Friday, September 24, 2010

To be inspired & to inspire ...

I've been blown away by the work of Chris Berens (visit his site).  I don't even know where to begin.  He draws his own inspiration (light quality) from Vermeer and Rembrandt ... but the average eye would never see the correlation at first.  His work is very much his own.  I consider myself very creative, but his process is so unique and so tedious that when I first read about it, all I could do was ask myself, "HOW DID HE EVEN CONCEIVE THIS TECHNIQUE?!"

Essentially, he paints with the hand of a master.  His subject matter is all manner of beasts, Madonnas and children.  The resulting images feel both surreal and photographic.  You'd swear that they'd been created on computer, in photoshop or digitally manipulated.  They have not.  The paintings are astounding.

He uses inkjet paper (very thin plastic basically) and paints on it with oils and ink.  Due to the slower drying time, he can proceed to manipulate these mediums for several days.  Once the images are done, he then cuts out the pieces he likes.  He peels the paper off the back of the inkjet sheets leaving just the thin layer of painted plastic.  Taking these pieces he collages them onto a board.  He is able to layer the pieces in a way that achieves unbelievable depth and which creates dimension.  The collage winds up feeling like one solid piece, but when you look closely and see all the separate and layered parts you are left astounded by how he's managed to achieve such a lush and cohesive image.  They are haunting and beautiful ... and something completely unique to Berens.

I love artists like Berens because they remind me that drawing inspiration from other artists does not require becoming a pale and lesser version of said artists.  With talent and skill, you can borrow major concepts or techniques, but still create something so vastly different and of it's own ilk that no one even thinks to draw an immediate parallel.

When I still lived in Nashville, other artist friends of mine and I would roll our eyes when bands would constantly answer, "Our sound is like Coldplay meets U2."  It was annoying because at 21 I didn't understand why everything had to be compared ... and I heard those comparisons as saying, "We are emulating Coldplay and U2."  And some bands were just emulating.  But as I get older I finally appreciate the concept that the most skilled artists (musicans, painters, writers, etc) are able to take elements from other artists they love and marry them into their own work without being too overt.  Comparison is no longer insulting ... if anything, it can be validating.

All good art should inspire more art.  We should be happy to give credit to what inspires us ... and in turn be proud when told we have inspired.

Every now and then inspiration can cross genres of art ... which is always impressive.  Music has definitely influenced my own paintings from time to time ... my time in Nashville surrounded by musician friends gave such strength to the stories I was painting.  But it's rather rare to blatantly see inspiration when paintings or sculptures influence other art forms.  I've long been a fan of Scott Radke (visit his site)... and this dance troupe (children) performed a piece inspired by his beautifully strange sculptures.  I love it!  View the video here ...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Animals, Insects & Art (oh my!)

I love natural history ... animals, shells, bones, feathers, plants, etc.  I love the Tesla/Industrial/Steampunk idea, when not too heavy handed ... things that are industrial, technological and the fantastical ... the epic quality that you find in sci fi.  When you blend both natural history and steampunk, you leave me very happy.  Two things that shouldn't go together, in fact, blend together rather well.

Mike Libby caught my eye a few years ago ( and I've been following him ever since.  The simple act of finding a dead beetle and toying with old watch parts has led to the most beautiful collection of work.  The mechanical parts truly seem to power the creatures ... and Libby has found a way to make "bugs" beautiful again.

Then there is Jessica Joslin (  Jessica sets the imagination on fire with her creations.  Blending actual skulls and skeletons with those she makes herself (you can never tell the difference) she builds wild menageries of brass/mixed metal and bone.  I had the pleasure of seeing her work in person recently, and I fully expected one of her cats to slink across the room.  There is this gorgeous and magical quality to everything she creates ... instead of macabre, you get the sense that these creatures are about to spring to life and let you in to a world you imagined as a child.  Tim Burton should be using them in his films.  Simply beautiful.

Libby is most focused on the internal--his clock parts hint at the delicate systems powering small beetle bodies.  There is something there reminding you that our own parts are just that delicate--all creatures are perfect machines inside.  Joslin utilizes the industrial elements in a way which mirrors natural movements and aesthetics... brass feathers may not allow you to fly, but they sure are beautiful.  Joslin & Libby are examples of how you can harness nature itself when creating ... and they successfully remind the viewer how splendidly beautiful animal and insect life really is.

Nature IS art.  Taxidermy isn't macabre ... when handled correctly it's a celebration of the greatest art there is ... nature itself.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Sketchbook Discipline

I have been drawn recently to Stella Im Hultberg's blog due to her posts that chronicle her sketchbook renderings.  I used to keep multiple sketchbooks and fill them daily with images, doodles, concepts and even quotations that I found inspirational or motivating.  It is very true that keeping a sketch diary helps stimulate and spark new ideas for paintings and more serious work, but somehow maintaining that discipline over prolonged periods of time evades me.  Every so often I will declare that the time has come for me to keep a "daily" paintings diary.  This usually lasts a few weeks until I'm distracted by other real-life demands.

Stella has made me long to hone my discipline again.  It's been very fascinating to see her work evolve as she's been doing these sketchbooks.  I find myself wishing I could purchase the pages out of it and hang them on my wall, although the paintings she's doing as a result would make me happy as well.

Thanks for the visual motivation, Stella.  Time to start journaling and sketching again ... on a more regular basis.  Fine art work always benefits from routinely practicing and brainstorming.

A sampling from Stella's sketch diaries ... more work found here:  Stella Im Hultberg

Saturday, September 11, 2010


I was proud to have my first showing here in Los Angeles back in July.  Here's a link to the write up in the Huffington Post (article also includes a slide show).  The opening night was a beautiful experience ... and I'm grateful to all who came and showed their support.  Especially to those who bought a piece.

First blog ...

The time has come for me to venture into the blog world.  I'm a Southerner and this means I'm a story teller through sheer genetics.  We love to spin yarns, relive and retell the particularly good stories and rabbit trail from here to yon in the process.  Those close to me know that I have a habit of telling the same stories over and over.  It's considered an amusing and (I'm hoping) endearing quality by those who I hold dear ... but no matter how hard I try, I'll never shake my love of living tales over and over.  I suppose it's why all the art I create has a tale to tell.  I've never been the girl to paint a fruit basket and feel good about it.  Something has to happen, someone has to die or there must be the hint of something extraordinary for me to get invested in it.

Southerners can appear macabre.  I have a fondness for taxidermy.  I revel in the darkest of Flannery O'Connor short stories.  I prefer a sad ending to a happy one.  I like guns.  Ghost stories and haunted places.  Antique books and photographs.  I grew up in a family of hunters, sleeping on a bear skin rug occasionally and doodling my grandfather's menagerie of hunting trophies while inventing names and personalities for them.  I find dead things comforting rather than unsettling.  I love the rich smell of old leather and books.  I collect random oddities like civil war bullets, arrowheads, antique postcards and vintage religious icons.  My ears perk when someone starts talking about days long before I was born.  My Southern elders did such an excellent job spinning wild tales of days gone by that anything historic is given an epic luster in my eyes.  If it's old or forgotten then I can believe there is a legend or sensational story just waiting to be uncovered.  My imagination has always been happy to oblige when it comes to filling in the blanks.

I keep an album of very old photographs ... some are even tintype.  Some of my paintings are born of this habit ... because I always wind up fabricating a story about the people in them ... long dead ... now forgotten.  How strange that they wind up in a shoebox in some random rural Tennessee flea market ... and now a virtual stranger treasures and preserves them.  "Perhaps he was a war hero ..." or "she must have been a spy" ... or even more alluring "the woman looks like her heart is broken ... she found her trapeze artist lover in bed with the circus clown."  I can't help it.  It's what my mind naturally does.

Because I'm Southern, I also obsess over the spiritual.  I was raised Southern Baptist ... but don't really affiliate denominationally anymore.  I've always been drawn to the reverence and epic treatment of religion found in Catholicism.  If art is divinely inspired, then I think the Catholics got it right.  The tiny Southern churches I frequented as a little girl felt so "common" and so pedestrian ... my brain could never accept that God would be found in such a place.  Gold guilding, statues of mournful saints, holy paintings and candles ... this little girl understood why ghosts--human or holy--would want to be in a Catholic cathedral.  And the only stories that can beat the ones that a deep Southerner will tell you are the ones found in the Bible.  War, glorious kings, brave queens, talking serpents, floating arks full of animals, dragons, feats of valor, tales of rape & incest, sacrifice, and tragic endings ... talk about wild.

Why am I rambling so much?  Truth be told I'm justifying my own work.  When I paint, it's with purpose ... to tell a story boldly and wildly.  I love the idea that the mind wants to know ... to understand ... to fill in the blanks.  My titles typically suggest a world beyond the obvious ... and I'm unapologetically strange.  Don't paint me a fruit basket.  I'd honestly rather see dogs playing poker.  The apple never robbed a bank ... but the Boston Terrier may have turned to the dark side after watching his owner meet a gruesome end at the hands of his jilted lover (who became a nun shortly thereafter).  Do you see where I am going with this?  For those of you who scoff at illustrators as "less than" a fine artist ... suck it.  Illustration tells a story, which is why it will always be my favored approach to art.

This blog will serve as a rambling place for this rabbit trailing soul.  I'll muse and rant narcissistically about my own work.  I'll post art & artists who inspire me.  I'll probably be a fool and post other unrelated and unimportant things from time to time as well.  I'm doing it just for me anyway ... though I suppose it would be nice to gain a reader (or two).  I'll love you even more if you give me a good story ... so I can paint it.