Critique Collective

Critique Collective is your source for information and interviews about emerging and established contemporary artists.

Tag: paint

Mary Luke’s Paintings Merge Existentialist Theories and the Human Figure

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Detail of self portrait, 2013

Mary Luke is known for paintings involving existentialist commentary on the human figure, particularly as it relates to aging. In her monumental oil paintings that often extend five or more feet in either direction, Luke develops a tour de force of painterly figuration, engulfing viewers in voids and distorted body parts. Luke often works on unstretched canvas, applying various papers, paints, tape, and detritus from her studio to create heavy layers of rich, malleable textures and an atmosphere reminiscent of action painters like Willem De Kooning. Better yet, her recent works plunge into the realm of gesture and ephemerality, where her non-archival paintings are given a life span mimicking that of her subject, elderly human figures. Though many of Luke’s recent works may be seen as vignettes, these single figures act as decentralized nodes for a postmodern theoretical discourse when placed in the gallery setting. A visual language emanates from the didactic works, which is punctuated by elegant aesthetic choices including swirls of impasto oil paint, varying line qualities, and enticing pops of color.

Luke recently relocated to Philadelphia after graduating from Syracuse University with a BFA in painting in May of 2014. She has displayed her artwork in the Piazzale Donatello 21 in Florence, Italy, Katonah Museum of Art, SUNY Purchase, and various galleries throughout the Syracuse area such as 914 Works and XL Projects. Further images and information about Luke’s work can be found on her website.

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Installation at Piazzale Donatello 21 in Florence, Italy, 2013


Paul Weiner:
What kinds of materials do you use in your work?

Mary Luke:
Oil paint is the leading medium in my work. However, I am interested in combining oil paint with other mediums including charcoal, graphite, pastel, ink, and acrylic paint. And, although I generally paint on canvas, it is often stretched directly onto the wall, exposing imperfect shape and fraying edges.
This combination of materials and collage-like process along with my informal presentation is key to my work. I allow things to remain unfinished, and I find form in the scraps of paper and other studio debris often recycled from other works.

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Self Portrait, Sitting No. 2, 2014

Paul Weiner:
How has your work evolved over the past few years?

Mary Luke:
I have always focused on the human figure as a subject in my work. And although that has not changed in the past few years, my style, portrayal, and scale of the figure has evolved dramatically. I find it important for artists to develop observational skills through traditional means before being allowed to utilize distortion or abstraction in their work. That way, they fully understand that which they are abstracting. That is why there is a definite transition from my early work, which employs aspects of realism and impressionism, to my recent work, which focuses more on gesture and exposes the process of the painting rather than masking it with fully rendered form and space. My work has also grown in size over the years; I find that my larger works have a greater effect on the viewer and allow them to enter the painting as the subject.

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Self Portrait, Sitting, 2013

Paul Weiner:
Which artists have been most influential to your practice?

Mary Luke:
There are many artists who have influenced my work. Francis Bacon has probably been the most influential, especially in my most recent body of work from the past couple years. I have always admired his distorted depiction of the figure often placed in an equally distorted space. He has an incredible ability to create these figures that make you uncomfortable yet empathetic. I similarly strive to allow for the viewer to place him or herself in the context of the painting; in that way, the work becomes something greater than a painting and allows for a very personal, yet universally human, emotional response to the work.

I have also avidly studied the works of R.B. Kitaj who utilizes bright colours and layers of space and form, mimicking collage. He also creates disorienting environments which provoke a sense of psychotic-ness, similar to Bacon.

Both Bacon and Kitaj stayed faithful to figurative art during times when abstraction dominated the art world. Since then, many artists have continued to abandon the figure as more media is introduced into contemporary art. Despite this, I think the figure will always be a vital part of the art world and my body of work as it is inevitably the most relatable to both the artist and viewer.

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Self Portrait, Collaged, 2013

Paul Weiner:
Do you see painting as being more about expression or is it a tool for conceptual and political commentary?

Mary Luke:
I think that painting lends itself equally to expression and conceptualism. When you think about it, concept comes from expression; at least, that is how it should work. I do think that contemporary art is often over-conceptualized, meaning that the concept is more important and precedes the expression of the artwork itself, leaving little for the viewer to look at and contemplate. Whenever art is described and used as a tool for political commentary, it completely loses its expressive and artistic quality because it is being extorted and manipulated into something synthetic and insincere. There is a fine line between these realms of art, and I think the only way to decipher between the two is to determine if a piece of art can speak for itself or if it needs translation. It is the latter that we need to avoid.

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Old Woman, 2014

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Old Man, 2014

Paul Weiner:
Many of your recent paintings involve elderly figures. Why did you choose this subject matter?

Mary Luke:
There are a few things that attracted me to portraying elderly figures in my recent works. First, it has to do with form; the ideal human form as the media and society is concerned is completely different than the ideal form in figure drawing. Figure needs mass, space, shapes, line, etc. to make it visually appealing as well as interesting to draw in the first place. Though the idea of folds of skin and wrinkles and sagging body parts seems off-putting, these qualities have so much potential for capturing emotion as well as a sense of physical being. I am very concerned with confrontation in my work in that I want the viewer to confront the figure and vice versa; therefore, it is necessary to give the viewer a figure that, though two-dimensional, has a physical presence.

The second reason I have been painting elderly figures is more conceptual than the first. I try to incorporate my studies and interest in philosophy in my paintings. There is an inarguable connection between existentialist theories and my portrayal of these aging human forms who, when you really look at it, are only made up from gestural lines and glimpses of body parts. So, although they seem physically there, it is really the mind and consciousness of the figure that has brought forth its existence on the canvas. Again, I believe that elderly figures have the greatest potential to relay this idea because you can see their bodies aging and deteriorating, further emphasizing the role of conscious existence.

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Self Portrait, 2013

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Self Portrait, Reaching, 2013

Paul Weiner:
Where would you ideally display your work? Does it belong in a traditional gallery setting or a more alternative space?

Mary Luke:
Of course, as an artist, it would be ideal to see my work in a gallery or a museum. However, I find that my paintings thrive most on the walls of my studio, where they were created. Few people get to see my work in that environment, but it’s interesting to see how the space has been transformed by the making of the piece and vice versa. In that way, you can see further into the process, see what was left behind and what was included and how my paintings progress together.


Please view Mary Luke’s website and “like” Critique Collective on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/critiquecollective.

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David Phillips Paints with the Spirit of the Contemporary American West

David Phillips is a painter from Tulsa, Oklahoma who is now working in Los Angeles, California. He has shown his work at a wide variety of venues including the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Carnegie Hall, and the Downtown Art Center of Los Angeles. Phillips has been featured on CBS News and in the Los Angeles Times. His paintings can also be found on his website.

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Paul Weiner:
Tell us a little about the way you started painting both physically and conceptually.

David Phillips:
I have the first painting I ever made framed inside my house. The painting is an abstract portrait painted in 1983. I was four years old. My grandmother was an oil painter in Oklahoma. She painted flowers, landscapes, and still life. She kept a studio inside her house. When my two younger brothers and I would visit, we would inevitably get into trouble. The adults would separate us into different rooms. I was always confined to the studio. I still remember the smell, the rags, the brushes. I was hooked.

wino-strut Bottles

Paul Weiner:
How did your habit of leaving your artwork places for others to find and take home come about?

David Phillips:
The act of leaving certain pieces of art around Los Angeles has manifested multiples times throughout my career. At first, my studio was simply too packed to hold any more materials. My studio is by the beach. I decided to take all the pages from my sketchbook and put them inside bottles as a take on a message in a bottle. The act of leaving art around town gained traction and became popular in my community. The initial project propagated larger works such as found sculptures and public installations. As of now, I think such public works ran their course, and I no longer do such things.

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Paul Weiner:
Describe your transition from Tulsa, Oklahoma to Venice, California. How was your artwork altered by the move?

David Phillips:
I believe a professional artist must live in a large city. You have to be around the galleries and museums you wish to show. You have to be next to a large market. You have to be directly in the vice grip of struggle. You have to be completely absorbed by the frenetic. Now, I am referring to the artist at the beginning of his career. I am referring to the artist who wants to be collected on a grand scale and be inside major museums, the artist who wants a permanent stamp inside art history. Look at the major contemporary artists post-WWII: Pollock, Guston, Still, Twombly, De Kooning, Rauschenberg, Schnabel, Ruscha, Bacon. The list is endless.

I love Oklahoma. I painted there for years. When I painted in Oklahoma, I painted wildlife. The images I made were more photo recreation or realism. I practiced religiously. I honed my technique. I used oil paints as per their intention, but the paintings fell flat. I had no understanding of the psychological impact of color. I didn’t understand automatism or experimentation. Moving to Los Angeles opened up Pandora’s Box for me artistically. Of course contributing factors such as age, life experience, and maturity come into play. Los Angeles allowed me to live by my terms and become my true self. I completely submersed myself into the life of an artist, a real artist constantly experimenting, always progressing. I completely gainsay the pictorial, the symbolic, the illustrative, and the ever-feared ‘decorative’. I deny the theory that painting has been completely deconstructed. I deny that the contemporary image cannot progress. A new art can still be made. I will die trying to make it.

Kung Fu

Paul Weiner:
Thinking about art markets today, how happy are you with your time around Los Angeles? Would you choose Los Angeles over New York City?

David Phillips:
Whew. Well, that is a question I’d prefer to answer over lots of beer and whiskey. I think a majority of the art in Los Angeles is horrendous. A very large percentage of the artists are “street artists” or have an urban/hip hop vibe that spotlights the twerps making it rather than the actual work. I suppose this is a popular trend in art right now regardless of region, but it is especially prevalent in Los Angeles. The most important lesson to learn by that is to just stick to your vision. Simply put, do not worry for one second what other emerging ‘artists’ are doing. Study your influences relentlessly, and try to stick to your singular vision as an artist. Hone your craft to master prestige. One good thing about having a shitty trend like “street art” being popular is that means there are people with disposable income who are willing to buy. Therefore, it may be slightly easier to sell a picture that was handmade with proper technique. I am continually blown away at the amount of artists in Los Angeles who do not make their own canvas or material. It’s mind blowing. They do not realize that a picture painted on a pre-made, store bought canvas is complete bullshit. If the canvas is pre-made, then the end resulting painting is a collaboration between the artist and the art store. Period. The piece of art’s bio should include “Collaboration Between _____(artist) and Blick Art Supplies” or “Collaboration Between _____(artist) and Hobby Lobby”. They will learn very quickly when they try to get a piece in a respectable museum. I’ve also noticed a majority of artists in Los Angeles do not mix their own colors. They typically paint straight out of the tube.

I love Los Angeles. I love the weather (who wouldn’t?), the beaches, the women, fuck, everything about it. It’s the greatest city in the world in my opinion. The people ruin it, but they can’t take away the great weather and cool vibe. I definitely believe things happen quicker in New York, of course. New York artists also have the luxury of history. When Peggy Guggenheim decided to leave Paris and bring the surrealists to New York, that was it, done and done. The new art world epicenter became New York. Los Angeles will always be on the coattails of that fact. However, that does not mean a new art cannot be made here or important artists won’t prevail. We have numerous examples of very important artists here: Baldessari, Larry Bell, Peter Lodato, Billy Al Bengston, Robert Irwin, James Turrell, etc. From a market standpoint, LA has the advantage of population. We have almost 2 million more people than New York City.

Acid_noir_16x20_oil_on_Canvas_by_David_Phillips

Paul Weiner:
Working seriously in abstraction today can be difficult since the market is so saturated, and so many painters are focused on making abstract paintings purely as commercial objects to be sold. How do you set yourself apart from the crowd of abstract expressionists?

David Phillips:
Well if any artist sets out to create work only to sell,good luck. Don’t get me wrong. An artist obviously needs money just like anybody else needs money. The separating factor is that the need to create the art, the drive, has to be so strong that it supersedes money. Thus, I don’t know how much I believe artists are created. Personally, I think they are born. If the need or will to create is that strong, it means it has been practiced since, well, almost birth. Therefore, once the artists reaches an age of independence or adulthood, the work should be strong enough to warrant sales. Yes, this may alienate the weekend painter or hobbyist, but it draws a very distinct line in the sand between a person who has created or painted his whole life versus a person who wishes he could paint to make money and leave his job. Therefore, I set myself apart in a very major way by being a full-time artist with a working studio. Now, to make it even more niche, I am not just an abstract expressionists. I make abstract paintings, but I also paint realism and portraits, and I make films, music videos, collage pieces, and sculpture. There is an overlaying style or look that I suppose would be recognizable to some, and that is what it is. Different people have called it different things such as avant garde, conceptual, or abstract expressionism. At the end of the day, I just execute whatever idea or build whatever it is I want to accomplish. After that, it’s pretty much out of my hands.

Springtime_in-the_Bars

Paul Weiner:
Museums and collectors have long been fascinated by artists of the American West. Despite differences in style from many of the popular realist Western artists, do you feel that you are the contemporary manifestation of a Western painter?

David Phillips:
I am the contemporary American West.

The_Dead_Gallop_David_Phillips

Paul Weiner:
Do you feel as if artists are properly valued in American society?

David Phillips:
I do feel that artists are properly valued in America. The problem is that it is the wrong artists. You have to be very careful with art because it is a career where hard work might not pay off. The American public has mistaken gimmick for talent. A majority of today’s most celebrated living artists have achieved success through gimmick rather than practice, study, or hard work. You have a guy who screen prints a Ronald McDonald all over town, then you have another guy who picks Count Dracula. This is not art. This is gimmick. Don’t get me wrong. The allure of fame, consistent art sales, and major shows is enough to attract any artist. Now, imagine if De Kooning were alive today and saw that. He was an immigrant who had to sneak his way into the United States on his 13th try. Then he lived through a depression as an artist! Then he navigated his way through the gallery scene with an academic education equivalent of the eighth grade. Imagine he sees the successful or selling artists today. He would pass out, either from laughter or rage. I do feel America has the propensity to properly value an artist. It is simply misguided. It will change over time, just as most fads do.

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Paul Weiner:
You’ve spoken about your perception of artists who use colors straight from the tube and pre-made canvas as making inferior work. Some artists and critics might critique these tools as being the impact of a quasi-capitalist art market where corporations create the tools artists use and corporate collections (e.g. Deutsche Bank, Progressive, Bank of America, and JPMorgan Chase) buy the resulting art. To what extent do you find the use of pre-made materials an ethical dilemma versus an aesthetic one?

David Phillips:
Well, of course there is a huge, huge beauty in a fresh tube of cadmium red, and of course there is nothing wrong with using that red straight out of the tube as long as the artist’s intentional vision justifies the usage. I suppose I was referring to the artists simply making art to sell. I do stand by the thesis that artists should create art as handmade as possible. This gives the artist control over shape, size, coarseness, etc, which, in turn, executes the artist’s vision more precisely. I remember watching the “Who The Fuck is Jackson Pollock?” documentary years ago. I remember by just watching the movie, which included many scholars, and thinking, “How the fuck do they not know that this is not his painting?” I could tell through a goddamn television screen. The pink in the painting was not his pink. The paint used was not enamel or anything close to what he used. The canvas wasn’t built by him. Look at the edges. The answer was in the materials, not the style.

Boogie

Paul Weiner:
Is your goal in painting to create artwork that clearly communicates your perception or is it to evoke a sublime reaction to yourself and your viewers?

David Phillips:
I don’t know how much of a goal I have with any painting. I try not to think about any particular person or client. This would certainly influence the outcome, and it gets back to the art versus commerce debate. I suppose the only goal would be to capture the feeling or essence of any particular object I am painting. I do not paint the apple. I paint what the apple taste like. I paint what would happen if the apple was pissed off or hurt. Of course, any painter would love to evoke a sublime reaction to a viewer. That is probably the best result!

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Paul Weiner:
Many abstract artists have struggled with creating titles, leading some to go so far as to use dates or numerical systems as titles. How do you go about titling a painting and how do you feel about the practice of artists who sign their paintings?

David Phillips:
When you are creating paintings at a very fast rate or high capacity, inevitably you run out of titles. Also, using dates or “Untitled” allows viewers to have their own relationships and create their own stories to a piece. Personally, I enjoy titling each piece, and I feel it is as important to the painting as the materials or subject. I totally get that not all artists create this way. I use the title like poetry. The intention is to only enhance the piece, which would strike all sorts of debate like “Why does the piece need enhancing?” A very simple answer to that would be that it is fun. I constantly write while I work, Sometimes just phrases, sometimes short stories, sometimes just word associations. I’ve found this helps with the frequency of ideas.

I typically do not sign my pieces on the front. My only rule for that is if it adds to the picture, I will sign it. However, a majority of the time, a signature would simply intrude on the composition I just spent 2 weeks or a month making. Therefore, I would never compromise the face of a picture.


Please view David Phillips’s work on his website and “like” Critique Collective on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/critiquecollective.

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Ivan Jenson Blends Painting and Poetry

Ivan Jenson is a pop art painter and contemporary poet whose artwork was featured in Art in America, Art News, and Interview Magazine while selling at auction at Christie’s. Jenson was commissioned by Absolut Vodka to make a painting titled “Absolut Jenson” for the brand’s national ad campaign, and his “Marlboro Man” was collected by the Philip Morris corporate collection. Jenson was commissioned to paint the final portrait of the late Malcolm Forbes before his death. He also wrote two novels, Dead Artist and Seeing Soriah, both of which illustrate the creative and often dramatic lives of artists. Jenson turned to poetry as an outlet for artistic expression, and he is now a prolific writer who is widely published in a variety of literary media. Jenson’s poems were recently published by Hen House Press in a book titled Media Child and Other Poems, which can be acquired on Amazon.

media child


Paul Weiner:
Tell us a little about your history as an artist, writer, and poet. What are some of your greatest accomplishments?

Ivan Jenson:
I came from an artistic family in Los Angeles, and we were encouraged to be creative from an early age. I became obsessed with Michelangelo and Renaissance art at around nine years old. I used to check out sixteen millimeter films from the library about Michelangelo and screen them for myself for hours on end. I made a sculpture at age nine in Costa Rica that was used as a poster for a national exhibit. I then discovered Carl Sandburg, Walt Whitman, and Dylan Thomas at thirteen and began to write. I wrote movie reviews for the Valley News and Green Sheet at that age.

Then we moved to Bloomington, Indiana, where I gave some of my early poems to an English teacher in Junior High School, and he read them over the weekend. On Monday, he made a speech to the class and said, “Ivan Jenson is not only a better writer than me or any other teacher in this school, he is also better than any student here because he has something which cannot be taught. He has the gift of a poet.” My early poems where published in magazines in Indiana. I also wrote my first novel at thirteen after a vivid experience of a summer spent studying art in San Jose, Costa Rica. It was a coming of age story called Walking Wounded, and Delacorte Press wrote me that they thought it was “Catcher in the Rye times five.” Other editors said it was, “raw and brutal.” My father gave a few chapters to Ray Bradbury to read, and he sent me a letter which said I wrote better than he did until he was 30.

My family moved to New York city, where I briefly studied at the Art Students League where I was told that the artist’s life is a lonely one. I consider myself self-taught in both art and writing. My big break came when I hung my paintings on paper with paper clips in Times Square and became an overnight success. Everything I made sold instantly and I was able to quit my job as a caterer for weddings and move into Manhattan at age 20. It was perfect timing because I was catching, and riding the crest of, an art wave hitting downtown New York City in the mid 80s.

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My early career was far from lonely. Though I painted for hours alone, as soon as I was done with the paintings, they were trucked off to East Village galleries and all the top night clubs in the City including the famous Palladium, where my art was seen during a Whitney centennial exhibit featuring East Village Artists. Every single painting I have made has sold. Soon after, I was commissioned by Absolut Vodka to create my own Absolut Jenson painting, which was featured full page in Art News, Art in America, Interview, and other top international magazines. I now shared the same ad campaign gig as Andy Warhol. Later, I sold my most expensive painting. It was of the Marlboro Man, and I sold it to Philip Morris. I befriended Malcolm Forbes, and I was invited aboard the famed Forbes Highlander Yacht to draw my trademark pop art portraits of the “Who’s Who” of the corporate world. I painted the last commissioned portrait of Malcolm Forbes.

Fast forward through the nineties. I continued to make my living as an artist, but little did I know I was gathering material for an unexpected literary career that was brewing inside me. I left New York in 2004 after personal and career burnout and found myself feeling lost in Grand Rapids, Michigan. But then, after a year of culture shock from the change to a much slower pace, I joined a writer’s group. At first, I brought in some unfinished fiction, and after receiving great feedback, I quickly made up for lost time and furiously wrote a series of novels as well as poetry. A girlfriend of mine at the time told me my poetry was as good as anything out there, and so, on a whim, I submitted to three magazines. Well, I forgot all about it, thinking it would lead nowhere, until a few weeks later all three poems were accepted for publication with glowing letters from the editors of the magazines. So I submitted more and got accepted again. Within three months, I was already published by some of the top ten online literary magazines in the country. I became addicted to writing poetry and seeing them published. Now, I have two novels published, Dead Artist and Seeing Soriah both published by Hen House Press, New York, close to five hundred poems published, and a book of poems called Media Child and Other Poems soon to be published also by Hen House Press.

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Paul Weiner:
Do you see your poetry and painting as being intertwined?

Ivan Jenson:
For me, they are very different. My paintings are all about a mix of classical and contemporary aesthetics, bold line, color, and structural balance. Other more painterly works are all about the romance of painting and its texture. But I can say that my adventures and misadventures as an artist living and working and loving in the trenches of downtown New York City for twenty years has given me an endless gold mine of material for my novels and my poetry. I am including my line drawings in my new book of poems.

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Paul Weiner:
As someone who has experienced the New York art world, do you feel as if New York City is a conducive place for artists to make new work?

Ivan Jenson:
For me, it was. My whole career was born when I first sold my art in Times Square, The Upper West Side, Soho, and Union Square. I got to meet, first hand, all my collectors. The streets were my living, breathing internet, and from all that networking, I met the important lawyers, gallery owners, club owners, and VIP collectors. I think that people still love to purchase a painting from a genuine New York City artist. But now New York is so expensive, I don’t see how an artist starting out could afford the overhead unless that artist had half a dozen roommates. My only roommates were the women who lived with me.

Now, for me, living in Grand Rapids, the internet is my new version of New York. I would say that the internet is now a virtual New York City. Thanks to e-mail, I can submit my poems with ease, and they instantaneously zip over to the literary sites. Then, when my poetry is shared on Twitter and Facebook, it is exposed to thousands of readers. I may not live in New York anymore, but New York lives in me. I still walk fast, and I maintain that driven inner pace, and, when I am working, I write often to the beat of Electronica music. And yet, living away from New York City has given me perspective on that seductively fast lifestyle, and coming from New York City has given me perspective on the wonderful subtleties of the Midwest. My novels, Seeing Soriah and Dead Artist, both take place in a fictional city called Gold Haven, Michigan, and key scenes take place in New York City.

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Paul Weiner:
You mentioned that a lot of your material comes from your time as an artist in New York City. What are some other common themes that show up in your poetry throughout Media Child and Other Poems?

Ivan Jenson:
My debut poetry book is a comprehensive collection of my poems written over the last four and a half years when this whole magical renewal of my creative life began. It was all so new and exciting, yet the words and the images fell right into place with immediacy and ease. Nothing was forced; it all just flowed. Every day was a new discovery of what was possible for me in poetry. I dedicated myself to writing at least a poem a day and then reading them aloud to my writer’s group and then unabashedly sending them off. It was a formula that worked famously and which I enjoyed immensely. Some of the poems in my book are autobiographical flashbacks to my East Village days. Through my poetry, I was to find form and meaning behind my former fast-paced lifestyle. It was not long into my newfound poetry career that wordplay appeared in my poems.

Now, I am a quick study, and once I realized I was onto something unexpected and wonderful, I grew in leaps and bounds. There was a phenomena going on both inside and outside of me. Here I was, drawing from my experience, my neurosis, my heartache, my highs and lows, and yet I was treating them with a lightness of touch and never forgot to add wit and universal punch lines to the mix. As I read aloud my poems at my writer’s group I learned that there was power in my knack for humor. Then I began to spin on common phrases, colloquialisms, clichés, and I soon drew from the media as well. Next came a cast of characters including celebrities or brand names, TV shows from Gilligan’s Island to Star Trek, and public figures from Jung to Joan Rivers and Chaplin. They just all showed up unannounced in my stanzas like a profound parade of self-styled product placement. I went as far as to title one of my most popular poems “Name Dropping.”

My poems are designed to work on the page as well as live, and I treated my writer’s group as a training ground for how to act out and really sell my poems in performance. And, soon enough, I was invited to perform them at theaters, bookstore poetry readings, or at the fancy homes of the “Who’s Who” of Grand Rapids. I was always pleased to get laughter right on cue where I wanted it, as if I were a stand up comic. And yet, through the laughter, I knew that the deeper meanings were still coming through. Not only do I make sure my poems open up with a hook, but then I take the reader or listener on a visceral ride and a public display of my deepest fears, phobias, and foibles in a metaphorical mash up with movie stars, literary icons, historic figures, and late night talk show hosts. Then I keep juggling on those phrases we have heard all our lives, and yet I give them new and sometimes twisted twists.

I never knew I had this treasure trove of verbal Americana stowed up inside of me. And yet it all channels through me, with a detailed structure, polyrhythm, sometimes multiple inner rhymes. Some poems are like monologues spoken by characters in a play or a scene from Film Noir. Others are snapshot memories, and others are like short films. My poems have been turned into short films by a talented filmmaker named Cassidy Bisher. He is currently adapting a poem I wrote especially for his production company. Its theme is nostalgia and the passage of time. The film will feature time lapse photography set against the spoken words of my poem. Obviously, this is a dream come true to see my poetry become cinema.

Note To Self a poem by Ivan Jenson

The Way It Should Be a poem by Ivan Jenson

Midwest Juliet a poem by Ivan Jenson

Paul Weiner:
Has your painting style changed at all since you made the move to Michigan?

Ivan Jenson:
Since I moved to Michigan, my paintings have become so much more complex. When I depict van Gogh, as I often do, the paintings have become mosaics, puzzles of color where each color contrasts or has to answer to the color next to it. I am in as good form as ever here in Michigan as I was in my studio in New York City. I turn on urban R and B music, and I fall into cadence with my colors. My Michigan studio is quite big, and I can make a nine foot by nine foot paintings and feel myself engulfed in the vastness of the canvas. When I take a break and turn the music off, I hear the crickets and the birds at night, and then I carry my bucket of brushes through the backyard in the night with the moon shining, and I feel like the expatriate artist, like Gauguin who has found a slice of paradise far from the chiseled edges and the blazingly bright video advertisements of Times Square.

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Paul Weiner:
I like the idea of the internet being a virtual New York City. What are a few of your favorite web sites that have helped you use the internet to make your work public?

Ivan Jenson:
I have to be frank with you here and say that each morning, when I approach my computer screen with a cup of Starbucks in hand and just the right music playing on iTunes, I am truly reaching through the screen and grasping digital opportunities by the dozen. Google is my tool, and my hard drive is the fire of my inner drive which has never burned out. I am not at liberty to give out my self-styled, highly secretive, and self-developed tricks of the internet trade. But I will be candid and say that my transformation into a writer did not happen by accident.

I do not follow the usual format of submission. If there are standard systems or rules out there on How to Become a Published Author or Poet, well, then I have broken them all. Some of my poems have even been published in multiple publications. But I have never heard of a poet being put to jail for that free-verse transgression. I learned early that I must not only be a fountain of creativity, but that I have to also be a viral, guerrilla marketing maven as well. Usually, getting hyped up on caffeine and diet Coke makes me so ambitious that the pupils of my eyes dilate behind my glasses and I simply will it all to happen.

I admit I am addicted to getting e-mails of acceptance letters from publishers, literary magazines, filmmakers, ect, but to get that I must cast my net on the internet. My confidence comes from knowing that my angst and my ecstasy of words is loved and appreciated by the public and by the always wonderful embrace of literary circles. I am eternally grateful to the editors of online and print magazines and anthologies who have been so generous and receptive of my works from day one. For a creative person, knowing that you have something special is not enough; you must show the world your poems, your novels, your paintings, your sculptures, your quips, your funny asides, your best tragic mask, your pointed dress shoes and observations, your new pair of New Balance shoes, your trendy five o’clock stubble, your smile. And then you must wait, and if you are lucky, the world will answer back with an astounding, “Yes!”

“Name Dropping”

I am trying to be Gandhi about this
But sometimes you make me so Mussolini
You think you are so very Jesus
But really you are much more Britney
Than Mother Teresa
Sure you Isadora Duncan into a room
With your Betty Davis lies
And you expect me to
Cyrano De Bergerac
You on the phone
Or Shakespeare up my e-mails
But I’m just John Doe
I’m no James Dean or Citizen Kane
The point is I want to be
Romeo to your Juliet
I want us to John and Yoko till the end
I want our children to
Be Mickey Rooney and Shirley Temple
In the afternoons
I want them to be Dorothy and Toto
Near a rainbow
I want to be Mr. Brady
and you to be mother Maude
And though I’m no Tiger or Agassi
I still want my boys to be
little Eli Mannings
and the girls will be so Serena or Venus
Look I’ll never be a Bill Gates provider
and you’re no Keira Knightley in our quick-snaps
But still, when I see you I want to
Larry King you with questions
and Oprah you with compassion
We used to be so Brad and Angelina
But now we’ve become so Limbaugh and Obama
Guess it will be this way
until we are old and Castro gray

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Paul Weiner:
Is Vincent van Gogh an inspiration for you? Which artists and poets have influenced your work the most over the years?

Ivan Jenson:
Van Gogh is both an inspiration and a concern of mine. I first discovered van Gogh in a calendar in an elementary school classroom, and his vivid yellows and oranges, his use of thick paint seemed to be beckoning to only me. The childlike naiveté and the intensity of his works spoke to me. Van Gogh is a contemporary character along with Picasso in my novel, Dead Artist. In the novel, the artist protagonist, Milo Sonas, sees dead artists. He gets supernatual visitations from these two artists. Each artist represents a different spectrum of artistic recognition. Here we have Picasso, millionaire, South of France mansion owner, and a life filled with societal accolades and many younger wives and sensual mistresses, and then we have the troubled legend of van Gogh, loner, misunderstood, mad, loveless and an artist who never sold a single painting. In my novel, Dead Artist, I even the score and Van Gogh gets a second chance in the modern world when a young college coed sets van Gogh up with her best friend, a girl who is a van Gogh fanatic, who becomes the love of Vincent’s afterlife. In my novel, van Gogh finds love, and he gets to watch from another dimension as his paintings sell for astronomical figures. This is my artistic and poetic justice.

My foremost influence has always been Picasso. I was fascinated by him as a teen, and it was a thrill to know in the 70s that he was living and painting in sandals, shorts and fedora hats in the South of France. Here was a man who could have traveled or lived a life of luxurious leisure, but, instead, he chose to burn the midnight oil of his talent by painting all night long. He chose to spend a lion’s share of his ferocious ability exploring the safari of his artistic abilities alone in his studio. From an early age, I acquired this sort of prolific work ethic. On Mondays in New York City, I would always ritualistically begin a new series of paintings. As for poetry, I have loved Richard Brautigan for his whimsy. I loved Dylan Thoma’s rich Welch delivery of his poetry. And I loved how Walt Whitman stole from the Bible the many wonders of using the word “and”. I am not too proud to proclaim that I was infatuated with the melancholic and sometimes sentimental spell that Rod Mckuen had over the publishing world in the 70s. I let that dream go when I became an artist, but, as fate would have it, I was to become a poet after all.

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Paul Weiner:
Visual artists are always trying to find innovative ways of working. Today, many new media artists have taken to the web as an opportunity to program web sites that function as artwork. As someone who avidly uses the internet as a powerful marketing tool, do you think the internet is also a potential medium for the creation of visual art?

Ivan Jenson:
People today fall in love because of dating web sites; friends who have lost touch are virtual friends again because of Facebook, and so on. I hear all the time of artists using programs to paint. As a messy artist who lived in an apartment that was splattered with Jackson Pollock drips of color wherever you looked, I will be the first in line to work with virtual art supplies that don’t make a mess. And, of course electronic brushes that don’t have to be washed would be wonderful. Yet, as an artist with one foot in the 20th and the other in the 21st Century, I will always pour out my paint on plates and paint on canvas, if only to keep my spiritual connection with Vincent and Pablo alive. Who knows, maybe one day I will paint on my Mac and e-mail the file to multiple galleries in Paris, London and New York who will then display my art on sleekly framed canvas simulating monitors. And I will appear at the opening night of my international solo exhibits as a hologram of an artist with a glass of Chardonnay in his hand.


Please view Ivan Jenson’s work on his website and “like” Critique Collective on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/critiquecollective.

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Ronald Lukas Brings Together Abstraction and Figurative Art

Ronald Lukas is a painter residing in Southern California who holds a BAE from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and has pursued an MAE through the University of Chicago. Lukas has held a wide variety of art-related jobs, including his time as a teacher. His artwork is also available online at http://www.ronaldlukas.com.

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Paul Weiner:
How have your experiences as an educator affected your practices as an artist?

Ronald Lukas:
Ever since my elementary school days, I wanted to be an art teacher. Basically, I was into the visual arts at an early age. For me, as a visual artist, teaching art was a line of work that paid my bills and, most importantly, kept me focused on art. The rewards of my earning a degree in art education and teaching art were not only an income but also obtaining a general art, commercial art, and fine art perspective, appreciation, and understanding.

Teaching is an excellent working environment for a practicing artist if he or she can deal with working/teaching in a classroom environment. Teaching art can help elucidate an artist’s path. It did so for me. It nailed down what area in the arts that I wanted to be eventually involved with, and I worked out how to accomplish the goal. I am now, after performing as an art teacher, advertising artist, liturgical artist, photographer, and an art consultant, a full-time painter.

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Paul Weiner:
What are you currently working on?

Ronald Lukas:
I’m a direct painter, paint on canvas. Right now, I’m involved with expanding my painting process with different base paints.

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Paul Weiner:
How do you usually begin a painting? Take us through your process of finding a subject conceptually.

Ronald Lukas:
I let the process of painting do the work. Then at some point I take over. Someone once said, “I’d rather see a bad painting with an idea than a good painting without an idea.” I subscribe to that! All my artwork is subject and composition oriented. It’s the result of my whole life and many different environments. My painting and subject matter are triggered by the moment. It’s very spontaneous, nothing is planned. It becomes planned when I become involved with the exact painting itself.

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Paul Weiner:
Do you have a preference for a certain type of paint or surface?

Ronald Lukas:
Yes. Artist’s oil paint. The colors are rich, alive, and sensual. I’ll combine it with oil-based enamel and sometimes with an artist’s acrylic paint. The ground is stretched gesso cotton or linen canvas.

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Paul Weiner:
How do you balance dueling interests in abstraction and physical form?

Ronald Lukas:
For me, the main difference between abstraction and realism is that realism, since the invention of the camera, is boring to paint. But I will admit that it’s a people pleaser. I’ll also admit that, when I’m in a wussy state of mind, I will occasionally flaunt my technical realistic painting skills to justify my credibility. All my abstract figurative painting starts off with a quick, fairly realistic image, and takes off from there. If I’m working from a human model, the approach is the same.

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Paul Weiner:
Some artists think that figurative painting abilities are prerequisites for working in abstraction. Do you agree with that idea?

Ronald Lukas:
Nope! It’s a false assumption. Abstractionism is about subjective emotions, not objective reality. The old expression way back when was: “If you can draw the human figure, you can draw anything.” Most well-known modern and contemporary abstractionists never had the skill. Today more than ever, realists project a photographic image on their canvas and trace it. Aside from concept, what’s most important is the artist’s ability to master the dry and wet medium. Generally, realists have a problem. They can’t get past it!


Please view Ronald Lukas’s work online and “like” Critique Collective on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/critiquecollective.

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Exploring Erotic Photography with Gottfried

Gottfried is a photographer living in Berlin. His artwork spans a large range of work focused on or incorporating the idea of fetishism, and he has been working as an artist for over forty years. His artwork is available for view online.

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Paul Weiner:
When did you start working on art?

Gottfried:
Getting on towards forty years ago, and, in that time, I have conceived and produced works on three continents.

My beautiful picture

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Paul Weiner:
What subjects do you find most interesting in your art?

Gottfried:
As I have already written in my philosophy, as set out online, “in fact, people, their expressions, and their eyes as windows to their soul, in no matter what circumstances, are much more the meat of my metier.” A lot of my work has involved the erotic and also elements of fetish or, at least, quite a few works carry an innuendo in that direction. It is when a person is in pursuit of his or her fetish, whatever that may be, sexual or otherwise, that one sees the widest range and greatest brilliance of expression. Very often these are expressions, which are reserved for only the most private sphere, are indeed subjectively secret in nature. My style has, as is the case of all artists, developed with the years, but one can still perceive such elements, if one looks closely enough, even in some largely surreal or abstract works, such as ‘Psychedelic Mushrooms’.

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My beautiful picture

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Paul Weiner:
Do you work in digital or film?

Gottfried:
For the most part I have produced works very predominantly in negative and transparency film, but also in oil, crayon, pencil, and mixed media, encompassing various combinations of those materials and techniques. But your question was simple, and the simple answer is film, at least up until very recently, when I partially adopted digital since that has now seemingly become a fairly compelling medium. One has to admit that it greatly simplifies much of the now possible, to use movie terminology, post-production.

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My beautiful picture

Paul Weiner:
Do you find any inspiration in abstract expressionist painting?

Gottfried:
Yes. I find inspiration in abstract expressionist works or, rather, should I say, I find satisfaction in the production of an abstract expressionist work. In fact, as I remark in my online philosophy, “I value impressionism…because that can add meaning at a more subconscious level. Such added meaning, however, comes with some abstraction; and so the term abstract expressionism was coined.” I realize that your question was specifically directed at paintings, since you asked, “Do you find any inspiration in abstract expressionist painting?” However, to me, although I have produced a couple of such paintings, it is clear that an artwork of this genre can well be other than a painting. Of course, early abstract impressionists such as Mark Tobey who, to a degree, anticipated the all over look of many of Jackson Pollock’s works – very often worked in traditional media, an early example being Tobey’s 1954 “Canticle,” which was produced in casein on paper.

However, traditional media (and casein is, indeed, an ancient medium) exercises, for me, by no means any limitation on the production of abstract impressionist work. I like to think that my “Two Sisters,” for example, is in the vein of mid term artists in that scene, but still an all over style, having a simplified pictorial, color dominated element, although nonetheless it is rather more figurative than many of the works of early artists in that genre. That is, perhaps, simply my interpretation of the average of abstract impressionism.

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Paul Weiner:
How did you find your interest in erotic art?

Gottfried:
I began my photographic career shooting candids at large fairs and exhibitions, and this spun off the occasional newspaper and magazine submissions. Through this, I came to know a quite renowned newspaper photographer of that era. He did a lot of high fashion work, both for a major newspaper and also commercially on his own behalf. He introduced me to fashion work, and I eventually came to have quite a bit of work in that area, shooting for catalogues, magazines, ads, etc. One of the models asked me to take some glamour shots of her for a magazine campaign. Up until then, the usual, frequent enough, visual exposure to that type of work was more the saucy pin-up and the, so to speak, “page 3 girl” type of image, all of which, in my estimation, lacked expression and emotion. In short, they all lacked the “eyes as windows to their soul” element.

I was impressed by many of the nudes of Bill Brandt, but they, again, for me, lacked that direct appeal. Then, it was just at that time that I was attracted by the change in emphasis of the work of Helmut Newton, in which he now pursued overtly sexual themes. His juxtaposition of elements in his photographs was fascinating. These new photos of his were, in a way, tough but polished, aggressive and cold, and often disconcerting. But there was always a balance of eroticism and beauty. The eyes were not the windows to the soul, but the body and the juxtaposition said it all.

So, armed basically with these inspirations, and my own ideas, I took my first steps towards a representation of the erotic world. Fortunately, the product of those first, tentative steps was a success, and I began to receive further requests for such work in relatively quick succession. With that, the basis for expanding and delving further into the erotic and then fetish world had been laid out.

Nonetheless, as with all artists, things change with time. I now tend towards more mundane topics, although, even in a proportion of that work, I cannot resist the temptation, or perhaps it is purely subconscious, to hide erotic or fetish elements within the work.

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My beautiful picture

Paul Weiner:
With your work in film, do you develop your own photos?

Gottfried:
In the case of black and white, I develop my own film. I find that this is better than working with a lab because I know the circumstances in which the images were shot so I can have a better feel for the development rather than having to shoot so as to align the negative precisely to a lab procedure. By doing it myself, I can tweak the development according to my feel. As for the prints, I make my own b&w prints because, there, I can make many minor adjustments during the exposure and development process, which are simply impractical to have carried out by a lab, or, indeed, largely impossible to convey adequately to the lab operator. However, with color material, where I work almost exclusively with transparency film, I establish a working relationship with a good lab and let the lab process the film. A good lab is able to make quite a sufficient number of variations to the process if these ever should be needed, but I find, generally, that this is needed only infrequently.


Please view Gottfried’s work online and “like” Critique Collective on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/critiquecollective.

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Painting Perception and the Human Condition with Aaron Czerny

Aaron Czerny is an artist focusing on ideas within human perception related to behavioral habits. He has exhibited in various galleries throughout San Francisco, Santa Fe, Austin, New York City, Italy, and Lithuania. Czerny’s work is also available online at http://aaronczerny.com/.
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Paul Weiner:
What are you currently working on?

Aaron Czerny:
I am just coming out of a period in which I have been occupied with questions related to the human condition and juxtapositions of wildness and domesticity. I am fascinated with the ability of our species to be both brutally wild and brutally civilized, and the interchangeability of these terms depending upon the perceived point of reference.

At the moment, I am taking a break from such big ideas and questions and looking forward to doing some painting solely for the pure joy of it, the pure act and movement of it, for that particular smell of it and the feeling of it under my fingernails.

I will be going back to school this fall to finally finish my BA, and I consciously chose to take a bit of a hiatus beforehand to allow the space necessary for the upcoming new experiences and perceptions that will be stimulated from that environment.

I am also a firm believer in periods of leisure and constraint; these times allow one’s well to be replenished, while, at the same time, facilitating a type of inner expansion to occur. Creation needs ample amounts of time and space to develop. I have found over the years that my best work comes after periods of leisure. I then have an intense period of creative explosion, a personal Big Bang of sorts.

I am looking forward to such a period in the very near future!

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Paul Weiner:
Tell us a bit about your beliefs on human perception and how those beliefs relate to your abstract paintings.

Aaron Czerny:
The roots of understanding human perception are so vast, and, in my 40 years of consciousness, I feel as though I have had fleeting moments of intense awareness and clarity (most often while painting or engaged in what we call the “natural world”). Sometimes, on the rare occasion, I have experienced a more sustained level of discovery and lucidity, but never for long, extended periods of time. In some ways, I think this is part of the foundation of our unique form of human animal perception: that our modes and forms of consciousness, and unconsciousness, are always shifting, deconstructing, transforming, and changing with the multitude of dynamic environments we inhabit, and which we sometimes help create, destroy, or alter.

I believe the roots of our perceptions are directly connected to the land we come from. That it is the land (environment), which dictates the type of food that is available, the type of animals and plants that live there, and therefore create specific types of chemical reactions that occur when ingested. All of this can have an effect on and direct relationship to the type of language that is created and, in turn, the type of culture developed (i.e., the type of beliefs, religions, art, etc. that are the vehicles of our perceptions).

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Paul Weiner:
Are you satisfied with the commercial art world as it runs today?

Aaron Czerny:
In answering this question, I could choose to focus on the negative connotations associated with the word commercialism, but I would like to focus instead on the idea of Art as a viable means of commerce.

I remember certain artist friends being incredulous when I started showing and selling for the first time with an official gallery years ago. They thought it was so unfair that galleries took such a large percentage from the artists. My attitude then, and now, is that they deserve every penny when doing their job well, a job most artists neither want to do nor have the time to do. If they (gallerists, representatives, collectors etc.) let artists do their work and are helping facilitate their ability to do work, great! That is exactly what we need.

I, too, held certain proverbial “artist angst” ideals years ago in relation to commercialism. It took the form of getting upset upon seeing work I thought was crap hung in galleries and museums and being sold for so much. It is an attitude that is a waste of time and one that can get in the way of pursuing a viable and joyful career. I believe every artist is searching for his or her audience, and if someone happens to find it, no matter what one’s opinion may be in relation to the art or artist, we should be glad, for we all need an audience, especially one that can give us not only emotional support but monetary support as well. So, in the sense of the exchange of goods and services, the commercial market is important.

I do think that the market could help facilitate, sponsor and further educate the general public in developing a deeper appreciation of the arts, therefore seeing it as a necessary commodity that has social, cultural and personal importance.

I want to stress that a market, which helps provide a platform that promotes a relationship between an audience, individual and institutional collectors and the artists themselves is imperative and an aspect I am working toward being more a part of.

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Paul Weiner:
As an artist working in abstraction, do you feel that purely figurative art can evoke the same type of emotional response as abstract?

Aaron Czerny:
To a certain extent.

I believe that what we term as abstraction is directly rooted in and stems from the figurative narrative. Our experience as humans is directly connected to our body’s myriad ways of sensing ourselves, others (sentient and non-sentient beings), and the environments we all inhabit. The art we create is transmitted first and foremost through the body, no matter what part it germinates and resonates within first.

That being said, I think that abstract and figurative work can evoke emotional responses in very different ways, just as different models or makes of cars can give very different driving experiences even though being driven on the same road.

Overall, I think art, no matter my opinion of it, whether it be figurative, abstract, conceptual, performance, or any other form, has the ability to touch others in deep, profound, and personal ways because it is a form of communication, a language. We all, in varying ways, search for and desire connection, understanding and a sense of the mysterious and divine.

Paul Weiner:
How do you begin a painting? Take us through your process.

Aaron Czerny:
The first thing I do is build the panels to work on. As much as I like putting my energy into all aspects of the piece, I would like to have the panels built for me in the future. I like to construct a fairly large number in different sizes to have on hand because, when I begin to paint, I need to be able to grab as many as necessary in the heat of the moment. Sometimes one is enough, but often the intensity of the energy is such that it cannot be confined to one space, but needs to spill over, across, and onto various surfaces. Having many prepared and on the walls, blank and waiting, creates a void of expectancy, a space and place for vision to be transcribed.

My preferred surface to work on is normally Baltic birch plywood. It has a really beautiful color and grain texture that I generally like to leave a portion of partially exposed in my pieces. I more often than not like the wood versus canvas, although I like painting on it as well, because I can be rough with it, use pencils and other hard drawing implements upon it without it ripping, and it has a presence of its own, a substance.

I also like the quality of line the hard smooth surface allows; that’s not to say I don’t also like rougher surfaces, such as the old fencing I used for a whole series because, when using materials one is not accustomed to, it pushes and forces the work to go in new directions. It forces artists to get out of their comfort zones, to go beyond where they may usually tread and what they may normally accomplish, and I like this.

I work foremost from feeling. Whatever I am feeling in the moment or in my life at the time and go from there: turn on some music, usually jazz, to help facilitate entering into that trancelike state of creation, pick up a color, approach the piece, most times close my eyes, and put hand and medium to material. Boom! The big bang begins; the dance is started; the traversing of worlds commences; touch and go; guide and step aside; and most importantly: TRUST; get out of my own way and allow the mystery to unfold.


Please view Aaron Czerny’s work at http://www.aaronczerny.com and “like” Critique Collective on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/critiquecollective.

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Breathtakingly Realistic Urban Reflection Paintings by Erik Nieminen

Erik Nieminen is a painter based in Berlin and Montreal who holds a BFA from the University of Ottawa and MFA from Concordia University. His work focuses largely on human perceptions of reality, particularly within the reflections of urban landscapes. Nieminen’s paintings can also be found online at http://www.eriknieminen.com/.

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Paul Weiner:
How do you find a subject and begin a painting?

Erik Nieminen:
I have always been fascinated by large cities. There is a certain dynamism and excitement to life in the city that I think has fascinated artists, writers, composers, filmmakers, etc. since the dawn of the industrial age. I view the city as a kind of construct, a fabrication that is intended to serve humanity in an organic, natural, fluid kind of way. I mean this in the context of it attending to natural human behaviors and tendencies, not in terms of serving a green environment. The city itself is a vast template for meaning, and it is inescapable that we absorb the meanings and intentions of the various images that we encounter throughout the urban fabric. However it is not these particular meanings that would generate a painting, as I do not intend for my paintings to have an outright describable meaning. The structure of the painting itself will create the meaning through the orchestration of an experience on the canvas.

I take thousands of photographs, documenting my experience of being in an environment. The photographs themselves are merely tools to use on the path to creating the eventual painting. Out of these photos, certain ones will jump out as being useful, but I keep all my photos as, years later, I will sometimes find something in an old photograph that has suddenly become relevant. I will then start to imagine the possibilities in combining these various subjects found in the photographs, and, at a certain point, I have a general idea of what I’m looking for. At this stage, I may begin doing several sketches, usually quite loose but sometimes more detailed, in order to get a firmer sense of the space I will be dealing with. Usually, I will wait at least a couple of months before starting the painting in order to see if what I initially envisioned is still worth doing or if it can be improved upon; it generally can. Then the painting can begin.

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Paul Weiner
You mentioned how the “orchestration of an experience on the canvas” develops meaning. To that extent, do you feel that the experiences of your viewers and audiences determine the meanings behind your paintings?

Erik Nieminen:
To an extent, yes. The viewer will always take something unique from a painting, and, so, I agree that the viewer might determine a meaning for a painting. However, the painting need not rely on this to give it value. Marcel Duchamp once said (I’m paraphrasing) that an artist only has fifty percent of the responsibility, the rest being up to the audience. I do not necessarily agree. The artwork has its own autonomous existence, whether or not the audience places anything on it. The “meaning,” if we can call it that, of the painting is inherent in its structure, in its form, in its very existence. The meaning of the painting is to create a new framework in which to experience what we think we know. To that extent, the meaning lies in the experience of the painting, and, if viewers choose to pull social commentary or political statements out of it, then that is their prerogative.

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Paul Weiner:
Describe your affinity for reflective surfaces. What do these surfaces represent for you?

Erik Nieminen:
The reflective surface is a crucial component to most of my works. It is also one of the most prominent things that one finds in the modern city. Initially, I gravitated towards the depiction of reflection as a means of depicting the disconnect that one experiences in urban environments. I am fascinated by light, and, for me, it is light that defines form and creates space. A reflection is an ephemeral response to light, but, in a sense, it is disconnected from the gravity of our world. If we allow for the possibility that the reflection is a state of “non-gravity” (light itself does have gravity, in terms of general relativity), then the possibilities that arise from it in terms of making art are basically endless. In its sublime materiality, it allows a direct connection to the natural world as the primal state of glass is a liquid, and the reflection as seen through a liquid visually destroys the world we know. Part of my interest is in deconstructing the city and reforming it on my own terms. The glass reflection is a means to this end, as it allows us to see beyond ourselves and to twist and manipulate our vision of what is real, a visual truth, to break the grid of the urban environment.

The reflection and it’s primary material, glass, are elements that allow us to escape the mundane world. If art is to present us with an independent state of reality, something that is based on what we know but creates something that is ultimately unknowable, then a subject as rationally slippery as the reflection is one way to go about it.

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Paul Weiner:
As a realist painter, would you say that your art is more influenced by old masters like Caravaggio (or even Degas) or by more contemporary art movements?

Erik Nieminen:
Actually, my main influence is modernist painting from the early Twentieth Century such as the works of the Futurists and the Cubists. They posed problems for painting that have not yet been resolved, even though it has often been assumed that Art has moved past that. The masters of old are, of course, important, and really should be important to any painter, even those working in the absolutes of abstraction. In terms of more contemporary movements, for a time I was quite influenced by certain elements of the photorealist painters. It was a way for me to escape the modality of working in a somewhat neo-Futurist stylization or method. I found the best way was to do what would seemingly be the opposite, thus photorealism. Within a couple years, however, I started moving further away from the photoreal aesthetic and began defining the spaces of my paintings more on my own terms.

I do not adhere to any particular label, and, thus, I am not a photo- or hyper-real painter, nor am I a realist painter. If anything, I suppose I could be called figurative, but what does that really mean? The lines between figuration and abstraction are blurry, and, for the most part, don’t exist.

Paul Weiner:
How do you like the Berlin art scene?

Erik Nieminen:
The Berlin art scene is very vibrant, but very hard to put into a box, as there is a such a range of art that is always to be seen. A lot of it is quite experimental, as many younger artists come here to try things out because it’s cheaper in Berlin to get started on a project. However, there’s also lots of traditional mediums (painting, sculpture) on show, as well. Between the hundreds of galleries, several museums, or the occasional art fairs, if you want to see art, you always can. Most days of the week, you can find an art opening; however, I don’t go to openings all that often, as the type of socializing that one finds at such events isn’t necessarily something that I enjoy on a regular basis.

In any case, for the moment, I enjoy living in a city where art is always in easy access.

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Paul Weiner:
How did you find yourself interested in painting? Why do you paint rather than create, for instance, photography?

Erik Nieminen:
I’ve always been interested in painting. My father is an artist who focuses primarily on painting, and there are and have been other artists in the family, as well. I have, thus, been surrounded by painting my whole life, so it was only natural that I might be interested in it or, at the very least, see the importance of it.

The wording of the second half of your question is interesting and actually points towards my answer. You asked why I would rather paint than create, for instance, a photograph. The key word here is create, as you “take” a photograph, but you “create” a painting. I am interested in the act of creation. Photographs are interesting in their supposed documentation of reality, although it is debatable whether or not it really does create a document, but it restricts the person using the photographic device due to the structurally mundane nature of a photograph.

A painting has the possibility to take on whatever form it wishes, only limited by the capabilities of the artist. The photograph grounds its reality in that of the one in which we live, as it repeats the answers to the questions we know. Painting does the opposite. The use of photographic sources in painting is not necessarily problematic if the photo is used as a tool to manipulate our definition of veracity and to create a new space through painting. Because photography is so readily accepted as a document of something real, that is what makes it so useful to a painter who can turn the photographic veracity into a painterly de-simulation.

As for other mediums, such as sculpture, perhaps I will turn to that at some point. I have many ideas that might function in three dimensions, but I haven’t dug far enough into it yet to warrant doing it. Film is also interesting, as it’s actually closer to painting than photography is, but it’s not anything I want to focus on.


Please view Erik Nieminen’s work at http://www.eriknieminen.com/ and “like” Critique Collective on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/critiquecollective.

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Christian Duvua Gonzalez Blurs the Line between Abstract Painting and Photography

Christian Duvua Gonzalez is an artist from Coral Gables, Florida working in mediums of abstract photography and painting interchangeably. More of his artwork can be found online.

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Paul Weiner:
Your abstract paintings and photographs are very similar in aesthetics. Do you purposefully look to create photography that fits together with your painting?

Christian Duvua Gonzalez:
Yes. On some of my abstract paintings, I channel through the vision from some of my photography and create a unique style of painting. However, I feel abstract expressionism gives me the opportunity to connect with the freedom I seek as a painter.

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Paul Weiner:
How do you find subjects for your abstract photography?

Christian Duvua Gonzalez:
I have to thank my dad for giving you the answer for this question. I remember like it was yesterday when my dad told me this for the first time. When I was about 5 or 6 years old, he said, “Son you have to look both ways when crossing the street.” Well, I took that to heart, and I added up, down, and all around to that equation. I feel that art is everywhere, all around us, and all we need to do is open our minds to pay attention.

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Paul Weiner:
Tell us how you begin a painting.

Christian Duvua Gonzalez:
Well, I can tell you what I don’t do when I start a painting. I don’t start with an empty canvas. I don’t believe that anything is empty; everything possesses the ability to open your mind, from a white canvas to a stain on the ground. I start my paintings in a relaxed state, usually with a glass of pinot noir and some music as I let the mood take over.

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Paul Weiner:
Do you prefer a certain type of board or canvas to paint on? Also, do you print your abstract photography in a way that it can be viewed with your paintings?

Christian Duvua Gonzalez:
I love all surfaces, from wood to canvas, and even linen napkins. I feel every surface has an inner shape screaming to come out. Allowing it to come to life is the reward. I try to separate my photography from my paintings to show the meaning behind the vision, but, in some of my photography, I try to make it simple for the viewer to translate the connection between the two.

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Paul Weiner:
Could you name a few artists you’ve drawn inspiration from?

Christian Duvua Gonzalez:
I have been influenced by different artists from different eras as I’ve gotten older, but there are few that have impacted my mind in a personal way. I find inspiration by Albert Kotin, Barnett Newman, Hans Hofmann, Robert Motherwell and Gerhard Richter.

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Paul Weiner:
I noticed that a lot of your artwork has geometric themes to it. Would you consider your work styled on geometry?

Christian Duvua Gonzalez:
Yes. I have a huge passion for math and equations. I feel that geometry plays a big factor among artists, as it helps guide the structure of a subject.


Please view Christian Duvua Gonzalez’s artwork and “like” Critique Collective on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/critiquecollective.

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Gert Scheerlinck Repurposes Obsolete Objects for Painting

Gert Scheerlinck is an artist from Belgium who paints on a wide variety of diverse materials. Finding inspiration in obsolete materials like CD cases, Scheerlinck incorporates vast new textures in his abstract paintings. The artist has recently exhibited at the Gaanderij Academie Beeldende Kunsten, and his artwork is also available online.

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Paul Weiner:
How do you usually begin a painting?

Gert Scheerlinck:
Let me start by explaining that I not only paint on canvas, but I have used different carriers such as rubber (1), styrofoam (2), plastic, glass tile (3) and CD cases (4). However, regardless of the carrier, I usually get inspired by something I find or see. It might be a rusted piece of iron, a blistered wall, a torn down billboard, or one of the many old doors seen in Barcelona. Finding or seeing such an element often starts me off painting. Throughout my years of painting, one thing that has always been a source of inspiration is anything decayed or withered. Once I have started the artwork, the real challenge is to stop at the right moment and let the painting speak for itself to make it more powerful.

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Paul Weiner:
Do you use a conceptual process to create your ideas or do you base paintings on intuition?

Gert Scheerlinck:
My early artworks were mostly based on intuition and always abstract. Because of the material or structure,paint mixed with sand, the result was very unpredictable. I knew the painting would never turn out how I pictured it at the very beginning. It was a lot of scraping, scratching, and hard work to come to a point where I was satisfied with the result. In my later paintings, I felt like evolving more towards conceptual work. I started painting series. Some good examples are the street fragments (4,5) and the project, R.E.F.L.E.C.T.I.O.N.S. Both started off as a concept, but, in the end, intuition took over while painting.

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By getting regular feedback from various authorities in the art world, I realized I could rise to a higher level. I thought I started from a concept, but I was often driven by a study or a mere object such as a picture or a piece of junk. It took some thinking and self-reflection, and when starting a new project (8) I could see the difference myself. The entire concept of my recent artwork is a crossover between abstract painting and the representation of incomplete objects. Instead of painting on the found materials, I now glue them on the back of cd cases. On the in side of the case’s front, I paint a dysfunctional object. Because of its incompleteness, it has become completely useless. This is the first time that I have deviated from only painting abstract work. This object, being incomplete, is the key to not deviate from. I don’t allow myself to paint anything else. It gives the painting its story. When both back and front are finished, I assemble it all as one piece like a window into the world.

Paul Weiner:
What is the strangest material you remember painting on?

Gert Scheerlinck:
It is not so much a strange material as it was an experiment for me to paint on a different carrier. That’s why I painted on styrofoam (2), rubber (1) or even glass tile (6). I have always been intrigued by how paint, often mixed with matter such as sand, reacts on a material other than canvas. That’s also how I came to start painting on CD cases. I wondered how my paintings would look like on the backside. Since you cannot see through canvas, I thought of glass or any other transparent material.

How did I end up painting on CD cases? Again, it comes down to using a material that will cease to exist. CDs are bound to disappear. Since we have digital music, a CD will no longer be the carrier of music but something that is no longer of use. When you take away the CD, what will become of the case? Both the fact that I had to paint differently, namely, the result would be on the back of the carrier, and the fact that a CD case would become a useless object, intrigued and inspired me.

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Paul Weiner:
What types of paint do you prefer for painting on CD cases, rubber, and other diverse materials?

Gert Scheerlinck:
When I was about 15, I loved painting with my father’s old paint from, which he used to paint on wood. Because it was oil based paint, it took a long time to dry. When I started at the academy, I could choose between two teachers. I took the one who understood what I wanted to achieve and who wouldn’t force me into painting only figurative works. He was a big supporter of acrylic paint because there were many benefits associated with it, including fast drying speed. I’m rather impatient. When I’m working, I don’t want to take the time to let the paint dry. When I have an idea, I need to be able to put it on canvas or another material almost instantly without having to wait too long for the paint dry to put another layer on it. I‘ve always stuck to acrylic because I’ve never felt the urge to switch. It works for me.

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Paul Weiner:
Tell us a bit about how you originally became interested in painting.

Gert Scheerlinck:
Although it seems like a simple question, it isn’t. I can’t give you any other answer than that I’ve always been a painter. During my first two years at the academy, I studied fine arts. It was actually a nice introduction to various techniques. I was drawing using charcoal and crayons or painting with either watercolor or acrylic paint. Although I learned a lot, I wasn’t happy. If felt like I was losing two years because I wanted to paint the whole time. After those two years, I could finally indulge into paint. I became more and more interested in Arte Povera, Informal Art, and admired artists like Antoni Tàpies, Alberto Burri, Bram Bogart, Cy Twombly, and a master painter closer to home, Raoul De Keyser. I’m starting to get recognition now, but during my first years, I had to explain all the time why I used tape, rope and other non-artistic, sometimes downright dirty, materials, and I didn’t use oil-based paint. Apparently I wasn’t a “real” painter. It happened again only just a few weeks ago. Someone posted a comment about one of my painted cd cases, “for me, this is not a painting.” It confuses people. I’ve always had an interest in installations and assemblages, as well. That’s partly why I assemble and paint on cd cases; I want to cross both worlds. I don’t even exclude further deviations from mere painting, but paint will always be present.

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Paul Weiner:
Where have you lived throughout your life? Do you think the cultures around you have altered your painting or not?

Gert Scheerlinck:
In lived in Aalst during my art studies. Aalst is an industrial town about a 30 minute drive from the capital of Belgium, Brussels. Aalst is famous for its carnival; the writer, Louis Paul Boon; the very first printer, Dirk Martens; priest Daens; and painter, Valerius de Saedeleer. Originally, the city was poor and had many abandoned and dilapidated public houses. Although there is a lot of industrialization and decay in my paintings, I can’t say that the city has had a big influence on me. I do not think she has made me who I am as an artist, disregarding the art school I attended in Aalst.

I’d rather name Barcelona as my main city of influence. To me, Barcelona equals creativity and inventiveness, and the city is always very alive. For the past eight years, I’ve been going there on a yearly basis to find inspiration and working material on almost every corner of its streets. In Barcelona, I even asked my wife to marry me after being together for over 12 years. If someone is responsible for pushing my boundaries and driving me forward, it’s my wife. I owe a lot to her support.


Please view Gert Scheerlinck’s artwork and “like” Critique Collective on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/critiquecollective.

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Unconsciously Intuitive Artwork by Davon Foots

Davon Foots, A.K.A GX-4000, was born in 1993. He is a self-trained, contemporary artist based in San Francisco working in numerous fields and mediums of art including digital design, illustration, and collage. Davon incorporates a wide variety of historical art inspirations to create his own distinct artwork. More of his artwork is available online.

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Paul Weiner:
Do you view your artwork as a conceptual or intuitive process?

Davon Foots:
I often find my work to be somewhere in the middle ground of conceptual and intuitive. I say that because my pieces start with a groundwork concept due to the collages and images I lay out first, but the design work and hues are formed unconsciously. That’s where the intuition comes into play, conveying the psychedelic side of the art. I feel as though I rely more on my imagination and creative ability in each piece rather than mechanical skill and execution.

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Paul Weiner:
Tell us about how you begin a new painting.

Davon Foots:
Well, basically, I sort through a couple of magazines, find some images I like, lay them out, get a nice composition and format, grab the pens, and add a couple of comprehensive lines. Then, I lay in watercolors and ink, detail, and a final outline is directed to allow the colors to burst more. My work is all constructed based on impulse, so no piece starts with a sketch or set idea in mind.

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Paul Weiner:
What style would you say your artwork is in?

Davon Foots:
That’s always the toughest question I often get asked by viewers at shows because I try to touch so many different areas in my art. I’ve always been inspired by surrealism, graffiti, 90’s cartoons, pop art, and vintage decorative art. I try to convey distinct aspects of each style simultaneously to create my own unique style. Although it’s really hard to categorize, if I had to break it down, I would say it falls between the lines of underground lowbrow art, and contemporary pop art.

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Paul Weiner:
How do you like the Bay Area art scene?

Davon Foots:
I would say the major things I love about the bay area art scene is the underground heritage, the diverse cultures, and just all the positivity of living in a big city with the small town vibe. The number of indie artists is on the rise and more galleries are starting to open up to emerging and contemporary styles, allowing artists to showcase their talent in a nice setting.  The bay is a dwelling for so many unique individuals, your bound to discover something new from any person you meet. I’m pleased to see that the art scene is still young and fresh,  and is growing fast, and soon to give big markets like L.A and NYC some stiff competition.

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Paul Weiner:
Where is your ideal place to show your work?

Davon Foots:
Well, I’ve shown in a number of distinct settings, art fairs, street events, live collaborations with DJs, boutiques, pop-up shops, and even cafes. The best thing about doing various events is that you get a certain vibe and gathering at different venues, and it allows you to test your work’s versatility, to see if it reaches out to all different types of people in all age groups, genders, races, and demographics. I plan to work my way up to more mid-level galleries and maybe some urban fashion shops around the bay, just to get a better platform to show and market works.

So, if I had to answer this directly, I would say my perfect location to display would be an urban clothing shop or up to date contemporary art gallery in the inner city. However, had you asked me this question a year ago, my perception would have been a lot different.

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Paul Weiner:
Do you like the gallery art system?

Davon Foots:
Personally, I have a lot of dislike for the gallery art “SCHEME” only due to the mass number of artists competing to get space, which usually leads to galleries being booked months to years in advance. There’s also this new trend of galleries that prefer you to pay to show your work, which I think is wrong because, without the artists work and the backing of his or her followers, you would have no show, just a nice, empty lounge to relax in.

I think the good things about the gallery system are that it allows you to get a bigger network, connect directly with artists and art enthusiasts, and bring out your competitive nature. You’ll see another artists doing some of his best work in order to get into shows and fill the space, and, in turn, you get motivated to create and do some of your best work.

I think the gallery scene is a love/hate relationship for any creative person, depending on the situation. Without the galleries, artists would have no place to take their work to the next level. Without the artists, galleries would have a hard time getting a crowd and making money. So, essentially, we need each other to thrive.

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Paul Weiner:
What is the largest piece you’ve ever made?

Davon Foots:
The largest piece I’ve created was only about 5ft x 3ft. It was a huge, trifold collage piece I made specifically for a group art installation called The Asylum. The Asylum took place in May of this year, the same month I featured works in Catapult Art Magazine.

I usually don’t go larger than 2 feet in my work because I focus a lot of attention to detail and line work, and its also more time efficient. When I do decide to make larger pieces, I usually focus a lot more on color and abstractions, losing lots of detail. I do plan to gradually make my works larger as I begin to grasp and get a hang of my style.


Please view Davon Foots’s artwork and “like” Critique Collective on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/critiquecollective.

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