An ongoing journal of my artmaking process

Folio Weekly Invitational Artist Exhibition

I’m slowly catching up on photographing, sharing, and writing about what I’ve had my head in for the last few rather gratifying months…

One of my paintings, “Maggie and Bess in Their Best Llama Hats,” was selected to be included in an incredibly exciting group show of 50 local artists – The Folio Weekly Invitational Artist Exhibition at the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens. This is the first time my work has ever been exhibited in a museum! Two of my highly admired professors, Leslie Robison and Patrick Moser, as well as talented current Flagler student, Brianna Angelakis, were also chosen to show their work. You can visit their websites here: Leslie, Patrick, Brianna. The show will be up through December 2nd. Admission to the Cummer Museum is free on Tuesday nights, so go check out the exhibit as well as the permanent collections and beautiful gardens along the St. Johns River!

As part of this exhibit, I was selected to be one of six artists to be featured in an article in Jacksonville’s Folio Weekly Magazine. You can see the article here. A big thanks goes out to local art writer Dan Brown for his lovely writing ability and for making my art making process seem professional, intentional, and self-aware.

Maggie and Bess in Their Best Llama Hats

I’ve finished the first of a series of paintings drawn from a ridiculously beautiful and absurd photograph found in the digital archive of the California Historical Society: LA Chamber of Commerce. I was struck by the photo in more ways that one – questionable animal masks, legs dressed with shoes emerging from retro bathing suits, and a line up of very unusual suspects pricked my interest. I keep returning to absurd and borderline tacky subjects and colors reminiscent of the over-decadent old Florida tourism era. I am enveloped in the idea of making paintings that describe everything, yet explain nothing.

California Historical Society: LA Chamber of Commerce.

My intention is to create a series of  individual paintings, showcasing each character in all of their glory. The two llamas (?) were, however, really begging to be together. This painting is a lot larger than I am used to working (2′ x 3.5′), but I thoroughly enjoyed painting in such detail. While painting, I kept thinking of a quote from Walter Benjamin’s essay A Short History of Photography  in which he remarks “even the very creases in people’s clothes have an air of permanence.”

“Maggie and Bess in Their Best Llama Hats”, Denise Liberi, 2012, Oil and pencil on wood, 2′ x 3.5′ x 2″

“Maggie and Bess in Their Best Llama Hats”, Denise Liberi, 2012, Oil and pencil on wood, 2′ x 3.5′ x 2″, (detail)

Process shots:


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I’ve also been spending a lot of time in the library looking at painting books for techniques, colors, and styles. No need to reinvent the wheel, right? Here are some sources that I drew from in the making of this painting:

Edward Hopper “Seven A.M.”, 1948Edward Hopper is one of my all time favorite painters. His ability to portray light, color, and contrast with paint is incomparable. I saw this painting in the Whitney as a child and bought the poster to put in my room. It’s now handing in my studio. I drew a lot of the colors from this painting for “Maggie and Bess in Their Best Llama Hats.”

Michael Borremans, “One”, 2003
His figurative paintings are so beautiful they make me nauseous. I love the description of his work in the book “Painting People” : “but while these works emanate nostalgia, they are also concerned with the strange possibilities of painting.” I was interested in this painting in particular because of its sense of multiple layers or planes in which the figure lives.

I am working on painting #2 of this series right now, so keep an eye out for the giant baby head lady.

Little Jimmy, No Sprinkles

This painting is my favorite that I’ve done yet. I throughly enjoyed the process of painting this time around and felt like I solved a lot of problems easily while making it, even though it took me a relatively long time to finish. I am finding the larger scale paintings much more rewarding than the smaller ones I was working on before. Somehow, I naturally fell into painting the figure in a more flat, simplistic and illustrative manner, using less blending of tones and more filling in small shapes with solid color.

I am interested in the process of painting, a time-honored practice that I thoroughly enjoy and constantly learn from. Lately, however, making paintings has left me a little bit frustrated with its inherit limitations of flatness, solidity, and two dimensionality. This is why I have also been creating three-dimensional, transparent dioramas. I am going to paint my next painting on a transparent surface, perhaps with layers, to see what kind of bridge this might make between my paintings and dioramas.

"Little Jimmy, No Sprinkles" (in process I)

"Little Jimmy, No Sprinkles" (in process II)

"Little Jimmy, No Sprinkles", 2011, Oil on wood, 2' x 2' x 2"

"Little Jimmy, No Sprinkles" (Detail I)

"Little Jimmy, No Sprinkles" (Detail II)

Diorammas: Series II

In addition to paintings, I have been working on making more of my dioramas and expanding some of the original ideas. You can see my first series of dioramas here. Creating three dimensional interpretations of photographs gives me the opportunity to work with transparency and layering in a way that the flat, solid nature of oil paintings do not.

I have had this photograph of my mom for a while and really wanted to expand it into layers. This photo is definately one of my favorite from my family collection because of its simple, beautiful composition, framing and contents. I also have been picking lots of water/swimming themed photos recently,  patiently waiting for the weather and adventures of spring to arrive.

Photograph of my mom in the pool in September 1959

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I am tapping into my inner train-set making grandpa, learning many lessons about simple diorama construction. Although maneuvering  hair-thin pieces of “grass” can definitely be frustrating, with much patience, it can also be incredibly meditative until you poke yourself with a needle again.

“Mom in Pool with Swim Cap, September 1957” (in progress)

Mom in Pool with Swim Cap, September 1957", 2011, Laser print on transparency, vellum, dyed hair, acrylic, and wood, 3.5" x 5" x 1.5"

"Mom in Pool with Swim Cap, September 1957", 2011, Laser print on transparency, vellum, dyed hair, acrylic, and wood, 3.5" x 5" x 1.5"

The intimate nature of making such a tiny scene provides a much different process than making larger scale paintings. I am going to continue to make both paintings and dioramas as they are both a refreshing break from each other. Look forward to a projection/video project that is in the works right now too!

The Swan Dive

I am finally catching up with documenting and sharing all that I have been working on for a while. You know, because I promised I would.

Since the last post, I have completed a few paintings, expanded upon my diorammas, read, wrote, and thought a lot, as well as found many sources of inspiration in more photographs and the work of some incredible artists.

This painting was created very quickly after graduating in December. I had found this beautiful photograph as an illustration for “swan dive” in an old encyclopedia a couple of years ago. “Freeze frame” photographs, or photographs that portray some act of suspension in time and space, such as jumping or diving are really exciting.

"The swan dive" illustration from an old encyclopedia set found at the St. Augustine Flea market a few years ago.

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I also found these animated stereo photograph .gifs from the Library of Congress online here. Some of these capture moving “freeze frame” moments and are so entirely fascinating (and somewhat nauseating). They make the scene feel so much more three-dimesional and real. Here is one of a diver:

CLICK ON PHOTO TO VIEW ANIMATED GIF - Animated stereo photograph from the Library of Congress.

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"The Swan Diver" Painting (in progress)

"The Swan Diver", Denise Liberi, 2012, Oil and acrylic on wood, 4' x 2' x 2"

This painting was finished pretty quickly and without much trouble.  I have picked up a different kind of wood panel for the next one, since this board started to buckle and crack a bit even after being gesso-d.

I am liking painting the figures in a more geometric, flattened, and illustrative way. It reflects the flattened nature of a photograph and is also an enjoyable process. I’m really looking forward to having the time to make some more paintings very soon!

Contain and Retain

It’s a whole new year for making work, reading, writing, being a sponge, teaching, exploring and developing.

I am vowing to try with all my might to keep this blog updated with current documentation of my creative process including photos of work in progress, trials, errors, ideas, and inspiration.

Since I graduated in December, I have been working on a few paintings, but mostly have been spending my time reading, thinking, resting a bit, and creating a website to display my work (which will be wrapped up very, very soon.)

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I just finished a wonderful book called Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes, a French literary theorist, philosopher, and critic. Written in the 1979, the short book serves as his informal personal reflection on photography. I have been thinking a lot lately about my interest in photographs themselves and how the images relate to my paintings.  I found a lot of Barthes’ reflections to be incredibly exciting and eerily in line with many ideas that have been churning within the cogs of my brain lately, giving me somewhat of a courteous nod that I am moving in the right direction. Not all of his reflections however, seem relevant or truthful, which ended up bringing up some interesting questions.

Barthes writes about the the actual photograph itself, the object. He refers to a photograph as a “weightless, transparent envelope,” which I find to be an incredibly beautiful description. The idea of transparency keeps coming to the surface again and again as I have been thinking of photographs in relation to time and place. He describes them as “as place set apart, reserved and preserved.”  I am completely absorbed with the perception of a photograph as being both a container as well as a retainer, that is, an object that can be used to hold or transport something and, at the same time, a thing that holds something in place. In regards to a value being placed on physical photographs, Barthes refers to them as “limited possessions,” which can also be an attribute of paintings. This attests to why digital photographs seem of less importance to me – they are not physical objects that can be held and touched, but also they are of unlimited production.

Barthes also writes about photographs in terms of their functions as an images, which fills me with endless fascination. He refers to photographs a representation or witness of something that is no more as well as a “lucid description of significant fact.”  The word residue is one of resonance through my process of artmaking in terms of concept as well as physical quality in relation to painting. His definition of cameras as “clocks for seeing” is of much personal plangency for me.

A question that has remained largely unanswered for me for a long time revolves around my fascination with looking at physical photographs, not taking them or being in them. Why am I interested in the history of photography only  in terms of conceptual development and not in terms of mechanical or technical progress? Why am I not interested in being a photographer? Barthes makes a distinction between the Operator (photographer), Spectrum (subject of the photograph), and Spectator (viewer of the photograph.) He states, “As Spectator I was interested in photography only for “sentimental reasons”; I wanted to explore… I see, I feel, hence I notice, I observe, and I think.”  This desire to be solely the Spectator of a photograph is continued into my paintings. As I spend hours painting and editing an image with my own hands, I am rather selfishly  able to intimately look at, experience, and transform any photograph that fills me with curiosity.

In one of my favorite excerpts from Camera Lucida, Barthes addresses his seemingly unexplainable attraction to certain photographs and not others, which is an incredibly familiar experience for me.

“What to call it? Fascination? No, this photograph which I pick out and which I love has nothing in common with  the shiny point which sways before your eyes and makes your head swim; what it produces in me is the very opposite of hebetude; something more like an internal agitation, an excitement, a certain labor too, the pressure of the unspeakable which wants to be spoken. Well, then? Interest? Of brief duration; I have no need to question my feelings in order to list the various reasons to be interested in a photograph; one can either desire the object, the landscape, the body it represents; or love or have loved the being it permits us to recognize; or be astonished by what one sees; or else admire or dispute the photographer’s performance, etc; but these interests are slight, heterogeneous; a certain photograph can satisfy one of them and interest me slightly; and another photograph interests me powerfully, I should like to know what there is in it that sets me off. So it seemed that the best work to designate (temporarily) the attraction certain photographs exerted upon me was advenience or even adventure. This picture advenes, that one doesn’t.”

When referring to certain photographs, Barthes states that “some provoke tiny jubilations.” He explains these jubilations in terms of studium (the cultural, linguistic, and political interpretation of a photograph) and the punctum (the wounding, personally touching detail which establishes a direct relationship with the object or person within it.)

A photograph’s punctum is that accident which pricks me (but also bruises me, if poignant to me.)”

For Barthes, dirty fingernails, a bandage, an oversized collar, and a boy’s crooked teeth can serve as a punctum that makes the photograph become of value and interest.

I have also been thinking about photographs in regards to motion, animation, and continuity through time. I love the notion of photography as a primitive theatre, much like a stage in which characters exist perpetually, playing out a variety of dynamic narratives . When thinking of the dynamic qualities of photographs, it is easily to draw lines to film or theatre.

In addition to making paintings which make me feel safe and grounded as an artist, I am starting to work on more dioramas as well as a video projection/installation rooted in photographic influences. Stay tuned for pictures.