Table dimensions, approx 2'x3', 18" high. Walnut and glass
Frustration, difficulty and growth are my companions when building furniture. However, at the end of the project, I often find satisfaction, relief and wisdom waiting for me. I've mentioned before that sometimes I think I'm too impulsive to build furniture, because of the planning involved. I rarely build with a plan, I rather find myself in a sort of conversation or negotiation with material, temporal and spacial constraints as I bring to life what I'd imagined. I find myself stopping and re-evaluating a lot, thinking "this won't/can't work" or "what have I gotten myself into?"
I find that even though planning could often save me a headache or two, I would sacrifice some spontaneity, which is something I like present in the process. Planning in certain ways introduces a mechanical restriction on my improvisatory leaning. So I find myself being pulled by impulse/inclination and bound by my situation. This is inevitable, though I'm regularly found surprised by it. I'm very selective about remembering that I am situated.
Make it, in time.
Give shape, by mind.
Soon gone, not mine
Recompense, now thine...
The Medium in the Message, a Poem
the image remains,
lasting mental texture
For memory's sake
pastels image make
compounds off the surface
gravity surely takes
Built into the surface
detailed mind excursus
pigmented, visual, fusion assures us.
The Scaling of the Soul
Two senses of scaling-
steps up/down declensions
the image, I hope sticks
plant life on slopes thick.
-John Hunter Speier
I've always found layers interesting (see the collage page), so much so that this imagery works its way into my drawings and paintings. I see in layers potential for different textures, transparencies, boundaries, and visual presence, not to mention chronology. The effect of creating a layered space suggests some kind of temporal ordering of events. Experience reinforces in us the idea that things that happen earlier than other things occur closer to the bottom of the accumulation.
Much like sediments layered in horizontal beds that eventuate in rocks, layers are intimated by mark/color placement. In geology, this history-as-vertical-position, (vertikalegeschichte) is known as the principle of superposition. So in this way the sort of image above operates in ways a geological history would. A fundamental difference being that rocks form from the bottom up and my images often begin from the "top" down. The construction of the picture is near to far, as though reverberations move into the past by way of quasi-concentric shapes. The formation of the drawn image is in opposition to that of the collage, which doesn't permit construction from top to bottom (so far).
When I make a layer or apply a shape (by whatever means) I want it to endure (at least partially) through the change of the whole image, to continually influence/contribute to the construal of the whole. By being able to put the "bottom" lower-most elements in near the end of the picture's development (chronologically) I'm able to construct an experience/history on a time scale that runs conversely to that of the intended viewer's. What will become read as the most recent in a series of receding events, was often drawn first, of technical necessity.
This isn't a rule though, merely a tendency observed, but one born out many times in my work and interesting because it makes me think of the order of causation. We tend (rightly so) to think of the past as it informs and shapes the present and future, whereas in the work above, the present-most-current has the ability to affect that perceived as past. A temporal travel (travail even?) made possible by very few experiences, moving near to far, now to before.
My fascination with layering continues/extends into thoughts about past events and their present effects. Collage lends itself to obliterating past events on the surface. Simply paste over the past. The enduring presence is limited to slight embossing of the layers above by the edges of those below. Oil pastel in contrast affords a fluid revisiting of earlier efforts. Successive layers of oil pastel obscure but don't completely restrict unearthing of the past (albeit incomplete). What already happened must be uncovered carefully by scraping away (sgraffito) the present experience shaping/distracting element. Only through the sometimes-near-trauma of removal from the present do we access the "past" or minimally its stain/echo. Once uncovered we can let it endure as a visual reminder of what's transpired and, if appropriate, a revived shaping influence on the present and future.
Like sounds, visual impressions act on us differently depending on how far away we stand, how we're feeling, where we've been and what we love among other things. We are differently abled in our aesthetic aptitude and there is a shape to our retinal receptivity. Color juxtaposition has the effect of creating in us one of a number of sensations, emotions, or other states of consciousness. Cool next to warm creates a tension, wherein one color recedes and another appears to advance.
More intense values have a greater presence than less keyed up, related colors. This is seen in the golden orange of the center mountain against the earthy red in the range behind it. Our eyes can become conflicted while seeing. A seen object , understood monolithically, is an occasion for visual ambiguity, when said object presents to us a pair of colors which seem not to occupy the same plane, such as an area of cool purple and burgundy against a rusty orange. We have to make sense though of this tense color relationship, given our cognitive commitment to the mountain's underlying geological unity. This relationship challenges a conventional idea of light and dark as white and black. Shadows are areas reflecting less light than those lit directly, but which have their own subtle light from reflected sources and through atmosphere (which isn't without color and its own effect on us) to our visual apparatus.
Squinting at an object is often associated with seeing less of it and viewing it more incompletely. The truth is that one can see certain aspects of an object more fully when squinting the eyes. Mountains with their darker sides, avoided by light's directness, when viewed through windows partially closed appear to us with the bluer quality that more fully characterizes a shadow. Our atmosphere is blue and as we gaze into thicker regions of it up into space, the color intensifies. As we look into shadows we are met with the light from those surfaces traveling through thick atmosphere that is being reflected and refracted, just like the light from the sun bouncing around in that blanket of gas on the Earth. When understood and embraced as important colored elements, shadows begin to reveal their secrets, hints of green and purple and blues. We don't treat black like the unique color it is with its own life and effects, rather we deal with it in a far too utilitarian way, valuing primarily its usefulness as something to darken other colors. The best painters use(d) black sparingly (with exceptions of course; Rembrandt, Goya, Velasquez and Manet to name a few). The skilled artist knows that shadows are created by mixing complimentary colors. Darken yellow with a bit of purple for instance, or tone down an intense red with the addition of a green, not black.
Though I've given seeing much thought and consideration here, our understanding of a painting at an analytical level is doomed to incompleteness and inadequacy. Art isn't meant for this "register." Color relationships aren't merely understood by cognition. A history of interactions with color has to be developed and nurtured. An appreciation for subtlety and nuance accompanies chronic chromatic encounters. Trial and error are invaluable experiences/tools for understanding how to develop a capacity to evoke emotions with coloration and to have one's own emotions stirred upon receiving pigmented poetry.
These three paintings illustrate an important tool or concept one should consider employing in a work of art. The first painting (the square one) utilizes muted or toned down colors, those which have been mixed. This use of color is analogous to a piece of music played at piano or mezzo-piano. The second painting, with the violin shape in the right foreground is more akin to a piece of music played at forte. The colors are uniformly "loud" and overall intense. The final painting with collage exemplifies a more balanced piece in terms of color use, with key areas of pure color among more subdued tonality. These statements are more observations than prescriptions, which a painter should be aware of when composing a piece. The desired result will dictate the tools and methods of working and color application. The options and color choices are almost beyond imagination.
The reaches of our imaginations were (are?) vast and seemingly without limit; we created the world! We were however tethered to the drudgery of spelling tests, diagramming sentences (did that matter at all?), getting in line and reading "X" number of library books per month. Do teachers have any idea what stories are being told daily in a child's mind and to his friends? To what extent do they crush the tendency they wish to cultivate, that is genuine creativity and valuation of stories?
As a child I felt the world's demands on me and to an increasing degree as my awareness of it (the world) grew and I became more "thrown-in." My drawing has always been constrained, consciously or otherwise, like probably any artist's. Many of these constraints are self imposed in order to avoid risk of failure, failure for example to create an original pose or purely imagined setting and scenery, to portray visually and in two dimensions. This safety-in-risk-aversion has lurking behind it the possibility of success and breakthrough. Triumph, even insight. And what is the cost really, of a "failed" drawing? Shouldn't a component of my success be the earnest trial and effort, the development of willingness to do something different and more extensive? What safety is there in this comfort so conceived?
Part of what makes Comic Art successful and engaging is its ability to transport the viewer beyond the ordinary in terms of human ability, powers, scale and stories. We often find ourselves seeking something greater, unknown, unfamiliar and beyond our experience. A "being in the world" beyond banality. As various creatures (human and otherwise) slumber in their hibernation this winter and in their day to day routines, I find myself re-emerging, unseasonably and unexpectedly, to rediscover a re-imagined world.
My time off from my job as a Science teacher has given me several days to devote to making art. Here is a collection of the Pastels I completed this winter break. Most of the images are from National Parks. I plan on making several more images in pastel in the coming months, inspired by Natural Park Scenery.
This is the first of a few posts on the construction and finishing of a combination coffee table/display case. The piece will be made entirely of walnut, with a glass see through top. In this slide show I give short descriptions of the main steps involved in the table's construction.
J0hn Hunter Speier
Recent work, and explorations of techniques, aesthetics and poetics.