The Studio of Eric Valosin

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Art of Flying

Hope you had a happy thanksgiving!  Mine was spent wearing a bowler, walking to Maine, and assuming that every irregularity I came across must by default be artistic.  It's funny how pervasive a way of looking at the world (like art) can be when you're inundated in it.  But now that I'm back from my little escape from artistic reality (...if by "reality" I mean "nonsensicality," and by "escape" i mean "suggesting only two destinations on our tour through downtown Portsmouth, NH, both of which were galleries.") I am once again left to the task of contemplating all this stuff I'm trying to do.  And besides, the fact that I've temporarily misplaced my notebook provides a perfect justification for why I'm writing this blog post rather than the 15 page paper that may or may not be due in 2 days!

I've been thinking about and discussing the problem of epiphany in my white canvases (a very seasonally appropriate problem, considering the first week of Advent...) (thank you for understanding that, Elaine.) which I had pondered with Robin Williams.  It seems to me that there needs to be a more physical presence in the layers that lead up to the final canvas, so that there is more of a concrete connection between the figure that is projected and the ground that it is projected onto (which holds the actuality of that entire process of creating the projected figure within it).  So, for my next project I think I will be attempting a much more textural, almost sculptural approach to the layered white canvas projection.  I still feel at a bit of a loss for the painted content, but I suppose I'll tackle one problem at a time.  If I can get my medium to address my concept before I even fill it with imagery, then the process of filling it will inevitably come, (Much in the way William Kentridge's charcoal erasure animations already speak of a state of being in post-apartheid South Africa before he ever even touches it.  Gee, I wonder who my 15 page paper is about?).  Well I'm sure there will be pictures of that to come.

Furthermore, I'm beginning an oil painting in which I'm attempting to delve into this notion of epiphany.  In conversation with my professor, Iain, it occurred to me that any sort of revelation, or commissioning, or any other spiritual endeavor for that matter, is impossible unless one takes particular interest in the act of self-preparation.  Specifically, the act of becoming actively passive;  Of deliberately and intentionally letting one's self be acted upon.  So I'll be painting this idea of preparing one's self for active passivity, and my goal is to not only paint a subject that is experiencing this, but to paint it in a way that is this experience - painting the tumultuous scene fairly benignly and using furiously active brushstrokes to paint the passive subject.  Hopefully this will satiate my other professor Julie's craving for a traditionally strong painting as well.  We shall see (the fact that I even suppose this probably means it will be a miserable failure).  Pictures of that in progress to come also, I'm sure.

In the meantime, I'll leave you with an excerpt by Douglass Adams which more or less sums up my practice of late:
"There is an art, it says, or rather, a knack to flying.
The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.
Pick a nice day, [The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy] suggests, and try it.
The first part is easy.
All it requires is simply the ability to throw yourself forward with all your weight, and the willingness not to mind that it's going to hurt.
That is, it's going to hurt if you fail to miss the ground. Most people fail to miss the ground, and if they are really trying properly, the likelihood is that they will fail to miss it fairly hard.
Clearly, it is the second part, the missing, which presents the difficulties."

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

"Everything happens [to get confusing] according to the Logos"

I'm trying to decide where to go with my next big project.  In one ear I have people whispering enlightenment into the filmic depth of my still painting.  In the other ear I have people whispering a very different sort of enlightenment into the form of my video pieces.  In the other ear (yes I have 3 ears) I have  years of church/ministry leadership experience telling me how people don't experience the divine, and how that correlates all too much with many trends in mainstream art.  But here's where my brain is at the moment:

First, as Robin Williams (the young and brilliant painter, not the actor) recently pointed out to me in a studio visit, there's admittedly a certain disconnect in the physical presentation of my projected white canvases and the realization that everything you see is actually present on the canvas you're looking at.  After a brief explanation of process though, the viewer has an "ahah" moment.  The task now is to somehow build that ahah moment into the piece so that it reveals itself, especially since, as Robin noted, the notion of spirituality is so much about that revelatory "ahah" moment.  How to do that is another story...

Second, as Shahzia Sikander's recent show in the Sikkema Jenkins Gallery in Chelsea revealed to me, there's yet another disconnect in the link between my still painting and my videos.  When you look at one of hers, you feel as if you've seen both, yet they are fundamentally unique at the same time.  Somehow the styles and content of the two bodies have to dialogue with each other a bit more.  How to do that is another story...

Third, I've been revisiting this idea of the Greek Logos after having shown my White Canvas: Logos at my open studio and discussing it with Iain Kerr.  I'm currently reading Martin Heidegger and Eugene Fink's Heraclitus Seminar, and their discussion of Heraclitus' notion that "Lightning steers the universe," in conjunction with the fragment,  "Everything happens according to the [Logos]," (linking the usage of the word panta, for everything and universe).  To make an extreme summation, they have built the argument that these translations are essentially terribly off, and that for one, "steering" is actually more accurately "a movement of bringing-forth-to-appearance," as lightning illuminates a landscape and causes it to exist to the eye of the beholder.

This gives me the sense that Logos has two distinct stances in the manner of creation.  In the Biblical use we can think of Logos as the "word," which was with God in the beginning as God literally spoke things into existence, and thus it speaks of the generative act of creation itself.  However, Logos as a divine guiding reason behind the universe, as Heraclitus would have seen it, seems to have less to do with creation as it does revelation.  So what is that "ahah" moment in regards to the Logos?  Well, if logos reveals, then that act of revelation is the transformation from unknowing to knowing (of making privy to the very undercurrent that guides the universe and had given it it's origins).  In a Christian sense, this would be the role of the Holy Spirit in revealing the Father.  How does one reach this ahah moment? The epiphany comes at the experience of this divinity, in which, to borrow from Spanish, knowing goes from supiendo to conociendo and head knowledge becomes experiential truth.  (Interestingly, this notion of epiphany of course also conjures up the wise men and the annunciation of the Son...).  If I've lost you, this diagram of my thought process should clear things up.  Or make it worse.  Who am I kidding, it will definitely make it worse.  If it helps, I started with the idea of religious triptychs on the left and then moved to questions in the middle, then down the page, settling then on the top of the page to reiterate my realizations.


If I'm asking my art to reveal as Logos reveals, I now ask myself how true divine experience can be entered into.  To my knowledge, the most successful way to allow people to enter into a space of true heartfelt experience is to allow worship to be self-guided and participatory.  I'm reminded of a worship service the youth group I led ran a few years back, in which they provided the tools needed to simply let congregants connect with God in whatever way seemed best for them, through art, through dance, writing, singing, prayer, reading, moving, listening, speaking, engaging others, literally whatever. 

Well, the good news is that this notion of revelatory transformation is in very tight dialogue with my process of layered projection, and it seems just a few tweaks away from true integrity.  Where I'm stuck however, is in the realization that I'm essentially asking my art to cause people to experience God upon seeing it (pshh, no biggie, right? ...) and that I get the sense it somehow needs to be more participatory and experiential in order to do that.

I'm pulling for Heidegger to suddenly send one of those Greek lightning bolts to illuminate my studio practice somewhere in the next 80 pages!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Christian + Art = Dumb Idea? That can't be right...

Ok, so I'm an artist.  And I fancy myself an aspiring Christian artist.  Well, I already am a Christian artist, in that I am Christian and an artist, so I guess that leaves only the aspiration of being a successful Christian artist.  So, the first question facing me is, WHY would I do that to myself?

If I'm looking to be a successful artist, there are many more plausible avenues than through Christianity - at least on first glance for sure.  And if I'm looking to be a successful Christian, then there would seem to be many more plausible avenues than through art - at least pragmatically.  So what is to be gained by combining the two?  The only logical conclusion I can come to is this:

Though art seems to have almost unparalleled rights to social critique, I suspect that a purely socially critical body of Christian art would soon devolve into the preachy, holier-than-thou, nose-thumbing rhetoric that creates stereotypes rather than dispelling them.  Granted, the artist has a great power to shape culture and that responsibility can't be ignored, but looking at the early Christian art of the Cloisters has made me think that there's a much grander point that is missing.

During a critique, a friend of mine said to me in an aside that he thinks its absurd to have artists talk about or write about their work.  If they wanted to do that, they'd be lecturers or writers.  But they chose to be an artist because they felt that for whatever reason, they could create a message visually that they could not adequately express in any other format.  And so, the privilege of the Christian engaged in the arts, is that they have the uncanny opportunity to convey to people things that simply cannot be expressed but through raw experiential thought and emotion.  The power of art is that it can enter the viewer into a revelatory participation with the artist as creator and maker of meaning.  And isn't religion all about making manifest the intangible and implausible?  Just in the way that the art of the Cloisters was not meant to be viewed so much as used, perhaps art has the potential to uncover the divine by allowing viewers to enter into participation with it in a way that no form of preaching ever could.

So, it now becomes apparent that my primary goal as a Christian artist aught not to be to transform the world into the Kingdom of God one social adjustment at a time, but to introduce the Kingdom of God to the world by allowing art to be a vehicle by which viewers encounter divinity for themselves!

Right.  Ok, well that just leaves the question of HOW.  How indeed...
I have a hunch that artistic success is somehow linked to 3 things: one, the ability to create a new medium, two, the way that medium is intrinsically tied to the social and conceptual landscape in which the artist works, and three, the willingness to adapt that medium into various formats for the sake of furthering that social and conceptual landscape.  I'll be researching these very points for a paper involving the work of William Kentridge and new media artist Erik Sanner, and I'm interested to see where this takes me and how it informs the direction of my work.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Open Studios, Opened and Closed

Thanks to all of you who came out to our Open Studios!  It was tons of fun to show off all the work we've been doing, and to make some great new connections as well as see some old friends!  If you missed it, here are some pics of the stuff I had on the first floor:

My newest White Canvas video: Cocreation

one corner of my Studio

another corner, featuring cookies and 
business cards

more of my studio

White Canvas: Logos

Installed next to Michelle Orsi-Gordon's work

I did have some older things upstairs and outside my room, but I'll have to get pics of them later if they're still installed when I get back monday.  But for now, onto a tour of the Lower East Side galleries tomorrow, and contemplations on a research paper (which means my next post will probably be much more philosophical...)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

MFA Open Studios!

Hey Everyone! (Ahem, Everyone? Are you listening Everyone?  That means you too!  Yes you!  I know, I know- I don't care that you accidentally found this post because of a google typo.  Let's call it fate.  Look, are you listening or not?  Ok fine then, be that way.  Go navigate to your grammatically correct intended destination! Psshh!)

Now then, Hey Everyone (minus Mr. Clumsyfingers)!

MFA OPEN STUDIOS at Montclair State University is happening FRIDAY FROM 6-11!  Check it out - here's a whole bunch of information:

It's not just students either; there will be real people exhibiting too, like Vito Acconci, Julie Evans, Gary Peterson, and others (How's that, Mr. Clumsyfingers?  Bet you wish you stayed on my blog now!)

Hope to see you there! (Even you,  Mr. Clumbsyfingers.)

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Bruegel Speaks of Cloistered Revelations

Bruegel taught me a great deal on his visit to the studio.  He taught me how I probably should have been using oils all along (though I still have much to learn).  He taught me that even if you reference Bosch in a painting (as I did in my Archetype I) you're not truly a disciple until you fill the canvas with more figures than Monet had brushstrokes.  More importantly though, as Julie and I discovered, he taught me the potential for making pieces inherently self critical and filmic through the mastery and juxtaposition of various painting styles.  For once, my styles and techniques (and limitations) did not detract from the piece, but rather caused parts of this 16th century masterpiece to have an oddly contemporary flair.  I'll have to ruminate on how this variance of technique can be honed, perhaps to the end of some sort of social critique (old ideas, after all, sometimes have to seem new, and vice versa, for them to seem socially viable...).

Most interestingly, I think, was the fact that several of the people who visited my studio during the process noticed not the contemporary brushwork, not the color or depth, but the fact that I had unconsciously cropped the canvas I was working on to get the proportions correct!  By drawing horizontal lines at the top and bottom to make the canvas a few inches shorter, I had created some sort of compounded illusion of cropping.  As James Sienna put it in my studio visit, "It's so interesting - you cropped the image, but then you cropped the canvas too!"  I'll have to work over the implications of this...  Might be one of those incidental oddities that becomes central in some unexpected way, that my professor Iain Kerr loves so much.

Speaking of Iain, today he took us to the Cloisters and revealed to us that we have completely lost the point of early Christian art, and that "Christian art can only be experienced with your eyes closed."  In proving this, as we approached a relief on the wall of Mary looking down and holding a dying Jesus in her lap, perspective tilted and skewed and figures oddly distended, we at first either pass it by feeling like a disconnected voyeur to this removed scene, or dismiss it with some naturalistic excuse as to why it was impractical to make it any other way.  But how was this piece meant to be viewed really?  Any good early Christian would have been viewing this as they approached it in prayer.  It was meant to be a worship tool, not art, after all.  And so, we walked up, knelt down underneath it and closed our eyes in prayer.  Upon finishing, we opened our eyes and looked up to an astonishing discovery.  From this vantage point, the foreshortening come into alignment and the perspective corrects itself.  Suddenly you are inside the scene, and a perfectly proportioned Mary is no longer looking down in sorrow, but look directly at you, interceding on your behalf, holding a Jesus who is no longer slanted uncomfortably forward but lying flat looking directly up to heaven!

The point of this revelation being, the artwork really only makes sense when you view it from the worldview in which it functions.  You must become part of the performance, and enter it's world.  "if your work can be viewed in passing without forcing someone to stop and enter its world, you might as well hang up your hat," asserts Iain.

What does this mean for a contemporary Christian artist?  The work at the cloisters featured an intense dedication to process - to beginnings, transformations, and endings.  Every decision made during the process had to bolster the message of Christ, from the mixing of the pigment (redemption of nature in use to create objects of worship) to the layout of the gardens (cosmological models of Eden).  What really is the crux of my message?  I can't bolster an idea without really knowing what it is.  Until then, my medium will run away with unintended messages, and form will run rampantly away from function.

A Studio Visit from Pieter Bruegel

My independent study advisor right now is Julie Heffernan.  In case you're not familiar, she's one of the "names" at MSU.  She's an enormously talented and enormously successful painter with a very tight, fairly traditional style that blends classical master painting with dreamlike surrealism - google her work if you feel like being blown away.

Faced with her critique that my style hedged relatively unsuccessfully between pictorial narrative and calligraphic gesture, I realized that I had the unique opportunity to learn to beef up the pictorial aspect of my painting from one of the best out there.  Excitedly, I entreated her to let me be her sponge.  And then she told me to learn depth by reproducing a painting by Hieronymus Bosch's protege, Pieter Bruegel... (pardon the slightly yellowed image)

... at which point I considered becoming a purely conceptual artist.

I begrudgingly sat down to this monstrous task, thankfully having the wherewithal to at least crop down to the top left corner that contained all the good stuff as far as depth - foreground, middleground, background - was concerned.  It wasn't long before I realized that I truly know almost nothing about traditional oil painting.  Transparency?  Wait, that's a thing?  What do you mean ivory black and titanium white are the worst choices possible for underpainting?  Warm underpainting for cool colors?  Glazing??  Scumbling??  How did I make it to grad school without ever learning these things?!

And so, after beginning to underpaint (a technique I've previously used very sparingly to begin with), I went to the local art store to supplement my heretofore arbitrary set of paints.

Well, at least the 2 weeks it took my misguided underpainting to dry allowed me to put together a new website and blog!  Over the next few weeks, I couldn't believe how much I was actually learning, starting with the sky and moving forward towards the foreground, and I soon found myself enthralled in this behemoth of an undertaking.

Until I finally had this - in all its subtle peculiarities, to present to Julie yesterday: (drumroll please)

In another post I'll go more into the specifics of these peculiarities and take-aways - I've rambled enough for now.  Suffice it to say that Julie was at first incredulous as to the fact that this even came from the same person she had critiqued a few weeks prior.  All in all though, I surprise myself to say that Bruegel can drop by my studio any time, now a welcomed visitor.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The art of (b)Logos

Logos:  The wonderful greek word from which we derive our notion of logic; Our philosophical quandaries, hopeful wisdom, and cosmic explanations, all filtered through speech; through words.  "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God."  "In the beginning was the Logos." Logos inherently speaks of creation.  With a word God created the universe.  In a fit of radical connectivity, "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us." Logos. In a fit of slightly less radical connectivity, we blog.  Blogos.

It seems fitting to couch my artistic thoughts, philosophies, and logic; my participation in the transcendent act of creating; my words, in such a term as this.  I hope you enjoy as I share the ridiculous complexities (or, perhaps equally as often, the idiotic simplicities) of my thoughts, begun during my Master of Fine Arts degree, and now continued beyond.

Here you'll find behind-the-scenes looks at works in progress, side projects, concepts and thoughts I'm working through, vignettes of my life as an artist, and, inevitably, a slew of highly irrelevant and mediocrely entertaining blather as I slowly move further and further out of touch with the original purpose of this blog.

Welcome to my (b)Logos!