Category Archives: Behind The Scenes

Straight Outta the Studio

Detail "N.W.A. (Nuthatches With Attitude)"

Detail of Ice Cube from “N.W.A. (Nuthatches With Attitude)”

With the release of the film “Straight Outta Compton” it seemed like a good time to revisit the painting “N.W.A. (Nuthatches With Attitude)” — progress shots, funny reference pictures, and thoughts on why some ideas win out over others can all be found by clicking right here.

Detail of Eazy-E from  "N.W.A. (Nuthatches With Attitude)"

Detail of Eazy-E from “N.W.A. (Nuthatches With Attitude)”

Bird Is The Werd

Depending on who you listen to this is either a man’s world (James Brown), or girls we run this mutha (Beyonce). This is what was trickling through my mind when Tara McPherson asked me to contribute to the second Tiny Trifecta show at her Brooklyn gallery, Cotton Candy Machine.  So while I’ve feathered some paint around honoring some of my male musical favorites…

“It’s Like That” oil on wood panel, 11 x 14

… this time I decided to honor the ladies and this fine flock of females appeared in my sketchbook.

But who are those birds? Up at the top we have Da Brat, (Shawntee Harris) who was discovered after winning a rap contest on Yo! MTV Raps in the early 90’s, and went on to become the first female rapper to go platinum with her album Funkdafied.

She was promoted as kind of a girl version of Snoop Doggy Dog but she rolls pretty hard (convictions for assault, misdemeanor conduct). This bird is flying free again now.

“Da Brat”, watercolor on Medioevalis paper, 8 x 6 inches (framed)


Dana Elaine Owens picked the name Latifah out of an Islamic name book when she was eight, but though the name meant “delicate” she went on to be a power forward on her high school basketball team, and put her out her album “All Hail the Queen” when she was just nineteen.

Queen Latifah went from rapper to actress, where she’s racked up a couple Golden Globes, a Grammy, and nominations for an Emmy and Oscar. She’s owned that whole regal queen thing from the beginning.

“Latifah” watercolor on Medioevalis paper, 8 x 6 inches (framed)


I saved my favorite lady rapper for last. Melisssa Arnette “Missy” Elliot — she’s got everything going on, songs I can never shake out of my head and terrifically wacky music videos.

The only female rapper to go platinum six times, I don’t even know how to pick a favorite song. She’s done pretty well for a girl who grew up in a “vermin infested shack.”

“Missy” watercolor on Medioevalis paper, 8 x 6 inches (framed)


All this goodness and much, much more is currently on display at Cotton Candy Machine‘s exhibit “Tiny Trifecta”, in which over 80 artists have each contributed three pieces, all of which are for sale for a mere $100 each. (Yes you read that right.) The Wall Street Journal was kind enough to write the show up (read it right here), and with artists like Eric White, Josh Keyes, Natalia Fabia, Doze, James Jean and a host of others, it’s easy to see why. Shows like this are great because they allow people without deep pockets to become art collectors, and I think buying art is sort of an addictive process — once you do it, you start looking at art a little differently, maybe a bit more acquisitively. I’ve had some collectors who’ve grown with me over the years, starting when we were basically still students and continuing the relationship as we all became a little more “solvent.” It’s a great thing. Buy art, people!

Tiny Trifecta runs at Cotton Candy Machine thru August 5th, so trot on over to 235 South 1st Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Time to get back to work!

Musings On A Muse

Meet my current muse, the rubber monster finger puppet…

(There are actually too many funny caption ideas for this shot, I couldn't make up my mind...)

I’ve been looking for excuses to paint more hands ever since I did the original “Redivivus” series as a way of exploring the Frankenstein story. (Redivivus means “to come back to life”.) I liked the challenge both of paintings hands (beautiful but tricky) and the idea of creating a portrait that didn’t include a face, or even a body. What kind of tales could I tell with only a disembodied hand that had a cheeky habit of getting loose in the laboratory and going off on various adventures?

Out of this idea was born these four paintings, culminating in the hand eventually finding true love…

"Redivivus (Bitten)" oil on wood panel


"Redivivus (The Secret)" oil on wood panel


"Redivivus (Lucky 7)" oil on wood panel


"Redivivus (The Poet)" oil on wood panel


"Love Is Blind" oil on wood panel

Simply put: I love hands. I really do. I’m fascinated by looking them, apparently I fling mine around quite a lot when I talk, and I always check them out in other people’s art. When I was at the Louvre in October I ended up snapping over fifty pictures just of the hands in various old master paintings…

So when I was asked to do something for the “Taetrum & Dulce” (Creepy & Cute) show at MondoPop Gallery in Rome, Italy, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to revisit the hand and see what it might have been up to. Originally I was going to paint it meeting a little mouse (who would bring the “cute” to the “creepy”), but I needed a stand-in for my reference, so I grabbed this little monster finger puppet and sewed an antique iron key into his rubbery arms with some red thread (otherwise he simply would not hold it properly). Why a key? Because they’re nifty symbols of knowledge, mystery, and curiosity.

But somewhere along the way, as is often the case with art and muses, I realized I didn’t want it to be a mouse anymore. I had kind of fallen in love with the little guy, which is when I decided to wave a magic wand over him like the Blue Fairy in “Pinocchio” and make him a real little monster with proper legs and feet, and let him be the star of the story.

"Redivivus (Ambush)" oil on wood panel


"Redivuvus (Playmate)" oil on wood panel

Muses work all day long and then at night get together and dance.” — Edgar Degas

The show opens next month in Rome, if you happen to be out that way check it out — many fab artists including Nouar, Tiffany Liu, Jana Brike, Edward Robin Coronel, Richard Frost, Buddy Nestor, Charlie Immer, Jason D’Aquino, Macsorro, Jaw Cooper, Julian Callos, Jessica Ward, Apricot Mantle, Felipe Bedoya, Luis Lorenzana, Jittagarn Kaewtinkoy, Dan Barry, Diavù, Nicola Alessandrini, Allegra Corbo, Odö, Sebastien Nassiet Saldubehere aka Malojo, Cesko, Victor Castillo, Morg, Chris Mars, Isabel Samaras, Paola Sala, and Marco About.

“Taetrum & Dulce”
Opens Dec. 10, 2011
MondoPop Gallery
Via Dei Greci 30
Roma, Italy
http://www.mondopop.it

“Step Into My Parlour…”

I absolutely love peeping into other artists’ studios because I’m endlessly curious about how everyone works and what they surround themselves with, so I’ve been enjoying the Warholian’s “Artist Profile Series” for a while.  Imagine my tickled pink reaction when they came to my studio!

A sliver of my Catwoman/Batman collection...

About one third of my brush hoard...

And a shelf holding loads of film soundtracks and "The Avengers Complete Emma Peel Megaset Collectors Edition" DVDs.

Now you can take a peep inside my art cave and listen to me ramble and laugh about what I do.  Just click this link right here.

If you’re unfamiliar with the apparently endless grooviness that is the Warholian, they provide “an in depth journey into what’s currently hot in the world of contemporary art.”  Featuring artist interviews, gallery openings, and video how-to’s, Warholian.com ladles out heaping spoonfuls of the current art scene, it’s posse, and it’s inspiring figures.  Editor in Chief Michael Cuffe cleverly puts it this way: “It’s a Warholian world. Welcome to the future.”

Sketchbook Stories

Check out this nifty little “Peep Inside The Process” interview with “Sketchbook Stories” where you can follow a painting (actually a pair of paintings) from wee little thumbnail sketches to hanging on the gallery wall — it’s RIGHT HERE!

My Vice Kicks Your Vice’s Ass

Chocolate:  better than sex?  Okay, no, but still it’s pretty damn good.  (Someone told me the other day that I have to stop talking about sex all the time, though I’m still waiting for the answer to “Why?”  I haven’t even reviewed the “Batman XXX” parody movie yet!) But let’s talk about chocolate today.

I don’t drink coffee — as far as I’m concerned it’s one of Life’s Big Disappointments that something can smell so good and taste so bad — but I like coffee flavored things and yes, if you dump enough stuff into coffee to the point that it starts tasting like melted ice cream I’ll lap it up.  But a plain cuppa bean juice?  No thanks.  To me it’s a bitter, one-note, thin, and lifeless liquid on the tongue.

Doesn’t look like much, but boy what they can do with these…

My stimulant of choice comes from a different bean:  cocao.  I have my mother to thank for this obsession (thanks Mom!). I’m so hooked on the dark stuff that I can’t eat milk chocolate at all anymore (and don’t even talk to me about “white chocolate”, that stuff is an abomination).  My relationship with it is almost ritualistic — around mid-afternoon, when the blood sugar is dropping and all the smart people in the world are taking their siestas, I hit the high octane cacao.  And if I’m working late at night, a cup of tea and several squares will keep me painting through the wee hours. No sleep till Brooklyn!

To spread the joy I’ve been honing a few desserts that hopefully leave guests in a happy coma (Death By Chocolate Bread Pudding, Tartine-style brownies made with Valhrona chocolate, Mexican chocolate cake dusted with sugar bones, a variety of pies that were vastly improved by melting a couple bars of chocolate  inside of the pie shell before pouring in the filling, and the Chocolate Ganache Tart w/ Crushed Pecans).

And not only is chocolate utterly heavenly — it’s good for you.  That’s right, my vice kicks your vice’s ass!  Chocolate is a very complex food, with over 300 different compounds and chemicals in it. Dark chocolate has more flavonoids than green tea or red wine.  (Why should you care?  Flavonoids act like antioxidants, which should only concern you if you’d like to slow the inevitable march of decay through your body.).  It can relax your blood pressure, balance a few hormones, is good for your heart (no wonder they put in those heart shaped boxes!), and improves blood flow to the brain.  For reals! People tested better on math problems after drink high quality hot cocoa (which I wish I’d known about in high school — me and math still aren’t on speaking terms). It can even lower “bad” LDL cholesterol, though maybe not when it’s in Death By Chocolate Bread Pudding ’cause that has about 3 cups of heavy cream in it.  (Soooo good…)

Studies have even shown that cacao has antibacterial agents in it that fight tooth decay, so chew up a nice guilt-free bar before you see your dentist and give them a big brown smile.  Hell you don’t even have to eat it — just the smell of good chocolate can increase your theta brain waves and relax you!

I wish this were a scratch-n-sniff blog…

Want more?  How ’bout that nice endorphin & seratonin boost.  Studies say it “gives a feeling of pleasure.”  Understatement of the year. I have a friend who, every time he calls me, says “Why are you so damn happy all the time?!”  And I generally chalk it up to having a sunny disposition, but I did start wondering if my chocolate habit might have something to do with it.

And okay, it’s got some caffeine in it, but sometimes a little stimulant is just what the doctor ordered.  Plus, hello, it tastes really, really good.  What are you waiting for?  GO GET SOME CHOCOLATE!  (Just keep it away from your four footed friends, it’s bad for cats n’ dogs.)

Here are a few of my favorites and to be clear, yes I am a petite pig, I live to eat, but with chocolate it’s all about moderation. (And anybody who thinks I’ve got tremendous self control has never seen me around pretty much any kind of pie. I’ve learned my limits with chocolate — trial and error, baby!)

Trader Joe’s Organic 73% Super Dark
This is good, every day chocolate. I like the slightly bitter taste, plus it’s organic which is nice ’cause they put some pretty powerful pesticides on cacao plants and apparently the way they process cacao actually concentrates the pesticides in chocolate.  Bummer. For a little variety sometimes I’ll get the Dark w/ Raisins & Pecans, or Super Dark w/ Almonds.

TCHO
Locally made, high grade. My friend Rick makes chocolate for TCHO and brought a huge bag of these little tiles when we went camping this summer, so we ended up dropping them into everything (but mostly our mouths).

Divine 70% Dark Chocolate, Fair Trade
Amazingly tasty stuff, smooooth, really delivers the goods.  Nice wrapper too.  I actually used the gold inner foil wrappers from these bars when I was working out ideas for the “Into the Woodz” series of paintings — all the drawings in my sketchbook have little gold dookie ropes made from Divine foil.

Yes, chocolate is my sweet, brown muse!

Dolfin Noir
Okay I admit it, this one I bought for the packaging, it’s like a tobacco pouch for your sweet tooth! (I ended up using it as a pencil case.) This particular one had crystallized orange peel in it, not bad at all. (Lindt also makes a nice dark choc bar w/ pieces of orange and almond slivers.)

Salted chocolate — absolutely, oh my yes.  I love me some salty/sweet anything, and regularly dump a box of Raisinettes into the bucket of salty movie popcorn (before you scoff, try it!).  So all those nice chocolates out there with Fleur de Sel or Hawaiian rock salt on ’em?  Bring it.  I don’t seem to have any boxes or wrappers for these… I think I ate them too.

Pure Dark Bark Classic
This stuff is almost too sweet so I can’t eat much at a time. Still, the combo of good chocolate, crunchy almonds, tart cherries, a dash of salt, caramelized nibs and the sharp little bark shapes is pretty tasty.  If you’re pondering “caramelized nibs”, that’s itty bitty crushed pieces of the actual cocoa bean that are lightly toasted. Nibs rule! At the Pure Dark shops they smash up the enormous sheets of this for you (it comes in other flavors too).

nibs

Dark Chocolate Nibs: Speaking of nibs, Trader Joe’s also has little Altoids-like metal tins of dark chocolate covered nibs (because somehow they read my mind and knew just what I wanted).  If you hear me rattling as I skip down the street, it’s the nibs can in my pocket.

Theo Organic Fair Trade Cherry & Almond 70%
I tried this to see if it was like the Pure Dark bark and it was probably just fine but honestly I can’t remember.

I could write a whole other post about making high quality hot chocolate (like the joys of Salt n’ Pepper Mexican hot chocolate with warm bread) but I gotta get some work done today.  Go forth and consume chocolate!!!

Fluffy

I love the feeling when a painting ships out, this giant “whoosh” of relief.  It’s slightly tinged with anxiety until you know it’s arrived safely at the other end, but even that can’t diminish the awesome flood of pleasure that comes from watching the truck drive away with your painting in it.

“Playboy Redux” is opening tonight at Rotofugi Gallery in Chicago, and I wish I was there (but instead I’m here in the blazing sunshine eating toast with almond butter and nectarine preserves — clearly the glass is half full). The show is a tribute to the gorgeous, iconic Bunny girls who worked at the Playboy clubs, the first of which opened in Chicago 50 years ago.  A tasty roster of contemporary artists were all asked to reinterpret the iconic Bunny for the show, and I am tickled to be one of them.

When I mentioned this show to my old buddy Harley, he reminded me that I had drawn a Playboy bunny twenty years ago.  Back when we were both working at Franklin Furnace, we often doodled on the file folders — in this case, he drew a bunny head, and I finished it off with a body.  (Sometimes we even worked…)

I’ve been on a bit of a “bird and animal” kick for a while now (maybe you noticed) so I knew I wanted to work some actual bunnies into the piece. This is what I was thinking about –

And this is what I sketched out –

A friend in NY sent me an achingly cute picture of their new rabbit, Chestnut, but I didn’t have easy access to that model.  Fortunately my friend Dana came to the rescue.  Meet Marshmallow —

My adorable muse

Marshmallow’s flop-eared buddy bit me on the arm (twice!), so don’t ever tell me that I don’t suffer for my art!

Those of you in the Bay Area know we were experiencing one of our coldest summers yet, so my mind ran to fluffy, snowy landscapes, and this is what I ended up with –

The arrival of the Snow Bunny!

But as I’ve said before, it takes a village, so then it was off to see Randy at Back To The Picture to get The Perfect Frame made –

Then my buddy Island Boy took me to Bombay Ice Creamery for a celebratory scoop of Black Sesame on a sugar cone!

So we’re walking down Valencia Street (which is even more fabulous now that they’ve widened the sidewalks, it’s a real pedestrian’s paradise) and this guy said something as I walked past, which I tuned out.  Growing up with red hair I’ve learned to ignore most of what guys say when I’m walking down the street (because there’s not really much of a conversation to be pursued from stuff like “Hey, you got a red box too?”), but Island Boy looked at me with surprise “Did you hear what that guy said?”  This required me to stop eating ice cream for a minute so I could say “No, not really.”  “He said ‘I love your work!” That kinda blew my mind, so I backed up and sure enough, the guy was talking to me and knew who I was.  So that was a pretty nice moment, and he was a pretty nice guy.  Thanks for making my day, David.