Intaglio Breakthrough

As a process-based artist, somehow I new that learning new processes would be critical to breaking through to new work. For the last six weeks, I've been learning various printmaking techniques. Lithography remains my nemesis -- yet to be conquered -- but intaglio and screenprinting have been pushing me out of my comfort zone in the best way possible. Yesterday, I had a breakthrough in finding a way to capture the sensations that I've been striving to convey with an intensity that I don't think I have been able to achieve in my previous work. I can only show a small peak right now. The works are still in progress, and there's still so much to resolve. But I'm so excited by the latest turn of events, I thought it was worth sharing.

Amanda Clyne, detail of a work-in-progress, 2012

Amanda Clyne, detail of a work-in-progress, 2012

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.

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.

Eugène Carrière

I discovered the work of French Symbolist painter Eugène Carrière after leaving the Alexander McQueen show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York last week. I saw this small painting hung in the corridor of the museum. Through my new McQueen-infected eyes, the work struck me as particularly haunting, with a renewed contemporary relevance.

"The Communion", Metropolitan Museum of Art

Here are a couple of Carrière's portraits that I think have an equally eery, fragile presence.


Look. LOOK!!!!!

It's not about the body.   If I want you to see me, to really see ME, I want you to see my face.  The body can be revealing, but it is not the most insightful.  That isn't to say that the body cannot be expressive, but it's distracting.  The naked body is too wrapped up in sex, flesh, carnal pleasures and pain.  The clothed body reeks too much of status, style and costume.  As my studio fills with painted portraits, I realize I have systematically deleted the body.  All that remains of the original images is the face, painted larger than life, looking at the viewer with a certain yearning - to be looked at, to be seen.

Can I Have An Amen!

Just a short posting today (with a little help from the great Spanish painter Francisco de Goya).

I'm spending most of my time painting these days, but during a short break today, I managed to read a few more pages of my "Spanish Portrait" exhibition catalogue. This thing is a gold mine. It seems every time I pick it up, I come across something else inspiring and right on point with my work. The most recent excerpt that rocked my world came at the end of a discussion about the developments in portraiture with respect to the royal courts from the 16th to the 18th century.

Author Javier Portus references Goya's portrait The Family of Charles IV (posted here) to emphasize "the pictures and written accounts of the Spanish and European courts with their highly significant mixture of intimacy and spectacle." (p 46)
..."...highly significant mixture of intimacy and spectacle..." Amen to that.

Soul Searching

Last week, I threw up my hands at trying to explore or even reconcile all of my ideas at once, and decided to focus for awhile on the aspect of my work that deals with portraiture (I've posted a few classics of the genre here - by Velasquez, Singer-Sargent, and Klimt). I had been frustrated at the small number of paintings I had completed in the last couple of months (despite endless hours in the studio), and I felt that narrowing my options would help me move forward more quickly. Ironically, the decision has helped me in ways I didn't expect - rather than narrowing my practice, it has actually begun to bring all the seemingly disparate pieces together. And now the mish-mash of paintings that I've been contemplating these last many weeks suddenly make sense as a whole - as that dreaded "body of work". It seems the last couple of months have been more fruitful than the meagre number of recent paintings might indicate.

This latest development occurred to me while reading the first few pages to the catalogue from a 2005 exhibition at the Prado Museum entitled "The Spanish Portrait: From El Greco to Picasso" (and lord, what I would have given to see that show!!). Describing the history of portraiture in Spain, the author raises a few key points (key for me, at least, since I would argue that these issues that relate to the historical portrait are still applicable today in many respects, albeit in more subtle and complex ways):

1.  The portrait's early connection to the wealthy and powerful, "who used the greatest artists of their time to propagate their own image", where "portraits were more concerned with the attributes of social or professional status than with individual identity.

2. The portrait's association with idealizing certain modes of behavior and glorifying individuals of a certain "...'quality' who were worthy of imitation".

3. The importance of indicators of wealth or status in portraits, including the sitter's clothing/fashion (I am aware of at least two books discussing this with respect to particular artists: "Fashion and Fancy: Dress and Meaning in Rembrandt's Paintings" by Marieke de Winkel, as well as "Whistler, Women and Fashion" by Margaret F. MacDonald).

4.  The tense relationship between fiction versus reality in image-making.

And I only read up to page 25. And although it's all just about the portrait, the themes that I've been addressing in my work are all there. Which gives me a new-found confidence that I am on the right track. And all those (new and improved) paintings that I've been planning are finally ready to go. Giddyup.

Without Shields

Today I came across an article about a naked photo of Brooke Shields, taken when she was 13 years old:

"The original – authorised by Shields's mother for $450 – had been taken by a commercial photographer, Gary Gross, for the Playboy publication Sugar 'n' Spice in 1976. Shields later attempted, unsuccessfully, to suppress the picture."

The artist Richard Prince photographed the image and it was chosen to be included in the Tate Modern's recent exhibition on pop art. The image has been challenged as obscene by the London police (and has now been taken down by the Tate curators), and it has provoked lots of discussion on our current notions of obscenity (interestingly, the image has been publicly displayed without controversy in the past). Only the top portion of the image was printed in the press, of course, but I find the fragment disturbing enough. It's like a sexualized pageant picture, taken inside a sleazy motel. The naked body, unseen in this cropped version of the photo, seems superfluous.

One aspect of the story that fascinates me though (beyond the obscenity/censorship issues) is the lack of Shields' consent in the display of the image - not from a legal point of view, but from an artistic point of view. Forget the fact that her mother consented to such a perverse image being taken of her daughter for a Playboy publication. What goes through the mind of Richard Prince when he chooses to perpetuate the photo's display, knowing that the exploited child, now grown, does not want the image exhibited? What if a rape had been photographed as part of the commission of the crime - would those images be fair artistic game? Even if they could be legally, should they be? Would it matter whether or not the raped woman consented to the artistic use of the images? Should it matter? The images of the people jumping to their deaths from the World Trade Center towers of 9/11 have generally not been published. Jonathon Safran Foer included a similar image in his book "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close", but he took pains to note that although the image was based on a real photograph,the image published for the book had been digitally created. No victims were exploited for artistic purposes.

I think of all the images that circulate on the Internet now - millions of personal, intimate, embarrassing, startling, revealing, horrifying images. For artists, it is a treasure trove, a little shop of horrors. But the more artists work from images, avoiding the confrontation or relationship with the people who inhabit those images, what is lost in the artistic translation? Or worse, do artists become participants in the process of dehumanization that so many of us are trying to overcome?

In my artist talk at Daimler Financial recently, I brought in the two paintings of Elizabeth Taylor that I had just completed. One participant asked me, "What do you think Elizabeth Taylor would think of these paintings if she were to see them?" The implication was that she may be offended or horrified by the disfiguring distortions I had imposed on her image. And while I admit I had not thought of the issue before (due to the obvious unlikelihood of the event), without hesitation I acknowledged that her opinion would in fact matter to me. I would want her to see that I was not trying to caricature her in any way, but rather seeking to find an expression of a deeper humanity lost in the artificial glamour of the original photograph. I would hope she would like it.

I know that sentiment is generally seen as anathema to the conventional artistic credo of "don't give a fuck" - but I'm not convinced of its universal value. I am certainly not advocating any attempt to please anyone in an artistically castrating kind of way, but there has to be some validity, if not value, in respecting the humanity of the person behind the image. There is obvious artistic value to exposing the ravages of our cultural psyche in images such as Richard Prince's photograph, but these images do not only function as mirrors of our culture. For those trapped within the image, they are mirrors of individual souls, exposed, vulnerable, for all to see.