Conversations

William E. Shumway occasionally shares current happenings, his thoughts on a painting technique, or other things he is thinking about. Check back often to see what Bill has to say.

Collaboration

There are many ways that artists collaborate. Traditionally, it is found in apprenticeship relationships in which a master artisan takes on younger students and teaches them technical and - to some extent - stylistic skills for several years. At some point, the student is allowed to collaborate with the mentor on the art objects produced in the teacher’s studio.  The mentor may in fact have his students reproduce art objects approved by or designed by the studio master artist. Rembrandt’s students often produced etchings that were nearly indistinguishable from his own.

Crow Vision - Bill Shumway and Rachel Urista

Rubens took collaboration to a new level. He was both painter and diplomat with astute entrepreneurial leanings. He met with royalty throughout Europe as a diplomat and was asked to arrange large scale paintings from his workshop to be installed in their palatial residences. He pitched his image concepts to his clients with initial sketches and took the dimensions of the installation site. On his return to the studio, he did a small scale painting to guide a team of highly skilled artists in creating the full-size painting on canvas. Canvas was a material which hadn’t been used much as a painting support at the time. Wood panels were more common but were not as safely transportable by donkey or cart as is a rolled up canvas. Some of his artists were trained by Rubens and others arrived as skilled artists in their own rights. They specialized in rendering skies, still life subjects, animals or - like Van Dyck - fabrics and the human anatomy. Together they collaborated on many painting installations originating from Ruben’s studio.

Throughout history, there have been many “schools” of art. Each of these communities collaborated in in the evolution of the concepts of each school, like Impressionism, Expressionism and Cubism.  These kinds of collaborative ventures were largely competition-driven with intermittent moments of total cooperation within small groups. Some schools of thought originated among a small group of individuals and then faded, as with Dadaism. Others, like Impressionism, caught fire and blossomed internationally, even reigniting periodically over decades.

Stellar Jay - Bill Shumway and Rachel Urista

In the performing arts, there has been collaboration from the beginning. Music, poetry, acting, dance, etc., have often shared in the same productions.  However, with the exception of animation and mural art, visual artists - including painters, printmakers and sculptors – collaborate on shared projects less frequently. When there are multiple participants, a collaboration piece becomes not just a conversation between the painting and the artist, but also with all the other artists. It then becomes necessary to have some agreement between participants on the subject, support, media, project time, deciding when the piece is done and how to share authorship rights and sale profits. This can be difficult when artists are used to working alone. Collaboration can be very stimulating for the artists and the viewers but it requires that the artists put aside their egos for the sake of the art.

Corvallis has seen several different forms of collaborative art installations over the years in events called “Call and Response“ or “Pairing.” In both cases, artists – often working in different mediums – share their ideas with each other as a way of getting to know how to work together on the same installation. The September exhibit at the Giustina Gallery at OSU featured Call and Response artists. Viewers see how one artists makes the “Call” in his or her medium and the other artists participating respond to that piece. The Philomath Museum has had exhibits of works by artists who work in different media – such as fiber, glass, wood, metal – working together on the same piece of artwork. Both events are forms of collaboration.

PLETHORA OF CROWS II EXHIBIT

Collaborative Collage - Bill Shumway and Don Ferguson

There are six sets of collaborators in this exhibit, in which the common denominators are the photographer Don Ferguson and the painter Bill Shumway. Don and Bill began their foray into collaboration two years ago culminating in the Plethora of Crows I exhibit at Pegasus Gallery in February 2016.

 Sculptor Raymond Hunter collaborated with Bill fourteen years ago on the River Song Installation at the Corvallis Library. Bill painted a crow for Raymond to hang in his “castle” in Kings Valley as thanks. Recently, Raymond decided to sculpt a grand and crowish frame for the piece. This inspired Raymond to do more crow sculptures, as exhibited here today.

Crow Bartow - Bill Shumway, Paige Shumway, and Rachel Urista

Earlier this year, Rick Bartow became gravely ill. Three of his devotees – Bill; his daughter, Paige; and Rachel Urista -  were drawn to his spirit and launched a series of paintings in response. Some were done separately. Several were initiated as calls to respond and then passed around between the artists until they felt done. Others were painted simultaneously by all three artists.

Photographer, Brizz Meddings and Bill have admired each other’s work for years. When Brizz came back from Malheur - one of Bill’s favorite en plein air painting locations - he dropped off a portfolio of mating Ibises for Bill to respond to.

Print maker, Kevin Clark has known Bill for years as well and they have shared many crow images. A particular favorite of both artists is the three- legged Japanese crow, protector of shrines.

Don’s newest crow collaborator is painter Edith Wolfe. Both have individual work on display and are looking forward to some powerful collaborative images.

COLLABORATION AND CROWS

Crows THEMSELVES are by far and away a most collaborative bunch. While they are endowed with self-awareness and territorial behavior, they are exceedingly playful and aesthetically generous in their daily interactions. They take on the challenges of each day from their rookeries with a berserk clamor into the skies, each bent on creating a new kind of truth to proclaim on the journey back home. Recently, a murder of crows was seen mobbing a coyote west of Corvallis. Periodically the coyote would stop and look at his tormentors, perhaps wondering how insanely and persistently beautiful they were.  May you wonder the same as you engage with the images in this Plethora of Crows II exhibit.

Choices... Choices...

My decision to use oil pigments again is very recent. I switched to acrylics years ago after a friend of mine lost his studio, his wife’s studio and his home to a fire caused by spontaneous combustion of oily rags, improperly stored.

 He was a print maker and about the only things that survived the fire were many of his etching plates which had been packed together in a metal cabinet. No lives were lost, so rather than spend a lot of energy on grieving, we just located a press and printed those plates as fast as we could. He sold well and we filled the coffers pretty quickly to rebuild and carry on.

 The loss of his wife’s life’s work, his original drawings, a treasured collection of artworks by other artists, family stuff and irreplaceable lithography and etching presses, inks and other tools was too much for my sensibilities. I went back home and started eliminating lots of toxic and combustible materials from my studio.

 It wasn’t easy. I was in the midst of doing my graduate thesis show and much of it was done with oil on canvas and the acrylics available then were nothing like they are now. They were sticky and lacquer like in color and gloss and very hard to control. Fortunately Henry Levinson was doing some good work with Liquitex polymer resins and sharing a lot of his product with some of the abstract expressionists.   Liqutex became very user friendly in those experimental years. It took much longer, however, for it to be accepted as a fine arts medium.

 In the midst of my thesis project, I had a lucid dream in which I found myself in a gallery filled with large three dimensional paintings: Some you walked through; some were on wheels; others projected from the walls, floor and ceiling. Some were bas relief and others were in the round. At some point, I realized they were mine. I just hadn’t done them yet. In the dream, I took out a pencil, notepad and tape measure and made notes on how they looked and were constructed. When I awoke I transferred those notations to a real note pad and over a period of four months made about twenty of them to add to my graduate thesis show. For the most part they were canvas stretched on wooden supports using acrylic paint.

 I discovered right away that acrylics were very versatile and could be manipulateda lot like oils if I worked quickly. They could also bond to almost any surface but oil paint. They were a big help in stabilizing the three dimensional pieces along with a lot of hand stitching.

 I worked night and day, driven by the clarity of the dream and a desire to include them in the thesis show, much to the disdain of my advisers. Though I earned my masters degree, I don’t think the department was ready for the art work in the show. Art critics in regional papers panned the show and it took another thirty years for me to finally feel vindicated.

 I was looking around the modern section of Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, UK, when I ran across some pieces which were very similar to my own dream works. They were done about the same time by an English artist and they were labeled Situational Abstraction. It was amazing to find work done in a similar manner and in the same time period, by an artist in England. Apparently, we created some sort of mini-movement.

After my wife and I viewed hundreds of paintings in Rome and Florence, a few months ago, my desire to push around some oil paint resurfaced. When I got back to my studio, I put together an en plein air oil painting box. Then I got myself a metal bucket with a lid for my oily waste and parked it outside.

The Renaissance: Art and Patron

I recently returned from a trip to Italy. It was an amazing two weeks. There was so much history, so much art, mixed with a powerful sense of continuous and deep culture.  I remember being moved by art and culture in London and Paris also, but I felt a separation in those places that I didn’t feel in Italy. It all seemed a continuum and I got to be part of it by simply being there.

Lucca

I find myself asking if the Renaissance would have happened if it had not been for people like the Medici family and what would it have looked like without their enormous financial backing? The question keeps plaguing me because as much as some artists enjoyed generous support by their patrons, they were sometimes treated very badly by the same people. The same was true for many in the sciences as well.

Most artists and craftspeople prior to that period were nameless stone workers, sculptors, painters, calligraphers and the like, who carried out their tasks with little or no recognition or remuneration. Then, some of the very wealthy gained an aesthetic awareness to such an extent that they found pleasure and wisdom in supporting certain of their favorite artists. They put their energy into the creation and preservation of their art works. That sparked similar behaviors in competing families. The competition was so strong, at times, that some were known to take art objects from others as a way of displaying power.

As competing families tried to outdo each other with better and larger collections, more impressive buildings became necessary. Art became significant barter for all manner of alliances: social, political and religious.

I imagine that it must have been very tricky for an artist to stay in the good graces of a patron, as Da Vinci, Michael Angelo, Caravaggio and many others certainly discovered. Then as now, artists were driven by the muse even as patrons demanded loyalty and the Church dictated subject matter and morality.

The Alps from Monte Carlo

It may be that a renaissance of a slower, gentler kind would have happened even without the manipulations of the wealthy. Granted, many factors worked against artists dedicating their lives to art – a lack of birth control and families that had to be fed; the expense of paints or other materials needed to create the wonders we see today and most importantly, the time to devote to art alone.   

Artists and scientists may have begun forming all manner of innovative ideas and visions in the early stages of this period. They would, however, have required financial support to manifest discoveries and projects which would, later, improve their lives enough to pursue their own goals. Even today, we artists require some sort of healthy patronage. Perhaps I should entertain the idea that throughout Europe, so much was happening simultaneously in the arts and sciences that powerful patrons needed to come forward to process it all. For now, I am grateful to have seen the art produced with the encouragement of the Medici, the Borghello and other families and the collections that they amassed which continue to delight us today.  

Art World in Flux

The art world is once again in flux. It has always been so. Shifts in technology affect cultural preferences and perceptions. The arts promote the very changes that confound its members. We have a love/hate relationship with innovation. I’m very sure that most artists are constantly alert to new revelations in their own work and it is key to their own artistic evolution. We shouldn’t be surprised then at some of the results of our enchantment or disenchantment with digital devises.

It is very similar to the impact that bladder and metal pigment storage tubes had on the quantity of painting one could get done in the field. Those innovations changed the apprentice system forever and enabled many more people to have a go at becoming a viable artist.

 One of the changes that I saw was the development of acrylic pigments. They were nasty to work with at the start, sort of like sticky automobile paints in not dissimilar colors and transparency. I was apprenticing with a print maker and his oil painter wife at that time. They had a habit of hanging their oily rags on pegs in their studios. Despite my warnings about spontaneous combustion, they didn’t properly store them and their beautiful studios and home burned to the ground one wintery night. It was exceedingly sad. I decided then to switch to a less combustible medium. Eventually I learned to love acrylics and they improved greatly in a fairly short period of time. I could spend less time and expense on the preparation of painting surfaces and more time getting an image down in a less toxic studio space.

 More recently computers and their accompanying devices have transformed the production and consumption of artistic imagery. Participation time for both activities has been greatly reduced. An addiction to motion and multiple layering has accompanied the use of this new medium. The ever present phenomenon of boredom has amplified ten-fold.

 At the same time, our education system has shifted its priorities in the delivery of its product. In an effort to budget education efficiently and less expensively, it began to eliminate teaching situations that required a lot of contemplative, hands on activities. We have carved away access to art appreciation and creative interaction over the last few decades. As a result there are fewer art patrons of the traditional variety: collectors and care takers of art objects. New homes are often outfitted with good lighting, computers and large televisions but very little static art work. The brains of younger people are in the process of being structurally changed to keep up with the speed of digesting ever more complicated imagery and information.

 As an old guy from another era, I’m both appalled and impressed. I mourn for the loss of contemplative, tactile aesthetic experience and at the same time, know that these vital young minds are finding new ways of keeping the arts alive and well.

A Space for Painting

My studio sits on stilts in the woods behind our house. My wife’s writing loft has a second story deck and in the warmer months she can wave to me as she edits her most recent poems, tea cup in hand. In the colder months my unheated studio is a lot less inviting. I have a space heater but rarely use it, unless the temperature threatens to freeze my acrylics.

I’ve noticed that I’m simply unaware of discomforts when I’m “in the groove” painting. Conversely, if I am aware of the heat or cold or too much static in my brain, I might as well put my brush down and do something else. That something else is usually some sort of materials preparation for new work on my schedule. I keep the prep work separate from my creative actions so that I have no excuse to divert my attention from the aesthetic journey.

Painting is largely a process of responding to one nonverbal cue after another. Weird as it may seem, blobs, lines, scrapes and splatters talk to me. Combinations of them tell stories that can’t be expressed in any other way

Abstract imagery is usually mostly content with an inference to subject. Sometimes the only reference is the title. On the other end of the spectrum, the painting may be the subject itself, a testimony to the act and substance of applying paint to a particular support, a celebration of itself in all its splendor. There’s something exquisitely sensual and mindful about manipulating pigment around a piece of paper, wood or canvas…somewhere between frosting a cake and creating some universe captured by the Hubble telescope. From tire tracks in the mud to Turner with the twist of a wrist.

I remember still the time I was dumb struck by the topographical brushwork of a Van Gogh landscape. How could I be so deeply altered by ropes of color twisting in the light? Not too dissimilar to starting my day carrying dream images that were churning in the night.