Life, with Art

It is said that when selling artwork online one should take nice photos showing the art in a pleasing environment, such as you would find in the pages of home design magazines like Dwell or Architectural Digest. Looking at photos and ads in these mags, I get the feeling that the usually fluffy decorative paintings, which occupy about 1/10th of the photograph’s space, are worth a similar fraction of the tastefully designed room’s value. Want to make a $15,000 painting look like it’s worth its price? Take a picture of it in a mouth-watering, $150,000 interior.

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(One quick note: the painting there on the left is a Will Cotton, who is a living master of fluffy decorative painting. I saw one of his oils at the Dallas Art Fair last spring and the gorgeousness of the paintwork made me cry; artists like him keep artists like me away from representational oil painting. I have nothing to add to what he’s able to do with the brush.)

Another type of luxury interior shot–usually more about furniture than art–features young adults lounging on a couch or the floor, sporting comfy footwear, engaged pleasantly in a book or laptop, or smiling contentedly at each other. The woman should be holding a ceramic coffee mug. And if a child is playing quietly nearby, you have a masterpiece.

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Ahhhh, isn’t that the life? Cleanliness and order, tranquility and contentment, good lines, feng shui.

I am a skeptic, which means I ask for evidence to support a claim, and which I guess makes me a realist, too. I like for my ideas and values to correspond as closely as possible to the actual state of things outside of my body, in the objective world we all presumably inhabit. And I find little evidence in my experience that supports the existence of the kind of lifestyle enjoyed by the characters in these photos. They remind me of sitcoms in which one of the characters has had her baby, but the story must continue, so when new mommy needs to act like the grown-up that her audience is accustomed to, she just lays baby down for a nap or puts baby in a playpen where baby coos softly, or not at all, and lets mommy do her thing. Photography like this, and really all photography in most every magazine, drives me nuts.

So, in my ongoing effort to brush aside delusion and fantasy and replace them with a more familiar reality, I want to share my installation shot of God’s Covenant at the Event Horizon, in the condition in which it actually exists.

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Our furniture is used and well-worn; our bed is unmade; our laundry is underfoot; our carpet is characteristic of a rental home. Our kids do not play quietly or alone. JPS had the fun idea of bringing all his Batman toys onto mom and dad’s bed, and he only played with them solo because he saw that a camera was pointed at him. He has the reputation around here for lying on his back, absentmindedly spinning our recliner with his feet, if no one will play with him. His mom and I encourage independence in our kids, but the fact is that unless a friend or cousin is in the house, they are either playing with us or engaged with some kind of electronic screen.

If JPW were to sit on the floor with a ceramic coffee mug, it would probably end up shattered on the tile and certainly end up overturned on her clothes, few of which are white, because she is the mother of young children and knows better. We read mostly on the toilet, which is the only place where we can occasionally find peace. If we were to snuggle up on the couch with the laptop, we would be assailed by the children, who cannot bear to be excluded from gazing at a monitor.

I find life an insane, unwieldy, improvised mess. We humans are animals, and serenity, while longed for (as millions of magazine photos show us again and again), is rarely achieved, and short-lived. And I wouldn’t want it any other way. Life is an adventure that is not to be tamed by the right couch or composite flooring material. And certainly not by art. I think the best art and photography embrace and celebrate the insanity around us, which is what my photo of a painting in a home with a child is going for.

God’s Covenant at the Event Horizon, 2010

I want to catch you up on some of the larger artworks I’ve made in the last year since we moved to Garland. A lot of the paintings I’ve done over the years are in the medium-to-large size range–between about 3′ and 8′ in one dimension–which doesn’t lend itself either to ease of shipping or modesty of price; they are a bit heavy, and they take a lot of time to make. As you know, I have a broad commitment to finding ways of making reasonably-priced artwork and connecting to an audience that includes, but is not restricted to, the traditional contemporary art world. But, I am also committed to making the best artwork I can, and this pursuit sometimes takes me beyond parameters such as pricing, weight, scale, and so on.

God's Covenant at the Event Horizon, 2010

Now that I’ve begun the Camelot quest and I’m making the effort to meet the members of my community here in the Dallas area, as well as on the web, I want to make these larger, more intensive pieces of art available for your viewing and, because there’s always a chance, purchase. If a neighbor did one day decide to buy one of my larger paintings, the collector, being local, is all-too-easy to reach for delivery, so shipping would be a non-issue. For now, and for simplicity, there will be no Paypal buttons for these pieces, as I don’t expect those of you who live far away to want a painting shipped to you at a cost somewhere in the low $100s, considering crate-building, weight, and insurance. And for you local potential collectors, cash or check is an easier form of payment, and I don’t have to cough up a percentage to Paypal for handling it. If one of you would like to subvert my expectations and pay for the crating and shipping of this or another large piece to you, please show me the error of my ways, and I’ll accommodate you posthaste.

That long preface behind us, let’s turn our attention to the painting above. It was one of the two paintings I first made once we got settled here. Some of you may have seen it on my former blog, Look On My Works. It’s comprised of many layers of paint which I alternately built up and sanded down until I liked what I was looking at, which is a kind of supernatural cosmic landscape, and I titled it with the kind of language Wayne Coyne uses to name Flaming Lips songs.

Covenant is acrylic on canvas, 48.5 ” x 41.5.” It lives in our bedroom, as it has since last autumn, and, unlike most of the stuff I’ve made as an artist, I haven’t gotten tired of looking at it. In fact, like the best work an artist does, it makes me say to myself, “Wow. I can’t believe I made that.”

Jim Public Is Growing Up

I’m happy to announce two extensions of the Jimiverse!

First, I’ve made this blog available for Kindle at Amazon.com. The cost, set by Amazon, is $1.99/month, and you get a 14-day free trial. If you click the Amazon link in the sidebar, just there to the left, not only will you be taken to the Amazon page where you can subscribe to Jim Public: Your Local Artist, but I think I get a couple of cents if you end up subscribing to it after having clicked that specific link! I can already feel the weight of those pennies jingling in my pockets…

Next, I created a Twitter account. I’m @jimpublic. As I make blog posts, I will tweet the link over there in addition to providing a link on Facebook. If any of you can suggest some good folks to follow on Twitter, shout them out. So far I’ve already stopped following a lot of comedians who keep spouting out mean-spirited one-liners that just don’t work for me.

It’s thundering outside! Our crunchy corpse of a lawn may just have a second chance at life.

Camelot? Yes, Camelot

In my last post I talked about making mistakes, and although I don’t intend for my errant ways to become a habitual topic on this blog, I would like this morning to present you with an example of sloppy decision-making.

When I dreamed up this idea of Facelife I first came up with the quest of meeting all my neighbors and then I came up with the name, which I thought was a funny reaction to Facebook and to what is lacking in online social media, namely facetime; society functions better when we, in addition to choosing our friends as we do online, also have to learn to coexist peacefully with the more random assortment of folks near whom we happen to live in our community.

In naming my endeavor, the responsible route would have been for me to consider the name for a while, weigh the pros and cons, and decide, ultimately, if this would be a name I was willing to stick with. If Mark Zuckerberg, for example, decided that he didn’t like the ring of “Facebook” and decided, today, to rename it “Zuckerbook,” pandemonium would ensue.

My neighbor-meeting project has no ambition or possibility of becoming the type of cultural and business phenomenon that Facebook has become, but I should have treated it with the same kind of care at its inception, because renaming things in mid-stream is bad form. But, it turns out I don’t like the ring of “Facelife.” I don’t want something I’ve done to have a reactionary title. (Last year, I purchased a web domain called “jamezon.com” before dumping it for similar reasons and moving forward with the better-named “jimpublic.com,” and I should have kept that lesson in mind.)

As I’ve been chatting with neighbors and learning more about this community, I’ve learned that the neighborhood’s nickname is “Camelot,” which I should have deduced on my own since the name of each street here has an Arthurian regality to it. So, henceforth, my quest is now called Camelot! I won’t be going back and re-writing history in old posts, but I have re-named this category on the blog, and the term “Facelife” will cease to issue from my lips.

To Camelot!

Screwing Up, Over and Over Again

If I ever decide to write a blog devoted to my screw-ups I have an overabundance of material to work with. I could begin with my decision on Monday to write down as much as I could remember of my conversation with Marge so I could share it with you, as a kind of character sketch to accompany her portrait. Because we had such a nice, long chat, I was concerned that I might mess up some of the facts, so, like a diligent journalist, I submitted a draft of my story to her for fact-checking.

After delivering it to Marge, who received it with alarm at having possibly anyone read what she had to say to me, I realized that I was a jackass. Conversations are generally understood to be meant for those involved, and I had done the equivalent of revealing a hidden tape-recorder to my new acquaintance, which could not have been great for her trust in me. I spent the rest of the evening, all that night, and the next morning preoccupied with the guilt of having been a jerk to a senior. And the following morning, seeing her in her yard after I had dropped off JPG at school, I pulled up, rolled down my window, and told her to disregard the story. I apologized for the invasion of her privacy, and told her that I’ll just stick to chatting and drawing.

I think it turned out okay. She didn’t mind what I had written and, anyway, was way more interested in talking to JPS, who was groggy in the back seat. Don’t you love how seniors adore children! Seeing her affection for my kids helps keep things in perspective during the many times a day that those guys drive me nutty.

I lack the gift of playing out scenarios to test them for potential problems, and I’m only a little less bad at identifying my screw-ups as they occur in social situations. Usually I just go for it and stand prepared to apologize, which I end up doing quite a bit and which can’t be good for the image I’d rather project as a man who knows what he’s doing and stands behind it, no regrets.

Fortunately there is an area of my life about which I am resolved and confident–my artwork. But I screw that up all the time, too. However, one thing about art that makes it better than life is that when I screw up a drawing, nobody gets hurt but me. And it does hurt. I get frustrated at my feeble skills and then take a minute before I start another drawing, wondering how I’ll manage to make it any good after all the botched versions leading up to it. I present you a case study below.

4 Erins, each screwed up

I spent twice as much time failing to get a likeness of Erin as I did eventually finishing the drawing. I would draw, realize it was awful, get angry, leave the table all flushed with hopelessness, and then return to start the cycle anew. Drawing a young woman has its challenges, because every line has the potential to age her by decades. Erin, who is probably a couple years younger than I am, kept turning out looking like a wizened, mature woman from the Rex Morgan comic strip. The woman in the upper right looks okay, just not like Erin. I especially marvel at the version of Erin as Abe Lincoln.

So, I share this with you as evidence that one success is usually the outcome of many failures, and that the cliches about never giving up are good advice.

Painting at the Elementary School (Year 1 of 9)

Elementary Hall Art 1

With JPG in 3rd grade and JPS not starting kindergarten for another two years, the Public family is looking at eight more years of involvement with our lovely neighborhood elementary school. Last year was our first year in this community, and my wife and I volunteered throughout the school year and over the summer, assisting with field trips and parties, teaching a few art lessons, making props for the talent show, and, finally, painting five inspirational-type words in the hallways, as you can see above and below.

Kindness, Respect, Attitude, Honesty, Responsibility.

If, during each of the nine total years that we’ll be a part of the school, I spend a day or two adding some painted flourishes to it, I’m hoping it will be an all-out public school spectacle by the time we’ve moved on to middle school.

So, I am finding ways to merge my missions of being an artist and doing something worthwhile in the community. Volunteerism is an excellent way to achieve this goal. And, when one volunteers for her community the effort is never fully given away because, as a member of the community, she receives the benefit of the work along with everyone else. The same goes for making drawings of my neighbors and giving them the original artwork: we both win in that exchange because, as it has been through centuries of human society, the gesture of gift-giving enriches the relationship that is being established.

Elementary Hall Art 2

Neighbor, August 23, 2011

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Facelife has begun!

On Monday morning it was not yet 90 degrees and there were some clouds in the sky. “The sooner I start this, the better,” I thought, and I recalled that I had seen a retired-age woman working in the yard of the house where I had planned on beginning the neighbor-meeting campaign, which meant that she might be home during the day. So, before I had time to think about what I was going to say, I approached the door and rang the bell, relieved that it was too late to worry about whether or not to go through with this.

The woman opened her door and I introduced myself as Jim who is trying to meet everyone in the neighborhood. After a few seconds, when she seemed comfortable with the idea that I had just come by for a chat, she stepped onto the porch and we began a visit that was to last for the next 45 minutes. I thought about the piece of door-to-door soliciting advice that warns about people who would take up too much of your time talking if you let them, and we laughed when I shared with her that this admonition was the very thing I was hoping for.

Marge is very nice. I took my kids over there yesterday to say hello, and she gave them some books, lollipops, and a ceramic Casper the Friendly Ghost that goes in a flower pot. We talked about knowing one’s neighbors and how it can improve our quality of life. She told me a story from her childhood about an old Jewish man they called the Sheeny (she never knew what the spelling was supposed to be) Man who came through the street once a week collecting old tires and other castoffs. She said that when he came through, rather than chasing him off with a brandished stick, she and her siblings would run inside to her parents shouting, “The Sheeny Man’s here! What can we give him!” I like that little story. Having a sense of community forces each of us to judge less and accept more.

I feel good about this first door-knocking! We’ve chatted a few times over the past few days. I hope I don’t have to endure too many shoo offs and/or language barriers before I find more folks who are up for a neighborly chat. I gotta say, I’m a little high right now. The social beast in me, for the first time in a long time, is patting its great belly, eyes half opened, smiling, sated.