Last year I was in a group show called Breaking Barriers, to which I submitted the painting above (rather unimaginatively titled Breaking Tikbalang). I remember I arrived rather early at the opening, feeling very awkward because I didn’t really know anybody else there.
So there I was, floating around like a lemon, looking at all the other works when one of the other artists came up to me and asked me which piece was mine. Jillamonsters have zero social skills, so, *stutter-stutter*~ so the kindly gentleman looked around, saw a Georgia O’Keefe-esque painting of a flower, and asked me if that was it.
He seemed kind of surprised when I pointed at the horsey above. ‘Whoa!’ he said, or something like. I didn’t know what that meant, but I gathered he didn’t figure me for the type who would paint something like that. Must’ve been the stutter or the skirt. Anyhow.
In preparing for this month’s post I did a little looking around (i.e. Googling) and saw there didn’t seem to be a whole lot about inferring the personality of artists from their work. Can’t say I researched very thoroughly, or anything, of course, but all I seemed to see was about the personality of collectors based on the paintings in their, well, collection 😅 (Here’s a quiz if you like.)
So everything else you read here is based on, well, how I read into a painting~for what it’s worth. I’m not a psychologist or an art historian or a detective 😊 or anything like that. I’m just someone who likes to get to know people (in a detached, third-party, outside-looking in kind of way 😅 ) who just happens to have an art degree and paints, too. And someone who’s obsessed with Sherlock Holmes, lol.
Just thought I’d share in case it helps people look at art or, enhance their experience or appreciation of it. I’m talking here, of course, about visual art, but it miiight be applicable in sooome way to other art forms, too.
But first, as our parish priest would say, story time.
Or rather, this isn’t actually much of a story, and is rather similar to the incident I just opened this post with. I had a couple of classmates back at art school.
One was this gorgeous heiress type who looked more like she belonged on the set of a glossy fashion magazine shoot instead of the rough-and-tumble classroom of a public university. (She actually transferred from the rich people school to our school in obedience to her muse 😊) Needless to say she turned all the boys’ heads (and the professors’, too).
The other was this quiet, unassuming boy, skinny and rather on the small side. Like he was (so sorry) kind of easy to overlook, especially since there were quite a number of rowdy (okay, we’ll say lively) guys in class, too. Last I heard (if I remember right), he’d left art school after just a year to enter a seminary (and I say may there be more like him).
The gorgeous heiress (we’ll call her D) liked to paint things like scissors and cacti (if I remember right), and had a piece where she’d stuck a maxi pad to the canvas with red paint smeared on it. The quiet guy (we’ll call him V) made a kinetic art piece that had black (human) figures hanging by the neck from a tree branch (or was it branches?).
You wouldn’t know it to look at them, right? I mean, ya think ya know a guy 😅 Or, to paraphrase jargon from my other job, there’s no ‘artio-visual lock’ 😊
Now, as Sherlock would say, let’s start with the obvious.
(Not Canon Doyle, paraphrased Geoffrey Whitehead 😊) I’m talking about subject matter (or lack thereof), material, colour and composition. What would you say D was like if you’d never met her, but saw her painting of scissors? Or what would you say about V, seeing his mobile with the hanged men? Or, about the creator of a non-rep (what most people call abstract) painting that was all blue?
Speaking of colour, there’s a lot of literature out there already on colour psychology and what they might mean in different cultures, so I’m not going into that. Besides, it’s also something that’s subjective, I mean, I think blue can be happy, like for me, it doesn’t necessarily mean sad.
Anyway this is, of course, a very superficial way of looking at a work of art or of deducing what an artist would be like based on it. That’s like saying Michelangelo must have been very religious or pious looking at the Pieta. (Well, who’s to say he wasn’t, really? I mean what do I know, I just know what I’ve heard and watched in that Charlton Heston movie 😅 ) But it’s a start.
I’m not saying it’s wrong, but I am saying you shouldn’t stop there or rather, you could go further because there’s a lot more to it than that.
Deduce, Watson, deduce.
(And now that’s Jeremy Brett 😊) In my blog post on art as therapy I mentioned art being able to help people understand others better~specifically ‘things like brushwork or the level of detail and process’. To infer things about an artist from such, uh, things, is a lot like reading between the lines for literature~and deduction as in just like everyone’s favourite detective.
There’s the strokes (or lack thereof), for starters, technique, or the detail. How much energy, exuberance or emotion a person has become plain as day, or how much patience, planning and calculation it took.
Think Seurat, for instance or Alexi Torres. The precision or manual dexterity~I used to say, back when I was teaching art to kids, that that kind of art could very well be great training for surgeons, in that sense.
(Another one of my art school classmates (who, like D, is now a well-known artist in the US)~didn’t become a surgeon, but his mom used to think he’d make a great dentist because he was so good with plaster 😄)
Strokes or lines can also tell you a lot about an artist’s confidence~the artist that comes to my mind just now is Claude Tayag. Imagine an artist holding the brush (or pen or stick or squeegee or so on)~or just using fingers or bare hands. Imagine how that artist must have felt, or how much fun (or (sorry) lack thereof 😄) the artist must have been having.
Conversely, you might be able to see an artist’s timidity or apprehension in their strokes or lines~ in how hesitant, thready, or wavering~you see this in sketches, sometimes.
In terms of subject matter, you can also appreciate the artist’s level of scholarship or erudition~I don’t mean that to sound, snooty (snotty, Ferris? 😄) or whatever. I only meant that there are artists who do a lot of research, or study to put a painting together~like for historical paintings, for instance, or paintings that deal with anatomy or architecture.
Speaking of historical paintings, many of those super large, super detailed, Spoliarium-type paintings also says a lot about an artist’s ambition. (Although I guess you could say this is pretty obvious, too 😅)
Finally, there’s also a lot to be said for the materials or medium an artist uses, and the way the artist uses them, because it can show innovation and that the artist isn’t afraid to take risks or try something different.
That Marshall McLuhan (*looks furtively around for Woody* 😄) thing applies here, too~when an artist uses the materials as well as the other *obvious* things to get a message across. That goes double for non-rep and found object or ready made when the materials themselves are the subject.
How much can you tell about this artist?
Rather than have you read into one of mine (for fear of what you might read 😅) I thought we might take a look at this piece by Christian Regis titled Volks ng Bayan (Volks of the Nation). For this exercise I thought of reading into a painting by a complete stranger, but then it might be a little difficult to find out afterwards whether I was on the money or missed it by a mile 😅
Full disclosure: I do have the honour of knowing Mr Regis (indeed, I owe him for my last show, Breaking Barriers and more), but I can’t say I have the honour of knowing him all that well. (Like I don’t know what his favourite colour is or whether he likes sushi or small, furry animals, that kind of thing 😅)
Anyway, to jump right into it: I’d say Mr R likes structure, and order, but not to the point of absolute rigidity~he’s also open to adventure and improvisation. Texture, to me, is a sign of character (call me biased, you know how I love texture 😊), and there’s a lighthearted playfulness in his colour choices and composition, too.
His use of metallic paint says to me that he’s got this hidden, pizzazz that he won’t shout out about~like he’s a real master but he’s not showy, like he likes to keep it understated. And if you look real closely, you can see there’s ‘method in his madness’, like those colours were layered on in order, and the *strokes* are *raw*, but carefully guided.
His colours also seem to be pure, solid, straight out of the tube~and they maintain their purity even while they’re layered on top of each other. That says to me that he values (each colour’s) individuality and is careful not to lose sight of that even in a crowd, or a riot of colour.
He’s also got great control~like he knows how to let loose and have fun, but he knows when to stop. Like it can be so easy for a person to go overboard with this technique, and for a painting like this to be overdone, but if you were to add even one drop more, it would’ve been too much. (And if you were to remove even one drop, it wouldn’t have been enough.)
The fact that this free-flowing technique is ‘limited’ only to certain areas and ‘boxed in’ by a ‘frame’, and that he was able to leave the background clean, suggests to me that he’s the kind of person who knows there’s a time and place for everything.
Finally~maybe also because of my local (i.e. Filipino) bias, the painting reminds me very much of Manila, like that could be the Rizal Monument on the left, and the structures on the right remind me of what the streetlights used to look like when I was a kid 😊 (Another personal bias: my Mom used to have a blue beetle when I was a kid, too 😊)
So that suggests to me that the artist has spent a lot of time in the city (okay, I know for a fact that he did, since the first time I met him was at the gallery in Intramuros where I had my show in 2016).
But it also tells me that he sees, remembers, and records impressions and memories of what he experiences in a certain place. And that he knows how to appreciate even everyday things like a ‘buging’ (booGING = Filipino colloquial for Volkswagen 😊) coming down the road 😊
Well so that’s, how I would, guess at what Mr Regis is like, from his painting~believe me, apart from the city thing, I can’t say that I know this much about him, really. (You can follow him here, by the way 😊) I’ll have to show this post to him and ask. In the meantime, looking at his painting, what do you think he's like?