Sunday, August 26, 2007

Work progresses at an excruciating pace on this drawing. Hell, on all drawings. It's been six weeks since I've touched the Departure drawing. It just sits propped again the studio wall, unfinished and looking more and more unfinishable as the days stack up. I just don't understand why--after dedicating most of my life to it--I'm not better at this whole art-making practice. I get unabashedly excited about an image in my head, work out a few sketches until it gets close to what I want--then I put it down on watercolor paper, begin rendering the image and working on a composition. I'm focused and enthusiastic for a week or two...and then the enervation sets in. The image isn't quite what I wanted, I hit a technical deadend, etc. My imagination and understanding of the image and it's larger context just sputters out and this creative white static arises. I can't see anything anymore, whatever meaning I thought the drawing once had bleaches out, I don't understand how this drawing fits into whatever theme(s) (hah) I'm trying to develop. I just lose it. At first, I attribute this to simply being too close to the image, needing to give myself a little distance, let some creative and critical air into the room. But, lately, I can't seem to recapture that original momentum. I know: the logical thing would be to MAKE myself work on it, solve those problems...but it's like forcing myself to piss with an empty bladder. It's just not going to happen.

Thing is? It's not a creative block. I never have a problem coming up with idea for drawings. I have a problem executing the ideas I come up with, a problem building them into some higher narrative architecture. Part of it, too, I think is attempting to leave the V theme behind. I feel a certain freedom that it doesn't haunt me the same way...but maybe the "lessons" from that time are still with me. Probably. (Definitely.) And those aren't good lessons. Things seem pretty bleak filtered through those gained perceptions. Perhaps that's why I can't work on a drawing past a certainly point...because the sum of the drawing becomes too hopeless to face. Is that it? How can I tell? Maybe I'm just a lazy artist and I want things to fall into place without squirting blood out of my eyes.

I think I have a firm grasp of how much work it is to, well, make work. I've never thought it was easy but I'm starting to think that it shouldn't be this hard...I have characters, I have themes and something that resembles a why can't I bring these things together more efficiently? What am I doing wrong? I'm not looking for a formula but these components SHOULD be falling into place and I SHOULD be gaining some momentum. It's been a solid four years--May 2003, when I complete the last drawings the Plague Idiot series--since I've had anything close to momentum built up with the work. I like momentum, the sense of lightness, nimbleness and surety that comes with it. It's frustrating not having momentum, feeling it come on but then losing it. Occasionally, this frustration builds up into a kind of cognitive dissonance (sorry) and it disrupts my life in general. Makes me ornery, snippy, pissy, poopy. Bukowski, Jr.

And that's where I am now.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Rainbow over Astoria.
1977 - 1984

Sad, really, but I've come to realize that THIS time period defines my aesthetic life. Oh, sure I've discovered things that I love since then--Winsor McCay, Brueghel, Bosch, Durer, Herge, Max Beckmann, Neo Rauch, Darger, et fucking cetera--but, if I'm really honest with myself, these artists could've EASILY been dropped into that period. If I'd have seen them then, I'd love them just as I love them now. Allow me to post a list of influences....the first two are irrevocable but the rest just kind of float around in my grey jelly...

Advance Dungeons and Dragons by (mostly) Gary Gygax: HOLY SHIT. What else can I say? A frame of reference that haunts me to this day, far beyond any other influence. (The title for this blog is an obscure AD&D reference.)

Star Wars (duh, but with reservations I can't even begin to list here because it (sadly) falls apart as you get older and wiser): 1977 - 1983. Light sabers rule for ever. For. Eh. Ver.

Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien: introduced to me by the neighbor lady across the street on Lesley. Read the entire cycle of books three times during the eighties. The Hobbit had the strongest impact as it was written for a younger audience and is less packed with portent and history. I was obsessed with the color of the dwarves' hoods on their cloaks--dark green(Dwalin), scarlet (Balin), blue (Kili and Fili), purple (Dori and Nori), gray (Ori), brown (Oin), white (Gloin), yellow (Bifur and Bofur), pale green (Bombur) and sky-blue with a long silver tassel (Thorin)--and attempting to draw them and the hoods over and over again and failing miserably. Ah.

Flash Gordon cartoons by Filmation (?) (not seen since 79-80? On the way from Netflix so no comment yet): c. 1980 (?)

Flash Gordon movie (Sam J. Jones, Max Von Sydow, Timothy Dalton, Queen Soundtrack): 1980. Pure sugarshit.

Queen, The Game: 1980 (What can I say? Bombast and melodrama, saturated colors.)

Blackstar by Filmation: animated series only ten or twelve episodes released back in 1981. Recently viewed via Netflix. Weak and tepid but I can totally see how amazing it was to a 10-year old kid sodden with AD&D and Tolkien. Cloud cats? Bat sharks? One-eyed tyranosaurs? Just shoot that shit RIGHT INTO MY VEINS.)

The Sword and the Sorcerer movie: released in 1982; terrible, shitty movie but so very voluptuous somehow; a three-bladed sword that allows you to SHOOT blades at an enemy? Huh? Prince Talon? He undertakes his whole mission so he can get laid? Bull from Night Court as the one of the villans? Perfect.)

Maybe the Conan Movies starring Schwarzenegger...can't say for sure. Maybe the first one (the Barbarian) but probably not the second one (the Destroyer.)

Conan books by Robert E. Howard. (Plenty of flaws in this kind of fiction but written in a very kinetic, sparse style.)

Elric of Melnibone series by Michael Moorcock (clumsy fantasy fiction)

Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser series by Fritz Lieber (also clumsy fantasy fiction but much smarter; heroes that were heroes by default or selfishness: they simply wanted to get rich or get revenge. Love it.)

I suppose there are more that I could list. But I won't. It's sad to me that my visual vocabulary is defined by a 10-12 year old kid (big swords are cool!) but the content is delivered by a 36-year old man (life and love is a miserable unknowable punishment.) Not sure I can make the two influences interact directly.


Monday, August 13, 2007

Hit the very bottom of the summer laziness. Completely unmotivated to do anything. It's a shame, too, because the days have been lovely.

Studio this evening after I left work early and caught 20 minutes of light sleep. Rode over to Natural Tofu restaurant on 40th St and Queens Blvd and got a spicy bowl of seafood and tofu soup. I had the studio to myself. This drawing is coming along easier than I thought. My concentration is for shit, however. I should've been done with this thing two weeks ago.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Charlie Haden and Ethan Iverson (pianist from The Bad Plus) playing a duo at the Blue Note, a jazz club near NYU. Terribly cheesy place, a dinner club (yick) with bad food, poor service and fabric napkins that smelled like B.O. I had two tickets but couldn't find a taker for the other so I was my own date.

I've seen a few jazz legends now--Wayne Shorter, Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette, Pharaoh Sanders, now Haden--and I'm always shock by how frail and, well, human they seem in person. I expect them all to be seven feet tall with barrel chests and shoulders like rowboats. Hands that could tear apart a safe like wet bread. I expect them to look like Vikings, an instrument dwarfed in the clutch of a meaty paw and a big cow-horned helmet stuck on their urinal-sized heads. A chaimail shirt, fingerbones woven into their beards, etc. That whole thing. Not the case, never the case.

Haden was small and a little portly and timid-looking--he's seventy now--dressed in an oatmeal-colored linen suit. He looked like the deacon at an Protestant church. He gave a quiet introductory talk, mentioning how he came to meet Ethan at Dewey Redman's memorial service in January, which I was THIS CLOSE to attending but didn't because I had a lame-ass date in my neighborhood. He talked a bit about how he improvised with Ornette over the years, and how he filled the role of pianist, attempting to provide chordal support of Ornette's constantly shifting tonal center. He at last mentioned the heat and humidity and having to lug his bass onto the subway on days like this...back in 1959. Jesus.

I didn't know any of the songs on the playlist but the final song of the set seemed familiar. Initially, Haden seemed a little timid and unsure--not warmed up somehow--and Ethan backed down enough, giving him plenty of room to play in unaccompanied space. They came together by the end of the set and were just lighting some fire when the set ended. I have to think the second set must have been very good. Oh, well. (And, yes, he sounded just like Charlien Haden. It's odd to me how instrumentalists--particularly the ones who play string and percussion instruments--can sound so distinct. I can kind of see how it's done with a trumpet or other horn--there is breathing involved, a warm wet mouth, a kind of intimacy that seems is implied by the relationship to the instrument.)

The only spoiler for the night (other than the shitty service) was some paunchy middle-aged British guy decked out in white linen sitting a few tables over. He was one of those jazz fans that has to let everyone around him know he's a REAL jazz fan, that he knows the influences and references the players are making. I overheard him loudly mention he was from London three or four times (who cares) before the show: to the waitress, to the couple sitting next to him, to his date. He was fairly vocal throughout the performance but not necessarily in a bad way--mainly grunts and mumphs of appreciation. (And I'll admit that he's got a good ear because I was grinning with pleasure myself.) However, he had to beg Haden to come to London at one point (again with the London?) and during the fading notes of one tune he shouted (exultantly, I think) "That's Bill Evans territory, isn't it? Bill Evans territory!"

Huh? Why?

Used gouche on the "e-box" in the lower left corner. I am possibly getting the hang of it. Possibly seeing the value of using it, of painting OVER things, painting out mistakes....leaving some trace of my process instead of trying trying to achieve perfection. (I certainly need something more flexible than watercolor at this point.) I think that's part of weakness of my academy-based education: it's crushing logical and the kinds of images I am trying to create have no truck with logic at all. It was drilled into me that everything should look "correct"--perspective lines should converge nicely, the light source should be uniform throughout the picture plane, things receding into the distance should be softer in detail, etc.

I don't regret my education at all. As I begin to understand what I'm trying to do, what I've been trying to do for years now--essentially write a novel but do it with pictures, DRAW a novel, I guess--that academy education is the best thing I could've gotten. I was trained to look, to see, to remember details (something I was already fairly good at and which was reinforced by all of the (admittedly terrible) writing I did back in Indiana.) and that process is the only way I can get these drawings to feel right: pack them with accurate detail of things seen and remembered. (I'll refrain from mentioning boring-ass Proust here.)

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Weird unmotivated weekend. In the studio Saturday and Sunday because I knew the studiomates would be gone. Worked longer today than I thought I would. The drawing is coming along. I'm using gouache on this one. Hmm.

Left at 4pm and took a slow ride up through Woodside and found a few blocks--centered around 46th Street (aka Bliss) and Skillman--that were clearly designed by one architect. Lots of brick and slate-shingled buildings with walks that bi- (or tri-)sected the blocks at regular intervals. That was odd enough--it was clearly designed to be a community with neighbors facing each other--but what drew my attention to the neighborhood a few weeks back was the huge sycamores that line the blocks. Old, white-barked sycamores. A little digging around on the interbunny told me this neighborhood is Sunnyside Gardens. Info I gleaned from

"From its inception, Sunnyside Gardens has been much more than a simple development of single, two, and three family homes. Today, it stands as an excellent example of early town planning in the United States. The project's concept originated with Clarence Stein and Henry Wright, who, after World War I, saw the need for imaginative solutions to housing problems. Inspired by new towns in Britain, Stein and Wright dreamed of complete communities, designed to human scale, that would serve working people. Their first realization of these goals is Sunnyside Gardens. Built between 1924 and 1928, the Gardens comprise 1,202 housing units on 55 acres of land located about 15 minutes from the heart of Manhattan. Though the development is constructed on a traditional grid street pattern, the interior of each block forms a common garden or landscaped court. These large interior gardens foster a unique feeling of communal cooperation on a block-to-block basis, as well as within the Gardens as a whole."

I'm going to slip back over there next weekend and check out those interior gardens.