Sunday, August 25, 2013

Let's Check In at Jeff's Studio!

"So Jeff, how are those paintings for your November show at the Faculty Club coming along?"

Funny you should ask. I was just working on them today.

It should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I'll be taking this deadline right down to the wire. I've got six more paintings I need to finish, and about a six weeks to complete them in. That should be just enough time provided I can stay on pace and finish one a week.

Today's visit to the studio sees the following works in progress. I've been doing mostly sketching and underpainting right now, though we did see one painting completed and two stalled.

 These are the undepaintings for Midst Steam and Smoke (after Adamson) (left) and Master Keim (after Eugene) (right). So far so good, though it's still early. Good underpaintings are nothing more than a promise.

This is the finished underpainting for The Ring Toss (after White). I'll start working in some colors next (also known as place where I'm most likely to lose the plot and create a muddy mess).

This painting's done, which means I've more or less fought it to a draw. I've painted a bunch of these boats with varying degrees of success. In this case (#12), if Hackman Frames can come up with a good matching silver frame (in a nice cove molding) it should look pretty good. Don't underestimate the value of a good frame. Seriously.

These are awful. I've lost track of how many bad painting of this photo I've done. I really don't understand what the problem is. It's pretty straightforward stuff; landscape painting 101: sky, trees, haystacks, and done, right? Nope. For whatever reason I just can't seem to get anything I'm satisfied with.

And finally, this would be the an example of the Taylor Swift fan art project that's been interrupted by this year's show. I started a couple of these back in January but then stopped once I realized exactly how much work I'd need for November.

Once I get through the November exhibition I'll be getting back to these. My goal is to do 12 of them at 12" x 12" and then hopefully show them as a group somewhere. After that, well, I expect I'll have 12 paintings of Taylor Swift, because honestly, who would buy them?

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Painting Update - 7/25/13

I thought I'd post up an update on the painting front. I'm still working toward my show at the Faculty Club in November, so I've got a few paintings going.

I did two versions of this one (above) and both are done. I expect one of them will make it into November's show.

Here's three more. The one taped to the wall (upper left) is done. The photo doesn't really do it justice (glare) but it's actually a pretty nice little painting. The two figure paintings below it are in process. If one of them ends up being good enough to show I'll be thrilled. 

And finally, a couple more in process. These are paintings of a French Grandmother from the turn of last century (long story). As always, wish me luck.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

On Not Being Who You Thought You Were

Imagine my surprise when I found out that I'm into genealogy. It started with the desire to learn more about my grandfather, a man I'd never met but who I knew through stories had served in World War II. This new found curiosity was unexpected considering I'd spent my entire life (up to this point at least) blissfully unaware of exactly who "my people" were and where they came from. That's the beauty of America and the melting pot though, right? In a generation or two the idea of "my people" wanes and we're all simply Americans. That's the promise anyway.

In any event, my wife has a knack for this kind of research and it wasn't long before she unearthed all manner of relevant information. It was fascintating stuff, and not at all what I expected. Suffice it to say the results didn't line-up particularly well with the ancestral narrative I'd constructed in my head.

Passenger List, Ellis Island, March 22, 1909

Let's start first though with what we knew. I was raised Catholic in Cincinnati, Ohio. My grandmother's maiden name was Westhoff. She could speak German. She married a man named Sullivan. Their first daughter was my mom. Westhoff is a common Germanic surname; Sullivan, a common Irish name.

Given these facts, and factoring in known immigration patterns, I sketched out a mental image of my roots. I surmised that both the Westhoffs and Sullivans came to the U.S. at the peak of 19th-Century immigration. The Sullivans likely arrived on the heels of the Irish Potato Famine (1845-1852) and the Westhoffs likely came during the height of German immigration (1881-1885). In my head, my ancestors helped build Cincinnati. The Westhoffs were likely stonecutters, plasterers or brick layers while the Sullivans would have helped build and maintain the railroads. This was Cincinnati after all. That's what German and Irish immigrants did, right?

 Backa Topola, Serbia

Wrong. My German side didn't build Cincinnati. It was more or less built by the time they got here. Oh, and they weren't particularly German either. It turns out the Westhoffs arrived in the U.S. in 1909. Ignatius Westhoff and his wife Rosa landed at Ellis Island after starting their journey in what was then Topolya, Hungary. Today Topolya, Hungary isn't even Topolya any more. It's not in Hungary either. Thanks to wars, treaties, and shifting boundaries it's in northern Serbia now and goes by the name Backa Topola.

Alfred Stieglitz, The Steerage

The Sullivan side was also a surprise. It seems I'm not descended from Potato Famine immigrants after all. The Sullivan line traces itself back to a farm in Boone County, Kentucky; a farm the Sullivan family held throughout the 19th-Century. If preliminary research holds up, the line goes all the way back to Virginia in the late 18th-Century. That means it's likely that this particular line of Sullivans were Protestant/Presbyterians (i.e. not Catholic) from the northern Ireland province of Ulster.

So, I'm not so German, not so Irish, and not so Catholic as I assumed. At least that's the case on my mother's side. On my father's side we've still got Regensburgers and Callahans to track down, so things might change. It's strange in a way. The demise of my imagined ancestral story shouldn't feel like a loss, but somehow it does. I thought I was this one thing, and now it turns out I'm not. I'm something else instead. That will take some getting used to.

On the other hand, I've got rich new details to consider. I've conceivably got roots going back to the American Revolution (or as my wife pointed out, the Sullivans of Kentucky probably knew Daniel Boone!). As for the Westhoffs, I was tickled to find out they came to the U.S. on board the SS Kaiser Wilhelm II. The ship was a famous ocean liner in its own right, made even more notable as the setting of Alfred Stieglitz photographic masterpiece, The Steerage. It's easy to look at that famous picture from just two years prior and imagine Ignatius and Rosa crowded among the mass of immigrants on the lower deck.

  SS Kaiser Wilhelm II

As for my grandfather, the one I never met, I learned a lot about him as well. Wilfred C. Sullivan was born in 1909 in Boone County, Kentucky, the first son of Cad and Virgie Lee Sullivan. He married Christine Westhoff  and in 1937 they had a daughter named Patricia Sullivan. Their daughter married Tom Regensburger and had a son named Jeff. Wilfred served in the 44th Bomb Group stationed in Shipdham, England. His plane was returning from a bombing run over Kjeller, Norway on November 18, 1943 when it went down in the North Sea. No bodies were recovered and all ten crew members were listed as killed in action. It was Wilfred's second mission.

  B-24s of the 44th Bomb Group

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Painting Update - 4/20/13

Have you been on pins and needles wondering how the paintings for my show in November are coming along? Well wonder no more. I'm making progress. Here's a few shots from the studio to prove it.

The ones taped to the wall are coming along nicely. The larger on in the foreground is stalled.

Here's a pair I was working on. I like the one on the right. The one the left needs some work.

The left hand panels here are portraits. I'm literally teaching myself how to paint. The other two are of a late Nineteenth Century park scene. (Yeah, I'm stealing a page from Manet's playbook. That's how art works).

Saturday, April 13, 2013

A Short (but Telling) List of Things I've Never Owned

This year I'll celebrate a milestone birthday.  As I measure my life thus far, I've had a chance to reflect on the man I've become. To a certain degree we can define our lives by the possessions we keep (vintage scooters, original artwork, fine antiques, high-end electronics, etc). Looking back, I realize the converse is also true. In many respects we can tell as much about someone by the things they haven't owned, as by the things they have.

In that spirit, I offer a short but telling list of items I've never owned.
  • Sandals (Flip-flops, yes. Sandals, no).
  • A Bowling Ball
  • A Fanny Pack
  • A Chrysler Product (This actually surprised me. I've owned dozens of cars, but never a Chrysler)
  • A Recliner
  • A Sonic Youth Record (Again, surprising)
  • Castanets
  • Cargo Pants (including Cargo Shorts) (In the interest of full disclosure, I once owned something that my mom referred to as "camping pants". These were shorts with a variety of clasps, pockets and boondoggles. While their function approximated those of cargo pants, aesthetically they were a completely different animal. They also weren't called cargo pants. So no, I've never owned Cargo Pants)
  • A Portable Music Player (This includes the Walkman, the Discman, an Mp3 player or any related varieties thereof)
  • Cross-trainers
  • A Radar Detector
  • A French Press
  • A Pinky Ring
  • A Skateboard
  • Chrome Rims
  • Any Musical Instrument in the Reed Family
  • Nikes
  • A Tennis Racket
  • Oakley Sunglasses
  • A Hunting Knife (Come to think of it, I've lived my life pretty much free of any dedicated weaponry. This includes guns, quarterstaffs, kendo sticks, crossbows, slingshots, throwing stars, maces, broadswords, boomerangs, and truncheons (Though I did have a souvenir baseball bat when I was younger)).
  • A Trampoline
  • A Tank Top
  • Poker Chips
  • A Zippo Lighter
  • Horseshoes (decorative or otherwise)
  • String Art

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Problem With Librarian Problems

So it's come to this; a curmudgeonly blog post about the state of the profession (complete with finger wagging, tsk-tsking, and even a little SMH thrown in for good measure). "Shake your fist at 'em Pops. These kids don't know from librarianship". That's how you do it, right?

Oh, the irony. I've spent 15 years in the profession deriding Will Manley and his hectoring ways. Now I've apparently become him.

Point being, I'm acutely aware of all the contextual layers of this post. I know the implications and risks of saying, "Hey, that's not cool". I've been around long enough to know how easy it is to dismiss the contrarian stance; to push back against even the slightest hint of correction (Trust me, I've done it plenty of times myself). More to the point, I've been around long enough to know how easy it will be to dismiss what I'm about to write. Please don't. It's important. It's important to us individually and it's important to us professionally.

Librarian Problems is a Tumblr site that features (not surprisingly) librarian problems. It's a grab-bag of the kinds of day to day issues library staff face as they go about their work; from helping patrons with copy machines to picking out the day's cardigan. A typical post presents a scenario (i.e."Someone insults my favorite author") followed by an animated gif illustrating the librarian's response. The aim is humor; or more specifically the kind of insider, work-related humor that comes from abiding familiarity and shared experience. Advocates will contend Librarian Problems is simply a release valve. It's a harmless way to blow off steam; nothing more than the time-honored application of humor to cope with persistent and collective challenges. It's the inevitable banter that happens whenever individuals in the same profession gather. What's the problem?

Well, there's a host of them, all of which stem from the cynical and mean-spirited depiction of library patrons.

I'm a firm believer in the power of stories. Stories instruct us. They teach us. They help shape our beliefs and our attitudes. When we assign meaning to our experience (which we're doing all the time, whether we know it or not) we're essentially constructing a story. This inclination toward narrative builds our beliefs and attitudes. The stories we tell ourselves help us make sense of the world. The meanings we derive from our own stories are then shared (and reinforced) through the stories we tell others.

Librarian Problems is, at its heart (and in its shorthand and meme-ish manner) really just a collection of stories. Sadly, these are stories in which library patrons are consistently portrayed in a negative light. Rather than being valued as the people librarians are charged with serving, they're presented as some sort of nuisance. Their questions are ridiculous. They're alternately "fools" and "idiots". They try our patience; eliciting in most cases little more than incredulity, exasperation, and cynicism. There is apparently no eye-roll emoticon large enough for the ineptitude of our library users. At least that's the conclusion you'd draw scrolling through the vignettes presented in Librarian Problems.

This narrative is unfair. It's unfair to our patrons and a disservice to our professional obligation to provide equal and open access. "Open to All" means just that. It's clear and unequivocal. Libraries are open to everyone in a manner that's fair and equitable. Adopting (and propagating) dismissive attitudes towards particular questions or requests undermines our professional commitment to equitable service.

Libraries can be intimidating. They're not always easy to navigate, especially for people who haven't used one in a while. The same is true for technology. Library computers don't work like the ones at home. Copiers can be inscrutable. The fact is people often need help with even the most basic operations. This should go without saying, but every patron who asks for help does so because they need our help.

Asking for help takes courage. It means admitting we don't know. Our patrons ask for help because they trust us. They trust that we'll be open and non-judgmental; that we'll assist them in a professional and courteous manner, that we'll respect their question and their privacy. What happens to that trust when patrons find out we can't wait to get off desk so we can post their OMGHILAERIOUS!!!111 question on Librarian Problems? The fact is these stories are not ours to share. We don't have sole ownership of these interactions (there's someone else involved after all) and we (likely) haven't gotten permission to share them.

I recognize that in its way Librarian Problems is simply a digital extension of the kind of "back-of-the-house" chatter that likely occurs in libraries everywhere. I'd suggest that rather than using those conversations as justification for Librarian Problems, we might instead look more carefully at the kinds of conversations we encourage in our own libraries.

Perhaps it's time to reframe the question; to think about library solutions instead of library problems. Instead of focusing on the challenging side of patron interactions we could share a different kind of story; a story that highlights how to stay positive, how to treat each patron with care and respect, and how to value every interaction as means of demonstrating that our libraries truly are Open to All.



Thursday, March 28, 2013

Picking up the Pace!

I've got a show at The Ohio State University Faculty Club scheduled in November. I went and scoped out the space a few weeks ago and determined that (depending on placement) I'm going to need between 25 and 30 paintings. What's more, my friends at Hackman Frames are going to need time to get everything framed. That means it's time to pick up the pace!

So, I took a few days off work this week with the idea of having a stay at home vacation and getting some work knocked out; a paintcation if you will.

One thing I'm trying that's new (at least to me), is working on multiple paintings at once. I'm actually enjoying this approach. I find that I'm a little less inhibited and a little more willing to take chances. These pics give an idea of what that looks like in practice.

I'll post some updates as I finish work, but for now, wish me luck! I haven't left myself a lot of time but I think I can do it. I might have to schedule a few more paintcations though.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

File Under: Things I Never Dreamt I'd Write About

If you've been paying attention to our nation's art scribes you already know that the hacked paintings of George W. Bush have sparked a flurry of critical interpretation. That W. has taken up painting isn't surprising; that's been known for quite some time. What is surprising - at least in regards to the two most talked about paintings - is the reflective, personal and oddly contemplative nature of the Bush muse. These aren't the rustic landscapes of your typical retired head of state (see Winston Churchill and Dwight Eisenhower). No, these are something very different. Intimate is maybe the right word, though I think embarrassingly intimate gets us a closer the heart of the matter. In these paintings we are privy to a naked George W. Bush; the former President of the United States with both flesh and artistic talent laid bare. It's safe to assume most of us never expected to witness either, let alone both.

painting - George W. Bush

Interestingly many critics have weighed in on what the paintings might mean. Some speculate that the appearance of water in both works points to a cleansing process for our former President, or perhaps lingering concerns over advanced interrogation techniques (see also torture and water boarding). Others note the mirror and reflective surfaces and suggest an association with surveillance or the unyielding public eye. Some simply marvel at the possibility that this notoriously unreflective man may indeed possess an interior life.

Me? I won't even hazard a guess. That's because to this day George W. Bush remains a mystery to me; his brain a black box that clearly works nothing like mine. He was, after all, the President who for eight years chose exactly the opposite words, responses, and actions I would have. What hope could I possibly have of deciphering the meaning of these most personal of paintings? None really, which leaves me little to comment on beyond the formal elements.

painting - George W. Bush

Stylistically, the first painter I thought of was one of my favorites, Pierre Bonnard. Over the course of his career Bonnard produced countless bath and toilette paintings featuring his partner Marthe Boursin. He also worked in a similarly naive style. I expect in Bonnard's case that was an intentional choice. For Bush it's likely a matter of necessity or skill. With both painters, tubs, water, mirrors, patterns and tiles (as well as the human form) are rendered with a kind of sketchy and distorted charm.

Nu devant la glace ou Baigneuse  by Pierre Bonnard (1915)

From a more conceptual standpoint, it's notable that these are self-portraits executed in rather unconventional ways. The bathtub painting in particular is done in a manner that might best be described as "21st Century Digital Style". It' very much first-person and very much in line with the way we've become accustomed to documenting our lives from our own unique perspectives.

Nu Dans le bain by Pierre Bonnard (1936-1938)

This vantage point is rare in traditional self-portraiture but very common in our age of digital cameras, miniature camcorders, helmet cams, and first-person video games. From that perspective Bush is treading some interesting territory. He's created works that can reasonably be called self-portraits, but self-portraits that show not so much the face of the artist, but rather the experience of the artist. As to how the artist might interpret that experience, well that remains anyone's guess.