A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 362: Ron’s 2017 Gallery, part 2

Bob Dylan Dream

As my Year of Creativity draws to a close, I have decided to take a couple of days dedicated to a small gallery of the artwork I did in 2017. Yesterday, in part 1, I described (and displayed) how I became, through a series of different art experiments, a mosaic maker. Today, here are some of those first true mosaics. Of course, no artist ever dabbles in just one thing so there are some drawings and a neglected painting finally finished in today’s post, as well.

Here we go…

As I began to realize that the experiments I had been doing in colored foam on paper were mosaics, I was, of course, drawn to things mosaic. It so happened that a site I follow on Facebook posted a story about a wonderfully intact mosaic from the third century that had been discovered in Turkey. It showed a reclining skeleton, enjoying wine and bread, with the words (in Greek): “Be cheerful and live your life”. I was so struck by the juxtaposition and humor of the happy bones encouraging me to enjoy my life that I decided to recreate it as my own mosaic:

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Be Cheerful and Live Your Life, Craft foam mosaic on canvas, 2017

I had purchased craft foam at my local dollar store which had animal print designs on it (zebra stripes, leopard spots, etc). I cut these up into mostly squares to create the above. My skeleton enjoys a pizza, be it a blue spotted pizza. This artwork was fun to make and I enjoyed the result so much that, well, I was determined to try this mosaic thing again.

The next thing I tried was a portrait of an artist that inspired me. My wife had bought me a book of all of Bob Dylan’s lyrics for my birthday. The book has an iconic photo of  Dylan from the mid-1960’s on the cover. I decided to try and recreate that portrait in mosaic form:

Bob Dylan Dream

Bob Dylan Dream, Craft foam and burlap paper mosaic on canvas, 2017

There was something about rendering Bob in colorful mosaic that made sense, and it made sense to me to include a phrase from one of his quirkier songs. It was meant to be provocative and a bit out there, much like the enigmatic songwriter himself. I think I succeeded.

After this portrait of Dylan I became interested in the work of the man he named himself after, Dylan Thomas. I began work on a very large mosaic, the biggest one I had tried so far, based on a line from a Thomas poem. However, it took me a long time to put that one together so in the meantime, some other artistic experiments were underway…

I had seen an article online about an artist that made single line portraits. I decided to have a go at it, not drawing anyone in particular, but using a black art pen, putting it to paper, and not taking it off the paper until a portrait was “done”. I filled up a couple of sketchbooks doing this. Below are some highlights from that experiment:

 

These were fun and challenging. I consider myself very loose and spontaneous in my drawing to begin with but this style stretched me more than I expected. I found that if I thought too much about it they didn’t turn out so well. But if I just went with the flow I ended up with more satisfying results.

I decide to expand this experiment, this time sketching particular individuals and doing so in 18 different lines each. Why 18? Because I had a pack of 18 colored markers on hand, fine point. This proved to be far more difficult because (1) the introduction of color and (2) attempting to draw the person as that person looks! Below is a self portrait and three portraits I made of individuals in my art studio at the day program where I work:

18 single lines self portraitNolaSophiaAlison

As I mentioned, these were a lot harder than they look. But it was another good way of pushing myself outside my own artistic comfort zones.


Around this same time I picked up a neglected canvas that had been lying around for about two years. A co-worker of mine had mentioned that she liked the half-finished painting that it was. I was a bit appalled that she’d like the monstrosity that it was and told her I needed to finish it. This same co-worker was injured at work and wasn’t able to return. Missing her at work, I believe, was the impetus to finish the painting. I had a background but then, using textures and acrylic paint, added the five birch which became the foreground and title of the painting:

Five Birch

Five Birch, Acrylic on canvas, 2015-2017

I gave this painting to her as an early wedding gift.

Around this time I had finally finished the large mosaic based on a line from a Dylan Thomas poem. The line:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

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Rage, Rage…, Craft foam and burlap paper mosaic, 2017

There was something about this raging against inevitable mortality that struck a chord with me. I decided, instead of trying to come up with an image to go with the words, to illustrate the powerful words themselves.

This theme of mortality and the drive to live life to the utmost, to pursue dreams and use your talents, to love people and explore and take risks in the face of that dying of the light was no doubt a huge motivator for me this year. It was a great contributing factor in the creation of the next mosaic to follow this one, another large work, this time based on a character whose delusion is heroic and relatable:

Until Death It Is All Life

Until Death It is All Life, Craft foam mosaic on canvas, 2017

As I get older the character of Don Quixote becomes more real to me. He is deluded, surely, but also full of imagination, so full that it becomes reality to him. He is a tragic-hero in some ways, comical in a pathetic way, but also honorable and, in some odd way, a role model of sorts. Having had a great experience living in Spain back when I was 21, this work became a bit of an homage too. The background colors are meant to imitate the colors of the Spanish flag. The tiled lines flowing across the painting (which also wrap around the outside edges) were meant to be evocative of a Spanish artist like Gaudi as well as their penchant for great ceramic work. And, of course, Cervantes’ great comic-hero Quixote is the pinnacle of Spanish classical literature.

There would be more mosaics before 2017 was through but also more artwork in general. Tomorrow for part 3 of my gallery I will share more with you.

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 198: Until Death It is All Life

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Until Death It Is All Life, Ronald Kok, Craft foam mosaic, 2017

“Hasta la muerta es toda la vida.” These words are spoken by Sancho Panza, faithful squire to the noble knight Don Quixote.

Miquel de Cervantes Saavedra wrote the incomparable and influential The Ingenious Nobleman Mister Quixote of La Mancha (or more commonly know as Don Quixote) in the early part of the 17th century. It was published in two parts between 1605 and 1615. The tale is equal parts comedy and tragedy, full of madness and imagination, and making commentary on so many things that the book is constantly reinterpreted with each passing age. It is the Great Spanish novel and has gained a well deserved place as one of the best works of fiction in the world.

I’m not sure how Don Quixote took center stage in my latest mosaic. There is something so mysterious about that inspiration that befits the tale of the nobleman who imagines himself a knight, tilting at windmills that he believes are squatting giants all over the Spanish countryside. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that Quixote was supposed to be about my age when he lost his grip on reality. Perhaps it has to do with that fine line between realism and imagination in the story that is so often my own fine line. Perhaps it is the influence Spain has had on me, having spent four months there at the formative age of 21.  Perhaps it is the specter of mortality that has been following me like my own shadow, daring me to embrace life. Or perhaps it is none of these at all.

Whatever it was that first gave me the push to create this artwork, I know that there were also some very straightforward choices on my part: First, I chose to include a reference to the Spanish flag in this work (the red, yellow, red of the background); Second, I chose to reference the brilliantly organic and colorful mosaics of Antonio Gaudi, the great Spanish artist; and Third, I chose to include the quote as an affirmation of life in the face of inevitable death.

So there you have it.

This artwork took much effort in both conceptualization of the idea and in execution of it (i.e., a helluva lot of hours cutting up craft foam and gluing it on). I started with what I call “WalMart Art”, a factory-produced piece of art bought at a second-hand store which I painted black; then I sketched out the idea, started with the figure of Don Quixote on Rocinante and built the artwork from there.

“Until death it is all life” – May this inspire you to embrace your life and live it out brightly and colorfully.

Below are some photos of the process.