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.

What do I love about being an artist?

©Stuart Bush, The will to live part 1, mixed media on paper 43 x 61 cm – £400 + shipping enquiry

©Stuart Bush, The will to live part 2, mixed media on paper 43 x 61 cm – £400 + shipping enquiry

©Stuart Bush, The will to live part 3, mixed media on paper 43 x 61 cm – £400 + shipping enquiry

©Stuart Bush, The will to live part 4, mixed media on paper 43 x 61 cm – £400 + shipping enquiry
There are many reasons why l wanted to be an artist. But the main attraction is the creative process. As an artist l can take an idea or a hunch and using my creativity and skill, which has grown over many years, bring the concept to life. The process of turning an idea from a thought to something of significance takes a set of unique skills mainly involving play and experimenting with what works best.  The whole process and journey is a stimulating challenge.  Once the idea if finally completed, once l am finally satisfied, it becomes an object and an initiator of further ideas for both myself and the viewer. Completing a project gives me an enormous sense of achievement which even overcomes any of the exhilarating ups and downs along the way.

Karl Marx talked about the problems of consumerism and the alienation of labour. He states that if you are cut off from the fruits of your labour, then you are cut off from your creativity and you lose your sense of self. I think this is one of the main problems with the Western consumeristic society. People are not in touch with the output they make or the completion of the tasks they carry out. I believe this causes many psychological problems with our individual purpose. During the process of making art l get closer to my deeper self, the artwork becomes an extension of me, my purpose stretches out before me. No-one else can make another exactly the same, no-one else has my thoughts.

This is an interesting thought provoking short video on Karl Marz on Alienation and about what makes us human.

Being an artist and being creative connects us directly with being human, and that is the main reason I love being an artist.

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Book review – Eric Fischl’s ‘Bad Boy’

©Stuart Bush Blind boy (2007) oil on canvas 50 x 70 cm
©Stuart Bush Blind boy (2007) oil on canvas 50 x 70 cm – £650 + shipping enquiry

Eric Fischl was born in 1948 in New York City, his suburban upbringing and career as an internationally acclaimed American artist is presented in his book ‘Bad Boy’.
Fischl shares his deep wounds when discussing his personal relationships, especially with his depressed and alcoholic mother. These troubling experiences made their way into his artwork creating a dialogue about his personal wounds and ironically they ultimately lead to him getting into trouble.
The death of Fischl’s mother inspired the work he became famous for. It is interesting that after his first solo show in New York at the Edward Thorp Gallery in 1979 and the following success lead to him ‘going off the rails’ as the book title suggests and he enjoyed success a little too much.
Fischl’s book is informative and helpful to other artists. There is interesting advice and tips about how to deal with the process of being a successful artist and he discusses the issues and ideas in his work.

Eric Fischl says in the book, “Painting. Is a process that guides me back through complex experiences that I didn’t have words to describe or understand.  It relieves feelings and memories and brings them forward with clarity and resolution.  Each one of my paintings is like a journey, a process to excavate nuggets of emotion, artefacts of memory, the treasures buried in my unconscious. My imagery evokes feelings that were once too painful to ephemeral or too embarrassing to articulate or even to remember.”
Eric Fischl’s ideas are well developed and considered as you would expect from someone who has had international success as an artist. He uses clear, convincing and honest language. I think the book is a good read and has lots of information and advice about dealing with life an artist. I enjoyed reading it and strongly recommend it.

©1981 Eric Fischl, Bad boy, oil on linen, 170 cm × 240 cm - All rights reserved by Eric Fischl
©1981 Eric Fischl, Bad boy, oil on linen, 170 cm × 240 cm – All rights reserved by Eric Fischl

Composition and mixing colours techniques

©Stuart Bush, The pursuit of truth, oil on board, 50 x 70cm
©Stuart Bush, The pursuit of truth, oil on board, 50 x 70cm – £1000 + shipping enquiry

In my painting ‘The Pursuit of Truth,’ I was interested in exploring the composition of an image.  A composition is usually referred to the arrangement of elements within a work of art.  An artist arranges the different elements into satisfactory relationships creating a sense of balance and pictorial harmony, while exploring rhythm, scale and movement. The composition of an image is  instinctive; when it is done well it has remarkable power and originality.  It can make you feel alive, and question; What is this?

Resolving problems when mixing the wrong colour
I was trying to make a particular grass coloured green that would work well with other colours on my painting.  I mixed cobalt blue with cadmium lemon.  Instead of arriving at the colour I hoped for, I had a dullish green mix on my palette which I was not happy with at all.
To remedy the problem I spent an hour or so creating a new colour swatch for my studio wall.  My first task was to make a value scale of each colour with white.  I extended this with a set of colour swatches with blues and yellows in value scales.
This task gives me knowledge of my palette and the colours I could make which can be further expanded with other common colours that can be mixed together.  I realise that the task of doing these tests swatches helps to fit it in my memory which makes the process of choosing the right colours to mix together a lot easier.  It certainly helps to make me feel more confident and decisive when using colour.
blue-and-white-swatch
Blue and green coloured swatch
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Engaging with madness of the human condition

A thought came to me back in 2013 if your not happy living in the real world, create an alternative for yourself, a different way of looking at the world an ask yourself some deep questions;
What are the forces behind living things?
What does it means to be human?
How do you paint an antidote?
How do you paint a scream for help?
The outcome is a parody of human nature that looked behind the mask of our society at the underlying aggression and attitude, randomness and cruelty of the world.
©Stuart Bush, Walking that clown walk - prep work
©Stuart Bush, Preparation drawing before ‘Walking that clown walk’ painting
In this preparation piece before the final painting on canvas, I considered how my idea was going to work.  I had this idea about using newspaper to form the architecture in the background and in this prep work I simplified my idea.  The quick mixed media sketch was very helpful when it came to making the final painting.
When I made the painting I was surprised how challenging it was to create the newspaper collage.  It took a very long time to get it right.  I became very determined to make the newspaper look like the building and architecture by using the lines of print and edges of the newspaper.  I am very pleased with the final outcome.
©Stuart Bush, Walking that cat walk 2013 oil on canvas 100.3 x 130 cm
©Stuart Bush, Walking that clown walk, oil on canvas 100.3 x 130 cm – £1400 + shipping enquiry

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