I like painting with traditional materials: paint (acrylics or oils) on canvas, paper, or wood. But I’ve been painting in digital with a tablet for about a year, now (mostly for personal design projects), and have come to enjoy it. I haven’t had any formal training in the use of digital tools, and no doubt I have much more to learn.
I started a painting a portrait of my mother, Trinidad, using using acrylics and collage on canvas, but I wasn’t happy with it. Several years later, I decided to re-do it digitally, keeping the collage parts exposed, and this is what I came up with:
My mother was a Manila Carnival Queen once upon a time (pre-WWII). The annual Manila carnivals were more like fiestas. My mother loved gardening and sewing, so I added in some tropical foliage, and made her staff into a big sewing needle; upon reflection, I realized this made her look a bit like one of Mary Norton’s “Borrowers” (as a child, The Borrowers was one of my favorite book series).
Check out this article in Hyperallergic by Chiquita Paschal on how people are feeling about Amy Sherald’s portrait of Michelle Obama. And — before committing any judgment of the portrait to Twitter or Facebook, you might want to take a look at Amy Sherald’s website and the many portraits that are on view there. Personally I love the simplicity of the portraits for their up-front and simple design, bold colors and lines, and lack of nostalgic markers and other social cues that shout out “black culture” or history. Each portrait is unapologetic and straightforward; yet somehow they also retain a little mystery, keeping a sense of individual dignity, even though a few of the subjects are doing things that may appear transgressive to some viewers.
Although there have been complaints that Sherald’s portrait of Michelle Obama doesn’t capture the exact likeness, I did recognize it as immediately her — though not exactly the same likeness as her photo images or videos. But that’s not the point, really. The portrait of Barack Obama doesn’t look exactly like him, either. Each artist leaves their imprint in the sense that we view the subject, more or less, through the lens of the artist’s eyes — and this is as much about the artist as it is about the subject, no?
After looking at the other portraits in Sherald’s website, I think what strikes me most about the portrait of Michelle is that she, like the other subjects of Sherald’s portraits does not seem particularly elevated just because of her station in life. She’s wearing a beautiful dress, yes, and she looks lovely, but in an everyday way; she is one of us — as portrayed by the artist.
We live in a world where it’s way too easy to pass judgment summarily on social networking platforms. An opportunity like this can be used to enter a discussion about art from many points of view. As writer Paschal notes, “the artist deserves, if nothing else, a thoughtful response.”
Re-thinking the whole haptic drawing thing. Or rather, returning to the initial concept, which was, for me, drawing as meditation. Just staying with the line, and with whatever moves it along. Today, that was Brian Eno’s “Thursday Afternoon.” Using my favorite tool, a faulty felt-tip brush pen. Faulty, because a little old, so you can’t predict how it will work. So I just stayed with it. “Thursday afternoon” wanders, and sometimes disappears. You have to listen with full attention. What emerged was a kind of tentative maze that I followed and followed. And I thought of the two (real) mazes I’ve walked in life: one at the Episcopal church on Russian Hill in San Francisco, and the other at Earthbound Farm in Carmel Valley. Drawing like this releases one from the economic pressures, the matrix within which most of my projects–whether editing, painting, or academic tutoring (my part-time job)–exist.
Water soluble oils over acrylic, on canvas. 20 x 16.” Work in progress, or maybe just done. Very tempted to title this “The Flowery Land” after the 1864 mutiny of a British ship by a variety of crew members including Manilla men, of whom seven were later executed in London. Catching a few minutes painting before heading to the cafe to do some freelance editing…
Monterey Bay Aquarium. Eco-tourism. Plein air painting. Consumption. Reading Stephanie Rutherford’s “Governing the Wild: Ecotours of Power,” among other things.
Sometimes I catch myself thinking “I really hate en plein air painting” (and I seem to live in the plein air capital of the U.S.). Seems silly or mean to think negatively about something so pretty & pleasing to the eye, so innocent. I feel like it had something to say in 1850. But now it just seems irrelevant, and yet Monterey art galleries keep plugging it, and plugging it for the eco-tourists. It’s redundant, like a plague word. One can go on and on about the beauties of nature, and completely miss the destructive forces pulling the rug (grass?) out from under you. Really, Monterey: is that all you’ve got?
Assembling: the jigsaw puzzle of a research essay. For this, I am reading (among other things):
* News for all the People: The Epic Story of Race in the American Media (Gonzalez & Torres)
* Floating Lives: The Media and Asian Diaspora, Cunningham & Sinclair.
Doing the laundry
When I was a teenager, first getting interested in art, I was fascinated with Paul Klee’s work. I think it’s because I saw color differently then, and his colors were always saturated, and he often juxtaposed blocks of color so that even greys might seem vibrant. His paintings have a childlike sense of wonder and freedom of line. This is a photo of Klee that I’d never seen before; he looks so different from the monkish looking fellow of his later photographs.