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Tai Lipan
Thursday, 30 June 2005
On Opinions


It is hard to help the general public understand that not everything that is made is good. It makes you sound elitist and closed minded. It shuts people out, making them feel that they can’t connect with painting if it is not all subjective. It is even more awkward when dealing with someone who is also engaged in the practice of making paintings. Here you have a clashing of ideas. One artist may value something that another quickly dismisses. This causes fear in both artists that the ideas they value are not worthwhile causing defensiveness and leading to arguments. These arguments can be healthy; after all they only occur when people are passionate about what they do. I would rather someone have a good argument than a lethargic attitude.

Inevitably if you state your opinions, you are going to cause trouble and on occasion you may even be wrong. I have made many embarrassing statements in the past about what I think is valid in painting. I have said it as if it is truth because of a fear that if it is not, my own work is invalid. Later, I wish I wouldn’t have stated my opinion so loudly so that I would not have to eat my words. I wish I would never have stated my opinions, actually I wish I would never “talk” about painting or the art world at all. It can really only cause trouble. Sometimes, I try and stop mentioning what I think but I inevitably fall back into my old habits.
It seems important as an artist to believe in what you are working on which automatically makes you bias toward things which do not currently interest you. Most of the time, I think that I should be brave and say what I think while still listening to the opposing perspective. If we don’t believe in fighting for what we are working on then we can’t continue the work. Maybe that last sentence is the problem, the feeling that we have to fight. Karin mentioned that painters always feel up in arms about their validity, maybe this is true. Maybe we are under attack, but most likely we are just scared that we are in the wrong camp.

Posted by Tai Lipan at 11:43 AM EDT
Wednesday, 29 June 2005
Obvious Points on Influences
Some artists are influenced by a vast amount of sources. Historical and contemporary paintings are only part of the complex interests that these artists have. Everything is inspiring and many things directly affect their work. I would not label myself as one of these artists. To me painting is painting. I love to look at other artist’s work, think about and question the visual world. I feel like influences are slow to sift through me and into the work. They definitely are present, some more than others, but they don’t show up instantaneously or in obvious ways. I am mostly influenced by the relationships I am observing when painting. That is not to say that the setup itself is highly inspirational. My latest painting is of a lot of cookies and watermelon. This is not a commentary on my interest in America’s unhealthy lifestyle, however true. It is simply composed for close study and investigation. This interest in investigation puts several artists in the forefront of influences. Clearly Cezanne redefined our common world through closely studying unstable relationships. Morandi was also in this category though they yielded very different results. But I love many more painters that may never be mentioned when looking at my work. I don’t mind being compared with other artists, for the most part. The only time this is a problem is when the work is only being compared on a surface level, “she painted cookies so she must be influenced by Thiebaud.” It is hard for people to get beyond subject matter when referencing influences which considers only a literal relationship and doesn’t get to the heart of the work.

I have other interests outside of painting, but they don’t flow to each other as blatantly as some artists. Many are directly influenced by what goes on around them and it is evident in the work. I am more interested in things that are timeless, mostly paintings themselves that have this quality. I don’t think of influences as a limitation. I don’t make work that will appear new. The work should have freshness but I have resigned myself to the reality that I am reinvestigation already charted territory. Perhaps this will take me into areas that seem new but most likely, if I keep clarifying my intentions, I will simply re-say what has been said in my own way.

Posted by Tai Lipan at 2:35 PM EDT
Tuesday, 28 June 2005
Thoughts on the film: Hoichi the Earless
Please indulge me as I set the background for the content of this blog in regards to the short film, Hoichi the Earless:

A Japanese narrator sings the story of the last battle between two clans. The losing clan had an infant emperor. His caretaker sings a line, “though I am only a woman, I will not let them kill the emperor, I will escort him to the next land”, and she jumps into the sea holding the child. Those who fought for the clan followed the emperor to his death.

The main body of the story unfolds as a young, blind orator named Hoichi is visited by a warrior spirit. The spirit asked Hoichi to retell the last battle story to an assembly. The young man complies; he is blind and unaware of the identity of this spirit. Slowly we see this young musician’s strength and life drain from his face as every night he is required to retell this emotional story. He seems to be half in this world and half absorbed elsewhere. Finally we are allowed to see where Hoichi is taken every night. At first we see an assembly of high officials requesting the story of the last battle. It is his visual idea of his surroundings. As he begins to sing the story we can see his mental picture change into the last battle scene. The man is so involved in his chant. It is complex, like remembering history and the passion of the clan as they took their own lives. You could see that he needed to tell the story; he knew the battle as well as anyone who had been there. He was blessed with the ability to see beyond a time and place, though his sight was gone, his imagination was vivid. His need to sing the song was as moving as the story of the battle itself. Then we realize that the Hoichi is actually in a cemetery and the assembly is composed of the clan’s spirits, longing to remember their last days. When his caretakers find Hoichi, he is overwhelmed in layers of his imagined worlds. It seemed like sleepwalking and how it can be dangerous to wake someone from their mental place. All the others can see is a cemetery and a man who may be crazy or possessed.

Hoichi is taken home and is painted with Holy Scripture so that the spirit could not find him (as the scripture makes him invisible). Having forgotten to paint his ears, the spirit sees him and decides to take the ears back to the emperor. Hoichi is left, without ears and without sight. People from all over heard about the events and wanted to hear the stories that so overwhelmed both the spirits and the storyteller. When asked he says that he will play the stories forever, he has to; he will play for the spirits so they can always hear.

The movie seemed to be about the creative life of an individual. It was about the ability to see beyond this world and believe in the reality and necessity of that vision. His vision of the story was so full and clear that he realized how much the spirits had gone through, how much they needed to hear and be remembered. He was a part of something he never literally witnessed. Though retelling and reliving the story of these events was killing this young man, he had to do it. Even after his ears were ripped off, he felt the need to continue his task. I wish we could believe in the power of our imaginations. Our minds should be capable of building a world so completely that we no longer question the validity of our stories. It’s like Henry Darger and the worlds he created. He had a belief in his world and an amazing need to makes these places materialize in some way. But this is to close to madness. It is the balance between belief in imagination and its place in reality that creates beautiful stories.

Posted by Tai Lipan at 10:09 AM EDT
Saturday, 25 June 2005
Exhibiting work
One realization occurred to me during the Basquiat movie a few weeks ago. The world of painting represented in this movie was so foreign compared to working as an artist. All of the parties, knowing the right people, and the shallow social world are all so removed from the process of making. Thinking about this led to a discussion on showing work all together. The first time I really had work in a show was my thesis exhibition in undergrad. It was a strange feeling, a removal from the work that I was not secure in. I think that is the first time I realized how deeply connected I was with the work. They were my memories, my observations and they did not belong on display. I especially didn’t like the way they transformed into some sort of objects that could be bought or sold like so many decorative objects. Judy asked if I ever feel excited for others to see the work or have a show. I can enjoy the party aspect if I don’t look at, or think about the work. It hangs there, so vulnerable and open to others. It feels like a friend across the room that is embarrassed but you can’t get them out of the situation.

I feel empathetic toward the paintings that have been through the frustrating process. I wish that I could remove myself further from the work, as it is important at times for learning and growth. I don’t feel (especially now) that these paintings show much of the intensity that I feel about painting itself. I have realized that I am more inclined to think of them as partners on a journey, than something that possesses the feeling and exhaustion that I have in making them. The paintings show that which is not yet arrived at, instead of my intent or the struggle. I think the empathy has also to do with a kind of failure. I haven’t reached my expectations and these things should not yet be judged. These expectations, more than the paintings themselves, (or even the fact that I try and paint at all) make me a painter. When I show this work they look fine but they stare me in the face as if to say, remember what a grand thing we set out to do? Remember what we were working on and how that felt? Remember the hopes we had to transcend? And then I realize that they did not reach any of my goals beyond my memory of the expectations. The paintings are the only ones in the room that know the paintings I can make. And these are not them. My mind and love for painting is greater than my ability to execute them. When I am alone with the paintings I can forgive them, trust that they will keep pushing slowly forward. When I first make them I am blinded by my hopes of their success. But when they are exposed, they are not as they were in my mind, yet they are all others can see. I guess that I both covet the work as my only true comrades, and I hate them for not letting others really see them.

Posted by Tai Lipan at 10:05 AM EDT
Thursday, 23 June 2005
The Stuff of Paint
An aside: I wish I could write specifically about the relationship between science and painting, as it is an interesting topic. I am not well versed in this area so my comments will be fairly general. If anyone has interesting parallels to add, I would love to hear them.

I read the book What Painting is several years ago which relates painting to alchemy. Reading this reminded me of what I don’t understand in regards to the stuff of paint. Such things as grinding pigments, discovering new mediums, and layering with thin washes are things I never think about. Today’s painters seem less able to engage the interesting capabilities and limitations of their materials which were explored extensively by previous artists. When painters talk more about the surface of a painting than they do its other visual properties, I can’t help but react negatively. I don’t want to be preoccupied with these seemingly less important topics. At the same time it seems a shame that the materials we use to make our work are not understood. When viewing a Rembrandt or Chardin painting up close, the fascination is heightened. The first image here is a detail of Rembrandt’s painting Jewish Bride and the second is a detail of the tip of the middle finger from the same image. Levels of trapped light are held in the paint itself, the history of a mark and the way the forms were built still hovers there. Does this matter? Should we be forced, for example, to mix our own pigment in order to know the material which is a vehicle for creating our new worlds?


I heard John Walker speak about his work a few years ago. There was a range of work represented, many thickly painted surfaces and then a few pictures of a similar scale which were laid in with washes. He said, (something like) he is amazed by the stuff of paint, paint itself, but he needed to know if he could arrive in a similar place without drawing so much attention to the material. Like anything else, painters don’t want the physical material to distract from their intentions. Keeping this highest goal in mind, might the artist’s exploration of the material in fact strengthen the result?

The amount that painters draw attention to the physicality of paint has changed throughout time. Some want to mask it and they needed to know their materials in order to pull it off. Others wanted to draw attention to the surface of the canvas, forcing the viewer to realize the fiction of the two dimensional world. It is interesting to think of where I stand in this. I am a representational painter and yet the work is altered by the events of modernism and abstract expressionism. My intentions for the paintings are not to make the viewer believe that they are the objects, but they are depictions on some level. I don’t really have an answer for how much I should think about this point. I am clear, however, that I should always be struggling toward realizing relationships, and transforming these experiences. This may or may not point out a need to refocus on the properties of paint.

Posted by Tai Lipan at 11:22 AM EDT
Tuesday, 21 June 2005
Pursuing painting as a career
I have never felt particularly good at articulating with words. When I learn about something, I need to look at it and understand it as clearly as I can through its visual properties. When I was young my father would draw groups of five small pictures on a page. The group contained the same literal objects; a dog, a shoe, a tree. My job was to circle the image that did not fit. Most children have played this game, but something about my father depicting those images was important. He was able to make them very similar, changing only one variable so that my perception of their likeness was tested. It seemed very important to me to recognize the differences between things. It was really much more like a job than a game. As if my father was testing me; if I didn’t know this, how could I ever hope to understand the world around me?

My perspective on art as a career was always very narrow. It focused much less on a need to be creative and more on an urge to understand the actuality of things. What I needed was the slowness of observation and the result of something being made holy through my reverent study. The impossibility of observational drawing seemed to engage a world of need. I know a lot of people who think of this as a selfish trade. My task doesn’t overtly encounter social, political or moral issues, but it seems so urgent that these pictures are in the world. Not necessarily my pictures, but those of painters who have taken on this feat, far before my time. I am not sure that I would fully exist if those pictures had not been struggled over.

It is important that I continue this struggle because of an ever-present need to understand the things around me. To pay attention, examine, and redefine my world. The pictures are my way of focusing, of not letting in too much external information. I can block out the world and concentrate on a specific and still complex world. When I think of broad topical discussions of politics, world hunger, war, poverty I literally can not try and deal with it. Things in the world that should make me overwhelmed, I can in a way, shrug off and block out. It all seems very hopeless to think of issues on such a large scale. I think I have to process them slowly and less directly, if at all. Particularity, quietness, duality, and instability all exist when observing the relationships within my still life set-ups. I suppose it matters that I am a working artist because, like me, there may be others who can not deal with the world in any other way. Some people can not talk about the strong, overwhelming content of this world. But with painting words are not important and the unnamable is most clearly said.

Posted by Tai Lipan at 8:50 PM EDT
Updated: Tuesday, 21 June 2005 8:55 PM EDT
Technology: tool or trap
Taking a digital image of a painting changes the dimensions, the surface, and my relationship with it. Sometimes I see technology as a positive thing, a tool for viewing something in a different way (like looking at your painting in a mirror or turning it upside-down. It is also an affective documenting tool to take images of your work and refer to the changes that you have made. Because it is an interesting way to re-see a paintings structure, I have to be careful not to view my work in this form more than I observed it physically. There is a clear change from painted picture to digital image but it is attractive, in some ways, even seductive. It is validating to see your work in this way. If it is capable of being seen in such a final, viewable way it seems somehow stronger.

Having a website changes the work for me, even beyond this digital perspective. While in the studio the paintings are a process; on the internet the works are final products, things I produce. Considering the work to be a product makes it stale and contrived. I don’t get to experience the struggle of the making when I am so preoccupied with the idea of people viewing it at its end. Paintings have no end; they are a means to learning the next step. They mark points of confusion, clarity, discovery and dead ends. Websites are neat and tidy; they package the work to make it accessible. Of course there are positive aspects of the work being accessible but it should never interfere with the artmaking. As an artist I need to be present with my ideas and the work. In the end the internet is a tool for artists to resee their work and also to let others have access to it. The main concern for me is to maintain integrity in my work so that it does not become something other than my work. It cannot become a product.

Posted by Tai Lipan at 11:50 AM EDT
Wednesday, 15 June 2005
In response to Jasmines last blog
Exerpt from: "I Love it":
- it is very hard to paint what you feel while looking at an object in front of you that you 'think' should end up looking as it appears. It is very difficult for non-artists to look at a painting or piece of work that does NOT look like an actual physical object and enjoy what they see. For one, I think that if the viewer is going to look at art, they must do their homework first in order to better understand what they are seeing; at least before they decide to criticize it.

Jasmine, something in your last entry got me thinking. As I was unable to comment to on your blog site to your last entry. I wanted to share my thoughts with you, see what you think and maybe make this blogging a bit more discussion friendly.

I agree that the general public may not fully understand what is visually taking place within, especially, abstract paintings. I would like to add however, that they may be blind in a similar way to representational painting. If the subject is recognizable or nameable that is all it may remain in the minds of those lacking formal training. This stigma of name-ability is perhaps worse than having your work dismissed for being unrecognizable. Representational work is capable of being entirely misunderstood. To me what is so fascinating about objects being identifiable in a painting is the play between the logic of “things” and that which the visual implies. If these pictures remain stand-ins for the objects then this play, which is the poetry of our craft, will not be recognized.

The informed individual as a viewer may also be a problem that artists face. You have the struggle of relating to non artists (if this is of interest to you) but you also have to try and make the painting overcome how it was made. There are some paintings that I can talk about; I feel comfortable understanding them, what the artist was trying to do visually, and the result in content from that quest. But being able to dumb a painting down to formal talk is problematic, it points out a lack of unity in the work.

In a way I fault the painter for not being able to transcend both the non-artist’s preconceptions and also the educated artists who try and understand. To me, the strongest paintings (non objective or representational) should be capable of being “felt” in some way, by anyone. (I am aware that it takes giving the pictures at least a second of viewing time to achieve any sort of feeling from the work, educated or not). This is what Rembrandt is capable of; you don’t look at a Rembrandt portrait and start talking formally. You just look at it, it is so whole that it is no longer a representation of a person, nor is it an art object, it is something completely transformed. I like to think that if someone totally unaware walked into a room with a Rembrandt portrait and some lesser portrait paintings of his time, that they would sense a difference between them. I have spoken to some of my layman friends about this and they are afraid I might not be right. I suppose once you are more informed it is hard to see things so innocently again. I don’t mind thinking that this is true even if it’s a bit delusional. It would be nice if all audience members tried to learn more about the work in order to fully appreciate it. In the end I think we have to do our jobs in the studio to make the strongest, most felt, and unified pictures that we can and hope that they will have an impact on the entire audience.



Posted by Tai Lipan at 3:11 PM EDT
Updated: Tuesday, 21 June 2005 11:49 AM EDT
Tuesday, 14 June 2005

As I was writing my last entry I realized how similar an experience I had recently with a Balthus painting. It wasn’t the same type of experience but in both circumstances the hands of the figures activate a more complete story. The painting entitled Led beaux jours, depicted a young girl reclining, her left hand extended holding a mirror and her right hand fell heavy over the side of the couch. In the corner is a mantle and a fireplace, a man is crouching to tend to the fire. While this implies an underlying narrative, it is the hand hanging to the side of the couch that is my focus. The girl’s body language seems confident, vane, and anxious to experience life (perhaps to soon). The room is too quiet causing the viewer to revisit the girls face, as she is half gazing into the hand held mirror. The painting is disquieting and then I saw it: the whole painting was in that hanging hand. The hand was tentative, formally it hung freely in the space around it, but it was flexed. The fingers were spread apart, fully extended. She was totally tense and young when you saw that hand. It defied everything the girl portrayed otherwise.

I appreciated the time it took to unfold the story of this painting. The narrative may be obvious but the emotive quality adds a level that seems worth painting about. This surpasses a gimmick. While so many works of art center on disquieting events, some are too easily identified. They are factual: bad things happen and our world is disgusting. Of course it is, but why do we care? The problem with this work in my opinion, is that it misses the humanity that makes this disgusting world worth redeeming. If nothing is at stake, morals and justice are pointless. Strong work is timeless; it hangs in a place between socially challenging and strikingly personal. It reminds us of why humanity is worth saving, whether that means pointing out that there is a problem, or emphasizing that sometimes beauty also exists.

Posted by Tai Lipan at 11:11 AM EDT
Changing my Expectations
Several years ago I took a trip to Italy; I was prepared to see many amazing paintings. Without expectation, I walked into a room in the Villa Borghese in Rome filled with Bernini sculptures. I saw his sculpture of David; his arm was twisted back, ready to hurl a rock with his slingshot. The resistance of his body against the weight of his own effort was fascinating, but nothing like what I would encounter next. The Rape of Persephone is a historic tale and felt the part in the illustrative eyes of the next sculpture. I walked around it, respectfully admiring the craftsmanship. When my glance turned toward the man’s hand on Persephone’s thigh I gasped. It sounds clich?, but marble turned to flesh in that moment. Flesh, under the pressure of a struggle pressed hard and unwillingly between piercing fingers. The reality that this scene was incased in stone returned when I diverted my eyes from this spot. It wasn’t the depiction of figures that amazed me; it was the transformation that is possible when media and message are unified.

I wasn't bothered that I could not hold onto this feeling throughout the whole sculpture. I am learning that I appreciate the play between reality of material and fiction of a depicted narrative. I like that our mind’s logic fights what the visual implies. I would never try to explain how Bernini made this happen. This sculpture surpassed conversation as an art object, it stifled speech of any kind for a moment. It commanded my attention and my emotions. This is one of the earlier moments that changed my expectations of art. I have had amazing experiences since this time but none have been as unexpected as this.

Posted by Tai Lipan at 11:06 AM EDT

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