Duane Keiser: A Painting A Day

Can the internet be used by serious painters to consistently sell their work, build a reputation and connect with collectors without the help of a "brick and mortar" gallery? It is a question many artists have been asking for some time, but very few have real found that the answer is a clear "yes." Artist Duane Keiser is one of them.

Keiser realized early -- in 2004 -- that the internet was "going to fundamentally change the relationships between artists, galleries and collectors." He acted on that realization, and the result has been a practice that he calls a "Painting A Day." Now, more than 8 years later, he feels that eBay is a "natural way to sell art" and both his artistic practice and his bank account are in good shape. I recently interviewed Duane via email, and he took his time to give me a thoughtful, and inspiring interview.

Duane Keiser
John Seed Interviews Duane Keiser:  

JS: How did "painting a day" get started? When did it start?
DK: I have always made small, mostly premier-coup paintings of places I know and things I see. The "painting a day" concept developed when I started thinking about ways to present and sell some of my work outside of the gallery system. In the early 2000s, after years of showing my work in galleries, I decided to have a one-night show in my studio. I installed makeshift track lighting and hung one hundred of what I began calling my postcard paintings (postcard-sized oil sketches) priced at $100 each. It was a great night. We had lots of wine and a small band and it was really more of a party, but it turned out to be tremendously successful. Most of the paintings sold, my email list grew and most important, I got to know the people who bought my work.

Brushes and Coffee Filter, 1/7/2013
oil/paper (mounted) 7"x6"
After several more of these one-night shows, I started offering pieces for sale via email on a first-come, first-served basis. In 2004, I launched the blog. At the time, blogs were mostly associated with journalistic writing. But the simple, diary-like format seemed a perfect fit for what I was doing. I called it  "A Painting a Day" and I arranged my life so that it was possible to make a painting every day (which I did for about a year and a half before slowing down.) I carried a cigar box easel wherever I went and when something caught my eye, I would stop in my tracks to paint it. It's one thing to paint every day. It's something else entirely to make a complete painting every day, despite travel, illness, holidays, etc. My family and friends got used to seeing me marked with paint or not seeing me at all.

Luck's Farm (no.12,) 1/12/2013 
oil/paper (mounted) 6"x7"
After a few posts, the excellent Boingboing.net did a small article about my project and almost overnight, I had an international following. I often tell the story about the morning I made a painting of an egg in my kitchen and posted it to my blog. Five minutes later, I received an email from a fellow in India telling me how much he liked it. The idea that I could paint a small vignette in Richmond, Virginia and almost instantaneously share it with someone on the other side of the globe was a miracle to me. At that moment, I realized the internet was going to fundamentally change the relationships between artists, galleries and collectors. Articles about me or about the idea began appearing in publications like USA Today and The New York Times. Other artists began to use the idea and link their projects to my blog. I learned first-hand what it meant to go viral.

Gesso Sleeping, 10/30/2012
oil/paper (mounted) 6"x5"
In 2005, Gregory Peterson, a friend and collector of my work, suggested I try online auctions. I eventually got the same advice from an eBay executive. I hesitated because at the time, eBay was considered an online yard sale--definitely not a marketplace anyone considered for selling fine art. After thinking about it more, I realized my collectors would see it for what it was, a simple and trustworthy meeting place for sellers and buyers. So I tried it. I can't tell you how strange it sounded when I told people I was selling my work on eBay, but as my prices began to rise, I realized it was working. The auction format allowed my collectors time to consider how much a painting was worth to them and whether or not they wanted it. My collectors liked the excitement of watching and participating in auctions. Now, eBay seems like a natural way to sell art.

Floating Lemon Wedge, 2/20/2013
oil/paper (mounted) 7"x6"
Looking back, I realize I was a small part of a growing movement of artists--mostly musicians--who decided to buck the traditional sales and marketing system and reach fans through the internet. Back then, artists of all varieties relied almost entirely on corporate entities (publishers, record companies, movie studios, galleries) to promote and sell their work. To do so any other way was risky. Now there seems to be a more mutually beneficial relationship between those traditional middlemen and artists who want to develop a direct relationship with their fans. The comedian Louis CK is a great example of this.

Crane Fly, 5/18/2012
oil/paper (mounted) 7"x6"
JS: Can you give me some stats for painting a day? How many years? How many paintings? How many sold? The top price? The lowest price?  

DK: The blog was launched in 2004. I've posted about 1,300 daily paintings since then. All but a handful have sold. The highest selling price was around $1,500; the lowest was $79.

Bikes, 2/9/2013
oil/paper (mounted) 7"x6"
JS: How has your painting a day practice affected your development... and your other paintings?  

DK: While it has certainly given me a degree of proficiency, the more I paint the harder it seems to get. The paintings I make for "A Painting a Day" are mostly premier-coup ("first strike") which means they are usually done in one sitting. I hesitate to use this term because I feel little kinship with the slickness I see in a lot the premier-coup and plein air painting being done these days. The ideal that I strive for is that of making a raw expression of a moment or sensation rather than a polished picture. I emphasize "strive" because it is a goal that is always a little beyond my grasp which is why I find this kind of painting so humbling and endlessly challenging.

Bookshelf, 12/23/2012
oil/paper (mounted) 7"x6"
A premier-coup painting often teeters on the edge of being something and being nothing-- the picture works and then, a few brush strokes later, it doesn't. It requires a kind of letting go; a reliance on instinct and intuition. My first painting classes with Raymond Berry began by making several small paintings on small sheets of paper taped to a board. The size and time restrictions forced us to be simple, direct and focused but also gave us license to experiment and make mistakes. If it didn't look right, we wiped it off (or he wiped it off for us) and we'd try again. We were learning how to start a painting. We were also being introduced to what Zen Buddhists call a beginner's mind: an openness to new possibilities. My daily painting keeps me moored to that sensibility. It informs all my work.

Japanese Maple, 11/15/2012
oil/paper (mounted) 6"x7"
JS: Tell me about the range of your subject matter. Do you have some recurring/favorite subjects?

DK: I've always been drawn to subjects that, though interesting or beautiful, tend not to illicit internal commentary or labeling because they are so fleeting, fragmentary or prosaic. I try to have what the photographer William Eggleston referred to as the "democratic way of looking around" and be open to whatever strikes me. As such, my subject matter varies wildly. I am also partial to subjects that naturally cross my path or enter my life rather than those I seek to paint. I suppose there is a kind of serendipity about that which I enjoy but it also keeps my paintings connected to the ebb and flow of my life. I view "A Painting a Day" as a single, ongoing work that, for me, has an underlying component of time; a sense of moments coming and going. This is one reason I accompany the title of each painting with the day it was finished.

Pool (no.6,) 7/30/2012
oil/paper (mounted) 7"x6
JS: How do people respond to painting a day? How important is it for you, and do you feel that it will continue a long time?  

DK: Generally, people seem to understand and appreciate the idea behind PAD, even if the work isn't always their cup of tea. Certainly the notion of standing still and being aware of one's surroundings is viewed by most as a poetic respite from the technological bubble we spend much of our time in. In some ways I actually prefer to present this work online, rather than in a gallery, because it seems appropriate that paintings of the everyday be threaded into the everyday lives of my viewers via their computers, tablets and smartphones. While I do receive a lot of feedback at times (mostly positive, sometimes negative) by and large most people simply look and (hopefully) enjoy the work.

Red Coat Hanger, 1/29/2013
oil/paper (mounted) 7"x6"
JS: What is the social aspect of making so many paintings? A ton of friends? A ton of admirers? Imitators? Detractors?  

DK: Yes, I do have a lot of admirers and collectors of my work-- certainly more than I ever thought I would. The people who follow my work have been tremendously kind and encouraging (as have my fellow painters) and I feel a tangible connection to them even if I do not know most of them personally. Obviously, part of this connection stems from the fact that I am sharing a constant stream of vignettes from my life, but it is also because they are, in essence, in my studio looking over my shoulder as I paint. They see my different approaches, the experimentation, the wrong turns, the small discoveries or breakthroughs etc. In PAD, a subscriber to my mailing list has a sense of how a particular painting came to be, good or bad, because he or she saw the fifty paintings that preceded it.

Coffee Mug and Books on Studio Chair, 2/18/2013
oil/paper (mounted) 7"x6"
And yes, there have been a lot of imitators of "A Painting a Day." In the beginning I encouraged other painters to try some version of the idea and adapt it to their own work. While I was happy to see the enthusiasm and success of painters starting to grasp the potential of the internet for themselves, I was also dismayed to see the movement become a kind of echo chamber of subject matter and styles, with painters looking within the small community of other daily painters for ideas rather than at what was around them. Indeed, some painters copied work almost verbatim.

There are a handful of painters who made the idea their own and whose work I truly admire, but for the most part daily painting, as a movement, is not something I follow much anymore. I certainly have detractors. I don't know how many. Their main criticism is that the subject matter is banal or that I don't paint it well enough to lift it above the level of being banal. Obviously, I don't agree that the subject matter is banal. I can understand the opinion that my painting may not be good enough because it's a criticism I direct at myself from time to time.

Red Kettle, 2/8/2013
oil/paper (mounted) 7'x6"
JS: Is there a philosophical and/or spiritual side to painting a day?

DK: For most of my adult life I've studied a strict and traditional form of karate (Shotokan Karate of America.) My understanding and philosophy of daily practice comes from the practice of Shotokan, which includes repeating a technique or kata many thousands of times and setting goals that seem beyond one's capabilities.

Winter Bouquet, 2/14/2013
oil/paper (mounted) 7'x6"
Daily painting is woven into my life and has become a kind meditation for me; a way to practice being in the moment and appreciative of what I have. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard has had a big influence on me. This passage in particular shaped the way I approach "A Painting a Day:"
There are lots of things to see, unwrapped gifts and free surprises. The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside from a generous hand. But -- and this is the point -- who gets excited by a mere penny? If you follow one arrow, if you crouch motionless on a bank to watch a tremulous ripple thrill on the water and are rewarded by the sight of a muskrat kit paddling from its den, will you count that sight a chip of copper only, and go your rueful way? It is dire poverty indeed when a man is so malnourished and fatigued that he won't stoop to pick up a penny. But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days. It is that simple.What you see is what you get.

Studio Chair, 9/10/2012
oil/paper (mounted) 7"x6"


Duane Keiser's "Painting a Day" blog.

Jean-Michel Basquiat: 80% Anger and 20% Mystery

"To Whites every Black holds a potential knife behind the back, and to every Black the White is concealing a whip." - René Ricard, "The Radiant Child," 1984
Do you remember the moment in your childhood when you woke up to the dangers and injustices of the adult world? In the life Jean-Michel Basquiat, an American artist of Haitian/Puerto-Rican descent,  that moment -- in which he glimpsed the hidden knives and whips -- stretched from his troubled early teens until his death at the age of twenty-seven in 1988. Money, fame and drugs never dimmed the visions of racial injustice and historical abuses of power that both haunted him and fueled his imagination. Jean's sustained adolescent rage became the engine of his bracingly original art.
Jean-Michel Basquiat in 1988:Photograph by Dmitri Kasterine
Website: www.kasterine.com
Collection of The Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.
To cope, and to assert his individualism, Basquiat developed an aesthetic parallel universe with its own impenetrable language of words, signs and symbols. In the words of Marc Mayer, the Director of the National Gallery of Canada, Basquiat "...speaks articulately while dodging the full impact of clarity like a matador." An auto-didact whose work parodies and subverts education and history, Jean-Michel Basquiat was the greatest outsider artist of the Twentieth Century.

Since his death, the art market has increasingly anointed him as one of its greatest insiders. Thousands of artists, would-be-artists, and poseurs have tried to emulate his trenchant precocity, and the results have been predictably lame. Basquiat's prickly intelligence is hard to match, and the esoteric poesia of his finest works is impossible to imitate.
"In Italian," 1983
Acrylic and oil paintstick on canvas with wooden supports
five smaller canvases painted with ink marker (2 panels)
88 1/2 x 80 inches overall (224.8 x 203.2 cm)
© The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat/ADAGP, Paris, ARS, New York 2013
At Gagosian Gallery, on West 24th Street, an exhibition of over fifty works includes Basquiat's "In Italian," a quasi-religious diptych which displays an inflamed, contrarian and ultimately indecipherable commentary.  It is worth commenting that this vital painting is now thirty years old: three years older than Basquiat was when he died of a drug overdose.

The title of the work offers viewers a suggestion -- that the painting is "In Italian" -- but there are several languages required to "read" the image. Basquiat often included words in his paintings and "In Italian" does have a single Italian word "SANGUE," (blood) which has been crossed out and replaced by its Latin counterpart:"SANGRE." There are also phrases and words in English, a mangled Italian name - is it Paulo? - and one word each in Spanish (AGUA) and Dutch (HOEK). So, inquiring visitors to Gagosian Gallery might start by asking: "Why the reference to Italian?"

A detail of Jean Michel Basquiat's "In Italian"
© The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat/ADAGP, Paris, ARS, New York 2013
Italy and Italians played a major role in Jean's short career. The Italian Neo-Expressionist painter Sandro Chia was an early advocate for Basquiat's work, and helped introduced Jean to a dealer who had recently moved from Rome to SoHo: Annina Nosei. Basquiat later became friendly with artists Francesco Clemente and Enzo Cucchi, and his first one-man show - "Paintings by SAMO" -- was held at the Emilio Mazzoli Gallery in Modena in May of 1981.

Basquiat, who did not keep track of how many works he gave to Mazzoli, later told friends that the dealer had gotten a "bulk deal" and had ripped him off. On his second trip to Italy some years later Basquiat was detained by Italian customs officials before his departure, as the much wiser artist was carrying roughly $100k in cash, a sum they couldn't believe a young black visitor had earned simply by selling paintings.  

Of course the title "In Italian" may not have anything to do with Jean's experiences in Italy. It may simply be a way of saying that the painting is in a graffiti style. The term "graffiti" was first coined to describe the inscriptions and drawings found on the walls of ancient Roman ruins and later evolved to take on the connotation of vandalism.
A detail of Jean Michel Basquiat's "In Italian"
© The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat/ADAGP, Paris, ARS, New York 2013
The main character of "In Italian" - a blue headed figure on the right panel - seems to stand for some kind of Christ as he might have appeared in a Baroque painting. After all, the phrase "CROWN OF THORNS" is printed above his cranium, with "THORNS" crossed out. The words SANGRE (Spanish for blood) and CORPUS© (Latin for body) are among other words and markings that appear on the figure's body, seemingly added up by a yellow cross that might be a plus sign which turns them into some sort of equation. Christ-like figures with floating crowns of thorns and African features make notable appearances in other Basquiat works.

In the left panel, the carefully labeled "DIAGRAM OF THE HEART PUMPING BLOOD" might be a reference to the "Sacred Heart," a symbolic representation of Christ's love for humanity, and also an emblem for many Roman Catholic institutions. It should be mentioned that although Jean did attend a Catholic high school -- where religious images must have made an impression -- he used religious imagery in a free-wheeling and personal way, hybridizing and personalizing European and African forms and rites.
A detail of Jean Michel Basquiat's "In Italian"
© The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat/ADAGP, Paris, ARS, New York 2013
A Baroque image of the "Sacred Heart"
Those familiar with Basquiat's life story will also recognize that the heart diagram was likely recalled from Jean's early study of the book "Gray's Anatomy," which he read with morbid curiosity while recovering from being struck by a car when he was very young. And as it turns out, the "Christ" figure actually began as a portrait of Basquiat's friend and studio assistant Stephen Torton, who later recalled that Jean added the "CROWN OF THORNS" inscription after the two of them fought over a woman. One of the interesting aspects of "In Italian" is that it is, to some degree, a collaboration. Stephen Torton made its distinctive criss-crossed stretcher bars, and a graffiti artist known as "A1" made the group of small attached canvases that Basquiat biographer Eric Fretz says are like the small panels often found on the "predella" (platform) of an altarpiece.  
A detail of Jean Michel Basquiat's "In Italian"
© The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat/ADAGP, Paris, ARS, New York 2013
The predella of Duccio's "Maesta" Altarpiece, (1308-11)

Added to this Voudou/Catholic mix of esoterica are two images of Washington quarters, both dated 1951. Is it possible that the year 1951 refers to the beginnings of the American Civil Rights movement? It was, after all, the year that the father of an 8-year old African American sued the Kansas State School Board so that his daughter could attend an all-white school. That may or may not be the case, but in the left panel of "In Italian" LIBERTY is suspiciously crossed out and "IN GOD WE TRUST" is reduced to a sarcastic scrawl. Also, George Washington's right eye stares directly at the viewer, giving gallery-goers the creepy "mirada fuerte" (strong gaze) found in many Picasso portraits. The quarter on the right panel has been succinctly de-valued with the text "TEN CENTS." A forever de-contextualized date range -- 1594-1752 -- floats above.  
A detail of Jean Michel Basquiat's "In Italian"
© The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat/ADAGP, Paris, ARS, New York 2013
A 1951 Washington Quarter
A detail of Jean Michel Basquiat's "In Italian"
© The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat/ADAGP, Paris, ARS, New York 2013
Despite the rich multiplicity of themes suggested by the words, dates and images of "In Italian," any effort to bring order to them is ultimately be doomed to frustration. Basquiat was a cultural and aesthetic channel-surfer whose sources are astonishingly diverse and disparate. His texts and images multiply uncertainty, and only Jean might have been able to tell us why he included the word "TEETH" four times, or whether the manic, Pinnochio-nosed green head on the right panel is meant to represent the apostle PAULO (Paul).  
A detail of Jean Michel Basquiat's "In Italian"
© The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat/ADAGP, Paris, ARS, New York 2013
Puzzling out Jean's meanings is an engaging game, but "In Italian" was never meant to be translated. Jean's best works manage to pull off a balancing act: they mix references, cultures and images with conviction, but elude coherence. Does "In Italian" have things to say about racism? Very likely, yes. Does it subvert religion, culture and language to make a personal moralistic statement? Probably. Can it be assigned a fixed message? No.

The best way to understand "In Italian" is to keep in mind what Basquiat once said about his art in general: "It's about 80% anger."

 I'd say that the other 20% is mystery.

February 7 - April 6, 2013  
555 West 24th Street 
New York, NY 10011

A Report from The Assar Gallery: Contemporary Art in Iran

I have recently been in touch with Orkideh Daroodi, a native of Iran who returned home several years ago after attending high school and college in California. Orkideh serves as the gallery manager of the Assar Gallery, one of Tehran's leading galleries in the field of contemporary art. I was surprised to learn -- among other things -- that there are some 150 galleries in Tehran that show the work of living Iranian artists. In my correspondence with her, Orkideh has opened my eyes to the vitality of Iran's contemporary art scene.
John Seed Interviews Orkideh Daroodi of the Assar Gallery


Orkideh Daroodi

JS: What can you tell me about the Assar Gallery? How did you become involved with the gallery?  

OD: The Assar Gallery first opened in 1999 under the direction of its current owner and director, Omid Tehrani. The gallery's mission has always been to promote the art of Iranian artists through a wide program of national and international exhibitions and fairs, collaborative projects and publications.

Installation view of Assar Gallery, Tehran, Iran

As for me, when I started 3 1/2 years ago, I didn't know anything about contemporary Iranian art. My involvement with the gallery sort of just happened, at first as an assistant, then as the auctions coordinator and now as the gallery manager. So it's been a journey, a learning experience in fact and there have been plenty of hills to climb but I was hooked the moment I found myself inside the gallery space on the day of the set up of an exhibition.

The simple idea that you are entrusted with somebody's creation: that you are to install, show and sell works of art. Well, I decided to make this my profession in hopes that one day I would open my own gallery (fingers crossed!). It's just a very evolving profession and there are many intriguing factors: everything that goes on even before a show, in terms of studio visits, talks, advertisements, press, cataloging etc., are all truly fascinating.

I didn't study art in university but with my BA degree from UC Davis' Department of Letters and Arts, I feel that I was always somehow connected and now appreciate my background in literature.

The Assar Gallery, Tehran, Iran

JS: Are there many art galleries in Tehran?  

OD: I think you'd be surprised to know that there are many, many galleries in Iran, though mostly concentrated in the capital, Tehran. There are about 150 licensed art galleries in Tehran alone and of those 30 are very active in finding new talents and holding regular exhibitions of contemporary Iranian art. Of those, I would say there are ten that are considered to be the most professional on an international scale. To name them: Assar, Aaran, Etemad, Khak, Shirin, Tarahan-e Azad, Mah, Mohsen, Silk Road and Seyhoun galleries which can each be accessed over their websites for more information regarding the kind of art and the artists that each represent.

Babak Roshaninejad, "What Are You Doing Here At This Time of Night No.1,"
from the "Personae" series, oil on canvas, 200x140 cm, 2011

JS: I notice that you attend art fairs in Istanbul and Dubai. At those fairs, are you finding that there is international interest in the artists that you represent?  

OD: We've attended Paris Photo, Art Dubai, Contemporary Istanbul and Art Moscow. The reception by the international audience has always been very positive and welcoming. Honestly, people are in awe of what they see. The exotic factor that we are from Iran of course adds to it, but overall we've been able to establish great connections and have been successful in placing works by our artists in prominent international collections.  

What’s noteworthy is that collectors are becoming more and more international and more interested in the art of Iran especially.  Because of its standing, it’s attracting more and more attention each year and also its growth in the market has been extraordinary. So whereas before where we only sold to Iranian and regional collectors, these days we are seeing more and more international collectors.

So far, we've mainly focused on regional art fairs but we think that it's time to try for an even wider audience through European fairs. Maryam Majd, who is in charge of our international affairs, is considering Frieze and Art Basel for the near future.

Babak Roshaninejad
"No.2 from the No! The History Is Not Written by the Victors, I Write the Damn Thing" series,
oil on canvas, triptych, 200x420 cm overall, 200x140 cm each panel, 2010

JS: What are some of the most prominent themes that your artists address in their work?  

OD: Currently, we are representing twelve artists: nine painters, one sculptor, one sculptor/painter and one photographer. And they address a varied series of subjects in their works. They are twelve individuals with twelve very different creative minds so I can't really categorize them.

Babak Roshaninejad, "No.9," from the "Interlude" series,
oil on canvas, 140x200 cm, 2011

JS: Can you single out an artist whose work you feel is particularly outstanding and tell me a bit more about his work?  

OD: Well there are two: Babak Roshaninejad and Alireza Adambakan are two of my favorite artists. Babak's large-scale oil paintings of portraits, newspaper headlines, barcodes, tanks and bulldozers, tractors and cars are representative of his unique painterly skills. The texture and compositing that he creates by applying thick and dense amounts of oil paint create a visual quality that goes beyond the subjects he chooses.

Alireza Adambakan, "No.7," from the "My Icons" series,
mixed media on cardboard, 90x120 cm, 2011

And as for Alireza, his painting is much more personal. Working on different series, ranging from large-scale figurative to medium-scale urban and cityscapes, he uses a bold, intense and varied palette to express his critical attitude of the clash between tradition and modernity.

Alireza Adambakan, "No. 5," from the "My Icons" series,
mixed media on cardboard, 90x120 cm, 2010

JS: What are you hopes and dreams for Iran's artists?  

OD: For Iranian artists to be able to compete on a larger international scale and stand alongside artists from Europe and America. For more critics, collectors, curators and all involved in the art world to further welcome and recognize their work. And for them to create the kind of art that involves you; stops you and changes you; you and the world perhaps. To quote Jeremy Deller "Art isn't about what you make but what you make happen." So, I hope for Iranian artists to make a lot of things happen!

Alireza Adambakan, "Free Me" from the "Water from the Haftad-o Du Tan" series,
mixed media on canvas, 200x150 cm, 2010

JS: Who are some of the artists out of Iran that you admire?  

OD: There are some Iranian artists who reside abroad and are doing absolutely amazing works but to embrace some non-Iranian artists: Ai Weiwei is somebody whose work I follow pretty closely. My first encounter with his work was his Sunflower Seeds at the Tate Modern's Turbine Hall and I've been following his work ever since. Anish Kapoor is a favorite among all of us at the gallery. And from an older generation, Louise Bourgeois was an extraordinary artist and I respect her work very much. Last but not least, John Wesley, whose work I like because of its cartoon-like and flat quality, has always been a personal favorite.

JS: Please mention anything else about your gallery and/or artists that you would like my readers to know.  

OD: First and foremost, I'd like to mention that Tehran's art scene is a lot different from what might normally be portrayed in the mass media. And I believe that Assar has especially been able to transform the concept of an art gallery in Iran. Basic principles such as representing a set of fixed artists, establishing a professional artist-gallery relationship, promotion of contemporary art through publications and participation in international art fairs all started at Assar Gallery and was fortunately followed by other galleries.

Also, I am excited to tell you that there is going to be a really great show of Iranian art, organized by Asia Society, in New York in September.

Astrid Preston: New Territory at Craig Krull Gallery

At Craig Krull Gallery in Santa Monica, Astrid Preston's exhibition "New Territory" stands out for a very simple reason: the show is unapologetically beautiful. Representing two years of work, Preston's paintings on wood panels and linen fuse Japanese and Western aesthetic values masterfully. Subtle, varied, respectful of nature while somehow beyond nature, Preston's recent paintings have been on the receiving end of some well-deserved praise. In a blog posted on Forbes.com,writer and ecologist Michael Charles Tobias offered this kudos:
"Her (Preston's) work has consistently taken technical and philosophical risks, achieved unique depth, and established Ms. Preston as one of America's most important contemporary landscape painters."
 Astrid Preston: photo by Jon Fauer

I recently interviewed Preston and spoke with her about her exhibition, her work, and her artistic direction.  

John Seed Interviews Astrid Preston  

JS: I understand that in preparation for your current show you have photographed hundreds of trees, many of them in Japan. Have you ever considered showing your photographs? How do you use your photos to inspire paintings?  

AP: My son lives and works in Tokyo, so before our last visit, I ordered canvas, linen and wood panels, my height: 66" and then 33" wide. I had planned on doing tree portraits on these surfaces. So while I was in Japan I photographed any tree or cluster of trees that speak to me. The black pines there are especially striking.

Astrid Preston, "Black Pine Ginkaku-Ji," 2012, oil on panel, 66" x 132"

I do use the photographs as a tool and inspiration for my paintings. I take images that interest me, but I don't see like a photographer. I only see what I want to use. I have photographer friends and they see what is actually there and framing is important. Some of my photographs are of that level, but I don't enjoy the technical aspects of computers, so getting the color and contrast right on a digital print would not give me pleasure.  

JS: Many of your current paintings are on hardwood. Can you tell me how you choose and prepare the wood, and also about how the color and grain of the wood influence your paintings?  

AP: I enjoy a certain amount of chance in the actual wood surface. I order by size and never specify what kind of wood. Then the wood color and grain pattern provide limitations and inspiration. Since I usually have many photographs I want to work from, I see which images would be best with the given panel. I had not worked on wood before these paintings.

Astrid Preston, "Toward Hiroshima," 2012, oil on wood panel, 16" x 16"

The first portrait on wood was of red pine trees. The wood was so beautiful, that I realized I'd better do some studies before I proceeded, so I ordered some small 16x16 inch wood panels to use for studies. Some of those are in the show. For the first one I tried, I used a wash, and had already decided to make the trees red, so I did the wash in blue. I loved it and kept the background simple. With the trees I used the grain in a vertical direction to repeat the direction of the portrait (full body). I don't do any preparation on the wood. I was asked to do a fund-raising project for the Santa Monica Museum just after this, and I proceeded to paint over 100 small tree paintings on wood veneer (called wood paper).

This is when I discovered how some of the wood grain looks a lot like water. For this last trip -- the month after the big earthquake and tsunami -- my son wanted to visit as many islands as possible, but he only had a week of vacation, so we traveled around the Inland Sea. I have always liked the 16" x16" inch size, so I ordered more and more wood panels and started the small water paintings that are in this exhibition.

Astrid Preston, "Little Rock Little Pond," 2012, oil on wood panel, 16" x 16"

JS: How have Hiroshige and other Japanese artists influenced your art? AP: While I have limited myself to nature painting my two loves have been Renaissance art -- Durer, Vermeer, etc -- and Chinese/Japanese, landscapes on silk or paper. I love the magic of the illusionistic, glazed painting of Europe and the detail and delicacy and lack of perspective in the Chinese/Japanese.

Astrid Preston, "Black Pine in Ritsuren-koen," 2011, oil on canvas, 66" x 33"

JS: To what degree do you depict nature literally, and to what degree do you alter it as you paint?

AP: All of my paintings are primarily internal landscapes. I start with some image, scene, or detail that speaks to me and paint it in some way, color that seems to be right. I like to start with the literal so that I don't get stylized or make the same image repeatedly. Most of the images in this show are very simplified from the complexity of the photos. I paint and change until I capture something that surprises me, feels emotionally and visually "right", often it has changed dramatically from the original vision.

Astrid Preston, "Thirsty Sun," 2012, oil on wood panel, 16" x 16"

One painting that didn't change much is the most abstract in the show. For "Thirsty Sun" I had put some washes on the wood veneer, to create the feeling of a small pond. The pond photo I was looking at had a glare of the sun in it. I had already started using the palette knife to build up surface on some of the paintings and had a real need for yellow, so I had the idea to make more of a feeling of the sun than just a white smooth glow on the illusionistic pond. This is one of my favorite paintings in the show. I added the ripples at the bottom to have an illusionistic reference to reality. It was a big leap for me. None of the paintings are nonrepresentational.

Astrid Preston, "Early Spring on Naoshima," 2012, oil on linen, 66" x 132"

JS: There is tremendous delicacy in your work: how did that develop? Have you always been such a patient artist?  

AP: Before painting became my dominant medium, I drew. I drew almost exclusively for ten years. Fine lines and mark making were my main interest, so as I learned to paint better, I included more fine painted lines.

Astrid Preston, "Trio," 2012, oil on wood panel, 16" x 16"

JS: What direction do you think your work is going next?  

AP: I want to explore the new possibilities of mark making that I have started here, but on a larger scale. I don't know what that will entail, but more complexity for sure.

 Astrid Preston, "Blossoms," 2012, oil on wood panel, 16" x 16"
JS: You have a fantastic garden in Santa Monica. Do you paint there?  

AP: I can only paint in the studio, there are too many distractions in the garden. I do draw there though. I have a fantastic view out my windows, so I have painted that scene before, but I find it easier to take a photo and work from that. As I said, they are internal landscapes.

Astrid Preston, "Imperial Pine," 2012, oil on wood panel, 66" x 33"

JS: Is there anything else you would like to say about your work and your artistic practice?  

AP: Here are some thoughts I wrote down before a recent talk I gave:  

I am always trying to find the new in the familiar.

 I am trying to create a more complex visual vocabulary for myself.  

I like to have a tension between figuration and abstraction in these works.  

I use a different strategy in each painting.

Also, in the talk, the nature of artifice came up. Most of my images are from gardens, so the human presence is there in altered wildness, recreating man's concept of paradise, and then again in my translation.

Astrid Preston  
New Territory
Craig Krull Gallery
2525 Michigan Avenue, Building B-3
Santa Monica, California 90404
January 26 - March 2, 2013

About Me and My Blog

To Whom It May Concern,

I have been writing about art and artists for the HuffingtonPost for almost three years now, and am increasingly finding myself in a pretty great situation: I am regularly hearing from artists, galleries and museums who would like to blog about their work or an exhibition. Honestly, I am flattered by the requests, and wish I had been this popular in high school.

So that anyone interested in my writing can understand how I operate, and how I decide what to blog about, here is an "FAQ" style set of questions and answers that I hope you will find helpful. - John Seed

John Seed Arts Blogger: Frequently Asked Questions:

Q: Will you write about my work?

A: The best answer I can give is "maybe." I try to read the press releases that come to my email box, and also do follow links to visit websites and look over the images you send.

My rule of thumb is that I have to feel very, very positive about any work I choose to write about. I write best about representational painting, although every now and then I do write about other forms of art.

Please don't be offended if I don't respond directly to your request, or if I don't end up blogging about your work. My choices are personal, and quite often I choose not to write about an exhibition simply because I am busy or feel that I am not the right person to interpret or discuss the work with authority.

Q: Do you write reviews?

A: I am not an art critic, although more and more people want to call me one, which they can do if they like. I prefer  "art writer" or "arts blogger" because I rarely write criticism. My preference is to write profiles of artists, essays that illuminate or explain an exhibition or work of art, and also to write

I live in Southern California -- about 2 hours from Los Angeles and 90 minutes from San Diego -- so I see some shows in person when possible, but really live too far from major art centers to visit most exhibitions in person and do proper reviews.

Q: Can you and/or the HuffingtonPost help get the word out about my art world event?

A: The HuffingtonPost has an Arts and Culture desk in New York, and I can send your item forward to them. They do not post press releases and only post a very limited number of news items at their discretion. 

Q: How do you  find art and topics to write about?

JS: I listen to the opinions of a few trusted friends, visit exhibitions and watch the art that shows up on  Facebook.

Q: Do you accept paid work?

JS: Yes, I do, but with one exception: please do not offer to pay me for posting a blog on HuffingtonPost. I try to keep what I post there "pure" and am not paid for it by the HuffPost and don't want to be paid by you either.

I am happy to write catalog essays, web content, and magazine articles for you: e-mail me and we can talk about it, and I will also send you my full vitae.

Q: Can your HuffingtonPost blogs be re-published? 

A: Yes: I own the rights to them, but in most cases will need permission from artists to repost images of their art. If you would like to license one of my blogs for us on your blog, or in any other form of publication, please email me.

Q: Can I put you on my mailing list and/or e-mail list so that you receive notices about my work?

A: Of course!

Contact Information: johnseed@gmail.com

Lawrence Gipe "Salon" at Lora Schlesinger Gallery

At Lora Schlesinger Gallery in Santa Monica painter/teacher/critic Lawrence Gipe is currently exhibiting thirty small paintings that simultaneously reflect both his interest in history and his ability to evoke emotion. Working from archival images that channel 20th century themes -- progress, industry, and ideology -- Gipe's subtle and somewhat abstract handling of paint adds the gleam and gloss of Romanticism. Paradoxically old and new, Lawrence Gipe's paintings have an alchemical ability to make what might be considered mundane or outdated subject matter come alive and raise new questions. I recently interviewed Gipe and asked him about his background, his work, and his future plans.

 John Seed Interviews Lawrence Gipe:
Lawrence Gipe
JS: Lawrence, can you tell me about your background, and about how you evolved into a representational artist?  

LG: I went to undergraduate school in Richmond, VA at Virginia Commonwealth University (1980-84). My instructors -- many of who had been educated by Hans Hofmann in Provincetown -- taught me how to paint through abstraction. I was pushing and pulling with the best of them. The idea that color -- and juxtapositions of color alone -- could create depth, was essential to this education. It was only in my last year of graduate school at Otis (1984-6) that I decided to "convert" to imagery. Today, the lessons of Hofmann's retinal process are still behind each painting. I'm always working warm-cold, Phthalo Blue vs. Van Dyke Brown, layering transparent glazes against each other.

Lawrence Gipe, Panel No. 22 from Salon (Korea, 1950), 2012, oil on panel, 9" x 12"
My MFA studies at Otis Art Institute had a much less rigor than VCU -- there was Mike Kelley hanging around, Scott Grieger -- they were imagists as well as conceptual artists. I went to critiques at CalARTS, and, Michael Asher notwithstanding, there was a hunger for images (or at least an obsession with them), from Baldessari to Kruger. LA was an "image" city to me and I never turned back to abstraction once I hit the West Coast. A few of the instructors at Otis were swept up by the Derrida-Foucaultian revolution that was being used as critical cannon fodder at the time. I didn't see the use in much of it outside of Foucault - who I regarded highly. His identification of authoritarian structures took on a narrative power in my mind and informed my early work.

Lawrence Gipe, Panel No. 20 from Salon (Leica-Amateurs, 1937), 2012, oil on panel, 24" x 36" 
JS: Nostalgia is a recurring theme in your work: how did that come about?

LG:  I arrived in LA originally because my father was writing movies; he wrote a few films with Steve Martin including "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" -- a parody of film noir that spliced the comedian into old classics like "Double Indemnity" to make a new comedic narrative. I think a lot of my ideas surrounding the notion of "nostalgia" started to get formed then. My father -- who died at age 52 in 1986 -- lived in the past - and my primary intimacy with him was watching late-night 1930's Warner Bros. movies - which became my nostalgia as well. The highlights of his childhood became my childhood: that compression, that transparency of time and visual culture, became my own generative fiction. I'm interested in how other artists have dealt with the notion of nostalgia and have a small blog dedicated to it.
Lawrence Gipe, Panel No. 11 from Salon (New York, 1929), 2012, oil on panel, 18" x 24"
JS: Tell me about the themes of progress and industry that have been appearing in your paintings.   

LG: I think my obsession with industrial images and what I call the "Cult of Progress" was inspired by my early surroundings (Baltimore) and contact with an older generation that regarded the United States as an unflawed land of opportunity. I was in a "cusp" generation: still proud of the past but anxious about the present. By the time I was growing up in the late-70's the optimism bubble had burst: gas lines, the end of the Vietnam War - it wasn't pretty! The same factories portrayed in the WPA-era, for instance, looked much less attractive in the 70's. To me, a line of towering smokestacks belching into the clouds was a very ambivalent image; it meant people were working, but it also illustrated how the filthy end of the industrial revolution was coming to roost for my generation to clean up. Industry is glorious - and horrible. I'm always attracted to themes like that.

Lawrence Gipe, Panel No. 23 from Salon (Sicily, 1944), 2012, oil on panel, 11" x 44"
JS: Although you have a strong intellectual bent -- and also an interest in history -- your work also has an overlay of emotion and romanticism, right?  

LG: A typical painting that straddles emotions, and a favorite image of mine from the current show, is "Sicily, 1944". Through my research, I found a book called "Flight to Everywhere", published in 1944 by Life magazine in cooperation with the War Office. Essentially, it documented a propaganda stunt: to show the public that, despite the war, the US still had dominion over the entire world. In it, a plane circumnavigated the globe, stopping in Allied air bases all along the way. Near the end of the journey, they made a stop in Sicily, which had just been secured by the US Army. That evening, the Nazis returned at night for a retaliatory raid, bombing the harbor of Palermo.

In the morning, when the photographer went out to look, he saw a golden dawn and an ominous cloud of ash hovering over the harbor. It was beautiful and tragic all at once -- so, for me, perfect. And, I think painting is the best medium to capture that couplet, as the layer of romance a painter can add complicates matters more than a photograph. It's really OK to have two different feelings about an image simultaneously. I always say, if you don't risk being misunderstood, it's not worth doing.

Lawrence Gipe, Panel No. 4 from Salon (London, 1940), 2012, oil on panel, 12" x 16"
JS: The exhibition at Schlesinger is titled "Salon," and it includes a selection works by your students. How did the show develop that way?

LG: I kind of meant for this current "Salon" exhibition to be like a "greatest hits" record - I didn't want to tuck all the work under a specific theme, like I usually do. Most of the pieces took less than a week to make, so I was able to say to myself: "paint whatever pleases you today". I was on a sabbatical from the University of Arizona and I had the time to fail and discard, without getting nervous. The two drawings in the show of the riot police were executed last summer - they took as long as ten paintings. After the buoyant, color world presented by the paintings, I wanted the viewer to be grounded back in reality by the starkness of the drawings.

In regards to the student exhibition, that was in response to an offer by my dealer, Lora Schlesinger, for me to curate the back gallery. I thought showing my current students and recent alumni would be fun. In terms of my teaching style, I don't create "acolytes" -- only one of the artists in the show deals with issues that are related to mine. I encourage abstraction in my classes, in fact, but my only interest is to find out what interests them and help them manifest that in art.

Lawrence Gipe, Panel No. 15 from Salon (Divers, 1936), 2012, oil on panel, 12" x 16"
JS: In addition to painting and teaching, you are active as a critic. Do you find that writing informs your painting, or do you try to keep criticism and studio practice separate?

LG: I love writing about art -- in the short form. I write reviews -- 250-400 words -- that's how I'm most efficient. As far as writing informing my painting, I feel like own practice is a truculent beast that isn't much affected by my journalistic ventures, especially since I tend to choose sculpture or installations to write about. More than anything, I like research. A musty stack of post- war Soviet magazines gets me really excited! I'm always attracted to what a recent lecture at the Wende Museum called "The Politics of Happiness". I'm fascinated by how artists have collaborated with and visualized totalitarianism: the perfect, monolithic worlds they portray. I think a clandestine poster collecting tour to North Korea would be my dream trip.

Lawrence Gipe, Salon No. 2, 2012, oil on panel, 20" x 29"
JS: What is next for your work?  

LG: Right now, my work is going in 4-5 different directions. I realize this is detrimental to my career: I can't "brand" myself the way a lot of artists do. Yes, if you see an image of a train blasting out of a station, you can guess it's me. But, I'd just as soon paint portraits, a still life, a landscape with placid birches. All that's important is where from where the image is derived. And, with me, you can only be sure it's from a sinister context -- if those are birch trees, they're Soviet birch trees! Images like these - these kind of banal images -- are interesting to me because they seem familiar, but in fact they've come from obscure and forgotten contexts.

Lawrence Gipe, Panel No. 18 from Salon (USSR, 1962), 2012, oil on panel, 14" x 11"
I usually paint, but I also love drawing and seek out projects where it can be used autonomously and relevantly. I'm currently engaged in an on-going series about Operation Streamline, a federal policy enthusiastically endorsed by the Arizona court system that dispatches 70 illegal immigrants per day back across the border. The series utilizes only drawing -- and that is the only means available to document the proceedings of Operation Streamline (photography is prohibited in the court). It's a sad spectacle -- they are captured and thrown into court unwashed and shackled -- they shuffle into court after being advised to waive their rights and plead guilty. Incensed by this practice, graduate students in the UA Journalism department proposed collaborating with me to sketch the deportees as they waited in the dock. An exhibition is in the works, combining video, the oral histories collected by the journalist students, and my drawings.

Lawrence Gipe Salon
Lora Schlesinger Gallery
January 12 - February 23, 2013

In the East Gallery: Emerging Artists curated by Lawrence Gipe: Nidaa Aboulhosn, Karen deClouet, Mena Ganey, Bobbi Gentry, Yubitza McCombs, Chris McGinnis