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Archive for the ‘Influences’ Category

When you think of painting as painting it is rather absurd. The real world is before us – glorious sunlight and activity and fresh air, and high speed motor cars and television, all the animation – a world apart from a little square of canvas that you smear paint on.

–Wayne Thiebaud

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These words from the great contemporary painter Wayne Thiebaud ring completely true for me. I have talked and written many times before about those moments in the studio when I suddenly find the whole idea of painting, of smearing paint on some surface, completely absurd. The whole idea of making these two-dimensional things that represent inner feelings about the outer world seems suddenly abstract and, to be honest, a little ridiculous.

It’s a little like waking up one day to find yourself standing in your yard with a forked stick in your hand. You began by thinking it was a divining rod that would mysteriously lead you to something valuable but in that moment you realize you’re just a fool standing in your yard with a stick.

Believe me, there are days when I feel like a fool standing in a room with a stick in my hands. Of course, my stick has bristles with paint on them but it might as well just be a stick in those moments.

But somehow that feeling passes and I find myself immersed back in my own little world and that stick returns to being a divining rod.

Wayne Thiebaud has long been a favorite of mine.  Most people associate his name with his paintings of  cakes, ice cream and confections with their bold colors and beautiful thick brushstrokes. They are wonderful but for me, his most striking work are his landscapes, often set from a high perspective.  They have such great color and their compositions feel as much like abstraction as they do realism.

Just plain good stuff.

I always feel inspired by this work, moving me to try to find that same balance in my own work.

Here’s a video of his confectionery works, which is, as I said, his more popular work. I haven’t found video with his landscapes but this is still a good intro to his best known work.

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While searching for a piece of music to feature here this morning, I found myself looking over at this new painting shown here as I listened to the music. As usual, the search had me running down rabbit holes that sent me in all different directions, none that satisfied me enough to want to share it.

Then I somehow ended up on this modern classical piano piece from composer Phillip Glass, Etude No. 14, played by pianist Vikingur Olafsson. There’s a part in it, starting at about 1:15, that the sound and this painting just seemed to mesh for me, filling out the feeling that I was experiencing as I was taking it in.

It is a painting that is still on the easel, near completion or so I think. I am in that part of the process where I am still examining it, absorbing it to see what it has for me, what it’s trying to say to and for me. And here, the music created a narrative line that pulled me and the image together.

It’s hard to explain. Everybody sees art differently, having different expectations of what they hope to extract from it, if anything. I think a lot of folks don’t even think about those expectations and just react to what is before them. I do that as well and it is generally gives a true response.

But more often I see art as an existential puzzle with pieces that provide clues as to our meaning and purpose. There are works that attract me and I search them for these clues, trying to figure out if there are answers or where it will send me next in my search. In this painting, the Glass music helped me see what I had only sensed before.

As I said, it’s hard to explain.

Anyway, give a listen and have yourself a good Sunday. By the way, I am calling this painting Etude No. 14.

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Once the object has been constructed, I have a tendency to discover in it, transformed and displaced, images, impressions, facts which have deeply moved me.

–Alberto Giacometti

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There is a film out currently called Final Portrait which is about the writer James Lord, played in this film by Armie Hammer, sitting for a portrait with artist Alberto Giacometti, played in the film by Geoffrey Rush.

Taking place in 1964, a couple of years before Giacometti’s death, the sitting is initially supposed to last for a few hours but stretches for weeks as Giacometti agonizes and constantly alters the painting. The movie is based on Lord’s perspective, one that has him confused and frustrated until at last seeing how Giacometti has transformed his image into something beyond what he himself saw in it.

I haven’t seen it but imagine it to be a quiet but intense film. I’ve had some fascination for Giacometti’s work and writings for many years, intrigued by the singularity of his vision and his dedication to bringing it to light. I find myself often nodding in agreement, as I did with the quote here at the top, when reading his words from interviews and his writings.

Here’s a short film that the Christie’s auction house put together several years ago about the painting of this portrait when it came to auction, selling for nearly $21 million. It’s provides the basis for Final Portrait.

 

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Look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see, and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious.

–Stephen Hawking

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I’ve been working on a series of paintings recently for my June show at the Principle Gallery that feature fragmented skies with stars appearing at their junctures. Some are very geometric and angular while some– like the one, In the Stars, shown here–have more organic shapes with more randomness in their arrangement.

Both satisfy some part in me, in their creation and in the appreciation for them I feel once they reach a point of completion. Maybe it’s that there is a meditative stillness in both aspects. Painting them definitely creates a deep sense of quietude for me that I also find in studying them after they are done.

It is the kind of stillness that spurs wonder and curiosity, the kind that makes one look into the night sky with hopes that extend beyond our present time and place. Are we alone in this vast universe or are we the end-product– the flowers, perhaps — of one of those shining stars?

I don’t know and most likely will never know. But I will always have the need to wonder…

 

 

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Ad Marginem C 1930 Painting by Paul Klee; Ad Marginem C 1930 Art Print for salePaul Klee On Modern Art 1924This excerpt from On Modern Art, the 1924 treatise from the great Swiss artist Paul Klee is a bit more than a quote but since this is about art we’ll be a little flexible in our definition. And that, I believe, would please Klee, whose works often defied definition.

I know for me, he was a big influence if only in his attitude and the distinctness of his work. I always think of his work in terms of the color– sometimes muted yet intense and always having a melodic harmony to it.

It always feels like music to me.

I like his idea that the world is in the process of creation, of Genesis, and that it is not a final form. It allows for visionary work, for imagining other present worlds that extend beyond our perception because, as he writes, In its present shape it is not the only possible world.

And to me, that is an exciting proposition.

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Isle of the Dead – Arnold Böcklin- First Version

I am a fan of the Symbolist painters from  around the end of the 19th century, artists like Edvard Munch, Gustav KlimtOdilon Redon. and many others created incredible works that were just a little beyond reality but beautiful and with a presence that lingered with the viewer. There are many great examples but one of those paintings with a lingering effect is the Isle of the Dead from  Swiss painter Arnold Böcklin (1827-1901).

Depicting an island where the bodies of the dead were interred, it is a powerful and somber image. Several locations are reputed to be the inspiration for this painting, including several tiny Mediterranean islands with similar cypress trees and chapels. Some believe it to be based on a cemetery in Florence, Italy near the artist’s studio where his infant daughter was buried.

Böcklin lost 8 of his 14 children to death, so the concept of death was something that was always near. This was not that uncommon in that time. Most families lost one or more children in early childhood and death was an accepted part of this world. During this time, at the end of the 19th century, it wasn’t unusual for a family to take portraits of their loved ones soon after they died.

Böcklin painted five versions of this instantly popular work for collectors. One version, the third, was bought by Adolf Hitler in 1933 and now hangs in the National Gallery in Berlin. Another, the fourth, was destroyed by a bombing raid in World War II and only exists now as a black and white photograph.

This painting had something  with which people deeply identified and it was the new popularity of mass produced lithographic prints in the time that gave it staying power. It was said that one couldn’t enter a Berlin home at the turn of the century without coming across a print of the painting on the wall. This image has maintained quite a bit of its following through the years, even having websites dedicated to it.

As I said, it is a powerful image that lingers in your mind long after you see it. I know it does for me. It has definitely been a huge influence on a number of painters and other artists.

In 1888, Böcklin created a painting, Isle of Life (see below), that he considered the converse image to his now famous Isle of the Dead.  It has living people, animals, greenery and a generally more upbeat appearance. But it certainly doesn’t come close to the soul jolting impact of its antithesis.

But you be the judge…

Isle of the Dead – Arnold Böcklin- Fifth Version

Isle of the Dead – Arnold Böcklin-Second Version

Isle of the Dead – Arnold Böcklin-Fourth Version Destroyed

Isle of Life – Arnold Böcklin

Isle of the Dead – Arnold Böcklin- Third Version

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Joan Miro, Constellations 1959

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The older I get and the more I master the medium, the more I return to my earliest experiences. I think that at the end of my life I will recover all the force of my childhood.

–Joan Miro, from 1960 at age 67 

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It’s the young people who interest me, and not the old dodos. If I go on working, it’s for the year 2000, and for the people of tomorrow.

–Joan Miro, from 1975 at age 82

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There are two quotes here from the great Spanish painter Joan Miro (1893-1983) that really strike a chord with me. Both come from him when he was older and both speak very much to the way I feel about my own work.

In the first he speaks about gaining more mastery over the medium through the years while simultaneously moving closer to the vibrant energy that one has in their youth. I have felt the same feelings. The more one gains control over their form of expression, the more they are freed from the constraints of conscious thoughts and decisions. The work becomes reactive to the feel and emotion of the moment.

Now, I will add that with this acquired mastery there is also a new barrier erected to overcome. Well, at least, in my experience. I have found that with years of work, which is, in effect, rehearsal and practice, there is sometimes a loss of spontaneity and passion in the actual making of the marks. They become a little too precise, a little too mannered and a bit too clean and neat. They don’t have that feeling of wanting to burst off the surface. I have found ways to get past this–using bigger brushes and making strokes quicker with more urgency, for example– but every so often I will get near the end of a piece and it just feels too neat, too precise, for the underlying emotion.

It needs the innate exuberance of a child at play.

The second Miro quote, made when he was 82, speaks of painting not for those of his age but for the younger and the future generations. I certainly understand this sentiment. I am most thrilled when children react to my work, knowing then that it is speaking to the aforementioned innate exuberance.

It means I am not dealing with intellect or acquired knowledge or conscious thought. It is a pure and uninformed reaction. It means the work is communicating emotionally across and out of time.

And I think this is important because I believe most artists wants to break free from their own era, to not be consigned to any single period of time. To be known for what they were at their inner and eternal core, not where or how they were categorized in their time.

Maybe like the Miro painting at the top, a single small voice among the multitude of stars and constellations in the universe.

I don’t know but that might be my primary goal in doing what I do.

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