Upcoming: The Arts Gowanus Patterns Gala!

I’m pleased to announce that I have contributed a painting to this year’s Arts Gowanus Patterns Gala!

Patterns Gala 2023 happens on May 12!

What is the Patterns Gala, you may ask?

From the folks at Arts Gowanus:

Arts Gowanus is excited to present our second annual Patterns Gala! This event will be held outdoors at The Old Stone House on Friday, May 12, 2023 from 6:00 – 9:30pm. All attendees are heavily encouraged to wear the craziest patterns they can! Come and enjoy art, food, drinks, live music, raffles, and more.

This event is limited capacity so we encourage you to get your tickets today

I’m donating this piece to the Arts Gowanus art auction! 

Spring Thaw, oil on canvas, 10×10″, 2022.

Text “agpatterns” to 76278 or go to agpatterns.givesmart.com to bid on my work or buy tickets to the Patterns Gala on May 12th.

By purchasing an auction item, or a gala ticket ($125), you’ll help raise funds to help Arts Gowanus continue its important advocacy and community-building work.

The auction will end during the Gala at 9pm. 

The Patterns Gala is limited-capacity so get your tickets now! Hope to see you there!

Studio Notes: Moku hanga progress!

Last spring I mentioned that I was rekindling a relief printmaking practice — specifically, Japanese woodblock (“Moku hanga“), and I have indeed been spending a lot of time on this over the past year or so.

Printmaking is very process-oriented, and it can take a long time (at least for me) to get finished results. It had been perhaps 10 years or so since I had been working in this medium, and this time around I have really been making a study of traditional Japanese methods.

A straightforward one-block print testing out Japanese inks on Japanese paper.

The Japanese approach uses certain woods, carving techniques, a method of setting up registration (making the paper line up properly on multiple blocks), water-based inks with rice paste as a binder, and hand-printing without the use of a press. It’s a lot to learn and absorb! But also a lot of fun, as long as you have a good store of patience.

Patience is not always my strong suit, so this has been a learning process all around.

Another one-block print on Japanese paper.

The process-heavy nature of the artform means that one doesn’t necessarily know how the work will turn out until the very end.

Lots of skulls in different colors and different papers

There are, of course, special tools:

Some moku hanga equipment and media

In the photo above, I show some of the brushes used to mix and apply the ink to the plates, a jar of pre-mixed rice paste (sorry, I don’t yet have the patience to mix my own!) and some of the inks (sold as ‘pigment pastes’ or liquid black sumi ink).

The inks are brushed onto the plates, opening up some creative possibilities (note: practice and skill will be required! This will take time).

So far I’ve put together one 3-plate piece, and I’ve done some proofs.

3 plates for moku hanga project (doesn’t look like much at this stage)

Getting the right balance of ink to rice paste, and right amount on the plate takes some practice, then there is the actual printing.

Some proofs
3-color moku hanga proof, image size of about 8 inches square.
Another proof of the 3-block moku hanga

Presently, I’m gearing up to 3 a limited edition print on good paper of this image, as well as some other single blocks I have. Then it will be time to begin planning the next work!

I’ll try to develop some more posts on the process, in the meantime, follow me on Instagram, where I frequently post directly from the studio.

[Re-]Introducing Manomayakaya #3 – “Let it pervade everywhere”

Manomaya #3 (Let it pervade everywhere), oil on canvas, 30×30″, 2013

Important Update, May 1, 2023: After thoughtful consideration, Arts Gowanus has decided to pull the plug on our Artsy gallery, referenced in the post below. The Artsy site will be up just until May 15, after which time the links below will no longer work.

Welcome to March 2023! Somehow, 10 years has elapsed since I completed this oil painting, “Manomayakaya #3 (Let it pervade everywhere).” Where does the time go?? Since I am offering this painting for sale through Artsy, I thought now would be a good time to reacquaint you with this wonderful artwork — one of my favorites.

And, for the occasion, I dug into the photo archives and found some cool process shots of the work on the easel from 10 years ago.

First a little about the title. You may well ask, what does manomayakaya mean? This is a term found in the Lankavatara Sutra of Mahayana Buddhism. Literally, it translates as “mind-made-body”, and can refer to the form taken by a buddha or bodhisattva in order to help sentient beings.

Manomayakaya #3, detail: Initial layers

I love the idea of buddhas and bodhisattvas adapting to the needs of ordinary folks, and I also love the idea that the forms taken might be that of other sentient beings besides humans, or even beings not often thought of as sentient, such as mountains, rocks or trees — however, personally, I think of trees as sentient!

Manomayakaya #3 – detail: painting in progress showing canvas edge

I paint a lot of trees, and this is the central focus of this abstracted, expressionistic landscape. What I imagine here is a buddha becoming a tree to give shelter to or enliven the spirits of sentient beings.

Manomayakaya #3 – detail: painting in progress

The sub-title of the painting is “Let it pervade everywhere.” This is also Buddhist inspired, and is a snippet of liturgical chant: For example, in the dedication to the three treasures (Buddha, Dharma and Sangha), we chant:

“Being one with the Sangha;

With all sentient beings, lead the people. Let harmony pervade everywhere.”

Manomayakaya #3 – detail: the landscape takes shape

So that pretty much sums up the intent of this painting – to represent and to spread peace and harmony throughout the world. This is something that I hope art in general can do.

Manomayakaya #3 – detail – more layers

I can also add that this painting was inspired by a landscape I photographed in West Virginia, in late spring.

As I said at the beginning, this painting is for sale! It’s oil on canvas, 30 inches square (that’s about 76cm square), and about 1.5 inches in depth (3.8cm). Check out the Artsy listing, and let me know if you have any questions.

February Art News: works for sale!

Lifeworld 48, 2022.

Important Update, May 1, 2023: After thoughtful consideration, Arts Gowanus has decided to pull the plug on our Artsy gallery, referenced in the post below. The Artsy site will be up just until May 15, after which time the links below will no longer work.

Happy President’s Day everyone! Well, it’s been a bit too long since I’ve last posted — let’s say I was hibernating. Now, Groundhog Day is well past, and while we can’t say that Spring is here yet, perhaps there is a hint of it in the air.

I’ve been spending these winter months getting organized, both for new art and in taking inventory of existing works I have for sale.

Thanks to Arts Gowanus, you can find me on Artsy! I’ve just added three more paintings to my collection of works for sale there:

Lifeworld 48, 2022.
“Cloud Forest (Lifeworld 48)”, oil on canvas, 20×20″, 2022.
Frozen, 2022
“Frozen (Lifeworld study)”, oil on canvas, 2022
“Snowbound (Lifeworld Study)”, oil on canvas, 2022

This brings the total number of works I have listed on Artsy to 15. Check out the gallery here.

Let me know if you have any questions or would like to purchase a painting.

These 15 works listed on Artsy are not the only works I have available. I’ve also been working on taking inventory and organizing my Flickr photo albums to more accurately reflect what I have in stock (I admit that I’ve lost track of some paintings, so the inventory is a work in progress!). I’ve got some great paintings still in my possession that would brighten up just about any space. For starters, take a look at my “Paintings” collection on Flickr, which is intended to represent my inventory of works available for sale (or for showing, if you’d like to put together an exhibition).

And by all means, feel free to browse all of the interesting stuff I have on Flickr, some of which goes way back!

Social media Round-Up

What social media are you spending the most time on these days? I’d say that the main platform I’m using right now is Instagram, and I also have a presence on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter.

I’ve barely used Tumblr lately, but perhaps I’ll try to revive it. As far as Twitter goes, I’ve been kind of lying low there since the Musk takeover, waiting to see what will happen. But I think I will start trying to make better use of it in the coming months. You’re welcome to follow and contact me on all of these sites!

Next time: some updates on current projects and latest goings-on in the studio!

Gowanus Open Studios! and New Work

Lifeworld 48, 2022.

Hello everyone, wow I can’t believe it’s already October! And October means it’s time for this year’s Gowanus Open Studios, October 15-16.

I did my first Gowanus Open Studios in 2007, and each time I’ve done it I’ve enjoyed showing my work, seeing the work of my neighbors and meeting all of the interesting art-lovers who come out to support art in our neighborhood.

Hosted by Arts Gowanus, Gowanus Open Studios is Brooklyn’s largest celebration of local art and artists. More than 300 artists, businesses, and venues in Gowanus will open their doors, giving the public a rare glimpse inside the former factories, warehouses, and studio buildings of this vibrant neighborhood. Artists will be on hand to discuss their work, share their processes, and showcase their latest projects; this event also offers visitors the unique opportunity to purchase work directly from local artists.

Lifeworld 47, oil on canvas, 20×20″, 2022

New Work

This year I will be showing new work created since last year’s open studios (I may have a few older pieces on hand as well). It’s been a productive year. I’ve completed four new Lifeworld paintings, another Dharmadhatu piece and several small studies.

Lifeworld Study, oil on canvas, 10×10″, 2022

And, if you’ve been following me on Instagram (and I hope you are!) you know that over these past few weeks I’ve been completing some new landscapes which I will be debuting during open studios.

So I hope that if you are in New York City the weekend of October 15-16, you’ll stop by!

Lifeworld 48, oil on canvas, 20×20″, 2022

The Logistics

Gowanus Open Studios is happening October 15 and 16 (Saturday and Sunday) from 12 to 6pm. I will be opening my studio at Trestle Art Space – Greenwood, at 62 18th Street, off 3rd Avenue. You can find a map, details about various exhibitions, installations and events at artsgowanus.org

Lifeworld study, oil on canvas, 10×10″, 2022

An Exhibition, and Other Spring News

Good afternoon friends, Spring is popping here in Brooklyn and there’s lots going on!

“Dharmadhatu 3″ oil on panel, 18” diameter, 2021.

Opening this weekend! Brooklyn Utopias: Along the Canal

I’m pleased to be included in this multi-site exhibition organized by ArtsGowanus and the Old Stone House & Washington Park (OSH). Opening April 9th and 10th, the exhibition features over 200 artists considering what a “Utopia” (or ideal place) would look like for the communities of the neighborhoods bordering the Gowanus Canal. 

Brooklyn Utopias: Along the Canal consists of an indoor exhibition at The Old Stone House (OSH) and two public outdoor art exhibitions of artwork printed on banners hung on the fences surrounding J.J. Byrne Playground and Coffey Park featuring a diverse group of local artists.  Opening events on April 9, 12-5pm at Coffey Park and April 10, 12-5pm at J.J. Byrne Playground/Old Stone House will include outdoor bazaars with art and performances by local artists, with a gallery opening at the Old Stone House from 4-6pm on April 10. All exhibitions will be on view from April 10-June 26.

My piece “Dharmadhatu 3” (pictured above) will be among those reproduced on banners adorning J.J. Byrne Playground in Park Slope at 3rd Street between 5th and 4th Avenues. Dharmadhatu is a Sanskrit word that means “realm of absolute reality.” My utopian dream is that the absolute reality of Gowanus is as a place where sky, earth, water and all living things can co-exist in harmonious balance, like this sphere dancing on the horizon.

“Dharmadhatu 3” is also for sale on Artsy.

Other news

Lately I’ve been doing to retooling of my social media presence. This has resulted in some broken links, which I think should be all fixed now. My twitter page, formerly ZephyrusNYC, is now JohnAzelvandre, and similarly my Instagram has also been re-christened johnazelvandre. I’ve been leaning heavily into the Instagram of late, and right now it is the best way to stay current on my artistic endeavors.

These current endeavors consist primarily in settling in at Trestle Art Space on 18th Street in Brooklyn, where I am preparing several canvases for upcoming works in oil and also doing a deep-dive into learning techniques of Japanese moku hanga – woodblock printmaking.

True Refuge – a photography project

I hope everyone is enjoying the lovely fall weather we’ve been having.

Last week I had a chance to spend some quality time at Zen Mountain Monastery in the Catskills, and time to spend engaged in contemplation and photography, taking in the beautiful grounds there.

A collection of twelve photographs expressing the impermanence of life resulted.

I include in this post a few samples. See the complete set here.

Many of the images I captured will provide great starting points for future artworks. There’s much work to be done!

So you should view all of the fleeting worlds:
A star at dawn, a bubble in a stream;
A flash of lightning in a summer cloud;
A flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream.

Diamond Sutra, translated by Mu Soeng

Common Grave Complete, and Gowanus Open Studios!

Happy Friday everyone! Well, the big weekend is nearly here! If you’ve been following along on these pages, you know that Gowanus Open Studios is happening tomorrow (Saturday, October 16) and Sunday (October 17). It’s been a busy, busy couple of weeks getting ready.

I’ve moved into my new studio, unpacked, hung art on the walls, and most significantly —

I have completed the Common Grave painting project! In previous posts (here and here), I detailed this project. I have also created an Adobe Spark presentation that gives the whole story. (I do think the Spark presentation came out rather nicely – take a look!)

I completed the final panel (what I’m calling panel VI) last week, and by now the paint should be (mostly) dry to touch.

“Common Grave” panel VI; oil on canvas, 16x20in., 2021

The full polyptych is now installed for viewing for the first time (and — who knows? — perhaps the ONLY time) in my studio! It is not to be missed!

So come on down tomorrow or Sunday. I’m at 62 18th Street, Trestle Art Space, 1st floor. I’ll be there 12 to 6pm on both days.

Visit arts.gowanus.org for details on the event and a map of all of the open studios. It’s going to be a fantastic weekend!

Lifeworlds Update, and Gowanus Open Studios this Weekend!

It’s been a busy couple of weeks settling into my new studio space on 18th Street in Brooklyn and getting ready for this weekend’s Open Studio tour. I’ll have several recent works on view during the studio tour, among them several recent Lifeworld paintings.

So, I’ve been looking at my writing about this long-term project, and massaged it all into a nifty Adobe Spark presentation. It’s all based on a pretty nerdy essay I’ve been working on for a while (I have to try to put the philosophy PhD to good use somehow, right?).

Lifeworlds flourishing in the studio

I’ve pared it back some for the Spark presentation, but the gist is about how I have been informed and inspired by Edmund Husserl‘s writings on phenomenology. Nerdy but fun! I really didn’t know much (well, nothing) about Husserl until I chanced upon the term ‘life-world’ (“Lebenswelt“) a few years back. But it’s been a happy encounter — this is a rich vein to mine! Perhaps I will publish more of this writing here in the future.

So, please do check out the Spark presentation (Lifeworlds: Painting as Phenomenological Investigation) and please do visit me this weekend during Gowanus Open Studios!

You’ll find me at Trestle Art Space, 62 18th Street, Brooklyn.

You can visit artsgowanus.org for a map and list of all of the participating artists. It’s going to be a great weekend!

Common Grave: A Painting Project – continued

Part II: The Composition and the Process

As I mentioned in my previous post, a ‘cult of devotion’ developed around the skulls and bones found in the Fontanelle cemetery. It is very much a religious, or at least ‘cultic’ site. And why not? Why shouldn’t all these remains, representing the lives of real human beings, our own ancestors — figuratively if not literally — be accorded some respect, perhaps even veneration?
I’m quite fond of the medieval and early renaissance art form of the altar piece. One of my favorite examples of this art form is the Isenheim Altarpiece, by Matthias Grünewald (1470-1528), presently housed in the Unterlinden museum in Colmar, France.

Isenheim altarpiece, panel depicting resurrected Christ, By Grunewald, retable d'Isenheim - http://www.eldritchpress.org/jkh/gr7.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=93700
Isenheim altarpiece, panel depicting resurrected Christ, By Matthias Grünewald. Source: http://www.eldritchpress.org/jkh/gr7.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=93700

Such altarpieces typically depict scenes from the life of Christ, the Virgin Mary or the lives of various saints.
Why not instead create a sort of altarpiece honoring ordinary people? One devoted to these unknown dead whose remains fill up a giant cave in Naples? That’s the origin of my idea to create a six panel polyptych. Basically it consists of three pairs of paintings — a double triptych.
In my conception, the square paintings join together creating one central image that is 40 inches across.

The two central panels form one image. The watercolor mock-up shows the layout of the complete composition.

These two square paintings form the central panel, and are flanked by two pairs, each of which consists of a 20×24 inch panel and a 20 x 16 inch panel, thus also equalling 40 inches across.

So that is the basic layout of the piece.

The process.

Having many, many reference photos to choose from, I needed to settle upon a limited number from which to work. I narrowed it down to five different photos I took in 2013.
Creating the paintings involved a somewhat painstaking process of preparing the ground, creating cartoon drawings on newsprint, transferring these drawings onto canvas and then, finally, painting.
This process worked fairly well, but it was time consuming. Numerous interruptions made it even more time-consuming!

The ground:
I experimented with using a colored ground on the canvas, instead of just starting with a white gesso canvas. Yellow ochre was used to create a luminous yet earthy yellow base for the paintings.

Yellow ochre ground applied to canvases

Once all canvases were treated with the yellow ochre, I could begin transferring the cartoons (hand drawn outlines of the images) from newsprint to the canvas.

Working on the cartoon for panel III.
Tracing the cartoon for panel II
Tracing results on the canvas!

This involved a slow process of tracing and retracing the images by hand. Once the outlines were in place on the canvas, actual painting could begin.

Applied cartoons ready for paint!

This is the fun part, and also the scary part. Moving from the realm of imagination to a completed piece in the real world is fraught with difficulties. In their excellent book, Art & Fear (1993), David Bayles and Ted Orland describe this very well. It’s worth quoting at length:

“Imagination is in control when you begin making an object. The artwork’s potential is never higher than in that magic moment when the first brushstroke is applied, the first chord struck. But as the piece grows, technique and craft take over, and imagination becomes a less useful tool. A piece grows by becoming specific. … the first few brushstrokes to the blank canvas satisfy the requirements of many possible paintings, while the last few fit only that painting — they could go nowhere else. The development of an imagined piece into an actual piece is a progression of decreasing possibilities, as each step in execution reduces future options by converting one — and only one — possibility into reality. Finally, at some point or another, the piece could not be other than it is, and it is done.”

Art & Fear: Observations On The Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking. The Image Continuum, Santa Cruz, CA, 1993. pp. 15-16)
Panel II in process

I started with the middle panels, III and IV, then moved to the other pairs.

Panel I, completed in 2020.
Panel V, completed in 2020.
Panel II, completed in 2020

As I write this, panel VI remains incomplete, and my current task is to move it into reality! Wish me luck!

Panel VI, at an early stage of the painting process.

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