Critique Collective

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

Tag: painter

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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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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Jeffrey Thompson’s Patterned Abstract Paintings and the Wonder of Mathematical Systems

Jeffrey Thompson is a painter from San Francisco who relies on a mathematical, grid-based concept in order to develop abstract paintings. Recently, Thompson has exhibited his work at the University of Southern Oregon and in the SF Weekly for their “Masterminds 2013.” His art is available online at http://jtarts.com/.

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Paul Weiner:
How do you usually begin a painting? I’d like to hear about how you plan (or don’t plan), develop concepts, and engage in problem solving.

Jeffrey Thompson:
Ideally, each painting informs the next, so I usually begin the process by reviewing any relevant past work. At the outset, I make some general decisions about the way forward. I decide, for example, whether the new work will try to expand on any previous effort, or explore different territory. If the surface I’m planning to work on has a predominant characteristic, horizontal or vertical, I decide how to treat it in the composition. That is, I decide whether to employ it, or to somehow defeat it.

When I begin to attack the canvas, the process is largely mathematical. First, I determine the basic interval upon which the surface is based. For example, a 30″ x 30″ surface would likely use a 3″ basic unit. I then break down the composition based on those dimensions. I may then further divide the surface into smaller regions or grids. When establishing the drawing, I’m typically trying to emphasize the relationship between the painting surface and the layout.

At the point when I have the drawing in place, I make some fundamental choices about mediums, color, and content to cover everything from paint to the source materials I’ll be using in the collage. These collage elements are critical, as they determine a great deal about the overall impact of the piece. Newsprint carries a lot of populist imagery that, when broken down, becomes increasingly ambiguous. I find this desirable up to a point. Through experience, I’ve discovered that, if these materials are broken down too far, all meaning is obliterated. If not far enough, they seem to endorse more than is necessary.

I should note that I’m not after a specific message here. Rather, I’m trying to incorporate elements of the culture as a whole. Ironically, my objective is not unlike a good newspaper. I see myself as a kind of visual editor seeking an objective and balanced overview.

In contrast to newsprint, I sometimes opt for finer, clay-based papers in the collage, which typically come from fine art magazines or professional journals. These materials emphasize subtle color and advanced typography, and when using them, I focus on those elements.

I spent much of the past twenty years working with type and color as a graphics specialist and journeyman lithographer. My career in design and printing influenced my interest in graphic or text-based imagery and also financed my work in fine art.

I most often work with a combination of acrylic, oil, and enamel paints. I layer the acrylic paint first, with the solvent-based paints on top, in order to create a more or less stable paint structure. These paints are used out of the container in an unaltered state, although I do mix for color. I apply the paint directly, frequently manipulating it with pallet knives, spatulas, and other tools, rather than relying on brushes exclusively. The paint is alternately removed, sanded, or reduced and reapplied until it achieves sufficient density and form.

While the work is underway, I often photograph it in order to make decisions about direction, proportions, content, etc. When problem solving, I will use whatever tools are readily available, or most appropriate. This includes everything from mirrors to Photoshop. My only rule when using these tools is not to rely on any one of them too much. In order to see the work objectively, I will also hide it, turn it to face the wall for a period of time, or simply look at it upside down to take it out of normal context.

The final step is, of course, finishing the work. This is often the most subjective part of the process. It involves deciding that some or all of my original goals have been met, and that what has been achieved cannot be taken much further without losing what has been gained. It may also include approving any discoveries I may have made along the way. I will almost always embrace a positive random occurrence or other happy accidents.

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Paul Weiner:
Since your process relies on a mathematical process based on the surface you’re working on, how do you think it would change if you were to paint on a non-rectangular surface?

Jeffrey Thompson:
I have occasionally worked with random shapes when I come across what I call found surfaces. This has led to some interesting adjustments, but, in terms of an intentionally irregular or curved surface, I don’t think much would change. A two-dimensional grid can be applied to any non-linear shape. Even an irregular cloud like mass can be mapped and diagramed.

I will admit that type of presentation is less appealing to me. I don’t, however, think this is simply bias. I believe that the rectangular format is somehow intrinsic to the way we think about things visually. A theatre uses a linear proscenium; televisions are linear; and even books are rectangular. Some of that is a by-product of technology and tradition, but I think some of it is hard-wired in us.

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Paul Weiner:
What is the ideal forum for displaying your artwork? Do you prefer it in a commercial gallery, museum, public space, or other art space?

Jeffrey Thompson:
The ideal environment for this work would, in my opinion, be a permanent installation that would be site-specific. I have envisioned the work, especially the horizontal abstractions, in some sort of fixed setting along the lines of a viewing chapel or chamber, where the experience could be fully integrated. These paintings seem to thrive in intimate spaces and often take on unique and personal narratives and associations within this type of space.

That being said, I have found that work from this series seems to adapt well to most environments. I have shown the work in spaces that range from intimate local galleries in San Francisco’s Mission District to large academic environments such as the one at Southern Oregon University. In each, the work takes on a unique and compelling personality. In the case of a recent commission, the work seemed to transform before my eyes after being installed. As comfortably as it fit in the studio, it seemed equally at home in its intended environment. I think because the work is essentially geometric in nature, it not only echoes the surface on which it lives, it also naturally embraces and compliments the architecture of the room in which it is hung.

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Paul Weiner:
How did you happen upon the striping and grid formats that are prevalent in your recent works?

Jeffrey Thompson:
This format evolved out of a combination of early influences from art school and my professional exposure to commercial graphic design standards. While studying lithography and etching under Kenji Nanao and Misch Kohn, respectively, at Cal State – Hayward, I became aware of the significance of the grid as an integral, albeit silent, partner in the printmaking process. Everything involved in the planning of a print, or painting for that matter, relies upon and is constrained by the essentially rectangular format of the process. This encompasses every aspect, from the paper to the press itself. The vast majority of litho stones and most etching plates echo this format, and, so, the planning involved in printmaking necessarily becomes an extension of that underlying geometry.

When my career extended itself into the commercial environment, this relationship only grew. Everything produced in a commercial print shop relies heavily on the geometry of the press and, by extension, the grid. Later on, as commercial lithography came to rely almost entirely on computer-generated graphics, the underlying grid became more and more significant. This is especially true in print design for publication, where every square inch or millimeter has a defined value, both literally and figuratively. A full page ad in the New York Times is valuable real estate, and the designs created for that environment are necessarily based on columns and margins, which are themselves based on the underlying grid.

Eventually, I took this fundamental premise and adopted it as the basis for a series of paper collages. This soon expanded to larger and larger paintings. There was something compelling and universal about the structure, and I quickly discovered that the potential for variations on this theme were numerous.

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Paul Weiner:
Would you consider your work as expressionist, purely aesthetic, conceptual, or something else?

Jeffrey Thompson:
This is probably the hardest question to answer, and I would gently resist any temptation to put a definite name on my work. I suppose it would be ideal if others cared enough about my work to decide that for themselves. Frank Stella, whose early black, linear paintings were a big inspiration to me, considered his work to be minimalist and post-painterly abstractions. I, of course, would be thrilled to have my work associated with either of these disciplines although, technically, I lean towards a more painterly approach.

However, I believe what truly defined Stella’s work was his ability to reinvent himself and his paintings throughout his career, thus defying a strict classification. My greatest desire would be to emulate that ability, to continue to grow my work and reinvent my process over time. However, if pressed, I would say that I am generally an abstract painter who leans heavily on aesthetics, conceptualism, and expression, not necessarily in that order.


Please view Jeffrey Thompson’s artwork online at http://jtarts.com/ and “like” Critique Collective on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/critiquecollective.

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Stephen Mauldin’s Experimental Painting Techniques

Today’s interview is with Stephen Mauldin, a painter and instructor living in Oregon with great interest in creating new painting techniques to express content he has developed for over forty years. Mauldin holds an MFA with a concentration in painting and printmaking from the University of Idaho as well as a BA in art from Oklahoma City University. He has exhibited his work in many galleries throughout the Northwest and beyond. Read the interview, and then find more information and artwork online at http://www.mauldinart.com.

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Paul Weiner:
How has your experience as an educator affected your artwork in terms of process and aesthetic preferences, if at all?

Stephen Mauldin:
I can’t say that my teaching experience has affected my process or aesthetic preferences. Teaching basic design and color theory has certainly deepened my understanding of basic design principles and the intricacies of color, but I think what teaching does most is to keep things fresh. All the knowledge and skills one uses as an artist are eternally fresh for each new group of students. Their enthusiasm for receiving that knowledge and acquiring those skills prevents one from taking it all for granted. Plus, one continues to learn as one teaches. My knowledge of art history ,though still limited by most standards, I think, has expanded exponentially over the years due to teaching.

The deal is, I’m a single-minded guy. I think it was Matisse who said, and I’m paraphrasing here, that every artist has one idea they refine for a lifetime. That’s certainly been true in my case. I’m still addressing the same issues I was nearly forty years ago when I left undergraduate school. I bring more life experience and artistic experience to bear on those issues, but the core issues are still the same. Where I live and what I do for a living has never had any immediate impact on my work as an artist. If I hadn’t taught, I think my work would have still taken a similar path.

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Paul Weiner:
As an artist who has been trained in smaller art markets like Oklahoma City and Moscow, Idaho, how do you feel about the commercial art system that clusters around major cities like New York and Los Angeles?

Stephen Mauldin:
In the digital age, it seems a little silly since most things can be done anywhere now due to the internet. However, not many people are going to buy a large, expensive painting over the internet, sight unseen, so galleries are still necessary. The key issue, though, is the “critical mass” of collectors necessary to sustain a commercial art system. That’s what New York and L.A. have that other cities don’t. That allows them to create the gallery infrastructure that draws collectors from elsewhere, as well. That’s one of the biggest complaints here in Portland, Oregon where I live. We’re known as a creative magnet and there are thousands of working artists here with more arriving every day, but there are nowhere near enough collectors to support them all (not even including the collectors who occasionally travel here to buy art). It’s a frequent complaint in Seattle, as well.

The downside of the system is that it lets a handful of people define what is the “best” art of any generation and limits the variety of art being seen by the public. There’s art being produced every day all over this country that’s as good as anything made in New York or L.A., but few people see it because of this system.

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Paul Weiner:
You mentioned the rise of the internet as having an impact on art collection. Since many patrons are unwilling to buy expensive paintings online, do you feel that the value of contemporary art is diminished when it is sold on a store like Etsy?

Stephen Mauldin:
Not necessarily. What I was suggesting is that I doubt many people are going to drop several thousand, or tens of thousands, of dollars on a piece of art they’ve only seen online. Much of what any piece of art offers is too subtle to be seen online. If the piece can be sold for a few hundred dollars, people are more likely to take a chance. On the other hand, I think serious collectors prefer to see the art “in the flesh,” as it were, since they are more discriminating by and large. That said, much of what is on sites like Etsy is what I would call “wall décor,” not to be mistaken for Art. As my basic design students learn, Art has three essential elements: subject, form, and content. Subject is what the art depicts; form is how it is organized; and content is what it communicates. Wall décor usually has the first two elements, but is often thin on or completely lacking the third. Also, whereas collectors are usually most interested in content, people who buy wall décor are usually most concerned about whether it will match the couch. There may very well be some excellent art on Etsy’s site, but I doubt if many serious collectors rely on Etsy or similar sites to add to their collections. Frankly, I wouldn’t expect anyone to buy work off of my site without seeing it first.

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Paul Weiner:
Could you explain your concept for your String Theory series?

Stephen Mauldin:
The String Theory series didn’t begin with a concept, per se. I experiment with paint frequently. Robert Henri noted in his book The Art Spirit that mastering a medium does not come from being taught what he calls “stock phrases.” He suggests there, quite accurately I think, that mastering a medium comes from thoroughly understanding the properties of that medium. To that end, I am constantly playing with paint in order to more fully understand what it can and cannot do.

So, one day, while paying with paint, I taped an ultra-fine straight pin to the end of a palette knife, dipped it into some paint, cocked the palette knife back, and slung a very small quantity of paint onto a piece of paper. The resulting mark was absolutely electric, playing out into lines smaller than a human hair and crisper than one could ever create with a brush. It immediately struck me as the perfect visual signifier for the “strings” of string theory, electric little knots of energy. With the paintings in the String Theory series, I took that idea and married it to those issues I mentioned earlier. The face is actually derived from a mannequin head I bought while in graduate school, which has come and gone in my work ever since and is used to signify some sort of “higher intelligence” in the universe. What I’m trying to suggest is a universe teeming with intelligence on multiple levels. By the way, a palette knife breaks in half after about two hours of slinging paint like this, so I had to devise an alternate tool.

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Paul Weiner:
Tell us about this alternate tool you’ve developed!

Stephen Mauldin:
I wish I could tell you that it’s something amazingly complicated that took natural engineering skills to develop, but I simply stuck the pin in the end of a Colour Shaper. They’re like paint brushes with some form of rubber shaped like bristles instead of having actual bristles. I had bought a bunch of them years ago but found that I didn’t like them. They had been laying around the studio for years, so when I was looking for a solution to the failing palette knife problem, they were there, and they worked. They wear out, too, but it takes months instead of hours. I prefer one particular type that’s hard to find, so I just bought about $150 dollars worth of them in case I can’t find them in the future or they’re discontinued.

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Paul Weiner:
How would you define your style of art?

Stephen Mauldin:
I don’t know that I really have a “style” since my work changes rather significantly every few years. The issues stay the same, but the way the paint is applied changes dramatically. In the beginning, I used brushes and applied paint directly to canvas or panel, as most painters do. Then I started shaping the canvas over objects and applying paint with an airbrush to simulate the play of light and shadow on those objects, stretching the canvas after the fact. That was continued on rip-stock nylon for a while to get finer detail. After that, I made all the marks for paintings on glass first, and then collaged them into “paint assemblages” of sorts. Next, I used a tool designed for putting stripes on picture frame molding to draw directly with paint and produce pieces infused with a dense web of spirals and arcs to suggest the patterns of sub-atomic particles. That was followed by extruding thickened paint into actual webs that were about a half-inch deep. Later, I stamped the image onto canvas using rubber stamps that I carved myself. Now I sling paint with pins.

Actually, it dawned on me recently that I have always been led by the paint. As I have played with it over the years, it has continually revealed new things to me and suggested new technical directions. Ben Shahn said, “The painter who stands before an empty canvas must think in terms of paint.” Over the years, as I’ve addressed the issues I do, that’s what I’ve done – thought in terms of paint and how I can make it convey more clearly what I’ve been trying to communicate.shadow1

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Paul Weiner:
Is there a certain type of paint you prefer? Also, would you consider your revelations about paint and its application to be equally important to the actual products you create?

Stephen Mauldin:
I’ve used NovaColor acrylics for thirty years. I started using them when I worked with an airbrush because they’re slightly less viscous than tube colors and require less thinning to be sprayed. It’s a high quality, heavily pigmented artist’s color and is much less expensive than any other brand I’ve found, so I’ve stuck with it. They’re great people to deal with, too. Producing the electric little mark that I’m so infatuated with now is all about viscosity. If the paint’s too thick or too thin, all you get is little dots or a big mess. Curiously, only the warm colors with NovaColor will do it. I think it’s the properties of the pigments, so I’ve taken to modifying the cool colors with Utrecht’s extra stiff colors. I tried gel mediums and everything else I could think of with no success until I stumbled upon the Utrecht solution almost by chance.

I don’t consider my revelations about paint to be of much importance since they would be of little use to anyone else. They’re a reflection of my temperament and have resulted in painting methods that are extremely time consuming and mind-numbingly tedious by most people’s standards. Actually, the importance, in my mind, lies not in the products or objects I create, but in the content contained therein. The paint and the objects are only means to an end.


Please view Stephen Mauldin’s artwork online at http://www.mauldinart.com and “like” Critique Collective on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/critiquecollective.

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