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Archive for the ‘Influences’ Category

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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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Got way too much stuff to get at it this morning to write. But I thought I’d share a post from back in 2010 that I like a lot. Take a look.

Southern Gardens- Paul Klee

I was asked yesterday if I talked to my paintings.

Interesting question.

I talk to animals. I talk to trees and plants. I talk to my car. I talk to my studio, which actually has a name. I talk to ghosts, present or not. Whether any of these things or beings listens is another matter.

But talk to my paintings?

It immediately brought to mind a section of a famous lecture that I had been reading recently and had really resonated with me. It was On Modern Art,  delivered in the 1920’s by Swiss artist and a personal favorite of mine Paul Klee:

May I use a simile, the simile of the tree? The artist has studied this world of variety and has, we may suppose, unobtrusively found his way in it. His sense of direction has brought order into the passing stream of image and experience. This sense of direction in nature and life, this branching and spreading array, I shall compare with the root of the tree.

From the root the sap flows to the artist, flows through him, flows to his eye. Thus he stands as the trunk of the tree. Battered and stirred by the strength of the flow, he guides the vision on into his work. As, in full view of the world, the crown of the tree unfolds and spreads in time and space, so with his work.

Nobody would affirm that the tree grows its crown in the image of its root. Between above and below can be no mirrored reflection. It is obvious that different functions expanding in different elements must produce divergences. But it is just the artist who at times is denied those departures from nature which his art demands. He has even been charged with incompetence and deliberate distortion.

And yet, standing at his appointed place, the trunk of the tree, he does nothing other than gather and pass on what comes to him from the depths. He neither serves nor rules–he transmits. His position is humble. And the beauty at the crown is not his own. He is merely a channel.

This very much sums up how I’ve always felt about art, especially my place as an artist– a mere channel or transmitter.  And when I look at my paintings, the crown of my tree, it is not in the form of a conversation so much as listening to what the paintings have to tell me. I paint because I question and, at best, the paintings provide some answers and insight that I might not find or see otherwise.

So, do I talk to my paintings? Not so much. But do they talk to me? Yes. And I do my best to listen…

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“I have always said that you do not see a thing until you look away from it. In other words, an object or a fact in nature has not become itself until it has been projected in the realm of the imagination.

~ Marsden Hartley

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Marsden Hartley (1877-1943) is a favorite of mine both for his paintings and his words, which often express thoughts about painting that ring true for my own experience. For example, I love this quote above. Some of the strongest images for me are those that are taken at a glance, sometimes while driving down the highway at 70 miles per hour.

If the imagery strikes me in a powerful way, my mind immediately starts breaking down the image into a sort of shorthand, blocking in the forms and organizing them in a way that registers deeply. It is simplified but contains the elements and the effects that struck me. Sometimes I will move my arms while doing this, trying to create a muscle memory of the rhythm of that which I am seeing in my mind.

The image is thus entered into my imagination. Everything else around it that is not part of image that spoke out to me seems to not exist in that moment. It s a funny process and is deeply ingrained to the point that I don’t even think about it but for this reminder from Hartley.

Got to get to work. Have a great day.

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Hello Dali

 

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The fact I myself do not understand what my paintings mean while I am painting them does not imply that they are meaningless.

–Salvador Dali

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Been writing this blog for over ten years now and this is the first post about him so you might understand when I say that I am not the biggest fan of the work of Salvador Dali, the famed Spanish Surrealist painter who died in 1989 at the age of 85. His work was always visually interesting, sometimes in a disturbing fashion, and was painted in a high traditional manner. Some of it is beautiful work. But it just never fully clicked with me. Some pieces I liked very much and others left me completely cold.

I will say that for me and many people of my age, he was the face of art, being one of the few artists who sought (and found) attention on television. If you had asked me at the age of 12 how an artist might act, I would most likely have described the wild antics of Dali that I had observed on a variety of shows of that time. He was always eccentric bordering on a lunacy that, even as a kid, I could never decide was real or contrived.

And maybe it is this public persona, the one that had him seemingly mugging and posing for attention at every opportunity, that tainted how I looked at his work. Sometimes it seemed like his paintings were doing the same– just trying too hard. A little too engineered and manipulative. Nowadays, I try now to set aside that image of his persona and focus now on each painting individually. It allows me to fully enjoy the work that speaks to me and to simply take in the others.

I also enjoy some of his writings, which are often more lucid and focused than his public appearances. For example, I like his feelings as expressed above about the meanings of his work as well as this other short observation:

If you understand a painting beforehand, you might as well not paint it.

Both quotes could apply to my feelings about my own work.  I have often felt that the best and most alive work is produced when there is no contrivance, no clever idea at the beginning of how I can manipulate a response from the viewer. Almost as though there is an absence of forethought, a void that allows the subconscious mood at the moment to dictate in color and form without the dull, wooden clutter of thought out cleverness.

Sometimes, I find that the paintings that I expect the least from when beginning often produce the most when done.

You might disagree with this. Your argument might be valid. I will not argue the point and can only speak for myself and my experience.

I apologize for not going into more detail on Dali’s career here but there is a ton of material out there that anyone can easily find. I thought I’d just share a few words and images for you to consider. You make your own judgments.

 

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A little busy this morning but never too busy to stop for a brief moment to consider an image or a few words from Andrew Wyeth. The words and image above are a good example. I just love this quote. It’s an idea–that a piece of art should not be judged on its craftsmanship but on how well it conveys emotion and beauty– that has always rang true for me.

Craftsmanship should not be seen as the goal but rather as a means, the handmaiden as Wyeth terms it, to get there.

Got to get to work now. Have a great day!

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James Ensor- “Intrigue”

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The mask means to me: freshness of color, sumptuous decoration, wild unexpected gestures, very shrill expressions, exquisite turbulence.

–James Ensor

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As has been pointed out here, I have been working recently on some new work with large groups of faces, heads, masks, multitudes or whatever one sees in them. It has been exhilarating, with the work pulling me back into a rhythm where I am eager to see what the next work brings. While that is a great feeling in itself, I am still deliberating over where the work might take me, still trying to decide if it is work that is just meant to cleanse the system or if it is a new path to follow in some way.

I turn for a bit of advice from art history going back to James Ensor (1860-1949), who I featured here a few years back with a post about his famed  painting Christ’s Entry into Brussels in 1889.  Ensor was well known for his paintings featuring groups people wearing contorted and strange, even grotesque, masks. Many were based on the masks seen at the carnivals and festivals of the time in his native Belgium.  But seen out of context, they were pretty controversial, as you might imagine, in the late 1800’s, given the subject matter and the rough method of much of his painting. This was around the time that the work of the Impressionists was still considered scandalous so you can imagine how the image of a soldier with a skull for a face embracing a maiden with a gigantic nose mask might play.

It’s fascinating work. Wish I could tell you more but the images themselves tell me a lot and inform my own work by providing fresh inspiration for new work. Just looking at this work this morning has me itching to get to the easel.

Take a look at some of the work of James Ensor and see if it does anything for you.

Ensor- “Christ’s Entry into Brussels in 1889”

Ensor- “Portrait of the Artist Surrounded by Masks”

James Ensor- Squelette Arretant Masques

James Ensor- Old Lady with Masks

James Ensor – ” Death and the Masks”

James Ensor- “Strange Masks”

James Ensor- “Masks Confronting Death”

James Ensor- “The Despair of Pierrot”

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Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, one by one.

Charles MacKay,

Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds

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I am still in the midst of a frenzy of faces.

I call this group of work, like the newer painting above, a 20″ by 20″ canvas, Masks or Multitudes. This particular piece is still untitled although I am seeing it as The Crowd for the moment.

Still not sure what the meaning is behind these pieces.

Maybe there is no meaning. Maybe they are just familiar shapes and it is a matter of color and form that is attracting me.

Maybe attracting is the wrong word because it is not really attraction that has me painting them. A better word might be compelling. I feel compelled to paint these at this time.

Why is another thing altogether.

On one hand, I see it in the terms of Walt Whitman‘s voice in Song of Myself, as I wrote here recently– I am large, I contain multitudes. In this rationale, the faces are part of me, individual pieces of a whole. It makes sense as I have been seeing these faces all my life. They seem part of me.

Maybe that is what these paintings are.

But then sometimes I see something different in them and think that they are quite something else. Something less benign. Something more strange.

Strange because I have become more and more averse to crowds, especially the collective behavior of crowds. While I try to subscribe to Will Rogers‘ mantra of I never met a man I didn’t like, I find myself leery of crowds. I would change Roger’s line a bit, to something more like I never met a crowd I liked with one caveat–I only feel somewhat comfortable with crowds at my gallery talks or openings. I don’t fear and sort of understand the common denominator of those groups.

But mob thought in general worries and alarms me. It seems too easy for one to be swept up in the frenzy of a mob, to sacrifice aspects of yourself for a collective aspect that might not normally be seen in you when you as an individual.

That might even apply to the overall intelligence of a crowd. You would think the level of intelligence would rise with the inclusion of more minds but actually it seems to lower to compensate for the common denominator. As the late writer Terry Pratchett put it:  The intelligence of that creature known as a crowd is the square root of the number of people in it.

As a result the crowd is subject to manipulation, to being led astray from what the individual knows is right when they really consider it in solitude. It becomes easy to believe things that might otherwise seem ridiculous or outrageous.

We have plenty of examples of that in our current state of affairs here in the USA.

Sometimes I see this work in that way, as representing the mob. But then again when  look deeper and see the faces individually, they seem less threatening and more along the lines of Whitman’s thought.

I just don’t know. That they compel me might be all I can say with any certainty. I find myself being both uneasy and comforted by this work. And there’s something to be said for that paradox and contrast. They are important aspects of art, the part that imparts meaning.

Hope that is what I am looking at.

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