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Sargent’s Venice

I have a lot going on this morning but I thought I’d share a lovely video that features the work of John Singer Sargent, focusing on his work, primarily his watercolors, painted in Venice. He visted the city a number of times in his life and held a certain fascination for it which certainly shows up in this work.

I am a fan of most of Sargent’s work but it was his work in watercolor that really hooked me.  His work is filled with light and the looseness of the painting makes it feel immediate and in the present, not as though it were painted 125 years ago. That looseness and the vibrancy of his colors give it an urgency and life. Just plain good stuff.

Take a look and enjoy the light.

Night Life

Another Sunday morning and I am ready for a little music. I was looking at some of the Nocturne paintings of James McNeill Whistler that I so much admire, like the one shown above from  1877, and thought I’d use that as the theme for this week’s music.

There are a lot of songs that use night as a theme but I settled on the classic Night Life written by Willie Nelson back in the late 1950’s. It has been covered by a lot of folks over the years, some good and some not so much. But  for me  while Willie’s version remains the truest and best of the bunch, I am partial to this performance by the great Marvin Gaye. He inserts his own special feeling into the song and the night life he creates is indeed his life. Good stuff.

Give a listen. Enjoy. Have a great day…

 

Sanctus Terrae

I thought that since today is Earth Day I would show this newer painting, an 18″ by 24″ canvas, that I am calling Sanctus Terrae, which translates as sacred land.

Sacred Land.

We like to claim that we hold a certain reverence for the world in which we live and see it as the living organism that supports us. But it seems as we have short memories and forget that all too often we have treated the earth with disdain, carelessly and selfishly using its resources with complete disregard for the consequences.

Think about the industrial pollution that plagued this country in the 60’s and 70’s.  Remember the thick brown clouds of smog that hovered over our cities. Don’t forget our indiscriminate use of pesticides such as DDT or the widespread water pollution that poisoned the ecosystems of so many of our rivers, killing all sorts of fish and wildlife. Or Love Canal. Or the acid rain that swept in from industries of the midwest to adversely affect my beloved Adirondack Mountains, killing great swathes of trees and making the lakes there practically uninhabitable for the native species of fishes. It still affects the area and it is estimated that by 2040 there will be no fish in any Adirondack lakes.

But we have made some great strides.  Cleaner energy reproduction is on the rise, lowering the cost of energy and creating a huge number of jobs. Most American cities today look radically different than they did in the middle of the 20th century,  Take Cleveland for example. My earliest memories of Cleveland came from a family trip that took us through that city in 1967 or 68. I remember the horror I felt at the yellow/brown skies that lingered over Lake Erie and the acrid sulphur stench of the air.

This was before the vastly polluted Cuyahoga River famously caught fire there in 1969. Actually, 1969 was just the worst of the fires on that river–it had been on fire a number of times over the years.

To me at that time, it felt like a hell on earth. That image of the city still jumps to mind. But go there today and that city shows little evidence of that past. It skies are clear, the lake and rivers run clear, and the sulphur smell has departed. It feels relatively clean and green and is a pleasant place in which to live or visit.

But we are at a point with this administration where they view the regulations that brought about these positive changes as some sort of restraint on the rights of large corporations, that their right to make profits supersedes their responsibility to the land or its inhabitants. They seem hellbent on reversing every forward stride made toward cleaning up our environment, forgetting that most regulations that are in place came about to address a real problem or concern.

Just because the problem has been alleviated (most likely as a result of the regulation) doesn’t mean that we should revert to the old way of doing something.

So on this Earth Day, we have to stand up for this, our sacred land. If you’re old enough take a moment and remember what the past really looked like.  If you’re younger, do some research and check out the ecological past of your area. Then take action. Act responsibly with your own interactions with this land. Vote.

Just don’t think that you can ignore it by sticking your head in the sand– you don’t know what might end up being down there.

Sometimes the horizon is defined by a wall behind which rises the noise of a disappearing train. The whole nostalgia of the infinite is revealed to us behind the geometrical precision of the square. We experience the most unforgettable movements when certain aspects of the world, whose existence we completely ignore, suddenly confront us with the revelation of mysteries lying all the time within our reach and which we cannot see because we are too short-sighted, and cannot feel because our senses are inadequately developed.  Their dead voices speak to us from nearby, but they sound like voices from another planet.

–Giorgio de Chirico

***************

de chirico_mysteryA turning point for me when I was first stumbling around with my own painting was when I encountered the work of Giorgio de Chirico, an Italian painter of darkly toned metaphorical works. He lived from 1888 until 1978 but was primarily known for his early work from 1909-1919 which is called his Metaphysical PeriodMetaphysics is  devoted to the exploration of what is behind visible reality without relying on measurable data. Very mystical. De Chirico’s work after 1919 became more realistic and more traditional.

His later work was less colorful, less symbolic, less powerful and way more mundane. It is definitely the work from the earlier Metaphysical period that defines him as the artist as we know him today.

I was immediately drawn to that work.  It was full of high contrast, with sharp light and dark.  The colors were bold, bright and vibrant, yet there was darknessde-chirico-the-great-tower implied in them.  The compositions were full of interesting juxtapositions of forms and perspectives.  It was a visual feast for me.

At that time in my own painting, I was still painting in a fairly traditional manner, especially with watercolors. That is to say that I was achieving light through the transparency of my paint, letting the underlying paper show through. It was pretty clean which was fine. But it wasn’t what I was looking for in my work.

Seeing de Chirico’s paintings made me realize what I wanted.  It was that underlying darkness that his work possessed. It was a grittiness, a dark dose of the reality of our existence.  I immediately began to experiment with different methods that would introduce a base of darkness that the light and color could play off.  My work began to change in short order and strides forward came much quicker as a result of simply sensing  something in de Chirico’s work that wasn’t there in my own.

Perhaps that is what is meant by metaphysical…

This post is a combination of a couple of posts from years ago. I really wanted to use his quote at the top because I often get that feeling from certain paintings, that they represent “voices from another planet,”  that they come from a point well beyond our realm of knowledge. I also wanted to include the video below that shows much of De Chirico’s metaphysical work. Take a look below.

de-chirico



Decisions

I have been busy in the studio preparing for my upcoming shows and find myself working on a new piece on a canvas measuring 16″ high by 40″ wide.

After the canvas has been prepped with multiple layers of gesso and a layer of black paint, I compose the painting by laying in the elements of the picture in red oxide paint.

This is my favorite part of the process, the time when I can just let my mind fall into the picture and roll around all the possibilities that it offers. Every stroke is a decision and most are made instinctively, letting the surrounding elements and the underlying texture dictate the next move.

As the piece progresses, the painting takes on its personality in a warm glow of varying reddish tones. At this point I decide where I want to place the focus for the painting.  Here I want it to be all about the sky. Painting the sky at this point is not always the norm. Sometimes I go to work on the landscape first, letting it tell me how I will treat the sky. But on this piece the sky comes first, so I begin to lay in colors radiating from around the sun. Or moon. Nothing is really set in stone- or paint-at this point.

As the sky progresses , I veer off momentarily to lay in a little color on the houses and the flat fields that occupy the middle of the painting. I am now at a point where I still have work to do on the sky but the painting is beginning to speak plainly to me.  I know what it is and have a fairly good idea of where it can go. I say fairly good because there is still a lot of decisions that will affect the final version. The colors of the landscape, for example, and their intensity and tones.

I am almost always at my most deepest level of infatuation with the piece when I am at this point in the process.  The moodiness of the red tones have a shadowy effect that pleases me, that makes the sky contrast a bit more than it may after the colors of the landscape are added.  I find myself asking this morning if I should forgo the colors I normally add and focus on creating a tonal composition based on the red oxide. It would be a darker piece than my normal work but if it works as I hope it might, it would carry that feeling that always hooks me as I am working.

So this morning I am sitting here looking over at the easel and deciding if I will spend the day in bright color or in shades of russet.

I like a job where that might be the hardest decision that must be made today…

It’s a busy morning with lots to be done here in the studio. I thought I’d rerun a post form five years back about an artist whose work always grabs my eye, Eyvind Earle. I’ve added a video featuring his paintings set to a sparse piano score. Enjoy and have a great day.

I recently picked up  the second volume of The Complete Graphics of Eyvind Earle, a 9-pound behemoth of a book featuring the work of the artist who I have written about here once before. It’s an incredible book, full of spectacular imagery and pure color that I find both inspring and humbling. He had a tremendously long career, about 70 years, that began with a one-man show at the age of 14 and continued through stints as a fabled Disney artist. landscape painter, and a graphic artist known for his highly stylized greeting card design. Through it all, there was an amazing consistency and brilliance to the many pieces produced by a prolific artist in such a long career. I find myself overwhelmed by the variety and quality of his work as I go through the book which only covers a small part of work.

Just incredible.

There’s great clarity in the work of Eyvind Earle.  The compositions are often both complex in design but come across as simple, a duality that I really find appealing.  The color is bold and could be a little sharp in tone if it weren’t harmonized so masterfully within the picture plane.  He is a pure genius at handling harmony and contrast– another duality that strikes me.

I also like the fact that Earle was an unabashed landscape artist, feeling no desire to express himself  through figurative work.  He found total expression in his handling of the landscape around him, often depicting the open spaces and coastlines of California. They are not mere scenes but have emotion and a depth that goes well beyond the surface, another aspect that appeals greatly to my  desires for my own work.  In short, it’s just beautiful work and an inspiration with every look.

Ain’t No Grave

I’m not a religious person and wasn’t raised with any religion in my life. Growing up, Easter was just another excuse to gorge myself on candy and boiled eggs.

But the idea of resurrection that this day represents is a potent theme, one that resonates deeply with me. I am not talking about actual resurrection, the rising from the grave type of thing. But the idea of rebirth, of washing away the past and beginning anew has always struck a chord within me.

Maybe that’s why I am a morning person. Each day is a personal resurrection of sorts. There is a new start each day the sun comes up, a new chance to redeem yourself in some way. So, in a way, Easter is just part of a continuum of  constant rebirth, one that transcends personal religion.

For this Sunday morning music I am choosing a song that concerns itself with a more literal form of resurrection. It is Ain’t No Grave (Gonna Hold This Body Down) which was written in 1934 by Claude Ely. He was twelve years old at the time and was stricken with tuberculosis. His family is said to have prayed for his health to return and in response, he spontaneously performed this song.

I can’t attest to that part of the story but it is a pretty well known gospel standard now. This version is from the great Odetta.

The newer painting above is a small 8″ by 8″ panel that I call Resurrection. It feels very Easter-y to me.

Have a good Sunday.

 

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