I Finished a Painting

I finished a painting.

It’s a good sized one, almost sixteen feet wide by eight feet in height. For a few practical and other reasons, it is a triptych, three large canvases meant to be seen together as a whole.

I created this painting as a part of a proposal made about a year ago. The university I teach at, Minnesota State University, Mankato (in Southern Minnesota) has a competitive lecture series called the Douglas R. Moore lecture. Mr. Moore is a past president who established this lecture series. There’s even a monetary award, which is cool. It’s always great to get paid to talk about what I love to do.

Which is paint.

My idea for the lecture was to discuss a recent body of work I call Magical Landscapes. The structure of the lecture is to talk about the history of landscape painting in American Art, the Modern era of landscape, Contemporary influences and then I document the making of one of my paintings.

My intent is to explore how to make a painting from the ground up. Sort of a step-by-step account of the process. From a historical perspective, to contemporary precedents, development of the content/direction and then the actual painting process. I guess sort of a demystification of making a work of art. Somehow, I have to jam all this in a thirty-minute talk with questions to follow. Talk about editing! My discussion of the history of American Landscape painting will be at best…cursory.

That’s for my talk though, come to it! March 27th, 7pm, Ostrander Auditorium here on the campus of MSU,M.

I’ve been posting the creation of this painting which I’ve titled “Moon Within” on social media. I’ve been doing this because the dialogue I’ve had with my social media community has really helped me to figure out the lecture and yes… the painting. It’s been a true collaboration and I’m appreciative of all my friends and their commentary. Much of it will be incorporated into my lecture.

One question several friends have asked keeps resonating in my head.

How do you know it is done?

It’s one of those difficult questions because there is a basic disconnection between what the viewer thinks about the painting process and what the process is actually like for the painter. The viewer sees the completed painting without the many steps between start and finish that the painter took to bring it to that point of finish. This presupposes that the painter had a clear plan and objective, which is sometimes true but mostly never.

I always think of it as taking a trip. There is a destination I’ve set. I even know how I’m getting to that place. Yet the trip itself is always full of uncertainty and usually a bit of chaos. Same with a painting.

A painting is finished when it declares itself complete! Within the time frame of a few moments, to continue the travel analogy, it has become a destination, a place, a world of its own making.

A big mistake a lot of young painters make is that they start their next painting on top of the one that just declared itself DONE! The declaration just wasn’t heard. All my years of painting has taught me to listen and to hear my paintings yelling at me. Although there are times when I still drive over the cliff with the painting screaming at me!

A painting is finished when:

It is a surprise

It looks like I didn’t make it

It is delightful, not heavy

It won’t let me touch it

It is self-declarative

It is fully present, further changes seem inconsequential

But there is a problem with all of this. Here’s the problem: There is no finish, no end, no completion.

All of the paintings I love, Rembrandt, Picasso, O’Keeffe, Burchfield, Turner, Murray…it’s an endless list…I walk up to that painting, I stare at it, it’s a shadow!! I cannot figure it out, I get closer, I never will figure it out, I’m confronted by a mystery that is inexplicable, I keep staring, I think I’ve got it….there is no point in trying figure it out…the point is to indulge and savor the mystery.

That is when a painting is truly finished, when it embraces the mystery of its own making. The irony is that it is finished when it is unfinished!

I’ll be exploring these sorts of thoughts in my lecture on March 27th. Come to it if you are in the area. I’ll also be exhibiting “Moon Within” so you can see it in person.

Much love to you as we relish the mystery of our unfinished evolving lives!  

Moon Within  184”x96”  Oil on Canvas  2019

Moon Within

184”x96”

Oil on Canvas

2019

The First Decision

My studio is a disaster, my shop is a disaster...stuff everywhere!

My work is back from different exhibitions. I just finished a huge remodel of a space in the Poor Farm. Now I have to start organizing. I've learned over the years it's all about the first decision. I'll pick up that bit of string over there on the floor, that tiny little bit of junk, the hunk of plastic--that is how things start.  My personal philosophy to anything is to just start with the tiniest problem, or the most insignificant action, focus on that and the rest follows.   

If I think about the enormity of the problem, before I make those tiny decisions, I would never start.

Making a painting is exactly the same way.  I have to make that first, usually very small, random decision, then the rest falls into place.  It's almost easy.  I try to teach this to my students but they are so often focusing on the grand things, the big questions and problems that they often become frustrated and don't do anything.  Or what they make is compromised by their frustration.    

I hope you have a good day focusing on the tiny things.  

 

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Algoma

Stop turn left

Stop turn left

A while back I drove east from Mankato for six hours, stopped at Lake Michigan turned left and ended up in Algoma at the James May Gallery.  I had been invited to be part of an exhibition titled, The Art of Water.  It was an ambitious effort by the two owners of the gallery, Kendra Bulgrin and Jimmy Eddings, as they were coordinating the display of over fifty different artists in multiple venues around Algoma’s downtown.  The vibe opening night was all about the community as the gallery opened its doors to a flood of art lovers loving water. 

Great turnout for The Art of Water

Great turnout for The Art of Water

Algoma is a town at the entrance to the famed vacationland of Wisconsin, Door County.  Growing up in Illinois and spending my summers over on the Western side of Wisconsin I had never been to Door County.  My mad dash and left turn was the first time I had been there. 

Algoma’s downtown has a Midwestern understated elegance that I’ve come to appreciate.  The kind that hints at former prosperity and then loss.  The Mason Lodge Hall dominates with typically decrepit silence.  There are old stores, a few antique shops and a couple amazing restaurants in particular Scaliwags and a fantastic hamburger joint.  

Wilbur and I took the backroads across Wisconsin on our way to the opening.  I love back road Wisconsin.  Lots of meandering curves, hills dotted with cows and strange little towns.  There’s a European feel to a lot of them.  I always fantasize that I'm driving in Southern France. We stopped at some cool little coffee shops, checked out some lunch spots and had a nice slow roaming day in our car. 

So many small towns in the Midwest are looking to “the arts” to save them.  It’s kind of odd.  That idea that arts will save a crumbling downtown.  What I think will save downtowns, what will save communities, are the things we do to bring us together.  Things that we do that create dialogue.  Things that we do that fill our souls and fills our spirit with air and lightness.  That’s what art does, it fills us with light.  Art will save us from ourselves because art is not about us.

Art is about asking questions, it is not giving an answer, it is about twirling a poem around your finger snapping it out into the night sky shaking the stars, sparks rising, wind blowing cold from the north.

Art must challenge.  Art must challenge.  Art must challenge.  I needed to repeat that three times. 

I live in a smallish town that is using art to revitalize itself.  When people ask me about this I always say “Art is subversive”.  Art is not an acknowledgement of the status quo, it is something that digs down to question the status quo.  Nothing else does this.  Art is a subversive gesture. It asks really simple questions like, “who are you?” or “are you who you think you are?” or “is the color yellow really the color yellow?” or “Why do you hate?” or, “Is this circle the sun?” or "Why is love everywhere?"

Nothing else does this. Nothing.

James May Gallery

James May Gallery

The James May Gallery is a spunky gallery in the middle of a little town on the shore of the magnificent Lake Michigan or Lake Mishigami.  It’s a body of water that dangles down into the Midwest like a watery negative Florida shape.  Chicago, Green Bay, Gary, Milwaukee perch on its shoreline.  All old industrial cities, rusted artifacts.  The foundries and factories are gone just lightness and grace. How do they cope?

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Partially through art and it is happening in both cities and rural outposts like Algoma.  I admire people like Kendra and Jimmy that are working hard to create a place of energy, beauty and heart.  

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I'm in an exhibition with two other artists, Jimmy Eddings, who creates gorgeous ceramic work and Clare Doveton, who creates beautiful ethereal landscapes.  I am honored to be included with these two artists.  

Our opening is October 6th from 5:30-8:00pm.  Wilbur and I will be there.  If you are in the area I hope you will be able to stop by and say hi.  If your travels take you anywhere near the area, check out the show.  It is up through October 30th.  They also have a wonderful online store at: 

https://squareup.com/store/jamesmaygallery/

Check them out!  
 

http://www.jamesmaygallery.com

Kendra and Jimmy

Kendra and Jimmy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Starving Artist, Fat Book of Poetry

Two things are happening in Mankato this coming weekend that you don't want to miss.

First is the massive Twin Rivers Center for the Arts fundraiser/awareness party at the Masons hall in downtown Mankato.  The Poor Farm Studios hosted this party exactly a year ago and I’m still in recovery.  It was simply magnificent!  The objective for this event is to create what I like to think of as a “creative head space”.  A space where a non-artist person gets inside the head of an artist.  It’s scary, exhilarating and slightly confusing.  

Last year at the “Starving Artist at the Poor Farm” there were many randomly occurring events that the party goers interacted with.  If you want to get a sense of what happened please check out the great video created about that event.

When?  Friday September 22nd starting at 8pm.

Here's a link for more accurate and well written info including how to get tickets...

http://www.twinriversarts.org/starving-artist/

Here's the really cool video of last years event.  It will give you a taste of what this is about.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zQPzlpnaYGM

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The Starving Artist at the Temple has the same objective as the party here at the Poor Farm but it’s in a different location.  It’s at the mysterious Mason temple in downtown Mankato.  I’ve never been in there and I can’t wait to check it out.  You should to!  Expect many delightful randomly occurring happenings as you “get into the head space” of an artist! 

THE SECOND THING!!!

The second thing happening is a book launch reading by the Poet Richard Robbins.  Rick and I have been friends for a long time, Wilbur and I are thrilled to have him launching out here at the Poor Farm Studios. 

His new book titled, Body Turns to Rain New and Selected Poems, also features a cover by yours truly.   It’s a wonderful FAT collection that includes new work as well as returns of some older works.  Rick is an incredibly prolific poet who writes of the American West, roads, Hollywood, fishing, nature, ephemera.... all with a finely tuned sensibility. (Ok, I stole finely tuned sensibility from the back of his book) But it’s true!  His work is fine, his readings are always inspiring.  For me there is nothing better than having an accomplished poet read their work in my studio.  The words float around bumping dust motes, sticking to the paint on my walls.  It’s delightful, come on out!  Maybe we will have some beer.  You can float around and stick to the paint on my walls!  

When?  Sunday September 24th from 2-3.  What?  Only an hour??  We will hang around and chat.  Come on over we would love to see you. 

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I'm In An Opera

Ok...not ME...but my work is going to be featured in a multi-media opera.  It's one of those wonderful opportunities that drops in a persons lap. 

The composers name is Peter Michael von der Nahmer.  His operas have been staged all over the world.  He is from Germany and currently living in New York City.  The McKnight Foundation generously funded his visit to New Ulm and the community art center The Grand has been facilitating his activities.

He seems to thrive on collaborations, as he has been very busy collaborating with many of New Ulms residents.  I was invited to meet Mike and discuss the possible use of my paintings in the opera he was working on. 

I met Mike had a terrific conversation about art and music.  We seemed to have very similar approaches and philosophies about our respective work.  Of course what he does is entirely different than what I do.  Yet I think that is one of the interesting things about collaborations.  You discover that a person, another artist, working in entirely different forms, has parallel interests and creative motivations.  His work has a rhythmic structure that "feels" like my paintings.  For me it's a kind of "syncopated" sound.  Or movements with sharp pushes of energy.  Hard to explain but I can feel it in my arm when I paint. 

The production is titled Growing Young/Growing Wise and I have no idea what it is about or what it will look like.  For the record I love that.  Mike has an incredibly organic, flowing quality to his creative process.  We talked, we exchanged emails, we talked more, I've been listening to his music, he's been looking at my paintings and the thing has grown.  He's also been doing the same with all the other collaborators.  For a lot of the process I wasn't at all sure what we were doing.  It changes and moves.  It is a living, breathing, moving created thing.  I think Mike will be making adjustments right up to the performance.  It looks to be an amazing multidimensional experience. 

Reflections/Sunset

Reflections/Sunset

I was inspired to create some new paintings by two of his musical compositions.  One is titled, Small Object the other ReflectionsSmall Objects tells a story, it has a strong narrative that I responded to.  Reflections have a very different feel to it and I ended up creating a bunch of work in response to its tone, feel and movement.  We have talked a lot about the emotional impact of a work of art.  That's always been a difficult idea for me.  I think emotionality is somehow more "hardwired" into the musical experience.  Although James Elkins in his great book "Painting and Tears" writes extensively about the phenomenon of people breaking down into hysteric fits after looking at certain paintings.  So it can happen.  I've never cried while looking at a painting, although I've cried while reading a poem.  Poems get to me.

It's this Saturday August 26th at the State Street Theater, New Ulm.  Time, 7pm. 

Here is a link to one of Mike's works.  Check it out you will love it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=soEtO_KJy80&list=PLTZfifSJANRkBY85dFotufksCLYUvV37O&index=1  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I love the United States...but Ohhhhhhhh Canada!

After six straight days of driving and camping Wilbur and I finally arrived at The Cape Breton Highlands National Park in the Canadian Provence of Nova Scotia. 

We are nearly as far as a person can drive eastward, ok...if that isn’t true then let’s just say it feels that way.  We are in the Atlantic time zone, a time zone that doesn’t touch any part of the US, so that would seem pretty far.  Anyway after that drive I really don’t want to drive any further.  I have deemed this as far east as it is possible to drive.  

Wilbur contemplating the ocean

Wilbur contemplating the ocean

 

It’s incredibly wonderful here.  We are camping a short walk from the ocean and the air has a quality unfamiliar to those of us landlocked in the Midwest.  A tangy freshness with a hint of rotting kelp-like stuff.  It's nice.

Wilbur and I try to travel as much as we can.  When the opportunity presents itself, (meaning money) we head to foreign soil.  Our cheaper alternative is to camp around the United States and Canada. 

In my opinion we are kind of lazy travelers.  We mostly just go to places and hang out.  Neither of us are into checking off the boxes of  things to see.  We are not really into rigor or being overly ambitious.  Mostly, both of us, like to hang around reading, eating....drinking a bit.  My favorite travel advice is to try and do nothing, let things happen.  

Well, that's not entirely true.  I also love to make paintings when we travel.  I sold my very first painting back in 1987.  It was to the University of Wisconsin and they bought it for 600 bucks.  It was a big sale for me and more money than I had ever received for a painting.  We used the money to buy some super basic camping gear and headed with our two kids, ages 4 and 6 months for a week long camping trip to the Black Hills of South Dakota.  It was a memorable trip for a few reasons. 

The first memory was that on our way home we only had enough money to buy a big Mac and an order of fries to split.  The second was that each night after Wilbur and the kids were asleep in the tent I sat at the picnic table, with the Coleman lantern hissing away making weird little ink paintings.  I fell in love with the idea of making my work in places that are unfamiliar and new to me.  

Sitting on the beach promoting Freisen's Bakery!  

Sitting on the beach promoting Freisen's Bakery!  

My interest is not in painting what I see or do what is called "plein air painting".  Rather I'm interested in capturing a sense of the place and maybe a quality of air and light.   Call it a tone or a vibe or whatever, I can't figure it out.  It's just a sense of the place.  

My typical process is to do a few location paintings and then just hang out in the campsite doing work.  Sometimes I paint what I'm looking at in the campsite, a tree or a rock.  Other times I paint from memory.  During this trip to Canada Wilbur and I hung out at the beach for a day.  I did a couple of paintings, then the rest were done at the campsite.  The campsite becomes my studio. 

People are always interested and will stop to look and chat.  This time a really nice family from Ontario kept checking in on my things; kids love seeing someone painting outside.  Once in Colorado at the Longs Peak campground I even did a little exhibition for a family.  I leaned the work I had done up on picnic tables and we had an opening.  

My French Easel and paint stuff

My French Easel and paint stuff

I think my painting is the way I relate to the world of my experience and consciousness.  When Wilbur and I are driving or walking we will talk about stuff, point things out, enjoy something especially odd or beautiful.  Yet for me, it's the painting that creates a coherent understanding of these new places.  It's like I absorb the rhythm and sense of a place.  

I have another memory.  Years ago Wilbur and I were camping at Bandolier State Park in Colorado.  (A marvelous place BTW), we were hiking.  As we hiked along I observed Wilburs hand brushing up against some small pine trees.  Later she wrote a poem that contained an image of pine trees.  Her hand and body had collected it through touch.  That taught me that most of our observations--the ones that matter--are deeper and not necessarily associated with vision or sight.  This is why I paint when I travel.  It's a way to retain a deeper sense of a moment and a place.  

If you are interested in seeing some of the work I have made on our last two trips to Canada please check out my Canadian Portfolio.      

 

A Bit on Manual Transmissions, Politics and Being DegeneraTe!

I’ve been invited to participate in an exhibition at Allison Ruby’s wonderful little upstart gallery called Red Garage Studio.  It’s her garage.  It’s her studio and it’s her gallery.  Tucked away behind her home it has become a community workshop and space for engagement.  Her space and spirit is what I like to think of a “punk upstart”, she is making something happen and bringing incredibly positive energy into her community.    

Red Garage Studio is in its second full season offering exhibitions wryly referred to as the “Manual Transmission” series.  Last season I had the pleasure of participating in one of these exhibitions.  An important part of her exhibition philosophy is that the work has to be:

“created using hand processes, with minimal or no technology or digital fabrication. Even multimedia work, which obviously involves technology to produce, is created with the direct action of the artist such as hand-drawn animation, hand photographic manipulation, or performance.”

So Manual Transmission….get it? 

I love it.

I’m in the upcoming exhibition titled the DegeneraTe Show.  The title of the show makes clear reference to the famed exhibition in Munich Germany staged by the Nazi party.  We all know what happened.  So it is a timely exhibition considering our own current political climate. The exhibition features forty fantastic artists, you can expect a lot of energy and outrage, a great mix for incredible art.  I am very honored to be included in this group.

I never think of myself as a political artist per se.  In the past I’ve done a few works that made direct political commentary but it is not my typical mode of work.  However I do think my work is political, all art is political.  Any human activity that asks the question “Why”? becomes a political statement.  It is a statement questioning the status quo and the perceived order of things.  The original Degenerate exhibition in Munich is a good example of what I’m talking about. It is also why repressive regimes, like the Nazis, work to silence creative human expression of all kinds. 

 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Degenerate_Art_Exhibition

The Degenerate Exhibition, Munich Germany, 1937

The Degenerate Exhibition, Munich Germany, 1937

About a year ago I started making paintings of dark waves.  These are paintings that come wholly from my imagination, not based on observation.  They are paintings of a turbulent sea or lake at night.  The water is thrashing and threatening, a storm is coming.  These paintings were done as our political season was thrashing along.  I see them as metaphors for upheaval and turmoil.  Perhaps a foreboding future. 

Dark Wave, 2015

Dark Wave, 2015

The painting I’ve included in the Degenerate exhibition is called “Dark Sail” and it is a continuation of my dark wave paintings.  It was inspired by a recent trip to the shores of lake Michigan.  As I stared out at the water I kept imagining a sailboat with a black sail drifting by me on the lake.  The sky was an eerie dystopian brown.  I didn’t want to paint the entire boat so I chose to crop it, almost as if I was hiding from the people on the boat, seeing only the top of the sail over a wall.  It’s an image that also pays homage to the Klansmen paintings of Phillip Guston, one of my favorite painters.  

Dark Sail, 2017 

Dark Sail, 2017 

 

The opening for the DegeneraTe Show is Friday July 21st from 7-10pm.  Allison throws a great party and I hope to see you there! 

http://www.redgaragestudio.com/event/the-degenerate-show/

 

 

    

 

 

 

Memory of Water

Brian Frink

Memory of Water

Two Rocks 2012  Collection: Swanson and Hinsch CPA 

Two Rocks 2012  Collection: Swanson and Hinsch CPA 

 

What I refer to as my Memory of Water series began during a month long artist residency on The Great Cranberry Island, an island thirty miles off the coast of Maine. 

 

John Heliker and Robert LaHotan were two painters that had established New York careers.  When they died a foundation was formed and a residency was created in their summer home and studios on The Great Cranberry Island.  It is named the Heliker-LaHotan Foundation Residency.  In 2012 I was invited to spend the month of September making work there as a resident artist. 

 

The space I worked in was once a small two-story boathouse situated next to a tidal basin.  It had been renovated into a studio for Mr. LaHotan.  A large picture window faced the ocean.  Windows surrounded the space and the central part of the studio was open to a second story.  A narrow spiral stairway connected the two levels.  On the second floor there was an ornate desk and a small day bed.   

 

My original plan for the residency was to wander the island and do more traditional landscape paintings.  When I was assigned this studio my plans changed.  Walking into the studio I instantly realized that I would be sitting in front of that picture window making paintings.

 

Every day I woke up around 5am, made some coffee and walked out to the studio.  I watched the sun come up the fog break and the water move.  I painted and made drawings.  The tide slowly rose, the tide receded, I would have lunch and then climb the spiral stairway to the second story.  I took naps on the daybed.  Waking, the ocean would have risen to the very edge of my studio.  It felt like I was on a small, tall, light filled boat.  The reflection of water rhythmically played across the ceiling as I drifted in and out of sleep.  The tide went out, leaving shelled creatures for the seagulls to fight over.  Rocks, hidden by the high tide were fully exposed, sides slick with kelp.  I was in a magical, dream-like place. 

 

After three weeks of steady work I had one large sheet of paper left.  My residency was nearly over.  I contemplated what to do with this final work.  Without being aware of why, I rotated my painting surface so I was not looking out of the large window that I had been staring out of for the previous three and a half weeks.  That was when I made my first Memory of Water painting.  By not looking at my subject I began to understand it.  By focusing on my memory of water--previous experiences, conscious, sub-conscious, genetic, became part of the subject. 

What I think of as my first "Memory of Water" painting 

What I think of as my first "Memory of Water" painting 

 

My Memory of Water series is a contemplation and consideration of the mysterious, defining, paradoxical relationship between memory and experience.