Thursday, March 27, 2014

Remembering Agathe Bennich

Agathe was my first figure drawing teacher at City College of San Francisco back in the late '90s. Through her, I discovered my love of working intuitively with gestural marks and exploring a variety of mediums. We worked mostly from Nicolades' "The Natural Way to Draw", a book she read from in class pretty often. I somehow took to her teaching methods right away in spite of her cryptic instructions like "draw the weight". There was a freedom in not knowing what I was doing and letting the drawings happen without a lot of labor and analysis. I can still feel her standing behind me, completely silent until she moved on to the next student. Apparently, I "got it" well enough for her to let me work with minimal instruction. She let me know that she saw me becoming a painter, and that I should go to SFAI, but accepted that I was an illustrator at heart.

I took my first oil painting with her during my last semester at CCSF. This was when Agathe encouraged me to "spread my wings a bit" and go out of state to study at RISD. I remember her as a tall, strong woman with long gray hair and a strong presence in the classroom. She was warm, patient, had a great sense of humor and had deep wisdom that filled the room whenever she spoke.

When I returned to City College of San Francisco to teach in the fall of 2007, I often asked about Agathe who must have retired before then. Today, I learned that she had passed away over a year ago and that there had been a memorial exhibition in Marin, not far from Dominican University where I also currently teach a digital drawing and painting class. My experiences as a student continue to inform my art and what I value as a teacher, and it's fair to say that those many hours with Agathe working with tempera, charcoal, conte, graphite, stick and ink, left me with a fearlessness and a curiosity that makes the digital tools an endless font of discovery.

Above is my one and only framed charcoal drawing from Agathe's class hanging on the wall of my room. It was a two session pose with Jenny, a Guild model whom I still draw at sessions in Albany and Berkeley.

Monday, March 24, 2014


Well before the film's release, I was trying to figure out whether or not I like the designs of the "Jaegers" featured in Guillermo del Toro's giant robot/kaiju slugfest, Pacific Rim. My first impression was that they appeared clunky and a bit awkward. Maybe I was missing the sleek, organic silhouettes of the Evas (Neon Genesis Evangeleon), or deep negative spaces and bloated proportions of a Megadeus (Big O). Closer inspection of he recently released of teaser "blueprints" of the Jaegers convinced me that a lot of love went into the designs, and that a vein of practicality and functionality seems to drive the details.

Take, for example, the enclosed joints of the Cherno Alpha, and how tightly the details were integrated into the overall design, especially the torso. Its monolithic upper body and hammer-like crown gives it a solid appearance, made it at least appear to be capable of withstanding a heavy blow from an opponent without losing its head.

Similarly, Gypsy Danger's short neck, long legs and high, broad-shouldered torso gave it the look of a spry running back. The exposed hip joints also suggest that this is a robot with a considerable amount of agility, which comes with sacrificing a bit of armor here and there.

Coyote Danger, the Jaeger from Japan, ironically has many of the design elements from my favorite mecha designs. It's lanky, narrow waist and almost insect-like frame looked a bit fragile. Its relatively small head and the lack of an immediately discernible face added a bit of mystery to the design while retaining just enough humanity for us to know it's a hero and a defender. Coyote Danger was probably the most understated of the Jaeger designs, being comprised of simple shapes that balance perfectly over its rail-thin legs. It stood with the unwavering pride and courage of a man without fear.

Pacific Rim turned out to be a huge disappointment. I fell for the pre-release hype that sold it as an "homage" to the Japanese giant robot and kaiju genres. It was more of a big-budget cartoon dumbed-down for general audiences. Great CG effects, but I was expecting a lot more story and soul.

More Winter Studies

Scalebending occurs when the right combination of vapors from decaying vegetation distort our perceptions, causing small things to appear large. As I become more comfortable with the effect, I hope to use it to transform less interesting subjects into fantastic ones.
This rock troll seemed to have a sinus problem. Their sneezes typically last 5000 years, so it didn't seem to mind the discomfort.
A group of children, two girls and a boy with a grandmother in tow, approached the rocks while I was pretty far along on a second study. One of the girls apparently had left this "plate of food" out the previous day and was happy to see that it was still there, and that I had painted it. She did not share with me what manner of creature of spirit was meant to eat the food.
Seeing the trunks and limbs of trees as parts of other creatures can be fun. Sometimes, it's the quiet that comes with time alone in the park with my sketchbook, birds, bugs and squirrels that helps me to "see".

On Gumbo

This morning, I awoke from a dream where I a saw giant, ant-eating crickets in the sandy play lot next to the fire station down the street. They couldn't jump very high. I pass the park whenever I take my morning walk over to the little creek at the lower edge of Richmond Heights. Big bugs remind me of shrimp and crab, which in in turn remind me of gumbo.

I think "gumbo" has been my favorite word since I first had it at my Aunt Georgia's on a New Year's Eve many years ago. During actual my morning walk, after passing the park and not seeing any giant bugs, my brain decided to start churning out sci-fi and fantasy titles that include the word gumbo:

Beyond Gumbo
The Gumbo War
The Gumbo Six
Gumbo Squad
The Gumbo Initiative
The Gumbo League
Gumbo Lords
Gumbo Star
Dark Gumbo
Return to Gumbo
Team Gumbo
Gumbo Prime
Gumbo's End

Fun stuff, right? I'm not a writer, but it's still fun to play with these kinds of weird juxtapositions just to see where they take my imagination. There's magic in big chrome pots of brown, gooey ooze with parts of dead animals sticking out.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Recently Sketchbookish

This morning's subject colored using a warm palette.
The vertical stalks on the left just didnt' add much of anything to the design, so I decided to focus on the ivy and the tree.
I started with a gray Prismacolor® marker. This helped me to work out the composition and simplify things. My work is returning to the asymmetrical designs from the traditional Chinese pantings I fell in love with in my Asian art history class at CCSF taken as an undergrad. Sometimes, I regret not stopping at this stage.

Here is the underdrawing next to the actual subject. I used a Derwent water-soluble graphite pencil and then pushed around the medium with a wet brush. The paper seems to initially resist the water in ways that can lead to some nice accidental textures. After taking on so many of these, I'm finally starting to edit down to exactly what I want to explore.
Fists for breasts. I need to draw hands a lot more but I tend to draw plants, flowers and women in my free time. Maybe more sketches like these will motivate me to draw more beautiful hands.
Last but not least, today I'm sending out a "hearty" "Happy Birthday" to the gorgeous Dulce Lola. I don't even remember how exactly we connected through Facebook, but this woman is one of my favorite folks to follow. Her posts usually involve art modelling and body painting at popular SoCal venues, her art, fast cars, scary clowns and other wonderfully dark and beautiful things. Dulce reminds me of how lucky we are to have beautiful people pose for us and fuel our imaginations and fantasies.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

BCF 10

Over the past eight years, I have had the pleasure and honor of designing for the Black Choreographers Festival: Here and Now. This year, the founders, Kendra Kimbrough Barnes and Laura Elaine Ellis invited me to install a retrospective of posters at their venues in San Francisco and Oakland, California. The first San Francisco venue was at Dance Brigade's Dance Mission Theater, and the Oakland event was at the Laney College Theater. I attended Saturday night's Oakland performance and was once again completely blown away by the craft and artistry. Composer Gregory P. Dawson is now one of my favorites. He shared a piece with the Richard Howell Quintet that blended jazz piano, sax, harp, percussion and vocals with beautiful series of movements with fluid shifts between single dancers, pairs and groups. The piece entitled "birds eye view" descried the twits and turmoils of relationships between romantic couples, the perils of courtship and competition for a mate, and how we all fit into this maelstrom of looking for love and acceptance. It said so much without words. The festival opened with "Dying While Black and Brown", a piece featuring four male dancers and a simple structure framing the form of a house. The dancers moved on, over and through the "house" as they transitioned from county jail orange to prison blues in a never-ending cycle of entering and exiting the space, turning outward, inward and at times on each other. It was a chilling commentary on the incarceration and recidivism rates amonst Black men.

I may have an opportunity to hang the retrospective one last time at the ODC theater in San Francisco this week when Robert Moses' Kin present The BY Series and Draft, two original compositions crafted just for BCF.

As an artist specializing in the world of 2D design, dance and music take my senses and imagination places that demand that I draw and paint with a renewed, relentless effort fueled by a love for beauty and culture.