Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Interview with Laura Barton @ Kooma

I met Laura at her home and studio in the borough of West Chester. I have to mention borough because it’s always cooler then just saying, “West Chester.” I have known Laura for about twelve years when we both showed at DeBott’s Gallery. I arrived late as usual and she was patiently waiting outside. We walked briskly into town chatting about graphic design art and clients. We were headed to Kooma for lunch. Laura and I walked and talked for about ten minutes and were totally caught up. I would say Laura has one speed – “GO.” But that has been over used. She has an energy yet an appreciation for the country and outdoors that evens everything out.

This can be best experienced in her paintings. Plein air paintings that capture light and atmosphere with quick energetic, confidant brush strokes.

That’s all I have, I can’t find a seguay into how we ended up at Kooma but we both thought sushi was a great choice. We sat down and ordered the make roll lunch special choosing any tray of spicy salmon, spicy tuna, shrimp and again spicy tuna rolls for $13. I ordered a bottle of Sauvignon Black from South Africa to prime her for the speed questions that always follow questions and light conversation. Let the questions begin!

1.     How did you get started making art?
My mother had us finger painting at 2. She was so good. She was a frustrated artist because she started painting again at age 72. All these years I’ve been buying her paints and pencil sets and all kinds of stuff and she hasn’t even touched it. Then she just decided on her own to get back into it.
2.     Did you receive any formal art training? Where and what did you major in?
Yes, I have a BFA from Moravian College
3.     Can you describe your work in general for the readers?
It’s wonderful! It’s an impressionistic landscape; I guess that’s it for the most part.
4.     What is plein air painting?
It’s when you paint on location.
5.     Better yet, let’s rephrase that question. You paint in plein air, describe what plein air is.
To paint in the air. It’s when you get into your 96 Geo Prism and you go all over the roads in Chester County and you’re like, “oh oo oo look, I like that!” Then you pull over to the side of the road, and you don’t get hit, and your dog jumps out with you. You get all your stuff put it on your shoulder, make your dog carry your water, find a little spot where nobody is going to bug you and paint what you see.
6.     Why do you like plein air painting?
Because it’s an excuse to be outside. Because I need to be outside. I need my nature fix everyday and getting your nature fix and painting at the same time is like a high I’ve never had before.

7.     What do you prefer Oils or Acrylics? why?
Oil. The smell. Because I can mix them really well. They don’t dry as fast for me, I can go back into it, or scrape off. I think for how I work they are more conducive.
8.     For me the world is too big, how do you focus on something to paint?
Well usually it’s how the light is hitting something, or the condition of the building. So I tend to paint things that are dilapidated or taken for granted or unnoticed. So my eye is drawn to that kind of stuff. I see a little shack that is about to fall down and the sun is hitting it just right and I’m like, “oh oh oh that’s it.” That’s what I am going to paint today.
9.     Are you done when the sun goes down or do you finish it in the studio?
Sometimes I finish it in the studio. A lot of times what I will do is I think it’s done out in the field and then I get it home and I look at it. I put it up on the wall in my dining room so I pass by it a million times a day and every once in a while I’ll say “oh my God that’s what’s wrong with that thing.” So I’ll sit with it for a couple weeks, and I might take it back to the studio and rework something, so until it’s framed its not done.
10.   Tell me about some of your favorite techniques...
Well, I love using a palette knife. And how I paint is I do an under painting in a warm transparent red color and I get all the lights and the darks that way the shadow the values, then the composition just so and I start filling it in with color. Lately I’ve been using a bigger brush and not focusing on one part of the painting. You know how you blur your vision a little bit and you just go from one part to the other, you’re more in the tactile act of painting then you are in the thinking act of painting.
11.  I hate when a viewer asks is it done? So I’ve ask every artist “How do you decide when an artwork is done?"
Because I walk away from it and I don’t want to paint anymore, I just have a feeling about the painting. I just know when It is done. I have a painting in my house I did about 10 years ago, and I was just noticing yesterday and I was like, “you know what, I don’t like that line in there.” If that had sold it would have been done for all eternity, so it is unfortunately in my house, it’s going to get worked on. I hate when someone asks me, “How long did it take you to do that?”
12.  What’s your answer?
All my life.
13.  Who has been the biggest influence on your life?
My mom. I guess actually it is my parents, both of them. They’ve always been like “Whatever you want to do you can do.”

14.  What inspires you? Really gets your creative juices pumping?
You know what actually, there are so many things. Well I get real jazzed up when it’s a nice day out and the light is right and I don’t have to put on ten layers of clothing and I go out paint and paint and paint. For some reason that air just gets me going. New Mexico, Arizona, Utah the light out just is like, it keeps me going. I just love it!
15.  Do you have any habits or morning routines you do before going to the easel?
Yes, lots of them. Well, I walk the dog. That is first and foremost. If the dog ain’t happy ain’t nobody happy. Then I make a pot of coffee actually get a workout in have some breakfast. Then I’m off and running.
16.  What time are you up?
Probably around 7. I’m out walking the dog at 7:15 then a work out at 8 then eat and drink coffee and then I’m usually in the studio by 9:30.
17.  What tip do you have for painting, lets say…light?
I guess I would say forget that its light or forget that you are looking at a peach in the light and paint the color that it is. Like that’s a bright red, or that’s a dark red and don’t get hung up on, oh that’s a peach. Paint the color and the hue, paint all that you are seeing instead of what you think you should be seeing. 
18.  What are you eating right now?
Spicy salmon roll, which is delicious, a tuna roll, and a shrimp tempura. I love ginger!
19.  What is your favorite food?
Right now its sushi. I love Mexican. I love anything fresh, fish I love fish. I was a vegetarian for 13 years and then I became a carnivore in 2002. I’m never going back. I love meat!
20.  What does home mean to you?
Well home is how I feel with my husband. That’s pretty much all I need.
21.  Your proudest moment?
I don't really think I'm all that prideful. But, if anything I'm proud of is that I work for myself and I've been doing so for 22 years. To know that I can support myself while not having to work for "the man" is a pretty great feeling!
22.  What was your mother right about?
I should have taken a business course
23.  Where did you grow up?
Ewing, NJ
24.  What is the last book you read?
I’m reading right now The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
25.  You collect?
Diamonds. I see a feather I like or a really cool rock or a pine cone. I used to collect cows. I used to paint them a lot. And people would be like “oh you like cows and for Memorial Day for grandparents day they’d give me a cow. 
26. A smell that reminds you of your childhood? Lilacs
27.  Your best birthday?
I’ve had a lot of really best birthdays. Two years ago we went to Death Valley, Sequoia national forest, and Yosemite.

What was your first word?
Booze! No… My first word…I don’t know what my first word was. My first word was probably "mom." My mom always said that the first sentence I ever said when I was 2 was, “I’ll never get married and I’ll never have kids.”
Beach Boys Endless Summer
Chris at the high school cafe
Plane ride
To Michigan to visit my childhood friend
Piece of art you sold
Summer isn’t over ‘til the fat lady sings. It was a line drawing of a fat lady on the beach in ’84.

We finished the wine and our plate of sushi in sync signaling lunch was over. We reminisced about our past exhibits and how West Chester was changed for the better or worse. We discussed age and getting older, being a gentleman I won’t divulge her age. She reflected on some of her accomplishments like establishing the West Chester Film Festival and being self employed.
We briskly walked back to her studio just in time to let her dog out and get back to work. Not before I got her to answer my speed round questions. Check them out.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Is a urinal really important?

I guess the answer depends on where you are standing. My brother-in-law was recently at the Philadelphia Museum of Art standing in the Modern & Contemporary Art wing, looking at the “Fountain.” Upon returning to my in-laws house for dinner, where my family and I were ready to partake in libations and some good barbeque; he thought it would be a good idea to get some perspective regarding this little porcelain thing resting on its back placed high upon a pedestal in this prestigious museum. So he began by asking, “Why is there a urinal in the Philadelphia Museum of Art?” My first response should have been, “Every building needs a bathroom thanks to building codes.” But that wasn’t my reply. Instead I exclaimed with great joy, “Oh Duchamp, isn’t it awesome!”

Let the debate begin. Step one: determine the definition of art: Something that is beautiful and extraordinary. If you look at the context and time period, extraordinary would not be a problem. However I knew I would have trouble convincing someone that a vessel a man uses after processing beer is indeed beautiful. First of all he thought it was ludicrous that it needed to be justified. I explained to him that a lot of stuff in museums needed to be explained. That’s why in museums you find a collection of things arranged nicely with little explanations next to them. I brought up many examples to illustrate my point. Score a point for me!

Beauty was still the problem. I know Duchamp. I love Duchamp. Most of the artists in the 21st Century wouldn’t be doing what they are doing if it weren't for him. I use type in my paintings because he describes words as plastic. I was in awe when I first read that. WOW! It resonated, and I got it. I wanted to use that, it’s my own little readymade. This urinal was the pinnacle for art becoming an idea; art was no longer a pretty picture. Artists were born! After that moment anyone and everyone could become an artist. Now at this point in my argument I was straying down a bad path. There was no way I could convince him that the birth of an idea was beauty. My path led me to good ideas and bad ideas, which results in good and bad art. I say it was a draw; he said score one for him.

The next debate is the fountain of knowledge.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Interview with David Oleski @ Wasabi

I sat with long time friend and artist David Oleski at Wasabi , a fairly new sushi restaurant tucked away in the Bradford Shopping Center. It is modestly designed with low lighting, maybe too intimate for old friends to get together. Once again, a key feature was BYOB. We sat down with a bottle of Gekkeikam Sake and the questions began.

I met David more than ten years ago at the Rittenhouse Art Fair in Philadelphia. It is one of the oldest outdoor art fairs. David’s career has taken him all over the US setting up shop in different towns, selling wonderfully painted still life’s, mostly apples. Our relationship has a good competitive edge, always pushing, questioning, and jabbing each other when the opportunity arises.  But we do agree on many things; good food, good art, and making the most out of life as an artist.

How did you get started making art?
Good question. I have always done art. My parents were artists so I was doing art as soon as I knew how to do anything.

Did you receive any formal art training? Where and what did you major in? 
Yes, I went to art school. I went to the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, Maryland. I started in general fine arts until I realized I should be more specific so I focused more on painting so my degree is in painting.

Describe your work in general for the readers?
Traditional still life with strong colors and bold brushwork.

What is the excitement in using oil paints?
You have plenty of time to work. You have days and days to work and rework a painting. Colors can evolve and become much more sophisticated over several days and there is a perceived value to certain materials.

Why do you paint so much produce?
Color!  It’s the most colorful thing there is. Other than a plate of sushi, I don’t know what else has such vivid colors as apples, vegetables, and fruits.

Why is the mark or brush stroke that you leave in your paintings important to you?
It’s the mark of the human hand. Its how we know a human did it. I don’t want to erase the mark that I was there; it’s like footprints.

“How do you decide when an artwork is done?"
Usually if the day is over, I am either finishing one session or committing to another session. Or I feel like I can’t go any further or I feel like I’ve learned enough and I am ok with how it will sit. 

What are your thoughts on perfection?
Its over rated. On one hand, there is no perfection and at the same time we are all perfect in our own way.

You have taken a unique approach to selling your art by doing outdoor exhibits? Why have you avoided the gallery system?
I am a control freak. I like meeting the client. I like making sure the client knows who I am. I like that connection. I believe galleries are building a different kind of professional connection than what I build with my clients.

There is a lot more freedom in your approach, what do you enjoy the most about it?
That’s assuming I enjoy anything. No part of it feels like work. The whole time I set things up because I think they’ll be interesting or fun. I finish them and move on to whatever I want to explore next. There is really no part of it that feels like work. 

Are you living the dream?
Yeah, I think so. 

Do you have any habits or morning routines you do before going to the easel?
There is a ritual of coffee, email, procrastinate as much as possible, look for other things to do, take a break, go for another walk. Spiral and spiral until I get closer to the easel. There is a sweet spot of the day. The sun turns a certain color once it passes noon. I only paint by natural light. In the morning the light is completely different. At a certain time everything lights up. Boom! Go!

What tip do you have for an artist reading this?
Do what you do, make mistakes, make corrections, have fun.

What is your favorite food?
All food is so great. Thai food of course, all Asian food, Greek food, Italian. It’s all great. There probably isn’t a food I don’t love.

What are you eating right now?
Sushi sashimi lunch special.

Why did you choose Chester County as your home?
To be a neighbor of Jeff Schaller. I saw where you live and said, this is awesome I should be your neighbor.

What was your mother right about?
People do like me. She didn’t make predictions. She just says she knows I will do well. Even if I fall on my face, I fell well.

Money is OK, but it isn’t what life is about. What is it about?
It’s about experiences. It’s about adding up to something, building something.

 If you were an apple what kind would you be?
At first I’d say Granny Smith because I’m sour, but then I’d have to say soft and crunchy like Royal Gala.

Have you seen the apple and annoying orange skits?
I have seen them but, I’ve never actually watched one.

We had kicked the bottle of sake over our lunch of sushi and sashimi. A reasonable price paid for the 6 pieces of sushi and 4 pieces of sashimi, even though a choice of soup or salad was offered before, I was still hungry. We added the green tea ice cream drizzled with chocolate sauce to the bill. The novelty of Chinese cookies, a good fortune, and the check signaled the meal had come to an end. We cracked open the fortune cookies to see where we were headed. I got, “There is no glory unless you put yourself on the line.” David, well his was empty. I’m not sure who got the better deal.

Now for the speed round of questions.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Hero or the A-hole who stopped traffic?

I was thinking… I know it’s a bad way to start a blog. I’ll start off by stating it’s been a tough week and I was pulled in many directions. Don’t worry this isn’t going to turn into a self-help session or radical venting blog.

Once upon a time...there is an accident ahead of you. You pull your car over and like a good citizen, you help. Now, the car behind you sees you running to the rescue. Little do they know, the last CPR class you took was in high school. That’s ok, you look like a concerned citizen and a good guy. Now the guy behind him sees the smoke and fire from the accident and sees the problem. More than likely he will understand and wait it out. Now go back ten cars out of sight and that driver is pissed because he is stuck in traffic. See how quickly one becomes the A-hole who stopped traffic?

Don’t worry my CPR certificate expired 2 years ago. I wasn’t in an accident but have been the first guy on the scene and have been the tenth car back