I enjoyed seeing Andy Warhol’s “Single Elvis” at the Akron Art Museum this summer. It has a very subtle feel to it.
I enjoyed seeing Andy Warhol’s “Single Elvis” at the Akron Art Museum this summer. It has a very subtle feel to it.
This summer I have been working in the studio little by little and have started several projects that have returned me to a more abstract form of expressionism.
It’s been fun to explore many ideas using line, shape, and color along with words and letters.
Some of my projects have focused on concepts or themes, and another project I am working on explores the seasons.
Now these examples that I have posted -of what I’m working on- have all changed, and the images are documents of the stages of the development of the projects.
I began this idea of the seasons during the end of winter while longing for spring . I’m currently working on completing the images of spring with the winter images being mostly completed. The area around Willard is my inspiration for the seasons.
Cities have attracted artists, musicians, and writers for centuries. Patronage, an educated audience that values the arts, and, perhaps most important, a robust community of creative peers to encourage and challenge artistic practice, have made cities fundamental to the history of art. However, the artists and writers I’ve been thinking about recently have, at crucial moments in their careers, left dynamic urban centers for the country. Herman Melville left Manhattan in 1850 for Troy in upstate New York, for a 160-acre farm he called Arrowhead to write his masterpiece Moby-Dick; Norwegian painter Edvard Munch left Berlin and its fertile bohemian avant-garde community in 1909 for a solitary, rural life in his native Norway; Abstract Expressionist Jackson Pollock left New York City in the late 1940s for the rural setting of The Springs, Long Island, followed by friend Willem de Kooning in the late ’50s. And many more—Henry David Thoreau, Robert Frost, Robinson Jeffers, Anselm Kiefer—have left the city to do their most important work.
And now Makoto Fujimura, after many years of working in and for New York City as an artist and creative catalyst, has moved his home and studio to an old farmhouse outside of Princeton, New Jersey, which he has come to call Fuji farm. Because they deal in and work with the ineffable, ephemeral, and transitory states of experiences and feelings, artists are particularly shaped and affected by their environment. How has riding the subway numerous times each day over the last decade shaped Fujimura’s thought patterns? How has painting in a small studio effected the scope of his work? And now, his thinking, reading, writing, and painting will be shaped by new stimuli and new hobbies, like long walks, early nights and early mornings, bird watching, building and shaping his studio, and the quiet.
What are we to make of this move of the artist from the city to the country, from the urban center to the rural periphery, from community to isolation?
The city offers intense concentration. Artists can see great art in art museums, the newest art in galleries, attend lectures and other social events that bring them into contact with artists, collectors, dealers, and critics. The art news cycle runs on a daily basis, and the institutions that are necessary for professional artistic practice are found in the city and are responsive to this news cycle. Yet the blessing of intense concentration is also a curse. It can limit the scope of the artist’s experience to the micro-level, in which seasonal fashion trends take on significance they do not deserve. And the institutional, social aspects of artistic practice—going to events, meeting the right people—can gradually become the content of an artist’s work, as he or she becomes an art world “insider” rather than an artist. In fact, cities can breed conservatism among critics, curators, dealers, and artists who are fearful to go against fashion trends, upset convention, and risk marginalization from their peers.
For just as artists have by necessity worked in cities, in close proximity to patrons and an educated audience, many have lived at enmity with the achievement of Cain, and, at one time or another, felt compelled to leave it for the country. They have forsaken concentration for space—space to think, to work, to reconnect with nature, to shun the obsession with art world gossip, to take off the blinders and drink more deeply from the waters of the living history of art, music, and literature that have endured over time. Time away from the city allows the artist to make culture differently. For Fujimura, it allows him to transform a bucolic red barn into a spacious working studio, develop a bird-watching hobby, and take long walks with his wife, Judy.
photograph by Kevin Casto
The escape to the city is not an idealization of the country, as if it gets the artist closer to nature, or closer to God. In fact, it does just the opposite. It forces the artist to experience her exile anew. Art often contradicts our comfort with the world, reminding us that we are exiles and wanderers, testifying that the world is not as it should be. The city offers a place for wanderers to congregate together, perhaps becoming a little too comfortable with this diasporic community of lonely artistic exiles, turning them into a gang of hipsters. The country forces the artist to once again confront his exile, and do so alone.
Art is about discontinuity and contradiction, which is how grace is experienced in the world, as an alien intrusion into a world that deceives us into believing that we are defined by what we do, not by what Christ has done. And so we are compelled to prove ourselves, to make something that justifies our existence. But art is not just doing and making, it is also receiving, and hearing. It is not just an achievement; it is a gift. It is devoting one’s life to something so futile, inefficient, and in many ways useless, that it becomes a means of grace. Cities, with their concentration of doers and achievers, full of those obsessed with going from good to great, can pose challenges to cultivating a passivity that is absolutely necessary for art.
photograph by Alec Casto
The city is indispensible for artistic practice. An artist cannot develop without the concentration, the creative density that cities offer. And yet to make work that is not solely defined by contemporary fashions, locked into and responsive to parochial concerns, artists need to develop ways, at times, to escape it. Not every artist needs a Walden Pond, Arrowhead, or Fuji farm. But every artist needs to step away from the urban pressure to do, to build, to transform, to engage.
The country can also offer a means by which the artist restores her work into the larger, more diverse fabric of work. The intense concentration in the city tends to narrow the artist’s vocational scope—everyone she knows is an artist, critic, curator, and drawing a paycheck from the art world somehow, even it it’s sitting at the reception desk at an art museum. In the country, the artist befriends the mechanic, gets to know the dairy farmer or beekeeper down the road, and begins to think about her paintings in the context of producing honey, milk, and getting the car to run. Munch often placed his precious paintings outside in the Norwegian cold in order to toughen them up, see how they would fare out in the real world of freezing rain and bird poop. The country seems to offer that experience for the artist herself. Can I still be an artist without the trappings?
Fujimura’s retrospective monograph project, Golden Sea, combined with his move from the city to the country, marks a watershed for his artistic development. Fuji farm is no escape or retirement. And the artist himself recognizes the importance of this transition, explaining to me: Last December, as I headed to Japan for an exhibit, I left the ‘Ground Zero’ loft that we spent the last 14 years in and raised our three children in, and I came home to a farmhouse in Princeton on Christmas Eve. The move is a culmination of many years of wrestling for both Judy and I to gauge our journey together, to determine the best path to weave our future together.
As it was for Melville and Munch, Fuji farm is a sign that Fujimura is rolling up his sleeves to dig deeper as an artist and as a human being, to produce work for the future that is not defined by the art-world categories with which he’s fought, but responsive to his own changes as an artist, but also as a husband, father, grandfather. Yet this future requires passivity—to receive art and life as a disruptively gracious gift from a disruptively gracious God.
Daniel A. Siedell is director of Theological & Cultural Practices at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and curator of LiberateNet.org, the online resource ministry of Tullian Tchividjian. Before joining the staff at Coral Ridge he spent 15 years as an art history professor and museum curator. He is Scholar-in-Residence at the New City Arts Initiative in Charlottesville, Virginia, during 2012-13. He blogs weekly at Patheos.
During our vacation last week we were attending a writing workshop that my daughter is involved with, and I had the opportunity to listen to some wonderfully creative speakers. I also had the time to return to using my sketch book. It’s amazing how easy it is to allow life to become too busy and not allow yourself the time you need to just draw. It does not matter how good or bad the image is; it’s the process of allowing your self to wander. This sketch was made while listening to a lecture about Beowulf. I really enjoyed the process; I hope this will encourage you to pursue your creative self!
I just completed this image for a new book soon to be published. Last summer I created a piece of cover art for the author, but since that time a major revision has taken place.
This is the cover art that the author liked last summer. But that was last summer and according to the author everything has changed…yet I still like this for a cover.
This is the first version that I created last summer. My daughter, who is the author, has the final artistic say in picking the art…since it is her book. Let me know what you think.
If you are interested in the book and would like to purchase a copy follow this link: http://www.lulu.com/shop/vr-aisling/dream-captive/paperback/product-20179961.html
Several months ago I was asked to help a friend by creating an Illustration based on a dream someone had of terrible future events. This dream was detailed in their book which I was given a copy of and the illustration purpose (as I was told) was to draw attention to the writer and his work so that he may be able to book more speaking engagements. I explained to my friend, who had to repeatedly inform me they knew nothing about art or how to draw a straight line, that I am not a professional illustrator but an artist and art educator and that my style is very expressionistic, and they may not like it if they wanted something highly realistic. Well, after many detailed dialogues I finally came up with some ideas and presented them. I was told that I needed to reread the dream and be more realistic with the dream illustration. So I did, and as you can see, this is my image/illustration. I was asked to add a few more details to the image.
So I added a few more details…maybe you can see what I did between the two images. I have to laugh because I believe that dreams are meant for the person experiencing the dream and not really meant to be illustrated to send a clear message to others, not having the dream like a movie. I took the assignment as a way to grab the attention of others to the message the speaker had to share because of experiencing the dream.
That night I heard Jesus’ voice in a dream, and the following Sunday I heard the preacher saying the exact words Jesus said to me in the dream: “Come out of your father’s old house and live in a new house on the rock of Jesus” (based on Luke 6:48f). At the time, I didn’t know that there is only One Almighty name by which man can be saved.
Anyway that job is over…
Let me know your thoughts on the work, the dream, or the problem of pleasing a client.
Kevin Casto, Lowering Jesus from the Cross, 1995, Acrylic on canvas
I have recently been thinking about two paintings I completed back in 1995 for a church I was attending. They requested a couple of large images dealing with the death and resurrection of Jesus. I was just beginning to establish myself with the Neo-Expressionist ideas of painting and decided to try a couple of large images. The images did not go over very well in a conservative mid-western community in north central Ohio, but they were not disdained. I will also add as I review the images…not my best work, yet the project helped me move in the right direction with my painting. I really do not like the supporting figures who are lowering Christ from the cross. They don’t seem to fit and seem awkward. I guess I would feel awkward trying to attempt what they were doing…burying a beloved friend.
I have included some close-up detail images of the painting that I really like. I believe that parts are working…just not the whole image.
I have had this painting unstretched,rolled and stored in my barn for about five years. You can see the lines and wrinkles in the canvas. I think detail 1 & 2 work really well; number 3 and the whole need some refinement and future revision.
As I have been reviewing the image, I believe this will become a future revision. It’s interesting to look back and see how one’s artistic development slowly progresses over the years. I have read an account of the lowering of the body of Christ, and since Joseph of Arimathea requested the body, I’m sure he was a part of this undertaking as well as maybe the Roman Centurion? Food for thought.
The final image is a landscape of the empty tomb. I feel this image works the best of the two. It’s interesting to see the influence of van Gogh in the way I have attempted to use the line. It was a good exercise to hang these in the gallery while it has been empty. I hope to hang them in the lower studio space in the future so I can begin some revision on both pieces. The images helped me to gain a deeper understanding of the sacrifice of Jesus and of the astounding miracle of the resurrection. I have to agree with the book of John that states: God so loved the world (inclusive) that he gave his one and only son so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. I hope you enjoy my musings on my early expressions in painting.
The Adolescent Journey, Kevin Casto, 2009, Digital Collage
One of my graduate classes at Boston University was in child growth and development. We explored the idea of the adolescent journey, which is an intriguing concept that we all participate in, yet few realize or understand the journey until many years later. For one of the assignments I created a digital collage to express my adolescent journey. I began by sketching out several ideas and decided upon using maps of significant places in my life as the background. Choosing an 18” x 24” masonite panel for the initial image, I trimmed and pasted the maps onto the panel in a collage-like manner using acrylic gel medium, and I added acrylic white to diminish areas of the map and highlighted other areas with pencil and black oil pastels. I then digitally photographed the map image and began to work with it in Photoshop, combining personal photographs and images that I have taken over the years to create my digital collage.
My journey wrestles with the question: what if I would have taken another path? What if I would have accepted a different job, moved elsewhere or married another? There are many forks in the road of life, and several times one direction or the other does not appear compelling, one decision does not appear right or wrong, but it is still a tough decision that must be made with life-changing ripples.
At the National Museum of the USAF in Dayton – finally an astronaut?
When I was a child I desired to be an astronaut and walk on the moon like Neil Armstrong; unfortunately, wearing glasses and eye problems eliminated that possibility. I considered acting, science, and ministry, worked as a photographer and a sign/billboard painter, was in the army and worked at an array of part-time jobs along the way to becoming an art teacher. I am thrilled my journey is still in process, and I know that the good work that God has begun will continue until its completion at the day of Christ’s return.
My time frame for completing the digital collage was very short, and as I look back on it, I know there needs to be some revision in the piece before I am satisfied with it. Several artist friends have been inspirational in my stylistic choices in this self-portrait type of a project: Bruce Bitmead, Gaylen Stewart, D. David Sapp, and my father, who was and is my first art instructor. The German Expressionists George Rouault and Anselm Kiefer also influence my choices.
William H. Johnson, 1940-41, Breakdown with Flat Tire
During graduate school at Boston University, I investigated the art of William H. Johnson and viewed the styles he explored during his career. I was interested to see the evolution of his artistic styles from American realism to European expressionism and his exploration and incorporation of African shapes into his artwork as he added personal narrative into his work. Johnson’s style is very similar to the artwork of another America artist, Jacob Lawrence.
An assignment back in the fall of 2010 was to illustrate a story from my life as a child in the manner of an artist or art style. I chose to use these two American artists because of the similar style of art and the method of story telling they incorporated into their work.
I was adopted into a creative family, the son of a multi-talented artist, sign painter and art educator; I’m fortunate to have been raised in a stimulating environment. I grew up in an idyllic small town called Willard, Ohio. On May 10, 1973, a tornado suddenly struck Willard, impacting the lives of everyone in the community, causing several millions of dollars of damage, destroying many homes and causing the loss of life of six individuals in one family who were taking shelter in a garage near our home.
I chose this event because it signaled the end of my childhood and awoke me to the fact that our lives can be forever changed in a matter of moments. It was one of those events that will be forever burned into my memory. When my dad alerted our family to the imminent danger, we had only a few moments to be hustled into the basement of our house by my parents, since the tornado was approaching from the back field behind our home. When my family emerged from the basement after the terrible sound had passed, an unbelievable sight awaited us; it was like a war had been declared on our neighborhood, and everyone was in shock. My family and our close neighbors had little damage but others a few houses away were devastated. For some reason the tornado changed directions before reaching our property and headed in another path through Willard.
Edited News Story From The Willard Times, Thursday, May 17, 1973. They always said that Willard could never have a tornado, because of the hills or valleys or something.That proved to be another “it can’t happen here” opinion that was wrong. Willard had its first tornado in 99 years last Thursday evening on May 10, 1973, and everyone is saying that another one in 100 years will be too soon.http://www.huroncolib.org/1973WillardTornadoPage1
I chose an 18 x 24 inch masonite panel for my painting. I created several pencil sketches and then transferred my ideas onto the panel with pencil, adding gesso washes and acrylic. I attempted to incorporate simple shapes in a child-like manner with primary, secondary and neutral colors. I tried to emphasize line and doubles in a way similar to what Johnson did in much of his later work.
My desire was to incorporate action and a sense of sudden danger without losing the sense of story in the image. Jacob Lawrence and William H. Johnson were storytellers, and their medium was painting. They depict the African-American struggle in the United States. I have focused on combining their ideas and methodology of narrative in my personal image of my family and our encounter with the natural disaster of a tornado.
When I think of this image made in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania back in the Spring of 1983, I first think of the song Bookends by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel.
Time it was, and what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence, a time of confidences
Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph
Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you
Sometimes a photograph can leave you with a joyful memory or regret and loss. Many times you can wonder about what became of the person frozen in that moment in time. What would it be like to travel back in time to tell yourself one thing that you know now? Would it be a good thing…I suppose not.
It’s an interesting thing to interact with a memory that is an image upon your heart. This image is part of the portfolio I carry around of who I am visually – a self-portrait. It’s part of a foundational time in my life artistically and spiritually. Thanks friends for those special days!