Beauty in the Dirt: Unlikely Inspiration

July 27th, 2017

Nashville has a nickname: Music City. There’s live music at every turn: buskers on Broadway, honky-tonks, huge arena and amphitheater concerts, temporary stages in the streets for festivals, and even on barges in the river set up as floating stages for riverfront events.

Where there are performances, there is gaffer’s tape, used to mark where sound equipment goes or where singers stand on stage or just to keep power cables in place.

It ends up on everything.

I find gaffer’s tape everywhere, from sidewalks to light posts to the bottom of your shoe. And when that tape gets exposed to the weather it takes on some interesting textures that inspire me as a painter.

It warps and weathers and wears in a way you wouldn’t expect.

I first noticed the gaffer’s tape on one of my morning walks through downtown Nashville when I found it on the sidewalk in Riverfront park. It was pretty unremarkable at first. But when I saw it again later, there was something interesting in the shape, the texture, the way it stuck to the ground and became part of the ground. I don’t think it’s ever coming off, since it’s been about six months since I first saw it, and that area has flooded a couple of times since it is right next to (actually over) the river.

And about a foot away, there was another piece.

Tape on the sidewalk (1)

Tape on the sidewalk (2) Tape on the sidewalk (3)

A few days later on the same walk, about a quarter mile away, I noticed a light post that had been wrapped in duct tape or electrical tape. I realized this tape is ubiquitous — more so than duct tape.

The sloppiness of it appeals to me. We are quick to accept an “it’ll do” application when we are in a hurry. It may not be the prettiest or most seamless approach, but usually, it gets the job done – for a long time, too.

"Detritus" photo album on iPhoneI’ve been collecting so many photos of such things that I’ve made an album on my iPhone and called it “Detritus.” It’s got worn tape, badly pressure-washed places, and generally “gunky” places around town that have this weird, dirty beauty to them.

This has made its way into my paintings.

As usual, when I see something that inspires me and it comes up in my painting, it gets so transformed and distorted that it looks nothing like the source material. And that’s fine with me. I don’t necessarily want to paint the tape. What I want to paint is that overlap, that line, that corrosion.

"Wrapped," Brad Blackman, Acrylic on canvas board. 4x6 inches, 2017.

Wrapped, Acrylic on canvas board. 4×6 inches, 2017. (Sold to the Molly Olly’s Wishes Twitter Art Exhibit fundraiser)

"Drawbridge," acrylic on canvas. 8x8 inches, 2017.

Drawbridge, acrylic on canvas. 8×8 inches, 2017. (Sold via Instagram/Facebook)

But why tape?

Why does anything else inspire me? It just does. Open your eyes, because inspiration and beauty are everywhere.

Being creative is simply living with your eyes open.

 

Creative Inspiration: 4 Painters Who Create Immersive Worlds

December 27th, 2016

There are some painters whose work takes me to an alternate reality. This other world is populated by a certain landscape features or characters, an alternate universe that may or may not be like ours. Because it is similar to our own world yet it seems to obey its own laws, it might seem dreamlike or surrealist even though it might not technically be surrealism.

Here are four artists whose work appears to be a glimpse into another world. I want to visit each world and see what goes on there.

Roger Dean

Perhaps best known for his progressive rock album covers for the bands Yes and Asia, his otherworldly landscapes seem to obey a different kind of gravity. Boulders float in the air and strange creatures and plants hint at a pre- or post-human world.

Tara McPherson

Tara’s work is populated by pink-or-teal-skinned alien girls, vampires, and mermaids with heart-shaped holes in their chests. The colors and linework are so smooth they look like they are made of delicious candy … candy that makes your heart ache.

Bob Ross

Yes, Bob Ross, everyone’s favorite T.V. painter with the soft-spoken voice. No, his work isn’t surreal, but his landscapes seem to emerge from an alternative world where humans are actually responsible for the environment. This reflects Ross’s worldview and desire for a peaceful, harmonious life. I’m only showing this promo image because there have been so many copycats that I can’t really tell what is his. What I like about him is not so much the art itself as the spirit in which it is made.

Salvador Dalí

And if you want surrealism, the work of Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech, Marqués de Dalí de Púbol is arguably the definition of Surrealism. Dalí’s work came from a very strange inner world populated by all kinds of personal symbols.

Whose world would you want to visit?

Or is there another artist whose work transports you to a place you want to get lost in?

4 Amazing Artists Who Create Stunning, Moody Atmosphere

October 28th, 2016

I’ve said before that I’m inspired by haze and fog. I think it’s the power of the mysterious that makes it so compelling. I look at it and try to figure out what else is there that I’m not seeing. But I know what I am seeing is the most important thing for me to look at right now.

There are several painters who do a really good job of creating this moody, foggy, hazy ambience in their paintings. Here are four. Well, three. The fourth one creates a mood, but not through atmosphere.

J. M. W. Turner

JMW Turner – Eruption of Vesuvius – 1817

Smog was already a problem in London in Turner’s day (1775-1851), and his hazy work inspired Monet and Whisler, most notably Turner’s “Nocturne in Blue and Gold: the Falling Rocket” (1875) which resulted in Whisler’s libel suit with art critic John Ruskin.

Maurice Sapiro

Maurice Sapiro “Mauve And Gold” oil on canvas 20 × 20 in

Maurice Sapiro “Sunset, Reflected” 38 × 32 in

I discovered Maurice Sapiro on Pinterest a few years ago and have been just blown away by this prolific painter. His landscapes (waterscapes?) are an explosion of reds and oranges accented with tiny bursts of turquoise.

Shane Miller

Shane Miller is a friend of mine. He lives and works in the Nashville area, and lately has been covering his paintings with beeswax, which further increases the misty, milky feel. I plan on visiting his studio soon. He paints from his imagination.

Edward Hopper

Now this is a different kind of mood. Hopper’s paintings don’t have the hazy, atmospheric quality of the others mentioned above. There’s something rather lonely about them. His paintings often convey a palpable tension that makes me wonder what Steinbeck would have created if he had been a painter from the east coast instead of a writer from California. It would probably be a lot like Hopper’s work.

Where Do I Fall?

Good question. I have done a painting that I feel looks like a bad copy of Sapiro’s sunset piece shown above. One thing I can say is that painting haze is a lot harder than it looks. Although you can try watching a Bob Ross video on Netflix or YouTube to see how to lightly drag a fan brush over wet paint to smooth it out a bit. 🙂

Inspiring Painters: Color

October 8th, 2016

While color is by default the domain of virtually all painters, there are a few artists whose work really pushes the boundaries of what can be done with color. Here are four painters whose application of color inspire me to use it better.

Two Approaches to Color

I’ve noticed there are two main ways of thinking about color (and all art, really). One is the analytical view, which deals with our perception of color and how colors work together. The other is the emotional impact of color, how exaggerating it can create something more “real.”

Analytical Color

Josef Albers

Josef Albers did a lot over his career, but what really stands out for me is his series “Homage to the Square” that explored color relationships within a simple standard framework.
Albers initially taught at the Bauhaus in Weimar. After Hitler shut down the Bauhaus, Albers emigrated to the United States and taught at Black Mountain College and later Yale. He long had an interest in architecture and graphic design, which informed his work. Perhaps his most famous series of paintings is Homage to the Square, which use nested squares to explore how colors work together. In 1963 he published a book, Interaction of Color, that has now been adapted to an iOS app, which at the time of this writing, is free!

Several of Albers’ paintings of nested squares that explored color relationships.
My own college professors mimicked Albers’ methods for teaching color theory. We did this exact exercise. The two little squares are the same color, but appear very different from each other due to the surrounding colors. The same for the gray box inside the mint green and aubergine rectangles.

Claude Monet

I’ve mentioned this before. Monet painted more than 30 studies of the Rouen Cathedral in 1892 and 1893, exploring the effects of light, weather, and atmosphere on color. Monet essentially used the scientific method since he worked with a constant — the same building viewed from the same vantage point — and saw the effect of variable weather conditions to produce a different color outcome every time. I imagine this later inspired Andy Warhol’s screenprints of such stars as Marilyn Monroe.

Emotional Color

Vincent van Gogh

Color had immense emotional weight for Vincent van Gogh. When he uses blue, it’s calm, peaceful, and sometimes a terrifying void. His reds are hot and oppressive and muggy and dangerous. His yellows portend something ominous.

Mark Rothko

Rothko painted in fields of color on an immense scale, using a technique where brushstrokes were not visible. He painted the inner reality of emotions by way of color. His abstract paintings were often six or eight feet tall.

I have yet to see a Rothko in person, but I have heard it is a truly transcendent experience to be in the presence of his paintings. Someday I hope to visit the Rothko Chapel.

I’d also love to travel to London to see his Segrams Murals at the Tate.

Applying All This

There’s so much of color theory to learn from painters like Albers, and so much to learn of emotional impact from Rothko. I hope to someday be as masterful of color as the painters I mentioned above. In the meantime, I can study their work and apply what I’ve learned from them.

Who are your favorite artists in terms of color? Please share in the comments, or shoot me an email.

Where Do I Find Painting Inspiration Right Now?

September 23rd, 2016

What things get you inspired and eager to work on your art? Here are a couple of things that I’m inspired by right now. When I think about them, I really want to get in the studio.

Color

The thing that has inspired me the most over the years is color. Even in my “gray” period, as it were, I’ve been inspired by color. My grays were often made by mixing blue and brown, which are essentially complementary colors since brown is really a dark orange. I’m fascinated by how complementary colors interact with each other. I’ve always had something of an obsession with blue and orange.

Reaching She Ascended, Descended 2016. Acrylic on canvas, 24 x 36 inches

This painting I worked in recently underscores my fascination with orange and blue. I’ve discovered it also looks really cool under a black light and with 3D glasses! Trippy!

Bridges, Overpasses, Architectural Structures

I’ve been fascinated by bridges and overpasses for the past few years. I felt I had maxed out on painting these realistically. I probably didn’t max out on that, but I certainly got bored with them. Now, however, I am looking for ways to reintroduce flyovers and such in an abstract manner.

That set of nine paintings I did all at once had swooping blue and orange arcs in the early stages. As the paintings evolved, those arcs disappeared behind colorful, hard-edged forms. Paintings can and will take on a life of their own. My job is to respect what the paintings want to become.

Concrete

Perhaps in a spinoff of my fascination with architectural structures is concrete. Most specifically the way concrete stains and weathers over the years. And most recently I’ve “discovered” poorly pressure-washed concrete that has swirl patterns that are almost calligraphic.This painting was inspired by the lazy pressure washing I’ve seen on the sidewalks during my lunchtime walks.

Pressure, 2016. Acrylic on canvas. 20 x 20 inches.

Fog

Fog is a bit tricky to paint. I’ve not painted it in a while, but I enjoy the challenge, so look for it showing back up in my art soon. Don’t be surprised if I start mixing hazy forms and hard-edged forms in future paintings. Paintings don’t have to be crisp in all places at once. Blur some areas and sharpen the focus in others.

Morning Fog, 2014. Oil on canvas board. 14 x 11 inches.

Geometry

When I saw the Salvador Dali exhibit at the High Museum a few years ago, I bought a book about “sacred geometry,” titled The Geometry of Art and Life. While I don’t go overlaying lines on everything the way some people do, I am intrigued by how it works. What happens when you draw circles and rectangles and triangles and subdivide them? So I’m drawn to pure abstract shapes like triangles, circles, and the like.

Loose abstract expressionism/impressionism

This seems to be where my most current work has been, in a sort of general, loose abstract expressionism. I love making art that conveys a mood with abstract forms rather than trying to represent the physical world. I think of it as that inner landscape represented on canvas.

Muscadine, 2016. acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14 inches

It’s a Journey

There are a lot of different things I want to explore in paint, and some days I’m not really sure how to put it on canvas. I keep sketching a lot of things. But when I paint it often turns into something very different. I have to remind myself to be open to that, but I’m learning that there is a certain amount of control I have that I can’t give up. But in the end I’m enjoying the journey and learning things along the way and sharing what I’ve learned and that’s what it’s all about.

3 Places I Go for Inspiration

February 2nd, 2016

When I was about 10 years old, Star Trek: The Next Generation came out. I would watch it with my dad, who was much more of a Trekkie in those days.

But when the first commercial break came I would go off and pretend the whole house was the U.S.S. Enterprise. I would draw little control panels on paper and stick them all over the house. Every time I walked through a door I made that little “fwee” sound. We were on some sort of mission to save the universe.

I knew practically nothing about the show. Sure, I knew who some the characters were (Riker, Picard, Troy, Geordi) and the Klingons were the bad guys, but that’s about it. Yet it gave me a love for science fiction that I still have to this day.

The important thing is that I was inspired to create and imagine.

Nowadays, I am inspired in a variety of ways.

Just as I would watch Star Trek for a few minutes and be inspired to create my own worlds, I can now look at art even for just a little bit and be fired up to go create something of my own.

I can take a fragment of an idea and run with it. The end result might not even resemble the original thing that inspired me. And that’s actually ideal.

It’s said that “good artists borrow and great artists steal” and that the secret to creativity is in concealing your sources.

The point is, you can be inspired anywhere. Here are the places I go:

1. Art Shows/Exhibits

I love to visit art show openings at galleries or museum exhibit openings. I’m inspired by the colors, the brushstrokes, the presentation.

Just immersing myself in art gets me excited and eager to get back in the studio and make my own art.

Maybe I can try a new technique or color palette.

Would a different size or surface work better for me?

Or a series based on … fill-in-the-blank?

2. Meetups with other artists.

You can find artist groups on Facebook, Deviant Art, and more. Find an artist group online that meets in your area, and meet over beverages and snacks. Talk shop and educate each other about practicing your craft or the business side of things.

People have a lot to share about what works for them and what doesn’t. Don’t be stingy with your knowlege. The world is big enough for all of us. Find ways to promote each other’s work! We could all use more cheerleaders.

All these things I get from the Nashville Creative Group, which my friend Beth started a few years ago. I get a lot from both the online discussions and in-person meetups.

Can’t find a group? Start your own! There are plenty of people out there who would love to talk. We’re social creatures after all.

3. Pinterest

I get a lot of ideas on Pinterest. I’ve had an account for a while but didn’t take it seriously until I saw what my friend Blaine Hogan was doing with his.

In his Make Better course, he showed us how he follows Twyla Tharp’s concept of “scratching” with a board called “The Scratching Pile.” It’s where he tosses various ideas that he might do something with in the future.

When you first get on Pinterest it will want to import all your Facebook contacts. If you’re like me, you’ll find all those people from high school only pin recipes and workouts. Don’t be afraid to un-follow them. Pinterest is a social network, but it’s not “social” like Facebook. Pinterest is there for your personal inspiration.

My two main boards are “Scratch” and “Haze.” “Scratch” is based on the Twyla Tharp idea with a lot of abstract imagery that gets me excited, and “Haze” is hazy/foggy imagery that jives with my fog direction from the past few years.

(This should be proof that dudes can use Pinterest. Besides, I know guys who have boards devoted to manly stuff like motorcycles and camping.)

So where do you find inspiration, either online or off? Sound off in the comments!

Heroes: Edward Hopper

April 29th, 2014

For years, I’ve loved the art of Edward Hopper. I’m sure you’ve seen his famous “Nighthawks” painting. It’s one of the more famous pieces of 20th century American art, and has been spoofed and copied many times, influencing other visual artists and many filmmakers. Wim Wenders said that Hopper’s paintings appeal to filmmakers because “You can always tell where the camera is.” Evidently it was a huge influence on the look and feel of Blade Runner.

Film Noir Influence and Parodies

Urban Loneliness

One of his biggest themes was urban loneliness. I can relate: sometimes I feel most alone in the biggest crowd.

Light and Shadow

But I think the thing I love most about Hopper’s work is the light and the shadows. The light is sublime. The shadows are foreboding.

“What I wanted to do was paint sunlight on the side of a house.”

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Heroes: Salvador Dali

April 15th, 2014

I think Salvador Dali was the first fine artist I really got into. Before Dali, I followed comic book artists and anything by Walt Disney. (Interestingly enough, Dali and Disney talked a few times about collaborating on an animated feature. Unfortunately it never saw the light of day. The two giant egos couldn’t work together.)

[UPDATE: The short film Destino was completed eventually.]

“I don’t do drugs. I am drugs.” — Salvador Dali
I think a lot of why I liked him when I was a teenager was how recognizable and strange his work is. That and the fact that I could pick out the “hidden” themes, most of them sexual. How many 17-year-olds know what a phallic symbol is? (Turns out I was just as juvenile as my classmates, only slightly more sophisticated.)

Early work: symbolism

“At the age of six I wanted to be a cook. At seven I wanted to be Napoleon. And my ambition has been growing steadily ever since.” — Salvador Dali
His early work, strange and imaginative as it is, is really not that good from a technical perspective. Dali’s craft just wasn’t up to the same level as his imagination, but he made up for it later.

Late “Classicism”

As Dali got older, he polished his technique a great deal, refining the finish and structure of his compositions. His technique caught up to his vision. His late works fused Classicism with his own brand of surrealism plus “atomic” explosions. He employed complicated geometry in his compositions, which I saw a few years ago at the Dali exhibit at the High Museum in Atlanta.

“Each morning when I awake, I experience again a supreme pleasure – that of being Salvador Dali.”

Personal Influence

In college I applied a variation on Dali’s “spoon nap” idea-generation technique when I drew “Night on the Plains of Loneliness”: I dozed off listening to Pink Floyd and drew what I saw:

The difference between false memories and true ones is the same as for jewels: it is always the false ones that look the most real, the most brilliant.” — Salvador Dali
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Art Heroes: Chuck Close

April 8th, 2014

Chuck Close has made a career out of painting enormous, photorealist heads. He works hard, and has had a very successful career despite a severe injury that has left him partially paralyzed.

It impresses me how he has put giant faces on a grid for decades and it is still fresh. Close uses a grid, filling the squares with painted hot dog shapes, lint, charcoal, or any number of image-making techniques such as spit-bite etching.

Showing Up

What I love most about Chuck Close is his work ethic:
“Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just get to work.” — Chuck Close

Chuck Close. Kate, 2007. jacquard tapestry, 103″ x 79″ (261.6 cm x 200.7 cm).

Chuck Close. Self-Portrait, 1997. oil on canvas, 102 x 84″ (259.1 x 213.4 cm).

Chuck Close. Big Self-Portrait, 1967-1968. acrylic on canvas, 107-1/2″ x 83-1/2″ (273 cm x 212.1 cm).

Chuck Close. President Bill Clinton, 2006. oil on canvas, 108-1/2″ x 84″ (275.6 cm x 213.4 cm).

Image source: Pace Gallery

The Dirty Future

September 24th, 2013

The other night on Twitter, a friend of mine shared a really cool article from The Verge about an artist in Sweden who is doing these digital paintings that explore an alternative past where experimental technology dreamed of in the 70s was actually developed. Painted in this great 80s sci-fi book cover style.

The world these paintings depict look like Walter Bishop and his friends had an unlimited budget in the 70s “Over There.” Only instead of New England, it was in the rural areas around Stockholm, and by the late 80s budgets were slashed and everything was already in decay.

So in the paintings we see derelict machinery surrounded by boxy Volvos and 80s sweaters.

The Used Future and Star Wars

What’s interesting to me is that there is a “used future” aesthetic at work here, though the artist is looking back at an imaginary past.

You can tell the design of the technology was influenced by movies such as Star Wars. In fact, one painting shows three little boys playing in a field, two of whom are wearing Storm Trooper helmets.

In another painting, derelict machines look like they belong on Tattooine. Another machine reminds me of an ATAT.

I’d imagine this artist is more influenced by George Lucas than Stanley Kubrick, whose view of the future in the 60s was more slick, orderly, and symmetrical.

I’m intrigued by the idea of a “used future.” That trend continued even more strongly into the 80s with Ridley Scott movies like Blade RunnerAlien, and Terminator. Maybe that disillusionment with shiny technology was an outgrowth of the Vietnam Era.

It’s a stark contrast from the “shiny” future we see in the Star Trek of the 60s.

This used future trend continued even into the 90s with The Matrix and Firefly, where the heroes are grimy and dirty. Even now, Revolution has an “American” take on a used future.

I think there’s something rather compelling about this whole used-up future. A world where technology is just another thing people use, even if it isn’t the shiniest thing. It somehow seems more real, more honest. Which I think is why William Gibson’s novels (primarily Neuromancer) have always resonated with me — the notion of broken people doing messed-up things just to get by is timeless.

Because we’re all broken and we need redemption.