This commissioned piece for Team Diva Real Estate practically painted itself.
When I first met screenprinting, it was love at first sight: The squeegees, the screens, the physicality of pushing the ink through the holes, the feeling of being a human printing press. But mostly I think I fell in love with it because it forces me to reduce images into their simplest, most essential forms and to just go ahead and DO it already. With a painting you can futz around with it for awhile and dither, putting off major decisions. It is nearly impossible to this in screenprinting. Should you lose your focus and start to futz, the punishment will be swift and obvious. And it’s just paper, so you try it again.
If there was anything my pandemic-addled brain needed forced upon it this summer, it was focus. Before any of this nonsense started, I had already been working on eliminating the dithering from my painting. I was wondering if I could paint in big, bold simple shapes of primary colors, and yet somehow treat my subject matter, particularly the people, with the same depth and dimension. The tiny food paintings were a move in this direction: the colors stayed clear and the shapes simple, yet they were also painterly. They were a successful experiment, but also a pretty low-hanging fruit cocktail, being so small and not on fabric. I then started several slightly larger paintings on fabric, but I’ve set them aside for a bit while I pursue the radical simplification of screen printing.
Andy Warhol famously said he wanted to be a machine. I finally understand what he meant. The particular machine I want to be is a color separation machine, the one that takes a multicolored image and decides how many dots of cyan, magenta, yellow, or black it takes to reproduce the colors. Nowadays that process is done with Photoshop or the like, but back in the day they’d take four pictures of the image, each through a different colored filter and a screen that divided the image into little dots of density.
I wrote a while back about my obsession with CMYK printing. It hasn’t abated. In fact, for the last few years, I’ve only painted with those four colors, closely approximating the printing primaries, but continued to mix them like paint. For this project I am printing with only one color at a time, controlling the density with transparency. The color separations I’m performing are radically simplified from even the traditional photostat process: Each image is made by pressing the ink through a tyvek stencil I hand-cut with an exacto knife. I determine what each color’s stencil will look like by transfering the image by hand on to each piece of tyvek, using only a carbon-paper-like material. It reminds me of using old mimeograph machine stencils. While the local communal printing spaces remain closed, and with them my access to fancier equipment, I’m really enjoying working so low-tech, using tools and materials I have on hand.
The Joy of Jello print is a limited edition—there are only 15!—and available on my shop page. Each print is crafted with by my own inky hands, signed, and numbered. These prints are part of the Artist Support Pledge: To support one another, artists around the world are selling affordable work (under $200 or thereabouts when you convert to pounds, euros, etc.). Once I’ve made $1000 in sales, I will buy some art from another artist (I can’t wait!). This is the first of several print series I’ll be selling as part of the pledge. Stay tuned.
Update: The Farmhaus was featured in the New York Times Real Estate section; scroll through the slideshow—one of my paintings even made it into a shot!
Late last year, I heard from my fabulous collector Lisa Picard. She was looking to acquire a painting for a modern getaway spot she’d designed and built in northern California, and had her eye on this one . . .
Alas, this particular midcentury goddess had already found herself a home. So Lisa decided to commission work specifically for her new place. She was drawn to the restfulness and solitude of the lady in her spare-yet-sort-of-busy modernist expanse. Lisa built her country retreat to be a relaxing gathering place for herself and her community of outdoorsy friends. She was looking for art that would embody restfulness, and also the dualistic nature of her work and life: developing dynamic, urban work places in big cities, but feeling equally at home pedaling her bike through rugged mountain terrain.
The commissioned work was destined for the guest room, which is in a separate structure from the main house and connected by a patio. It has a garage door that can open the entire room to the outside. The house epitomizes the California ideal of indoor-outdoor living—which is of course right up my alley! We ultimately decided on two facing paintings: One would capture the reviving solitude of this creative urban dweller’s country place; and the other the communal nature of both work and play. (Of course, at the time we had no idea that solitude would soon become a recurring theme for everyone, and communal bonhomie a fond memory.)
I spent the spring and summer of 2020 developing the imagery for the two concepts. The mid-century ladies whom I normally pilfer from magazines to use in my paintings are models posing as housewives. In my work they often stand in for the viewer; in this case the viewer was a CEO of a large company and her contemporary, active, nature-loving pals. The main character in the solitude/interior piece had to draw them in and feel like a kindred spirit, despite her fifties-housewife trappings.
I spent a lot of time on the geometry and perspective of the interior. As in the painting that inspired it, the space was to be largely defined by a tile floor. For this kind of project, I use a chalk line to draw the receding parallel lines of the floor and walls, anchored by pushpins at the vanishing points. I could geek out for hours about the particulars of perspective (and I have), but I’ll spare the reader that part of the journey. This interior took elements of two houses from a book of Julius Schulman’s photographs.
I swiped this gal from a Culligan ad. The magazine that she’s pretending to read features, not surprisingly, another Culligan ad. Like many of my star players, she’d appeared in a previous painting.
Choosing the fabric is critical; it sets the tone of the painting, and is the one thing (besides the shape) that can’t be changed. The choice is part instinctual, part circumstantial (a model had just scored the brown fabric and gifted it to me). In this case I was focused mostly on the main character’s outfit. I had already decided that the left one would be her top and the right one her pants, and planned to leave some matching curtains in the distance. The one on the right is kind of wacky, and I nearly swiped it for a dress for myself, but the sympathetic vibration between the stripes and the different shades of orange in the two together won out.
The second painting was to be set at night, from the outside looking in, and with multiple characters, perhaps at a party (remember those?) or its aftermath (yes, even more fondly).
This house is also a composite. I usually draw it first, then draw potential characters on separate pieces of paper, so I can pin them up and move them around. Scale is a matter of trial and error: I move a figure up and down on the drawing, to find a believable spot for someone that size. Sometimes they never feel quite right in the space and I have to toss them. Many of these people were cut from the scene.
The shape required me to build three irregular panels, one with five sides.
The phone lady is another recurring character from my past work. Her friend in the chair was someone I’d been wanting to use for years: she had me at the knee socks, but her setting is intriguing, too—a sort of flattened theatrical space. Perhaps the corrugated translucent fiberglass will make its way into some future painting.
I chose more oranges and browns for the fabric, to unite the palette of the two facing works. The brown tiki print would be someone’s groovy swimsuit, and also double as some sixties “primitive” art on the wall.
Both final paintings, and their stunning home, can be viewed on my commissions page.
Earlier this year, I was thinking to myself that I really wanted to do something meaningful to help swing the 2020 election in the direction of good and away from the direction of dictatorship. Because of our goofy electoral college system, my “blue state” vote alone isn’t worth much, and neither is knocking on doors, as far as the presidential election is concerned. I had heard about an organization, Movement Voter Project, that raises funds in states like mine and gives the money to grassroots groups in swing states who fight voter suppression and get out the vote. I convinced my co-curator, Dara Solliday, to add a benefit for MVP to our annual “100 under $100” show, scheduled to happen in June.
Of course, the big group shows we loved to create, our hall crowded with people vying for affordable art—obviously couldn’t happen. (Neither could knocking on doors.) In May I reconvened my dream team (via Zoom) of artists with multiple skill-sets in marketing, art installation, press relations, etc. and we decided to make the benefit happen anyway. After all, with a disastrously mishandled killer pandemic, racist tweets, federal troops invading the next town to beat up protesters, voter rights under even more vicious attack—you get the idea—our motivation to make a change was all the more urgent.
So we organized the thing as an online gallery and auction. We collected the physical art from the 50 artists, hung it in the upstairs gallery, and posted it online, along with a donation link to Movement Voter Project dedicated to our event. Donors of $100 or more can pick out a piece of art (while supplies last!) and pick it up* in September, when we may be able to open the gallery to the public to see the whole show before the work goes to its new homes.
The artist who created each piece will remain anonymous until the work is selected, so I can’t post mine yet. However, a complete list of the illustrious names of the artists I persuaded to donate is on the ’57 Biscayne website.
Well, how many artists are there?—that’s how many ways they are doing. Undaunted by the vastness of the question and my dubious credentials for answering it, I agreed to go on KUOW’s The Record and give it a go. Last year I had promised myself that I would limit the lecture circuit to stories about art and try to stay away from the real estate stories. Alas, last year’s promises have evaporated along with everything else, so I went on the show. I told her the truth, which is that artists I know are all finding creative ways to survive these crazy and difficult times. On top of that, and more to the point, they pay their rent when no one else does. Hear the entire interview here—I’m at the top of the show, or you can scroll to the bottom of the page to listen to just my part.
The Food Art Collection is now open by appointment!
You can view my new show of 24 tiny round food paintings, I’ll Never Have That Recipe Again, in the lovely apartment gallery, with masks and at a safe distance, through August. Contact Jeremy to make an appointment. All the work is also viewable in their online gallery.
I have been painting twisted vintage Americana, much of it food-related, on found fabrics for over twenty years. A couple of years ago, I found myself with an overabundance of tiny (4″) plywood “doughnut holes” left over from building larger round panels. The tiny circles were so appealing, I had to make them into painting supports. I used them for studies of the food that was piled on a table in a commissioned piece I was working on at the time. I was trying to mix the weird colors found in 1950’s cookbook illustrations of processed food, mimicking the color printing process by using only four colors of paint (CMYK) plus white.
The project later evolved into a way to trick myself into painting more loosely. The tiny paintings were from scraps, and such a low investment—if one wasn’t working, I’d just paint over it.
I would get hungry every time I worked on them, even when the food was kind of gross.
In my work I’ve often depicted highly decorative culinary concoctions that channeled an inordinate amount of female creativity into bizarre and ephemeral projects. For example: start by gutting a simple potato, loaf of bread, or hard-boiled egg; mix the innards with other ingredients, primarily mayonnaise; then stuff them back into their original container to create a similacrum of the original—now there’s a productive use of time! Working alone in a room painting detailed, labor-intensive food pictures makes me feel a sort of kinship with my homebound foremothers who labored over the actual food. Their creations were devoured (or not), the evidence of their labor and ingenuity vanished. Art is arguably undervalued in our culture, but at least there do exist people willing to shell out money for it and hang it on their wall. So I’ve got that going for me anyway.
I was finishing this series just as the pandemic was starting to drive many of us into the cocoons of our homes. Home-cooked food has suddenly taken center stage as a source of comfort and symbol of togetherness. There has also been a resurgence of food-as-craft-project, a reincarnation of the fifties mom sculpting strange concoctions out of humble, edible materials. We’re mourning our former social, public, busy lives, and appreciating anew things we took for granted, including sharing food with friends. When we finally re-gather and rebuild and sit down to a nice dinner together, we’ll be starting from scratch, as it were, in a new world. We’ll never have that recipe again.
Appropriately, this series of twenty-four food paintings will be shown for the first time in a home. The Food Art Collection has existed as a gallery in curator Jeremy Buben’s apartment since 2017. We had already planned to show this work there this year, just before everybody went home and did everything, including showing art, online. Opening in June, all the paintings in I’ll Never Have that Recipe Again will be hung together on a real wall in a physical gallery. They will also displayed on the gallery’s website (and online store), and video tours and talks will be scheduled in the coming weeks. The paintings will remain on display in the physical space through the summer. We anticipate possibly moving into “phase 2” in Washington next month, which means the gallery will likely be open for in-person viewing by appointment in the coming months. A reception seems less likely, but stay tuned.