This past weekend we went out to UCR / California Museum of Photography…aka Riverside Museum of Photography, for two opening receptions - one photography and the other painting. At the painting show we ran into a friend from grad school, Alex Couenberg, who had a dynamic painting in the show, what really amazing about Alex, is his artistic practice. He’s got a very thriving art career…check out his website and you’ll see great work and a busy schedule.
In the past, it was easy for me to think “oh he’s got a wife that works…of course he makes art” but then I found out he works FULL TIME teaching art at a high school. Then it was “oh, but of course they’ve got no kids” and I found out he’s got FOUR kids! What he actually has is an amazing work ethic. In speaking with him that evening he told me about his daily life - most afternoons when he gets out of work, he heads directly home and into the studio where he paints for 4-5+ hours. Closer to home, my mom at 85 paints almost everyday. I’ve thought about this a lot since then and find it inspirational.
It was a great evening, the two exhibitions worked well together. In the Sunshine of Neglect was curated by Doug McCulloh and featured a rare in-depth examination of photographer’s response to the Inland Empire. Paintings from the Interior was curated by Andi Campognone and featured a very lush set of paintings…there was a real love of the medium at work.
In November, I was asked if I’d like to be featured on Another Year in LA, which is the online gallery of David and Cathy Stone. They were very open about what I could choose to show - it would be for January and February, which is great because I love the beginning of the year…always feel with a new beginning, anything is possible. For a while I tried to work on new animations, but soon realized that’s a much longer process and can’t be rushed. I opted to feature a different body of work connected by a single theme - what inspires us to make an image…our “Muse.”
Every artist has one, it can change over time, but it’s what keeps us going after that initial drive of creativity which launches young artists. When you’re younger, art-making can really be the only space you have to truly be yourself. As you get older, you start to make your own life…so making art long term, like any career, becomes a different experience and you often have to work for inspiration. As I looked at the different bodies of work, one thing that I did come back to over and over was the use of trees. They are these magnificent creatures that inhabit our world, but often seem like they were here long before us. I can completely see why JR Tolkien wrote about them as living creatures (the ents). Up until now, I hadn’t really thought about how often I use them in my work - so having this experience gave me an insight into how I work.
Here’s what I wrote as an introduction to the show:
“I wanted to start the year thinking about sources of inspiration. In my imagery I rarely use people because it becomes too specific - as if it’s about that individual. For me, trees occupy that space in a more open way… they form a perfect stand-in for the human spirit, for resilience, for eternity. They are often here before us…and we have the sense they will be here after us. They have their own existence, their own place in the world and we are just passing through.
In each of these series I’ve been inspired by trees in different ways. American Triptych was about creating a “portrait” of each town and trees referenced the town culture. As part of the Revisiting Project, where I have revisited locations over many years, the trees record seasonal change. In more documentary series such as LA Icons and Val Verde, they create the landscape we have grown up with, whether they are the palms of Hollywood or the Live Oaks on the coastal gardens. Trees play their biggest roles in my constructed images (Razor’s Edge and Chance Chronicles) where they are characters in an imaginary landscape.”
In the past when I was creating a new series…or adding to an existing one, the format/voice of the series was already an integrated part of the work…it often inspired the direction the images would go. The Chance Chronicles series has been very different. The images were created, inspired by a sense of a world that I wanted to create - but I wasn’t sure what the actual output would be. For a year I struggled with trying various methods of printing, with no success at all! The upside was I discovered a passion for animation and was able to keep moving forward making work. Finally, last spring I took a Platinum Printing workshop and it was a eureka moment - this was the “voice” that the images had been looking for. Since then, I’ve been struggling to repeat the workshop success, to translate the process into my own home environment.
To say it has been a frustrating experience would be an understatement and the stack of crap prints is quite high. Platinum (although it’s really more Palladium) is a very difficult process…so many elements can play a significant roll: humidity, paper, chemistry, ambient temperature, the drying process…all parts that can completely change the look of the print. But, when it does come together, there’s a sense that you’ve created a little jewel. The prints have a dimension beyond digital prints - and there’s also a strong “mark of the hand” which is what I felt the series needed. I love that each one is different, that an “edition” is really a set of related prints, but each is unique.