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Painting the Universe

Originally posted on November, 22, 2007

"Man and Nature", watercolor, 52cm x 37cm, 100% cotton paper, 1998.

The uniqueness of the pre and early 60’s San Francisco art movement was …. How to put this? Let me put it this way: at a certain point, it was well understood that those who remember the 60’s were not there. The “scene? if it was anything, was a life changing experience. It changed people. It connected them, in a way, to the entire universe. This was not, of course, the popular “hippie? experience thing. What I’m talking about was the experience of a unique way of experiencing in an intellectual and artistic sense: An intellectual pursuit somewhat removed from rational thinking and directly concerned with the experience of life. Above all it was freedom … freedom to have an individual understanding of our relationship with life. Jung’s work on psychological types helped me a lot in this area. Viva la difference.

Long after the 60’s I began to think about the “pioneer spirit? in this context. Well, thinking is not the correct word. I intuited that the people who were the early workers in this art movement were infected with something. This something has been labelled the pioneer spirit. It was a subtle psychological shift in people’s relationship to nature and the entire world, the universe. These people began to experience themselves as an integral part of the whole thing. Struggle and hardship taught them to engage the world intimately. Intimately because in fact you experience yourself as a part of it!

At first glance it seems so obvious that we are part of the world. But European and hence American culture has been conditioned for centuries with an egocentric anthropomorphic view of the world. The pioneers (who a generation or two before headed west in covered wagons until they reached the Pacific Ocean) were no doubt unconsciously seeking a new view of things. And this new view was consciously engaged in the beginning stages of “avant garde? art in California.

Comments about my painting are always welcomed. Creativity does not take place in a vacuum It is none the less amusing to me what many people comment on the lack of people in my landscape painting. For me, there is simply no need to put people into a landscape. We are already there. No separation exists visually, mentally, or emotionally.

Published in french as Peindre l’univers

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Follow your heart: buy the painting you like

Originally posted on September, 16, 2007

“Contemporary art has become a gage of trendiness, if not necessarily good taste?” (see: Art or entertainment?.)

Current wisdom dictates that if you are making an investment in contemporary painting you do not buy something that you like. On the contrary, you follow the route that is being followed by investors in the know: you invest in a painter.

  1. First and foremost you never buy a new or recent painting as an investment. You instead buy a new or recent painter.
  2. If you do not have the inclination, time, or money, this is not a problem. This is the specialty of most contemporary art galleries. Their game is finding the right artists and inflating their prices.
  3. Assume that this painter’s name is known by at least 3 people in the second echelon of the art world: maybe a critic for a monthly publication, or the ex-wife of a collector. These people can be helpful when the times come to circulate the painter’s name.
  4. Make sure that your artist has talent or personality. Or in lieu of talent, flash or a new style of painting will substitute.
  5. His personality needs to last at least three years. So deeper character is not important. In three years you will have secured your investment and turned a reasonable profit.
  6. Obtain the services of a good public relation person. For a modest fee this will get your artist’s name into the society- columns and onto semi-society guest lists.
  7. For a little more this person can get exposure for your name to help your investment (i.e., “well known patron of the art…? or “Noted collector…? etc.).
  8. Next, you purchase a one-man/woman show at a good gallery. This may cost you 15,000 to 20,000 € but it is a bargain. It brings you a winner and gives your reputation a big boost at the same time.
  9. Of course you invite critics to this show. Pray that they will like at least two of the paintings.
  10. Subsidize a few friends to buy a few paintings. Nothing will motivate investors to buy than seeing those little red dots.
  11. During this show, find someone with time, money, and patience to take your artist around cocktail parties and teach him some basic manners: Also the typical artist-at-party chit-chat.

Read the rest of "Follow your heart: buy the painting you like"

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Buy an artist: the other end of the painting spectrum

Originally posted on August, 30, 2007

Chinese painting has been long an inspiration for me. My last article addressed the impact of neo-liberalism on today’s painters in China. I spoke of one end of the spectrum: the mass production which to me is abominable. In order to better understand neo-liberalism we need to look at the other end of the spectrum: China’s elite winners and shakers of contemporary painting.

I think that this recent example of their good fortune says it all (link). A few short years ago this painting with its strong political overtones was being strongly suppressed in China. Now they are being co-opted. If you cannot kill the message buy the messenger. Neo-liberalism does not take hostages. You are either with them or against them.

Sichaun Province in western China is building personal museums for 8 artists (Zhang Xiaogang, Wang Guangyi, Fang Lijun, Yue Minjun, Zhou Chunya, He Duoling, Zhang Peili and Wu Shanzhuan). The province provided land and about 13 millions dollars for the buildings.

In the 90’s these artists sold works for $100. Now some artists are selling pieces for more than 2 millions dollars. All have in this short time become millionaires. Now that is a winner in anybody’s terms. Also it epitomizes the black and white mentality of the neo-liberal philosophy. In China today you have sweatshop painters receiving 18ct per painting on the one hand; on the other hand, here you have an elitist getting more than 2 millions dollars. The question, at least for me arises as to what motivates this high rolling artist? Is it the money? Or better stated, did it become the money? If you are curious you can google these artists and look at their art.

Published in french as Acheter un artiste : l’autre bout de la gamme de la peinture.

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Sweatshop Challenge: assembly line fine-art painting

Originally posted on August, 18, 2007

"Dancing Tree", oil on canvas, 65cm x 50cm, August 2007.

In case you missed it, a couple of years ago attention was drawn to one of China’s most unique export businesses, fine-art painting (see link and also link). Or, more accurately put, cheap art. I am sincerely happy that tens of thousands of poor Chinese painters have found employment. I am not happy that they are doing this for near starvation wages. One painter estimated that he earns 18 cents U.S. for a painting that may sell for several hundred dollars in Europe or in the U.S. How’s that for sweatshop labour?

It is not known exactly how many paintings, or how many container loads of paintings are being exported. We do know that it is a big number. One community (Shenzhen) which is the largest paint factory town has an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 slave painters. They are part of organizations with the largest having 500 to 600 workers. Collectively they are exporting more than 5,000,000 paintings each year. Another community Xiamen, has about 7,000 working painters doing close to this amount. The paintings are sold to the art dealers by the container load and are shipped to Europe and the U.S.

I want to backtrack about 40 years to the end of the 60’s. Close to where I was living in the Pacific Northwest in the U.S., a new art gallery was being installed. It was well located, large, and smartly remodelled. I talked several times to the apparent owner. He took a liking in me and decided he wanted to recruit me to run the gallery. I declined the offer for many different raisons: one being that I could not determine if he was legitimate. I talked to people who believed he was a Mafioso or in the CIA or both. The reason I bring this up, he explained to me how his art gallery was going to generate a huge income. The paintings were imported from Europe: probably Italy. Where exactly they were painted, he did not say. They had an eastern European or Russian feeling to them. They were representational paintings done in a classical style. And they were costing this guy just a few dollars apiece, nicely framed. A money laundering business?

Apart for the obvious disadvantage in which the current honest artist finds himself is the blatant unfairness of the whole thing. It is one thing not to honour and respect creative effort. It is another thing that we have a system that does his best to sabotage it.

A last word about the Chinese imports: some of them appear not to be of bad quality. Considering the conditions under which they are done this is an amazing achievement. On the other hand they are not very good quality either. The message hear, if you are an artist or painter, you need to dig ever deeper for quality; sharpen the “message?.

Long life the artist painter.

Published in french as Défi des ateliers de la misère : chaîne de montage de la peinture artistique

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