Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Showing Our Work

'Insider Trading on the Artroom Floor, Cory Jaeger Kenat, 1999
Art--made in the twilight of the subconscious--is always destined to be exposed to the noonday glare of the callous crowd. In whatever form it takes, art is made to be expressed, to be shown, shared, and commented upon. It is a harsh fact that can drive many an artist into 'Sunday painting' hermit-hood, where paintings are made only to be stacked and hidden away in the garage. But no matter our shyness, the work will be revealed and examined--if only in the far future by those close to us.
'The Secret Garden', Cory Jaeger Kenat, 2001

I've done my fair share of hiding my work, and I wonder if you have, too. As a child, whenever footsteps would approach, I would hastily shove my drawings under the bed. My parents had praised me highly when I was drawing frilly figures of sweet sunbonneted little girls, and as I grew into more realistic imagery, they disapproved.

Many artists learn acceptance of their art in their elementary school classrooms. Kids celebrate and enjoy art, and admire those they think do it well. The designated 'class artist' is a real thing for them. Our notebook doodles and tentative sketches are fawned over by teachers and schoolmates, and often this is the first inkling we might have that we are 'artistic'. Showing our work in this environment is a giddy pleasure, and can really give us 'big fish in a small pond' syndrome.

'Escape or Embrace?' Cory Jaeger Kenat, 2000
We need the support of that little soft cocoon--for once we hit college, abruptly, without warning, we hit the concrete. We are now in a room full of people who also have been told they are big fish. No one can skewer another artist quite like one of his peers, no one can spot more keenly where the critiqued work is lazy or clumsy. And no can give support quite like another student artist, because no student artist will tell you it's good unless they really mean it. From the rocky road of art critiques, fledgling artists then climb into the jungle of public receptions, rejection letters, and the merciless commentaries of gallery directors.

So, I think the stereotype of the 'prima donna', hysterically fragile artist is pretty much left to books and movies. Typically, after being in the art world for awhile, it's second nature for opinions to roll off your back. But just because you're tough doesn't mean the arrows don't stop coming.

'The Bright Pink Cup' Cory Jaeger Kenat, 2012
Art naturally evokes a range of emotions, anything from shock, delight, dislike, awe, or even jealousy.  Often viewers are intimidated by the gallery atmosphere and think they must say something 'profound'. These comments tend to fall flat, coming out artificial or even silly. They think they might say the 'wrong' thing, when all the artist wants, I believe, is an honest, natural reaction. I think that there are some viewers who think that an artist will crumble if they say something critical, so they pat them on the head with a neutral 'that's nice' or 'gee, what an imagination.' I wish that viewers would understand that it is completely okay to tell an artist that they don't like the work, or they don't understand it. It's also okay for viewers to express what they see in the work, even it is contrary to what the artist intended to portray. I have been asked many questions about my paintings over the years, and I always appreciate them, even the difficult, most snarky ones. Questions have often been the catalyst for an art sale. A question, by it's very nature, implies some sort of interest, and it opens up a dialogue. But it's also okay, and I can't stress this enough, for there to be an apathetic response to the work. The work did not move that viewer. So what.

'Painter's Block' Cory Jaeger Kenat, 2012
Even though art's very nature is one of visibility, that doesn't mean that the artist creates work for the viewer. Our art always remains our own, no matter what others may think of it. Commentary can be something that we can choose to learn from or it can just be background noise. Actors and writers often go by the old maxim, "Never read your reviews." And although it is nearly impossible to avoid the interpersonal 'reviews' happening every moment during an art show, it is quite possible to put them in a proper perspective. It is indeed possible to take what is useful from them, and discard the rest.

I will conclude with a quote from Dr. Eric Maisel, from his book, "The Van Gogh Blues". This is a book that probably every artist should have in their library.
 "Your job is to live in a way that makes you feel proud of yourself, to live that way today, tomorrow, and every day thereafter. If that means creating flower paintings, researching the Crusades, launching guerilla theater, or playing ancient music from your native land, that is what you will do. If you can truthfully say, "I am proud of the work I am trying to do", and "I am proud of the person I am trying to be", you are on the right path. If you can't, you must change."

So, keep on creating, but most of all, keep on sharing. The world desperately needs what you are trying to give, even though it might not know it--yet.







Thursday, March 21, 2019

A Discussion of a Painting-- "Aint' Buying"

'Ain't Buying' acrylic on canvas 5"x7"
It appears we are yet in another housing/real estate bubble, and I find that quite ironic, since this work was made during the previous one. This piece is part of my 2008  'Breaking Between Commercials' series, a time when I was chin deep in my own mid-life crisis, and my country, with its bail-outs and cheap paper money was careening through a mental breakdown.  It took many a year for my husband and I to finally purchase our first home, mainly because we were not dazzled by 'easy' loans and high pressure promises. This painting reflects lessons learned during that frustrating time.
Of course, we have a pin-up girl front and center, because sex sells everything, a goddess in a swimming suit ushering in the 'good life'. The credit cards are like little stepping stones, dancing their way up to a plastic, house-shaped game piece from a Monopoly board. A tiny detail often missed is the realtor sign in front of it. As this work is only 5"x 7", I cannot tell you how many hours I worked with fine pin-pointed brushes to get those details on the credit cards...they are harder to paint than one might think, and especially on such a small scale.

The squirt guns in the foreground were a last minute touch, and I think that they add just a little bit of menace to the picture. They also give the sense of 'being under the gun', of being pressured, and yet, they are the color of popsicles and rainbows. They symbolize how so many people can become hypnotized by colorful notions of  'no down payments'  and a glamorous house--and then wake up to foreclosure nightmares.

The background of this work is could be a sandy beach or a desert, but whatever it is, nothing grows there. A home is different than a house, merry-go-round ponies only take you in circles, and going after more, more, more just takes more from you. Hopefully, someday, we will learn all that.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Finding the Time to Make Art

There is a saying that 'days are long, but the years are short,' and in art-making this is most certainly true. A couple days go by without doing your creative activity, and then before you know it, it's a few weeks.The calendar gets scribbled on some more, and a few months have gone by. And hopefully, you start to see the dust gathering on your work-table and it sets off alarm bells deep within your soul. Because before you know it, those days can morph into old, stale years marked only with wistful good intentions. And sometimes, so very sadly, artists decide that they used to create, because it's been so long since they last tried to make anything, and they are probably so rusty that what's the use, and in the midst of all those excuses, potential drifts away.
The Listeners, 2013, c. Cory Jaeger Kenat

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not as prolific with my art as I used to be. As I mentioned in the last post, storage concerns have greatly slowed me down. But I have always been pretty adept at time management, and carving out some time nearly every day for art has yielded walls of completed works over the years.

There are Other Ways to Measure Time, 1999, c. Cory Jaeger Kenat
It really doesn't take much time, after all, to follow your dream. I have had chaotic seasons in my life where I would set the kitchen timer for fifteen minutes and paint like a madwoman until the thing went off. Sometimes it was a great trick to propel me forward a little bit, even if I wasn't in the mood, and in those cases I might reset the timer for a couple more fifteen minute sessions. But other times, when things were really, really tight, that might be all the over-scheduled day would allow, but at least, it was something. And then I could go about all the other work knowing that I had given a bit of time to something special in my life.

Artists often think in grand, sweeping vistas. It's part of their dramatic nature. It's not uncommon to hear unfulfilled artists stating that the only way they can follow their heart is to run away from it 'all' for a few solid months. But work can be done, even in the most crazy of times.

'Pink Pearl' 2006, c. Cory Jaeger Kenat
I have always 'planned my work, worked my plan', so yes OCD that I am, I write a list of what I intend to do before I begin each day. At this point, I am able to schedule a 'studio hour', and I spend that hour in the morning, when my mind is the sharpest. Dr. Eric Maisel, creativity coach and author of 'Fearless Creating' as well as a host of other books, strongly suggests that you tackle your creative tasks as early in the morning as possible. He reasons that this way the projects that are closest to your heart take top priority in your life and don't get shunted off the last part of the day, when a person is drained and apt to procrastinate. I am a morning person by nature, and I can imagine that this would be hard for those who dread the a.m. But I can see the logic of all this, and have to admit that when I was working full-time and didn't paint in the morning, I never got anything done in the evening...even my fifteen minute fail-safe often succumbed to the stupid sitcoms on the TV. 

'Hailing', 2006 c. Cory Jaeger Kenat

 An artist's life demands cleverness with resources, whether it be materials, money, or especially time. It's crucial that we take our lives seriously, and that means accepting the fact that our art will not be made unless we give it the time it needs.


Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Musings on the 'Thingness' of Art

Many millennia ago, a young art student that I vaguely think just might have been me, was having an overly enthusiastic discussion after class with her art professor. Her words were pouring out fast as she expounded about her 'latest discovery', discoveries that seemed to happen nearly daily. On that particular occasion, again fevered by the grandeur and power of art, she was raving about the massive Baroque masterpieces in the Louvre and the magnificent, imposing scale of some of Jackson Pollock's drip paintings. Completely forgetting that she lived in a cramped two-bedroom apartment filled with two children, piles of textbooks and boxes of happy meal toys, she breathlessly exclaimed, "Oh, I so want to make such huge works, works that take up an entire wall!" 

The professor's warm eyes crinkled at the corners. He was used to such exuberance, at least in her. Gently he replied,

 "And that, my dear, is when you develop a storage problem."

It's easy to get caught up in the romantic notions of art, the idea aspect of it. But we tend to forget that art is also an object, a thing, with all the requisite problems that entails. It has dimensions, it has weight, and yes, indeed, it can gather dust. It's great to dream big artistic dreams, but taking care of big paintings, and many of them at that, is quite another matter.

In the 1990s, when I was a student and then a professional artist, there was a craze where it seemed every non-profit and charitable foundation was looking for art to auction for worthwhile causes. I know that some artists really found it to be an affront to be asked to donate one of their works, either receiving no compensation if it sold, or a tiny percentage of the sale. I saw it as a golden opportunity to space clear my studio area, to move out all the odds and ends, and do something generous in the process. Auctions and donations really kept the creativity channel clear, so to speak, because my old work never really overstayed its welcome. 

Casual art venues were also more prevalent then. The hipster coffee shop seemed to be on every street corner, and the owners and customers were craving exotic artwork almost as much as the latest latte. Although at one time, I was represented by three galleries in my state, it was the coffee shop that really gave me a tangible sense that all of my work mattered. Although I had one sell-out show, most of the time I would wind up with 'left-overs', those paintings that remained after the majority of the series had sold. These works may have been quieter, or more experimental, or might not have been in keeping with my typical style. These were the ones eventually scented with espresso on funky brick walls. It was fun to watch people who had never even attended an art event fall in love with a piece of was fun for me, fun for so many of us in those days. Praise was wonderful, publicity was great, and of course, money was needed, but there was nothing like having a nearly empty studio because almost everything had found a home.  Now, that was a high.

Picture of Alice Neel in her studio.

But like almost everything in life, things have changed. Galleries, feeling cut out of the financial loop, started to clamp down on their represented artists engaging in such practices. The coffee shop went corporate, with tastefully mass-produced prints on their walls, and auctions once again returned annually only to the plush province of the stately museums. 

 I am thrilled that out of the hundreds of paintings I have made, only a couple of medium-sized stacks of canvas and a few shoe boxes filled with smaller works under my bed remain. But this is about the limit that my small cottage home will contain, and I refuse to succumb to the solution of the storage unit. Not wanting to found buried under an avalanche of canvas, and yet still wanting to create has indeed influenced my present work-style. Except for the rare large panel, something I may obsess over for years, most of my work has shrunk radically in size, while expanding in thoughtfulness and detail. Where once I was captivated by art the size of billboards, now I realize that most often, my gems must be small.
'The LaceMaker', Johannes Vermeer, 1669
This work, by legendary Dutch artist, Johannes Vermeer, is only 9" x 8". I find it fascinating how many of his works are so detailed and yet so small, and wonder if he, too, dealt with similar problems.

Funny, that as my paintings become smaller, my concept of what art is has only grown larger. I find that I work more thoughtfully these days, as much concerned about where my idea will be finally be placed, as well as the idea itself. In other words, I realize that a painting takes up space and care in this world, and in my view, it must be worthy of that space. Process over product, quality over quantity, the very best I can do over just a bunch of dramatic attempts...this is the way I work today. And if my best-laid intentions still go awry and the work is languishing in a corner somewhere for a bit too long, I think of how Buddhist monks make sand mandalas that almost make your eyes ache with their beauty... and then simply sweep them into gray dust when they are finished.
 It's okay now for me just to have the experience of making the piece, and learning what I had to learn, and standing knee-deep in that wonderful river of creativity. And while I admit I also have my sentimental side, being washed in that river is far too exhilarating to damn it up with old paintings, with stagnant limitations and longings. Now paintings are painted over or even destroyed to make room for something new, and there is no dreaded storage problem in my house--or, hopefully in my soul. I'm still working on the last part. Because there is this 'thingness' society associates with art, an artist who decides to be one for life, must become a quiet rebel and also seek out its intangible qualities. Setting a lovely table, putting the finishing frosting touches on a double chocolate cake, having a meaningful conversation...who's to say that this too is not art? Yes, the paintings of Monet's water-lilies are famous, but so were his lunches in the garden.  So this probably wasn't the article for you, if you were simply looking for storage solutions in your cluttered studio. Or maybe it was. Because art is so much more than stacks of canvas, or lumps of dried clay, or piles of manuscript paper. Art can be in every moment of how we live, from the jaunty scarf we decide to tie around our neck before heading out the the way we answer the telephone. Art is living deeply and well, and it is the artist's job to make you pay attention to every breath.  And if the piles are making you forget that...throw them out.    


Monday, November 26, 2018

Family Portrait

This is a detail from a family portrait that I have been working on for well over a year. It is not even close to the entirety of the work, and things have changed a bit since even this recent photo was taken. I wish I had taken pictures of the process, because my face has been completely redone over three times, as well as my hands. This is one of those works that if it were ever X-rayed, would probably have quite the mass of previous work layered underneath.

Since this photo was taken,Dave now has a grey sweater on, along with his priest's collar, a color that softens things up a bit. I am at the point in the work that the entire canvas has been covered and worked on multiple I am refining strokes, working on color balance and sweating over details. This is the time where I have said what I have to say, and now I am working to make it all come together and 'sing'. 

The painting is huge, and not just in size. It is huge because it is a work based on pure catharsis, a painting that is attempting to lovingly portray a disconnected family, with truth, sadness, and yet with as much beauty as I can muster. It is such a personal painting, and if you know me, you know that I usually plunge fearlessly and head first into self-exploration on canvas. 

This piece goes beyond even that. It is probably the first work I have ever made where making it public really makes me nervous, probably because it reveals so much about us and also leaves so many questions unanswered. It also is a bold statement of truth that makes me flinch, and I think will make loved ones, as well, if they ever care to look. The work began in rage and frustration, like many a tell-all book, and yet has softened into an image that is not really about 'exposing' or 'revenge' but simply the ache of dealing with reality, and at the same time, letting go.

The work has demanded so much energy that often simply looking at it makes me tired, and I wonder how in the world I will ever finish it. 

And yet, at the same time, I know I will.  John Steinbeck said in the foreword of my all-time favorite book, 'East of Eden', 

Dear Pat,
You came upon me carving some kind of little figure out of wood and you said, “Why don’t you make something for me?”
I asked you what you wanted, and you said, “A box.”
“What for?”
“To put things in.”
“What kind of things?”
“Whatever you have,” you said.
Well, here’s your box. Nearly everything I have is in it, and it is not full. Pain and excitement are in it, and feeling good or bad and evil thoughts and good thoughts- the pleasure of design and some despair and the indescribable joy of creation.
And on top of these are all the gratitude and love I have for you.
And still the box is not full.

 I don't know if I've reached the lofty goals that Steinbeck indeed did with his book, but this painting does feel like a box, filled with so much, and yet, still the box is not full. I suppose families are like that.

When I finish it, I will let you know...I think.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Leaving the Performance, 2018

This piece, entitled 'Leaving the Performance' was finished yesterday!  More to come...I have several ideas that are bugging me and really need to come out on the canvas. I will have a page for new work on the site just as soon as I can.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The Power of Color: Conveying Emotion

'Mother's Hour' Cory Jaeger Kenat, 1998
In my view, color is the best--and the most difficult--aspect of making art. Color is such a strange thing, especially when an artist is attempting to convey a mood. Brilliant crimson can be the petal of a soft fragrant rose or the slash of a knife. An indigo blue can signal an ominous storm, or simply be the color of a shadow on a white-hot adobe wall. I guess it always boils down to context when it comes to color. A piano always has the same keys, keys that can be used in certain combinations to play a swinging jazz tune or a Mozart minuet. So much depends on loudness, quietness, the story, style, and pace in the melody, and maybe even whether the piano is located in a bar or a cathedral. I think emotional color in painting is probably a lot like that.

I have learned a lot about color over the years, but not much of it has stuck. I have a background in psychology, and part of my independent studies involved color. I was fascinated with how various hues (red, green, and the like) affect our moods. I even conducted my own experiment, where I had people describe themselves and then select their favorite color, and see if the personality and color choice correlated at all. For example, a person who saw themselves as shy might prefer subtle blues, because supposedly according to psychologists blue conveys a sense of cool quiet and privacy. However, I really didn't get significant results when it came to the people I studied--and it certainly doesn't go that way in art.

Does the painting below, done in pale, shy blues and an almost monotone color scheme seem quiet and peaceful to you?
'Predatory Blues' Cory Jaeger Kenat 1999

In one book I read, I do remember it being said that jail cells are painted in pastel colors because it is reduces aggression. And I do remember other more bizarre claims that stated that orange is a color associated with salesmen (for whatever reason I don't know) and that hot-pink is a color of repressed passion. It was all somewhat interesting, in a sort of 'fortune-telling' type of way, but I can't say that any of it helped my painting.

Artists capture life experience. And life is full of color, overflowing with it, sometimes saturated to the point of madness with it. Even the most neutral scene is filled with grays tinted with whole spectrums of color, pink-grays, green-grays, yellow-grays. Many of us in art school know the lesson where we are assigned to paint something white--such as eggs--and find ourselves using an entire paint palette to create something we think of as 'colorless'.
'Nestled' Cory Jaeger Kenat, 2010

 And on top of that... not only is there is the boggling range our eyes observe in the outside world, but even more than that are the colors we feel inside, our feelings about what we see and absorb. This kind of complexity simply cannot be broken down into just a few random psychological 'tricks'.

 Truly, it's overcoming this major balance between inner and outer world that creates art, not just making a copy of something intriguing that we see before us. And, unless we are going to work solely in black and white, color and its challenges, are inescapable. 

The pet formulas sometimes taught about emotional color really fall flat so much of the time that they probably should be discarded...or at least left only for interior designers. It's often assumed that bright colors are always 'cheerful'. Does the painting below, loaded with candy-bright colors feel 'happy' to you?
'After Monet' Cory Jaeger Kenat, 2009

I am reminded of how clowns are supposed to be oh-so-delightful and funny with their painted faces and rainbow-colored attire. And yet, I am certainly not alone in being quite phobic of these fiercely grinning creatures, and arguably Stephen King tapped into that collective fear with the creepy book, "It". So, although color might have a slight effect on how we view artistic expression, it is only an ingredient, but certainly not the whole enchilada. 
I have always been an artist interested in exploring uncomfortable emotions of isolation, anger, and repressed secrets.  Some of my paintings have sometimes made people weep, or write me long, personal letters about how they have been affected, so I imagine I must have been doing something right.

Here are a few ways that I use emotions in my work. Color choice seems to follow naturally from that.

1.) Avoid focusing solely on the physical nature of the object or scene you are painting, especially if you aren't painting strictly from your imagination and are painting from concrete objects you are observing. Of course, paying attention to what is front of you is hugely important, but if you want to tap into emotional qualities you also need to have a notion about the mood behind what you are depicting.  Is the mood behind the painting ominous, joyous, calm, furious? How is what you are seeing affecting you?  Even getting a vague idea of this will go far to direct your subconscious in the way you want to go.

'The Night Cafe' Vincent Van Gogh,1888

2.) Be confident about your vision and your process. Only you can make your work. When Van Gogh did the piece at right, entitled 'The Night Cafe', he said that he wanted to depict a place  where 'a man could go mad.' Note how he takes yellow, typically a 'sunny' color, and creates a glaring atmosphere where the light is almost an oppressive force of its own, almost like a noxious gas. I believe he is so successful at this because he believes so much in what he is doing, and this is very, very personal to him.  He really doesn't give a whit that yellow is also the color of perky little daisies.

Picasso created haunting and vaguely disturbing paintings during his Blue and Rose
'Garcon a la Pipe', Pablo Picasso, 1905
period that are done in such gentle colors they might be suitable for a baby's nursery. And yet these paintings register as pretty and sad and just a wee bit nightmare-ish. Use the colors that deeply resonate in your gut. Let the painting tell you what your next step is, and trust that. Pay attention to what is disturbing you about your work, and what is thrilling you...and don't be afraid to ask yourself why.

3.) Focus on the sensuality of the paint, the way it glistens and glides beneath your brush, the way that when two colors come together, magic happens. There are many, many films about artists where inevitably there is a scene of the camera cutting to the artist smearing lusciously passionate strokes on the canvas. Sometimes when I am particularly struggling, I try to envision one of those movie scenes or I'll even sit down and re-watch it. Below is the clip from 'Pollock' that I've probably seen twenty times and every time feel like I'm at the beginning of a rock concert. Other movies like 'Basquiat' and 'Great Expectations' (the Ethan Hawke version)  are wonderful for this, also. Note how these artists are dive-bombing into spontaneity, pushing their emotions and subconscious to direct them. I know that modern art is certainly not to everyone's taste; I think that this same process can be gleaned from movies like 'The Agony and the Ecstasy' about Michelangelo, and 'Lust for Life' about Vincent Van Gogh.

4.) Music--find some that touches your heart with a pleasure that is so keen it almost feels like pain.  It will make your brush strokes dance.

I would be interested to hear about how you handle emotions and color in your work. Fear not, the subject of color is a huge one, and there will be more posts on it in the future.