What happens in Florida doesn't just stay in Florida.
Monday, March 20, 2017
Monday, February 20, 2017
As a student at the Art Students League in the 1980s, I discovered Conté pencils and crayons and fell in love with them. Especially the sanguine color. I used regular pencil, pen, or charcoal for short sketches, but always switched to Conté for the longer poses.
One day at the League I was sitting next to a student who annoyed me. The main reason he annoyed me is that he was famous enough to have his work hang in museums! He was very good. But I also noticed that he had become so adept at perfecting things that he could do less and less with each drawing. In a 25-minute pose, he would start with the model’s hand, and not get to anything else. The hand was exquisite, with perfect attention paid to the difference between the shadow on the nearest—as opposed to the farthest—side of every vein and tendon on the hand, loose areas of skin rendered as loose, tight layers obviously tight at first glance, and so on. His partial hands were beautiful. But he’d become frozen by being so perfect that he could draw almost nothing. (I feel that I’ve since learned that there is no “plateau” in nature or in our own development. We can’t “stay good.” A famous pianist confirmed to me that a pianist who plays her signature piece with perfection year after year will get worse, unless she comes fresh to the piece and discovers something new in it each time. There’s no plateau to just rest on. You’ll fall off the plateau at night, or a tiger will come and dispose of you! But I digress.)
|Hommage à Courbin|
Rather than try to share what I’d discovered with my neighbor (for his benefit, of course!), I patiently took every pencil, charcoal stick, eraser, pen, tool, crayon, razor blade, and bandage (a close relative of the razor blade) out of my art box and put them on the floor next to me. Then I put the drawing board with my large, blank sheet of paper on it on the floor, and shook out the empty art box onto the paper. That dumped out months’ worth of shavings from Conté sanguine pencils and dust and small bits from the crayons. It was a delightful mess. I vigorously smeared this mixture on the page with my hand until the whole page was red. Then I put the drawing board with its red sheet back in front of me. The pose started. I used an eraser to “draw” the complete figure. That is, I erased a light-colored figure into the red page.
My neighbor barely even got started on his hand this time, probably out of horror at watching me.
That sort of “subtraction” technique didn’t seem really that effective, though. So I experimented with paper that was all red to begin with and using white chalk on it. The chalk seemed to just lay there on top of the page, and I didn’t like the colors of red available for the paper.
But I came, gradually and inadvertently, to the idea of what I call my saturated pastel technique. I don’t use Conté crayons or pencils, as I find them too waxy, but regular pastel sticks. The color I generally use is sometimes called English red, sometimes called rust, and other things, but is close to the color of Conté sanguine.
I draw the figure—all of it, the parts you see in the finished drawing and the parts that you don’t—very lightly with a pastel stick or a regular lead pencil. Then I put in all of the dark parts that make up the background and the shadows on the figure. I use the pastel stick and my finger. The “saturated” part refers to rubbing as much pastel into the paper with my finger as the paper will take. I pretty much fill up the “tooth” on the paper. After doing that, the parts of the drawing that I want to be light, particularly toward the bottom, aren’t anymore, as they’re covered in pastel dust. I blow that off. Then I use my eraser (still using it, but a different one!) to clean up the white part right down to the paper in the lightest areas. In-between shades I work with my finger. I don’t use stomps, brushes, masking fluids, or anything except a pastel stick, my finger, and an eraser.
This gets an effect that I like. It’s a gimmick, granted, but I’ve become obsessed with it. To my knowledge, no one else is doing it. It’s not particularly easy. It’s kind of like working with one eye closed and the opposite hand tied behind your back. I don’t particularly like pastels—a museum show of pastels is not the first thing I would rush to—and I find them fussy to work with. I prefer oil paint as a medium. But to get (and develop! Gotta remember that plateau) my current technique, I am wedded to my pastel stick!
Have I ended up like my neighbor years ago at the Art Students League, just in a different medium? I don’t think so. For one thing, I never attained his level of mastery. For another, each drawing is a fresh challenge to me—just getting something onto the page that looks like it might conceivably work, and then, with luck, making it work. For a while I was working on medium-sized pieces, and then in a precious, small manner, and now, for what reason I do not know, am doing pieces as big as I have wall space in my studio. How I draw and what I draw ebbs and flows with something, perhaps my mood. Whatever, it seems very important to follow at the time. I also use other media—but keep coming back to the saturated pastels.
Monday, March 16, 2015
Donelli J. (Dan) DiMaria, Contemporary Realist
Look closely and smile.
|Reflections of Infinity|
Donelli J. (Dan) DiMaria was interested in art from an early age. A sickly child, he liked The Book of Knowledge and copied the art in it. He took art lessons and worked in casein, acrylics and watercolor. When his mother took him to a Jackson Pollock exhibit, his aversion to contemporary abstract art was immediate. He hated abstract art so thoroughly that he refused to go through the exhibit.
The 1960s were the heyday of abstract, pop, and conceptual art. Good in math and science, DiMaria pursued a PhD in physics at Lehigh College and took a minor in art. Partially, it was about being able to earn a living, but also he says, "I wasn't going to learn what I wanted to learn if I went to art college."
With the physics degree, DiMaria enjoyed a successful career at IBM Research working on non-volatile computer memory (storage that retains its data when power is removed). DiMaria worked for IBM Research for 28 years. His research created a major field in the area of solid-state physics making significant worldwide contributions to science and technology. All the while, he studied drawing and painting with the ultimate goal of a second career as an artist.
In 1988, Dan DiMaria met his wife, Diane, who was also an artist. Although Diane was concentrating mostly in fabric art, she wanted to study drawing. Diane he found a private drawing class in White Plains, and Dan encouraged her to try it. When she came back from the first session, she told him that the teacher was a man, there were three men in the class and a male nude model. If Dan wanted her to go again he'd have to come, too.
We are talking on the phone. I am in New York and Dan is in New Mexico. Dan tells me that he was working at IBM at the time. The unspoken sub-text is that he was reluctant to go to the class and his expectations were low. Nevertheless, he agreed to try one class.
After 28 years, Dan retired from IBM Research in 2001, and the couple moved to Santa Fe, NM where they have a 3,000 square foot studio on their property. He launched into painting full time and participated in many shows. In his paintings, Dan produces beautifully conceived and executed art with clear, brilliant colors and modern themes.
His work has won many prestigious awards and appeared in many magazines. About 6 years ago, he began offering videos and courses in the Riley Method and his method of painting that he calls Contemporary Realism. Dan has uploaded over 70 videos on YouTube. To date, the total views are more than 30,000. Dan also offers 5 online courses and has over 36,000 students. Together, Dan and Diane published a book, Figure Drawing from Life: Tools, Techniques and Tricks, available from Lulu. [iii]
Dan has a wickedly subtle sense of humor, and often you have to be paying attention to get the joke. Some of Dan's paintings have raised eyebrows, but one series has raised hackles.
Over the phone, Dan tells me about his nude on a rug series. He says, "How could I piss off the religious extremists in the Middle East?" His answer became his nude on a Persian Rug series. The result: loads of angry emails from pissed off Muslim fundamentalists in Syria, Egypt and elsewhere, proving his answer was exactly on target.
Pinocchio is the star of a delightful series. "You know," he says, almost musing, "Pinocchio wanted to be a real boy…." His voice trails off. "I like the one with Pinocchio teaching Stimpy," I contribute. He answers, "And then I had the newspaper clipping…." We move on to other topics.
Later I come back to look more closely at the paintings. In the painting Pinocchio, I find three book titles, perhaps as books of interest to a real boy: How to Train Your Dog, How Dogs Think, and The Life of Birds. Two other paintings in the series, Friends #2 (Pinocchio Teaches Stimpy to Paint) and Pinocchio Wins an Award, show Pinocchio achieving the trappings of success important to a real boy. In the first, Pinocchio gains a friend by becoming a teacher and in the second, he gains acclaim. As a further twist, friends Pinocchio and Stimpy appear together in the newspaper clipping that announces the award in that trompe l'oeil painting.
Another subject in DiMaria's paintings took me entirely by surprise. DiMaria has nine paintings on Barebrush.com that include a red fedora. Collectively, these paintings have appeared in 21 Nudes-of-the-Month calendars. During our talk I asked, "What's with the red hats?"
"That's a joke on the Red Hat Society," came the answer.
This was news to me, so I Googled it, and found that the Red
Hat Society was founded in 1998 for women over 50 (now open to all women) and
now has 40,000 chapters in the US and other countries. Who knew?[iv]
The mirror piece, Reflection
of Infinity is a self-portrait. It,
too, has a joke many miss – including an artist who plagiarized it! Look carefully at the painting. The artist's
hand is raised above his head. If that is all you notice, you think it is the
right hand. However, when you see that the letters of his tee shirt are
backwards, you realize that it is his left hand that is raised and you are
looking at the subject through a mirror. Hence, from the title, Reflections of Infinity, it is clear
that DiMaria is giving the reflections only, and not the direct view of
©All images copyright Donelli J. DiMaria
"Red Hat Society?" I echoed.
"A society of older women," he answered.
In another case, I asked about this Dick Tracy painting of a snub nose revolver in trompe l'oeil format. I thought it was a pro-gun statement, but not so. Dan DiMaria is definitely negative on private gun ownership.
Speaking of one of my favorites, Mannequins, Dan's story meshed perfectly with my impression. Dan saw mannequins in a store window and one had a hat. It seemed to him that the other mannequins could be jealous of the one with the hat. So he painted them as a group of women envious of the hat-wearer. They are alive, and yet they are still mannequins.
|Reflections of Infinity|
One nude that I find particularly intriguing is Nude Looking Up. "It was done years ago," he says, "And I did it because you rarely see nudes looking up." Even without any joke at all, I cannot help smiling when I look at it.
|Nude Looking Up|
[i] For information on Frank J. Riley as an artist and teacher, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_J._Reilly
[ii] For information on Helen Van Wyk, "Welcome to My Studio" videos, see http://www.helenvanwyk.com
[iii] For Dan's videos, see https://www.youtube.com/user/DJDiMaria/videos. For courses, see https://www.udemy.com/u/donellijdimaria. For the book, see http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/DJDiMaria.
©All images copyright Donelli J. DiMaria
Tuesday, February 10, 2015
Not Just Another Pretty Picture
Sometimes a wacky stunt will confirm the course of a lifetime.In Chicago, in 1968, Dan McCormack was a recent college grad. He had studied with Aaron Siskind, Joe Jachna and Wyn Bullock at the institute of Design and graduated in ‘67. He had enrolled in the MFA program at the Art Institute where Barbara Crane was a big influence. So his interest in photography was serious and he was taking it seriously. However, Dan McCormack did not want to take himself too seriously.
It was summer. He heard about a love-in: 50,000 hippies. He was a puppy photographer, heading for something.
Dan McCormack is telling me this story over the phone. His voice, naturally rather high, gets thinner and higher. It is almost as if he is a kid again, and he still cannot get over how it happened.
He decided to go, but not just go, but go and be noticed. So he went to a store that sold Styrofoam and bought a cylinder that was 8 inches around and 8 feet long. When he got to the park where the love-in was happening, he sat down and put the 8-foot long Styrofoam cylinder between his legs.
Here Dan pauses in his tale, perhaps just to remember, or perhaps to make sure I get the image.
A young woman, Wendy, sees his “display” and comes over. She is an artist’s model. He tells her he is a photographer. She tells him she models in the nude. He tells her he has never photographed the nude. “I’ll teach you,” she says. As he writes in his internet bio:
At the Art Institute of Chicago around 1969, I began photographing the nude with Wendy, my wife, and I began making multiple image prints. Then for over thirty years, I explored various techniques and processes while photographing the nude as a central theme.[i]
Over the years, McCormack worked with all types of cameras and films. In 1998, he started shooting with the pinhole camera. He develops black and white images. After he scans the results into Photoshop, he “pulls curves” to colorize the image.
At a day’s shoot, McCormack sets up 15 pinhole cameras and takes a two minute exposure with each one, one at a time. So a photo session generally takes 2-3 hours. At the end of a shoot, he may have one or two usable images, but he does not find that out until he gets to the darkroom. The extreme wide angle and distortion means that even the initial results are always a surprise. “I love the surprises. I think I know the best shot,” he says, “but often the best shot is something else.”
McCormack explained the reference system he uses to title his work: model’s name, Sara C.; date of shoot, 8-19-05; film negative number, 6 (of the 15 shots); and finally, pulling curves in Photoshop and saving them within two sequences of multiple steps, DG, meaning the 4th step in the first sequence and the 7th step in the second. Based on the reference title of the work, McCormack can always locate the exact version of an image stored on his computer.
I asked McCormack about Sarah_M_5-08-09—4BC which I found to be one of his most surreal images. He laughs:
That was in the Unison Sculpture Garden in New Paltz. We had gone to McDonald’s and they were giving out happy smiles on sticks as a promotion. So I took the photo with the model standing next to the sculpture of an eye, and she bent over and held the smile up behind her butt.
In Helen_W_4-27-08—7BB, the image is less colorized. Here McCormack mentioned that he likes to center the model in the frame but in this case, the model is pushed to the side and her shadow has taken center stage. This was taken on Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day at the Barrett Art Center workshop in Poughkeepsie, NY.
Another image in the “Nude at Home” series is Bridget_L_5-20-12—14AD. In this shot, at her home in Rhinebeck, NY, he intended the duality of the image in the mirror and in front of the camera. McCormack knew Bridget as his student at SUNY, New Paltz, and later as a model and friend.
Robbie was holding what McCormack described as a contraption that “seemed magical.” She stood in front of the open double door. He explained that the doorknobs were so high, that Robbie looked small. “Like something out of Alice in Wonderland,” he added.
Holding the contraption motionless in one hand at arm’s length for a two-minute exposure, making 15 attempts to get a usable image without a blur, and succeeding --- well, maybe that is a bit of magic.
©All images copyright Dan McCormack
Tuesday, January 13, 2015
The Photography of Joseph Mays
Ideals, Expectations, Truth
Finding Truth in Colored Lights, Doors, Skulls and Rain...Joseph Mays is a large bear of a man with a ready smile and a nervous laugh. As founder of Barebrush, I have had the opportunity to meet Mays several times. Last summer, he traveled from his home in Kentucky to show nine photographs at the third Barebrush gallery show (Undressed and Not, Aug 2014, NOHO Gallery, Chelsea).
|Gallery Wall |
Barebrush Aug 2014
Mays studied photography in college when black and white photos were routinely produced in darkrooms and color photos were impossibly expensive for students. Years after college, he resumed his photographic exploration. Digital was cheaper and easier. Friends were encouraging.
He wondered: was the work really any good, or was the praise just the benevolence of friends? When he found the Barebrush website, he liked the idea that independent curators would look at his work. These art professionals were people who did not know him. Their opinion would provide an objective validation in the context of a monthly, juried selection of art. His work would be judged among work by other artists. Would they select it? Would his art find its place in the world?
The answer to his questions turned out to be a resounding yes. Since his very first success at Barebrush with Curcuitboard Jungle #84 (May 2008), Mays has piled up a strong record of 139 calendar wins. Of these, 35 artworks have been “retired” with Honors.
Mays has several different photographic series represented on the Barebrush website. The first two are very colorful. The others are black and white. I asked about that. He said,
I use color only when it is important to the effect I want to achieve. When color is incidental, I prefer to eliminate it because it becomes a distraction.Mays feels strongly that photographs of the nude are more “honest” and as a result, more human. Photography of the nude strips away the extraneous and the expected. However, he felt deeply that photographs of the nude are often not “seen” in a careful and unprejudiced way. In conceiving of a way to use color as intrinsic to his theme he wanted to smash preconceived notions about nudity and entice the viewer to look closely in spite of his (the viewer’s) preconceived notions.
Another tale about this series is especially poignant:
One model had had surgery and thought her body was ugly because of surgical scars. When she looked at her body in the mirror, the scars were all she saw. Finally, she got up her courage to pose. When she saw in the finished work that the tiny scars were hardly visible, she realized how unimportant they were. From that time forward, she began to feel much better about her body and she thanked me.
Joe Mays is justifiably proud to have helped her come to that truth through his photography.
In the second series, his collaborator, Jill Morgan, painted abstract designs on the models using black light paint. Then Mays photographed them. Mays added painted linear elements to the black light paint series (i.e. Simple Machines and The Barrier). These set the model in space. The fact that the models were nude became less important than the fact that they are humans looking different. The results were startling and unusual.
Ironically, in these color photographs, color is employed specifically as a distraction. Several of the models did not recognize themselves when they first saw the finished results.
|Berlin Salon #5|
Then we talked about his circular pieces. “What was this all about?” I asked. Mays told this story:
One of his pieces (Cypress Rain) is very different from all the others:
A model I knew wanted to be photographed nude with a skull. I don’t know why, but she kept asking. Finally, I got some ideas. I had a chain link fence and thought I could hang things on it. Then I emailed friends to ask if they knew where I could get a skull. Replies came back: “I have a skull.” “I have skulls.” “I have lots of skulls.” I went to see a friend who lived on a farm out of town and she had all types of skulls. She said, “You can have the skulls, if I can also be photographed nude with a skull.” Well, the body types were similar, and I thought it would be interesting, so I called the first woman and asked her if she would mind another woman in the picture. “As long as I am nude with a skull, I won’t mind.” So I shot it, and made the pictures round with a darkened edge as if the viewer is looking through a spyglass.
For a long time, I had the idea that I wanted to photograph someone looking up in the rain. I was meeting the model for the first time in a coffee shop. That day, I had just come from the funeral of my father. It started to rain. When the model walked in, I wanted to take that picture. I had never worked with her before, but I asked her if she would pose in the rain. She said sure. I wanted her to call my other model contacts so she would know that I’m okay to work with. She said she didn’t need to do that because she’d already spoken to them, and that’s why she was there.
My reputation is very important to me, and a model is very vulnerable. Modeling is an investment in trust. So I’m sensitive about making sure the model knows she is safe. A friend of mine had to stop modeling because of improper photographers, and when she resumed, I was the only one she would model for. She says that I’m the least creepy photographer in Louisville. Maybe I should put that on my business card.Joseph Mays credits his decision to become a member of Barebrush as “one of the best decisions” he ever made. In an earlier conversation, he told me that the confidence he gained from Barebrush enabled him to get into many shows and fairs.
Coming to the end of this current call, Joe briefly discussed his next project, but I’ll keep silent on that; the sequence on Barebrush must be kept as show, then tell. Stay tuned.
In this blog called Body Language: Art, Biology and Culture, the takeaway from these stories is how one sweet, shy and serious photographer grows, develops and tests his ideas. For Joseph Mays, Barebrush is a safe public laboratory in which to make visible ideas, notions, feelings and prejudices, in the quest to represent the complexities of being human.
|Liebe Und |
|Liebe Und |