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Archive for the ‘Advice’ Category

John Sloan- The Wake of the Ferry I 1907

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You can be a giant among artists without ever attaining any great skill. Facility is a dangerous thing. When there is too much technical ease the brain stops criticizing. Don’t let the hand fall into a smart way of putting the mind to sleep.

John Sloan

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I am a fan many of the Ashcan painters of the early 20th century, such as John Sloan, 1871-1951, whose work is shown here. The painters in this group obviously had technical prowess but you get the feeling from their work that they often operated in that danger zone outside their facilities, relying as much on instinct in the moment as their skill to create their paintings.

As Sloan points out, technical ability is a wonderful thing but also dangerous  for the artist. I love his description of the hand’s ability putting the mind to sleep.

I know that feeling.

I often feel my best work comes from not knowing exactly how the work is going to proceed or where it will end. That sense of danger, that nervous feeling the painting is in peril of becoming included in the next garbage pickup, is a great indicator for me that my instincts are engaged., that my brain is not in the off position.

This is when good things happen, when breakthroughs are achieved, where the work moves beyond you and becomes something of its own.

But it’s all too easy to fall under the spell of your ability, to let your mind doze while your hand takes over.  But obtaining that ability takes years of work and is actually a goal. Why wouldn’t you let this gained knowledge carry your work? That’s a great question and I think every artist has to look at it on their own terms.

I look at this gained ability as tool that I have learned to use. Now, even though I know how to use this tool in a normal, predictable manner, sometimes I need to use it in way for it wasn’t intended. That’s not always the safe way to go but sometimes you find a new way.

And that’s a good thing.

John Sloan- Travelling Carnival, Santa Fe

John Sloan- The Wake of the Ferry II 1907

John Sloan- The City From Greenwich Village

John Sloan- Hairdresser’s Window 1907

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Paul Gauguin- The Painter of Sunflowers 1888

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What still concerns me the most is: am I on the right track, am I making progress, am I making mistakes in art?

-Paul Gauguin

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I am in the last day of prep before I deliver my show to the West End Gallery. I am in my 25th year at this gallery where I first started publicly showing my work and this is what I believe to be my 18th solo exhibit. But even with all that experience there is always an element of doubt present when I am getting ready to deliver paintings to a gallery.

It’s just a natural state of being. At least, for me.

I used to worry that my own judgement of the work was flawed and that this would be obvious once it was hung on a wall outside my studio. My inadequacy would be on public display for all to see.

That feeling never fully goes away and on these last days of prep, this insidious doubt always creeps back in.

But time has made me adhere to the words above from Paul Gauguin, under his 1888 painting of Vincent Van Gogh.

You do what you can do. You try to do a bit better each time. You discard those things that don’t work and grow the things that do.

And you live with that.

Okay, got lots to do this morning so I am out of here. And I think I am leaving my doubts right where they are. Don’t need them today.

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“A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.”

― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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The painting at the top is a new piece that is included in my solo show, Red Tree 20: New Growth, that opens June 7 at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria. It is titled To Stand in Beauty and is 18″ by 24″ on canvas.

Beauty was the first thing that came to mind when I began looking for a title for this painting. It seems like a fitting representation of the old adage that we should stop and smell the roses.

As Goethe points out above, worldly cares often threaten to obliterate our sense of the beautiful. That may never be more true than it is in these days as there is so much anger, hatred, stupidity, and frustration on public display now. Many of us find ourselves focusing on all that is wrong in this world and in the process forgetting the beauty that often surrounds us.

The beauty of a blooming flower.

The romance of a beckoning horizon.

The graceful strength of a tree trunk.

The awe of a rising mountain.

The lure of a winding path.

I am looking out my studio window from my seat at the moment and a deer is looking back at me from the lawn. Beyond him I can see a couple of wild turkeys strolling up the driveway in front of one of the large rhododendrons that line it. The rhododendron is finally flowering fully, adding a gorgeous splash of color among the greens and grays that surround them. In the distance I can see the mass of yellow irises that are blooming on the edge of the pond. And while I was looking to the distance, a small buck with velvet covered antlers just beginning to develop walks across my line of sight. And above it all. I can hear the chirp of the bird nesting above my front door.

It’s a beautiful moment, one that I all too often overlook, especially when I first come into the studio. I check the news, read emails, begin figuring out what to write for this blog and what my painting agenda might be for the day. And the rush of the day sometimes blots out the beauty that surrounds me.

But this painting, especially this morning when I am in the final frantic steps of putting the work for the show together so that it can be delivered tomorrow, has reminded me to stop and consider things of beauty instead of news or emails or whatever bothersome tasks lie ahead.

And it has made a difference. Goethe was correct, there is beauty to be found in music, poetry and fine pictures as well in simply looking out at the natural world for a moment.

We can all stand in beauty if we choose to look.

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The Wheatfield -1929- Raoul Dufy

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I don’t follow any system. All the laws you can lay down are only so many props to be cast aside when the hour of creation arrives.

Raoul Dufy (1877-1953)

 

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I can’t say I am the biggest fan of the paintings of Raoul Dufy or his younger brother, Jean Dufy (1888-1964) , French painters who were popular in the first half of the 20th century. It’s not that I don’t find them attractive and pleasant. While I particularly like the painting at the top , The Wheatfield, from 1929, they just don’t speak to me deeply.

But I like and agree with Raoul’s words above. Rules and systems may be fine and necessary up to a point. The trick comes in knowing when to blow past the limitations that they set on your work. When it comes down to making a piece work and come to life, rules and systems are often set aside. Whatever it takes to create rhythm, energy, and harmony within the painting becomes acceptable.

Casting aside rules is often the beginning of a new artistic freedom. It’s like taking off the training wheels and feeling the fear and freedom of being out there on your own.

Got to go try to break some rules right now. Have a great day.

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Do not try to paint the grandiose thing. Paint the commonplace so that it will be distinguished.

William Merritt Chase (1849-1916)

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Love these words from the great American painter William Merritt Chase. I echo the sentiment whenever I get a chance to speak with art students, telling them to focus less on subject and more on how they render whatever they choose to depict. Most of the greatest paintings are of very common things, people and places. It is how they are painted that lifts and distinguishes them.

Chase was one of the dominant figures of American art in the late 1800’s. He was a prolific and renowned painter and among the first American Impressionists as well as an influential teacher who established a progressive art academy in NYC, The Chase School, that today is the Parsons School of Design.

Some of Chase’s best known work is a great example of his words above. He painted the gamut of subjects– landscapes, portraits and still lifes– and is well known for each of these fields. His still life paintings with fish were among his favorite subjects, one that he often employed for painting demonstrations for his students. These pieces were done in a fast, wet into wet technique that relied on extreme contrasts of dark and light , setting aside detail for gesture and impression.

I don’t know how many of these fish pieces Chase painted but it appears to be quite a large figure. A number of years back, the Principle Gallery had one of his fish pieces in the gallery for sale and I remember being very impressed because whenever I thought of Chase his fish paintings always came to my mind.

Here are just a few examples.

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To appreciate a work of art, is it okay to like what you like, and the heck with the art critics and experts? Absolutely.

–Thomas Hoving

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I came across this quote from the late Thomas Hoving and thought it would be a good opportunity to show off an illustration of him done by the late David Levine, the famed illustrator/artist whose distinct caricatures adorned the New York Review of Books for many years, along with many other publications. The original drawing now hangs in a corner of my studio, obtained from the estate of Thomas Buechner who was friend to both Levine and Hoving.

Hoving was primarily a museum director. Now that sounds pretty blasé on its surface but among his peers he was a rock star,writing bestselling books and ushering the Metropolitan Museum into a renaissance of sorts as its director. He was big personality in what is often a low key position.

His words above definitely ring true as good advice to anyone who has ever felt anxious about purchasing or even sharing their opinion on a piece of art. Feel free to buy and admire work that speaks to you, regardless of what critics might say. Art is based on an emotional elicitation and nobody can dictate how anyone should respond to any one piece of work. A critic may have a response to a work of art and write effusively about that work, perhaps even making cogent points about the validity of the work. But if I don’t feel that same emotional response, all the eloquence in the world telling me why I should like it cannot make me suddenly adore that work.

In short, we like what we like.

I’ve seen people in high powered positions, people who normally ooze confidence, suddenly turn to jelly when trying to decide whether they should buy a piece of art. Art is such a nebulous and subjective thing that many of these folks feel a bit lost and out of their depth. They are afraid of making a mistake and lose all trust in their own opinion. They forget that they should simply like what they like and trust that feeling.

So, if you see something you like sometime, don’t be shy about showing your admiration for it. Maybe that means purchasing it or maybe it’s just letting the artist know that it moves you somehow.

Both are appreciated by every artist I have ever known.

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Jack Shadbolt- Presence After Fire – 1950

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An artist is no bigger than the size of his mind.

–Jack Shadbolt (1909-1998)

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I have to admit that I knew little of the Canadian painter Jack Shadbolt before this morning. But I was immediately taken by his use of bold colors and forms along with an interesting use of symbolism depicted in a blend of representation and abstraction. I was also impressed with the scale of his many triptychs, their size giving the work greater weight. Just interesting work to put it simply.

There is a good short bio of Jack Shadbolt that you can read by clicking on this link. It gives you an idea of the forces, such as his World War II experiences, and people–his friendship with iconic Canadian painter Emily Carr, for example– that shaped his work. It also makes clear the influence his work has in his homeland.

One thing I discovered was that as Shadbolt was suffering at the age of 89 from congestive heart failure, his wife brought him home from the hospital. She set up a hospital bed in the center of his studio in British Columbia so that he might be surrounded by his paintings and be in that place where he had spent most of his time at his life’s work. He died there in his studio several days later.

I thought to myself that would not be a bad way to go. That is, if for some reason I decide to die someday.

But the focus today is on the short quote above, one with which I heartily agree. Whenever speaking to students I try to stress the need to grow their mind, to become an interesting person with something to say. To read more. To watch and listen more. To simply think and continue to learn.

Technique without an active mind behind it bears lifeless work.

At least, that’s my opinion. And Shadbolt said that beautifully and succinctly.

Now, take a look at some of the work of Jack Shadbolt.

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