Friday, February 25, 2011

No Expectations: Giving the Inner Art Critic the Week Off

When was the last time you made art without the contraints of expectations? Without an idea of "where it would go," without any reference to the "right" techniques and approaches, without a "goal" in mind? Do you remember the high of unanticipated success? The way you were able to appreciate things purely, without picking apart tiny flaws or disappointing results here and there? The energy and pure fun of letting the medium work you instead of the other way around?

I'm in the middle of an explosion of this kind of artwork, taking enormous pleasure in my results, appreciating them purely on an "oh that's COOL" kind of level. I know, in the back of my head, that this means something; but right now, I don't feel a need to know exactly what.

Hipstamatic App, CAMERAtan App
and iPhone 3
 It started with encaustic, and continues with it, to a certain extent. I have a lot of experiments going on, but I'm running low on materials so I'm being a little less abandonned with it at the moment. Meanwhile, a few days ago a good friend and fellow photographer reminded me how much fun it is to goof around with my iPhone and its photo apps. We share a particular fascination with an app called Hipstamatic, which approximates a huge host of different film, flash and lens types, mimicking all kind of classic and cult cameras and shooting techniques. (I blogged about Hipstamatic back in June 2010.) We're also both very serious fine art photographers--we both own big honking Nikon DSLRs with all the bells and whistles and know how to use them, along with the usual selection of analog photo equipment in various formats, all of which we are able to command and ride like tired mules.
The Sky Overhead
Hipstamatic App and iPhone 3

Not surprisingly, then, the thing we both like the best about Hipstamatic is its "random" setting--you fire up the app, shake the phone, and a random combination of film, lens and flash fall into place; the only choice left to you is whether or not to "fire" the flash. You don't know what you've gotten until you make the photo and the image "develops." It's a little like Russian roulette with a camera phone. If you are just shooting randomly it's wonderful, but if you're responding to something specific that's making you want to shoot the scene in front of you (like color or shadow or contrast), you might find that thing negated by the random combinations.

Interestingly enough, though, the random mix shot often finds something in the scene in front of you that goes beyond what you saw and responded to with your eyes. And the one thing that seems consistent with every Hipstamatic combination is that it seems to make the most mundane things extraordinary, and infuses the images with a kind of aura that can only be described as otherworldly. The walkway in front of my house becomes a magical portal; a pretty blue sky with fluffy clouds takes on an ethereal monochrome glow.

Hipstamatic App and iPhone 3
I spent a few hours playing with Hipstamatic and making images, then playing with other iPhone filter apps and manipulating them even further. The best thing about it was, I wasn't thinking. I was selecting a filter, hitting "apply" and saying "hey, I like that!" My favorite app for this is a wacky little thing called CAMERAtan. Its effects, available in three different patterns, have names like "Umeboshi" and "Latte." Even better, it also has a "random" option in each pattern. It's a wonderful time-killer and generates some wonderful results.

My other recent obsession, after decades of repeating in a robotic fashion "I am not a painter,"  is oil painting. I started out smearing oil paint on panels and wax as part of my encaustic endeavors; now I'm smearing it on canvases and even sometimes using a brush. I know almost nothing about oil painting, so I'm reacting 100% to what I see when the brush loaded with paint hits the canvas, and I'm learning how to control the brush enough to vary the effect. I'm working very very small right now, 3x5-inch canvases and canvasboard, a couple of 6x9's.
oil on canvas
3x5 inches

I don't know whether what I'm doing looks as cool as I think it does; it's entirely nonrepresentational and abstract, but it has feeling and motion in it, and it's clearly what I need to be doing right now. I'm almost always my own worst critic, but for the moment, I'm giving the critic the week off, and just enjoying doing things that aren't planned to death and then dissected because of my perception of their shortcomings.

oil on canvas
3x5 inches
oil and encaustic on birch panel
8x8 inches

Ground (in progress)
oil on canvas panel
6x9 inches

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