In college, it was implied by some professors and stressed by the art world culture to find a style, or even more specifically, a schtick. For writing and research assignments I had to filter through countless contemporary artists who had a cute coiffured little herd of marketable recognizable work. They had a distinct brand.
A regulated, and unwavering style is a great way to make a brand and move work, especially if it fits nicely in contemporary culture. creating work like this, however, makes it harder to produce powerful significant relevant art in the long run. Over time, a stagnant style turns stale and brackish.
By no means am I saying one should not make consistent work, or meta reference. It's a strength to be able to make multiple pieces which dove-tail neatly with one another and hark back to past work. Though the ability to make a cohesive series can be strongly related to the ability to turn on a dime and deviate. I do not reference the sporadic college freshman who throws out unrelated random paintings that all vary in quality and polish. I reference an artist that decisively moves and navigates to new realms ever expanding their oeuvre.
This is the artist I strive to be. I wish for my bodies of work to be visualized like a map of city states connected by strong trading routes. Unique entities with purpose but all are connected and inform one another.
Idaho Banners: An Exploration Into Iconic Plants, Animals, and Landscape of the High Desert and the Central Batholiths.
A while back I wrote about some of my flag designs with the interest of eventually changing the Idaho State flag. While this goal still stands; I used some of the first flag designs as a base for my most recent project: An attempt to depict/represent iconic regions of Idaho following design rules realized in the Sage Grouse tail and Pronghorn skull flags.
I now have six completed Idaho Banners, each one capturing and representing distinct regions of the state.
Left to right, going down: Banner for Northern Idaho's lakes and Idaho's Trout and Salmon - Banner for the lava flows of Hells Half Acre and Craters of the Moon - Banner for the Owyhee Canyonlands - Banner for the River of No Return Wilderness - (last two) Banners for the Snake River Plain / High Desert.
I am choosing to call this project complete, for now, while acknowledging Northern Idaho is not represented as much as the southern and central parts of the state. Perhaps at a later date I'll see it prudent to add more banners which are more specific to Northern Idaho.
I do not see these banners as pieces to hang on a wall or regular pieces of fine art. Their value isn't the actual piece of paper but the form itself. their true potential is to be used as signifiers of identity. Say if someone was raised in a city on the Snake River Plain they would have the Pronghorn, or Sage Grouse Tale flag on a favorite jacket: or if Someone loves to hike in the River of Not Return Wilderness, they would put that banner on the rear window of their car in the form of a vinyl decal.
A goal of mine was to make banners/designs people of Idaho can use to more accurately define themselves. I wanted to make banners people of Idaho can rally under.
A month ago I began asking people I found on Instagram if I could use their photographs as references for watercolor paintings. Since I just completed my goal of ten paintings I'd like to look back at the whole experience.
I chose people who took photos of the Intermountain or Pacific Northwest. I also looked for people who seemed open to exploring the avenues and routes their work created. I chose places which I had previously visited as well as places I have yet to physically experience. Every vantage point, however, was new to me. Initially I was afraid of rejection and apathy but generally I received enthusiastic responses and I met some very interesting people because of these paintings.
When painting the actual pieces I never wanted to make exact copies of the photograph. Not only would it have been futile, the work would capture far less nuance and intrigue. I saw the paintings and the whole project turn into collaborations with the photographers and with the landscape, as well.
From MRI scans we know that our brains light up differently when viewing paintings and photographs. Those studies and this project affirm to me painting and photography have unique places in our visual vocabulary. In my own art making I see these two mediums functioning as complements.
View all ten in my portfolio
Can art stand alone without any support? can art cut ties with the environment it was created in?
Not only do I think it's impossible to critique art in a vacuum, I also think it does everyone a disservice. I am not saying there isn't room to discuss an artwork's formal qualities: how the artist handled the brush, the quality of materials used. . . etc. I'm saying every work of art is fused with the environment it was created in and a critique will be greatly lacking if it does not acknowledge and include these connections.
When I travel back to places which hold great significance in my formative years; funny things happen to the perception of time. Years pass in between the morning and evening of a long hiking day. Packing up for a camping trip was a lifetime ago. Memories from my childhood and teenage years, however, are not yet passed. Sometimes I can catch a glimpse of seven year old Seth walking down the trail.
Current time is already a memory while long passed moments are still happening.
The painting Honeyopal Bear is the true start to the 30 60 90 series of paintings. It bridges the gap between the pieces of my late school work which used a 90 degree angled motifs regularly with the paintings completed in 2016 onward. Honeyopal bear paired the solid but stiff 90 degree angle with its much more dynamic siblings.
With the active equilateral triangle at play, rectangular object responds to the movement instead of remaining completely steadfast. Not unlike active life and resting death.
Other motifs made possible with the use of the equilateral triangle, like the hexagon, serves multiple purposes. An active shape as well as a representation of the honey/wealth of the bee. The border is obstructed by the bear skull and aligns with the postorbital process and sagittal crest which suggests the bears takeover of the honey.
The bear skull is endowed with an opal. A symbol of sovereignty and power. The honey hexagon is bordered by red and simplified trillion cut garnets, a significant gemstone for Idaho. One last garnet is placed below the bee representing her sting.
Many of the visual elements to Honeyopal Bear can be seen in following paintings. Look for iconic animal skulls, Idaho Gemstones, bright clashing color, and angles relating to the equilateral triangle.
I remember talking to a glass artist who made cold cut crystal sculptures. The sculptures themselves pleased the eye and sparkled with refracted light. However, he finished the conversation with a school of thought which I consider to be incredibly lazy and boring. He told me his work "means whatever you think it means"
I suspect he is lying. I suspect he does actually have a thesis but I can't give him credit for a suspicion. Ironically his work now brings up ideas of dullness and lack of stimulating theory. I doubt he intended his platitudes to conjure up feelings of such mundanity.
I do not try to remove the viewers desire or ability to project personal meaning onto a work. In fact, I think it can endear the viewer to an artwork when they see a part of their story in the meanings set by the artist. It gives the viewer a chance to relate with the artist and it gives the artist a chance to open up. When an artist does not open up and risk vulnerability, he/she alienates the viewer.
I know developed personal stories have always encouraged viewers to delve further into my paintings. Go ahead and make your own stories too. Partner them up with mine. Add yourself to the work with respect and acknowledgement to what came before.
I look to past and contemporary artists I admire. Many of them share a common thread. An ability and desire to draw from their surroundings and experiences as a foundation for their work. For me, this means focusing on what is passed over by others and deemed as inferior or undesirable which I know to be deserving of much more recognition. A goal of mine is to take what is ignored and give it a proper space, to give it regard.
There are uncountable breathless, incredible things in this world. I don't feel the need to depict most of them in my own creations for two main reasons: I either do not have adiquate personal experience with a particular place or thing, or the entity in question has plenty of spokespeople.
I am fascinated by the landscapes and wildlife of New Zealand, but I have never even been to New Zealand so I have no unique paradigm. I also love Yellowstone and the Tetons which are relativley short drives from where I grew up. I have spent considerable time in these areas but Yellowstone and the Tetons have countless talented people paying homage to them already.
I look to motifs which deserve just as much recognition as the Teton Range or Old Faithful but have not recieved nearly as much attention.
I could paint the Tetons. There would be short term reward because the average person is already conditioned to see their worth, but in the long run I think artists who have come before me have said enough. I rather look to places and things which still have great sums of poignancy to be explored.