Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Artist Steve Nyland's Entry For "Phonography: Cell Phone Photography" Exhibition Opening Thursday September 20 at The Tech Garden, Syracuse

Back in June event organizer Theresa Barry and Tech Garden curator/artist in residence Ty Marshal both urged me to apply for a spot in their just announced show "Phonography: Cell Phone Photography" curated by Theresa and Derek Bryant. I've been using my phones for simple picture taking needs since 2006 and was eager to pick out something to contribute. The submission guidelines called for photographic artworks no larger that 24 x 24 inches with the only other rule being than the photograph had to have been generated on a cell phone.

Done deal, though I'm using a somewhat older model, LG's env3, which does not support Instagram or related photo app usage, simply a standard 8mpx camera with a few boring pre-set filters. As it turns out I had made a photograph with my env3 in September 2011 that was an eye popper, shot just after the passing of a late summer thunderstorm whilst on a stroll around nearby Barry Park. The image was shot looking across the larger drainage pond along Broad Street facing almost due south, framed to capture both the flotilla of water fowl on the surface and the surreal, overly pink/orange sunset that was developing in the eastern sky. Here is a reduced sized version of the image, which as originally captured was sized at 10.67 inches by 8 inches at a 150dpi resolution:

The image is titled "Nettie's Picture", with a recurring joke being that I would always take a picture for my FB friend Annette from that vantage point every time I had the chance to take a walk. Only rule was the picture would always be taken on my phone and uploaded via mobile to FB for her to enjoy. Not sure exactly how many of "Nettie's Pictures" there are but I carried on the tradition through the winter and spring before work hours made daylight walks problematic.

As such it seemed the perfect choice, and the dunderhead in me decided "Well I'll just get a print of Nettie's Picture made to size, frame it up at 24 inches and bingo, I'm done." Other projects came to the forefront and in the tradition of any former sophomore design student I put the project off until the next to last week, mostly just because I was too broke to spring for the processing + frame until then (excuses excuses). Why make the print and have it sit around potentially waiting to get damaged, splattered, speared or otherwise ruined? So the week before last I saved the image to a disc and went down to Industrial Color Labs at Lodi & Burnett in Syracuse to have it printed. I figured with some luck I could even find a squarish frame then on the spot and be done with it in a couple three hours. HAH.

Main problem being that while the slightly cropped 11x14 print generated was exquisite, the framing solutions suggested by the technician who supervised my time there set off my Boring button. It was also more than I had in my pocket, and while scurrying home thinking of where to find something comparable which I could walk out with that very hour, a thought occurred: How absolutely ordinary. Just printing the image as large as they could on the spot and framing it as close to a 24 inch dimension as possible. How predictably stupid.

As it is the logical place to go find an ultra cheap frame is Michael's and I was headed in that direction anyway. Halfway there the idea struck me to try and employ what I do naturally as an artist, namely drawing and painting, as a way to make the final product somewhat more engaging. You have the nice picture in the nice frame, and that's the end of it. But perhaps something could be arrived at which would push the concept a bit, maybe even in a direction the curators had not intended. I decided to turn the project into a painting problem solving assignment.

First trick was to choose a surface on which to fix the print and I'll admit I let the side down by settling on boring old canvas. A scrap of wood cut to size would have been more imaginative, but I was locked into the mindset of making a painting and to the dunderhead in me that mean using canvas. So I selected a mid-range priced pre-stretched canvas sized at 20 x 24 inches, not quite square but why not try it just to get started (another mistake made was presuming I'd have time to execute a 2nd version if the first was not up to snuff ... HAH). Above is the canvas and print, with the preliminary idea being to fasten the print down to the dead center and use my imagination + other images taken at the same time (13 in total were captured) as a basis to paint the image out to the edges.

As I sat down to glue the print in place it happened again: Boring button. How boring, quaint, and ordinary to just paint in the edges, flowery and painterly. Make it look nice, have it all match. Not my style! And preferring to nail the project in one shot (I was down to about five work days by this point) I set the thing aside to conceptualize for a night. Cell phones ... photography ... painting & drawing. One thing about the picture which had always struck me was how the top part of the sunset cloud appeared about to burst through the top of the picture frame in some of the images. I actually put the image back on the camera to look at it again, and that was when the idea hit me: Paint the phone's camera screen capturing the image, with a hand holding it and the naturalistic view of the picture spilling out beyond not just the borders of the screen but the camera itself. Make the foreground and background blend into each other and mess with scalings by including a giant finger.

Visualizing the idea as a "sketch" was simple enough: I flipped the camera open, put the image on the screen and using a digital camera took a picture of myself holding the phone as if taking the exposure. So this would be the image above I would try to paint, using the 11 x 14 print of the picture as the "screen" on the painted camera. Plus I reckoned this would give me a chance to push myself as an artist by having my hand at a proper bit of landscape painting, including rendering the dreaded clouds. Always a weak spot in my arsenal when depicting a landscape element.

And that's where the trouble began on about the morning of due date minus three. Drawing and then painting in the "camera" went smoothly but that sunset was just not happening for me. I painted it about four times over the next two days while neglecting the rest of it and just could not get anywhere with the damn thing. Other commitments required attention as well and I was never able to immerse myself in the painting fully enough to let what I wanted to see happen. At one point I even almost got it, then changed one part and failed miserably when trying for a blend. I even made a trip to The Art Store on the next to last day and spent money I didn't have on some Neocolor water soluble crayons to try and get a sort of watercolor wash going over the acrylics I was smearing onto the surface. Nothing worked.

In the end what I decided was to further twist the imagery by adding the standard Steve Nyland pictogram images from my painting vocabulary placed on the 3d suggestive planes of the phone, though done in a scale which would be either miniature on the real sized phone, or suggest that the phone was actually a gigantic creation with the artist resting his coffee cup, CD player and paint set on the constructed phone. All of which worked pretty cool, and what I decided in the end is that the piece rocks from the bottom up to just above the halfway mark, then sucks in a terminal variety which renders the whole effort somewhat awkward.

Above is the final piece as submitted at the last hour on the due date, and as surrendered to curator Derek Bryant with Ty Marshal looking on with a noticeably arched eyebrow I knew the jig was up. It SUCKED! and that sophomore design student could have whipped up a better doormat design the night before and still have time to go get wasted at Chuck's. As far as I was concerned nobody had to say anything, least of all that I sure hadn't come up with an app-friendly looking image in a square format. And this my debut appearance in a show at Tech Garden, something I'd been wanting for a long long time?

Such is the drama of life I guess, and it was with this hanging over my head like a cinder block that I went to Utica on Friday afternoon for the Radisson pop-up gallery show. Which was great, and seeing the other paintings I'd done over the summer made me feel more sympathetic towards the piece. It probably wasn't that bad, I reasoned, having simply been too close to it. But then the Saturday live mural event on Varick Street happened, and halfway through painting my mural there I realized I'd finally executed the sunset which should have been on the Phonography collage. Son of a gun ...

Or, put a different way, the Phonography collage served as a dry run for the sunset which I painted on the Utica Greens Fest mural. I had not specifically planned on doing a landscape that day but had considered a landscape motif for a proposed murals project at Shoppingtown Mall, which unfortunately has not come to be. And sort of in preparation I'd painted my long Drone Zone landscape, which while lacking a "sunset" followed the motif of soup cans, trees, hills and a city realized in Utica. The missing element being the sunset, and the first one I'd tried to paint for real had been on the Phonography collage.

And the sunset made that mural come to life. I had actually finished that before starting in on detailing the elements lower in the picture frame, determined to see it work before bothering with anything else this time around. The tactic worked, though in all fairness to the Phonography collage I wasn't using a printed image as a variable determining how the painted image should appear.

Looking at the pictures I have of the Phonography collage I am kind of taken by it. Not quite as grand as I'd hoped but I'd cut myself short of time by not thinking through what to do with Nettie's Picture first. I'd gone path of least resistance then realized halfway upstream that I wasn't being true to my nature as an artist, which is the big lesson learner. Don't just wait until the week before the project is due to try doing what you're good at. D'oh.

When all is said & done I'm looking forward to seeing how the work stacks up to the other entrees and hope everyone can come to the opening Thursday September 20 from 4-7pm to see all the other artworks, meet the other artists, and enjoy being part of the scene.

UPDATE: Pictures from the opening reception on Thursday + info on some of the artists are now posted in a subsequent blog entry here: 

1 comment:

  1. Love this entry. Very honest, well written and an example of how you think. No matter what you have contributed a piece that will be more creative in that it has your unique painting in it. Did you crop the picture so that the wall and floor are not in it? I am curious. I will be seeing it tomorrow. I had to pull out due to a funeral, low funds and complete exhaustion. I am so amazed at what I have seen so far. My stuff would have been less then stellar and there is always next show. You are so filled with so much talent, young man. I can't wait to see your next show. I did not realize you were going to show in Utica, or I would have come. Let me know. I follow you because you have so much. Take care.