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Wednesday 30th July 2014Artist Spotlight: Cai Guo-Qiang

Most of us in the art world have heard of Ai Weiwei, a famous Chinese artist slash dissident who's been making headlines with his challenges to the dictatorially smothering cultural atmosphere in the world's most populous nation. But perhaps fewer have heard of Cai Guo-Qiang, however unfairly, since he's equally controversial and has a remarkably distinguished artistic career. Born in Quanzhou, Fujian Province, China in 1957, he has been living and working in New York City since the mid 1980s, and has a decided penchant for grandiose works of epic scale.

Perhaps inspired by his firsthand experiences of the Cultural Revolution as a teenager, where gunpowder was a common sight and explosions a common sonic backdrop, he experimented early on in his career using gunpowder as an artistic medium, which also earned him his first nods for his multi-part work, Projects for Extraterrestrials. In one especially notable entry in the series that took place at a section of the Great Wall, a stretch of gunpowder six miles long was used to engrave a section of the Gobi Desert with a dragon motif that was a salute to traditional Chinese culture and heritage.

Recently, however, he has begun to become slightly more critical of the current state of affairs in China, specifically with regards to the environmental impacts that the nation has experienced as a result of its rather monumental and incredibly rapid industrial growth over the past 20 years. One of his latest works, titled The Ninth Wave, is being hosted in Shanghai at a gallery named the 'Power Station of Art', and features a moored barge that is populated entirely by taxidermied animals in various poses of sickness and distress. A dig at the Huangpu River's pollution (which grabbed headlines last year over the dumping of 16000 pig carcasses from a farm), the work is intended to raise awareness about the environmental issues associated with industrialisation. Interestingly enough, the Power Station of Art is owned by the Chinese government, and hosts this work despite the fact that it is at least partially critical of the current state of hyperindustrialisation.

Cai has had quite a distinguished career, earning numerous plaudits and awards from various juried competitions, and worked as the Director of Visual and Special Effects at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, a fitting assignment for an artist whose grand scale of work is matched only by his impressive visual flair.

Posted on July 30th 2014 on 07:23pm
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Monday 28th July 2014Public Art Thefts

Public art is often something a gamble. When bureaucracy and art intertwine, it's not always with pleasing results. A perfect example occurred in Ottawa, Canada, recently this year when a public art installation was erected whose entire design and premise was based on an incorrect encyclopedia entry, leading to snickers and jeers and red-faced officials. Almost the opposite occurred recently in New York City, when the Department of Transportation put up a sign-based art project throughout the city.

Actually the work of Ryan McGinness, the signs were part of the Summer Streets project, where large sections of roadway are closed to motor vehicles and opened for public recreation. The signs, which were designed to look relatively official, following the general white, black and red pattern found commonly throughout New York City streets, instead sported much more appealing notices than the usual parking signage.

However, a curious thing began happening - the signs began disappearing. Eventually, the Department of Transportation caught on, and began to replace the signs, but not before 40 of the 50 signs had been stolen by presumably artistically-inclined thieves. The really strange thing, however, is that it seems like the average passerby couldn't care less about the signs, which may blend too closely with the cacophonic visual language that is part of the New York City parking system.

The Department of Transportation is working with the New York Police Department to track down the stolen signage, despite their rather modest production value (roughly $800 USD). What about these art pieces spoke so deeply to some passersby that they felt inclined to steal them, whereas others simply failed to notice them at all? Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, Ryan McGinness said, "There's a lot of expense involved, and a lot of labor. To have an individual steal them or to have them stolen by the public really flips that mind-set."

It raises a question about street art that has also been raised thanks to the incredible values placed on works by popular street artist Banksy about who actually owns the pieces that are created on walls and other "canvases" that aren't actually owned by the artist. In this particular case, of course, it's likely that the Department of Transportation could be considered the actual owners of the pieces, but street signage is stolen fairly frequently, and any attempts to sell the pieces would doubtless swiftly bring down the wrath of the NYPD, something that the casual public art thief is likely unprepared to deal with. Here's hoping that the signs are restored, and will continue to bring wonder and joy to those lucky few who take the time to truly appreciate and enjoy their surroundings.

Posted on July 28th 2014 on 06:25pm
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Friday 25th July 2014Tablet Sketchbooks

Sometimes it feels that being alive in the 21st century is akin to living in a science fiction future, and to a large extent, this is actually true. Portable communicators (aka mobile phones) are everywhere, and any one of them has more power than all the computers humanity had built before the year 1990 put together. It's fantastically amazing, and the art world hasn't been left behind. Digital cameras, home scanners and drawing tablets have completely changed the way we interact with computers and digital imagery, all to our gain. One thing that hasn't really changed, though, is our desire to take ourselves out into the world and create while we're out there. Practicing sketching in the studio is all well and good, but it can get pretty boring pretty quickly. There's a reason you often see art students out at fairs and other locations, practicing life drawing and sketching in real world situations. So how does the science fiction future touch them?

Tablets. Tablets were a niche market item at their outset, but rapidly have begun to supplant the laptop as the ultra-portable workstation and computer, and with good reason. Excellent screens, and reasonable battery life have solved the problems that held the early models back from widespread adoption. The development of solid application ecosystems for both Android and iOS tablets have greatly changed how useful they are, and the art world is no exception.

You may even own a tablet, without ever having considered the value that it might have as an artistic tool. Many free applications exist that offer sophisticated drawing technologies for those who are interested, although we have to recommend that you buy a stylus for doing any serious kind of sketching. Partly, this is because it most closely mimics the traditional drawing experience, which has remained more or less unchanged since the time of cave paintings with good reason, and partly because using your finger to do more than basic control of the tablet can get pretty frustrating after any length of time. If you stick with it, you could adapt, but as styluses are fairly cheap nowadays, it makes sense to at least give it a shot with that method.

As for which sketchbook application to use, we're recommend testing out a few of the free ones to help you decide what control system works best for you, but personally we're fans of Autodesk's Sketchbook app for Android. It's free, and powerful, and fun to use - and you never have to worry about losing your sketchbook again, since you can save everything you draw to a cloud-based storage system like Google Drive, and many tablets come bundled with some sort of cloud storage from the manufacturer.

Regardless of what you choose to use, go forth and explore the world with your tablet, and uncover your own science fiction future of artistic possibility!

Posted on July 25th 2014 on 08:21pm
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Tuesday 22nd July 2014The Importance of Archiving

Being an artist is a great life. Living passionately and fully experiencing the world is something that would change the world if more people had the courage to do it. Busywork and paperwork aren't parts of our lives (in general), and most of us really like it that way - after all, would you rather be at a desk or in the studio? There is one type of work that most of us tend to ignore for this reason, however, and it's usually to our detriment. Archiving. Storage. Backups. It's time that could be spent in the studio, right?

Well, that's true, but there is a huge advantage to having a system for storing your past work. Not just your past work, but also your past thoughts, experiments, and even your simplest doodles and thought-fragments. You never know when they might trigger an idea that you've been incubating subconsciously for the last 10 years, patiently awaiting the right time and mindset to bring it out.

This is equally true for digital artists - make sure that you have multiple copies of your history, because a single hard-drive crash could wipe out an entire career's worth of work if you're not careful. As we explained in our post about transitioning to digital work, if your files don't exist in *at least* two different digital places, you can't really be sure they'll survive. The equivalent for artists who work in physical media might well be a safe or fire-proof box, if you can manage it, and if possible, try to make digital images of all your work as well.

Next time you hit a bit of a creative slump, or you're feeling at loose ends, why not take some time to gather up all the various bits and pieces of work and thoughts and ideas that you've had over the last little while and sort through them, whether in an effort to stimulate creativity or just to make sure that you don't lose them? It can be remarkably rewarding, and it has an extra long-term benefit - once your career takes off and you become a world-renowned famous artist, won't you be glad that you kept all the work that acts as a visual autobiography of your creative endeavours? Early sketches and experiments by famous artists command incredible sums of money, even though they are not finished works!

Posted on July 22nd 2014 on 08:18pm
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Friday 18th July 2014Bill Watterson's Brief Return to Comics

Many of us had childhoods shaped by comics. Whether we appreciated the art, the escape from every day life, or in most cases both, comics provided many of us with our first personal experiences with artwork and gave many of us the dream of becoming cartoonists or illustrators. This is fairly amusing, since it's only recently that comics - thanks to the advent of the graphic novel, and the maturation of a generation raised on them - have started to be regarded as a serious artform with real narrative potentials.

Of course, this was always clear to those of us who appreciate comics, but it's largely due to the influence of the dedicated and skilled graphic artists that helped pave the way, and few were more dedicated, more beloved, and more sorely missed than Bill Watterson, the creator and brains behind Calvin and Hobbes. Watterson is a famously reclusive man, and once he retired from drawing Calvin and Hobbes (a dark, dark day for all those who eagerly awaited his material), he has barely granted a single interview or put himself in the public spotlight in any way, shape or form. Thus it was with unsurprisingly little fanfare (at least, initially) that he briefly came out of retirement for a guest appearance, drawing a comic strip called Pearls Before Swine.

As if that wasn't cool enough on its own, Watterson and Stephan Pastis, the creator of Pearls Before Swine, have decided to auction off the original artwork from the comics. While there were only three strips that Watterson agreed to guest draw, the original artwork is the only public work he's completed since his retirement from Calvin and Hobbes, nearly 20 years ago in 1995. The artwork will be sold by an auction house based in Dallas, Texas, with the proceeds to go towards a charity named Team Cul de Sac, which is a charity established on behalf of Richard Thompson, a cartoonist with Parkinson's disease. The funds will then be passed on to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research. The auction house has estimated that each strip's original artwork will sell for upwards of $10,000 USD, which should bring in a nice chunk of change for the associated foundations.

Posted on July 18th 2014 on 11:11pm
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Tuesday 15th July 2014Artist Spotlight: On Kawara, Retrospective

Typically, when we write these artist spotlight pieces, we're pointing out a new and exciting artist that it's well worth keeping an eye on, or someone whose career might not have caught your eye before now. In today's post, however, we're going to break from that tradition a little bit and take a look back at the life and times and work of On Kawara, who passed away recently, on July 10, 2014. It seems fitting, given that much of Kawara's work centered around themes of life, time, and mortality. Even the tweet shown above is a sample of that work, a Twitter bot which regularly posted the same message every day. Sadly, it now serves as an epitaph for the late artist, albeit a fitting one - after all, art is a creation that lives on past our own time of existence, and takes on a greater shape than we can hope to control.

Born in Kariya, Japan, in 1933, Kawara was a teenager when the atomic bombs were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, ending World War II and scarring Japan and its citizens. This seemed to provide much of the impetus for his early work, which focused (as much of the Japanese art at the time did) on the impacts of those devastating events, incorporating horrendous imagery of disfiguration and dismemberment. Eventually, however, this would grow to change over time, another fitting development for an artist who grew to be fascinated by the march of time and how we interact with it.

Perhaps the series for which Kawara is most famous is the Today series, which is arguably a sample of conceptualist rigor that continued throughout his entire career. It simply consists of a painting created every day with the date, rendered in exquisitely hand-drawn letters and numbers in sans serif font, done in whatever format is appropriate for the location of the artist at the time of creation. However, Kawara had a great many shows, in both solo and group formats, at galleries around the world.

Eventually, Kawara took up residence in New York City, where he died on the 10th of July. It would have been interesting to see a version of the Today series painted while on a long-haul flight between New York City and Tokyo, as crossing the international dateline and the different date formats between the two nations would have uniquely highlighted the dichotomies inherent in this beguilingly simple series. Regardless, Kawara will be missed.

Posted on July 15th 2014 on 05:07pm
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Friday 11th July 2014The Largest Outdoor Art Gallery

The World Cup truly is one of the most impressive spectacles on the planet, with hundreds of millions of fans glued to their TV sets and millions more flooding into whichever country is hosting the Cup, generating billions of dollars in revenue. But this year, now that the World Cup is over and life in Brazil is starting to get back to a more normal pace and tone, let's take a look at one of the most truly epic outdoor art galleries in the world, located just in the backyard of Belo Horizonte, the city that played host to 2014's World Cup.

Inhotim, as the 'gallery' is known, is about 500,000 acres of outdoor space dedicated to a huge variety of the arts. Yes, you read that right, 500,000 acres - that's nearly 500000 football fields. Truly, awesomely, staggeringly huge, and full of an incredibly eclectic selection of works from around the world. Technically, the art is spaced out throughout botanical gardens that take up a large part of the gallery's acreage, but the scale of the place is still beyond belief, and will take even the most dedicated gallery enthusiast more than a single day to venture through.

Officially known as the Centro de Arte Contemporânea Inhotim, it is the pet project of former mining magnate Bernardo Paz, who sold his mining company for over a billion dollars to Chinese investors and has devoted himself to the project. The entire space was designed by a long-time friend of Paz, Roberto Burle Marx, a much-celebrated landscape artist who recently passed away. When it finally opened it's "doors" in late 2006, visitors were stunned by the scope of the project, and by the interesting selection of artists represented. Anish Kapoor, Doug Aitken, Olafur Eliasson and Adriana Varejão are just a few of the recognizable names that can be found adorning exhibits throughout Inhotim. Arguably, the entire space itself is a monumental work by Roberto Marx, as many of the pavilions that dot the landscape are works of art in and of themselves.

Plans are underway to turn the gallery into a tourist destination, complete with luxury hotel and spa for those who hope to do some serious relaxing. The space itself is not even complete yet, with new pavilions being constructed all the time, and new exhibits to be added. If you find yourself in Brazil, it will be definitely worth the visit!

Posted on July 11th 2014 on 05:04pm
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Wednesday 09th July 2014The Digital Transition

Working with physical media can be incredibly satisfying, as any tactile artist can tell you. There's something uniquely beautiful about working with your hands, and if that's your favourite thing to do, then by all means, keep it up. Many artists have recently decided to make the jump from physical to digital media, as computers grow more and more powerful and capable, and even less of a headache to use than the nightmares they were in the very early days of digital art. Making the transition from physical to digital can be quite daunting for the non-technical, but there are some major advantages to leaving the physical world behind.

First and foremost, there is the fact that if you follow proper backup procedures, it's virtually impossible to lose your work. The rule of thumb for digital media is that if it doesn't exist in AT LEAST two places, then it doesn't exist. Hard drive failures do occur, and if that was the only location you stored your artwork files, you're out of luck. Fires, theft, and other insurance nightmares plague the physical art in the same way, but if you keep a copy of your files on your computer, another copy on a USB key, and another copy on a digital storage service like Dropbox or Google Drive (both of which have free storage options), you'll never lose another piece of work.

Second, it's extremely easy to take your digital work and apply it to any number of different media. No hassle about digitizing offline work and trying to colour match and scan, you have a natively-created digital file. Making prints is easy as pie, although remember that the more prints you create of a piece, the lower the value of each print becomes. That's one area that physical media has an advantage over the digital - the original art piece is a one-of-a-kind artifact.

Finally, it's possible to create things digitally that are virtually impossible to do by hand. The same is true of physical media, of course, as sculpture and depth of media don't translate very well into the digital world of a flat screen, but that may inspire the third choice - instead of working either digitally or physically, blend both together to expand your horizons. Mixed-media pieces are very hot right now, and if you can figure out innovative ways to make the digital and the physical work together, you may help generate an entirely new style!

If you're really interested in making the transition to digital media for your artwork, check out our series of past posts about choosing a monitor, choosing mac or pc, and how to colour calibrate your monitor so that it displays accurate colours. But most of all - have fun with your art!

Posted on July 09th 2014 on 07:50pm
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Thursday 03rd July 2014Are You ArtRank-ed?

Speculation in the art world has always been a bit of a gamble. Much like the great grand-daddy of speculation that is the stock market, huge sums of money are made and lost on a regular basis, as collectors vie with each other to discover the hottest young talent, and gamble on those artists who are currently in the midst of their careers. Some collectors have a knack for it, others are left in the financial dust. Recently, a new service has been shaking things up for collectors and artists alike, and there are those on both sides of the fence who see it as extremely problematic, and perhaps even downright unfair.

The service, which is known as ArtRank, is the brainchild of Argentina-born California gallery owner Carlos Rivera, who runs the Rivera and Rivera gallery in West Hollywood. Supposedly based on algorithms and software that was designed for world financial markets, ArtRank provides collectors with information about whether to buy or sell the work of particular artists at particular price points, much in the way that financial analysts recommend the purchase or sale of particular stocks.

Many in the art community originally took the website to be some sort of cruel joke at the expense of other artists, as the website was originally named sellyoulater.com, but Rivera assures potential clients that the service is entirely dedicated to provided the best possible speculative analysis for art collectors and investors. A paid section of the site is available to 10 subscribers, who pay $3,500 USD per quarter to get access to the latest data three weeks before the information is made publicly and freely available on the website.

Needless to say, this is likely to generate a great deal of ill will, and artificially modify the nature of the art market if it gets too widespread a hold. That may not inherently be a bad thing, but one must wonder as an artist if there is such a thing as treating the collecting world too coldly. Of course, for any artists who are ranked in the buy categories, it could be a huge boon to their careers, driving collectors to purchase, but there is the possibility that, as in the financial markets, artificially-generated booms and busts may be more than the art world can handle. There has already been a great deal of speculation that the art world is in something of a price bubble, but ArtRank may change all that in one fell swoop.

Take swing by ArtRank and check it out for yourself - have you been ArtRank-ed?

Posted on July 03rd 2014 on 07:46pm
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