October 7th, 2023 - December 3rd, 2023
Many artists as they work in whatever form or medium they're working in, become a little enamored with the process itself, and its accoutrements - some more, some less. Through different projects over the years I've looked at the tools of painting that were around me and really liked them, but I had no interest in taking the tools and placing them within the framework of the idea or the work itself.
I think that many painters have looked at their mixing palettes and felt that their palettes were perhaps better than the painting they were using the mixed colors for. I would feel this way from time to time - but I think what was on my work table that charmed me the most and began to make me think - was my brush cleaning jar. It always connected me with memories of seeing my father's cleaning jars. They were filthy and paint encrusted, sitting on his workbench for years. This started my fascination with my own cleaning jar. Always at the ready, filled with water, which would be changed usually in a timely fashion before each project. What I started to notice on my cleaning jar were the pigmented lines of evaporation from the dirty water of previous brush cleanings. This was the starting point for the evaporation paintings, and the idea of paintings, painting themselves.
The paintings are made by pigmented water evaporating. It's a generative process that creates sediment/stratum-like markings. I initiate the circumstances, and air and temperature with time create the final results. Almost all of these paintings are on primed plexi-glass or plastic. These are allowed to sit submerged in a colored ink solution till all the liquid is gone. The dates in which the evaporation painting was started and finished become the titles for each painting. Some paintings took months to form.
Time, and waiting, are in many ways the subject of these paintings. My participation or non-participation in this process makes me smile; for it is truly - like watching paint dry.
My father; either to clean and clear his conscience, or generally free himself from painful memories - pushed to get rid of the belongings of my deceased mom. Mostly her belongings that related to her family. In his mind, he believed himself to not be a "sentimentalist", but in fact, was just not interested in other's sentiments. So, upon each visit to my father I was constantly forced to make choices.
"You want this? It was in the bedroom closet."
"No? I'm not keeping it! Get it out of here."
"Alright then in the garbage it goes!"
It was a way for him to express himself, while also purging himself from his past. This also had the benefit for him to engage me as his son, and trap me inside his prison universe - or mind. One of these purges lead me to bring back to my apartment a ship in a bottle. It had wound up at my father's house when his mother-in-law passed away in the early 1980's. I remembered it fondly from Grandma's old house. And remember staring at it with wonder when I was small.
Now it doesn't seem so amazing to me as it did then. A clipper ship on dark blue waves going past a light house in the harbor seems crude to me now. Not as "detailed" as I once had thought. "Detailed" was a favorite adjective when I was a kid for models and toys. My brother and I were addicted to this microcosmic awe. None the less, it is still a small crafty marvel. A lovely artifact that undoubtedly belonged to my grandfather the "ship captain", or Merchant Marine Officer.
A career that took him through three wars. Typhoons and torpedoes. All that dramatic romantic stuff. And then he picks up this cute tchotchke made in a gin bottle to be later dusted by my grandma while he was away at sea.
1 lug around gleefully this ancient history. And as an artist it informs, inspires, plays into the things I make. The history of ships in a bottle - in a nut shell, sailors (and prisoners) with lots of time on their hands, and empty gin bottles, would make these tiny elaborate nautical models.
To pass the time.
To keep the mind and the hands busy.
And a tricky art form it was. Always leading a person to wonder aloud "How did the ship get in there?"
Well I'm not going to get into that. You can always go online and see some video showing some middle-aged man doing the step by step.
I can tell you that the middle-aged me made my own version of this old time handicraft. In a sense all artists in their studio have time on their hands like the sailors of yore. And while fascinated by all the previously mentioned things, I had some ideas to add to this bottle thing. The romance of the ship in a bottle thing got hold of me. Accentuated by the tiny scale intricacies. Passing time, drinking, waiting, and the beauty of transit. Not only was one transported by the old-timey sailing ships in miniature, but the idea of travel itself - if only just in the imagination.
And so I decided to make a contemporary version of the ship in a bottle - and make airplanes in a bottle.
I guess back in the day boarding a clipper ship must have been quite a special thing - a BIG voyage into the unknown. Compared to today, it was often perilous and dramatic. Nowadays we just hop on a plane inflate our neck cushions, place the headset plugs in our ears and away we go! And yet, perhaps as it is now with flying, sailing may also have been prosaic and tedious to folk back in the day too.
So these thoughts superimposed and fused with other thoughts of romance... my romance, that is with my then girlfriend and now wife, Katia. Katia has for our entire relationship traveled from New York to Berlin every couple of months. Back and forth in different airplanes and different airlines. Usually I wait expectantly, and ponder her miraculous state of flight. Often I imagine her in the darkened cabin asleep in her seat amidst the white noise of the air-conditioning and jet engines. Katia in this tiny plane flying above the enormous dark ocean.
And this began a series of planes in bottles. After much crafty consideration, I developed a method for placing and suspending the planes inside a bottle. I will admit that my objectives were nowhere as challenging as making a fully rigged sailing ship model in a bottle. However, not without tedious hand eye coordination and such. And my planes were neat tiny models in their own right. Jet airliners mostly. Sometimes with cotton clouds. All of them suspended "in air" on a filament running through the bottle.
After a few whimsical and unspecific models of jet airliners (Katia's plane at night), I began to get more specific. For my friend Karen (a glider pilot) a B1 Palatus. For my friend Toma, Ricky Nelson's ill-fated DC3. And a few jet airliners.
Ive been stymied technically by one idea though, and I know it seems to be part of a dark and dramatic theme - The Hindenburg in a bottle. Yes, its impossible to avoid the tragedy, or its associations with fascism, but, I have another connection in mind. A little boy, in the Bronx, hearing it fly overhead, and looking up to see the giant silver zeppelin. A memory he would never forget. And my memory, of my father telling me about seeing it on its way to Lakehurst, NJ.