Pinhole research – December chill

I’ve recently started up again with some explorations in digital pinhole photography.  How this works is: you take a digital SLR, take off the lens and replace it with a modified body cap that serves as the ‘pinhole.’  (I don’t recall where I purchased the pinhole cap, but if you Google ‘digital pinhole – Nikon‘ you’ll probably find it quickly).  Your camera needs to be sophisticated enough to have all manual settings — and most importantly, the ability to manually hold the shutter open — it’s called ‘bulb’ on my Nikon.

My old Nikon D-60 equipped with a pinhole body cap I found somewhere on the Internet. The cap is just an ordinary body cap with a hole drilled in it, covered with some film with a tiny transparent spot in the middle.

Shooting pinhole is a very different experience, and I imagine it is closer to what the earliest photographers experienced.  It requires patience and a great deal of practice.

One difficulty is that I can’t really get a good view through the viewfinder of what the shot is going to be.  It takes some practice to aim the camera body in the right direction.  Since the shutter needs to be open for a good 5, 10, 15, 20 seconds or more, one needs to be really immobile (a tripod or monopod helps).

Digital pinhole also suffers from the problem of dust on the sensor: something that wouldn’t normally happen with film pinhole technology, since each frame of film is virgin.  The digital ‘film’, i.e., the sensor, is hardly a virgin, as it gets used over and over again, and my Nikon is pretty filthy at this point.  Photoshop is a huge help at this juncture!

Prospect Park, December 2016. Digital pinhole photograph, liberally cleaned up and tweaked in Photoshop and Lightroom. A fun, ‘painterly’ process, but entirely digital.

Shooting this way is a [potentially] meditative experience.  In a recent outing, I came up with a number of really interesting shots that I can then liberally work with in Lightroom and Photoshop — it really brings photography closer to painting — and for me, provides fascinating subject matter for oil paintings I want to realize. (See Lifeworld series).  So this pinhole outing is a form of visual research.

Below are a series of abstract detail shots that were all created from the full image shown above.

Pinhole zoom-crop experiment number 1.
Pinhole zoom-crop experiment #2
Pinhole zoom-crop experiment #3
Pinhole zoom-crop experiment #4.

Which of these should I use for a painting?

Painting of the week: “Osage chiasm”

This week’s featured painting is an odd one I created way back in 2009.  “Osage chiasm” (that’s chiasm not chasm) is 20″H by 16″W, and is acrylic on canvas.  The piece is essentially a stylized portrait of one of my favorite trees: a very old Osage orange that lives on the Nethermead in Prospect Park, Brooklyn.  This painting has been in my living room for the past several years, and I look at it every day.  The photo doesn’t quite do it justice: the colors are weird and don’t reproduce well.  In the real life the blues of the sky are considerably more vivid.

“Osage chiasm” acrylic on canvas, 20×16″, 2009.

Featured painting of the week: The House is Burning

This week’s featured work is a painting — actually a diptych (two paintings that form one work) titled “The House is Burning.”

"The House is Burning", mixed media on canvas, 30"x44", 2012.
“The House is Burning”, mixed media on canvas, 30″x44″, 2012.

The provocative title should make one think immediately of global warming – climate change.  That’s certainly appropriate, but there’s even more to the story.  Now seems like a good time feature this painting, since it appears that the house is not going to stop burning anytime soon.

So– The direct inspiration for this title is the famous “Parable of the Burning House” that appears in the Lotus Sutra — one of the most important religious texts of Mahayana Buddhism.  Here is an excerpt (lightly abridged) from the parable (Burton Watson translation):

“Suppose that in a certain town in a certain country there was a very rich man. He was far along in years and his wealth was beyond measure. He had many fields, houses and menservants. His own house was big and rambling, but it had only one gate.  A great many people … lived in the house.  The halls and rooms were old and decaying, the walls crumbling, the pillars rotten at their base, and the beams and rafters crooked and aslant.

“At that time a fire suddenly broke out on all sides, spreading through the rooms of the house. The sons of the rich man, ten, twenty, perhaps thirty, were inside the house. When the rich man saw the huge flames leaping up on every side, he was greatly alarmed and fearful and thought to himself, I can escape to safety through the flaming gate, but my sons are inside the burning house enjoying themselves and playing games, unaware, unknowing, without alarm or fear. The fire is closing in on them, suffering and pain threaten them, yet their minds have no sense of loathing or peril and they do not think of trying to escape!

“This rich man thought to himself, I have strength in my body and arms. I can wrap them in a robe or place them on a bench and carry them out of the house. And then again he thought, This house has only one gate, and moreover it is narrow and small. My sons are very young, they have no understanding, and they love their games, being so engrossed in them that they are likely to be burned in the fire. I must explain to them why I am fearful and alarmed. The house is already in flames and I must get them out quickly and not let them be burned up in the fire!

“Having thought in this way, he followed his plan and called to all his sons, saying, ‘You must come out at once!’ But though the father was moved by pity and gave good words of instruction, the sons were absorbed in their games and unwilling to heed him. They had no alarm, no fright, and in the end no mind to leave the house. Moreover they did not understand what the fire was, what the house was, what danger was. They merely raced about this way and that in play and looked at their father without heeding him.

“At that time the rich man had this thought: The house is already in flames from this huge fire. If I and my sons do not get out at once, we are certain to be burned. I must now invent some expedient means that will make it possible for the children to escape harm. …

I’ll stop there and not get into how the father managed to get his children out of the house. The parable is a powerful one. To me, it aptly describes the present human condition.

Yes, indeed, the house is burning. Will we notice? Will we get out?

Breaking News: De-Natured, at the Old Stone House

Sorry for the last-minute announcement, but this all came together very quickly: I’m pleased to let you know that I will have work included in a show at the Old Stone House in Park Slope, Brooklyn.  The show opens TONIGHT (October 15), 6-8pm.

About the show:

Nature is often bent to man’s needs and wants. The Gowanus Canal was once a marshland and now has been channeled and distorted into the managed and controlled canal that it is today. Once messy and natural, it is now contained.

Similarly, the paintings, collages, and photographs in this exhibit all begin with nature-based subject matter. Through the art-making process, that subject or motif is interpreted, distorted, and adapted to become something else entirely. In some, the original image is completely hidden, sometimes it is still clear.

All of these artworks grapple with the role of nature in our man-made world.

Curated by Abby Subak, Director of Arts Gowanus.

The Old Stone House is at 336 3rd Street, Brooklyn, NY 11215.

Lifeworld 21, oil on canvas, 20x20", 2014.
Lifeworld 21, oil on canvas, 20×20″, 2014, by John Azelvandre

The Lifeworlds Project

Lifeworlds is a long-range painting project I started in 2012.  The project started initially out of a desire to explore the square format in painting. The inspiration for this was not Instagram as one might easily suppose, but the square format Landscape paintings of Gustav Klimt.  I then chanced upon the evocative term “Lifeworld” in the philosophical writings of Edmund Husserl and from the confluence of these two streams the project was born.

"Lifeworld 1", oil on canvas, 20x20" (approx. 50cm2). Summer, 2012. The project starts here!
“Lifeworld 1″, oil on canvas, 20×20” (approx. 50cm2). Summer, 2012. The project starts here!

Now, three years into the project, Lifeworlds continues to evolve and develop. I decided early on that I would continue to make square format paintings under the title of “Lifeworld” until I felt that I had exhausted the possibilities of the format entirely.

In reality, the possibilities of this form may never be exhausted.  Therefore, I thought it best to put a cap on it: so the idea arose to work toward the completion of 108 paintings.

Lifeworld 14, oil on canvas, 20x20", 2013
Lifeworld 14, oil on canvas, 20×20″, 2013

Why 108? Those who know me and have followed my work for a while will also know of my interest in Buddhism, and the influence it’s had on my work.  108 is the number of prayer beads in the Buddhist japa mala (a Buddhist rosary). The number is given various meanings in Buddhist cosmology and additionally simply refers to any proverbial big number in the same way that a “myriad” (literally Greek for “10,000”) has come to stand in for anything large and virtually uncountable.  So, instead of making some infinite number of paintings, I will make 108 to represent that infinity.

Since one of the uses of a rosary or japa mala is to count repetitions of chants or prayers, a nice thing about the number 108 is that it emphasizes how the project becomes a kind of prayer or meditation on the artistic process, and on the artist’s relationship with his environment — what I’m calling a Lifeworld.

"Lifeworld 12" mixed media on canvas, 20x20", 2013.
“Lifeworld 12″ mixed media on canvas, 20×20”, 2013.

So, I see each Lifeworld as a snapshot of a particular state of mind formed when the artist encounters his subject. Although frequently quite abstract, each painting results from the process of observing my surroundings. The square is both the container for the composition and also one of its principal motifs.

As of this writing, the newest Lifeworld pieces are numbers 32, 33 and 34, all completed earlier this year.  The precise imagery continues to evolve and shift, all the while remaining within the parameters of the project: square format and 20″ x 20″ (around 51cm2 — 50.8cm to be exact) in size.

"Lifeworld 32", oil on canvas, 20x20in., 2015.
“Lifeworld 32”, oil on canvas, 20x20in., 2015.
"Lifeworld 33", oil on canvas, 20x20in., 2015.
“Lifeworld 33”, oil on canvas, 20x20in., 2015.

A small note about the size: there are a couple of early Lifeworlds, numbers 5 and 7, that are actually 24×24″ (60cm2).  I was still experimenting with the parameters at this stage; I may end up going back and redoing these to fit the program.

Lifeworld 7, oil on canvas, 24x24in., 2012.
Lifeworld 7, oil on canvas, 24x24in., 2012.

So a big project like this needs help, which leads me to …

How you can help:

A big project and entails certain tangible challenges to the artist (not to mention all the intangible challenges!), not least of which are the cost of materials, the cost of studio space (ever-increasing in New York City) and the potential storage costs (108 paintings take up a lot of space!).

So I’m reaching out to you — dear audience!  There are several ways you can help:

1. Lifeworlds are for sale! Some have sold already. Prices currently run from $800 to $1,200 for each painting.  If you would like to see or purchase a painting (or two or three), contact me.  I do hope to mount an exhibition of all or a selection of the paintings in the future — and how cool would it be for you to have a painting that you own in a major retrospective of my work!

2. I accept tips, donations, contributions … etc. If you’re not up to purchasing a painting at the present time, you can also contribute any amount (no matter how small) toward the project through Venmo (the best! No fees for you or me!) or by clicking the paypal donate button below.  The arts has always existed through the kind generosity of its patrons.




Wow, if you’ve read this far, I really appreciate your interest.  A brief outline of the project (as well as some images) is available on my website, and all of the Lifeworlds can be viewed together on my flickr account.  I’ll continue to post future developments here.  Stay tuned!

Lifeworld 2, oil on canvas, 20x20in., 2012.
Lifeworld 2, oil on canvas, 20x20in., 2012.

Project: 365

Back in October, I started a new, year-long project to document my ongoing practice of visual exploration.  I think of this exploration as central to the work of the artist.  I’m calling the project simply “365” and the end result (to the extent that a project like this ever ends) will be 365 small watercolors presented at this year’s Gowanus Open Studios, October 17-18.

I started the project on or about October 19, immediately after last year’s Open Studios, and we are now more or less at the six-month mark.  So I’m evaluating how the project is going and taking a first crack at formulating some sort of artist’s statement about the work.  I’m also beginning the arduous task of scanning some exemplars of the work.  I’m certainly not going to scan all 365 pieces I create!

365 exemplar from late 2014. Watercolor on paper, 4×6″ 

The project is bookended by the Open Studio event that happens each year in October.  I’ve taken part in Gowanus Open Studios every year since 2007, and I’ve often experienced it as the beginning and end of my artistic cycle.

So what goes on in my typical artist’s year?  This project seeks to outline just that.  It represents a year in the life of the artist — or in other words, a year of practice, process  and exploration.

Fantastical self-portrait, watercolor, 6×4″, February, 2015

As I said, all of the work created for this project is small (between approximately 3×5 inches and 8×8 inches) and all of the work is watercolor.  Included are portraits and self-portraits, improvised sketches and landscapes real and unreal, life-drawing, completely abstract work, flights of the imagination and studies for future larger paintings.  All stuff of which the artist’s practice is made.

365 pieces will be displayed in October, and all will be offered to the public on a “pay as you wish” basis.  Here are some exemplars of the work created so far. Mark your calendars now! Gowanus Open Studios 2015 is October 17-18.

December 2014, watercolor, approx. 4×4″ 
October, 2014
Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn, late October, 2014
December 2014
December 2014
November 2014
November 2014
December 2014
December 2014

One last look back at winter …

Winter is decidedly on its way out in these parts, but I couldn’t resist giving it one last parting glance this afternoon as I reviewed some photos I shot near Ivoryton, Connecticut in late February.

I’ve been a photographer from an early age, at least since my grandmother passed along to me my grandfather’s old Leica, if not before.  I use photography as a research and compositional tool. Much of the inspiration for my paintings comes, directly or indirectly, from photographs I’ve taken of beautiful places.

I’ve just uploaded to my flickr account (and also Behance) a selection of 20 photos that capture the beauty of that winter day. Enjoy!

A snowy morning in the woods
A snowy morning in the woods

Studio Notes – paysage planétaire completed

This is the final installment of my series of posts following the progression of a painting I started at the beginning of January – a “paysage planétaire” inspired in part by the work of Ferdinand Hodler and other painters from that era.  So, in my last post, described the overpainting.  Earlier this week, I put the final touches on this and completed the piece.  It was a little touch and go there for a while, but I think it’s come out pretty well:

Paysage detail
Paysage detail
Paysage detail - beefed up the clouds a little bit.
Paysage detail – beefed up the clouds a little bit.
Just about done at this point.
Just about done at this point.
Paysage detail.
Paysage detail.
One of the final pieces is the signature.
One of the final touches is the signature.

So here it is, complete.  Took about a month.  Part of the time was waiting for the layers to dry.  Lately I’ve been experimenting with a more traditional medium (stand oil and oil of Spike Lavender) which works great but dries slowly.  These were the only additives (besides mineral spirits and a little linseed oil) used in this painting.

Paysage planétaire (Avalanche Pass), oil on canvas, 24x24", 2015
Paysage planétaire (Avalanche Pass), oil on canvas, 24×24″, 2015

Studio Notes – the paysage in progress, continued

As noted last week, I’m blogging the progress on a new landscape (a “paysage planétaire” in the spirit of Ferdinand Hodler).  On Sunday, I completed the underpainting:

Underpainting completed, Paysage planétaire, oil on canvas, 24x24", in progress
Underpainting completed, Paysage planétaire, oil on canvas, 24×24″, in progress

Tonight, I had very little time to get into it, so I just worked on the sky and water – the blue areas, mainly.

Paysage planétaire in progress, detail
Paysage planétaire in progress, detail
Paysage planétaire as it stands tonight, 1/13/2015
Paysage planétaire as it stands tonight, 1/13/2015

So far, so good! It starts to look more like a painting — i.e., something unique and distinct.  To be continued.

Ferdinand Hodler and the paysage planétaire

As I promised in Tuesday’s post, I have found the reference to ‘paysage planétaire,’ and this makes for the perfect opportunity to give you a more extended introduction to the artwork of Ferdinand Hodler, if you aren’t familiar with him.

Ferdinand Hodler, Landschaft bei Château d'Oex, circa 1905. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Ferdinand Hodler, Landschaft bei Château d’Oex, circa 1905. Source: Wikimedia Commons

I first discovered Hodler through an excellent exhibit of his late work at the Neue Galerie in New York City, in the fall of 2012. Continue reading “Ferdinand Hodler and the paysage planétaire”