Mullen Gallery- Student Show
One piece that I felt stood out the most was the one of the cow. It was like none of the other pieces in the whole show. This piece was done with little sections of paper to create this over sized picture of a cow. Cows around here are not a rare sight, but people who live in cities this could be. For myself I have seen a cow but being next to this is like being next to a real cow as funny as that sounds. Luke Dougherty used watercolors created this piece. For this talk I had took it upon myself to email Luke Dougherty to get a few questions answer that I had about the piece, which he did respond to.
The first is the medium Luke used, which is watercolor. I thought that the chose of watercolors was perfect because of the texture it gives to the paper. The subject being a cow means that it has fur and when painting with watercolors you have brush stokes, which lends itself very well for fur. Each block of paper was painted separately and then maneuvered together to create this cow. With each block being painted gives each block a unique look to it because not one brush stoke is the same. The brush strokes show movement and give the cow movement. Along with each block being painted individually there are shadows and light spots and give the cow a sense of depth. From a far view you would think this would be a real cow until you get closer and see all the brush strokes.
When looking at the painting you see the cow looking back at you as if the cow is frozen while looking at you. You don’t know what it is thinking; maybe its nervous, or just have no idea what is going on around it. Looking at how the painting was done, by grid, it started from a photograph first. I have done grids before and how I’ve done it was you take a picture and grid it out then on the paper make an enlarged version of that same grid with the same amount of sections. Then for each section you paint what you see in the picture to make it a larger version of its self.
The first question I had asked Luke Dougherty was why a cow? You don’t see many pieces that have a cow as the main subject and I have found this interesting. You never really see a cow alone they’re always with a group. This cow has an interesting story behind it, Luke Dougherty was photographing cows in a neighbor’s field, and he had made a project of these photos. The cows have this amazing presence, Luke stated, and “they are really quite peaceful and curious, although you do have to be fairly careful about them. Jack, the farmer that lets me photograph his cows is a neighbor with a notorious slob named Arney. Arney raises Jersey cows while Jack raises Belted Galloways. It turns out that Arney let his fence fall into disrepair and one of his Jerseys impregnated one of Jacks Galloways. The white head is Jersey while the black body is Galloway. I liked the idea of a Bastard cow. I think I am a bit of a bastard cow myself.” After reading this email it made the painting so much more than a painting of the cow because it has more meaning behind it with the cow being two different types of cow. When you looked at the painting you know it was a lonely cow until you here its story on how different the cow really is. The first time I saw the cow I thought it was cute and then you keep looking at it, and he’s alone just looking at you.
The second questioned I asked Doughery was why he decided to use a grid. From my view it was because this was a different and easy way to enlarge a picture. One can see he wanted this to be a large painting and the easiest way to blow up a small picture is to block it out and go by each section and redraw it. Also with a grid each piece is important to the whole painting because without one it can through off the whole picture. This may have taken a long time to create but all put together it made a really well done painting of a cow. What he had said to me for the reason was, “The Grid references modernism. In my mind Mondrian started it, and Agnes Martin, Sean Scully, and of course Chuck Close used it in ways that thrill me.” The grid also made the painting a little playful because it had to be put together like a puzzle and showed off the light heartedness of the painting.
Next was why the large size? For me the nice was necessary because it is a cow and it makes it feel really. When I look at this painting you just get this feeling that the size was so important. What Dougherty said was “I painted the image large because I wanted it to have several aspects. Monet's Water Lilies at the MOMA in NYC are very realistic from a distance but as you stand closer to them they turn into abstractions, a beautiful language of marks, tones etc. I love that.” This I find beautiful the fact that he wanted it to be seen as perfect from a far but as you come closer you see that it is not and it is full of loud brush strokes and paper showing through. The only way I feel someone can represent a cow and make it tasteful is to exaggerate it. What I mean by this is if you are going to paint a cow make it a cow. People see cows all the time, but never as a focal point for a piece of art.
One aspect of this painting that I find very important is Dougherty’s use of color. In this painting there are a lot of muted colors and at first I thought that this was because the cow was alone. I thought he wanted you to look at this and feel what the cow was feeling with the dark outside around him. This was not true when I asked Dougherty the question about the use of muted colors. His answer was “The colors are muted because in my opinion muted colors have the most lasting dignity. I work in almost all grey of one sort or another. Bright colors don't grow on you, they are what they are. Think of grey eyes that seem to shift colors depending, this is a really interesting experience. There is also a somber quality to muted, like a minor key, only without the forced drama.” This statement shows me there is truly a lot of thought behind this. That by using all different tones of grey he wanted to create a serene environment so that when you look at his painting you are not over whelmed with the over use of color. I think this make the painting have some sophistication even though it is a cow.
What I find that is very important about this painting is the use of a strong brush stroke. The way he applied the paint really lends its self well for the painting. I think that the strokes show off the fur of the cow, and give it a sense of movement. It also helps with the abstract feeling the Dougherty was trying to create. Dougherty stated that, “strong brushstrokes are exciting to me. Think of Japanese brush painters, the calligraphy of a mark conveys a lot of feeling.” You see this feel that he is talking about with the brush strokes. One can see the movement with his use of large brush strokes.
Last what I feel is important to the cow painting is what Dougherty was feeling at the time. This I feel has something to do with every piece of work. Their needs to be that spark, something that makes you want to create something. Dougherty said I don't know what I was feeling at the time. There is this thing that happens to me, I start to think about an image, maybe the way you start to think about something you are going to write, and the image sticks around, like a piece of furniture I pulled out of the garbage. There is something that I like about it. If I tried to say what, I would just be selling you or myself. I think images come from a place that is aside from verbal reasoning, not better or truer, just different. I think for him knowing the story behind this cow helped him with his idea of the cow painting. I also believe this thought was unconsciously thought of during the time the painting was being created.
I am very excited that I chose this piece and emailed the artist. I know now the really reason for this painting and that is how the cow differs from all the other cows. This painting I found to be different for all the other paintings in the show, it stood out to me. I was very excited when the artist emailed back, and hope he goes far with his art.