AN INTERVIEW WITH ARTIST GAILENE MCGHEE ST. AMAND

Gailene McGhee St. Amand might appear at first glance to be a regional artist.  In the interview below, for example, she speaks of herself as a Catholic living in a place where voodoo is practiced.  Upon closer inspection, her art is relevant within a mainstream context. Artsy magazine recently emphasized the importance of a generation of transformational artists, traditionally seen as outside of the mainstream, who would no longer be denied recognition.

Although St. Amand’s art may seem to resonate with local color, it also speaks to traditional creative concerns.  For starters, she emphasizes color, texture, pattern, animation and more, in her tactile, and lovingly composed art.  The artist also touches upon larger ideas.  Her preoccupation with fonts conveys an interest in how human beings communicate in visual terms.  Finally, St. Amand lives within a sophisticated American culture.  In a recent article, Business Insider described Louisiana as New France, one of the most liberal places in North America.

"Voodoo dolls," by Gailene McGhee St. Amand. This photograph is courtesy of Gailene St. Amand.
“Voodoo dolls,” by Gailene McGhee St. Amand. This photograph is courtesy of Gailene St. Amand.

Welcome to artcopyblog.com.  Would you like to introduce yourself? Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Gailene McGhee St.Amand , and I am a mixed media collage artist who was born in New Orleans LA.  I lived in Jersey City NJ for ten years where I joined two artist groups, ProArtsnj.org and HobArt cooperative.

I am an artist; it’s what makes my soul sing. 

Art Copy:  Is there something that you wish to communicate with your art?

Gailene McGhee St. Amand:  Simply that I love color and love what I do.

Art Copy:  Have you always wanted to be an artist?

Gailene McGhee St. Amand:  Yes, I created paper dolls, drew objects at home and always found color animation very interesting. I always noticed patterns on fabric and realized that someone had to create it from an idea. As a teenager, I would visit the galleries in the French Quarter and the museum to look at the Artwork.

I began as an oil painter, painting portraits of women on canvas. I had a small studio at the University, one day of the professors stopped to say hello and invited me to his ceramic painting class. I joined and started painting portraits on 12” x 12” bisque tiles. The same oil painting technique was applied to glazes that were opaque, semi-transparent and transparent as the properties of oil paint.  I sold them all, the bisque tiles are no longer available.

This photograph is courtesy of Gailene McGhee St. Amand.
“Theresa Maria,” by Gailene McGhee St. Amand. This photograph is courtesy of Gailene McGhee St. Amand.

Art Copy:  Has your practice changed over time?

Gailene McGhee St. Amand:  My perspective changed from representational portraits in oils on canvas, to abstract watercolor collage, when I decided to work on my own voice in my work. Watercolor and ink on rag paper were once my painting media.  That was great, but I wanted to work fabric into my collages.  

I had a  wonderful introduction to collage and assemblage in a workshop at Tougaloo College.  I was interested in handmade and found paper.   Papermaking, phototransfer, burning paper, tearing papers were techniques that I use in my work. I have since created dolls, artist books, ceramic portraits on bisque tiles and fiber wall hangings.  

This photograph is courtesy of Gailene McGhee St. Amand.
“Enlightened Whispers,” by Gailene McGhee St. Amand. This photograph is courtesy of Gailene McGhee St. Amand.

Art Copy:   You are the first artist working in these mediums to join the group conversation.  I feel lucky to have found a participant who brings another layer of meaning to the discussion.  

I wonder if you employ specific themes and symbolism in your art?

Gailene McGhee St. Amand:  I am a Catholic living in a Catholic city, where Voodoo is practiced and employ spiritual themes in my art. The fact that color plays a large part in spiritual practices all over the world is inspirational. My work has lots of colors, patterns, and texture. I love ancient script.  I find Mayan script the most interesting. At one time I thought I wanted to use these symbols in my work but after researching realized it is the many beautiful characters or fonts that man used to communicate and record its history.

Art Copy:  You are also the first participating artist who explores spiritual themes.

I was wondering where you find ideas for your work?

Gailene McGhee St. Amand:  Usually after lots of visual stimulation of watching fashion, visiting a gallery or museum, or just going through materials that I work with such as papers, inks, paint, etc.

This photograph is courtesy of Gailene McGhee St. Amand.
“Loving you forever,” by Gailene McGhee St. Amand. This photograph is courtesy of Gailene McGhee St. Amand.

Art Copy:  Do you identify with a particular style?

Gailene McGhee St. Amand:  The works of Kandinsky, Gustav Klimt, Benny Andrews, Bonnard, Edgar Degas, John T. Scott, Basquiat and Frida Kahlo.

Art Copy:  I see the of influences of these artists throughout your work now that you mention it.  For example, Klimt appears to have influenced your style when you were painting on tile, and so forth.

Is there anything that you would change if you could?

Gailene McGhee St. Amand:  I would love to work larger.  I usually work small because of the space in which I work.

Art Copy:  Could you please tell me about the last show that you saw.  How did you like it?

 

This photograph is courtesy of Gailene McGhee St. Amand.
Gailene McGhee St. Amand and a friend at Stella Jones Gallery. This photograph is courtesy of Gailene McGhee St. Amand.

Gailene McGhee St. Amand:  Stella Jones Gallery in New Orleans celebrated her 20th anniversary with an extraordinary show featuring 70 works by both established and contemporary artists including myself.

Art Copy:  What a lovely honor.

Do you have any creative habits or rituals?

This photograph is courtesy of Gailene McGhee St. Amand.
“Anticipation,” by Gailene McGhee St. Amand. This photograph is courtesy of Gailene McGhee St. Amand.

Gailene McGhee St. Amand:  I take small pieces of various papers and/or fabric and start assembling on my workspace. I pull out lots of materials, beads, shells, and paints and just get started.

Art Copy: What is your favorite response from viewer to your art?

Gailene McGhee St. Amand: “I love it !”

Art Copy:  That must be rewarding when everything comes together and the audience admires your work.

What is your favorite city for seeing art?

This photograph is courtesy of Gailene McGhee St. Amand.
“Threshold,” by Gailene McGhee St. Amand. This photograph is courtesy of Gailene McGhee St. Amand.

Gailene McGhee St. Amand: Sante Fe New Mexico is culturally rich in the arts.

Art Copy:  Do you suspect that future generations will recall anything in particular about the Art World today?

Gailene McGhee St. Amand:  I think that because of the computerized digital and virtual products will seem Primitive to the future generations. Everything is so time sensitive now, so I don’t know that they will appreciate our creative process.

Art Copy:  Thank you Gailene, for the fresh direction and lovely conversation!

AN INTERVIEW WITH ARTIST JAN NELSON

 Jan Nelson is among an intriguing generation of contemporary artists who have come to creative fruition comparatively late in life.  Artspace magazine recently scrutinized this emerging group likening them to a fine wine ready to be decanted.  In the following interview, the artist introduces himself and answers detailed questions on a range of topics.

Art Copy:  Welcome to artcopyblog.com Jan.  Would you like to introduce yourself?  Who are you and what do you do?

Jan Nelson, the young performer. This photograph is courtesy of Jan. Nelson.
Jan Nelson’s first public performance. This photograph is courtesy of Jan. Nelson.

Jan Nelson:  My parents were both musicians and active in the theatre, which put me on the stage at an early age, however, my Mother made sure that I always had art supplies at home, nurturing my interest in making pictures from the ‘beginning’.  Given the arts life I experienced, it was really no surprise to find myself in college getting a double major in theatre and art, and a minor in music (Dad was the choir director and also staged several musicals that I performed in, singing and dancing my way through school before turning to stagecraft, set design being the area where I received a TA position in the theatre department before settling into the art studio toward the end of my undergrad years. 

Jan Nelson in "Hello Dolly." This photograph is courtesy of Jan Nelson.
Jan Nelson in “Hello Dolly.” This photograph is courtesy of Jan Nelson.
Jan Nelson in "Oliver." This photograph is courtesy of Jan Nelson.
Jan Nelson in “Oliver.” This photograph is courtesy of Jan Nelson.

That exploration led me to the U of Wisconsin, Madison Art Department where I earned a Master of Arts, primarily drawing, but not before heading off to New York City after establishing residency to spend some time with my friend and mentor, Don Eddy while taking some graduate study at New York University.  All that culminated in a move to Puget Sound in 1977 following my completion of the M.A. and starting out as adjunct art instructor at a couple of community colleges teaching drawing, painting, art appreciation and history classes.

Jan Nelson's set design for "The Chalk Garden." This photograph is courtesy of Jan Nelson
Jan Nelson’s set design for “The Chalk Garden.” This photograph is courtesy of Jan Nelson
Jan Nelson,"Townsend," graphite on rag, 1974. This photograph is courtesy of Jan Nelson.
Jan Nelson,”Townsend,” graphite on rag, 1974. This photograph is courtesy of Jan Nelson.
Jan Nelson, "out to Lunch," oil pastel and graphite on rag, 1975. This photograph is courtesy of Jan Nelson.
Jan Nelson, “out to Lunch,” oil pastel and graphite on rag, 1975. This photograph is courtesy of Jan Nelson.
Jan Nelson, "Bernheisel's Junyard", oil on canvas, 1974. This photograph is courtesy of Jan Nelson.
Jan Nelson, “Bernheisel’s Junyard”, oil on canvas, 1974. This photograph is courtesy of Jan Nelson.
an Nelson, "American Landscape," graphite on rag, 1975. This photograph is courtesy of Jan Nelson.
Jan Nelson, “American Landscape,” graphite on rag, 1975. This photograph is courtesy of Jan Nelson.

My budding art career was derailed early on by the birth of our first child who was born with significant developmental disabilities.  That required a shift in priorities to provide the kind of support that having a developmentally disabled child requires.  Over the years that commitment to parenting created a shift farther away from time in the studio and required me to seek employment in other areas. 

My creative abilities enabled me to move into the emerging personal computing industry in the late 70s as an entrepreneur and co-founding a small tech business focused on disk drives that I ran for 13 years.  On a symbolic level, I encountered another seismic shift when climbing Mount Rainier and gaining the perspective that comes from simplifying my existence focusing solely on my rope team’s collective safety.

"Port of Tacoma", oil on canvas, 1977, Terry O. Herndon Collection
Jan Nelson, “Port of Tacoma,” oil on canvas, 1977, Terry O. Herndon Collection. This photograph is courtesy of Jan Nelson.

Through that experience came a revelation that I needed to take my current skill set in high-tech manufacturing and see if I could work with kids to help them enter the workforce.  I created some curriculum ideas and shopped the concepts to local school districts, getting hired in my home district in Gig Harbor.

I spent six years as an alternative high school teacher delivering a manufacturing technology curriculum that provided a real-world perspective for my students, many of whom are now thriving in this vibrant industry.  During these years, I was contacted a few times by companies asking if I was interested in coming to work for them.  In 1998 I accepted a job in program management at Microsoft where I continue to work today. 

Along that path, I co-authored 14 patents, 10 of which have been granted so far and delivered features that are in use by over a billion people, built tools for developers to assist them in creating multilingual apps, and served as the Microsoft Internationalization expert representative to the Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C).

 Around 2011, I reconnected with artist Don Eddy on Facebook after decades of sporadic contact by letter and phone.  That connection reignited the artist in me who had been pushed aside so long ago, sparking a new series of conversations between us and a renewed passion to make art.

AC:  Late last year Artspace magazine examined an emerging category of artists who they described as; often over 60, .. has worked outside of mainstream recognition for decades, honing a distinctive style that has been allowed to age and ripen out of the light of the art market.  The article likens artists the creativity of artists like  yourself and your good friend Allan Gorman to a superbly aged wine.  I’m not sure how you feel about the analogy.

JN: I’ll take it, consider me to be a peppery pinot noir then.

Nevertheless, life seems to have had other plans for you when you were a young adult that led you to your own distinctive style over time.  A child with an unusual set of needs presents a real challenge for a family, especially a child often navigating inconceivable scenarios in the world around them.   It could lead one to be very introspective, I think, in ways that are both welcome and unwelcome.   It also seems that the well-laid plans of your younger years were clarified as time went on through encounters with nature, reunions with old friends and so on.

JN:  And then another major disruption happened in July of that year when I tangled with a John Deere track loader on the side of an Olympic mountain and experienced a near-fatal crush injury to my right foot.  Following a self-extraction and ultimate rescue chopper flight to Harborview Medical Center and seven surgeries to rebuild the mess into what was hoped to be a durable appendage, I started on the long path to recovery.  This effort and the time invested in it gifted me with a chance to reflect on my priorities, resulting in a purer, more fundamental understanding that I needed to make art.  Period.

AC:  That sounds unthinkably painful, and possibly depressing.  Again, you found a silver lining that led you back to your creative process.

JN:  In March of 2014 my wife, Connie, and I traveled to New York City where we met with Don Eddy and his wife and artist, Leigh Behnke, our first physical meeting since saying goodbye in 1977.  A lot of time has passed since those sessions at N.Y.U. and in Don’s studio, yet in many ways, we felt like we were picking up right where we left off so long ago.  Time in their loft, a dinner, and then attending the opening of his exhibit ‘Two Realms’ at the Nancy Hoffman Gallery in Chelsea cemented a need or compulsion to make art as part of the daily fabric of my being.  This has driven me to a deep introspection on what my work is about and where I want to take it, reconnecting with my early art and photography and my creative aspirations.

Today I am completing a wonderful studio space on our property in Gig Harbor, Washington where I will be able to spend my time reunited with camera, canvas and paint, a prospect that makes me very excited!  I use my cameras  and photography skills to capture the world and also paint and do drawings in graphite and colored pencil.  I have returned to exhibiting my work and have seen it accepted into a number of national shows.  My mission is to create art, to simplify the number of activities in life in order to spend more time in the studio, and create the portfolio that is pent up inside me, eager to come out, and ready to share with others.

 I am no longer ‘artist interrupted.’

AC:  Thank you for a very poignant introduction, Jan.  You’ve been remarkably productive in a range of professions.  Additionally, your facile creativity speaks not only to your skill, but also an impressive sense of innovation throughout.  I was wondering if you would tell our readers a little bit about your process today?

JN:  The camera is core.  My work comes from records of, slices of time as I move forward in life rather than setting out to find subject matter.  The imagery is really a part of telling my story.  The photographs become reference material back in my studio where I work in graphite, color pencil, ink, oil, pastel… whatever the medium needs to be as I set about to create something.  Starting drawing from life, I move to creating grids, then opaque projectors and finally into slide projectors, drawing the layout on paper or canvas in pencil, then working in many layers to achieve the desired contrast and detail.  This can take weeks or months to do.

AC:  Have you always wanted to be an artist?

JN:  No, I wanted to be an astronaut, a scientist.  I dreamt of travels through space as an explorer, fueled by a very rich group of science fiction writers in the 60s providing pulp for a young boy to consume.  But I always was making art all along the path.

AC:  I see, possibly you were one of those kids caught up in stars, rocket ships and the depths of outer space.  Do you feel that your art reflects your personality?

JN:  I am a pretty deep introvert, the work also tends to be ‘quiet’ I think, telling stories of man, man made things, dreams and the effects of time rather than confrontational, ‘extroverted’ works that are experienced as ‘louder’.  Early on, I spent time worrying about originality, e.g. John Salt painted a wrecked car, so he now ‘owns’ all wrecked cars, I need to do something else… over time, I have been largely able to separate myself from being concerned about what others do and stay focused on my own journey and explorations and what imagery works for me along that path. 

I was concerned about the technical skills I had, spending a lot of energy and time to hone material use.  Today, I just use materials and process as it best represents what I am working to resolve in my work, with confidence in my ability.  Like others, I was concerned about recognition in the form of sales.  Today I am grateful when a piece is purchased or a swap made… it feels good for my work to be something that someone else enjoys that much.

AC:  What do you feel are some of the most inspiring things happening at present?

JN:  I am fascinated by the role of social media in the presentation, sales and curating of artworks as a sea change in how the world has moved and the art world are responding.  I am pleased to see art fairs (apparently) flourishing, bringing a vast treasure chest of works to many more people than ever before and in community projects like Art Prize where an entire city like Grand Rapids can fill so many spaces that the community is truly immersed in the arts for awhile, along with how they are evolving events that extend the connections to art beyond the actual shows.

AC:  You make some very important points.  Social media is revolutionizing not only the way that the art world operates, but also the way that we view art, I think.  There is breathtaking potential.  Gilda Oliver, another artist who I’ve had the privilege of researching, applied herself to her digital art during a long recovery following emergency surgery and a poisonous spider bite.  Social media provided her with an avenue for sharing affirmational messages in her beautiful signature style at a moment when she was very vulnerable.

At the same time, social media has a downside.  While it reconnects old friends, it also connects friends of friends, thereby forming uncertain relationships.  Additionally, it changes our experience of art.  In 2013, ARTnews examined this idea in an article entitled Cut-and –Paste Culture pointing out that our experience online presents us with more information than we can digest.  As a result, social media consumers scan for information rather than carefully reading art and articles.  While there is great potential, there is also the possibility of distancing ourselves from reality.

JN:  For me, I see my community as existing in the social networks I participate in, circles of other artists all working, sharing and providing ideas and feedback together.  Through this virtual community, I am connecting with so many stellar artists who are clearly recognized as modern masters, emerging artists and the amazing energy of young folks who are still very early in their creating.  My communities, therefore,  have no geopolitical borders to them.

AC:  What do you think that future generations will recall about the art world today?

JN:  I think there is a pretty large shift in the art world with the rapid rise of globalization, of thousands of artists entering the social consciousness, of distributed art exhibiting with the rise of regional fairs and of new collectors who are not connected to the Euro-American traditions and history.  All of this will inform those generations, I have no idea what they will think, but would hope that there is a result of more art in the world than there is today.

AC:  Do you identify with a particular school?

JN:  Brenda, this is a great question, I do not ascribe to any particular school or label, though my use of photographs as the core of my material, the relationship my work has with those photographs tends to raise the term photo realism or similar.  There is certainly a connection to some of the artists that Louis Meisel defined as the original ‘photorealists.’  

They were a few years ‘ahead’ of me in their careers, emerging as they did in the late 60s and early 70s when I was still in art school.  When I first saw the works of Ralph Goings, John Salt, Don Eddy, Richard Estes, etc… it was kind of a spiritual connection that others had some affinities to what I cared about, though I did not know why or how close any alignment might be beyond tightly rendered imagery that related to photographs.  So I guess the closest definition does land near that of photorealist, though not as a “first generation” artist.  I think the term is a bit overused today and would prefer to consider my work as having aspects of Abstraction, Expressionism, and Precisionism as well as the tight ties to Photorealism and Pop.

AC:  What’s the last art object that you purchased?

JN:  Randall Rosenthal carves these fabulous sculptures, I have one of them that he did as part of an ongoing dialog we had that started when I was scanning old slides and tossing them into a box.  I looked into that box and saw what looked to me like a Rosenthal work, photographed it and posted my activity on FB where Randall and I exist in that virtual community I talked about. 

Randall immediately jumped on the imagery and we started talking about his carving a ‘box of slides’ since he also has a massive set of old stuff like many of us do, and off he went creating a cool prototype, leading to a real stunner.  This is a photo of the first time I physically met Randall (at the Bernarducci Meisel Gallery in NYC) where he brought the ‘box of slides’ sculpture that he created based on our dialog on FB:

Jan Nelson and Randall Rosenthal. This photograph is courtesy of Jan Nelson
Jan Nelson and Randall Rosenthal. This photograph is courtesy of Jan Nelson

As we continued to talk, I mentioned that I was deep in introspection (Artist Interrupted) from looking into the past at the young artist self from so many decades ago, at the grime, grit and scratches that seemed to have accumulated on the slides which felt like a metaphor for the fact that I am also a bit scratched up after so many years.  I was working on a prototype myself of those slides for an exhibition idea I had that I call my ‘Dirty Picture Show.’

Randall responded to that prototype and we collaborated on the idea that evolved into a wonderful sculpture of a legal pad with one of my slides that I’ve used in the past on a work ‘Jorge and the U-Haul Trailer,’ and was the subject of the ‘Dirty Picture Show’ prototype, along with my project notes and a Prismacolor pencil denoting my use of that brand in my drawings.  The image below is of that sculpture:

This photograph is courtesy of Jan Nelson.
Image of a sculpture, by Jan Nelson. This photograph is courtesy of Jan Nelson.

Here is an image I sent of a mockup I made that Randall worked from:

This photograph is courtesy of Jan Nelson.
This photograph is courtesy of Jan Nelson.

And my prototype work with Randall’s sculpture living together as a set in my home:

This photograph is courtesy of Jan Nelson.
Jan Nelson’s prototype work with Randall Rosenthall’s sculpture set together in the artist’s home. This photograph is courtesy of Jan Nelson.

AC:  What work do you most enjoy?

JN:  I have a range of emotions that surface when I am working, enjoyment being the dominant emotion on the work I am doing in the moment.  There are those times though when frustration, determination and sometimes a kind of flow state come out to play.  I also love the moments when I first encounter another artist’s work for the first time that resonates.  That first blush of experience is wonderful and is also core to what I tend to collect.

AC:  Do you have any creative habits or rituals?

JN:  I tend to see patterns in things, which I promote by being very liberal in the amount of photos I take as I move through life.  One habit that has emerged from that and is fueling my current introspection is doing a review scan of my photo archive and looking for patterns that address whatever frame I am working within in that moment.  The image might become source material for a new drawing or painting, may stand alone as photographs or suggest a renewed focus in future photography sessions. 

An example of this is my focus on work that I am doing for a show coming up at the Nichole Longnecker Gallery in Houston that we’ve labeled ‘Industrialism in the 21st Century.’  Allan Gorman is a co-conspirator in doing the curatorial work with me to define the set of artists and works that are included in that effort, but along the process of creation of the show, I re-engaged with photographs from a trip I had taken into British Columbia with my wife, Connie and a series I have been working on I think of as ‘Pressure.’  I am creating a painting and a photographic triptych for that show.  Here is a photo that I am working from for a painting called ‘Pressure #1’.

"Pressure #1," by Jan Nelson. This photograph is courtesy of Jan Nelson.
“Pressure #1,” by Jan Nelson. This photograph is courtesy of Jan Nelson.

AC:  What do you wish to communicate in your art?

JN:  I do not set about to deliver a message as such, but would love to know that some who experience my works walk away with a sense of place, time and the forces of nature, are amused with my use of materials and appreciate the effort I have made along the path.

AC:  Those are fine aspirations, and I imagine that are some who do attribute those forces to your work. How do you view creativity?  What does “being creative” mean to you?

JN:  There is this notion in complexity studies of that space between Order and Chaos where the most interesting things occur.    Order is inherently not creative, it is static, unchanging, predictable.  Chaos is also not creative, for Chaos is completely unordered and so nothing can be created there.  To me creative happens when a system, any system, moves from an ordered state to a chaotic state, breaking down existing patterns and allowing new ones to be formed when returning to a new, ordered state. 

I think of it as a sort of frequency, like drawing a bow across the string of a violin, the resulting vibrations are the path the string’s length takes between two states.  We all spend time as a collection of biological systems moving between these two states.  We must, for staying stuck in Order is death creatively.  Likewise, to stay in Chaos is also creative death as I mentioned since there is no pattern creation, nothing can be created in Chaos. 

M. Mitchel Waldrop wrote a book, ‘Complexity:  The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos‘ that provides a great layman’s view of the research done by great scientists and systems thinkers that tend to align with my views, though I would not profess to be expert in this work.

AC:  Your definition is fairly precise, I think.  Would you please talk a little bit about where you find ideas for your art?

JN:  I generally do not explore for ideas, though I am going to a maritime site to look at some things that interest me.  The objects of my photography usually present themselves in the course of my life.

AC:  Is there anything that you dislike about your work?

JN:  Nothing.  While there are works that are higher or lower on a scale of accomplishing what I intended, they are all a part of me, and I generally like myself.  😉

AC:  Do you collect anything?

JN:  Yes.  Eclectically.  We have art dating from 1638, to current in print, sculpture, painted, drawn and furniture, musical instruments, cars., all prized and things to spend time with.

AC:  Do you have any grievances with the art world and how it operates?

JN:  None.  How the art world operates is more about the market, and that is best left to all those fabulous gallery owners who have invested their lives in defining the market which in turn tends to describe the art world as a set of artists, collectors, museums and the folks who tirelessly work to present the artworks to the world.  I am glad they are there, and that I can focus on my own investigations.

AC:  What is your favorite city for seeing art?

JN:  New York.

AC:  What artist do you think is most undervalued?

JN:  I must quote the wonderful painter Allan Gorman here:  ‘Me.’  To be clear, I am not motivated to be the next Koons with regard to fiscal success, my values are set on making the work I make.  There are people who are professionals in the world of art and expert at determining value, collectors and museums who confirm those values by acquisitions.  I happily leave all that to those expert and stay focused on making stuff.

AC:  Thank you Jan for participating in my research project with responses that have considerable depth.  I’ve enjoyed the conversation very much.

JN:  Thanks again for inviting me to have this chat with you!
Jan Anders Nelson
September, 2016
Gig Harbor, Washington

AN INTERVIEW WITH ALLAN GORMAN

When I researched Allan Gorman earlier this year,  I concluded that his preoccupation with visual tension lends itself to mesmerizing compositions and paintings.  In the following interview, Gorman reaffirms his fascination with superior aesthetics while elaborating on his transition from advertising to fine art, as well as, the addictive, altered state of consciousness that he experiences painting, his creative process, evolution, and more.  I invite you to enjoy a candid interview with an exceptionally skillful artist.

"Three Lights and a Horn." by Allan Gorman,
“Three Lights and a Horn.” This photograph is courtesy of Allan Gorman

Brenda Haroutunian:  Welcome back to artcopyblog.com Allan.  Would you like to introduce yourself?  Who are you and what do you do?

Allan Gorman:  Hi Brenda, and thanks for inviting me back. By way of introduction, I’m a realistic oil painter who focuses on finding interesting compositions within industry and architecture.

BH:  I am wondering why you do what you do?   Also, is there a special reason why you concentrate on industrial buildings, spaces, and so on?

AG:  Interesting question. If you mean, why do I make art? I find the process addictive… if anything, for its meditative value. When I’m painting and in the zone, nothing else matters. All I think about is the task at hand. As a reward, when a work is finished, there’s a great sense of accomplishment and pride in accomplishing something to the best of your ability. I can think of nothing else I’d rather do. If the question is, why do I paint what I paint? That’s been an evolution and hopefully, will keep evolving. For the psychological answer, you’ll have to talk to my shrink. 🙂

Gauche," by Allan Gorman. This photograph is courtesy of Allan Gorman
“Escalier Sur La Gauche,” by Allan Gorman. This photograph is courtesy of Allan Gorman

BH:  Maybe I should ask my shrink to speak to your shrink to get to the bottom of this. 🙂  Could you also tell me a little bit about your process and how you work?

AG:  My work is derived from photographs. At first, I’m a curious voyeur, using the camera to find interesting and unusual compositions that I think would make exciting paintings. I search for abstract tensions created by, or found within, the reality I see.     

For me, it’s not so much about what the objects are that’s of primary importance, but rather, what interesting and exciting designs are created by the placement of shapes, the light, the colors, and the tensions I find. Then I manipulate and alter my photographic images on the computer to give myself a good guide and reference for a final painting. I then project the image and trace it onto the painting surface with pencil. And then the actual painting itself is a process of building up layers and working out problems. From beginning to end, this can take weeks to many months, depending upon what I’m working on.

"Cacophony," by Allan Gorman
“Cacophony,” by Allan Gorman, 827 x 1240. This photograph is courtesy of Allan Gorman.

BH:  I want to go home and try to try that.  Do you feel that your style with its emphasis on refined composition reflects your personality?

AG:  Absolutely. As a matter of fact, with any art, I don’t think the personality of the creator can’t help but show through. The idea is to be as authentic as you can be. If you’re faking it, that will show too. Personally, I’ve learned that if you do what you love, then your authenticity will naturally emerge.

BH:  That’s an incredibly thoughtful answer.  How do you feel that your practice has changed over time from your years in advertising to the present moment and your preoccupation with aesthetic tension and so forth?

Well, as I said in the last question. It’s about being as authentic as possible. So, when I began painting again – after a break of almost 25 years – it took me awhile to get to a point where I stopped thinking about whether or not people would like me and what I was doing. 

Coming from a commercial background, it was important to please the customer, so back then I would do work with the thought in the back of my mind ‘I think they’ll like this!’ I was trying to please gallery owners and patrons. In that way, the work was a bit commercial and “wanna be-ish”.

"Steampunk" by Allan Gorman. This picture is courtesy of Allan Gorman
“Steampunk” by Allan Gorman. This picture is courtesy of the artist

But a few years ago, I came across a picture of a Holly Steam Engine that called out to me and made me want to do a painting of it. It took awhile to work up the courage – it was quite complicated, but it kept eating at me. So I convinced my wife to take a drive with me to Buffalo to take some pictures and then went away for a month to paint it. That became ‘SteamPunk’, and I consider it the first ‘real’ painting I made. The experience of working on it was cathartic and fun, and I’m very proud of the result. So now I’ve made the conscious commitment to paint purely for myself, and to keep trying to learn and challenge myself with each successive effort, the experience changed my attitude as well. Now, if people like the paintings that’s fine. And if they don’t, well that’s okay too. It was a seismic shift in perspective.

BH:  These are fascinating and poignant aspects of your biography, I think.  I was wondering if you would tell me a little bit about what you feel are some of the most inspiring things happening in your work at present?

“under the el,” work in progress by Allan Gorman. This photograph is courtesy of Allan Gorman.
“under the el,” work in progress by Allan Gorman. This photograph is courtesy of Allan Gorman.

AG:  I was in Chicago last fall and found myself intrigued by the angles and shadows that are created by the rusty elevated train structures. I captured a bunch of photos and now I’m working on a series of paintings I call the ‘under the el’ series. I took some in NYC and plan on doing more of these. I’m using these as the foundation for a show I’m co-curating at The Nicole Longnecker Gallery in Houston, TX from Feb 25-April 1st, 2017.

The show is called ‘Industrialism in the 21 st Century’ and will parallel the great industrialist/precisionist painters from the last century (Charles Sheeler, Ralston Crawford, Lesey Ragan, et. al.) with some of the best artists from across the US and Canada who are carrying on those traditions today. Three of my under the el pieces will be featured in the show. I’m also working on turning this series into a museum exhibition. I’m very excited about the work.

BH: It is exciting.  It’s also an interesting moment for art history with tradition connecting.  Could you please tell me a bit about what you feel the artist’s role is within their community?

AG:  I think good art makes people see differently and feeds their soul. Without music, books, theater, film and fine art, life would be pretty empty, don’t you agree?  So we need artists to keep stretching the boundaries and feeding our spirit with their creations. My work, I hope, will do that in a non-threatening way I try to be generous and recruit others who might appreciate what I have to show and share with them. And there are also daring artists who hold up a mirror for us and use their art to create a better society. I’m not that lofty or politically motivated. But I applaud those who are. We need them too.

BH:   I agree.  Employment prospects for art history students are not good, but I too am addicted.  I wonder what art that you most identify with most?

AG:  My tastes are pretty eclectic and I like all sorts of things. But I suppose I identify most with photo-realists, modernists, and art that reflects industry. I’m especially fond of American realists and art deco, and trash-can school art from the earlier part of the 20th Century.

"Catwalk," by Allan Gorman. This photograph is courtesy of Allan Gorman.
“Catwalk,” by Allan Gorman. This photograph is courtesy of Allan Gorman.

BH: Hmm.  I see the tone and influence of The Ashcan School in your work now that you mention it. Interesting.!  Where do you find ideas for your work?

AG:  It usually flows naturally. One idea sparks another. But it all stems from what I see – either directly, or within a photograph or a movie.

BH:  Is there anything that you dislike about your art?

AG:  I still have a lot to learn before I can say I’ve mastered my chosen medium (oil paint). That will take years. But I often find myself frustrated by my inability to accurately and confidently depict what I see in my mind’s eye.

BH:  What is your favorite response to your art?

AG:  The best is when I get a new collector who will turn into a life-long ally and friend. To know that something I created will give them joy each time they look at it is the best validation and reward there is.

BH:  Have you seen any good art lately?

AG:  I attend the major art fairs in NYC when I can and give myself an assignment to find something I love and something I hate. Earlier this year I attended The Armory Modern Show and also Art/NY. I thoroughly enjoyed them both. I also try to get to the NY galleries a few times a year.

BH:  What do you think that future generations will recall about the art world today?

AG: The business of art and making art are two separate things altogether. I don’t much care for the former and concentrate instead on my work. I don’t know what future generations will think and don’t want to bother thinking about that lest it influences what I’m doing.

BH:  What is your favorite city for seeing art?

AG:  New York. Nowhere else like it.

BH:  What artist do you feel is undervalued.

AG:  Me. 🙂

BH:  Thank you, Allan, for an honest and thoughtful discussion!

AG:  You’re very welcome.  It was fun.

AN INVITATION TO AN INTERVIEW

Are you an artist who would like to share your ideas and participate in a larger project?  If so, I invite you to take part in an interview and ongoing research about how the contemporary artist operates in the art world today. You’re free to write as much or as little as you like in your response to the questions.

an invitation to an interview

The method to the madness.

Artcopyblog.com is on a mission to collect and publish as many interviews as possible between now and midnight Halloween when I lace on my running shoes.  The creative force of NaNoWriMo  is a month-long 50k writing sprint that  begins November first at 12 AM and ends 12 PM November 30.

An invitation to an interview
This picture is courtesy of nanowrimo.org

Week one flies by in a whirlwind of ideas. I’ll routinely remember that I need to write at least 1667 words per day if I want to finish during week two.  I’m ready to give up by week three but slog on despite the tedium.  By week four, the finish line will be in sight.  I will not be able to write fast enough.  I’m on a mission and time is running out as I limp my way across the 50k finish line with the soundtrack to Chariots of Fire playing in my imagination.

An invitation to an interview
“Would you like to introduce yourself?”
an invitation for an interview
“What is the artist’s role within their community?”

I don’t mind doing interviews.  I don’t mind answering thoughtful questions.  But I’m not thrilled about answering questions like, ‘If you were being mugged, and you had a lightsaber in one pocket and a whip in the other, which would you use?’Harrison Ford

I’ve gathered a handful of questions to help me understand your art and you as an artist while avoiding hypotheticals that begin with you being mugged.

Interview Questions

A warm welcome to artcopyblog.com.  Would you like to introduce yourself?  Who are you and what do you do?

Why do you do what you do?

What was the last show that you saw and how did you like it?

How do you work?

What art do you most identify with?

How has your practice changed?

What is the artist’s role within their community?

Is there a question that you are itching to answer?

What’s the last art object that you purchased?

Do you feel that your art reflects your personality?

What work do you most enjoy?

Do you have any creative habits or rituals?

What themes and symbolism do you employ?

Do you collect anything?

What do you think that future generations will recall about the art world today?

What are some of the most inspiring things happening at present?

Where do you find ideas for your work?

What do you dislike about your art?

Do you have any grievances with the art world and how it operates?

What is your favorite viewer response to your art?

How do you view creativity?  What does “being creative” mean to you?

What is your favorite city for seeing art?

Have you always wanted to be an artist?

Which artist do you believe is most undervalued?

What do you wish to communicate with your art?

An invitation to an interview
This picture is courtesy of http://2.bp.blogspot.com/

The anthology’s purpose is to examine each artist individually, in relation to others, and to the larger art world.  Artist statements provide invaluable content for navigating National Novel Writing Month.   Among other things, they tell me where you generally agree and disagree.  Importantly, your responses will likely lead to fresh discovery.

Dear reader, if you are interested in participating, please write to me at 61brenda@gmail.com.  I will begin editing the anthology in January of 2017.   Feel free to answer the questions that interest you, while disregarding the others.  Thank you very much!

Best regards,

Brenda Haroutunian

artcopyblog.com

A LETTER TO PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA

Dear President Obama,

I’m writing to recommend Mr. Juan Manuel Delgado – a young artist from Costa Rica — as eminently qualified to paint your official portrait representing you as the 44th President of the United States.  After researching Juan Manuel’s portrait of Pope Francis for my online magazine artcopyblog.com, I concluded that his style was appropriate for a monumental portrait of an American president who has unequivocally changed the country and the world for the better.   The artist’s portrait of Pope Francis exemplifies his ability to capture not only a likeness but also an individual personality.

The photograph is courtesy of Juan Manuel Delgado and a photographer for the Vatican
This photograph is courtesy of Juan Delgado.

Mr. President, you uplifted cynical generations on June 3rd, 2008 in your persuasive speech as the Democratic party’s presumptive nominee.  In so many elegant words, you said that change wouldn’t be easy, but it could be done.

Those words will be remembered for generations:

if we are willing to work for it, and fight for it, and believe in it, then I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth.  This was the moment — this was the time — when we came together to remake this great nation so that it may always reflect our very best selves, and our highest ideals. 

In truth, your presidency has revealed that there is more work to do to protect human dignity for every soul than most imagined at the time. Nevertheless, you defied considerable opposition and set far-ranging and lasting reform in motion, and have forever transformed the way that many of us see our communities.

Juan Manuel’s experience with and reverence for Pope Francis also speaks to the dreams of another humble optimist who is guaranteed nothing but presses forward anyway.  His aspiration to paint and present Pope Francis with a portrait were not without real barriers, but he proceeded with faith and gratitude.  Some miracles happened along the way.

This photograph is courtesy of Juan Miguel Delgado and a photographer for the Vatican.
This photograph is courtesy of Juan Miguel Delgado.

As Shephard Fairey’s posters galvanized a hopeful nation on the verge of electing a great President, Juan Manuel would represent the likeness and personality of one of the most beloved Presidents in American history.

"Hope" by Shepard Fairey. This picture is courtesy of The Smithsonian Institute. Barack Obama as presumptive nominee
“Hope” by Shepard Fairey. This picture is courtesy of The Smithsonian Institute.

As Pete Souza has captured thousands of irresistible glimpses of a charismatic first family that make us smile and reflect,  Juan Manuel’s style would bring grace and quiet drama to a transformational American Presidency.

This photograph of President Obama was taken by White House photographer Pete Souza and is courtesy of petapixel.com
This photograph of President Obama was taken by White House photographer Pete Souza and is courtesy of petapixel.com
This photograph is courtesy of www.whitehouse.gov. This Official White House Photo was taken by Chuck Kennedy
This photograph is courtesy of www.whitehouse.gov. This Official White House Photo is by Chuck Kennedy

In my online article, I argued that Juan Manuel’s portrayal of Pope Francis is evidence of his awareness of his place in art history, as well as his ability to portray monumental people who transcend time.

When Juan Manuel was in Rome to meet and present His Holiness with the portrait that he painted, he received an e-mail from the Post Office in his home country of Costa Rica who had seen press coverage of the event and wanted to include a picture of the artist’s portrait on a special issue stamp.  These symbols of the exchange of love between His Holiness and the humble artist allow everyday people to hold a piece of this sacred embrace.

This photograph is courtesy of Juan Manuel Delgado and was taken by a Vatican photographer.
This photography is courtesy of Juan Manuel Delgado.

Mr. President, you’ve lived up to your promises.  I suspect that many Americans would like to be able to buy a stamp symbolizing the moment when the world changed, much as the people of Costa Rica wanted to share in Pope Francis’s embrace with the humble dreamer.  For these reasons, I hope you’ll consider Juan Manuel Delgado to paint your official portrait as President of the United States while capturing your transformational personality and a disarming historical legacy.

Warm regards,

Brenda Haroutunian

DEJUAN HUNT II’S ART AND INVENTION

DeJuan Hunt II’s art coalesces around invention, play, and superhero creativity that expand definitions of art.

DeJuan Hunt II's art and invention, "New Persuasive Art"
“New Persuasive Art,” by DeJuan Hunt II. This photograph is courtesy of DeJuan Hunt II.

After exploring Hunt II’s stylistic invention New Persuasive Art earlier this year, I concluded that his art falls within the parameters of traditional art history. At the same time, it offers the possibility of lateral, rather than binary analysis.  The artist sees himself within art history. He recently said that he’s going through his variation of Picasso’s blue period. The selfie of him meditating with Rodin’s The Thinker shows the artist playfully tapping into the creativity of another artist who questioned convention. His friends liken him to Raphael because he realized success at a young age. His fascination with inventing new styles is not unlike Da Vinci who saw himself first as an inventor.

This photograph is courtesy of Dejuan Hunt II
This photograph is courtesy of Dejuan Hunt II

While art history is easy to understand, it is often misleading. The art world traditionally defines art through a process of qualification and disqualification and retroactively plots the art object on an evolutionary continuum that begins with prehistoric art and concludes with contemporary art. Typically, a coffee table monograph summarizes art history in a big picture book that is easy to understand and asks few questions. In practice, it pairs glossy photos with narratives that rely on too much speculation.

DeJuan Hunt II's New Persuasive Art, and invention.
“New Persuasive Art” by DeJuan Hunt II. This photograph is courtesy of DeJuan Hunt.

The academic world subscribes to a similar invention. Unfortunately, we’re in quicksand from the beginning. While science provides general dates for prehistoric imagery, it knows little about the people who made it.

There are similar problems at other plot points. Ancient culture employed skilled craftsmen to make magnificent work that glorified the city-state. The medieval faithful created imagery that served devotional and didactic purposes. Neither the ancient laborer nor the medieval maker of religious imagery would be considered artists according to a modern definition of who an artist is, though the art world assumes it so. It’s inconceivable that these societies viewed imagery as a contemporary culture would. The notion of art as the residue of humanity’s creative impulse dates roughly to the time of Michelangelo. The idea has been reinterpreted by countless artists since.

"New Persuasive Art," an invention by DeJuan Hunt
“New Persuasive Art” by DeJuan Hunt II. This photograph is courtesy of DeJuan Hunt II.

Artists who don’t fit are excluded, or poorly represented. Artists from remote areas making modern abstract art, rather than preconceived notions of tribal art, are allotted an awkward slot in the archaeological branch of art history that takes explaining.

Ironically, these cultures manufacture objects for tourists interested in taking home a souvenir. Masks and spears are made and sold only as commodities. While these objects may be aesthetically appealing and well-crafted, they nevertheless do not reflect the local art community.

Finally, placing these objects in museum spaces for aesthetic analysis further supports a methodology that values easy categorization over nuance. While urban societies value technological advancement in their cultures, they expect faraway communities to remain fossilized in time. Although art scholarship has a legitimate stake in accurately defining art, the art world continues to perpetuate this myth of an evolutionary worldview.

DeJuan Hunt II's imagination and creativity, New Persuasive Art
New Persuasive Art, by DeJuan Hunt II. This photograph is courtesy of Dejuan Hunt II.

In his book entitled, New Persuasive Art: an Art Style I’ve Inventedthe artist challenges the binary order of things by shifting attention to an archaeology of meaning that persuades the viewer to see their world differently. He layers photographs, cut-outs, and written words on top of a painted canvas to create a unified image. He asks his viewer for an accidental or unexpected — rather than a calculated — response. Hunt II’s art reads like an inner monologue, or a directive, an alter ego, or any number of things, according to the audience’s imagination.

"New Persuasive Art," an invention by DeJuan Hunt
“New Persuasive Art,” by DeJuan Hunt II. This photograph is courtesy of DeJuan Hunt II.

New Persuasive Art was exhibited in New York in January of 2014 at the Niagara Arts and Culture Center. In the video below, the artist says that every painting and drawing tells a story.  He says that the title, Another Way Out, frames his unconventional approach.   The style that he invented provided him with an avenue for creating deeply resonant art. New Persuasive Art gained international recognition in February with an exhibition at Flyer Art Gallery in Rome.  Presently, Hunt II is working on new projects  in New York in preparation for Art Basel.

Hunt II’s process offers an analog for art history. An archaeology rather than a false continuum permits fresh possibility. For starters, it challenges us to explore our bias. It allows us to be honest in acknowledging what we do and do not know about other people, about alternative artists and offers a valuable opportunity for new analysis. Instead of just comparing objects in aesthetic terms, it offers additional potential for learning about other people with a sense of wonder and respect.

DeJuan Hunt II's art and invention
DeJuan Hunt II. This photograph is courtesy of DeJuan Hunt II.

Besides New Persuasive Art,  Hunt II also invented and wrote about Real Illustration with books available worldwide. This invention outlines a fresh approach to illustration. It appeals to people of all skill sets and encourages everyone to be an artist.

Invention, and Graphic Novel by DeJuan Hunt
Graphic Novel by DeJuan Hunt ii. This photograph is courtesy of DeJuan Hunt.

The artist has also written graphic novels that feature miraculous inventions secret to man until this very moment. The artist describes Mr. Axe. Birth of a Titan, as a live action-packed story that also asks readers to look at creativity differently.  In this way, he encourages his audience to consider a larger picture.

"Old Buddy Grey," by DeJuan Hunt II. This photograph is courtesy of DeJuan Hunt II.
“Old Buddy Grey,” by DeJuan Hunt II. This photograph is courtesy of DeJuan Hunt II.

Finally, Hunt II is a community animator who makes art for cancer patients in Cleveland, Ohio. He feels that surrounding people with art give them strength as they undergo treatment.  His community art, like his New Persuasive Art, sees love operating everywhere within the global community.

Community Art by DeJuan Hunt. This photograph is courtesy of DeJuan Hunt II.
Community Art by DeJuan Hunt. This photograph is courtesy of DeJuan Hunt II.

Of course, change is slow in the art world as it is in reality. Art history, an invention by white men for white men, is no longer viable within global culture. Scholarship did not analyze or examine women, people of color, or others until the twentieth century. History has not remembered these other artists. As a result, coalitions still struggle today for equal representation within disciplines that continue to emphasize white patriarchy. By displacing the notion of an evolution of art, with a layered approach would allow art history to step closer to truthfully recognizing people across time with available context.

It’s past the time to offer nuanced explanations that are easy to consume. Because we are competing in an academic world that values objective reasoning, we have more explaining going forward to avoid inventing exclusive histories that privilege a few, and find a correct slot for those who contradict its persistent white male bias. Art history can be respectable. Because it stands at the crossroads of multiple disciplines and offers a fresh vision to a contemporary global culture. In many ways, DeJuan Hunt II creates identifiable urban heroes who persuade the viewer to think differently.

KALOUST GUEDEL’S EXCESSIVISM AND THE RISE OF DONALD TRUMP

Kaloust Guedel, the founder of Excessivism, sees Trump as the revolutionary movement’s poster boy.

Excessivist Art by Kaloust Geudel
The Wall Standard, by Kaloust Guedel. This photograph is courtesy of Kaloust Geudel

As the founder of Excessivism and the writer of the movement’s manifesto,  Kaloust Guedel sees art growing out of life experience and realization that includes consumer culture.  Excessivism is a new movement with few twentieth-century precedents.  Like other artists working in this style, Guedel’s art often serves as a commentary on commodified culture.  The artist combines vinyl, glass, metal, and so on, to create art that appeals to the eye and begins a discussion.

While Excessivism offers a critique of material culture, there is a sense in which it also celebrates excess.  Most of us like some excess, especially if it’s pleasurable.  Guedel’s The Wall Standard with its elegant line of gold dropping to pool into a shimmering mass of folds against a dark background conveys a sense of lavish drama.

Excessivist Art by Kaloust Guedel
“Excess 282,” by Kaloust Guedel. This photograph is courtesy of Kaloust Guedel.

Celebrity excess — for better or worse — occupies the cultural spotlight 24/7.  Kim Kardashian’s tremendous booty has been a source of interest and inane speculation for years now.  Human interest in celebrity excess can nevertheless translate to profound art.  Prince’s fans will likely sing his songs and admire the prodigal and abundant ambition that went into making his music until Kingdom come.  Celebrity excess can also be dangerous.  Everything about Donald Trump — from his hair to his demeaning insults — is excessive.

Guedel recently wrote about the relevance of Donald Trump — the ultimate celebrity — and GOP nominee for the 2016 election.  In the article, he says with economic and political excessivism at the core of this new art movement; it naturally relates to Trump’s political path While the artist acknowledges Trump’s relevance, he is nevertheless critical of the level of his excess.   Trump appears as proof of Excessivism’s assertion that consumer culture is flawed.

Excessivist art by Kaloust Geudel
“The Big Bang In Practice,” by Kaloust Geudel. This photograph is courtesy of Kaloust Geudel.

The idea of a Trump presidency is scary.  Trump wants to dismantle the safety measures that the United States has implemented in the wake of WWII.   At the same time, he wants to start new wars that could involve nuclear weapons.  Sam Kleiner, in a June article for The Atlantic, says the Republican nominee is effectively advocating the spread of arms, so destructive they haven’t been used since their horrifying debut over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.  The Onion in one of its jarring serious moments reported that an alarming new global risk report published Tuesday by the United Nations .., presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump may be just seven months away from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Excessivist Art by Kaloust Geudel
“Excess 278,” by Kaloust Guedel. This photograph is courtesy of Kaloust Guedel.

Excessivism is appropriate to the moment.  While Excessivism both criticizes and celebrates excess, it also asks its audience about how much is too much.  Trump, viewed through the prism of Excessivism, appears as a caricature rather than a serious presidential candidate.  It points instead towards the waste that it deplores, the existential threat that confronts humanity due to climate change, and the possibility of a new arms race.

MUEEN SAHEED NARRATES HISTORY IN ABSTRACT STYLE

Mueen Saheed’s abstract narrative painting invites lasting contemplation rather than dazzling the eye for a fleeting instant.

Mueen Saheed's abstraction
“Conquest of Galle,” by Mueen Saheed. This photograph is courtesy of Mueen Saheed.

Saheed, a contemporary abstract artist from Colombo, Sri Lanka, was recently commissioned to paint two pairs of doors and four shutters on the exterior of a new boutique hotel in Galle.  The hotel owner, who commissioned the work, imagined vivid painting that evoked the atmosphere of the city with its riveting, multi-layered history.  Because of the importance of the location, Saheed was compelled thoroughly researching the city’s history and studying its artifacts before he started painting.

Mueen Saheed's abstract art
“Conquest of Galle” by Mueen Saheed. This photograph is courtesy of Mueen Saheed.

Sri Lanka has been a mysterious, dynamic location for as long as anyone can remember. It attracts many sojourners every year, and Galle is one of the most visited cities in Sri Lanka today.   The city is home to an impressive mix of architecture left behind by Portuguese, Dutch, and British colonizers.

The city’s magnificent fort was built by the Portuguese during the 16th century, highly fortified by the Dutch in the 17th century, and has undergone extensive restoration since.  Today, it is a cosmopolitan ensemble embodying the interaction between European and South Asian styles.  UNESCO’s world heritage organization designates the fort as an architectural monument to be carefully preserved.

Additionally, merchants from around the globe have been anchoring at this fascinating port of call for centuries. Sri Lanka has been a vital exporter of quality goods throughout history.  Coffee, tea, culture and more have shipped to destinations the world over.  Indeed, some came and decided to stay.  Moorish descendants continue to inhabit the fort to the present day.

Mueen Saheed's abstract painting
“Conquest of Galle,” on shutter doors, by Mueen Saheed. This photograph is courtesy of Mueen Saheed.

When I look back at my work as it has matured over the years and the flow of consciousness from my mind to the brush has increased in speed and richness of expression.

— Mueen Saheed

Saheed has drawn upon his research, as well as color, song, and so forth, to weave storylines together in his painting.  The artist views abstraction as a bridge between the conscious and unconscious mind.   As he painted the doors and shutters of the chic new hotel for the city with old world charm, he drew abstract form and color from his subconscious for the purpose of evoking the spirit of Galle.

Mueen Saheed abstract painting
“Conquest of Galle,” by Mueen Saheed. This photograph is courtesy of Cantaloupe Hotels.

What I do differently in my abstract painting is express the emotive quality of the space behind the doors.

The artist says that instead of relying on realistic representation, he wants to present thoughts in color and brushstroke.  Unlike most historical depictions that do rely on representation, Saheed’s narrative paintings are mostly abstract.  They seek a higher state of consciousness rather than traditional didactic purposes.  The artist says I am a lover of the Sufi ways and the works of the Persian poet Rumi. I believe in equality and all the finer whispering of life.  Abstract form and color provide the artist with an avenue for expressing sacred meaning in nuanced form.

Mueen Saheed's abstract art
Painted door, by Mueen Saheed. This photograph is courtesy of Mueen Saheed.

The artist also draws upon symbolism in his effort to elevate the conversation to a philosophical platform.  In contrast to an immovable canvas, he sees a door as a metaphor for a passageway.  He invites the viewer into moments from Galle’s past, or a whimsical garden, or perhaps an intimate kitchen.

Mueen Saheed's abstract art
“Cabin Song,” by Mueen Saheed. This photograph is courtesy of Mueen Saheed.

Saheed shifts attention towards the essence of places, with their finer whisperings, with painted metaphors for songs sung in friendly places.

Mueen Saheed's abstract art
“Kitchen Tumeric,” by Saheed Mueen. This photograph is courtesy of Mueen Saheed

He evokes the heart of a kitchen fragrant with masala.

Mueen Saheed's abstract art
“Afternoon Hearth,” by Mueen Saheed.

He also recalls cozy afternoons by the fire in his painting.

Mueen Saheed's abstract art
“Garden Frolick,” by Mueen Saheed.

He conjures a playful garden out of form and color.

"Auntie's Cupboard, by Mueen Saheed. This photograph is courtesy of the artist.
“Auntie’s Cupboard, by Mueen Saheed. This photograph is courtesy of the artist.

Finally, he paints what he cherishes on the surface of his metaphorical passageways.

Saheed’s process allows him to evoke an infinite number of moods in abstract form. Although he usually paints in purely abstract style, he included figurative bits from Galle’s history in the recent commission.   A sampling of literal references allowed the artist to emphasize the significance of the location.

Close up from "The Conquest of Galle," depicting the city during Dutch rule. This photograph is courtesy of Mueen Saheed.
Close up from “The Conquest of Galle,” depicting the city during Dutch rule, by Mueen Saheed.

While the artist’s abstract style is meant to convey the aura of Galle, the representational pieces refer to its variegated history.  Sri Lanka has been a sacred location for many since time immemorial.  If colonization is ethically disgraceful in a post-colonial era, the site has worked its magic over the people who came to its shores for numerous reasons.  It likely enchanted the Portuguese, Dutch, and British, as it fascinates and mystifies many people today.

Abstract painting by Mueen Saheed.
“The King in the Coat and the Portuguese officer,” close-up from “The Conquest of Galle,” by Mueen Saheed.

The artists paintings reflect the manner in which European influence has integrated with Sri Lanka’s tradition.

Figurative and abstract painting by Mueen Saheed.
“Ocean Skirmish and Green man with Turban,” close-up from “The Conquest of Galle,” by Mueen Saheed. This photograph is courtesy of Mueen Saheed.

At the same time, his painting stirs an unexpected reaction.  The mix of abstract form and color meant to evoke a subconscious reaction with literal references to identifiable reality have the potential to provoke an unusual response from the viewer.  While the conscious mind identifies with what it recognizes, the unconscious observes the aura of the place represented.  Saheed’s paintings encourage the viewer’s conscious mind to trip over into the unconscious to make any number of associations.

This photograph is courtesy of Mueen Saheed
“Independence Memorial and the new Nation,” close up from “Conquest of Galle,” by Mueen Saheed

Evocative aesthetics in combination with realistic symbolism lends itself to contemplation. The artist’s trademark abstract narrative style is different than most contemporary abstract art.  Lasting contemplation allows for a nuanced exploration of the subject.  The longer the viewer contemplates his painting recognizing hidden pictures and observing its vibration, the more they discover.

Saheed is not seeking a traditional response with fixed meaning.  Instead, the purpose of his art is to prompt focused reflection in a world where everything is photographed and hash-tagged.  More, Saheed feels that society’s mass consumption of imagery makes abstraction more relevant than ever in its capacity to stir lasting contemplation.

The artist’s paintings have become a familiar landmark in Galle attracting many visitors to this special city. More, he yearns to travel the world visiting other intriguing cities.  Saheed also aspires to paint other abstract narratives on other doors that echo the spirit of other vibrant places around the world.

ALLAN GORMAN’S HYPERREALISM

While Allan Gorman is preoccupied with excellent composition and aesthetics, viewers are mesmerized by his brand of hyperrealism, and its capacity to stir original interpretation.

Williamsburg Red ©2015 Allan Gorman Oil on Linen 30 x 30 inches
Williamsburg Red ©2015 Allan Gorman Oil on Linen 30 x 30 inches

I’m drawn to hidden abstract patterns, random shapes and aesthetic tensions I see in real objects—particularly industrial and manufactured structures and objects.  

— Allan Gorman

Gorman is preoccupied with graphic design over a career that began decades ago in advertising.  His skill has been valued by big brands like  Proctor & Gamble, Bristol-Myers, Smirnoff, Sprite, and numerous others, as a Senior Creative with impressive agencies like The Marschalk Company, and Young & Rubicam, before owning his agency Brandspa, for thirty years.  At the beginning of the new millennium, he ventured into fine art.

Rocket ©2015 Allan Gorman Oil on Linen 104 x 74 inches
Rocket ©2015 Allan Gorman Oil on Linen 104 x 74 inches

The focus isn’t necessarily on an accurate rendering, but rather on sharing the aesthetic information created by and within the object

Gorman marries his passion for aesthetics to his strong design skills.  The artist’s journey led him to a nuanced exploration of parts used to make machines and manufactured objects.  He discovers intriguing forms, reflective surfaces, angles, and more.  Form borrowed from pocket watch mechanisms, motorcycle engines, and so forth, expand and morph into new shapes.  The perpetual discovery of new form allows him to create mesmerizing works of art.

A Nice Day for a Ride ©2013 Allan Gorman Oil on Canvas 40 x 40 inches
A Nice Day for a Ride ©2013 Allan Gorman Oil on Canvas 40 x 40 inches

I like to think of my works as abstract compositions in the guise of realism, and I use this criteria to inform my choices of what to paint. 

Gorman’s abstract compositions often emphasize the symbolism associated with the object represented.   Blue Button, for example, is a metaphor for the larger mechanism of time.  Symbolism allows the artist to evade literal interpretations and elevate the discussion.  By emphasizing symbolism and superior aesthetics that bend, stretch, and shape-shift, his painting leads to unexpected associations and reactions that encourage the viewer to inhabit another galaxy.

Blue Button ©2012 Allan Gorman Oil on Panel 18 x 18 inches
Blue Button ©2012 Allan Gorman Oil on Panel 18 x 18 inches

Gorman has been successful as an ad man and as a fine artist.  His art has been showcased in museum and gallery exhibitions too numerous to list.   It is also featured in so many magazines and blogs.  While he is an accomplished artist, hyperrealism has not yet achieved critical consensus within the contemporary art world.   The stigma of appropriation still hovers over the style despite original discovery.

As a result, hyperrealism includes a disparate group that ranges from literal, documentary photojournalism to more conceptual definitions of the style.  There’s a little bit of everything in between.  Allan Gorman’s ideas and his brand of realism invite the eye to roam free.

JUAN MANUEL DELGADO’S PORTRAIT OF POPE FRANCIS

I felt, although being in the presence of more than 100,000 people, that only he and I were present.  At that moment, the Pope looked straight into my eyes and I said, ‘My name is Juan Manuel Delgado, I’m a young artist.  I have come from Costa Rica to give you this portrait, with all of my heart, affection and admiration.’

This photo is courtesy of Juan Manuel Delgado. It was taken by a Vatican Photographer.
This photograph is courtesy of Juan Manuel Delgado.

The intimacy of the exchange between Pope Francis and the artist Juan Manuel Delgado would be difficult to imagine had it not been documented by a Vatican photographer. Seriously, can you imagine yourself in this situation?   You’re humbly offering a portrait that you’ve painted to perhaps the most beloved Pope in the memory of the Catholic Church and His Holiness is looking straight into your eyes.

Whatever your personal beliefs, there is a consensus that Pope Francis is one of the most influential people in the world today. He is on the side of good in a world that has gone mad. When he is not officiating as Pontiff; he brokers peace between hostile countries, evades the Swiss Guard in ordinary dress to minister to the needy, and touches everyday people with his spellbinding humility.  Pope Francis is loved the world over by people of every age.  Finally, young adults like Delgado are moved by the way that His Holiness is transforming the world.

This photograph is courtesy of Juan Manuel Delgado and was taken by the Vatican's photographer
This photograph is courtesy of Juan Manuel Delgado.

During our conversation the Pope always looked at my eyes. After several minutes staring at the portrait, seeing his own reflection, he extended his hand, and I said, ‘please bless everyone in Costa Rica. Bless me with the strength to believe in my dreams.’  He gave me a hug, and although it lasted only a few seconds, I felt that it lasted much longer.  I felt the greatest sense of peace as if I were in heaven.  He smiled and said, ‘thank you very much for your kind gesture.’ The hug of His Holiness Pope Francis was one of the greatest moments of my life.

The exchange between Pope Francis and the artist is disarming.  Delgado’s words, along with the pictures, reveal that he had the presence of mind to jump into the ocean of Pope Francis’s mercy when the big moment arrived.  He wore his heart on his lapel courageously asking His Holiness for blessings for his family, his country, and strength to believe in himself.  Pope Francis revealed the infinite power of kindness by concentrating his full attention and affection on this earnest young admirer.

My decision to paint a portrait of His Holiness Pope Francis is based on my admiration for His simplicity and humility, as a source of inspiration to the world.  At the same time, this painting is a gift in gratitude for being the first Latin American Pope in the history of the Catholic, Apostolic and Roman Church.

This photograph is courtesy of Juan Manuel Delgado and was captured by a Vatican photographer.
This photograph is courtesy of Juan Manuel Delgado

Delgado’s inspiration to paint the Pope’s portrait grew out of his admiration for His Holiness’s humility, simplicity, and his gratitude to the first Pope from Latin America in the history of the Catholic Church.  Of course, the concrete project required a fair amount of planning and a bit of red-tape.   He discovered a few miracles along the way.

For starters, when Delgado sought advice about from the Pope’s sister, Maria Elena Bergoglio; she replied with blessings, encouragement, and direction.  Her advice eventually led Delgado to a meeting with Apostolic Nuncio, Msgr. Pierre Nguyen Van Tot.   During the meeting at the Nunciature in San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, Delgado was able to discuss his project and receive specific guidelines for portraying the Pope.

I always start painting the eyes first, and then I started to feel a dialogue emerging with the Pope as His facial expressions began to take shape.  As more color was added, the more I felt a connection with Him.

This photograph is courtesy of Juan Manuel Delgado. It was taken by Vatican photographer.
This Photograph is courtesy of Juan Manuel Delgado.

Delgado’s feeling of connection with the Pope while he was painting the portrait touches upon an intriguing aspect of the power of an image to provoke an emotional response.   In The Power of Images, David Freedberg examines how the representation of eyes spark a response.  He argues; These are the clearest .. indications of the vitality of the represented figure.  The livelier the eyes seem the livelier the body. In The Destruction of Art, Dario Gamboni credits him with elevating the discussion saying; Freedberg valorized .. elements and modes of ‘response’ to images that had .. been neglected, repressed or condemned.  

The artist’s recollection speaks not only to the concept of life evident in the eyes but also implies a sense of communion.  He drew upon the Pope’s vitality to create a portrait that captured his sublime likeness and personality.  The hyper-realistic style, and skillful use of chiaroscuro,  somewhat resembles paintings by Baroque masters expert at portraying dramatic moments.  The contrast between the dark background and the light radiating from His Holiness creates a sense of hushed drama.

Delgado’s paintings point to art history in other ways.  His portrait of King Simeon II of Bulgaria makes him the second youngest artist in history to have painted a monarch since Velasquez’s portrait of King Phillip IV in 1623, at age 24.  Delgado’s art is rooted in tradition in an era quick to dismiss the value of continuity.

It took Delgado about one month to paint the portrait.  Afterwards, he emailed a picture of the finished painting to the Nuncio in San Jose, who, in turn, invited him to display the portrait publicly at the Nunciature on August 15, 2013.  On September 10, the artist received a call from the Nunciature saying that the artist received a letter from the Vatican.

The first time I read the letter and saw that my proposal to present the painting to Pope Francis was granted, I was extremely happy and very emotional.  Of all the struggles I’ve had as an artist, I kept working hard, and receiving this great opportunity was an incredible experience for me and to be able to represent my country was such a great honor.

Again, can you imagine yourself in such a situation?  Indeed, the artist’s narrative indicates that it was an emotional moment for him.  The portrait represented more than a likeness; it represented Pope Francis; the humble missionary who is transforming the world with his simple goodness.

Stamp commemorating the first anniversary of Pope Francis's Pontificate.
This Photo is courtesy of Juan Manuel Delgado.

The artist received another surprise while he was in Rome. The Post Office in Costa Rica had seen him presenting the portrait to Pope Francis on television and was interested in issuing a limited edition stamp to commemorate the first anniversary of Pope Francis’s Pontificate.

This Photograph is courtesy of Juan Delgado.
This Photograph is courtesy of Juan Delgado.

They subsequently announced a limited issue postage stamp, entitled The Pope Francis: a year of the Pontificate, to mark the anniversary.  It issued 15,000 stamps on March 19, 2014, with a picture of the portrait that the artist personally presented the previous year at the Vatican.  Predictably, the limited edition sold out.  The stamp would have afforded everyday people with their piece of heaven, and an opportunity to engage with His Holiness, Pope Francis, the sublime missionary from Latin America.

This photograph is courtesy of the Juan Manuel Delgado

Juan Manuel Delgado knows his place in art history.  His representational style asks different kinds of questions than most contemporary art that is conceptual in nature.  Representing a sacred person like Pope Francis would raise questions about what would qualify as the appropriate style for a person celebrated far and wide.   Delgado’s representation conveys his humble reverence for the Pope while simultaneously emphasizing His Holiness’s sparkling vitality.  The artist appears to be a master at marking monumental moments in time.

I confess, the artist’s skill for portraying historically significant moments with just the right tone has sparked a secret wish that Delgado paints Barack Obama’s portrait.  Like many others, I’m dreading the day that this American President leaves office.  Obama has transcended many boundaries, created lasting change in our country, and in our relationship with others.  Although there are many excellent American portrait painters, and probably few better photographers than Pete Souza,  Delgado, I believe,  would translate President Obama’s likeness into an official portrait that would resonate across time.

For more information about the artist, please visit; www.facebook.com/pintorjuanmanueldelgado