Through Concentrated Breath

making images from memory

The Constant Flow

21 September 2017 by Rey Armenteros

The way I’m presenting the work online might run into organizational confusion. For example, I’ve been showing older paintings in various places, but I am currently selling prints related to my newer work. And this newer work is not the most recent work. My Tumblr is showing work from my time in Shinchon, Korea starting from first to last, and my Instagram is showing the same work from last to first. This blog shows work as it comes up in my thoughts, and I am currently making work absolutely no one has ever seen.

In presenting my work, I am not trying to confuse. I should inoculate the madness with a little order. I should come up with that game plan that’s going to put my work in the best light.

But life is complicated. A career in art is just as complicated (and confusing), and there are no set standards to such careers. I’m putting this stuff out as best I can, in the order that it occurs to me, and it may make sense to do it otherwise, but I don’t know how.

No regrets.

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What Merits Reside in Complication

03 September 2017 by Rey Armenteros

Complication never assisted any form of art – but I simply can’t help it. When I make art, I not only shape the essentials of whatever it is I’m trying to draw or paint but I explore for details that create complications. I invent things, drawn objects that may not have a name because I only placed them in the image because it felt right, like some control box on a brick wall that has pipes leading away from it on the edge of an alley away from the real focus of the image: a figure holding onto a handkerchief weeping melodramatically. When I post art in my various online sites, I elaborate. I seek the longest path. If there’s a way to make things richer, the fascination of such diverse possibilities would lure me down that rabbit hole — the one that might eventually have my viewers scratching their heads to understand what it is I’m trying to say with my art.

But in my view, not only could a painting be complicated, it could show off a dozen textures, meticulous details that I incorporated that I had not identified (since I placed them in because they felt right rather than because they represented something). That one particular painting might then be related to several other paintings in ways that were obvious, to me. And so, I group them together hoping that the viewer can find the narrative thread between them.

Then, I might write about such work and use the opaque language of sincerity “to try” to get the right message across, rather than a pithy verbal point of connection that merely made sense. In recent descriptions of such images, I would use such terms as Shinchon Color and hellfire art, dark drawing and abstract landscape.

I don’t know what all these peripheral matters would mean to a prospective viewer, but as a working artist, I might be shooting myself in the foot. Successful art is nothing if not simple. It is the shortest path to the eye, and therefore the mind, and thus it had better be clear. If it is an abstract image, it should be nothing more than that. If is a portrait, then a portrait is what you should provide without adding a landscape and a still life in order to raise the idea of this triangle of connections.

It seems to me that such simplicity is allowed just one turn of complication. You have seen it a million times before where an artist tries to play with the idea of portrait or landscape without going too far out there; that one point of complication can still safely deliver a message while providing an interesting twist. For example, if you have an abstract painting, it can hide actual things inside of it that the perceptive viewer might look for. If it is a portrait, you can make it of an unknown creature that still retains the human qualities of attitude or personality. You only get that one break of the rules; more than that would get you into the dangerous waters of real complication, and therefore confusion.

When experts say that art is about communication and that clarity will grant success in an artistic endeavor, I understand exactly when they mean. But for me, there is no way around it. The lens through which I see the world is not a spyglass that you can twist to get closer or farther from an object but a kaleidoscope of visuals and the many ways in which they form a dire web in my thoughts. The questions I ask take apart the notion between my images. Does this one drawing of mine somehow feed these five other ones I made afterward? Do they allow the same concepts to materialize? Do these portraits or character studies represent the same people (people I had made up when just playing around with colors and ink) because they not only look similar but they feel familiar to each other? I thrive on such infinitely probing questions. It is exciting to me to negotiate paths into art that raises issues within itself. And I really don’t know how to do it any other way.

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One Hundred Years of Jack Kirby!!

28 August 2017 by Rey Armenteros

I painted this a couple of years ago on Jack Kirby’s birthday. I was online, looking at comics imagery, and I found it was Jack Kirby’s birthday that day. He would have been 96 or 97. I was planning to paint that day, but now I wanted to make something significant to Jack Kirby. So, I came up with this, something that occurred to me when I going over the reasons that made Kirby so damn great. I thought of my old room, where I started collecting comics. That’s supposed to be my brother off to the side, playing or doing something by the chest of drawers, and those are my comics on the bed.

That room was the place where I first heard of Jack Kirby, where I first read back issues of the Eternals, Machine Man, and Devil Dinosaur. I also had a couple of rare issues of early Fantastic Four and one of Thor; those three issues from before my birth spelled out a mystical time for me. My brother had some Kirby Captain America comics from the Marvel return of the 1970s, and there was more. When I reach back far enough into my memory of Jack Kirby, I go back to this room.

Jack Kirby was there at the dawn of the comic books, and he came to influence that industry in so many ways. In the realm of American superhero comics, there has been no one more influential or beloved. Today marks what would have been his hundredth birthday, and so let us devote a moment of reflection to the King of Comics.

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Thank you, Jack Kirby!

20 August 2017 by Rey Armenteros

When you listen to the classical music station, they might suddenly announce over three hundred years of Bach, celebrating the great composer’s birthday, and some people might wonder what’s the angle? I mean, I know it is an appreciation of the man, but why celebrate the birthday of a dead person? I suppose I’m looking for conceptual glue to these types of fragments, and I don’t recognize enough in them to suit me.

With Jack Kirby’s hundredth birthday coming up, now I am beginning to understand. When you think of one hundred years, you can internalize that number, not just because it is a milestone but it is not impossible that a human life can attain such a duration. So there is a physiological connection with the number, an intimate understanding, and then you think that Jack – had all the cards fallen into the right place – could have lived that long. He could still be alive today.

For me, celebrating Jack’s hundred years makes sense. Online, you can find many fans making the point, filing a parade of endless images by the King of Comics, and these are spearheading an incredible interest in the great comic book creator, setting off more fireworks than the publishing houses that owe him a great deal.

In my art, I never (consciously) reference the work of other artists. Here, we have an exception. It comes from my recent reading of the New Gods. I was taken aback by the superb twists in Jack Kirby’s story, particularly the one above, where the main hero, Orion, is revealed to have a natural sinister countenance that he has to hide with the help of his mother box. This is one of the most shocking moments, delivered in a strange circumstance that gives the reader a chill. Below is my attempt at a similar situation (far from finished, and far from good).

Thank you, Jack, for still lighting the fire for artists everywhere.

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What to do After Life’s Big Changes

08 August 2017 by Rey Armenteros

We moved. And now I’m looking at unfinished paintings that I had started before the move to try to see how I could finish already. This entails uncovering what I was trying to do with these particular paintings in the first place.

A great deal of time and meaningful events have divided the last time I contemplated this work and now. I’m trying to remember what I’m trying to say with them.

We bought a house. We went through the tremendous energy of gutting our old home, and we moved much of this displaced stuff to the new home. Then, we organized all of our possessions (including these unfinished drawings and paintings that I couldn’t find at first), and we were also making changes to the new house. We had to take care of peripherals with our child’s school and utilities and the rest of all that. We had a long list of other things in order to have life continue once again. We bought a second car. And after all this, we tried to look for the life we had left behind, look for the past things we had misplaced.

And now is when I’m starting to think about my art again, over two months after having lost touch with it. What you see here is some of what I have. Where do I start?

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The People that Keep Coming Back

25 July 2017 by Rey Armenteros

It has occurred to me that for years, my work was about the constant search for people and places and that every stranger I approached with my ink washes and acrylic pile ups were actually people I had met before in other drawings I had done.

Stacking thousands of hand-made images and looking for answers, I populated the world I always wanted to work with, and at the time, I hardly even knew it. Maybe I was looking at this as practice or exploration for the “real” images when they would one day come. There it was already coming together, and I was looking for more and more. The same face would return under the wild strokes of fortune, or I would bask in the colors of a horizon so regular, I had the odd feeling I had been there before.

At my various social media places, I have been posting and posting these monstrosities and finding between them patterns I might have missed during that time I was making them. There were relationships between the drawings that were pushing toward an oblique narrative.

Nowadays, I feel I’m still searching, but instead of searching for new faces, I am spending my time looking for the ones I already know and hoping to realize their stories soon.

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The Eternal Brush

11 July 2017 by Rey Armenteros

I have never had a brush betray me, but then that would depend on how you would define such a thing. Brushes get ruined, but I hardly ever retire them. And this goes to show that they not only work their magic when shaping the finest and most voluptuous lines. When brushes are splayed, I can twist striations more easily, and when their bristles curl out, I can stamp patterns with the lightest of touches. A ruined brush, when you conclude it can no longer give you control, has entered its second life.

Here is a good example of the results of hatching and stippling from deformed brushes:

Today, I used a fan brush. But then I went to a thin liner that gave me finer lines than a pen. And then I finalized the thick contours with something called a dagger brush, a new concoction for the age that is part round and part flat, giving both broad and sharp swings of color.

In my work, I use brushes almost exclusively; there are very few moments when I need anything else, such as a spatula for buttering on color or an eye dropper for extruding semi-fluid paint. A brush can do almost as much as a pen or graphite stick, and it can also do so very much more.

Basking in the wet black strokes that pool on the surface of my image, I find myself falling in love all over again with this ancient tool. And this is silly; I learned a long time ago that if you focus on the tool, your work will suffer for it. A red sable brush with a tapered point and a solid and graceful handle is a work of art in itself, which for me was always difficult to employ effectively since it would divert my attention away from the work at hand to marvel at the slender utensil at my fingertips. Rather than sables or expensive hog’s hair brushes, my brushes today are just plastic things with nylon hairs, but as cheap as they are, they still hold a line as well as the best of them, and they keep the spirit of every brush since the first shattered twig was made to move red earth.

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07 June 2017 by Rey Armenteros

Looking at old paintings and old drawings is a bitter-sweet pastime. On the one side, you’re reminiscing. In reliving the past, you enter the warm world of nostalgia. But on the other, those old works that once appeared so successful are successful no longer – or at least, not for the same reasons. This is actually the good news. Far worse is when the painting has something that was better than you remember it, making you feel good for a second (the sweet component to this subjective reality) but simultaneously making you question why you no longer paint in such a dynamic and charming way (the bitter).

There are “mistakes” I would gladly make today, if they could only look as good as the ones you are now beholding from some years back, old mishaps that seem to hit just the one right note today.

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26 May 2017 by Rey Armenteros

It is only natural to look back at old art and find it subpar, but what happens when you conclude that it was better than you remember it? What happens when you look back at old artwork and find it in your honest assessments that you had deviated from something that was actually better?

When it happens to me, I wonder if I still have it in me on some one or two levels, if I can no longer draw that hand the way I thought I could, if my eye for color is softening. I wonder if I took the wrong turn back seven years ago, and it is now coming to haunt me. I hate feeling regret, but moments like these, it is unavoidable.

This sound like a warning, but I do feel old art should always be revisited, because it contains reminders of paths you had intended but left behind. When I look at these old images from Shinchon, Korea, I find a freshness and boldness that I have put up on the shelf as my art developed with the years. Reminders of freshness are beneficial later, when that is a trait you don’t even recognize you’re missing.

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15 May 2017 by Rey Armenteros

It was one of those garage moments wherein I was cracking open old boxes and dodging the welling dust to get at old memories. No matter how you cut it, looking at old artwork is asking for trouble. The excitement that comes with the curiosity, for me, usually mingles with confusion.

Here is one take on that confusion. It is rare when you look at the old drawings that you find exactly what you remembered. You are either going to wonder why you thought that drawing that was so good was good at all, or you’re going to look at certain mediocre pieces that actually had promise if not a certain something that “those old good ones” lacked.

This is good, you tell yourself, because this is the clarity of distance (the distance of time) making you see what should have been obvious. This is the same perspective you exercise when you put aside a painting for a couple of weeks and get enough distance to see it from a more objective position. You tell yourself this, and you uphold this fickle assessment as something inestimable.


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