Metes and Bounds

On May 26th, I put on my own show, titled “Metes and Bounds,”at The Annex, an event space in Minneapolis. Why wait to be chosen by a curator? I chose and curated my own damn self!

I did it for a couple reasons. One, I knew instinctively that having to assemble a body of work for a show would require a level of discipline and self-criticism that might not happen otherwise. Turns out that was true. In the process of bringing the show together, I must have touched each painting a thousand times. As I checked and double checked each piece, the words of one of my art professors, the intimidating Stu Luckman, echoed in my head: “You’re responsible for every inch of that canvas.”

Creekshed, 2022
Oil on canvas, 30 x 30 inches

Secondly, I had never shown my work in such a formal setting, unless you count the time, right out of college, when I hung some prints at a local breakfast restaurant. Which I don’t.

Watershed Boundary, 2022
Oil on canvas, 30 x 30 inches

Working in a dank basement studio, I don’t have the space and light that allows me to view any of my works from a distance, much less together. So, hanging these paintings for the first time, I was surprised to discover that they weren’t as divergent as I had imagined. Secondly, I use a crap ton of green! I should have guessed, because the sludge at the bottom of my brush cleaning jar is a dull grey-green.

Out by the Airport, 2022
Oil on canvas, 30 x 30 inches

All in all, putting on a show has given me a boost of confidence. I very much enjoyed inviting friends to the show and talking to many of them about the ideas behind my work. I even managed to sell a few paintings!

Undulations, 2022
Oil on canvas, 30 x 30 inches

I’m looking forward to the next art crawl in Minneapolis (if you haven’t heard, it’s a thing in this town), where I plan on renting some wall space to show more work.

Prayer to Diebenkorn, 2022
Oil on canvas, 30 x 30 inches

An oily transition

For decades, I’ve lugged around a crate full of oil paints. Several tubes were even left over from my college art student days. I had long stopped working in oils, but I knew I’d return to them someday.

As soon as the baby began sleeping for longer stretches at night, I knew I was ready to take on the task of re-learning how to work in oil. Despite my appreciation of acrylics, somehow I knew that in order to mature in my painting, I would need to go back to the medium that first seduced me. And conveniently, it turns out that all those old tubes were mostly all usable!

Oil paints get in your blood. Quite literally, if you don’t use gloves. But also figuratively. Oil painting is one of the most alluring of artistic mediums. Certainly, the paint’s viscous, tactile quality – from pasty to buttery to watery – is a factor.

The smell might be another. Linseed oil has an earthy odor – I imagine like an old attic or ancient cellar. It harkens to another era. The names of the pigments, at least the non-chemical ones, such as “raw sienna” or “burnt umber” add to the mystique. I’m never one to rail against new ways, but in contrast to so much in contemporary art, oil paints connect you to a long tradition in which painters actually mixed their own pigments from stone and plants and mummies(!).

But I think the real reason oil painting holds such a grip is that mastery is elusive and by definition experiential. The knowledge of working in oil can’t be transferred from a teacher to a student. Rather, it must be pursued. In his book “What Painting Is” James Elkins likens painting to alchemy, another ancient endeavor in which visionaries pursued the elusive.

After a few months of experimentation (what else to call it, if not failure?) I have reached a point where I feel my work in oil is at least defensible. It took time to regain the muscle memory of how the paint feels, out of the tube, thinned out in a wash, mixed with some more oil, or scumbled across the tacky paint from two days earlier.

Below are some of the pieces that made it out of the studio. There are many others, but for now (perhaps forever) are “in progress.”

Oil on canvas
15 x 15 in
oil on canvas
18 x 18 in
Divided and Conquered
Oil on canvas
30 x 30 in

More late night cutting and pasting, including a wintry experiment

This last piece, unfortunately, doesn’t show as well digitally as in person. It might benefit from another work session (if that happens, I’ll post the results below). But it’s an interesting departure and one that I’d like to explore further. I have a vision of a field of white with various shapes and colors subtly peeking through. I’ll make some more attempts at this scale (which is 5.5″ x 8″) but it might be an idea better suited for a larger scale (h’bout 5′ x 8′?), which might allow the viewer to feel somewhat immersed in the field of white, which would in turn make the glimpses of color more powerful.