Copyright©2012, James Gloria
Summer break has arrived, and with it the usual conflict between having free time and needing discipline in my work habits. Normally, I over-schedule my commitments partly to provide a structure to my life. As an artist, I chafe under the 9-5 work week, but tailspin when I don't have to answer to a schedule.
This year, I'm approaching the problem from a different angle. Instead of booking endless projects, I'm engaging in an exercise in praxis. According to Aristotle, There were 3 types of knowledge: theoretical, poetical, and practical. Praxis being actual action taken to test the theoretical.
I have always been intrigued by traditional forms and techniques--the craft of art making. I have never accepted the superficial knowledge of a course of study; instead, being always compelled to suss out the details. Partly, this was in search of less expensive, but durable materials. On the other hand, the connection to craft informs my work through familiarity. In fresco, that meant learning properly about slaking quicklime, puozzolanic aggregates, and grinding color. In Scagliola, it was understanding the chemical properties of CaSO4, and writing about the process.
Now it is oil painting. Unsatisfied with gesso from a can, synthetic oils and ready made canvas, I have been embarking on a process of discovering more historic materials and techniques.
Now, this could be an exercise in pedantry. Many artists have pursued ancient techniques in search of mystical properties to impart to their work, as a kind of alchemy. I am only interested in making the process more direct and less processed.
As it happens, this coincided studio time to work on a portrait commission, and 2 landscapes. As a result, I developed an allergic reaction to the solvents in my paint. Already sensitive to dust from working with plaster, I knew that I would be in trouble soon if I couldn't remedy the problem. That, or I would be destined to work only en plein aire. Somehow, the stars aligned that evening and I stumbled on the website of Tad Spurgeon. It was though I had received a custom response to my dilemma. Tad has done an enormous amount of work researching the origins of oil technique, and specifically the chemistry of linseed oils and media. Not only that, but his philosophy of craft and analytical nature balanced with a love of the painting process has reinvigorated my interest.
So, praxis. ( I swear I'm getting to it!)
Traditional practice for me always meant materials. Now I realized I had a perfect opportunity to make it also about process. As an art teacher, I have struggled with presenting material to young teens in a way that was compelling, real and made use of what I have learned, while not becoming too "serious". Somehow I hit the right formula this spring, and had a great group of kids These "kids" ( or more accurately, their parents) are now looking for something to occupy them this summer. Why not try the Atelier format? Artists frequently complain about the academic format of art education and want to hark back to an earlier era. Why not try this out?
So, we have begun meeting, 3 times a week in the mornings to both work on art, while helping me clean up the place. Labor for labor. They have taken to it with enthusiasm, and next time, I will blog about the experience.