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.

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.

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.

Artworks: A Benefit for Arts Gowanus

I’m pleased to announce that, once again, I will be contributing to this year’s ArtWorks — a benefit for Arts Gowanus!

This year’s event happens Thursday, May 11, 2017, 7 – 10 pm at Shapeshifter Lab, 18 Whitwell Place, Brooklyn, NY 11215.  I will be there!

So join me in celebrating the arts and artists of Gowanus and take home a piece of original artwork from a local artist!  I’m donating my painting Lifeworld 10 (2013):

“Lifeworld 10,” oil on canvas, 20×20″, 2013

Need I say that this is a rare and amazing opportunity to obtain one of my Lifeworld paintings at an amazing price?

By buying a ticket to the ArtWorks event you are buying a chance to “win” this fabulous painting along with 74 other great works made by artists working in Gowanus.  Plus you’ll support the critical mission of Arts Gowanus to promote, support and advocate for local artists and a sustainable arts community in the Gowanus neighborhood. Here’s a link to some of the other artworks available.

In case the art isn’t appealing enough, don’t miss the food, drink and revelry.

Tickets are on sale now, $250 single, $300 for couple, which entitles you to one original work of art… Click here to buy tickets!

Ticket sales are limited, so act fast!

Featured painting of the week

This week’s featured painting is “Reach” — a triptych I created in 2012.  This painting and some other square format paintings I created then were precursors to my Lifeworld series, and should almost be considered honorary members of the series.

“Reach” (triptych), oil on canvas, 20″ x approx 60″. 2012

“Reach” detail, 2012.

“Reach” detail, 2012.

“Reach” detail, 2012.

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?