Monday, August 30, 2010

Full Tilt

If I sell this piece for a million dollars, I will have made a dollar an hour.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Nearly There

I got this far before running out of pieces. Frustrating.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Ooooh, Good Title.

I realize that after all the huffing and puffing of the earlier entry, I never actually managed to discuss the work in question. No surprise. Writing about how work is made is easy. Writing about what it means is hard. So let's start with something easy - let's start with the title.

Of course there's nothing easy about titles. A title is a dangerous thing. A great title can make a piece (Damien Hirst). Bad titles stink like rotten fish (Barrett Newman). Good titles illuminate. A bad titles obscure, or overreach. In the best cases, a good title gives us a new perspective, provides a new point of entry. In the worst case, a title is pretentious, or obvious, or both.

That said, I think leaving work "untitled" is a cop-out. "Untitled" says, "I recognize how high the stakes are here, and I'm afraid to get it wrong". I understand why people do it - that desire to keep your work from defined a few words or phrases - but it seems to me that if you had the courage to make something, and to display it, you should try to find the courage to give it a name.

So. With all of that in mind, the title for this piece is...

"Self Portrait, With Ambition"

This piece did not start out being a self-portrait. It started with a helmet, and a bow and arrow. It became a self-portrait over time. In some areas I was working from photographs, but in many cases I was using myself as a model, and the references began to accumulate. In the end, it was the Leatherman that tipped the scale. Once I added that, I knew this had become a self-portrait, and I knew what the piece was about.

This piece is a mission statement. It is a declaration of intent, or a declaration of war. It is the moment when I decided that I wanted to compete with my idols, wanted hold myself to the standards of my heroes. This image speaks to both that ambition, and to the anxiety that comes with declaring that ambition.

This is not the hunter triumphant. This is not a frontal assault. The approach here is stealthy, possibly tentative. The regalia is a dressed up lash-up of relics and the regular. Yet even as he sneaks up on flip-flops, crouched low with a simple bow and helmet he can barely see through, we see that the arrowheads are not simple hunting flints, but iron points, designed to pierce armor. For all his awkwardness, for all his reservations, this kid means business.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Horror Vacui

Finally made some progress in the studio today. Trying to resolve at least one of the three projects I set myself this summer. In this case that means working to resolve the relief figures.

This is turning out to be a long process (as my processes usually are). Spent much of last week repairing old guys, pouring new ones, and installing nails. Labor intensive and boring. Spend a couple days the week before that building the 4 x 6 frame that they'll eventually be attached to. Also labor intensive and boring. But! Today I finally got to get started.

Having covered my foam "layout wall" with craft paper, and taped off the interior dimension of my final frame (not pictured here), I was ready to get started. When I've got a composition I'm happy with, my plan is to take the perforated craft paper off the foam wall and use it to transfer the finished design onto the face of the final frame.

My current thinking is to use some of the narrative elements that I started with, but surround them with the random visual clutter that I'm finding so appealing. I'm imaging that when it's done, the narrative will be buried in the composition, like a color-blindness test.

This is an interesting challenge for me, because my general aesthetic tends to be reduced, clean, and clear. Knowing that, in the end, the whole thing will be filled, I have to keep pushing myself to make moves away from the upright orientation, and to avoid getting bogged down in the various narratives.

Here's the progression.

Assuming I don't run out of pieces (a real possibility), I'm hoping to get it all filled in over the next day or two.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

....aaaaand we're back.

I had hoped to spend some of the time away writing up something coherent on some of the meaning behind this piece, but of course that didn't happen. In large part because I think that trying to to parse the "meaning" of a work of art is a fools errand, so I'm reluctant to go down that path. I'm particularly wary of what artist's have to say about their own work. It's not that artist's can't be interesting, or articulate about their work. They can be. It's just that I don't trust them.I don't trust them becase, as an artist, I have found that while I always think I know what a given piece is about, I am almost always wrong.

I come from a commercial arts background. I worked for years as an illustrator, and I learned how to be a sculptor by working as a fabricator, making custom props for commercial photographers in San Francisco. Commercial art depends on a simple equation; you make what the client wants. So that's what I did. When Haynes needed a bright pink hairbrush in the shape of their logo, I made it, and when Epson wanted a gigantic robot claw holding a magnifying glass, I made that too.

Naturally, I carried this equation into my own work. I would have an idea, and I would make it. It's a reasonable way to proceed. For someone who likes the challenge of making things (like myself), it can be very gratifying to be able to make exactly what you had imagined. The problem is that, in this scenario, the outcome is only as good as the initial idea. And, because it's an actual thing, rather than your own personal platonic idea of the thing, it feels a little diminished. It might be good, but it's almost never as good as it was in your head.Not to stray too far off course, but this is the limitation I see in all these artists outsourcing their work to contractors and assistants. It assumes the primacy of the idea.

The problem is, what I've found in my own work, and what I often see in the work of those people who are getting the work made, is that the original idea often turns out to be a bit of a one-liner. This doesn't mean that the original idea was necessarily bad - more that it never got a chance to grow into it's skin. It stops evolving when production starts. And, in the case of my own work, it often turns out to have been the wrong idea in the first place. Given a little time, and a little distance, I find that I had been laboring under a misconception - that the idea I started with was not what the piece was really about.

These days I try not to examine my motivation too closely. If an image feels important to me, I work on it and see where it leads. I think one of the breakthroughs of my creative life has been to learning to trust that the meaning is there. If I see the process through, I will discover it.

Of course, this is all from the artist. I wouldn't trust any of it.