Saturday, May 26, 2012

Graduate School, Year One

Fall Semester

Ryan and Self Portrait (both details) Graphite on cotton rag, 30x22ea 2011

Last July, I moved to Philadelphia and embarked on the greatest journey of my life thus far. After two years working on my own, I decided to begin my Graduate degree.  I applied to one school and found it to be what I was looking for; this past fall I began my first semester at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

My first year studio and inspiration wall, including an original drawing from Nancy Grimes

I spent all summer looking forward to once again having a studio, and having an opportunity to work around my contemporaries and amidst a staff of critics and professors whose work I respected. The first semester brought many challenges and a lot of rebuilding; the content of my work shifted somewhat and the compositions and images were in a huge transition period.  In fact, the fall semester work is hard to talk about without justifying it with the work of the following months, but I wanted to share the progression of my imagery.

Duplicity Graphite on Cotton Rag 50x36in 2011

I began  the semester in the same vein as I have been working previously with vast multi-figural compositions: I completed several studies and the beginning of a painting, which I left out of this catalog since they seem completely irrelevant.  After my first few critic meetings, I decided that in order to improve my compositions, I needed to pair down and work on more intimate groupings of figures for the time being.  To compensate for the smaller groupings, I increased the size of my drawings and worked on them as finished pieces as opposed to studies for paintings. 
The transition in my imagery was coupled with a transition in my personal life, and I found it useful to deal with the concerns and novelties of a new relationship through the exploration of my imagery.  Duplicity is the first attempt at in that vein, and I found it to be a very crude one, but the size and shape of the composition gave me many challenges to address throughout the rest of the semester,

Indecision Oil on Linen 2011

Taking the advice of one of my critics, I decided to approach this painting in a new way, which, from my inexperience was a bit of a catastrophe.  Working directly on the canvas without preparatory studies or a pre-planned composition, this painting turned into a semester long struggle without much of a resolution. In an effort to deal with the large scale and the immediacy of composing directly on the canvas, I ran into issues of a cramped and unrealized composition and lack of color and value complexity.  All in all, a big, three month failure, a failure that taught me a lot and influenced the remainder of my work for the semester.

Cupid and Psyche Graphite on Cotton Rag 50x36" 2011

I have always been very interested in narrative and found difficulty in creating narrative and allegory in this new body of work.  I was exploring novelty and trust in relationships, but could not figure out how to depict those things visually in a way that would translate to a larger audience.  Looking through the artists where I draw my inspiration, I found that historic narratives may benefit me in my own work.  Using the symbols and narratives of mythological and historic characters, I began to explore the connection between the stories of these characters and the allegories I wanted to create. 
The first story I was drawn to is that of Cupid and Psyche; this image became a representation of trust and knowledge, of desire and loss.  It is in our nature to desire what we do not have.  The moment we gain a prize, we look for the next step, we eat a slice and look for the rest of the pie. We question what we have instead of appreciating it, not seeing that the realization of our desires may cause us to lose the base of the tower we have been so feverishly climbing.
The myth of Cupid and Psyche states that the young Psyche, offending Venus with her beauty, startles Cupid, who is sent to make her fall in love with the most hideous man on earth.  Cupid scratches himself with his arrow, and inadvertently falls in love with Psyche.  Cupid comes to Psyche every night under the cover of darkness, forbidding her to light a lamp and see him. Psyche, urged on by her jealous sisters and the desire to know her husband's identity, lights an oil lamp and finds Cupid in her bed. A drop of oil falls and awakens Cupid, who flies off outraged at her lack of faith. Psyche is left to mourn her loss.
In the beginning of my new relationship, this story became a metaphor for communication.  I have always been awkward with talking and asking for things, which seemed almost intensified with intimacy.  I found myself weighing the need to know where we stood with the possibility of hearing something I was not expecting.  
Psyche could have been content with an anonymous happiness, but her desire for knowledge led to her loss of everything she had and did not appreciate.  It was a story of trust.

From the struggles in the making of Indecision, I found that my work was lacking from the absence of life study.  The bulk of my images were created from my imagination or reference from books, and lack of reference was a weak point in my compositions; too many factors were relying on my imagination so creating a cohesive space or color structure seemed impossible.
To remedy this, halfway through the semester, I began sitting in on Scott Noel's painting classes and doing some work from the model.
Life Study Oil on Paper 2011
Self Portrait Graphite on Cotton Rag 30x22" 2011

Addressing many issues towards the end of the semester, I decided to do some portraits form life.  I found that in the large drawings, my line was too uniform since I invent figures out of oblong shapes that I draw towards the outline, by proxy, over-defining the silhouette.  I wanted to explore if having an image in front of me would remedy the problem.

Ryan Graphite on Cotton Rag 30x22" 2011

I wanted these portraits to act as a double portrait of sorts, I treated it initially as almost a decorative project, but I have come to appreciate the portraits as part of my body of work even if they do not act narratively as the previous pieces.

Self Portrait Oil on Linen 34x22" 2011

In a response to the rather disastrous first painting attempt, I worked on this portrait from life to see if the color cohesiveness would improve.  This is where I left off at my final semester critique and spent the winter break working and reworking Indecision and preparing studies and a canvas for Cupid and Psyche.
My apologies to anyone who is still reading for neglecting to post for almost an entire year, but I hope to make up for it in the following weeks.  Please check back in the next couple of days for my work from the Spring semester.


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