Through Concentrated Breath

making images from memory

Category Archives for: ReyA’

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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A Break, Adrenaline, and then a Break

31 March 2017 by Rey Armenteros

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The adrenaline of ideas creates a harmonious bell arc.

You hadn’t painted in about three weeks and all the ideas that you had jotted down for future use are either lost or not as brilliant as you had suspected. You decide that the best momentum is that brought about by work, regardless if you have a lack of ideas. You decide to paint the first thing that came to mind. Okay, that was a mistake, admittedly.

You go on to the next thing that occurs to you. This is better. But what do you want to do with all this? You keep going. You start slow and end slow. But it is in the middle, when the ideas are coming at you too fast to get all down that you are at the very peak of speed and connection.

Life then interrupts, as it is wont to do, or you start that steady decline into the same ideas rolling over each other, and you take another break.

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15 March 2017 by Rey Armenteros

Scan 111. copyb

I bought hundreds of these tiny watercolor papers, and this helped me propel myself forward, going from image to image wth great speed. This acceleration does something to the subject matter, making it flip through multiple possibilities without ever bogging yourself down with deliberation. This helped the content and its placement on the page. It was automatic. There were almost no decisions as ink and water shifted to make these images.

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27 February 2017 by Rey Armenteros

When I say that these drawings covered the best subject matter I would ever make, it is a subtle consideration, and it may not be self-evident in the images I have so far included.

Scan 19

Changes came when I moved to the Shinchon neighborhood of Seoul, Korea. I don’t know what it was. I had been living in Ilsan, which was a suburb of Seoul, cut off from everything, and now I was in the thick of it. Shinchon was a college section of town, and it had everything. I was living in an old part of it that had personality and winding, labyrinthine alleys that sparked my curiosity. I discovered an art supply store and bought tiny blocks of watercolor paper, a little larger than postcards.

And my art’s subject matter was shifting as I was using more of these tiny papers. If I were to describe it in one or two words, it would be energy, vitality. In the pushing and pulling of strokes and marks, I was meeting perfect strangers that populated these brand new settings and was thrilled by the prospects these new characters were giving me.

Even after making many of these new drawings, I felt it was going somewhere that had not yet arrived; all it needed was a little more pushing, more images – images that were going to derive from connections and form new contexts, developing new worlds, new situations, new narratives.

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17 February 2017 by Rey Armenteros

Scan 11 copya

In an earlier entry, I made the remark that these sorts of things come at a price – the sorts of circumstances that pave the way for changes in your work as realized by others instead of yourself. I guess this sort of matter affects artists in different ways.

The price I paid was a sudden halt in a vibe grabbed from the best black and white work I would ever produce. I had arrived at a glorious place, “Finally here!” I felt, and I was suddenly torn from it by outside agencies. At first, I wasn’t too keen on it and started questioning if this were a group I indeed wanted to show with, since obviously we were not riding on the same waves of sensibilities.

At the time, I quickly put this aside when initially enthralled with the new possibilities of colors, but it had a deep impact I only realized years later, when reflecting on those days and putting them back together in my head.

It seems to me that I lost a connection with the subject matter I was provoking in almost automatic drawing (akin to automatic writing). In giving up on that path, I was dropping a live bomb of fresh, wonderful concepts in order to get back to basics and contemplate old art school stuff.

That – the abandonment of a wave of some of the best subject matter I would ever make – was the price I paid for change.


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08 February 2017 by Rey Armenteros

Scan 15

I started answering my own questions. How was color (and opacity) going to change the way I did images? What did I want to do with this new approach?

I was fishing for images, letting them happen, at first, and making them with equal parts invention (allowing the paint to find faces in the clouds) and fixed ideas, which were those mental plans I was trying to get out in my art.

They were tiny paintings. I did about a hundred or more like this, and then kept doing more and more, just playing around with whatever came out, pushing my own notions of what I wanted and getting this hodgepodge of fun and unfocused details. They were mobs of ideas, and I loved it.

Scan 15a

I was looking toward the black and white work I had just made in the weeks previous to my big change and wondering how I could make work the same ideas – but now in color.

It was not going to be easy, because now I was focused on color, that strange new element that was putting me in raptures, and not the content which was making me move to a different tune of shadows and light.


Scan 3a copy

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31 January 2017 by Rey Armenteros

Scan 10

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.

Scan 57a copy

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21 January 2017 by Rey Armenteros

Scan 9

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.

Scan 9a copy

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16 January 2017 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?

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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.

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Dad in His Living Room

07 January 2017 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.

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