Hello and welcome to the fourth “Wow Me Wednesday,” a weekly series in which I interview and feature artists who inspire me. My name is Jeffrey Thelin founder of teyleen.com and today I’ll be featuring Gary Edward Blum. Gary is a painter based out of San Francisco with an eye for color and love of grids.
Can you describe your typical process when creating your pieces?
I will typically start my paintings by stretching canvas directly to my studio wall. I do this because I “build” my paintings by putting down layers of paint (acrylic) and sanding. This process results in a surface that has visual history, with colors coming through that inform the viewer of where the painting has been, in contrast to the final overall color. I then incorporate a painted grid that gives the piece structure. Because my backgrounds are generally white, this structure helps hold the space visually. I then begin to paint the trompe l’oeil (a type of photo-realism, all my work is 100% acrylic on canvas) aspect in the upper two thirds, always centered, while simultaneously recording that process with abstract marks and brushstrokes in the bottom third. When the piece is complete, I remove it from the wall and stretch it on a 1 3/4 inch deep stretcher bar. Stretching the canvas on the wall and painting to the edge also allows the piece to be wrapped around to the sides giving the painting a sculptural feel. I do not frame my work.
If Richard Was Agnes - Acrylic on Canvas, 30x30 inches
What tools do you use when creating your art?
I use most of your standard paint supplies. brushes, canvas, acrylic paints and mediums. I also use sponges to apply washes as well as a lot of sand paper. I do make sketches, but will use the computer to play with color ideas and map out the dimensions of the background grids.
What do you see as the future of creativity?
Yikes..that’s a big question. I don’t think I’ve had enough coffee yet! It’s an interesting time in the history of art. We have gotten to the point where it really is a mashup of historical genres. You see many artists, including myself, mixing styles to try and evoke something new, but of course this is almost impossible. Photography has made a big leap back to the forefront over the past fifteen plus years, in no small part to the advancement in digital capabilities and the printing process. Mobile photography too. IG being a perfect example of how younger people today are looking at the world creatively more than any other time, almost without them knowing, due to social media and the mobile phone.
A Rarely Loved Thing - Acrylic on Canvas, 30x27 inches
What do you think the balance is between technology and analog when being creative?
To that point, I think this question is very relevant and ties into the future of creativity question. I’ve always believed that it is important for any artist, or any person that is serious about the visual arts(IG posters included) to understand the underpinnings of their medium, and really, all mediums. Starting with a pencil and paper. I think any technology that is getting people excited about being creative is great, but I also think because of the speed it allows, the filters, the apps, it glosses over the importance of learning to really SEE by slowing down. Taking pictures with film, drawing a face with pencil, slows your mind and really helps you understand what you’re looking at and what YOU really see. Now that said, you can take ten thousand digital pictures in the same amount of time and assume something will look good. I know professional photographers that do this, but these are people that really understand their craft. If there really is an answer to the future of creativity, it lies somewhere in new technologies. Just like when photography superceded realist painting.
Do you consider yourself an artist? What other words would you use to describe yourself and abilities?
Yes. In all things. Not just painting. I don’t think any creative person just stops at his or her medium and then becomes something else completely. For example there is a definite duality to my paintings, realism and abstraction. I love how they inform each other. My personality is the same way. For example, I love cleanliness and order(realism), but I am very easy going and prefer to be more spontaneous than planned(abstraction.)
A Beautiful Expanse - Acrylic on Canvas Over Panel, 54x54 inches
Who are some creatives that you really look up to and inspire your work daily?
On the fine art side: Agnes Martin, Carleton Watkins, Christopher Wool, Axel Vervoordt, Sol Lewitt, Yamamoto Maseo, Elger Esser, Martin Puryer, Rudolf Stingel, Richard Diebenkorn, Martin Venesky...on the IG side, it’s hard to pick just a few, but as they come to mind while writing this: @nghbrs, @imnotbatgirl, @uni_klo__, @jessedraxler, @visteingunn, @silenttapes, @ayenorhon, @1_of_8, @ian_strange, @katwesterman, @_lynettejackson, @livingpod.
Did you always know you were an artist or designer? What’s your story about how you got into all this?
I suppose. It’s the only thing I was ever good at. My high school art teacher was the one that put the seed in my head about getting a degree in art, so thank goodness for that, otherwise who knows what I’d be doing now. I went to college, but graduated with a degree in graphic design (not art,) another lucky moment. I don’t think schools, particularly art schools, stress the importance of having a way to make money when you get out of school. A job at the local coffee shop is not going to pay for your school loans. And to be honest, it’s VERY difficult to make a living as an artist. I worked for design firms and then had my own practice, while I painted on the side. In 1996, when I was 26, I got my first solo show in SF and sold out. I thought the art thing was cake and quit design to paint full time being too inexperienced to realize it might not always be that way. In 2002, I got my Masters in Fine Art at Berkeley, having thoughts of teaching college at some point. In 2010, I had a solo show in San Francisco, that did very well critically and was reviewed in Art and America as well as having a piece placed in the Crocker Art Museum’s permanent collection. From that point, I have shown consistently and continue to sell work. We have the Spring Open House coming up April 17 at Headlands Center for the Arts(www.headlands.org) in the Bay Area, where I am currently a resident. As well, I have a solo show at my gallery(www.ruthbachofner.com) in Santa Monica in July 2016.
What do you do for a living?
Depends on what you consider “making a living!” I feel fortunate enough to say I am an artist. I have done many things to support myself over the years, any artist does. And I may say it's a healthy thing to do. Because it’s hard, really hard to be an artist full time. I have gone, and continue to go through lean years. It’s not an easy path, and one that requires extreme focus, self discipline and sacrifice. Some days I wonder why the hell I still do it, and whether I’d be happier raising chickens or something. I didn’t always feel that way when I was younger and cocky. Art can be a grind, but I still do it because it really is what I love and what makes me feel most like “me.” There is no better feeling than selling your work. Something you made out of thin air, with your own hands, something that someone actually wants to live with, it is such a humbling and gratifying feeling. If I had any advice for younger artists, it would be to truly appreciate moments when you have success, no matter how small.
What is your dream for your next 5 years?
My dream is simply to keep showing and to have collectors continue to believe in what I do. I suppose if you pressed me, I’d say getting a gallery in New York too.
Any final quotes, mantras to inspire the readers?
I love quotes by painter Agnes Martin, but one that I came across by another artist I love really sums up how I feel about the process of painting for me right now:
“Painting, for me, if often a struggle between the planned and the unforeseen. The best paintings are the ones that you could not have imagined before you began...Of course the worst paintings are created in this way as well.” –Christopher Wool
A big thanks to Gary for making this a successful "Wow Me Wednesday."
And thank you all so much for joining me! If you have any artists you think I should interview leave a comment below.