Thursday, July 14, 2011

Joe Perkins

Retired architect Joe Perkins has creativity pumping through his veins with enough vigor to make the rest of us jealous.  With architecture inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright, paintings inspired by Gustav Klimt, and sculpture inspired by ancient Aztec culture he blends influence with his own unique vision.  You can read about my recent introduction to this impressive artist in the July issue of Jackson's Portico Magazine.  

Also, some of Joe's work is now on display at the Madison County Public Library until October 1, 2011.  Here are some images of Joe, and a few of his masterpieces...

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Culture as a controlled substance

I was on the phone the other day with a buddy of mine from New York City, and he asked me if I have had any problems teaching figure drawing down here.  He sees the South through the media's lens as an ultra conservative place that might not be open to such a course of study.  I proudly told him that him that I have had nothing but encouragement and support since beginning the classes two years ago.  It is a class which demands maturity and seriousness.  I had some trouble back in undergraduate school when I wanted to study the human figure (previous post discussing this), but not in this more professional setting.  While on the phone with him I had another call come in.  This call was from the city of Madison.

Several weeks before, I was asked to teach a figure drawing class in Madison for a group of ladies that often paint together.  We were going to be able to use someone's painting studio in the Madison Cultural Center, which is the old school at the corner of hwy 463 and hwy 51.  The director of the facility approved it, and the space was absolutely perfect.  

After two classes, the mayor of Madison found out that we were drawing nude models and kicked us out of the space.  The city of Ridgeland has welcomed us with open arms, so everything has worked out well, but it just caused me to consider the culture of Madison that is being created.  Now I will say that we were in a public building and that she had complete authority to do what she did.  I have also found out that she has kicked out yoga classes and karate classes.  I also believe that she is sincerely trying to create a culture based on aesthetic principles and positive social influences.  

Culture is defined as "the quality in a person or society that arises from a concern for what is regarded as excellent in arts, letters, manners, scholarly pursuits, etc."  By enforcing extremely strict building codes, signage codes, and keeping out classes the mayor deems inappropriate for a cultural center she is ultimately suppressing creativity, artistic expression, and the ability of the residents of Madison to create their own culture.  

I am not necessarily trying to persuade anyone of my opinion in writing this, but I believe that it is a vitally important topic to be discussed. Not just about Madison, Mississippi, but about every municipality.  As citizens we should be concerned with how much the arts are supported or suppressed.  It is the artistic vision and excellence of the people that creates a beautiful and fulfilling place to live.  

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Figment Jackson

Figment Jackson looks like it will be an interesting test of Jackson's interest in participatory and experimental art.  They are still looking for projects for the weekend.  Check out their website and sign up if you have an idea.  I saw that Megan Prosper is resurrecting  her senior exhibit, which I posted about recently.  If you missed her show at Belhaven here is another chance to be moved and inspired.  Local photographer Rachel Kabukala also did a blog post about Megan's show, and did a much better job than I did of photographing it.  

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Southern Gothic

I have a solo show up right now through the end of the month at Gallery 119 in downtown Jackson.   It is titled Southern Gothic and it is a continuation of my visual exploration of the use of contemporary realism and narrative in paintings and drawings.  This particular approach to my art began with my exhibition "Songs of Innocence / Songs of Experience" in the Spring of 2010.  

I am also continuing the use of handmade paper as a support for my oil paintings.  The folds, ripples, and tears allow the paper to become its own character  in the narrative.  The composition I apply to the paper itself comes from a curiosity of how the personality of a piece can shift as multiple sheets of paper are put together in various ways.  For example, in the painting "Fearmonger" I used random scraps of torn paper collaged together in a design that contrasts with the simplicity and symmetry of the painting itself.  Another example is the painting "Patchwork".  I wove together strips of paper to create a grid-like pattern.  A border was put around the woven paper to give the feeling of a quilt or blanket.  My use of traditional painting techniques on a nontraditional surface encourages the viewer to consider that which the painting is done on.  It is an important and much overlooked element of the final painting. 

The title of this exhibition refers to a genre found in many art forms where the work focuses on life particular to the American South.  Often used to describe the literary work of William Faulkner, the photography of Sally Mann, and the music of Jim White; this subject explores southern culture through social observations and commentary, without being moralistically critical.  Southern Gothic work usually uses dark and mysterious content to push its broader themes, however, what is disturbing to one may be innocent to another.  The paintings "The Target" and "Southern Gothic" are good examples of images that could be read either way depending on the viewers personal perspective and experiences.  My attempt at this genre is simply an honest study of my life in and my perceptions of life in the South.  

Here is a selection of the work from the show... 

Expecting the Fall
Oil on handmade paper

Oil on collaged handmade paper

Oil on woven handmade paper

Self Portrait
Oil on handmade paper

Southern Gothic
Oil on handmade paper

The Target
Oil on handmade paper

Tree Removal 4 (series of 6)
Ink on paper

Tree Surgeon
Silverpoint on prepared paper

Thursday, March 31, 2011

What are they teaching kids these days?

"What are they teaching kids these days?"  This is usually a derogatory question, but after visiting the Senior Art Exhibition of Megan Prosper at Belhaven University I ask this question with a little envy and a lot of excitement.  The sheer ambition of the work I have seen coming out of Belhaven students lately is impressive enough, but it isn't limited to that.  There is a remarkable development of concept being shown, along with that long forgotten aspect of technical skill.  For years, art schools have stopped stressing the importance of traditional drawing, painting and sculpting, or have put such an emphasis on these traditions that concept and creativity suffer for it.  From what I have seen, few schools have successfully integrated the two to the degree that Belhaven has.  But beyond the training lies the true secret to their success.  They are providing students with the two things that an artist most needs to create work... time and space.  Typically, students are overloaded with projects that they must complete in their dorm rooms.  Belhaven students are given their own, though modest in size, studio just up stairs from their classes.  This seems to be a real source of pride for the students.  In Megan's exhibition she actually allowed her studio to be absorbed into her artwork.  The studio space was physically reinstalled in the gallery space.  The show is made up of a series of installations inspired by the world travels of the artist put together with exquisite detail.  The show is at the same time worldly and religious, broad and intimate, inviting  and personal.  Unfortunately, Friday may be the last day to see it in its current state, but try to go if you can.  It can open up new worlds to you. 


detail of Vessel

detail of Vessel


detail of Nomad

detail of Gathering


detail of Altar


East Wall

Friday, February 11, 2011

Addressing the undressed

I have spent a lot of time defending the use of nudes in art.  The school at which I received my undergraduate degree was strictly against it, and my parents were less than enthusiastic about the idea.  Still, I went off campus during those early years to learn how to draw.  Not just to learn how to draw a nude person, but to learn how to draw everything through the use of the nude.  Back at school I was scolded by the faculty.  

To begin my defense of the nude I would like to make a distinction between studying the nude as an educational experience, and using the nude in artwork.  As an educational aspect the nude is an appropriate source of study for anyone learning how to draw.  The intention of all work done in a classroom setting is for learning purposes.   John Ruskin says in his book Elements of Drawing that he would tell his students that they were not there to draw trees, but to learn to draw trees.  A few drawings or paintings may stand above the rest causing the artist to want to exhibit that work, but that is not for everyone.  While it's a good idea for anyone learning to draw to use the nude, it is not at all necessary for all artists to exhibit nude work.  The intention is different.  So I am primarily going to give reasons why studying the nude figure is helpful, and I'll leave use of nudes as an expressive subject  and the exhibiting of nude art to everyone's own personal taste.  With a completely opposite perspective, my undergraduate program was against the study of the nude, yet they adored the art of Renaissance masters.

1 - Difficulty: It is true that if you can learn to draw the human figure sensitively and accurately then you can draw anything.  The reason for this is our familiarity with the human form.  As humans, we develop visual symbols for things that we are familiar with.  Consider the common triangle symbol for trees or the gingerbread shaped house.  I still find myself using these symbols as well as stick figures when drawing with my children.  There is a comfort to it.  The thing that we are most familiar with in this world is our own bodies yet few have really observed the human body with a discerning eye.  If we can break the symbols of that with which we are most familiar then we can break the symbols for anything.  There is a quote by psychologist Rudolf Anheim taken from the book The Undressed Art by Peter Steinhart which says "The human body is a particularly complex pattern, not easily reduced to the simplicity of shape and motion.  The body transmits compelling expressions.  Also, it is overloaded with non-visual associations.  The human figure is the most difficult vehicle of artistic expression."  So in drawing the human form we are not only having to get past the hurdles of symbols for the exterior, but also are challenged to record the non-visual emotions of a human being.  

2 - Tradition:  Take a look through art history.  Our fascination with the human form is apparent in the statue called Venus of Willendorf which is estimated to be around 24,000 years old.  

3 - Beauty:  The human body is an absolutely beautiful creation in all of its complexity and diversity.  This is a beauty way beyond the idealized and hyper-sexualized beauty in mass media.  Take the time to draw another person and you will witness beauty that has nothing to do with accepted norms of attractiveness.  Creating a beautiful drawing or painting from this gift given to you by the model is the difficult part.  

In Steinhart's book he describes what someone would experience for the first time in a figure drawing class.  He says "'d forget that these people are naked and go on gazing, at first fascinated with the variety and immense range of difference in bodies and then struck with how expressive they are.  You would quickly feel a human connection, a kind of compassion with them.  You might also begin to feel that there is immense dignity, energy, even beauty in them.  And somewhere along the line you might realize that you are more or less abandoned to your gaze, that there is something fundamentally human in your curiosity."

As I said earlier, to study is one thing and to exhibit is something else.  There is an incredible group show called "Nude and Figurative Works" at Fischer Galleries in Fondren up through March.  If you are uncomfortable or offended by the human figure then it is probably not the show for you, but if not then I would highly encourage you to check it out.  Witness some fantastic work by artists who chose to be inspired by and not intimidated by our humanity.  Here is a sampling of the work...

Evalyn Gray
Nude 1

Jean Seymour
Reclining Figure

Martha Ferris
Afternoon Light

Nancy Dawes
Reclining Figure

Rod Moorhead

Sam Beibers
Afternoon Nap

Susan Russell
Aron - Leaning