Category Archives: General Posts

A Brush with Redemption

Alcatraz Prison
In here you have plenty of time to refine you artistic skills. Everyone's art studio is exactly the same size too.

Some painters enjoy going on painting retreats to get away from the everyday grind and enjoy some quiet creative time on the easel. Usually these retreats range from a weekend to a full week in a remote part of the world. Often people go on these retreats because they simply can’t find the time to paint during their busy work week. Well there is a certain group of people who have nothing but time and they fill it with painting. While this is great, the people in question are people with questionable morals. No we’re not talking about politicians. We’re talking about prisoners. You know, the folks who like the color orange or sometimes black and white pinstripes? Yeah, prisoners.

On a recent trip to San Francisco, I was able to visit Alcatraz Island again. I hadn’t been there since 2004 and this was my first night tour. It was a bit spooky but it was also enlightening. Before I go on let me make something clear: In general I really could care less about the prison population. Most of them know the difference between right and wrong; they chose the wrong and ended up getting caught. So 9 out of 10 prisoners are just evil to me and they can stay locked up as far as I am concerned. There is no such thing as rehabilitation for murderers, rapists, and molesters. OK now that I made that point clear let’s move on. So 9 out of 10 inmates are a lost cause, but perhaps that other prisoner has the ability to look past himself, his anger, and his pain to see the beauty in the world. I tend to believe that this kind of inmate simply has lost faith in the world and himself. He needs to be educated on the world he has never met. A good place to start is from within. Developing one’s frustrations into something creative is good therapy. Why not place that energy into something productive? That is exactly what some inmates have done as they are painting in prison. There is a small room in the old main cell block building where the park, Alcatraz is now a state park, is displaying art from inmates.

I found this art to be as intriguing as any of the most famous works of art I have ever seen. Yes, I have seen some the biggest in my life time: the Last Supper, the Blue Boy, the Last Judgement, Night Hawks, American Gothic, and more. This art, while not spectacular on a technical scale, makes an immediate impression from a narrative standpoint. Viewing the art I found myself feeling their anger, fear, sadness, and even a bit of remorse. These artists are not just painting to pass the time, even though they have plenty of it, but rather to express themselves in order to understand the world, society, and even themselves better. I have always advocated that painting is therapy and this is more evidence to that point. One painting in particular grabbed me. The work was entitled “Justice” and at first glance it looks like it was painted by a 7-year old. But the more I looked at it the more I realized there was a deeper story to it. The artist, Les Dewberry who was serving time at Pelican Bay State Prison, depicts criminals and what appears to be cops fighting on each side of an outline of the state of California. The state is covered in bars like a jail cell. The criminals appear to have guns and a red or blue bandana (bloods and crips gang colors). Behind this shootout appears to be a large crowd of faces with the word ‘VOTE’ appearing throughout the crowd. As I looked at this, I noticed that a jail cell door was painted on the left and looked like it was open. So it appeared as if the police were pushing the criminals into the jail cell. There is a ’13’ painted on the cell door, but I am not sure as to the meaning. It could be a message of how “unlucky” those people are to have been caught and thrown in jail or perhaps how unlucky they are to have been born into their situation. Then again it could be another gang reference like the 13th street gang that runs across the country. At any rate, the reason I like this piece is that it draws a reaction with the most minimal of figure renderings. The people are nothing more than stick figures and yet I could look past that to focus on the story. It’s strong and yet leaves you asking yourself “is there something we can do to fix this never-ending cycle of violence?” Notice there is a cent sign in the jail cell while there is a dollar sign behind the cops. There is definitely a statement here about social economics. I’m not sure if Dewberry is blaming the cops, the criminals, the voters, or the system in general. But I like the fact that its left a bit open-ended so you won’t jump to conclusions. Art that leaves you thinking is always good art if you ask me.

Justice (1993) Acrylic on canvas - Les Dewberry
Les Dewberry painted "Justice" in 1993 while serving time at Pelican Bay State Prison.

Now I am not making any political statement here. I am only making an observation about the power of painting and art in general. I like the idea of painting being used as a rehabilitation tool for that small sliver of the prison population who could actually reform their life. Imagine what Bob Ross could do to these folks? Happy Parole!

How about my website? If you have been on my site in the last few days then you noticed is has a new look. Yes, it took me a year to finally do something about the look, but I finally have something to show for my efforts as I released the 2nd version of my site on November 1. The main objective for the site was to make it look more inviting. Gone is the blackness which has been replaced by a neutral soft brown color. I have refined the video page to allow for easier viewing. The galleries now offer better viewing as you can click an image to get a closer look along with a description of the painting. The site still has some work left as I need to do some programming to incorporate a back-end database. The database is needed to make the addition of new paintings easier for me and easier for the viewer when making a purchase. Everything works well for now so I’m happy. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect. I have many ideas for improvements before the 3rd version is released. For example, the list of purchase options in the gallery is crowded so when the programming is done, only one PayPal purchase link will be displayed at a time as you peruse a gallery (I thought separating the galleries by subject would make the experience easier as well).That is coming soon but I have other things to tend to in my life first.

In my next blog post you will get a more detailed update on the Doc Holiday and Joker painting that I’m working on. The refined site has an “In Production” session for which I will start to use to give up to date information on my current projects. For those interested in subscribing to my blog, I have a link on the site that you can click to get emails about new topics that I post here. I hope that if you enjoy the site enough that you will consider subscribing. Enjoy your Autumn! Subscribe to Brushes & Bytes!

Playing all of my Cards

The recent passing of Steve Jobs and the subsequent mourning of loyal Apple lovers has made me take a second look at the state of society. Every time period has its impact names. If I said “Roman Empire” then you’d probably think of Julius Caesar. What about if I say “the Golden Age of Piracy?” Did you immediately go to Blackbeard or Henry Morgan? “Age of Exploration?” You might have gone to Columbus or Magellan. Now bringing this back to the art world; if I say “Renaissance” then who are you thinking about? Perhaps Michelangelo or da Vinci? Let’s focus on the Renaissance for just a moment because I think it provides a good example of what is happening today.

Before television, film, radio, and the internet made celebrities out of people, the most popular medium to make a name for yourself was through art. During the Renaissance, the painters and sculptors were the rock stars of their time. Affluent citizens who could afford it, would shell out a hefty load of cash to have a commission realized in their own home. Many of these artists derived their success from public works projects. For example, Lorenzo Ghiberti created the Paradise Bronze North Doors of the Baptistry of Florence in 1424.

Lorenzo Ghiberti's Paradise Bronze Doors
The Paradise Bronze Doors in Florence Italy

This kind of work was not just about making a statement on a subject; it was an advertisement to future customers that he could do the amazing. People from all over would come to see the intricate works of the doors and be floored by the craftsmanship. The doors made Lorenzo a celebrity in Florence and all over northern Italy. Everyone wanted a piece of art in those days because it was a status symbol and it was the latest and greatest addition to the culture. Art was changing the way people viewed each other, their country, religion, and the future. It was not just reporting on the culture, it was inspiring it to evolve. Now let’s return to the 21st century. Who are the folks who are driving culture nowadays? Don’t answer to quickly – think about it. Perhaps Hollywood was driving culture in the 20th century, but they are certainly no controlling this one. Authors? There will always be an impact book here and there but the book does not reach everyone unless there is a real interest in reading. Athletes? Not since the Roman Times has sports driven a culture. So who is sculpting our ways of thinking nowadays? How about the technologists? The nerds? The geeks who start their own software firms? Now that is worth thinking about.

First off, how am I talking to you right now? On a computer. This information is made available instantly – a powerful feature of the internet. Where can you access this information? A better question might be where can you NOT access it? With the rise of the mobile smart phones you have the world at your fingertips from anywhere. What does this information do to people? It changes their lives – we hope for the better. Need a recent example? The democratic protests in the middle east utilized Facebook to get out their messages. They were able to coordinate their protests that their governments were trying to prevent. So you have people now waiting to see what the geeks and nerds will invent next to change our lives. So when Steve Jobs passed, people took notice and reflected on what their life would have been without their iPhone or iPad. Yes, the nerds are the Rock Stars of the 21st Century. While I accept that technology will be driving culture for the foreseeable future, I also believe that painters will always be able grab the attention of the world and create new inspirations for future societies. Recently the Obama “Hope” painting struck a chord with America in 2008 for example. So with all that in mind, I continue my efforts to connect my thoughts and emotions to my viewers through my paintings. And what’s next? What’s in the cards?

There is one in every deck.
Ha ha ha ha!

I mentioned last time that I was starting a new genre.  The movie mash-ups will introduce different characters from different stories in the same painting. This idea is not original but my subjects will be. I am currently engaged in the forming stages of a painting that includes a couple of familiar names. Doc Holiday and the Joker have something in common: they both play with cards. So yes, you will be seeing a crazy painting involving these two and oh, by the way, Doc Holiday is being played by Val Kilmer. If you remember, he was the best part of 1993’s Tombstone. So let’s see if I’m a daisy and can pull this off. Who is my Joker? Heath Ledger. With all respect to Jack Nicholson and Caesar Romero, I really enjoyed Dark Knight. If this works then I have many more crazy ideas to work with. If not, then I have many more crazy ideas to work with. Now, let’s put a smile on that face and get back to work.

The Joker is Coming
Let's paint a smile on that canvas.

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When Worlds Collide

This is what happens when worlds collide.
On this day, we would finally be free of taxes.

Months ago I was laying in bed quietly and in the dark. My mind, as it always does at 1am, started to run, no…sprint, and I was forced to chase it down. Before I could catch it and finally drift into the land of slumber I had a funny idea about my future works of art.

I enjoy most subjects to paint, but I admit that I am most interested in the genre that gives me the most problems – portraits. There are two problems for me when it comes to painting portraits. The first problem is that I want to paint portraits but I realize there isn’t much interest in buying a portrait unless it was commissioned by the buyer or it happens to be someone whom the buyer knows about and loves. The second problem I have is that I’m just not that good at portraits. I confess that I could simply duplicate a portrait to get a likeness but then I am locked into that pose and I want to paint from life – not from a photograph. These problems generate a catch-22 for me. I need to paint more portraits to become a better portrait artist, but I also need to sell a painting or two before my home is flooded with canvases. Perhaps I needed to generate a portrait of well known people in the news, or characters from books or movies. Hmmm……movies. I have some experience there.

So while these thoughts crossed my mind in the middle of the night, I started to think about the movie paintings I have done for my brother these last 6 years. I have covered 5 movies all together but none of them really focused on a person so much as a scene. The scenes were narratives and were trying to pass along the feeling of being a character in the film. Why not take it a step further and try to convey a character’s personality on canvas? But again, a simple portrait is unlikely to generate any interest from potential buyers so how can I create interest in this idea? Wouldn’t it be nice to grab a fantasy world, then grab another fantasy world, then smash them together into a super-duper-hypothetical-and-perhaps-hysterical-world-that-creates-a-strong-response-from-the-viewer (takes a breath)? Ah, now I have something.

So today I announce the beginning of a new genre for my art; I call it “Character Mash-ups.” The idea is to take a well known character and have him or her interact with another well known character from a completely different and unrelated story. Perhaps these are fictitious characters or perhaps they are historical, but the point is that the encounter will be the result of a commonality between them.  I will be looking for a humorous slant for most of these works, but I might invoke a little drama in them too. I have already started on my first project and I think the subject is pretty silly. I hope to get a laugh and a sale out of this. I can hear you screaming now, “Enough! What are you painting?” Ah…well check back next week for a sneak preview.

Hehe….I’m such a joker.

Ears Should Filter Egos

I have been learning art from different sources for years. Early on I was naive and took the first few lessons as the exclusive way to do things. As time as gone on and my personal art education has grown, I have learned that to learn new art techniques you must consult multiple sources to come to a determination about what works for you. At times I feel that an artist is passing on a valuable tip, but at other times I feel the artist is simply telling me that their way is the only way and that simply is never the case.

I have been following a weekend online art course and listening to this landscape artist give tips on using photographs to assist in landscape painting. While I have picked up some interesting ideas, I do find myself sighing in annoyance as I feel the artist is coming down on other methods that do work for other artists. As an example, one student submitted a photo of an old 16th century stone building in the middle of this luscious green landscape and wanted to know how to manipulate the composition to produce an effective landscape painting. The instructor said he “wouldn’t paint this even if he was paid to” because the structure is too straight and straight lines bother the eyes. The problem I have with this answer is the implied denouncing of anything man-made in paintings. With his explanation, he is saying only nature is worth painting. Sorry but that is garbage because how many paintings have we seen that include man made structures that work well for the viewer? I have seen marvelous paintings of the Golden Gate Bridge, New York Skyline, and the Great Wall of China. How can this instructor allow his personal preference to pass as a “lesson?” I also have a problem with how he addressed the question. He essentially stepped on the student’s desire to paint something she loved. Not all paintings have to be done just to make money. This is a hobby before its a business.

So now I have learned to filter out the egos that many artists tend to dish out. I also find it hilarious when artists refer to themselves as “Masters.” I recently responded to an artist in a forum, who claimed he was a master artist, with some harsh but structured words. In essence I said a true master is not labeled as such until generations of artists, collectors, and academics have reviewed the works of the artist and determined the work to be exceptional. The overinflated sense of self this guy has will keep him from ever getting better because he thinks he can do no wrong. We have to identify and learn from mistakes to get better – he never will as I told him. I’ll spare you the rest of the flame war that ensued, but let’s just say I had more supporters that he did in that forum. Please oh please…leggo his ego.

Meanwhile on the easel, the next post should provide you with some information about my newest painting. I will also be talking about my next project and why I chose it.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled painting.

For the record…

Long Beach Arena, Mural Painted by Wyland.
There are so many great places to view art in southern California. I have been to museums, public art shows, and private artist galleries. Having lived in Long Beach for 10 years, I have been fortunate enough to see many paintings by classic and contemporary artists. In all those years however, I never knew that I lived in a city that was in the record books for an art related record. When driving in downtown Long Beach, you pass by the Long Beach arena. The arena is used for sporting events, trade shows, and other events. Though I’ve never been inside, it’s what’s on the outside that grabs me. The entire arena is painted as a continuous sea life mural. There are many kinds of fish, dolphins, whales, etc. adorning the arena. While it has a nice look to it, I never gave a second thought to the fact that the mural might be in the record books. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the mural is recognized as the largest painting in the world to have been painted by one artist. If you are familiar with contemporary artists who deal in marine life then you might guess the artist here. The clock is ticking…. Give up? The correct answer is ‘Wyland’. Wyland has multiple art galleries across America but he does a majority of his work in Laguna Beach which is about 15 miles south of Long Beach. I’ve visited his galleries in Laguna Beach and in San Diego and appreciate his love of the ocean and the environment. I had only just learned about him being the artist behind the mural last week when I decided to check out his website (Wyland’s Art Studio) which I got from his PBS show. It’s funny that things you see everyday that hold significance and you don’t give it a second thought. If you go to Google maps and check out Long Beach California, you will see that the top of the arena was also painted. The world’s largest painting of the earth is featured on the top of the arena. Again the artist is Wyland and his message is clear: protect the earth and its creatures. It’s a great way to communicate your message – through paintings.

Another interesting and fun fact I learned last week was Google has started the Google Art Project. The project is all about bringing the world’s museums to your home. This is not just a place to view photos of paintings. You can really zoom into a level of closeness that you couldn’t achieve if you were in the museum itself. In some cases, you can zoom in to see the individual brush strokes of the artist. You can see the cracks in the paint from the years of exposure too. This is a great entertaining site that could also hold some educational value for students of the arts. Check it out at Google Art Project.

As for my easel, I have been slowed this past week in my work on the pirate painting but none the less it is about 65% complete with about 2 weeks worth of work to go. I look forward to sharing it with you all. In the meantime I have been working on ideas for my next painting and I have narrowed it down to either a landscape or a portrait. Either way, I plan on completing both ideas before the year ends.

As mentioned in the previous post, the website will be undergoing a face lift in the coming weeks. I have been working on a new layout and color scheme and I think I am close to finalizing the changes. Look for the new improvements soon.

If you haven’t subscribed to the blog please do. I offer not just my own thought on my work but I enjoy sharing the developments in the art world, the history, and in this case – the records.

Time for some more painting!