by Rey Armenteros
You’ve been drawing in black and white for almost ten years. The lead artist of the show is a good friend of yours and is aware of the reasons why you refuse to paint, even as he steers you into color with the argument that your work needs more impact.
Because he is aware of your artistic intentions, he comes up with alternatives to actual painting. You have always respected him, almost like a mentor, but these ideas he is giving you are pretty substandard, such as placing color transparencies over your gray drawings; he is a sculptor, after all, and not a drawer or painter.
The only two choices you see before you are acceding to his less-than stellar ideas or returning to paint. (There is the third choice of not belonging to this group show in which many of your old friends are to be a part of, but that is not really an option.)
What do you do?
My solution was to simply abandon my artistic integrity by giving in and painting once again. Suddenly, I was working with colors, veering away from ink and straight into paint, playing with its substance, contemplating color harmonies.
Ultimately, my return to paint was an unexpected one, most of all to me. Every reason that you had ever come up with as to why the austere black and white was superlative to paint had to be refuted, revealing that such philosophical reasoning may be more about preference than any reality you are trying to define.
So, I dropped all arguments I had ever formulated for black and white, and my mind was, for once, fresh – free of ideologies, receptive, almost as if unformed.
And there was work to be done.
by Rey Armenteros
If you are ever asked to go from black and white to color, here is what you should do. Contemplate why you’re doing black and white, and then think of the possibilities of color. Come up with some numbers and figures, and if the equation you put together shows a marked improvement in change, you better be sure that is what you want before you make the leap, because there is no going back.
In my case, my colleagues had secured an exhibition space at a well-respected commercial art gallery in a coveted neighborhood of Seoul, Korea. These were high stakes we were playing with, and anything less than a stellar job would have been unacceptable. I was being given ideas of how to make my gray pictures pop, how I could overlay sheets of color transparency over the black and white drawings, and I felt like I was being pushed into a corner I didn’t want to be in.
Complacent in my black and white world, I had been convinced that I would never need to work with color again. However, the show was a big event, and the push to do my best allowed for unforeseen solutions. Ultimately, I don’t know what the show did for the others. (I wasn’t even there when it opened; I had returned to the US to get married.) I’ve heard here and there a string of gossip and loose stories about what the show did for such and such, how success was soon followed by calamity, how friendships were broken, how a couple of fellow exhibitors vowed never to do another group show again. It all sounded very exciting, and I was thrilled to be part of this grand, tragic thing, but in the end, it did next to nothing for my own career. All I got out of it was a new direction in my art that I would have never foreseen. Good or bad, change had arrived, and I was suddenly accepting it with open arms.
I don’t regret caving in for the group, but I do think these things come at a price.
by Rey Armenteros
What do you do when you find yourself in a group art show and your colleagues are asking you that for the sake of the show, you need to change your work?
Do you welcome change or do you resist?
The Situation: For years, my art was nothing more than ink drawings. My fellow exhibitors thought it might have more impact to incorporate color somehow. I resisted it at first, though the idea didn’t really bother me. Eventually, I caved in and went with whatever was coming; I experimented, I tried different things. I had no idea at the time that I was entering a crossroads and choosing a path to different artistic vistas (regardless if it came at a cost or not).
Ultimately, what would have been the better path?
I think no one can say for sure, but I have two answers for this. If there is a show coming up and you are asked to change your work, one solution would be to go with it for the greater good. It could turn out successful for everyone, as was the case in our show, where the group show was perhaps a little better for it – and better for me, where I consequently found a new direction which took me through more changes and has led me to this place of reflection in which I find myself today.
But, on principal, I will never do that again, and that is simply because an artist that allows himself to be swayed by the practical matters of a group is an artist that has no connection to his own work. And that is my second answer, though it should be the first.
by Rey Armenteros
This one image is stripped of almost every extraneous detail. It looks closer to my father than any other picture I ever labored over, and it captures something essential the others of him didn’t.
To me, the outline that forms the person is the most striking feature. To get these lines just right, I did them over and over again on separate skins. I did about twenty versions of this outline drawing, and I started arriving at an order to the strokes very much like Asian characters, which are properly written only when you follow the prescribed sequence of strokes. This step-by-step process was instrumental in getting the variation of line, the curves, and the proportions of the forms to come together as they did.
When I started working on this image, the color ended up going over the lines, and in the end, I had to redo what I had thought were perfect lines. In the end, I don’t know which version was actually better.