Archive for February, 2011

Robert Mitchner – Measuring our self-worth as an artist

February 27, 2011

I visited my artist friend Susan for tea yesterday. After a long hiatus, she is trying to get back into drawing and from there, back into painting.

I always feel privileged to see Susan’s work, especially since she feels quite hesitant about it. And I always feel privileged to spend time with her, too, because she went the art school route of education – something I always desired to do, greatly – and she met the fledgling art potentates of our corner of the world, now biggies, and talks about them as if they were just ordinary people, not the stars-of-the-art-world that I’ve come to consider them.

And so it was yesterday when we got talking about Ann Nelson whom I’ve not met, and Robert Mitchner, both of whom my friend visited within the last week or so.  Susan led me to their  web sites so that I could see their work and we sat together, delecting upon the imagery and talking about it’s merits.

Today she sent me this link regarding an article in Galleries West magazine concerning an upcoming exhibition, but when I went looking for the date of it, it was copyrighted in 1999, so I’m more than 10 years too late!

No matter, it’s a very perceptive interview article and I thought I would share it with you.

The Mitchner article by Fiona Morrow is at   http://www.gallerieswest.ca/Features/CoverStories/6-108168.html and is illustrated with a few of his major styles.

It’s odd, I think, that so many good artists are self-deprecating and modest about their work. We believe in our work enough to keep on doing it. We may even be privileged to get our work into the best galleries in town. And yet, the last paragraph tells it all. Mitchner feels his notice has been minimal; and his impact on the art world has been little.

I would counter that selling is not a measure of an artists worth; and we may never know the impact of our shows on other people. My perfect example  in this case is Mitchner himself.

Susan said to me, “Have you ever seen Robert Mitchner’s work?”  I replied that I had and could describe precisely the style he worked in. I could visualize the farm series as we spoke. That exhibition was thirty years ago. I never met the man; but his work impressed me  and stayed with me.  It is beautifully crafted, precise, clean, technically beautiful. The paintings were large and the compositions complicated; yet the work was serene and there was nothing that jarred. I remember them as perfect paintings.

Again I say, I never met the man. Nor did I have the opportunity to tell him how I felt about his paintings. I didn’t have money to purchase at the time, and even today, I could not afford his work, but I loved it. But he never knew it, and so thinks he has not made an impact on the art world.  I disagree. How many others, like me, saw the work and loved it but had no way of communicating that to the artist?

It is a constant problem with artists – how to measure one’s worth as a painter (or sculptor, or musician or actor, etc.).  It must not be tied to how much notice we get in the newspapers and art journals.  It must not be tied to how much money we make from sale of our art work. I’ve seen some wonderful work not sell for many different reasons – hard economic times, the people who love it are not wealthy, or viewers love it but have small living quarters and no place to put the work that they desire passionately to own. Pragmatic circumstances get in the way.

Conversely, I’ve seen dreadful work sold at great prices and acclaimed because it sells, but it’s not good work; and I’ve seen dreadful work sell time after time for even modest prices while stunningly beautiful work sitting beside it  does not find a buyer. Money is not an adequate measure of art work.

It’s a concept that I struggle with still. I’ve had very little notice of my work either, but I’ve had more than some and I’m grateful for it. I produce far more than I sell and as a result have a basement full of paintings and drawings, some framed, some not.

I decided a long time ago that I would feel successful if my peers liked and valued my art works. That means those artists whose work I admire for their imagination and skill return the compliment and admire mine. It also means those organizations who have honored me with an offer to  exhibit my work in a public place; or a gallery that I respect who agrees to take my work on, to display, to rent, to sell.  If my work was appreciated by the art colleagues that I worked with while teaching art; or by a competition that had some cachet, then it helped bolster my self-worth as an artist and I was happy for the feedback.

I feel confident about my work now, most of the time. There are still days of questioning; but mostly I know what I am doing is right for me. But of course, it took me forty years to get here; and it wasn’t always so.

Back to the point. If you would like to see some lovely work, Google and check out Robert Mitchner’s web site and also the link, above, for that excellent article. See what you think. I think it is beautiful imagery and of high quality and I hope you enjoy it too.

My favorites are the Gorgeous Gorges.

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Modern Times – Andrew Tong

February 11, 2011

Mine, Andrew Tong, Acrylic on board, 20 x 16 inches.

Remember Charlie Chaplin and his movie “Modern Times”?

Andrew Tong  takes inspiration for his new series of paintings to look social ills like  Greed, Selfishness, Ignorance, Self-Delusion  of the 21st Century for his latest surrealist paintings. He challenges the viewer to re-examine society’s stated values and take measure of what really is going on in the world we live in.

In the painting, Mine, Tong shows a little boy packing a pistol on his hip – presumably a toy one – but the face has a decidedly adult cast to it, and he seems quite ready to pull out the gun and shoot. Does this symbolize that adults are behaving in a childlike manner where it suffices to say “Mine” whether ownership lies with the individual or not?

And does the child, surrounded by sheriff-like stars, one red, one white, one blue, represent America, the aggressor, laying claim to the world – if not owning it physically, at least controlling it through guns and explosive tactics?
The car in the background is in flames. The big orange sun is setting  – or has it turned orange from the fumes of carbon emissions, conflict or some other man-made disaster?

In the upper right hand corner there are some symbols from the sky – a new moon, two different stars. Rather, these are state symbols – the Star of David of Israel, the New moon with star of Turkey (also appears in the flags of Turkmenistan and Tunisia) and the third symbol is not so clear. These provide a clue to the areas of the world in which greed, both corporate and national, play greatly in their destiny.

Over the surface of the painting, insects crawl – aggressive ones – the wasp ants, and a dung beetle – caught in trompe l’oeil paint. These represent the survivors of change, those who can adapt to their rapidly changing environment despite the catastrophes that occur.

These are not easy paintings. They require engagement. Though the separate parts are painted realistically, each of the individual parts relates to a greater whole. They hold together like a cynical poem with an elliptical feeling, where the viewer has to bring them together. The overall impression is disquieting and meant to be so.

Andrew Tong’s show is on now and runs until  February 26th at the Elliott Louis Gallery in Vancouver. It’s a major exhibition with twenty-one of his newest work and  well worth the visit. Check out the other paintings on the web-site:

http://www.elliottlouis.com/dynamic/exhibit_artist.asp?ExhibitID=426