Lately, there’s something new occurring in the studio. The shapes, more specifically, the surfaces of the paintings are changing again. There was an ambitious need to make things incredibly volumetric, tactile and even sculptural for a while. That’s where the assemblage work came from. Lately, things have started to become a bit more flat and integrated again. It’s not quite the same as the pre-assemblage work, but a cross over into a different place where the main concern isn’t three dimensional but still somewhat physical.
I am often asked by people, “How the hell did you come up with that title?” I was thinking about this question the other day as I wrote down a new idea on my never–ending list of prospects. If you have ever visited my studio you will notice many title lists tacked to the wall. I feel the reason I choose to title my work is from my years as a cartoonist. The words of the comic, the jokes, were the focal point when I had a syndicated strip, while the artwork was shrunk down to the size of a postage stamp. Now that my medium is painting, the focus is (mostly) on a larger, grander scale. However, word play is still important to me. There are many artists who do not title their work, and that is their personal choice, but I get pleasure out of playing with words. It is another extension of my creativity.
The news junkie that I am also parlays into this process. A headline might grab my attention or a journalist’s particular word choice may inspire me. That’s when my mind begins to play with sounds and meanings. That “inner-dictionary” within my brain starts to mix and match words creating a caption I cannot shake out of my head. Questions ensue. I ask myself, “Will this title grab people’s attention like it did mine?” I experiment with the mixology of my chosen words and find the cadence that slowly transforms into a melodic flow. Is it a rhythmic beat? Does it sound physical, emoting primal images like my paintings? Is the combination funny? An unwavering prerequisite for me. If yes, then my list grows longer.
My titles can inspire my paintings creating a relationship between the two, but not always. Sometimes there is not a connection at all, which is fine. It’s not a necessary component. What is necessary is for the title not to overshadow the artwork and the completed result, title and painting, be humorous and commanding.
Last week my sister blogged about her response to a new piece I was working on. It was an interesting post because she wrote about something I tend to think a lot about when it comes to my work – the “slow read” and the “fast read.” More specifically, the difference between what you get from an initial glimpse vs. more contemplative looking.
Let me begin by saying both are good. I wouldn’t pit them against each other. There are no wrong ways to look at art but there are different ways, which can cause diverse reactions from viewers.
I often hear from people that they were immediately attracted to the frenetic energy and colors of my work. They say the painting ignited their senses. I also hear that they initially reacted to the physical markings and humorous figures on the canvas. These are examples of a fast look, a first glance that grabbed your attention. But I feel that if the artist’s technique is accomplished and sophisticated then the piece should keep you enthralled. That gripping moment when you want to walk over to a painting because it has stirred your emotions, should proceed to keep you there. If the work is convincing on multiple levels, conversation will ensue. Unpacking. Deciphering. Discussions about the multitude of layers you see before you should be examined. This is what I like to call the “slow look.” It’s the gift that keeps on giving to its viewers.
One way to explain this is through the French term called, trompe-l’oeil, which literally means, “Fools the eye.” It’s a style of painting in which the artist emphasizes the illusion of tactile and spatial. This method is often a component of my work. There are times when one sees a raw texture on the canvas and believes it is made of additional material. People do not always realize it is paint until I explain that to them. Many times children, believing silver marking on the canvas is duct tape, will want to yank it off the canvas. In reality, I’ve created an optical illusion meant to make viewers look deeper into my work and process.
You also see me “trumping” the eye when a marking on my painting looks like it was made inadvertently, as though; I slapped it on the canvas as an afterthought. This is not the case. In reality, the movement was deliberate. This, amongst others, is a skill I use to unmask the conceptual underpinnings in my work. My paintings are physically expressive upon first look but as you let your mind marinade in the colors, textures, historical influences and other elements you see how revealing they can truly be.
I arrived at Howard’s studio armed with burritos and tortilla chips for a quick lunch. I was starving and couldn’t wait to devour the massive chicken filled guacamole slathered tortilla. On the drive over my taste buds were being titillated by the smell of grilled poultry and onions. I was ready to bust a grub and devour el burrito supremo. The plan was to eat, glance at some new work and leave in time to make it to my afternoon spinning class. The extra helping of sour cream I ordered would require immediate calorie burning.
It had been a while since I had visited the warehouse and I had forgotten how raw the studio actually was. The concrete floors were splattered with a myriad of colors and Howard’s tools were scattered everywhere. I had to watch my step in fear of walking into one of the many blank canvases awaiting its transformation at the hands of my brother. Howard was deep in thought as he added finishing touches to his latest piece. Lunch was going to have to wait for him and proper etiquette stated I must wait too. So I sat down, elbow on table cheek in palm, and pondered the meaning of life. That lasted for about thirty seconds.
“Almost done?” I asked.
No answer. Howard was in a zone.
“Hello? Earth to Howard.”
“Aw, the hell with it,” I said and dug into my lunch.
As I chowed down, I watched as my brother took a piece of charcoal and struck the corner of the canvas. The initial movement down the right side of the painting was fast and ferocious but suddenly his velocity changed. Howard contained himself midway through his violent blow and ended the dark black line with a slow delicate gesture.
He stepped backwards folding his arms in front of his chest. He stared at the painting with laser-like intensity. Then he turned towards me with the same look.
“What do you think?“ he asked.
“I like it,” I said in between bites.
“Well, what stands out?”
I hesitated, “Um, the dramatic colors?”
“Okay, but do you see a faint purple within the black paint?”
Honestly I wasn’t sure how to respond. I knew every mark on the canvas had an intention. Just like a writer carefully chooses his words to tell a story, a painter does the same with each stroke. I knew Howard’s painting spoke with its shapes and colors. I also knew each mark was intentional with the purpose of eliciting a specific response. The problem was I just didn’t see how.
My art knowledge wasn’t that of a novice. I had worked in art galleries and museums years ago, yet I still felt clueless discussing Howard’s work with him. I took my last bite, wiped my mouth and walked over to the painting. I planted my feet firmly on the ground in front of it and this time I really looked at the art in front of me. I ingested it. There were different textures projecting from the surface. The colors bled together in some places and hovered over each other in other spots. The lines and shapes had purpose now. Some conveyed multiple meanings. At times I saw several images from just one shape. The painting was now alive to me.
I ended up missing my spinning class because I chose to stay longer at the studio to continue studying the artistry in front of me. It was worth the additional cellulite. My afternoon resonated with me on my drive home and days later. I was moved by the experience and decided to put pen to paper, or in this case, fingers to keyboard. Yes, when I first glanced at Howard’s new work I was moved by it. It projected so much frenetic energy and this was a good thing. The art immediately shook me. The colors and gestural markings were evocative and grabbed my attention. That is probably any artist’s goal. However, I realized the real talent is when that first glance is over and you want to stay and see more. Howard’s work is layered and purposeful but also has conceptual underpinnings. It’s bombastic imagery makes the viewer believe the painting was created fast without a specific intention but I learned that day that’s a false interpretation. I now know the energy should pull you in but it is sophisticated structure and multiple facets that keep you looking and analyzing for more.
This might be wishful thinking but I’m issuing a challenge. Let’s try some mental gymnastics and exercise intelligence instead of relying on the common. I can’t help but notice the numerous posts on Facebook, Twitter, and so many other social networking sites of people, young and old, amplifying the minutiae. I might be a bit guilty of this myself on occasion. What would happen if we decided not to add food porn to a post?
I’ve had ongoing debates with friends about where to draw the line. Many suggesting that I share more “behind the scenes” activities. I catch myself repeating, “I want my work to speak for itself.” I share so much of myself through my paintings that there is no need to add unrelated moments to the subject. It’s already there. I like to think that everyone can understand the powerful energy, color, and humor exuding from my work. Each piece I create is a raw nerve with an intentional connotation. It speaks to you about my inner self. My thoughts and personality are exposed on the canvas but instead of sharing a common daily occurrence, that emotes nothing of the work, I strive to make people think with their creativity and inventiveness. It would be great to see a shift towards this mentality because the outcome is so rewarding and compelling for both the artist and the viewer.
The impact of color on the visual senses of the viewer is extremely potent. One tiny dab of brightly colored pigment in an otherwise achromatic picture can transform the work. The use of color has been known to be a stimulant for me when I begin a new painting, even before a sketch or drawing. I try to keep it as intuitive as possible. My paintings are noisy and powerful. One can hear their primal screams as they look at the bombastic markings and physical style. The brushstrokes are aggressive but the color choices are intentionally something else. To keep my work unpredictable and maybe a bit light hearted, it is important for me to “turn things upside down” and keep myself challenged. The use of pastel hues is one of the many techniques I use to keep viewers on their toes and create a juxtaposition to the way my work is made and viewed. The unpredictable color choices are sometimes an intentional contradiction. I enjoy exploring different color combinations and their opposing meanings within my paintings. My artwork is dependent upon the use of color for its impact, mood and depth.
“Small” and “large” are antonyms yet, when it comes to my paintings, these words do not oppose each other. I always work on multiple projects at the same time. While I am battling it out with my larger paintings, I also create smaller works on paper. I have found that these smaller conglomerations of collage, paint and drawings have influenced my larger pieces immensely. The smaller scale forces me to use fewer materials. Consequently, it has distilled my technique when I am working bigger. With this "ying-yang" process, I’ve been able to arrive at a more economical place without losing the power of the pieces. This economy has developed my drawing skills and helped refine my current work. Working small is a faster and less laborious process than when I am working on a much larger canvas, but the results are just as strong.
I want the assemblages to explode off their canvases and knock you on your ass like a bomb just went off. Paper has made this possible. It is flexible and loose like paint. I can crumple it, making it thrust from the canvas while also pulling you closer. I can tear it or paint it to express a multitude of emotions, forcing a conversation. What is it emoting? Is it happy? Is it angry? Is it chaotic? Your thoughts are endless and your perspective is ever changing from it's fluidity. It is such a simple material yet full of potential. While paper is ephemeral, the work is anything but.
Evolution is important in any artist’s work. When I first began on my road as a painter, my artwork was one-dimensional but explosive in color and gesture. I still enjoy working in this manner but in order for my work to evolve, I’ve begun exploring other surfaces. I have recently developed a three dimensional component in my current work. I've begun collaging with extra canvas and recycled paintings. I'm now also using crumpled and shredded paper. My paintings are sculptural, raw and uncontainable. They explode off their supports while you fight the urge to touch the surface.
A recent article on glasstire got me thinking about the future of things.
Now more than ever, I see a fracturing of things in the art world. It's not unique. It's happening elsewhere, too. As the gap between the, "have's" and "have not's" widens, so goes the art world. It's not one big system but multiple tiny systems functioning under one larger vague umbrella. This has always been the case but it's more noticeable now more than ever before. Maybe things have grown more independent of one another? A healthy reaction? Cyclical? Fraying of the system? All of the above?
As a writer, when I think of my brother’s paintings, I think of the great William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch. Like Burroughs, the hysteria exuding from Howard’s canvases are similar to the writer’s manic story. His vignettes loosely connected but independent from each other, while Howard’s works are independent from each other, yet connected in his subtle (and not so subtle) methods. For both of them it is about the voice. Do their pieces inspire, provoke conversation? Do they tell a story? That ‘s the goal and they achieve it through their choice of artistic tools - Burroughs’ words; Howard’s colors.
Both. Voices. Strong. Intense. Provocative. Art. Stories. Why? Color. Why? Word.
When I look at Howard Sherman’s paintings I think, “frenzy.” I can only imagine what’s going on in his mind. This artist likes to “rock your world” and make you think with a capital “T.” Why is Sherman using that specific color? Is there a technique to his explosions of paint and abstract figures? And especially, I ask myself, what the hell am I looking at?
Like Sherman’s technique, I have my own when I look at his amazing pieces of art. Personally, I don’t like reading the titles of Sherman’s work until after I have examined the painting in front of me. Why? Because I like to figure out what I am looking at from my own perspective, before I find out what Sherman’s thoughts were while creating his latest masterpiece.
A perfect example, the artist’s work on paper, “Slaving Away at the iPhone Factory #19.” This collage immediately grabbed my attention. The psychedelic green made me feel like I was on a trip being attacked by a three-eyed green monster. His large open mouth was about to eat me whole. Then I took my next step in my critiquing process, I read the title, “Slaving Away at the iPhone Factory #19.” and I realized I was looking at social commentary on the state of technological competition.
The three eyes became the mobile industry’s competition to create the largest, thinnest, and fastest cell phone as possible. The mouth is the factory gobbling its workers thoughts and working them full force to keep up with the other smart phones coming out days apart. So my green-eyed monster does exist…in my mind.
I spent a lot of time working on my artist statement. Their validity is a never ending argument in the art world. In graduate school, my major professor Vernon Fisher had me revise one over and over. It must've taken a couple of semesters before he was pleased with it. It went through seemingly a million revisions. In the end, I'm glad it did.
Painting is changing. The idea of a particular “ism” or school is reminiscent of a flat soft drink. I take several of these historical ideologies and put them in a blender. I serve up an explosive, visual 190 proof margarita (everclear, not tequila) that is excessive and ambitious. It is a hedonistic, long pour that might splash everywhere. (You’re in trouble if you have a paper cut.) The goal is a reaction with every sip from the fishbowl-sized glass.
One special ingredient in this recipe is the narrative cartoon. It is born out of the abstract gesture in a twisted, unstable way. When the blender stops, there will be bits and pieces strewn all over the place. It is a battle of epic proportions with a multi-pronged attack and a slight tickle.
This cocktail is extremely potent because many of its constituents contrast. They are so wrong together that they start to seem right, combining to create a hostile and humorous expression. It is like laughing while taking a cold shower. There are no baby-sips. You gulp it down and brace yourself for the brain-freeze.
I came to this concoction scuffling through the liquor cabinets of intuition and art history. You must know how to pick both of these locks. Otherwise, it’s a trip to the lame-ass kitchen. A real walk of shame.