Blog

Friends of Otto Neals Art Show @ Tugboat Tea

I’m in a group show that opens this Thursday, June 11th 2015 @ Tugboat Tea Company (546 Flatbush ave). The opening is from 6pm – 9pm.  Come out if you can! Otto has a small piece in the show. There are over 20 other artists showing, including Karl McIntosh, Bob Marvin, and Joe Bell-Bey.

The show is accompanying a 6 (!) gallery Otto Neals retrospective happening over the course of the month. You can find out more details about those shows here: www.ottoneals.com

I highly recommend checking any one of those shows out.

 

 

 

Two Murals

Today was interesting! We headed out to the Holy Trinity Primary school at about 9:30 in the morning to begin the mural there. Nicollete, Tiffany, and Yara came along to help. We had presented the mural idea to the principal and teachers the day before and they seemed enthusiastic.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The idea had sound elements to it, but with so many variables it was hard to tell if it would work as planned.  The idea was to have the students trace each other on the wall. The figures would overlap. We would have the students pick a color and fill in their silhouette. We would have the students choose a word that represents “Hope for Barbuda in the face of Climate Change” to them and fill it in their silhouette. Where the figures overlap, we would help them blend the colors.  The hope was for vaguely Keith Harring-like vibrant energy. The fear is that the “chalk outline” would refer to crime scenes more than we expected.

We procured school chalk from a few teachers and began organizing the effort. The students were not immediately aware of the word “silhouette” so we explained as “like your shadow” and they were on board. The teachers helped us gather up a team of 6th grade students—initially too many! We had about 9 of them.  We choreographed the idea, having them pose against the wall and then look at the photograph. One of the students did a handstand that we unfortunately were unable to capture. When they set the poses, they traced each other out.

20140619-101022-36622515.jpg

The shapes were great! We expected awkwardness but the energy and vitality the students embedded in the marks were not expected! It immediately looked fun!  We then moved down the grade levels, gathering up some from each. We asked 4 of the 6th grade girls to be our “helper team” and they had no problem running the show.  By the time we got to the 2nd grade students, we had about 25 onlookers watching the process. As the kids got younger and the figures filled up the wall, the helper team took to composing and directing the gestures they displayed. We made it all the way to the kindergarten students.

After they completed the chalk outlines, we asked the helper team if they would give an interview about the project efforts for the day. They were quite proud and eager to talk, saying many things like “Well, we are the future, the old people are going away.” They also responded without hesitation to a question about the power of art.  We left the chalk outlines for a few hours until the school let out, returning with a few students to commit the chalk marks to primer paint.

20140619-101019-36619991.jpg

Some interesting things to note:

When we first were brainstorming the idea, it felt like an individualized project. The student to shadow relationship would be one to one. This was not the case. Each shadow figure was a collaboration of many. The mural became a collaboration as a part of the process and not simply merely as a by-product.

The lines took on a musicality—the scene looks like a dance party. The energy of the children translated to the energy on the marks on the wall immediately.


 

We also made significant progress on the Barbuda Mural at the Barbuda Research Complex. Two more students joined today. One student joined after a morning conversation with his mother. He was from the alternative high school for troubled or behind youth. I didn’t know one existed on the island. His mother recognized his interest in art. The other was a student I had worked with last time, but she did not join the previous mural work.

They both jumped right in for several hours of productive yet extremely silent work. At one point the girl student put on headphones and just carried on singing to herself.  When she started working, she took one look at the pencils I offered her and shook her head. She opened her bag and selected several pencils that were entirely more appropriate for the task at hand and gave them to us! That made me happy, as I don’t quite recall that awareness of materials when working with her last year.

Again we were working on the grid—getting the letters right is crucial for this design. We were still early on enough to allow for mistakes, so I let them make mistakes and then pointed them out and asked them to fix them. I think that is an important way to learn the grid system. Since the working session was so silent, the learning through doing and observing was forefront. At one point the boy was standing behind me and watching me use the pencil to measure angles and points. I would then repeat it and point out what I was doing for emphasis.

I had to run out for erasers for the male student. He seemed more comfortable with the ability to erase. It was a small lesson for me in the difficulties of material acquisition on the island. We went to three separate locations, only to find tiny pinky sized erasers in a bowl in a small school supply store.

It was a great feeling to leave the students working on the mural. When I returned, the two from yesterday had also joined.  Happy to say that they pretty much fixed the middle B that I was working on before I left.


In the evening time, the field students gave draft presentations of their work. One of the benefits during the chaos of the field school—being around all these smart folks.  It’s also nice that Bamma has joined us for a few evening sessions. The work with him is moving along, and we still hope to get the song recorded and the video shot before next week.

 

20140619-101021-36621546.jpg

Painting inside landscape

I wanted to try painting with the acrylics on cardboard today. Up at 6am, I prepared the acrylics and the easel for a day out in the field. I met up with the students for breakfast and we first went to Sea View, a place I had not been before.  Sophia introduced Sea View as an archeological site. We climbed to the top of a dune and saw many broken pieces of pottery sitting on the surface of the dune. Sea grape plants, among several other species, covered the dunes.

I learned an interesting trick that tells you if a particular shard of something is pottery or simply a rock: you lick it! Your tongue registers the smallest of sensations—the pores of the pottery draw in the moisture, causing a small suction sensation on the tip of your tongue. I am going to lick rocks and pottery alike in the future I imagine.

We walked over the edge of the dune system and saw an awesome sight. Many of the roots structures on the ocean facing side of the dune were exposed, draping in a sinewy fashion down the side of the 30 foot dune. Unfortunately that is a sign of ill-health. I don’t recall why the plants initially would die off, but the drought condition here seems pretty serious. The plants die, exposing the roots and the dune erodes from the constant ocean wind. This becomes a positive feedback loop. Since Barbuda is such a flat island, the dune systems are especially important to maintain.

From there we went to Two Foot Bay. I had been to this place before and remembered the spot I wanted to paint, so it took no time to decide where to set the easel up. We entered a cave right on the coast, up a fairly steep incline. This cave has a petroglyph that is unfortunately eroding fairly quickly. The cave is the perfect shelter from the ocean, it allows daylight in through several skylights.  Of course it is better suited for smaller people – you can bump your head pretty hard on rock! I did, even though I remembered the pain from the last time I was in that cave. I can feel the bump from today on the top left side of my head, almost exactly above my left ear… a current sensation of the cave, where the cave gave voice to its hardness and that expression had an impact.

I set up the easel in the shade at the mouth of the cave, looking out at the ocean. I found my footing and got to work. The first thing I noticed is the absolute intensity of the bright blue sky. The rocks framed the sky, drawing it into further relief.  I was working from an unprimed cardboard piece, so the color was almost an exact match for the rocks from the start. I had accidentally filled my water bottle with lemonade from one of the two coolers, so I had to dilute the paint with lemonade.  Later I had wondered why ants were on the painting, but obviously the painting was sugar-coated! I sat there for several hours, working my way through the painting with only brief breaks. The sky could never be bright enough. No that’s too white, it is more colorful. No that is too dark. How many colors are in the sky? Why haven’t they invented a paint color that is an exact match yet? Probably because the sky is a different color from day-to-day. I should do a study. Take a photo of the sky every day from the same spot. Compare the blues. Average them out… but then it can never be the illuminated sky. It’s so bright.

Here I am, physically encased in the earth, looking out at the world as a part of the world. Of course I would choose this view—the practicality of spending several hours in the shade matched perfectly with a painterly expression along the phenomenological lines of being inside the landscape already. The cave opening mimics an eye shape in a sense, a slit.  The painting becomes a reversal of Plato’s cave—instead of looking in at representations of the external world, I look out, with the cave and as a part of it.

And I felt a part of the cave, it’s artistic history, working my own ephemeral way. I painted on cardboard, conscious of the disposable nature of the work while thinking of the longevity of the old petroglyphs behind me. I joined with an unknown person across time and in place—sensing, responding, and expressing.  I thought of other people who have used this cave. Did they have the junk with them that I did? I brought a lot in, but I brought a lot out. Did they spend a long time here? How different did their bodies feel while in this cave? I imagined the general sensations would be similar, yet I couldn’t help but wonder if the rocks were as hard for them.

Several lizards came to briefly investigate and carry on their way. The particularly gecko looking lizards move like snakes with legs. They are remarkably agile. I also saw a hermit crab scuttle across my view. I got up to look closer and the hermit crab returned to the cave opening it came from. It was about the size of a small grapefruit. I was impressed to see it up high in the cave, as I thought they were more likely to be at the sea. I later learned you can pin a hermit crab down by putting your finger on its shell and it will make a noise. They also are notorious for stealing shells from archeology sites. Cheeky Buggers.

Mural preparations at the school begin tomorrow.

Interview: Part of the Repre Art Group

A while back, Repre, the international painters group I am a part of, sent out this interview. I thought I would post it here.

———————————————————————————

American artist Noel Hefele currently lives and works in Prospect Lefferts Gardens in Brooklyn, New York. Noel graduated from Dartington College of Arts in 2010 with an MA in Arts and Ecology. After 1.5 years in the lovely open countryside of Totnes, Devon, he now researches and paints the crowded and bustling landscape of Prospect Park and his surrounding neighborhood.


RoofTop/ Still, We Live Among the Trees

How did you become involved in art? As a child, I was involved in various artistic activities; I would copy fellow classmate’s sketches, trying to re-create these worlds and inhabit them myself. I watched The Joy of Painting television program in amazement, as serene imagined landscapes were painted in real time. My mother led workshops entitled ‘Learning to Look’, that were lessons on how to view and discuss famous paintings. I collected comic books, copying panels I thought were interesting as I traversed the mythic well-developed super hero universes. I also started sketching my own attempts at superheroes in my notebooks in school. I was becoming aware of how easily I could be transported into these worlds and for a while they provided a much needed escape.

By the time I was exposed to oil paints, I was primed. Using color to create these worlds through clever jokes and happy accidents was like speaking without marbles in my mouth. I found a facility in oils that has only proved to be impossibly complicated and profoundly nourishing.
What are your top inspirations?I love the slippery qualities of colour and the emotional qualities of paint strokes. I am inspired while reading about landscape and how much can be learned by studying the ‘where‘ and ‘how’ we live. I am very interested in the ‘ecology of a place’—the relationships and paths of action that constitute a particular environment.
Do you have a current favourite artist?I recently was told about Rakestraw Downes, a British realist painter. He paints these incredibly meticulous plein air paintings with multiple perspectives, created by changing the location of his easel slightly from day to day. It seems like he paints more of the ‘how we see’ than ‘what we see.’ It is a subtle, fascinating difference. (After this came out, I realized my real answer to this: my friends. I am constantly inspired by all the creative and hard working people I know).
What do you find most difficult about being an artist?It is difficult to manage all of the hats required of a successful artistic practice. I recently came across the idea that you need to separate into three personalities… creative, editor, and marketer. I am sure there are even more personalities that would be useful!

I wish my education provided more practical instruction on how to proceed as an artist; if you want to become a doctor, there is a very clear well-defined path you have to take, if you want to become an artist, you are more or less on your own.

Perhaps this haziness is the nature of the discipline at the moment. Perhaps the deconstruction of ‘post-modernism’ has run its course and now is a good time for reconstructing the arts. In that sense, being in Repre feels entirely radical and forward thinking!

What’s the best thing about being an artist?The best thing about being an artist is being able to wear whatever you want to the opening/private viewing. You create your own uniform!

In all seriousness, the freedom is probably overrated. Being an artist requires a constant tuning of self-imposed discipline. When that works, I am quite pleased.
What opinion do you have of the art world today and what would you like to see change about it?For better or worse, I tend to avoid the capital ‘Art’ world. I can be a bit cynical when it comes to stroking egos, playing into trends and desires for recognition. It can be freeing to position oneself outside of that framework but it can also be alienating.

I am less cynical than I used to be, as I tend to not think about it much these days. I work primarily from my neighborhood outward, trying to create art in my lived in, everyday world.
The vastness and perspective in your most recent piece RoofTop is very interesting, can you explain how you created this piece and the process behind it?  I wanted to produce a landscape painting with the vastness of a Church or Cole painting. I went to an 18 story high building right next to Prospect Park to see if I could get the entire park on one canvas. But when I got up on the roof, the park was nothing but a sea of green! It was an amazing sight, to look in one direction and see the Manhattan skyline behind a sea of green. But I wanted more identifying anchors and couldn’t think of a composition that would work. After several photo expeditions, I found this view of my neighborhood depicted in the painting. It looked agricultural with these lines of houses and trees, a tension of figure and ground that we live amidst. It was the first experience of ordering my neighborhood from a high vantage point into a total unified picture.

I took many photos that I then stitched together in Photoshop to create the distortion of looking down at Flatbush Avenue, as well as outward toward the horizon. That extended foreground is a favorite technique of mine to force a sense of being ‘in’ the painting.

Flatbush, the name of the avenue and neighborhood, has Dutch roots, and it means ‘Flat woodland, or wooded plain’ –we still do live in a wooded plain; only the buildings have ‘grown’ over the past 150 years. A working title for this painting is Still, We Live Among the Trees.

Rutland Road
In the painting of Rutland Road a new direction seems to be evident. Previously you were painting the English Countryside with elements of the urban creeping in. How has the move to New York influenced your practice? Each place I have lived has a different spatial logical and way of revealing or concealing ideas and physical aspects of the landscape. The first year I was in Brooklyn, I took solace in Prospect Park and made a lot of work there. In many ways I found it derivative of the ‘English Pastoral’ Ideal.  As I get more comfortable with life here, I find inspiration in the neighborhood. I understand more of what I am looking at and feel the rhythms of everyday life. I find notes to riff off and resonant concepts to reflect upon. Brooklyn as a landscape is starting to make sense to me.
What techniques and materials do you use?I paint with oils, almost exclusively. Living in Brooklyn has done wonders for finding free materials on the curb. People throw out all sorts of useful things, so sometimes I paint on boards that I find. There is a balance to create between affordable and quality materials. I am constantly working toward the affordable, but trying not to sacrifice the quality.
Could you describe a typical day in the studio?A typical day in the studio involves a strong cup of coffee at the outset. If I am painting outside, it involves a trip to the grocery store for sustenance. If inside, I arrange a few things, cue up some podcasts and buckle down. I don’t clean my studio palette much, so usually there is paint already laid out. I may add a few new colours. After I get started the day tends to fly by with incredible speed, and I normally end up painting an hour or so past when I should have already stopped. Then it becomes a question of sorting out the next time I will be able to paint.
Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

What advice can you give to new artists?Practice, Practice, Practice. Be humble when you think you are the best and be confident when you feel like quitting. Have courage in your convictions and make your desires explicit—Oh, and more Practice.

Join me for the Pictures of You closing party

My show at Tugboat Tea Company in PLG is drawing to a close. It was a great show and I really got to know the neighborhood in yet a new way. Happy to report that I put good number of red dots up on the wall, which of course clears room to create more work.  I look forward to living with the paintings that come back for a while.

Tugboat Tea Company, if you haven’t been already, is the best coffee shop in Prospect Lefferts Gardens. I am very grateful to them for hanging my work for these past two months. And a big thanks to PLG Arts as well.

I will be there from 3-6pm on Sunday September 8th, just hanging out drinking coffee and putting a final note on the show. Come out and chat if you can!

check out the Facebook event