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.

Artworks 2018 is coming May 10!

I’m pleased to announce that once again I have been asked to participate in the Arts Gowanus benefit, ArtWorks. On May 10th, 75 works by local artists will be shown during an exciting evening at Shapeshifter Lab. The event will be a combination of art exhibition, chance to mingle with local artists, yummy food and drink and best of all everyone will go home with an original artwork.

Tickets are limited so please go to the link below and get your ticket now. All proceeds from ticket sales will go to support the fantastic work of Arts Gowanus. 
To preview some of the artworks you can choose from, go here: https://www.artsgowanus.org/artworks-2018/

I’ll be at the event; will I see you there?

This year’s event will be at Shapeshifter Lab, 18 Whitwell Place, Gowanus, Brooklyn, May 10, 7-10pm.

Res botanica #10 (Goldenthread), oil on canvas, 20×20″, 2013.

I have also made a video describing the event and my painting!  Please hop on over to my Patreon page to view it!

Something very last minute — My art during Gowanus Open Studios

Hello everyone!  I had not planned to show any work during this year’s Gowanus Open Studios (happening this weekend, October 20-22), but a last minute opportunity presented itself.

Abby Subak, Director of Arts Gowanus, reached out to artists who formerly had studios in Gowanus, and asked us to participate as “Gowanus Emeritus Artists” in the “Silent Auction & Garden Party: One Piece Per Artist GOS 2017” show at 313 Butler Gallery.

So — my piece, “View from beneath the surface #1” will be included in the show.   The event, a silent auction, happens Saturday night, October 21 from 5-9 at 313 Butler Gallery, at 313 Butler Street in Brooklyn, New York.  The art remains up through November 13.

“View from beneath the surface 1,” oil on canvas, 12″ diameter, 2014.

The full event description can be found on Facebook, here.

Art Works 2016 – a Benefit for Arts Gowanus

I’m pleased to announce that I will be contributing to this year’s Art Works — a benefit for Arts Gowanus!  The mission of Arts Gowanus is to promote, support and advocate for local artists and a sustainable arts community in the Gowanus neighborhood.

The Art Works event is Thursday, June 2, 2016, 7 to 10pm at the Gowanus Loft, 61 9th Street in Brooklyn.

I’m contributing my painting “Magnolia,” pictured below, to the event.  This painting can be yours when you buy a ticket to the event.  Tickets are available now at this link!  I hope to see you at the event.

"Magnolia," oil on canvas, 12x12", 2014
“Magnolia,” oil on canvas, 12×12″, 2014

Gowanus Open Studios: A personal retrospective

Gowanus Open Studios is mere days away (you’re coming, right? – Saturday, Oct. 16 and Sunday, Oct. 17, 12-6pm — details here)! Looking back, I’m amazed to see that this year’s tour will be the NINTH that I have participated in.  Yes, that’s a “9”!

So, in celebration of this big number 9, I thought I’d offer to you a little photo-retrospective of my past nine years in Gowanus.

It all started in in 2007, when I begin renting studio space in a cool place then known as “Brooklyn Artists Gym“.

Lifeform (polyptych), acrylic on canvas, 2003-2007.
Lifeform (polyptych), acrylic on canvas, 2003-2007.

That year I was bound and determined to complete an ambitious polyptych I had conceived and started way back in 2003.

In 2008, I continued the general theme with a new polyptych:

Me with new work at AGAST 2008.
Me with new work at AGAST 2008.  Damn, I look young in this photo!

By the way, back then, the studio tour was known as A.G.A.S.T., which means … what the hell did it mean?  Anyway, fun times and boy do I look young in this photograph!

2009 began a shift in my work toward single-canvas pieces, and the beginnings of an evolution in style:

AGAST in 2009. Individual canvases and lots of small work.
AGAST in 2009. Individual canvases and lots of small work.

During 2007-2009, I worked and displayed in BAG’s communal space.

Starting in 2010, I began working in the semi-private studio space you’ll find me in this year:

The studio tour set-up in 2010 -- my very own permanent (semi-private) space!
The studio tour set-up in 2010 — my very own permanent (semi-private) space!

At some point along the way, Brooklyn Artists Gym became Brooklyn Art Space, and A.G.A.S.T. became Gowanus Open Studios.  Exactly when, I’m not remembering — the years are starting to run together.  Here’s 2011:

Gowanus Open Studios in 2011. That year saw the start of the "Manomayakaya" series.
Gowanus Open Studios in 2011. That year saw the start of the “Manomayakaya” series.

2012

Open studios in 2012: Reach triptych, Manomayakaya #2 and Lifeworlds 1-4.
Open studios in 2012: Reach triptych, Manomayakaya #2, Lifeworlds 1-4 and lots of other good stuff.

2013

Open Studios in 2013.
Open Studios in 2013.

2014

Lifeworlds and Paysage planétaire (Colden) on display during GOS 2014.
Lifeworlds and Paysage planétaire (Colden) on display during GOS 2014.

Le Poulpe (the Octopus) escaped from the Gowanus Swim Society exhibition on Governor's Island and resurfaced during GOS 2014.
Le Poulpe (the Octopus) escaped from the Gowanus Swim Society exhibition on Governor’s Island and resurfaced during GOS 2014.

So there you have it!  I hope you’ll come out for this year’s Gowanus Open Studios!  This weekend, October 17-18, in Gowanus, Brooklyn!

Hello world! (and welcome to the Eye of the Artist)

Welcome to my new blog, “Eye of the Artist | John Azelvandre Art Notes“.  This blog succeeds and essentially replaces my old blogger blog “Hominy Grits,” which had served me so well for over 11 years.  There were certain limitations with that blog and the best solution for me is a new start for a new year!

I want to make this new start and refocus and re-energize my blogging activities solely on the arts, and particularly on my own art.  Additionally, I’ll be offering occasional observations on particular art happenings and events I come across, on artistic inspiration, and so forth.

This blog is a new work in progress! It’s pretty bare bones at the moment.  Stay tuned for more interesting developments.  Happy New Year!

Lifeworld 28 - detail
Lifeworld 28, oil on canvas, 20×20″, 2014 (detail)

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