Monthly Archives: April 2014

Chicago Art Talks: Insider Secrets (and What Some Artists Want You to Know While Others May Not!)


Painting by Jackson Pollack; mobile by Alexander Calder

“Paint as you like and die happy.” — Henry Miller

There is a very difficult journey that some brave artists take: It’s the journey of unlearning. To take all you have learned about the rules of perspective, proportion, light and shadow … and let those rules guide you into a place of breaking them.

By Joan Mitchell

By Joan Mitchell

Breaking the rules in art successfully is not about “anything goes”; it’s a deep and personal journey. It’s about going beyond the rules into a “no man’s land” where you are very much working alone, from instinct, and completely dependent on your imagination.

Rendering realism is a discipline that I have great respect for, but a brilliant abstractionist can bring me to my knees in awe. That requires something different: imagination, flow, disidentifying from the outcome and surrendering to the present. It is why so many artists move into abstraction in later years and find the greatest joy there.

I am thinking about all of this as a result of having visited the Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago. I have yet to stand in one of my favorite galleries while gazing upon the great works of Cy Twombly, Joan Mitchell, Jackson Pollack and many other of the Abstract Expressionist works without overhearing comments like “I could do that,” “My kid could do that,” and other versions of this nonsense.

I realize that this comes from a place of not understanding, but the truth is, no, you can’t do that. That is why you don’t have paintings hanging in museums and they do.

By Cy Twombly

By Cy Twombly

Upon hearing such statements, I have an immediate desire to hand the speaker a canvas and paint, along with an invitation to try — with helping them grow in their own appreciation as my only intention.

You do not have to like it — everyone, after all, has his or her own preferences when it comes to visual appeal — but it’s useful to have an understanding: It is not a lack of knowing the rules that takes an artist to abstraction, but a moving beyond them. It’s like the old saying: “You have to learn the rules to break them.”

Understand that most of your favorite artists’ work likely moved into more abstraction with age. It’s a joyful place for an artist to paint — not by rendering reality, but from their heart, their own creative filter, which takes years to truly know and trust.

Cheers to breaking the rules and finding happiness outside the box!

Details of Joan Mitchell’s work:



Details of Cy Twombly’s work:


Pieces by Gerhart Richter — a great example of his early work towards realism, and his later abstract works:

Chicago Art Talks: What’s the Big Idea?



No matter how many times I’ve been there, visiting the Art Institute of Chicago always feels like a new experience for me. As I change and evolve as an artist, the way I view the art changes.

Movements in art can all come down to this: What is the big idea an artist is playing with? For me, most recently, it’s about light. Light is most definitely not a new idea, but it’s my new idea. My latest obsession.

Impressionism could be summed up by the exploration of light. The invention of paint that didn’t have to be painstakingly hand made but came ready-made in a tube allowed artists to paint “in plein air” (French for “in the open air”  — e.g., outdoors) for the first time. In plein air, the light is constantly changing. This is why Monet painted so many versions of his famed haystacks, seen in varying stages of the day, demonstrating the effect of shifting sunlight.

Below are two examples of Monet painting the same scene in different light.

On Wednesday, at the Art Institute of Chicago, I was blown away by the use of light throughout the history of art. From the beginning, in the Renaissance, artists were concerned with light — some famously so.

A prime example of a near single-minded obsession with light is reflected in the works of J.W.M. Turner, whose amazing skies have long transfixed me.

newm22cowsI have always been concerned with and aware of the use of light in art, but now that I have taken it to the next level in my own work, it’s jumping out at me in others’ work.

In the end, I encourage you in your own walk with art to ponder: What was the big idea an artist was exploring? Or, as I did this week, focus on your own observations just as I focused on light, and see what history’s greats had to say about it via their work. It’s a way to dive deeper into the art and expand yourself and your knowledge at the same time.

After writing this on Wednesday post-excursion, I’m off to soak my tired limbs in a hot bath. Museum gazing has a way of stimulating my mind while exhausting my body — with no complaints, I might add!