May Richard rest in peace. He passed away on June 16, 2018 at his home in NYC.
He was the talented designer and guru that founded R/GA with his brother Robert in NY doing film titles and special effects throughout the 80’s and 90’s. Richard was the firms’s creative force and Robert was the business and visionary end of the company. They both were a little nerdy and seemed like college professors. I had never met anybody in the film industry on either coast like them. Theirs was a rags-to-riches story that can be found in several other articles and publications elsewhere online. Richard’s minimalist print graphic approach influenced a generation of designers and filmmakers including myself, Marcus Nispel, Kyle Cooper, and Michael Riley among others. Richard and Robert found their foothold with the adventurous title sequence to Richard Donner’s original Superman. The opening was slit-scan and slick, and ahead of its time with its direct in-your-face approach. Up next were the ground-breaking titles to Ridley Scott’s Alien, with tense deconstructed type.
Richard was a gentle soul, but stubborn and articulate about his approach to design. He appropriated processes that most take for granted, reduced them, and looked at them in a fresh way. He was never concerned with trends, but the core of the narrative. Honestly he made the trends. The titles to Dirty Dancing and World According to Garp immediately come to mind. His work has been imitated many times over, but never with the power and integrity of his original work.
As a backstory to meeting the Greenbergs, I had just moved to NY in 1985 and was looking for work. I was being considered to direct an advertising campaign for Bell Atlantic through Robert Abel and Associates (in LA), when I was told by the Abel sales rep to go visit R/GA. Apparently through a series of backdoor permutations R/GA (unknowingly) was going to get the very large Bell Atlantic account and would need help. R/GA reluctantly granted an interview with me. They called me back the next day (mostly through Richard Greenberg’s intervention) to begin a grueling production schedule for four complicated spots over the next few months. Richard and I immediately hit it off together and understood each other’s points of view. After I designed the storyboards and key frames, Richard mentored me into the live action scenario by showing me how to set up the complicated camera shots for the R/GA efx crew. The crew was not particularly welcoming, but Richard held firm. I began to learn the basics through his tutelage and to understand the extreme importance of editing and pre-production details. I worked off and on with R/GA for a couple years freelance before being asked to design and direct on a more permanent basis. By this time Richard was working on a feature (Little Monsters) and finally moving to LA to eventually start his own company. I saw him less as time went on, but remember his kindness and persistent design visions. My ideas were much more painterly, but I had so much respect for Richard’s talent and graphic approaches.
Richard was a great influence and friend to me. I was very fortunate to have known and worked with him. He will be missed.
This week I am finishing up the last minute touches for the July and August show (words + pictures) at Riverviews Artspace in Lynchburg, VA. The gallery people have been so supportive, enthusiastic and professional over the last 10 months. It is a gorgeous, rehabbed, huge warehouse space in Lynchburg perfect for Art. Really looking forward to it.
The rest of the summer is dedicated to what I affectionately call maintenance. It hit 104 degrees yesterday and is way too hot to work effectively in my garage/studio. I try to get out there for a couple hours early morning, but it’s the most I can handle. The paint actually dries before it hits the surface. Hard to manipulate…especially in my-oh-so-special way. So, after the Riverviews install and reception, I will start working on frames and stretcher bars. This doesn’t require so much steady work in the Georgia heat. Basically cutting, sanding, and gluing.
I have two solo shows running simultaneously in 2019 to prep for. This is a good chance to organize all that in the next couple months. I am also going to local figure drawing sessions once a week in a nicely air-conditioned space at The Studio School. Nice people and interesting models. I really appreciate how drawing the figure tunes up the ability to measure and see. This has also inspired ideas to combine the structural abstracted figure with the abstracted landscapes. Really not sure how this will play out, but it is worth a try. The notion is to make the imagery narrative and personal.
This is the beginning of a transition period as different processes are further explored. I have just finished the “words + pictures” series that is a visual response to daily words from the NY Times describing the current presidency. This exhibit is scheduled to show at Riverviews Artspace in July and August. Now it is time to move on and use what I have learned.
What have I learned?
Now the plan is to sort through paintings that have not stood up to my test of time and can be “improved” or totally changed. This includes about a dozen paintings in various sizes and I am on the fence about how to proceed with them. Some need to be scraped, and some just reworked. It’s a dicey process, but instead of trying to reconstruct where my head was at three or four years ago, it seems important to play out the current processes and explore issues I am dealing with now. I suspect that one way to do this effectively is to do some trial and error pieces with paper only. Good BFK Rives paper and Arches Aquarelle, but not at the expense of primed panels. The paper can be tossed, but the panels are too valuable if experiments don't work.
I have just come across a little trick of using paper plates to record the palette used. The idea is to keep dabs of color on the plate and then write down what the mix is. I have done versions of this before but not so regulated. I also like the notion of pinning the paper plates to the wall for instant reference. I want to apply the same procedure with underpainting and layers. Seems like this could save a great deal of wasted time and decision making.
I have been fortunate in 2017 to have three one-person shows and understand a simple and perhaps obvious rule; the more you show, the better the chances for sales. Sales have been the best ever this year and easily doubled from the year before. I have discovered that it is not necessarily the work that I think is best that sells. There also seems to be a preference for shades of blue pigments with quasi-recognizable imagery. Does this make a difference to my work? I hope not. Just saying. Many of you will argue this conclusion and I welcome the argument. Of course it always depends on the audience.
Since June all the new work has been built around a square format. Up until now, I have always favored rectangles, both landscape and portrait orientations. Usually the paintings are built on the 3 to 4 ratio that dates back to Pythagoras. The newer square format gives equal weight to each side and does not dictate composition, which rectangles seem to enforce. It may be my imagination, but the square “seems” sleeker, modern and human made. There is a symmetrical perfection to the square that is unavoidable.
Keeping the notion of the square, my compositions are asymmetrical and lean left or right. Lots of angles. The perfection of the square makes me want to destroy it’s visual boundary that is so dominant. There is also a constant conscious struggle to keep the primary compositional element out of the center. Just too obvious and boring. Of course these are all mental slogs and rules that I have perpetuated with absolutely no real justification but my own. It will be interesting to see how long the square lasts in the work. I suspect it may be awhile.
I have been back a couple weeks from the Foundation OBRAS residency and consequently dismantled my show in Augusta, GA at Sacred Heart Cultural Arts Center. Sold a fair amount of pieces and was very impressed by the professionalism of the staff there. Great experience overall. I now have to catch up on a little work around the house including building a fence, and some basic gardening.
House chores will take me through the end of 2017. I will start in earnest in January completing my series for the words + pictures exhibit at Riverviews Artspace next July. These people have been so encouraging and supportive of the upcoming show. The remaining 6 – 8 pieces to be done will be 42 x 42 inches and utilizing the groundwork set down at OBRAS. A couple of them may be diptychs. I am encouraged with the direction the work is going, but need to keep editing the process and content. The more abstracted work is more compelling paired with the chosen words from the NY Times. I still have to figure out how much info and narrative to give the viewer. Maybe none. At first I was dealing with metaphor, but now think the shapes need to be compositionally intuitive. There is always a point that the painting takes over, no matter what the original concept.
There will be further involvement with Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts in 2018 with plans for a couple possible directions, both simple in nature. Large black and white charcoal drawings on BFK Rives paper will focus on weeds prevalent on Wyoming ranchland. A second plan is to further develop process and methodology for monoprints using found landscape elements. This will be highly experimental and based on the immediacy and spontaneity of the process. It will be interesting to see what evolves. Also in the planning stages to visit a couple little-known surreal places in Southern Wyoming that could make my head spin. More about that later.
Certainly 2017 was a turning point for the work. Considerably more work was produced and constructive directional decisions about content and composition were formulated. Lots to look forward to.
Today is an overcast and drizzly rainy day in the central Alentejo region of Portugal. This area has not had rain in over six months and is dry as a tinder box. The locals have never seen a dry spell last as long or be as starkly dry as it has been this year. There has literally not been a growing season. The rain is welcome, but still makes for a melancholy, gray day. The process for packing up and ending my residency at Foundation OBRAS has begun. I have my final exhibit and artist talk tonite, and pack it up after for the flight home.
It has been a surprise that it has taken me a couple weeks to get into the rhythm and philosophy of the region. This area operates on its own time. The clock for me is signaled by the early morning squeals from the pig farm about a half mile away or the melodic bells of the sheep as they go to and from their pasture. I have been told they are on the move constantly because of local sheep rustling. Who knew? What I do know is that these simple sounds and the pleasant easy-going people I have met, make for a truly calm, peaceful, pastoral setting. For any burnouts or workaholics, this is the place to be. The Alentejo is truly chill! Sort of “whatever will be will be” kind of attitude. I revere the rustic architecture, the rock masonry and the 800 year old plaster walls. Everything has a story.
Nearby Evora (the oldest city in Portugal) is rustic, but sophisticated and much more moneyed. After all, they had to deal with the Roman conquerors, the Moors, and later the Christians. Then there were the aristocratic landowners followed by the dictators and the inevitable communists. People here have seen it all and are relatively unfazed.
My favorite town in Portugal has been Estremoz. Great farmer’s market on Saturdays, lots of energy, gorgeous tree-lined streets, good inexpensive restaurants and Moorish influenced architecture with great weather. I’ve even become hooked on the local pingado coffees and small Sagres beers and the local chorizo. Estremoz feels like a neighborhood and totally accessible by foot. What really knocks me out are the bands of colors on the bases of the buildings. Rich ochres, tinted ultramarines, and soft grays. They actually sell powdered pigment in the building supply stores that is so potent it will dye your hands if you touch it.
The work (words + pictures series) I have been doing has been reinforced by the colors in the landscape and architecture. Simple, monochromatic, organic color infiltrates the concepts. Rocks continue to play a big part in the visual influences. For my final exhibit, I put three 8’ primitive wooden benches end to end and piled selected rocks (marble, quartz, granite) on top to serve as the base for the final paintings. Somehow it seems to fit the the visuals and plays homage to where the work was created.
My process has been pretty simple. 9 paintings, 3 weeks. I have kept a tight but relaxed schedule. This is significantly faster and more ambitious than anything I would attempt at home. Every painting has had accompanying small sketches or diagrams to reinforce the concepts and speed up decision making. I trust my drawings. Up at 6 am, coffee and oranges, email, internet news, and then on to the studio until noon. I usually have four paintings going simultaneously (which I would never do at home) because of the drying times. It’s a hassle to get the paint dry here, unless I move it into the sun, which can disturb the paint surfaces. So wait and wait and wait. Usually the ultimate wait becomes time for a nap and reading by the luxurious pool after lunch. Then back to the studio. Repeat as needed. We have shared dinners (everybody makes one dish) every couple days and artist talks/lectures a few times a week. There are writers, filmmakers, photographers, performance artists, musicians and painters here. Always something to look forward to with lots of laughter and new cultures. Luckily a couple local artists have joined us, which really completes the experience. They provide a totally different point of view. This one Portuguese artist I have become friends with, Oliveira Taveras, has some serious drawing skills. Really special. I will have a final dinner at his house tonight with he and his wife Fatima.
Last nite we went to a Flamenco concert across the border in Badajoz, Spain. It was a quartet consisting of two Bass Violas, one Percussionist and the pretty famous vocalist, Rocio Marquez. Absolutely stunning. Lots of passion and expertise. One of the Violas was sometimes played like a guitar and the percussionist had instruments that were totally specific to this region. A great way to wind down the trip with gypsy flair.
I saw an exhibit this morning at the Estremoz Palace Museum. All the work was local artists from 1949 and consisted mostly of small watercolors and ink drawings. Probably 50 pieces in call. Three or four were excellent. It is amazing in that period of poverty, so many artists were living here. I was really lucky to stumble on this show.
It is going to be a jolt going back to reality. I will miss harmony of this place. I will not miss the absence of media. It’s been five weeks since I have been in Savannah and I am sure to look at it with new wonder. Of course I jump back into the hotbed of activity with so much going on in the next few weeks. When I close my eyes I will blissfully think of the Alentejo and OBRAS.
Foundation OBRAS is located near Estremoz (pop. 9000), Portugal about a half hour from the beautiful famed city of Evora. So far there has been only a glimpse of Evora from a bus window, but it’s tree lined streets and whitewashed buildings look pretty enticing. This central region of Portugal (called the Alentejo) takes up much of the country but has the least population. It was known for it’s many crops from wheat to grapes to olives, as well as cork and marble production.
The Foundation is on a large rebuilt quinta (farmhouse and outbuildings) that has been rehabbed into comfortable artist’s quarters and large studio spaces with stone floors and 200 year old layers of whitewashed plaster. Great morning light and cool in the mornings as well. Mid- afternoons reach the low 90s and can be a bit heated. Later afternoons are quite manageable with cool breezes. I time my studio hours with the light and start working in earnest at 7 am to noon. Knock off for lunch and a nap, then back until about 5pm. Try to get my pool time in as well even if it is only for reading by the water. It makes for a a very productive and steady day.
I had prepared nine 24 x 24 inch luan plywood panels with my formulated ground and a coat of bitumen and brought them over as checked luggage. Kind of a pain, but it worked and they were packaged reasonably well. The materials are basic and sparse. I consider this all part of Arte Povera, and the simplified process makes choices and methods more simplistic. The nine panels are the first main component of the words + pictures series that is a visual response to the NY Times daily chosen words about the current presidency. It was intended as a protest and interestingly the work has taken on a life of it’s own. Metaphors, abstractions and symbols are used, but the methodology and being in Portugal adds an antiquity and patina to the work. The mix of current U.S. media news and the rustic imagery has a compelling juxtaposition. So far this has had a life of its own, with me struggling to keep up. Different from any of my other work. As it should be.
Yes IRMA is a bitch! I had to cancel my artist reception for my show at Sacred Heart Cultural Arts Center this evening to drive back home early AM from Augusta, GA to an empty house. My wife, mother-in-law, sister-in-law and dawg have all escaped to the non-confederate North on 1-95. Early-bird-refugees. I have thought about trying to ride this out alone in an empty house, but saw building after building being boarded up, lines for over-priced gas, and empty shelves at the grocery stores. Tons of traffic. Not a good indicator of things to come. And it is only Thursday morning with the big hit due at 8 am on Monday in Savannah.
So I did the only sensible thing there was to do. Came home, and took a nap. I was simply exhausted from too much turmoil. Woke up, had a sandwich and tried to consider all my options. There’s a pretty good chance we will not have our nine-month planned and paid for trip to Germany and Portugal next Thursday. That means no artist residency as well. Yeah, I am bummed. Really bummed. It has not happened yet but seems likely. So I have a credit card (with about $197.00 on it) and a car. What to do? Thought of going to the airport and just having them book me on a flight to anywhere that can get me out of here, but that could be strategically ridiculous, altho adventurous and potentially expensive. I could take some pain pills and just try to endure the major hit and sleep in 'til the EMTs come…except apparently there won’t be any available for days. Woops! That ain’t gonna work.
Finally I realized I have to be a mature adult about this and figure out an escape route. I already knew that hotels in Augusta were booked to the max so I couldn’t go back there. Tried a couple other cities within driving distance (that sounded like I could pass 3 or 4 days in a fun kinda way). This included Athens, and Asheville…all booked. Then I remembered that years ago Tricia and I had a great weekend in Columbia, SC. Tried that and booked a Wyndham generic room with WI-FI and a fridge immediately online. Totally lucked out! The hotel phones were jammed and I got the next to the last room online. Located a decent Mexican joint in downtown Columbia and a state park with trails nearby so I am good to leave here and check in sometime Sunday. Packing a bunch of art supplies and will try to innovate. Just got back from filling the car up with gas. Yeah gas lines of course and nasty, disgruntled peeps, but all done. Even got a bunch of water in wasteful, unsustainable plastic bottles. Then, the necessities. Barnes and Noble. Books. That’ll get me through the rough times.
No doubt there will be more to this adventure/forced evacuation.
BTW, the space at the Sacred Heart Cultural Arts center is so amazing. 120 year old brick and stone walls. My work never looked so good in a space and the people running it were outstanding. Show runs until Oct. 27.