Thursday, January 29, 2015

Ghost in the machine Pt. 1 an Introduction

For a along time I have wrestled very deeply with my aversion to contemporary art.

The first question that always came to bear whenever I talked about my wrestling with the eternal "why" of painting and the contemporary was, oddly enough; "why". Why care? Couldn't you just ignore it if you don't want to be part of it?

The short answer is no. The long answer is incredibly long, but the medium length answer is that contemporary art has always been the grain of sand in the oyster of my understanding.

God. That's horrible to look at isn't it? 

That sounds kinda icky, so let me put it another way.

I have always understood things in terms of systems and categories. Whenever I undertake a new project, especially if the subject is complex, I first spend a lot of energy attempting to learn the system by which it operates. The mechanical side of painting was very much like that, and my training made it doubly so. The idea that all the values in a given subject can be organized into three (called 3 general tones) and further broken down into another three for each given area of tone (a light middle, a medium middle, and dark middle) instantly appealed to my understanding of how to approach subjects of nearly infinite complexity.

Likewise the ability to break colors down into Munsell notation, or the ability to think of color as existing in a three-dimensional "color space", was extraordinarily helpful in pushing my ability to render objects in a way that replicated reality. This was fundamental in pushing my painting style toward that of tromp l'oeil which now comprises 90% of my work.

My name is Frank. Sometimes I paint stuff.

A system of thought is a lot like a system of language. It allows us to describe and categorize things in a way that we can understand and utilize to get things done.

Now imagine you come across something that there is literally, no words for. It is not even like anything you have a word for. In contemporary philosophy, this is referred to as a "singularity". And by most accounts of such things exists throughout history (like the first time people saw men riding horses in combat, or when gunpowder was first used on the battlefield) it is often met with fear, terror and panic.

Not to say that I run screaming from a building any time I see a painting by Jenny Saville, but the effect is not dissimilar to the aforementioned grain of sand. It's profoundly irritating.

Actually, I might run screaming 
from this one

Also, this is not to say that the individual works of art themselves are irritating (although that happens) but that the very idea of the "contemporary" itself does not fit within the system of art as I have come to understand it. It is the equivalent of listing the primary colors as "red, yellow, blue, and scream" or listing a values in a painting as "light, middle, dark, and scarf."

It would also be one thing if this singular anomaly were isolated. But it's not. Being an artist who is profoundly interested in the systems of art, you simply cannot interact with anything art related with out bumping into it on a regular basis (perhaps a more appropriate analogy would be it smacking you in the face with a wet fish on a regular basis). Inevitably if you are hit in face with enough wet fish when walking through a desert, you eventually begin to wonder, "Where the are all the fish coming from?" And also, "Why the fuck are there even fish flying through the air all the way out in the desert anyway?

I have wrestled with this problem over and over. And I think I have an answer but it is a complicated one. It is a synthesis of history, theory, language and even a little money and class thrown in to boot. The posts in this series entitled "The Ghost in the Machine" will eventually become the basis for a book I am in the process of writing entitled "The Architecture of the New and the Phenomenon of the Avante-Garde." I'll attempt to make it as theory light and humor heavy as possible.

I'll also have pictures of bunnies from time to time:


Watch this space.

Genius out.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Cup of coffee, pet the bunny and spin around three times.

For the next 40 minutes I am alone.

Well, that is ostensibly alone. The little one is asleep upstairs sprawled across the bed, sleeping. (not entirely unlike her mother). For the first time in along time I have not only the time, but the impetus to actually write something. I also have the uncanny need to insert as many obscure adjectives into the sentence as I am capable.


Over the last few weeks and months I have become more more aware of how important the rituals around things are becoming to me. So much of my desire to do something is dependent on all the steps that come before it. In order to shave I have to shower. In order to sit and watch television I have to eat something. In order to paint miniatures I have to make a cup of tea first. These things in fact seem so interconnected to the activity itself that they have actually become part of that activity.

I suspect this is my latent OCD manifesting itself in a less destructive manner. Instead of repeating line of a song over and over and over, (or words that have a funny sound or hand motions, or whatever I get stuck on) the ritual of doing things not only prepares me for the activity, but puts me in the mindset of "it is time to do x".

It reminds me a lot of the time I spent at university. Where the early forms of these rituals became. Every wednesday I would clean the room, shower, write for an hour and walk to the bookstore. where I would have two cups of coffee and then walk back home, work on a painting for three hours and then go have a beer. Every week, without fail. I woke up at the same time, and did copious amounts of work that way.

Fast forwarding a few (nearly ten?) years and I see echoes of these early routines throughout my day. I no longer drink earl grey, but I do drink black tea. I don't clean the house the same way, but I do clean my studio before I work; and so on and so forth.

PG Tips. Breakfast (and occasionally lunch and dinner)
 of champions (and people who forget to eat)

One thing that strikes me however is that I'm not working. Well, I am teaching (which any teacher can tell you, is an enormous amount of work) but I'm not actually painting. I suspect this is because my need for ritual has be supplanted by the needs of my daughter. I.e. food, changing, making funny sounds and sleeping. Her routine is still developing, but for the first time in a long time, I actually feel like I might be developing the routine necessary to get back to work. Cup of coffee, check the email, organize the studio, pet the bunny twice and so on. It's still in its early stages, but its here.

In the meantime I've also realized how much pressure there is on being a painter. Most of it coming from within. The need not just to paint, but make good paintings. I've painted a lot since last march (when I completed "Above and Below") but none of it has been on canvas. It's all been on tiny soldiers. I think because most all, my hobby retained some of it integrity as my life, house and studio was thrown into upheaval once we knew we were having Charlotte. On my modeling desk, very little, (if anything) changed. Granted I have less time to do it, but the rituals persisted, the space endured, and the activity continued.

"Above and Below" 
14" x 14" 
oil on board

It's my full intention (and has always been my full intention) to continue with the blogging. At one point, I blogged (such a funny work "blogged") once a week again, without fail. But as my work life went haywire when my employers recognized that I could be taken advantage of with very little pushback, my time for the ritual that led to blogging was pushed aside and, inevitably, my writing disappeared.  I think I can fix this, since I think i have recognized that the steps prior to take-off are as important as the plane actually lifting off.

I know this particular blog entry is terribly straight forward. But for the first time in long time, the weariness and anxiety of both parenthood and career are both asleep upstairs. Its almost as if where 10 minutes ago I was eyeballs deep in the weeds and now all of a sudden my hands are free. Time to put those hands to work and make some paintings.

But first, I'll have a cup of coffee and a biscuit pet the bunny and spin around three times. Or whatever.

Friday, February 14, 2014

2 seconds

Had a baby. Well not me, but my wife had a baby. I was there. It was awesome.

Got a big post in the works but I need some more time for refinement to make sure its just right. Plus, theres the baby thing... so yeah.

New stuff incoming very soon, watch this space.

-teh genius who is also really good at spelling.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Exquisite rapture.

From the time I was in highschool, every 4-5 years I'd shave my head.

Originally, it grew out of the fact that I liked to mess with my hair color. Sometimes this worked out very well, and I looked awesome. However sometimes this did not work out very well and the powers that be, (my mother, my principle and church) found my method of self expression "troubling". I would then get suspended, or grounded or excommunicated and chased by short fat women with pitchforks.


So shortly after somebody cried "It's a witch! May we burn him?!", I would get myself hauled off to a barber and get the whole thing chopped down to the nub, where the white/purple/red/ whatever remnants of color I still sported would slowly fade into memory.

As I grew this eventually this got to be habit. I stopped dying my hair very shortly after graduating high school, and still, every few years I would get the urge to to completely remove whatever was happening on top and start fresh.

But now that I'm older, I'm beginning to appreciate every follicle that holds onto its tiny existence on my head and I don't feel that accelerating my progress to total chromdomary is beneficial to my self esteem. The wife isn't a fan either. But the need for a refocusing every 5-6 years still exists and its roots go deep into my psyche. The head shaving was really a way for my take off everything that I had been attached to before (because your hair is important when your in high school) and start from ground zero. To really ask myself, "enough of what I as before. What do I want to be now?"


In ten years I went from living in a flat in London to being a unemployed aspiring artist in Southern California. I've since been trained in painting and drawing, taught other people to draw and paint, gotten married, moved, adopted 5 rabbits and a puppy, bought a house, started playing world of warcraft, quit playing world of warcraft, started and quit again. I've painting nearly 200 2 inch soldiers, become an accomplished Tromp l'oeil painter, exhibited my work all over the United States and very soon now will be a father. Considering the amount of changes I've left out, the amount of flux and accomplishment is staggering.

Do you remember when you were a kid and you used to take a magnifying glass and adjust it so that all the sunlight condensed into a single spot? About 10 years ago I was writing my masters thesis. It remains the time in my life that I was the most focused. In last ten year years, changes and the need to accommodate new situations, new demands on my time and new frustrations with people who don't know their ass from their elbow has gradually, and ever so slowly, caused the magnifying glass of my attention to grow. Because of that I feel dispersed and my attention no longer has that laser-like focus.

Might wannna check that lens out....

Creativity for my has always come in waves. And out flowing of work and then a pull back and refocusing. It's time for a pull back. I'm back to writing. I'm back to painting. So that once again:

Every morning when I wake up
I experience an exquisite joy.

The joy of being Frank Krifka.

And I ask myself in rapture,
What amazing thing
will this Frank Krifka
Do today?

Watch this space.


Tuesday, February 26, 2013


Sometimes painting is like trying to squeeze a fat guy into a small can of tomatoes.

 Why do my eyes burn?

Why one would want to squeeze said fat guy into a a tomato can is irrelevant and pointless. But a task such as this at times seems impossible: fat guys do not belong in cans of tomatoes. But after huffing and puffing, cajoling and begging, you eventually realize you are stupid for trying to get a 300 pound man into a can that is only 8 ounces.

And then you get a bigger can.

That might just do it!

For the last, oh I dunno, year or two I have been focusing almost entirely on miniatures. That is to say, paintings under 8" x10". Make no mistake I adore, simply adore painting small. In fact 8" x 10" seems like a hugely unfathomable space when I think that most of my recent work has easily been half that size.

It really amazing how ingrained you get to working in a particular way or particular style. When I was working at Mission: Renaissance I don't think I fully comprehended how my concept of a still life was tied to three the, "3 objects on a medium value cloth (or dark value if you're feeling adventurous)" aesthetic.

Once I began working on my own it seemed all I could produce was some sort of variation on that theme. I completed maybe 8-10 paintings before I realized that I was simply painting the same painting over and over. The only difference between them was perhaps a different color or two maybe different objects. In short I was bored.

So I sat down and began to look at my painting methods.

1. I had always used an open pallette, with secondary colors mixed from primaries.

Once I started to push my boundaries in subject matter I actually found my mixing habits to be a handicap. Being that I wanted to get a way from my previous idea of "still-life" I began to heavily restrict my use of color and get a tighter control on my light. I found that my previous method of mixing colors (by mixing two or more color's together to get a general hue and then mixing a compliment to get   a proper chroma) using my brush, resulted is slight variations within the local.

For those of you who don't speak painter.

 Instead of getting this:

If you blow your nose and you see this you're
probably sick

I got this:

If you see this, you're probably dead 
and turning into a zombie

This is fine if you are painting impressionism or abstracts where precise control over color isn't really an issue. In fact, when painting this way you get a color almost by accident. Generally speaking I was trained to think about color like this:

Your basic run-of-the-mill
color wheel of death

The more I attempted to push for a precise communication of color I needed a way of thinking about color, value and intensity in a way that was more descriptive. In short I needed to expand my color vocabulary.

I started experimenting with a "closed palette" that is to say I began mixing strings of colors using pre-tubed neutrals on a scale of 1-10.

Why do I taste paint?

When I wanted to mix for a particular area I would first mix for the color and then add an amount of grey to whatever value I needed. So instead of thinking about red as I did above, I began thinking about it like so:

I think the red square is just about right.

In short, color went from a wheel, to a three directional globe ascending in value and growing in chroma as it moves out from the center:

Looks delicious doesn't it?

Occasionally the problem you are facing requires that you re-evaluate the tools you are using. in this case the problem of painting (fat guy in leotard, see above) requires a re-evaluation of the tools at hand (can of tomatoes, see above). 

Tools are only tools because they are useful.  If they are not, all your left with is a fat guy standing on a can of squashed tomatoes. 

The picture of the fat guy in tomato sauce 
was too horrible to include. So here is a baby
in tomato sauce to make up for the leotard picture earlier.

Your welcome.


Monday, November 26, 2012

Wrestling with Angels

Yeah, so I've been gone a while.

In my defense, I've been crazy busy, yo. Between straight razor buying, show preparing and whatnot, I've bought a house, moved into it and hosted events parent, in-laws and all the other things that make you an adult.

I have not been painting much.

And it horrifies me. Horrifies me! I lay in bed at night and suddenly the urge to to be a painter, to draw, to glaze and varnish comes up deep within me and then… I fall asleep. I have thought about this a tremendous amount the last few days. Between my time shooting space aliens in the head on distant words (Starcraft) and organizing the forest legions against chaos (Warhammer) and looking for where I put that goddamn drill bit (under the magazines near the utility panel) my thoughts are chew chew chewing on the gristle of a single problem:


It has occurred to me in that few weeks/months that I know how to paint. In my own opinion very well.  but I have little to no clue about how to be a painter. I have wrestled with this problem for a good long while now.

I have always contended that painting was an angel and I have been, up to this point, Jacob; wrestling with my intention through a long night.

It should come as no surprise that the story of Jacob and angel has been visited numerous times in painting. From Rembrandt:

Rembrandt's version, "Jacob hugs an angel"

To Gauguin
Gauguin's version, "Angel noogies"

The actual passage in the Old Testament is very short, not more than a paragraph. But it's one of those few events in the biblical stories where everything changes. Of all the bible stories I remember as a child I can recall very few that can be thought of in terms of "before this point" and "after this point" in such stark terms. Yes, Jesus fed a bunch a of people. But he did that all the time. Yes, Paul sent a ground breaking letter to the infant church. He sent a few of those. But in that particular story, Jacob literally awoke one man and went to bed another.

As the story goes, Jacob wrestled with the angel all night and in the morning, as neither one had the upper hand, the angel reached down and dislocated Jacob's hip. Then the angel said, "Let me go, it is daybreak". Jacob refuses unless the

And Jacob refused. Exhausted after a full night of wrestling with an opponent of otherworldly strength, a literally unbeatable foe, Jacob continued wrestling. His opponent reach own and then literally wrenched his hip from its socket. And still, Jacob, sleep deprived, physically exhausted and in pain refused to submit. Not only did he refuse submission he agreed to stop attempting to kick the angels ass only if the angel agreed to bless him.

To be honest I have always prided myself on my tenacity. But I have to admit that my strength is fading. Gift for painting or not. Unrealistic expectations or not. At this point I am feeling Less like this:

Alexander Leloir, "Jacob Wrestling with
the Angel" 1865

And more like this

Monty Python, "Monty Python and 
the Holy Grail" 1975

The story says nothing of how Jacobs feels. Only that he wrestled and prevailed. I think I know. For those readers who know me and have endeavored to ask, "What's it like to be painter?" You know. for those of you who read this that I haven't met, or don't paint and what to know what it's like. Try arm wrestling yourself. It feels much like that.

In the beginning it's nothing but a wrestling match. Against yourself. And so, As I contemplate running away, giving up my blessing and staying Jacob forever a part of me, armless and legless whispers;

"Get back here you bloody coward. I'm going to bite your legs off."

Monday, September 17, 2012

Deep Blue

When I was 6, I fell in the pool.

My father and I were outside on a cool, November day somewhat early in the morning. The pool we had was large by backyard pool standards; 20 feet long, 10 feet wide and 10 feet deep. My father held my hand as we walked around the pools edge and he was telling me about how they were going to take all the water out of it the next day.

I thought what he was telling me was boring.

Then I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, something floating on the surface, maybe a foot and a half from the edge. I don't clearly remember what it was, but what I do clearly remember was that I had to have it, and I had to have it right then.

I let go of my father's hand and got down on my hands and knees.

"Don't Fall In." Came my fathers voice from behind me.

I reached. It was floating there. Just beyond my fingertips.

"Don't Fall In Franko." From behind me again.

I stretched.

Almost there…

I stretched again.

Almost there.


And suddenly, everything was blue.

Truthfully, it happened so very fast I didn't have time to try and prevent it. One moment, I was on the ground and next I was floating; totally and completely weightless. I didn't even try to struggle. I just hung there; stupidly, a foot under the water.

And then I was out.

My Father had reached out like a holy bolt of lightning from heaven, grabbed me by my winter coat and heaved me from the water with a violent jerk. (Suddenly I was no longer weightless, in fact I weighted nearly twice what I had no more than 17 seconds prior.) Before I had even fully realized what had happened, it was over.

I have long suspected that I suffer from a mild to moderate from of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Sometimes, it is worse than others. Most often it takes the form of insomnia. And it's funny because it's not that I'm not tired. In fact, I'm often incredibly tired. But my mind will not shut down. And I am left with the low hum of an unspecific anxiety.

That hum has become so familiar to me now. I almost don't notice it anymore. It is the grip that won't relax. It a ray of sunshine turned in on itself until it burns paper. And I know it's unspecific and unfounded because it's not what I felt, hanging in blue space under the surface of my pool.

It's what I felt when I saw that thing floating on the surface of the water.

While it happened faster than I had a chance to react, I knew full well what kind of situation I was in while floating weightless in the void. And while I sure as hell was concerned, I wasn't anxious. But when I was walking with my six year old hand in my father's on that November morning and I saw that, thing, floating on the surface of the water I had to take it out of the pool. I could think of nothing else.

Perhaps that is how I know everything is just fine. Because when it matters, I am never worried or anxious. I am only anxious when everything is alright.

Still sucks I can't sleep though.