Sunday, September 13, 2009

Social Work Works Really Works

Today was the opening of Social Work Works: Paintings by Lou Storey at Trinity Cathedral in Trenton. This is another in the ongoing series of ECVA (Episcopal Church & Visual Arts). Let's just say that I help curate these shows and keep the focus of this post on these exuberant works by Lou, an artist and friend I've known since we both transferred into Pratt Institute in 1974.

As an artist, Lou has always been totally inner driven. To me, his work always seemed to remain unscathed by outside pressures exerted by the professors, the art magazines, or the art market. He just kept on producing a steady stream of ebullient works that could be whimsical or satirical or both and, no matter what, always filled with an incredible energy. Whether oil paintings of familiar objects from the studio or completely fantastic scenes from inside his head or total absractions--his work is always immediate and alive.

A few years ago, Lou discontinued his business as an award winning exhibition designer to go back to school to get his MSW so he could enter the "helping profession." When I first heard of this plan, I assumed it would curtail his art production--going back to school at our age would be pretty time consuming. But not too time consuming to stop the flow Lou's creativity. These 24 incredible pieces in paint and bas relief created by shapes he hand cast in the studio and affixed to the surface of his canvas are proof enough.

These paintings chronicle his journey into the realm of social work--through school, through his clinical internships, and through his first two positions in the field. They incorporate layers and layers of intricate patterns, symbols, shapes, and textures--both two- and three-dimensional. Applied with almost frenetic energy, the marks cover every available space on the canvas and march beyond the picture plane over the frames and around the sides.

At the opening, Lou's works were equally intriguing to the social workers who attended as to the lay people ingnorant of the concepts these works explored. And for the uninitiated who want to learn more about the words used in the works, the artist provided a number of statments about the concepts he was grappling with in his parallel journey as he created these works.

The show is at Trinity Cathedral, 801 West State Street, Trenton, NJ. It's best to call for hours because the space gets a lot of official use - 609-392-3805.

Kudos to you, Lou.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Family Resemblances

I continue to struggle with Progress Thomas. Contemporary Thomas is filling in nicely. The facial structure and values are becoming solid. The flesh is taking on that egg tempera "glow" that I envy so much.

I fear, however, that young Thomas is taking on the look of a munchkin. The look of childhood that I achieved in the original drawing is slipping away from me. Just one line too many or a shadow ever so slightly too dark or a transition too harsh and the 7-year-old face is transformed into the countenance of a middle-aged manager.

Part of the problem is Thomas' stark resemblance to his father--the shape of his face, eyes, nose, mouth, and even brows are his. How to prevent myself from rendering that other face that I know instead of the one before me?

Over the years I've used many family members as models and have been able to truly grasp the family resemblances. This summer I painted a portrait of my father who had passed only a few weeks before. As I worked, the face of my youngest sister danced before me. In my source photo of my father as a young sailor, the weight of the years were removed, revealing a bone structure nearly identical to my sister's. It was a cathartic exercise.

Many years ago, when working on a posthumous portrait of my grandparents, I just couldn't get the likeness of my grandmother from the rather small snapshot that was my only reference. When it dawned on me that Nana May was Daddy with long hair, my problem was solved.
Or, as in the case of my present work, the resemblance can become a barrier. Thomas' father's image continues to intrude. My mantra must be: paint what you see, not what you know.

My works take months to complete. I draw my subject. Then I draw them again. Then I paint them. It is no wonder that their images are indelibly stamped on my brain. I know them in a new way. I can't seem to express it in words. How fortunate that I don't have to.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Drawing Dancers

Last Wednesday night, a young ballerina in the making graced our model stand. When I arrived just before the appointed 7:30 start time, a number of artists were already set up and ready to go but no model had made the scene yet. This always creates a buzz. Where is the model? Is there one? Did anyone call Joyce? Should one of the artists pose? A phone call to Joyce revealed that there was a miscommunication of our starting time and that tonight a young dancer would be posing for us--in ballet regalia. Into my mind popped visions of Degas' pastels.

When she arrived, accompanied by her mother, we were eager to get to work. Barely 13, this child was all angular limbs with a torso so slim that it could have been a limb, too. I'm sure that when she assumed her role as dancer, the angularity would be transformed into pure grace.

She leaned forward to don her toe shoes and, as she criss-crossed the wide, pink satin ribbons around her ankles, my mind traveled back in time to my anatomy professor at Pratt. In addition to being the liaison between Pratt and Columbia Medical School, where we went to draw from cadavers, this professor had also developed and taught a special course in anatomy for dancers at the Julliard school to educate professional dancers about exactly what they were doing to their bodies, especially their feet and knees. The idea was that this awareness could enable them to take some pre-emptive measures.

By the time those dancers reached that stage of development--put in enough hours and endured discomfort and even pain since a very young age--most of the damage was probably done. And what of the countless others who didn't make it to this point? I'm sure the parents of these budding dancers had not recieved such informative education about the impact of dancing on their developing frames?

How many parents have heard and/or heeded recent warnings of the impact of excessive training and competition on young gymnasts, soccer players, and skaters on their children--most of whom, like the aspiring dancers, are not sufficiently gifted to go on to sustainable careers in their passion?

Parents of we visual artists are, for the most part, exempt from the need to decide if their 5-year-old budding artist is gifted enough to warrant risking normal physical development and future health for the sake of art. Painting and drawing ability appears to bloom later than athletic or dancing ability. The damage that we painters inflict on our bodies comes through exposure to toxic substances--solvents for oil paint, chemicals in the printmaking shop or (until the 21st century) in the darkroom, or heavy metals in paints. By the time we are sophisticated enough to access these or even to decide to use them, we are in late adolesence or young adulthood. And we have plenty of warnings on labels and in books about the practice of art. We do it to ourselves. I know plenty of artists who by middle age have developed severe allergies to paint thinners and solvents and even to paints.

How did I get here? I'm blathering. Back to our young ballerina. The rather harsh lighting in the studio soon dispelled notions of approximating Degas' smoky atmosphere; however, once we talked this young lady--an experienced dancer but novice model--into a pose, we were treated to an exceptional exercise in fluid line. And yes, her neck was really that long.