The Pleasures of Art

In these difficult times, looking at and making art can help us get back in touch with the best things that humans are capable of–– a sense of play, a sense of excitement in the creative act.

The following excerpt,  from David Hockney’s book, That’s the Way I See It, reveals the artist’s philosophy on viewing and making art:

I have always believed that art should be a deep pleasure. I think there is a contradiction in an art of total despair, because the very fact that the art is made seems to contradict despair. It means at least that you are trying to communicate what you feel to somebody else and the very fact that you can communicate it takes away a little of the despair. Art has this contradiction built into it. All one has to do is look at its history.

A few years ago at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York there was a show of Fragonard. He is an artist who has been thought sometimes to be much too pleasurable, much too playful, much too sweet to be serious, and certainly in the early nineteenth century that’s how he was dismissed. It was only the Goncourt brothers who started looking seriously at his paintings and buying them.

Today we see him differently. To me Fragonard is a wonderful artist. I think you can’t have art without play; Picasso always understood that. I think you can’t have much human activity of any kind without a sense of playfulness. Someone once criticized my work, saying it was too playful. I said, That’s hardly a criticism at all, that’s a compliment. I do see it as a compliment because I believe that without a sense of play there’s not much curiosity either; even a scientist has a sense of play. And that allows for surprises, the unexpected, discoveries. Anybody who gets good at it knows that. You can use it. I use it. People tend to forget that play is serious, but I know that of course it is. Some people have got the idea that if it’s boring it’s art and if it’s not boring it’s not art. Well, I’ve always thought it was the other way round. If it’s boring, more than likely it’s not art, if it’s exciting, thrilling, more than likely it is. I don’t know of any good art that’s boring, in music, poetry or painting. Isn’t that why Shakespeare is so exciting?

You can find more information on David Hockney on the Artsy website.

Text excerpt from That’s the Way I See It, page 133 © David Hockney

The Painted Room

Detail of Dorosz's work
Chris Dorosz, detail Painted Room

‘The interior represents the universe for the private individual – his living room is a box in the theatre of the world.” – Walter Benjamin

Chris Dorosz is a painter who is pushing the work off the canvas and out into the space of the gallery. One might think of George Seurat’s divisionist/pointillist works when viewing Chris’ update on the traditional interior.  Chris states:

The Painted Room is a three-dimensional recreation of my parent’s living room made out of splotches of acrylic paint on hung monofilament. Benjamin’s quote is especially true for me; growing up as the only son in a military family, our living room was packed and unpacked innumerable times – becoming a depository of memory.

In walking around his pieces, one becomes aware of the space between atoms, the ephemerality of our existence on a molecular level.  Breathtaking and poignant, Dorosz’s work was exhibited recently at ICA in San Jose, California.

The illustrated woman

Maira Kalman
Maira Kalman

In her heart-warming book, The Principles of Uncertainty, Maira Kalman reveals emotional depth and a quirky wit. In an excerpt posted on the New York times website, she suggests ways to ponder the pursuit of happiness.

An illustrator, author, and designer, Kalman is widely known and loved for her children’s books such as Ooh La La, Max in Love, and her brilliant illustrated update of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. Hear Maira talk about her life and work in a video from the public speaking series Ted Talks:

http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/maira_kalman_the_illustrated_woman.html

Jay Isaac and finding a new way

Jay Isaac
Jay Isaac

Jay Isaac is a Canadian painter who is carving out new territory by revisiting old approaches; he is making paintings of humble things, such as the view out his window.

I have not met Jay, but I first saw his work in a group show around 2002, at Vancouver’s Third Avenue Gallery. It was a picturesque view of a swan in a pond. I was struck by the voluptuous paint surface, the simple, endearing subject matter, and what came through to me was the sheer joy of painting. What’s more, dare I say it was beautiful? I still regret that I was not able to take it home with me, so I could enjoy it everyday.

A very interesting review about Jay and his work can be found in the current Border Crossings magazine, and you can also find him in the Magenta Foundation’s new book, Carte Blanche Volume 2: Painting.

Jay Isaac will be exhibiting his paintings at CSA Space in Vancouver (see Blogroll) opening May 1st. If you will be in Vancouver, this should be well worth a visit.

It’s never too late to create

In the current climate of young, new, hip artists with fabulous conceptual savvy (and some of them truly deserve the attention), let’s not forget artists and writers who came to their best work later in life, through trial and error.

Philip Guston, 1972, Painting, Smoking, Eating. Oil on canvas 196.8 x 262.9 cm Collection Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
Philip Guston, 1972, Painting, Smoking, Eating. Oil on canvas 77 1/2 x 103 1/2 ins, Collection Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam

Think: Louise Bourgeois today in her 90’s, Cezanne in his 60’s, Philip Guston in his  late 50’s,Virginia Woolf in her 40’s. Says Robert Frost, who wrote “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” when he was 57:

…it is later in the dark of life that you see forms, constellations. And it is the constellations that are philosophy.

Read more in this Los Angeles Times article by David Galenson and Joshua Kotin: It’s never too late too create

A new studio

 

Val Nelson's new studio, looking north
Val Nelson's new studio, looking north

Things are more or less in place in the new studio, and I finally got back to painting this week. Opening up my box of brushes was like an emotional reunion with old friends. As it’s been several weeks since I’ve painted, I decided a low-stress way to get back into things would be to touch up some pieces I had started in January.

I’m on the third floor of a one-hundred year old building that used to be a mattress factory. It’s filled with the bustle of artists, designers, and craftspeople in an industrial neighbourhood with warehouses, other artist enclaves, and an auction house nearby.

Val Nelson's new studio, looking west
Looking west

Not too many cafés close at hand, but there’s a gelateria and a quaint neighbourhood grocery store/bakery not far away. Meanwhile I’ve inherited a toaster oven and invested in an electric kettle, so  can save money and precious time by eating in most days.  It’s getting very comfy–which is good for being really productive. The only downside is I may not want to go home at the end of the day!

If I don’t paint soon, I’ll go mad!

 

 

Val Nelson, Guesthouse, 2007
Val Nelson, Guesthouse, 2007

Learning to drywall has been interesting, but let’s get to the art part already! It’s taken me three weeks to tear down my studio and set up the new one, and I’m worried I will soon have forgotten how to paint.

Monday: paint all the walls white. 

Tuesday: mop up the dust, open up my beloved art supplies,  and begin the shift back into painting mode. A big part of painting is the time spent thinking about them.

 

Pello armchair
Pello armchair

I’ve also been  pondering furnishings. Now that there’s the space for it, I can have more fun decorating! I’d love to have a chandelier like the one at left found at Hampstead Village Guesthouse in London, but items like these are rather scarce in Vancouver, and likely way beyond my price range. Meanwhile, across the hall from me, Eszter Burghardt let me sit in her comfy Ikea chair. Only fifty bucks, and great for taking a break from hours of standing.  

Pictures will be coming soon of my new studio.

Thinking about new paintings

royalmail“Voyages en Zigzag” is the working title to my next show, which will be in November 2009 at the Bau-Xi Gallery in Toronto. This time, instead of working from photographs from my travels, I will stay at home (this is the era of a new restraint, n’est-ce pas?) and collect jpegs from friends and acquaintances in my computer’s Inbox. It’s exciting to see a big download coming through the internet line, a good indication that some new, delicious images from someone’s holidays are about to land.

Just received some nice photos from my pals Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby, (shameless name-dropping) who have become quite the jet-setters with animation festivals and such. I also have been fortunate to get permission to use the photos of a quantum physicist who posted his delicious images of Russian palaces on Flickr. I love the notion of a guy who deals in particle theory sending me pixels of objects through the World Wide Web, and then me translating them into paint.

Optimizing the Studio

The New Year has been a great time to re-evaluate my process, and think about how to optimize my painting time. Number one: re-connecting with the fact that I have always known I prefer painting on the slick, fast surface of wood to rough canvas. So I’m going to shed all my canvas stock–studio sale, coming up!t

I’m about to move to a new, bigger, cheaper studio on the east side of Vancouver–yey! Moving is disruptive to the painting process, but a great time to clean out the clutter, streamline my art supplies, and think about the new work I am planning. I anticipate an explosion of new energy once I get set up and painting again, and looking forward to having a dedicated drawing table separate from my painting table so I don’t have to spend energy reconfiguring the room, and I’m plotting to get a comfy couch (from the free site on Craigslist) so I can really rest when I need to take a break. Right now I have a hard, unforgiving chair, and it’s really no fun. Even though I love it, painting is hard work, so I’ve decided I need to make my time in the studio as pleasurable as possible.