Analog: a new series emerging

“Analog #1,” oil on canvas, 30” x 30”, ©2018 Julia Rymer

“Analog #1,” oil on canvas, 30” x 30”, ©2018 Julia Rymer

Painting is slow. It requires time, and attention, and engagement. Painting is without algorithm or artificial intelligence; rather, it is the most human of intelligence. It is the oldest intelligence, begat from the hands of ancient peoples, tens of thousands of years ago, on cave walls.

There is something pure about paint on a surface, something primal that speaks to this origin of the first homo sapiens and Neanderthals painting with earth pigments and animal fat in hidden passages. It is this ancient quality, and its slowness, that attracts me to painting. The images I create are not a far cry from those ancient paintings. Their work was a response to the world they lived in; so is mine.

Analog, the series, emerged out of a need to slow down, to simply work and be, like the ancient paintings. Contemporary life is fast, and electric, and I often feel as if I have been propelled down a highway at 70 miles an hour because I have. I am the mother of two young children, and I work as an artist, art educator and entrepreneur. This is the reality of my life, and it does not filter into my work so much as marinate me in it. After years of working intensely, I recently got to a breaking point—I couldn’t make art that was agonizingly hard anymore. I needed time to think about the painting, to love the creation of the work, and embrace it where it is. I needed to eschew content and subject matter and go back to the essentials of creating: to simply make colorful, soft, emotive abstract paintings that reflect the wonder I experience as a human being and in nature.

“Analog #2,” oil on canvas, 30” x 30”, ©2018 Julia Rymer

“Analog #2,” oil on canvas, 30” x 30”, ©2018 Julia Rymer

This body of work comes out of considering the place of art and specifically, painting: to be analog, in a digital world. “Analog” in this sense refers to a return to older technology. Do not forget that there was a time when a paintbrush was technology. It holds the same power now; it simply requires a different kind of interaction with the viewer. It holds true in much the same way that a record requires more physical engagement: the listener cannot simply tell an AI to play a song, they must find the record, place it on the turntable, gently lay the needle on the record, and then, after one side has played, do it again for the other side. The act of listening is slower, requiring effort. Such is the act of looking at painting. You can look at a painting in passing, but you won’t get much from it. That’s why staring at artwork on Instagram can feel empty in a way that going to a museum, gallery or artist’s studio does not. For the latter, effort is required, making the experience more meaningful.  

The same could be said for the act of painting. Taking time with the paint, the shapes, the color relationships, the structure of the work, makes the painting feel more meaningful and authentic. It is slower and takes more attention for me, because I am not an automaton pumping out identical paintings. Each piece is a journey, a discovery, an iteration on a theme. I think of my work as research; as Josef Albers spoke of his work, “All my painting is actually study. The longer I do it, the more and more it is endless.”

“Blueness,” oil on canvas, 36” x 36”, ©2019 Julia Rymer

“Blueness,” oil on canvas, 36” x 36”, ©2019 Julia Rymer

My work is a reflection of all that I am, all that nature is, and all the wonder that exists in our universe. But, I boil it all down to an essence of mark and form and color, leaving only trace references to nature. Everything is abstract. That is the point.

This concept is big and broad and transcendent (a word the art critic Jerry Saltz said specifically not to use when describing one’s work) but that is the authentic truth of my work. I’m tired of apologizing for it. Make of it all what you will, as they say. 

We live in an overwhelming, over-connected culture and react to it daily, hourly, in minute increments, constantly. Everything is curated for us, and demands our attention, and we have no time or place to just be. Our newsfeeds never reach the end, as there is no end to the scroll.  

This body of work has led me to question the conventional wisdom of the current trajectory of art. I am asking if all art that is made should or must be reflective of contemporary society. In other words, must art replicate the digital overload we already experience on a constant basis? Instead, because our world is connected and fast, could art possibly exist in contrast of that experience? What if art was a break from that speed and intensity of our everyday, over-connected lives? What if art gave you the same sense of peace as you feel after a yoga class or meditating or walking in the woods? What if art was a place to diffuse, rather than jar your senses? What if art embraced you as you are? What if art was softly feminine, unapologetically?

These are the many questions I now ask as an artist existing today. This body of work comes from my own needs as a human. My work is contemporary, even if it uses slow technology, even if it is analog in a digital world. They harken back to a primal, rooted part of we human animals, a part that is still there, but buried by evolution and speed and technology. They transcend time and space, and center themselves in the human essence of existence: slow, deliberate, and real.

 

New Endeavors

While working on a recent commission, I was given a challenge: don’t use the color blue. Or purple. OR PINK. Let me tell you, it was not easy! My first 15 paintings were absolute failures. On the first go around, I created paintings with purple in them, and on the second, the red paint I was trying to use bled terribly and dried in strange ways. (Between the technical and professional failures, I was grateful for patient clients!)

But then, after a reboot with supplies and direction, I got it together, and created a strong series of work inspired by the colors and memories of New Mexico. The project was a great exercise in restraint, and it pushed me out of my comfort zone. I had so much fun, I thought, why not do an entire series of paintings exploring my memories of the natural world?

And that’s what I am working on right now, along with furthering the Entanglements series.

All before my second child is due in one month!

Gotta keep it interesting, right?

Elemental Beauty: Line and Texture

Relic, mixed media on paper, 30" x 30", ©2013 Julia Rymer Whenever I think of line- in the design sense- I think of the word mark-making.

Mark-making is one of those art terms that you hear in art school as an artist, but it doesn't really mean much to anyone outside the arts. (Frankly, it doesn't always mean much to artists!) However, it is a term that encompasses what creating with line means: the primal instinct to leave one's mark somewhere. It is this very human urge that compels one to "art"- to use art as a verb- to create, build, make, craft- to say with the hands, rather than the voice, "I was here."

Texture goes with line. Rough, smooth, silky or crisp, texture is the design element that relates most to the physical world- often coming from it, with the materials reacting to the surface on which they are used.

The piece above, Relic, was created by layering watercolor on paper. While the paper was still wet, I drew into the work, activating the charcoal and deepening the black, giving the marks depth as they melted into the paper. While the paper dried, I sprinkled salt and old paint granules on the paper, so that when it dried there was a mottled look, like stone or rock. The marks in this piece are primitive, simplistic, inspired by seed pods I've been collecting from my garden. The title of the work refers to history in the geological sense.

 

 

For today.

Harbinger300 I will not weigh in on gun control, or the need for better screening and treatment for mental illness. I will not tell you to "hug your kids a little tighter" (even if you do) or to write your congressman. Urgings are not my intention. I may or may not agree with any of them, but right now, that is not at all what I want to say. I want to tell you this:

I created this piece, Harbinger, in Spring 2010. At the time I was living in Mountain View, CA, trying to figure out my next move in life. Stuck in a depression so profound, so deep, it seemed there was no end to it, I ventured out of my gray, Silicon Valley apartment onto the streets along office parks and strip malls. I was never more surprised than to find magnolias, in bloom, pink and full, in front of a cold, glass building.

The magnolia flower is known as the harbinger of Spring. Spring is the metaphor of new life, growth, possibility. In other words, out of the gray, cold winter of our lives and this world, find hope anywhere you can– so that darkness and coldness and brutality does not engulf you.

 

Art & Beauty: Skyler McGee

McGee_3Skyler McGee: Balancing Nature and Space

I have followed Skyler McGee’s work since she was a student of mine at Metropolitan State University of Denver. Since then, her work has evolved into careful, poetic considerations of nature, space, and color.

Inspired by the natural world, Skyler works in fresh, delicate layers. She plays with combinations of materials– hard and soft, light and heavy, from oil paint to printmaking to watercolor. She emphasizes the artist’s hand or presence- nothing feels machine-made, but rather as if it was somehow uncovered in a forgotten studio from long ago, or excavated from an anthropological dig. She works carefully, slowly, her color sense reflecting the natural elements that inspire her work.

Currently living in Dallas, Texas, with her husband and two little girls, Skyler’s work reflects her daily life as well, as she balances her life as an artist, mom and wife. You can see more of her work at charcoalandsaffron.wordpress.com.

McGee_9

The Creative Place

Image "Creative artists ... are mankind's wakeners to recollection: summoners of our outward mind to conscious contact with ourselves, not as participants in this or that morsel of history, but as spirit, in the consciousness of being. Their task, therefore, is to communicate directly from one inward world to another, in such a way that an actual shock of experience will have been rendered: not a mere statement for the information or persuasion of a brain, but an effective communication across the void of space and time from one center of consciousness to another."

Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God, Volume IV: Creative Mythology

What is art if not to awaken us? To make things seen that we do not see, to bring light onto subjects we would pass by. Art says, "Look. Hear. Feel. Experience." – and then some.

Art creates a place where we are present.

 

Effortless Layers

So much of art work is about layering. It is so easy to over-layer, to build a surface up too much to the point that it ceases to breathe. But in nature, layering happens effortlessly, and the effect is often one of ease and strength. The lesson: don't overwork it. Let it grow how it wants to be.

(photos by Julia Rymer Brucker)

Mangrove branches, Hawaii.

Homage á Ansel Adams, Bear Valley, CA.

Dew, Point Reyes, CA.