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.

Common Grave: A Painting Project

Part I: How it all started

In January 2013, I had the good fortune of visiting the Fontanelle Cemetery – “Il cimitero delle Fontanelle (in napoletano, ‘e Funtanelle)” in Naples, Italy. This fantastic cemetery — really an ossuary — a repository of tens of thousands of human remains, is one of the more unique and bizarre attractions in an ancient city full of the unique and bizarre.
It appears that Fontanelle got its start in the early 16th century when neighborhood churchyards in the city, the preferred location for burials, were overflowing with the deceased. Older bodies were moved to an artificial cave carved into the volcanic bedrock of the Neapolitan hills, then just beyond the city limits.

At the entrance to the Fontanelle Cemetery, January 2013.

These bodies were added to over the succeeding centuries: plague victims found their final resting place here along with those too poor for a proper burial.
By the middle of the nineteenth century, the cave was an unsightly, disgraceful mess. In 1872, Father Gaetano Barbati had the remains organized and a small church was constructed at the entrance to the cave.
A cult of devotion sprung up around the skulls and bones, reaching its apogee by the mid-20th century. Feeling that the whole thing had descended into fetishim, Cardinal Ursi of Naples closed it down in 1969. It remained closed until the 21st century.
Fortunately, it was restored and reopened. What restorations were actually undertaken, I don’t know. When I visited in early 2013, the remains appeared as if untouched for decades.

Inside Fontanelle
Human remains as objects of devotion

I must have taken hundreds of photographs (digital photography just makes this too easy), and soon conceived a desire to make art from my experience. Following a long period of gestation, I finally began working on my Common Grave polyptych toward the end of 2017. The first two canvases were completed by mid-2018.

Panel III of the polyptych, the first completed, mid-2018 (but not yet signed until all the panels are complete).
Common Grave, panel IV, oil on canvas.

Further delays ensued, but finally I am on the verge of completing the project. My plan is to have this project complete in time for this year’s Gowanus Open Studios.

Common Grave, panels III and IV together on the easel, summer 2018.

Coming Next: details of the project and final steps.

Autumn News, a Preview

Hello art friends! A lot is happening with me this autumn and I want to give you at least preview and highlights of what to look forward to:

First and most importantly, I will be participating in this year’s Gowanus Open Studios!

Just 3 weeks from this weekend!

Further details about the event, including safety protocols and so on, will be coming soon.

And, in order to make this happen, I’m very pleased to announce that I will be taking studio space with Trestle Art Space on 18th Street in Brooklyn! More news coming about that very soon as well!

For those of you in New York area, enjoy this beautiful fall weather we are having today!

Find me on Artsy!

Lifeworld 44, oil on canvas

I’m pleased to announce that I now have a presence on Artsy, thanks to the efforts of Arts Gowanus, our local arts organization here in my neck of the woods in Brooklyn.

Here is the URL for my Artsy page: https://www.artsy.net/arts-gowanus/artist/john-azelvandre

For starters, I have listed 10 paintings for sale on the site. I intend to add at least a few more, and then perhaps rotate them occasionally. If you see something you like (or if you know of another painting of mine that is not there), feel free to contact me to discuss.

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

Dark Spring: photos from the NYC lockdown, Spring 2020

Today I’m experimenting with Adobe Spark and putting together some photos previously only shared to Instagram (maybe Twitter).

Dark Spring: A Photo Essay

This photo essay narrates, loosely, the pandemic lockdown New York City suffered through from March to May, 2020. Despite the distressing circumstances, it was fun exploring nighttime street photography. And, the subway is always a favorite subject of mine!

All of the photos were taken with the Fujifilm x100f — a great little camera!

Upcoming event! Join me at the Circle Show!

I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be participating in a group show in Brooklyn which opens November 9th.  “The Circle Show” will feature work that is entirely circular!

I created some circular pieces back in 2014 for a group endeavor I participated in on Governor’s Island, and I was just thinking earlier this year how interesting it would be to create some more paintings on circular supports.  Coincidentally (are there really any coincidences in the universe?), shortly thereafter, my friend Jonathan Blum approached me about his idea for a Circle Show.

“Dharmadhatu 1″, mixed media on canvas, 20” diameter, 2018

So it is happening! It will be at Shapeshifter Lab, 18 Whitwell Place, Brooklyn, New York.  The show opens this Friday, November 9, 6:30pmto 12 midnightand the artwork will be up through January 11.

I hope to see you there!  You can read more about the pieces I will have in the show on my Patreon page.  And, by the way, my Patreon experiment is just a little over one year old now. Have you visited?  Stop by, say hi, and earn how you can support living artists on Patreon!

Curated by Jonathan Blum.

Invitation: Support me on Patreon and win this painting!

Back at the beginning of November 2017, I launched my Patreon page:

Introducing my New Patreon Page!

It’s off to a very good start, and for some time now, I’ve entertained the idea of raffling off some of my paintings to patrons.  But in order for that to be really fun and interesting and worthwhile, I need more patrons.  So, I’m making an offer: I will raffle off this painting to patrons if and when I get at least 10 active patrons on my Patreon page.  Your patronage can be at any level, so for just one dollar per month, you could have a chance to win this painting:

A quick sketch to check out the new painting setup, January 2016

Note that I already have, at this moment,   5 patrons, so we are almost half way there! Check out the video I have made promoting this raffle!

I envision doing more raffles in the future, perhaps on a quarterly basis.  So this is just to get the ball rolling.  There are, of course, many other rewards for patronage on Patreon, so check out my page to learn all about it!

Thanks and now I will get down to making more art.