I've always thought it's important to revisit things. Feelings, subjects, themes etc. Especially when it comes to my creative process. The riches of a subject are rarely exhausted by one visit or experience. We as viewers/creators change as well, which guarantees a novel encounter with the other. We never really see the same thing twice. If what we see has a soul, then we never see it with our eyes. We see an ever changing body and presumably don't encounter a soul unchanged by it's own experience the second time around. If I see a mountain one minute it is changed the next instant. It has gained parts or lost them. In light of this, is there anything that ensures the continuity of such a mountain? Is there an essence to such things?
My most recent act of re-visitation was my drawing of DFW above, inspired by two classic works below. Velasquez executed the painting below on the left around 1650. It is of Pope Innocent X. Later, Francis Bacon, a 20th century painter, copied this master-work in his own grotesque and evocative style, seen below to the right. I learned about both of these works/artists in college. I became and remain an admirer of both and now find myself situated in an artistic lineage wherein the younger artist pays homage to the earlier by reinterpreting his work. That's what I've tried to do in my drawing. In creating this work, I honor both Bacon and Velasquez and keep my memory of David Foster Wallace alive.
After painting a small (6x12") version of this composition (see my earlier post) I decided to scale things up a bit. I chose to stay with the double-square format, so I could bring attention to both the Bison and field vegetation. I had a piece of plywood handy, which was about 2x4 feet, so I primed it and set to work. I used a combination of cadmium red light acrylic, mixed with clear acrylic gesso, to provide the ground, then began blocking in large areas of color (see time-lapse below).
The main difference between this and the earlier smaller bison, is the size of mark I used. On this scale I intentionally use larger brushwork, it just makes more sense in the context. In the same way, I used larger charcoal a while back to draw my large Tetons picture (seen here). The resulting larger Bison has a stronger presence, not just because of the increased size, but the increased color exploration I can do in that space. The smaller Bison painting was a study, because it forced me to look at the subject for a prolonged period of time and get acquainted with the colors and composition. When I painted this larger version I didn't really refer back to the smaller one. I re-examined the picture I was working from and tried to see more detail the second time around. The result was that I found more colors in the big painting. It's not necessarily a better painting, but it is different.
I framed this with a simple oak frame, mitered at the corners. The plywood I painted on is dimensionally stable and will not warp. On future panels, I'll use thinner plywood, maybe 1/4 thick to minimize weight, as plywood can get heavy and be an obstacle to hanging the picture. This work is currently at the Art House Cinema and Pub, in downtown Billings.
If you're hiking in Yellowstone, you shouldn't approach certain animals, especially Buffalo. But sometimes, they put themselves right in your way and you stumble upon them suddenly. This is what happened to me last October while hiking in the backcountry. My two friends and I had to go off trail to avoid this bull. Behind him were numerous others in his herd and he seemed to be standing watch. It was obvious that we weren't going to use that section of trail so we quietly scrambled up a nearby hill to avoid being gored or trampled.
I took the photo above about 30ft away and was pretty nervous as we crept by. We had one more similar meeting with a Buffalo on a later hike. It's surprisingly easy to miss something so big as you crest a hill, but it happens and reminds you that you can't let your guard down that far from civilization. Luckily we didn't have any bear encounters during our time in Yellowstone, though there was no shortage of bear tracks and scat. Healthy reminders.
A few days ago, I decided to work from this photo and experiment with some recently acquired oil paint. Traditional oil paint takes several days to dry, unless you add dryers and mediums to it. I purchased Gamblin's trial set of their Fast-Matte colors because I wanted the working qualities and open time of oil without the days of waiting. The difference with this paint is that it's composed of both oil and alkyd resin, which explains the quick dry times. The Paint also dries to a matte finish, so it must be coated with gloss varnish if you want saturated looking colors.
I was very pleased with how this painting turned out in terms of working qualities of the materials and the formal elements of the painting. My first paint layers were dry and ready to be worked on top of after one day. By day three I was finished with this picture and able to varnish on day 4. This pace was very satisfying and I can see that this paint is going to open some creative doors for me. My next project will be a larger version of this same composition. The larger scale will create a very different experience of the Buffalo, and further enrich my appreciation for this creature.
I can't overstate the importance of reworking an image (and while I'm at it,re-imagining work). This is the time and context in which we rethink and re-examine what we're doing. Re-visiting an image forces us to confront the prejudices we bring to the experience of translating a scene into a shareable medium. This experience has a strong analogue in daily life. It's of at least equal value to regularly examine how we experience, think about and inhabit the world.
Having long ago come to terms with being an artist, I realize how iteration fits into my everyday life. Each day presents me with opportunities to relive the ordinary and be-in-the-world differently. My most recent series of drawings is no exception to this. One of the most compelling and moving sights is the Teton Mountains in Wyoming. They are fault-block mountains and rise dramatically from the valley floor. I've visited the mountains several times and on my last visit took several photos of the range one very cold morning.
My first step on this project was a smaller drawing, 8.5x24 inches. The second was larger, 30x44 inches. Finally I scaled up the image to an imposing 42x84 inches (7 feet wide). This is one of the larger drawings I've done and in so doing, I was reminded of how important scale is. The effect of working large is that the visual presence of the source scenery is retained. A larger format requires different marks and mark making devices. As a result I resorted to a 2x6" inch piece of specialty charcoal from Nitram. This stick of charcoal was reminiscent of smaller vine charcoal in terms of texture and pigment darkness. It didn't give the darkest blacks, but was very good for initial expressive layout marks (See Video at the end of the post).
Surprisingly, each of the three drawings took about two hours. This was a very satisfying series to complete and I now have works that can fit into a variety of display spaces. I'm also left with a deeper appreciation for the sublimity of the Tetons.
Last year, I was struck by the tragedy of Alan Rickman's death. It was especially poignant because he died on my birthday, January 14, 2016. Rickman was always one of my favorite actors. He was unique and I found myself enamored with his characters, no matter the role. Rickman was the perfect actor to play Professor Snape. Sinister, mysterious and subtly endearing. I thought it appropriate to honor him and his work in my most recent Icon painting.
J0hn Hunter Speier
Recent work, and explorations of techniques, aesthetics and poetics.