Sunday, June 24, 2018

Art Residency in Morocco

In July 2017, I started a University Sabbatical by restructuring the studio space of my practice and participated in an Artist Residency in Morocco.

 Entrance to Kasbah, Matisse, 1912
 It has been my desire to go to Morocco since I was an undergraduate student and first saw the art works that John Singer Sargent, Paul Klee, and Henri Matisse produced while on their journeys to Morocco.  Most significantly, Matisse’s work had a profound impact on my understanding of painting because of his color/pallet shift and the compositional changes in his work.  Matisse’s two trips to Morocco had a profound and lasting influence on his studio practice.  

--> Several years later I was introduced to the work of Richard Diebenkorn, and saw the influence of Matisse’s Moroccan work on the Bay Area Master. These artists and their works compelled me to explore the culture and the art at the north/western tip of the African continent.
Matisse, Diebenkorn

-->I flew to the residency, called Green Olive Arts in Tetouan, Morocco from Los Angeles, stopping over in Madrid, Spain. I was picked up at the Tangier airport in Morocco by residency co-founder and co-director, Rachel Pearsey.  We had a one-hour taxi ride to the Mediterranean port-city of Tetaouan.  

Tetaouan, Morocco

--> Tetaouan is an ancient/modern city which is off the dominant western tourist route. The city is the home of the King’s summer palace.  Tetaoun is a partly walled ancient walking city (the Median) and part bustling modern city.  Green Olive Arts occupies the entire second floor of a three-story building situated a few blocks from the ancient walled median. The building is nested in the outdoor produce market district filled with farmers stands, bakeries, and cafes.
The Residency/The City
The residency facility consists of four well-lit studios, each with a balcony that overlooks the market place. There is also a small library, a full kitchen, a computer station, small fabrication shop, art supplies, and administration offices. The residency intentionally boards each of the visiting artists in the community within easy walking distance of the studio complex. This immerses the visiting artist into the daily pulse of the city, walking back and forth each day with quick stops at the local bakery, produce stand, or a cup of Arabic coffee. 

--> The residency facility consists of four well-lit studios, each with a balcony that overlooks the market place. There is also a small library, a full kitchen, a computer station, small fabrication shop, art supplies, and administration offices. The residency intentionally boards each of the visiting artists in the community within easy walking distance of the studio complex. This immerses the visiting artist into the daily pulse of the city, walking back and forth each day with quick stops at the local bakery, produce stand, or a cup of Arabic coffee.

street view from studio
The city is known as the art center of Morocco, home to the Institute Nalional des Beaux-Arts and the Royal Artisan School of Tetouan. The city hosts a variety of art events and cultural festivals every year, including 2-3 film festivals, an international lute festival, concerts, cultural weeks, parades, and Andalusian music events celebrating the richness of North Africa.

--> Green Olive Arts founders and directors, Peter Herron, Rachel Pearsey, and Jeff McRobbie, graciously run an impressive, well-oiled program connecting international artists to the Moroccan culture and the artists and master artisans of Tetouan.   
Peter, Rachel, and Jeff
Each day involved a walk from my boarding room to the studio thru the ancient walled medina.The median was always bustling with life: full of curious sounds, sweet and pugent smells, and kaleidoscopic visuals. The people of Tetouan were gracious and kind, quick to offer salutations or a helpful hand.  By the third day I was recognized and greeted by local residents and merchants on my daily walk to the studio.


--> On several occasions the residency staff made arrangements for opportunities to meet and spend time with local artisans; weavers, wood workers, metal smiths, pattern-makers, etc.  

--> The residency hosts 4 to 6 visual artists and writers from the international community.  Each artist determines their own length of residency ranging from 2 weeks to 2 months with the average stay being 3 weeks.  During my 2-week stay there were 2 other visual artists in-residence: New Zealand artist/designer, Johann Nortje and Moroccan artist, Hajar Daide.

 My Work 
--> On my first full studio day I met with a master pattern maker to study and practice Islamic pattern design. We did several traditional patterns using only a simple compass, no rulers or straight edges. As we worked I began to see the foundations of abundant richly designed patterns that embellished the city from the ornate tile work to the decorative wrought iron patterns to the textiles and elaborately woven rugs.  

By the end of that first day, I had determined the  work I would do during my residency. I decided to do a series of daily works, one per day, each consisting of a single large pattern design, with a central form out of which the design would radiate. At the end of each day, I would partially eradicate the pattern by applying a series of thin washes of white gesso, leaving the central form a ghost image of the pattern. This was a daily discipline of concentrated work (based on Moroccan design forms) that culminated at the end of the day with a remnant of the process. I deeply contemplated the relationship of presence and memory and particularly, presence and memory while traveling in a non-native land.

Day Trip to Chefchaouen, the Blue Village of Morocco 

Chefchaouen is a stunning mountain village about an hour from Tetouan.  I took a local taxi (along with 4 other occupants) from the Tetouan train station to the gates of Chefchaouen.

The city was founded in 1471 as a small kasbah or fortress to fight the Portuguese invasions of northern Morocco.  Along with the Ghomara tribes of the region, many Moriscos and Jews settled here after the Spanish Reconquista in medieval times.

--> Often referred to as “the blue city” or “the blue pearl”, the Chefchaouen is painted or should one say, washed in a sky, rich blue. The buildings, the sidewalks, and even at times the road- ways have been painted, and then painted again often with a blue that is just slightly off tone ,as if the blues were breathing or pulsing. 

--> History tells us that during the Spanish Inquisition thousands of Jews fled Europe, so as not to be forced into Christianity. They ended up settling in Chefchaouen, painting all the walls blue, the color of divinity in Judaism. Locals claim that the blue color repels mosquitoes.  Walking  the streets of “the blue city”was the closest thing I could imagine to walking thru a painting.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Ready to See ....@ Jason Vass Gallery

Ready to See, Mar. 4th-Apr. 15th @ Jason Vass Gallery, 1452 E. 6th, Los Angeles

When Tina and I went to begin the install of the show Tina read us a poem.
Always something flows fatally from each surface
streaming outwards with smoothness from a rapid origin
with thinness in many ways all at once
with velocity in a very brief and moist time
with rarification so easily penetrating by gliding and diffusing
with a swift lightness
truly and pre-eminently and marvellously without slackening
particularly what feels like to sway in the dark
now again streaming they brush our pupils and pass into us like air
like colour like fingers little by little they give us the image of our 
as ideas bobbing and melting and incessantly changing shape.
We're about to convert ourselfes into all manner of lilies.
They caress our pupils.

Is all epistemology metaphorical?
Ideas come as images, which are not time.
They palely bounce from the deep-down coffinwood
within our own unspoken desire and compulsion.
Quite free of assignment 
and despite the inclement representations
the theatre of an idea
is having its breast stroked
- just enough to subvert the conditions of transmission -
not wanting to reproduce a friendship but to repeat it.
Hormones, humour-like, are produced by light
in order to unaccountably transform us. 
Lisa Robertson 

 jason vass, tina linville

 eye on the sparrow, oil on canvas, 48"x60"
 I'll meet you in the morning, oil on canvas, 48"x60"
 valiant, oil on canvas, 48"x48"
 tikkun olam (to repair the world), oil on canvas, 48"x84"

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Following the work

" We want to be surprised again and again by where our work takes us and what kind of person we are becoming as we follow it. … Beginning a courtship with a work, like beginning a courtship with a love, demands a fierce attention to understand what it is we belong to in the world…."

David Whyte, The Three Marriages 

 Phase 1
 Phase 2
 Phase 3
 Phase 4
 Final Phase
 Difficult Landings
oil on canvas

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Wedge in the Door

door stop, 72"x72", oil on canvas

"Paintings are handmade, one-of-a-kind, extremely fragile objects. They're absurd. Extravagant. Intrinsically worthless. And seeing paintings is an experience you absolutely must have in person - in real life. Direct human contact is the point."

"Is it still possible for someone to sit down in front of a easel and paint something? Is this basically late medieval method still capable of producing interesting results in a world in constant acceleration and in which images are endlessly being captured and stored away? Possibly more than ever: in a world in which most image capturing and storing is indiscriminate, inattentive and even automated, the painter's intent and minute attention to life and the rhythms of life has become a radical position. 

Painting offers an option. Its slower rhythms allow for a more intimate connection to human perception (which is true both from the point of view of the artist and the viewer). But is also allows the depiction of an imaginary realm, an investigation into what connects human beings to places and space."

Dan Witz

Friday, October 28, 2016

speaking of practice

 my studio

When it comes to talking about my practice, the older I get the harder it is. At least to talk about it directly.  

I make things, messy things, full of color made from materials that feel and smell wonderful. These materials are full of potential and full of limits.

And I use these messy, wonderful materials to make something that may help me understand something that I didn’t understand before.
I recently told my students that in my practice I was trying to make a painting that I had never seen before, but all I have in my mind’s eye are all the other paintings I have ever seen before. Now that’s an interesting problem to work with. 

When I think about my work, mine is a practice of curiosity. A reach of intention, of hope.  I hope to make something, like the stone in the river or the shell on the shoreline that will cause you to pause, and wonder and begin to ask questions.
The way into the work is from one body to another.

My artist statement says:
“What has become increasingly important for me is the relationship between the painting as a physical entity and a transcending metaphoric object. I want to make a painting that stresses itself as a material object, yet also engages the metaphor of picture making.  What does that mean??
There is the subject of the hand, of color, of the paint itself. There is also the subject of poetic image.”

I think it is in this relationship that I find strong connections to the experience of being in body. I think of my paintings as obstructions (they are attempts to interfere, to stop you, to arrest your attention) and yet they are also points of interface (of connection)."

  Polso, oil on linen, d. callis

In a world of simulacra, where we are awash with images who’s thin meanings are predetermined for desire, persuasion, and consumption. I want to make something that doesn’t look like what one might expect.

I want to make an image that has not had it’s meaning predetermined. In fact, it may be an object that bears witness to the clumsy and at times desperate search for its meaning. I attempt to arrest moments where circumstance, response and consequence begin to create structure.
I’m interested in places where meaning used to reside in one form and has yet to take on new.

I make paintings where forms and gestures stand with intention. They reach toward meaning making but haven’t arrived at the place where that is fixed. I consider myself a ‘hunter of forms’. I want to materialize that ‘hunting’, that searching – to give form to that elusive ‘thing’ that is always passing.

Like the tape on the back of this delivery truck, I’m interested in the residue of meaning (a site of an old instruction label or...) Also the evidence of intentionally. The beautiful worn surfaces of the door caused by it being used again and again (for the thing it was designed for).

I want to create optimistic objects that are laden with the residues of intention.

I’m interested in the place (an embodied space – in this case the street sign) where meaning is being negotiated. At the space of transition, a kind of threshold space of meaning making.

Often at this threshold space the new meaning is not apparent.
“the poet (artist) jolts us, causing us to ‘stand and stare’ at the world, to pause and look again, and again, rather than moving quickly on, content that we have seen all and understood all.” Trevor

Italo Calvino, writes a wonderful short story called ‘A sign in Space’ in which his character is the first organism to consciously create a sign. In the story his character talks about the idea of making a ‘sign’; a thing that involves the use of hand and tool but when you remove the hand and tool the thing, the sign, remains.

 Big Bang, oil & mixed media on linen, d. callis

These are “signs of intention, signs of forming meaning.”