September 19, 2015

Administrator’s Note: Last month I had the pleasure of mentoring a young Chinese artist named Mei Tou Chan during her first visit to the United States. I had prepared a two-week seminar for her on the “relationship between art theory and important painting practices of the late 19th Century through mid-20th Century.” My goal for Mei Tou was to explore some essential painters and, as my syllabus further states, “touch upon the ideas that empowered their painting, supported by a selection of readings by critics and art historians, along with commentary by the instructor, to further educate the student’s theoretical knowledge and practical studio experience …”

Mei Tou truly exceeded my expectations, completing over 20 paintings and drawings and delivering an excellent essay on Jackson Pollock. I have posted the entire essay here for my readers’ enjoyment and edification, along with the Letter of Recommendation that I wrote for her and sent to her home back in Macau. Remember her name, because Mei Tou Chan has the potential to become an extraordinary artist in the near future.

UPDATE: I neglected to mention Mei Tou's age: she turned 17 during her visit.

“Jackson Pollock and Action Painting”

Jackson Pollock’s early works are populist series of American rural life, but later he developed an inimitable abstract style, which is different from Impressionism and realistic[s]. Rather than drawing actual objects such as buildings or fruits, abstract painting is a kind of way to express feeling.

Pollock began to do away with recognizable and traditional images, and to drip, splatter and pour paint onto canvas which spread on the floor of his studio, and is called “action painting.”

Under the law of gravity, Pollock understood how the pigments are going to behave in different conditions. When using liquid paints, the painting will have lots of dots, instead of hard straight lines, which also looks like a mop of tangled hair. By dripping and splashing, it helps to spread the paints all over the canvas.

Pollock used multimedia elements in his painting such as different tools for painting and they often have unexpected colours [sic] so as to create a cheerful harmony. Moreover, the strength of dripping the paints by the arm can affect the result. The harder dripping, the denser and thicker the painting gets.

As Pollock painted on the floor, he feel [sic] nearer and comfortable as at home. He used all of the floor and walked around to his work and paint, and be a part of the painting. He wrote “I feel more at home, more at ease in a big area, having a canvas on the floor, I feel nearer, more a part of a painting.”

Through the paintings, we can see dancers’ movement or music rhythm. We can imagine the motion and gesture of the painter. Moreover, we can feel how the painter’s feeling by the dots and lines, whether he [is] sad or energetic in the painting, using the colors to represent himself.

It was my first time to have [sic] "action painting." I found fun and freedom throughout this period when painting. There is no limitation and I paint whatever I feel in my heart and brain.

After painting yesterday, I deeply understand what Pollock means "When I am in my painting, I'm not aware of what I'm doing...the painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through." Just follow the heart and do what it wants, maybe the consequence is astounding. Don't care if the painting is aesthetic.

It was such a great experience to learn "action painting." Though it was hard to understand abstract painting, people can feel the emotional expression from the painting. I feel very glad and am very privileged to have a thoughtful and patient, Professor Boyd to teach me things I have never learned before.

Mei Tou Chan
August 21, 2015

September 8, 2015

To whom it may concern:

I am writing this Letter of Recommendation for Mei Tou Chan who studied painting and art theory with me in Washington, D.C. during her first visit to the U.S.A. in August 2015.

I am an artist, independent curator and art educator with 19 years of experience teaching college-level coursework in painting, drawing, design and art theory at many institutions, including George Washington University, Corcoran College of Art and Design and the University of Maryland in the metro D.C. area. Mei Tou is my wife’s Grandniece, and after viewing her paintings last year while visiting family in Macau, R.O.C., I was so impressed with the maturity of her paintings that we invited her to come to the U.S. to study painting with me.

I knew Mei Tou was an intelligent and talented young artist who had created a strong body of representational work in landscape and still-life painting in classes she undertook through her own diligence as an extra-curricular activity. Mei Tou’s rendering ability and observational skills are remarkable for her age and will undoubtedly continue to develop if she pursues Realist painting. My goal of the two-week seminar that I designed for Mei Tou was to introduce her to Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, and the painting theories that evolved to Modernism to show her that abstraction can be another way to reveal subjective expression as an artist.

My seminar, Theories of Painting: From Impressionism to Action Painting, was designed to teach Mei Tou about the relationships of theory and practice in late 19th to mid-20th Century painting and the significant painters of this period. Her studies included tours of the National Gallery of Art, Smithsonian American Art Museum and Baltimore Museum of Art, accompanied by my lectures as we viewed paintings by Monet, Seurat, Van Gogh, Matisse, Pollock and others. Mei Tou also was given reading assignments and asked to apply what she learned in this seminar in two written essays on painting theory and practice, and to create her own paintings in practical studio assignments.

In my role as Mei Tou’s mentor, I was delighted to discover that she has a genuine appreciation and curiosity for fine art, art history and theory. I also observed how quickly Mei Tou comprehended complex theories like “pointillism” and “action painting.” Mei Tou’s ability to communicate her thoughts effectively in writing was evidenced in her written assignments, and her essay on Jackson Pollock was particularly exceptional. She was also able to clearly express how her theory studies enhanced her experience in the studio, and how those relationships helped her learn about abstract painting. Her sensitivity and eloquence in conveying the connection between the readings, our museum talks, and her studio time creating abstractions were quite wonderful to read. Moreover, she exceeded my expectations by producing eight paintings in three days of studio time during her two-week seminar. 

In my view, the paintings that Mei Tou made and the essays she wrote are worthy efforts for one so young and they hold the promise of great possibilities for a future career for her, either in the arts, academia or art education. The verbal and written communication skills that Mei Tou has exhibited in this seminar, combined with her developing practice as a painter, would make her an excellent candidate for further studies in college-level Fine Arts or an academic pursuit of her choice, and she has my enthusiastic and unwavering support. 

I am available for correspondence via email or cellular at for additional information or assistance on behalf of Mei Tou Chan.   

Mark Cameron Boyd

Image: Untitled, mixed media on canvas, H16 x W20 inches. 
© Copyright 2015 by Mei Tou Chan.

May 11, 2015

R.I.P. Chris Burden

Chris Burden, a pioneering body artist, provocateur, sculptor, shaman, professor and postconceptualist, died yesterday in Topanga Canyon, California. He was 69.

I love Burden's work; it had transgression, progression and passion always. I taught his theories for 20 years, how he changed performance and sculpture forever. I have posted often about him and here's a selection:

"Chris's Burden" 10/07

"Mining the Vain" 10/08

"An (Un)Burdened Prescence" 11/13

April 29, 2015

Watching Us Watching: Social Practice Endgame

A stand of metal bleachers, devoid of ornament or fanfare, occupy one of the Corcoran Museum’s galleries, not facing “out” at us viewers but aimed at an empty wall. Maximum capacity is listed as 50, and we are allowed to sit there, but it’s also possible that no one will be seated on any day that you encounter this work.

Versus is the Thesis Project of Eliot Hicks and it’s included in NEXT 2015, an exhibition of the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design’s BFA candidates under the auspices of George Washington University’s Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. As an example of pre-fabricated, industrial metalwork the bleachers are formidable in their understated structure and humble detail. But it is as an artwork that this object challenges both the novice museum visitor who may question it’s very presence there, as well as the visitor familiar with theories of art now over 100 years old. After all, Versus is a readymade and it must bear the weight of Marcel Duchamp’s original concept.

Eliot understands the responsibilities of this burden and readily acknowledges Duchamp’s legacy. Moreover, he speaks of “how manufactured objects allow for a shift in the reception and production of art objects.” However, because many museum visitors will now accept commercial objects appropriated as art, a young artist like Eliot Hicks must add something unique to the readymade experience.

This is where Versus excels because this pref-fab object’s functional use is manifested through action; the true purpose of the bleachers is completed when we sit on them. Like Marx said, “A dress becomes really a dress only by being worn.” Thus, these bleachers are “an object for the active subject.”(1)

During Eliot’s Final Critique last week, one faculty member remarked that Versus might represent the “endgame of social practice art.” In his written Thesis Statement Eliot has envisioned viewers “witnessing the activity that had been stolen from them.” Versus certainly encourages visitor participation, an important methodology of social practice, and Eliot wants the bleachers to be used, whether we sit, or watch others sitting there.

A readymade’s presence in a museum context requires a contemporary artist’s precision of address. Positioning these bleachers facing a blank wall causes us to ask, “What are occupants supposed to be watching?” Does this obscure Eliot’s wish for us to see the occupants as ourselves, thereby “witnessing the activity?” Rather, one might have turned the bleachers inward, to face us in the gallery, to better imagine ourselves as spectators, viewing spectators who are watching us viewing.

In response to further questions, Eliot spoke of “spectatorship” and how museum visitors would be “addressing their own perception/interpretation, while activating the symbol (the bleachers) that represents them (their action, or lack thereof) and what they're doing, spectating.”

Perhaps this is why Eliot named this piece Versus, suggesting options for his readymade’s positional address and introducing one more topic for our engagement. It has been said that the contradictions within a work make it possible for us to engage it in the first place.(2) The subtleties of positioning and the address of the spectator, the circularity of our spectatorship, and the legacy of the readymade in the 21st Century – all these have made Versus a standout piece in NEXT 2015, and Eliot Hicks an artist to watch.  

IMAGE: Versus (2015), aluminum bleachers, dimensions variable; © Copyright by Eliot Hicks; photo courtesy of Corcoran School of the Arts and Design.

1. Marx, Karl. A Contribution to a Critique of Political Economy, Moscow: Progress Publishers, (1859) 1977, 196.

2. Lee, Weng Choy. “Authenticity, Reflexivity, and Spectacle: or, the Rise of New Asia is not the End of the World” in Theory in Contemporary Art Since 1985; Oxford: Blackwell Publishing; 2005, 251.