Monday, January 2, 2012

New Stuff!

Since I began contributing to Mad Art Lab, I've been neglecting this blog. I do all of my writing over there and so I've decided to use this blog as a repository for artwork. When I finish new artwork, I'll put it up here.
With that, here are a couple of portraits I finished recently.  They are both 12 x 9 inches, pencil on bristol board. I was playing around with only rendering the areas in which the circles (or rectangles) overlapped.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Mad Art Lab

I'm really excited to announce that I've been invited to contribute to Skepchick's new sister site, Mad Art Lab.

I'll be blogging and putting up artwork there about weekly and hopefully collaborating with the other fantastic artists there.
So stop by and subscribe to this new venture. It's going to be great!

Sunday, February 27, 2011


This is the first self-portrait I've drawn in years. I'm happy with how it turned out.

Self-portrait, 2011
12 x 9 inches 
graphite on paper 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

New Portfolio Site

Hello all.

I have finally taken the plunge and moved my artwork to its own website.

The site is You can pop that into your browser or just click the big 'Portfolio' button I have added to the top of the sidebar ------->.

There are a few new artworks up for your viewing pleasure and I am constantly working
on new projects, so keep your eyes peeled for new and (hopefully) interesting stuff.

I welcome any comments and constructive criticism, especially on the design and usability of the new site, as well as the artwork itself. Feel free to leave a comment below.


Monday, January 17, 2011

Pareidolia, Illusions & Art

Pareidolia, " a psychological phenomenon involving a vague and random stimulus (often an image or sound) being perceived as significant. Common examples include seeing images of animals or faces in clouds, the man in the moon, and hearing hidden messages on records played in reverse."

What do you see when you look at this image? (and don't peek at the title!)

Marcel Duchamp
Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2), 1912 
Oil on canvas, 57 7/8 x 35 1/8 inches 
Philadelphia Museum of Art

This is a very famous painting by Marcel Duchamp. It caused a scandal when he first tried to exhibit it.
If it were untitled, what would you make of it? Can you see the figure? What are the clues that there is in fact a figure walking down stairs?

What about these?   

Hand study, 2010
Graphite on paper, 12 x 9 inches

These three images are all of versions of the same image. They are all representations of my hand. From top to bottom they are: completely abstracted; partially abstracted but somewhat distinct; realistic.

At what point does the image become distinct as a hand? At what point does the brain stop filling in the gaps and the deliberate execution of the image take over? Could you see that it was a hand by the second image?

One of the most interesting parts of this, to me, is that in actuality, none of these are hands. Not even the realistic drawing. They are all interpretations or manipulations. The bottom, realistic image is a drawing done from a photograph. The original digital photograph (which is also just an interpretation) was put through an editing program to enhance the image, which was then printed out. The final drawing is 'removed' from my actual hand at least 4 times.

This well-known painting always comes to mind when I think of the representation of actual objects in art:

Rene´ Magritte 
 The Treachery of Images, 1928-29 
Oil on canvas, 25 x 37 inches
Los Angeles County Museum of Art

The text in the painting states “This is not a Pipe”. Magritte said of his painting, “The famous pipe. How people reproached me for it! And yet, could you stuff my pipe? No, it's just a representation, is it not? So if I had written on my picture 'This is a pipe', I'd have been lying!” And it’s true. It is not a pipe. It is a painting of a pipe. Magritte smeared some paint onto a canvas in the shape of a pipe and, using color and tone, made the pipe appear as if it was ‘turning’ in space. He made it to appear as if it has ‘form’. But this is all a trick. It’s the most basic trick in representational art. But is it pareidolia? Well, it’s not random. The image was composed deliberately. So it isn't pareidolia. One of the things a representational artwork does have in common with pareidolia is that it can fool your brain. For instance, look at the image below:

Ralph Goings 
Ralph’s Diner, 1982
Oil on canvas, 44 x 66 inches

That is not a photograph. That is a painting. Presumably, a human being (named Ralph Goings) painted that.
Talk about fooling the eye! The detail, lighting and execution are so perfect that I can’t find any give-aways.  This painting is an example of Photorealism. Your brain (and mine) is fooled.

For a different perspective, this is a self-portrait by artist Chuck Close.

Chuck Close 
Self-portrait, 1997
Oil on canvas, 102 x 84 inches
Museum of Modern Art, New York

Now look at a close up of the right eye.

Close is one of my favorite artists. Earlier in his career he painted photorealistic portraits on a very large scale. Then, after a spinal arterial collapse, he became paralyzed from the neck down. After a time he was able to regain some use in his arms and hands, but now paints with a brush strapped to his hand. With the help of assistants, he now creates paintings like the one above, which have less precision than his earlier works, but still have the same effect. In the close-up of the eye, we can see the grids that he uses (and has always used) as guides. The little squares that make up the portrait are nothing but blobs and shapes of color that have the proper tone, which in turn force our brains to see the illusion of a three dimensional object when we see the painting from afar.

I think that the deliberate execution of all of the above-referenced artwork precludes any of them from qualifying as pareidolia-inducing, strictly speaking. I would argue that they are certainly illusions, in that they all trick our brains into seeing 3-D objects on a flat surface.

Maybe the only way to induce pareidolia through art is through deliberate abstraction. The painting below by Jackson Pollock is an example from the Abstract Expressionist movement.

Here, Pollock describes his method of painting, "My painting does not come from the easel. I prefer to tack the unstretched canvas to the hard wall or the floor. I need the resistance of a hard surface. On the floor I am more at ease. I feel nearer, more part of the painting, since this way I can walk around it, work from the four sides and literally be in the painting." and "When I am in my painting, I'm not aware of what I'm doing. It is only after a sort of 'get acquainted' period that I see what I have been about. I have no fear of making changes, destroying the image, etc., because the painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through. It is only when I lose contact with the painting that the result is a mess. Otherwise there is pure harmony, an easy give and take, and the painting comes out well." -Jackson Pollock, My Painting, 1956

The painting could have no orientation, no right-side-up. It is decidedly not figurative, and is more or less random. When standing in front of the massive canvas, it is possible to appreciate it on multiple levels. One could react to the emotions that the colors provoke or to the seeming manic energy of the splashes and dribbles of paint. Or, one can look for the faces, the animals hiding behind bushes, and many, things that are expressly 'not there'.

Jackson Pollock
Autumn Rhythm (No. 30), 1950
Enamel on canvas, 105 x 207 inches
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Lastly, there are examples of artists using pareidolia as a mechanism for creating. 

The French Surrealist Andre´ Masson made use of a process called Automatic Drawing. While in a 'trance-like state' (brought on by sleep deprivation, or drugs), Masson would make a series of lines on canvas and then use those lines to spur his imagination to create images. Later he would randomly apply glue and then sprinkle sand which would adhere to those areas, which gave him another basis to 'find' objects and themes on which to elaborate. In the image below, it is possible to see that he chose which lines and forms to use in making the images of the fish and their surroundings. It is also possible to see the lines and forms on which he chose not to elaborate; lines and forms that seem to impede or get in the way.

Andre´ Masson
Battle of Fishes, 1926
Sand, gesso, oil, pencil & charcoal on canvas
14 1/4 x 28 3/4 inches
Museum of Modern Art, New York 

Many other examples of illusions in art had come to mind while writing this post. Artists like Giuseppe Arcimboldo, who is best-known for his food-based portraiture, directly exploited the propensity for our brains to see faces where there are none. Also, trompe l'oeil art (In French, literally 'to deceive the eye) endeavors to precisely live up to its name. Even my own artwork came to mind. When I posted this drawing, a friend of mine commented that "[it] looks like a demon is gazing out". My friend had seen something in the patterns of shadow in my drawing, which I did not intend. And now I cannot un-see it.
Apparently, there's a tiny demon in my hand. Whether I meant to put it there or not.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Mighty V-Rex

Late one evening, a few weeks ago, I received a text message from my stepbrother. It is one of the strangest text messages I have ever received after 10 pm on a weekday. I have attached it below. His query is in grey. My response is in green:

Following this initial question was a lengthy exchange about the reasons why an artwork of this type should exist and the details surrounding its execution, which ended with this:

 Here, now, is the (kinda) true story of the what's and why's and huh's?

 My stepbrother is a newly minted biologist. Apparently, newly minted biologists need letters of recommendation. I’m not sure why, but it seems to be one of those immutable physical laws of the Universe. Recently he sent me a message. One of the fine folks who were supposed to give him a letter of recommendation turned out to be less fine than he had anticipated and by his account, forgot, disappeared off of the face of the Earth or suffered some other calamity. In any case, another person WAS able to give him a letter of recommendation on the fly. This gentleman, as I have had him described to me and as I have imagined him, is a freakish hybrid of dinosaur and man; a genetic experiment of such terrible consequence that he had no choice but to become a scientist himself in order to study and prevent, if he could, the same fate from befalling others. Eventually, after years of roaming the planet in search of meaning and understanding, this Dino Sapiens became a biologist whose interest, obviously, now lies in forest ecology where, while counting tree-rings, he can nibble at leaves and vegetation for sustenance. By all accounts, an amicable symbiosis (certainly a redundant phrase, but it sounds nice).

All lesser creatures shall bow in reverence and thanks to The Mighty V-REX, your lord, savior and writer of letters of recommendation! Behold!

The Mighty V-Rex
12 x 9 inches
2010, Graphite on paper

Friday, November 26, 2010

This artwork has changed drastically between conception and execution. Therefore it has no meaning.

Untitled (golden spirals)
17 1/4 inches in diameter
2010, Oil on wooden serving tray

This happens to me almost every time I make artwork. I will come up with an idea that seems cohesive and a plan on how to execute this idea visually. I will work through the sketches, all the while reinforcing the original conception. Then, at some point, something changes. The sketches don’t get the idea across the way I had intended or the composition doesn’t fit the proportions of my workspace or I forget how to draw for a few days (yes, this can happen). Then I’ll suddenly become distracted by some shiny object or the cat, my mind will blank out for a bit and then * pop * I’ll think of something else that is (hopefully) interesting to put the artwork back on track.
At this point, the question in my mind has always been, “how has this changed the meaning and the original intent of the artwork? Has it”? Of course, this only matters to me. As a viewer, you probably have no idea what I ‘meant’ to portray in the first place. You only see the end of the process. (And for this I am often thankful). On the other hand, changing course in the middle of making art can yield connections and meanings that I had never even considered in the first place. These meanings and connections have come for me sometimes years after completing an artwork. I’ll pull a drawing out of a drawer and think “Oh. That’s what this means”.
And that is what happened with this painting. It started out with a pretty specific concept, but it morphed, it mutated. And I’m much happier with the outcome than I was with my original idea. I’m not really sure what it ‘means’ yet, if anything. But as a viewer myself, I really enjoy making my own meanings and connections. Even if it’s my own artwork I’m looking at.
P.S. This piece of functional artwork (it's painted on a tray!) will be for sale at a benefit at ABC No Rio on December 3. Just in time for your holiday shopping needs!
Details here.