Fun with Barbie!

Ah, Barbie. Love her or hate her, if you were a little girl sometime in the past 60 years, you probably had some sort of relationship (forced or otherwise) with the classic doll. I played with Barbies a lot as a kid- cutting their hair, dressing them up… hanging them from the ceiling in my own “barbie gallows”…. So, it was only a matter of time before she showed up in my art. I mean, my work is about feminine beauty and it’s construction and commodification, so, who better to embody that than Barbie? Also, I needed a break from painting myself wearing sheet masks.

Here’s the first one that I painted. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it- its interesting how similar yet different it was to painting a human face. The major structure is actually there, just exaggerated in certain areas (EYES!)

I decided to be a tad creepier with this one:

I think this one was “Holiday Barbie,” thus the festive earrings. I photographed and lit real reference photos for this from my actual childhood barbies, so there was a real nostalgia in looking at these dolls that I actually used to play with.

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Vincent Desiderio says something along the lines of all paintings are in some way self portraits of the artist. And I feel that that’s true – ultimately, we tend to paint what resonates with us- we can’t escape it. If you played with barbies as a young girl, it’s hard not to both project and draw your own notions and aspirations of femininity and womanhood onto her. In a way, Barbie becomes a self portrait or snapshot of a lot of us at a time when womanhood was so far off that the idea of “playing house” seemed exotic. Anyway, I think I’ll be painting more barbies!

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Process: “Gel Mask”

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Sheet Mask: Gel I | oil on canvas| 12×16″

I thought I’d show a little progression for one of my newer “Mask” pieces (I’m wearing a “gel” mask used for skincare.) I always find it interesting to look at any artists process like this- to see the little tweaks or even grand gestures gradually build up to eventually create a finished painting. This piece was actually one of those rare birds where things just went smoothly (for the most part.) Isn’t that awesome, when that happens? Certainly, there are those tortured paintings that really test you- where you’re pulling your hair out over how everything you do seems to look stupid and you don’t know how you’ll ever get it to not look terrible. And those moments are good to have, as it’s a reminder that we’re pushing and challenging ourselves as artists. And the struggle just makes it that much sweeter when we finally resolve the composition. But… it’s nice to get one of those slam dunks every once in a while, eh?

I’m Still Here!

Okay, I know that blogger rules say that you’re not supposed to acknowledge when you haven’t posted in a long time, but damn, I haven’t posted in a long time. I’ve obviously still been painting, but my social media activities have pretty much been limited to instagram and lurking on facebook occasionally. I’ve been producing a lot of work, and at this point I’ve realized that I should start writing about what I’m making again. I’ve always enjoyed reading artists’ thoughts on their own work, and I’m even fully conscious of how helpful it’s been for me in the past to sit down and write about what the hell it is that I’m making. But, for whatever reason, I stopped writing for almost a year! Is this what my professors warned me about- life getting in the way of an art practice? Luckily, the only thing that got neglected was a blog and not the actual creating of art, but yeesh!

So, a small summary of where I am:

I’m working on (and have been working on for a while now) a series of self portraits that are an offshoot of the “Clown” series. In this series, I play around with the variety of sheet masks that are all the rage right now in skin care:

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The first one in the series: “Sheet Mask I” | oil on canvas | 14×18″

I felt like the sheet masks were ripe material for my continuing exploration of feminine beauty rituals and how those rituals reflect or impact how we see ourselves. I mean, it’s literally a mask- it was too good to pass up. It’s also interesting to go from a very pop-art-ish painting style now to this darker, almost baroque inspired painting style. I’ll definitely be writing more about this series!

Meanwhile, I’ve also continued to experiment with the cyanotypes. I’ve moved into exploring the possibilities offered by both fabric and film transparencies:

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Cyanotype: Underwear II | cyanotype on Arches Hot Press | 12×16″ | Private Collection

I’ve done an entire collection of lingerie cyanotypes. I still want to figure out a way to push them even further, but for now I’m happy with them just looking like haunted underwear.

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Lil lollipop from a transparency, made for my Mom

This is one of the transparencies- made by taking a black and white (digital) photograph, inverting the values, and printing it on transparency. Then, I place it on top of the sensitized cyanotype paper in the sunlight to make a print, just as with the physical objects.

So, that’s pretty much where I’m at right now! I’m going to start writing more regularly, as I’ve missed this old place. Thank you to anyone who’s stuck around, and I hope you enjoy the posts to come!

Be Still My Art!

First of all, I apologize for the terrible pun- gotta find some way to jazz up the ol’ still life. Still life, as a genre, sort of gets a bad rap- traditionally it’s ranked dead last in the hierarchy of artistic genres. We were once sworn enemies, only for Wayne Thiebaud to forever change that. Most of my senior work for my BFA was paintings of objects (not fully posed in a still life, but still with the same idea.) But since graduating I’ve taken a bit of a break from painting objects to painting faces. So, it was pleasantly refreshing to take a still life workshop at Scottsdale Artist’s School to revisit the unique challenge presented by the genre.

I gained a real appreciation for the complexity that exists even in really “standard”  traditional still life setups. You not only have to “pose” objects in an interesting configuration, but you have to consider the relationship between those objects (is there enough variety of shapes, textures, colors, etc?) as well as light the scene in a way that will showcase them to their fullest potential. Just finding objects that would relate to each other effectively was a big challenge.  As with making any piece of art, no matter the style or genre, it all just boils down to problem-solving.

After a lot of mulling and moving different objects in and out, I eventually arrived at this setup:

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I loved the yellow bowl, and kind of tried to find objects to complement that. I decided that the purple onions were a natural source of contrast, while still having a similar shape. The leaves would draw the eye down to the focus of the piece.

The class was taught by modern master of the still life, Jeff Legg. He was a fantastic instructor, and I love that he spent so much time doing demos for us. I got to see him make multiple paintings (pretty much) from start to finish and was excited to experiment with his own way of working influenced by the old masters. His technique is so different from my own way of working- in that it involves a lot of glazing, working from a toned canvas, and the use of black, which I tend to use sparingly at most- that it felt refreshing to try something different.

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And here is the finished product:

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I’m pretty happy with the result! I’ve definitely learned to appreciate what a privilege it is to be in a classroom setting and to have an (immensely skilled!) instructor sharing with you and looking at your work. Even if you’re an incredibly self-aware person, you still tend to fall back on working in ways that feel comfortable and/or familiar. That’s why we all need to dive into something new every once in awhile, if just to keep us on our toes!

Transforming Reference Images

Now, I’m a firm believer that absolutely, any 2-d artist should be able to work from life, and should whenever they can (these skills are essential in simply being able to paint well. Full stop.) BUT, there are always going to be those situations where it just makes more sense to work  from a photograph. Now, some artists (especially the more “old school” ones)  take issue with working from photographs as opposed to direct observation. But I believe that one can work from a photograph while still making a great painting that isn’t a mere copy of the reference image.

For example, I did a painting of a grenade using a reference photo. I found it simpler to do this because of the placement (flat on a table) and lighting I wanted would be easier to reference from a photo rather than having to do a setup where I would somehow have to position my face directly parallel to a table while trying to paint.

Grenade Reference

The photo gave me the key information I needed- things like proportion, angles, major color/value changes. But as you can see, the finished painting isn’t an exact copy of my reference:

Grenade THIS (800x798)Grenade, oil on canvas, 12×12″, by Megan Koth

I think a good rule of thumb is to not spend too much time looking at the reference itself. Especially once you’ve got the key information down, you have to look at the painting that you’re making, and make decisions based on how to make your painting a successful one- not a mere copy of the reference photo. Basically, as I go, I look less and less at the reference (it helps that all my reference photos quickly become obscured with paint smudges anyway.) The camera can be the enemy of a great painter, but it can also be a great asset. Like most tools, it’s all in how you use it.

 

How Artists do Selfies

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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.

SelfPort_MeganKoth (771x1000)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

(Art)rage Against the Machine

I’m finished taking my second figure painting class, getting more comfortable painting the delightfully and frustratingly complex human form, from life, a few times a week. As I get more and more comfortable handling this subject matter, my mind tends to wander to thinking about just how “far” I want to go in these depictions. Do I want to paint every last color transition, every last hair or freckle? Do I want to do those things just to prove that I can? My answer is obviously no. But then I start to think about photo-realism, its critics, and the idea of an artist “turning themselves into a machine.”

I think that my stopping point with an objective painting is usually once it becomes joyless and nitpicky.

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Sleep by Megan Koth 2014

I’m experimenting with how to handle the background in a more abstract way.

I think this is why I tend to have a bit of an unenthusiastic attitude towards photo-realism (or hyper-realism?) in the pure sense of the word (not to include an artist who happens to use photo-realistic techniques for work that is expressive in other ways.) The joyless, labored-overness (not a word) is just so apparent that it becomes the whole spectacle of the painting. I don’t want to post a picture of someone’s work as a “bad” example, but we’ve all seen the uninspired paintings of boring photographs of stuff on a black or white table, closeups of marbles or other ephemera, and maybe marveled at the technical skill, but then ultimately forgot them.

I have a crazy theory (i.e it obviously doesn’t apply to everyone) that a lot of painters who go into photo-realism do it as a sort of defense against the devaluing of their labor. As any artist is well aware, the general public tends to at least struggle with acknowledging that the labor of an artist has any value at all. “That painting looks so fun and effortless!” they’ll say about anything not rendered to the highest degree. And nobody should be paid for “fun.” Nothing about a photo-realistic painting looks fun or effortless. And people can see that- they can see the drudgery (i.e. “real work”) involved. And thus the “problem” is solved. But at the cost of creating something that is perhaps more memorable, or that really elevates the medium or the consciousness of a viewer.

And at the end of a day, why try to make paintings that look like photographs? You can be as precise as you can, take as many hours, days, weeks as you want, and the “machine” (i.e. the camera) will always win. Because it’s a machine, and you’re an imperfect human being. But that’s okay. It’s okay to show your hand in your work. In our age of chasing the next shiny new widget, it can be incredibly refreshing to see something so distinctly created by a human hand.

My First Solo Show!

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This is a belated post, since the event in question happened back in March… but, this semester I passed a milestone in my career- I had my first solo exhibition! I had to apply for it and everything! It was certainly one of the more challenging things I’ve ever done. Certainly just making a body of work that was both large, cohesive, and of enough quality was a challenge, but so was doing the multitude of smaller tasks associated with the show. Choosing a font for wall vinyls and ordering them, printing postcards, sending invites and trying to get press, and installing the show all took a toll and tested my patience at times. But the show went up and I celebrated. I definitely hope that this is truly just the beginning of many more in the future.

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The show took place at ASU’s swanky new Step Gallery, located in Downtown Phoenix!

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If you want to take a closer look at the pieces in my show, as well as the artist  statement for the work, be sure to check out my new (independent domain!) website: megankoth.com !

 

Art Book of the Day: Wayne Thiebaud, A Retrospective

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I finally got my hands on this somewhat rare art book from Acquavella showcasing some beautiful new and previously unpublished works by Wayne Thiebaud. As you all know, it’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of his work. This is also my first nice, hardcover art book of Thiebaud paintings! It’s one thing to see the works online, but there’s something about holding a book of high quality reproductions in your hands that brings the whole experience just a little closer to seeing them in person.

I’m a huge fan of Thiebaud’s recent work, which includes gorgeously lush, vibrant (and kind of perspectively ambiguous!) landscapes:

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Wayne Thiebaud- Layered Ridge , 2010, Oil on Canvas.

As I said, the book features previously unpublished work both from Thiebaud’s own collection and that of his wife, Betty Jean!

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This is a cigar box that he painted for her as a gift! D’awww.

And that’s just about the only thing about Thiebaud that’s shocking- he’s so normal. Besides his extraordinary status as a masterful painter, he seems like a normal guy, with a middle class upbringing and now a comfortable, married life. No dancing on tables at the Chelsea Hotel, not dropping acid at studio 54- just a normal, well-adjusted guy. He speaks delightfully candidly about his own work as well. The book includes some snippets from interviews, and in one Thiebaud remarks how he isn’t interested in the commercial status of his subjects (like the pop painters) but simply saw a slice of pie as “a triangle on a round plate.” Maybe it’s this normalcy and candid nature of his that has largely kept him out of the limelight, in the sense that he has never achieved say, Richter-level status of celebrity.

And he’s still going! A lot of people are surprised when I tell them that yes, he’s still alive and, yes, he’s still painting away and showing regularly. John Wilmerding, in the forward to the book, aptly states “In a contentious, cynical, and chaotic age his art brings to the table optimism, humor, and order.”

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Wayne Thiebaud, reservoir and orchard, 2001.

My Tribute to Thiebaud’s “Rabbit”

I’ve never done a tribute of any sorts to a famous artist’s work before- yet I see this all the time in art school. I’ve never so much as kept an art book open while working. I guess a part of me thought it was wrong to look at another artist’s work for enough inspiration that it became really noticeable. BUT, I’ve come to realize, that when you really love and admire another artist’s work, sometimes a fun little tribute can be just fine!

In my Painting III class right now, I basically can paint anything I want. I took advantage of this freedom to paint something I’d always wanted to paint but somehow never found the occasion to do so: a hamster. Now, let me explain: I love hamsters. I couldn’t have a dog, or a cat, or any sort of large, allergenic pet growing up. So, I had hamsters, and subsequently came to think of them as just about the most adorable, lovable animals out there.

And then, there’s this painting by Wayne Thiebaud, which shows a rabbit in the most interesting way I’ve ever seen a rabbit (or any cute and furry animal) painted:

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Wayne Thiebaud: Rabbit.

Ever since seeing this painting, I’ve told myself that I would do a painting of my own as a sort of “tribute” using a hamster as a subject. A few years later, I finally did it:

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Megan Koth, Hamster, Oil on Canvas, 2013.

This was something I painted solely for myself, just for fun. I’m in the middle of developing my body of work for my thesis exhibition, so I haven’t painted something just for the heck of it in awhile. I’m glad that I took a break to paint something fluffy (both figuratively and literally) and fun!