Fighting Painter's Block

I  have a confession to make: I haven't painted since December.  Besides the simple examples that I made for my classes, I had done nothing to add to my portfolio. Now that I have the time and am trying to get back into a schedule, I am having some difficulty beginning again. A bit different than writer's block in that I have ideas, but am overwhelmed to the point of paralysis - where to begin? So, I tried a few tricks to get back into the zone. First, I cleaned up and rearranged my studio. A bit like spring cleaning, this seems to get me into the right mindset every time. I also decided that I needed some plants to bring in some life.  I actually get great afternoon sunlight in my studio, but I wanted another source of life that would help keep the creative juices flowing, even at night time.

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Then, since I was still having some fear of taking the plunge -- using any excuse from lack of energy to higher priorities to get out of going back into the studio -- I watched some TED Talks, which I find both interesting and inspiring, even when completely unrelated to my own art. In doing so, I remembered a talk from several years ago by Elizabeth Gilbert on nurturing creativity and the creative process that I have found helpful, so thought I would share that with anyone feeling a bit depressed about, or stuck with, their creative output.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=86x-u-tz0MA

I also realized that I spend a LOT of time inside these days due to my new desk job (which is actually very inspiring, but inside none-the-less), and that going straight from the office into my studio as getting me down. So I went on a beautiful hike yesterday and enjoyed the fresh spring air and endless greenery. Ah! Just what I needed to clear my head and give me some inspiration.

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So, now I feel well equipped to go into my studio and uphold my end of the bargain, as Liz Gilbert suggests, by simply being present.  I look forward to sharing my new creations with you soon!

One Billion Rising - Global Dance Movement 2/14/13

Happy Valentine's Day! Actually, I am not a big proponent of said holiday, but I am a supporter of V-Day - the global movement to end violence again women and girls. Started 15 years ago by Eve Ensler -- also the playwright of the well-worth  watching Vagina Monologues -- this year there is a new campaign called One Billion Rising that encourages a global dance party to support the safety of women. You can watch live performances on their website, go to a local event or join in! Here's a shout-out to my fellow artists Dhol Rhythms Dance Company who are performing at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, check out the details here.

Handyman Artist

I have been thinking a lot the last couple of months about what it means to be an artist.  The word has so many connotations and often negative ones, as if people still think becoming an artist is this easy thing that rich, privileged kids get to do for fun.  Well, that hasn't been my experience nor that of any of the artists that I know, so I thought I would so a shout-out to all my hard working artist peers who pour their sweat and blood into being an artist, which requires being a bit of a renaissance (wo)man.  This is installment #1, and is dedicated to my mom, who gifted me my trusty toolbox, my artistic talent and most of my handyman knowledge.  Thanks Mom!

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Almost all the artists I know are very handy, especially the female ones.  Even non-visual artists, particularly those into theater props or costumes.  I find it sort of amusing (and terrifying!) when people ask me what I do as an artist - meaning, do I paint? If so, what?  But there is so much more to it than simply rendering a picture on canvas.  Occasionally people do ask about my process, and I enjoy explaining how I take (amateur) photographs or sketches, collage them together and then create a painting.

And then there's the nuts and bolts part of that question.  The part that makes a hardware store my 2nd most favorite type of store to shop in (after the grocery store and before the art store, which has many, many beautiful and unaffordable things).  As a painter, my first order of business is making my own stretcher bars, stretching and prepping my canvases, and when the painting is complete, attaching the proper materials to hang the piece on different types of walls.  That is pretty standard, but then there is the harder stuff.  Like painting walls between every show at the gallery you work at, or tearing up the old nasty carpet and replacing it with faux wood flooring in the building you are helping renovate for your new art collective.  The stuff that builds your muscles, or as Calvin's dad would say, "builds character."

And this is not necessarily a bad thing!  I know many artists who have worked as house painters, construction workers, home-improvement builders and/or in hardware stores as their day job to support their art.  One often reaps benefits from this type of work: discounts on materials, free use of tools, seasonal work that allows you to work on your art, introduction to cheaper, non-traditional materials that inspire new and more interesting art (not to mention the know-how to make your own home improvements when you do become rich and famous and buy a house!).  All-in-all I think there is a sort of toughness that develops the more serious one is about pursuing art, and this translates into the work, whatever medium it may be (stand-up comedy, musical theater, poetry).  This sort of thing weeds out the people who became art majors in college to study something "easy" from those of us who are (maybe too) serious about our work.

 

Featured Artist: David Mills

Like most artists, I am very process-oriented: the thrill of creating rather than the final product is where I really feel alive.  When I look at other people's art, I am often trying to figure out, how did they do that?  Not because I want to steal their idea or try and one-up them, but simply out of creative curiosity.  So being able to visit another artist's studio and talk with them about their process is one of my favorite things to do. Recently I found out my friend and fellow artist David Mills has been uploading time-lapse movies of his painting process (and by "painting" I don't just mean paint and a brush like most of my work; this guy really takes it to another level with all sorts of cool materials), so I thought I'd share one with you:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BCUSKBcBGWg

You can see more where that came from on his youtube channel, blog, or Facebook page.

See my art this weekend!

So I have a couple of shows this weekend, would love to see you there! 1) Group show "Vital" @ The Usuals

Opening reception: Friday Jan. 25, 7-10PM

Where: The Usuals, 1020 The Alameda, San Jose, CA 95126

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2) Meet-and-Greet (closing reception) @ Barefoot Coffee Campbell

What: Last chance to see my show Heavy Traffic before it comes down on Jan. 31st

When: Sunday January 27th, 2-4PM

Where: Barefoot Coffee, 1819 South Bascom Avenue, Campbell, CA 95008

Why: Opportunity to meet me and ask any questions you want.Last chance to see the show before it comes down. Fulfill your New Year's resolution early (you know that one where you said you wanted to buy more original artwork in 2013?)! Get some awesome Barefoot coffee!! Come on, what else have you got to do on a Sunday afternoon?

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Michele Pred: (IN)Security

Have you ever wondered what happens to the items that get confiscated before you board a plane?  I have, but only when a TSA agent took away the yoghurt I was planning to eat for breakfast, because he considered it a liquid and it was over the 3 ounce limit.  I suspect it became his breakfast...  However, I hadn't given much thought to the objects that are confiscated -- all the scissors, razor blades, pocket knives, etc.  But Michele Pred has.

Travelers

Travelers, 2011

She asked the San Francisco International Airport (SFO) if she could have the confiscated items to use in her installation art work.  I recently saw a show called (IN)Security at the Thompson Gallery on the San Jose State University campus featuring some work from her series Homeland Security.  The work is partly about curiosity, wondering how dangerous the tiny (formerly travel-size) sewing scissors could be, or to whom all of these pocketknives belonged?  Did they have sentimental value, and have they been saved from a death in oblivion by being on display, in the shape of heart, in this exhibit?

The show also has more serious undertones, though, as a social commentary on how our culture views danger and threats.  Michele uses color and placement of objects to create an American flag out of razor blades, pocket knives, or, as in this piece, a combination of objects carefully placed in their own containers as if logged for evidence by a forensics expert or scientist.

Fear Culture
Fear Culture, 2007

Michele speaks about how she is capturing a moment in history, the feelings of threat and danger that has prevailed since 9/11, and the above piece certainly has the feel of creating a time capsule.  Check out more of her work at her website.

New paintings and what inspired them

Here are two new paintings to prove that although I have been slacking off in the blog-o-sphere, I have been hard at work in real life.  I hope you like them.

We Celebrate the Freaks

The title of the above piece is a paraphrase from a passage in a Salman Rushdie book that I love, The Ground Beneath Her Feet.  The imagery is from photographs I took in the Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (NB: Although many famous Argentines are buried here, including Eva Peron, this has nothing to do with my painting).  I am inspired by the architecture of fancy graveyards and I like how the statues look silhouetted against the sky, something I accentuated in this painting. I was also reading The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon while painting this, which is set in Barcelona and has several scenes in graveyards. Although a great read, this is quite a dark book about a writer selling his soul to the devil, so I'm sure some of that got into this painting too...

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When I'm Alone I Get Carried Away

The title of this piece is not a quote, but rather refers to the stir-crazy feeling I had while painting this piece.  Really, the turmoil I was feeling was in other parts of my life, and painting this was calming.  Yet some of that anxiety and loneliness got into the painting, something a friend pointed out to me upon seeing the completed piece.  Perhaps I subconsciously think that by having control in my painting I will be able to exert some more control in my life.  Isn't psychology fascinating? And just to thicken the plot, I should note that I actually painted these two paintings simultaneously... And yes, the dresses continue, albeit in an evolved way.

You can view these hot-off-the press pieces at my current show at Barefoot Coffee Campbell.  The opening reception is tomorrow, December 8th from 4-7, but the show is up through Jan. 31st so just pop by whenever.

Heavy Traffic - My upcoming show @ Barefoot Coffee Campbell

Come check out my upcoming show at Barefoot Coffee Campbell December 1, 2012 - January 31, 2013.  OPENING RECEPTION: Saturday December 8th 4-7PM.  1819 S. Bascom Ave., Campbell, CA 95008

The title of the show (and the featured painting above), Heavy Traffic, is inspired by that Neil Young quote I read in a Rolling Stone interview some years ago: “There’s many different people inside you. Many different beings traveling through you. On the outside you may look like you, but it may be that several different things are coming through you, and it’s heavy traffic.”   This idea is reflected in the range of the work I have selected to show, which will include some never-before-shown older paintings along with some brand-new ones straight out of the studio.

Join the opening reception event.

"Like" my Facebook artist's page.

www.christinekeenarasmussen.com

I Still Don't Know If I am a Falcon

My newest finished painting: [singlepic id=110 w=125 h=250 ]

Again, it was inspired by this poem by Rainer Maria Rilke:

I live my life in growing orbits which move out over the things of the world.

Perhaps I can never achieve the last but that will be my attempt.

I am circling around God, around the ancient tower,

And I have been circling for a thousand years,

And I still don't know if I am a falcon,

or a storm,

or a great song.

Behind-the-scenes of Jordan Matter's Dancers Among Us

I shared some images from photographer Jordan Matter's "Dancers Among Us" series a couple of months ago.  Now check out this behind-the-scenes live action: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tgWfYisRr20

I won't lie, I am really taken with this work.  I think it's an incredibly successful merging of concept with artistic execution.  And I don't think I will ever get tired of looking at his new combinations of amazing dancers in often humorous "skits".  It reminds me that life is beautiful and humans are amazing.  Matter has just released the book version, also titled Dancers Among Us, which includes the story behind capturing each image.  I, for one, am excited to get my copy!

(I'm not sure if the embedded video is working properly, so here's the link to the video too)

Create with Nature

A couple of years ago I helped teach a class with Zach Pine who specializes in nature sculptures and has designed a "create with nature" program using things found in the great outdoors (sticks, rocks, leaves, etc) to make temporary sculptures which can then "recycled" to create something new.  It's eco-friendly, simple enough for any age group, and fun!  This is an easy and great way to get inspired and refreshed through creativity and play, something that everyone - not just artists - needs to be encouraged to do more and more.  It's also an opportunity to collaborate and to create community.  Such a simple, beautiful idea.

Every child is an artist: finding inspiration in play

Do you remember that familiar Picasso quote: "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up."?  I have been thinking about it a lot the last few months as the stresses of adulthood and my inner critic try to sabotage my art practice.  I say "try" because my many teaching gigs have taught me some valuable lessons that help me get out of my funks of second-guessing myself and agonizing over the smallest details.  Working with 8-10 year old students not only cracks me up, but leaves me wishing that I could recapture that reckless abandon that they display.

Kids truly amaze me!  Even those that may complain about not having much artistic talent will come out with the most breath-taking work: sometimes humorous, skillful, or just plain original.  It's so sad that the older we get, the more restrictions we put on ourselves to express our creativity.  The human mind is incredible and many of us have hidden talents that we have yet to discover.  Being around kids really inspires me to take more risks in my art, but I realize that that's something I have to work at and keep reminding myself to do, not an easy task.

                                 

I have also been lucky enough to work with some senior citizens who were taking an art class for the first time (none pictured here).  I really do think we come full circle: older people often exhibit a healthy recklessness that mirrors that of the kids, as if after a life-time it is finally OK to let go of one's inhibitions and play.  I was particularly impressed with one student, in his 70s, who liked to paint pretty landscapes and abhorred anything abstract, yet the week after I held a class on abstract painting, he came to class on his own initiative with not one, but two, (un-assigned) abstract paintings (unfortunately I did not get photos of these).  Now that takes not only courage - to try something new and scary - but also a certain level of playfulness that is truly inspirational.  While I hope that I am that willing and able to try new things when I am 72, I also want to start cultivating that attitude now and not wait until I'm older.

 

New Work: In Progress

I am painting again! Here's what I'm working on:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It's inspired by this poem by Rainer Maria Rilke:

I live my life in growing orbits which move out over the things of the world.

Perhaps I can never achieve the last but that will be my attempt.

I am circling around God, around the ancient tower,

And I have been circling for a thousand years,

And I still don't know if I am a falcon,

or a storm,

or a great song.

And in case you're interested, here's some photos of the painting in different stages:

First I sketch an image, then I pick out source materials to get guidance.

If I Could Dance...

Back in June and July I made a series of paintings of body-less dancers titled "If I Could Dance". While I received good feedback from many people, I also feel like I left a lot of people hanging by not having an artist statement to go along with the work.  Here I am talking about the values of making "ugly" paintings whilst making (purposefully) "pretty" paintings.  Yet it is not so hypocritical as you might imagine - the "prettiness" is part of the message.

I grew up in a culture where my first consciousness about my body was one of shame.  I was taught an extreme form of modesty to be culturally sensitive to, and safer in, the norms of Muslim Pakistan.  The idea was to become invisible and not react to the stares or calls or groping which my white skin and reddish-blonde hair sticking out in a sea of brown people did not help.  I remember being embarrassed at age 8, which led to being self-conscious almost all the way through high school.  When I wasn't hiding my body under baggy clothes, I was trying to play sports and pretending to be tough.  I thought any attention from the opposite sex was negative, and I scorned the "cheerleader"-type and swore to never be a "girlie-girl".  Along with this I tried not to make "pretty" paintings because I wanted to be taken seriously as an artist and my lack of knowledge about successful female artists led me to believe that by simply being a woman my art was at a disadvantage - relegated to the cute category of "hobby".

Then a couples years ago I started to embrace the "girl" inside of me.  I started wearing dresses, make-up and jewelry -- heels even! I gained confidence as a woman and decided owning my femininity was to my advantage.  But I still resisted it in my art.  I now knew about and admired many successful women artists, but I still didn't want to make paintings about gender, again, out of some kind of fear of being taken less seriously.  Until this series.  I decided I wanted to celebrate the female form, critics of "pretty" paintings be damned!  And what better way than through dance?  I have always lacked confidence in dancing, but I love watching it - dance inspires me and makes me appreciate the human body even more. I feel connected through dance.

These dresses show the form of the dancer while being body-less because I didn't want to put a face or race or body-type to cloud the universal beauty of dance.  One of the amazing things about dance to me is that it can be so expressive and convey whole narratives and complex emotions without a single word, hence negating any language barrier.

I explored different types of dance from around the world because I find them beautiful and I suppose I was being instinctively culturally inclusive.  Dance is a celebration of the human body, and I've decided to be a part of it and celebrate in my own way.

Human motorcycle - where paint, photography and yogis collide

Get it? I didn't the first time I glanced at it, even though I read the title. It wasn't until I read the description that I realized that that motorcycle is made out of super flexible yogis with body paint. It's really amazing to see how they do it:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ATzONfFRU0U

If you happen to be in the San Jose area, you can actually meet the artist, Trina Merry, and watch her do her thing over the next couple of weeks, check out the schedule (under Art Alive) here.

Making of "Shadows"

One of my original ideas for this blog was to post in-progress paintings so people can have a look into my process and/or get painting tips.  Since I haven't been able to paint in awhile, here's a step-by-step guide to an older painting - "Shadows", completed in June. Sketch: I often find that students new to painting want to draw with pencil on their canvas before starting with paint. I never do that. I map out my composition very simply with a brush and some paint like so. You can see how I changed the size of the figure dramatically, not worrying about erasing because I was just going to paint over it anyway.

 

 

 

 

 

Color & Texture: Next, I start blocking in the painting, making adjustments and adding texture as I go. Painting is a very layered process for me, so there are often layers that never see the light of day, but add a richness (both in body/texture and in color) to the final painting.

I have been on this kick where when I use photographic references, I print them out in black and white and then paint my own colors. This has some challenges but also adds a level of mystery and excitement for me, the painter, because I'm letting the painting tell me where to go.

 

 

 

Figure: In this case I painted the figure and her dress in monochromatic colors because I was planning on glazing the colors on later. I purposefully kept her skin very light, while keeping the dress dark because I wanted the glazing to be more subtle on the dress.

 

 

 

 

 

Details: The picture I was working from was a night scene, so all the colors got more bluish in this stage. I also added more detail around the figure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Glazing: I finally got to the glazing stage, but by this time had decided I didn't want to glaze any of the skin. I liked that it was fresh looking and yet nostalgic because the burnt sienna base made it look like an old-fashioned tinted photograph.

Critique stage: At this point I felt kind of stuck with the painting, so I went to the art collective I am a part of to get some some constructive criticism from my peers. It's always good to get some outside feedback, to point out glaring errors and/or minor tweaks that make a world of difference.

 

 

 

Final: The suggestions I got were most helpful and definitely helped finish the painting. By darkening a shadow here and changing the direction of a line there, I was able to get a better and more effective painting.

I was also reminded to include reflective light. This means, simply, that if the reddish dress is next to the purple pail, then there should be some purple on the dress and some red on the pail. Likewise, there is some color in the shadow from whatever object is casting the shadow.

Cindy Sherman shows her face(s) at SFMOMA

I find it very interesting and informative to see the arc of an artist's entire career, and it's a rare event among contemporary artists unless the artist has the good fortune of having a retrospective show.  The Cindy Sherman exhibit on view at the SFMOMA through October 8th affords such an opportunity by displaying her work from 1975 to present.  What really struck me about Sherman's arc is her remarkable consistency in subject matter. While I might get bored or frustrated with a subject and move on to the next thing, Sherman seems to delve deeper and find another way to represent her subject.  She does this through innovative portraiture, including simulating movie stills and Old Masters' paintings. All of her work has to do with the portrayal of females - in art, the media, film, fashion, etc. - yet her manner of doing this is subversive by her being both the (heavily disguised) model and the photographer.     

Another interesting thing to me is that by portraying so many different "types" of female - the diva, the plain Jane, the 60s housewife, the socialite - Sherman herself defies being typecast and throws light on the fact that the way one looks does not make up one's identity. It also seems to reflect on how women see themselves; how we try to remain young, beautiful, sexy. Yet beneath all that make-up and plastic surgery, there's a whole other person.

 

I was really impressed with Sherman's devotion to her craft, which involves her expertise as a photographer in staging the scenario just right, but also her skills as a make-up artist, including the use of prosthetics, and as a method actor. Her attention to the details - making sure the tattoos, the painted on eyebrows and the freckles match her character just so - show her devotion to her craft.  It really is a remarkable exhibit.

  

One of my favorite pieces was actually an early one - a stop-motion video titled Doll Clothes (1975). It's simplicity belies it's ingenuity. As someone who grew up loving to play with paper dolls, there's a nostalgia Sherman taps into while also highlighting many of the themes she went on to explore in her later work. She has, impressively, come full circle,  and yet it's not over: I'm sure there's much more good work to come.

Exploring the Central Texas Art Scene

Traveling and moving across country have kept me from posting on my blog over the past few weeks, but it's also thrown into sharp focus all that I have learned, and come to appreciate, about the art scene in Central Texas.  Having only lived there for a year, I feel like I've barely scratched the surface, but none-the-less I will share a few of my (paired down) recommendations: First and foremost, check out www.glasstire.com. They are your artist resource in the region, providing information and commentary about shows, artists, jobs and more.

AUSTIN

Despite having a relatively small art scene by some standards, there is actually a lot going on in Austin at many different levels, so I have just made a few selections from my favorites:

Women and Their Work, a non-profit gallery where you will find friendly and informative staff in addition to some very innovative and diverse works, largely installations, by contemporary female artists. They also host a lot of performances, info sessions and social events and are a good place to learn the who's who in the Austin art scene. One of my favorite exhibits from the 2011-2012 season was Laurie Frick: Quantify Me.

The Austin Museum of Art/Arthouse is a mixed experience for me, but with three venues you can definitely find something you like. I suggest the shows at the Jones Center and Laguna Gloria; the latter is located in a French riviera-style house with beautiful grounds and gardens to explore, plus the museum's art school.

Although most people know about the Blanton Museum of Art on the UT campus, which I also highly recommend, it seems the Visual Art Center (VAC) in the middle of campus is less well-known, yet with 5 galleries housed in an impressive building, it has a lot to offer, from both the art department and outside artists.  My favorite this year was Diana Al-Hadid: Suspended After Image.

For something a little off the beaten path and for those of you into contemporary and experimental art, I highly recommend Co-Lab. Primarily run by the amazing and innovative Sean Gallagher, this is a non-profit performance and art venue that always has something good going on.

HOUSTON

I only made it to Houston for one day, so despite it being an art hub with many attractions, I am going to simply recommend the  Menil Collection - "A museum and a neighborhood of art. Free of charge, always" as their website so aptly states.  Residing in a quiet residential neighborhood surrounded by trees, it is an oasis great for picnicking in between seeing some fantastic art.  It is home to the Rothko Chapel, an architectural feat and meditation spot open to all religions that houses Mark Rothko's black paintings and was founded by philanthropists John and Dominique de Menil.

Although I loved visiting this peaceful spot, I actually preferred the 6 or so black paintings housed in the Menil Museum that didn't make it into the Chapel.  Among other things, the Museum includes a fantastic collection of Surrealist art featuring mainly works by Max Ernst and Rene Magritte, but also some Yves Tanguy and Roberto Matta, two of my favorite artists from this movement. Behind this building stands the Cy Twombly Gallery, which houses a retrospective of the artist's life works, which really opened my eyes to both the immense scale of many of his paintings and to the subtleties hidden in his brash style.

SAN ANTONIO

My brief stay in San Antonio did not allow time for an art tour, however the McNay Art Museum  was recommended to me, particularly for its Post Impressionist collection.

Also recommended is Artpace, which "serves as an international laboratory for the creation and advancement of contemporary art", according to it's mission statement. They do this through their support of established and emerging contemporary artists via international residencies and exhibitions, and through their education programs.

FORT WORTH (Dallas)

I am sad to state that I didn't actually make it up to Fort Worth, mostly because I missed two amazing shows that I would have loved to see: Caravaggio and his followers in Rome at the Kimbell Art Museum and Lucian Freud: Portraits at The Modern, the latter of which is up through October 28, 2012. These are two artists that I have great respect for, mainly for their very different, but equally impressive, painting styles. Of course I'm talking about Caravaggio's use of chiaroscuro (light/dark) effects and that wonderful deep yet bright red that shines out in many of his paintings; and Lucian Freud's use of thick, tactile paint and bizarre color combinations.

                    

Street Art Utopia

I love this:

By Sainer from Etam Crew - On Urban Forms Foundation in Lodz, Poland

I got this photo off this blog my brother sent me called Street Art Utopia. Their tagline is "We declare the world as our canvas".  I like that; especially with the work they're doing with it. It amazes and inspires me when art is public, accessible and free. Making the world a better and more beautiful place. If I had my way, artists would have subsidized living expenses to help beautify the world around them, wouldn't that be nice?

By c215 in Oslo, Norway

See more of the great street art from around the world that this group has collected http://www.streetartutopia.com/?p=9303