Today, on the weekly section of artist Michael Bell on Yareah Magazine MBELLART we are going to talk about his last work, his mysterious series titled 31 Nights: The Arts of Privacy. Interview by Isabel del Rio.
I.R.- Hi Michael, first question is obvious: what do you mean by Arts of Privacy?
M.B.- Well, let me first start with 31 Nights, which first began as an innovative visual journaling project I created as a personal quest to understand my own art-making process and in turn, help other artists to understand theirs. It requires you to create thirty-one self-portraits from direct observation every night for 31 nights – each work inspired by titillating titles as prompts. There’s a lesson in the repetition, and there’s power in the prompt to help you see visible, measurable growth in your skills over the course of those thirty-one nights. This Spring I will be presenting an inspiring 50 minute lecture on 31 Nights at 11am PT Sunday, March 30th at the 2014 National Art Education Association national convention at the San Diego Convention Center in California, in case any of your readers wishing to attend. More details are online at: https://www.facebook.com/events/1378478232422461/
M.B.- My “mysterious new series” as you referred to it as, “31 Nights: The Arts of Privacy” is actually my fifth version of the six-part installment I’ve created thus far, all soon to be headed into print as a “31 Nights” book for other artists and art educators to use as inspiration, motivation and as a potential key to understanding and refining their own art-making practices. While Version one focuses primarily on “the self-portrait” as a measure of growth, Version five allows more creative freedom to construct a visual narrative, albeit an obscure and “mysterious” narrative, but one that is created primarily in four-part sequences of title-driven “scenes” (i.e. “Obsession (Scene 1), Obsession (Scene 2), Obsession (Scene 3), Obsession (Scene 4). These also not bound as self-portraits from direct observation either, although many of mine are. For this version I also returned to the art-making practice of collaging my own photographs together to construct the initial narrative and then allow the work to evolve and incorporate “evidence of the process” (drips, erasures, etc.), because I consider my works “arrived-at” moments.
Here’s four sequences from the series:
I.R.- Where did the idea for the Arts of Privacy come from?
M.B.- Initially this version of 31 Nights was inspired by an exhibition I saw at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. back in 2009, which explored the darker side of the 19th Century art and subject matter that generated a different dimension of experience. As the museum put it, “Art of this kind was made for collectors who kept their prints and drawings stored away, compiled in albums and portfolios; who mounted bronze medals in cabinets, placed a statuette on a table in a corner or set it above the shelves in the stillness of the library. These works of art were not an evident part of one’s day-to-day environment, like a picture on the parlor wall. Rather, they were subject to more purposeful study on chosen occasions, much like taking a book down from the shelf for quiet enjoyment. Because prints in particular were handled more discreetly than most works of art, they encouraged the investigation of suggestive, sometimes disturbing subject matter, including complex states of mind and expressions of deep social tension: opium dreams, the obsessions of a lover, the abject despair of an impending suicide, meditations on violence and the fear of death.” You can view exhibition highlights here: http://www.nga.gov/exhibitions/2009/darkerside/index.shtm
I.R.- In this series your son is protagonist, the protagonist of your nightmares. Why? Do you think the future can be dangerous for your son? Are you so pessimistic about our future?
M.B.- That’s so interesting you see this series as being so narrative and autobiographical in nature – seeing my son as the protagonist of my nightmares. That’s one of the many reasons I love feedback from critics and love doing these interviews with you and Martin – I always learn something new, myself. To answer your question as best I can, yes, he’s always my protagonist. My white light in a world of darkness. But no, I don’t think the future is dangerous for him, it’s more the past that scares me. Having lived a volatile life most would have to pay admission to believe I, of course, worry that he won’t go down certain paths I did in life. I came out the other side, but very damaged from the wreckage. Strong emotional events burn themselves into our memories – both the good and bad. These affect our predispositions, personality traits, environments we seek out and all of which, along with biology (genes) help to frame our experiences.
These particular 31 Nights frame up a series of events that for whatever reason stayed with me all these years, and to me, were worth cataloguing as a series of works in my sketchbook visual journal.
I.R.- Great colors, as always. Congratulations! With a small number of colors you get amazing lights. Can you tell us a little about the technique?
M.B.- Sure Isabel. For this series I really wanted to concentrate on the content, so I decided to work on multi-colored textured pastel paper, allowing the paper’s color to set the background mood and then I’d simply build up the surface of each drawing first in charcoal or white chalk, depending on the background’s value and then add hints of color with colored chalk pastels. From there, I’d incorporate subtle hints of tempera paint and watercolors to further highlight my process behind the final product. For the really detailed self-portraits, like the ones below I went with a bright white watercolor paper.
M.B.- I had no idea this project would start trending nationwide like it has. Artists, students, you name it are all hashtagging #31nights and trying it. This led to my nationwide presentations I’ve been giving on the topic, first in Maryland, in New York City where it was highlighted by my world renowned artist friend Eric Fischl at his Superssession and in Fort Worth, TX. Like I said earlier, I will be presenting 31 Nights at 11am PT Sunday, March 30th at the 2014 National Art Education Association national convention at the San Diego Convention Center in California, in case any of your readers wishing to attend. I will also be giving three more presentations while in San Diego too. More details are online at: https://www.facebook.com/events/1378478232422461/ and anyone can register to attend the convention here: http://www.arteducators.org/events/conv14/overview
M.B.- Let me end with this Isabel – 31 Nights is THE POTENTIAL KEY to unlocking your creative art-making process. It’s a way to construct meaning by telling stories based on things you are associating with. My narratives gradually became more specific each night. The work became more personal. It’s inspired me to take this work back into larger-than-life sized canvas paintings. I’ve always been trying to find new ways of re-engaging the public with my work. For me, personal and autobiographical work was the way for me to go. It’s my vehicle. My way of practicing what I preach – “drawing a line from my life to my art that is straight and clear.”
We all have a language that reflects how we learn to paint, but not how we learn to paint our paintings. 31 Nights will help you to unlock this process and help everyone understand the language that their work speaks. And, if your readers try it, HASHTAG #31NIGHTS and tag me @mbellart on Instagram or Twitter so I can see it! The beauty is, it can work just as well for photographers too! More on that another time…
Nice week, Isabel.
I.R.- Nice week, Michael. Enjoy it with your family and friends.