Category Archives: Travel

Happy Canada Day

photo1

“…It wasn’t long before one, then another of the little shell brothers, timidly emerged.  Some of them immediately scurried back when they saw the immensity of the sea and the sky and the overwhelming blackness of the Raven.  But eventually curiosity overcame caution and all of them crept or scrambled out.  Very strange creatures they were, two-legged like the Raven.  There the resemblance ended.  They had no glossy feathers, no thrusting beak, their skin was pale and they were naked except for their long, black hair on their round, flat-featured heads.  Instead of strong wings they had stick-like appendages that waved and fluttered constantly.  They were the original Haidas, the first humans.” – Bill Reid

According to Haida legend, we have a lot to thank the Raven for.  So what better day to appreciate one of Canada’s finest artists, and one of his most impressive sculptures.  Happy Canada Day.

P.S.  I sketched this portion of Bill Reid’s The Raven and the First Men, while visiting the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia.   If you are in Vancouver, I recommend you see this sculpture in person – it’s a national treasure.

For the Love of the Game: On Artists Anonymous and Dan Witz

DB@OGN

“…many think of the Art world as a sort of free-for-all, where anyone of any level of mental stability, at the slightest whim and for any reason, can jump in and call himself an artist.  We sometimes fail to remember how extremely important high skill, craftsmanship, and passionate dedication were to painters of earlier times.  Those attributes were far more than just admirable qualities.  Art was a noble vocation and a way of life.  Their skills were assumed to be divinely infused.  Being an artist was their very identity, their reason for existing.”
– Richard Schmid, from Alla Prima II

When viewing certain contemporary art, you might say to yourself, “I could do that.”  But if you visit the Jonathan LeVine Gallery in New York City this month, I promise that you will have a very different reaction.

For the rest of April, and into the first week of May, Jonathan LeVine Gallery is hosting solo exhibitions by Artists Anonymous (“AA”), titled Old Game New, and by Dan Witz, titled NY Hardcore.  I am not an art critic, but it is fair to say that both AA and Dan Witz remind me of all the qualities that Richard Schmid thought were reserved only for the best painters of the past.

In the Archive section of AA’s website, they state, “Digital reproductions of our works, especially reproductions of paintings are not representative.”  In a post last year, I wrote that I had a Stendhalian moment when I saw online images of AA’s paintings.  I wish I had reserved that comment for when I walked into Old Game New, and saw AA’s paintings and afterimages in person for the first time.

From a technical perspective, AA is a talented group.  In his letters to his brother Theo, Vincent van Gogh wrote, “It is impossible to attach the same importance to values and to colours.”  It’s clear AA thinks otherwise, as their works demonstrate their ability to capture form and light while using vibrant colours.  And after seeing AA’s art, I am even more astonished by their method of painting in the afterimage.

AA_Borderlands_LBorderlands, oil on canvas, 78.75 x 149.63 inches

For example, in their multiple canvas painting, Borderlands, it looks like AA uses simple brush strokes of white and two shades of yellow to create the eyes of the woman on the viewer’s right of the painting.  Yet when seen in Borderlands Afterimage, those same eyes are a realistic and piercing blue that stare straight into you.  And that’s just the eyes of one model – the rest of the painting is equally as impressive, and AA must have taken great care in creating it.

AA_BorderlandsBorderlands Afterimage, digital C print, 59.05 x 110.24 inches

When I first saw the images of Dan Witz’s mosh pit portraits on the Jonathan LeVine website, I thought, “Wow, those are unique photographs.”  Then I clicked on one of the images, and read the text next to the image: “Oil and digital media on canvas.”  Dan’s paintings are impressive, and as with AA’s paintings, the online images don’t do justice to the real thing.  When I saw Dan’s skills staring back at me from a six foot long canvas, I couldn’t help but appreciate, not only his attention to detail, but also his ability to paint in a realistic style without sacrificing the energy of the scenes he captured.

DanWitz_VisionofDisorderlyVision of Disorder, oil and digital media on canvas, 40 x 64 inches

But it’s not just AA’s and Dan Witz’s painting abilities that have sunk their hooks into me, it’s also their commitment and passion.  You don’t get this good by treating art as a hobby.

Dan Witz has been painting street art in NYC since the late 1970s, and his studio work encompasses a variety of subjects, including lamps, “nightscapes”, and portraits.  At the end of one of Dan’s videos on his website, he jokes, “That’s all I have to say about being old and doing street art.”  But you get the impression that there is nothing else he would rather be doing.

AA begins its artist statement with, “Art is always an A [Grade], otherwise it’s no art; you are either very very good, or you fail.  There are no shades of grey in art, no acceptable.”  That is a demanding standard, one I think they point at themselves more than they do at others.  Once you are that good, you set your own standards, and you don’t display anything less than your best.  As Jony Ive, the head of Design at Apple Inc. said, “We did it because we cared, because when you realize how well you can make something, falling short, whether seen or not, feels like failure.”

Most people will see Old Game New and NY Hardcore and appreciate AA’s and Dan Witz’s talents.  But I draw and paint, so I now know how wide a chasm exists between me and them.  It would be easy to be discouraged, knowing what it would take to be that good.  But AA and Dan Witz don’t paint to haunt me.  They paint for the love of it, and they are an inspiration for those of us who also love it.  So instead of packing up my paints and brushes, I’ll admire the dedication that AA and Dan Witz pour into their art, and I’ll take the advice of another inspiring person,

“Modern man is conditioned to expect instant gratification but any success or triumph realized quickly, with only marginal effort is necessarily shallow.  Meaningful achievement takes time, hard work, persistence, patience, proper intent and constant self-awareness.  The path to such success is punctuated by failure, consolidation and renewed effort.  It is wet with the tears of emotional breakdown.  Personal reconstruction is art.  Discovering one’s self, one’s talent and ambition and learning how to express it is a creative process so may not be rushed.  What’s the hurry?  Pressure to succeed according to a particular timeline comes from outside.  If the goal is selfish self-improvement there is no schedule, no deadline.  One’s rate of progress is influenced by the intensity used to address the task.  Hard, intelligent work speeds us along the path.  Neurotic obsession and compulsion may steepen the trajectory but usually lead to illness and injury.  In the end, the process takes as long as it takes — you can’t push the river.”
– Mark Twight, from “Why

P.S. For a more detailed discussion on AA’s art, read this recent Studio International interview with Maya van Malden, a member of AA and their spokesperson.  And for an overview of Dan Witz and his art, read this Village Voice article.  But this blog post and those articles are just words.  For the real thing, visit the Jonathan LeVine Gallery this month.

P.P.S.  As part of their exhibition, AA intended to have a screen that displayed a live recording of visitors as they walked through the Alice in Wonderland themed installation.  Instead of a standard feed, the screen would display the negative image, so that people would “see ghostly negative versions of themselves, while the video reverses their surrounding inverted environment into the positive.”  Unfortunately, when I visited, the monitor wasn’t working.  But Malena, who works at the gallery, offered to take my picture with my iPhone.  She then inverted the colours in the picture using an app called Negative Me.  The picture above is the “ghostly version” of me standing in front of AA’s installation.  Thank you for being such a kind host, Malena.  And thank you, AA and Dan Witz, for sharing your ideas and talents with us.

Banksy Plays the Violin

Banksy

Earlier this year, I read an article about Joshua Bell, a violinist who played at a Washington D.C. subway station during the morning rush hour. Unlike most buskers, this musician was one of the most accomplished virtuosos in the world. Three nights before, Joshua Bell played in Boston’s Symphony Hall for patrons who paid over $100 a ticket. And the instrument he played? A violin from 1713, handcrafted by Antonio Stradivari, that cost Bell $3.5 million.

You would expect that one of the best musicians on the planet to garner some attention. But during his 43 minutes of playing time, only seven people stopped to listen, and he earned a total of $32.17.

This experiment, the brainchild of The Washington Post, raises all sorts of questions, including: Can we appreciate beauty in unfamiliar settings? Are we able to recognize talent without signposts? And how do we know when we are in the presence of true art? Banksy must have considered these questions last weekend, when he set up a vendor stall in New York’s Central Park.

You may be wondering, “Who is Banksy?” But like Joshua Bell in symphonic circles, Banksy, in the art world, is a household name.  We don’t know his real name, but Banksy is an English artist, who has literally taken contemporary art to the streets. Yes, he’s a graffiti artist, whose primary tools are spray-paint and unsuspecting walls. Banksy is known for painting socially conscious and politically poignant images, mostly with dark and satirical undertones. And while his art can be viewed for free in various locations around the world, his original stenciled prints have sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

So when Banksy set up a stall in Central Park to sell 25 pieces of original art for only $60 a piece, you would expect that at least one or two people would have gobbled up his signed works, particularly in such an art conscious city. Instead, he sold only eight pieces for a total of $240 (one woman bought two works, but she haggled the vendor down to half price).

Like Joshua Bell’s musicianship, people either did not appreciate Banksy’s art, or it was passed off as fake. Either way, these experiments force us to consider some unsettling ideas: that our opinions are not our own, that circumstances may be more important than talent, and that everyday things we take for granted, may be more beautiful and valuable than we ever considered.

P.S. When you stand on the Northeast corner of Columbus and Broadway in San Francisco, look toward the Transamerica Pyramid, and you will see this original Banksy:

Banksy photo

What Happens When You Leave Wall Street?

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You pack up your Upper West Side apartment.  You drive across the country.  You put all of your earthly belongings in storage.  You and your family take a year to travel around the world.  And you grow a beard.

Safe travels brother, sister-in-law, nephew, and niece.  Enjoy, and we’ll see you when you return.

P.S.  And you forget to call your nephews on their birthday.

Why I Drew a Can of Campbell’s Soup

Warhol Campbells Soup

In her book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, Betty Edwards writes,
“For centuries, copying masterworks was recommended as an aid to learning to draw.
“Copying forces one to slow down and really see what the artist saw.  I can practically guarantee that carefully copying any masterwork of drawing will forever imprint the image in your memory.”

In fairness, Betty Edwards was not referring to Andy Warhol’s paintings and silk screens when she referenced “masterworks.”  She meant the works of people like Rembrandt, Rubens, or John Singer Sargent.  But in the last couple of months, while visiting SFMOMA in San Francisco, and MOMA in NYC, I was encouraged to draw what I saw.

Fang Lijun

MOMA offers note cards and pencils for visitors to sketch and to participate in a program called, “I went to MOMA and…”  Originally, the program was an experiment to see what people would do if they were given an opportunity to visually share their experiences while visiting MOMA.  The result was beyond MOMA’s expectations, as thousands of people shared creative sketches, as well as thoughtful and humorous responses.

Although MOMA claims “I went to MOMA and…” started as an experiment, by providing paper and pencils, I think MOMA knew that their visitors would have a deeper connection with the works that they saw.  As Betty Edwards suggests, the simple act of writing or sketching forces you to focus, and to develop a deeper understanding of the artist.

California Artist

For example, while sketching and painting one of Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans, I thought about the patience it must have taken to paint all 32 cans, and the conviction Warhol must have had to know that painting a bunch of soup cans was worthwhile.  It also occurred to me that Robert Arneson simply must have had a lot of fun sculpting California Artist.

Copying the works of Rembrandt and Michelangelo will undoubtedly improve your drawing skills.  But as MOMA knows, and as Betty Edwards wrote, we should copy our favorite artists, “not to copy their styles, but to read their minds.  Let them teach you how to see in new ways, to see the beauty in real things, to explore new forms and open new vistas.”

Travel Sketches – Hawaii

Mauna Kea

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel, read only one page.”
– Saint Augustine

For the kids’ spring break, we joined my in-laws in Hawaii.  It’s hard not to have a wonderful time in Hawaii.  It’s the only place I have travelled to, where I step off the plane, and immediately decompress. 

We didn’t do much other than swim and relax, but I found some time to sketch.  As Danny Gregory wrote in his wonderful new book, An Illustrated Journey,

“When we document a journey in a sketchbook, we discover the difference between vacationing and traveling; we become adventurers, discovering new worlds through a thousand tiny details…the travel journal keeper clears his mind, refreshes his eyeballs and builds a cache of enduring memories.”

I have great memories from this trip, and here are a few I captured in my sketchbook.

Turt asleep

Condo

Stace & Ba

Lobby

Scan 2

Scan 1

When you travel, you don’t just see new places, you also meet new people.  On the way to LAX, Stacie and I met a family who lives only a few miles away from us.  While we were in Hawaii, we met Joe Sakic and his family.  I’m a Canucks fan, but it was cool to meet one the best centers to play in the NHL. 

And staying in the condo next to ours was a mom and her two daughters.  Her youngest was super friendly, and she entertained our boys for the week.  The eldest girl is an artist.  Although only in the eighth grade, her drawings are amazing.  We talked about sketching, I showed her my sketchbook, and I shared with her some of the blogs and artists I follow.

Before our neighbors left, the artist gave me a sketch and a thank you note for inspiring her.  As you can see from her drawing below, it was I who was inspired.

Morgan

Thanks Morgan.

Planes, Trains, and An Automobile – Sketches From the Road

Seat 36C

I have been traveling a lot this year, so I have been filling my pocket sketchbook with scenes from the road.  Below are some sketches from airplanes, the BART train, and a moving car.  I get headaches when I read in the car, but recently I tried sketching, and apparently that doesn’t bother me.  The last sketch was done in the back seat of a car on my way into Manhattan from JFK.

Airplane at terminal
Man in Seat & Hand
BART and plane sketch
BART sketch1
Driver

Although the sketch of my left hand is “the one that’s not like the others”, I drew it during a flight back from NYC, so it counts as a travel sketch (plus, it was just easier to scan the page with both sketches).

We just returned from a vacation to Hawaii, so I’ll share some sketches from that trip in my next post.