Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Some of our architectural information graphics of 2011

Here at the studio we've been reviewing the information graphics we created in 2011. I have noticed that we have done many architectural-related graphics this year. Here are a few pieces that I am particularly happy with.

This first piece was for Time magazine. The subject was transportation of the future:

This next piece was commissioned by Ivan Schwartz. It was for a proposal for a exhibition on innovators in America: 

This was commissioned by The New York Times. It was for a special section on the ten year anniversary of 9/11. It shows the different kinds of developments in the downtown area since 9/11:

Scientific American asked us to contribute to their special issue on the future of the city. The following two graphics were parts of what we did for them. The first graphic portrays a city of the near future. And the second is showing the tallest buildings in existence and on the drawing boards:

And this last piece was for the cover of Remodeling Magazine: 

Springfield Avenue revisited

This morning I was looking through the shots I took on Springfield Avenue two weeks ago. I decided to make prints of these four:

My dear friend Silvia sent me a quote of Da Vinci's the other day:

Details make perfection and perfection is not a detail.

As I take more pictures I realize that my photography and illustration, while sharing many similar qualities, are dissimilar. The intents behind them are different. As an illustrator I am commissioned to get a point across quickly and viscerally. I feel that details come second, especially if they distract from the point that the illustration is trying to convey. Yet the pictures I take that are successful are mostly about subtlety and detail. In fact, part of my intention in taking photographs is to learn about detail and hopefully translate this into my illustration and fine art.

The illustration, information graphics, photography and fine art I do are related. Their connection is not crystalized in my mind yet, but I feel it in my heart.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

On fragility

When I approach my favorite art I usually sense two things: that they contain such power, and yet they are so vulnerable. How easy would it be to take a blade to them, to spray paint on them, to destroy them.

The art I respond to deals with balance. And balance is a fragile thing. Move one black line or color square in a Mondrian composition and the whole feeling changes. Andy Goldsworthy's work is partly about the interplay between the fragility and strength of nature. To truly experience what Rothko intended you need to view the work in a dim room and be inches away from the picture.

As a species we value strength and stoicism. Fragility has a negative connotation in our society. Maybe we need to examine this. Our lives are fragile. If our heart stops beating for seconds we are gone. If we get a clot in one of our major arteries we are in serious trouble. A fall of more than four feet and there's a chance we are going to break bones.

Molly sent me a quote by Jay Smooth the other day:
... If I could have one wish it would be that we would reconsider how we conceptualize being a good person, and keep in mind that we are not good despite our imperfections. It is the connection we maintain with our imperfections that allows us to be good. Our connection with our personal and common imperfections, being mindful of those personal and common imperfections, is what allows us to be good to each other and be good to ourselves.
When I read imperfections, fragility comes to mind. Not that I feel fragility in and of itself is a imperfection. It's more that we judge it as a imperfection.

What is the most fragile thing? A newborn baby comes to mind. Maybe it is its fragility that makes our hearts melt and want to give it as much love and nurturing as we possibly can. Out of our perception of fragility a strength is born within us.

Here's a piece I am currently working on that deals with this theme. I haven't titled it yet. It's 30" x 15," a digital print and encaustic mounted on board:

I want my work to feel fragile. I want the viewer to feel like my art is a baby that needs holding. There is a terrifying aspect to acknowledging our fragility. So I also want to terrify people with the unknown with my art.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Mother in Time

Here's a piece I finished on Sunday. It's titled Mother in Time. Two digital prints mounted on two gesso boards with encaustic. Complete size: 12" x 48":

This is the first time I'm happy with the encaustic on one of my time pieces. It's also the first color version of a time piece that I have applied encaustic to. The encaustic is conceptually tied to emotion in my mind. And color is the home of emotion for me. So this piece is about emotion over time. The black and white time pieces aren't necessarily about emotion. They are more about the science of time and perception.

An abandoned house in Union, N.J.

I pass an abandoned house on my drive home from the studio every day. Sunday morning I decided to photograph it. I grabbed my camera and tripod and walked to this house. It was good to walk, rather than drive to the location. It got me more in the zone. Here are three takes:

Sunday afternoon Molly, Lola, Lucius and I went for our weekly dim sum. I took this shot in the parking lot of the restaurant:

I'd like to mention that comments are more than welcome. I get decent traffic on this blog, and I'd love to hear what you think about what I'm posting. Posting a comment is a little screwy on this blog; I'm looking into redesigning it. In the meantime, if you click "0 comments" you can post a comment.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A new piece from my Mother series

Here's a piece that may or may not be finished:

I'm not settled on a name yet. I'm considering calling it Wounded Mother. The dimensions are 33" x 22." It's a digital print mounted on board with encaustic and varnish applied to it. The mixture of encaustic and varnish has given it a scabby texture that was not necessarily my intention. But I am happy with this feeling it brings up.

I've been making images of women for years. and just now it is becoming apparent to me that all these pieces are either representations of my mother or of her herself. It feels good to have the conscious awareness of this now.

My mother and I have a complicated relationship at best. She changed for the better when I was in my twenties, and almost fully transformed herself by the time Molly and I adopted Lola, seven years ago. She lived with us for the first couple of years we had Lola and Lucius and took care of them wonderfully.

That said, we're not speaking now. We have disagreements on what exactly happened in the past. A dear friend of mine once attached a sticker to one of my sketch books that reads, "We are all imperfect." And this certainly applies to the relationship I have with my mother.

Springfield Avenue

The morning after Thanksgiving I took a walk along Springfield Avenue by our house and took some pictures. Needless to say I felt bloated and needed to get outside and move my limbs.

These first two may become part of the building series I'm working on:

And the following possibly will be included in the tree and house series:

After taking these photos Molly, Lola and I headed to Jerry's Art-O-Rama and I got some 36" x 24" gesso boards. I'm looking forward to mounting my new work. I'll be posting photos of them within the next couple of days.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


The meal the Pilgrims and Indians had that we were taught about in school most likely never happened. So it's myth. Yet I feel this fact shouldn't invalidate what we celebrate today.

Isn't much of our lives based on mythology anyway? There's Greek and Roman mythology. And there's the mythology of the Old Testament for those of us who choose to look at it this way.

I think about what I am grateful for:

I am grateful I wake up in my home with my wife and two children.

I am grateful for my studio, specifically Erica, Joe, Jeong, Maryanna, Priska and Victoria.

I am grateful that we have so many clients. That the studio is busy, that we are making enough money to put food in our bellies.

I am grateful that I have art.

I am grateful that I am getting the help I need.

I am grateful for the wonderful teachers and mentors I have had.

I am grateful for the friends I have.

Here's a piece I just finished that is hanging in our home. It's a digital print on silver gelatin paper mounted on a gesso board with encaustic, 36" x 24":

At first this piece was called Fractured Mother, but as it developed the name felt wrong. There's a tenderness to this piece that the name Fractured Mother doesn't do justice to. So I am calling it Mother's Love.

Monday, November 21, 2011


I struggle with deciding when a piece is finished. Here's one that I feel done with. The piece is titled Molly; it's a digital print mounted on gesso board with encaustic, 36" x 24":

Having finished a piece is a very good feeling. Honestly, it's been a long time coming. The mounting on the gesso board and application of encaustic has brought my work to another level. Up until experimenting with these I was struck with this feeling that my images were never done; I couldn't escape this feeling that they were just digital prints in the end. Something mass-producible. 

Here's a piece that we just shipped to Cincinnati for a group show:

I thought this piece was done. But I am having second thoughts. This piece is about time. I was planning on covering it with encaustic, but the tests I did just didn't feel right. This piece has to have more of a platonic-ideal feeling to it. Something reflective of the human perception of the ceaseless march of time.  I'm starting to feel that the box the prints are mounted on should be a nearly perfect metal. Like the monolith in 2001, a Space Odyssey. I would like to print these on metal and then mount them to a metal box. I want the prints and the box to be as perfectly seamless as possible. 

In the end, this piece will be very different than Molly. Molly is about emotion, specifically love and tenderness. Therefore it needs warmth, and the evidence of how the hands have worked on it should be apparent. The latter piece, in contrast, is not about emotion. It is about the logic of science and the perception of time.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A corporate park in Roseland, N.J.

I pass by a corporate park on my way to my doctor's on Saturdays. The complex is empty; there are no cars parked or visible signs of human life. I find the architecture ominous and impersonal. Yet the buildings are surrounded by an idyllic park and greenery. A river runs through it. People work here. There are human stories behind these impenetrable, impersonal walls.

This Sunday I brought my camera and took some photos of the complex. It was a quiet, brisk, overcast day. At times I heard the sound of birds chirping.

The process was meditative, yet exhausting. This exhaustion happens when I work with a tripod and a tilt/shift lens. There are many choices and adjustments to make: composition, distance from subject, aperture, shutter speed, tilt, exposure. In other words, not much is left to chance.

As I was shooting I became aware of the relationship between the buildings and nature surrounding them.

I then decided to focus on the buildings themselves.

My favorite films and TV revolve around work: the original The Office, The Larry Sanders Show, The Wire, The Sopranos, The French Connection. When work is the central theme of a story, the human condition comes through in a more realized, visceral way. In work we play out the drama of our lives. All of our strengths and insecurities are made apparent when we work.

This series is a conversation about this. I make these buildings look cold and impersonal to contrast that there are flesh-and-blood humans within them, playing out their fates.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

My experience with Michelangelo's Pieta

Once when I was going through a hard time my piano teacher, John Kamitsuka, told me to play and listen to a lot of music. He said, "Music is medicine for the soul." I believe this is true for all of the arts.

Eight years ago Molly and I took a trip to Italy. We spent a few days in Florence, a week and a half in Tuscany, and then finished the trip in Rome.

While we were in Tuscany we got the referral for Lola via email. Sitting in a five hundred year old villa in Tuscany and looking at a photo on a laptop of our soon to be daughter was surreal and beautiful:

In Rome we went to the Vatican. It's a big marvel. The damn thing was designed to scare the shit out of people. Yet in this architectural behemoth there's a subversive heart of sorrow, joy, compassion, and love. I'm writing of Michelangelo's first Pieta:

I was floored when I saw it. I was looking at the corporeal truth of Christianity: A mother's sorrow for her executed son. I witnessed marble transmuted into flesh, and then this flesh transmuted into emotion. In comparison, the posturing of the Vatican looked like the rantings of a spoiled bully. This sculpture speaks to what's behind the veil of Christian doctrine: a murdered son and a mother's sorrow.

This experience has profoundly affected my development as a illustrator, information graphics artist, and fine artist.

Shortly after we got back from Italy I was commissioned by Scientific American to do an illustration/information graphic on how emotional pain and stress affect the human body. In the past I would have drawn a man standing ramrod straight. But I thought about the commission more deeply. This piece was about stress and pain. I asked myself, "What does stress and pain look like?" I would not have been thinking this way if I had not seen the Pieta.

This is what I made:

As a fine artist, my work deals with emotion. Here's a piece I'm currently working on titled Blood Mother. It's a digital print on metal covered in encaustic, 14" x 28":

As I said in a earlier post, my artwork explores my relationship with my mother. Personal rage, sorrow, fear, and love are emotions that I can't fully understand logically and intellectually. For this reason I choose to make art.

I'll end with a photo I took of Molly and Lola a few months ago:

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The similarities between photography, sculpture and information graphics

As I was taking pictures over the weekend it occurred to me that the act of taking a photograph is reductive. The same is true for sculpting with marble.

Look at these two images:
Michelangelo used chisels and hammers to chip into the block of marble in front of him. He chose what to take away. Mark Seliger was in front of a nude woman. He had to choose what length lens to use, what kind of crop, how far he would be from the subject. In short he had to make decisions on what to leave out or what not to do. From infinite possibilities he made this photo.

I respond to information graphics that are reductive. Take one of my favorite graphics by my friend and mentor, John Grimwade:

Because color is meaning in a information graphic John has kept the pallette minimal. He has excluded extraneous detail. One is able to immediately see the relationship between the yellow underground train and its placement on the map above. By keeping things streamlined I'm struck viscerally by the dynamism of the composition. John understands that white is a color. Look at how he uses it for the architectural details of the airport. These are some of the reasons why John is my favorite information graphics artist working today. 

(That diagonal map has always reminded me of this Kazimir Malevich painting:

Talk about reductive.)

Light chips away at darkness. I view darkness as inert mass. When light falls it gives volume to a object by defining its form and edges. We say we are engulfed in darkness, like it is a substance. So the act of lighting something can be considered reductive too.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Imagine safety

I walked into Starbucks this morning. John Lennon's "Imagine" was playing on the sound system. Everyone in the store was smiling.

We've heard the song a million times. Read the lyrics for content:

Imagine there's no Heaven 
It's easy if you try 
No hell below us 
Above us only sky 
Imagine all the people 
Living for today 

Imagine there's no countries 
It isn't hard to do 
Nothing to kill or die for 
And no religion too 
Imagine all the people 
Living life in peace 

You may say that I'm a dreamer 
But I'm not the only one 
I hope someday you'll join us 
And the world will be as one 

Imagine no possessions 
I wonder if you can 
No need for greed or hunger 
A brotherhood of man 
Imagine all the people 
Sharing all the world 

You may say that I'm a dreamer 
But I'm not the only one 
I hope someday you'll join us 
And the world will live as one 

Notice how radical the song is? Ironic it was played incessantly in the 80's.

I can only make change in myself before I can bring about change in the world. When I write world I mean anything outside of myself, including family, our studio, our country, our earth. Gandhi said, "Be the change you want to see in the world."

I started thinking about what is it we want on the most deep fundamental level. I believe that there must be something that unites us all as a species from a emotional perspective. Maybe this is a pipe dream like Einstein's quest for a unified theory. Happiness. Peace. A feeling of safety. Yes, safety is the thing that resonates with me.

I feel safety when I create art. I feel safety trying to be the best possible father and partner I can be. I've had moments of feeling safety when drunk. When I have slipped into bad behavior the root of it is always a need to quell pain. Maybe the absense of pain is a sense of safety. Pain is a warning sign for our biological systems that something is wrong. In other words, that we are not safe.

Is it possible to look at what unites us: a absolute drive for safety? If we used this as a starting point I feel we would be much better off as a species.

In the end my art work is about safety. I only draw women; in my work I recreate a mother I didn't have until my 30's and revisit my past experiences with her. Here's a piece of mine entitled Fractured Mother:

Back at Starbucks I ordered a coffee and noticed a bracelet for sale at the point of purchase. It was for creating jobs in the United States. Five bucks. When you buy one, $35 are given to a organization that helps in job creation. I bought one and put it on. I'm interested in making change through positive actions. Buying this stupid bracelet in a mega corporate café is in line with what I believe. One of the things I am proudest of is that I have created jobs for people here in the studio. That I am involved in their wellbeing makes me feel safe.

A tree in our backyard

With all the writing I've been doing on this blog I have an urge to just post a pretty picture. Here it is:

Monday, November 14, 2011

Springfield avenue

Molly and I took a walk along Springfield Avenue in Union, N.J. yesterday. I brought along my 17mm tilt/shift lens and tripod and took some photos.

This first photo is of a building that catches my eye every time I drive past it on my way back from the studio. It has a brick facade on it's front with vinyl siding on it's flank with these randomly placed mismatched size windows. I've grown very fond of this building and have been wanting to take a photo of it for a while. This was shot in the afternoon and the light isn't quite right. I'll shoot it in the morning eventually.

The next photo reminds me of a triptych I shot of a radiator with the 17mm earlier this year. I have been meaning to start a series based on this radiator. I'm interested in finding the monumental and romantic in the mundane and humble. With the shot below I wish I had placed the camera closer to the ground, but I'm still happy with it:

The final photo is of a house connected to a liquor store. I'm considering reshooting this one too. The lawn getting cut off on the lower left is bugging me:

"They" say you're not supposed to criticize your own work when presenting it. But fuck it; authenticity is something I strive for. In the end I want to make the most beautiful images I can possibly make.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Encaustic progress

This past week, I've been getting to the studio every morning around four a.m. Working with  encaustics has me inspired, energized and excited with my work. Here's what the new stuff is looking like:

Here's one of my pieces up close, followed by a photo of the Maxberg specimen, an archaeopteryx cast:

I've been thinking about paleontology lately. There's a connection between the dinosaur bones I see at the American Museum of Natural History and my new encaustic body work. They are glimmers of what was. But there is a purity and essence to the fossils. The skeletal system is what gives us structure and mobile rigidity. That these fossilized remnants are for the most part the only remains of prehistoric life is poetic. 

The way Giotto's work weathers reminds me of the dinosaur fossils. Frescoes weather and age beautifully, in the same way that the dinosaur fossils are beautiful. 

I've made a distinction between my digital art that is printed and the wax and varnishes I am using. One has been the Platonic ideal, whereas the other has been the messy physical reality of flesh and blood life. But I just had a thought that they may be more related. The varnish is like nature chipping away geologically at dinosaur bones. It is a part of nature. Yet there still is a difference. From a poetic perspective I look at the skeleton as the matrix upon which we are physically built.

The other day the light caught one of my pieces wonderfully. I quickly grabbed my camera and took this snap:

My work is beginning to glow the way I've wanted it to.

Saturday's photos

Yesterday Molly, Lucius, Lola, and I had dim sum in West Orange and then did some errands. The light was beautiful. I brought my camera with me and took these shots throughout the day.

The first four here may be incorporated in the tree and house series I'm working on:

I'm using a longer lens than the one I used for the others I posted last week. So these have a different feeling. More removed and distanced, literally and figuratively.

After dim sum we bit the bullet and bought a new dishwasher. Our old one cleans about 70% of the dirt off the dishes. Being clean is a bit like being pregnant, you either are or aren't. I took this shot in Karl's, the appliance store we went too. Lola and Loosh are in the lower right hand corner:

I'm also working on a out of focus building series. I took this one outside of Karl's:

I feel ridiculous quoting myself. I feel like I can't add yet to what I've already written. Here's what I wrote about the out of focus work in an earlier post:
I'm interested in the connection these have to my body work. There is a connection I feel intuitively. But I've been having a hard time verbalizing it. Both my body work and my architectural work deal with objects that contain something. For the architectural work the thing that is contained is us; people, and our possessions. For the body work it's our emotions, our spirit and consciousness. I'm feeling that the two bodies of work have to do with memories on some levels. Both our bodies and the structures we live in contain us, whether it's our physical body or our emotional body. There's something here about the connection between the tangible and intangible too.