Saturday, November 17, 2012

O'Toole Discusses Bruce Nauman And Latest Work

On Tuesday the 13th, I was privileged to attend the sold out and overflowed interview of Bruce Nauman by Modern chief curator Michael Auping. On Wednesday, the 14th, Irish Lion Media asked to interview me about my impression of the evening, and about Nauman's work as it relates to my own work.

Interview of Bruce Nauman by Michaelo Auping at the Modern in Fort Worth.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Glenn Ligon - Post America

Tuesday Night Lectures At The Modern featured a discussion with Glenn Ligon and curator Scott Rothkopf on February 7th. The talk was a great introduction to and preview of Ligon's upcoming exhibit at The Modern in Fort Worth, "AMERICA" which runs February 12 through June 3, 2012.

Viewing Ligon's paintings online is as unjust to the work as trying to understand Rothko's work in that manner. What looks like very minimal surfaces with text worked into the composition are, in fact, beautiful paintings with wonderful brushwork. But beyond the obvious truth that to understand a painting you must "stand under a painting," the takeaways for me from the discussion were as follows:

Ligon's comment about why he focused his paintings in text based work was that, "though I had a facility for painting I knew there had to be more thought involved. The work had to be more about ideas...."

For Ligon those ideas have been about politics, race relations, sexuality and looking beyond the current mindset attributed to these topics toward a point in time, if not the present, where such notions no longer produce tension or worse, violence. It should be so for all of us.

In relation to my own art this reminds me that my thoughts and themes should always be focused on ideas of what matters. That is, what really matters... for eternity. The paintings, sculptures and digital files will fade away. The reason for their creation and the impact that they make are the only lasting reality associated with them. And even those have a limited lifespan if not dedicated to the same purpose for which I was created.

As to the second takeaway from Ligon's lecture, during the Q&A a question was asked about a phrase coined by Ligon which refers to the hope of having moved passed such labels. That phrase was "post-black."

I shall nest my thoughts about his meaning in this regard with references to a book I had, until recently, long meant to read but neglected. That book by C. S. Lewis is
Mere Christianity. Within the argument concerning the existence of God and the question of evolution, Lewis sides not only on the belief in God's existence, but unlike many Christian writers on the side of evolution as a matter of fact as well. The interesting element in this is that when touching on the question of man's next evolutionary step, Lewis made his opinion quite clear. "It has already occurred. It occurred two thousand years ago." But, unlike the expected physical mutations involving bigger brains or what have you, the change was on a spiritual level and unlike any previous evolutionary jump which typically was passed on from parent to offspring is instead, purely voluntary. This change, which starts with the individuals choice to bow their will to the indwelling of The Creator God and continues into the afterlife, whatever that may be, results in creatures in this world and beyond that I would dare emulate Ligon in referring to as...
POST-HUMAN. May it be so for us all.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Thomas Versus Damien

Thomas versus Damien

It seems odd that such a chasm should form in thought about two artists of such disparate styles and yet popular opinion be so similar from nearly polar opposites. Audiences love one and disdain the other, and there seem to be large camps at either end of the spectrum.

Thomas Kincaide, the self acclaimed “painter of light” is best known for his color intense, luxuriously painted cozy landscapes inhabited by houses that posses an internal glow visible through every window. Kincaide, a devout Christian, attempts to express his beliefs in an inspiring and warm style in these technically masterful paintings.

However, this attempt to impart spirituality through his art has not endeared him to many critics, and has made him the object of ridicule among many so-called “high art” circles. I will come back to this shortly.

The work of Damien Hirst leans darkly in the other direction. Diamond encrusted human skulls, sharks and calves encased in formaldehyde are the most frequently mentioned of his vast body of work based primarily on the subject of death. The overall Hirst portfolio is sculptural in nature and masterful in execution.

Hirst's works is widely acclaimed by critics and he is noted as the wealthiest of Britain's artists. Yet, his aesthetic is one that disturbs many viewers.

I admire both of these artists for their excellent execution of their individual techniques, their business savvy, and their prolific production. However, it is doubtful I would want to own work by either of them. Kincaide's work is too bucolic and, for the lack of a better word, traditional and Hirst's work is too depressing and dark. If I were to emulate either of them it would be Kincaide, but only for his outspokenness about his faith.

Critics and others within most art circles dismiss Kincaide because of his statement of faith. Yet they applaud Hirst for his statement of the obvious. Whether you are talking about animal or vegetable, death eventually occurs. Not really a news flash, Damien.

Thomas, on the other hand, speaks of another inevitability, Life. Yet, this is Life with a capital "L". That which enfuses all around it with light and that other "L" word. Love. Love which comes from knowing the creator of the universe, and understanding who He is.

The critics have made their choice. I choose Life, and if it came down to it, I would choose Kincaide over Hirst.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Return of the Ranter

Okay if I am the AUDACIOUS ARTIST, I should get to talk about whatever I feel like. For all of you who were hoping I would make this strictly about art so you could monetize my blog by putting your art supply ads in here....forget it! (At least until we can negotiate the per click rate.)

If I want to talk about how the Dallas Cowboys should have done something about drafting a front line before the player union negotiation year, I will.... even though that is news to no one.

If I feel like panning a movie because I didn't like the book it was based on...well spoiler alert or not it's in here. By the way, whose lame notion was it that an art blog couldn't be about all the arts; not just visual? Hello (knock, knock) movies are visual...and so much more. I love a good story. If I liked the story I want to see the movie, if only to see how badly they mucked it up. And yes, J.K. Rowling deserves to make yet another billion dollars for creating the Potter series. Who else do you know in recent history who has inspired that many kids to read? Of course, I'd like to see Terry Pratchett get his as well for the Disc World series, but that is a whole different rant.

Here is a few topics you can expect to hear about, not that I am limiting myself to these or any others.

I told you about loving stories already and of course movies. Give yourself a gold star if you notice this paragraph is bordering on redundant already. I also enjoy TV, though some of the stories are predictable and formulaic. I will sometimes talk about my faves.

I love women, but since this is not a porno blog, I will probably describe my fondness for the female form under the thin disguise of "life drawings" or "best photographic lighting results."

I rather enjoy good food, but unless I have an unusually excellent or equally horrific dining experience I will not be talking about the mundane act of eating. And if you are interested, ask me about my "No effort diet plan." I'm not sure how well it works yet, but I haven't had to put much effort into it at all.

As I have mentioned in previous writings posted right here, I am also very fond of video games. Here is another art-form that combines visual, audio and storytelling like movies. The plus is that with video games, you get to interact and become part of the process of telling or revealing the story. I will be talking about a few of my favorites in the posts to come....if I am not too busy PLAYING.

I do love the visual arts. As much as I enjoy visiting galleries and museums to view other artists' work, I most enjoy making art. The process is exhilarating. I will talk more in depth on my own process, but will happily discuss the techniques of other artists as well. Keep a sharp eye out for my new training series "Tricks and Techniques of the Successful Self Taught Artist," out on DVD this fall.

The main thing I am passionate about, and I hope I do not sound too militant on this subject, is the value of art. I do not only mean the dollar amount attached to purchasing art, but the importance of art to our society, culture, education and ultimately our future. We are meant to be creative beings, but in our day to day struggles to scratch out our survival we sometimes forget that. Art and more specifically artists help us to remember and reconnect with that purpose. I want to encourage you (my fellow creative beings) to create, to appreciate the creative spirit within those around you and live with as many reminders of this as you can create or afford to place in your home. Much, much more on this later.

That's all for now. Tune in next time (subscribe to make sure you are here next time) for my take on the issue of Thomas vs. Damien.


Ken O'Toole is an abstract experimental artist represented in North Texas (DFW) by Haley Henman Gallery.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Sustaining Artists Exhibition Opens

This weekend the 1st Annual Sustaining Artists and Their Environment Juried Exhibition will hold their opening reception and awards ceremony. The work of artists from across North Texas will be displayed. These artists answered a call to express their answers to these questions. "What sustains you as an artist? What renews, restores and regenerates your creative energies and keeps you making art in these trying times.

To view images of these works we have provided a video, and links to the works online at

Sunday, August 8, 2010


I am interested in how perception is affected, translated, expressed and how that result becomes the basis for most experience. We rely so much on what we can see even with the knowledge that techniques of illusion cause two dimensional paintings to fool the senses and appear three dimensional. I am also interested in how these same techniques, whether it be layering, foreshortening, perspective or color temperature affect perception when applied to three dimensional objects.

I challenge the notion that something has to be difficult to create in order to be ambiguous or interesting. Photo shoots do not have to involve travel to exotic locations to arouse our imagination and sensualities. So, I look at playful, simple ways to express this.

Starting with a large stack of old magazines that I planned to harvest images from for collage and digital creations, I quickly progressed to the idea of making a room full of origami figures from these pages. However, I was arrested by the fact that the remnants of the pages were just as beautifully colored as the origami squares themselves. So, I worked to find a fold for these leftovers that would produce a useable shape.

I formed a Zen garden from some and twisted others into what resembled a sculpture exhibit. I even used the sliver size trimmings to assemble what reminded me of the gunpowder paintings of Cai Gou-Qiang. However, I was most enamored with a simple compound "M" fold that stood readily on its own. Soon, I had hundreds of these sturdy shapes covering my desk and countertop. I had my unique photo-op.

As interesting and whimsical as the emerging images were, I felt they needed a more static format to give them their own place in reality. So, I began fixing them to various supports to archive the effects. This flowed very naturally into the idea of using specific palettes for additional 3-D collages.

As an abstract expressionist, much of my work involves creating a visual vocabulary to express what cannot always be communicated verbally or in a traditionally recognized narrative, specifically spiritual experience. So as I began to cut and fold some of my drip and pour paintings on paper into more "M's", it was exciting to see how the numerous resulting surfaces resembled character sets. These "language modules," as it were, soon created extended abstract texts.

Additionally, when these sturdy shapes are linked together they form a viable foundation. This makes these under-works a wonderful metaphor as they also support and extend my use of action painting techniques.

Finally, as the paper constructs are painted with the same palette and gestures as the underlying canvas or wood support, the combination creates an illusion of the painting extending itself. This challenges one's perception as it blurs the line between what is a two dimensional and a 3-D object.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Breathing Life

Okay, so how can artists breathe life into their creations? It would seem impossible to share or give something you do not posses. Saving the discussion of what constitutes life for another time, let’s consider two ways that life is imparted.

While it may seem I am banging you over the head with my core beliefs, I want to simply state the first, which will lead naturally to the second. Whether you believe in the Creator God or not, if you have ever created anything worthwhile or of permanence, you have had a “GOD MOMENT.” Some refer to divine inspiration, while others give credit to a muse, and most are unable to function productively without either. My favorite reference for this is “Unless The Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it,” (Psalms 127:1.) You may well perform all the acts associated with giving birth, artistically or literally, yet unless the source of all life is participating, no life is possible.

So the argument that many non-believer artists perform and produce living art would seem to negate the first assumption. However, consider how in Genesis, God made a sculpture of a man and then breathed His own life into the form to make it a living creature. God put part of Himself into His creation. Therefore, I also assert that if you have ever created anything worthwhile or of permanence; a living thing, you have given a part of yourself to that creation, regardless of your beliefs.