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.

 

Thoughts on the Artistic Process

by Julia Rymer

I’m battling my way through my work, preparing for an upcoming show, but also, as always, simply doing the work: creating, destroying, pondering, playing in the studio. Marking up canvases and instantly regretting the marks, or sometimes– not often– loving what I have made, and getting attached, wanting to keep it. Then destroying it and remaking it, again and again, until I feel like it is at a place balance and completion.

The artistic process feels like a battle to me. It is one I am willing to fight, but nonetheless it remains a battle.

Painting also often feels like chasing a wild animal, only the wild animal is my Self. I’m also doing a lot of inner work right now, rethinking my approach to language and my use of my voice as a person. Art has always been a means for me to have a voice, and to give all those emotions and experiences a place to exist and breathe. To feel real, and valid– in a sense, to give them solidity and form.

Some days in the studio I win the battle, and I feel a sense of accomplishment and completion. This feeling always fades, for the primal urge to create– to “art” as a verb, as my father likes to say– resurfaces, and I am back in that space, again, alone against the canvas. James Baldwin says that the artist must actively cultivate aloneness, so that we may “conquer the great wilderness of [the self].”

“The precise role of the artist, then, is to illuminate the darkness, blaze roads through that vast forest, so that we will not, in all our doing, lose sight of its purpose, which is, after all, to make the world a more human dwelling place.”  (James Baldwin, The Creative Process.)

To make the world a more human dwelling place. I can think of no better description of the purpose of art in this dark world. It puts into context the need for art, of all its forms and manifestations, whether dance or painting or song. We are making the world more human. And that is, indeed, a battle. This is not a world that wants more humanity. It is a world that wants and cultivates and craves more inhumanity, in all its forms, from robots making everything from hamburgers to cars, to the cruelty of separating a parent and a child as they cross a border, to the destruction of our very planet.

I carry on this work, this mission, this battle. Whether in oil or acrylic, what is in these paintings is my soul, my humanity– and I am not being overly dramatic. We are here to say something, artists. Say it.


Every painting is a journey.

One of the most common questions I am asked as an artist is how long it takes to complete a painting. This question does not surprise me. The process of making art is foreign to many. And abstract art, despite existing in the cultural lexicon since at least the late 19th century, remains mysterious in its meaning or worth, leading to the dreaded declaration, "My kid could do that."

It's true. Kids make great art. But, I'm going to show you how I make art.

I don't know how a work starts. Something strikes me- a word, a color, an image from nature, a shape I feel like making, a composition that has been flashing behind my eyes as I drift to sleep- that incites a need to create. I head to the studio. I prep the canvas or paper, lay it out on table or easel. I mix up my color, dip my brush, and I start. Immediately I react to what I just did, adding new color, a charcoal or graphite mark, or a shape, repeating the process until I built up to a composition that feels like it has balance.

The process can take minutes, hours, days, weeks, years. I never really know. Sometimes I sit with a piece for months, photograph it, market it, and then a few months later, paint over it.

This is a painting I began months ago. I painted it at the same time as two other pieces, and had some extra paint to use up from those paintings, so I quickly did began this one. Then it sat in my studio until two days ago, when I finally decided that it wasn't finished.

I initially liked how fresh it felt, and the lightness of the marks. I love simple paintings. But this one didn't last as a design. It needed more. Here is the story of where it went from there.

 

At first, I added some drawn charcoal lines and shapes, and started painting in more colors: turquoise, green, navy blue, gray. I turned the piece upside down to take a look at how the design drew the eye through it, and how "balanced" it seemed (did the parts on one section relate to parts on another section). Did the parts relate to the whole? Did some stick out, or become distracting? I decided to keep going.

I actually forgot to photograph the step in between these two steps, but no matter: it was terrible. WAY too much pink. I had nicknamed the painting "Miami." Yikes. Here's where I went from there, subduing the warm colors, and building up the surface more.

More blues, more grays, more greens, more layers. I turned the piece around again, and covered up quite a bit of the underpainting with cool colors. Shapes begin to connect through the middle, creating relationships in the composition, moving the eye around the piece like guideposts or bridges, from one section to the next.

I felt like the piece was at a stopping point, or almost. I just needed one more thing...

BitsandPinks-Progress3.jpg

More blue.

Where will it go from here? I'm not sure. I'm sitting with it for awhile longer...

What do you think?

What is Color Identity?

(Or, what makes a color feminine or masculine?)

My former mentor and art professor once gave me an exercise to push through a painting block I was experiencing. He said, “Make two paintings that are the most ugly paintings you have ever seen. Use every color you hate, and put them all into the same painting. Really go for it- try to make these paintings so hideous you cannot stand it. Get ugliness out of your system.”

I love color challenges. This was not my first from him- I had studied with him for many years by that time, and was fresh out of graduate school, stuck in the series of paintings I was working on, and needing something new. His challenge propelled me into another series, one very different from the work I had completed for my master’s thesis.

Years later I learned to pose color challenges for myself on a regular basis. I usually do this by limiting the palette I am working with, or trying to create a “mood” through my color choices in my work.

The past year has been an exploration of feminine and masculine color schemes.

As an artist I bristle at being called a “female artist”— why is there an indicator of gender needed; no one calls an artist a “male artist” — yet we live in a culture that places meaning on color. I call these Color Identifiers, also known as Color Analogues. Color can identify as masculine, feminine, or it can be both, depending on the contextual colors around it. This dichotomy compelled me in the studio, and my work evolved largely because of it.

After making what I call “pretty paintings”, which felt incredibly feminine, I found myself pushing into the masculine world of color in 2015. I noticed that so-called “male artists” that I admired had very different approaches to color, allowing the ugliness of colors to co-exist with the beauty of color— and within the same piece. This is a complex and sophisticated undertaking, and a huge color challenge. As examples I look to artists like Tim Hussey, Brian Coleman, and John Wood, whose works dance that line of beautiful and unattractive, a visual exploration of the French term “jolie laide,” in which a person is seen as “attractive but not conventionally pretty.”

Interestingly, I am not the only one exploring the color juxtaposition of “male” and “female” colors. Pantone chose two colors for the Color of the Year in 2016, a pale rose pink and lavender blue, to express our culture’s current obsession with gender identity and dynamics.

What also interests me about this process is the relationship I have with "feminine" colors as light, pale, pastel, warm, beautiful or pretty, and "masculine" colors as harsh, dark, muted, cool and unattractive. Where does that subconsciously come from?

Let me know what you think of my work- does it seem “feminine” or “masculine” to you? Does it bridge that gap as I intended? What are your “color identifiers”?

The Artist You Are

There are times when the artist that you are and the artist that you want to be cannot be reconciled. This is a fight between desire and reality. You fight and fight to be a certain type of artist, but nothing works- it doesn't fit. You want to make bigger work, smaller work, more colorful work, less colorful work, paintings, sculpture, prints, or just installation. Conceptual work, or formal work. You think, "I'll just do this type of art, or use this type of approach, and the world will get me." So, there you are, trying and trying and trying, getting nowhere. No one is responding- not even you.

With Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hours of genius-hood getting farther and farther away, you consider giving up.

The question you are really trying to answer is who YOU are as an artist. Not your famous professor, best friend from art school, or that guy who randomly picked up a paintbrush one day and now sells paintings for $20,000 a pop. Not the girlfriend who paints in her spare time while her baby sleeps, or the friends whose art involves tagging the neighborhood.

No, the question is: who are YOU as an artist?

Not who do you WANT to be— but who are you right now as an artist? In this space, this place, with this work? And can you value yourself and what you do? Can you grant it legitimacy? Can you be enough?

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