Live Iron Sculpture Casting at Auraria Campus March 10th (my poster)

Iron Pour -molten metal casting performance at UCD, CU Denver March 10 2011There’s an iron pour at UCD, next to the Tivoli, on the Auraria Campus, on March 10th. Tobias Flores, a major figure in contemporary fine art iron casting, will be at CU Denver as a visiting artist, and it should be a memorable event. You can carve a small sculptural mold at any of several workshops during that week, whether you’re a student or not, and your mold will be filled with molten iron when the pour takes place on the tenth.

I made the poster for Rian Kerrane and the UCD College of Arts & Media last week in a rush, using a photograph by Denver artist John Davenport. Seems like it came out ok, for a few hours work.

If you click the image, you should get a larger version that’s relatively readable. In a nutshell: Thursday, March 10th, beside the flagpoles behind the Tivoli. 2-7PM.  Toby Flores will be speaking on the evening of Monday the 7th, at the King Center.  See you there.

With Enough Masks and Tails, I Am All Animals

Gestural ink drawing with elephant & animal-like forms, by Eric WaldemarAll animals indeed. Hmmph. Alright Mr. Shape-changer, how about those dishes? OK, but I’ll be back, and not for the first time.

What is this thing? The minimum standard: is the paper improved by being marked? I think so, yes, I’m sure of it, but I can’t really say why. This kind of nonsense is indefensible, but is no less valuable for all that. The work matters, however modest, and whatever it takes to persuade oneself step in again and again is fine, makes sense, enough.

I’m drawn to the elephant in the image, but elephants are currently a big topic in my life, and it may just be that I’m seeing them everywhere. Oonagh and I spotted one recently under my parents’ couch (a pink one) By ruling out other possibilities, we had previously figured out that the elephant we keep hearing at home resides in the oven. It keeps waking me up. Pffffft!

Hi, I’m your “Grader”: The Dehumanized University

Oilstick monotype by Eric Waldemar, Bewigged magistrate figure? Tent?

Everyone says they hate to judge other people, but for many people, that’s obviously untrue. I really can’t stand it, though. I’ve been grading almost continuously for weeks, for five different university classes, only one of which I’m actually teaching. What hurts is that I’m obliged to judge people’s ideas in a way that discourages insight and rewards obedience more than engagement.  Read more

InkPainter for iPhone: The Appeal of “Simulated” Ink & Brush Drawing

abstract inky scrawl made with InkPainter, an iPhone drawing appHaving sniped in a recent post about the way that Photoshop opens graphic possibilities, but impairs decisive intention and clarity of mind, I thought I’d now play devil’s advocate to myself, looking at how even low-tech “digital painting” has substantial rewards. It’s true that there’s no substitute for ink and a brush, but in the right context, an enjoyable fake can be just the thing.

I spend a fair bit of time with tools like Photoshop and Corel Painter, but in recent days, I’m more excited about painting on my iphone with a tool that’s not all that far from a toy. Read more

Digital Tools for the Timid, Ink for the Brave

Black ink and brush, 3 drawings in one by Eric Waldemar

When an ink-filled brush touches paper, it might or might not lead to something thrilling, but there’s no turning back. One pauses, settles the mind, limbers the fingers, and then the process begins. It can go wrong, and a lot of the time it does. That first mark redefines the situation on the paper, and the next mark responds to the first, in a process that combines intention and intuition at every moment. Too long a pause, or too controlling an intention, and the poor thing dies on the page. Begin again. In any case, the moment comes when one has to either touch the brush to paper or put it away. In an instant, it comes to life, or the paper is spoiled.

I can sum up the main difference between physical media like ink drawing and digital tools like Photoshop in one word: “Undo.” (In other words, Ctrl/Cmd-Z”.) With black ink, there is no undo, no trying it 10 ways and then deciding which one works best. One has to actually take a chance, and act with the possibility of failing.

As for the image: “Less Than Three, 3, More Than Three.” Someone has to finally tell the truth about what the number three  really is, what it means, and it’s not going to be me. I merely mean to draw attention to the question. Oh, come on.  Really. It’s a trace of a passing moment with brush in hand, spinning out some little chain of rhythm and un-named form. Nothing more, but I like it enough that I’ve kept it around for a long time. The title is silly, comes later, and mostly serves to amuse me (and act as a mnemonic device – oh, yes, that drawing.)

Let’s not get carried away with mystifying the process of art-making, but on the other hand, let’s not forget that when it works, it’s like something fell out of the sky. An inky brush touching paper defines commitment and captures spirit in the moment. If every gesture can be undone with a click, a magic process becomes a merely graphic one. Sometimes. Take this rant with a grain of salt, from someone who uses a wide range of tools, physical and digital.

How’s Yr Latte?

What a night in Egypt, again. Makes my aesthetico-narcissism seem a bit small. Grateful that I don’t have to risk my life to speak, and it makes my feel like speaking about more than fussiness, brushwork, and memory. Read more

Brakhage, Buddhism, & the Difficulty of Sustained Attention

One reason I’m grateful for the years I spent immersed in Stan Brakhage’s films is the insight it’s given me into the nature of my own mind. This is also, of course, the central topic of Buddhist practice, and last night after Suranjan Ganguly’s monthly Brakhage screening at CU Boulder, I was talking with Homare Ikeda about how watching Stan’s films mirrors certain aspects of Buddhist meditation practice.

In Brakhage’s abstract hand-painted films especially, each individual frame is important. Though one can’t individually analyze each of the 24 very different frames that might shower onto one’s retina in a busy second, each frame, in relation to adjacent ones, contributes to the churning motion and intricate rhythms that make these movies, at their best, uniquely moving and powerful.

One knows this, that every moment counts, yet everyone who knows this body of work well is also familiar with a kind of sensory exhaustion that comes and goes as one watches. The level of attention that these films require really can’t be sustained continuously for an hour straight. The mind drifts for a moment, and the eye, involuntarily, takes a rest. One sinks for a moment into inward, often wordless, thoughtfulness. This moment of quiet mind is itself a gift, a difficult state to attain amidst the frenzy of daily life and obligation.

On the other hand, one often “wakes up” to realize that one’s mind has inadvertently shifted,  has drifted from concentration on the filmic moment into background chatter. Plans for the next day, cranky resentments, memories, errands to run. The urgency of moment-to-moment attention in Brakhage’s work makes these startled moments of awakening exceptionally intense, even alarming, like nodding off at the wheel of a fast-moving car. Bringing attention back, one is once again immersed in the texture, spark & tumble of Brakhage’s painted imagery. A moment, or a minute, or two, has passed during one’s absence.

Every Buddhist sect and lineage begins (and perhaps ends) with meditation practices that force one, again and again, to become aware of the wandering, chattering nature of ordinary, daily, busy mind. Whether one is focused on one’s own breath, a mantra, a tangka image of a deity, or a rhythmic Tibetan chant, the taming of one’s own undisciplined mind is the underlying project, and becoming aware of it is the first step.

The experience of meditation is related to watching a great hand-painted Brakhage film in this regard at least: One is reminded again and again of the limits of one’s attention. By learning to focus attention on purpose, we come to more clearly perceive our own minds and actions. To get there, though, requires that essential first insight, the realization that one is not actually fully aware. That one can be more so, and that the reward for that effort is, among other things, a richer, more vivid life, all the time.

“Devotees” of Stan Brakhage’s films and related experimental cinema are an odd breed, and one thing they share is a mind that they’ve conditioned by long practice to be capable of sustained attention, to a degree that few outside of spiritual disciplines even aspire to. As with other sects, cults, and conversions, most people in this crowd have a story about how they stumbled in and somehow got initiated into this profound and demanding body of work. I have mine.

Melody Has No Topic

Abstraction gleaned from damp streets by artist Eric WaldemarThe thing is, this tune isn’t really about anything I can put my finger on. I enter the world not knowing what I’ll find, and it never turns out as I’d anticipated. I certainly wasn’t looking for velvety, gleaming geometries, but if you assume something’s out there waiting, something always turns up.

Arranging things in a space, sorting the continual rush of image into a snatch of rhythm, one trusts one’s tools and impulses, and when things go well, it’s one wonder after another. So much thought and practice goes into it, years and years, but when the shift happens for a little while, one is sometimes a little distant, a little dumb. Whatever sophistication one has, seeps in anyway, and the work improves when the judge stops watching.