Tag Archives: David Bailin

Beating the Heat in Arkansas: A Super Cool Art Scene (Part 1)

IMG_1333After a surprisingly mild June, the choking heat of July is upon us here in Arkansas. Consider cooling off by visiting one of many outstanding art exhibits. My favorites so far are at the Arkansas Arts Center, at UA Little Rock, at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and at 21c Hotel. I’ll start with the Arkansas Arts Center (AAC) which, I must admit, holds a dear place in my heart.

As a current mixed media workshop teacher there, I like to promote the AAC as often as possible. However, I have a lifetime of memories starting with early childhood that make me fond of the place. Do you have a place that you can return to after many years, and the smells and sounds make years rush back in one fell swoop? The AAC does that each and every time I step in the door, especially the original entrance which is now the back door and the quickest way to the museum school.

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More relevantly, I remember hearing my whole life about the drawing collection started by Townsend Wolfe, the famed and beloved Director and Curator from 1968 until his retirement in 2002. During my visit last week, I started my tour with “Drawing on History: The National Drawing Invitational Retrospective” which re-presents artwork featured in 12 Drawing Invitationals held at the AAC over a 30 year period. The exhibit showcases pieces from well known contemporary artists and the work is sure to impress the most educated art aficionados as well as visitors new to drawing. The variety of work is very relatable, provocative and advanced in concept and technique.

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Bill Vuksanovich, “Untitled”

Take, for example, the direct realism of Bill Vuksanovich, (please pardon the reflections in the glass). The boy’s stare grabs viewers and compels us to stare back, which is when we notice the details: the pressed yet wrinkled pants, the slightly awkward hands, the unsettling contrast between the boy’s expression and the word “Champion” on his baggy sweatshirt. This is a piece to be examined just as the boy is examining us.

It is a pleasure to compare and contrast the variety of drawings in this exhibit. For example, we grasp the breadth of the collection as we move from figurative realism to the mathmatical work of Stephen Talasnik and the alternative surface created by Russell Crotty (both in the slide show above).

IMG_1365Exiting the Drawing exhibition and walking toward the Young Arkansas Artists Exhibition (the 56th!), I had to stop and examine a recent acquisition, “Les Demoiselles” which reminds me of my favorite contemporary artists, Firelei Báez. Now I have another artist to study, Zoë Charlton. It just so happens she shows at ConnerSmith in Washington DC which I’ll soon visit (material for another post!). I haven’t done thorough research yet, but find myself hoping these artists know each other – it seems they would have lots to discuss.

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The aforementioned Young Artists exhibit is always a crowd pleaser. I come away enthralled and slightly jealous…the skills and ideas presented by such young artists…if only I’d had half their talent and motivation at that age!

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Savannah Bell, “Popped”

This year, I had the honor of being a juror for the show which is not a challenge I recommend for the faint of heart. There were simply too many excellent entries. It was a pleasure seeing the work in person and I look forward to seeing what becomes of these exceptional students.

From there, I visited the much anticipated 59th Annual Delta Exhibition, a regional show that features contemporary artwork from Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Missouri, Mississippi and Texas. There is really too much to say about this fantastic selection of work so I will mention a few personal favorites.

I would love to meet fellow Little Rock figure painter, Baxter Knowlton, whose painting, “Woman and Dog” is exquisite. The composition and drawing skills are excellent with rich, loose brushwork reminiscent of Lucian Freud. I hope to see more work by this artist. And look at the oddly delightful details in “Being Slipshod” by Arkadelphia artist, DebiLynn Fendley! I’m a tad uncomfortable looking so closely at his moles, curly chest hair, low slung comic strip shorts and dirty, chipped fingernails. But I can’t help myself and stay with this one for awhile. I wonder why he covers his eyes…so we can’t recognize him? So he won’t see us looking? Lastly, at least for the figurative favorites, is this piece by my friend, Jason McCann. I enjoy seeing his work evolve over the years and what I like most about this piece is strong evidence and use of line. With drawn line, McCann has a superior ability to capture a person’s inner qualities with well placed marks.

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Pulling myself away from the figurative work, there were many pieces that caught my attention. Looking at these three together, I realize the element of “line” is dominant in each piece, though applied in different ways.

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Wait wait, there’s more! “Part 2” coming soon: The Nasty Woman Exhibit at UA Little Rock, hanging out at heavenly Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and the powerhouse exhibits at 21c Hotel in Bentonville. Thanks for reading and please visit again!

 

Laura

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The Joys of Teaching Mixed Media: Part 5 Drawing

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David Bailin, detail of “Papers,” 2013, charcoal, oil, pastel and coffee on prepared paper

Throughout my time as a student and an artist, I frequently notice an assumption we make: we assume artistic talent correlates with an ability to draw representationally. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard statements like, “Oh, I’m not artistic at all…I can hardly draw a stick figure.” I take issue with this false assumption. Drawing is only one of many ways to create art. Furthermore, I believe most people CAN draw. I used to not be able to draw – seriously, I was terrible at it. With practice and instruction, now I can. I certainly have plenty of room for improvement, but I’m getting better. Sure, some people have a natural aptitude for it. They make it look effortless. For those who believe they “can’t draw,” sometimes it just takes a few tips and some patience.

Today’s post will introduce drawing tips, as well as ways to incorporate drawing into your mixed media artwork. When teaching workshops at the Arkansas Arts Center, we spend about 30 minutes on drawing by focusing on:

  1. contour studies
  2. value studies
  3. mass studies

We also spend a few minutes looking at an important element of drawing: line. Line quality and variety is an essential tool when it comes to drawing. It can guide the eye, build a pattern, and emphasize an area of an abstract piece. Line can turn into all sorts of doodles and shapes. Best of all, you don’t have to know how to “draw” in a traditional sense to create lines. Before we review the specific drawing lessons, let’s take a moment to look closely at this Jean-Michel Basquiat painting:

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Untitled, 1982, acrylic and oil on linen, 76×94″

Do you think it is well drawn? Are there recognizable objects and figures? Is this more or less interesting to you than a highly realistic figure painting? Take note of the lines and shapes. If you get out a piece of paper right now, are you able to make the wavy lines such as those on the far right and the far left sides? Notice the variety of circles – on top of the skull, in place of the hands, inside the rectangular body. Can you draw circles like this? I am not asking that anyone imitate Basquiat. Simply allow yourself to notice the drawn line in the work of other artists. I can’t imagine that Basquiat asked himself if the figure is “good” or “well-drawn.” He freely works with expressive line. He paints over areas constantly experimenting with adding and subtracting information. Often, as artists and students, we do not allow ourselves this freedom based on the belief that we “can’t draw” or our drawings aren’t “good.” Well, enough is enough. You can draw and here are a few exercises to get you started.

  1. Blind contour: photo 4 (2)this is when you look at an object and draw it’s outline without looking at your paper or pencil. Just stare at the object and let your hand put down a line. By not looking at the paper, we are able to let go of perfection.
  2. Value: this is when you look closely at the light and dark areas of the object. You can include an outline but unlike the conphoto 5 (1)tour studies, you are not searching for the edges of the object or trying to get the outline just right. Instead, concentrate on light and dark using a simplified scale of three shades in a range: lightest, middle, and darkest. Often when we admire painters for their loose brushwork, their successful rendering comes from a masterful use of value to create an object and not necessarily a well executed outline.
  3. Mass: this technique, which I learned from artist David Bailin, is like magic and has probably improved my drawing skills more than anyphoto 3 (1) other. Using rapid back and forth sketch marks, try to fill in the inside of the object without accidentally adding an outline. You can include value if you choose. Initially difficult, as our eyes and hands want to concentrate on the edge of the object, this technique forces us to see how the object takes up space in an environment. Once you have the general mass filled in, take a step back and compare it to the object. After making adjustments by erasing or adding mass, you can outline the object. The magic happens when you notice your drawing is, perhaps, superior to a drawing that started with an outline. I have found this exercise particularly helpful when drawing complex forms such as the human figure.

There are many more drawing techniques than can provide all artists, no matter what level, with immediate improvement. If drawing interests you, check out the drawing classes at the Arkansas Arts Center. In the meantime, back to how drawing can be a valuable tool in your mixed media work. Remember the Basquiat painting? Let’s talk a moment about doodles. Sometimes we need a little nudge toward how to make a mark on paper. Look around you at the multitude of designs and lines. You can make designs on paper based on fabric on your couch, or lines on a garden gate. You can look at brochures, magazines and all sorts of pieces of paper. Below, I used a padded envelope that came in the mail and a brochure from a vacation to inspire doodles.

Using a pencil, conte crayon or charcoal, let the images you see in life work their way onto your paper. If you get in the habit of doodling in a sketchbook, these marks can become a treasure trove for layers in your mixed media paintings. You can also look up doodles in books and online for inspiration. Below is a piece by Parisian artist, Marcus McAllister (who originally hails from Little Rock, AR!). He beautifully arranges a drawing of a bird with abstract elements such as layers of dripping green and blue paint, a layer of creamy white using a stencil, and a pattern of yellow circles along the upper part of the composition.

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Laura Raborn, detail of mixed media study

Whether you doodle, practice drawing from life, use printed material for design inspiration or choose a child-like approach to draw shapes resembling recognizable imagery, please have faith in your ability to add drawing to your mixed media work. Remember, any failed attempts can be obliterated with stencils, words, collage or any of the materials and methods from the last few posts.

Next, I’ll wrap up the mixed media workshop series with a final discussion on layering. Until then, thank you for reading!   Laura

 

 

 

The Little Rock art scene, “Disparate Acts Redux: Bailin, Criswell, Peters”

When three revered Arkansas artists come together in a single home state exhibit, a gift is IMG_0102presented to the public, to collectors, to artists, and to students interested in learning, thinking, and admiring excellent visual art. What makes it so great? The work of Sammy Peters, Warren Criswell, and David Bailin is profoundly provocative. Each artist creates work involving complex, alluring ideas that engage viewers. The allure comes in the form of mystery. Like receiving a beautifully addressed letter but not quite being able to decipher the contents, we yearn to read the writing, to learn the language, to know the purpose. But it is an elusive secret, and each artist lets his viewer toe the line of understanding.

The internationally collected abstractions by Sammy Peters are full of mystery and intrigue. The layers he creates of IMG_0109abstracted shapes indicate a hiding, or masking, of information. Like so many great abstract artists, a process of adding and subtracting, or concealing and revealing, provides depth as well as an inquisitive tone. As a representational artist struggling to learn abstraction, I admire artists who excel in creating abstracted spaces that move, have energy, and allude to ideas. So often abstraction can appear static, or shallow.

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Peters, “Beginning: current; integration,” 48×48

Peters creates many compartments for viewers to navigate with contrasting marks, colors and shapes. He also employs multiple patterns that emerge and wind their way around his paintings. Our eyes can follow the lines and marks through the space and feel like we are playing with puzzle pieces. When viewing his work, we search and seek, find places to land and ponder, and then wander again around the composition as a participant in a game of hide-and-seek.

Criswell, The Punishment, 2007, oil on canvas, 48 x 36, private collection

In the work of Warren Criswell, I feel less like I am playing hide-and-seek and more like I am a voyerist, slightly uncomfortable with what I witness, yet too intrigued to turn away. His paintings, figurative and full of literary and historical references, are best appreciated by a thinking audience…and one who wants to tangle with dark ideas. Human foibles, sexuality and social commentary each play a role in the work of Criswell. Like Goya, he presents to the public ideas about the human condition that are not exactly pleasant, and like Goya, Criswell is highly respected for his ability to point out our flaws in a way we can accept and even admire.

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Criswell, Flash Flood, 2002, oil on linen, 36 x 48, private collection

For example, though Criswell uses his own image in much of the work, the struggles, fear and darkness presented applies to all. The nudity often references sexuality in a dangerous or sinful manner, though usually the unclothed figures evoke vulnerability or exposure. Often, there is a strong light source though it is purposefully garish amongst the dark settings. The bright light further exposes the characters, leaving them unable to hide. And speaking of characters who are unable to hide…

Made of charcoal, eraser and occasional shots of color on large pieces of paper, the expansive work of David Bailin is the ultimate puzzle. With chaotic bursts of energy, Bailin creates exquisitely interrupted narratives displayed in a variety of marks. The interruption occurs when our eye begins to recognize a shape or object, then meaning is yanked away, or at least heavily altered, where the eraser subtracts linear information that once was there.  This process of addition and subtraction is provoking in and of itself. However, with the ever-present male figure, the space bIMG_0114ecomes an entity with which the figure relates, or rather battles. While Bailin’s figures are fleeing, and seem to want to escape the chaotic scenes, their physical existence is tied to the atmosphere. As they peer back over shoulder, or sharply lean downward, it is as if they know escape is futile, and that the chaos, the concealing and the revealing come from within. It can not be left behind, not matter how fast they run or how well they hide.

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Bailin, detail of “Papers,” 2013, charcoal, oil, pastel and coffee on prepared paper

Bailin, Criswell and Peters each leave us hanging over a precipice of truths, experiencing that addictive feeling of delicious danger. It is a show that should not be missed. Now on display at the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies in downtown Little Rock through October 31st, 2015.

On a side note…please know these thoughts are simply my impressions. As an artist, writing about the work of others helps me further understand my own goals and art. I could be way off base in interpreting the work of these three artists…but it is eye-opening to try. If you have any comments or corrections, please reply. Thank you for reading.

Laura IMG_0105

A quick visit to the Blanton, worth every minute

I have the pleasure of driving through Austin at least once a year and one of my first stops, straight from I-35, is the Blanton Museum of Art on the UT campus. In need of a coffee and a walk, the moderately sized facility never fails to satisfy and is always a reprieve from the long drive. Add the varied special exhibits, and it becomes a slice of heaven after too many billboards and fast food signs along my route.

IMG_4567So, with only one day in Austin last week, I found myself making plans with my daughter and niece. When brainstorming good rainy day activities, I gave the Blanton a hard sell. Fortunately, these two budding artists were enthusiastic about the plan and off we went.

Sadly, by the time I post this, the exhibit, “James Drake: Anatomy of Drawing and Space (Brain Trash),” has only a few more hours for viewers to experience as much excitement as I’ve ever seen in drawings (the final day is today, Jan 4). The exhibit showcases, pinned to the wall from floor to ceiling, 1,242 individual drawings which were the result of Drake’s commitment to produce at least one drawing per day for two years. At times the multiple drawings form a cohesive image and idea; other times, the individual sheets of paper flutter autonomously and create a random snapshot of the artist’s stream of consciousness as he moves from one subject to another, or repeats one item or type of subject in an effort to practice and better understand the object.

IMG_4569Often, Drake incorporates text into the drawings, which either emphasizes or contrasts the visual images. Sometimes the text appears in the form of commercially printed material and is glued directly on the drawing paper and used as a background underneath drawings. Some words are large and stenciled, some are tiny and hand written, reminiscent of a journal entry or personal reminder. The longer I stood in front of each large wall, filled with papers, the more I realized the vast variety of mark making – variety in subject matter, variety in value, and variety in materials. Drake seems to be working hard to determine the most effective materials and methods to communicate. He even uses some type of scientific graph paper with mechanically made lines measuring something (someone’s heart rate? some sort of geological movement?).

This variety reminds the viewer that meaningful marks can be made in infinite ways with multiple materials, all in the name of drawing and communicating. His work inspires me to think about how old the concept of mark making is…on walls, then tablets, then paper. As old as it is, drawing is as modern and futuristic as it is ancient. Drake manages to capture historic, traditional elements as well as contemporary applications of drawing, which I find to be one of the most fascinating and enjoyable results of the display.

IMG_4568Along that thought, what delights me the most, is the combination of traditional figurative work and all that other mark making. The presence of such variety creates an engaging and complex contrast. Yet, with all the variety, there is a simplicity, a calmness or orderliness to the chaos. There are few colors, mostly varying degrees of black and white, though sepia tones and red are integrated from time to time. And there is plenty of white space – empty areas that serve as calm spots amongst the high energy of the drawings. At times, Drake reminds me of the great artist and drawer, David Bailin, whose energetic compositions are unique due to an extreme and fearless fervor of mark making. Both artists are able to create abstractions and complex spaces in their drawings using a strange combination of figurative representation with lines that I can only categorize as “other” (think of the above mentioned graph paper with the seismograph like lines).

Had I stayed longer and more closely examined the drawings, the text, and the collage style imbedded papers, I would surely have a more thorough and thoughtful response to share. But the two little artists were hard to corral and off we went to the second floor* after immersing ourselves for a little while in the mind of James Drake.

Thank you for reading, and good luck getting to the Blanton before 5:00 pm today!

IMG_4585 *Regardless of the museum’s special exhibits located on the first floor, the second floor holds alluring treasures worthy of repeat visits, such as an exquisite Alice Neel painting, a meditative Adolph Gottlieb, and the installation show here, by artist Cildo Meireles.