Thursday, June 28, 2012

Review of an Inspirational Painting - Picasso's Woman of Majorca

Every so often I come across an inspirational painting. This time I was struck by Pablo Picasso's Woman of Majorca, pictured above. He painted it in 1905, when he was 24 years old. Exactly 100 years later, I was 24 years old, and part of the intrigue for me anytime I view a painting by Picasso is to look at the date of creation and dare to compare what he accomplished at my age.

I'm not trying to be Picasso, nor do I have the arrogance to think I have his level of artistic talent, but sometimes I do come across a piece of his work, realize I have 5 or 10 or 20 years to create something just as good, and get a boost of confidence that yes, it can be done - Picasso was not a god; he was just a man. But in the case of Woman of Majorca, Picasso's mastery is clear, and attempting to describe such mastery in words is probably futile, even if your name is William Faulkner.

Certainly there are art historians, professors, and critics who can write an academic informative review of Woman of Majorca, theorize about why Picasso chose this subject matter, while comparing his transition from the "blue period" to the "rose period" at this time of his life. I don't plan to do that, and I'm sure Mr. Picasso didn't sit down one day and say to himself, "Today I'm beginning my rose period, so now my palette needs to look like this..." He just painted what felt right. So I will attempt to articulate why it feels right to me.

Woman of Majorca resonates an ambiguous, mysterious quality. It doesn't matter that the subject matter is simply a portrait of a woman; perhaps the simplicity of the portrait adds to its mysteriousness, similar to the eroding ancient Roman, Greek, Egyptian, Pre-Columbian, and Asian sculptures. Her eyes reveal nothing, as they are just black ovals devoid of any white, yet the eyelids are relaxed and seem to alleviate any evilness that might otherwise be conveyed by black eyes. The ambiguity in her face is further demonstrated by its relative flatness in neutral color, with minimal modeling, wrinkles, and lines. And although this ambiguity risks being dismissed as a boring lack of detail, Picasso frames the face with a hat on top, veil on the sides, and V-neck and hand from below, to remind the viewer that the face is the focal point - to encourage the viewer to keep studying it because there is more to be discovered.

The sketchy quality, angular shapes, and lack of refinement reveals Paul Cezanne's influence on Picasso. And it seems to me that Picasso had probably seen a woman in town, a stranger or an acquaintance, and as he was inspired by a momentary glimpse of strange melancholy, he later returned to his studio to recreate her from memory - details clouded and ambiguity conceived, as he sought to quickly convey his feelings to the canvas. 
Picasso applied the paint in a deliberate confident way, unconcerned about photorealistic qualities. And the ambiguity creates timelessness because it is a nonspecific woman with an obscure gaze; we don't know what she is thinking. We cannot understand her. Yet the painting is somehow inexplicably human. Like the Mona Lisa.

Apparently, Woman of Majorca was simply meant to be a study for a figure to be included in a much larger painting: Les Bateleurs, also created in 1905, depicted below. As you can see, the woman in the bottom right is in a very similar pose. While both paintings still present a level of melancholy, I feel that the masterful impact of Woman of Majorca is lost in her representation in Les Bateleurs, albeit she is not the primary subject. I must also add that my judgment of Les Bateleurs is limited to my perception of its reproduction as an image on a computer screen, certainly an adulterated experience when the size of the actual artwork is an enormous 83" x 89".

Thank you for reading about the paintings, sculptures, drawings, works in progress, reviews, Doodle of the Day, and other art by Los Angeles artist Lucas Aardvark Novak. To see older blog posts and other doodles, click HERE :)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Doodle of the Day - The Life Aquatic

Every artist needs nature. Yet I have mixed feelings about the "going green" trend, not because I am skeptical about environmental perils or global warming, but because so often it is referred to as a trend. A trend implies that it is something socially popular now, but in time will pass as it gradually becomes uncool, like wearing Airwalk shoes, or following 'N Sync, or having a mullet haircut. 

Going green, to me, is not a trend to be followed by some, but a necessary movement to include all. I recently watched a documentary narrated by the great David Attenborough about the world's oceans and it was informative but depressing because the outlook is grim, many significant fisheries may collapse by 2050, and the oceans affect everything, including the air we breathe.

For example, approximately one quarter of coral reefs around the world are already considered damaged beyond repair, with another two-thirds under serious threat. (See: A significant threat is ocean acidification. (See: Some people may wonder why we care about coral reefs anyway. But aside from their beauty, coral colonies are the backbone of oceanic ecosystems and directly affect not only fisheries and our food resources, but support the life of tiny creatures and plants called phytoplankton which contribute between 50 to 85 percent of the oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere. (See:

Hopefully, we as a global community can continue to address these environmental concerns, implement resolutions, educate younger generations, and realize that the green movement is not a trend, but a requirement.

Thank you for reading about the paintings, sculptures, drawings, works in progress, reviews, Doodle of the Day, and other art by Los Angeles artist Lucas Aardvark Novak. To see older blog posts and other doodles, click HERE :)

Friday, June 15, 2012

Doodle of the Day - At The Laundromat

At the laundromat I meet weird people. Yesterday I went to do my laundry, and some dude comes up and starts blathering about politicians and corruption and garbage in the streets and how the world is coming to an end, and how he loves white people. 

Another dude near me smelled like old shoes and stale beer as he stood in the corner hiding behind the vending machine. 

And a guy across the way, well, that is where the Doodle of the Day comes into play...

(click on image for larger view)

Happy Friday!

Thank you for reading about the paintings, sculptures, drawings, works in progress, reviews, Doodle of the Day, and other art by Los Angeles artist Lucas Aardvark Novak :) To see older blog posts and other doodles, click HERE.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Top 5 Ways To Be A Better Artist

I don't typically create lists of stuff, though maybe it's something I should do more often, like for going to the grocery store or getting errands done, rather than wandering around aimlessly with an annoying thought in my skull that I'm forgetting something, like having a rock in my shoe. When it comes to artistic creation, sometimes lists are good - they can serve as reminders, or directionals, as you meander through the unexplored wilderness.

The Revenant, 37" x 48", oil on canvas, 2012.

So, here is a list I made of the top 5 ways on how to be a better artist. It's by no means an effort to preach to the world. I ain't standing on any platform, and I ain't sayin it's true for everyone. I'm simply setting a series of markers for myself in this labyrinth... 
Number 1: Be prolific. An artist must always keep working. The idea is similar to an athlete going to the gym or taking hundreds of swings in the batting cage. It is indeed okay to take some time off (and probably required), but when the season is in session, an artist must be 100% dedicated and all in. Slumps do happen, and at times it feels that art is pointless or your efforts are futile, but it's not an excuse to stop working. Ask yourself, "How bad do I want it?" The answer should be simple. An artist must continue to work through hard times.

 The Revenant, (detail):

Number 2:. Craftsmanship matters. Some conceptual artists have almost entirely eliminated the craft from their work, even attempted to distinguish the "high" artist from the "lowly" craftsman. But I believe good art, even conceptual art, still requires a certain high level of craftsmanship. An artist must pay attention to every detail in his work. This does not mean that every work of art needs to be realistic or appear pristine, but there can be no mistakes in the final piece. Regarding painting, I think good craftsmanship requires an advanced ability to draw, even if the artist is creating work that is completely abstract or expressionistic. Drawing practice is basically the training of hand-eye coordination to create exactly what you want, rather than hoping something interesting develops haphazardly, even if the finished style appears random, dirty or gestural.

The Revenant, (detail):

Number 3: Study all subjects, not just art. In the early 20th century, United States Supreme Court Justice, Felix Frankfurter, was asked by a young man how to become a great lawyer.  He advised the young man not to limit his studies to the law, but to embrace the study of all fields, including history, art, literature, science, sports, other cultures, the economy, and the environment. I believe Justice Frankfurter’s wisdom applies to those who wish to become great artists. Art represents culture, and these other fields of study embody who we are on this planet.

Globalization continues to develop and refine a global culture, thus artists should think globally. The timeless pieces of the past are those which appeal to populations everywhere. Artistic creation is an ongoing practice and lifelong study, and this study encompasses all fields which make up the global population.

The Revenant, (detail): 

Number 4: Continue to develop your taste in art. By taste, I am referring to the ability to make comparative judgments of art. The more a person develops his taste, the more objective he becomes in his analysis. Often times a person will disregard certain types of art, declaring, "I know what I like, and it's not that." Such a mindset gives the person an excuse to remain close-minded, essentially reaching a plateau in his appreciation of artistic experiences. While it is obviously acceptable to dislike certain works, an artist should always keep an open mind and continue to refine and develop his taste in art by studying other artists, attending exhibitions and museums, and expanding his life in general by studying all fields, as discussed in Number 3 above. Just try not to be snobbish or pretentious about it.

Number 5: Stick with your own voice. This one probably sounds cliche, but it is true and easy to forget. It is easy for an artist to be influenced by the work of famous artists who are successful monetarily. But the attempt to imitate others usually results in banal and stifled work. The challenge for any artist is to bring something game-changing and new to the table. This can only be done by sticking with the artist’s own voice, and standing by his work, even when others criticize it. 

An artist must continue to develop his own voice, just like continuing to develop his own taste and continuing to study other fields. The more the artist develops his taste, the less likely he will be to try to imitate others, and the more likely he will be to venture into unexplored territory. On the flip side, simply creating work that people expect, or that appeals to the artist’s past collectors, his critics, or people he knows, will certainly result in stagnant, repetitive art. No matter what an artist creates, there will always be people who criticize it. An artist must simply remember to stay true to himself.

Thank you for reading about the paintings, sculptures, drawings, works in progress, reviews, Doodle of the Day, and other art by Los Angeles artist Lucas Aardvark Novak :) To see older blog posts and other doodles, click HERE.


Friday, June 1, 2012

New Work, the Word "Artist", and the Jack White Inspiration

Abstract 04-12, 27" x 33", oil and tape on linen, 2012.

For years I have struggled to comprehend exactly what an artist is. Anything can be considered "art", from scrawling the word "R. Mutt" on a urinal, to someone's roadkill on the highway. You can videotape yourself walking around and around in a circle wearing nothing but baseball pants and a feather cap and suddenly be the next great performance artist. Picasso was an artist. Beyonce is an artist. Milli Vanilli won the "Best New Artist" Grammy Award even though they were singers who apparently lip synched lyrics written by other people. The employees of Subway are called sandwich artists.

Last week I happened to be struggling with the word artist again, commenting to my brother that people so freely toss that word around like it's nothing. The overuse of the word threatens to strip it of all meaning.

The next day, however, I was in Vancouver, Canada, and coincidentally came across an article about Jack White and his new album, Blunderbuss. Written by Mike Usinger for the Vancouver weekly newspaper, The Georgia Straight, the article, and particularly White's quotes, hit home - an inspirational perspective to remember...

White says: "I get bored with the idea of being complacent. I feel a responsibility - not really a guilt, but responsibility - to the word artist. That's a heavy, heavy word to say out loud, to even think of yourself as an artist. A lot of people throw that word around. If someone who's 80 years old comes up in an airport and says, 'What do you do for a living?', if I have the gall to say artist, instead of musician or producer or whatever, I'm really going to be responsible to that word - it's not an excuse to not work."

He adds: "So I push myself. I gave myself over to it a long time ago - gave myself over to not having a normal life or a normal experience, to not coming home and sitting on the couch and watching TV at night. I don't get to have that. That was the sacrifice. But the good things that have come from that, the experiences and the things that have been created that didn't exist before, I owe a lot of respect to."

Thank you for reading about the paintings, sculptures, drawings, works in progress, reviews, Doodle of the Day, and other art by Los Angeles artist Lucas Aardvark Novak :) To see older blog posts and other doodles, click HERE.