On Originality and Inspiration

“Creativity is the art of concealing your sources.”

I’ve alway loved this quote, and I love it even more after a quick Google search attributes this nugget of wisdom (with slight re-wordings) to Coco Chanel, Benjamin Franklin, and Albert Einstein. If their contemporaries were convinced that each of these outstanding individuals had conceived this expression on their own, then it indeed rings true -- at least two of them were hiding their source(s). Of course, there’s always the less romantic notion that each one did indeed assert the above belief independently of the others -- after all, can’t two different people (or three) have the same great idea? -- but we’ll sweep that aside for now as we ponder another example.

Take a look at this spot painting from Damien Hirst. From 1986 to 2011, Hirst produced over 1000 spot paintings, most of which he never painted himself (having assistants create your work is a topic for another separate blog entry altogether). When I first saw these paintings, I loved their simplicity -- they really seemed like nothing more than pure celebration of color. It was the closest thing I’d seen in the highbrow world of fine art to what could be called ‘eye candy’. It kinda had me wondering why no one had tried doing this before . . . or had they?

Here is a print from American artist Ellsworth Kelly from 1976 called Nine Squares. It, too, appears to be an organized grid of random color on a light (white) background. Is it possible Hirst saw this image during a survey of Pop Art while studying at University of London in the late 80s? Entirely. No study of modern art would be complete without at least an introduction to Kelly’s work. Now take a look at the next image.

Here’s a still frame from The Psychedelic Furs’ 1984 video for the track “The Ghost in You”. The grid layout for the smaller spots is virtually identical to Hirst’s spot paintings. Could young Damien have seen this video while a student at Jacob Cramer School of Art in the mid 80s? Absolutely.

The fact is, we will never know to what extent these images influenced Hirst, if at all. He himself may not even know, as he may have casually seen them in some fleeting moment, and relegated them to his subconscious, only to have them bubble back up to the surface (knowingly or unknowingly) during a creative spree. One of the jobs of artists, after all, is to observe the world around them, and to reflect those observations back to the viewer in a stimulating, thought-provoking manner. I find Hirst’s spot paintings to be stimulating, regardless of where their inspiration may lie.

For any borrowing Hirst may have done from the recent past, he has also paid that inspiration forward, for better or worse, as we see his influence not-so-subtly at work in the following images:

The world of decorative art has traditionally borrowed rather unashamedly from the latest trends in the fine art world. And honestly, does anybody ‘own’ the idea of arranging random color in a grid-like pattern? The grid itself dates back to antiquity and originated in multiple cultures, often as a means of laying out a city. So what’s to be made of all this? Is Hirst a copycat or a genius or both?

I would suggest that as an artist today, especially in the age of the internet, the struggle to be original is more challenging than ever. We are bombarded with so much imagery from so many types of media, it’s often hard to tell the difference between an original thought and a recollection from the subconscious. And every time I think I’ve come up with a fantastic art idea, a quick internet search reveals that many others have already thought of it before me. But have they executed it exactly the way I would have? Is there nothing unique that I would bring to idea? Should I let this stop me from pressing onward, even if my work feels derivative? I would say no. There is always something new an artist can bring to the visual exploration of an already established concept or idea -- if the work does not feel new enough, then the artist must push harder to find the thing that gives it a voice all its own. As long as an idea is executed with integrity and a commitment to one’s own sensibilities, some level of originality is inevitable. 

Keep at it. Do not stop. Use your influences. Do research. Never stop seeing. Let the work of those you admire be an inspiration. Do not worry about having your work labelled as derivative, just keep moving forward and something new will emerge. And never feel like you have to reveal your sources. 

It feels appropriate to close with another famous quote, this one attributed to T.S. Eliot, Igor Stravinsky, and Pablo Picasso, but I’d like to take it and build upon it to make it my own (see what I’m doing here?).

“Good artists copy. Great artists steal.” 

To that I would add, "The best artists appropriate their influences and elevate them to a new level, achieving something original from that which has already been done.” 

And you can quote me (or Thomas Edison) on that. 

- Max Strauss

Compliments & Restraining Orders

I still remember the first time I saw a painting by Max Strauss.

I was 18 years old and fairly ignorant when it came to fine art. I had already spent a number of years working in advertising and graphic design and had been educated as an illustrator and designer. In my circle of commercial artists, we mostly just made fun of the fine artists and assumed they would either starve to death or be forced to get a real job. But I clearly remember seeing this painting hanging over the desk of one of my co-workers. And I loved it.

It was a painting of toys. Those incredibly simple, small, plastic Fisher Price characters. To this day I can see that painting in my head. At the time I had never seen anything like it, and I knew I loved everything about it.

As it turned out, it was a painting by Maxfield Strauss. It hung over the desk of the woman he was dating (and whom he would later marry). I didn’t know what to do about it, so I did the only thing I could think to do. I wrote him a letter and told him how much I liked it. All these years later, I have no idea what I said (and I’m sure I would be mortified to find out), but it felt like I needed to do something.

I think it’s important to acknowledge work that you love. Who doesn’t want to receive that kind of feedback about their work? Since that early letter to Maxfield, I have contacted numerous other artists whose work I admire. Over the years I have reached out to artists like Robert Mars, Todd Sanders, AlbanShaun RichardsJane MaxwellKim Cogan, and many others. Most, if not all, have responded with kindness. Some, over time, have developed into genuine friendships. 

With Robert Mars at his show opening in Laguna Beach, CA - complete with giddy fanboy smile (mine, not his)

The truth is, many artists never hear compliments about their work, or what it is exactly that resonates with buyers/collectors/admirers. Aside from show openings or studio visits, it’s actually rare for an artist to watch people interact with their work or explain what they love about it. It is a unique privilege for an artist to get complimentary feedback on their work.

I would later find out that Maxfield kept the letter that I wrote to him. Nearly ten years later, we found ourselves working together and have since become close friends. It was a friendship that began with a painting and a compliment, and continues to this day. Maxfield is what I would call a ‘real’ artist. He has a profound respect for art and artists, and has greatly expanded my understanding and appreciation of both. 

 Just as a point of clarification, it’s okay to contact an artist. It’s not okay to stalk an artist. You aren’t writing to ask them to be your best friend. I don’t suggest that you contact them so they can review your work and give you advice (though to my great embarrassment I have done exactly that). Writing with an agenda is different than offering a compliment. My suggestion is that you write because you love their work, and you feel they deserve to hear it. 

 Perhaps you are still hesitant. If it helps, artists who don’t want to hear from you or don’t care to receive correspondence simply won’t respond. Or perhaps they will create a contact page with a submission form that never works (I’m looking at you, edruscha.com). That’s okay too, and particularly understandable for higher profile artists. But what do you really have to lose? 

 So go ahead and reach out to those artists who inspire you. You just might end up with a lifelong friendship … or a restraining order.

- Dennis Bredow

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Home on the Range

"You can help the homeless if you vote for my cow."

That's the kind of statement that will make your head explode without further explanation. For the sake of your sanity, I have provided further information below.

If you follow theArtMob even a little, you know that last year I was sponsored by a local company (BCA) to paint a cow. Yes, an actual full size fiberglass cow for the Cow Parade event in San Luis Obispo County. 

WHAT THE HECK IS A COW PARADE

The Cow Parade is an international public art exhibit that has been featured in major world cities. Fiberglass sculptures of cows are decorated by local artists, and distributed over the city centre, in public places such as train stations, important avenues, and parks. After the exhibition in the city, which may last many months, the statues are auctioned off and the proceeds donated to charity. The Cow Parade has been a hugely successful fundraiser, raising over $30 million globally for the communities who have hosted the event. 

 A HAND UP, NOT A HAND OUT 

My particular cow will be auctioned off to benefit a new homeless services center in San Luis Obispo (40 Prado). The new homeless services center at 40 Prado Road is a brand new, innovative facility that will consolidate existing day and night services under one roof. It will provide space for a collaborative network of services to help homeless individuals and families create a path toward stability and permanent housing solutions. 

I'M NOT ASKING FOR YOUR MONEY 

While the ultimate goal is to raise money, that's not what I hope to receive from followers of theArtMob. Certainly you are welcome to bid on your very own cow, or buy tickets to the Charity Auction event, which includes beer and wine and a prime rib dinner. The beer and wine is to compromise your judgement and maximize your bid. The prime rib is presumably to remind you of what you are bidding on. 

In all seriousness, please consider casting a vote for my cow, #78 Jesse/Jane. The top 10 cows in fan voting by April 30th will automatically go to the Charity Live Auction May, 2017. You can vote for your favorite cow once a day between now and then. A vote for Jesse/Jane gets her closer to the auction, which increases the opportunity for bidding, which in turn helps the homeless.

You can see all the cows and cast your vote(s) here.

Cheers, 

Dennis Bredow

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Art, Burgers, & Beer

I really like art. I like to look at it. I like to read about it. I like to make it. I like to sit down and page through a good drawing book. But do you know what I like even more? Paging through a good drawing book with a friend. This creates dialogue, and dialogue generates ideas. This is the way we discover new things or learn to appreciate new artists. This is how our views and ideas are validated or challenged. These conversations breathe life into the creative process and generate endless new possibilities. In my experience, the best and most inspiring art conversations happen with a group of art-loving friends, a good burger, and a cold beer.

 Art is meant to be shared and experienced, and it loses something in a vacuum. This is true both for the artist and the consumer. The artist stagnates without input from other artists who challenge and confirm ideas. In the same way, those who consume art miss out if they have no one to share the experience with. 

The hope is that theArtMob would be a gathering place. Sure, it can just be a place to look at art (and I hope there is some value in that). But it can also be a place to learn and interact with artists, processes, techniques, materials and ideas. So I’ve invited my artist friend and mentor Maxfield Strauss to join me as we begin a dialogue about all things art. Throughout the course of the year we will invite some guest artists to join us in our discussion or to share from their own experiences. 

 So throw a burger on the grill, pour yourself a cold one, and join us as we talk art. 

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Art From Mars

Do you know what that is? That, my friends, is the signature of one Robert Mars.

And … oh nothing … it’s in my living room.

I am now the proud owner of an original Robert Mars. When I first came across his paintings I literally thought I should give up my pursuit of fine art altogether. Everything I hoped my work would become was already represented in his portfolio. They included all of the nostalgic icons I love (including but not limited to: the Mobil pegasus, the Texaco star, classic cars, etc). It was actually a little depressing.

Over time I grew to appreciate the differences in our style, our technique, and our point of view and eventually came to realize that there is always room for more art and more artists. But my appreciation drove me to write to Mars and inquire about his work. I was surprised when he replied. I was even more surprised when we began a dialogue about our work. I am probably most surprised that my work now hangs in his home, and his in mine.

The piece on it’s own is spectacular (just look at that sweet high gloss finish). You really have to see it in person to appreciate it. Bold colors and subtle details mean you can look at it for hours and still find something new to appreciate.

But to me it will always represent something much more. Mars has been so generous with his time and advice, and has been a true encouragement to me. It will serve as a constant reminder of both his talent and his kindness.

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Studio Visit: James Rieck

Had a chance to visit the studio of painter James Rieck. I had only recently become familiar with his work and was impressed. However, seeing his work is person is a much different experience. The scale of the work and the quality of execution are really quite spectacular. James’ beautifully subtle manipulation of paint is unlike any work I have seen. At distance the work has an element of realism that you can only assume will break down as you get closer to the canvas. This is not the case. In fact, at proximity the work is even more impressive. It has a nearly photographic quality as you find soft edges and almost no traces of mark making whatsoever. When you consider how large these paintings are the feat is only more impressive. To complicate matters he has executed entire series of paintings while limiting himself to two colors – red and green (plus white, but white is not considered a color after labor day). This not only makes me appreciate his skill for mixing paint, but also gives each painting in the series a beautiful harmony.
For most artists this would be the accomplishment. This kind of flawless rendering would be where the angst and toil resides. James displays a level of skill that most artists spend a lifetime pursuing. However, after speaking with him for awhile I’m convinced that the execution of the piece is really secondary. For James, the purity of the concept really trumps all. He never uses his own photographs as a base for his paintings, and yet each series looks as if he hired and staged the models himself. He creatively crops and manipulates piles of reference until his composition and concept feels cohesive. This gives his work a ‘found object’ quality which only enhances the experience of viewing his work. For him, I believe, this is where the real angst lies. This is the work – pouring over and accumulating reference until he finds just the right pieces with which to make his fabulous paintings.
A true pleasure to meet such a gifted and humble artist who was willing to open his studio and share his process. Overall, an inspiring visit that will stay with me for some time. Cheers, James Rieck.

See more James Rieck here.

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Hanging with Maxfield

I am privileged to have a selection of my work on display in the lobby of Sony Pictures. Having the work on display in the lobby has generated some great conversation, including a lot of inquiry about my motivation for the Domestic Series pieces.

As if that weren’t cool enough, I am showing alongside longtime friend and mentor Maxfield Strauss. Strauss’ work includes three pieces from his popular Domestic Partners series – it’s worth your time to take a look.

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Gert Lush

Received a very cool surprise in the mail from friend and British artist Paul Ayers – a beautiful five color limited edition print from his current “Bristol Post” series. The prints are all based upon soviet stamps from the 1960′s and represent a tongue in cheek imagining of an independent republic of Bristol (also home to well known British street artist Banksy).

Paul has set the bar high with these meticulous reconstructions. His screen positives are created on clear film using permanent black pens, drawing inks, and Chinagraph pencils. It’s an honor to have such a beautiful piece and a wonderful reminder of my brief time living and working in the UK. By the way, “Gert Lush” is Bristle (Bristol’s dialect) for “Really Great”. Gert Lush Paul, Gert Lush!

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