Monday, February 26, 2018

Stuart Shils Answers

After taking a look at this post I recommend looking at Stuart Shils website to see the scope of his work!

glimpses of a summer 40 years ago, reconstructed over a long coffee
12x20 inches
acrylic, collage, paper, graphite, 2018

two french summers
12x20 inches
acrylic, collage, paper, graphite, 2018

1972, how we felt on the beach the next day in the sun after hearing Dizzy Gillespie play outdoors at the Nice festival the night before
acrylic, collage, paper, graphite
12x21 inches, 2018

visiting Avi near Antibe, summer
12x19 inches, 2017
acrylic, collage, paper, graphite

1967, when my brother Larry was at school and we heard the Doors and were already reading Huxley
15x15 inches
acrylic, collage, paper, graphite. 2017.

July 1972, night swimming at Rosh Hanikrah with a beach fire
15x15 inches
acrylic, collage, paper, graphite, 2017

what inspires me 

So many moments hurl themselves in delicious and seductive ways all day long, but it’s mostly what I absorb with eyes, ears and hands, no matter how ordinary. But I can’t really think of anything as ‘ordinary’ because I’m not sure what that means. Ordinary?

Unexpected moods or shapes or combinations of form leap out from every direction, but if I’m distracted by so called ‘real life’ stuff, then I usually miss the ravishing assault of say, a fleeting moment like walking into Carpenters Woods in the morning with my dog, on a cold, cloudy February day and the visual unity of the entire place is the color of a macchiato with a lot of milk and it feels like an all enveloping, sensuous operatic stage set. If I’m thinking about how low my bank account is, I miss it. So I try to live in denial.

1979, two days in Kabul visiting an old friend
acrylic, collage, paper, graphite
12x21 inches, 2017

Personal History

I came to the visual arts very slowly and in a way that was totally unexpected and later than usual. And I was kind of a shocked when it happened.

My grandfather received his Rabbinic ordination before leaving Russia in 1919 and we were a very close family, and he had a beautifully resonant and soulful voice and loved music and often played records and sang when I was at his apartment.

While quite young I was very influenced by liturgical music and sound in general. My parents had lots of records in the house – Broadway shows, Shubert, Opera, Paul Robeson, Beethoven and such and I had my own small record player as a kid and music always made a lot of sense and was all through my teems, my primary obsession, both as a player and as a listener.

I discovered the ‘underground’ at around 12 years old via an important underground radio station in Philadelphia, and began listening to and playing folk music and rock and roll and looking at (which is different from reading) things like the Evergreen Review and magazines that had a lot of visual content. Graphics and images were very high profile in the 60’s in both literary and musical culture.

Also, I grew up on the edge of Chestnut Hill in Philadelphia, an area full of exquisitely romantic Lutyens influenced architecture, and the meanings of and presences of architectural form played a huge roll in the development of my visual and emotional imaginations.

My parents were both children of eastern European immigrants and we were not financially or culturally secure so a life in the visual arts was not something that for any of us was even a remote conceptual possibility.

However, my uncle Zev was a photographer and his fascination with the camera had significant impact on me very early on and after a certain age I always had a camera around. And he’s the one who told me, if you want to be a photographer than you have to go to art school to learn how to see. I was intrigued by this idea of what ‘seeing’ was.

Getting there was an adventure and of course met with a lot of familial resistance, and I took a circuitous and improvisational educational path before arriving in 1977 at the art school now called PAFA, what we used to call The Academy. And I stayed for 5 years, it was an extraordinary experience and just what I needed. Before that I went to architecture school for a few years, and also studied literature and art history and, did several years of night school for commercial design. In total, I was in school for 10 ½ years but have no actual ‘degree’.

Also, when I graduated high school I traveled in Europe and Israel alone, and I was very impressionable visually, in all the best senses and this trip introduced my imagination to the beauties and possibilities of travel as a portal to something else.

As a teenager and young adult, I spent a lot of time in the outdoors hitch hiking, hiking and backpacking in places like the White Mountains, Canadian Rockies and Cape Breton, and was very influenced by people like Muir, Emerson, Thoreau and Whitman. In college, poets like Wallace Stevens and Wordsworth were so important for me. Wordsworth opened huge worlds that connected me to Turner, Constable and Samuel Palmer.

In my first year at college I had the painter Lee Hall for art history and she taught in a way that was object oriented and not academic chronological. And we were very close to New York and I often took the Erie Lackawanna in to go to the MET to do research for papers. The process of sustained looking at paintings really took my head like a kite in the wind, although it was still years before arriving at art school.

5 artsts who turn me on and why

This past year I saw an exhibition of the ceramic artist Stanley Rosen at steven harvey fine art projects in New York and the show knocked me out. They were on the one hand, very modest in size, but at the same time carried an enormous, uncanny power and each one seemed to project an unusual sense of emotional vulnerability.

I have always been fascinated by the drawings of Emily Nelligan. In an art world so full of big, noise, arrogance and pretension, her charcoal drawings on 8 ½ x 11 inch pieces of paper are feasts for the visual imagination and their grip is often so strong that I don’t want to turn away from them.

The work of the English artist Roger Ackling has been of great interest to me since the late 90’s. Here is a guy who sat outside in the sun, burning with magnifying lenses, small marks into found wood from the beach. He wasn’t painting but then again he was or was it sculpture? With Acking there is a Zen like simplicity that at the same time is ironically complex and reminds us of how it’s not about the materials per se as much as how they are handled bty the shape of thought.

The still life paintings of Susan Jane Walp are for me some of the most wonderful contemporary paintings. I am constantly surprised by what she introduces into an approximately 9x9 inch canvas and talk about an extreme and diverse sense of touch. The variation in how the surfaces are handled and how they carry the viewer’s eye, offers the kind of surprise and discovery that are equivalent in a way to the unexpected literary delights we encounter when reading Wallace Stevens.

I have a young friend named Saranoa Mark , she lives in Chicago and is making beautiful and evocative work and I’m intrigued by how she thinks about materials and what her hands do with whatever she’s examining.

what thoughts do I have to turn off in the studio?

Ha, ha, ha, almost all of them. I have carved above the entrance: ‘don’t think’. But the first thoughts I try to turn off are those related to any sense of right and wrong, to other people’s thoughts, to the art world, to what ‘worked’ in the past and, I try to banish any thoughts related to achievement other than simply getting dug in and lost as quickly as possible. Being lost is at this point in my life so important. As I begin work it’s a process of removing all of those thought impediments that are really like toxic waste, by engaging as directly as possible with the process of feeling whatever it is I’m trying to do and by letting the emerging structure of the work inhabit my imagination so that I forget everything else. These days I’m standing over a very wide table and the extended looking down on the work at hand and using my hands on it as much as possible helps to laminate the emerging train of form thoughts about shapes, colors, lines and mood, onto and into my brain which is what I need if I’m going to let it take me away from what I already know.

What do I see from the studio window?

My studio windows are such important companions while I’m in those rooms, much more important for me than listening to NPR. I could write pages about that relationship but really it all exists day to day beyond words and I prefer to live while in there, beyond words. In the primary working space there are four windows, each quite different. almost like four children in a family each with her and his own independent profile. Wherever and whenever I’m looking it’s never the same, depending on the light, the weather, the density of the air, where I’m standing in the room and what my own mood is in the moment. And I love all that variation and it keeps me alive in many ways. Windows have always been like vast portals, almost like reading very deep and hypnotic literature.

I remember an apocryphal story from 1974 when I was doing an influential summer program at PCA in Philly (now UARTS), and while studying with Doris Stafel I really began understanding seeing. I was also living with my folks that summer and late one afternoon I was sitting in my room, gazing with my eyes out the window and luxuriating in a recently emerging engagement with the visual world. And my mother came in and asked what I was doing. This was the 70's and there was a lot of contention in every direction and we were not doing so well generationally. And I said, I'm looking out the window and she said, looking out the window, that's it? Is something wrong? How could i explain to my dear mother that nothing was wrong, but to the contrary, that everything was right.

Windows have been a refuge and salvation for me during my entire life. On all the early report cards from elementary school, repeatedly the teachers wrote, ‘he sits and looks out the window’. Well what did they expect, what was going on in the classroom was deadly boring. So my Mom saw the pattern and was worried about me, but couldn’t really appreciate what splendor and opportunity I had access to through the windows, and still do.


Barb Mowery said...

"Being lost is at this point in my life so important." This is great, Lisa! Thanks for sharing.

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