Back to Pittsburgh, and a Trip to New York.

Getting settled into my summer studio at Carnegie Mellon University to complete my fellowship.

After a year’s absence, I am finally back in Pittsburgh to complete my degree. This summer, I’m focusing on my Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF), which carries over into a Small Undergraduate Research Grant (SURG) for the fall term. I was fortunate enough to have been granted an excellent studio space to handle my research and accompanying large-scale paintings. At this point, I realize that I haven’t exactly spoken about my research, so I will include a bit from my abstract:

This body of work is intended to draw a comparison between the intrinsically violent sports of early 20th century prize fighting in the United States and present-day dog fighting in the Middle East. It is my belief that the astounding popularity of these, and that of other violent sports, is linked to a shared context of political, social, and economic upheaval or unrest. My research has suggested that these aggressive forms of entertainment serve as means by which the spectators can release their pent-up aggression and anxiety that their unstable social environments instill within them. To illustrate this cross-cultural and cross-generation comparison, I am in the process of creating a series of large-scale paintings that highlight the raw violence and spectator aggression shared between these two sports (depression-era prize fighting and today’s surge in dog fighting in the Middle East, particularly Kabul) that have flourished in direct relation to their unstable social contexts.

I will post more as my research and artworks progress. With one painting completed and the second on its way, I can see this is going to be a busy, yet rewarding summer. It is my eventual intent to continue this work with further examples of aggressive sports with contexts of social unrest. More on that later, though.

Now, for my last-minute trip to New York…

Chaim Soutine's "Brace of Pheasants" c. 1926 /Francis Bacon's "Tryptch (Left Panel)" 1981-82

For those who don’t already know, Chaim Soutine and Francis Bacon have long been ranked as two of my favorite artists. I was first exposed to Bacon’s work in Dublin in the spring, and managed to catch that “bug,” and began study his work extensively. After having read “Interviews with Francis Bacon” by David Sylvester, I came to truly admire his work and approach to art, and began to realize how deeply influenced Bacon was by Chaim Soutine’s work. Before Monday, though, I had never gotten the chance to see Soutine’s work in person.

Chaim Soutine's "Flayed Beef" c.1925

His name is an incredibly rare feature of any shown collection in the United States, so, needless to say, I was floored when I found out that the Helly Nahmad Gallery of New York City was presenting  SOUTINE/BACON – the “first comparative exhibition of Chaim Soutine and Francis Bacon.” I bought my bus ticket to New York immediately and, a few days later, I found myself standing in awe in front of “Flayed Beef” (1925) – a painting I had studied extensively from photographs. The experience of physically standing in front of such an incredible piece, however, was indescribable. An hour went by, and I didn’t move. At that moment, I realized why my mentor had told me so long ago that I would fall in love with Soutine, and he couldn’t have been more correct. This artist’s loose, yet certain handling of the paint, and integration of elements of drawing and painting were especially evident in person, and I fervently took notes and did small sketches of his remarkable understanding of composition. I suppose that my gawking caught the attention of the gallery manager, as both she and the curator graciously granted myself and my friend with the beautiful exhibition catalogue, which allowed me to take the paintings and their detail shots home with me. Even beyond this, I had the incredible honor of speaking with them personally about the work, and, to speak with someone who had studied Soutine’s work for decades was far beyond what I could have hoped that day would bring. The work in the show was astounding to say the least, and has left a huge impression on myself as an artist.

Now, though I am back in Pittsburgh and had to unfortunately leave the show behind me, I have the exhibition catalogue open in my studio and am returning to my work with newfound initiative and vigor.

“If you are going to decide to be a painter, you have got to decide that you are not going to be afraid of making a fool of yourself. I think another thing is to be able to find subjects which really absorb you to try and do. I feel that without a subject you automatically go back into decoration because you haven’t got the subject which is always eating into you to bring it back – and the greatest art always returns you to the vulnerability of the human situation.” – Francis Bacon

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