Stephen Maine – Halftone Paintings at 490 Atlantic

The misshapen dots are mesmerizing.  They create vibrating space, and optical illusions.

The colors are carefully chosen – off-kilter complements or dark pairings.  There is one large painting in which, if you stand close enough, you can see the purple that hides between the orange and green.  It is a sublime combination.

And Stephen, long a painter, has begun making wonderful books full of mono prints and drawings and colors and tape, carefully hand-sewn together.  At his opening on Saturday (crowded and successful) the changing group of viewers around the very large book that he showed was hypnotized as the pages turned, back and forth, revealing paintings and lines, and collages from which we could not turn away.

These are highly considered artworks which give you more the more you stand and look at them.  So go stand and look at them!

The show is up until May 10th at 490 Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn.  It’s just a couple of blocks west of the Barclay Center and every subway in the city will take you there. 

Congratulations Stephen.


Luckily, in one of those art miracles that you read about, I’ve had a total breakthrough and my art is on a new track that pleases and surprises me.  Ha.  Not.

My art is still a struggle every day.  And I work on it every day.  I go to the studio with my bagel and my iPad and look around to see what fires my imagination.  Is it time to draw the polka-dotted mug (again)?  Should I use the rubber rat?  Is it a charcoal day, or a pastel day, or a Sharpie day?

A Very Timid Beginning

A Very Timid Beginning

I look at the enormous roll of paper that winds around my studio (and miraculously hasn’t fallen down) and I am at least satisfied that I have filled it up to the first corner.  It is harder to put 27 drawings on one piece of paper than to do 27 different drawings.  They have to look right together.  Sometimes I want them to complement each other, and sometimes I want them to fight.  Sometimes I want to make it pretty, but lots of times I’m aiming for “eeew, gross!”.

Real Snakeskin, Fake Me

Real Snakeskin, Fake Me

I realize that I am drawing several narratives, starting at the far left and moving to the right. Besides the polka-dot mug and its various adventures, there are the small blue people who seem to be reacting in horror.  What is their story?  There are the self-portraits with snakes and rats.  Why do I have snakes and rats coming out of my mouth?  If I knew, I wouldn’t have to draw it.  I draw to find out.

There is a fairy tale starting, and I’m not sure where it’s going, but I like fairy tales (old, original fairy tales) because they so often combine the charming with the shocking.

Once Upon a Time

Once Upon a Time

I got the very good news on Halloween that my first choice thesis advisor, Stephen Maine, selected me back in the double-blind, three and a half twist process that the office uses to match us up.  It was while talking to him that I had the idea about the big paper to begin with, although clearly some subconscious giant origami still lingered.

More Pills, Please

Maybe when I’ve drawn all 30 feet of my paper I should fold it into a graceful paper swan. Now THAT would be a thesis project!


Making Paintings

Stuart Davis The Mellow Pad

Stuart Davis
The Mellow Pad

I’ve always had trouble making abstract art.  I admire the ability, but it’s difficult for me to overcome the delight I feel when I capture a likeness or represent what I see.  For me, abstraction isn’t easier than representation (the “my kid coulda done that” school of thought), it’s harder.

I love creating the illusion of space and depth on a two-dimensional plane.  Some abstract artists embrace the same challenge, and some work hard to avoid making any allusions to the natural world.

Jackson Pollock Number 8

Jackson Pollock
Number 8

In my second-year seminar class last week we read articles about Alfred Stieglitz, the ground-breaking New York Armory Show of 1913, and several of the artists working then. Not all artists are good writers (of course, not all writers are good painters), but Stuart Davis, a painter from that period explained abstraction in a way that makes the most sense to me.

Stuart Davis Swing Landscape

Stuart Davis
Swing Landscape

In his article, “Autobiography” (included in Diane Kelder’s collection Stuart Davis – Praeger Press, 1971), Davis discussed why he hated when viewers asked what his paintings were “about”.

“There is no simple answer to these pesky questions because in reality they are not questions about art at all.  They are in fact demands that what the artist feels and explicitly expresses in his work be translated into ideas that omit the very quality of emotion that is the sole reason for its being.”

He goes on, “In the first place let me say that the purpose of so-called “abstract” art is basically the same as all other art, and that it always has a subject matter.  In fact the difference between ‘abstract’ and ‘realistic’ art is precisely one of subject matter.  It would be more accurate to say that it is a difference of aspects of the same subject matter. The ‘abstract’ artist lives in the same world as everybody else and the subject matter available to him is the same.”

“…But the development of ‘abstract’ art has not been merely a matter of temperaments.  It is the reflection in art of that attitude of mind manifested in scientific materialism by which the world lives today.  Through science the whole concept of what reality is has been changed….  why should the artist be questioned for finding new realities in his subject matter?”

Stephen Maine HP12 - 0301

Stephen Maine
HP12 – 0301

Or perhaps in Hamlet’s words,

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your Philosophy.”


My seminar class is taught by the wonderful abstract painter (and writer) Stephen Maine ( Here he is in an interview with Gorky’s Granddaughter discussing his paintings and his process.  If I could paint like he does, I might give up reality, too.


Art and Words

I’ve long thought of art as a visceral experience.  Stand in front of it, open your eyes, and you can’t not see it.  But language is entirely different.  Effort must be made.  Meaning must be pushed through a screen of words, like Play-Doh through a Fun Factory.  It comes out the other side and coalesces into more or less the same shape, but something is always lost, or changed.

Stephen MaineHP12-0402
Stephen Maine

I like to write.  I like searching for just the combination of words that will convey what I mean with precision but also ease and fluency.  And I know that art critics are going through the same process when they write, but I have a lot of trouble understanding the more academic ones.  Perhaps I just don’t know enough of the insider jargon that exists at the core of any specialty.  I don’t understand surgeons when they talk amongst themselves, or pilots, or software engineers, either.

SVA faculty member/artist/writer Stephen Maine addresses this issue in the new edition of the Brooklyn Rail, with far more precision and fluency than I can.  His article, “Discourse ≠ Art” is all about the difficulties of discussing art – of applying words to art and hoping to create understanding.

Stephen MaineHP12-0505
Stephen Maine

You should read the article yourself, but I am happy to report that it persuades me that good art conversation does not stray far from the art in question, and that good writing communicates better than bad.  That should be obvious to all, but it isn’t, and this article is both an excellent example and a much-needed reminder.