Artist research: Allen McCollum

6 September 2017. My tutor suggested I have a look at a set within Allen McCollum’s (*1944, USA) famous surrogate paintings, basically empty frames painted in vivid colours and lined up in rows along a wall (McCollum, n.d.). Despite the connection my tutor tied (“where absence and shadow can speak volumes”), I was not attracted. The frames look rough, their colours haphazard. Looking at them again during a quiet minute they reminded me distantly of the multitude of doors leading to the childrens’ bedrooms in the great film “Monster Inc.”. In contrast to McCollum’s frames I find a real purpose to the doors besides serving as symbols for individual lives. Of course I can fill the absences in McCollum’s frames with whatever (shadows) I like, but this I can do with everything that is empty around me, so I do not really need the frames.
McCollum not only works with sets of blank frames, but also with multiples (similar but not the same) of drawings, sculptures or even collections of natural objects such as fulgurite tubes (glass lined hollow tubes formed where lightning strikes sand), which I was not happy to see either. I am having difficulties again with the lining up of multiples of objects into grids and rows, no matter how sophisticated the connection with some important human issue such as a discussion of the mass-produced versus individualized, the issue of a painting being an object representing itself and such like, in the late 20th century (ARTCenterMFA, 2015). At the risk of outing myself, again, as a philistine, the addressed issues feel vastly insubstantial to me in the face of the enormousness of the universe and the mystery of life. The produced objects are sometimes attractive, more often nice to look at, but this is where my interest ends somehow. I believe that most repetitive patterns look attractive to the human mind because they are aesthetically pleasing, but this does not automatically make them qualify as works of art. Is this the same sort of decoration my tutor saw in the first stages of my Assignment 2 umbrella project (Lacher-Bryk, 2017)? I am probably not the best person to judge here, because to me the umbrella is a multidimensional analysis of a highly personal legacy. However, I will be taking my own experience with McCollum’s work as a warning to myself, so that I do not wander, starry-eyed, into the same trap.

References

ARTCenterMFA (2015) Allan McCollum, Graduate Seminar 2/3/2015 [online]. Department of Graduate Art at Art Center College of Design, Los Angeles. Available from: https://vimeo.com/118767506 [Accessed 6 September 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017) Assignment 2: “An Umbrella Project” [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA blog: Understanding Painting Media, 17 August. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1upm.wordpress.com/2017/08/17/assignment-2-an-umbrella-project/ [Accessed 6 September 2017]

McCollum, A. (n.d.) Allan McCollum [online]. Allan McCollum, New York. Available from: http://allanmccollum.net/allanmcnyc/ [Accessed 6 September 2017]

 

 

Assignment 2: Tutor feedback reflection

1/3/4 September 2017.

Note 1.
For my tutor: I am very happy to be your student. What follows is nothing personal, but what I guess may be a general communication issue between the OCA and its student(s). I noticed and mentioned some of that in earlier courses also.

Note 2.
When I wrote my feedback reflection for Part 1 of UPM, I did so immediately after the video tutorial to then supplement it by the summary provided by my tutor in written form. I noticed weird discrepancies between study guide instructions, the oral and the written content of my tutor feedback. As this repeated itself for Part 2, I decided to pay particular attention and compare the things said and written. I found it very difficult to make this blog post a “compare and contrast” exercise, because my observations are virtually impossible to separate into isolated entities. Still I hope to have described my issues clearly enough to allow them to be discussed in depth and hopefully solved, because far too much of my limited study time is still going
into making sense of what is expected of me.  

Video tutorials with my UPM tutor I perceive as very lively and encouraging conversations. After about 4 or 5 video talks so far over the course of my OCA studies I believe, however, that despite the great advantages of immediate feedback and getting to know my tutor personally there are severe limitations to video communication for a number of reasons. A lot of information needs to be passed in what I feel is far too little time via a sometimes poor skype connection. I find myself unable to ask relevant questions during the tutorial, because I can only pinpoint inconsistencies I feel during the talk after having digested the more complex subjects covered. The above issue is made more difficult by receiving follow-up written summaries which I think sometimes are not completely in line with the oral information. This effect does not concern all of the advice given, but mostly affects my tutors’ remarks regarding the intentions behind my work.
I have to admit that trying to make sense of both confuses me. Therefore I will probably not go for a video tutorial next time but for a written-only statement. The latter I experienced, in Drawing 1 and Practice of Painting, as clear analyses of all the submitted pieces as compared to the more general overview provided by combined video/written feedback. For many of the reasons stated above I also decided that I will need to contact my tutor at shorter intervals while working on the exercises.

The main discrepancies I stumbled upon in this case were the following:

  • study guide instructions and tutor comments on respective work:

    I cannot help the impression that often tutor and study guide may be at odds.

    • Written tutor comment on photographic collections: “tension between your work from working with unpredictable diluted paints and the ordering of your objects” and “you have thought about the arrangement of them in grids and boxes”
      This combination was owed both to my tutor’s previous suggestion to keep working with inks and to the prescribed preliminary research on artists working with and presenting collections – they all came in grids and boxes. I even wrote a note in my sketchbook stating that I do not like to work in grids for several reasons.
    • Written tutor comment on exercise 2.1: “continuing with the ordering of objects, your work is showing your interests of regularity and design- does this emulate your life style?” and “However avoid twee subjects like the teddy bear and necklace, as it does not match the inventiveness of the affects.”
      I do not embrace regularity, neither in my life nor in my work (although we as a family are going through a very long-term challenging period and sometimes I would wish for a little more peace and quiet). I experience myself as excessively inquisitive with spontaneous interest in everything and I will order my work only because it is expected from me. If I do so, however, my scientist’s training will probably create an impression of wanting to bring “a field of ideas into fenced areas”. I believe that fences hinder development, both at the personal level and in society as a whole.
      Both teddy bear and necklace were parts of collections of household items the study guide instructed us to produce. I mentioned in both sketchbook and blog that I did not like any of the two choices and would never think of working with them on my own. However, I was happy with the quick palette knife caramel study of my teddy bear, which made him look fierce and aggressive (I like playing with contradictory elements, also in my work as political caricaturist). As I recorded in my sketchbook, after further experimenting the caramel painting exists only as a photo now.
    • Written tutor comment on exercise 2.2: “Your sources are wide ranging to start this project. Sometimes less is more.”
      We were required to select several from a long list of sources and use these to experiment. I did exactly what was required in the study guide. On the other hand, in the video tutorial, my tutor asked me to continue doing what I like best and experiment to the full.
    • Written tutor comment on exercise 2.3: “Do you like to collect? You work with multiples and more than one object.”
      No, I don’t like to collect, but this is what we were supposed to do, it is the basis for all of the work required in Part 2.
    • Written comment on assignment: “your panels started off by being too decorative and literal”.
      I don’t understand this, because at the outset I had no plan that I would create fields and many of my finished scenes travel into the next panel on the umbrella. The scenes themselves, evolving from a very quickly produced background of roughly mixed acrylic paint, were purely intuitive (e.g. “I want to address anxiety, can my inner eye see something in the swirls of colour that might transport this emotion?”). I never even thought of a literal translation, let alone decoration. The way I chose for creating the persons acting on the panels I felt to be extremely rough, both in testing them on my printouts (without which I would have been unable to see the patterns in the original) and the nylon support of the umbrella.
      I was surprised that my tutor called the use of an umbrella “clichéd” and then added “However, if the umbrella is intentional …”. I explained the background to my – of course intentional – choice of an umbrella as my support widely in my blog. Besides that, at level one I firmly believe that I should not be overly concerned about clichés really, in the same line as my tutor’s suggested not to worry about a personal voice at this level.
    • My tutor emphasizes the necessity to show continuity, e.g. by returning to the same materials (“Be careful you are not starting again in each assignment”, “It is easy to forget what you have already done without celebrating the successes. I think this is why you can be a little frightened each time- because you feel you are starting again.”).
      While I will very happily celebrate what I think was successful, I think that either it is me misinterpreting or the study guide failing to explain clearly. I still do not understand how we are supposed to show continuous development throughout the course, because parts/exercises read very differently regarding the required outcome: e.g. “curating” and painting collections of household items in Part 2 and learning how to make monoprint portraits in Part 3. For me these two have very little in common and I am not sure yet how I am to combine study guide requirements and tutor suggestions.
  • technical aspects:

    In her pointers for the next assignment my tutor suggests that I need to make my results more sophisticated by thinking about a coating for my results. This I thought odd, since I had added protection wherever I thought a piece finished. Some of them, as e.g. the aluminium cans, I have left unsealed so far, but only because I want to keep the option of working on them again at a later point (this I mentioned in my blog). The suggestion by my tutor also confuses me, because in her feedback on Part 1 she mentioned that I must not worry about leaving things unfinished.

  • analysis of development:

    In the video tutorial I received the impression of a considerable step forward. The written feedback, which arrived a day later, was far less enthusiastic in that respect. It contains the remarks “There has been a change in direction” and “Previously- you worked with shadows, monochromatic applications, atmospheric work and looking at shadows as traces, footstep and legacies to extend your context.” I certainly did not intend any change in direction and continued to work with shadows as planned. I expanded on my work from Part 1 in e.g. my sketchbook, set of cans, large scale drawing and Assignment 2 and continued to develop my work with shadows, traces and legacies, all of these combined in my umbrella project. My tutor however identified a change insofar as a new subject of mine appears to be “ordering the chaos”. This is not so. My interest in multiples is owed to study guide instructions, at least at the moment. The addition of mind mapping as an invaluable tool has purely organisational reasons and I am positive that I do not want to make it part of my work at this point in time.
    My tutor advised me also to shift my attention from focusing on shadows as a main course theme to what has started to show in my recent work, which is the use of a large variety of unusual surfaces and painting materials, working with found objects and working with multiples, but again I only followed instructions here. A comparable experience I had in Part 1, where I believe that my tutor received the wrong impression that I had set myself the goal of painting 20 squares for assignment, as she mentioned a certain lack of inventiveness in repeating same-sized paintings.

  • analysis of written work:

On p. 2 of her written feedback my tutor mentions that “I say my work is unprofessional because I am repeating”. I cannot remember saying such a thing, I rather wrote that by a lack of organisation “I still find myself working intuitively, which results in “discovering” the same things over and over, which is not just annoying but highly unprofessional.”. Which is something altogether different (Lacher-Bryk, 2017a). What I mean is that by having no structure in my approach to experimenting (at the time before mind mapping!), I do things again and again without realising that I am repeating myself and without making a working connection between the repeated parts. I know that the conscious and comparative repeating of techniques and subjects is absolutely essential in developing a better understanding of the respective outcomes. Mind mapping will however help me organising this part of my studies better.
I am not sure whether sometimes the way I express myself may lead to misunderstandings.

Apart from the above contradictory observations I received a number of invaluable pointers for development:

  • The working with multiples/grids/fields ties in with some of my earlier work, including the charcoal animations I did as part of Drawing 1 (Lacher-Bryk, 2015). My tutor suggested that I try animations again, including simple ones like spinning my umbrella and making a film of that (zoetrope effect).
  • make anxiety part of my work (which I already do to a large extent)
  • select working textures from my sketchbooks and use them at a larger scale
  • continue working with unusual materials such as Coca-Cola and charcoal, caramel, beetroot juice etc. as well as unusual supports
  • try and work on a number of different pieces simultaneously to allow switching between pieces intuitively according to the communication channels working best at the time
  • regarding the issue of “putting order in my chaos”:
    e.g. use beetroot juice, make a mind map to set the scene, paint with a paintbrush (orderly) and then “let go” by e.g. painting with my hand only, always keep working quickly
  • do whatever I like best and continue experimenting to the full, putting imagination first, but now with my mind on “ordering the chaos”
  • Regarding the use of mind maps as means of artistic expression my tutor suggested that I have a look at the work of Mark Lombardi (1951-2000, USA) and the conspiracy theory surrounding his work and premature death. I did a quick search on the internet and instantly felt something familiar. Actually Lombardi’s cleverly devised mind maps, named “Narrative Structures”, remind me of some analysing tools used in evolutionary biology and ecology. Though static in appearance, his mind maps are in motion, both by the way the lines are arranged and by the way they indicate growth, and probably evolution. When doing some research on his intentions, it was not a biological background, but rather analyses of financial and political development (see e.g. Lucarelli, 2012). Although these subjects could not sound more different, they of course share similarities via emerging properties (which leads me back to an observation I made for myself when working on my Assignment 2 umbrella project (Lacher-Bryk, 2017b). It would both take me too far and be at the same time be short-sighted to consider making “evolution” a new focus of my course. The whole course itself is evolution and I must not use something I cannot know, because it lies in the future, to plan continuity with.

Besides, I am extremely happy to read that my sketchbook at last starts to take shape and research as well as blog meet the requirements. These points I was really worried about, because it took me felt ages to learn the basic requirements.

Overall, in order to gain the most from my work so far, I have started to sit down with my results for Parts 1 and 2 to do a synthesis and then decide, using mind maps, in which direction I want to proceed. This aspect is one of the aha-experiences I had during our video talk. So far I saw the parts of all courses as more or less separate entities with the main goal of introducing many different options of artistic expression. Tutor and assessors will however, despite the felt enormous difference between the subjects of each part, look for a continuity in artistic development. So, in Part 3, for example, where I had thought I would need to follow instructions on how to make monotype prints, I will also be expected to include insights gained in other parts, irrespective of their superficial dissimilarity. For example, although many of my subjects are figurative, I am semi-abstract in my use of materials. In keeping doing so I will be showing the required continuity over the parts of the course. This is completely new thinking for me and I will need to approach Part 3 with care to make this aspect a working tool.

Research on artists suggested by my tutor will be posted separately.

References

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2015) Assignment 2: “Ghost from the Past” – a stop motion experiment and the finished drawing [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA study blog, 17 June. Available from: https://andreabrykoca.wordpress.com/2015/06/17/assignment-2-ghost-from-the-past-a-stop-motion-experiment-and-the-finished-drawing/ [Accessed 1 September 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017a) Part 2, exercise 2.1: Unusual materials: collections – unusual painting media [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA blog: Understanding Painting Media, 14 July. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1upm.wordpress.com/2017/07/14/part-2-exercise-2-1-unusual-painting-media/ [Accessed 3 September 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017b) Assignment 2: “An Umbrella Project” [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA blog: Understanding Painting Media, 17 August. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1upm.wordpress.com/2017/08/17/assignment-2-an-umbrella-project/ [Accessed 1 September 2017]

Lucarelli, F. (2012) Mark Lombardi’s Narrative Structures and Other Mappings of Power Relations [blog] [online]. Socks, Paris, 22 August. Available from: http://socks-studio.com/2012/08/22/mark-lombardi/

Part 2 and Assignment 2: Self-evaluation

17 August 2017. Here is my appreciation of my development during Part 2 of Understanding Painting Media, including coursework and Assignment 2, with reference to p. 5, 42 and 60 of the study guide (Open College of the Arts, 2015):

Based on the tutor feedback I received for Assignment 1 (Lacher-Bryk, 2017a) and an extremely fruitful mail exchange with fellow students on the subject of sketchbooks and the value of using mind maps in planning, I finally found a working solution to keep my racing mind at bay, which provides me with a constant overload of vibrant, ready-to-use virtual paintings. I had mentioned the phenomenon to my tutors on various occasions, but as I understand it now, it may be impossible to explain to anybody who does not share the experience. Another student, however, who knows the problem from her own life, was able to help. I use mind mapping now every time I start feeling overwhelmed and it has worked miracles. However, the past two and a half years with the OCA have taught me to be extremely wary about my own judgment regarding the progress I make. Whether what I do is getting closer to what may be the expected I cannot say. I will have to wait for tutor feedback for this part of the course.

  • Demonstration of visual skills

With reference to my introductory paragraph I can report that with the help of mind-mapping I am now in a better position to use my sketchbooks extensively and effectively to explore materials, techniques and composition. I used a number of extraordinary painting materials and media in this part of the course, including caramel colour, beetroot juice, aluminium foil and cans as well as Nori alga. I managed to explore further my course subject of shadows, both in a literal and figurative sense and built upon the experience gained during Part 1, especially regarding the use of a combination on acrylic paint, gloss medium and a selection of inks. Regarding compositional skills I no longer jump to my ready-made conclusions, but am better able to allow development to occur without a fixed outcome in mind. This was, in my opinion, the most important step made in Part 2 and relatively successful in a journey leading via exercises 2.2/2.4 (Lacher-Bryk, 2017b) and 2.3 (Lacher-Bryk, 2017c) to my finished piece for Assignment 2 (Lacher-Bryk, 2017d). Since most of my time was devoted to developing working course sketchbooks, my everyday sketchbook has only had a few new additions, which I will post when there is more to report.

  • Quality of outcome

Again, with reference to the first paragraph I do not intend to make a judgment regarding a possible increase in quality, since in the past I appear to have seen my work in a completely wrong light. What I think has been relatively successful in the work just done was the development of a deeper understanding of the meaning of my shadow subject on a more personal level and the presence of a budding visual vocabulary for transporting associated messages. As I learned in exercise 2.3, however, the difference in personal experience may be large enough to make the meaning of a work of art inaccessible to viewers, resulting in a loss of interest not only in the meaning but also in the work itself. What I will need to be careful of is to avoid an emphasis on meaning at the expense of a visual experience. I think however that I did manage an acceptable balance of the two in my Assignment 2 umbrella project. I chose the umbrella as a support to emphasize my intended painted message, which provides both a relatively unusual visual experience and an easily interpreted message. Regarding a consistency in project development I am not yet sure which qualities I would need to be looking for. In my umbrella project I came up with and discarded a – by my present standards – large number of options, explained the reasons I had and tied a connection to the ideas which followed from a discarded one. Here I think the quality of documentation increased, but again I will need to get this checked by my tutor. I noticed also that to an increasing extent I am able to draw on experience gained in the past and allow it to enter the present work, not quite in as an erratic manner as in the past, but thanks to mind mapping in a somewhat more coherent manner. There is still a long way to go to allow a quality presentation, since I am not yet sure what basis of coherence the OCA may be looking for.

  • Demonstration of creativity

I think that my approach shows creativity, both regarding the use of materials and media new to me or the tackling of challenging subjects. Whether this is the sort of creativity the university expects to see or whether the subjects that appear challenging to me may appear so to the OCA I am unable to tell at this point. Regarding the use of imagination I think that I have learned now that my understanding of imagination is not what the OCA expect. While for me imagination is to allow the mind to run free to come up with a solution to put into practice, I believe now that the understanding as expected by the OCA is an ability to allow the coincidental to occur und to use imagination to select from that to feed inspiration. This aspect of having to look for inspiration is totally alien to me. Inspiration is constantly all around and inside me. What I need to do is to find a method of catching some of the best ideas before the tide rolls in again and deletes the precarious memory of them.
I do think, however, that mind-mapping is successful in supporting me in reducing this kind of lightning speed self-editing. The latter, which I know now, in my case does its job unnoticed while my brain offers me a flood of solutions, so that without an artificial brake I can never at all become aware of the selection going on, and so cannot provide an account of the stages of development. During the second part of Part 2 I noticed a considerable mind-map induced change in my working methods and I can only hope that my tutor will now be in a better position to follow my train of thought.

  • Context

Slowly but surely I am learning to cross-reference with artists I researched either for the part/assignment, or in the past, in a more focused manner. This does not come naturally to me, because I have to keep fighting my mind superimposing a huge jumble of wildly altered information and fleeting images distorted by my own imagination. I know that for the above reason I cannot rely on my knowledge about artists as an “internal reference database” as I would have done in my work as a biologist. If I wanted cross-referencing to work perfectly in this field, I would have to think of starting a real research database. However, since I spend an extraordinary amount of time on my OCA courses already, I do not see a chance to commit myself seriously to this task for the time being. On the other hand, the setup of this course, which requires a certain amount of research to be done ahead of the practical tasks for each part, is ideal for me to get a rough idea of what kind of work may be expected. It helped me very much to finally get into the habit of doing own research before starting a project. I feel more comfortable about this aspect of the work now.
I am well aware that my examination of contemporary art, especially with respect to my own position in this world, is still in its infancy and very likely lacks a certain academic rigour. However I am confident that, given enough time, I will be able to build a reliable working knowledge for my personal context. At the same time I do notice a growing familiarity with and sometimes affinity for the work a number of artists. Among these I feel by far the greatest influence by William Kentridge, whose large exhibition on the occasion of the 2017 Salzburg festival I went to see (Lacher-Bryk, 2017e). I share to a great extent his choice of drawing and painting media as well as a strong urge to use art to promote a political opinion. Less at home I feel at the moment with those artists, whose work consists only of the developmental process. I may be alone and/or wrong with my uncomfortable feeling, but the leaving of the viewer without an idea of where the process may have led an artist reminds me of the Nothing threatening the existence of Fantasia in Michael Ende’s “The Neverending Story”. I would describe it as entering a void, because from where the artist left his story absolutely everything is possible. Coming to think of it, the latter may be a highly personal problem, which ties in again with the functioning of my brain. It will fill any void immediately with innumerable possible and impossible sequels, none of which is satisfactory, because I personally want to know the artist’s intentions. I may not share this problem with many other people, but there it is and I can only act and react on the basis of what I experience.
At the moment the main external factors influencing my development are a long-lasting series of occurrences with far-reaching effects on my family, which both strictly limit my available time for study as well as deeply affecting and constantly altering my view of the world. I am aware that this setting is probably not ideal to initiate a focused and coherent personal development. On the other hand, I can draw on a great wealth of unusual, deeply emotional experiences. If with time I succeed in finding my personal voice I am confident that there is a great deal I may be able to contribute to the contemporary discussion of a number of important societal issues.

References

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017a) Assignment 1: Tutor Feedback and Reflection [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA blog: Understanding Painting Media, 29 June. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1upm.wordpress.com/2017/06/29/assignment-1-tutor-feedback-and-reflection/ [Accessed 16 August 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017b) Part 2, exercise 2.2/2.4: Unusual materials: collections – large-scale line painting/painting on a painted surface [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA blog: Understanding Painting Media, 4 August. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1upm.wordpress.com/2017/08/04/part-2-exercise-2-2-unusual-materials-collections-large-scale-line-painting/ [Accessed 16 August 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017c) Part 2, exercise 2.3: Unusual materials – collections: Painting on a 3D surface [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA blog: Understanding Painting Media, 15 August. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1upm.wordpress.com/2017/08/15/part-2-exercise-2-3-unusual-materials-collections-painting-on-a-3d-surface/ [Accessed 16 August 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017d) Assignment 2: “An Umbrella Project” [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA blog: Understanding Painting Media, 17 August. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1upm.wordpress.com/2017/08/17/assignment-2-an-umbrella-project/ [Accessed 17 August 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017e) Study visit: Museum der Moderne Salzburg – William Kentridge [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA blog: Understanding Painting Media, 30 July. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1upm.wordpress.com/2017/07/30/study-visit-museum-der-moderne-salzburg-william-kentridge/ [Accessed 16 August 2017]

Open College of the Arts (2015) Painting 1: Understanding Painting Media. Open College of the Arts, Barnsley.