Monday, July 17, 2017

Art Gallery: The Earl of Usher is Spider-Man

The Earl of Usher is Spider-Man (2001)
Watercolors on canvas

Hooray, my first post on my new iMac. I finally switched computers after the HP Pavillion desktop PC started failing. This was the third HP hard drive to fall apart in less than two years, so I decided to just chuck the whole system and buy a computer that actually, ya

Anyway, back to this Watercanvas painting. It was one of only three paintings in this series to use olive oil, which was part of my endless experimenting. Unfortunately, I should have known that the oil would not mix well with watercolors, and would, in time, erode and eat away at them. This did have the interesting effect of creating these very detailed and layered patterns, almost like burn marks. The end result is more of a visual tone poem than the Abstract Expressionist style I relied upon at the time.

The title actually comes from an extremely obscure indie computer game made for the Atari 800 sometime in the early 1980s. It was called "The House of Usher" and was a low-grade Donkey Kong ripoff, which was a common thing at the time (Mr. Robot, Jumpman and Miner 2049'er all followed the same or similar formula). Unfortunately, this video game was extremely buggy and never played properly. It was either never completed or suffered file corruption in the process of being pirated onto blank floppy disks (ahem).

In this game, all that happens is that you see the player-character at the base of a series of platforms and ladders, just like Donkey Kong. You hear some opening musical chords, and when the music stops, the player just crashes through the floor and dies. It was kind of funny to me. When all your player's lives are lost, the game ends, and you are taken to a "game over" screen featuring a rainbow color pattern and a mysterious message. The message read as follows:

"The Earl of Usher is Spider-Man"

I still have no idea what that means. It was just bizarre and funny, and always stayed in my memory all these years. And so it became the name of one of my paintings.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Art Gallery: The Great Skatepark of Life

The Great Skatepark of Life (2000)
B-Side (2000)
Watercolors and correction fluid on canvas, 18" x 24"

Here's another very colorful addition to the Watercanvas series. I enjoyed working with the warm color tones (red-orange-yellow) because they mixed and flowed so easily. Add in a few blue-green accents and you have a nice little painting. The Kinko's correction fluid is used for short strokes and rounded dabs. I was always mindful to not just repeat the same lines and patterns with each piece.

The B-Side for this piece, as we've seen from several examples, is a collage work that resembles graffiti art and high school yearbooks. I started scribbling these on the back sides of paintings sometime around 1999 and 2000, and by 2001 I had included "B-Sides" to nearly all of my works on paper and canvas.

Eventually, this style - zine graffiti, perhaps? - became the basis for my Desk Calendar series 2007-today. Which reminds me, I still have to finish the last sketches for June 2017. And it's almost halfway through July, ack!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Art Gallery: Pigeons and Paperclips

Pigeons and Paperclips (2000)
B-Side (2000)
Watercolors and correction fluid on canvas, 18" x 24"

Here are my extensive notes on this painting (both sides), written and revised in 2005:

"Pigeons and Paperclips is a brilliant example of perfect balance. The b-side is just as cool as the front, maybe even better. I don't remember where the title came from, but it has a good rhythm; it refers somewhat to Bert (as in Ernie & Bert) and his love for...well, y'know. They even make a cameo, both here and on The Great Skatepark of Life.

"The front side (The a-side? Worked for Soundgarden.) came together with a lot of special effects from dish soap bubbles to garlic salt to liquid paper. This is actually the Liquid Paper brand, which interacts with watercolors much differently than the Kinko's brand I usually use. This particular brand of correction fluid doesn't mix with water; they clump together in the same way paint would. For this reason, I have almost always avoided the Liquid Paper brand, turning to the Kinko's brand.

"Most of these visual effects are the standard effects for watercolor paintings; the difference this time is that watercolors are being applied on canvas, not paper. Canvas holds water, and absorbs it very slowly. This means two things: one, you can use a lot of water, much more than is possible for paper; two, the slower drying process allows for more stylized patterns and mixing.

"For inspiration, I spent over a year studying oil spills on the street, from parked cars (thanks a lot for the pollution, you jerks), watching the way oil swirls in water. The first time I painted watercolors on a canvas, I discovered that one could recreate these very effects. I also discovered that this was a new idea, never even considered by established artists and academia. This is undiscovered territory.

"So my hope is that you are inspired by these paintings, and feel compelled to create your own. I don't think formal education or great skills are required; to quote one of the many great lines from Porco Rosso: 'Can you tell me the first requirement for a good pilot? Experience?' 'No, inspiration.'"

Monday, July 10, 2017

Art Gallery: Cookie Monster

Cookie Monster (2000)
crayons on paper, 8.5" x 11"

Cookie Monster comes from a Sesame Street coloring book I found at a bookstore, and follows a similar series of abstract crayon sketches with Curious George. This idea was born from a desire to bring together Abstract Expressionism with Pop Art. Pollack meets Warhol, that sort of thing.

There was an artist named Glen Ligon who created a compelling art series with children's coloring books. He created a series of templates featuring famous civil rights leaders, and brought together a group of children to have them color and create. The results were very fascinating, ranging from naturalistic to pure emotional expressionism. Naturally, most of this was due to the age of each child, as we are all taught to draw "within the lines." Five-year-olds rarely do this; they just scribble from the heart, and their masterpieces are usually more fun to watch. I think I wanted to capture this spirit with my coloring book series. That was certainly my goal with this piece.

If memory serves, I created this one Friday or Saturday evening while waiting tables at the Dinkytown Pizza Hut (which has long since been closed down and replaced with student housing). It was a slow night, and we were often prone to goofing off, usually playing videogames on the televisions.

I really like Cookie Monster. I like the colors and abstract scribbles. I made sure to put a spotlight (the yellow sun) behind the subject, and not clutter up the frame too much. It's important to leave some open space to let the artwork breathe.

Art Gallery: My Picnic Was Hijacked by the Ant Hill Mob

My Picnic Was Hijacked by the Ant Hill Mob (2000)
B-Side (2000)
Watercolors and correction fluid on canvas, 18" x 24"

This has always been one of my favorites from the Watercanvas series. It features multiple layers of paints and correction fluid, usually in thicker amounts. You can see solid chunks of paint on the canvas. Notice, also, how the correction fluid appears differently than in other paintings. This is because I used the "Liquid Paper" brand for this painting, instead of the Kinko's brand that I normally relied upon. This brand was less water soluble, which results in different patterns. It doesn't mix very well, nor does it streak when throwing the bottle. This makes it much less suitable for Jackson Pollack-style "action painting."

Here are my 2003 notes from my old arts website:

"This is another one of those goofy, clever titles from back when I was listening to a lot of Frank Zappa records. There was a six month period where I completely devoured half the Zappa catalogue; and then I almost completely dropped it. I usually do that with music, moving from one new find to the next. That teenage thrill of discovery is still in my blood; it should be that way with everyone, and the fact that it isn't is among life's great tragedies.

"The Ant-Hill Mob is, of course, from Hanna-Barbera cartoons like Wacky Races and All-Star Laff-a-Lympics. Am I spelling that right?

"Now, there has to be a ton of paint on the canvas. You can see where I applied the tube paints directly, without any dilution in water. I wanted a really rough, mountainous texture; remember that I'm still learning this whole thing as I'm going. And the b-side is interesting, too. There are some small scribbles that I treated like small drawings (like bubblegum baseball cards); what you see here truly betrays the influence graffiti art has had on me. And, surprise, there's a picture of me at the bottom, from one of those cheap photo booths that are nowhere to be found in Minneapolis for some reason."

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Art Gallery: Mars Cheese Castle

Mars Cheese Castle (2000)
B-Side to Mars Cheese Castle (2001)
Acrylics and correction fluid on paper, 20" x 30"

As of June, 2017, the real Mars Cheese Castle is still in business. My 2004 notes on this painting:

"Mars Cheese Castle carries such a surreal sound that no doubt you'll assume I invented it myself. But, believe it or not, you would be wrong; this is, in fact, an actual place. The Mars Cheese Castle is a restaurant found in the heart of Wisconsin, on Interstate 90, just north of Milwaukee. Having traveled through Wisconsin on many road trips to places like Chicago, Ohio, or New York, it's impossible to avoid noticing a name like that. It has such a crazy, Jimi Hendrix feel to it. Of course, this really shouldn't come as a surprise; Wisconsin is a state littered with highway billboards that only read 'CHEESE.'

"This painting is another personal favorite; you have to enjoy your work, right? Well, RIGHT?! Anyway, this is made with a mix of various canned paints, and a quick pass with the liquid paper. I also used something else; I can't remember the exact name for it, but it was a tile adhesive one uses to glue kitchen tile to the floor. It's a very sticky, thick medium that mixes with paints wonderfully. Another great example of why all artists should experiments with everything they can find.

"For the b-side, I put together a fake web page as a parody of the Internet, circa 2000. This was about the time that the dotcoms were beginning to collapse, and there was a report showing that just about the only websites making any money were the porn sites. Add in an avalanche of noisy, obnoxious banner and pop-up ads, and you've got the perfect money maker!

"Of course, there is more to the Internet in 2004 than back then; for instance, you can steal old videogames and poor-sounding MP3s."

Art Gallery: I've Got a Party in My Pants, and You're Invited

I've Got a Party in My Pants, and You're Invited (2000)
Watercolors on canvas, 18" x 24"

This is a really good piece. I like the colors and composition a lot, and the creative/destructive energy of it all. Here are my notes from my old art site in 2003, including the backstory:

"Now, don't go throwing that title around at the nightclubs, or you may get hurt. Of course, if you do use it as a pick-up line and it works, be sure to let me know.

"For the life of me, I can't remember where I found the title. I keep thinking I heard it in a Madonna parody, maybe Medusa: Dare to be Truthful, but then again, maybe I thought it up myself. It's just a dumb, goofy phrase that doesn't take itself too seriously. Which, in a sense, is a deliberate move on my part, You see that a lot in my paintings over the years. It's my way to taking some of the air out of the tires.

"This painting is somewhat unique in that I achieved this look by destroying the original version. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, your watercanvas painting will just end up looking like a puddle of mush. So I took it outside and threw a couple buckets of water at it. Yes, I'm pretty physical with this junk.

"The great thing is that I ended up with something on my canvas that looked far better. Fortunately, I usually use a ton of paint when working on canvas, so there's going to be a lot left alongside the mess. And, miraculously, there weren't any of those awful "paint drips" that annoy me so much. That dripping paint look so common in abstract art is a major peeve of mine. To me, it just smacks of rigid amateurism."

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Art Gallery: "Starbucks Series" Part 2

"Starbucks Series" (2002)
Markers and pens on paper, 8.5" x 11"

Here are the rest of the "Starbucks Series" from 2002. I never did come up with an official name for these sketches or the series. These came about from my time of working at several Starbucks locations in downtown Minneapolis, a job that I always hated and never enjoyed. That frustration probably comes through in some of these pieces, especially with the whiny, pushy customers and surly co-workers. Don't kid yourself, working a coffee shop is tough work.

There are also overall themes of 9/11 and the "War on Terror," which was already morphing into a protracted war against Iraq by the summer of 2002. There are also nods to some movies that I had recently seen, and some little red and blue balls that riff on the Puyo Puyo videogame series.

You just know somebody will be paying millions for these someday.

Art Gallery: "Starbucks Series" Part 1

"Starbucks Series" (2002)
Markers and pens on paper, 8.5" x 11"

These are a series of abstract sketches I created in 2002 while working at a Starbucks in downtown Minneapolis. The pages were originally used as inventory checklists when we needed to stock up on daily supplies. My imagination and creativity oftentimes ran away with me. I don't recall if these were created while at work or later at home. Most likely a little of both.

Thematically, common topics for these pieces included daily affairs at the Starbucks, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, city skylines, and various pop culture references including movies and videogames. Graffiti art and modern abstraction, as always, were my main inspirations.

I do wish I had created more of these, but this style, which began with my fanzine days of the early 1990s, evolved into the "B-Sides" of my paintings, and continues into the Desk Calendar series of today. These pieces hold up very well - "Mac Da Knife" if probably my favorite.

Art Gallery: You Know, You're a Nice Girl, But You're as Dumb as a Bag of Rocks

You Know, You're a Nice Girl, But You're as Dumb as a Bag of Rocks (2001)
Watercolors and correction fluid on canvas, 18" x 24"

Continuing through our "Watercanvas" series, this 2000 piece uses warm color tones and simpler layering than some of the more complex paintings. The "liquid paper" is used largely to diffuse with the water, leaving the surreal patterns on top. I think there are also some chunks of watercolor paint that did not completely dissolve, adding a bit of texture to the canvas. This sort of thing is much easier to do with acrylics, of course, but I probably just did it to prove that it could be done.

If memory serves, I sold this painting on the streets of downtown Minneapolis. I actually sold quite a few paintings that way, certainly more than I did at gallery shows and art fairs. Oh, well.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Art Gallery: The Ides of March

The Ides of March (1999)
acrylics, spray paint and correction fluid on canvas, 18" x 24"

Here's one of my acrylics paintings from 1999, which was a very prolific artistic year for me. I had a lot of fun creating these pieces, making a big mess in the basement of the large student house I was living in at the time. The design owes much to Jackson Pollack and abstract expressionism, with a keen sense of using swift lines and varied textures The "liquid paper" on the top layer has always reminded me of a samurai warrior pose. Maybe it's just me.

My 2003 description from my old arts website: "By calling it "The Ides of March," I wanted to tie this piece into St. Patrick's Day; another holiday painting in the tradition of 1999 and Valentines' Day 1999 and Easter 1999. Obviously the white and green (spring) and gold (beer, of course) lends itself well to the seasonal theme."

Art Gallery: Mario and Luigi Are Jerks

Mario and Luigi Are Jerks (2000)
Watercolors and correction fluid on canvas, 18" x 24"

Here are my 2003 notes on this painting from

"Here is the very first watercolor painting I made on a canvas. Normally, if you use watercolors, you paint on paper. Creating this was as much a revelation for me as anything else. Because of the nature of canvas, and the way it holds and absorbs water, the very dynamics of applying paints are different. So I was very much learning the rules as I went along. The final layer on top was...yep, you guessed it, liquid paper. Those little bottles really are great to have around.

"If you want to try using correctional fluid, I recommend Kinko's Multipurpose Correction Fluid. It's the best brand and the most versatile; it also works great with water. The different brands will work differently. Liquid Paper brand doesn't work well with water, but it has its own style (see the Improvisation page). As for the Wite-Out brand, I hardly ever use it; the quality is roughly the same as Liquid Paper, which means it stinks. In short, whenever I refer to "liquid paper," I'm thinking of correctional fluid in general and the Kinko's brand in particular.

"As to the origin of the title, I'll refer to my notes on the b-side:

"In Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of TIme (Shigeru Miyamoto's "Blonde on Blonde" and the finest videogame ever made), there is a point where young Link meets what is, essentially, the Mario Brothers. It's a Roger Rabbit portrayal of the Mario Bros. as the people in real life. Here, behind the camera, Mario is a lazy, shiftless bum and Luigi endlessly toils in his brother's large shadow. Later, when "Ocarina" shifts seven years forward, the tables have turned, and it is Luigi who owns the family horse ranch (the "Super Mario" franchise), and Mario has resorted to crashing in hotels. Luigi, however, has become a self-absorbed prima donna and a complete asshole. It is one of those self-effacing jabs at his creations that makes Zelda 64 Miyamoto's absolute crowning achievement.

"On the flip side, I had this idea of writing these long essays or short stories, and breaking them up among several paintings. That way, you'd have to see all the paintings in order to read everything. With this one, I think I was going to write something jokey and silly, but I never finished it. The idea just didn't really pan out, and my B-Sides were becoming more complex and visual. A text-only painting is still an interesting idea, though."

Monday, July 03, 2017

Art Gallery: Rape the Environment, Parts I-III

Rape the Environment, Parts I-III (2003)
Digital media

The title for this trilogy was meant to evoke George Orwell's famous slogans from his novel 1984, in light of the George W. Bush administration's mad rush for a war against Iraq in 2003.

The paintings themselves offer a wide evolution in style, and they are numbered in the correct order. Tinkering with the first piece led to the second, which led to the third. I liked the solid color tones in blue and grey on Part I, which reminded me of the Sega Genesis. Part II has this cool translucent look that feels aquatic and maybe a bit alien. Part III is the boldest and brightest, but also the trippiest. I really like the purple color variations.

I should probably state for the record that I was stone cold sober when I created these.

Art Gallery: Looks Are the Only Thing That Count

Looks Are the Only Thing That Count (2001)
Watercolors and correction fluid on canvas, 18" x 24"

Here's my original 2003 description about this piece from my old art site:

"Now this is one of my personal favorites. I really enjoyed how I was able to apply several layers of watercolor and bring out some great blending and shading of the color. I was largely impressed with the art direction in Street Fighter 3: Third Strike, and thought Capcom did a bang-up job with the look with its heavy comic-book style. Hey, whatever, I'll steal inspiration from just about anywhere.

"I really enjoy the bright color tones and variety from the corners. The Liquid Paper centers it all, with all that violent action slashing about. On the B-Side (not pictured here, unfortunately), I attached a number of name tags and wrote my thoughts on my favorite Bob Dylan albums. I think this was something that I put together the night before an art show at a Minneapolis night club called The Lounge. I skipped out on sleep in order to finish everything on time, but it was worth it.

"Trivia freaks will note the Prince often frequents The Lounge, but I honestly don't know if he ever had a chance to check out my paintings. Of course, just when would he get that chance? You can't just wander around a crowded night club if you're Prince, especially in Minneapolis. After him, Minnesota's most famous celebrity is, what, Jesse Ventura?"

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Art Gallery: St. Scholastica Orange and Blue

St. Scholastica Orange (2003)
St. Scholastica Blues (2003)

These two pieces from my 2003 Digital Artwork series were created simultaneously, and so I named them together. The titles were named because the orange patterns reminded me of 1970s art designs which were common on college campuses well into the '80s. And so I used the name of the college where I spent my freshman year.

I suppose these titles also fit within the overall theme of faith versus violence and the overall resistance against the Iraq War, which swept through 2003 in a wave of hype and hysteria. Americans won't like to remember it today, but nearly all of them were gung-ho for that stupid war. The emotional traumas of 9/11 were still very fresh, and somebody needed to be punished. Anybody, really, it didn't matter.

As for the art designs, I was aiming towards that '70s design, which I always remembered fondly. I also wanted bold colors and solid lines, and nothing that would look like stereotypical "computer art." No pixels, no jagged lines, no cold abstractions. The goal was to make these Digital paintings appear as if they were created by traditional means. There's also the psychedelic aspect, which was never a conscious decision on my part, but it seemed to fit nicely.