Sunday, October 25, 2009

Love/Hate... or at Least a Vague Dislike

People love Art it's true. The same, however, cannot be said for the Artists. The public seems to have a real love/hate relationship with them. At least, as the title of this post suggests, a vague dislike.

It's easy enough to understand I suppose. People love to look at pictures. It's only natural. Art moves us and engages us. It feeds something inside of almost all of us. It also stands to reason that we would be intrigued by the people who make it. The reality is that most people, when they're pressed to think of artists, think of hipsters, weirdos, or our dear Uncle Bob. Bob Ross, that is: the pleasant, afro-wearing painter of "Happy Little Trees" on Public Television with the somnambulistic voice. Or potentially worse yet they think of their sweet, but slightly crazy aunt who has too many cats and goes on about "The Universe" too much. Pleasant enough at Thangksgiving, but not someone you'd want to spend loads of time with. Gone are the days when the public was presented with the pop culture icons of the middle of the last century. The flamboyant or just plain bizarre characters of the days of the 'Artist as Rock Star' are gone. Some might argue that certain characters in the Art World have risen up to fit the bill. Not one really captures the public's imagination in the same way as an Andy Warhol or a Salvador Dali. You could argue that the torch has been passed perhaps to the ubiquitous Banksy or maybe Matthew Barney (whom I've mentioned before). To be certain there are stars within the Artistic Community that have their fair share of celebrity recognition, but they aren't household names.

Back to the subject though...

Perhaps the dislike for artists comes from the realization that people come across when they finally get to meet the creator of a favorite piece of work. Few things ever live up to their hype. Artists are, after all, just people who feel motivated to create. Most of us aren't much to look at and probably don't stand out in a crowd. I suppose it can be a bit of a disappointment when you find your image of the brilliant artist at work is really just a guy with a couple of kids working out of his basement... possibly with a headcold and maybe a cat. Perhaps our very presence takes away some of the magic. Like learning that the lyrics to a favorite song you've been singing along with all these years are wrong, but on the same token they've developed meaning for you. You feel let down... possibly even a bit foolish.

I personally feel that a good portion of it is due to Artists being cast in an unfavorable light by the very thing that sets them (us) apart: creating Art for a living. Creating Art is, I believe, perceived by many to be something you do for fun. We all had Art class in school. For many it was a nice break from the "regular" classses. You got to get messy. You got to draw or paint. It was more entertaining than the more academic subjects. Kind of like P.E. Fun yes... but a serious career? No. Anyone who'd attempt to do that is probably a layabout looking for an excuse not to get a "real" job. Oddly enough many of those same folks will pay hundreds to go watch a pro sporting event and never think twice about why a person should get paid millions to play a game you played in school as a kid or why you have to pay so much for decent seats. Most of us don't get corporate sponsorship or endorsements. There are NEVER lines for autographs. Not that I think that sort of thing would be enjoyable. I'm just sayin'.

I think that Artists as a group represent a freedom many people wish they had: doing something you love as a career. Most people don't.. or can't. It can be a real sore spot and can lead to resentment of those who do. Again I could point to the pro-athlete. Actors and musicians fall into the same category for that matter. Truth is many, if not the vast majority of, Artists I know have "Joe Jobs". I work as a network engineer/"your company's IT guy" during the day. I know many who teach to make ends meet. Art as single source of income is a dicey, unstable business. It's usually feast or famine. The hours are all over the place and you're at the whim of gallery owners and collectors. All of whom want your work, but many either want a lower price or a bigger commission... or they flat out want you to change your Art to suit their interests or wants. If money is tight you may find yourself more willing to make compromises although I'd recommend against...

Truth be told most Artists don't ever really choose to make Art. We're driven to do it. I know several Artists who struggle with their career choice wishing they could've been gifted in some other, more lucrative arena. A friend recently lamented, "sometimes I wish the thing I NEED to do is be a lawyer or a doctor or something". Many give up and become resigned to a life of office politics and cubeville. Some of us, however, are trying to work our way back out.

I'm not saying, "go out and hug an Artist" or anything. I AM saying that Artists serve an important role for the human race. We pry open the soft shell of our collective subconscious and look inside. We tell you things you may not want to hear about yourself. We point our fingers and laugh at things others stake their lives on. We make you laugh, weep with joy, and turn away in disgust. We hold up a mirror to the World and remind it (and you) of what we wanted it to be. Sometimes you hate us for it. Sometimes that realization can make a change for the better.

Until next time...



Friday, October 16, 2009

Cracking the Odometer

Normally I don't put a lot of stock in my own birthdays. Something in me, at this age, says "just another day". Once you have kids your focus in life changes. This year my birthday saw me turn 39. Since people put so much emphasis on turning 40 I figured this year I'd roll the odometer back.

Naturally I can't get younger. No matter how you slice it or how many pacts you attempt to make with the Dark Old Ones you just keep getting older (Cthulhu drives one hell of a hard bargain, btw. Plus he's a total liar). Frankly, at this point in my life I'm actually pretty happy with myself. Having had a personal rediscovery of sorts in the last year. If you've been following along with my ramblings you know that I'm working to redifine my work a bit. I like what I do, but I feel like it needs something more. Something of that spark I had when I was younger. I wasn't afraid to reach into my imagination and pull out all the odds and ends and put them down on paper and canvas. I enjoy doing the work I do. I enjoy creating portraits of city streets and urban settings. I enjoy juxtaposing the figures and exploring their relations to each other. I feel like there's really something that needs to be said there and I'll keep working toward my goals in that vein. I've managed to pick up a fair bit of commissioned work that's due for the holidays. It's all pretty representational stuff and I'm really looking forward to diving into each piece. It's just that lately I've been wanting to get a taste of that imaginative spark. I don't produce much emotive work. If you look at my paintings close-up you can see the emotion and energy in the brushwork and the intense colors, but the subject matter remains pretty neutral. So as an exercise I've been indulging my Id a bit and letting the little pictures that get stuck going round and round in my head out more often. I've got sketchbooks full of them. Some are grotesque (example below)and some are darkly beautiful. I may as time goes by post more.

So I suppose, in essence, I'm not really rolling back the odometer of my years. I'm letting the part of me that wasn't afraid to be off-kilter, or "wrong", or un-PC, or just plain silly back into my studio. Over the years you can get comfortable in a thing. Sometimes it pays to be a little uncomfortable to remind you who you are.

So here's my latest... I'm calling it Rabbit Proof Fence (shown at top). For those of you who've read Richard Adams', "Watership Down" (a personal fav) you'll recognize the character as the Black Rabbit of Inle. The Grim Reaper for rabbits. Don't get it? Read the book. You'll love it. If you check by his feet you'll see my little memento moris. An acknowledgement of his purpose and my own mortality which becomes more apparent with each passing day. I'm OK with that.

Find the spark. Remind yourself who you were and what you liked about that person. See if any of that's relevant to your current state of mind. If it makes sense (even a little bit) let some of it back in.



Thursday, October 8, 2009

Square One

October, while it's my favorite month, can be a bit dreary in Iowa. I suppose it's typical for October in a lot of places, but this year Autumn came around like someone flipped a switch on October 1st. One day you have clear, sunny skies and 80-degree temps. The next it's 60 and raining... and the rain continues for the next week or so. For the most part I love it. I love the rain and the smells that come with it. I love the variety of colors we get here in the Midwest. I don't like the fact that it hails the coming of another Iowa Winter. I don't really want to consider what this year will be like. We're already expecting flurries this weekend.

Aside from the cold and damp October brought with it my first foray into teaching. Last night I taught my first-ever drawing class. My experience confirmed that I do, in fact, really enjoy teaching. It remains to be seen whether or not I'm any good at it, but I think the lesson made an impact on the few folks that showed up. I imagined classes would be small to start. Frankly it suits me fine. Having fewer people to begin with gives me a chance to develop my approach towards more individualized treatment of the students. Once I get more comfortable with that then it will be an easy transition to larger groups... If indeed there will be any larger groups. Things like this take time to catch on. This term lasts a couple of months. Just enough time to give me a good idea as to whether it's something I'd like to continue doing and to get the word out.

Last night's class focused on Line: how different kinds of lines can convey different things, the way lines express things like motion, weight, distance, intent and mood. We touched on some other topics like composition and negative space as we progressed. If you're reading this and are not sure what that means and would like to know more... contact me or the Des Moines Social Club... Or just show up for a class. We'll work it out.

I called this post Square One for a reason... which I haven't really touched on yet. Square One is where you go when you go back to the beginning. Drawing is the place I started. I put myself through the same process as I did my students. It was refreshing to teach and go through the exercises I was taught when I started on my Art major in college. We focused on very simple shapes: we drew unadorned, stacked boxes. With a subject so basic you have to put aside things like color and detail and focus on composing and exploring the simple shapes in front of you. Something I think will have a profound impact on my work. Teaching gives you the chance to play the "if only I knew then what I know now" scenario. You get to revisit something I think is vitally important to growth as an Artist. You put yourself out of your comfort zone and take yourself back to school. I know I can wax philosophic, but but it's true. You never really stop learning.

Next time I'll have some pics of our class work so you can get a better idea of where we're going. Would love to see you there!



Thursday, October 1, 2009

New Studies of Old Pics

Here are a couple quick shots of some oil pastel studies I did this week.

I enjoy banging things out in small-form like this. Oil pastels have great immediacy and can be smeared around or scraped away much in the same way oil paint can... only it's more finger-friendly.

I was picking through source photos last night after having rediscovered a drawer full of photo prints. I thought I'd lost most of them and it was kind of like Christmas. Mostly I was looking for figures that I'd managed to capture, but I stumbled on this shot of an old electrical plant and wanted to play around with it as well.

I've got some new ideas I'm kicking around that play towards my change in direction. I know these might not look that much different from what I've been doing, but remember... this is just a quick study to get the feel of the image... gimme a break. You'll see what I mean eventually.



Go Get Your Sketch Books!

Just a quick note this morning to let you know a little more about the class I'll be teaching at the Des Moines Social Club.

Here's the summary:

Principals of Drawing 1
Facilitator: Robert Reeves
8 sessions, 2x/week: Wednesdays 5:30pm to 7:30pm -&- Saturdays 11am to 1pm,
October 7th – November 28th
Price: $5 per individual class or $30 per month
With a focus on the concepts of Line, Perspective, Gesture, Values, and Proportion,
this class will show students how to draw what they see vs. drawing their ideal of a
given subject. In-class drawing assignments will be limited to simple objects to
begin and moving to more complex objects and figure drawing as sessions continue.

What that means to you is that we'll be starting off very simply. I plan to work on the bare basics of drawing so if you've always wanted to learn... here's your chance. If you already do some drawing, but would like to expand your abilities or spend time improving your techniques this class would be a good fit. I think adults and kids would benefit equally and hope to see some younger attendees at the Saturday morning classes. In fact my kids may attend as well if the babysitter falls through. But be assured the class will be directed and informative AND hopefully a lot of fun.

You can sign up for the whole season or come down for individual classes. Your attendance level is up to you. Once we've made it through a season I may add a more advanced class, but let's see how it picks up before we get too far ahead of ourselves.

Here's the full calendar of classes and events the Social Club will be hosting this season. Some very interesting and unexpected options.

Plus it's right across from the new sculpture garden. Definitely worth visiting. The images in the article are from before the park was completed, but it has some good shots of a number of the featured scultpures (

To sign up contact me ( or the Des Moines Social Club.

Hope to see you there!