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I have been thinking about depth of field.

James Christensen, perhaps the artist I admire the most, says in a book of his work that he views many of his paintings as taking place in these tiny, unreal sets, like morality plays--if you move to either side, you'd see that it was just a little shadowbox. Within the set, things don't have to conform to natural law, they don't need to have internal consistency, because they're not literally real--they're this weird, unreal little symbolic place.

This struck me as very cool and interesting when I was contemplating it this weekend, in no small part because I approach my work so differently. I've always seen myself as kind of a naturalist in a foreign (and occasionally absurd) land, which comes out in a lot of the descriptions. The weird fruit paintings are a good example--if you move to either side, you'd get more mountains, and maybe more bighorn pears going about their lives. It's a sort of documentary moment in the life of the species. Same with the winged frogs and the mouse-tailed kite-moth hunters and what not--I think on some level, I believe they exist somewhere and are going about their lives without me. I just get to drop in occasionally and get a shot of what's going on.

Christiansen's work is dense with symbolism, past the point of absurdity, but fortunately it's terribly good natured about it, which is part of what appeals to me so much. And in this flat, shadow-boxed little space, people are often in flat profile, they're standing on a bar of texture or a very short checkerboard, and the back wall is only a few inches away. They can levitate, or have words scroll out of their mouth at random, because they're in these little sets, and anything can happen there without an explanation. (He can also do breathtaking, Pre-Raphaelite realism, mind you, so the flatness is a conscious choice, not a lack of skill with perspective.)

And this is cool. I don't always feel that I have that kind of freedom. If Christiansen has someone standing on the ceiling, it's a symbol for differing points of view. If I have someone standing on the ceiling, he's showing off his new gecko-hide boots, made from the sensitive foot pads of the Great Blue Gecko, which is the size of a crocodile and can only be hunted with narcotically-treated lures made to resemble insects. Which is good and interesting and fun, but still doesn't change the fact that I need an explanation for why people are standing on the ceiling. And it might be nice not to need that.

I don't think either method is inherently superior, mind you--I know a lot of my audience likes the weird little world that builds up around my work, and heck, I do too. Christiansen, of course, is a MUCH better artist than I am, but he's also more than twice my age, so presumably has a significant head start. I can retain hope for achieving that level of mastery someday.

But anyway, the depth of field thing got me thinking. My mother did a number of paintings, many years ago, that had similiar things going on--there'd be a band of stone and a band of hands doing random things off to the side of a particular scene, and everthing was thus a little offset from reality. And it's something I'd like to try, I think--shadowboxed vignettes from my weird little world. Maybe it's possible to do both at once.

We'll see how they come out.

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For what it's worth, I am very much attracted to the world you build up around your paintings, more so, some ways than to Christensen's work because of the 'shadowbox' aspect.

I think the really interesting point here is that, in their own way, BOTH styles do exactly the same thing. They each have reasons for their existance and behavior... it's simply what those reasons are, and where that logic comes from, that's different.

I admire both schools of thought, really.

I like having a well thought out world, where if someone were to walk from one corner of a county to the other, there would be a reason for everything, it would all fit together, and someone there could probably tell you why the county lnes are where they are... and wouldn't you like a nice cup of tea?

And I like the wildly absurd, that forces me to look outside my own worldview for the reasons for things being why they are. And yes, I meant it that way. :>

For some reason, I get this image of cardinals using big-horned pears as a photo reference for a shadowboxed scene of an unreal world that just happens to look a lot like ours ....

I would say that this is possible. Really.

World and symbolism. An unstaged moment in a stagy place, a staged moment in an alien reality. The highly abstract style I use helps create an aura of unreality, but the kinetic poses and implied interaction with off-screen elements spread what could be a very formal, staged thing out, with a past and a future, and a world that continues beyond the picture.

The stagey, shallow world Christensen uses might be a neccesary level of abstraction, to help sell a world where, as you said, banners can fly out of mouths, or people can become Symbols - for a viewer to respond to a piece, there has to be something to relate to, but you've gotta push it into abstract to have things clearly get Metaphorical and Meaningful. if everything is abstracted you wander into the difficult and much-loathed realms of abstract and conceptual art, that really rarely appeals in the same way an identifiable subject does. But to be able to say "this person is a symbol" and make it pretty obvious, there's a level of abstraction going on.

I got a phone call in the middle of this and I'm afraid I lost track of my original point, so have some undirected ponderings instead.

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Mostly I call it "the way I draw". It's influenced by 1950s cartoon abstraction, from the days when limited animation was a daring rebellion against the Disney "illusion of life" rather than a way to crap it out as cheaply and quickly as possible; there's also some degree of Art Deco and Art Noveau from the turn of the century, through a few layers of filtering.

A lot of people in and around animation work in a similar mode nowadays, due to the popularization of the conceptual design of Mary Blair. But there's no formal name for it. Given that I like to do film noir-ish stuff now and then, I usually call it 'cartoon noir' if pressed for a title. But really, I don't have a name for it.

Personally, I will freely admit that while your art is enjoyable on its own, the appeal is increased (for me) tenfold by your very amusing little explanations. I was so glad when you got this LJ because I'd been enjoying your fictional little anecdotes on Elfwood (then Lothlorien) and Metal and Magic for so long. I would compare this "back-story appeal" of yours to that of Edward Gorey, though his art is even more dependant (one might even say entirely dependant) on the text that accompanies it to produce the charm it has.

Personally I'm unendingly enamoured with your "weird little world". I will always prefer a gecko-booted ceiling stander to a bootless symbol.

I prefer your way of going in. It's like the view from the fuzzy caterpillar in the Labyrinth. It's like the view in my head! Aaaaaah!

ok, so I read the post. (loved the idea of gecko-skin boots).

I read the comments.

I thought "so, where were the mice ?"

I went back and looked at the text above the cut. Yeah, I did it again. I misread it as " I have been thinking about depth of field mice".

and somehow, I just thought you'd be the sort of person who'd really appreciate a comment about the depth of field mice. ;-)

I'm not sure if that would involve tiny field mouse philosophers contemplating Deep Philosophical Truths, or just a pair of farmers with a dipstick out in the field..."Ayup, Bob, s'lookin' laik about ah two foot depth uh field mahce..."

I'm thinking definitely fieldmice in tiny black turtleneck sweaters, wearing black berets and reading Nietzsche.

the other is too uncomfortably close to home when you have 47 pet rats. ;-)

i don't think i've ever seen you draw a farmer. i can imagine all manner of fruitimals coming from your pen, but not something so prosaic as a farmer.

Well, there was Farmer Snoggle and his plow potato, but he was a lizard...


Your post got me thinking about art in general, and what the artist is saying in it. Okay, in the interest of full disclosure, I'm not an artist. I'm kind of the opposite end of the spectrum -- I'm an engineer. As you will see, this has great bearing on my opinion of the art world...

I've found that I always mistrust artists who give great, shining descriptions of what their art means. Note that I'm not accusing Christiansen of this, it's just a statement. As I see it, art is a medium of communication, and if a person has to *explain* the meaning of the guy standing on the ceiling, that's kind of a problem. It means the medium has failed, and now the artist has to step in and provide an additional means of communication.

Modern art does this to me constantly. The artist makes something that looks like he drew it with a painball gun held between his toes, and then procedes to try to explain that it represents anger at the world, or some such thing. To me, if looking at the picture doesn't relay that, then the painting is a failure.

Not that meaning has to always be deep! Sometimes the bighorn pears are just bighorn pears. There is no deep explanation of what a hybrid between sheep and fruit represents in a psychological way. It's *fun*.

I suppose that's one thing that Ursula's work always has. Even if it's weird, it's drawn in such a way that there's a sense of fun about it. You can look at it and realize you're supposed to laugh. If I see something with, for instance, flat people shooting words out of their mouths while standing on the ceiling, I don't know what to make of it. Is it funny? Is it a deep political commentary? I can't tell; it's just upside-down flat people.

So, what's the artist's point of view on that? Is it a problem to need to explain the painting?

Do note that I said "need". Ursula's paintings often suggest that there's a story to be told in there somewhere, but you don't have to hear the story. It can be funny without the explanation. A lot of art I've seen is entirely opaque until you hear what was intended (and sometimes it still is afterward!)

i have to add my two cents to this one. i definitely prefer your style (not saying its better, just personal preference) if only for the thrill that some little part of me gets and actually BELIEVES that what youve painted is really out there somewhere. that bit of me cant help but believe it because your paintings feel so real, whereas most modern art is so obviously painted.. by a paintball gun held between an artist's toes. I think most will agree that realistic art sparks more emotion and is just more.. refined? so the point (i get to it at last) your style is awesome the way it is. experimenting makes an artist better at what she does, but Please dont shadowbox full time

Ah, so you do lay awake at night, thinking of ways to make less sense.

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