Colour is for squares – Exhibition review of Josef Albers, ‘Sunny side up’

©Stuart Bush, When it is advisable to be wrong, oil on board 45.7 x 60.1 cm – £1000 + shipping enquiry

Through painterly questions of scale, content, colour and form I’m interested in expressing physical and emotional vigour of the human body in the city. I often work with and against the silhouette of the figure in the city.  I capture the ephemeral with assertive gestures inspired from poetry and music.   My process draws attention to the edge of things, to what is already there.  I look to create a visual poetry with energy and motion arrested in space by simultaneously hiding and revealing our world to us and focusing on the void in between the things.

Exhibition Review

Color study, n.d.
Oil on paper
11 1/4 x 4 7/8 inches (28.6 x 12.4 cm)
© 2017 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London.

Josef Albers is known for his Homage to the Square.  He uses a series of variations of the square that illustrated how colours affects each other. His book titled, ‘The Interaction of the Colour,’ is a studio course for teaching and studying what happens between colours.   Josef Albers was born in Bottrop in Germany in 1888 and died in New Haven, USA in 1976.  He taught at the Bauhaus and at Yale.  I came to the exhibition of Josef Albers’s work at David Zwirner in London and was looking forward to seeing more of his work and hoping to develop a further understanding of Albers basis modernist theory of colour.

 

The show spread across 2 floors, contains just over 30 artworks. The title of the show ‘Sunny Side Up’ gives you positive expectations of an uplifting experience.  There is plenty of space to view each small artwork, and they are certainly is uplifting especially because on the day I went, there was a protest march against Donald Trump going at the end of the street on the drab wintry day.

 

I was surprised to find lines that were clearly crafted by hand and sometimes the areas of colour show the marks from the palette knife that was used to create them.  The paintings are studies which show that perfectionism is not significant to Albers.  The little colour swatches on card, with writing on them, show Alber’s thought processes like a sketch book of ideas where he worked out what he was thinking. 

 

I expected the flat plains of colour in the artwork to feel empty. However, the squares are like little doors into another world, the world of the sublime. I felt I was being pulled in the squares and into a deep abyss of sunshine.

Color study for Homage to the Square, n.d.
Oil and graphite on blotting paper
13 x 13 x 1 1/4 inches (33 x 33 x 3.2 cm)
© 2017 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London.

This exhibition acknowledges the importance of Josef Albers and the contribution he has made to the timeline of art and colour education.  The man-made squares of different sizes of yellow, orange and gold make you think more deeply about colour and help develop a deeper appreciation of abstract art.   My experience of the show was stronger because of the gloomy weather outside and contributed to increasing my enthusiasm to continue learning about the uses of colour in my work.  There are is so many variables that can affect the impact of the square of colour and Albers is clearly the master, as Albers says, “If one says ‘red’ and there are 50 people listening it can be expected that there will be 50 reds in their minds. And one can be sure that all these reds will be very different.”

Color study, n.d.
Oil on paper
11 1/4 x 4 7/8 inches (28.6 x 12.4 cm)
© 2017 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London.

When the need to be creative gets inside of you

©Stuart Bush, The Quality of Absence, oil on aluminium panel 80 x 112 cm – £4000 + shipping enquiry
When you see a successful artist or creative person doing their thing, are you inspired and wish you could do what they do?  Instead of believing in yourself does self-doubt, or the risk of rejection, ridicule or humiliation stop you?  It might be the creative act itself or taking the artwork to the next level and letting other people see it that stops you.  However, the need to be creative is a powerful force.  When I haven’t been to the studio for a little while l feel its loss.  I’m sure many people reading this can relate to the need to be creative and also the need to hide their talents.
 
Have you heard about the sad story about a lady called Vivian Maier who lived in Chicago?  http://www.vivianmaier.com Vivian spent most of life working as a caregiver.  When she died, there were over 100,000 negatives found in a storage unit in her name. Throughout her life, she hid her passion from the outside world.  There is lots of speculation about why she did this, but no one will ever know for sure apart from Vivian herself.  Since her death, Vivian’s work has been compared to the world renowned photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson.
 
I think we build up self-doubt in our heads and it becomes a mindset that is often overwhelming.  It seems that Vivian hid her gift from the world because of her vulnerability.  I have also been trying to find a way to overcome the self doubt problem.  I found these words of advice from successful artists useful:
 
Vincent Van Gogh; “If you hear a voice within saying I cannot paint by all means paint and that voice will be silenced”.  
 
Susan Hiller; “To a young artist, I would say: just go day by day and see what happens. Don’t worry about other people’s judgment.”
 
Rachel Jones; “Ultimately, you have to understand who you are making your work for: it should be for you, that is the first thing.”
 
This is all very good advice but life isn’t that simple.  Questions like how to find time, how to keep positive while keeping your vision and integrity are extremely challenging.
 
In Eric Fischl’s book, ‘Bad Boy’, he gives some interesting advice, “Art is a process and a journey. All artists have to find ways to lie to themselves, find ways to fool themselves into believing that what they’re doing is good enough, the best they can do at that moment, and that’s okay. Every work of art falls short of what the artist envisioned. It is precisely that gap between their intention and their execution that opens up the door for the next work.”
 
And Chuck Close said, “‘Bread crumbs’, by working, stuff comes out of working.  That is very different from dreaming something up and executing it.  Inspiration is for amateurs, the rest of us show up and get to work.”
 
One further explanation from John Cleese.  Most of the time we are in a closed mind, think when we are at work.  There is a tension and pressure to get the work done.  There is lots to be done, and we have to get on with it so there is little humour.  It is purposeful time but not creative time.
 
Then there is the open mode, where we are relaxed and playful in what we do.  We follow our curiosity as we are not under pressure.  Through play we find what we like and want to do.
 
Do you have any thoughts on this subject?  What do you do to enable yourself to carry on when self-doubt creeps in?  Do you have any words of advice to help overcome self-doubt and procrastination?  Do you feel held back from following your creative instincts? 

All comments most welcome!!!    Please join in the conversation and make a comment.

©Stuart Bush, The Quality of Absence (in progress) – enquiry

Risk taking with oil bars

Oil bars are an interesting art material to use due to the simplicity of their application.  They are great to have in your toolkit when you want to work quickly and on a large scale to create an undercoat or to work in a sketchy graphic style.  I find pleasure in using them when creating line drawings, outlines or filling large areas with a uniform colour. They are more like drawing than painting in many ways as you hold the stick like a drawing implement.
 
I have always found oil bars challenging to use on their own.  One of the most challenging things about oil bars is the immediacy and expressive nature of the oil sticks as you can’t remove any marks.  When I work with oil bars I don’t smudge the marks, even though they produce a very limited type of stroke. I find some of the outcomes created may need repainting in oil paints to vary the effect and make them more compelling.  
 
Oil bars encourage risk taking but can also produce accidents, as they are extremely direct way of making marks with a lovely, adnominally large waxy oil pastel.  I wholeheartedly recommend giving them a try and being experimental.
 
The sketches below show a comparison of using oil bars and charcoal on the figures.  The background on both studies is mixed media.
©Stuart Bush Untitled study 2014
©Stuart Bush Untitled study with oil bars/mixed media 2014

Have you used oil bars in your creative practice? Feel free to share your successes below.

What is my motivation?

©Stuart Bush The rush 2016 oil on board 50 x 70 cm – £1000 + shipping enquiry
I am interested in the exploration of painting as a vehicle for visual thinking.  I believe painting and playing with form inside the composition has the potential to capture the most important kind of expression and I see it as a foundation of thinking itself.  My studio is a place I can go to and using painting techniques, process the world and it’s complexities.
My motivation is more than just an interest in the formal qualities and painterly questions of scale, content, colour and form. I’m interested in expressing the physical and emotional vigour of the human body in the city as a means of exercises in freedom and dynamic expressions of space.
A situation needs to take place on the canvas, with too much preparation the painting is dead, with too little preparation it can easy end up wayward or in disarray.  The creativity in the artwork lies in finding a balance and tension between the forms in the relationship between painterly marks, abstract and figurative forms.   The outcome needs to be a surprise and a revelation for me as much as the viewer.  The finished painting is never good enough; I enjoy the surprise and delight, and this is my motivation to make another one.
I would be very interested to hear about what the motivation is in whatever you do.  Please add a comment if you would like to share your thoughts.

Laura Owens exhibition review

Laura Owen’s exhibition at Sadie Coles HQ in London gives a broad overview of her current work. In her paintings, she uses a range of digitally created images and painted marks in abstract compositions. Laura Owens was born in 1970 in Ohio, she began her art career in the 1990s, more recently she opened her LA studio as an exhibition space called 356 Mission in collaboration with the art dealer Gavin Brown.
Installation view, Laura Owens, Sadie Coles London. Copyright the artist, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London
I was curious to learn more about Laura Owens’s work after I read that Laura Hoptman, a Curator of Painting and Sculpture at MoMA in New York believes she is a Caposcuola, (the founder of an artistic movement) due to the way she ‘assimilates digital languages into painting’.  In this review I want to explore some of the ideas in her work, and consider her use of newspaper clippings, screen printed on canvas, cropped shapes with drop shadows and impasto mark, all combined into photoshop, and ask whether this is a worthy subject for painting?
Sadie Coles HQ offers an ample white space and second small second room for some of Laura’s notebooks.  The large exhibition space with its white walls is an excellent backdrop for the busy paintings. The gallery is well lit, and the show includes a lot of work.  If I had one criticism of this show, it would be that there is too much work to focus on.  Viewing the exhibition starts well, but there is a repetitiveness of painted digital imagery, and after twenty or so large canvass the show as a whole feels overwhelming.  I did wonder whether that was intended because it is so obvious.
I see Owen’s work as a way of creating a dialogue about the man-made visual world, and focusing on technology that turns everything into pixels and data.  A visible world where we can find new ways to tune in through our portable devices which are constantly changing.
The use of technology in paintings originated with Pop Art, from Warhol’s screen prints to Hamilton’s and Blake’s collages took art in a new direction.  Laura’s use of sources makes me think about Matisse’s cut-outs and his use of collage and the way a composition is composed of editing, refining and manipulating shapes.  Laura’s pictures appear to be predetermined on the computer before they arrive on the canvas including the painterly gestures such as washes, dabs and swipes.  I was curious whether there is a space for spontaneity in her process.
Owens method like Matisse, Hamilton’s and Blake’s is a form of semiotic play.  There is a decorative element where a shape is cut out and put into a composition creating a visual rhythm and visual language.  There is a laying of images on top of each other where the contrasting elements with particular colours and elements in space give the work a striking ambience.
The result is a play of tension and expansion to create dynamic pictures.  It is a system for thinking about shape and composition and expanding the possibility of what we visually consume, which I find it exciting and playful.  It is very visually engaging and brings up many questions about Laura’s reliance on printing techniques, where her ideas come from, and the freedom of viewer to make associations in a picture.  As a result her work is undeniably a commendable subject for painting.
However, I believe that Laura’s work would be stronger if seen smaller doses as there are too many elements in the exhibition as a whole.  I don’t feel the need to revisit the exhibition for repeated viewing as I do after seeing a Francis Bacon exhibition.  Maybe this is because the compositions appear to be predetermined on photoshop, but possibly it is more to do with the overwhelming number of paintings on view.
Laura has created a vehicle to show what she sees, the work in the show is undeniably a visual sensation. Her work asks new questions about the most important kinds of processes of expression.  One of the most interesting things about this exhibition and why I recommend seeing Laura Owen’s work is that it is a critique of abstraction and about seeing the things in between the obvious stuff.

Eat that Frog by Brian Tracy book review

©Stuart Bush, No exit, pen on paper 43 x 61 cm
©Stuart Bush, No exit, pen on paper 43 x 61 cm
The title of the book comes from a Mark Twain quote. It suggests that if you start the day by eating a frog (a frog is a metaphor for your most important task), you will be happy to know that this is the worst thing you need to do that day.
I wanted to write about the book, ‘Eat that Frog’ because it contains a useful explanation of how to manage your priorities. I have over the years been highly unproductive because of procrastination, and this book has helped me towards overcoming the problem.
The most helpful sections to me were ‘Plan every day in advance’, ‘Apply 80/20 rule to everything’, ‘Practice A, B, C, D and E method of prioritising’ and the advice about removing distractions has had a real impact on my productivity.
©Vilfredo Pareto, The Pareto Principle All rights reserved
©Vilfredo Pareto, The Pareto Principle All rights reserved
The book is relatively short, compact and an easy read considering it is a self-help book.   I’m a note taker when reading books like this, as I feel it helps me digest the many learning points. I even turned a couple of chapters into mind maps, to help me capitalise on the useful advice.  This book has helped me with my productivity, and I would highly recommend it.

My favourite paints

©Stuart Bush, A form of confessional poetry, oil on board, 30.5 x 40.6 cm
©Stuart Bush, A form of confessional poetry, oil on board, 30.5 x 40.6 cm – £800 + shipping enquiry
 
I prefer a buttery, creamy paint; that is easy to manipulate and handle.  This is why Michael Harding’s Artists oil colours have become my first choice.  The strength of colour in the pigment is evident.  There is luminosity that speaks volumes, making my work stand out.  The flow, workability, usability and colourfastness of the paint is highly relevant to me.
 
I have noticed some other brands add less linseed oil into their paint, and this affects the usability and finish. Drier paint gives a matt finish while paint with more flow gives a glossy finish.  I have found that tubes of oil paint from other manufacturers with slightly drier contents will become unusable over a year or two, and this is very frustrating, though a hard, dry tube of paint can be useful at times if you require a matt finish.  I found that the best solution is to use a medium as mediums improve with handling and can increase the glossy finish.
 
Do you use any of these products in your daily practice? Your welcome to add your thoughts and start a conversation below.

What is success to me?

©Stuart Bush, A section of ourselves as a commodified object, oil on aluminium panel, 80 x 120cm
©Stuart Bush, A section of ourselves as a commodified object, oil on aluminium panel, 80 x 120cm – £3000 + shipping enquiry

 

Thinking about this question has made me think a lot about why I have chosen to be an artist.  There are many things why people give up on the dream of being a successful artist.  For example, because there is no stability and no regular income.  The chance of making it into a household name like Jeff Koons or Damien Hurst are highly unlikely.

Michael Craig-Martin once said, “when you’re 20, there are 50,000 other artists, by the time you’re 30, it’s down to 5,000, by 40, it’s 2,000. If you make it to 70, there are only 12 of you left, and you’re all famous.”  As the decades go on many understandably give up and realise it very hard to bring up a family on the small amount of money.

The Guardian wrote an interesting article titled ‘Can you make a living as an artist?’ and is worth a read. https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2012/jul/29/artists-day-job-feature?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

For artists that continue their chances improve and after several decades, when most artists have given up, your chances get better and better.

Another way to look it is, rather than seeing success as money is that I am already complete.   I can continue what I love to do, to got the studio and be creativity, and I am already able to bring up a family through my full-time job.

Success for an artist could be seen as, how Coach Wooden the highly successful American basketball player and coach sees it; “Peace of mind, attained only through self-satisfaction when knowing you made the effort to do the best your capable of.  Your the only one that knows that.  You can fool others but not yourself.”

By viewing it this way I can keep a playfulness in my practice.  So for me, success does not lay in being rich or famous or in my artwork but my relationship to my artwork and following a hunch in my work.

I think about the present moment, as my relationship is forever changing with my practice and whether I am doing the best work I can with the resources available.  I have the urge to direct my life in they way I want and through my art, I realise this is the area I have to most control in my life.  Most other relationships in life like, friends, family and occupations are much more of a compromise.

I also believe I am capable of so much more and I have hardly started. By working on what comes naturally, playing off my strengths, using intention, instinct, thought, imagination, observation and curiosity I can make my work a manifestation of me.

I want to use my intuition to reveal meaning and draw attention to something using my skills as an artist.  Possibly, making it a lifetime’s work and into what Alex Katz the american painter calls, ‘the big technique’. As I have a yearning to work towards something that is much bigger than myself and add extra meaning and understanding to what it means to be human on this rock.

http://www.artspace.com/magazine/interviews_features/book_report/alex-katz-robert-storr-interview-54050

Maybe one day a little recognition would be nice though!

Abstract expressionism at the Royal Academy of Arts, London

Over the years of visiting art exhibitions, few exhibitions have had such an impact on me as the Abstract Expressionist exhibition did at the Royal Academy.  I was staggered by the amount of impressive and inspiring works.  The first few galleries are hung in chronological order, then the order in the galleries changes and the work is hung related to styles and approaches, some rooms have work by more than one artist.  This changing approach works well as it easy to understand the relationships and contexts between the works in each room.
In one of the largest rooms, I found two of David Smith’s sculptures and one of Jackson Pollock’s drip painting next to each other, it was a stimulating experience.  David Smith’s sculptures ‘Hudson River Landscape’ 1951 (welded painted steel and stainless steel), and his ‘Star Cage’ 1950,  (painted and brushed steel) sat opposite Jackson Pollocks’s drip painting ‘Summertime number 94’, 1948, (oil enamel and commercial paint).  What was so intriguing and absorbing was how the lines in the three different works were so alike.  Pollock’s dancing splats of paint over the surface were heightened and intensified by the Smith sculptures. I have always delighted in interesting and complex spatial compositions and having these works next to each emphasised their associations.   While Smith calls his work, ‘drawings in space’, Pollock presents his as ‘energy and motion made visible, memories arrested in space’.  This juxtaposition of two and three-dimensional space was enlivening, inspiring and delightful to experience.
Jackson Pollock, Blue poles (Number 11, 1952), 1952. Enamel and aluminium paint with glass on canvas, 212.1 x 488.9 cm. National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. © The Pollock-Krasner Foundation ARS, NY and DACS, London 2016;

 

David Smith, Star Cage, 1950. Painted and brushed steel, 114 x 130.2 x 65.4 cm. Lent by the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. The John Rood Sculpture Collection. © Estate of David Smith/DACS, London/VAGA, New York 2016
David Smith, Star Cage, 1950. Painted and brushed steel, 114 x 130.2 x 65.4 cm. Lent by the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. The John Rood Sculpture Collection. © Estate of David Smith/DACS, London/VAGA, New York 2016;

 

Later l found work by Frank Kline.  I always appreciate looking at Franz Kline’s work and this was the first time I had seen ‘Vawdavitch’ 1955 and ‘Andrus’ 1961, (both are oil on canvas).  I enjoyed the simplicity of the subtle change in the colours and the spatial harmony.  I think Kline’s work has a strong relationship with poetry and music.  When I look at Kline’s work it always amazes me how ‘less is more’.  I always think of the Mies Van der Rohe quote when looking at reduced and distilled work where simplicity is beautiful.   It looks like Kline used a wide brush to create ‘Andrus’ 1961, he uses a few simple brush gestures in layers of mars black, cadmium orange, crimson, cerulean blue and deep purple mixed with different amounts of white.  The simplicity is intriguing and really sparked my imagination.
Franz Kline, Vawdavitch, 1955. Oil on canvas, 158.1 x 204.9 cm. Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Claire B. Zeisler 1976.39. © ARS, NY and DACS, London 2016. Photo: Joe Ziolkowski;
Franz Kline, Vawdavitch, 1955. Oil on canvas, 158.1 x 204.9 cm. Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Claire B. Zeisler 1976.39. © ARS, NY and DACS, London 2016. Photo: Joe Ziolkowski;
If I had a criticism of the exhibition it would be that you need more time to see everything, I found it challenging to select only a few pieces of works to discuss in this review as I really did feel blown away by seeing so much artwork of such a high standard.  After a couple of hours, l needed a break.   Having spent so much time with the works I have mentioned and looking at some of the pieces by other artists I felt guilty walking past further great pieces of work because I felt my eyes and brain needed a rest.  It would be great if you could revisit the exhibition on the same ticket on a different day.  I would happily go again.
If you would like to read more, there is a interesting review here on the Saturation Point site written by Paul Carey Kent, after visiting this show and the at the Museo Guggenheim, Bilbao: 3 Feb – 4 June 2017 and comparing the shows.

Refining my studio time – part 2 – The Law of the Jungle

©Stuart Bush, The Law of the Jungle 2015 oil on aluminium panel 38 x 76 cm - £3000 + shipping enquiry
©Stuart Bush, The Law of the Jungle 2015 oil on aluminium panel 38 x 76 cm – £3000 + shipping enquiry
After listening to Tim Ferris’s podcast the other day I checked out one of his recommendations and read ‘Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule‘ an essay by Paul Graham.
Paul Graham describes the difference between two types of time. Makers schedule and the Managers Schedule. I like how his simple explanations defines the two; Firstly Managers Schedule’s are cut into appointments around an hour long, sometimes longer, sometimes shorter for a single task.
While the Makers Schedule, is generally scheduled for about half a day sessions, as an hour is only normally enough time to get started.
This is all fairly obvious so far, it gets interesting when the two meet in daily life. As an artist you need to work with both schedules, to be productive in the studio and for meetings or social time.
A meeting in an artist’s day can really affect the productivity in the studio. Being aware of this helps me understand how to plan my studio time and business tasks for the week. It is important to plan for each day and review the plan the day before. I try to work out 2-5 tasks to achieve and with an understanding of how creativity works it is then possible for me to overcome procrastination and to be a lot more productive in the studio.
When working on business tasks or managers tasks as an artist, it is important not to let these stray into your studio time as this can be a time and energy killer.  Studio time needs the creative, open mind. We need to be in a relaxed, less purposeful mode where we are more contemplative and playful, allowing our creativity to take over.
Whereas Business tasks or managers tasks generally require a closed mind as there is little creativity.  By batching business tasks or managers tasks into blocks of time, they can be done away from the studio.  Putting emails, social media activities, meetings and admin tasks into a preplanned time slot just like the studio time means greater productivity.  Doing business tasks often makes the artist a little bit anxious and without humour. There are lots to be done to become a successful artist and overlapping the Makers time, and the Managers schedules can be counterproductive.
Unfortunately, business tasks or managers tasks have a way to find their way into the studio at times. For this, I recommend reading the book, Eat that Frog by Brian Tracey, and consider his helpful suggestions for removing distractions.