This Grey Has Red In It

December is the month when many people take stock of the year that was but I actually look at the year to come. Mostly because when I sign new work completed after December 31st, I will be writing 2015 alongside the title, medium, and my signature. And every year I sign with a new date I have to give myself the annual pep talk of why I should sign that new date. And it was as I was finished mixing a grey the other day that I thought to myself, ‘would anyone know that I used red to mix that color of grey?’ It is almost as if I work secretly and quietly that no one would know how I mix colors or that I even paint a picture with those colors. Would my work just be that tree that fell in the forest? So as I decide whether or not to sign that 2015 date to my work, is it enough to delight in my own color story or should the tree fall and we pretend to hear it crash?

Here is the last work signed in 2014 titled Código which means code in Spanish and is a play on the word barcode. A barcode is given to an item in a store that identifies its description and price but these pieces will not tell their story with a scanner:

CodigoInstallationCódigo installation

I finally had a chance to see and catch up with the talented Francesco X Siqueiros at a gallery opening this month. It has been a few years since we have collaborated on an edition of prints at his studio, El Nopal Press. I first met Francesco when I was working as an assistant for the Los Angeles artist Laddie John Dill back in 1994. Laddie was working on an edition of prints with Francesco and I went to the studio to pick them up. The following year, I apprenticed at El Nopal Press and in exchange for my work, we collaborated on an edition of monoprints. Since then we have produced at least seven other editions together. The Morning, Noon, Night series collaboration not only secured a solo show at the now defunct Cruz L.A. Gallery, but won the 1999 James d. Phelan Art Award in Printmaking. If it were not for the joint effort put forth by both of us, the work would not have been as big of a success. Francesco offered a plate that he hand-made with this great textured surface for me to produce the work on. It was a wooden plate with 50 coats of thinly applied latex paint weathered by previous use. He was correct in the assertion that it would create an interesting juxtaposition and depth to my minimal composition and color.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Francesco and myself at our two-person exhibition, Irvine fine Arts Center, March, 2003

So based on my new Código work, I have come up with the idea for our next collaboration. Using the technique of my Morning, Noon, Night series, I plan to leave the minimal premise behind and go full blast into bold stripes of color. I’m hopeful that when I explain to Francesco my goal, he will help me implement the idea using his unique printing press: an amazing monotype and lithograph apparatus converted from an unused letter press.

elnopalEl Nopal Press, Los Angeles, California

As I learned while a student at RISD, a fine art printing press has one giant roller and when the paper travels through, the pressure pushes the medium onto the paper from a plate that has been pre-inked. A second run through the press yields a lighter but identical print called a ghost image. With Francesco’s press, there are two rollers with ink that not only spin but move back and forth left to right, right to left against each other. If just enough ink is placed on the rollers and on the right location, a feathered edge can be created and thinner lines of color can be applied to the paper rather than a flat (a solid color covering the entire paper usually used as a base).

Codigo1,2014,16x20inCódigo 1, 2014, acrylic on birch panel, 16″ x 20″

As stated by Edward Leffingwell on El Nopal Press: “Among independent fine arts presses (El Nopal press is) guided by the collaborative spirit of artist and enterprise…The prints produced by these artists, executed as lithographs, woodcuts, etchings and combinations of these processes, express considerations that range from the social and the ethical to issues of identity. The artists are often inspired by or draw on the popular culture that bears on these themes. As a fine arts business strategically involved in the representation, production and dissemination of ideas relating to specific cultural issues and ideas, El Nopal responds to a constituency of both artists and collectors. It seeks to foster respect for the proficiency of the medium and a responsibility for the ideological direction of the press. Finally, El Nopal Press seeks recognition for the work of the artists who are associated with the press as collaborators in its enterprise.”

Codigo2,2014,16x20inCódigo 2, 2014, acrylic on birch panel, 16″ x 20″

After my grandmother died in 1998, I was helping my mother to clean out her studio storage of hundreds of paintings. I stumbled across an abstract painting that looked to be quite old. In fact is was dated 1959 and signed Véra Pagava. The only thing my mother knew of the painting was that this artist had been a friend of my grandmother’s in Paris and it was a gift. They must have traded work as most of us do. I think my grandmother liked the artist as her friend more than the work itself for she kept it no secret what she thought of abstract art save for Pagava’s and my own. A few years ago, I decided to find out more about this Georgian artist whose family fled the 1917 Russian revolution for Paris when she was 12 years old. It is only recently that people are discovering and appreciating her work and in fact learning who she really was. Old information floating out there originally claimed she was of Czech decent and there were hardly any images or biography information to be had. I’m glad the world is now recognizing her as a great abstract mid-century painter too. Pagava died in 1988 and just now, she is appearing on the art world radar. I’m definitely heartened by the fact that collectors have found value in Pagava’s work for its quality and not just for its potential as a monetary investment.

Codigo3,2014,16x20inCódigo 3, 2014, acrylic on birch panel, 16″ x 20″

Apparently the naked theme continues here in the United States but this time the museum is standing by their artist in the face of an ignorant protester. At the MOCA in Jacksonville, Florida they are defending their girl against a city councilman who claims the nude photograph of a pregnant woman by artist Angela Strassheim is pornography and should be removed. Really? I’m exhausted defending nudity as natural, benign, and beautiful but read on here for the full story.

Codigo4,2014,16x20inCódigo 4, 2014, acrylic on birch panel, 16″ x 20″

Codigo5,2014,16x20inCódigo 5, 2014, acrylic on birch panel, 16″ x 20″

This month’s music: Röyksopp




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