Josh DeSmit Art Blog Attack: Post I, The Artist Returns/Silver Falls

Back in the Game

I love to art, to creatively express experiential knowledge through physical media, the act of arting. Making art is an outlet for stored emotion and has been a staple in the scope of my mental health to release these stores in a cerebral and physical manor.  Ten months ago my wife, Kelley, and I were gifted by God a wonderful baby, Elouise. Like all parents, we have found time subtraction through this joyous addition to our everyday lives.  By want and necessity our time has deviated to Elouise's side of the graph.  After Kelley's maternity leave was up, Elouise spent days with a family friend and work schedules remained similar to those of prenatal life.  I was in full artistic swing knocking out commissioned works and personal wall hangers for art fairs and shows.  Grand plans of art based apparel hung in the balance of design and trigger pulling.  Like death, one thing we humans can always count on is change, and damned if we don't like to avoid it.

If you have followed my work for some time you might have read my scribblings about "liminal" life, or being in transition.  Not unlike my art, which attempts to visually illustrate overlapping spaces, experiences, and attitudes, life provides literal switcheroos to one's program on a regular basis. Long story longer, I am now a stay-at-home dad four days a week.  It's beautifully rewarding, yet taxing, and has halted much of the momentum my art game had in the first half of 2017.  Though I wouldn't trade my time with Elouise for anything, I am yearning to pick up the pieces of Josh DeSmit Art and this is why I write today. 

While creating new work has become a challenge, writing is something that can be pecked away at during nap time.  It is also important to reflect on one's processes and results, and mine have certainly gone in a different direction over the last twelve months.  My goal is to shed light on where I have been, what is happening now, and what I hope to accomplish as I decipher the puzzle of time management under a new schedule.  Look for one to two posts a week that take closer looks at individual works, influences, fatherhood rants, and liminalistic existence.  

POST I: Silver Falls, An Ode to Marsden Hartley

A major change in my work over the last two years has been an emphasis on painting.  I am not a trained painter, but in attempts to add another layer to my process I took to brush and decided to explore acrylic paint.  My college studies were focused on printmaking, drawing, and working with spray paint plus a healthy dose of art history.  I was never quite satisfied with finished products solely in these fields and found ways to combine reductive and additive processes to create mixed media art. With access to a printing press no longer relevant, I utilize stencils cut from my drawings to satisfy reduction and now painting has taken over as a mainstay in the additive portion of my artistic equation.  In my mind there is something necessary about having an idea (drawing), stripping it down (stencil), and rebuilding it (spray paint/acrylic/paint pen). This process allows me to maintain recognizable form while simplifying the subject matter to the most important lines and shapes. It also allows me to work fast and slow, calculated and reactionary or emotionally within the same piece.

I have always had an affinity for modernist painters from the turn of the twentieth century, and have emulated artists from various movements as I attempt to gain skill as a painter.  Many of these individuals were masters of creating universally recognizable and simplified form. Examples of these painters range from the ultra famous Van Gogh and Picasso, to North American artists like the Group of Seven out of Canada, Stuart Davis and especially Marsden Hartley, both American. In general, my mark making is derived from a graffiti-esque hand style, blocky and hard.  With acrylic, I have found that I can maintain this mark making, though the medium softens the result and provides a nice balance with the usually rigid, stenciled spray paint.  

A.Y. Jackson (Group of Seven), October Evening, 1934 oil on canvas 73.9 x 81.4 cm Collection of the Winnipeg Art Gallery Gift of Chief Justice G. Tritschler, G-74-30 © Carleton University Art Gallery, Ottawa

A.Y. Jackson (Group of Seven), October Evening, 1934 oil on canvas 73.9 x 81.4 cm Collection of the Winnipeg Art Gallery Gift of Chief Justice G. Tritschler, G-74-30 © Carleton University Art Gallery, Ottawa

Stuart Davis (1892–1964), New Mexican Landscape, 1923, oil on canvas, Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, © Estate of Stuart Davis/ Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Stuart Davis (1892–1964), New Mexican Landscape, 1923, oil on canvas, Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, © Estate of Stuart Davis/ Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

In researching my favored modernists, I stumbled onto Marsden Hartley's work.  His landscapes really struck me and at the time I seemed stuck in a rut of subject focused work, like fish.  I was inspired to create work about the places important to me and my adventures afield. After focusing on Hartley further, I discovered a show at The Met Breuer called "Marsden Hartley's Maine". Though not able to make the trek to New York to see it first hand, I was able to get the jist via their online content.  Hartley had a deep connection to his native Maine, and it was somewhere he went back to mentally and physically in his life and work. I felt a parallel in my own life in my connection with Michigan's Upper Peninsula.  Though not my home state it was for much of my family, and multiple yearly trips to the cabin to hunt, fish, and escape have cemented it as a necessary pilgrimage for me and my subsequent creativity. 

"Silver Falls", 16"x20", Spray Paint & Acrylic On Canvas, 2017

"Silver Falls", 16"x20", Spray Paint & Acrylic On Canvas, 2017

"Smelt Brook Falls", Marsden Hartley (American, Lewiston, Maine 1877–1943 Ellsworth, Maine), 1937, Oil on commercially prepared paperboard (academy board) The Met Breuer, 2017

"Smelt Brook Falls", Marsden Hartley (American, Lewiston, Maine 1877–1943 Ellsworth, Maine), 1937, Oil on commercially prepared paperboard (academy board)

The Met Breuer, 2017

My 2017 work "Silver Falls" recants a snowy spring morning of steelhead fishing during runoff, and the raging falls we encountered near Lake Superior.  The piece is an ode to Hartley's "Smelt Brook Falls" which I was drawn to in researching the artist.  Like many of his later works concerning Maine, "Smelt Brook Falls" is stark in contrasts.  The works narrating the complexities between his sexuality and worldly ramblings, and the conservative, rugged life of Maine.  Hartley's piece exhibits darkness and light, cold and warm, and is blocky in execution while describing something as fluid as running water.  I wanted to offer similar feelings in "Silver Falls" as the woods were wet and dark, while the river's gap in the trees provided illumination to the forceful, cold water raging due to spring's warming thaw.  The turbid yellow water looks more like solid blocks, or even figures, rumbling through an evergreen theatre as the viewer takes in the opening scene.  Perhaps Hartley was under the spell of the old adage that "a man never crosses the same river twice". His scene looks to be set in the fall, a time of nostalgia and great change in the natural world, and the flowing water is ever new and refreshed over aged rocks.

Like Hartley's relationship with Maine, my affair with the U.P. is ripe with angst. I know that I can never live there while making a living and raising my family, but I yearn for it's wilds while operating in an urban existence. For this, I am reserved to days, weekend trips to rumbling falls and pine woods that revive like moving water.  The U.P. will likely remain a place of in between for me. Somewhere to exist, not in permanence, but between the bookends of a bustling life.