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.

Sheer Possibility

Here is a sneak peak of my new painting in the studio. It's a diptych. I'm still working on the second panel (cropped out of the photo). For some reason a couple of the fragments have been painfully slow to dry, so it's taking a little longer to finish than I had hoped. It will be exhibited at the big 60 Painters show that is opening in two weeks.

The painting is a subtle shift from my previous work, but I'm excited by the possibilities. In my last show, one of my favorite works was "Veiled", an image that seemed to be dissolving into white. I liked the ethereal quality of the work, and I've been wanting to paint a new series with a similar quality -- sophisticated greys (Morandi is one of my painting heroes), and an image that is more haunting than bold. The greyed palette that I've used here with subtle bleeds of color, along with the almost vibrating transparencies give this painting a whole new dimension. It was good to try this idea first with a more minimal source image, but I'm intrigued by what I might concoct with more extravagant source material. I have this idea that I want my work to express a form of Baroque Minimalism -- an oxymoron, I know, but it doesn't mean it's not possible. In fact, I'm quite certain that it is.

Beyond the Dress

Installation of Alexander McQueen at Metropolitan Museum of Art

High expectations can be a dangerous thing. Once you expect something to be amazing, it is far too likely that you'll end up disappointed, or worse, that the truly amazing will no longer be able to actually amaze you. But the much-hyped Alexander McQueen show "Savage Beauty", which I saw at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York this week, easily surpassed every sky-high expectation I had.

There are enough reviews of the show that I don't think it's necessary for me to repeat all the accolades again, but I'd like to share a few thoughts I had about the show:

Art, Not Fashion

When I first arrived at the museum and saw the throngs of people waiting to enter the show, I admit I felt a little jealous that a fashion designer was able to draw a larger, more excited crowd to the museum than any art exhibition I had ever seen. Inside the exhibition, as each viewer stood in awe, patiently soaking in the exquisite nature of each McQueen dress, jacket and pair of shoes, I was a little hurt that I so rarely see such attention being paid to the artworks of the greatest painters and sculptors.

But then I realized that we had all been duped. While I'm sure many, if not most of the visitors had come to the show because of their interest in fashion, Alexander McQueen (and the absolutely brilliant curatorial team at the Met's Costume Institute) made sure that we were not looking at just clothes and accessories, but at a fully realized artistic vision, one that incorporated sculpture, painting, performance, installation and new media, all under the guise of fashion. I remember years ago seeing the Armani exhibit at the Guggenheim. I loved the show but the dresses and suits were - let's be real - just dresses and suits. But the McQueen show was so, so much more. It was art in its most masterful, dark, and poetic form of expression. When I left the show, the world looked different. McQueen had undeniably infiltrated my vision.

A Second Skin

I love the abstract nature of fashion and how it plays with form, movement, color and texture. When I look at fashion, I see abstract paintings. One day, I plan to paint them. Throughout the McQueen show, there was certainly no shortage of extraordinary sensations. My favorite was an organza dress, so intricately layered that it created the impression it was made entirely of smoke, the floor-length skirt appearing to rise from the floor like dry ice. But from the very beginning of the show, it was clear to me that McQueen's works were impervious to abstraction. The garments and accessories are so thoroughly steeped in narrative, that the body itself becomes an inextricable element of his design. Some garments seem to attack the body, while others seem to have instigated an irrevocable process of metamorphosis in which the woman is in the midst of transforming into a hybrid being, morphing with creatures that offer her new forms of protection and defense. And a few garments violently suggest the aftermath from some sort of dehumanizing body-snatching invasion. With each garment, the dress covers the body not as a decorative article of clothing, but as a second skin, as if it were a kind of natural outgrowth from our dark, mutating, genetic make-up.

The Perfect Eulogy

At about the half-way point in the show, my eyes welled up with tears, and I spent the rest of the show fighting them back with only moderate success. It was all so overwhelming, so haunting, so brilliant. By the end, I felt like my heart and head would explode from a potent mix of ecstasy, emotion, and inspiration. The metamorphosis suggested in his garments seemed to be taking place inside me. But there was still another show I wanted to see -- the Richard Serra drawing exhibit. At first, I wasn't sure that I could absorb another visual onslaught, and when I first entered the Serra exhibit, the weighty, spare, geometric drawings seemed better suited for another day. But as I began to wander through the exhibit, I began to see Serra's drawings as the perfect eulogy for Alexander McQueen himself. Confronted with one of Serra's large towering black squares, the entire surface immersed in the heavy scrawls of rich, caked-on paint stick, I saw the roughly textured surface transform into the delicate ruffles and decaying lace of McQueen's creations. Standing back to take in the drawing's impenetrable blackness, grand scale and stark form, I experienced a dark, monumental silence. It seemed the most fitting conclusion to McQueen's truly epic exhibition, and the most eloquent representation of the lingering, tragic void left by his senseless death.

Richard Serra (detail of drawing)
Richard Serra at Metropolitan Museum of Art

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.

A Sign of Intimacy

In my Collins English Dictionary, the word "intimate" is defined, in part, as:
deeply personal, private, secret
having a deep or unusual knowledge
of or relating to the essential part or nature of something; intrinsic
For me, there is no question that painting has a distinct capacity to express intimacy. I would argue that at its best, painting always does. Which is not to say that all paintings are intimate expressions. Many (too many?) are not. Which means it cannot just be the medium itself that evokes a sense of intimacy. There must be more to it than just paint. But what exactly?

What role does the iconography of the painting play - can a still life, a sprawling urban landscape, a figurative portrait, a graphic abstraction, each convey an "equal" (not necessarily similar) sense of intimacy? My initial instinct would be to argue no, that the human body/face has an unfair advantage. It must be easier to feel intimate toward a person than a pear, a building or a shape. But there are simply too many examples (innumerable, really) of painted objects, views and blobs, that, through the eyes of many viewers, evoke as much (if not more) intimacy as peering into the face of a stranger. And if that is true, then perhaps it is not what is painted, but how it is painted.

So then is it the artist's touch that humanizes the surface into a sensual being? If so, is any touch sufficient or do we all have to be de Kooning? Chuck Close used an airbrush in his early work to remove the baggage that comes with a strong gestural imprint, but when face to face with the real paintings, the surface cannot be said to read as mechanical. In contrast, Richter's blurred photo paintings are clearly of the hand and brush, but I can't say I would describe my encounter with these works as one of intimacy.

Does the size of the painting matter? Can an enormous painting be as intimate an experience as a miniature? The immersive experience offered by a large canvas can swallow the viewer into its vision, but is that really what we would describe as intimate? But if the canvas is too small, does the viewer dominate it like a giant to a child, keeping the viewer at a remote distance like a photographer looking through a viewfinder. De Kooning spoke of sizing his works to relate to the scale of the human body. I like this approach, and have been adopting it as of late, but I know this cannot be the only viable option to creating an intimate relationship between painting and viewer.

Color must play a role in it somehow too. In my own work, I have found using too much of the synthetic pigments that have no real existence beyond the chemical usually severs the intimate possibilities in a work. But is that to say that must always be the case?

Of course I am sure there is no definitive rule to be discovered. In the video of Chuck Close that I posted yesterday, Close wisely states, "Problem solving is way too over-rated. Problem creation is much more interesting." So the problem I have created for myself is to grapple with the question of intimacy, to strive to create paintings that engage the viewer in an intimate confrontation. As Jonathon Lasker wrote in his essay "Paint's Body" (and one of my favorite quotes about oil painting):
"We are all at present, more divided, less empowered, and certainly far less connected to the effects of our world than we should be. It is for this reason that I am deeply involved with the textures of a medium capable of universalizing so much lost intimacy."

Beauty in Disguise

If you could see me, you wouldn't describe me as beautiful. I'm pretty enough, and I can feel pretty good about myself on a good hair day with a flattering outfit. But I'm not beautiful. Enough men have hit on me that I assume some would say I can be sexy, or hot, or however men describe it outside the company of women. But it's not beauty. I think it would be fair to say that I have a fascination with the fantasy of being beautiful. For me, the fantasy is not about gaining the approval or love or admiration of others. It's something I assume I would feel inside myself - not just a confidence, but perhaps a freedom, the kind of freedom that comes with donning a perfect disguise.

I generally don't talk about the role of beauty in my work. I'm comfortable discussing the theoretical debates surrounding the idea of beauty in contemporary culture, but to declare my work to be a meditation on beauty, I don't think I'm ready for that yet. It closes off the possibilities. It sounds trite.

Someone recently said to me that they were tired of the idea that people thought art had to be deciphered, that art was somehow a means to hide something obvious that the viewer just had to find. I agree with that, but I don't think it applies just to viewers. I think artists too, now faced with the pressures of insightful and theoretically rigorous artist statements, can find themselves trying to define and clarify and explore ideas without even making the work. But the more work I make, the more I continue to be surprised by the themes and ideas that reveal themselves to me in the process of making and in the completed pieces.

My private relationship to beauty is slowly revealing itself. People have been telling me so. But that doesn't mean that is what the work is about, or what I intend it to be about, or what I hope it to be about. But it is there nonetheless.


Sometimes I get a little over-zealous. I admit it. In my crazed efforts to create months-worth of new compositions to paint, this week I have overwhelmed myself with possibilities, printing more and more source materials and photographing more and more ink prints. I was just beginning to lose all perspective, drowning in liquid images, when this afternoon I decided to stop. I picked a few sets of ink prints and started composing. It made me feel like I was moving forward, although I can't say I was coming up with anything that was that earth-shattering. Until I started to work with one image that I have completely fallen in love with.

It is reminiscent of Fragonard's paintings (like the ones I've posted here from the Metropolitan Museum's collection in New York). I know, Fragonard is not exactly Velasquez, but personally I think Fragonard is highly underrated. In person, the paintings are lusciously painted, and while most people just see his images as over-romanticized cheese, they are so visually seductive, so totally over-the-top, they actually remind me of the visual excess in today's celebrity and fashion culture. To me, he seems more relevant today than ever. And now I'm dying to paint.