Friday, April 11, 2014

exhibition: visions of hope

Hello all! I am participating in an exhibition at Columbia Art Center. 'Visions of Hope', as the show is called, celebrates the 100th birthday of James Rouse, the urban planner and philanthropist who was responsible for the creation of Columbia as a planned community. (You can read more about James Rouse here. Incidentally, he is also the maternal grandfather of actor Edward Norton.) 

My entry in the group show is an acrylic painting on canvas. The title of the piece is 'Of the Same Bliss'. 
The reception for the show is today between 6 and 8pm.

'of the same bliss', acrylic on canvas, 30x40", ©2014 priya vadhyar

Thursday, February 6, 2014

18th century Chinese artist on life-force and painting

I've been reading The Grove Book of Art Writing edited by Martin Gayford and Karen Wright. It is an anthology of writings by artists, critics, writers and philosophers on topics related to the creative process, viewing art, nature and inspiration and the artist. In it I came across a gem, a text by an 18th century artist from China, Shen Tsung-ch'ien. In this short piece he talks about life-force and the act of painting. There is a lot to take from it. So here goes..

All matter is formed of accumulated force. Thus even the undulations of the hilltops and every rock and tree are possessed by a life-force inherent in them. They are multifarious, yet orderly, perhaps they exist in small numbers, but they are never dried and dead. Each has its own shape, and together they have a related unity. All things differ in shape and manner, yet all are governed by this life-force and possess the beauty of life. This is what we call shih, force of movement. When people, speaking of the six techniques [the venerable principles of Chinese art, laid down in the fifth century AD], place first the 'lifelike tone and atmosphere', they mean exactly this. When we speak of the force of the brush (pi-shih), we mean that the life-movement of the brush brings out the body posture of the different objects. Only so can the work be called a painting. When one prepares to put ink on paper, one should feel in one's wrist a power like the universe creating life. It flows out from one generously and freely, without obstruction and without deliberation. One puts a dot here and a 
dash there and the objects take form; anything is possible for one to pick up and carry along. This is the creative moment when hand and mind and brush and ink co-operate. As Wen Cheng-ming says, seize it, capture it at once before it vanishes, for speed is essential to catch that force of movement. ... The forms of hills and forests come from the life-force (sheng-ch'i) of the universe, and the ink marks and tracings of the brush come the spiritual force of the artist's mind and hand. So where the life-force is, the force of movement is also. The life-force makes the force of movement, and the force of movement carries the life-movement. The force of movement (shih) can be seen, but the life-force (chi'i) cannot. Therefore it is necessary to have the force of movement to bring out the life of things. When life-force circulates, the force of movement goes in harmony with it. So this life-force and force of movement come from the same source. Let it pour out and it will flow naturally and in graceful movements. There is no need to work carefully and yet it all fits in beautifully. Is it life-force? Or is it force of movement? Just pour it out. The insight of a moment may be thus committed to eternity, and the artist need not be ashamed of his work. Such pleasures of creation cannot be felt by an artist who slowly builds up his structures.

The moment of inspiration comes by itself, and brushes away all doubts and hesitancies. Like an arrow shooting out from the bowstring, it cannot be stopped; it is unfathomable, like rumbling thunder coming from the earth. One has no idea where it comes from, when it starts, nor wither it goes. It comes just at the exact moment, not a second sooner or later. When this inspiration comes at the moment of painting, a true masterpiece is born. It cannot be repeated by doubled effort, it simply eludes it. For the effort to recapture that moment is born of man (artificial), not of heaven (inspired). Only those possessed of the natural expansive spirit have more of such moments; they can shut out the mental effort and let themselves go soaring in freedom to wherever the spirit may carry them. ...
- Shen Tsung-ch'ien, fl. 1781

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

at work in the studio

The fall is giving way to the winter here in Maryland. On days like today, the sky is grey, the rain drizzles and the cold turns the water drops on branches into ice. On other days, the sun shines but it gives more light than warmth. The leaves are still dropping off trees. Sometimes they leave the tree gently. There is a decisive moment when the leaf lets go (or is it the tree that lets go?). Sometimes a gush of wind makes the separation a forceful one, sending leaves off trees with a whoosh. It's lovely to see the seasons change. And from my studio window it looks even more lovely. When I was living in Bombay I used to say that the rain was best enjoyed in the comfort of your home with a cup of coffee in your hands. Well, the cold in Maryland takes this to quite another level. Don't get me wrong, I love winters and the prospect of walking around with layers of sweaters and jackets. But the joy of sitting indoors and looking out at a wintry world is unparalleled.

Other than enjoying the winter, I've been spending a lot of time in the studio the last couple of months. For the most part, I've been working on a new body of work - a new set of paintings and drawings. I am enjoying doing the work immensely. The great thing about doing abstract work is that you are always surprised. The way I've been working is such that I don't have a plan (see this post about working without a plan). So I work - looking, adding, subtracting, searching and changing - until I come to the point where the composition comes together. Arriving at this point is such a thrill because you don't really plan on getting to that exact place. You can't plan how certain marks, splashes, drips etc will interact with each other. You always stop in your tracks, and for me that seems like the best way to work.

I've also been reading in the studio. These days it's the work of John Cage that I've been reading about. First I read 'Where the Heart Beats - John Cage, Zen Buddhism and the Inner Life of Artists' by Kay Larson. Now I am reading 'Musicage: Cage Muses on Words, Art, Music', which is a series of conversations between John Cage and Joan Retallack. Both books are very interesting and thought provoking. Sometimes I read fiction, but I usually keep fiction for the evening.

Writing is another thing I do when in the studio. Sometimes I write before I start painting. It allows me to quieten down. Writing also helps to gain clarity. Sometimes putting things down on paper is all it takes to really see something. But usually I write because I have a thought and I want to explore it. I don't write often enough but I know that it does me a lot of good. And when I write I use a pen and a diary. I'm not a typer-writer really. In fact, I don't keep my laptop in the studio.

The painting, reading and writing, all happen in the studio. Here they all come together, one flows into the other. Sometimes when there is a lull in drawing or painting, I look to writing or reading to refresh me. But you know, sometimes just sitting doing nothing is good too. At that time it's the studio itself that provides inspiration. The easel, paints, brushes, inks and pencils present a scene full of possibilities. I have on the walls a few of my works, a linocut and a monoprint. On the table and windowsill I have my collection of leaves and stones and such. And of course there is always the window to look out from.

I'll end here with some photographs I took this morning in the studio. Enjoy!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

monk meditates

I write this post from Columbia, Maryland where Sandeep and I have relocated. After the desert of Arizona, we are now experiencing a different landscape. Here we see green grass everywhere and tall lush trees. Butterflies, fireflies and the occasional deer grazing. Very beautiful.

Now for the real subject of this post. Before we left for Columbia I was working on a couple of things at The Drawing Studio print lab. One was a project that Sandeep commissioned. He wanted a print made of Thelonious Monk. 'Round Midnight? Straight, No Chaser?

I thought it over and decided that using the solar plate technique would be the best approach. The first stage was sketching. I found a photograph of Monk, sketched it, adding piano keys and accentuated smoke. Once the sketch was ready, I had to transfer the sketch to a solar plate. This was accomplished by transferring the drawing on to a transparency using a copying machine. The transparency was then placed on a solar plate, and together they went into a light box. The solarplate was exposed to UV light and in a short while the plate was then ready for inking. For this piece I used an oil based ink, India red with black. I then used a traditional press to create the print. I was very happy with the outcome and so was Sandeep.

monk meditates, A/P solar plate, 8x10", ©2013 priya vadhyar
Here are images of the sketch and the solar plate post UV exposure.

monk, the sketch

solar plate, post UV exposur

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

impressions - printmaking exhibit at TDS

I have been learning printmaking at The Drawing Studio for a few months now. Printmaking is something I've wanted to learn for a long long time, but I didn't have access to a print lab till recently. Now that I had access, I signed up real quick. In the non-toxic intaglio class taught by Jennifer Clarke and Thomas Lindell (and a couple of sessions by Rebecca Bushner) I tried my hand at hard ground and soft ground etching, solarplate, image-on and cyanotype. In the intaglio open lab, I have been learning from Jennifer Clarke the art of making a mezzotint (a more detailed post on mezzotints coming up soon). And in a lino-cut work group I have been learning to make linoleum prints with Lynn Fleischman. 

It's been fascinating to learn processes so different from painting. Printmaking requires a different way of thinking - in terms of stages and processes, in negative and positive. The processes require one to be methodical and disciplined. The tools are many and different; the ferric chloride for etching, the copper plates, the UV light boxes, the 'rocker', the brayers, the 'blankets', the inks, the floor wax, the soy sauce (I'm not kidding) and the press with it's big wheel and heavy roller are just some of the things that make up a print lab. But more importantly, what makes a printlab is the community of printmakers. There is a wonderful energy in the lab, all the printmakers doing their thing and solving printmaking problems together. I've had a great time learning from them all, seeing the work they do. I will post more about the print lab soon - there's just so much to say! In the meantime, here are are two prints - both in a printmaking exhibition at The Drawing Studio that opens May 4th (6-8pm). The first print titled 'First Light' is a mezzotint. The second called  'Desert Song' was made with a solarplate. The show aims to educate the public about printmaking and will also include demonstrations. The exhibition features fantastic works by very talented artists, and includes a wide array of printmaking techniques. Here is the link to more information about the exhibition.

first light, A/P mezzotint, 5x6" ©2013 priya vadhyar

desert song, A/P solarplate, 4x5" ©2013 priya vadhyar