An explosion of light comes crackling through the branches as a trumpet Lilly heralds the dawning of a new age. Below, crumbling idols are the vestiges of the old, and above, the trees’ vibrant greens are the fountains of the new. Yet while the reason of the new age supersedes the superstition of the old, it is built on what came before. Roots tread a fine line between absorbing age-old wisdom from the ancient rocks that they depend on for support, and breaking apart their decaying remnants. The flower carries within it a potent symbol of the new age, its stamens poised to pollinate the world with the new science of medicine that has doubled lifespans within merely a handful of generations.
In the summer between my junior and senior year at college I had the easiest job I’ve ever had. I was the “Gallery Guard” at the Wriston Art Center at Lawrence University in Appleton, WI. My responsibilities included using a handheld clicker to count the number of visitors, and making sure that nobody touched any of the art. Sometimes I didn’t have to reach for the clicker all day. Honestly the toughest part of the job was not falling asleep, a requirement that was made even harder by the fact that I had carried over a very comfortable armchair from a nearby frat house to the art center for myself to sit on all day. Afternoons were the hardest to get through.
“Ultrasound” my latest painting, has been an exercise in channeling group creativity through my facebook page. Almost every idea in it’s development was contributed by people through comments on photos of the unfinished canvas. I often say that my best work is a result of happy accidents along the way – changes in direction that are inspired by elements of the image as I put them down on canvas. Having others chime in on the series of Rorshach tests that span my process expands the creative input significantly. It’s not that I’m relinquishing control, I still have final say on what gets incorporated – “I’m the Decider” 😉 – but this way I’m the curator of a much larger pool of ideas that may not necessarily be my own. Plus, it’s always fun (and funny) to see what images are conjured up in other people’s minds when they look at something nebulous.
Under African Skies, Joe Berlinger’s documentary about the making of Paul Simon’s Graceland album, opened in New York and Los Angeles this week, and I was lucky enough to get to see it twice. The film is exhilarating and heartwarming as it explores the cultural phenomenon of one of the greatest albums ever made, and the stories of the South African musicians who played both on the album and the world tour that followed. Even if it merely focused on the music, it would still blow away any documentary about the making of an album, but it also has another, more potent, layer. It is entirely framed within a political argument that was seething at the time – an argument that as a child of the 80s, I was blissfully unaware of when I first grew to love the music on the record. I want to break with my usual musings on my own art to discuss my thoughts on the film in this post. Warning: spoilers below, if you have not seen the film please, please, go see it – it is absolutely wonderful.
I was recently invited to join some incredibly talented artists and musicians at Conception III. Since it’s a group show, there’s limited wall space for my paintings and most of them won’t fit, so rather than just put one or two up, I decided to try to get some new, smaller works ready in time. I’ve had a few smaller canvasses that had been abandoned lying around, and this was one of them: an improvisation that went nowhere – originally titled “Improv in F”.
Since my grandmother passed away recently, my folks have been clearing out her old apartment and finding closets full of art supplies – pristine boxes of oil paints, bundles of brushes, and a number of rolls of canvas. There were also two stretched canvases – I decided to tackle one of them while I was visiting family for two weeks in Bombay. The painting ended up being a perfect example of the way I love to develop my compositions.
Been having a bit of an obsession with red recently. After painting a wall in my apartment burgundy, I had a bunch of leftover paint, so that’s how I began this canvas. It’s a big one – 5 feet long, 4 feet high.
It’s been a few years since I painted Sensuality and I’ve always wanted to create more works in that slimy soft style. That was the original idea with this one but I decided to go with red instead of orange as the base. The female form in Sensuality emerged after an improvisation, but for this one I decided to chalk some in from the start and work around them. As you can see from the photos I took as it was progressing, at the start the figures were much more loosely defined and distorted. But as the composition started to fill in, I began to have more fun with creating better defined female forms so I just went with it. The painting ended up racier that I had originally intended too…not that that’s a bad thing.
The saxophone player and bassist in this painting emerged in a very rough form after a hurried improvisation, only to be abandoned for more than year. When I took it up again I had a very specific concept I wanted to get down on the canvas.
“The Quartet” is an attempt to visually depict how the average listener perceives a live band. The solo instrument – in this case the saxophone – is the object of focus for the listener, and hence is rendered in crisp detail. Things get fuzzier when you move beyond it. The bass is definitely there … prominent, but not particularly clear – almost a silhouette. The piano is far away in the background, really faint, hard to make out. It really is all about that saxophone. Didn’t even realize there was a fourth musician.
Toccata is one of my earliest works, and also one of the largest canvases I have ever attempted. It was started and completed on a dreary winter Saturday in 1994 and hasn’t really been touched much since. While I love it conceptually, I’ve never been completely satisfied with the execution of it, and to be honest I’m a bit embarrassed by how raw it is – never had a chance to refine or clean up the rough edges at the time, and it’s a bit too late now.
Here’s a painting seventeen years in the making!
I stretched the canvas myself in 1995 and created what could only be described as a juvenile homage to Dali’s landscapes. It really was quite awful and I only saved it because it seemed like a waste to throw away such a massive canvas. In the early 2000s, I decided to start working on it again. The photo on the right was taken just before I started, so you can see what it looked like originally (and you can see my cat peeking out from behind it). I blanked out vast sections of it, kept some parts like the black mask, a couple of fish, the sky and the stereo, then abandoned it.
Copyright © 2015 Shirzad Khusrokhan. All rights reserved.