December 1, 2007
One step forward. Two steps back.
“The Whole Story” Oil on 16 Canvases. Kimberly Brooks.
It has been six years since the U.S. congratulated itself for “liberating the women of the Taliban”, and one week since a nineteen-year-old girl and gang-rape victim was ordered the penalty of 200 lashes in Saudi Arabia for the act she allegedly caused because she was caught sitting in a car with a man who was not her relative.
As an artist and woman growing up in the West, one of the towers that fell on 9-11 was my view of what it meant to view and create art. After the cascade of news stories that brought front and center how my sisters throughout the world live in what I consider to be oppressive misogynistic cultures, I thought deeply about what it must be like where there is no visual representational art, where women are covered from head to toe and not allowed to be seen let alone depicted in any form, where billboards also have the female entirely blackened in silhouette and western art history text books are considered “pornographic”. The closest I’ve come to the Middle East is relatively progressive Dubai–the UAE has just made a deal with the Louvre Museum in Paris to build a branch in the tourist-driven area. And even though you can find a forty foot high image of Paris Hilton in the Guess Jeans store at the United Arab Emirate’s Mall (this is progress!), outside the mall there’s not a painting or photograph of any woman in sight except for the framed photographs of the men who rule the country and some abstract designs in all the hotel lobbies. It’s really really strange.
Suddenly late 20th century notions that say, figurative painting was dead, or that women were finally breaking though the glass canvas of the art world, seemed quaint. So for me as an artist, the act of painting figures, nudes – especially women – takes on another meaning and also an act of defiance
One step forward. Two steps back.
In 2003, an underground feminist art exhibition entitled “Women Talking Back” featured work for and by women showed in Tehran. One of the artists in that exhibition was Abelina Galustian. In her series of paintings entitled The Veil Series, she depicts women wearing lingerie and high heels along with the burka. The curator of the show was briefly imprisoned and all of the paintings were confiscated permanently. Shown here are photographs of the paintings which are all that remain.
Abelina Galustian, Photographs of confiscated paintings from “The Veil Series,”
oil and acrylic on canvas, 2003
In her recent series entitled Womansword, Galustian looks to classic 19th Century Orientalist painters
. She recreates detailed photorealist paintings reversing the gender. In doing so, she undermines the traditional dynamic of the male gaze and the viewing process while pointing to contemporary issues of representation, and the neo-Orientalism rampant in the cultures the western world seeks to “liberate”.
Kimberly Brooks: Where did you come of age, and when did you start to question what women were and were not allowed to do?
Abelina Galustian: I was born in Tehran, Iran. I am of Armenian ethnicity and moved to the U.S. after the Iran/Iraq war. In the beginning of third grade in Tehran, my best friend, Rama, and I would eavesdrop on women’s private conversations [about their Hymen]. I was too young to understand why young, single women gave the intactness of their hymen such great importance. They shared naughty stories about their rendezvous and extracurricular activities as if they were talking about a sport – how they finally made the “touch down” without being “touched down.” These types of “coffee conversations” continued in almost every circle and age of women I sat with in my cultural context.
I now live in the United States. During my last visit to Iran a few years ago, I was sitting with a group of very wealthy, educated, single women who said the same things I heard during my eavesdropping days. I still couldn’t understand why they were all [still focusing on acting like virgins.] My reaction to this hypocrisy was communicated with the Veiled Series. It was a way of telling women to stop interrogating a woman’s worth by the intactness of her hymen, as it only leads to daughters performing virginity and sons who only accept virgins (or at least they think they’re getting virgins) for wives.
KB: What was the spark that led specifically to the Womansword series?
AG: In February 2000, I was in a New Haven bookstore in Connecticut. I noticed a center display of books about the Middle East. One book in particular caught my eye with its painting by Jean-Leon Gerome entitled “The Slave Market.” Although I had seen Gerome’s painting on many different occasions since studying art in America, it was at that point when I noticed for the first time, the message Gerome intended in his composition. Gerome who is a hyper-Realist and a stickler for correct proportions, painted the hand of the nobleman who is purchasing the slave girl, about three times bigger proportionally. I was so appalled by Gerome’s symbolism that I decided to give a critical response to this painting.
Left: Jean-Leon Gerome, The Slave Market, 1867, oil on canvas.
Right: Abelina Galustian, The Slave Market: Womansword 2000, oil and acrylic on canvas.
AG: I purposely chose the Orientalist style and Gerome’s painting by reason of its immediate encroachment to the senses. It was necessary for this particular body of work to retain a direction of communication that would be recognizable, distinguishable, and straightforward. The Womansword series of paintings counterclaim some of the socially ascribed roles through the switching of gender roles, a switch that may at first be read as subtle but actually acknowledges a female’s ownership of her body and debunks its male control.
Left: Stanislas von Chlebowski. Purchasing a slave, oil on canvas, signed and dated 1879 (36.75 x 28.50 in). Right: Abelina Galustian Purchasing a slave: The Womansword, acrylic and oil on canvas, 2002 (5 x 6 ft).
In nineteenth-century orientalist works, one theme that was given an encore was the captive woman. The harem and slave-market themes were exploited by various artists. The most distinguished and famous of the Orientalist paintings is Jean Leon Gerome’s “The Slave Market” which shows how easily Orientalism of the day could be combined with the taste for violated innocence and female subjection. Since these chosen depictions are almost iconic, quoting from them with alterations that are explicitly construed as political, generates a double-take and immediate scrutiny from the viewer.
A close-up detail from Galustian’s Purchasing a slave: The Womansword, acrylic and oil on canvas, 2002
KB: What do you seek, ultimately, from your viewers?
AG: As a feminist artist, I seek to expose seemingly archaic beliefs that are only loosely hidden behind the mask of political correctness. Works that are tacitly looked upon as classic works of beauty and truth in the artistic canon, interestingly enough, become works of irreverence and perversity once the genders are switched.
KB: As an artist who also deals with female/male issues, I find myself not wanting to be known solely as a feminist painter, yet you claim it prominently in your description of yourself. Do you ever worry about being ghettoized as such?
AG: No. Being “ghettoized” for being a feminist artist is not an issue for me. Everything that revolves in and around my work stem from women’s issues. But Middle-Eastern feminist awareness is not always parallel to the West’s understanding of feminism. In my work, female is not just gender but location, therefore, when talking/painting about the female-feminine and male/masculine I’m also talking about the East and West. At the end of the day, it is my work that speaks, not my label.
Artist Abelina Galustian
Born in Tehran with family roots in Tabriz, Abelina Galustian immigrated to the U.S. after the Iran/Iraq War. Here, she earned her MFA in studio arts at Cal State LA, her MA in art history at UCSB, and she is also currently pursuing her PhD in art history at UCSB. Galustian’s work has shown in solo and group exhibits internationally and domestically. Likewise, she has been a featured artist and lecturer featuring her own work and topics such as transnational identities, Neo-Orientalism, and performing culture in Toronto, Dubai, and California. www.womansword.com
November 24, 2007
My friends Liz and Paul have a Wayne White landscape above their bed with block letters spelling “Good Looking People Having Fun Without You” off into the distance like a petrified fear hanging above their pillows. It’s so wonderfully absurd it makes me laugh every time I see it.
Gracie, Liz an Paul’s daughter, jumping on the bed in front of the painting
Good Looking People Having Fun Without You by Wayne White
I know another couple who has a large diptych of a man biting a woman’s nose above their headboard. Since there’s an obvious chance that bedroom-hung art might seep into the subconscious or reflect something more personal than normal about the collector, I thought I’d take this opportunity to interview the artist and ask him, among other things, that very question:
Kimberly Brooks: So what painting hangs in your bedroom?
Wayne White: A painting I did of a man riding a red rocket up through the sky. Yippeee!!! No kidding. It’s classier than it sounds.
ROCKET Acrylic on
canvas 32″x 40″
KB: You paint on ready-made thrift store paintings and turn them into great art. How did you come upon this idea?
WW: In the late nineties I was making American History paintings. I bought thrift store landscapes just to use the frames. One day, as a joke, I decided to use the ready-made landscape as well. Its space suggested a long row of something–Words! Thus, Human Fucking Knowledge
, my first word picture was born.
Human Fucking Knowledge Wayne White, 1999
KB: Tell me about another piece and what inspired you to make it.
WW: My wife and I had a tacky slang contest and this little song was born: “Heinies and Shooters with Hotties at Hooters.” It went right into a painting.
Heines and Shooters with Hotties and Hooters, Wayne White, 2000
KB: What about your creative process? Are there any routines you may have that might be unique or curious?
WW: I draw on tracing paper over the landscapes. It’s always improvised. Sometimes it’s simple and sometimes a gnarled mess. I’m a sign painter with no boss.
They’re Onto You, Wayne White, 2007
KB: We should all be so lucky. What mood you seek to impart to your viewers when they see your work?
WW: I aim to puncture. DOINK! It’s funny.
KB: Is there a work of art that inspires you?
WW: “Sullivan’s Travels” by Preston Surges. It’s about humor as dalvation. I really like that notion.
KB: Thanksgiving just passed. What are you thankful for?
WW: I’m thankful for the big stuff of course-my family, health, human kindness. But I’m also thankful that I don’t have to work for Hollywood anymore.
Wayne White was born in Chattanooga,Tennessee in 1957. He received his BFA degree from Middle Tennessee State University in 1979, and moved to New York City shortly afterwards. He has had three solo shows at Clementine Gallery in New York and two solo shows at Western Project Gallery in LA. He’s also had one-man exhibitions at Texas State University, Mark Moore Gallery LA, Middle Tennessee State University, and Changing Role Gallery Naples, Italy, along with several group shows, including “The Fifth Annual Altoids Curiously Strong Collection.” In the Spring of 2006, White’s large-scale sculptural piece, “You’re Supposed to Act all Impressed” was exhibited on the plaza of Rockefeller Center as a part of Art Rock 2006.
In addition, White has maintained a successful career as a production designer, cartoonist, animator and puppeteer. He has won three Emmys for art direction on PeeWee’s Playhouse, an MTV Award for designing The Smashing Pumpkin’s video “Tonight, Tonight,” and The Billboard Award for Peter Gabriel’s video “Big Time.” Wayne White lives and works in Los Angeles, California where he resides with his wife, writer and cartoonist Mimi Pond, and their children Woodrow and Lulu. For more, please visit Western-project.com.
November 16, 2007
When the sight of plastic bags twirling in the wake of our cars is commonplace, when thick orange sunsets become ever more fantastical and people in Georgia are fined for watering their lawns, man’s impact on nature becomes less and less deniable, even by the crazies. Yet, we forge ahead, not wanting to be inconvenienced by the truth (thanks, Al), nor denied access to all the amenities of the American Dream. And the ever growing sheaths of concrete and box stores continue to expand to afford us just this. According to the NY Times, urban sprawl consumes 9000 acres a day in this country.
My Lonely Tree, 2005 Color Photograph. Joel Tauber
In Joel Tauber’s latest series, “My Lonely Tree,” he falls in love with and cares for, a tree. Yet unlike the sad polar bear sitting on a diminishing icecap, his images are right in our backyard, something we might drive around and miss otherwise. She may be losing the war, god we hope not, but to see this series is to instantly share Tauber’s rapture for Nature’s triumph in one tiny battle at the Rose Bowl parking lot.
Courtesy Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects
KB: What was the moment that inspired this series?
JT: I have fallen in love with a tree in the middle of a gigantic parking lot. I cannot really explain how this happened, but love is a hard thing to explain. The tree is not something that most people notice, except as a source of shade for their cars. Yet, somehow – on a beautiful summer day in June 2005 — I was drawn to the beauty of this forsaken California Sycamore tree, stuck in the middle of Rose Bowl parking lot K. I was touched by how lonely it was, and I was outraged by the many indignities it suffered.
July 30, 2007: The Tree is Protected by a Boulder Barrier!, 2007.
Color Photograph, Joel Tauber
Courtesy Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects
: What did you do about it?
: I have taken it upon myself to try to rectify the many wrongs that this tree has suffered. Since August 2005, I have been watering the tree with large water bags. In October 2005, I built and installed tree guards in order to protect the tree from cars. I spent many months lobbying the City and the Rose Bowl to remove the asphalt beneath the canopy of the tree, so that the tree would get more of the water and oxygen that it desperately needs. In September 2006, the Rose Bowl removed 400 square feet of asphalt beneath the tree and replaced it with mulch. And, on July 30, 2007, the Rose Bowl placed a permanent boulder barrier around the tree. These boulders will protect the tree from cars and provide seating for people to contemplate the beauty of the tree.
February 16, 2007: The Tree Babies Have Arrived!!!, 2007.
Color Photograph, Joel Tauber
Courtesy Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects
: What are some of the ways you made this project larger than the saving of the one tree?
: I gathered many seeds from the tree, and I am thrilled that 200 tree babies are now growing happily with the help of the Theodore Payne Foundation. I am also working with LA>The Tree Adorned with Earrings (central image of a triptych).
Color Photograph, Joel Tauber Courtesy Susanne Vielmetter
Los Angeles Projects
KB: What message do you seek to impart to your viewers when they see your work?
JT: I want the work to raise questions about our relationships to our environment. Why don’t we notice the trees stuck in our parking lots? Why don’t we give them the care and respect that they deserve? What does it say about our culture and our future if we treat our cars better than we treat our trees?
Laying with the Tree (Self-Portrait of Artist).
Color Photograph, Joel Tauber
Courtesy Susanne Vielmetter
Los Angeles Projects
Joel Tauber received his MFA from Art Center College of Design, and he teaches video art at USC. His work has been shown in numerous group exhibitions and solo exhibitions at a number of locations both locally and internationally. His current projects include “Sick-Amour”, a series of films and public interventions at the Rose Bowl. As part of LA>artist’s website and will be featured in the following galleries and museums:
-November 30, 2007 – April 13, 2008: “Seven Attempts to Make a Ritual” in the exhibition “The New Authentics: Artists of the Post-Jewish Generation” at the Spertus Museum, 610 S. Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60605. The show then travels to the Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA.
-December 12, 7:30 – 10:30 pm: “Sick-Amour” at the smart@house with LA>here), GOOD Magazine, and Million Trees. The smart@house is located at 1319 Abbot Kinney Boulevard, Venice Beach, CA.
-January 24: Opening ceremony for the permanent tree baby installation in front of the USC School of Art, LA, CA.
-Opening in January: “Sick-Amour” in “Systems Theory” at the Torrance Art Museum 3320 Civic Center Drive Torrance, CA 90509.
-Spring 2008: Solo exhibition at the Adamski Gallery For Contemporary Art, Strausberger Platz 3, 10243 Berlin, Germany.
November 11, 2007
I ran into a friend of mine recently in a restaurant, and while greeting her with a kiss on the cheek, I accidentally knocked out a “Bluetooth” earpiece that allows her to answer the phone without touching a phone with her hand. “Oops! My Bluetooth!” she said as it fell in her salad.
Burchell Zebra Museum Box, 2005
I once had swaths of time and space when I wasn’t connected to any one and cell phones were shaped like small refrigerators. Now, I feel like I forgot my foot if I don’t have mine with me. I think about this a lot as I continue to resist the urge to be reachable by email or have access to the internet when I’m not sitting in front of the computer at the end of the day. At my studio, there’s nothing but a radio (okay okay, it’s cable), glass jars, chairs, tables, easels, turpentine, paint, brushes and canvases. That’s it.
I constantly marvel over how technology has integrated itself into our very being making us practically unrecognizable to our prehistoric selves. This was on my mind when I walked into the Obsolete Gallery and discovered, among other treasures, the work of Ron Pippin. There I found an antique canoe with a plastic heart inlaid in resin suspended from the ceiling next to a zebra skull with a piston jutting into it’s jaw beneath a glass museum case.
skeletal taxidermy, mixed media, found objects, wood,
plexi glass 45″L x 13″W x 20″H Ron Pippin
Courtesy Obsolete Gallery
: What do you seek to impart by aesthetic and combination of materials you use in your work?
: My work is often related to ideas about the relationship of Science, Art, and Nature. My scientific aesthetic is primarily drawn from the 19th Century, when, I feel, science still had a relationship to beautiful forms.
Homage to Ancient Ancestors, 2007
Vintage photograph, mixed media, found objects, test tubes, 9 x 12 in.
Courtesy Obsolete Gallery
: Is there a moment or experience that set you on a certain path?
: As a child I was extremely shy. I discovered that by making pictures I could get attention by having people look at my pictures instead of them focusing their attention on me. In kindergarden my Halloween, Thanksgiving,Christmas and Easter pictures were displayed in the hallway of the elementary school. This you could say was my first exhibition, so the die was cast at a very early age.
Skeletal Taxidermy, mixed media, found objects.
Ron Pippin Courtesy Obsolete Gallery
: Tell me about your process. How do you make art?
: My process of working is to reach inside of myself and pull out every shred of willpower and discipline I can find and force myself to be in the studio every day, whether I feel like it or not. When I was in my early 30’s I decided that since life is so short I would make a commitment to making art –I haven’t regretted it one day.
: what would you like people to experience when they see your work?
: What I hope people take with them after looking at my work is really nothing particularily lofty or mysterious. The work is simply about our humanity and our connections with one another and our world.
Angel of the Rising Sun, 1992
Taxidermy, saddle, mixed media, found objects
78″ x 66″ x 60″
Courtesy Obsolete Gallery
Ron Pippin has been a working artist for more than forty years. He has participated in over eighty solo and group shows worldwide and has been prominently featured in leading art world publications. His awards and commissions are numerous and can be found in various permanent collections including the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. His current exhibition at Obsolete
, features a forty-year retrospective of select work. www.ronpippin.com
October 27, 2007
For everyone living in Southern California right now, the heavy black smoke spewed by the wildfires has thrown the entire region into an altered state. The palette, which is often so bright, has descended into a muted orange grey. Visual anchors that we count on — the sun, the moon, the horizon — look surreal and abnormal. A silent dread building up over years of drought preceded this. But now that it’s here, we are in it. And it’s all-enveloping.
“Tender Among us I”, 62 x 72 in. Oil on Panel. Liat Yossifor
In Liat Yossifor’s latest series of paintings, “The Tender Among Us,” she depicts and captures the thick fog of war and the ambiance of battle scenes. For the majority of Americans who are aggravated by and constantly worrying about the war, but are not serving in it, it remains in the abstract — the gulf between picking up a new package of socks at Target and what it must be like to man a checkpoint in Baghdad post suicide-attack is enormous. Yet gazing at these paintings, especially in person, has a way of wrapping around you and shrinking that gulf.
Kimberly Brooks: What inspired you to make this body of work?
Liat Yossifor: I have been thinking about the romantic landscape of battle scenes as seen throughout art history and the relationship of cinematography in war films to painting. Recently, I have also begun researching various war monuments and their peculiar forms and the way they memorialize war.
Some of my new small paintings and sketches include references to bronze figurative monuments. The paintings serve as a continuation of the sculptural, war-like figurations which are part of a new series of work entitled “The Dawning of an Aspect.”
“Tender Among us II”, 62 x 72 in. Oil on Panel. Liat Yossifor
KB: What is your process of making these paintings?
LY: My paintings are done in one sitting, or, more accurately, are worked on as long as I can keep the same layer of oil paint wet (up to three days for a single painting). The process is fast and focused, especially for large scale paintings. Essentially, I sculpt figure-like elements in a dark palate out of a thick layer of oil paint with quick repetitive brush strokes. This method encourages the viewer to experience the work slowly and panoramically.
“Blue” 72 x 64 in. Oil on Panel. Liat Yossifor
KB: Was there a certain experience or moment that led you to create these works?
LY: Since I began my new series of landscape paintings, I have been completely engrossed in the work of El Greco. Filled with stormy, irrational brush strokes that symbolize conflict even in some of his most quiet pieces, his backgrounds move me. I was especially fascinated by “The View of Toledo.”
“View of Toledo” El Greco 1541-1614
Last month, I saw it at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was as if the past and present coexisted perfectly at the moment I viewed it. I have had this experience before when seeing a historical piece in person, but this experience was like no other.
KB: What message or mood do you seek to impart to your viewers when they see your work?
“Dusk” 72 x 64 in. Oil on Panel. Liat Yossifor
LY: I feel that my viewers are ultimately faced with the language of painting. There are so many things which I draw from while painting – among others: art history, field photography, and film – and I hope this allows the viewers to relate to the work from a boarder context and to feel a sense of timelessness.
Liat Yossifor graduated with an MFA from the University of California, Irvine, and a BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute. Most recently, in 2007, Yossifor exhibited her new work: in a solo show at the Pomona College Museum of Art entitled “The Tender Among Us,” in a group show at the Torrance Art Museum, and a project show at the Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects entitled “The Dawning of an Aspect.” Previously her work has been shown in solo and two-person exhibitions such as: “Portraits of Yfat” at Angles Gallery, LA; “New Paintings” at Anna Helwing Gallery, LA; “The Black Paintings” at Noga Gallery of Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv, Israel. She has been included in group exhibitions at the Lyman Allyn Museum, New London, CT; Museum of Modern Fine Arts, Minsk, Belarus; New Wight Gallery at UCLA, LA; University of California Gallery, Davis, CA; Claire Trevor School of the Arts Gallery at UCI, Irvine; Occidental College Art Gallery, LA; and Deep River Gallery, LA. She was also included in several art fairs such as Art Basel Miami Beach; the Armory fair in NY; and Art Forum Berlin. Read more about Yossifor in theNY Arts magazine article “Training Ground” by Carrie Paterson.
Liat Yossifor in her studio
October 24, 2007
I just got back from New Orleans where I saw but a glimpse of the heartache and devastation that Katrina wrought. And yet, to be an artist is to have a silent fascination with the sight of such decay; with the moldy walls of an abandoned building, the rust on a faded green car or the way a drop of oil slicks over a polluted puddle of water.
When I recently interviewed this week’s First Person Artist, Katherine Gullien, her answers gave that fascination, and my trip to New Orleans, a certain oxygen, and it made me view it, through the prism of her work, in a new way.
Kimberly Brooks: What is the inspiration behind your work?
Katherine Guillen: Mold spread through my garden this year. All it would take was one infected plant leaf to lean on another and soon there would be puffy white spots traveling up the stem. It was both life and death; just as a new development might be at the edge of the desert. The idea haunted me all summer.
Because of the sprawling nature of Los Angeles, I drive a lot. Often as I braced the curve of the off-ramp I have visions of earth being scraped and cut-into in ever deeper spirals. The compulsion we have as a society to create and therefore destroy ourselves has inspired most of my recent paintings.
“Foundations of Sentiment” by Katherine Guillen 20×26 in. Goauche and Transfer on Paper Courtesy Junc Gallery
KB: Tell me about your process of working, any routines that might be curious or exemplify a larger message you are trying to communicate?
KG: I started painting a few years ago. I would sketch very controlled lines and then practically color in my drawings. Then I gave up on sketching and would take notes, sometimes in stick figure simply to remember the idea. Lately I have been trying to push myself to respond more to what I have already put down. The intuitiveness and mystery that comes from thoughts that lay on the other side of my consciousness’ wall seem to present themselves only when they have long silent periods of cajoling and something to hold onto. Many of my favorite pieces have actually come from misinterpretations of a forgotten sketch. That moment when the idea somehow jumps the wall is exactly the reason I make art. Before and after is work, like any other work almost. But finding those moments where everything aligns is definitely what keeps me painting.
Oddly, I have very little art work up in my house. In fact, my walls are white. I think I am so visual that anything (even a little messiness) outside me is easier to latch on to than what I find if I can just get inside my head. I wish there was some solution to this. I almost feel like people must doubt how much I truly like art if I don’t have any up. But it isn’t a matter of like — I almost too sensitive to it — it will just take me over.
Katherine Guillen is a Los Angeles-based artist whose current exhibition at the Junc Gallery lasts through November. She is featured as an “emerging artist” in the upcoming STEP magazine and she is will also be featured in the Giant Robot-GR2 show in February. Prints and publications can also be found at Papermountainparade.com.
October 12, 2007
Ever since technology essentially air-lifted artists’ work out of their studios and galleries and put them online, on any given evening (for those of us who prefer to work in natural light) you can find mobs of artists, usually very solo creatures, roaming around the Internet looking at other artists’ work. A few years ago, during one of my nightly expeditions, I stumbled upon a freak phenomenon called the “Painting A Day Movement” (affectionately referred to as “PAD”). It started when a single painter named Duane Keiser decided to challenge himself to make a single painting a day and sell them online. He was smart about it, the paintings are small, he set up a simple group on Google, collected email addresses, threw the paintings up on Ebay, and the next thing he knows he’s not only selling work, people are bidding up the price, he has legions of fans, is making a great living and has been credited with starting the movement by USA Today and the New York Times.
Curious, I signed up for his newsletter and everyday I receive a painting in my email box. The subject matter is simple and very well rendered. With an odd sort of “Being John Malkovitch” sensation, it’s as if I’m in the studio, sitting in his brain and seeing what the artist sees every day, every morning. While I may have made him miss a day, I caught up with Duane in his studio and talked to him about it:
“Sunbeams and Pushpins” 4 x 6″ Oil on Panel. Duane Keiser
Kimberly Brooks: What was the spark that possessed you to make a painting a day?
Duane Keiser: Several years ago I sat in my studio and looked at several small oil studies I had made and I wondered what I should do with them. Back then I was almost completely reliant on galleries to sell my work. I decided to use my studio as a gallery (complete with makeshift track lighting) and have an opening for my family and friends. The prices on my larger paintings had risen over the last decade, to the point where many of my original collectors could no longer afford my work. So I priced the work at $100 each. I called them Postcard Paintings because of their size and because, like the dime-store postcards you send while on vacation, each painting kind of says to it’s recipient, “this is what I saw.” I called the show “100 paintings for $100.” The opening was a hit. I sold a lot of work, everybody had a great time, and a lot of people bought their first original oil painting. I had several more shows after that and started to learn my way around the web and how to present my work via zeroes and ones.
“Egg” 4 x 6 in. Oil on Linen. Duane Keiser
KB: How did that experience end up a movement?
DK: I started experimenting with a blog (actually I just wanted to find out what the hell a blog was.) I remember thinking the journal-like aspect of blogging seemed appropriate for what I was doing, so I posted a few images and called the blog “A Painting a Day.” About a week later I got fifty emails in my inbox from all over the world. The next day even more. They were all emailing me about my work and my blog. I couldn’t figure out what was happening until someone emailed me that BoingBoing.net did a little story on my project. And that is when I discovered the wonders of “viral marketing.”
At the time, the paintings were sold first-come first-served for $100: the first person to email me got the painting. They started to sell within minutes. Unless you were tethered to a computer all day it was hard to buy one. So after several months I decided to try Ebay. This gives people the time to consider a painting over the course of several days and then, if interested, decide what they think it’s worth. It’s like having my own Sotheby’s. After about a year and three months I felt like the strict painting-a-day project had served it’s purpose for me. I am still making close to a painting-a-day, but now I have the freedom to work on other projects.
Video of Ice Cream Melting 4 Minutes 13 seconds. Duane Keiser
KB: What kinds of other projects are you doing now?
DK:I’m about to publish a book via blurb.com and I also have an internet project brewing that I intend to unveil soon. Lastly, I’m continueing to work on some large still life pieces (like the big doughnut on the homepage) and, as always, my postcard paintings.
KB: How do you think the PAD movement has affected your audience?
DK: I’ve been struck by how many emails I have received from artists and non-artists alike wanting to start their own PAD projects. Many aren’t interested in selling or even showing their work publicly. They often have full-time jobs and kids. It finally occurred to me there is something going on here that goes beyond wanting to learn how to paint a pretty picture, and I think it taps into an underlying attraction to the idea of making a painting a day: We go through our lives with a perpetual cursory glance. We see but we don’t notice. We simply aren’t used to observing things firsthand, of investigating them, and I think we sense this–that we’re missing something; that we have, to some degree, become spectators of our own lives. Cell phones, computers, TV, video, 24 hour news etc– all of this information forms the visual equivalent of white noise. It is hard to see and appreciate the colors in a candle flame when it is seen against a fireworks display– and if we are only looking for fireworks in the first place, we will not only not see the subtleties of that single flame, we won’t notice the flame at all. In effect, the flame ceases to exist to us. Direct observation and the patience it requires has become less natural to us.
I think this is one aspect of the PAD idea that draws artists and non-artists alike to the idea of making a painting a day. Even to the uninitiated, there is the notion that painting makes us participants again. The idea of bringing painting into our life holds the promise of experiencing a moment each day when we can be still. We turn off the TV and the cell phone, and we paint. On the one hand painting is a brief respite from the electric hum of modern life but on the other it is the opposite–a way to face and thus reenter our visual world. Annie Dillard wrote, ” Admire the world for never ending on you as you would admire an opponent, without taking your eyes off him, or walking away.”
Artist Photo: Duane Keiser