Thursday, September 16, 2010

Square 1

E-Z Terms - 102 x 102 cm.

A blog buddy urged me to organize thoughts expressed in my replies to comments posted on this entry. Realizing it could add up to something close to an artist statement or explanation about personal "process," I pause. Re the former, I rarely read artist statements. They tend to subtract points from the work before I've even seen it, and in some cases allude to things that tell me I'm about to see some bad art. Without getting specific on that score, I've also heard this opinion from galleries and curators, etc. I don't recall ever reading an artist statement that measurably enhanced my enjoyment of the work, so I'm reluctant to compose one. Anyhow, I prefer the idea of art speaking for itself.

The process part is more interesting, especially if you happen to like the artist's work.

When I used to hear artists discuss their process(es), I always felt like a bit of a chump. They had this thing that sort of guided them and it seemed as though there was a discipline to it. I, on the other hand, had no such method or consistency. Eventually I decided that not having a process was my process, flying by the seat of my pants. Rather than fitting subject matter into a certain approach, style, or ethic, I simply would get an idea for a painting, imagine how I think it would look best to me, and then figure out how to do it -- or at least try to do it. This often means going back to square one with each new piece. In workshops I tell people that I often feel like a rank beginner when starting a painting, and that this is my "comfort zone." Not knowing where it's going but listening to the picture as it takes shape has yielded better and more surprising results than anything I likely could plan. It doesn't always come, and it can't be forced. I like how the poet William Stafford described it as a thread: you search for the end, pull gently, and follow. Which is starting to sound suspiciously like a process. :)

And so I've ended up with a body of work that is all over the map. I like it that way, diversity is one of the things I value most in art. Part of this is due to an inclination to avoid much of what I've seen in watercolor since I first got hooked. There is a lot of recycling in every medium, and watercolor is no different -- maybe worse. Perhaps because of its immediacy and associated traditions, there are legions of watercolorists who develop a style that often says to me "this is how I paint skies...this is how I paint trees...this is how I paint figures" etc. Facile and attractive, but I can tire of it quickly. Lots of painters play almost every tune in the same key, same tempo, with the same feel. I've been to concerts like that, but I don't stay long.

The painting above is an example of something that popped into my head a while back. I've never painted a dog, and don't even particularly care for dogs (un-American, I know!). But I had a hankering to see something like a junkyard canine with a fence and sign. Nothing deep, just shapes and colors and edges. Got it out of my system.



Anonymous said...

Hi Nick, And, yet, there is something identifiable as yours. In any case, I think it's great you challenge the conventional wisdom; we need our processes, ideas, and traditions shaken up!

Not the usual dog either. Not deep? No implied meaning with a junkyard dog and ezterms? Fun!

Billie Crain said...

You succeeded in portraying your vision, Nick. I saw junkyard dawg the moment I opened the page. I'm in the process of trying to develop a 'process' since I've never had one either. So far it's not working out very well. I'm over-thinking things, losing momentum and any spontaneity(sp?)I may have had. What the H*ll is a process anyway? Developing the concept(?), prep work for a painting....what?

Anonymous said...


Your unprocess sounds very much like mine sometimes I just draw scribbles on a page turn the page till a image slowly starts to appear then chase it down never a clue to what will happen, I value new and inventive first then good execution I've found in the watercolor world there seems to be a lot of execution (that is kill the image till it has no life) then worry about the image and wonder why it has no life.

If I see someones work I like say a Koi painting I'll use that as inspiration to paint A Humpback whale at least change it up a little.

Have to agree about the artist statement I hate those things all it tells me is that maybe the painter/visaul artist should have been a writer instead of and artist, I've never seen a writers website post a painting to explain his or her writing.

Well take care Nick.
Paul Kasmir

Jeanette Jobson said...

Although many artists fall into a process of sorts, its more a familiarity with technique and medium. Some want to believe that the process is the key to success.

Letting the image dictate how it will appear on paper or canvas is part of the appeal of creating art. Sometimes that happens easily, sometimes it takes some coaxing.

Your dog has impact and is, to me, a bit scary. I wouldn't be crossing that fence!

I agree with your comments about artist statements. They are for the most part meaningless and seldom read or understood in guiding a viewer to explore a specific piece or body of art.
Unfortunately for public exhibition or competition, organizers want the darn things.

RH Carpenter said...

Love your take on artist statements - I never read them either and let the work speak. This painting has a menacing aspect about it...a bit warm in tones but cold in feeling. Not sure it will be one of my favorites of yours but you definitely have something here - keep flying by the seat of your pants, my friend, because the best part of that is that you are always flying! (I think a lot of us have no "process" but just do it until we get it right.)

Nick said...

Peggy - some folks get the wrong impression - I respect tradition, just don't want to be limited by it. BTW, I have to say again that blind drawing of yours is my favorite, very inspiring
! I think that could open up a whole new world of art if you were inclined to go in that direction.

Billie - good questions that are difficult to answer. I saw an online interview in which the artist said people are either "process" painters or "product" painters. I had not thought about it in such stark terms, but maybe there is something to it? It raises a lot thoughts in my mind that go beyond the scope of this entry...maybe a good subject for another day.

Paul - yes a very good point that the statement is way more common to visual artists than others. Which is curious to me, because visual art is the medium easiest and most quickly digested. You can often take in much of what a picture has to offer in literally seconds. You have to devote some time to listen to a piece of music or read a book. In this ADD world, I can see how an author or musician might be tempted to set the stage for their work,in the hopes of ensuring people make the commitment to see it through. Hmmm, or could the visual artists be doing this precisely because of the ease of viewing art, and the fear of their work being dismissed with the cursory glance? Inquiring minds want to know!

Jeanette - Fido is supposed to be a bit menacing! grrrrrrrr

Rhonda - but is "no process" a process? Too much for my brain. I have written a few artist statements when, as Jeanette pointed out, it was required. But I hated doing it. Much better was an exhibition last year in Belgium where we were asked to write about the other artists. I got to write about Janine Gallizia, Joseph Zbukvic, and Xavier Swolfs, and they wrote about me. That was fun!

Unknown said...

your "what process??" arrives always at the right place!!!!

Nancy Lee Galloway said...

I remember when I first read an artist statement. I was overwhelmed by the fussiness and, what seemed to me, the pretentiousness (is that a word?) of it. I tired of reading it, was put off, and the experience of the painting was somewhat affected by it.

What drew me to your workshop was precisely the fact that you were so different in your approach. When I saw you pouring paint on MPT I was hooked! And, as I progress with my work, I learn to let go and try different things and so, perhaps, happily so, I am a process painter! RIght teach? :)

lupus said...

Excuse me Nick, but I only can say....¡What a great work...! It's magnifique (As always, of course).

Big hug, my friend.


Nick said...

Alex amigo - I'm not sure about that, I need to get away from pictures for a while and let them "cure"...this one has been sitting around growling at me and I finally decided that was OK. He's not supposed to be Lassie - perro malo!

Nancy amiga - lots of the statements are laden with Artspeak and can scare the hell out of you. So many times I read this big impressive thing to find the work sucked! Those long resumes (sorry, CV, Herr Professor)can be alienating too.
Can't advise on process and happiness. But I can tell you that I've seen artists who make a big deal about process and when I see the work of some of them, I see why the emphasis is placed there: the work sucks! ha ha, that's twice in one answer. :)

Enrique amigo - see answer to our compadre Alex ^^^. Meeting you on la concha in Donostia is a major highlight of my future travel itinerary, please let's make that happen soon. abrazos

agus said...

Hola Nick ...otro gran trabajo...y que complicado...el texto que acompaña a la acuarela es muy interesante pero no consigo traducirlo correctamente... y es una pena...saludos Nick!!!

Cristina Dalla Valentina said...

Reading your words lifts me the spirit! Being a beginner, I often feel confused because I fail in following the "instructions" given by teachers, and I consider this as a sign of lack of professionalism or a lack of training, or worse, a sign of presumption ... I am heartened to hear that maybe I'm not totally wrong if I let that painting takes me with it. Thank you for your wonderful art, and for your words. Ciao!

Mike said...

How does one describe their signature in words? How can one express the feeling of Ferde Grofe's Grand Canyon Suite? How can any of us describe the visual stimulant of a beach with waves breaking? As they say in Philly, Fahgeddaboudit!

People have been attempting to put into verbage the sense of any art. It simply cannot be said. It is, as you so adequately state, an experience. And . . .just as your signature on a check or on the bottom of a letter is not something one can describe or predict, it has a process, just as does your painting prowess. Okay, so we cannot describe it, your signature style is still revealed. It is apparent. Period.

And you, Mr. Nick . . . .your process is making your famous . . .undescribed or not . . . .it is as recognizable as your face. No matter how we try, the movement of the hand always is controlled from the same place . . . .and it shows!!

Congrats on a most original and authentic piece of work! Strong feeling and a sharp dose of Simmons!!! Way to GO, Friend!! Way to Go!!


Susan Avis Murphy, AWS said...

OK, Nick, you may hate writing artists statements, but you are one of the best writers I know!! Reading your blog is pure delight--I loved expecially your description of the Kanuga Workshops. I have GOT to go there now! --Sue

William K. Moore said...

Nicholas - a paradox: dog in a square but outside the box.. nice you old .. fox (not a dog lover either)! Your essay on formula painting/painters makes perfect sense to me. Perhaps formula painting - like paint-by-the-number, is a good thing while one learns the craft .. and yes craft is a good and essential thing, not just a store called Michael's. Your painting is well crafted which gives the mind something to build on. What is built depends on the viewer .. and I've just finished building a doozy of an image upstairs in the imaginarium. A ghostly dog in a pen or fenced backyard is just the start - the story and excitement continues. This painting is powerful in a way - a new way... getting an oriental vibe with ginger and a trace of fireworks .. this is not a Lassie painting but something more adult.. with teeth and it is biting me now in a most wonderful way.

Nick said...

Agus - thank you very much for visiting, I will be over to your blog very soon, always a thrill to see what you have painted. saludos y abrazos!

Cristina - nice to see you hear, and if you are a "beginner" Webster's needs to change the definition. :) I recommend you continue to ignore your teachers' instructions!

Mike! I used to have an internet buddy in one of the art forums who had a deep interest in the arts and sciences. He finally gave up on the forum because "language is ill-equipped to deal with's impossible!" I sure appreciate your input on a painting that was a one-off and posted here to illustrate a point. I wouldn't expect anyone to like it. So when someone does, it startles me and makes me very suspicious you guys are way ahead of me on something. What, I don't know.heheh BTW, I'm not kidding about these kooky demo ideas -hit me with yer craziest bid and I'll raise ya!

Susan - the key to Kanuga for me was the guy in the apartment upstairs ^^^^. He more than anyone made that week a total gas for me. He's wily and dangerous - gets you laughing so hard you think he's all about yucks, and then hits you between the eyes with a straight right cross of a watercolor that will put you down for the count, and out!
And I want to say that the recent paintings of yours I've seen (two that I remember) are just tremendous, I can't tell you how impressed I am.

Bill - I had been jonesin to paint a black dog with this exaggerated dorsal arch for some reason. Perhaps a childhood memory coming home to roost. Unfortunately had some mean dog experiences way back that soured me on the creatures, and have been wary ever since. Like many musicians I approach them with my hands in the pockets and a steely eye - much the way I approach a WKMoore painting: more likely than not we can become fast friends, but I also know that I can be torn to shreds before you can say KenLRation!

Jean said...

Nick... you need a subscribe button here somewhere [which reminds me I need one too] but I keep missing your updates despite cruising by often.

This painting really gets to me. Which is a good thing right? Art is supposed to move people to the core and this one really delivers. Your mean dog experience comes through loud and clear and that's such a good thing I can't tell you. Not like me to be lost for words... but there you have it![grin]

Well done you :-)

Leslie Lambert Redhead said...

Hahahaha! I agree with the artist statement thing. I paint because I don't write. Deal with it.
Love the dog though. Even if you don't have process (thank goodness!) for your painting you definitely have a style that is all your own.

cardesin said...

this particular work is a synthesis of a large animal ... at the end no matter if it looks more or less, what matters is that it conveys a great feeling ... I like!

cardesin said...

I'm glad to read your thoughts ...
There is a big issue here!
Distrust of almost mathematical methods in the art ... is painted a lot before taking on the canvas or paper, and there is some magic in this, no day is like another, why certain artists are determined to hide it?. Is healthy and good paint pensamienos although not "great works" for galleries or curators, eventually the works speak to us more than we of them.
Nick Fantastic!
Your friend Juankar

Tonya Vollertsen said...

Hey Nick, great painting! I was shocked to see it at first as it looks just like the wild dogs here in Bahrain that I have been watching from up here on the 26th floor. They run in a pack of 4 to 6 or so. They are really quite big though for wild dogs. I have tried to get a good photo but only have ariel views so far. They seem relatively friendly and people throw out scraps for them. Sorry, neither here nor there I guess but it just caught me by surprise since I have been so focused on these strange dogs.
Your style always shows through regardless of your "starting over from the beginning" method and the paintings get better and more interesting with each new one.

Nick said...

Jean - yes, a few run-ins with mean dogs when I was a child, and then during my teens I really got into cycling...that's where my true love for the species developed!

Leslie - I like that: "I paint because I don't write." Take that, pontificaters! (no such word)

Juan - you are the antidote to everything that turns me off in art!

Tonya - thank you for the photo, that was a surly-looking pack of hounds. I suppose I'm unfair to the creatures at times, but my friend Randy always assuaged such fears with "why do you think they're called dogs? ha ha


looks like a mean streetwise "marmaduke" nick the min detail of him and the sense of passing by ..initially on he looked as if he was jumping the fence....interesting post

Nick said...

Jane - I've got some Bill Moore rubbing off on me, but hopefully not in a way that he can notice!

Randall said...

When you mentioned you start each painting as a rank begginer it reminded me of Charles Reid who mentioned that as well. When I start something I'm starting to see what I'd like to see. Anyway, nice painting.


Nick said...

Kirby - "beginner's mind" is a subject also touch on in this terrific interview with Alex Kanevsky:

Anonymous said...

I totally agree, diversity is oe of the most interesting and valuable things in art. But it also implies many risks that some are not always ready to take.

Anonymous said...

Wow all I can say is that you are a great writer! Where can I contact you if I want to hire you?