Monday, November 24, 2008

Your work is to discover your work – and then with all your heart to give yourself to it.
- Buddha

Sunday, November 23, 2008


I got some feedback regarding one of my prints on Imagekind - Dream Structure I: Version 2 - she writes:

"Dear Rob, I got my print of 'Dream Structure' from Imagekind. It's more beautiful than I could have imagined! Thank you. xoxoxoxo" - Nancy, Long Island, NY

Thank you for the feedback Nancy - I'm really happy you are enjoying it so much. - Rob

Suiting Up

You have to be careful when working with a lot of art materials. Many of them have vapors which aren't so good for the body. Using the resin that I do is no exception - and actually one of the more noxious odors - smells a lot like straight ammonia while I'm working with it until it cures. I just mixed up a batch of that to coat a new taping I just finished, and to begin the bottom portion of Ogallala with. I usually put on goggles, wear gloves and a charcoal filtered mask with two straps - not just the flimsy little paper masks that are really just for nuisance dust. Whenever I 'suit up' like that - I am reminded of a time when I worked at this pharmaceutical company years ago. My buddy and I had to make a batch of some really nasty stuff - what made it so dangerous was we were working with a deadly chemical. Basically one fingernail of the stuff could kill - and we were making a 150 Kg batch about 30 to 40 Kg's being this dangerous chemical. We shut the entire building down and just he and I were 'suited up' with scott air packs and one piece over-all suits. It was kind of like '2001 A Space Odyssey' - and trust me, I had a lot of fun with that - walking around the building like an astronaut saying 'Hal, open the pod bay door - Hal' - or I would announce - 'Everyone stay calm, there is nothing to fear'.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

[The person] who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.

— Sir John Templeton, Laws of Life.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

What Attracts

I'm kind of curious what attracts people to art - I know that sounds kind of like a silly question but I really mean, specifically. Do people turn to art for entertainment - as a form of distraction, or is it a form of focus? Some of the work I'm very drawn to is for example Ellsworth Kelly, one piece in particular captivates me - it is 'Electric Blue' - I have a hard time explaining why. It is simply a large blue square, hung so that it hangs like a diamond. Is it the exact proportion? It doesn't translate on a computer screen so don't bother trying to get a sense of it there. I do believe that it is no exaggeration to say I could look at that piece longer than the Mona Lisa - is that strange? I'm also a big fan of Jonathan Borofsky - I really like in particular how he would dream, or write down some silly little part of his dream and then make that into an art piece. Who else? Malevich - he was a Russian artist who created these things he called Suprematist compositions - and my favorite among them was 'White on White' - Malevich believed that 'the object in itself was meaningless ... the ideas of the conscious mind are worthless' - on a conscious level, I disagree with what he is saying - although I could probably ramble on and parse that sentence for several paragraphs as to why what he is saying falls apart - but still, the work itself I find hypnotic and magnetic - there is something so still in that and the Kelly piece - it does remind me so much of a line by Vernon Howard 'Man fears nothing more than his own silent mind'. Me, I kind of like it - I've always loved nothing more than working in my studio making a piece that takes on a life essence in a way. It is like a thought crystal that finds its way into the physical realm - the work takes on an emotive energy when it begins to push back. Often times I'm not even sure if I 'like' a piece that I've made but often I can't stop looking at it for quite a while and wondering where it came from. I'd love to hear what draws people to art.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Gesso Panel

Starting 'Corralled' - I am beginning with a sheet of plywood finished grade. It is actually smooth on both sides - birch I believe. To prepare the gesso ground I'm using Gamblin traditional gesso. This is one of the materials that can be used to create the white surface. Another alternative is the acrylic polymer emulsion but that has a less absorbent surface. Real gesso is a combination of rabbit skin glue, gypsum, calcium carbonate and titanium dioxide. Many years ago, I would stretch unprimed linen and then size it with rabbit skin glue, which I cooked - and man does that stuff wreak :) - This Gamblin gesso is much nicer in that everything is all in there - plus, you couldn't use this on a stretched canvas as it is too brittle. I had to put the mixture into distilled water yesterday and let it sit for about 24 hours. Once it was done soaking - I then used a double boiler to heat water underneath the pot of soaking gesso. It is very delicate and shouldn't be heated directly. You can see the little crystals of rabbit skin glue in the mixture and once those are dissolved - it is ready to go. I usually do stuff like this right in the kitchen - so, if you can imagine it - a sheet of plywood leaned up against the cabinets and gesso on the stove - yummy :) - When I work on sculpture, sometimes I put the clay in the oven to soften it a bit - mmm, yummy. Once the gesso is dry, I'll probably sand it with a 220 grit sand paper and then mix up another batch to give it a beautiful surface. I really love a pristine gessoed surface and really kind of wish I could have a show of just gessoed panels - they really are beautiful. There is nothing like a beautifully Lambertian surface.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Water Within

The meaning, for me, regarding 'Ogallala' - as I touched on a little earlier - was the irony that many, many people in the midwest suffered years and years of a terrible drought while a huge quantity of water lay below their feet. Friends who know me know that I talk a lot about 'positive visualization' - which is probably the greatest 'tool' we can discover and use. Positive visualization can help you to bring things into your life - but I also learned something even more just this last week. I finished reading a book by Vernon Howard 'Pathway to a Perfect Life' - and he really helped to drive home an even deeper point. There is nothing in this world exterior to yourself that can bring true happiness or joy. Things in our exterior world are not the 'source' of true, deep happiness. Reading that book I realized a deeper significance with 'Ogallala' - and possibly the under-painting of a person in a reflective state - while we are working through this economic down turn - it is what we have stored inside ourselves - where the true source of abundant joy and peace reside - if at the 'being' level we do our most work then we can achieve the most. I like watching movies on 'the secret' - but what I try to remember is, while the focus on many of those movies is bringing more 'stuff' into your world - how many people do we know who have 'stuff' flying in but are absolutely miserable, and the opposite, know people who are seemingly without much but have a deep and beautiful sense of themselves and life around them. This time, too, shall pass - how will this next moment be spent? In anxious worry about what will come into or go out of our life - or in silent gratitude of the incredible abundance each moment brings?

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So I began working on the water in Ogallala - but I decided to use a happier medium (a little artist joke). I went with Golden's Acrylic polymer heavy gel medium and the Golden's pthalo blue. I will most likely use this in layers and layers. I was going to use the amber varnish that I mentioned earlier - that is an oil based pigment - but I didn't for a few reasons - one is, the acrylic is water based and, in fact this is a depiction of water - seems to make sense to me :) - also, it is much more convenient. I keep forgetting that the acrylic paints offer so much more these days. Back when I was painting in acrylic in the late 80's early 90's all I was aware of was very simple mediums that to my recollection didn't allow for the transparent layering that can be achieved with oil. It is an interesting side note that most color today, and most of the images we are looking at, are created with a dot matrix of laying primary colors side by side - like the artist Seurat. Paintings and even old photographic images, were created by laying primaries one over the other in transparent layers - this accomplishes a level complexity that I tend to enjoy visually. Some of my next steps are to take pete moss and I am going to make a batch of resin and suspend the pete moss in the resin for the portion underneath. Above, I am also going to use resin right over the concrete but while it is curing, I am going to try and suspend sand right into the resin. Working like this is very satisfying because it reminds me of the three dimensional nature of painting - even a Vermeer was concerned not just with composition and color, but the physical characteristics of each layer of paint.

Friday, November 14, 2008


Silent Mind

I remember when I was up at grad school, being in my studio on 125th street in Harlem. It was a second floor with about four or five very large windows. Each window had a huge arc to them, very rounded. I could open them up and hear all the hustle and bustle of NYC, cars, sirens, whistles, the elevated portion of the 1/9 ran right by. One most magical evening, snow came and it fell gently. Snow has the most amazing ability to quiet everything and in a moment like that, I felt most alive.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Painting With Concrete

A lot of people have asked me about painting with concrete - also, don't forget, this will include pete moss as well.  This is the next step on Ogallala.  That's a little bit of my studio in the back with a 'binary' painting I'm making out of 1's and 0's 

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The Rail

Have you ever gone to an amusement park where the rides were straight and flat?  Or even at a constant angle slightly up?  Where turns were gently pitched and announced well in advance?  If you ever have, I’m sure you don’t remember it except to say to yourself not to go back.  But what is the real ‘joy’ of a ‘death defying’ ride like El Toro or Rolling Thunder?  I’ll tell you what I think it is – it’s not in the car design, or the steep, heart pounding climbs, or even the rushing, precipitous drop that leaves half of your stomach at the top of the hill.  I think the joy is in the rail – throughout the whole ride you somehow always know that the rail is there.  Faith is in the rail.  God is in the rail.  There are moments in your life when you are on top of the world, when you and others like you participate in being the rail.  There are moments when you are experiencing that precipitous drop, and it’s harder to see in ‘real’ life but the rail is there.  What would this life be like if it were nothing but the slow ‘tick’, ‘tick’, ‘tick’ to the top of a never-ending hill?  When life seems hardest, and the ride too fast, think of that visual picture – know, the way you know on one of your favorite rides, God is in the rail. 

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Dust Bowl and Water

The piece 'Ogallala' started out very strange indeed.  I am working on a plywood panel and had fully intended to use concrete.  I began priming the panel with a regular gesso panel and then started using charcoal (one of my favorite mediums of all time) to sketch out the composition - which basically is a horizon line, dust above, water below - but it 'morphed' into this strange figurative piece which reminded me much like a Modigiliani - but not so elegant :) - It was a male figure, very elongated and the head was a bit larger than it should be.  It was expressive in a way, but I don't know if that was in a creepy way :).  I had no idea where this piece was going.  Anyway, I later, made up some concrete and started painting with the concrete and so the under-image will be totally obliterated in the final piece - I don't know if it will influence the final 'feel' of the piece - that remains to be seen.  I've got to finish painting the water underneath, which will be done with a blue pigment suspended in Amber Varnish - the purpose of that being to create a real feel of water.  And surrounding that, I've got some mulch from Home Depot which I am going to suspend in fifty coat.  If it comes out like it is in my mind, I'm very excited to see it finished.

New Start

So, I'm starting a new painting today - 'Corralled' - if you read an earlier blog, this is inspired by the Richard Dryfus interview - and typically, that is how images come to me, one word or thought might trigger it.  The way I'm going to start it is to run down to one of my favorite art supply stores 'Home Depot' and grab a nice sheet of plywood.  I'll then fasten a backing to it to keep it from warping and I'm going to mix a real gesso from powder.  I like doing that, as opposed to acrylic gesso, when I am doing oil paintings because of the way it absorbs the oil paint.  This painting is going to be either 4' x 8' or 4' x 6' - I have to decide once I see it in front of me and I feel how the composition will work depending on those two shapes.  One of the things I love about working on panels as opposed to canvas is I can make those kind of 'on the fly' decisions without having to remove canvas from a stretcher, rebuild new stretcher bars and then re-stretch canvas.  I think this painting will be very interesting and go well with 'Slaughter Run' and 'Never Enough'  - Check my painting portfolio for those, I think I may have blogged about them as well but I don't remember.  The interesting thing that is evolving for me is, I grew up on a farm, and I find it really strange how all of these farm images are linking up in my mind with global political events - even the work I am finishing - Ogallala - has its roots in a 'farm image' in that it is from the dust bowl (see Ogallala).  I am going to try and get further on that today - I'll describe what needs to be done with that on another post.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

'Make circumstance - all circumstance - conform to the law of your mind.  Be always a king, and not they, and nothing shall hurt you.'

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Monday, November 3, 2008

"It's not what you are that holds you back, it's what you think you're not."

Denis Waitley

Sunday, November 2, 2008


Okay - I try not to do this, but - I can't help it - thoughts rush in and at 11:17 at night I've got another 'post' -

Watching election coverage - who can't help but do that, whatever - just watched Huckabee interview Richard Dryfuss - really a great 'interview' - I put interview in quotes because Huckabee actually let the guy speak - anyway, Dryfuss was really riveting - riveting in the sense that he brought up the precious nature of what we've got - AMERICA - what an incredible gift!! To speak, to listen, to create - and he touched on a very poignant thought - the speed of information and how it affects our thought process. Check out 'Family Unit circa 1970' - it is my generations icon. And what I think is interesting about that image - the digitization of it - The Brady Bunch was delivered in analog, we thought of it as an 'innocent' time, even though things were bubbling. Now, information is packaged, distributed - it bursts onto the scene. Richard Dryfuss mentioned this idea 'Corralled' - and that is definitely going to be a painting of mine.

One other that came to mind - Red State / Blue State - I don't think it will be in encaustic because red and blue don't translate as well in wax as they would in oil, but I digress - but I see it as a Mark Rothko - people immersed in the beautiful experiment known as 'freedom' pressing on each other, pushing it away -

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Continuing On

This piece is a continuation of the bas relief I am working on - which I discussed in 'How I Start'. At this point, the layout and portrait details are pretty complete. You can see a little of the photo I am working from off to the right. The sculpture is currently in plastilina clay, which is oil based. In this form, the clay is still pliable - actually it never dries. I am working on a piece of plywood panel - which I borrowed from another piece (which I started talking about back in the July postings - 'One Shouldn't Sketch & Drive'). After the client reviews this and 'proofs' it - I will have to then make a mold. In order to do that, I would build sides around the sculpture - and then mix a mold resin and pour it directly over the clay. When that dries, I peal it off, clean out the clay and have a 'negative' mold. Into that, I'll be pouring a compound that will harden and the final piece will look like a white marble or stone. I then take all the clay off the board and save it for the next sculpture. I will clean up the board underneath and get it back into shape for use on the other taping. It is kind of funny - I got three plywood panels for the other taping I am working on but they end up getting used for other 'stream of conscious' pieces - one being Ogallala which is in process, and that is a funny story all it's own.

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