Through Concentrated Breath

making images from memory

SHINCHON CROSSROADS 6

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.

Scan 20 Scan 20b Scan 21

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SHINCHON CROSSROADS 5

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.

 

Scan 19 copya Scan 56 copya

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SHINCHON CROSSROADS 4

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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SHINCHON CROSSROADS 3

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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SHINCHON CROSSROADS 2

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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SHINCHON CROSSROADS 1

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?

Scan 117

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.

Scan 3c Scan 3d

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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.

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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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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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Worth Another Shot or Not

31 May 2016 by Rey Armenteros

SKINS 2_0012

There was a drawing in an ad for a comic book that was just the type of drawing I didn’t like. I could tell the guy could draw, but it was scratchy – scribbly crosshatching coupled with thick, tapered lines. It was so sketchy, I couldn’t tell if it were a girl or a boy (most likely a girl), and she was propping her chin with one hand, holding her head in profile, while holding a flute with the other.

I was in my early teens, and it’s funny how many times in life you hate something and later rediscover how wrong you were. A year or two later, I found myself compelled by this drawing, in love with it, never letting it go! Years after that, with no access to the drawing, I would try to bring it back together. With a pen, I would try to recreate what was there, in my memory. It would never come close, but I would focus on different aspects of it with each failure, like the nature of the scribbling line on my third attempt or the exact turn of the head on my fifth one. That turn of the head was originally from a lower angle looking up. And I would try it again.

That is what I’ve done here, but this time in paint. But what I have here is something that is not even in the same hemisphere of methodology and treatment, what with the color wet-into-wet and my own brand of strokes creating a weave all my own and nothing like that one from memory – of an image that no longer resounds with the same poignancy, but still worth another shot.

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Emulating a Doodle

02 May 2016 by Rey Armenteros

Using a brush to make marks like a pen. Using paint instead of ink. Bringing out the idea of a doodle onto a skin of paint rather than a scrap piece of paper and putting down one image after another, as if I were still at the back of the class, jotting things in my notebook. This little thing was an exercise in emulation. I don’t know if there’s enough here to justify emulation (when using the simply natural tools would be better), but it was fun.

Doodles

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