Studio Critique with Mentor Christopher Mir

This passed Thursday I took a trip to go meet with my painting mentor, Christopher Mir, in his studio for an in-progress critique of the current painting I am working on. It was great to see his studio set-up and spend the evening chatting about art and getting a new list of artists to research from him. At times we chatted about his experience in the Art World, artist’s trials and tribulations, our children,  and dogs (of course!) but I left feeling confident and ready to do more investigation into the artists he had introduced me to.

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Artists for Inspiration:

The first artist we look at was Pierre Bonnard. Christopher immediately thought of Bonnard because my painting is of a woman in a tub, which he did an entire series of. He has been said to have painted his wife, Marthe, over 300 times! This proves to be a testament of his love for her. My painting is a mother and child in a tub, surrounded on two sides by thickly painted, heavily textured, tiles. The tiles in Bonnard’s paintings are brightly colored, textured, imperfect and wonky- they definitely relate to mine. Apparently his wife suffered with mental illness so she bathed excessively and he would paint her from memory in those baths. His perspective is not real or accurate but they lead to a dream-like quality and I like that aspect. The way in which he applies paint is think and sculptured which is similar to mine as well.

Pierre Bonnard, Nude in Bath, 1941-6

The second artist that he saw a similarity to was Egon Schiele. I did not see much of a similarity, except maybe in the treatment of the figure’s hands, but I love his work and am happy that my work made Christopher think of him! His figures are illustrative yet expressive and I love their sexual nature. The models have passive expressions, contorted bodies and rigidity to their hands but they are engaging and feel real. The figures in his paintings confront the viewer with a direct gaze that draws them inward without a specific mood. His paintings are simple and contain minimum background information so the viewer has not choice to engage with the figure’s eyes and are hooked. As a student, I was always taught to avoid a heavy black outline when drawing the form as it flatten images but his use of line is enticing and makes me reconsider this directive and play with heavier lines in my work.

Egon Schiele

The third artist we looked at was John Walker for his use on text within his paintings as I tend to use text as well. I really enjoyed his work because the text itself became the artwork and it was not at all an afterthought, instead it plays the lead role! It is textured and illegible at times and your eye just reads it as line, it’s beautiful! The one pictured below is the one that stood out the most to me.

Walker, John, b.1939; The Blue Cloud
John Walker. The Blue Cloud

I would like to emulate how he integrates text and has it both the main attraction but it is not necessary to read it. Although it may be illegible its use is very important to him as they words from a poet who served in WWI with his father.

Take Away:

     Christopher and I spoke about what direction my painting could go in, focusing on a resolution for the area beneath the knees of my figure, where I will be adding in information of the rest of the figure’s legs. I would like it do have a more ethereal look and therefore may leave that area of the legs looking unfinished or just drawn and mapped in. The data I have of the figure’s full legs are at a different angle which might become the data that I use which would have a Cezannian affect by having two different angles for the figure’s body. We also talked about just re-taking the data image and using that. I have not decided which I will do, but I am leaning towards the Cezannian affect, and yes I made that word up. I think it would lend to how one feels as a mother, multiple places in one time.

There are a few areas to finish, hands and baby’s face and a few shadows on the tiled side of the tub. The other unresolved part is the text on the floor of the tub. I carried on the text into a larger painting, as per his previous suggestion, and I liked it- but I don’t love it yet. We talked about obscuring it or making it less legible, using it more as a texture or pattern, rather than a focal point to read. I am on board with the idea and have already begun adding to it, but I don’t love it yet!

We talked at length about the expressionistic quality of the work and how that can leave an artist with more options, rather than feeling boxed in, but that it also can’t be a free for all either. This conversation started because I was telling him how sometimes when I am creating I don’t have an intended meaning or purpose and things just happen naturally. Not everything has an intense explanation or reason why I did it, but that it just feels right in the moment. Seeing as though I am now an MFA candidate, I feel pressure to have elaborate explanations and it can feel daunting. I want to be well spoken but also don’t want to always have to dissect every aspect while I’m painting because it can disrupt the very process of painting. Painting is when I feel most free and at ease and we discussed trusting my instincts. It was reassuring to hear his insight on this subject matter.

Researching Jenny Saville and Alice Neel has been a joy and left me wanting to embrace my womanhood even more and my motherhood and incorporate it into my work completely- but how do I go about that without becoming cliche? I feel like most everything has been done before, so how will my work be different? What do I have to really say and how am I going to say it? He gave me some words of advice from a former mentor (and Irish poet) of his saying,

“If you go directly into the cliche it will shred your ego and make you holy.”

So with that being said, I feel less unsure and inspired to continue on! He also said that if you are not slightest bit embarrassed or worried about how your work stacks up, that you’re most likely not being genuine. Or that you might just be a pompous ass.

My painting has religious undertones with a halo-like shape around the mother who is holding her child. At this point in time I am resentful of religion and how it is used as a weapon these days but yet I used elements of it within my artwork, which Christopher thought was an oxymoron of sorts. I was totally open to this and it left me wondering how or why I could feel one way and then use the religious undertones. The more I thought about it, the clearer it became and I was happy he pushed me to clarify why I used these ideas. The act of making, growing, birthing, feeding and raising babies is a damn near miracle! Woman are goddesses who don’t need saving or to be a virgin in order to be holy. We are creation- it’s literally what we are made for! So while I reject what is going on with religion in the political sense in our world today, I do believe in miracles because I gave birth to three. It’s a miracle what women do as mothers and they don’t need God to know that they are worthy. Does that make my imagery paradoxical, or rather, does it redefine the idea of ‘mother and child’ as a miracle without the presence of God. Honestly, I’m not sure yet exactly where these ideas are going but I like the ride so far.

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