A Tale of Two Films

Posted on July 12, 2012

Moon/Jeong at dOCUMENTA 13

still from El Fin del Mundo by Moon/Jeong at dOCUMENTA 13

Two videos at Documenta, El Fin del Mundo by MOON Kyungwon and JEON Joonho, and Continuity by Omer Fast, succeed in dealing with huge events and issues by bringing it down to personal experience. The characters in these narratives could be any one of us. Dialogue is sparse and does little to advance the narrative – it all comes down to our personal interpretation of the characters’ facial expressions and interactions.

In addressing the Japan earthquake of 2011, Moon and Jeong cover water shortages and nuclear contamination through the experiences of two characters. A man, post-earthquake, waiting for the end, who never speaks, contrasted with a future researcher who is logging, decontaminating and cataloging, samples that are revealed to be from his workroom. El Fin del Mundo has a clear beginning when the situation is set up – the man sits through an earthquake on one screen, a woman arriving through an airlock, wearing a breathing apparatus, on the other. As the woman research arrives the rules of her future society are read out concerning conservation of water and energy, and prevention of contamination.

The two parts of El Fin del Mundo, projected side by side, have many moments of dialog, mainly as the researcher has glimpses of insight into this man’s world. The issues of a contaminated earth and water shortages are the background to these interconnected, personal narratives, and in those narratives the background issues gain meaning.

In Continuity, which loops and has no clear beginning or end, except perhaps in retrospect, we encounter a mother and father in a series of scenes in which they drive to the train station, greet their son who has returned from Afghanistan, bring him home and eat a meal with him. Then the scenes repeat, but with variations. Each time the son is different – in appearance, in reactions – and so the behavior of the parents changes. The film has a surreal atmosphere – relationships and emotions are at odds with expectations – and this drew me into the long (40min) narrative. Was this a dream or hallucination, what was real? Even after reading the guidebook I am left with more questions than answers – the sign of a thought-provoking artwork.

Liquid Networks, or Why Artist Groups are Important

Posted on July 5, 2012

The trick is to explore the edges of possibility that surround you. This can be as simple as changing the physical environment you work in, or cultivating a specific kind of social network, or maintaining certain habits in the way you seek out and store information.
Steven Johnson

Currently I am reading Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson. I’m only two chapters in and so far it is a beautifully written and utterly fascinating read. In chapter two he discusses “liquid networks” – environments in which ideas can flow between individuals. He likens a person working alone in an office – or an artist alone in the studio – to a solid state, a state in which there are plenty of ideas but they are set in stone and are not flowing and seeking out new possibilities. A key to increasing the flow of ideas is one idea from the quote above, “cultivating a specific kind of social network”.

On a good day, the critique group I belong to, formed two years ago out of the ashes of a critique class, are such a “liquid network”. We look at each others’ work, critique it, and come up with ideas – sometimes for changes, sometimes for presentation, sometimes to say “do more, this is excellent”. We have also been to and discussed an exhibition together, worked on a group exhibition proposal, shared exhibition opportunities and come out in support at each others’ openings.

Of course there are not-so-good days. There are meetings where people have to leave early, disturbing the group dynamic. There are meetings where one voice dominates, particularly if we are meeting in their studio: it’s hard for us not to talk about everything around us, visually distracted as we are! Other times a person might not feel that they got any useful feedback on their work. (This happens to me and it is my own fault. I need to give the group more information as I present the work, and ask more specific questions after). But it’s rare that there is nothing to be taken away from a meeting at all!

An artist group can take many forms. Ours exists as a formal entity, in part because many of us have isolated home studios. Other groups might be informal – neighbors in a studio complex who drop by each others’ studios for instance. I have a second group too – the Conspiracy organized by Alyson Stanfield. More business related, it is a virtual environment in which I have picked up many great ideas and questioned many of my habits.

Talking about conference meetings in a research facility, Steven Johnson says:

The group environment helped recontextualize problems, as questions from colleagues forced researchers to think about their experiments on a different scale or level. Group interactions challenged researchers’ assumptions about their more surprising findings…

What group(s) do you have available to you, formally or informally?

A studio practice

Posted on June 29, 2012

Painting table and easel

painting table and easel

Today, an inside look into my studio and studio practice. These questions are adapted from Lisa Call.

Is your studio at home or elsewhere? How big is it?
Right now my studio is in the garage at home, but from August at least part of my studio will be moving. I am starting an MFA program at the University of Houston and, as part of that, I get a studio space on campus.
My studio area is just under half a double garage. When we moved into this house we finished out the garage, added a window, great lighting, an a/c unit and a sink. It’s a bright space and it looks out onto the garden, which I love. The other half of the garage is filled with bikes, tools and a work area for everyone else in the family.

Typically, how many hours a week do you work in the studio?
During the school year I aim to work from 8:30a.m. to 3p.m. Monday through Friday. This doesn’t happen every day – sometimes I run errands, visit exhibitions or meet with my critique group.

Do you listen to music while you work?
Sometimes. I go back and forth between total silence and different types of music. Some weeks I will listen to a playlist of Philip Glass, Steve Reich, or Arvo Pärt, another week I might be listening to Radiohead or Aphex Twin.

Do you watch television while you work?
No, never.

Do you answer the telephone while you are in your studio?
Yes. I take my cellphone into the studio for a couple of reasons:

  • I’m the main contact if anything happens to the kids whilst at school
  • It’s my alarm to let me know that it’s nearly 3pm!
  • It’s my music source (if I’m listening to anything)

However, my phone rarely rings because most people know to contact me by email or text message!
I have email and internet on the phone but I never think to look at it.

How often do you take breaks?
Truly, whenever I have to – usually because I start to get the shakes from thirst or low blood sugar. I take water into the studio with me but rarely remember to turn around and drink it!

Is your studio tidy or messy?
Ha! Messy AND tidy. My painting table and easel area are generally tidy and I prefer them this way so I can find the paint colors and brushes I want. However, the rest of the area can get pretty crazy. At the moment there are several light boxes cluttering up one of the desks and most of the floor, plus a number of hand tools from attaching hanging hardware to finished paintings.

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Veiled Reflections ©2012 Caroline Roberts

Do you have any over-use issues with your hands or any other body parts?
When I am color-mixing I have to take frequent breaks for my eyes to rest and readjust. I can also only work for 1-2 hours on color mixes before my eyes get too tired – I find myself mixing and remixing a color and continually questioning it. When this happens I will switch to painting with whatever colors I am certain about.
Because of the need for a steady hand and smooth lines (those edges in my paintings are painted by hand, not taped) my shoulders will get very tense. Regular exercise and stretching helps with this.
Recently I improved my computer set-up to prevent issues I was getting with back and leg stiffness. I’m pretty small and I have a huge screen so my chair is very high. Turns out that sitting with your legs dangling like a 4-year-old is not so good for your back! A stack of two foreign language dictionaries has solved the issue.

What else is important about your studio practice?
For me, it’s important that I have a constant flow between the sketches and studies I work on and painting. I ‘batch’ these types of work, working on a series of studies and then painting, but rarely one to the exclusion of the other.

Work in Progress

Posted on June 22, 2012

The results of the last week in the studio.

Work in progress 1

Day 1

Work in progress 3

Day 2

Work in progress 4

Day 3 - it should actually be oriented this way!

Work in progress 5

Day 4

A lot of edge tidying to do! This painting also needs a title – any suggestions?

Mixing the Blues

Posted on June 16, 2012


Mixing in progress, with a grey scale guide

When I start a new painting one of the first things I do is to work out the color relationships through color scales like this one. It’s painstaking work, but I really love mixing colors.

The finished scale and paint pots

A defining moment

Posted on June 13, 2012


Paint pots in my studio

After climbing to the very top of the building I step into an open, sunlit room. Windows run the full length of the wall opposite me and every wall space is covered in line and color. Huge tables float in the center, empty but full of possibility. I realize I am forgetting to breathe. This is the middle school art studio, the first I have ever been in, and I’m in love.

I spent less than nine months working in that studio. I don’t clearly remember the teacher or any specific lessons, but I remember the space, the light, and the excitement.

What has been a defining moment in your life?

Beautiful grey

Posted on April 18, 2012

I love black and white photography, particularly of people and particularly when the person fades into a velvety black background. Inspired by such images I am working on a series of monochromatic paintings. Working from a mixed black – mixed from a red, a green and a blue – I am working on a greyscale. Each time I add increasing amounts of white to that same mixed black I am surprised by how much titanium white pushes the mix towards green.

In my first attempt the light grey is too dark and too green

I added more white and some red to counteract the greenish tinge

Those spice jars in the photo above? They make great paint jars for my mixes and they seal well. These are left over from a science project involving alum crystals!

Got color?

Posted on April 7, 2012

Color mixing time delay

All the colors I use are opaque and individually mixed. Their transparency is an illusion created by extremely careful color mixing.

Working on the colors is a balancing act between my knowledge of the colors and how they work in mixes, and the tiredness level of my eyes.

Does it take unbelievable amounts of patience to do this? Yes and no. I find it meditative and calming more than frustrating.

This composite of my painting table is a portrait of the mixing process: chaos and calm.

Finding the abstract

Posted on April 4, 2012


These forest images are part of a new project, a series of paintings based on a forest’s patterns over a very specific time period. When I look at these images I see patterns of light and shade, and rhythms of repeated forms. Sure, I could paint a realistic image but I find abstract images, that have been based on the real, are more evocative and allow my mind space to wander and make my own connections.


My first step in pulling abstract paintings from these photographs is to simplify to the essentials, whether it is rhythm and pattern, or color and form. I have been using filters and other adjustments in Photoshop to simplify the photograph’s information. Next up is drawing: sometimes in the computer (I like Illustrator and vector drawing), sometimes with charcoal, pencil or pens, in a sketchbook, in a computer, or over a printed image.

Once I’ve found some promising forms the fun will really begin as I twist and layer and coax them into giving up the forest’s secret music.

Synthesize, Synthesize, Synthesize

Posted on January 26, 2012

Fugue #7, ©2011 Caroline Roberts

I came across this quote in Letters to a Young Artist:

Synthesize, Synthesize, Synthesize. Force relationships between forms that may seem incompatible. If they fuse, maybe you’ve found something fresh. This procedure should be carried out with the methodical precision of a chemical engineer.

Kerry James Marshall

And this is just what I intend to do.

Nobody here but us chickens

Posted on October 7, 2011


Chickens by river seal on Flickr

It can’t have escaped anyone’s notice that there have been only tumbleweeds around here lately. I stopped posting abruptly back in the Spring because I was drowning in stress. Everything that was not essential was eliminated.

The stress wasn’t even any of the classic biggies – no illness, no death, no major changes – it was just too many stressors, too many major commitments. Well, and maybe one biggie that is never on the lists: facing the limitations and restrictions of my own personality.

The accumulating stress caused chronic insomnia – I didn’t get more than 6 hours of very broken sleep from April to June. Some nights I slept as little as one hour and somehow functioned the next day. Adrenaline is a crazy thing!

After I eliminated the external stress sources I went right back to sleeping (being able to dream again made me so happy!) and finally I’m looking around at all the non-essential but FUN things I dropped. I struggle with writing blog entries (if I could only mind-map or draw each one and post it like that!) but the results are so often worth the struggle. Not everyone I meet in my daily life likes to talk about art, paint, light, and color.

Which all leads to my point (really, it does!): I just read Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project  for about the third time. There are lots of things I take from this book but the one that pushed me to the keyboard this morning is this: Be Caroline. For months I have argued myself in circles about the point of my blog – what niche does it fill, what do I want to write about? – but I could not choose just one. And I come to the conclusion that since I often wander off down rabbit holes of curiosity, then so will my blog. Since I enjoy the challenge of figuring out how to get myself organized, stay on track and generally keep chaos from messing with my studio practice, then I will write about that too. I like focused blogs but I am not a single focus person. However, I promise not to muse about the contents of my sock drawer or what we had for dinner or my kids report cards (not that these things can’t be interesting, but they are not me), and I will try to stay somewhat close to the studio.

I can promise that works in progress and my studio practice, or the books I read and the images I see will definitely appear, and they will have no discernable order or pattern. Just like me really.

Half Way

Posted on February 22, 2011

Central Park in Winter

Why do we, as humans, tend to give up half way?

Half way through any project/task/life ambition, I lose all that initial enthusiasm, look back and see how far I’ve come, and instead of feeling elated I just feel tired.

And it’s not just me: look at all the construction projects where the punch list drags on and on and on. Or the diets that were started in January and abandoned by February.

So what can we do about it?  I think the sagging, wilting feeling is inevitable. Perhaps the only thing to do is to take a breath and start again, as if from scratch. Maybe even reconfirm, or redefine, the plan. Or at least pull out the plan and have a look at it.

That’s where I’m going to start and I’ll let you know how it goes. In the meantime if you have some suggestions for getting through the dip I would love to hear them!

P.S. Does everyone get post-exhibition blues?