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Bittersweet end of the Semester

June 22nd, 2011

The end of the semester is always so bittersweet. There’s so much joy in appreciating the new perspective you’ve gained from the semester’s studies, putting the heavy book you’ve been lugging around to its final resting place on your bookshelf, and letting yourself get some rest, too, now that your assignments are complete and you no longer need to zip around from class to class. At the same time, there’s a sadness in that you’ll miss the community you’ve built with your peers and professors throughout the semester.

I find the end of the semester to be particularly poignant at art school, as every teacher in my studio art classes seems to turn into a motivational speaker during the last weeks of class. The most extreme was my professor Mark from my first fall semester who put us through a sort of drawing boot camp, where he acted like a drill sergeant or a football coach, quick to criticize and let us know when we were being lazy. It wasn’t until the last two weeks of class that he let it slip that some of us had talent, and that it was our duty to share this special gift of ours with the world.

I had three painting classes this past spring semester where the teachers sent us off with parting reflections and pressed us to pursue our artistic careers. If I wasn’t living in the murky shadow of the 15-page paper due on the last day of classes that I had procrastinated to the point of discomfort, I probably would have burst into tears of joy during the final critique for each of my painting classes. I’m posting images from my Color Workshop class, where we displayed all the assignments and exercises we had done for the class, and then stood up and presented our work to the class. One student who I thought was exceptionally talented, soft-spoken and rather shy came up to me afterwards and told me that my work was really good that that I should definitely continue painting.

Thanks, Mom!

May 9th, 2011

In honor of Mother’s Day, I thought I’d include this drawing I did of my mom over Thanksgiving break when she and my dad visited me and my sister in San Francisco. She was fantastic and sat for me for over an hour, doing a great job of staying still and keeping her gaze in the same spot. It was actually a breakthrough drawing for me, since it was one of the first ones where I felt like I slowed down and really looked at what I was drawing. I started lightly, and once I found the correct lines, I continued building on them. My mom is such a generous person, and I can’t thank her enough for her support in so many ways as I pursue an art degree.


April 29th, 2011

One of my classes this semester is having a group show this weekend. All of the works in the show are inspired by various science topics. I designed the poster for the show:

Am I a photorealist?

April 24th, 2011

I recently had my Junior Review at school, where I presented a small body of work to three faculty members whom I hadn’t met before, and we discussed my work for half an hour. The Junior Review is designed to help me prepare for my Senior Show next year, where I will have a small gallery space in which to show a body of work for a week at school.

I was a little nervous for my Junior Review, but it ended up going really well, and I got some good feedback. They could tell where I had painted from still life and where I had painted with photo references. (Busted!) They felt that my white t-shirt painting (painted from an actual t-shirt, not a photo) was the strongest piece there, and they felt like if I continued to paint from direct observation rather than photos, my paintings would offer more of an experience to people who encountered them. We also talked about painterly style. I told them that I admired Bay Area Figurative Painters like Richard Diebenkorn, David Park and Elmer Bischoff, who painted in an abstract expressionist manner. One faculty member said she was seeing more of a realism-based style with my work.

There’s something really humbling about painting. I have ideas about how something I make is going to turn out and in what style I’ll express it, but instead something else seems to happen once I get going. After my junior review, I realize that the power in my painting comes from observing and also in dropping my attachment to how the finished piece turns out.

The Critique

March 19th, 2011

A few weeks ago, my teacher drew in a breath to start class but was suddenly interrupted by a loud blast of music. It was the opening song from The Lion King. The words: “Nants ingonyama bagithi Baba” blared from an unknown source. While the music selection and volume were surprising and dramatic for our 9 a.m. class, it wasn’t that shocking for us to hear unexpected sounds since all of the classrooms on the San Francisco campus share the same ceiling. Imagine a warehouse with large cubicles.

In most of my classes, my peers and I would be painting, minding our own business, when all of the sudden a round of thunderous applause would break out from another classroom. For me, it wasn’t disruptive, but instead, rather curious. As it turns out, classes clap after a critique of a student’s work. I had always wondered how a critique would go, since I had heard prior to attending school that the critique was the most valuable part of the art school experience.

I had my first critique a few weeks ago (in a different class from the Lion King enhanced class) and enjoyed hearing feedback on my work. I’m posting the four paintings that I presented. The teacher started off by saying that every painter has to figure out the process that they’ll use when they work and asked the class to make comments that could help us with our procedures. The class thought that my nude and standing figure paintings were somewhat academic (read: boring) and encouraged me to take risks with making my paintings look more painterly, like in the portrait with the blue background where there are a lot of colors in the face. One student felt that the portrait was the strongest painting of the four. Another student liked the subtle shadow I depicted in the biking painting and suggested that I develop that idea further.

So basically the advice I got was to go a little more wild with the paint. Perhaps I should start all of my classes with the Lion King soundtrack.


February 28th, 2011

I’ve been warned. Wish me luck!

Monkeying Around

February 19th, 2011

I had always thought of artists as people who possessed a certain magic about them. We’ve all heard of the phrase “Great Masters” to describe da Vinci, Michelangelo, Van Gogh or Cezanne. However, after spending some time at art school, I have downgraded my impression of artists. I now see that artists might find themselves about one step above monkeys.

No one illustrates this more clearly than the artist Nam June Paik who did installations with TV sets in the 1970s. My favorite, “TV Garden” is a jungle-like garden where instead of flowers, there are television sets that appear to be growing from the ground. As a work, TV Garden makes sense; Paik was responding to a big cultural change in the 1970s when televisions and advertising suddenly became a huge part of American life. But what I love about it is that it appears as though he had seen a television set with a certain innocence, perhaps scratching the top of his head with one hand and scratching the resulting open armpit with the other, thinking, wow this is pretty. I’ll compare it to other things that are pretty. He had ignored the seriousness of a television set, which delivers news, perpetuates consumer culture, and symbolizes a sedentary lifestyle, and focused instead on its sparkly lights and aesthetics.

If TV Garden is the end result, the golden morsel that we celebrate, then what journey did Paik take to get there? At my art school, the training I’m getting is to learn how to show people my unique world vision. To do this, I am to live by my own rules. Yes, there are technical things to learn, such as how to draw in a way that makes something look like it has a volume, or how to use color to describe actual shading. But it seems like the real training involves tapping into our inner child.

I spend six hours every Thursday (well, only five and half since he pushed class start time back half an hour to afford him extra sleep in the morning) with a teacher named Howard Eige. There are no assignments in this class. Instead, we just show up with paints, brushes, something to paint on, and our own ideas for what to paint about. He strolls around the classroom offering advice to students. “Forget the logic; create your own rules,” I’ll often hear him say loudly in a New York accent. He wants us as students to identify something interesting and make decisions about how to show that as a painting on a canvas.

This process of taking in information extends beyond the realm of art-making. When my friend accidentally sliced her finger open with an easel in class and was deciding whether or not to go to the hospital for stitches, she asked me to tap the tip of her finger with the handle of a paintbrush to see if she still had feeling. Sure, why not. I found myself acting as a doctor, performing a test. “Now?” I’d ask. “Yes,” she responded. “Can you feel it now?”

This scene must have been an odd sight, and Howard was on top of it. Seconds later he appeared, and said, “my turn.” I then found myself tapping the end of his finger with a paintbrush. Of course, since his finger wasn’t sliced open, he could feel every tap from the brush, but I appreciate his questioning of assumptions. He was merely gathering information in his unique way.

The many faces of e v e

January 28th, 2011

“I see a little of you in myself,” my art teacher Mark commented to me one day as we reviewed my homework privately while the rest of the class drew a live model. It had been a particularly good day for me, where I felt like I was harnessing a certain rhythm to my drawing that had eluded me for most of the semester.

“Oh yeah?” I asked. I waited for what I might look back on as my most poignant moment in art school.

Instead, he bluntly said, “I couldn’t really draw either,” and didn’t miss a beat in his critique of my work.

Woman 1

Although harsh, his comment wasn’t entirely false. Initially, my self-portraits didn’t really look like me. In fact, I wouldn’t exactly say that they looked human. Some reminded me of Woman 1, a primitive monster-like portrait by William deKooning that I had studied in my art history classes. DeKooning was part of the American post-war Abstract Expressionist art movement where artists were interested in dialing into their subconscious. Their paintings, which were emotional and raw, were a major breakaway from the accuracy and precision from the art that had come before it. Most people are familiar with the drip paintings by Jackson Pollock, the most famous Abstract Expressionist.

Even though my drawing wasn’t where I wanted it to be, I at least took comfort in the fact that my art didn’t reflect a deep-seated emotional problem hidden within my subconscious. My issue was simply that I couldn’t draw.

I am posting a smattering of self-portraits that mark my progress over the semester. The last full-color piece is my final project.

Das Boot

January 28th, 2011

My spring semester has hit the ground running. I started classes last week, and it’s going to be a busy semester as I’m taking five classes instead of four.

I’ve gathered so far that art school is a collection of people each of whom live fiercely by their own rules; their own quirky, arbitrary rules that may or may not help them assimilate with the rest of society. The leaders of this pack are the teachers, and my new painting teacher Howard has been cracking me up. The painting that I’m posting is from his class today. First off, he asked if we’d be okay with starting class at 9:30 instead of 9 am, because “who gets up that early?” He announced that he goes to bed at like 2 am, so it’s not like he’s really awake before noon anyway. He reminds me of Larry David with his appearance and voice.

He asked us each to bring in samples of our work for today’s class. When he reviewed mine with me, he told me that he thought my paintings awkward. I gave him a puzzled look. “No, awkward was really big about 10 years ago,” he explained. “Awkward is good.” He said it’s probably because I can’t draw, which is okay because neither could Cezanne, and neither could he, frankly. At least my homework assignment for next week is to do more of the same. He did, however, ask my classmate to “reinvent” herself for next week.

In any case, I’m really happy with how today’s painting turned out. It was really fun to make.

Final Projects for Painting 1

December 22nd, 2010

Back by popular demand, I am proposing another guessing contest. My classmates and I worked on what our teacher called conceptual paintings during the last month of my Painting 1 class, where each student chose a particular assignment and addressed it with a painting. Most of the class chose the aquarium assignment, where students painted three billboards that marked the countdown to a grand opening of an aquarium in a fictional town. Two students chose to do map assignments, one that mapped a metro system, and another that mapped water depths surrounding a series of islands. The final student chose to paint the entrance sign for a national park.

Can you guess which painting (or painting series) is mine? Place your answer in a comment attached to this post. Check back in 2011 for results!