Saturday, August 16, 2008

Creative Irritation

I like art. Even though it irritates the hell out of me.

Sometimes art is just plain irritating, like when I saw the excess resources used by Matthew Barney in his 2006 exhibit at SFMOMA, which among other things featured a sculpture consisting of 1600 gallons of liquid petroleum jelly.

Sometimes the irritation builds up in a Louis Black ranting way, like when I saw the Gilbert & George retrospective at the de Young earlier this year.

And sometimes the irritation is in a beneficial and inspiring way, the irritation that drives me to write, construct or draw, or design greeting cards. I call that Creative Irritation.

Long ago, I was in a writing workshop led by author and SF Chronicle columnist Adair Lara. She told a story of an author friend in Marin who tried to inspire herself to write by going to local coffee houses, but she found the Marin atmosphere was too cordial. So her friend drove to Berkeley, sat down at a table in a coffee house, and quickly began absorbing the significant amount of aggravation in the atmosphere. Soon she was writing prolifically. I tried it myself a few years later, basked in the agitation, and scrawled out an impressive number of stream of consciousness pages.

At Open Studios one year, I discovered the art of Erin Carney. Carney creates a variety of abstract paintings, which capture the diverse beauty of light and shadow. Her paintings are not intended to have recognizable images; however that does not stop those of us with vivid imaginations from decoding them like personalized license plates.

One of my favorites is “Tranquillity,” which looks like a delusional dream about belly buttons after eating large servings of three flavors of Jell-O. Ok, it is an abstract study of color, light and shadow.

The fact that Carney is a lighting design expert is evident in her paintings. Or maybe the fact she is an artist is evident in her work as a lighting design expert. There is a huge difference between a house with lights and a house that is well lit. Her current show at Red Union Salon on Union Street carries the lighting connection further, as one could get their highlights done while viewing the artwork.

I purchased a small painting from Carney which I named Creative Irritation. It got on my nerves as soon as I saw it.

It is a series of rough brush strokes with thick paint, making an increasing number of centerless squares, each slightly larger and overlapping the previous one. Each square is made without turns at the corners, but with four harsh slaps of the brush. After each stroke, the brushes were dipped in a different color, creating multiple colors in each brushstroke.

I took the painting home and hung it on my wall to the right of my computer screen, transforming my writing space into that cranky creative cosmos known as The Berkeley Coffee House Effect. Works every time.

by Phil Gravitt

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