Do you like to read books? Do you like to look at hand-colored photographs? Are you crazy for dogs? Do you like to win things? Well guess what?
A few years ago, my collection of hand-colored photographs of dogs waiting in cars was published by Sellers Publishing. This was a project that all told, took ten years: From the first photograph created in 1996, that made me want to make more:
to years and years of lingering in parking lots with my camera, watching dogs in their unheralded role as guardians-of-the-vehicle
and eyes-to-the-horizon companions.
I’m giving away two signed books, and all you have to do is leave a comment. In a week, two readers will be selected and two copies of I’ll Wait in the Car will be shipped out into the world.
If you win, you can keep it on your nightstand, read it to your children, re-gift it for the upcoming holidays, or do what I did:
Cut up the pages and use them as an invitation for graffiti.
Roy DeCarava was one of my first art heroes, and the first photo-based artist whose images opened my eyes to photography’s uniquely poetic power. This is probably the most important book in my photo library, and it has been with me for almost thirty years. DeCarava’s images placed an early, indelible stamp on my sensibilities. And as with all great art, I was physically affected by these works: they took my breath away; they made me shiver. And then, they raised my proverbial bar.
I can’t think of many other images that move me the way this image does. It’s an image that I carry around inside of me as a gauge for timelessness. DeCarava himself said: My pictures are immediate and yet at the same time they’re forever. They present a moment so profoundly a moment that it becomes eternity. It’s almost like physics; there’s an arc of being. There’s a beginning, then the peak is reached and then there’s the end… The moment when all the forces fuse, when all is in equilibrium, that’s the eternal…
Roy DeCarava showed me how personal image-making could be. How emotional. How quiet and strong and clear and communicative, all at the same time. How poignant.
His images taught me about framing space. They taught me that each photograph must emanate its own, extraordinary sense of light.
His images taught me about graciousness. How to align yourself with the rhythm of your subject.
The only way to do this is to be in tune… he said… to have the same sense of time that the subject has. This means you have to give yourself to the subject, accept their sense of time.
In 1987 DeCarava came to speak about his work at Hampshire College, where I was completing my degree in film/photography. As the slide show of his work was presented, he sat in the front row, watching along with his audience. When the presentation of images ended and the questions began, he did not quite turn all the way around. He answered our questions, speaking partly to himself, partly to the images that lingered, still, in front of the room. It was as if he were entranced by his own work.
Tomorrow’s daylong workshop at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art is entitled “Shake Up Your Art” for good reason. Adults who are “trying” to make art need shaking up. And what better way to upend stiff, ingrained art-making habits then drawing with crayons? Or inverting the painting you’re making (that you think is so great) so that you can more clearly see what it may be, instead of what you believe it to be? It may sound like the Anything Goes approach to leading a workshop, but there is a method to my madness. A few years ago I read Natalie Goldberg’s seminal work, Writing Down the Bones, which refines and crystallizes the idea of a “writing practice.” In essence, Goldberg encourages writers to “keep your hand moving, lose control, and don’t think.” These ideas, in combination with a her brilliant illumination of the Zen concept of First Thoughts culminated in what is easily one of the most popular books ever written about writing.
At the time of reading Writing Down the Bones, I was looking for a new way to begin my mornings, a way to immediately, without a formal idea or plan, immerse myself in color and shape and form. I honestly can’t remember precisely how I then began making boxes, but I can tell you that like most things that we dive into with curiosity and no expectations, it bloomed into something special.
I created my boxes from squares of foamcore (I have loads of it in my studio because I frame my own photographs), and then approached them with no idea or intent, other than to make a mark, and then respond, with color, shape, line, pattern or texture. These intuitive, spontaneous, unedited, un-erased marks evolved into a unique, free-flowing visual dialogue.
I found that making boxes placed me in a deep state of beginner’s mind, where I was so fully present, that I had no sense of the direction in which a box might move. If only I could step out of my own way, especially when a box seemed to be going in a particular direction, it might become what it wanted to be, as in the box below, which unfortunately seemed to be moving toward a literal writing practice/chakra symbol thing:
Until my very upset friend called me, and we spoke for a long time about the complicated crisis she was navigating. When I returned to my box, I completed it for her, and entitled it My Friend is Having an Awakening.
My collection of boxes grew and grew, and the completion of each one only inspired me to create another. This one is called Flow:
And this is called Lower East Side:
At a certain point I began to use them in my workshops and I immediately saw that I wasn’t alone in feeling captivated by the white box as a canvas.
So tomorrow afternoon, after coloring with crayons and making paintings alone and as a group, and after making collages and drawings prompted by words, the participants in my workshop will be given their own small, white, empty, six-sided box.
This is one of those books that never makes it back onto the shelf. It came into my studio many years ago, and while I’ve read each essay and studied each image numerous times, every reading is a revelation. (And an inspiration.) Jonathan Fineberg has spent his life exploring and writing about creativity, “interweaving four lifelong threads” into his work: psychoanalysis and neuroaesthetics, art history, child art and childhood, and his own creative practice, first in sculpture, now in film. Published in 1997, The Innocent Eye presented for the first time the collections of child art of many of our most beloved artists: Kandinsky, Miro, Klee, Dubuffet, Picasso and the CoBrA artists. We see the works of wondrous child-created art in the artists’ collections
along with the work created by the artist himself:
We see how the artists regarded the works of their own children
and we see the children’s works which so directly affected the artist’s vision.
I mentioned in an earlier post my love for Karel Appel, one of the artists in the CoBrA (Copenhagen, Brussels, Amsterdam) collective. There is a wonderful selection of Appel’s work in The Innocent Eye, including this piece from 1948 entitled Animals of the Night
and this piece from 1950, The Questioning Child: