Friday, November 6, 2015

Layers of Laguna: Inception to Exhibition

Layers of Laguna 1, 2015, mineral pigments, indigo, shell white, copper, cement, sumi, pure silver on canvas, 60" x 56"

This painting was actually first conceived in October 2014 while I was in Southern California teaching. Being my first trip to this part of the country, I was struck by the the seamless integration of plant life, rugged terrain (canyons), architecture, ocean and sky. I have lived on the ocean, but never with hills or mountains. I have lived in the mountains, but never with oceans. I've lived landlocked and in very flat cities. The diversity here struck me as unusually beautiful. As mentioned in an earlier blogpost, I have since returned and will be going back again to teach in February. 

Here is a shot of  some intial studies that I was creating in the Laguna studio and a photo showing its integration in the Getting the Dirt on Paint class (abstract Nihonga for kids-using pigments from soils, oyster shells and organic dye colors) at Anneliese school

Layers of Laguna first study in process, 2014, Laguna Canyon, CA, iron oxide, cochineal, oyster shell white, azurite, malachite, sumi ink on Arches paper

Teaching how we can abstract from nature and make work "about the land with the land"
using gestural, free expression while paying attention to negative space as well as positive space.

Layers of Laguna 2, 2015, mineral pigments, indigo, shell white, copper, cochineal, cement, sumi,
pure silver on canvas, 56" x 60"

Monday, November 2, 2015

An Alchemic View

Thank you to all who attended the opening yesterday of An Alchemic View at the Mattatuck Museum including my gallery talk. The exhibition runs through November 29. This video is playing in the exhibition space. 

Another highlight of the exhibition (of course in addition to the artwork) is a display case featuring some of my materials. I asked my dental hygienist in Savannah (2010) what the gritty stuff was that she was using to polish my teeth and her answer was "Mt St Helen's lava". That was music to my ears and that's why it is featured here in a little blue dental bag. I received two and the first worked so well as a gritty chalk ground that I am now using a larger supply purchased from a dental supply website. This then sparked a chain reaction of researching even more pumice sources and I am now ordering different grits from jewelry fabrication suppliers. It acts similar (with varying results) to the quartz and calcite I import from Japan.

The little pink bag is Minnesota pipeline powder given to me by one of my workshop students. It is used in the test panel on the bottom left, along with South American cochineal. 

Display case currently at Mattatuck Museum

Display case information label 


I am continuously asked whether the origin of my materials informs the meaning and message of my work. Most of the time, the answer is no-I choose my raw matter for its inherent properties: particle size, hue, ability to saturate, absorbency, viscosity, refractive index, etc... I do know that certain ochres of the same kind vary in different parts of the world. For example, Indian red ochre (bengara from India) has different attributes than Arizona red ochre. So, in my studio, I keep them in separate jars. This is the case for many of my resources- even binders (another subject for a future blog post).

    Road to Jaisalmer, 2015, mineral pigments, spinach and turmeric powders, indigo, Taj Mahal marble, pure silver on Kumohada paper on panel, 24” x 30”, signed verso

However, in the case of this work, Road to Jaisalmer, I made an exception. I wanted to "build" a painting that would reference encounters from several trips to India between 1995 and 2005, so I did actually include pigment from organic and inorganic substances that I had collected there. The Taj Mahal rock was found on site during renovation. I couldn't resist "borrowing" just a few pieces. The organic items are spinach and turmeric powder, purchased on the street in little yellow plastic boxes wrapped in gold thread. The saffron was used in cooking- so it never made it in the studio mortar.

This piece is a good example of my signature layering. Each layer hides and reveals, while trapping light, texture and pattern. My inner landscapes and figure ground shifts are really showcased here.

I will be writing more over the coming weeks about each work in the exhibition in between sacred new-creation time. In the meantime, enjoy the video and hope to see you at the Mattatuck.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

In Process...

Hard to believe it has been over two months since my last post. I've been hard at work in the studio and the fruits of my labor were just hung this week at the Mattatuck Museum for my upcoming solo show An Alchemic View.

Since I've been deep "in process", it felt fitting to show you just that.....process pix. Enjoy!

This was a day of rubbing pigment on to the surface of a painting and spraying it with natural 
water-based binders. 

Between layers of graphite and volcanic ash, I applied Japanese gold and some drawing.

Several of my new works embody this ground treatment of indigo, ground marble and carbon on prepared raw canvas. Some areas intentionally soak through and others sit on the surface.


Layers of carborundum, liquid copper (copper powder and hide glue), cochineal washes, some cement and not the kitchen sink...but almost! This piece is still in progress so it will not be in this show. I often work on 10 pieces at once and the work that isn't finished- just isn't finished and it will show up sooner or later. 

This detail is from one of the Layers of Laguna works. The surfaces of these paintings are both delicate and gritty, pristine and weathered, near and far. I soaked, scraped, rubbed, painted, oxidized and scoured......

Silica, quartz, cement, azurite, indigo...a cellulose chalk ground... this is just a detail....

I am simply loving honing the unique craft of my new work. I feel more like a sculptor on some days than a painter...........and that's A-OK with me! 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Today in the Studio

Here are some details of larger, more involved paintings shot today in the studio. I am currently building 14 alchemic paintings at once layer by layer. Some are on handmade paper stretched onto canvas and panels, some are directly on raw cotton canvas, which has been soaked with several layers of hide glue and others are on 300 lb watercolor paper. Using natural resources en lieu of commercial paint enables me to achieve abstract surfaces that mimic the visceral qualities of nature. My recipes play with altered viscosity and absorbency in order to trap light and pattern under and on the surfaces. I strive for variety, translucency and depth. Much of this work was created without brushes: pouring, puddling, spraying, rubbing. Tomorrow metallic color and patination will be added to some areas in a few of the pieces. Always dancing between mindfulness and mindlessness....Stay tuned. 

                      Detail- mixed media shown here- sumi ink, inorganic and organic natural   
                      pigments, clay, graphite on prepared raw, cotton canvas.

                      Detail- mixed media shown here- inorganic and organic natural pigments,
                      silica, chalk gesso on prepared hemp paper on panel. 

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Importance of a Sabbatical

It’s been an interesting month. At the end of June I was a co-presenter at the AESS (Association of Environmental Science and Studies) conference at the University of California, San Diego. Our presentation aimed to instill the value of biophilic art and design as a way to bridge the boundary between nature and the built environment. This practice connects people to nature and improves human and ecological wellness. Participants were engaged and the feedback has been great. 

Preparing iron oxide pigment pots in the Connecticut studio prior to trip.

Richard Piacentini (Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh)  speaking about The Center for Sustainable Landscapes Project and meeting the Living Building Challenge. 

Sonja Bochart (Biophilic by Design, Phoenix) leading participants in guided meditation. Sonja presented her Phipps CSL Beta Project showcasing the work of 20 selected artists addressing the core themes of biophilic design.

Judith Kruger (Judith Kruger Studio, Connecticut) leading educators in a mini natural pigment-making-painting workshop. 

Having the opportunity to sit in on several other conference presentations, enjoy an ecosystem tour of Southern CA led by educator/author Mark Hineline (The Backyard Naturalist: Observing Climate Change through the Seasons to be published by University of Chicago Press, 2016)spend time with some fellow artists and students, work with a few consulting clients, visit museums and galleries in La Jolla, San Diego and LA (most notably Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui at MCASD and Mark Bradford: Scorched Earth at the Hammer), sneak in a quick visit to Hiromi paper store, visit some close friends and eat healthy food collectively added up to an awesome time.

El Anatsui at the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego

Mark Bradford at the Hammer Museum, LA

Shadows at the Getty on the last day........thinking about my paintings waiting at home in the studio

The best part of a sabbatical away from the studio is actually the act of re-entering with fresh eyes, abundant inspiration and calm energy. It's always so easy for me to advise others about the directions of their artwork, but often difficult to unfamiliarize myself from my own work enough to make easy decisions. Not only does the work look fresh and really great, it also tells me exactly what needs to be done to finish. This is such a clue that being away from the studio is often more important and productive than the time in the studio. Additionally, like the photo of the Shadows at the Getty here, it's what is not present, the white void, which often elicits the deepest response. 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Crux of the Whole

Friday I delivered a talk about my work. Not having been in the space for a few weeks, the work strangely appeared foreign. It interests me how a body of work consistently constructs a life of its own when installed in a new environment. Each intimate decision that was reached in the process of making, each mark that was mulled over defined and redefined over an extended period of time, now exhibits as one effortless entity.  This too is a form of transient alchemy: a love affair destined to soon be broken apart.

Judith Kruger, Hammond Museum, May 15, 2015, photo: Amber Maida

I can only wish that my students would acquire a sense of creative confidence to let a work just evolve and be, without excessive judgment or even attachments prior to its release towards an effortless state. A true master knows how to physically complete a work way prior to its apparent resolution. It's the unfinished business that elicits the most intrigue in the “finished” environment. It’s the imperfect business that elicits the most intrigue in the “perfect” environment. Time and time again, I find myself in a white cube admiring the beauty of effortless gesture, accidental marks and painting outside the lines.

This of course is easier said than done. It is forced perfection that embodies imperfection that cries out as bad art. We’ve all been there at one time. A painter friend recently reminded me that it takes a discerning eye to know when something is not working. Although, on the other hand, at times, it's just not complete and ready for the quiet after the storm.

I saw this in Bill Jensen’s works at Cheim and Reid. I can only speculate that some nights he goes to bed with enough unfinished business to feel out of control. The next day, the wind blows in the other direction and this continues like a pendulum until one day, when the wind is calm and the fear vanishes, the painting says leave me be. I’m ready to depart.

Bill Jensen, Tamascheck, 2013, oil on linen, 28.5" x 23"

Few people have the opportunity to see this surrender to process-the daily ebb and flow in our studios. I intend to share some of mine here: a space that is uncomfortable at times, and yet, the crux of the whole.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

A Love Affair With Rain

The beginning of new work in the studio for my upcoming November show

I once asked a grad school peer, "How does one know what to make from day to day in the studio or even show to show"? His answer was "it's like falling in love. You'll know it when you get there- it just feels right!" I haven't stopped thinking about that.

Anyone who knows me would be the first to say that I have a nearly obsessive love-affair with natural pigments, Nihonga, arcane gesso recipes, obscure paint potions-alchemy combined with abstraction and the fusion of art and science (all subjects that will be addressed here on this blog), however none of that really can answer the What question about the work. It answers How, but not what.

Most would be surprised to hear an abstract painter addressing this issue. Are formal concerns enough? Is intuitive process alone ok? Yes, definitely, but for depends. It just feels too insignificant to wake up and say "I think I'll make a red painting today" or maybe if I search through some Facebook or Instagram images, I'll see some inspiration. That may bring a painting or two, but not a continuous flow. I need a mission and I have a lot to say.

It was back in the 90's when I had the opportunity to hear Mihaly Csikszentmahalyi speak about his  work on the subject of flow at the University of Chicago. He spoke of the optimal experience and cultivating purpose. I believe as an Artist, when those go hand and hand, love will come. And when that love comes, it will surely be communicated to others and more importantly, flow continuously and authentically.  It will dictate action all by itself allowing an abstract painting to evolve somewhere between consciousness and unconsciousness. We need consciousness to begin, we need unconsciousness for the alchemy to unfold.

What am I painting right now? Rain. What am I reading right now?

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Welcome to my blog!

Welcome to my blog. It's been percolating for a very long time. In this tiny space on the vast web I will be sharing my passion for Alchemy: in and out of the studio. Please share this space with your friends and let me know that you were here. I will be growing the blog in time. Please be patient. Today, I just want to make it live! I'll start posting by the end of the month. Thanks for visiting.