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Archive for the ‘Influences’ Category

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The only quality that endures in art is a personal vision of the world. Methods are transient: personality is enduring.

–Edward Hopper

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Felt like a little Edward Hopper this morning and realized that, in all the years of doing this blog, I had never shown his most famous painting, Nighthawks, above. Can’t say why I had failed to display it. Maybe it just felt so obvious that it overshadowed other works from his career that also moved me. Regardless, it remains a defining painting, one that never fails to be striking.

His words just below the painting above are equally striking for me.

I often write about artists trying to find their voice. By that, I am talking about painting (or working in any other medium) in a manner that matches up with and captures the artist’s point of view, their thought process, and the many facets of their personality. Not every method or style jibes with every artist, allowing them full expression of the truth of their own personality.

And method alone only goes so far. Method is transient and without endurance, as Hopper points out, without personality.

How does this happen, this insertion of personality into one’s work?

I can’t really say. I guess it starts with having a point of view, an opinion, an emotion, a thought. I tell high school and college students that technique is important but it is even more vital to have a base of other knowledge to draw from. Art is not technique or method, it is expression of the self so have a fully realized self to express.

Don’t know if that’s right for everybody but, hey, it feels right for me.

Work on that and get back to me, okay?

 

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Patricia Pasteur- The Long Road Home

At my September Gallery Talk at the Principle Gallery, someone asked if anyone had ever translated my work into a quilt. I mentioned that a  fiber artist had used my work in a piece several years ago and that several people had mentioned wanting to do so but wasn’t sure that it had been done. The following day I received an email from a fiber artist in Maine, asking if she could use some of my work– with credit given as the inspiration– for some small quilts.

I had to chuckle and wonder at the coincidence of the question on Saturday and the request on Sunday.

Patricia Pasteur Collage Pot

I first checked out the work of the Maine artist, Patricia Pasteur. The first thing I saw was the vessel shown here on the right, a collage pot with three birch tree trunks with islands in the distance in front of a moon/sun against a reddish sky. I absolutely loved this piece. After looking at several other pieces of her work, I could see where my work would resonate with her.  I was sold and was eager to see what she would come up with.

This past week, Pat sent me the results. There are four small quilts ranging in size from 20″ by 20″ for the square one to 17″ by 25″ for the largest of the rectangular quilts. I would guess they might be better called quilted wall hangings.

I immediately recognized my forms and color combinations, the Red Roofs and Red Trees. That was unmistakable. But Patricia had interpreted them with a unique blend of fabrics and textures that gave them a new voice. I am not sure in these photos here, how well you will be able to see how she was able to create textures with different fabrics and stitches. I spent some time zooming in to inspect them closer and was fascinated at her techniques.

Thanks so much for sharing these with me, Patricia. I am so pleased at how well they have turned out and honored that you allowed me to provide a bit of inspiration for your very fine work.

Patricia Pasteur- Standing Strong

Patricia Pasteur- On the Road to Nowhere

Patricia Pasteur- Moon Rising

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Robert Henri- Irish Girl (Mary O’Donnel) -1913

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Because we are saturated with life, because we are human, our strongest motive is life, humanity; and the stronger the motive back of the line the stronger, and therefore more beautiful, the line will be.

–Robert Henri (1865-1929)

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I came across this quote from the highly influential painter/ teacher Robert Henri and it made me think of two separate incidents that influenced my work.

The first comes from the quote itself, about how a strong belief in humanity and life should manifest itself in one’s art, creating a stronger and bolder and more beautiful line. It brings to mind the only art training I ever received, a night course, Drawing 101, from a local community college. I was taking it because at the time I had an interest in pursuing architecture and needed a portfolio. All the drawing I had done up to that time was just, more or less, doodling on bits of paper, in journals, or in the margins of magazines and newspapers. I thought a course on drawing would get me to some work that might help in putting together a portfolio.

The course ended up being a travesty. The instructor had little interest in being there and gave only cursory instruction. He kept an eye fixed on the clock and often ended the sessions early so that he could get to the local pub a bit quicker. I didn’t get much out of the course and dropped my quest to go into architecture but I did get one bit of advice that I carried with me.

The instructor pointed out that he preferred strong, bold lines even if they were not completely accurate or correct in the context of the drawing. They exuded confidence and that was more important that accuracy, especially if the lines were weak and tentative. That really struck a chord with me and stuck with me through the years until I began painting.

I think his words line up well with Henri’s assertion above. That confidence the instructor referred to is much the same as Henri’s saturation with life and humanity.

The other incident that I was reminded of upon stumbling across Henri’s words is my encounter with the painting at the top of the page. It is titled Irish Girl ( Mary O’Donnel) and was painted by Henri in 1913 and is at the Boston Museum of Fine Art. When I first saw it, I was showing my work at several galleries and was about a year away from my first big solo show at the Principle Gallery.

I encountered this painting in a large gallery in the museum and was struck how people would immediately head to this painting, even though it was one of the smaller pieces in the large space. I couldn’t figure out why this was. I mean, it was a strong painting but the way people were attracted to it seemed out of line with what I was seeing. Looking at it dispassionately, I finally settled on the color of her sweater as being the reason. It was deep crimson that really popped off the wall.

It made me examine my own palette of colors. My colors at the time were more earth toned and red was certainly not a large part of it. When it did come into play, it was usually more subdued and washed out. Pale. To tell the truth, I was a bit afraid of it as a color. When I tried it in a bolder way, it often skewed to harsher, sharper tones that were not to my liking and usually didn’t align with the emotional context of the painting.

But seeing Henri’s use of it made me better appreciate the power of the color. I began to work with it more and soon was incorporating in my work on a regular basis. It became a vital part of my visual vocabulary. It showed itself in a big way with my first show at the Principle Gallery which was titled Red Tree. It has stuck with me and I have Henri’s Irish Girl to thank.

It’s interesting how sometimes failed attempts, like my college course, or confounding encounters, such as mine with Henri’s painting, have impacts on you that you could never foresee. You never truly know what will come from anything we stumble across. Inspiration comes in many forms.

Have a good Saturday.

 

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Klee/Art as Memory

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All art is a memory of age-old things, dark things, whose fragments live on in the artist.

Paul Klee

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When I need something to get me through periods of stress, something that engages me and makes me question myself while at the same time inspiring me, nothing serves me better than a dose of Paul Klee.

In his work I definitely feel like I am looking at the age-old memories of the artist. In fact, the attraction comes in the fact that I see his age-old memories and dark things as being my own.

A sense of familiarity.

Like being in an alien world and hearing a familiar language from some distance away. Words and phrases, bits of meaning, gleaned from a cacophony of unintelligible garble. It makes you alert and hopeful that there is a possibility of connection, of communication.

I can use a little Klee this morning.

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Romare Bearden – Vampin’ ( Piney Brown Blues)

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The artist confronts chaos. The whole thing of art is, how do you organize chaos?

–Romare Bearden

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I think the beginning of this quote from the late artist Romare Bearden (1911-1988) is an important statement and observation.

The artist confronts chaos.

That really speaks to me. It better defines a bit the purpose and necessity of art, both in a general and personal sense.

Maybe the purpose of art is to bring clarity and order to the world that confronts us, to illuminate the hidden or overlooked elements of our existence.

I don’t know for sure but these few words and my own experience make me believe it to be so.

For me, art is a way of distilling the torrent of information and sensations that flow through each of us every day down to a single manageable expression. An expression that helps me better understand and tolerate the chaos before me.

For me, it usually boils down to familiar forms and expressive colors. Found order and harmony above the chaotic rhythm of the texture below.

Like hearing a language you don’t really know but seem to somehow understand and trying to translate it to others.

It is different for every artist, no doubt. The idea of organizing chaos might seem totally foreign to some. I can’t say for sure what drives every artist or what purpose they derive from their art.

I can only speak for myself. That, in itself, might be a valid definition for art.

To that, I answer with my mantra: I don’t know.

And that is undoubtedly the driving force behind art.

Here’s  Big Joe Turner and his Piney Brown Blues, the song that Romare Bearden references in the monotype at the top of he page. Have a good day.

 

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I never really knew much about the Swiss born painter Félix Vallotton (1865-1925) but I always found myself stopping whenever I came across one of his paintings, particularly those that were in the vein of the painting above, Evening on the Loire, from 1923. I loved the way he blocked in the forms in his compositions, very much in a manner that I could identify with in my own work.

But his name didn’t bring instant recognition for me, not like the big names from his contemporaries from that incredible time of change for the art world around the turn of the last century. But looking at his work, both as a painter and a printmaker, makes me wonder why this was the case. It is most distinctive work, in many ways bolder and different than that of his peers. His print series, Intimacies, from which I show a few below, is a fascinating group that I have learned was highly influential on the paintings of Edward Hopper and the films of Alfred Hitchcock. I can easily see that connection now.

Maybe his lack of of recognition came from the fact that he didn’t seek the spotlight personally or write much on his work. Doing a quick search turned up little. No outrageous quotes or wild stories.

Well, whatever the case, perhaps we will soon know a bit more about this artist as the Metropolitan Museum of Art has a large exhibit of his work, Félix Vallotton: Painter of Disquiet, opening late in October and running through the end of January in 2020. It traces his career from his association with Les Nabis, the painting group heavily influenced by Paul Gauguin and Cezanne, through his woodblock prints and his later paintings that became more like his prints, compositionally.

I am not going to go into a bio here. I just wanted to make folks just a tiny bit more aware of his work. I had a hard time stopping when I was adding images for this post. See for yourself. I know I usually see at least a few things I want to “borrow” whenever I look at it.

Félix Vallotton- The Visit 1899

Félix Vallotton- The Red Room 1898

Félix Vallotton- Interior with Couple and Screen 1898

Félix Vallotton- Interior with Woman in Red 1903

Félix Vallotton- Intimacies V: Money

Félix Vallotton- Intimacies: The Murder

Félix Vallotton- Intimacies I: The Lie

Félix Vallotton- Nuit Effet de Lune Suisse

Félix Vallotton- The Pond 1909

Félix Vallotton- Moonlight 1895

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Another Labor Day has come. Most folks have forgotten that this holiday was first celebrated back in 1894, signed in as a federal holiday as an effort to bring an air of reconciliation to the nation which had just endured the widespread and violent Pullman Strike. It is meant to honor the Labor Movement and the workers it represents.

For me, the day reminds me of the first time I worked outside of our home for someone else as a child, a memory that was recently reawakened at a wedding of an old friend near the fields where I first used my hands and back for labor. There was an old potato farmer on the road where I grew up and a friend of mine would periodically go down there and work, most of the time picking or bagging potatoes. One day he asked if I wanted to come along as the farmer was going to lay irrigation pipe that day and could use some extra help. Being eleven years old and wanting to make some extra cash and having no idea what I was getting myself into, I agreed.

It was hot and dusty work. The long pipes weren’t heavy but were awkward and each time they began to dip towards the ground as you carried them brought a gruff yell from the crusty old farmer, who was not one to wear out his smile from use. He certainly didn’t put much wear and tear on his that day. To make up for it, he did a lot of yelling and cursing at us.

We had just a short break to eat the sandwich each of us had brought with us and after about eight hours in the fields, I was exhausted and covered with alternating layers of sweat and gray, grimy dust. It was the first real day of work I had experienced. It had been a tough for an untested eleven year old but now I would be rewarded.

As my friend and I prepared to mount our bicycles and head tiredly home, the farmer stood before us in his dusty bib overalls, unsmiling, of course.

“Suppose you want to get paid?”

It came out of his mouth not so much like a question but more like a complaint. We silently nodded, eager in our anticipation of our sweet reward. He stuck his thick, strong farmer hand into a pocket and pulled out a handful of change. He counted out three dollars in quarters to each of us and said, “Okay?”

Again, not really a question. More of a dismissal, more like okay, we’re done here, now go.

We were just kids but we knew we had been taken advantage of that day. But we were eleven years old and afraid to death to talk back to the surly old man, to say that this was unfair. We never worked another day for him and I found out later that this was his modus operandi, working the hell out of kids then underpaying them. If they didn’t come back, so what? There were always kids looking  to make some money.

It was a small incident but it shaped how I viewed labor and the way many people are exploited. It was a clear object lesson, in microcosm, on the value of the labor movement in this country as a unifying force for those of us most susceptible to being exploited.

The labor movement is underappreciated now. Our memories are short and we lose sight of the abuse and exploitation of workers that have taken place over the ages. We take for granted many of the rights, rules and protections in the workplace, thinking they have always been in place. But they are there only because people in the labor movement stood up against this exploitation and abuse. These folks willing to stand against injustice deserve our gratitude on this day. We could use a hell of a lot more of them now.

So, as you spend your holiday in a hopefully happy and relaxing manner, remember those who made this day possible. Happy Labor Day.

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This post originally ran on this blog back on Labor Day in 2010.

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