12 July, 2011

Dealing With The Wolf, In Which I Tell a Rock Climbing Story, Get Long-Winded, and Bring It Back Around To Art.

Riverside Grays
@6" x 6"
Casey Klahn

Every art has it's context.  Just because you want to paint the future thing, this doesn't mean you will necessarily have to lose the older things.  These things can co-exist: the new and the old.  Wolf Kahn employs the uber-abstractionism and expressionism of his era (which era still continues) and yet he paints nature.  It is a balancing act that has to be done; a voice that must be heard.

In a comparison from my days as a rock climber, I think of the old-timers (many of whom I have talked with and had the pleasure of being at the same crag with) who used a climbing trick of standing on their partner's shoulder to gain a high reach.  What do we painters do when we consider the earlier painters?  Do we stand on their shoulders, or do we put our foot on their face, so to speak, and say, I have no regard for you?  Whatever the case, we still find ourselves elevated to the higher stance by their work and its stature.

To continue the metaphor, I well remember the first time I led through on a hard rock climb that my mentor crumped on.  He offered me to lead through, which was a compliment.  For some inexplicable reason, the thing worked out, and I climbed past my master (just once).  To fill out the analogy, this climb was rated the same as a particular climb that is near Los Angeles and was the hardest climb of the decade of the nineteen fifties.  I met the first ascensionist and we got to be on a first name basis for a short while.  My hero, whose work was breakthrough stuff a few decades past, was now easy to match.  But, only because the march of time had brought his knowledge and techniques forward for every man to obtain with some effort.

I tell this story because I often think of the challenges we face when we try to be good painters today.  There are more paintings to paint and we can certainly try to paint to the highest standards, if we just put in the effort. 

This stream of thought is my response to an article about Wolf Kahn at the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center in 2007.  Anyway, you should go read that if you are still with me this far. An excerpt:

The question of whether to use landscape to "capture" a moment, place, or light thereof, or whether to use it as a means to deliver personal self-expression, is one of the philosophical forks in the road for some landscape artists who choose one or the other. Kahn seems to be well aware of the question and quite satisfied not to answer it. Color can be subservient to place, or place subservient to color. Image can be subservient to abstraction, or abstraction subservient to image. All could have come from nature or from the artist's process. That's the game, so to speak. Find the painting.

I Enjoy Making Analogies Between Rock Climbing and Art Making, But Nobody Ever Gets It.  I Do Them Anyway.


Sonya Johnson said...

Love the painting - it offers up your signature use of color with an abstract design that had its origins in the landscape. I wish I had your ability to interpret a scene like this!

I relate completely to your analogy with climbing, even though my experience is from more of a canyoneering/extreme hiking perspective. It's all the same, though, as it relates to our challenges as artists. Plus, I just enjoy hearing about climbing stories.

Brenda Boylan said...

Casey, I don't climb rocks, but I do get the analogy completely, and a good one it is. Ever reaching, ever new challenges. That's just life.

SamArtDog said...

Metaphor. Schmetaphor. But, hey, your painting "rocks".
And did you say WK? You know you got me there.

word verif... bonsurov. Which is Russian for good night.

Celeste Bergin said...

haha, I am endlessly making golf references to art..no one gets that either. "when at the driving range, dont end on a poorly hit ball"....this is what I think of if I have a really bad drawing I do another until I have a good one. Then I can finally leave the driving range! I love your painting here. It has a peaceful quality...like so much of your work does.

Casey Klahn said...

Thanks all for the comments, and for someone finally connecting with a climbing illustration. That only took me 4.5 years, but I am learning how to communicate as I go.

Sonya - I know you know what it's like, and the analogy works. The past is important to the future!

Hi, Brenda! Thanks for your words!

Sam: I think the article author (about WK) was reaching for a reason to talk about metaphor.

Casey Klahn said...

Celeste: thank you for seeing the peaceful in this. It is my secret. Except, many artists know it, too - I just said that to sound mysterious.

Karin Goeppert said...

Your painting is beautiful - how long will it take me to interpret a landscape like this?
I do understand your analogy to climbing.
I have been doing some extreme mountain hikes where some climbing was involved and I had to overcome my fears, fears of hights. And I feel that way about painting - at times there are so many fears that have to be overcome. But how great it is when you have overcome them and have a painting you can live with! To me it can compare to the view you have when you finally made the peak of the mountain. Sweaty but exhilarated.

Journeyman said...

I’m old school when climbing and although new to painting seem to be going that way with the brush. Recently I went out with a young modern man, he had so much gear strewn around him, most of it I had no idea of how to use. The climbs took for ever when he lead. Then a solo climber turned up ran all over the rock and was on his way. If I was young again that’s how I would like to climb. Direct and bold. The same thing seems to happen with painters some get so obsessed with equipment they forget why they are painting. Thanks for the insights.


Robin said...

I had trouble focusing on your story because once again I was totally consumed with your art - every time you post a new piece it inspires me to work with pastels with one thought in mind: try to work like Casey - clean, colorful, minimal. When I first saw the title to this post I thought it said, Dancing with Wolves, that goes to show you how much trouble I have looking/reading words (vs. looking at images).

Cmichaudart said...

keep telling stories, they are almost as intriguing as the paintings, onward...

Casey Klahn said...

Hi, Karin. Good comments, and I haven't got an answer for your question.

Casey Klahn said...

Dave, very glad to meet you. I follow your blog, now.

Isn't every Welshman an old school rockman? BTW, there is a stiff climb in Squamish named The Journeyman. That is quit an area to climb at, and possibly my favorite.

Casey Klahn said...

Robin - you are a very kind commenter.

Casey Klahn said...

Hi, Cindy. But, it isn't as easy to tell stories anymore. I'll have to plumb the vault for my best ones, if I can remember any. Thanks!

Ruth Armitage said...

I like your analogy... and I'm especially interested in which elements lead and which help us to 'find' the painting. Good questions and a wonderful answer with the painting you included.

Casey Klahn said...

Wow, Ruth. I never thought about artist leadership within the picture - the elements. Now you got me thinking.

Thank you.

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