Detail of eyes in the robot head.

And the whole image.

Eyeing the Ironess, @3’X4.5′, July 2016

The method.

This is a new style for me, or rather a new development, because it uses one of my oldest approaches to making imagery – making marks and then studying them waiting for unexpected imagery to emerge. It’s that simple. I used this same technique for a series of a dozen acrylic paintings over 20 years ago [several of my favorites below].

What’s new here is doing it digitally in color. The technique is very simple and direct. I used only one brush in Photoshop, coupled with simple editing tools that any veteran of a beginning Photoshop class should know how to use. This combination, however, allows a very high level of control AND flexibility. The brush I used is a “chalk” brush, but one could use any range of brushes, or other programs such as Painter (which has far more options for brushes), or Gimp. It does, however, rely heavily on the imagination, and drawing and painting skills.

I’m enthusiastic about this style because it eliminates a lot of the more tedious aspects of image-making, though it did get a bit sticky in the end working out the lighting, modeling, and shading details. It is not, however, nearly as complicated a process as some some of my other recent work, where I’ve used multiple programs in order to explore possibilities of images I hadn’t seen before, and which are then finalized in a mufti-layered process of creating a textured surface through illusionist impasto brush strokes [see below].

Monster Maiden #3
“Monster Maiden 3” was made using Zbrush, Photoshop, and Painter.

The method for this image is a comparatively simple process, and leaves the rest to the imagination.

One of the good things about working in this way is the lack of boredom. Since I’m not working with a preconceived idea, I don’t get bogged down in illustrating something I’ve already envisioned. The element of reaching and discovery remains throughout the process. The downside is this isn’t a particularly efficient way of working. You can’t plan what you are going to do, nor the most economical way of doing it.

Better than trying to articulate the process, you can observe it in successive stages of the image. It seems to develop organically. Click through the gallery and you’ll see what I mean.

As for the content, well, that’s where the individual comes into play. You can see some overlap with my early work, but I like to think my new imagery is more complex and developed.

I was just making a cup of tea and thinking about the surface of the image. For a long time I’ve been doing “digital impasto”, using an array of techniques I’ve developed over the years, none of them easy. So, why create surface texture? I think the reason is that I like the sort of overall detail that is created in brush strokes, but don’t like the tedium of articulating detail. For example, I’d prefer to paint a tree in an Impressionist style than to draw every leaf, and variegation on that leaf. Here I can still create a textured surface because the chalk makes a rough line, and otherwise accomplish it through contrasting colors… And there’s something else that happened here with negative space and illusionistic depth. So, I might have found a compromise that works for me and cuts out the painting stage I usually do.

Beyond the technique, I suppose the real innovation, is the imagery itself.

The image is an odd integration of influences from my own work to Francis Bacon, to 50’s sci-fi, cartoons, and the unknown. I’d hesitate to interpret it, because I don’t think an interpretation is that important, nor did I elaborate one.  The title suggests the monster is ogling the robot, and that’s sort of charming and goofy, but there’s other things creeping into it that are less obvious. It’s weird enough that the robot is doing domestic chores and has useless breasts. Her body also intersects with the background so that she has what looks like a bold outline, which is also negative space. The monster’s body is almost entirely negative space in a black vacuum behind.

My favorite details include the eyes of the robot, which imply some living creature inside, or two of them. I like the orange wavy tendril on the tip of the iron, the clothes under the iron, and the hole in the fabric of reality behind the monster, which is also some sort of cartoonish, expressive mark. There is violence and comedy. The poor monster’s head is smashed up against some sort of barrier, and the robot’s red, right arm has been severed above the elbow. But this could be seen as a fortuitous romance, perhaps love at first sight. Or she may be rejecting him as a blue-headed buffoon driven only by his libido, and his advance thwarted by a bubble-like force-field, which is also concave.

Feminists might have another reading, but I should warn those who might want to over-interpret the image that the boobs are a joke, which should be kinda’ obvious. They serve no function, and are otherwise gratuitous. Those familiar with my “monster maiden” pieces, might know that I started including “boobs” into my art on an ironic level, because of the popularity of boob art online, which I find rather annoying and, er, unexamined. I stopped working on that series when it became obvious that people weren’t seeing the irony. I think any attempt at a fixed interpretation of this image just has to be amusing at best.

What is more important to me is what the image is, rather than what it’s about. It’s a hybrid between abstraction and representation.

There is probably the strongest element of “pattern” of any of my pieces that come to mind. Each line effects every other line and vice versa. While there are a lot of modeling effects (I’m mostly just winging those), it is not at all realistic. I think, perhaps, because the way I develop this is through LOOKING at it, and seeing what is suggested to me, or what looks off and needs to be fixed, the result of the process is an image that rewards looking at it.  There’s a puzzle-like quality about it that challenges the visual intelligence to grapple with.

Why bother with this kind of art?

Well, for one, it’s kinda personal art. Despite the very direct procedure, which most anyone with a graphics program could attempt, the result is almost exclusively dependent on the individual. I don’t think anyone else would come up with this same conglomeration of imagery. For example, there’s a heavy psychedelic element in the negative space – a sort of back-door, timeless and space-less void – which I experienced with the then legal entheogen, Salvia Divinorum. I don’t know how many people would even recognize that in the art. And there’s my nostalgic love of the sci-fi I grew up on. Perhaps only someone my age would have the same association of 50’s sci-fi with growing up in the 70’s. Yeah, as you get older, what was reality gets broken up into eras with their own distinctive qualities. In fact, I’ve had to do way more ironing than most people. As a teacher in China, I ironed all my teaching clothes, shirts and pants, for over three years. I figured out how to iron pleats in pants, and have a logical order for ironing long-sleeved, collared shirts. I don’t like ironing. My love of reptiles and fish shows up in the robot’s eyes. The hundreds of hours I spent studying books on Francis Bacon taints the textured background and the silhouette of the monster’s body.  And this work probably wouldn’t be possible if I hadn’t done those 12 acrylic paintings decades ago. In a way it’s a painting of my imagination.

But aside from the personal element, which is lacking in so much appropriation work, it’s an attempt at new imagery, manifesting something I haven’t seen before. In my article about the contest between visual art and conceptual art,  I analyzed the false idea on the side of conceptual art that one can “go beyond the limitations of painting” by doing conceptual art. The limitations of painting are the limitations of the imagination. The way to go beyond those limitations is through stretching the imagination, not doing something else entirely. Imagery is just a medium, as is sitting down with an acoustic guitar and belting out a song. I happen to think anything is possible with a  guitar, vocals, and lyrics, even if it’s not a “radical” style at all. Check out this very contemporary song by Kimya Dawson, with its quirky delivery, political argument, topical news, personal stake, and startlingly graphic imagery [the link has the lyrics, which are worth taking a look at]:

In the same way I think you can do extraordinary things with just an acoustic guitar, vocals, and lyrics, I believe you can do the same with  a painted image. There are no real limitations to imagery, only to our imaginations.

There are two paths you can go on

Yeah, I know, far more than two, but for simplicity let’s just focus on these two for the moment. If you are a fine artist and you want to further the tradition of art somehow, add to it, or extend a branch of art a little further, you can try to make some new kind of art, or you can try to expand the range of imagined images. In the same way, in music, you can try to make a new song (as Kimya Dawson did), or else you can do something different with sound that doesn’t use melody, an instrument, vocals, and lyrics (I’ve done this by splicing sounds in a sound editing program and stacking them). If you are a visual artist you try to do something with imagery, and if you are a conceptual artist you try to do something else.

In this piece (as in a lot of my art) I was trying to discover a new image, or vision, as well as to articulate my own sensibility. Of course I’m not the only person doing this. Lots of people are making the attempt in their own ways, though far more do derivative work within per-existing genres. Image making is just a different passion than making conceptual art.

In order to make original image I’m doing at least two things. On the one hand I’m trying to make my art individual by reflecting my own experience, personality, knowledge, and imagination, and on the other I am also experimenting with representation, with what is processed as an image. If you don’t think I succeeded in making a new image, tune in again later, as I’m still experimenting, pushing my own boundaries, and uncovering the hitherto unknown. I already started another image using the one-brush method. It’s probably going to be a bit different.

~ Ends

And if you like my art and art criticism, and would like to see me keep working, please consider making a very small donation. Through Patreon, you can give $1 (or more) per significant new work I produce, and cap it at a maximum of $1 a month. Ah, if only I could amass a few hundred dollars per month this way, I could focus entirely on my art. See how it works here.

Or go directly to my account.


Or you can make a small, one time donation to help me keep on making art and blogging (and restore my faith in humanity simultaneously).


One thought on “Eyeing the Ironess, behind the scenes.

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