Hidden Color And The Utility Of Art

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When I was at university, one of my mentors said something that has stayed with me. It was obvious to me the he realized how the photography program was utterly failing its students by providing zero instruction on career development, small business management, or information on how to navigate the gallery system. I had a sense that he was as disappointed with the department as I was (and continue to be), but it was equally obvious how passionate he was about the craft with the time and attention he paid to those students who demonstrated a genuine interest in fine art and photography.

As innocuous or even silly as it sounds, I remember him saying that “everything you make is a self portrait.”
Everything you make is a reflection of your sensibilities, your attitudes, your appreciations, and your conflicts.

I don’t know why, exactly, but that sentence had a marked impact on how I began to approach each new project. Rather than trying to make the most beautiful print, or try to imagine what my audience might want, I began to think of each painting, each photograph, each mono-print or lino-cut as a part of myself – a thumb-print on a skyscraper, small and forgettable, but unique – rather than a ‘product’ or an attempt to fulfill some arbitrary notion of what other people may value as great art. The tension between commerce and art has always existed, and compromises almost always need to be made in creative professions. But that doesn’t prevent the artist from taking time out of his day to make something in the privacy of his home or studio, make anything, for no other reason than he thinks it’s interesting or beautiful.

I liken the creative process to meditation. It’s where I find my center after a hard day. It has navigated me through troubled relationships. It has connected me to other people and helped create very fruitful and lasting relationships.

A frustrated piece is only ever the result of having an idea in your head, the vision of exactly how you want it to look when it’s complete, and getting to that point can be hard – sometimes impossible. But just as often, tinkering with a sketchbook or fooling around in the darkroom – having a glass of wine and slapping some paint onto a canvas when there is no pressure to achieve a specific goal – and the artist is free to improvise and embrace their own intuition and stream-of-consciousness. And that’s when real magic can happen.

Wasn’t it Picasso who said that every child is born an artist, the problem is how to remain one as we grow up?
I think there’s truth to that. Going to school, memorizing dates and spitting out correct answers for the test, learning the formula to a successful job interview, paying bills and raising children, taking the car into the shop and watching tragedy after tragedy unfold on the nightly news – these things can tamp-down our artistic impulses, distract us from our Selves.

Art is a magic trick. A therapy. A language without syntax. I absolutely love it.

Now do me a favor and try to enjoy this stupid picture of a glass bottle, will ya? And while you’re at it, think about picking up a paintbrush or photographing the sunset, making a collage out of old magazines or designing a scrap-book page to commemorate last Christmas – it certainly won’t hurt you. Find an excuse to smile, and enjoy your weekend.

With much love,

-joe

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January 27 – The Back Alley

01-27 The Back Alley post“In any art, you don’t know in advance what you want to say – it’s revealed to you as you say it. That’s the difference between art and illustration.”

~Aaron Siskind

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The thing about photography I find so wonderful is that it affords me the opportunity to look through the viewfinder and examine the world in a way that we rarely do in our day-to-day lives. Yes, that’s a sizable blanket statement, I know. But it’s true. It’s the only thing in my life that forces me to slow everything down – my thoughts, my heart rate, my emotions. It’s my meditation. Several years ago, while I was still in college, I used to walk around Tucson by myself, camera in hand.

Rather than the staid art of street photography – or the grainy, black and white portraits we often associate with ‘street photography’ – I found myself investigating the spaces in-between buildings and behind them. I would go to the warehouse district, down to the railroad tracks, out to the tire yards. Traveling at the speed-of-car, everything around us is a blur, save for what’s in the windshield – which is usually just traffic. When conducting noble battle with other 45 mile-per-hour aluminum projectiles, it’s a good idea to keep one’s head in the game. But we miss out on an awful lot.

After a couple of my earliest urban walkabouts, certain visual themes began to surface. Without even thinking about it while I was photographing, it was clear looking at the proof-sheets that my eyes were drawn to right angles. All of the pictures were nearly abstract, minimalistic compositions of windows, doorways, power conduits & boxes, architectural features, concrete slabs, and corrugated metal. A photographic DeStijl quickly became my new visual language

I would set aside time between university lectures and my job at the photo lab just so I could pack my camera and head out on my bicycle in search of new textures and colors. I photographed scenes like the one above for about two years. I haven’t revisited them in a while, but I occasionally think about the series. It’s meaning is still elusive to me, but it continues to feel significant. In a way that I haven’t been able to articulate, some of these images are deeply moving to me.

I think it might be time to put a show together, to reexamine this series, and see if I can crack the code.
Wish me luck.

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