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Archive for the ‘Advice’ Category

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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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“You must study the Masters but guard the original style that beats within your soul and put to sword those who would try to steal it.”

El Greco

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These words from El Greco (1541-1614) certainly were reflected in the influence his work had down through the ages. Many artists through the ages have appropriated his compositions and rendered them in their own original styles. Picasso, for example, was influenced by the elongated figures of El Greco. His View of Toledo is considered one of the first paintings solely focused on landscape, as well as the first cityscape. Below, you might be able to see a connection between it and Van Gogh’s Starry Night.

For myself, in the painting here at the top, The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, a massive painting that is about fifteen foot tall, I was struck by the gold clad figures (St. Stephen and St. Augustine) at the bottom who are lowering the dead aristocrat into his tomb. The colors and positions of the figures had me seeing them as figures in a Gustav Klimt painting.

Looking at the detail below, I could see them as being influences on his The Kiss. I don’t know whether they were an influence, but it certainly jumped into my mind. If so, kudos to Klimt for translating it into his own original style that beats within his soul, as El Greco may have put it.

And that is what influence should be. It is not trying to replicate, to copy, another’s work. It is in taking it in and synthesizing it using one’s own unique voice. I think every artist does this in some form. You just may not immediately notice it in the very good ones.

Detail from “The Burial of the Count of Orgaz”

“View of Toledo” and “Starry Night”

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“It has always seemed to me that so long as you produce your dramatic effect, accuracy of detail matters little. I have never striven for it and I have made some bad mistakes in consequence. What matter if I hold my readers?”

― Arthur Conan Doyle

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Who would have thought that the creator of Sherlock Holmes would have some good advice to offer to artists?

The words above from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle about how he he would sacrifice accuracy of detail in order to gain greater dramatic effect in his work are very enlightening.

And reassuring.

I have been going through a lot of older work from over twenty plus years back when I was still in a formative stage with my painting. I hadn’t read these words from Doyle but one of the first conscious decisions I made about my work was that I would not be a slave to detail, that I would slash away as much detail as possible while still conveying a sense of what was being represented. Oh, I would use smaller details when they served the greater effect of the painting but the fewer the better.

One example from this early work is the piece at the top that is from around 1997. I was surprised when I came across this small painting in a file folder that I hadn’t examined in many years. It was a solid example of the work I was doing at the time, mainly in watercolor with the beginnings of my relationship with the acrylic artist inks that have long been a staple of my work.

It is sparsely detailed with little consideration to trying to replicate natural color. It just allows the colors and the shapes do what they will in communicating a sense of place and feeling. It works pretty well for what I want from it.

Over the years, I sometimes have strayed from this credo of spareness but I always find my way back to it. There just seems to be more space for the expansion of feeling when details are cut away. It’s a good thing to keep in mind.

So, thanks for the reminder, Mr. Doyle. I can use all the help I can get.

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