In a couple of weeks I am going up north for what was going to be a quiet, cozy weekend. Instead I have a new project in mind: one which combines my painting practice with the elements of nature, at the place I love most.
What is painting today? Why do we still do it? I have never been interested in image-making as part of my practice, but primarily with the materiality. What gives a painting it's value? How do certain combinations of form, colour, brush strokes, personality, and era culminate to million-dollar paintings which people flock to see, or covet for themselves, or study for hours?
A contemporary painting exhibit at the MoMA laments and comments on the state of painting today. In a review of the show, the writer sums it up well:
"It’s not that painting is “dead” again—no other medium can as yet so directly combine vision and touch to express what it’s like to have a particular mind, with its singular troubles and glories, in a particular body. But painting has lost symbolic force and function in a culture of promiscuous knowledge and glutting information."
"Anything attempted in painting now can’t help but be a do-over of something from the past, unless it’s so nugatory that nobody before thought to bother with it," (Schjeldahl, The New Yorker online, Jan 5, 2015).
You can view the rest of the review here.
So, how does a young painter, with little interest in image-making, past or present, but a strong love for painting nonetheless, continue to stay hungry?
My interest in painting has always been because of paint - the substance, the possibilities, the record-keeping, the risk: that is what keep me curious.
My project up north will combine elements of chance, nature, weather, time, and a bit of paint to create a series inspired by and infused with nature. Being intentionally vague here, so that if the project fails and I have to change the course of it, you'll be none-the-wiser.
Materials list, prep work, planning, research are what will give me a tiny bit of satisfaction for these next couple weeks, but my mind is already 4.25 hours north...
I don't paint with red.
I have long had a strong aversion to its dominant, overly warm quality, and have never felt comfortable with it occupying my palate. In my undergrad studies at Mcmaster, I consistently sidled up to blues, purples, greens, browns, whites and blacks - feeling like I understood those colours infinitely more than the warmer tones. Yellow can go either way, and I use oranges who close enough to brown that I can situate them more intuitively next to their spectrum partners.
I spent about eighty percent of my undergraduate art-making hours with Nate, my partner-in-all-things. I would paint or draw, he would watch and we'd chat about our days, experiences, and under-developed theories about the world. I'd sneak him into the studio while our studio tech wasn't watching, and he sat in on far too many of my art history courses - I like to think his engineering studies became more well-rounded as a result of all this.
While I choose shades of paint to use when working on my projects, I can remember a handful of times that Nate would recommend, "Use red!" It became an ongoing joke: anytime I'd get a grade back on anything he'd say, "You know what would have gotten you a better mark..."
At the time, I think I knew he was right, but my aversion to red was stronger than my desire to get at those A's. Not only that, I felt a complete lack of connection to the colour. I just don't understand red.
Nate and I were hanging out, I was painting in my parents' basement. I was in the final steps of one my pieces, a painting/assemblage which marks the beginning of my fluid painting obsession (6 or 7 years ago now). I had created a wood panel with many different shallow boxes on its surface, whitewashed the whole thing, and filled the little nooks with drawings, found objects, fluid paint, and image transfers. As a final flourish, I dropped one small bit of red paint in an inconspicuous corner, mostly as a joke, but also as a visual salute to Nate's company throughout the piece's creation.
I presented the piece in our 3rd year Critique class. My professor, Graham had many comments for me - he really understood my work long before I began to. His last comment was, "I really like your use of red!"
Nate was so happy/annoying/proud.
Since then, I have dropped a small touch of red into almost all my fluid paintings, as a tribute to Nate, who still shows undying interest in the creative world, and to Graham, who encouraged me in more ways than I can say. His recent passing makes me all the more committed to honouring his life and work in a careful drop of red that has become deeply symbolic in my work.
A friend asked to do a mock interview with me for one of her projects. I thought I'd share my witty and wise words here.
Tell us a bit about how you came to be an artist.
Ever since I was really young, I loved painting. I would paint my clothes, I'd paint little figurines, I painted rocks - no surface was safe from me. I remember loving the process of taking a bunch of pure paint, and spreading it to transform another surface. The textures, the colours, the effects of blending: I've been obsessed with them for as long as I can remember. After high school, I didn't really question the fact that I wanted to study art - not fully knowing how this would be actualized - but confident of this nonetheless. I studied studio art at McMaster University, and now work and create in Hamilton, Ontario.
What is your medium of choice?
Fluid acrylic paint & all its corresponding counterparts.
What is your favorite part about painting?
I like the the unpredictable, uncontrollable effects that paint surprises me with. My method of choice over the past few years has been to drop and pour paint onto flat surfaces, using gravity and forces of flow to "free-form" as they will. I like using transparencies that dry to different opacities- it's a really fun process of discovery when the painting is dry.
Do you ever see yourself branching off to other mediums when it comes to art making?
For sure. In particular I'd love to gain skill in graphic design and in calligraphy. But my exploration of fluid acrylic has taken over all my artistic interest and time for now, and I feel like I'm barely scratching the surface. So for now, I'll keep at it.
What is your studio like?
It is homey, comfortable, and has a TV in it. Oh wait - it's my living room.
Who are some of the artists you admire?
Some of the greats - Picasso, Cezanne, and VanGogh. Contemporary artists that I love are Anselm Kiefer and this fluid acrylic artist named Holton Rower.
What do you do when you're not creating paintings?
I work FT as a Project Coordinator for Art Forms, a youth arts studio. I also teach music lessons from my home, and recently I co-started a small makers' collective called Benchdog Collective, where I make wood & epoxy jewelry.
If you had a million dollars what would you do with it?
I've thought about this a lot. I'd buy a huge studio with perfectly level floors, and I'd pour huge paintings on sheets of clear plastic, 8-foot plywood, metal mesh (and sculpt with them when dry). I'd give some of it to Nate, my smart partner, to design and create a table with an adjustable surface so I could control the tilt on a piece while working on it, or time it so that the tilt changes throughout the drying process. Then I'd pay off all my student loans and donate the rest to Art Forms so I can keep working there for forever.
Where can we buy some of your work?
I have a few places where I exhibit occasionally (James North Studio, Hamilton Artists Inc.,the Pearl Company), but nothing constant at this point. I keep my website fairly current, so you can view what I make and have for sale at www.amberaasman.ca.
Do you dream of painting full time?
Not really - I really enjoy the community-based work that I do at Art Forms, as well teaching music. I love the various incarnations of my arts training, and can't imagine giving any of them up at this point.
What is the hardest part about being a studio artist?
At this stage in my career/life, it's lacking the funds for space and materials to create the large scale works that I really want to pursue. In addition, I think my work has a bit of an experiential component, so in some ways requires in-person contact for a viewer. This is not a problem in and of itself, but it takes some careful planning when applying for shows digitally or when sharing work online. This also usually just means a smaller viewership (though the interaction is arguably higher "quality"). Last challenge is taxes. Those are hard.
We are having an art show!
"Soft Spoken Storm" opens on July 24th (7pm) and will be up until August 17th. The show will also be up for the August Art Crawl on August 8th.
I'll be showing more pieces using poured acrylics, with some of the largest pieces I've made to date. Tzvia will be exhibiting brand new work which results from big life changes and challenges of late.
We are excited to share our work!
Proud new member of a great gallery on James North! wwww.jamesnorthartcollective.com
In February 2012 I began working for a small non-profit initiative which was an arts studio dedicated to street-involved youth. Currently I work as Program Coordinator for this organization, which has grown substantially over the past couple years. The work is exciting and challenging, but always rewarding in huge ways.
Find out more about Art Forms: wwww.artformshamilton.com
While studying at McMaster University (2007-2011), I was selected to create a piece for a commission piece for Mills Library: library.mcmaster.ca/news/8349
The piece was a mixed media "box-work," a series which I worked primarily on in my last two years of studying at McMaster. I built the panels and frames, dropped & poured paint, and embedded objects like dried plants, seed pods, rusty metal, bronze filings, and other found objects.
I titled the piece "Dear Person, this is for you (and I love you)" which was about the process of building an art piece specifically for a person or group, without knowing or having any connection with them. But all the same, I was really eager to build it for them, so the reference to "loving them" is a bit cheeky but in a way also sincere.
Plus, you know, they paid me.
Making & co-creating