Open Source

I don't usually post the source material I use for my paintings. There is always the risk that it will ruin the magic of the illusion I'm trying to create. But this is a studio blog after all, and maybe just this once, I feel compelled to pull back the curtain for those who want to take a peek.

The finished painting is entitled "An Apparition of Two". It's 42" x 55", oil on canvas. This is an installation shot from a recent exhibition.

"An Apparition of Two", 42" x 55", oil on canvas, Amanda Clyne (copyright 2012)
The composition is a merging of two images, both of which I dissolved through my inkprint process that I've described before. The original images are from a fashion editorial from the March 2010 issue of Vogue (Russia) and Gustav Klimt's "Mäda Primavesi" (1912). It was a weird twist of fate that I even tried to layer the images together, but once I did, the relationship between the two images became immediately and eerily apparent.

I'm intrigued by the ambiguity that results in the final painting. There is a strange merging of faces, of eras and of media. The two faces become an unstable apparition of a girl that appears no longer young yet not quite grown. Mirroring Klimt's iconic image of the past, the painting catches a photographed pose of the present in its reflection. Photograph and painting come together in a vulnerable exchange of emotion and empathy.

It was the first time I painted with glazes of color, and the richness of the surface surprised me. I want to push that more in the works to come, and hopefully continue to find fated pairings of source imagery. I may not share the source material again in the future though. So for now, I hope this peek behind the curtain enhances and doesn't detract from your experience of the painting.

Mirroring Empathy

A few months ago, I started a new series of paintings that, instead of fragmenting multiple versions of one source image, I began building new portraits by combining sheer layers of multiple source images. The paintings aren't completed yet, so I have no great reveal for you right now, but since I began this work, I keep bumping into parallel universes that are signalling to me I may be on the right track.

Inspired by the connection of the mirror/image to the desire for empathy and intimacy, I felt the fates twist in my favor when I recently came across a reference to "mirror neurons". Seriously, MIRROR neurons? If things couldn't get any better, it turns out this is science's name for those neurons in the brain identified as the source of our empathic instincts. I just had to know more. To start, I found this pretty good video produced by PBS's NOVA series that explains the current research findings.

And if that wasn't awesome enough, I then came across a random Tweet about an amazing artist, Megan Daalder, (who I am now painfully jealous of!) who took this idea of the mirror neuron one step (or perhaps more accurately, a million steps) further by creating a "mirror-box" to enable two individuals to physically merge their mirror reflections into one another in real time. It is a living, breathing version of what I am exploring in my paintings, and it could not be more inspiring. I beg you to watch the video about her work -- it's an amazing story of the power of art, the promise of technology, and the mysterious science of empathy.

In The Flesh

I admit I am slightly tortured by the idea that 99% of the people who will see my work will not be seeing the real thing.  They will see it on a screen with different brightness and color settings than I see on my screen, and they will have to imagine how this little digital avatar might look in the flesh, so to speak.  And indeed, "in the flesh" seems the apt expression.  They will not see how the light reflects off the oily mushy paint strokes, how the color changes and shifts depending on whether the sun is beaming through the window or dimmed incandescent lights are quietly liberating it from the dark.  They will not see how big it is, how each face is larger than life size, how the painting stares at you as you wander around it, how the whole painting relates to their body.  They will not be able to look at it from different angles, from different distances, to move around the painting and experience the image collapsing into abstract details as they approach closer and closer.

Walter Benjamin described the work of art has having an "aura", and famously warned of the consequences of the future omnipotence of the reproduction.  California artist Robert Irwin never wanted his paintings to be photographed, since "Irwin felt that a photograph could capture none of what the painting was about and everything that it was not about.  That is, a photograph could convey image but not presence."*  For me, that seems true of all art that manifests itself as a physical object.  I heard Chuck Close say one time that the modern perspective of the history of art was not an examination of the history of painting but merely the history of slides -- frozen, stale reproductions, where all emphasis is given to image and little else.

One of the greatest compliments I can get for my work is, "it looks so much better in real life!".  I love having that experience myself -- of anticipating a particular experience with a work that I've seen online and then just being blown away when I get to see the actual work.  I had that visceral thrill most recently when I went to see Mark Grotjahn's spectacular exhibit in New York at Anton Kern this past summer.  Unreal.  So real.  Of course, too often, it can go the other way -- sadly, some paintings are much more impressive in reproduction.  I'll refrain from giving examples.

Here are a few different versions of one of my recent paintings ("Veiled", 48" x 28", oil on canvas).  Each image is "accurate" according to particular screens I have viewed them on.  I don't know what you see.  Each one of them is only an idea of the painting.  I wish it could be more.  I wish you could see the real thing -- in the flesh.

* From Lawrence Weschler's amazing book on Robert Irwin, "Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees"

A Weird and Glorious Beast

This is a gorgeous review of my work recently posted on the amazing Flavorwire blog.  (Thank you Emily Temple!)

It comes just a day after I received coverage on the Artist A Day blog, which inspired a number of supportive comments:


It has been heartening to receive so much coverage lately by the blogosphere.  All I want is for people to see the work and for the work to find its audience.  But building an audience online is a strange process that often feels more like an old-fashioned popularity contest than a meaningful exchange of art and ideas.  It's so easy to become self-conscious about how many "fans" Like your facebook page, how many "friends" will comment on your posts (on blogs, Facebook, Google+, or seemingly endless new networks that I can't keep track of), how many followers you have on Twitter, or how many times your work is re-tweeted.  Some sites even rank which artists are most "popular" on their sites.   It is a never-ending tally of statistics and quantitative data that measures every eyeball that lands on your work, and publicizes every response (or lack thereof), grading your significance or "success".

Lately I have been struck by how much art seems to be merging with entertainment.  Galleries and museums compete with entertainment venues for their audience, and instant audience feedback is courted as a critical element to the "interactive" experience.  But this call for ranking and spontaneous judgement of work seems more suited to entertainment than art.  Is the painting a thumbs up or a thumbs down?  Should the work be given 5 stars or just 3?  Did you like it?  Did you have fun?  Throughout history, it has not always been the most popular artists who are the most significant or important.  Can the artist ranked #954th still find its way into history?  And is the #1 artist really "the best"?  Just because you don't "like" it, is not worth looking at again?

I admit that the thoughtful review of my work on Flavorwire and the longer comments posted on the Artist A Day blog are encouraging.  They indicate a real engagement by the digital crowd with the work, and as long as the comments are thoughtful and interesting, I love the feedback, good or bad.  I just hope art can sustain its place in the world as something to contemplate, to experience and to debate, and not just a momentary distraction to glance at, rank, and forget.

Clarification on Inspiration

"Today, Clyne is most influenced by the fashion industry and the images of perfection and beauty it perpetuates." Lara Cory article, Escape Into Life blog
This was written last week as part of a beautiful review of my work by Lara Cory. But this particular line has been haunting me since I first read it. Although seeing a critique of the fashion industry's obsession with perfection is an entirely fair reading of my work, it is not what influences my work. It is not what inspires me to make the work.

So what does inspire me?

Fundamentally, I am inspired by images and questions of why we want to look at them, of what desires they satisfy, feed, create. I'm inspired by the different ways we experience images -- does the meaning or role of the image change if we see it on the screen of our laptop, or in a glossy magazine? Does it matter if it is experienced as a huge painting amidst the lush display of an old European museum, or as a photograph imprisoned behind glass on the white walls of a gallery? The experience of images is never determined solely by the picture itself. It is an experience of the senses, of memory, of fantasy -- ultimately, of desire. As W.J.T. Mitchell writes in his book What do Pictures Want?: "...the question of desire is inseparable from the problem of the image, as if the two concepts were caught in a mutually generative circuit, desire generating images and images generating desire." (p 58)

So if images and their relationship to desire are my subject matter, then why do I choose to paint portraits? There seems no better object of display to inspire viewers to look than the human face, an object to which we are more highly sensitive to than any other object. My paintings anthropomorphize the image, presenting portraits not of women, but of images. And by using the face, the viewer is confronted with an unsettling and seductive exchange when, as James Elkins writes, "the object stares back". In fact, it is one of the greatest moments in the process of painting for me -- when I step back to look at my painting and the tiny fragments of eyes merge together and my painting looks back at me.

And then there's fashion. Why do I steal from the pages of fashion magazines to make my paintings? At its core, fashion, like images, is about desire and illusion. To put it simply, for me, fashion is the embodiment of image-making.

I hope that clarifies things, although inspiration is of course never finite, and not always easy to articulate. I should have done a better job at clarifying my influences to Lara Cory. What others view as the most interesting aspect of your work is not always the same thing that motivated the work.

It takes me back to the moment I knew I wanted to be an artist. I had quit my job as a lawyer and moved out west, and began taking basic art classes at the local art college. My first class was a course on principles of design and composition. Our final assignment was to create a self-portrait using the principles we had learned. When it came to the day to present the work, our instructor informed us that the person sitting next to us (ie. a random stranger) would present our work. Whatever we had to say about ourselves had to have been said in the work itself. When the student next to me presented my work, she said not only the things that I had hoped the work would convey, but so much more -- and all of her insights were entirely accurate descriptions of me. The work had said more than I had ever intended, had been more revealing than I ever imagined. I was hooked.

Self-Portrait, collage, Amanda Clyne, 2002

Now, as an artist, I struggle to contend with what I hope to express through the work and what others glean from it. Is your work about what you say it is, or is it about what others see in it? I think it is unavoidably and necessarily both.

The Opposite of Intellect

Some people think I'm crazy to have this blog - all those thoughts, ideas, even a few (dare I say it) feelings about art, painting and being an artist. It may all come back to haunt me one day. It may be haunting me now. How much should we say about our art? Is it better to be the elusive but uber-hip Andy Warhol, the evasive but brilliant Chuck Close or the diaristic, soul-baring Tracey Emin? Is it all contrived anyway? Is it just persona-building and market-savvy calculations?

I've been thinking about this in the context of writing (and forever re-writing) my artist statement. How much does the viewer really need to read about the work in order to experience it fully? How much should I, as the artist, attempt to guide the viewer into the experience of the work? The intellectual aspects of the work can be explained, but the non-intellectual elements are not so easily defined. I've been trying to think of a word that captures those other aspects of the experience of art, the non-intellectual, non-rational side. "Emotional" is one way of describing it, but that can suggest an element of melodrama or intensity that isn't necessarily appropriate or adequate. "Spiritual" is sometimes used, but in today's culture, it smacks of new age philosophy and Oprah. "Sensual" conveys a contrast to the intellectual. I like to think of the term more broadly, as those responses that are "of the senses" and not just by way of touch. But even the dictionary on my computer tells me that this use of the word is naively optimistic, if not wholly incorrect:
"The words sensual and sensuous are frequently used interchangeably to mean ‘gratifying the senses,’ esp. in a sexual sense. Strictly speaking, this goes against a traditional distinction, by which sensuous is a more neutral term, meaning ‘relating to the senses rather than the intellect’ [...]. In fact, the word sensuous is thought to have been invented by John Milton (1641) in a deliberate attempt to avoid the sexual overtones of sensual. In practice the connotations are such that it is difficult to use sensuous in Milton's sense. While traditionalists struggle to maintain a distinction, the evidence suggests that the neutral use of sensuous is rare in modern English. If a neutral use is intended, it is advisable to use alternative wording."
But what would that alternative wording be? And if there is no adequate word to describe it, how are we, as artists, expected to explain it with respect to our own work? And how can our attempts to describe our intentions be conveyed to the viewer without the risk of being dictatorial, limiting, or disruptive?

I like to think that there is a lot more to my work than expressions of intellectual curiosities and opinions. But I'm not convinced I need to talk about it. Susan Stewart (in her collection of essays "The Open Studio") writes, " artwork can be completed without reception." My job as an artist is not to create an experience for the viewer that mimics my own, or worse, proscribe to the viewer the ideal or "correct" response to a work. The intellectual aspects of a work can be described (which may or may not add to the viewer's experience), but all the rest must surely be entrusted to the viewers to determine for themselves.

Tyranny of the Hypothetical

I've been struggling lately. It goes without saying that painting is always a struggle, and that's to be expected. But it's much more than that. I think in the last few months, it's really hit me how hard this whole artist thing really is. As a student, you're so protected - assignments, mentors, mandatory feedback, all wrapped in a whole lot of big dreams and naive optimism. But it's different once you're on your own. I finally finished my degree last April, and then shared a studio with a few friends until September. Since then, I have worked obsessively, alone. For the first few months, I reveled in my new-found privacy and space. I made big strides in my work and produced painting after painting after painting. But since Christmas, the months have been ticking by, and while the obsessive working has not diminished, I have become increasingly conscious of my largely secluded existence.

In so many ways, working day after day without interruption or distraction is a gift, a privilege, a luxury. But it is also trying. The deluge of critiques that I so often longed to be free of while in school has abruptly dried up, and too often I find myself thinking back to the soggy old comments made about my old work to see if they can continue to guide me with the new. It goes without saying that they are woefully inadequate.

Of course I work hard at challenging myself - and I do. But you see, there's the rub. When you depend on your art to pay the bills, the art-making process can quickly become stiflingly goal-oriented. There are deadlines, collectors, galleries - and along with all that, is the increasingly anxiety-ridden awareness that the work is not being made for my eyes alone, that it is intended to go out into the world and be seen, scrutinized, and ultimately judged.

Most artists that you talk to or read about say that they don't care what other people think. Maybe that's true. But there's caring what other people think in a grovelling, pandering kind of way, and then there's caring what other people think in a hoping-to-connect, trying-to-communicate kind of way. And while I certainly don't advocate the former, I think the latter is much more complicated. When I was at school, the critique process at school gave each of us a test-run for our work from a bunch of interested and educated viewers. The whole process was an implicit affirmation that it does matter what other people think - as artists, we're literally trained to care. But now that that constructive process is gone, I have had to replace that audience of actual viewers with an audience of my own imagined hypothetical viewers.

And there has been the root of my struggles. My imagination seems to breed these viewers who are not only highly critical but fickle. They befriend my doubts, play hide and seek with my intentions, and dress up my instincts with costumes that don't fit.

But then today, just when the growing, chaotic crowd of bullying hypothetical viewers were beginning to stampede, I experienced an unexpected gunshot to the sky that has scattered the masses. And suddenly I feel emboldened, even liberated. And at least for today, the hypothetical viewer is just me.

Speak for Yourself

I'm really proud of my new paintings. I don't know if I'm allowed to say that. They're certainly not perfect, but for now they're the closest thing I've ever gotten to saying what I really want to say - or, should I say, seeing what I want to see.

But the closer my paintings get to expressing what I want, the more nervous I am of talking about them. It's just that I don't want them to be about me. But I also don't want to intellectualize them and drain them of their emotional content. Artists are always required to talk about their work, to explain their intentions - and I've certainly embraced those expectations so far, particularly in this blog. But over the last couple of months, my paintings have been making me grow more silent. They are more revealing than I expected them to be.

Not The Same

My latest painting: 45" x 33", oil on canvas (no title as of yet)

Untitled, 45" x 33", oil on canvas, Amanda Clyne

Technically, my process is to (1) take a photograph, (2) turn it into a type of painting that (3) I photograph, and then (4) turn into an actual painting, which (5) I then photograph in order to show it to a remote audience. And yet, the point of my work is largely lost when not experienced in the flesh. For me, the work of art that I produce is complete after step 4. Step 5 is merely out of necessity (and desire) to share my work with more people. But the experience of the painting is so different to this digitally distributed image - the scale of the work to the human body, the sensuousness of the oil paint, the warmth of the light and color, the varying views when close up or far away. So much of the experience is lost when re-converted back into a photographed image. I always want a constant disclaimer on my photographed work: " It looks different in real life." Real life. If more people see work as a photographed painting on a screen, is that not the "real life" with which I am forced to contend? Do paintings have a greater significance as paintings or as photographs of painted images - and if so, must we paint for the screen experience rather than the human experience, or is there still value in anticipating and working toward a physical confrontation between viewer and painting?

My Sesame Street Theory

" encounter between persons and forms [is] in truth an encounter between persons - the maker and the receiver." (from Susan Stewart's "The Open Studio")

That was the opening to my first artist talk that I delivered to employees at Daimler Financial on Thursday. It was an amazing opportunity to reflect on the developments in my art and life over the past few years, and share my passion for art. It affirmed to me once again that being a viewer of art is in itself a creative exercise, and that the experience of art is a dynamic conversation, and hopefully connection, between artist and viewer.

The employees' response to the talk was amazing - the best compliment for me was that they appreciated how "accessible" I was. We talked about how a lot of artists try to build an aura of artistic "genius" by deliberately making themselves inaccessible. It is as if "accessible" in the art world has come to be synonymous with "mediocre". (I began to discuss this idea in my earlier blog posting "Over-Exposure".) But every time that I speak to people who love art and yet don't have a background in art and art theory, I am constantly struck at how much they want to understand more, and how remote the world of art seems to them. Does it really have to be that way? I work hard in my own practice to engage with the more complex ideas that the experience of art raises, but I am cautious to not make the visual experience of my work alienating. I want those viewers who are not necessarily familiar with the references and theories that I'm grappling with to still be drawn in - seduced - by the beauty of the image, the sensuality of the paint, and the ambiguity of the distortions. I think of it as my Sesame Street theory of art - I want my work to connect with "the kids" just as much as "the parents". Because until relatively recently, I was one of "the kids" too.