On Mother’s Day and minimalism

May 13th, 2007 | No Comments

Today is a weird day. This weekend has been a weird weekend. The last 10 days have been too hectic for me (the reason why I haven’t posted to this space in as much time). And this blog post might be just a little offbeat, too.

Today is Mother’s Day, and I cannot help thinking of my mom. I lost her to pancreas cancer on February 26, 1997 — just over 10 years ago, and I’ve been thinking about her a lot recently.

Despite the consumerist overtones of this “holiday,” I think it’s wonderful that sons and daughters are pausing to thank their mothers for all of their sacrifices … and for giving them the gift of life. But if you’ve lost your mother, especially to cancer, a day like today can feel kind of destabilizing.

    Sketches of May 13    
Sketch 20   Sketch 21   Sketch 23
Sketch 23   Sketch 24   Sketch 25

I don’t know how to celebrate this day, except for publicly admitting how much I owe to my mom, Alice Wiggins. She was an artist; she attended the Cleveland Institute of Art in the late 1940s and had a job for a few years illustrating cards at American Greetings.

She quit her illustration career to raise a family — my sister and my brother. I came along a lot later … the byproduct of a second marriage. But once I got old enough to take care of myself, my mom started teaching — her other passion — art and special education. (At one point, she taught my 9th grade art class; I called her “mom,” and she scolded, “That’s Mrs. Wiggins to you!”)

My mom had a lot of artistic hobbies, including painting, stained glass and dressmaking. And clearly, having an easel and art supplies around that exposed me to artmaking. When I was in college, I used to “steal” my mom’s paints and canvases, staying up late, experimenting with paint. And when I suggested to her that I take art lessons in college, she replied, “You don’t need that. They just stand over your shoulder and tell you what to do. I can tell you what to do.” She never really did give me a proper art lesson. And I still have never taken a formal art class.

Anyway, I have one last story to share, and then I’ll move on. After my mom underwent exploratory surgery for her tumors, back in June of ’96, I remember how she came out of her anesthetic really fast, not long after they had wheeled her into her recovery room. I sat on the bed, and we started talking.

“Grant, I want you to be happy in life,” she said. “I want you to do what you want to do.”

“I want to paint,” I replied, without hesitation.

“Then paint,” she said.

That conversation set everything into motion. From that moment, I decided that I was going to paint, with everything that I had, if only for the simple enjoyment of making something that I saw in my head and wanted to get out onto a canvas. I owe a lot of who I am today to my mom. And when she passed away, I felt like the sun had become extinguished, and I had lost my orbit. When the force that gives you life suddenly disappears, you’re on your own.

Then again, I do feel thankful that I at least could say my mom was alive for the first 23 years of my life. Not everyone is so fortunate.

Changing the subject: On Friday, I delivered FF0000uturo, my modern abstract art contribution to this year’s Arizona Biennial, which will soon open at the Tucson Museum of Art. The opening reception is next Friday, and I’m looking forward to it. I’m also looking forward to showing a larger-scale minimalist painting.

To me, there are a couple of reasons why I’ve veered off into minimalism over the past four years: 1.) I like minimalist painting and 2.) There needs to be more art that appreciates simplicity, in my opinion. The product of high minimalist painters of the 1960s and early 1970s is just kind of a blip on the art historical timeline. For example, Jo Baer only painted minimally for a handful of years before she started painting flowers (and I can understand why she changed things up).

The question of how to manage natural resources is massive challenge. The “haves” of the world have got to start learning how to live more simply. I think that there needs to be art that demonstrates an appreciation for simplicity. All sorts of art being made these days is high-concept and complicated. Compositionally complicated. I’d rather go the opposite direction. Like my friend Shawn Wolfe writes, “Consume Less is probably too mild of a self-sacrificing battle cry. How about Produce Less?” Agreed!

And Mark Ryan, an architect friend of mine told me once (and this is a paraphrase), “Simplicity is hard. Knowing when to stop is hard. It’s a difficult lesson for artists to learn.”

In closing: I leave you with my artist statement for the Arizona Biennial: “In my minimalism-inspired work, I aim to build upon the tradition of minimalist painting of the late 1950s through mid-1970s — from Barnett Newman and Ellsworth Kelly to Jo Baer and Frederick Hammersley — by working with eye-catching color schemes found in contemporary graphic design.

In a way, my paintings are distillations of things we see every day, such as product packaging and semi-truck graphics. I’m inspired by the seemingly infinite combination of shapes and colors. However, my work offers no ostensible representational content, which might help to explain my paintings’ names. They are what you see them as being.

But why minimalism? Decades ago, minimalism was a turning of the tide away from Abstract Expressionism. For me, minimalism is about something else. It’s a visual antidote to overconsumption — e.g., the din of advertising, Christmas decorations reaching retail shelves around Labor Day, and vehicles that get 12 miles per gallon. The question of how to conserve natural resources is coursing through our zeitgeist. I’m exploring ways of saying and doing more with less, seeing beauty in simplicity more than ever.”

Two paintings

May 2nd, 2007 | 1 Comment »

Here are two paintings produced between Sunday and last night (Tuesday night). The piece at left is an offshoot of the one at right.

two paintings two paintings

At right is the first Art Lottery piece, which had the working title of Corporate Wellness Program. The new title is The First Day of May. The working title didn’t work out.

I tried to inject a next-generation pop art feel into the painting, and corporate logo shapes were the foundation.

Yet, I feel a certain uneasiness when I look at this painting. There’s something that happens in the brain when lime green and magenta clash, side by side!

Like what you see? There’s more in my site’s abstract art gallery.

One last thing: If there’s anything you’d like to see more of in this art blog, please let me know. I welcome your suggestions. Thank you!

Spontaneous art: Art lottery sketches

April 27th, 2007 | No Comments

As promised in my last post, below are the first three designs (out of five) from my Art Lottery series. I’m giving myself 30 minutes to develop each design, so that a degree of spontaneity and chance is present. This is as close to spontaneous art as I can get!

From left to right are What’s Up, Sentinel?, Corporate Wellness Program and The Town Being Swallowed by the Sea. I can’t wait to get started on painting them. The canvases are just about ready!

Spontaneous Art Spontaneous Art Spontaneous Art

Not sure what I’m going for with all of this, but I like where it’s all going, so I’m not going to question it! It’s just going. How’s that sound?

Anyway, if you like what you see here, you might enjoy my site’s abstract art gallery.

In the studio: April 25, 2007

April 25th, 2007 | No Comments

The paint is now drying on my newest painting in my studio, titled Accident / Escape. This piece measures 16 inches high by 20 wide and is based on the hexagonal star pattern I developed a couple of months back. (It’s also the same pattern for Like Antique Shopping 100 Years from Now, shown below.)

The painting got its name because the composition was developed accidentally, and the pieces that were stranded to the left seemed to be floating away — escaping. And to my surprise, I’m attracted to the mod, geometric starkness of black on white. I’ve always liked Franz Kline’s black-on-white paintings, abstract expressionist pieces like Accent Grave, which is in the collection of my hometown museum, Cleveland Museum of Art. Regardless, black on white is something I really haven’t explored in my own paintings.

And to the right is a little bonus: the view from my visual studio window. Here, a ready-to-bloom red yucca in the foreground and roses in full bloom on the neighbor’s side. We’re nearing the beginning of summer in Arizona … the sun is starting to become blinding.

Visual Art Studio Visual Art Studio

More soon: I’ve completed lots of Art Lottery designs lately. I’ll be posting those next.

Art lottery

April 18th, 2007 | No Comments

A quick note: This post may take a little while to resolve itself, as far as blog posts go, so if you’re feeling impatient, please immediately scroll to the fourth paragraph. Thank you.

It may sound strange to you, but sometimes I invent games to infuse a degree of difficulty and spirit of challenge to my artmaking process. For example, last October I invited the public to participate in The SuperChallenge, a project in which I produced 10 paintings over six weeks (two paintings a week, with a week off in there somewhere) and asked the public to vote on their favorite. The SuperChallenge was pretty cool in that it resembled having an online gallery exhibition with focus-group dynamics bolted on.

Art Lottery

Anyway, last week, I got embroiled in a project I call Art Lottery. This is something I dreamed up about three years ago. I aimed to produce a series of 10 paintings, guided by 10 variables each: vertical and horizontal length, logo, pattern, typeface, “magic number,” mascot, etc. Art Lottery version 1 was basically a formula for a neo pop art painting run amok. Even the brothers Oliver and Spencer Hibert graciously lent their MCing talent to read a welcome script and preside over the spinning of the bingo-lottery barrel.

Unfortunately, however, all of the variables and parameters of the Art Lottery proved unwieldy. I got midway into the first painting and started questioning its existence. It was a promising composition, but there was something about it that proved a bit too cartoony. So I shelved the Art Lottery not long after I started it, in the summer of 2004. At the same time, I was seriously rethinking my acid pop art style, in general. Minimalism and simplicity were taking over, and the fate of 100 variables decided by a $20 bingo barrel were no match.

But now is now and the Art Lottery has been reincarnated in much simpler terms. Last week, I built a set of five shapes inspired by corporate logos, five sets of stripes, and five patterns. The goal was to produce a series of five paintings using these elements, which would be selected by chance. While all of the material was original, there was plenty of room for “graphical quotation,” as my friend Shawn Wolfe terms it, in the development process. The kicker was that I afforded myself only 30 minutes to develop each painting’s design, so that I had to rely on spontaneity, yet again, to guide the outcome of my work.

Therefore, last Friday evening, I staged the drawing for the first of five paintings in the series. On Saturday morning, from 11:30 to noon, I produced the first design, which you’ll find at left. I have since named it Corporate Wellness Program. (I think corporate wellness programs are kind of a ridiculous idea, because they translate to more time on the corporate treadmill and less time at home with your family, where you belong. But who in the hell am I to say so? I’m an artist!)

My keyboard is starting to complain from overuse right now, so I’m going to cut this short and say “Ciao, ciao” and “more soon” and so on.

Kurt Vonnegut tribute: And so it goes …

April 17th, 2007 | No Comments

The recent passing of Kurt Vonnegut really saddened me. His passing has afforded me an opportunity to gain a new appreciation for the contribution Vonnegut made to literature, and my own thinking.

Kurt Vonnegut had a profound gift for portraying the folly of the human condition, but he made light of things. He opened the door to all sorts of outré subjects — other dimensions, robots, and time travel — and tied them all back to everyday life.

Personally, I think the names he dreamt up for his characters — like the Trafalmadoreans — helped guide me to use made-up language in my early pop art paintings.

To create a fitting Kurt Vonnegut tribute of my own, over the last couple of days I’ve been listening to an audio book of Breakfast of Champions as I’ve been painting. Breakfast of Champions is my favorite Vonnegut book. I hadn’t read it in over a decade, and kind of forgot how grim — and rightfully so — it can be.

Earth is a pretty messed up place, for sure. But what a strange, wonderful and funny book it is! The plot summaries of Kilgore Trout’s science fiction books, which pepper Breakfast of Champions, are utterly too hilarious.

Thank you, Kurt Vonnegut. And so it goes.

New studio pics: Below is recent progress I’ve made on Like Antique Shopping 100 Years from Now. I started it about a month ago in my home art studio, but took a three-week break from it. Now I’m filling in the background pattern, and relatively pleased with the results. It’s pretty hard to look at, in a good way.

Digital sketches: Intergalactic Supergraphics

April 11th, 2007 | 1 Comment »

Even though I haven’t posted anything since last Thursday, I’ve been messing with this composition over the last few days. For now, I’m calling it Intergalactic Supergraphics. The sketch on paper is from Thursday, April 5. The two digital sketches followed on Saturday April 7.

Digital Sketches
Digital Sketches Digital Sketches

Like these sketches? There’s more paintings like these in my site’s abstract art gallery.

I hope to post something more substantial in the next day or two! Thanks for visiting and checking out these digital sketches.

Painting geometry: In the studio, April 5, 2007

April 5th, 2007 | 1 Comment »

Here’s a photo of Give It Up or Turn It Off, taken in my studio about 15 minutes ago. It’s almost done … I just have some cleaning up to do.

I’ve been painting geometry quite a bit lately. The painting you see here is based on the sketch I posted March 24: “On minimalism and pop art.”

Painting Geometry

I think I’m pretty much done with the pattern in the upper right for now. I accidentally happened upon it, but it feels a bit like Verner Panton pattern. I’ll have to check that.

Anyway, for as much as I love painting geometry like this, I feel like I’ve done this pattern to death … at least for the moment!

Pardon the disjointedness of this post from here on out, but there’s a few things I just have to get off my mind:

I’ve listening to: Mother Mallard’s Masterpiece Co. by David Borden. This is a Moog synthesizer classic and it makes my head spin. I’ve also discovered Gershon Kingsley’s God Is a Moog. That one is way too deep and complicated to sum up here. That one, too, is mad. And also I’ve discovered Popol Vuh’s Affenstunde.

I stopped into a used book store, while waiting for work to be completed on my car, and could not resist the temptation to purchase: New Directions in Shopping Centers and Stores by Louis G. Redstone. Cover to cover, this gem offers billions of black and white photos of shopping malls (interiors and exteriors) from the 1960s, up through 1973, when the book was published. Geometry was everywhere. It’s like people were swimming in geometry as they shopped.

Also, I picked up Architecture 2000: Predictions and Methods by Charles Jencks. I haven’t yet jumped into this one yet, but I can safely say that there’s nothing quite like predictions of the future from the past — especially predictions of futuristic architecture.

Also, I am inspired by: The design supplement in last Sunday’s New York Times. Titled Op Culture, its cover features a gorgeous op art interior (You must see the video of the making of the shoot). Here’s a quote: “The 1970s are back in original designs and new pieces that graphically evoke that era.” For me, however, they never really went away.

So where am I going with all of this? I think an Aquarius Records reviewer is right in writing that “everything cool was already done about thirty years ago.” But I’m not interested in nostalgia. I just think that, in terms of pure design, something bad happened on the way to the 90s.

Fine art collector, and her cat, have an eye for art

April 4th, 2007 | 2 Comments

My friend Aimee is a fine art collector and modern design enthusiast who owns a couple of my paintings. Looks like her cat is a fine art collector, too.

Here is a recent photo of Aimee’s cat with my painting Ffyuramei in the background. I really dig how the cat’s eyes match the painting!

Fine Art Collector

Are you a fine art collector, too? I invite you to check out my paintings gallery and my online art shop.

In other goings on: the last few days have been pretty hectic, thanks to some freelance writing gigs I’ve been working on. But I’m looking forward to making more posts soon, once things chill out a bit.

I’m currently making a painting based on the second sketch found in my March 24, 2007 blog post, “On Minimalism and Pop Art.” Progress is good — hope to have it done by the weekend. More soon!

Next show: 2007 Arizona Biennial; Third Arizona Biennial in a row!

March 30th, 2007 | 1 Comment »

I am pleased to announce that my painting FF0000uturo, shown here, has been selected for the 2007 Arizona Biennial. The exhibition will be hosted, as always, by the Tucson Museum of Art.

2007 Arizona BiennialThe 2007 Arizona Biennial will run from May 19 through August 19. The guest curator is Ms. Dianne Vanderlip, curator of modern and contemporary art at the Denver Art Museum.

My painting’s appearance marks the third straight time in which I will exhibit in an Arizona Biennial, a fact of which I’m very proud. In 2003, To Rinse Away the Tiny Particles was selected by guest curator Toby Kamps, now director of the Institute for Contemporary Art in Portland, Maine. In 2005, Synthetic Landscape was chosen by Siri Engberg, curator at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.

Here’s a bit of trivia: Last time around, only Kevin Lucero Less, Oliver Hibert, and I had shown in both the 2003 and 2005 AZ biennials. Oliver didn’t apply for the show this time. Had he, however, he certainly would have been shown again, too. (Oliver, I’ve already told you this, but it’s not going to be the same without you!)

So, my friends, I hope you can make it to the Tucson Museum of Art this summer to check out the show. The biennial is always an interesting cross-section of what’s going on, in terms of the arts, in this strange and sublime state I call home.