Through Concentrated Breath

the making of images from memory

Category Archives for: Process


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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When Style Fails to Make an Appearance

30 April 2017 by Rey Armenteros

When making art, we seldom think about the things that drive us to make the work in the first place. It is something I have noted over the years. Some artists are trying to get their ideas out, putting together things that they would like to see come to life, like large projects that take whatever it takes to make it happen. Others are devoted to a process, the repetition of certain rituals, the likelihood of saying the same things over and over, and I am thinking of painters that paint the same things with little variation. And others are driven by experimentation and what results you could get when you put these several things together in this new or peculiar way.

Related to experimentation is the dynamic of performing a feat, which brings in a win or lose dynamic. If the results don’t work the way you had hypothesized, it may have proved to be a waste of time. This means your performance has a chance of not obtaining satisfactory results, and maybe this is the one drive that encapsulates them all because anything could happen.

I don’t know; these are just words, and without going into extensive detail they might fail in capturing the subtle shifts in the way we go about work.

When I was making my paintings for Memories from a Radio, you could say that I was using every drive I could, and the results were a miscellany of different outcomes and styles. One drawback to being so eclectic with your art approach is that the viewer might not recognize a style. Since their may be few patterns in your work, it will appear to lack cohesion.

When things got sporadic in Memories from a Radio, the only connection I had to avoid a disjointed body of work was the Tarot card iconography of frames and symbols, and I could never be sure to what degree this was able to tie everything together.

In a sense, I was pursuing a feat whose results were variegated because it depends on the perspective of each viewer. Even with the Tarot motif, I still had viewers approach me at shows asking why it was I would diverge so dramatically between paintings.

And as much as this sounds like a cop out, I never had a clear answer for such questions.

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The Generation of an Image

19 July 2016 by Rey Armenteros

Here we have textbook steps for a painting; this is textbook in the traditional sense, which is something that rarely happens in my work.

Buddha 1

This began with a rudimentary drawing.

Buddha 2

The drawing developed a bit more before going into color.

Buddha 3

In this case, before introducing the colors, I placed more gesso over the drawing to allow for later transparent washes of color.

Buddha 4

Textures were added for still more washes of color.

Buddha 5

With a return to drawing, I further cut into the forms, refining them a bit by using lines. There were no opaque painting in this one.

This image, like all my images, is from memory. It was done with the Great Kamakura Buddha in mind, which I had seen twice when I lived in Japan. I did it in 2012, and looking at it now, I clearly see where this falls short (on all manner of levels, including the fact that it has only some remote resemblance to the real one). I will say that I did have a slightly different way of entering paintings in those days (notwithstanding these steps), and it was more of a purist, hit or miss approach, where in this case, I got the essence (or structure) without getting the details, without really getting the subtlety. I may explain this better one day.

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Pure Memory

08 January 2016 by Rey Armenteros

SKINS 2_0002

This is from pure memory, but what does that mean? To me, it could be something as simple as I got this out of my head. But since this is the way I always work, I know there are facets to it most of us take for granted. For example: This is a general memory from my dad’s living room, and there was no doubt a lamp where you see it, but if that lamp looked exactly like that one you see in the picture is highly doubtful. I had to make it up in most places because I simply do not recall. His face, on the other hand, is from whatever I could bring back from direct memory, which is also spotty. There are also points where this picture has taken embellishments because there comes a point to most paintings and drawings where you try to make it clearer or closer to the goal you set out for it.

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Combining Paint Skin with Panel (Step 5)

01 March 2015 by Rey Armenteros

The stacks of skins I will now go through are a collection of small paintings and drawings that are not on paper or canvas – they are on acrylic skins (comprised of some combination of molding paste, gesso, acrylic gel, and paint) which I had made with the intention of one day adhering them to panels such as the latest batch I have been working on. Before even making these panels, I have certain skins in mind whose image would coalesce well with whatever concepts I might have of these new paintings. For instance, for a recent show, I focused on father and daughter images.


When I go about the ritual of marrying a panel with one or more skins, I place the skin over a panel and move it around to see what works and then place it on another panel and so on, until I do find something that works; and if I don’t, I put that skin aside and go on to the next. Sometimes, I make a panel around the parameters of a skin, such as producing elements in it that somehow accept the qualities of size, shape, color harmony in the skin. It is a laborious process that is like matching two jigsaw puzzle pieces from a heap of several hundred.

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After I find some feasible combinations, I sleep on it, and then think about it a few days later, and then go back to them again the following week to make sure that this is what I want. I make alterations as needed and sleep on it some more, extending the moment before the decision, because once you stick it on, it’s permanent. When I’m quite sure of what I want, I adhere the skins to the panels using an acrylic medium, such as a soft gloss gel or a fluid medium. In that way, I am sticking acrylic onto acrylic using acrylic, allowing the individual elements to fuse together under one paint medium, unifying everything.


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Working on the Fronts (Step 4)

17 February 2015 by Rey Armenteros

After finishing the backsides, I turn my attention to the fronts. What I try to do with them is prepare them to receive paint skins that had been made before this stage. (I will show what a paint skin looks like in a future entry.) Until I adhere the skins, the panels usually become abstractions of color that are geared toward the skin(s) that I planned to go with the panel.


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