Thursday, February 26, 2009

Work in Progress #1 - A Pulpy Painting

Since I've come back to Guam I've been painting a lot more. I'm known on Guam as an artist in addition to be an activist, a writer, a scholar and the grandson of my grandparents. I sold at the Lunar Calendar Festival last month, and also gave out some free art at the Free Art Friday a few weeks ago. I've made about twenty small abstract pieces since the new year and I've already sold or given away half of them. I'm painting a few more this week, and getting them matted and ready for next week's 2nd Isla Art Fair at the University of Guam.

Since all this art stuff is going around in my mind and blood, and generally keeping me from writing my dissertation, I thought I'd share a piece I painted over the summer last year. But first some background.

The small art pieces I sell on Guam are different than what I've been painting over the past few years while living in San Diego. In the states, most everything I paint has been women's faces or sunsets. On Guam, I paint mainly because I am an artist here and I feel compelled to embody that role, to make art and share it, display it, sell it, give it. I feel like I play an important role here and so I make art which is smaller, cheaper and easier to disperse.

In the states, I usually painted as an escape. Occassionally I would paint for gifts, but most of the time I painted in order to escape the pressures of grad school, the pressures of grassroots activism. Over the course of last summer, as I was working on the first couple chapters of my dissertation, whatever time I found for leisure was spent vegetating or sleeping in front of a television. After I while though I grew sick of this and wanted to use my time more effectively and hopeless use my mind in such a way as to both relax and also make use of my mental facilities.

Thus each painting that I made during this period is a union of my multi-tasking and their titles reflect that. The painting I'm going to show you today, is titled "Yvette - Talk to Me."

The title is derived first from the name of the woman whom the image was inspired by (usually a photograph from a magazine or the internet) and also the title of a movie, which was playing in the background as I painted. Each painting was completed during the course of that movie, providing dialogue, music, drama, comedy which both nurtured and distracted me as I painted. This does not mean that each painting was created within the exact time of each film, as sometimes I would still be painting long after the credits had rolled and the DVD main menu had re-emerged, relentless starting itself over and over as kept painting. The film in question is Talk to Me staring Don Chealde and coolest-name-ever-Award winner Chiwetel Ejiofor, and chronicles the life of former Washington DC disc jockey Ralph "Petey" Greene.

The subject matter for all of these paintings was simple. A woman, with only her head and shoulders, with nondescript clothing and a necklace. Despite the simplicity of this scene, it represents a struggle that has followed me throughout my entire career as an artist, “What is a Chamorro artist?” and “What is Chamorro art?” Amidst an island art economy and imaginary which has long been dominated by over-simplistic ideas of what is Chamorro art, namely expected Chamorro images (latte or Chamorro warriors) or pretty landscapes or beachscapes, I have often struggled to assert what I create as Chamorro art. The orange spondylus necklace is added to each painting as an afterthought, both as a clear sign that this is “Chamorro art” but also a critique, a small commentary on the fact that the limits and categories of art are far from pre-determined, and never as certain or secure as we often assume. As art is just a collection of randomly or deliberately placed symbols, the smallest change can always shift its meaning.

Below I'm pasting photos taking during the course of the painting of Yvette - Talk to Me:

#1: The canvas used for the painting was initially another painting, which I had never finished and eventually used as a palette for other paintings. This is why within just a few minutes of starting the painting already looks like a chaotic mess. Although the photo quality is poor, you can see how I started the image, think black lines, some possible skin colors laid down and then lines in the face scratched out for reference as to where the eyes, nose and other facial contours will be. Prior to starting the painting there was already significant paint built up in certain areas, and so this later creates interesting texture, especially in the face.

2: Some tentative layers of color. Green was my inital choice for the shirt, and a light yellow with some orange mixed in an early choice for the background. A base skin tone was painted on to delinate the face and some basic lines in it.
#3: Here's a closer shot of the face to check out. At this point all of this is underpainting and so almost every inch that you see now will soon be covered up, or because of the way I paint, mixed and blended into the next layer on top. One thing that I've learned though is that often times, leaving particularly nice or beautiful spots from the previous layer to shine through or remain uncovered can often create great contrast or complement subsequent layers.
#4: The green shirt is still there, but the yellow background is starting to gross me out and as you can see I'm slowly painting over it with white, as I work to make the head not look so massive at the top. One of the things I always forget when painting faces is the ears, and so as you can see I'm already starting to put down real skin tones in the face, but I almost forgot about the ears and so all I've painted there was a quick washy white outline, so I don't completely ignore the area.
#5: The flesh tones in the face are interesting, since at this point I'm experimenting to see which unexpected color I should introduce in with the browns, pinks and whites, to give it more pop. From the darker, more shaded areas of the face, I'm already starting to use a purple blue mix and I'll probably end up using that throughout the face.
#6: Close to being done by now. The yellow in the background has been mixed with red, although you can still see some faint traces of it, it will most likely be swallowed up completely. The purple in the skin tone is now very obvious and very nicely contrasts with the reds, yellows and browns.
#7: The texture of the face makes it look as if its bruised. The brush strokes, are brutish and quick, and I chose to paint it like this not because I wanted to make her look like she'd been beaten up, but rather to match the texture that had been built up in the facial area from the previous painting on the canvas. In some places the paint buildup sticks out half an inch, and so no matter how hard I tried to paint around this, the pulpiness persisted, and eventually decided to try and work with it rather than try to hide it.

#8: Here's the final piece, and you can get a better sense of the texture. The way I painted the face makes it difficult to see where the buildup spots are, but if you look in the background, you can clear see the brush pulls, which look like ghost fingers, or the neglected dried mixing spots, which look like big zits. More purple has been added into the red in the background to make it match the purple in the face, but also to give the red a deeper feeling, since most of my paintings are horribly flat, as if, as one of my professors used to say, they are trapped in a Modernist nightmare. A few points in this painting were never touched throughout the entire course of its creation, and you can see them peak through in random spots. There are still hints of the previous yellow background around the edges of where her hair is falling beside her neck. There is also the white slash of color at the top of the green shirt, meant to give the impression of an undershirt, which other than the fact that a black line was added to its top, has changed much since I first began painting the green for the shirt.
I hope you enjoyed watching and reading this work in progress!

1 comment:

Victoria said...

what a beautiful evolution. great work, che'lu!


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