Thursday, December 31, 2015

My Pratt Poster Paper Portfolio

This past weekend, while going through a box of memorabilia, I came across a pile of my very first paintings. Some were respectable first efforts, some were pretty bad and one I refer to lovingly as the worst painting ever executed by human kind. I painted these oils on canvas paper for a portfolio review when I was in college. This was to be a truly terrible interview.

While in high school, I decided that I wanted to go to college for film making. While searching for potential programs, I came across the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. I loved the idea of studying film at an art school because, being a teenager in the mid-‘90’s, I wanted to make independent films and I figured art school was the best place to do this because I would be free to “spread my creative wings”, or something like that. The only problem was, not only did I have no experience in film, but I had no experience in art at all. My high school did not have a studio art program at the time.

Part of the application process to the Pratt Institute was a portfolio review which took place in Boston. I found out about the review about a week before the actual event, so I needed to put my portfolio together quickly. I went to a local discount store and found a beginner’s oil painting set and paper. Using a piece of plywood leaned against a chair as an easel, I knocked out six paintings over the course of that week. I was unaware at the time of the existence of portfolio cases, so I folded a piece of poster board in half and stapled two edges closed to create a giant envelope. I slid the paintings into this makeshift carrier along with some writing I’d done and got ready for the interview. I’d seen a movie wherein an artist wore a suit with no tie to an art opening, so I assumed that was how artists dressed. So, I got dressed up and made my way into Boston for the portfolio review.

It took place at an upscale hotel in the Back Bay. When I walked in, I saw that every one of the potential students was carrying a real portfolio case rather than a folded piece of poster board and most were displaying the markers of creativity at that time: piercings, dyed hair and clothing representing various 90’s counter cultures. I looked like a stock broker after hours, carrying a giant piece of paper.

When I was called in for the interview, I made my way to a hotel room where I was greeted by two gentlemen from Pratt. We sat down and one of the men, dressed in a well-cut, light colored suit began unpacking the folded poster board. To my horror, when he removed the paintings they were all stuck together in one stack. I didn’t know at the time that oil paint dried slowly and had stacked all the paintings together in my rush to pack up before the interview. There was not much I could have done, since my portfolio consisted solely of these paintings I had made earlier that week and a few writing samples, now paint stained.

The interviewers asked me questions while passing the wet paintings to each other gingerly, wiping their hands off with tissues. I was so distracted that I had a hard time answering them. My mind froze with the embarrassment of what was happening. They asked why I wanted to study film and while I don’t remember my exact response, I think it was likely some string of random phrases. They asked what my favorite movie was and after a few interminable minutes of hemming and hawing, I came up with Terry Gilliam’s TheFisher King.

“Why The Fisher King?” they asked.

“Um…because it’s dark?”

“Uh huh…?”


One of my first paintings, note the missing paint at the center
where it stuck to the other paintings in the folder.
I’m additionally embarrassed because at one point during the interview one of the men, who was an important part of the architecture program asked if I’d be interested in architecture. I told him in no uncertain terms, that I was not and that my dream was to make films and that architecture held no interest for me. When I did eventually attend Emerson College as a film major, I decided to change my major after only one semester. Then, when I went back to college at the University of Arizona, I initially went back for architecture. I could have saved myself some time and money by taking that guy up on his offer.

But, it is unproductive to go through life questioning ones past decisions or embarrassing moments. That being said, would I have discovered painting earlier and received proper training? I definitely would have lived in New York years earlier than I did. But, I would have missed out on the amazing path I’ve been on thus far. And that path has landed me here in New York City on the eve of 2016. Happy New Year, readers. See you next year.

Monday, December 21, 2015

2016 NYC ID Benefits Have Been Announced

For those of you in New York City who haven’t done it yet, I recommend getting an NYC ID. I’ve heard some talk about there being some insidious purpose behind them, but I really don’t see the downside myself aside from the certainty that my mailbox and inbox will be full of promotional material. The benefits are definitely worth the few minutes it takes to sign up. Museums, cultural institutions and zoos across the city have been offering free one year memberships for people signing up for the ID.

 I got mine back in November and Gertrude and I have had a few fun days of racking up memberships at the many cultural institutions that the ID will get you into for a year. We were excited to find Wave Hill, a gorgeous historic estate on the Hudson River in the Bronx, of which neither of us had ever heard. I’m looking forward to having access to museums in almost any neighborhood I’d find myself. I enjoy having museum memberships because I can pop in for as long as I want and as often as I want without worrying about entrance fees or the moral quandary of suggested donations. Now I have over a thousand dollars’ worth of free memberships, which will sadly end at the end of 2016.

I had originally heard that the membership benefits were only going to be extended for the first year that the card was offered, but the city has released a list of benefits, including memberships to MoMA and the NewMuseum for those who sign up in 2016. My advice is to get out there and take advantage of this in the new year.

Monday, December 14, 2015


The temperature here in New York has been hovering around an inappropriate 60 degrees for the past week or so.  On the one hand I am grateful for each day that I’m not risking frostbite and can walk freely around this amazing city. On the other hand the New Englander in me knows that winter will take revenge for the joy I’m feeling due to the balmy spring like weather. This presents in me an urgency to soak up the good weather in response to the feeling of dread that the winter is seething just out of sight ready to pounce and punish me for my enjoyment.

And so, I ventured into Manhattan to check out a couple Chelsea galleries this weekend intending to walk through one or two and quickly make my way to Hudson River Park for a stroll under the perfectly overcast skies. But I never made it to the river, because the galleries were just too much fun right now.

Peter Saul, The Last Moments on the Raft
of the Medusa, 2015
Photo: Mary Boone Gallery
I stopped into Mary Boone Gallery right at the beginning of my trip and was delighted by the paintings of Peter Saul. His irreverent, candy colored re-interpretations of canonical works of art history are darkly humorous, particularly to anyone who has a basic knowledge of the original paintings, for example Rigaud’s portrait of Louis XIV or Géricault’s Raft of the Medusa. Saul’s take on the latter seems to be a bit of a mash up with Copley’s Watson and the Shark. These paintings are like seeing the masterpieces in a parallel dimension.

Stefanie Gutheil, The Home of Mr. Peeps, 2015
Photo: Mike Weiss Gallery
At Mike WeissGallery, German artist Stefanie Gutheil’s show, “The Home of Mr. Peeps” is similarly colorful, but rather than re-imagine the giants of art history, she has created a fantastic world of misfits. Some paintings contain scenes which seem to be of everyday life, but in a fantastic universe of the artist’s imagining. Others are monumental portraits from the imagined world, each sitter with their own personality. Seeing all of these works together gives the viewer a glimpse into a surreal world which I quickly accepted and about which I wanted to learn more.

Finally, Jean Tinguely’s retrospective at Gladstone Gallery displays several of the artist’s kinetic sculptures from throughout his career. The artist took found objects and re-combined them into new objects. These sculptures appear like mechanical creatures in a menagerie. Each may be activated by stepping on a red button, though while I was there, I was the only one playing with them in a gallery full of people whispering and pointing and taking photos with their phone. When the sculptures come to life, each has its own personality, whirring, clanking, grinding. The results can be startlingly loud in a silent gallery setting which makes it even more fun.

There were other gems on my little journey down 24th and 21st Streets. Among these were John Goodyear’s Op-Art objects at Berry-Campbell and Cayce Zavaglia’s photo-realistic embroidered portraits at Lyons Weir Gallery (wow).

All in all it was an unexpectedly successful day. While I went to the west side to enjoy the incredible whether before the horrors of true winter destroy us all, I had an even more

rewarding time letting art take me on a tour of artists’ imaginations before the galleries once again fill with minimalism, generic abstraction and overwrought commentary on the overwhelming nature of the information age. Then again, maybe it will turn out to be a surprisingly enjoyable winter both outside and in the Chelsea blockbuster galleries.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Learning to Love Art I Didn't Like

When I was first becoming interested in art in my late teens, I was drawn to European modernism. Picasso, Matisse, and Munch were among the first artists’ names on my bookshelf. Then I learned to appreciate abstract expressionism, then neo-expressionists of the ‘80’s. But by and large, my 20’s were devoted to 20th century abstraction. Most of my time in museums around the east coast and Europe was spent rushing past hundreds of years of art history towards that which was most familiar to me.

More than a pretty picture:
Thomas Cole's The Oxbow
Image: Wikipedia
Then, when I went back to college after my time in the Army, I chose to get my degree in Art History. It was a bachelor’s program, and I wasn’t required to choose a concentration. I had a smorgasbord of courses from which to choose, and as long as I took the correct number of them, I’d graduate. So, there’s the rub. Do I learn more about the art I’ve visited so often in museums and about which I had already read so much?

Instead, I chose to take a variety of classes on topics with which I was unfamiliar or which I had always found boring. Pre-war American art, early Latin American art, nineteenth century European and the Italian Renaissance. Some of the most famous artwork in the world, and while I could identify a lot of it, I didn’t know the stories behind much of it. I had snobbishly dismissed impressionism as office cubicle décor without knowing about the rebellious quality of the work, both aesthetically and ideologically. I didn’t know that Gustave Courbet was the world’s first hipster. And shamefully, I didn’t know nearly enough of the rich tradition of Latin American art before Frida and the famous muralists. Through these classes and my own research, I learned the historical context, art historical narratives and the intentions of the artists, which made all of these eras of art significantly more interesting. The most valuable experience of my college education was studying art I had never really liked.

The World's First Hipster
Gustave Courbet's The Meeting
Image: Wikipedia

I share this with you to encourage you to find a room that bores you at your local museum and make a point of studying up on it. If it’s not enough that it will broaden your horizons, you’ll also get more bang for your buck for your entrance fee or membership. 

Monday, November 30, 2015

One Daily Habit

I’m not by nature a big believer in self-help books. That being said, my girlfriend, Gertrude recently brought to my attention Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. Like most people I’ve talked to, I began the book but did not finish it. I was turned off by the structure (it is a course) and intimidated by the rhetoric of totally changing one’s life based on one author's experience. I will give it another chance one of these days. One very valuable thing I’ve taken from the 25 pages I've read is the practice of Morning Pages. If you want a detailed description of morning pages directly from the author, please check out the book. Someone you know has it, I assure you. Cameron has a very intense description of the practice in the book.

The Dollar Store notebook I use.
I’d say I’m less intense about the practice of writing morning pages, but I’m a believer in the benefits. Basically, every morning I wake up, take out a notebook and brain dump three pages of stream of consciousness writing into a notebook. At first, it seems like a giant waste of time, but I have to say emptying my waking mind on paper focuses me and clears me up for the rest of the day. Also, it gets me warmed up to put things out into the world; art, writing, conversation, whatever. It’s daunting to attack a blank page which can be extended to any type of output in someone’s life. By starting my day attacking a blank page, even if I’m filling it with nonsense, I’m better prepared for all the output I need to produce over the course of the day.

This has all been so effective, that I’m going to extend the practice to visual expression, too. I’m going to start brain dumping drawings into a sketchbook every morning. Yes, I know I should be sketching throughout the day, every day anyway. But, I don’t. I think that applying the discipline of morning pages to drawing will prepare me for a greater artistic output because I won’t be worried about producing something good. When I did the 100 Drawings in 100 days project on Instagram, I found difficulty because I was sharing what I was drawing, so there was pressure to make it good. By getting all the crap on paper first thing in the morning, I’ll feel freer throughout the day. And I’ll be able to sort out the good from the bad in my increased output.

This is of course a theoretical resolution which I’ll be starting tomorrow (in theory). But, I’ve made the resolution public, so now I have to follow through. I’ll follow up in a couple of weeks to let you fair readers know how it’s going. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

Really Fine Art vs. Real Fine Arts (Reflection and Review)

Nicolas Ceccaldi
November 14 – December 20

Real fine Arts
673 Meeker Avenue, Brooklyn

For years I used the tagline “Tim Doyle’s Really Fine art” or ‘”My name is Tim Doyle and I make really fine art.” – Tim Doyle, Tim Doyle’s Really fine Art.’ I thought it was pretty clever. But after returning to New York, I was debating whether to put the joke to bed since I’d been using it for about 15 years. Then, one day while researching an artist, I discovered that just three blocks from my apartment, there is a gallery called “Real Fine Arts”. It had sprung up after I had left the neighborhood in 2009. Naturally, I had to investigate since not only is it a legit gallery 300 feet from my front door, but the founders clearly share a similar sense of humor with me.

The gallery is located under the BQE on Meeker Avenue on the first floor of a mixed use building, surrounded by other businesses in small storefronts. Currently, artist Nicolas Ceccaldi is being featured with a show of 3D work entitled Wearables. Ceccaldi has shown internationally in a variety of media. Real fine Arts featured another Wearables exhibition of his in 2012.
From Wearables, Real Fine Arts, 2012
Photo: Real Fine Arts
This show is spare, comprised of seven sets of costume wings, a few hung irregularly on the wall and a few placed on the floor flat or leaning against a wall. The wings themselves seem meant to be worn and appear crafty rather than meticulously manufactured. For example, irregularly placed staples are visible on one set of wings. These seem very much like pieces a creative individual would wear to a party. It is interesting to see them in a gallery setting, seemingly celebrating the raver or burner lifestyle which they would serve. Some are threatening, with claws and animal bones while others mimic butterfly wings. One set is joined with corset laces, giving it an erotic charge. One set on the floor is broken, whether intentional or not, I don’t know, but they are effective in the overall installation. The wings on the wall appear to be trophies, part of a collection, without any gallery didactic next to them. The pieces on the floor seemed to me detritus from angels who have lost their wings either in flight or have simply walked away from them surrendering their identity, as the theoretical wearers would surrender their temporary identity after wearing them. But they are functional and the viewer could theoretically put them on, assuming the discarded identity (though I am not sure how the gallery staff or artist would feel about that.)

Overall, I’m very happy to see a serious gallery in my neighborhood. I’m of the opinion that there should be as many venues as possible, allowing a great breadth of work to be seen across New York. It’s phenomenal to see driven people fighting for attention away from the money galleries in Chelsea. Me, I was planning on walking away from the ‘Really Fine Art’ tag anyway, so keep those old postcards and business cards. They’ll be worth money one day!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Lessons Learned this Week

“Why don’t you think anyone in New York would want to buy one of your Tucson paintings?” asked my girlfriend, Gertrude (not her real name) recently.

Afternoon at the Presidio Wall
Acrylic on Canvas, 2013
I had no good answer to the question. I suppose in the spirit of marching forward through life and my own artistic development, I abandoned the paintings I made during my Tucson era to storage in Massachusetts. My plan was to start fresh in Brooklyn and build a whole new body of work. To be fair, my lack of space here had something to do with the decision to leave the paintings behind.

There is a platform for selling art called Saatchi Art. It is a clever website developed many years ago in the spirit of exposing artwork to a worldwide audience and to collectors. I immediately joined when I learned about it, but for years and years I received no response to my work. With less and less frequency, I updated my page on the site with new work, removing the paintings that were sold or that I didn’t feel reflected my work of the moment. I updated it at some point in Tucson and forgot about it when I moved back to New York.

Before the Wedding
Acrylic on Canvas, 2013
Sure enough, just a few days after my discussion with Gertrude, I received a phone call from a Saatchi Online sales rep informing me of the sale of one of my Tucson paintings. The problem was, I had already sold the painting. I told the rep that I would have to cancel the sale, but he proved to be very helpful and asked me to update my page to indicate which paintings were still available. I called my logistics department in Massachusetts (my father) and asked him to find which Tucson paintings were still available. He shipped the canvasses to me and I re-stretched them. Now I’m still waiting for word on which painting the buyer would like instead. I’ve got to hand it to the Saatchi sales rep; he’s been very helpful through this entire process and will hopefully close the deal for me.

In the meantime, I can reflect on the lessons learned from this experience. First, I should never underestimate the value of online presence. Second, I should never underestimate the demand for my older work, even if I’m focused on work to come. And finally, I have over a hundred paintings: I need to have an inventory system. 

Monday, November 9, 2015

What I've Been up to... Part 3

North Henry Street Alley
Graphite on Bristol, 2015
Another series of paintings I’ve been working on is called “Fenced Out”. These are inspired by the ironwork which one sees all around New York. It’s such a massive part of everything we view, serving the roles of security, demarcation and safety. Ironwork not only influences the landscape, but it often influences how we see the landscape. When walking by Gramercy Park or by many sections of waterfront, we have to look through fences to enjoy the scenery. We are
Fenced Out 2
Oil on Canvas, 2015
fenced out, either to protect the sovereignty of the property or ostensibly for the public’s safety. It was with this in mind that I started the Fenced Out series. These are abstracted landscapes/cityscapes, rather than specific places, shown through a typical iron fence. Formally, I enjoy the way the fence can work with the background to create a rhythm in the painting. The local ironwork provides endless patterns with which I may work.

Fenced Out 3
Oil on Canvas, 2015
Finally in this “What I’ve been up to…” series of posts: commissions. I’m very excited to be working on a commission right now for the owner of a Brooklyn Heights brownstone. I’ve been hired to capture her home in my style, in four paintings reflecting each of the four seasons. It’s a great idea for a project and I’m excited to be a part of it. If you’d be interested in commissioning a painting or drawing, please feel free to contact me and we can discuss.

Monday, November 2, 2015

What I've been up to...Part 2

Chandelier People
Graphite on Bristol, 2015
Throughout the Spring and Summer this year, I was participating in a challenge on Instagram where I was to post 100 drawings in 100 days. It was a valuable exercise and resulted in everything from finished drawings to notebook doodles. The drawings which weren’t pictures of New York buildings and streets
were something new for me and have resulted in an ongoing project which is still revealing itself to me.

Spirit Racing Through Space
Oil on Canvas, 2015
It began with “chandelier drawings” as a friend of mine called them, and I felt that these structures were taking on a life of their own and I began treating them as characters. Then one night I saw a painting in a dream, and I tried to reproduce it as best as I could. The main shape from the painting found its way into my chandelier people drawings and a new world was born. Now there are both drawing and oil paintings in the series.

Don't Tear Me Down
Graphite on Bristol, 2015
I’ve decided to call this project “Spirits and Nobles” because for me these two distinctive types of figures have developed the following meanings for me. The chandelier people have come to represent pure selves; that which is at the core of a person. These are the Nobles. The Spirits are the floating beings in the drawings and paintings and they represent that which would lead the Noble astray; outside forces which pull, tempt and plague, preventing one from reaching his or her goal.

Ready for the Challenger
Oil on Canvas, 2015
“Spirits and Nobles” is an ongoing project which has only just begun. The more work I produce with this theme, the more that is revealed to me about the allegorical and surreal world where these characters reside. It’s particularly fun for me because it is, like art should be, a process of exploration.

Monday, October 26, 2015

What I've Been up to: Part 1

Morning at the Cathedral - Tucson, AZ
Acrylic on Canvas - 2013
While in Tucson, I enjoyed the weird juxtapositions of architecture and infrastructure there. An old diner across from a glass bank building, a carnival-colored parking garage next to the glorious cathedral, old warehouses and breathtaking mountains. So I started a series of paintings investigating these types of architectural phenomena. I purposely left out people and cars in order to focus on the buildings, bits of infrastructure and flora. This all culminated in my solo show, “Fresh Eyes on the Old Town” at Contreras Gallery in Tucson. What struck me was that it was received well, not for the reasons I intended, but because people are pre-nostalgic for the town which has not fully disappeared yet.

Laundry Day - Greenpoint, Brooklyn
Oil on Canvas - 2015
Now that I’m back in New York, I’m again fascinated by the buildings I see and weird combinations
of buildings, fences, fire escapes, trees and so forth. So, I’ve started painting scenes that I think are unusual still lives of neighborhood elements. This series has, like the Tucson paintings, found its own life once it reaches viewers. I’ve again touched up on the nostalgia of a quickly changing area; this time North Brooklyn. As row houses are demolished in favor of glass towers, people like to see the images of buildings which have defined the area for generations. The audience seems to like the permanence that a painting gives a subject. In a way photos are more permanent than ever since they are digital information instead of physical negatives and paper, but they get lost in the incomprehensible number of images produced daily by everyone, regardless of whether the camera is a DSLR or an iPhone.
Driggs & Manhattan - Greenpoint, Brooklyn
Oil on Canvas - 2015

Regardless of whether the ultimate purpose of these paintings are to explore the urban environment in a particular area, or to document a vanishing neighborhood, I’m excited to be embarking on this project.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Not Too Late to the Game

Cortlandt Alley, Tribeca
Graphite on Bristol
(This is where I often play
 Words with Friends)
After spending about six years away from New York between my time in the Army and my time in Tucson, Arizona, I returned to my adopted hometown this past January. Along with getting settled in a place to live and finding a day job to sustain me financially for the time being, I’m wrestling with new artistic ideas and putting together a body of work that is relevant in New York City. I have to get up to speed with and wrap my head around the various art worlds here.  Finally, I must get my art operation up and running again (including this blog).

And so I’ve been chipping away at an accelerating rate, in fits and starts. But, when it all becomes overwhelming, I can distract myself with a frustration worthy of distracting me from the concerns of someone breaking into a merciless artistic culture at the center of the universe; Words with Friends. You know the game. You’ve played it, have seen other people play it or have been invited to play it on Facebook. I admit that I’m late to the game, literally. And because everyone that I play against has been playing much longer than I, I find myself on the losing end of these games almost 100% of the time.

At first I took this personally. I questioned my level of literacy. I questioned the basic assumption that I am an intelligent and generally competent person. My girlfriend, who introduced me to the game and regularly trounces me, comforted me with the fact that a lot of the game depends on a knowledge of Scrabble specific two letter words. I also play against a pal of mine from Tucson with whom I used to play chess and saw the potential for strategy in the game. Before long, I was competitive if not winning. All my frustration from taking up this pastime later than most others melted away as I caught up to the pack by actively engaging in the game, observing those who are successful, and being open to learning.

And yes, there is a lesson I’ve learned here. Rather than be intimidated by being away from the City for so long and being a man approaching middle age, self-taught in a sea of young MFA grads, I move forward and rebuild my artistic life here. Appropriately, after getting me hooked on Words with Friends my girlfriend also brought to my attention the proverb “The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago, the second best time is now.”