Tag Archives: James Whale

Looking is not Seeing – Dissecting my Artist’s Practice

Peruvian weave? drywall to be off-loaded from a flat-bed

ARTISTIC LICENSE allows me to cheat, break rules, make exceptions –whatever works– for each individual picture. every work has to be it’s best, fully independent of any other work, even those in the same series; a typical series has works that all are different sizes, shapes, and palettes, of the identical subject. no series exists until i have two final works that need each other side-by-side. order is intuitive, the one that doesn’t feel wrong. 

LAZY ARTISTS (commerce-driven?) copy others or themselves. for me, imitation always falls short of what i can produce through a fresh independent exploration. there are artists –including outside of religious production– that explore the same subject over a lifetime. humility before creation. my best work may not be able to be improved. with continued effort, i will produce something better than all the rest, every couple years. an artist is no better than his or her best product. Unfamiliar subjects sometimes produce the best results.  B-LIST American painter / illustrator Ralston Crawford’s career lay in the shadow of rival artist, Charles Sheeler. Crawford’s masterworks came later, far outshining Sheeler’s –boring though eye-pleasing– Precisionist paintings (his photographs far superior). Crawford’s impressions of nuclear testing in Bikini Atoll seem without precedent. painting “the bomb” right after the horrors of Nagasaki and Hiroshima is a strange assignment, far out of any artist’s comfort zone.  what is mildly strange or off-putting, inspires me. wandering (by car) up a steep No Grand Ave, I hang 2 more rights, first on Alpine St, followed by No Hill Pl, where i found this never-quite-finished, occupied, spec-house.  724 No. Hill St, LA - As weird as it gets

724 N Hill Pl, LA — inspired everyday weirdness

i trash most work i start, usually after a few intense days of work. i don’t regret this pattern. what i gain from failure often finds its way back into future work.  i never studied art. or conversely, i always study art (all visual phenomena). i studied architecture before working as a machinist making military vehicles, followed by TV / motion picture gripping, and some-time carpenter. diverse experiences inform a mix  of the practical “how” with the more theoretical “why not?”  

DON’T KNOW WHY, but i’m obsessed with contours. i’m more than a formalist. It might be pathological, a matrilineal family trait. being shape-obsessed, i enjoy Art Nouveau / Jugendstijl / Catalonia’s genius Antoni Gaudí, Persian art, and objects and narratives from the East. all depiction is phony –even photography from it’s earliest days, 150 years back– so why not enhance the 2-D experience? Negative space writ 3-D knows no better exponent than designer / critic Adolf Loos’ Raumplan architecture of a century ago. 

ART SAVES? whose knuckle-headed idea was it that art requires utility, including rehabilitative affect, to be worthy of our highest nature? supporting “art for art’s sake” gives me another reason to enlist in an active struggle for a more just and sustainable future. ask less of art, but ask more of ourselves, in community! a freer humanity releases art from all demands of utility. no wonder authoritarians love to put art into “service”. irony, doubt, multiple meanings, contradiction, are inimical to rapid consumption, digestion and careless disposal. some of the finest cultural output is satire, like pulp broadsheets (John Heartfield, José Guadalupe Posada ) or gentle hidden meanings (Gilberto Gil’s Tropicália music; James Whale’s filmed version of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein).

PRODUCING IDIOSYNCRATIC work is not my goal, but often the result. i very much share Arshile Gorky’s goal of “making the uncommon from the common”. what’s more American than jerry-rigging, self-invention, and reinvigorating democratic ideals?  hell, America’s Gorky wasn’t a Gorky or even ethnic Russian –a hustler can still be a hero.  some complain that their creative juices dry up. mine don’t. from time to time, successful ideas emerge from the muck. 

I ENJOY THEORY for the mysteries explained. for composition / perspectives, i study Canaletto, de Chirico, Arp, and Lyonel Feininger. for color, i study Matisse’s paper cut-outs, the optics of Seurat, and the layered brush strokes of Richter or Vuillard. theory guides me towards resolving pictorial problems. 

OUTRAGEOUS SOLUTIONS, wildly playful, inharmonious or “destructive” devices, all deserve a chance. digital production allows unlimited risk taking towards pictorial resolution. to learn more, read my (1998) essay: Digital Prints, Unwanted Stepchild, OR How I Learned to Love the New Technology By Steven Dornbusch

MY PRINTS are the size they need to be; i don’t really understand why that is. (just) big enough, no bigger. large format for size’s sake is sad. superficial works look even worse blown up. size can be wrong, but size never saved an inferior work. a sharp eye will hone in on the same defects. 

PRECONCEIVED imagery is fine, but i find myself abandoning what I expected to be creating, within the first 1/2 hour’s work. i usually feel stupid, a lost child, at this early stage; with time, i am working in “service” to the picture. my weird color palettes are sort of “one begats the next”, and so on –not trying to make pretty nor ugly work. when i discover and heighten dialectical relationships, i experience a kind of ecstasy. if I work too many hours, I get a headache –small price to pay!  when you take a look at my art, do make the effort to see. ask questions. enjoy! 

© 2014 by Steven Dornbusch