Swimming in the Same Waters

Swimming in the Same Waters

I was taking a break from whatever it is I was taking a break from by having a look at one of my few ‘favorite’ web sites, hyperallergic.com, when what to my surprise should appear before my eyes but a paintng by Katherine Bradford, Surfer, from 2015:

Katherine-Bradford-Surfer-2015-Acrylic-on-canvas-72-x-55-inches-182.88-x-139.70-cm

“Hey,” I thought, I coulda done that!” It reminded me a lot of the lastest series of oil pastels I have been working on, the latest of the latest being:

Water Pastel 220116_a

As I discussed in my recent blog post, I was just titling these for convenience as “Water Pastel date“,  which would make this one “Water Pastel 220116_a”, until I started experimenting with alternative titles for the same pieces. For example, maybe this could be “3 Bathers’, or “Not to be parted from cell phone”, or something else that might lead viewers in various different directions… (Feel free to share your own title suggestion as a “comment”)

When I discovered Katherine Bradford’s paintings on hyperallergic.com, I jokingly mentioned to a friend that apparently I was too late, and that the “little-swimmers-in-a-big-pool niche” had already been take. My friend kindly reminded me that there was room in the pool for everyone.

Katherine-Bradford-Blue-Swimmers-2015-Acrylic-on-canvas-60-x-48-inches-152.40-x-121.92-cm

Interestingly, the review of Bradford’s most recent exhibition in NYC mentioned how she had been compared to David Parks, a California painter who once-upon-a-time had a huge influence on me.

David-park-swimmers

Specifically, way back during my first year of graduate school at the Maryland Institute, I went to a show at the Whitney Museum of Art with a friend from San Francisco (at the time, and in fact still today, Parks, who died way to young, was/is not very well-known outside of California). I stood for about 30 minutes in front of the first painting in the exhibition. From the moment I laid eyes on that painting, I understood that I was not going to keep doing what I had been doing any more, because whatever it was I had been trying to do was something someone else (Parks) had already figured out how to do – and to do way better than I ever imagined it could have been done.

In the intervening 25 years, I swam around the world, only to end up in the same water where I started. But of course, as every philosopher knows, now the water itself is different.

 

 

Titles, a Thought Experiment.

Water Pastel 150116_bSwimming in the Aegean

Today I thought I’d post some more drawings. I’ve been really enjoying working with oil pastels again. I’ve been able to do that thanks to a big piece of turquoise fake fur that I’ve turned into a curtain to keep the cold air out of the studo. Its almost like looking out into the turquoise-blue Aegean… ok, not really…

But from the pictures here it should be clear that we are looking out at the sea – or at least at water: you wouldn’t know it was the Aegean (or any sea, for that matter) unless I did something like title the painting ‘Swimming in the Aegean’, or something similar.

In fact, I hadn’t thought about titles for these drawings until I went to save the digital photos on the computer, which prompted me to ‘Save as.’

So I saved them as Water Pastel (date, a-z).

And I got thinking about the problem of titles again.

I’ve always hated when paintings are ‘titled’ Untitled. It seems to me such a breach of responsibility. One could argue, on the other hand, that a title gives to much ‘direction’ to the viewer, instructing them on exactly how to look at the work. In fact, I vaguley remember there having been times when I have used the strategy of not titling a piece because I wanted to let people find their own way into a work. Most of the time, however, I like to give some kind of instruction – althogh maybe ‘instruction’ isn’t the right word – maybe a title is more like identifying a field – like in charades, when you say (or sign) ‘film’, or ‘book’, or ‘whatever’ to let the other members of your team at least know what ballpark you’re playing in…

In other words, instead of just calling the drawing up above Water Pastel 15.01_b, I could have given it the title, Swimming in the Aegean.

Would that have changed how you looked at the piece?

I think it would have. Although I hate people who go to an exhibit and go straight to the little title card hanging next to a piecce before they look at the piece itself, titles can be very helpful in providing information that can bring a new or different understanding to how you see the work. Sometimes in very surprising ways.

So, let’s try a little experiment:
Here are some of my new oil pastel drawings, with some new titles…

Water Pastel 150116_b
Swimming in the Aegean

 

Water Pastel 150116_a
First Swim of the Season

 

 

Water Pastel 170116_a
Surfs Up

 

Water Pastel 170116_b
Making Waves

 

Water Pastel 150116_b
Look Before Crossing

 

Water Pastel 170116_b
One Down…

 

Water Pastel 170116_a
Drowning Migrant

 

Water Pastel 150116_a
Lonesome 

 

As always, your feedback is appreciated.

 

The Sea in January

Last summer I managed to fit in one boat trip, but that’s all. While the primary goal was to chill out in some  very clean blue water in the company of some very fine women, the secondary goal was to take photos that I could use as sketches for some more water paintings.

Boat Trip

Which I did.
Take the photographs, that is.

But then time passed, and, well, you know how it goes…
By the time I actually got around to feeling up to some more water paintings the solstice had flipped, the proverbial mercury had dropped, and the studio was no longer an advisable location for this flu-prone puppy…

So, instead, as part of the creative process – or the procrastination process, if you prefer – I decided to do a little computer sketching, since that’s something I can do in the warmth of the living room.

Then the weather warmed up a bit, the flu-genies appeared to be cutting me some slack, and I figured out that I could tack up a big turquoise fake fur in front of the studio door like a curtain wall to keep out some of the cold. So I went from these digital sketches

Sketch Just Water 1

Sketch Just Water 2

to some oil pastel drawings

Water Pastel 130116_a

Water Pastel 130116_b

Water Pastel 130116_c

Water Pastel 130116_d

and I think I’ll keep going until I’m all out of blue Sennelier’s.

It’s a challenge to keep my head clear this January…