Sunday, December 27, 2009

"Firtler" 2008, oil on panel, 31"x29"

Magnus Enckell (1870-1925)

It feels dangerous sometimes to share a great love. One is always fearful of sounding too sentimental or naive. It is dishonest however, to have a painting career without acknowledging what one has learned from others. Any artist who implies that their creative voice somehow sprang to life without influence is not to be trusted. A painter who has profoundly influenced my work is the great Finnish Symbolist and Post-Impressionist artist Magnus Enckell. His work has a spiritual, almost mystical quality. His Symbolist work's compact design displays a restraint of color and gesture that concentrates the introspective mood. Enckell's identification with the sensitive male adolescent is particularly moving. Sensuality and spirituality are perfectly balanced. These pieces never succumb to the considerable danger of becoming kitsch. Among the Symbolists, there are very few who didn't lose themselves to decorative, sensual, or sentimental excess. Later in life, the mood of Enckell's work lightens. His Post-Impressionist phase becomes more colorful and pastoral. This major change in his approach is very inspiring in it's apparent fearlessness. I am smitten by Magnus Enckell.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Unsolicited Advice from a Relentless Optimist

Yikes. Can things look any worse? It's pretty clear at this point that most of us were underprepared for the economic downturn and it's devastating hit to the art world. Freshly produced art sits unsold in struggling galleries while art institutions limit their programs or close their doors. Collectors and patrons sit paralyzed with fear. Last week Sotheby's and Christie's hosted sales with some encouraging results, but for those of us who produce or handle contemporary art, a turn-around seems pretty far off.
I have been accused of being annoyingly optimistic. Yes, I'm the kind of guy who proclaims that a hardship or setback is really some sort of divine gift by which to learn profound life lessons. I would like to think that my "bright-side" thinking is a cheery form of pragmatism. If life takes a big crap on you, use it as fertilizer!

Here is some advice to myself and other artists....

The following tips contain observations on the peaks and perils of the recent art market boom. While I was certainly an experienced artist at the time, I spent much of the last few years in the middle of an artistic crisis. This seems to be typical of my "opposite world" relationship with the art world. (Other examples include moving to New York at the start of the last crash of the art market, and a solo show which opened two days before 9/11...) That said, I prefer to think that my somewhat peripheral point of view has allowed me to remain objective.

-Take Time:
When the art market was at it's peek, many artist's felt pressure to overproduce in order to take advantage of the demand. Shows often seemed rushed; very flashy, and a little thin. Now that demand is down, it seems like the perfect time to dismiss the assistants and let them work on their OWN pieces. In order for work to be subtle, smart, and be made with quality it usually needs time. We should savor it.

The fine art boom created another pressure for artists. In order to be noticed in an increasingly shrill and competitive marketplace, artists struggled to find a definitive look or concept. Once a strategy was successful it become difficult to abandon. Isn't it a great time to make work that may only serve as pathways to other discoveries? We should dare to make some half-starts as well as some spectacular failures.

-Embrace New Opportunities:
So, with all the uncertainty it seems all we can do is work hard to survive and recover. I would suggest it's important to take the time to do things that remind us of why we live as artists in the first place. Here are some simple activities I am pursuing to do this...

1) Learning a new skill, like writing a blog.
2) Researching things I love. At the moment this includes Scandinavian Modernism, King George V's gay brother etc.
3) Painting a piece for my home.
4) Volunteering.
5) Building an art collection by trading my paintings for pieces produced by my friends.
6) Seeing as much art in person as I can.
7) Giving away a piece to someone who loves my work but can't afford it.
8) Teaching someone something I know in exchange for their time teaching me.
9) Pursuing an activity I love, but in which I show no particular talent; a sure way to combat perfectionism.

OK, so enough with my touchy-feely, hippy-dippy free advice.
Hang in there.

"Effie" 2009, oil on panel, 31" x 28 3/4"

Monday, October 26, 2009

Blissful and Bewildered.

Life can be strange. Today, my husband Tom and I had our first wedding anniversary. Just a year ago we were celebrating our union with 150 friends and family members on the rooftop of Art Center's South Campus. Days later, Californians would vote yes on Proposition 8, leaving Tom and I in the bizarre position of being married but protesting for marriage equality.
Tom and I have been together for almost 14 years. We have always determined what our relationship means on our own terms. Suddenly, perfect strangers voted to express their disapproval. Now, on our anniversary, Maine is facing a similar vote. I have never expected strangers to appreciate the beauty of my relationship, but I never expected them to feel they had the right to legislate it into oblivion.
Bliss, wedded or not, is the best revenge.

...our wedding day as photographed by Nathan Smith

"Flicker" 2006, oil on canvas, 48"x40"

I'm not much of a joiner but.....

I can be a bit of an artistic loner, but the great painter Kent Williams asked me to participate in a group show he was curating at Merry Karnowsky Gallery in LA. The opening was crazy/crowded and looked great. Most of the artists work in a brooding figurative style, so I was a little bit of an oddball with my saturated color. It was a thrill to find that Peter Liashkov, an influential teacher of mine at Art Center was in the show. One of my favorite former students of from AC, Sara Escamilla showed some haunting and sensitive sculpture. It's fun playing in a different sandbox. Thanks Kent.

Pictured are;
"Bearded" 2009, oil on panel, 25"x23"
"2 Beards" 2009, oil on panel, 60'x48"

and the invitation featuring Kent Williams' work.

Merry Karnowsky Gallery
170 S. La Brea Avenue
Los Angeles CA 90036

Curating is fun!

Alix Sloan is a gallerista goddess. She has also been a peerless friend for eighteen years. So, when she asked me to curate a landscape show at her gallery, I said "yes please". Here are some photos of the installation, as well as shots of the opening. The cityscape is by Erik Benson. The nice looking folks posing together are three of the artists: Clare Grill, Ryan Mrozowski, and Jean-Pierre Roy.

Sloan Fine Art
128 Rivington Street
New York, NY 10002

October 14 - November 7

With works by Erik Bensen, Thomas C. Card, Clare Grill, David Jien, Ryan Mrozowski, Marion Peck and Jean-Pierre Roy.

"Chippy" 2008, oil on panel, 28'x28'

Hello world, this is Aaron....

What can I say? I have finally conquered the crippling perfectionism that prevented me from posting a blog. I have decided I can live with a sporadic, impulsive, and rambling blog. After all, it just might be more accurate than a slick one.

This is Aaron Smith. I am a painter living in Los Angeles. As part of my blogger's block recovery, I make no promises about any subsequent content. Here goes...