Thursday, January 14, 2016

Automatic painting and Surrealism.

I have always had a thing for Salvador Dali, Magritte and Escher, even as a kid.  Once, when visiting Florida as a 20 something year old I had the chance to visit the Dali museum and I was blown away, but highly confused by this master Surrealist because I didn't fully understand what it was about this bizarre movement that sung to me.  I mentioned in a recent blog that I think that it is important for artists to understand the art that they don't like, but in this case I want to understand what it was that resonated with me about Surrealism.  Why am I so attracted to it? Maybe I am just a freak who likes freaky art.  If that's what it is then I am OK with that, but I think there is more to it.  It's time to read up and then pick my own brain for answers since I obviously forgot everything from art history classes.

Salvador Dali, "The Hallucinogenic Toreador", a fantastical masterpiece of double imagery and visual illusion. - See more at:

Surrealism as it turns out, is sort of the sister movement of Dadaism.  In my last post I described the definition of Dadaism as being "anti-art".  It was the pendulum swing away from all that snobbish, over theorized, poo poo of the early 20th century. Surrealism is flipping the bird at the same art "gate keepers" as the Dadaists, but are doing it with a much more positive message and more of a technical approach to the craft of painting.  They base their work on Freud's research, and focus on dream like fantasies, but they paint in a very objective, almost photographic method  This worshiping of Freud would also explain why they often depict women as muses, or something to be admired from a distance.  Go Freud!  (not!)

André Breton defined Surrealism as "psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express - verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner - the actual functioning of thought." What Breton is proposing is that artists bypass reason and rationality by accessing their unconscious mind. In practice, these techniques became known as automatism or automatic writing, which allowed artists to forgo conscious thought and embrace chance when creating art. (

I think that much of today's popular movement called "Neopoprealism" moves along this same line.  In 1989 Nadia Russ first defined this new movement with her dream like paintings and drawings.   She later stated that "NeoPopRealism Art combines the brightness and simplicity with deepness of psychology, it has high energy colors and graphic nature."  (  Newpoprealism is NOT to be confused with Zen Tangle, which was copyrighted by Rick Roberts and Maria Thomas sometime after Nadia Russ became well known. (  Zentangle is a form of meditation, not a form of "art" according to Russ. Like the Surrealist movement verses the  academic art world, Newpoprealists are the antithesis of the movements before it. The other thing that Zentangle meditation, Neopoprealism and Surrealism all have in common is the idea of Automatic writing.

I have always slid into this deep meditative state when working alone.  I cant really do it when I am sketching in public as I often do, because I am constantly gabbing with the audience, but when I am working alone I go someplace else and hand someone else the wheel. (I feel a country song coming on here.) I know this all sounds strange, but remember I have the artist ticket, so I am allowed to be strange!  Sometimes I wake from this trance and realized that I have added something to  my painting that I did not expect, or I went a bit deeper than I intended to.  I have been able to do this whole leaving the body trick since I was a kid.  I guess I was embarrassed about it at the time because I didn't really talk about it until I started developing ghost tours in 2010.  When learning about human/ghost communications I researched the phenomenon of automatic writing.  I had no idea that other people actually did this kind of thing.  Wow, I am sort of normal?  REALLY?! I do not consider myself to be psychic, (just a bit psycho perhaps), but the paranormal idea is that you relax your own mind and let the spirit take over and write his or her own ideas with your hand.  I am not convinced that it is a ghost doing this, but that would be kind of cool if it were true.  When I was 12 I thought it was an angel who used to be a painter taking over, or perhaps an art guide from another earth plane shutting my waking self up.  It was rather beaten out of me in art school. Now I just don't know what causes this meditative state, but I embrace it anyhow as being rather normal and common.

Lately I have been doing more of it.  Not being normal, but automatic painting.  For example, I was doing this portrait of someone very close to me who was in recovery from a lifetime of substance abuse.  I ended up drawing her shadow to look like a demon coming out of her head.  I never gave it to her, but I could not destroy the portrait either because it came out of my own deep personal feelings. It crawled out of my hidden subconscious and buried emotions about this person who I love very much.

I think that it is because I have always drawn automatically that I am attracted to Surrealism and now to Neopoprealism.  I think I would prefer to think of today's current pendulum swing as "Neo-surrealism".  It seems to fit it better.  I didn't realize it 30 years ago, but I must have recognized the automatic approach to painting when I visited the Dali museum and that is what confused me.  I think I also see it in the works of Gustav Klimt, so I will study up on him very soon.

What ever you want to call it, it is highly attractive for me to think that anyone can reach deep down into their subconscious muck and pull out this art stuff that is more real than reality itself.  Lets take it a step further and say that I think that when we juxtapose photo-realism with pattern, symbols and fantasy, we get to a place where we are viewing a lucid dream.  This combination of realism and fantasy creates a reality more real than our waking world. This is why I got so excited when I saw the amazing works of Salvadore Dali, and then more recently when I first viewed Neopoprealist, Kehinde Wiley.  I want to be Mr Wiley when I grow up!  (

Samuel Johnson, 2009 , 2011
Oil on paper 84" x 55"

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Why Franz Marc is a better pet portrait artist that I am.

I really intended to write about another movement today  before my client meeting, but as I was sipping my coffee and randomly pooping around on Google and I stumbled across the works of Franz Marc.  I remember him from my studies in school, but as usual I must have been half asleep in history class that day because this man's work really resonates with me now.  He was a German Expressionist who primarily painted animals.

This morning I said a little prayer for God and the universe to show me some way to make my work deeper.  I think God answered today. (I know that sounds nuts, but I have the nutty artist ticket so that's ok.)  Do I need to change my focus?  I don't know.  It's frustrating. I ask myself, "Why do I paint animals?" (Yes, I talk to myself and usually answer myself too, but hey...I have the nutty artist ticket, so that's ok!) I answered, " I feel energy from animals.  I feel their innocence. I see their aura and spirit.  I feel their connectivity to their environment, something that we humans often do not have."

I will be honest with you, and I hope that I do not offend any of my fellow artists, or my clients when I say that there are A LOT of artists out there doing what I do.  Yes, it takes great skill and talent to correctly paint an animal, but so much of the work out there  looks all sort of the same, my own included. A friend told me the other day that he refers to them as decapitated dog heads.  HA! The clients want beautifully crafted photographic sweet images of their beloved pets, so that's what we give them.  But what if I gave them more?  What if I said more?  Is it enough to just copy a photo and create a pretty painting?  I feel like I have been focused only on technique, and if I am lucky a message or some sort of point pops out.  My clients disagree.  They are often moved to tears when they see their portraits. 

It's so nice to make people cry, but there is still something missing from my own work.  It's good but it's not brilliant.  It is too much craft and not enough concept.  I hate myself for saying that because I sound just like my art school professors who I resented so much, but maybe there is some truth to it.  Not that I should paint like a Dadaist, but maybe I could say something more, but what?  So, as I was gearing up for another day of painting dogs I googled randomly and up came Franz Marc.  (Did you know that the Grateful Dead randomly opened a dictionary and pointed and choose the first name that their finger landed on to name their band?  Try it sometime, it really works.  As a question then randomly open a book, or Google, and see what pops up.)

Ok, Here is the scoop on Marc.  We all know that German expressionists were searching for some sort of spiritual truth through their paintings right? Marc was different from the others however. Marc used two tricks to express a deeper emotional impact on his paintings.  First, he used color as a language to a deeper understanding, much as the way that we understand and respond to music.  The other trick was that his choice of subject was animals. Yes my pet portrait people... ANIMALS! For the first time in a very long time I was able to view animal portraits that were not purely representational but were narrative and spiritual.

"Franz Marc painted animals as they symbolized an age of innocence, an Eden before the Fall, free from the materialism and corruption of his own time. Animals in Marc's art are seldom painted in isolation. They are viewed as idealized creatures in perfect harmony with the natural world they inhabit. "  (

Ahhhh what a beautiful concept!  Here are a few of his paintings. I encourage you to google more examples, especially if you are a pet portrait artist or a painter of animals.

FRANZ MARC (1880 -1916)
'Foxes', 1913 (oil on canvas)

The Large Blue Horses (1911)

Friday, January 8, 2016

Why art is fluid, and my opinion of Hugh Jackman

Hi, I'm back!  Lately I have been blogging on my facebook page but I will try to remember to share those blogs here in the future.  My page is public though and you can view it at  I do not post embarrassing photos of my kids, cute animal videos or rants about Trump on this page.  I reserve that for my Emily Christoff-Flowers page.  If you would like to see videos of cats falling off of tables please friend me.  If you want to just read about art stuff visit the page above.

Ok, anyhow, I have been very frustrated this past year.  If you go back through older blogs you will read that I have always been a professional artist, but in order to survive and financially support my family I really didn't make "A"rt.  I drew portraits for a living.  I still do. I don't mean that I draw like GREAT portraits either. I draw 10 minute profiles from life, often times for tips.  I also draw pets from client's photos.  I am quite good at what I do, but it is not high art. Art snobs shudder when they look at my work and often walk off in a huff.  I also teach drunk people to paint.  ( I work a lot. In fact I need to hurry up here so that I can finish that German Sheppard sketch... heavy sigh..

A few years ago I decided that since I wasn't getting any younger, (but I am still hot!  HA!) I needed to do art shows.  That's what real "A"rtists do right?  I sort of thought that doing all of these art shows would open my eyes to the world of art.  I did learn a lot, but I still feel like there is something major missing.  As a result of feeling even more like an art hobbyist I am devoting an hour a day now to studying art history and theory.  I did take it in art school, but that was 25 years ago, and I was usually very hung over so I don't remember much about my history studies.

I realize now that as an artist I simply can not live in my own little bubble. Every art movement is the result of artists before them.  the art world is fluid, and the artist who is not familiar with the current trends and ideas is going to flounder. There is nothing new, only a fresh way of saying something.  Since I want to do more than draw fluffy and Fido I must understand art history. This little cartoon says it all!
I feel like I was pretty hip on art history up until we get to the abstract stuff, then I sort of lost interest.  It didn't help that my history professor droned on and on and on in monotone voice while he clicked from one slide image to another, and it also didn't help that I went to art school in the 80s where most of my professor's personal agendas concerned art from the past 20 years. Being a natural rebel I really hated having non-objective art shoved down my throat, and so I drew portraits.  One professor from my alma mater recently called me an art robot who, through teaching portraits, creates other little art robots. I did go to some great parties in art school though so it wasn't a total loss.
As I read up on contemporary art and then eventually move into today's current trends I will share my findings on the blog.  It's not that I think anyone will actually read this, but simply that when I write it down I tend to remember things better.  It's sort of like my personal diary that I kept as a teen, except I wont mention who my recent crush is on this blog. Ok ok, twist my arm...I have a huge crush on Mr. Hugh Jackman!