Category Archives: Other artists

Here There Be Dragons: Utilizing Pareidolia in My Art Process

Pareidolia Clouds at Sunset
August 21, 2017; digital photograph
Rabun Gap, GA
© Amy Funderburk 2017 
All Rights Reserved

What do you see in the clouds above?

I see a giant moose. Or someone with a tiny head, sitting back on his heels while flexing his muscles. And a pyramid in the distance.

The Druids practiced such cloud watching as a form of divination called Neladoracht, so for a recent #FolkloreThursday, I tweeted my question with this photograph. Answers ranged from a horse rearing backwards, to a dog with something on its nose or fetching, to a kneeling, bearded old man in various guises. A couple of folks even saw a Xenomorph – the chillingly aggressive adversary from the Alien movie franchise.

For those responders, I could only predict one of two outcomes: a bucket of popcorn with a movie marathon, or a very bad day.

Pareidolia is the impressive sounding word for something I have done all of my life, always recognizing familiar shapes in the natural chaos of the commonplace. Faces, features, and animals emerge out of wood grain, lichen, stone, and smoke, or dance in the sky as clouds. On a metal dresser at my grandmother’s house, finished to make it look like wood, the twisting would-be wood-grain shapes conjured up all manner of faces and forms to my eye. At my childhood home, the bathroom walls were covered in some truly ugly pink marlite, patterned with a thin, undulating, gold line in a feeble attempt to masquerade as marble. Evoking my visual adventures was this interior design nightmare’s only saving grace.

Merriam-Webster.com defines pareidolia as “the tendency to perceive a specific, often meaningful image in a random or ambiguous visual pattern.”1 The ink blot tests of Swiss psychoanalyst and psychologist Hermann Rorschach are another example of this phenomenon.

Along with the primal color red and the written word, the human face gets what I call “automatic emphasis” in an artist’s composition. If you don’t want the viewer’s eye to go right to the figure, you will need to do your best to somehow downplay it, because our eye has the tendency to home in on the human face. I have always wondered if this is because we look at our own reflection, then seek out the familiar, or because we are taught to make eye contact when we communicate, but, as cited on Merriam-Webster.com, “The human brain is optimized to recognize faces, which could also explain why we are so good at picking out meaningful shapes in random patterns.”2

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”

~ Edgar Degas

In his November 2015 workshop, Water: Reflections and Translucence, artist David Dunlop recommended that artists utilize a “process of reduction and simplification” so as to exploit the brain’s physiological tendency to make sense out of what he called the “tableaux of confusion”. In other words, just as my brain easily sees animals in the weathered texture of my beloved standing stones or cloud formations, the brain has a tendency to make sense out of textured chaos. Such visual cacophony as you would also find in grass or weathered texture, your mind wants to make sense from that visual information. In this way, the viewer’s brain does part of my job for me.3

This is pareidolia.

I bet most of you have also experienced pareidolia, but you might not know that in his notebooks, Leonardo da Vinci recommended this as an observation and creativity technique to up-and-coming artists. As an artist, inventor, and scientist, da Vinci was a tireless observer of natural forms and forces. In one of his notebooks, he wrote:

“I will not refrain from setting among these precepts a new device for consideration which, although it may appear trivial and almost ludicrous, is nevertheless of great utility in arousing the mind to various inventions. And this is, that if you look at any walls spotted with various stains, or with a mixture of different kinds of stones, if you are about to invent some scene you will be able to see in it a resemblance to various different landscapes adorned with mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, plains, wide valleys, and various groups of hills. You will also be able to see divers combats and figures in quick movement, and strange expression of faces, and outlandish costumes, and an infinite number of things which you can then reduce into separate and well-conceived forms. With such walls and blends of different stones it comes about as it does with the sound of bells, in whose clanging you may discover every name and word you can imagine.”

Little did I know that I have been following da Vinci’s advice all along, though usually in a different way. As an artist, it was only natural to take the brain’s inclination a step further. As I work on a drawing or painting, I automatically make correlations between the random shapes that I am depicting and the forms that I see in them when determining how the shapes interlock to create the whole. This is one of the ways I can best conclude how each area relates to the other and if I am successfully transposing what I see to paper, panel, or canvas.

Fictitious Pictish Standing Stone - in progressFictitious Pictish Standing Stone - in progess detailFictitious Pictish Standing Stone - in progress, detail showing pareidolia

What do you see in the detail shots above of my charcoal rubbing drawing, Fictitious Pictish Standing Stone? I photographed the smallest detail (third image) while looking at the drawing upside down, so you would not otherwise have seen the face that I saw as I inverted my reference photograph while working. In other areas not necessary to describing the features specific to this stone, I have had the opportunity to stay much more general, utilizing Dunlop’s “tableaux of confusion”.

Second Sight/2nd Site
diptych, 12″ x 30″
oil on oil primed linen
©2012 Amy Funderburk, All Rights Reserved
The Rollright Stones, King’s Men Stone Circle
Oxfordshire/Warwickshire border, England

I definitely experienced pareidolia when painting Second Sight/2nd Site. When I photographed the stone, I focused first on the subject and then on the background, exploiting limited depth of field with my camera. After printing a reference photograph of the stone the way it actually appears (as seen on the viewer’s left of the diptych), I flipped the other version with the landscape in focus using photo editing software before printing. Once I had both reference photographs in hand, I played with cropping the proportions and the location of the intersection between them until I arrived at a pleasing orientation. To echo the concept of sight, I wanted an arrangement reminiscent of eyes or a mask.

I folded the two reference photos along the guidelines I had drawn, but when I placed the two sides together, I discovered something quite amazing – at the intersection between the two photographs, a perfectly formed swallowtail butterfly appeared at the very top edge of the stone! When painting this, I only had to clarify the bottom forked edge of the hind wing; the butterfly shape was clearly there. Had I cropped and joined the photos in any other way, it would have gone undiscovered.4

I purposefully arranged the diptych to look like a mask or eyes, but otherwise, the butterfly is the only shape within the stone that I intended for viewers to definitely identify. When painting, however, I saw several other forms in the stone that I used for my own purposes of correct pattern placement.

Perhaps you have only looked through the holes or at the butterfly, so take a moment now to look at the stone texture. What can you find? As I painted, I tried to put such things in the left canvas as a fat rabbit with its ears pinned back, an askew skull, and a paw print; and in the right canvas, and a yellow bird, monkey, guinea pig, and a little white ghost, all in their proper places.

Sometimes I intend hidden things to be a visual reward to attentive viewers, but I am delighted when they often find things I didn’t necessarily include. As I look at Second Sight/2nd Site with fresh eyes, I now also see part of a peering kitten and quite a proper dragon on the left. One of my friends sees dragons in just about everything I paint, and now you know how and why. Let me know what you find!

All the best, and Namaste,

Amy


1 “Pareidolia,” Merriam-Webster.com. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pareidolia (accessed December 12, 2017)

2 Ibid., citing New Scientist, December 24, 2011, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pareidolia (accessed December 12, 2017)

3 To read more about my workshop with David Dunlop, please read Say, One Out of Two Ain’t Bad! Tales from my recent art workshops…

4 To read more about the story behind Second Sight/2nd Site, please read Origins of a Painting: Second Sight/2nd Site

Also posted in Art Travels, Creativity, Drawing and drawing techniques, General art discussion and philosophy, Inspirational Quotes, Painting and painting techniques, Sacred Sites, Travel, Works in progress Tagged , , , , , , , , |

How To Paint Like a Woman…

…(or Sculpt, or Photograph, or Perform, or….)

Savasana — The Release
oil on linen, 44″ x 32″
© Amy Funderburk 2008 – 2011, All Rights Reserved
Meditation image from the series Images From the Otherworld

 

Have you seen The Object, that iconic surrealist sculpture in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York? This fur-covered cup, saucer, and spoon that likely graces the pages of your art history book was created in 1936 by artist and photographer Méret Oppenheim (1913–1985). Oppenheim, though born in Germany, was a Swiss artist.

And she was female.

In honor of Women’s History Month in March, after relating my college tale of being told by a fellow student that I “paint like a man,” I challenged you to list all the famous women artists and those artists who identify as female who you can remember. So far, we have a cornucopia of 109 artists!

Despite the noteworthy nature of The Object, Oppenheim was not mentioned on anyone’s list. However, it will probably come as no surprise that the name on everyone’s list was a different female Surrealist and Modern artist – Frida Kahlo.

Kahlo (1907-1954), was a Mexican artist known for her self-portraits that reflected her physical pain and tragedy. Like several of the women most often listed, though she was married to a fellow artist, through achieving her own fame, she managed to not merely stand in her husband’s shadow.

Since a quick Internet search for Kahlo’s name will result in a vast array of merchandise available for purchase, including pencil cases, makeup bags, and paper dolls, I think the argument could be made that she ultimately eclipsed the success of her spouse, muralist Diego Rivera.

I would also venture to say that American Modernist Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986), included by most of the contributors, is more of a household name than her albeit famous husband, photographer and art dealer Alfred Stieglitz.

Unfortunately, none of us remembered to list Elaine de Kooning.1

Pablo Picasso fans will know the name Dora Maar (1907-1997). However, most of us do not know her for her own Surrealist photography, paintings and poetry, but for being a muse and lover to the infamous Cubist.

And for those who are well acquainted with that Artistic Wyeth Triumvirate of NC, Andrew, and Jamie, did you also know that Andrew had two sisters? Henriette (1907-1997) and Carolyn (1909-1994) were also artists.

Despite the absence of names such as Oppenheim and Maar on our collective lists, I am happy to say that the Surrealist movement was well represented beyond Kahlo. Diverse American artist Dorothea Tanning (1910-2012) – a painter, printmaker, sculptor, writer, and poet – was listed twice, and British-born Surrealist painter Leonora Carrington (1917-2011), who lived in Mexico City, was mentioned by several contributors.

In addition to O’Keeffe, others who appeared on multiple participants’ lists included Impressionists Mary Cassatt (American, lived in France; 1844-1926) and Berthe Morisot (French, 1841-1895); Abstract Expressionists Lee Krasner (1908-1984) and Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011); American figurative and portrait painter Alice Neel (1900-1984); American Feminist and installation artist Judy Chicago (b. 1939); conceptual and performance artist Marina Abramović (Yugoslavian-born; b. 1946); British Modernist sculptor Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975); French-American sculptor and installation artist Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010); and Postmodernist, conceptual and Feminist artist Barbara Kruger (1945).

Additional artists who are among those on my own list as well as appearing on the list of one other contributor were French Realist painter Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899); French sculptor Camille Claudel (1864-1943); Italian Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1653); German Expressionist Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945); Japanese multidisciplinary, installation, performance, conceptual and Pop artist Yayoi Kusama (b. 1929); American photographers Annie Leibovitz (b. 1949), Sally Mann (b. 1951), and Cindy Sherman (b. 1954); American sculptor Louise Nevelson (Ukrainian-born; 1899-1988); and Japanese-born conceptual, multimedia, and performance artist and musician Yoko Ono (b. 1933).

Names new to me who were listed by at least two others include British artists Tracey Emin, Tanith Hicks, Paula Rego, and Jenny Saville.

Emin (b. 1963) and Saville (b. 1970) are both Young British Artists (YBA’s), a loose group of visual artists that also includes Damien Hirst. To create her autobiographical, often provocative work, Emin uses various media including needlework, traditionally considered a task for women.2 Saville is known for her large-format paintings of nudes.

Rego (Portuguese-born; b. 1935) is a painter, pastellist, and printmaker whose work is often based on folk tales, fables, and storybooks. Hicks, who creates jewelry, masks, and other items, is inspired from a similar source – European folklore, myths, and fairytales.

I was determined to reach 50 names on my own list – and I’m happy to say that I surpassed that goal! During this time period, I also ran across many other creatives who I had forgotten to mention – including another important Surrealist, the Argentinean painter, illustrator, and writer Leonor Fini (1907-1996) – as well as artists who were new to me, such as Agnes Martin (1912-2004), an American minimalist abstract painter born in Canada.

Alas, for every name, there are many others who we thus far have neglected to list, and, like all artists, they each have their own story worth telling. Eva Hesse (1936-1970) was a Postminimalist sculptor with a tragic life whose family fled Hitler’s Germany when she was only three. Rachel Ruysch (1664-1750), a Dutch floral still-life painter, enjoyed great success as court painter to the Elector Palatine in Düsseldorf, Bavaria, Germany.

Were you surprised when you read Ruysch’s dates? If you only know the names of contemporary women artists, you may assume that there were few to no female creatives in the age of the Old Masters. Such artistic forerunners laid important groundwork for those who came after, for we stand on the shoulders of giants.

Three noteworthy classical painters from the Renaissance through the 18th century who I am glad to have included are Lavinia Fontana, Artemisia Gentileschi, and Élisabeth Louise Vigée-Lebrun.

Renaissance artist Lavinia Fontana (1542-1614) became the first woman painter from Bologna to achieve fame throughout Italy. Though she had 11 children, Fontana pursued a flourishing art career while her husband tended to the household chores, in addition to painting backgrounds and frames for his wife. She was commissioned to paint religious, mythological, and nude subjects as well as portraits, thus expanding the scope of subject matter created by female painters in her day.3 According to the National Museum of Women in the Arts, “Fontana is regarded as the first woman artist, working within the same sphere as her male counterparts, outside a court or convent.”4

Successful Italian Baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1653) brought the dramatic, theatrical “Caravaggesque” style of painting from Rome to Florence, Genoa, and Naples. Her version of Judith Beheading Holofernes (1614-1620) features a biblical heroine who looks like she’s fully capable of getting the grisly job done! Most versions of this theme by Gentileschi’s contemporaries make Judith look as if she is barely able to lift a sword. 5

Élisabeth Louise or Marie-Louise-Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun (1755-1842) became the court painter to the French queen, Marie Antoinette. After escaping Paris during the French Revolution, Vigée-Lebrun went on to enjoy fame across Europe as well as France, living for a time in Italy, Austria, and Russia. 6 During this period of exile, Vigée-Lebrun commanded much higher prices for her portraits than did her contemporaries. 7

Prior to the French Revolution, painter Jacques-Louis David paid Vigée-Lebrun a so-called “compliment” that may sound quite familiar if you read my initial article on this subject. After Vigée-Lebrun’s admission to the Royal Academy, during an exhibition at the Salon, David told his fellow artist that “one of her paintings was so good it looked as if it had been painted by a man.” 8

Fast forward to today, and my favorite “new to me” inspirational artist story has to be that of Phyllida Barlow. This British sculptor (b. 1944) celebrated her 73rd birthday in April. Her star began to really rise in 2010, and she was recently selected to represent the UK at the 57th Venice Biennale that opened to the public on May 13, and runs through November 26, 2017. 9

In her recent article about Barlow, Charlotte Higgins offers some insight into the artist’s recent rise to fame. While gender may have been a factor in delaying her success, Higgins also cites some good news: that “the art world has, over the past decade, been collectively in the mood to reassess the work of older women.” 10

In keeping with this trend, according to Andrew Goldstein in his recent article for Artnet, the Board of Directors of the Venice Biennale has recently been awarding the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement as a way “to embrace an accomplished older female artist whose contributions had gone without due recognition for too long.” This year, the honor went to Carolee Schneemann (b. 1939). Also a painter, this American artist is best known for her pioneering contributions to Feminist performance art. 11

Though only around one third of this year’s Venice Biennale artists are female, Liliana Porter (Argentinean-born; b. 1941), who lives and works in New York, is participating with a sculptural installation in the Pavilion of Time and Infinity.12 In contrast, the curators of the 2017 Whitney Biennial in New York have selected a much better balance of both women and minority artists. Most of the oil and acrylic painters included this year are women, including 87 year old former Minimalist Jo Baer (b. 1929).13  14

I wholeheartedly agree with environmental artist Jeanne-Claude (1935-2009), another woman from my list, when she said that artists do not retire. Just ask 88 year old Japanese multidisciplinary artist Yayoi Kusama (b.1929), whose retrospective exhibition, Infinity Mirrors, just closed at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC, featuring works from her 65 year career as well as recent paintings. 15

And of course, well-known American folk artist Grandma Moses (1860-1961) didn’t even begin painting until she was 78. But best of all is Aboriginal artist Loongkoonan (b. c.1910). This Nyikina elder from Western Australia began painting around age 95, and, now around 107, is still exhibiting her work.

And you thought yoga, meditation, and a vegetarian diet were going to be my secrets for longevity.

Sometimes, good things take time to come to fruition. Just this March, the Musée Camille Claudel opened in Claudel’s former family home in Nogent-sur-Seine, France. Claudel was a student, studio assistant, artistic collaborator, and lover of sculptor Auguste Rodin, who cast a very large and dark shadow. After her breakup with Rodin, she destroyed much of her own work before entering an asylum, but the museum was able to acquire 43 surviving drawings, casts, and sculptures.16

Claudel does appear on our list below, along with 108 other creatives. Many you may already know, but for any names new to you, I hope you’ll take time to explore the bodies of work of these varied artists who work along the full spectrum of styles and media, including painting, photography, printmaking, performance art, installation, illustration, choreography, and activism.

While some participants chose to list their well-deserving colleagues as well as those women already in the Art History books, I had already chosen not to do so, with a couple of noteworthy exceptions, lest the list get too unwieldy. I have marked my contributions with asterisks. While I hope you will take the time to research the works of many of these women, I call your attention to a few particular favorites:

Diana Al-Hadid (Syrian-born; b. 1981): her striking, elegant mixed-media sculptures, installations, and drawings often contain figural elements. Al-Hadid now lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Meinrad Craighead (b. 1936): this American visionary artist, a former Catholic nun, explores the theme of the Divine Feminine in her artwork, often including mythological elements and animals.

Evelyn DeMorgan (1855-1919): an English painter influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, particularly Edward Burne-Jones. Spiritualism was a recurring inspiration for the artist.

Julie Heffernan (b. 1956): an American painter known for her symbolic self-portraits and lush fantasy landscapes. Her most recent works have an environmental message.

Michele Oka Doner (b. 1945): an American sculptor who merges natural forms with figural elements in her most recent pieces. The wide scope of her work also includes public art.

Sylvia Wishart (1936-2008): a Scottish landscape artist from Orkney. She created layers of interest in her works by frequently depicting reflections and using texture.

My deep appreciation to all those who participated – thank you for remembering artists both known and unknown to me, and for remembering some of those who I had neglected to list.

While this was more of an exercise rather than an exhaustive overview, there are so many more names in my Women Artists book that I roll my eyes in frustration that I didn’t list them all. If you don’t see your favorites here, please add the names in the Comments section of my blog post and let’s keep the list growing!

I think I’ll add Suzanne Valadon right now and make it 110….

All the best, and Namaste,

Amy

(Please note: I am humbled and honored that some of you chose to include me on your lists! I’ll do my very best to try to be remotely worthy of inclusion in such esteemed company.)

  1. *Marina Abramović
  2. *Diana Al-Hadid
  3. Jackie Anderson
  4. *Laurie Anderson
  5. *Phyllia Barlow
  6. *Jennifer Bartlett
  7. *Jackie Battenfield
  8. Vanessa Beescroft
  9. Gretchen Bennett
  10. *Rosa Bonheur
  11. Lee Bontecou
  12. *Louise Bourgeois
  13. *Romaine Brooks
  14. Laurel Burch
  15. Dora Carrington
  16. *Leonora Carrington
  17. Lorena Carrington
  18. *Mary Cassatt
  19. Karen Cater
  20. *Judy Chicago
  21. *Camille Claudel
  22. *Meinrad Craighead
  23. *Imogen Cunningham
  24. E.V. Day
  25. Jay Defeo
  26. *Evelyn DeMorgan
  27. *Elsie Dinsmore Popkin
  28. *Lois Dodd
  29. Marlene Dumas
  30. Tracey Emin
  31. Karen Finley
  32. Beth Fischer
  33. *Janet Fish
  34. *Audrey Flack
  35. *Lavinia Fontana
  36. *Helen Frankenthaler
  37. Amy Funderburk
  38. Coco Fusco
  39. Penelope Gavin
  40. *Artemisia Gentileschi
  41. *The Guerilla Girls
  42. Joyce Gunn Cairns
  43. *Grace Hartigan
  44. *Barbara Hepworth
  45. Tanith Hicks
  46. *Jeanne-Claude
  47. *Julie Heffernan
  48. Jenny Holzer
  49. *Anna Hyatt Huntington
  50. Jayne Johnson
  51. *Frida Kahlo
  52. Margaret Keane
  53. Karen Kilimnik
  54. *Käthe Kollwitz
  55. *Lee Krasner
  56. Barbara Kruger
  57. *Yayoi Kusama
  58. *Dorothea Lange
  59. *Annie Leibovitz
  60. Vivian Maier
  61. *Sally Mann
  62. Linda McCartney
  63. Paola McClure
  64. *Beverly McIver
  65. Julie Mehretu
  66. Joan Mitchell
  67.  *Merry Moor Winnett
  68. Polly Morgan
  69. *Berthe Morisot
  70. *Grandma Moses
  71. *P. Buckley Moss
  72. *Alice Neel
  73. Deirdre Nelson
  74. *Louise Nevelson
  75. *Michelle Oka Doner
  76. *Georgia O’Keeffe
  77. *Yoko Ono
  78. Catherine Opie
  79. Ru Paul
  80. Elizabeth Peyton
  81. Jody Pinto
  82. *Beatrix Potter
  83. Paula Rego
  84. Charlotte “Lotte” Reiniger
  85. PJ Richards
  86. Bridget Riley
  87. Faith Ringgold
  88. Beth Robertson Fiddes
  89. Lorraine Robson
  90. Jennifer Robson
  91. Jenny Saville
  92. *Susan Seddon Boulet
  93. *Cindy Sherman
  94. Jill Skulina
  95. Elizabeth Siddal
  96. Kiki Smith
  97. Nancy Spero
  98. Aileen Stackhouse
  99. Rima Staines
  100. Dorothea Tanning
  101. Jocelyn Taylor
  102. Maggie Taylor
  103. Jaune Quick-to-See-Smith
  104. *Suzanne Valadon
  105. *Élisabeth Louise Vigée LeBrun
  106. Kara Walker
  107. Alison Watt
  108. *Carrie Mae Weems
  109. Rachel Whiteread
  110. *Sylvia Wishart

1 Elaine de Kooning (1918-1989), an Abstract Expressionist and Figurative Expressionist, was married to artist Willem de Kooning.

2 Tracey Emin Studio. “Biography,” accessed May 24, 2017 http://www.traceyeminstudio.com/biography/

 3 Nancy G. Heller, Women Artists – an Illustrated History (New York: Abbeville Press, 1987) 19-20

4 National Museum of Women in the Arts. “Artist Profile: Lavinia Fontana,” accessed May 22, 2017, https://nmwa.org/explore/artist-profiles/lavinia-fontana

5 Heller, Women Artists – an Illustrated History, 29-32.

6 Heller, Women Artists – an Illustrated History, 58-60.

7 Lara Marlowe, “The French Feminist Painter Who Flattered Marie Antoinette,” The Irish Times, November 19, 2015, http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/art-and-design/the-french-feminist-painter-who-flattered-marie-antoinette-1.2435146

8 Marlowe, “The French Feminist Painter Who Flattered Marie Antoinette.”

9 Mark Brown, “Phyllida Barlow: an Artistic Outsider Who Has Finally Come Inside,” The Guardian, April 28, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/apr/28/phyllida-barlow-artist-success-2017-venice-biennale

10 Charlotte Higgins, “Bish-bash-bosh: How Phyllida Barlow Conquered the Art World at 73,” The Guardian, May 9, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/may/09/bish-bash-bosh-how-phyllida-barlow-conquered-the-art-world-at-73

11 Andrew Goldstein, “Anne Imhof’s Brooding Goth Performance Wins the 2017 Venice Biennale’s Golden Lion,” Artnet News, May 13, 2017, https://news.artnet.com/art-world/venice-biennale-golden-lion-959171

12 Kevin McGarry, “57th Venice Biennale ‘Viva Arte Viva’,” Art Agenda, May 17, 2017, http://www.art-agenda.com/reviews/57th-venice-biennale/

13 Jason Farago, “A User’s Guide to the Whitney Biennial,” The New York Times, March 8, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/08/arts/design/a-users-guide-to-the-whitney-biennial.html?_r=0

14 The 78th Whitney Biennial, not without its own heated controversy outside the scope of this article, opened March 17, and runs though June 11, 2017.

15 Hirshhorn. “About the Exhibition,” accessed May 24, 2017, https://hirshhorn.si.edu/kusama/the-exhibition/

16 Brigit Katz, “Museum Devoted to Camille Claudel, Long Overshadowed by Rodin, Opens in France,” Smithsonian.com, March 30, 2017, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/museum-devoted-camille-claudel-overshadowed-rodin-opens-france-180962718/

Also posted in Current Events, General art discussion and philosophy Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

That Time When Someone Told Me That I Paint Like a Man

South Tawton Ceiling Boss:
The Green Man (Simhasana — Lion’s Breath)
oil on panel, 16″ x 16″
© 2013 Amy Funderburk, All Rights Reserved
South Tawton Church, Dartmoor, Devonshire, England

During the reception for the 2013 exhibition in which I debuted the painting above, South Tawton Ceiling Boss: The Green Man (Simhasana — Lion’s Breath), I caught the eye of a visitor. She repeatedly looked back and forth — first at me, then up at the painting, which I had hung from and parallel to the ceiling.

The viewer approached me and asked, “Is that you?”

“Yes,” I replied. “It’s a self-portrait.”

“But it’s called The Green MAN,” she objected, puzzled.

“Exactly,” I replied with a smile.


When I was in college, there was a fellow art student who liked to make misogynistic comments to his female colleagues. In his case, his main motivation seemed to be a misguided attempt at getting attention, because the more one of his targets objected, the more teasing she received. As a result, though I certainly didn’t care for his offensive banter any more than my fellow female art students, I tried my best to not reveal my irritation, and since we also had a fellow male friend in common, he usually left me alone.

One day after he saw some of my paintings, he intended to complement me by saying,

You paint like a man.

Upon deeper discussion, it became clear that he was responding to certain qualities about my style that he chose to assign to his gender, including bold colors and brushwork, and the way I approached my portrait subject matter. Yet the irony was that my main influence in college was a female artist: Alice Neel.

Since I was ever one to eschew gender-specific roles and mores, I did not forget his comment. Why should anyone assign gender specificity to any certain style of painting? For the first couple of years after I graduated, I ended the initial version of my Artist’s Statement with this colleague’s comment; I felt it was important to make it clear that I was a woman artist.

Fascinated with the story, a curator polled viewers of my work during a 1992 exhibit. When pressed to choose, most thought that I was a male artist until they read my signature.

I hadn’t thought of these experiences until the recent International Woman’s Day and the Day Without a Woman strike on March 8th. So in honor of Women’s History Month, I give you this challenge: how many women artists and those artists who identify as female can you name? No cheating by looking in your art history books or online – just list the ones who come to mind. Post your list by making a comment below, and then I’ll share a compiled list in my next blog post.

In the meantime, while you are listing your artists, if you haven’t seen the film Big Eyes, be sure to check it out this month.

All the best, and Namaste,

Amy

Also posted in Archetypes and symbolism, General art discussion and philosophy Tagged , |

Liberty Leading the People: Art Reflects History

Aberlemno Stone #2: The Battle of Nechtansmere, reverse of Pictish carved stone, Aberlemno kirkyard, Scotland photograph ©2012 Amy Funderburk, All Rights Reserved

Aberlemno Stone #2: The Battle of Nechtansmere
reverse of Pictish carved stone, Aberlemno kirkyard, Angus, Scotland
photograph ©2012 Amy Funderburk, All Rights Reserved

As the world watched, there certainly seemed to be no room for a grey area reaction to this November’s US presidential election. It is no secret that this nation finds itself tremendously polarized, resulting in a cycle as pockets of violence born of fear create yet more fear.

In her post-election article, “Dear Artists: We Need You More Than Ever,” Katherine Brooks, Senior Arts and Culture Editor for the Huffington Post, quoted writer Toni Morrison:1

“This is precisely the time when artists go to work.”

Of course, artists have been a mirror for society for centuries, documenting and satirizing historic events. The famed Pictish carved stone from Aberlemno, Scotland shown above depicts a battle, most commonly believed to be the famous Battle of Nechtansmere, an important Pictish victory fought in 685 CE.

Certain dissident artists, including Ai Weiwei from China, are well known for work that is steeped in social activism or political commentary. One look at Guernica, Picasso’s mammoth monochromatic painting from 1937 in which he depicted the brutal bombing of a northern Spanish village, can show just how powerful the voice of an artist can be.

According to legend, during the Nazi occupation of Paris, Picasso’s apartment was raided. After seeing a photograph of Guernica, an officer asked the artist, “Did you do that?” Picasso replied, “No, you did.”

“If I haven’t fought for my country at least I’ll paint for her.”

— Eugène Delacroix

In 1830, the French Romantic artist Delacroix painted Liberty Leading the People. His masterpiece was apparently considered so politically revolutionary that it was placed in storage for years after being purchased by the French government. 2

In sharp contrast to the sequestering of the Delacroix work, Picasso’s Guernica went on tour to raise international awareness for the Spanish Civil War. The artist decreed that the painting could not enter Spain, however, until the country enjoyed “public liberties and democratic institutions.”3

Both Delacroix and Francisco Goya are frequently cited as influences on Picasso as he planned Guernica. In Goya’s stirring work completed in 1814, The Third of May, 1808 in Madrid, the artist shows an emotional event: French troops systematically massacring Spanish freedom fighters.

In juxtaposition to such dramatic imagery of specific historic events, even the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and their followers based certain works on social themes, including the plight of the Victorian woman.4 Through allegory and symbol, these British artists reacted against what they perceived as the societal ills brought about by the Industrial Age.

Art reflects history and preserves it for the future like a time capsule. Art is a catalyst for change, growth, and self-awareness. If you are a fellow artist moved by current events, think about how your visual voice can make a difference.

One of my friends in New York City, artist and photographer Gina Fuentes Walker, told me about the Subway Therapy project, a wall at the Union Square subway station now overflowing with primarily uplifting messages written on sticky notes by passers-by. Artist Matthew Chaves (who goes by Levee) started the community project to give people a place to express their feelings about current events. 5

“I was quite moved by the project because in addition to participating in a collaborative art installation, it was a moment to gather and come together as neighbors and residents of the city,” Gina said. Participants were respectful during their visit to the Subway Therapy wall, she added. “Occasionally the adhesive gave way and a message floated to the floor. Someone always picked it up and reattached the note to the wall.” This is a perfect example of how a simple idea can have powerful results and how art has the potential to make a difference in people’s lives whether they directly participate or are moved by the messages of others.

“Art is one of the most positive reaffirming things we can do in the face of adversity,” says Camille Seaman, who affects change with her stunning photographs of the melting Polar Regions.6 A champion for the issue of Climate Change, her recent works include portraits of the First Nations water protectors at Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota.

What is happening now politically has made me examine my own body of work, and what I aim to say through my imagery about the significance of the landscape and human condition.

However you may have voted, we can all make a difference. In my opinion, subjects that benefit everyone like the environment and the arts should be non-partisan. Such things that nurture the soul should be safeguarded.

If you are an art appreciator, now is the perfect time to be a patron for your favorite creatives who give voice to your shared points of view.

If you are a fellow artist, let’s roll up our sleeves now and get to work.

All the best, and Namaste,

Amy

Detail of Aberlemno Stone #2: the Battle of Nechtansmere Aberlemno kirkyard, Angus, Scotland photograph © Amy Funderburk 2012, All Rights Reserved

Detail of Aberlemno Stone #2: the Battle of Nechtansmere
Aberlemno kirkyard, Angus, Scotland
photograph © Amy Funderburk 2012, All Rights Reserved


1 Katherine Brooks, “Dear Artists: We Need You More Than Ever – A Trump Presidency Requires Artists Get Political,” http://www.huffingtonpost.com, November 10, 2016
 
2 Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker, speakers. “Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People,” Video, Khan Academy, accessed November 28, 2016, https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/becoming-modern/romanticism/romanticism-in-france/v/delacroix-liberty-leading-the-people-1830

PBS.org. “Guernica: Testimony of War,” accessed November 30, 2016. http://www.pbs.org/treasuresoftheworld/a_nav/guernica_nav/main_guerfrm.html 
 
4 Christopher Wood, The Pre-Raphaelites (New Jersey: Crescent Books, 1994) 12
 
Malcolm Warner, The Victorians: British Painting, 1837-1901 (Catalog for the exhibition at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, New York: Harry N Abrams, Inc., 1996)

5 “Subway therapy: Artist creates an outlet for postelection venting in NYC,” Yahoo News, November 11, 2016, https://www.yahoo.com/news/subway-therapy-artist-creates-outlet-174618305.html 
 
Michelle Young, “Governor Andrew Cuomo Adds Post-It Note to Union Square Subway Therapy Project,” Untapped Cities.com, November 15, 2016, http://untappedcities.com/2016/11/15/governor-andrew-cuomo-adds-post-it-note-to-union-square-subway-therapy-project/
 
Check out #SubwayTherapy to view examples and learn more about this project. You can find Gina on Twitter @gfuenteswalker and check out her work by visiting www.ginafuenteswalker.com.

6 Currently Camille is seeking sponsorship through a GoFundMe campaign, “Into the Ice: Return to Antarctica.” (https://www.gofundme.com/returntoantarctica) You can discover her haunting iceberg photographs and other works on her website, www.camilleseaman.com. 

 

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The Skies Have It

Maxfield Parrish Sunset June 24, 2016 Winston-Salem, NC digital photograph © Amy Funderburk 2016, All Rights Reserved

Maxfield Parrish Sunset
June 24, 2016 Winston-Salem, NC
digital photograph for painting reference
© Amy Funderburk 2016, All Rights Reserved

On October 2nd, we were very fortunate to attend a lecture by renowned surreal photographer Jerry Uelsmann at the Nasher Museum of Art in Durham, NC.Uelsmann delivered an insightful, sincere talk. His lecture was the best I’ve ever heard – and I’ve heard more than a few.
 
If you are familiar with Uelsmann’s work, it will come as no surprise that I love his surreal vision. At a time before digital imaging software, he created such imagery – and still does – using only darkroom techniques.

As he mentioned old favorites like Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell, I was on the edge of my seat. I will undoubtedly refer back to more of Uelsmann’s many pearls of wisdom in the future, but one of the recurring themes he stressed was the need to be authentic in your work.

I completely agree, and believe that as you create work that is true to you, you can also discover even more about yourself in the process. Dancing back and forth, these two aspects feed each other as an artist goes deeper within. I often say that the more personal your imagery becomes, the more universal it is – the essence of the human condition, if you will.

“The camera basically is a license to explore.”

– Jerry Uelsmann

In the lecture we attended, Uelsmann elaborated by saying it this way: “A camera gives you license to stare at a crack in the sidewalk and folks don’t think you’re crazy.”

It is usually best for creatives to let go of such judgments or labels imposed on them by others, but Uelsmann’s aphorism reminded me of an experience Jimmy and I had in late September.

While we were in a store, we missed quite a hail storm. We emerged just before sunset to a dramatic sky, so when we arrived at our chosen restaurant for dinner, we immediately starting taking photographs. It was a clashing combination of drama meets delicate color and value shifts. J. M. W. Turner would have been proud.

Then through her open window, a woman in a nearby car asked us in a perplexed but innocent tone,

“Why are you taking photos of the sky?”

I was quite puzzled by her inquiry. But why wouldn’t we photograph such a sky? We are usually delighted to see others alongside us in a parking lot, comrades in admiration of nature’s beauty.

“We’re artists,” I replied simply. She nodded, seeming to accept this as a carte blanche reason for us to do anything she considered eccentric.

As an artist, I stockpile such moments as potential future reference photographs for paintings. You never know when you’ll need just the right dramatic sky with backlit clouds to complete your composition.

Yet even if I didn’t have the “art excuse,” there is something about capturing these fleeting moments that I find satisfying. The sky is never the same twice, which is quite a meditative concept to me. Skywatching instills a sense of peace within me as I navigate this busy modern world.

Dramatic Sky on the Way to the Beach Near Raleigh, NC, May 14, 2016 digital photograph © Amy Funderburk 2016, All Rights Reserved

Dramatic Sky on the Way to the Beach Near Raleigh, NC, May 14, 2016
digital photograph for painting reference
© Amy Funderburk 2016, All Rights Reserved

Serene Pink and Grey Sunset October 3, 2016 digital photograph for painting reference © Amy Funderburk 2016, All Rights Reserved

Serene Pink and Grey Sunset, October 3, 2016
Between Greensboro and Winston-Salem, NC
digital photograph for painting reference
© Amy Funderburk 2016, All Rights Reserved

Here are some of my more successful recent attempts – because despite my best efforts, since I didn’t have my professional gear with me, capturing the delicate drama of the post-hailstorm sky on that particular day eluded me, so the results looked a bit lackluster.

I took all of these images spontaneously from various parking lots or on the street with just my mobile phone camera, so here they are complete with power lines and street lights.

Warm Dappled Sunset Clouds on a Vivid Blue Sky August 28, 2016 Greensboro, NC digital photograph © Amy Funderburk 2016, All Rights Reserved

Warm Dappled Sunset Clouds on a Vivid Blue Sky
August 28, 2016 Greensboro, NC
digital photograph for painting reference
© Amy Funderburk 2016, All Rights Reserved

Flock of Sheep Clouds at the Beginning of Sunset, June 23, 2016 digital photograph © Amy Funderburk 2016, All Rights Reserved

Flock of Sheep Clouds at the Beginning of Sunset, June 23, 2016
digital photograph for painting reference
© Amy Funderburk 2016, All Rights Reserved

So the next time you see a striking cloud or dramatic sunset, go ahead – grab your license to explore and stare at that proverbial crack in the sidewalk.

All the best, and Namaste,

Amy


1. Uelsmann, Jerry N. Keynote Artist Talk, Click Triangle Photography Festival and Nasher Museum of Art, Duke University, Durham, NC, October 2, 2016

Voldemort Sky, Winston-Salem, NC September 26, 2016 digital photograph © Amy Funderburk 2016, All Rights Reserved

Voldemort Sky, Winston-Salem, NC
September 26, 2016
digital photograph for painting reference
© Amy Funderburk 2016, All Rights Reserved

Sunset with Light Rays, Liberty Street, September 14, 2016, Winston-Salem, NC digital photograph © Amy Funderburk 2016, All Rights Reserved

Sunset with Light Rays, Liberty Street, September 14, 2016, Winston-Salem, NC
digital photograph for painting reference
© Amy Funderburk 2016, All Rights Reserved

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Complementary, My Dear Watson!

Still Life for Mastering Color workshop, August 27-28, 2016 Lit by green gel to show red shadows © 2016 Amy Funderburk, All Rights Reserved

Still Life for Mastering Color workshop, August 27-28, 2016
Lit by green gel to show red shadows
© 2016 Amy Funderburk, All Rights Reserved

In this Still Life, what colors do you see?

If you aren’t familiar with the Color Wheel, in essence, it is a system of organizing the colors of the rainbow by placing them in a circle that flows from one color into the next. Red and yellow make orange, so red flows into orange which in turn moves into yellow. Yellow and blue create green, so yellow melds into green, which flows into blue, and so on. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet move around the Wheel, then violet connects back to red.

The way colors combine with other colors on the Color Wheel, interacting with our eye to create certain optical effects and emotional reactions, are called color schemes.

For my recent Mastering Color workshop, after setting up these objects, I lit them with a spotlight covered with a green theatrical lighting gel to demonstrate how a color will create natural shadows of its complementary color. Complementary colors are those opposite each other on the color wheel — in this case, green and red.

Look in the shadows cast by the objects in this still life. Once my angled green light hit the objects, the shadows appeared dramatically redder.  The complements look for one another.

They also neutralize each other when mixed, and look for one another. This is the most dramatic of color schemes, and provides the highest color contrast. As artist Marc Chagall said, All colors are the friends of their neighbors and the lovers of their opposites.”

Claude Monet knew this when he painted his wife and son in Camille and Jean on a Hill — or any number of other works, for that matter. He did not hesitate to daub red within the dramatic cast shadow in the green grass, rather than simply relying on a darker green. This results in a lively, rich shadow.

The other main pairs of complements are yellow and violet and blue and orange. Start looking around you!

The Report on Mastering Color

On the weekend of August 27-28th, I hosted the Mastering Color workshop at my studio, and was thrilled with the color scheme projects created by the participants.

We explored the nuances of that most emotionally evocative of elements with the help of the Color Wheel, and examined some of the reasons behind our physiological and psychological reactions to color. The participants’ enthusiasm was infectious!

Many thanks to all those who attended! If you missed it, I hope you can join me the next time I offer the workshop.

All the best, and Namaste,

Amy

August 27-28, 2016 © 2016 James C. Williams, All Rights Reserved

Mixing demonstration in watercolor, Mastering Color workshop with Amy Funderburk August 27-28, 2016
© 2016 James C. Williams, All Rights Reserved

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Art Requires Courage

O. THE LEAP OF FAITH oil on oil primed linen, 36" x 48" ©Amy Funderburk 1999, All Rights Reserved My interpretation of The Fool tarot card in the series Wisdom of the Ancient Lore.

O. THE LEAP OF FAITH
oil on oil primed linen, 36″ x 48″
© Amy Funderburk 1999, All Rights Reserved

My painting professor once called me fearless. I have since come to realize that this is the highest complement I have ever been paid as an artist.

“I’m frightened all the time. But I never let it stop me. Never!” – Georgia O’Keeffe

Pursuing your dream, in art or any other field, brings its own rewards. Yet art requires courage. It is a leap of faith in a society that prizes safety nets and security. Art, however, feeds on risk taking.

Fear is a wide umbrella that gives shelter to many shadows lurking in our minds: fear of failure, of rejection, of being judged, of not being good enough, of not making enough money. Much has been written about the artist and this, our creative nemesis.1

In his blog post, The Perfect Creative Personality, David J. Rogers describes his ideal recipe for an artist of any discipline. According to Rogers, the perfect creative is bold and fearless, and one who creates sincere work with integrity.2

Boldness, observes Rogers, is important for achieving success in any field, but “…especially in the arts where courage isn’t a luxury but a necessity. The great creative personalities couldn’t have attained success had they not taken bold risks.”

“What I do is face the blank canvas, which is terrifying.” – Richard Diebenkorn

What Diebenkorn (one of those great creative personalities) describes is a painter’s version of the infamous writer’s block faced by pressured wordsmiths. This is perhaps the first taste of fear experienced by a budding artist.

One of the advantages of the underpainting technique is that you cover up the intimidating white surface. When you apply this initial thin, lean layer of pigment to the primed substrate, it physically loosens up your arm and gets both your mind and your painting jump started with broad, energetic strokes. Then you’re just adding more paint on top of paint, which looks much less intimidating than a pristine canvas staring back at you.

Fear fades with more practice. There are ways around – or better yet, through – the fear.

“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” – attributed to Joseph Campbell

But like all great challengers, sometimes fear – or more precisely, the learning from it and moving beyond it to a higher emotional state – is what helps us mine up the deeper riches of creativity. You may have thought of the memorable cave scene from Star Wars: Episode VIthe Empire Strikes Back when you read the above quote. Our greatest so-called enemies are usually ourselves, and whether or not we move forward depends on our choices. Do we listen to the often crippling voice of fear or boldly follow the light of inner growth?

Your hope and fear are often opposite sides of the same coin. Perhaps you hope for success, yet fear it as well. By avoiding the quest for your goal, you give fear a comfortable home by choosing not to try. As Lao Tzu said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” Being in the present moment assuages fear of the unknown.

“The two terrors that discourage originality and creative living are fear of public opinion and undue reverence for one’s own consistency.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson 3

I feel that the more personal an artist’s or writer’s imagery is the more universal it becomes. With just the right doses of inspiration and skill, a creator can depict a firsthand experience and birth a symbol or narrative for the human condition.

What results from portraying such intimate subject matter is a certain peeling back of the usual protective emotional layers. You can be left feeling as though your soul has been stripped bare, all the while hoping that other people like what they see or read.

Emerson goes on to say, “The great figures of history have not cared for the opinions of their contemporaries.” 4

Yet meeting someone who fully connects with your work and “gets” what you do may feel like emerging into light after a journey through a dense forest. If fear of being misunderstood or not accepted has held sway over you, there is a sense of relief.

To move through such fear, first and foremost, create for yourself instead of trying to please the critics or chase the buyers. Write, paint, or draw what you feel called to create for the joy of it and then you can find the right target market for your work.

If you fall into the trap of trying to match everyone’s sofa, then you end up with a lot of framed wallpaper that camouflages the furniture. Then how will you know where to sit down? Be bold and sing with your own unique voice.

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.” – Mark Twain

As I read Rogers’ description of his artist friend who never finished a painting because she was terrified of it, I thought of certain unfinished works in my own studio. I vowed to pick up my brush and palette like a sword and shield at my next earliest opportunity.

I am always surprised when people who haven’t seen me for awhile ask me if I am still painting. Those who ask must have seen other creatives leave their path for some reason, or perhaps their inquiry is a reflection of their own experience. As Rogers astutely points out, “That’s why the top is such an exclusive place – because fear stops so many people from reaching it.”

Being waylaid by fear or doubt is often part of an artist’s story. For me, however, I agree with one of my artist friends, Jeremiah Miller. As he put it, as long as he is still breathing, he’ll still be painting.


Be sure to visit David J. Roger’s blog to read his eloquent post in full.

An internet poll called David’s book Fighting to Win the best motivational book ever written. He is working on a “how to be a writer” book. His blog is followed by creative people of all kinds. He lives in the Chicago area with his wife Diana.


1. David Bayles and Ted Orland, Art & Fear: Observations On The Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking. (Santa Cruz, CA and Eugene, OR: The Image Continuum, 1993)

I highly recommend this book for creatives working in any discipline.

Fans of Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, will also enjoy the book I am currently reading:

Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic – Creative Living Beyond Fear. (London/New York: Bloomsbury, 2105)

2. David J. Rogers, “The Perfect Creative Personality,” davidjrogersftw (blog), June 10, 2016, https://davidjrogersftw.com/2016/06/10/the-perfect-creative-personality/

3. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance,” in Essays, First Series, 1841

4. Emerson, “Self-Reliance.”

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Art’s Purpose

The Wishing Tree mixed media interactive installation © 2012, Amy Funderburk All Rights Reserved

The Wishing Tree
mixed media interactive installation
© 2012 Amy Funderburk All Rights Reserved

“The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.” – Aristotle

I often engage in fruitful philosophical discussions about art with my sister, poet Julie Funderburk. During the course of one recent conversation, she wrote:

“Art’s most important purpose isn’t about permanence, is it?

Depending on environmental conditions and the techniques or materials used, the ravages of time can take its toll on even the greatest of the Old Masters. Examples like Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper illustrate this all too well. Painted in the late 15th century, unfortunately the mural has suffered extensive deterioration – yet it remains one of the world’s most iconic works of art.

“A beautiful body perishes, but a work of art dies not.” – Leonardo da Vinci

Perhaps in unfortunate cases like The Last Supper, we can consider the ephemeral “beautiful body” that da Vinci speaks of to be fragile substrate and pigment, while the true work of art is the artist’s surviving conceptual idea.

I could list several other cautionary tales of artists whose works typically suffer from deterioration. Mark Rothko used unbound pigments to create luminosity in his oils. Albert Pinkham Ryder’s paintings, due to the artist’s careless use of his materials, are notoriously unstable.

“It is a widely accepted notion among painters that it does not matter what one paints as long as it is well painted. This is the essence of academicism.” – Mark Rothko

Rembrandt, on the other hand, is considered a conservator’s hero. It was long assumed that he must have used a complex painting medium to achieve his effects. As it turns out, his secrets were simply linseed oil and great technique.1

How does one balance an artist’s drive for creativity and innovation with doing one’s best to foster longevity via the materials and methods employed?

I think the first answer to this question may lie in the intention for the work.

Artist Andy Goldsworthy masterfully uses natural materials such as stone, leaves, and ice, but the way time and elemental forces evolve or disintegrate his elegant works is just as important an element in his creations as the physical components.2

Tibetan Buddhist monks fashion intricate sculptures out of butter as offerings. Their colorful sand mandalas are created and then ritually destroyed.

The purpose of creating the sand mandala is to engender healing and enlightenment. Through its ritualized destruction, the monks then illustrate the Buddhist concept of impermanence.

As an artist who cherishes the ideal of greatest longevity for my work, I purposefully explored the liberating idea of impermanence during the creation of The Wishing Tree installation. Though my team and I coated the pieces of bark with wood preserver, I know the materials will eventually biodegrade. From the inception of the project, I planned to burn the wishes that visitors tie to the removable branches. The ultimate purpose of the installation is community interaction.

Yet despite my initial impulse to explore impermanence, once I had the idea to use the resulting charcoal and ash as a drawing medium to illustrate the participants’ wish categories, I tested the materials for durability prior to making a mark on the first drawing.

I was delighted to find that, once sprayed with a workable fixative, the homemade charcoal and ash seem much more permanent than traditional vine or compressed charcoal.

While artists cannot control future environmental conditions or how a buyer may handle one of our works, if we do due diligence by researching, networking, and experimenting before using new materials, we are doing the best we can to insure longevity.3

If you agree with my sister’s point that art’s most important purpose is not about permanence, however, what do you feel is the primary raison d’etre of my field?

When I asked Julie, she replied:

“Art affects and reflects what is human.”

When she said this, I immediately thought of the title of an old art book: Man Creates Art Creates Man. Despite the gender-specific title, the concept expressed is the same as my sister’s statement.

“Art, like life itself, does not have to be defined or understood to be enjoyed. It must simply be received,” author Duane Preble states.4 “Above all, works of art reflect us.”5

I agree with Julie’s definition. Artists reflect what we – or sometimes our patrons – consider important. We chronicle our environment and what is happening around us in society, politics, or religion.

As Pablo Picasso said,

“Painting is just another way of keeping a diary.”

and

“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.”

How would you answer the question, “What is art’s most important purpose?”


Julie Funderburk is the recipient of a 2015 North Carolina Arts Council fellowship. LSU Press will publish her first book, The Door That Always Opens, in December of this year. Her poems appear in 32 Poems, The Cincinnati Review, and Ploughshares. Her chapbook Thoughts to Fold into Birds is available from Unicorn Press. She teaches at Queens University in Charlotte, North Carolina.


1. Virgil Elliott, Traditional Oil Painting: Advanced Techniques and Concepts from the Renaissance to the Present. (New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 2007), 98.

In this book, Elliott includes a thorough and enlightening section on Rembrandt’s painting techniques.

2. Andy Goldsworthy, Time. (New York: Abrams, 2000)

3. There are a lot of resources available to artists if you have questions about your art materials, though you may find conflicting information. Art making is sometimes subjective like art itself.

Start by contacting the manufacturer of your materials for one of the very best sources of information. Leading manufacturers conduct rigorous testing of their products. The various technical support representatives with whom I have spoken have all been very thorough and helpful. Networking with other artists who use the same materials is also invaluable.

New technology and conservation discoveries are expanding our field rapidly, so even certain information published a few years ago could now stand to be updated. As a good starting point, however, I highly recommend the following book:

Mark David Gottsegen, The Painter’s Handbook. (New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 2006)

Additionally, an invaluable resource is a forum hosted by the University of Delaware: Materials, Information, and Technical Resources for Artists (MITRA). Look through their copious extant information, or post a question of your own. I highly recommend this website.

4. Duane Preble, Man Creates Art Creates Man. (McCutchan Publishing Corporation, 1973) 5.

5. Preble, Man Creates Art Creates Man, 7.

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Taking Time: Looking at things differently

This post originally appeared as a feature article in the March 2016 issue of my newsletter, Off the Easel.

Patterns, St Tabitha'sThe Purple SpiralCloud Planet with Jack-o-Lantern Face, Corrimony Cairn

“I decided that if I could paint that flower in a huge scale, you could not ignore its beauty.” (Georgia O’Keeffe)

When I saw the following tweet by David Borthwick (@BorthwickDave), I was delighted:

“Turn your back on sunset: watch what the trees do when you are looking the other way.”

His eloquent words were accompanied by a lovely shot of dancing limbs painted deep rose and burnt orange by the fading light. I have noticed this myself many times – trees facing the closing day are set aflame by the retreating sun.

Seeing things differently is a major component of the artist’s mental toolbox. Sometimes that means looking in an altogether different direction, or, like Georgia O’Keefe, taking the time to see things on behalf of others — which is perhaps as good a definition of the role of artist as any other.

“Nobody sees a flower – really – it is so small it takes time – we haven’t time – and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.” (Georgia O’Keeffe)

When I was in Painswick, Gloucestershire, in the famed Cotswolds region of England, I made a discovery. Before our arrival, I had not heard of a holy well there, but as an enthusiast, I knew that wells could reveal their whereabouts via street names. The city of Wells in Somerset, home to the famed cathedral, is itself named for the presence of three wells. A bit of code breaking or translation is sometimes involved – it helps to know that Tobar is Irish and Scottish Gaelic for well or spring, for example.

When I saw “Tibbiwell Lane” on the map at the bed and breakfast, I was eager for the quest.

We found the modest well wedged between the lane and a retaining wall. The clear, refreshing water flowed from a stone channel into a small, shallow pool just below. A gentleman who lived above was out tending his garden, and he showed us an inscribed stone on the wall: Saint Tabitha, the origin of the “Tibbi” part of Tibbiwell Lane. This well was dedicated to her.

At first, I photographed the entire well in a more documentary fashion, showing it in its narrow space. As I got closer and started looking for more unique views and angles, however, I began to capture what I felt were more artistically successful images.

The Purple Spiral and Patterns, St Tabitha’s were two such works from this shoot. Focusing on the way the bright light fragmented the leaves below the surface or on the spiraled snail shells from the well’s encased inhabitants led me to discover more than just the small well itself.

Had I been satisfied with my initial photos and not taken the time to look closer, I would not have been so fully rewarded.

Another of my photographs, Cloud Planet with Jack-o-Lantern Face, Corrimony Cairn is perhaps a more extreme example of my desire to photograph the essence of a location beyond the appearance of the outer whole. I realize now that by lying down in the center of the Scottish cairn and looking up at the blue sky peeking through the clouds where the capstone had been removed, I aimed to capture the substance of the place as I experienced it.

I also now utilize this philosophy of seeing when installing certain paintings. My ceiling boss paintings are designed to hang from and parallel to the ceiling. When developing these works, I was inspired by the medieval carved wooden ceiling bosses in St. Andrews Church in South Tawton, Dartmoor, England. I designed this installation to give a viewer the same sense of place as I had when visiting the church. At the opening reception when I debuted these works, it amazed me how many viewers neglected to look up unless prompted.

South Tawton Ceiling Boss: The Green Man (Simhasana -- Lion's Breath)South Tawton Ceiling Boss: Sheela Na Gig (Supta Baddha Konasana -- Reclining Cobbler's Pose)Installation View, South Tawton Ceiling Bosses

I invite you to take up the artist’s stock in trade – to take the time to really see something. Perhaps this will be a subject that you pass by every day, like one of O’Keefe’s flowers. They say that artists can see approximately thirty values of any given color, whereas non artists only see ten. I think this is simply a matter of training the eye, of taking the time to discern subtle shifts in light, dark, and intensity.

If you are a fellow artist, I encourage you to look again, and to look within. To see with the wide eyes of a child, with that boundless level of wonder, enthusiasm, and curiosity.

All the best, and Namaste,

Amy

Also posted in Art Travels, Creativity, General art discussion and philosophy, Inspirational Quotes, Painting and painting techniques, Photography and photography techniques, Sacred Sites, Travel Tagged , , , |

Loving the Alien: an artist’s perspective on the creative genius of David Bowie

David Bowie Fan Art gouache on paper, circa 1985 to 1988 3" x 4" © Amy Funderburk circa 1985-1988 All Rights Reserved

David Bowie
fan art; gouache on paper, 3″ x 4″
© Amy Funderburk circa 1985-1988
All Rights Reserved

Knowledge comes with Death’s release…

I’m not a prophet or a stone-age man
Just a mortal with the potential of a superman
I’m living on

Quicksand, Hunky Dory (1971)

 

On Friday, January 8th, we celebrated David Bowie’s 69th birthday and the release of his new album, Blackstar.

At 2 AM the following Monday morning, tremendous shock tried its best to cushion my sorrow as I read the news that slowly sunk into my awareness as unbelievable truth. David Bowie had passed away on Sunday, January 10th.

“You know who I am,” he said
The speaker was an angel
He coughed and shook his crumpled wings
Closed his eyes and moved his lips
“It’s time we should be going”

Look Back in Anger, Lodger (1979)

I was surprised at the strength of my grief; it felt as though a long-time friend had died. Memories of how his music had affected me in both direct and subtle ways kept floating to the surface.

I realized that, since my first David Bowie memory in high school of Let’s Dance, his music was part of the soundtrack of my life.

In college, I took it upon myself to further my David Bowie education. Unlike many bands that I was introduced to by other music-loving friends, I am proud that I purposefully sought out more Bowie, and devoured every album that I came across.

One good look at my artwork and you might rightly guess that I like drama and romance in my music as well as the visual arts. Bowie offered all this and more in spades, and his creative methods are still excellent examples for artists of any discipline who quest for greater lateral thinking.

Turn and face the strange. For me, a scene from Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars: The Motion Picture 1 epitomizes Bowie in his role as an uplifting flag bearer for all the black sheep, creatives, the disenfranchised, and all the rest of us who never felt as though we ran with the pack of normality.

Bowie’s arm is first outstretched to the crowd, and then he reaches for their hands in the front row. As the song rises to a nearly operatic crescendo, his voice soaring over Mick Ronson’s wailing guitar, Bowie’s famous alter ego plaintively cries:

“You’re not alone! Gimme your hands, ‘cause you’re wonderful!”

Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972)

As artist Paul Watson (@lazcorp) from Brighton, UK, puts it, Bowie was “the champion of the weirdo and the outsider.” Since some artists grow up feeling like square pegs that someone is trying to force into round holes, Bowie songs naturally became like rallying cries.

Turn and face the strange
Ch-ch-changes
Don’t tell them to grow up and out of it

Changes, Hunky Dory (1971)

“Relentless creativity.” The musician’s influence on other performers is well documented, but as one of my friends in the UK (@thesweetcheat) beautifully describes, “…(Bowie) was always there as a huge influence on all the musicians I like, a major part of that big continuum of inspiration, so his passing felt unthinkable.”

Not limiting himself to just the music arena, Bowie impacted a host of creative realms, including film, fashion, theater, and other genres. He was also a painter and visual artist who worked in a variety of media. After writing a song about pop artist Andy Warhol (the artist reportedly walked off when Bowie first played it for him), Bowie went on to play the mop-wigged icon in a film about another American artist, Basquiat, 1996.

As a musician, Bowie courageously stretched himself time and again creatively, famously reinventing himself as various personas, and blowing the doors off of societal gender mores in the process.

He was a remarkably prolific recording artist; the exact number of albums listed in his discography varies depending on the source and what reissues, movie soundtracks, and various greatest hits are included. A friend reported that in the days immediately following Bowie’s passing, all of his CDs were sold out on Amazon.com, and some titles still are. Since his death, I have been going through our own collection, and am nowhere near completing my chronological review.

Paul eloquently describes Bowie’s “fearless creativity and his ability to change direction and style, seemingly without missing a step” in this way:

“His relentless creativity and agility are inspirations on my whole artistic process. It’s good to master an art form or technique, and Bowie undeniably did this many times, but he also made sure he was never enslaved to (them). He’d take something, voraciously absorb and learn it, and then – shunning any notions of purism or preciousness – radically change it or combine it with something very different to create something new.”

One of my very favorite methods employed by Bowie to this end was his use of a Dadaist technique to create certain lyrics. He would take lines from diaries and other varied sources, cut them up, and then rearrange them in new, and often surprising, combinations.

Paul also cites Bowie’s frequent collaboration with others as one of his routes to arrive at the new. One of those collaborators was musician Brian Eno, who worked with Bowie on the so-called Berlin Trilogy of albums Low, “Heroes”, and Lodger from 1977 to 1979.

In 1975, Eno and his friend, British painter Peter Schmidt, created a deck of cards they called Oblique Strategies. Each card contained a suggestion designed to prod creativity. This exciting tool for lateral thinking was used by Eno on the Berlin Trilogy of Bowie albums. Examples of these cards can be found online.2

A New York perspective. My friend, artist and photographer Gina Fuentes Walker (@gfuenteswalker)3, is a longtime New Yorker. She shares her favorite memory of David Bowie, a New Yorker himself for over 20 years, as he performed at The Concert for New York City at Madison Square Garden in 2001.

Held a month after the World Trade Center towers fell during 9/11, the concert was organized to honor fallen firefighters and other first responders. In his performance, Bowie both expressed and engendered a feeling of solidarity with other New Yorkers:

“He called out to his local ladder (our neighborhood fire department stations) and sang Simon and Garfunkel’s America. Listening to that performance again in the days following Bowie’s death reminded me how raw we all felt here in the city as we tried to make sense of what happened and as we wore profound sadness on our faces.”

Gina goes on to describe Bowie’s uncanny ability to make you feel that you belonged. “Like so many Bowie fans, I was deeply influenced by the passion in his voice, and this soulful rendition of America made me feel like we are all in the same canoe. We are all New Yorkers living and working together in the same city. Regardless of station, we live in close proximity to each other.”

Apparently, this side of Bowie, ever the collaborator, was not just stage presence. Gina explains: “As we all now share our memories of which Bowie song or album has meant the most to us, I am surprised to know how many friends and colleagues have had the pleasure to meet and work with him on various projects over the years. Almost to a fault, everyone mentions how courteous, supportive and kind Bowie was.”

The final persona. I find that whenever an artist digs deep to translate the profoundly personal into universal truth, the creative results are always powerful. With Blackstar, Bowie’s final album, much has already been made of the true meaning behind his lyrics now that we know the fullness of what the musician was experiencing. Even in the face of this major health crisis, not only was he continuing to work, but, as you might expect of Bowie, he was confronting his situation head-on as a true artist.

I will leave it to you to watch the video for the song Lazarus, to discover what you make of the layers of death symbolism depicted. It is raw, it is brave.

Look up here, I’m I heaven
I’ve got scars that can’t be seen
I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen
Everybody knows me now

Lazarus, Blackstar (2016)

An outpouring of grief. My friend @thesweetcheat said he’d never before seen anything like the public outpouring of grief in the UK as that for Bowie. Impromptu memorials were also created outside the Manhattan building in SoHo where Bowie lived, as well as the New York Theater Workshop where the production Lazarus, co-written by Bowie, was playing at the time of his passing.

Paul shared his perspective: “The news of his death was a very strange event here in the UK – I’d never seen so many of my peers so affected, as I was, by the death of a celebrity.”

Yes, Bowie had kept his illness a secret from the public. Perhaps another reason that his death came as such a shock, however, was that throughout his career, we had watched while he symbolically died and reincarnated repeatedly, giving the man himself a sense of immortality. We did not know until the stage was dark that Lazarus was his final persona to be shed.


1 Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars: The Motion Picture was released in 1983 from a concert filmed in 1973.
2 Much appreciation to Paul Watson for alerting me to Oblique Strategies. To order the current 5th edition, visit Brian Eno’s website. 
3 You can check out Gina Fuentes Walker’s work by visiting www.ginafuenteswalker.com.


David Bowie As Ziggy Stardust, Fan Art markers on paper, 3" x 4" © Amy Funderburk 1985 to 1988 All Rights Reserved

David Bowie As Ziggy Stardust
fan art; markers on paper, 3″ x 4″
© Amy Funderburk 1985 to 1988
All Rights Reserved

Also posted in Creativity, Inspirational Quotes Tagged |