Tag: painting

New work in polygons

New work in polygons

For the last several weeks I’ve been painting instead of making prints. I was feeling a bit of an itch to paint, it’s true, but the primary factor is that printmaking is difficult to do without the right equipment and supplies – supplies too toxic or messy, and equipment too expensive or cumbersome for a one bedroom apartment with two humans and a graceless cat. Gouache is easier. Cleaner, faster, smaller, lighter.

I think all artists fantasize about possessing endless, or at least very generous, resources that allow for the freedom to create whatever is in our heads. But the reality is that restrictions of time, space, and (mother of all) economics often shape our practices. The years for this struggle are long and arduous: it takes time to build relationships with art dealers, curators, consultants, collectors and institutions. Extraordinary work (we hope) must happen within the most quotidian constraints.

Recognizing the practical limitations I must contend with for now, I began painting in gouache. I thought of them as studies, at first: rough, unfinished little things that I would dream up bigger, better, someday. My partner chided me for calling them studies. “What are they studies of?” he asked. I said something very clever, I’m sure, but I was dissembling. I was afraid to invest in them. What if they didn’t work out? I haven’t painted in years. Shortly after that conversation, I stopped calling them studies.

These six are, I believe, a solid beginning. It’s so satisfying to work serially, to give myself a wide but coherent land to explore. I’m excited to see where these take me – which might be the best and most satisfying way to feel in the creative process.

Searching for the Authentic

Spot Paintings by Damien Hirst: Incredibly Boring
© Damien Hirst/ Science Ltd, 2012. Photography Prudence Cuming Associates.

Forgery, fraud, and theft have always been major themes in buying, selling, and attributing pieces of art–both contemporary and historical.  Recently, news broke that some unbelievably boring “spot painting” prints that were attributed to Damien Hirst were, in fact, forgeries. (It is beyond me why anyone would want prints of paintings so dull that the exhibitor had to sweeten the deal by offering free prints to people with enough time and money to see all eleven exhibitions of the monotonous work. Art viewing as “The Amazing Race”.) This caused a stir in the news, but the reality is that authenticity is always in question, and forgeries are always being discovered. Less often, a forgery is found to be authentic, or a work attributed to “school of” becomes attributed to a master. There is a never ending quest for authenticity. With authenticity comes higher prices and more desirability from collectors.

Portrait of Damien Hirst, collage by Cartrain
Portrait of Damien Hirst by Cartrain

Authenticity is not as easy to define as it might seem.  Damien Hirst, for example, hires people to do the work for him (the makers), and he then claims authorship by approving the works (the creator).  To some, that sounds absolutely scandalous  (well, he did paint five of the 300 spot paintings). That relationship between maker and creator isn’t much different from the relationship between a master printer and an artist she’s printing for. The master printer does, however, get credit through chop marks on the prints, a mention in a colophon, or reputation in the field. Hirst is also known for liberally “appropriating” ideas and forms from his fellow artists, which wouldn’t seem so objectionable if Hirst didn’t also relentlessly seek to crush/sue/profit from anyone whom he believes appropriates from him. (The most embarrassing example is probably the seizure of work by Cartrain, then a teenage street artist, for using images of Hirst’s diamond-studded skull in some collages. If you’re up for your own Damien Hirst appropriation, I suggest the iHirst DIY kit – a comparative bargain at £49.99.)

Giving credit to your assistants is not a path to authenticity, however. For most of art history in Western civilization, there was no precedent for giving credit. The apprentice system guaranteed that the people who did most of the labor would not get credit–though they gained prestige from studying under a particular master when they became journeymen. It was rare that a master artist, once achieving that status, would have the time to spend creating his own work from scratch. Apprentices would do the heavy lifting, under the direction of the master, who then might do some touch ups and sign the thing. There is no way to prove which work was made directly from the hand of a master, and what work was made by or in collaboration with apprentices.
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