Saturday, March 31, 2012

On process

I got back from Spain a week ago. This is what greeted me at the studio:

It's good to be surrounded by my work again. I was afraid that when I got back I wasn't going to be happy with the work. This wasn't the case. I've been doing a lot of staring, mulling, writing, and reading. This is my least favorite part of the process; I'm naturally restless. I have to force myself to slow down. There are so many possible directions I can follow it makes my head spin.

So far, the direction that interests me most is that of this piece:

There's a mystery to it I find appealing. It's process derived, composed of twelve printed layers of organza bound together by encaustic mounted to a 12" x 12" panel. Here's what the individual images look like:

The pose of the figure is based on the Virgin Mary in this painting by da Vinci:

Here's what the posed figure looks like in my digital 3-D software:

I'm thinking of doing a series on the Virgin Mary, basing the poses on older paintings and sculptures. From a mythological perspective her story is powerful: her son murdered for the sake of humanity. I might look at Michelangelo's Pieta in the Vatican next for inspiration once again. I'm curious what she will look like without the dead body of Jesus in her arms.

From one perspective, this work is about my currently nonexistent relationship with my mother. It's something I am sad about. But this is the best I can do for now, deal with it through my art.

On stopping time

Thirty second exposure of a palm tree swaying

We live in motion. And without time there would be no motion. Everything moves, trembles, vibrates. Depth perception isn't possible without motion. In working in print we are in effect stopping motion. By stopping a subject in time we are able to study it more intently and get clarity on the subject. If motion is the norm, what is special about making an information graphic interactive and full of movement?

While at Malofiej20, I was asked what I thought the future of information graphics would be. Here's my answer. (The first ten seconds of the video are in spanish.)

Friday, March 30, 2012

More thoughts on M20

I'm starting to quiet down internally about the Malofiej20 awards. As I replay it in my mind I realize I wouldn't have voted differently. It was hard being accused of being biased and judging unfairly. I take these kinds of criticisms to heart.

I'm left with a lot of questions after my experience at M20. How do I vote from an objective point of view? Is it possible? Is it even worth trying to? The actual definition of an information graphic is a moving target. In fact, I've spent most of my career as an information graphics artist doubting whether or not I in fact do information graphics. I now know what I do is in fact information graphics. I explain things.

To be clear, I'm not writing about my fine art now.

I'm a western male, I only understand english. I have strong opinions aesthetically. And I'm judging graphics from around the world. How am I supposed to judge a map produced in China or Brazil? The aesthetics are completely different from my own. Frankly, the chinese characters look ugly to my eye. I grew up in New York. I've read and looked at the NYT my whole life. There's a certain comfort I experience when I see a NYT graphic. Does this make me biased?

I know that the New York Times piece about Guantanamo Bay that won best in show wouldn't have won if it had been in any language other than English or Spanish. What does this say? Do we need a more varied multi-cultural jury? Should there be more explanations written on the pieces that aren't in English?

Juan Velasco, the art director of National Geographic, wrote a beautiful, impassioned email to the judges about his concerns about the state of information graphics. He'll be (hopefully) posting an edited version of it on his upcoming blog. Once it's up I will link to it.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

On Willem de Kooning

My friend, Jim Angell, lent me a wonderful book, "Willem de Kooning: Collected Writings."

It's a tiny book, about 3" tall, filled with terse, gem-like, declarative statements. Here are some lines that jumped out at me:
Being anti-traditional is just as corny as being traditional.
For de Kooning it's not about style or subject matter. He's just concerned with the act of painting. He looks at Rembrandt the with the same eye he looks at Pollock.
If the picture has a countenance, I keep it. If it hasn't, I throw it away.
I want to embrace this quote. It sounds so simple written out, but these words are deep. I have so many pieces I hold onto that don't have a countenance. It's time to do some editing.
... I would like to ask Mondrian if he was so clear. Obviously, he wasn't clear, because he kept on painting.
Painting is about trying to find clarity. And from this quote I take it that de Kooning felt that one will never be completely clear as an artist.
Talk, good or bad, it doesn't make any difference—it's an experience.
Whoa, smoke on that one. Everything for de Kooning is about experience, not content.
I don't give a damn about the fish. It's the water... I try to paint it...
He's looking at the whole picture. It's the big statement that is important to him, not the details necessarily.
In art, one idea is as good as another. 
This quote reminds me of the first one I mention. It's not about the idea, it's about the damn painting and the experience one has witnessing it.

Jim Angell, my friend who lent me the book is a wonderful artist himself. Here are a couple of his paintings:

Astrid, 30" x 20", oil on canvas

Stella, 30" x 20", oil on canvas

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Creative Quarterly winner

I'm happy to announce that one of my fine art pieces has been chosen as a winner for the Creative Quarterly's fine art competition. The piece will be published in issue 27, due out on newsstands summer 2012.

Another fine art piece and one of my photos (!) were chosen as runners up. They will be appearing on CQ's website.

All of the winners were asked to contribute a photo that represents something they draw inspiration from. One of these photos will be chosen for the cover image. Here's what I supplied:

The subject is a reproduction of a standing Venus that's at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. This photo happened by accident. I set my aperture to 1.2 so I would get a really narrow depth of field and clicked away without checking my shutter speed. What I saw in the preview of my camera surprised me; the image was blown out. Not my intention. Once I got over the initial surprise I realized I liked what I was seeing and began taking more pictures with intentionality. I've posted about fortunate mistakes before.

Much of what inspires me comes from ancient Greek and Roman art. But lately I've been drawn to later art. Recently I read something DeKooning wrote, "I always felt the Greeks were hiding behind their columns." I laughed when I read this. It affirmed something I've been feeling about this ancient art. It's a little too removed emotionally for what I want to communicate.

Here's the piece that won:

And here are the runners up:

Monday, March 26, 2012

My visual definition of information graphics

Eighty-one professionals were asked to create a visual definition of information graphics for a book that was published by the Society of News Designers EspaƱol.

When I was asked to do this, I froze. Talk about a blank canvas staring you in the face. An information graphic about an information graphic. How meta! My initial ideas involved illustrating the process of going from complexity to simplicity. I considered taking a photo of downtown NYC and then creating a 3-D rendering of the same area with one building highlighted in blue. Lame. One thing my father taught me is to throw out the first idea you come up with; it's usually too simple or surface oriented.

I continued to agonize over the assignment. I felt more and more that the only way to define an information graphic was through words. What are words anyway but organized collections of letters? And what are letters but symbols composed of abstract lines and geometric shapes?

Here's what I came up with:

After the judging at Malofiej20 I'm not sure I would say that an information graphic must have annotations or words though. There was an entry by National Geographic that was a reconstruction of a primitive man's face. The general consensus was that it wasn't an information graphic. I argued that it was— it was a visual that informed the reader of a possible facial structure of our ancestors. I said that there was a science to these reconstructions. Someone then said that they would feel it was an information graphic if it was annotated. At the time I agreed. I've since changed my mind. In hindsight I wish I had stuck to my guns on this one.

To prove my point, this is my favorite information graphic:

It's a color wheel developed by Johannes Itten. I use it all the time. Complementary colors are opposite one another. It shows how the primary colors mix to make the secondary and tertiary colors. It's informative and extremely useful.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Jaime Serra at M20

There were about fifteen presentations during the M20 conference. One stands out in my mind. It was Jaime Serra's "Infographics Can't Be Art, But Art Can Be Infographics." I have the chills just thinking about the presentation. In fact, presentation isn't the right word. It was a performance.

I've always struggled with the connection between my fine art and information graphics. Witnessing Serra's performance was revelatory. It validated my inner feelings about art and information graphics.

Jaime Serra
Serra is an imposing figure, over six feet tall, with a shaved head and a burning look in his eyes. Carl De Torres whispered in my ear when Serra came on stage, "He looks like a movie star."

Serra sat down, turned all the lights off, started some music and began reading essays of his that have been published in La Vanguardia since 2010. A slide show accompanied his reading. The topics were diverse, from female genital mutilation to road maps to smoking cigarettes to William S. Burroughs. We were witnessing performance art that included quantifiably logically understood information. It was a mindfuck to say the least. To include the scope and emotional context of art with information was, for me, miraculous.

Unfortunately for English speakers, Serra only writes and speaks in Spanish. But even hearing the translation through tinny headphones, the power of his insights were something I viscerally experienced.

The title of his talk, "Infographics Can't Be Art, But Art Can Be Infographics" brings to my mind the Sistine Chapel. Now this is the peak of Western art. And it conveys much information about Christian beliefs. In fact, one could make an argument that most, if not all, Christian (or religious) art is informational. Does all art have an aspect of informational communication? Maybe. On a base level everything we experience is informational. Emotions are are comprised of units of information that have evolved to elicit behaviors that help us survive.

I ran up to him after his performance and exclaimed in a horrid accent, " ¡Gracias, Gracias!" pounding on my chest. He smiled and said, "Thank you."

Outside I was still reeling from the performance. Serra approached me. We spoke through an interpreter. I gushed. And he was really happy to hear that I experienced what I experienced. He was nervous that people in the room weren't getting it.

His performance has changed me. It has changed how I feel about information graphics. It has changed how I look at art.

Initial thoughts on Malofiej20

Malofiej20 is over.

A chip used for the judging process

I arrived home yesterday afternoon, went to bed immediately and woke up twelve hours later.

M20 was a wonderful, exhausting experience. I feel invigorated and inspired. I'm looking forward to getting back to work. I learned a hell of a lot and can't wait to apply this to the studio's work.

What I got most out of this week was the connection and camaraderie I experienced with the other thirteen jurors. I've made some very good friends.

The process of eliminating and choosing graphics was a little easier than I expected. In general there was clear agreement. There were quite a few pieces that I felt deserved gold that others wouldn't even consider for bronze though.

a snap-shot of the jury process

The hardest thing was the announcement of the gold winners at the end of the conference. The New York Times cleaned up, winning seven golds. National Geographic won one, and a Brazilian interactive graphic by Internet Group de Brasil won a gold.

When the golds were announced the audience didn't seem particularly thrilled. We got some heated and pointed comments. Apparently this is the standard refrain because the NYT and Nat Geo win most of the golds. We need to inspire the community. And if two publications are consistently winning the golds I feel something is a little off. Maybe we need to judge more with an eye to what resources the publications have. I know this is how the Society of Publication Designers do things; they separate categories for regional, national and world publications. At Pamplona there's no real division, and we're told to award golds completely at our own discretion. The entries are divided by region and circulation, but once the initial elimination round is over we are judging the pieces on their own. I think one way to adjust things is to have a mandatory gold award for each section based on circulation.

That said, the NYT and Nat Geo outshone everything on the tables. When you consider the resources they have at their disposal it makes complete sense. Rather than resenting the NYT and Nat Geo, I wish people would look to this as a chance to get some inspiration. Let's look at how the NYT and Nat Geo do things. Look at the philosophy behind how they make graphics. They are at the vanguard. We need to learn lessons from them. We shouldn't copy what they are doing, but learn from the rigor behind what goes into the graphics.

Aesthetically speaking I would like to see more wild graphics winning gold. The aesthetics of the NYT is very quiet. Nat Geo is pretty quiet too. Most of the louder graphics I saw were poorly designed and confusing though.

I would also like to see more illustrated graphics winning gold. But we didn't see many illustrated graphics that shined.

The people organizing the event treated us like royalty. We had amazing, meat drenched meals. I want to make a special shout out to the interns. They were wonderful. Their job was a bit like herding cats, and they managed to do it with grace.

four of the many interns who made the event run smoothly

Sheila Pontis, the president of the jury did a wonderful job keeping us on track and preventing fist-fights from breaking out. She's basically an academic, and felt a bit out of her element. But her perspective was very much appreciated and kept us moving forward. She also helped in the translation from Spanish to English often.

Sheila Pontis, president of the jury

I have a lot more to say about Malofiej20, but I need to do some more digesting before writing on it. Look for more posts about it soon.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

More from Pamplona

The judging is going well here in Pamplona. We should be finished up by Wednesday morning. There have been some very interesting discussions that I'll go into more detail once the winners are announced. Here are some more shots from around the hotel we are staying at:

Monday, March 19, 2012


I'm in Pamplona, Spain, judging and speaking at the information graphics conference Malofiej. I will post more in depth on the conference later. For now, here are some photos I've taken by the hotel we are staying at:

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Reaching mother

I worked on this piece this morning:

It's composed of twelve images printed on organza bound by encaustic.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Three figures inspired by Fra Angelico

I made this on Saturday:

I'm interested in getting more than one figure in my work. I've been looking at a lot of Fra Angelico's Annunciations. The geometric relationship between the angel and Mary is beautiful.

His colors also blow me away. There's a modernism I see in Fra Angelico's work. There is something very mysterious in his composition and color that I respond to. I want my work to be mysterious yet at the same time viscerally familiar.

Two photos

Saturday was a beautiful day. I took these two shots:

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Working in color with encaustic

I made these pieces over the last two days:

I'm experimenting with adding pigment to the encaustic. So all the color you see is in the encaustic: all the prints are in black and white. I'm happiest with the last two pieces above. These all feel rough and unrealized now. But I'm interested in the direction they are going in. Yet again, I may love them tomorrow.

Friday, March 9, 2012

A new piece in the works

I'm working on the following piece:

I tried a different technique with the encaustic; I buffed it down to a smooth glossy finish after it cooled. I'm growing less concerned about depicting a recognizable body. Yet the forms have the feeling of being related to the human form.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Two shots with the 200 mm

I took these two yesterday:

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A new piece wants to be larger

I mounted this piece on MDF board this morning:

After stepping back to look at it I realize I want this guy much larger. Currently he measures 15" across. I'd like to make the piece about 40" across. I'd like the viewer to feel like they are looking into some kind of energetic full scale mirror.

I'll apply encaustic to this smaller piece. I've been having some difficulties with the encaustic on the paper I'm using. The paper is porous, so the wax literally seeps into the paper in places as I warm it up. I think I need to apply something to seal the paper before I put the wax on. I want the sealant to be as invisible as possible; I'm really happy with the interplay between the velvety paper and the smooth wax on top.

On a side note, I broke my ass last night. I woke up around 1 am, was headed downstairs to the kitchen when I slipped, landed on my ass and proceeded to bump my way down the stairs ass-first. Needless to say sitting is extremely uncomfortable. Luckily I stand at my computer.

Two more early morning shots

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Early morning shots

I took these two shots early this morning: