean light, and the frank expression makes me think that you have already found it. Perhaps it was something in you all along?
You can check out Jon’s work and poignant story here.
Title change from Man Moving Out of Oblivion to Transcending Oblivion
I have been living with the Man Moving Out of Oblivion for about ten years. The concept is one of a man stepping out of a black void into a ray of light with his hand leading the way. The painting has been through countless edits–everything from life drawings to pastel color studies. I had problems with his arm and hand gesture from the beginning, and it was a lengthy but fun and challenging problem to solve: the hand and arm went from being slightly sideways to ending forward and foreshortened.
The transparency of the clothes over a muscular body reminded me of super heroes, which complimented the idea that it takes a lot of strength to keep going when all around you is dark. There was a narrow spot light on his face meaning that his gestured hand had already past through the light and would be dimmed. The painting had thousands of tones of black, which was very tricky to place through space. Recently, I thought I could tweak it and take it to another level. There had been no collector interest in the painting, so I thought “why not?” Continue reading “Transcending Oblivion”