I’m always so late to updating my blog about these things, but last month I had some work up in a lovely group show focusing on gender-related art called Equal Parts at Frontal Lobe Gallery in Phoenix. It was a wonderful experience. Not only did I get to have my work up in a really well-curated show alongside some very talented artists, I also even got some of my first real “press” reviews of my work. Thankfully, it was positive!
I had two “Fixation” pieces up: Fixation: Lip and Fixation: Eye, which were also used as the advertisements/press images for the show:
I also had my Lipstick triptych on display, since the only other time they were shown was at my solo BFA show, so they needed some more lovin’:
I think I may have taken it a bit for granted how much easier it was to find open calls for art when I was in an art program; It can be pretty difficult to find those opportunities outside of that supportive environment. Obviously, I’ve learned that it’s worth putting in the effort. I often have to remind myself that just making the work itself is only part of the equation in being an artist— you have to actually show your work as well! The experience of showing your work, although always nerve-wracking, can often be incredibly affirming, and I’m happy to say that my experience being in Equal Parts was that and more.
I’ve been reading a book called Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland, and one particularly salient point I found (among many) was this:
“Your reach as a viewer is vastly greater than your reach as a maker. The art you can experience may have originated a thousand miles away or a thousand years ago, but the art you can make is irrevocably bound to the times and places of your life.”
Which also reminded me of a conversation I had with one of my painting professors, where he essentially said that “you have to live in your own time. You can’t be Monet.”
This is incredibly valuable advice. It’s normal to be a student or developing artist and to have artistic heroes- people who you look to and just think, “wow, if I could paint like that…” The problem comes when you essentially try to replicate work from a certain artist or era with the intent that it all but pass for one of those works. There are plenty of painters out there, for instance, who fancy themselves to be Monet-esque impressionists. But their work, being produced in the present and therefore divorced from the context that the original impressionists painted in, just looks like a cheap imitation- and that’s because it is.
The Impressionist’s work was highly innovative in their time because from their cultural context, they were solving a problem and presenting something new to the world. They actually took incredible creative risks in doing so. People today who try to imitate these artists (or artists from any other historical period,) however, are merely piggybacking off of their innovation and banking on the nostalgic feelings that some retain for the group. As Bayles and Orland go on to say, “There’s a difference between meaning that is embodied and meaning that is referenced.”
Admiring artists from the past is completely natural, and a great way to see different approaches to solving formal or even thematic issues. And I know and understand the whole Joseph Campbell, “nothing is truly original” thing and all that. But taking bits from the past and mixing them with your own personal point of view and painting style derived from the actual, present world around you is much more worthwhile and brave than just chasing after the ghost of Monet.
As you all know, I have a little shop on print-on-demand site Redbubble.com, and recently they added mugs to their lineup of products. I ordered some for myself (well, to give as gifts and one for myself!) and I’m, again, pleased with the printing quality. The price is also, surprisingly, only as much as a tote bag.
Above is my Pop-Art Ocarina Tilted Pattern
Above is my Many Matchsticks pattern.
Never thought I’d ever see any of my work on a coffee mug, but I must admit that I like the result! As more of a “fine” artist, I also love that I get to indulge my more design, graphics oriented ideas and inclinations through my store here.
Monotypes are a medium that I have been playing with off and on for a few years. For those who don’t know, a monotype is a kind of print that, rather than being made using a printing matrix (like woodcuts), instead involves basically painting a non-textured plate with inks. The plate is then placed with a piece of paper and run through a printing press, producing a one-time, unique printed image. It’s basically the closest printmaking comes to painting, and is probably the least structured or technical form of it. I personally don’t own a printing press (the small ones run in the thousands of dollars,) but a good friend who is kind enough to let me into her studio every once in a while lets me use hers. Here are some pieces from the most recent session:
The above was the first one I made. I wanted to see how my recent “Doe Eyes” series would translate from watercolor to printmaking. I basically painted some pretty straightforward, normal eyes and lips and decided to let the press add the more unique, abstracted aspects to the image. This one didn’t satisfy me in that the end result looked too “normal,” so I decided to really glob the ink on in the following prints:
I added too much ink to the lips, and the run through the press made a really happy accident by creating this tongue effect. Miley Cyrus would love them.
Above is the “ghost” print made from the same plate. It’s made by running the same plate through the press again. The ink residue left over makes a lighter, ghost-like version of the first print. I often favor the ghost prints over the others.
Maybe someday I’ll have a great studio space and enough money saved up to buy my own press and do these more regularly, because they’re so fun. It’s often exhilarating to see the image that the press will give you. My tendency with painting faces is always to make them look controlled and clean- I have a hard time abstracting them. With monotyping, I can paint a pretty structured image and then let the press create the abstract elements for me!
Ah, the oft derided “selfie.” Those crazy kids these days with their shallow documentation of their own appearances! No one remembers that the (much longer!) process of immortalizing ones appearance in art is a longstanding, and respected, tradition!
Probably anyone who’s ever pursued art in some capacity has (maybe begrudgingly) had to face (get it?!) the challenge of depicting their own likeness from a mirror. Whenever I was given such an assignment, I seem to remember most of my classmates moaning and groaning while I was at least mildly excited. It just always seemed to me like such a cool, “artist” thing to do, to sit down and paint your own portrait.
Artist self-portraits are also great because you’re basically seeing the face, more or less, that you make when working.
Self portrait by Megan Koth, Oil on Canvas, 18×24″, 2014.
Apparently, I look pretty stern while working!
However, I understand how it can be scary. The portrait assignment is kind of the perfect challenge for students because it’s a great way of getting them to paint something from life that they actually feel personally invested in. It’s hard to get invested in getting a crumpled paper bag or some random kitchen utensils right (we had some pretty terrible still life setups,) but their own face? Now that’s something a student isn’t likely to want to mess up. There’s also a unique personal intimacy that comes with painting a great self-portrait. I mean, you have to look at your own appearance at a level you never had before- noticing every detail, including every “flaw.” I can see how the latter would make some uncomfortable, and that probably explains a lot of students lack of enthusiasm for the assignment. But I’ve found over the years that painting myself has made me more accepting of the “flaws.” In that way, the self-portrait can end up being much more than just an assignment, but a process of self-discovery and acceptance. Or, if you’re not an artist and just wanna take a picture of yourself because you look fly as hell today, you can do that too.
Hilarious top “Mona Lisa” image courtesy of Sangerous on Imgur
Lately I’ve been back to doing a lot of small, quick abstract watercolor paintings. I think I need this to wind down after months of working on super structured and planned oil paintings in school. It feels good to let loose for a bit with a low cost, low risk medium. If a painting doesn’t work out, I have no problem throwing it away and starting a new one (something much more difficult to do after investing in a canvas painting.)
Untitled, Watercolor and crayon on paper, Megan Koth, 07/2014
I’ve been enjoying using mixed media, like pencil, stamps, and crayon, to add texture and visual interest.
Untitled, Watercolor, graphite, and crayon on paper, Megan Koth, 07/2014
And I even managed to stumble upon some abstract flowers! Totally unlike me, but I like how they turned out nonetheless.
Red Posies, Megan Koth. Prints and more of this available at my Redbubble store!
Doing these little watercolors has always been a kind of palette cleanser for me to do between big paintings. I see it as the painting equivalent of doing stretches before a big race.
Getting from point A to B.
People pursuing creative careers often look up to the very successful for guidance on what to do. Creative careers don’t have the benefit of a rigid, structured career path, which is part of the draw of them. The freedom! The independence! But the main disadvantage of that is, of course, that it can sometimes feel like all your efforts are leading nowhere, or not in the right direction, or to something you don’t really want (or, maybe you’re not even completely sure what you want in the first place.)
Feeling directionless is not pleasant, especially when you look around at your peers and see them all in their structured, cushy jobs while you’re still trying to nurture an art career. At least if you want to be a doctor, there’s a way to figure out EXACTLY what you need to do to get there (not that actually BECOMING one isn’t hard, but at least you get a road map.) Artists don’t get a road map. There is no one, formulaic, way to become a successful artist. And that fact can sometimes be refreshing, oftentimes maddening.
I would take any opportunity to ask successful people in my field the question: any advice? What should I do? And they pretty much always say the same thing- just keep on making work. Okay. I would get so frustrated with this answer, because I felt like they were deliberately keeping some secret from me. I wanted to shake them and say “but what should I really DO! JUST FREAKIN’ TELL ME THE SECRET!” That answer is frustrating because it negates the idealistic fantasy that there is some sort of “secret formula” for success. That you can just gather the right ingredients, cook it under the right conditions, and BAM!, you have success gumbo.
So I’ve started to realize and accept this fact. It’s a scary thing to accept as a young, aspiring artist because it means accepting that you’ll have to go out and make a lot of calls for yourself, and that you will have to trust yourself to make said calls. Not crumbling when you make a bad one is where the “keep making work” advice kicks in. Gathering the strength to keep going, despite failure, or hopelessness, is really what “keep making work,” means. Although it’s no secret formula, it is great, valuable advice.
Often well-meaning people say this phrase all the time to artists. It would always throw me off because I would scramble to find a concise answer to satisfy the asker. “Uh, I’ve always been interested in X and Y, and then I eventually put X and Y together, and there ya go…” If I weren’t polite, I’d just say “OH! I just hopped over the the idea store and picked up an idea off the shelf and took it to the checkout where I paid for it in IdeaBux!” But really, people who have never spent much time really creating things often have this misunderstanding of how grand ideas come about.
Honestly, this whole concept that ideas are just something you stumble upon randomly is kind of insulting. It implies that what we do as artists is not the result of hard work, dedication, toiling, and careful cultivation of a body of work over many years, but is just some sort of weird fluke. Like we were walking through the forest one day and just stumbled upon an idea in the middle of the road.
In reality, ideas are the result of a soupy, internal, evolutionary process of our experiences, thoughts, and dreams, stirring and boiling together in our brains. Whenever I’ve taken what seemed like a sharp turn in my work, I’ve always been able to look back and see ripples of that idea in my past work, sketches, writings, and general interests or experiences. An idea that may have seemed spontaneous and sudden at the time, I often find, was really the result of years and years of exploring peripheral ideas or concepts.
We all have ideas every day, whether we acknowledge them or not. And that’s the thing- most people have them, and then let them peter off into nothingness. Artists, on the other hand, run with them, carefully nurturing, exploring, and developing them until they become something great- something impactful and meaningful. And that’s not something that happens by accident.