Monday, July 30, 2012

Robert Ryman: White Paintings

“The real purpose of painting is to give pleasure.” (Robert Ryman)

Robert Ryman, Twin (1965)
6′ 3 3/4″ x 6′ 3 7/8″ Oil on cotton. Collection New York MoMA.

Spread your white paint around. Paint her wet. Erase her from the room. She blends with the wall. You are alone.  

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Ground Rises Up to Meet Us

Henri Matisse, Nymph and Satyr, 1909  (notice the single dark hair on her stomach)

Photograph I took of a football game on TV, 2012

Neil Jenney, Saw and Sawed, 1969

Still from Melancholia, 2011

Henri Matisse, Standing Moroccan in Green, 1913

Monday, July 23, 2012

Studio Visit

Pablo Picasso in his Cannes studio, 1956. Photograph: Arnold Newman/Getty Images.

You have a studio visit. You don’t know the person too well and he doesn’t know you. He comes in, looks at the paintings without saying much and after about 35 seconds sits down and looks at you. What do you say? Maybe he will refer you to someone important. Maybe he will get you a show. You talk. And you usually talk more than you should. You use these words and expressions you don’t know the meaning of too well, but you’ve got to impress:

“I am interested in questioning, … investigating, …exploring,  …lexicons, … that deals with, …Postmodernism (always said in a positive context), …identity, …perception, …abstraction, …conceptualization, …in-between, …formal, …tension between, …reminiscent, …process, …appropriation, …assemblage, …symbol for, …complexity, … dichotomy, …archiving, … the idea of nothing and the unknown, …Modernism (always in a bad connotation), deconstruction, …in relation to the body, …gravitate towards, …reconstruct, …contemporary issues, …dislocation, …modes of representation, …Feminism (I shouldn’t have said this word), …ambiguity, …juxtapositions, …criticality, …problematic, …contradictory, …Is AbEx back?...”

He says your work is challenging, shakes your hand, gets his coat and walks away. You see his back leaving the building and you don’t realize you still have a simper on your face.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Painter as Jedi

In a passage from one of the kitschy “Expanded Universe” Star Wars novels that I love to read, Jedi Master Luke Skywalker addresses his new pupils during their first lesson.  Even though Luke is talking about Jedi mind techniques and lightsaber dueling, I felt a kinship with what he was saying.  I’ve replaced “Jedi” with “painter” to make the metaphor that much more apparent:

          “I have brought you here to study and to learn, but I myself am still learning.  Every living thing must continue to learn until it dies.  Those who cease to learn, die that much sooner.
          “Perhaps it was misleading when I called this an ‘academy’ for [painters].  Though I will teach you everything I know, I don’t want you merely to listen to me lecture.
          “Your training will be a landscape of self-discovery.  Learn new things and share what you have learned with others.  I will call this place a
praxeum.  This word, made up of ancient roots…distills the concepts of learning combined with action.  Our praxeum, then, is a place for the learning of action.  A [painter] is aware, but he does not waste time in mindless contemplation.  When action is required, a [painter] acts.”[i]
I have two thoughts on this quote: 1) even though Luke is clearly a master in his field, he is humble and wise enough to recognize that learning lasts a lifetime, and 2) the role of the peaceful warrior is very similar to that of an artist.  I didn’t realize how resonant the last two lines of the quote would be for painters until I switched out the words.
Cover art for Dark Apprentice

We don’t paint for the hell of it.
Our brushes are our swords.
We swing them, and they cut.
We hold them close, and they are quiet.
They can be honest blades.
We will act when action is required.
We will know when.

[i] Kevin J. Anderson, Dark Apprentice (New York: Bantam Books, 1994), 68-69.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


ARTnews June 2012 has an article by Barbara Pollock called "Under Destruction." The subheading reads: "Playing on the pervasiveness of images of destruction and devastation in the news and in Hollywood movies, artists are making works that range from violent to chillingly disquieting." I've been watching trailers for the new Batman movie all week. Bridges dropping into water, football fields on fire. Sometimes things line up.

I see a lot of movies, and movies are full of explosions, now more than ever. I don't know what they burn to get the plumes so fat and curling: fuel, wood, feathers, gas. (I ran out of white dove feathers to soak up the hot piss that comes from your mouth every time you address me. -- Fiona Apple, "Regret") Whatever they burn, it isn't missed. An explosion on film is clean and makes a finishing sound. It removes something while raising a sign of the removal, saying, look at how gone this is. People make tons of money off it, and some of that money is mine, though it is getting harder for me to watch things burn on screen. I recognize that the feeling I get when I watch an explosion is the same feeling I get when I put a huge glob of paint on a surface and spread it to the edges. If I didn't believe so strongly in the abhorrence of capital punishment, I might feel the same way when I read about an execution. A narrowing of options. I can add more paint, I can wipe it off, I can do all kinds of things, but I am no longer building something with pieces, balancing. The hand that smears the paint, which is an extension of the gut, is tired of balancing and confused about alignments and ready to fill a part of the sky. Or the whole sky, if you are seeing it from the ground. 

It is a response to frustration and loss of control -- if we can' t follow the narrative, we end it. There aren't many professions that let a person do this, but painting is one of them. The direct gesture seems to need no translation. A motion made in painting could be the same as a motion made in basketball, or in braiding hair, or in running away from something dangerous. When I fill a surface with paint in order to destroy it/make something new, It feels like an act of utility, not art. But when I see explosions in movies I feel both this act of utility (relief, completion) and a sense of shame (waste, resignation). Yes all the people in the building are dead but now we can walk away. Watching a bomb when removed from it is the experience of an image, a very expensive image that is crafted to make us feel something in our stomachs. The people who make these images want that feeling to go unexamined. Image making in painting is also about the stomach. I want to listen to my body when I paint. I want to know what it means when my body says blow it up.

Katelyn Eichwald, Untitled, 2012. Oil on paper, 8.5" x 11"

Monday, July 16, 2012

Heather Watson at IDA Gallery (Los Angeles)

Untitled (sidewalk series), Spring 2012. Oil stick on paper, 40 X 26 inches.

Heather Watson’s first solo show in Los Angeles at IDA gallery is like reading a personal diary in which strokes become a language. Watson shows oil stick on paper, sumi ink on paper, thread on linen, and photographs. The works are centered on process and meaning of mark-making.

When walking into the space, one sees works in a variety of media that are arranged unevenly. This display takes away the sense of ostentation and structure that some pieces could have if isolated. The uneven arrangement and media diversity in Watson’s works, on the contrary, creates a dialogue revolving around exploration and playfulness.

In each piece I imagined the artist’s body in the process of making the work. Pressure and speed are constantly shifting. In the piece like Plain Weave, the artist’s body seems to move close to the surface, mechanically and slowly. On Aug 4th, 1988 (section 1 of 2), the entire weight of Watson’s body seems to press against the paper, in one slow and struggling movement. The piece Untitled (sidewalk series), however, only complicates this relationship between stroke and body. In this piece, a photograph of single spray line on the concrete, the viewer is left unsure of the artist’s body in the process of making the piece.

Despite the fact that the artist’s physical relationship to her work is variable, Watson shows her attention to precision in every piece. Precision seems to be a tool, which Watson uses to create meaning.  In every piece, Watson’s strokes are assertive—they create a sense of space, perspective, and form that seems to have specific emotional meaning. Watson’s play with meaning becomes even more apparent when she displays pieces that are composed of lines next to pieces that are composed of written words. After some time in the exhibition space, I saw lines as written words and written words as lines.

Georgia O’Keeffe once said: “I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way—things I have no words for.”  What happens when written words become form and form become written words like in Watson’s pieces? I left the exhibition with this question in mind.

Heather Watson website:

Friday, July 13, 2012

My First Painting

Adair Stephens, Cellmates, acrylic on canvas, approximately 3' x 4', 2009.

I wrote a whole other post about this painting explaining the details, facts, whens, whys, and wheres surrounding its creation, but I’ve realized that those things are not what interest me.  When I think of this painting, I am mostly intrigued by the fact that I threw it away.  Most people say that you should never throw any of your art away, and they are probably right.  But I still throw a lot of things in the dumpster.  My recent attempt to move everything from my studio at CCA into my bedroom in my apartment forced me to toss the things I didn’t like and give away the things I did.  But I’m not saddened by this loss.  Instead, I feel like a weight is lifted.  I don’t want to look at my finished paintings.  I’m excited by the process of making a picture more than the finished picture itself.  Hanging up my own paintings would feel like nailing corpses to the wall.  My advisor in grad school once suggested I go back and work on some of my finished paintings, but that is impossible for me.

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

I love Humpty Dumpty because his story is how I work.  I break things down and try to put them back together again in a different way.  You can’t go backwards once it’s happened.  You can cover up the body, but the ghost will always be there.  And the seams will always show.  It is up to you to either put it back on the wall or sweep the pieces into the trash.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

My "First" Painting Ever

Katelyn Eichwald, Untitled, 2009. Oil and paper on panel, 18 x 24 inches.

This is not my first painting but it is the first painting I made that I did not understand. I had finished undergrad in Illinois and my studio was my parents' dining room table. I had a book on rodeo and another from the 70s or 80s about the preservation of wolves. I thought there was something terrible and magnetic about the images from both of these books -- not just that I FELT something terrible but that it there truly WAS something terrible in the photos themselves. I thought I had to show everyone so they would understand and be afraid with me. Now, I don't know if I was right and perceptive or if I was using those images as stand-ins for a fuzzy, refracted terror I could not bring into focus. Probably the latter, but I won't rule out the possibility of pictures with real darkness held inside them.

The painting has color copies of the following:

a man holding a wolf upright
a man roping a calf (2)
the ass of a calf as it is wrestled to the ground (2)
a woman in sandals standing alone in a wolf pen
the cover of a young adult book about dragons
hugh jackman as wolverine on the cover of usa today
unknown paws
a landscape with green land and blue water (11)

The part that still interests me is the landscape. I had no connection to the landscape as a place, and the photo didn't have the kind of motion I was usually drawn to: bodies on the ground, woodchips, cutoff t-shirts, etc. It was just land and water, a strip of white sky, mint on the edges. I glued the copies to the panel carelessly, which is my way now but was not my way then. The landscape got folded and wrinkly. I rarely mix my oils or use more than a small amount of any color, but I mixed a thick deep blue-green and slopped it all over, filling the rest. I wanted it as wet and finished as a peach crushed against a rock. 

I left the painting out to dry. My parents expressed concern that I was making art that no one would understand. I have always liked the painting and kept it close to me, though I've never known why. Yesterday I read a book in which two children on the edge of adolescence hold small red fruit to each other's lips. When they taste the fruit, they fall in love. In San Francisco, the face painters ran from the ocean to our towels and then dropped like water.

My First Painting Ever

Bruna Massadas, Untitled (Cerritos), 2001. Acrylics on canvas panel, 12 X 9 inches.

During the summer, Cerritos is breezy and the sky is cobalt blue. Many violet agapanthus blossom during this time of year creating a beautiful contrast with the deep green grass that could be found everywhere in the city.

I moved to Cerritos when I was 15. I often walked to Westgate Park in the late afternoons and appreciated the harmony of the man-made landscape. Most summer days, however, I spent hours in my room. There, I drew with my Faber-Castell watercolor pencils while listening to the sound of my fan. From time to time, I painted in the garage while my mother was gardening. This painting, my first painting ever, was made under these circumstances.  

At that time, the act of painting had the clear purpose to kill time—since as a recent immigrant I had very few friends. What I did not expect was to find myself in a meditative and reflective state. Maybe that is why I continued to paint.

When I recently found this painting, I was surprised with its resemblance to the Cerritos summer landscape—the colors and the breezy movement. I was also surprised with the many similarities between this painting and my current paintings—the color palette and the brushstrokes as well as the theme of nature.