Tuesday, March 31, 2009

John Bell
Position Paper
Spring of 2009 Mid-Program Review

It is the point at which a system creating meaning is forced to resign to the inevitability of meaninglessness where I feel like I can come the closest to seeing something real in a picture. With this sympathy in mind, I have set out to create a practice based on a seeming contradiction; I want to try to build a living presence out of evident paint. For me, “living presence” means something which seems to possess its own subjecthood-- something which seems to look back at you. “Evident paint” is paint which never gets lost in illusion. It is always more or less honest about its physicality and unremarkable nature.

There are broad existential questions which frame the way I see these paintings. They are moments which exude, above all else, a temporariness such that death seems to always be tied to the present. There is no assumption of an implicit meaning within this world, which is something I can’t help myself from assuming in my life otherwise. What I think these creatures evoke, then, is the passionate acting out of feeling in the face of meaningless negation. They act and react with tenderness, violence, and necessity without ever seeming to expect an escape from their physical and temporal failings.

I choose to paint these natural subjects because they seem to me to be the specific manifestations of the broader questions and contradictions that lurk beneath them. I am fascinated by groups of birds and the way that dogs behave in a pack, for example. I can’t help but anthropomorphize; they seem undeniably alive like I am, barking, chirping, and flailing all over. But for all of this, they are also always irrational, inexplicable and alien to me. This parallel contradiction is what made them ideal subjects.

Visual and Technical Explorations
I began trying to developing ways of creating natural things, such as birds and wood, in a way which emphasized their presentness. The ups and downs of the painting process ended up determining most of what the image looked like. While I may have rough ideas as to where I want a picture to go, either from a conglomeration of outside sources or from a composition entirely of my own conception, more often than not I try to facilitate the occurrence of accidental marks. I have accordingly found myself editing figures into being more often than I have found myself deliberately rendering, and have tried to treat each mark that I make as something independent in thought from the others already on the surface.

Influences and Context Within The Field
The visual language of natural history has been extremely helpful as a formal and conceptual parallel. There is a competition in this language between scientific taxonomy and aesthetic appreciation, and because of this neither desires are completely satisfied. I have spent a great deal of time with natural history dioramas and illustrators such as John James Audubon, Charles Wilson, and Carl Linneaus. I have also been attracted to the watercolors and ink paintings characteristic of Japanese Zen Buddhism in the 18th and 19th centuries. What I am attracted to in these piece is the emphasis on the living essence of the painted subject over the depiction of one that is “real”. Kao Ch’i- Pe’i’s set of “hand paintings” on display at the Minneapolis Institute of Art was especially influential. Other artists whose influence is pronounced in this project include Elizabeth Neel, Katy Moran, Luc Tuymans, and Gerhard Richter.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Friday, March 27, 2009

Thursday, March 26, 2009


Stuff has changed a whole lot! Some current projects.

Monday, March 16, 2009

It's looking a little better.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

I think the bird still looks too much like a dinosaur, but I'm hoping it works out anyway.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

This is another painting I started working on. My interest is piqued!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

new work

My current project, as it keeps on evolving.

Friday, March 6, 2009

artist statement

I had a lot of trouble defending my artist statement in my critique last night. This is it, and I thought I was pretty exact in it, but apparently not. If you watn to let me know what you think, I'd be delighted.

I began making these paintings because I wanted to try to build a living presence out of evident paint. I chose birds as my subject matter because their often bright, ethereal coloring and seemingly collaged, feathered bodies make them feel impossibly alive. This presentness was what appealed to me the most. I wanted to make images that contained feelings close to those I have when I think about the phrase “swansong”. While life inside the painting may be tragic and insecure in its randomness, that life exists exuberantly in the present through punctuations of genuine emotion, as humble and as fallible as the point of origin may be. This humility is also what leads me to use “evident” paint. For me, this means being transparent about the physicality of what I am doing and the unremarkable circumstances out of which I am trying to make something remarkable.

The ups and downs of the painting process determine most of what the image will look like. While I may have rough ideas as to where I want a picture to go, either from a conglomeration of photographic sources and drawings or from a composition of my own conception, more often than not I try to facilitate the occurrence of those accidental marks that seem the most alive. I have accordingly found myself editing objects into being more often than I have found myself deliberately rendering them.

I have always been attracted to paint by both its physicality and its natural propensity to create illusion. What has kept me continually engaged in the process is trying to navigate the necessary contradiction between these two characteristics when neither one dominates in an individual image. These types of paintings hold my attention the longest, and they are the ones that I aspire to make.

The artworks of John James Audubon, Katy Moran, Elizabeth Neel, Andrei Platonov, and David Berman are some of my current inspirations for this project. Natural observation has also proven an essential tool. Notation (photographed or sketched) of tree bark, branches, and leaves that I encounter in my daily walks through the neighborhood helped me to flesh out the somewhat “awkward” compositions which Initially attracted me to many of Audubon’s watercolors. Most importantly, my paintings rely on the incomplete but tangible structures of birds and creatures that I bring into my studio from past experiences. Using primarily my memories of a bird in flight over a photograph or a drawing allows for me to focus on making a living painting rather than one that just acts as a depiction.

John Bell

Things lookin' niiiiice.

I had a critique yesterday, so I had everything looking nice. Here are some photographs of what got shown.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

days 8 and 9

I think it might be close to done. At least for the crit I have this week.