Monday, August 23, 2010

where it all began...

4thgrade

well, since we are nearing september, i should let you know we are also nearing the opening of two exhibitions of my work - one looking forward, one looking back... a 20 year survey will open at the armory center for the arts here in pasadena, and will include painting, drawing, sculpture, film, sound, and text works - and it is curated by howard fox. it will coincide with an exhibition containing a new large scale sculpture/sound/film installation and a series of new tiny paintings, at the pomona college museum of art. both shows will have openings on sept. 11 (pomona from 4-6, and the armory from 7-9), and both will run through the end of the year. both shows will have catalogs.

so... i've decided for the next week or two, to indulge in what blogging seems most commonly used for - to talk about myself... and i'll be posting some images of early work, recent work, and things that hadn't been previously photographed in digital form.

the image posted above is not in either exhibition (i think including work from 4th grade in my survey might seem just a little self inflated), nonetheless it seemed a good place to start. the watercolor has been hanging in my studio since i discovered it a few years ago in my mom's garage. i believe i made it in 3rd or 4th grade...

as i remember it, the teacher instructed us to make a scary picture (probably related to halloween). i remember finishing the piece, and walking it up to the teacher's desk - feeling quite happy with myself. when i showed him the picture he was quite complimentary until he got to the sky, and then he frowned and told me he felt it was too splotchy, and was very bad watercolor technique. he then said that i should smooth it out. i remember telling him i thought it looked scarier the way i painted it, and that i wanted to leave it the way it was. he then said something quite extraordinary... he told me if i left it as is, i would get a C; but if i "fixed" it, i would get an A.

after school, i took the drawing home, and that evening asked my mom about it. she said i could do whatever i wanted, so of course, i went back to school the next day and took the C.

the situation not only made for a good story (and preparing me for what i would eventually be up against in grad school!), but also gave me material to use on my own students when i teach; because beyond some un-constructive criticism, mr. johnstone handed me the foundation of what would become a huge part of my practice; and, even if it had happened way back in third or fourth grade, if i would've compromised what i believed was right for the work because of someone else's goals i would still be paying for it now.

while i knew i wanted to be an artist from a very young age, the situation surrounding the splotchy sky seems a bit like it was the first stepping stone towards becoming an artist... at least in mind - for it was the first time that i can remember when i was unwilling to allow anyone else's desires to determine whether or not a work felt "right." it was also the first time i was willing to sacrifice a "reward" for the sake of making what i wanted to make.

make no mistake, anyone who is an exhibiting artist knows that compromise is going to be part of the deal - but the thing we own as artists is that we can determine within that compromise what we want, or need, to protect - where we might budge and where we absolutely won't. does one compromise in relation to their practice, their studio work, the way work is shown and where, the way it is written about, their approach to career, how they negotiate their time, how the studio is run, whom you deal with and whom you don't...? the list is long, and one must prioritize; and ever since that badly painted sky situation, i knew that compromise would never be part of what happens in the studio, nor would anything outside of the studio affect the "rightness" of the work.

perhaps i owe my grammar school art teacher a bit of gratitude after all...

7 Comments:

Blogger Leora Lutz said...

Dear Steve,
The other day I was reminded of a story from my elementary school days regarding a poem that I wrote for a class assignment. Truth be told, I was scolded because I had used an offensive (yet totally innocent & perfectly natural) word.
In serendipitous form, I happened to have posted a recent poem today on my blog. Needless to say, I am not being edited for using "innocently & naturally offensive" words now that I am a grown-up.
Whether you refer to yourself, the blog is about you sharing you, which in turn is most likely inspiring others, if not allowing them to live through you vicariously! I look forward to seeing your shows this fall.
Leora

11:33 AM  
Blogger Michael Ned said...

that's a great story and a nice drawing. is that x-ray shirt based on a real shirt? or was "x-ray shirt" your imaginary punk band name?

12:00 PM  
Blogger Jeremy said...

hi
looking forward to this series - great for you to be a bit more trumpet blowing - and a great start: a lovely little painting.
Hope the shows go well - will the catalogues be available? retro(pro)spectives - brilliant, you must be pleased.

j

12:16 AM  
Blogger Jeremy said...

But wait there's more
the pomona show looks beautiful. bowrain has a delicacy and strength to it on the physical side - can see images projected through - what is its soundtrack?
and the postcard paintings - will we ever see the triggering postcards? have had a look at hammersley paintings - thanks for introducing another new name
J

12:31 AM  
Anonymous moon said...

Steven, enjoyed your story
and looking foreword to read and see more of your old and recent works....

4:28 AM  
Blogger ArtSparker said...

Wonderful post. It will be good to read more about your work and process.

8:13 AM  
Blogger Joey said...

Can't wait for your shows!

8:12 AM  

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