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Archive for the ‘Influences’ Category

Do not try to do extraordinary things but do ordinary things with intensity.

–Emily Carr
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Emily Carr was one of the first artists that came to mind when I saw the question last week that asked if you name five female artists. She is most likely off many of your radars but I am sure some of my friends to the north in Canada recognize her name very well.
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Carr was born in 1871 and died in 1945 in Victoria in British Columbia. Aspiring to be an artist, she was trained in the tradition of classical painting methods early in her life. But the first decade of the 20th century saw her work take a radical turn. After a period of time in Paris, influenced there by the Fauvist and Post-Impressionist with which she met and painted, her work took on bolder colors and more expressive brushwork.
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She took this new found energy back to Canada where she opened a gallery in Vancouver in 1912. The gallery faltered as she failed to see the response that she had hoped for. Dejected, she basically put down her brushes for the next 15 years, doing little painting.
However, some influential people were aware of her work, especially paintings she had executed with the native tribes of Canada as her subjects, and in 1927 she was invited to show a group of work in an exhibit about the tribes of the West Coast at Canada’s National Gallery in Toronto. It was here that she met Lawren Harris and  other painters who made up the fabled Group of Seven, which were several great Canadian painters of the time who had distinct modernist styles. I have featured the brilliant work of Lawren Harris here several times.
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Encouraged by Harris, who proclaimed her as one of that group, Carr was rejuvenated and for the remainder of her life worked with great vigor, trying to capture the spiritual essence of her native homeland. Like Maudie Lewis, Carr is a Canadian national treasure.
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I am enchanted by much of her work and the spirit that is imbued within it. This has been a very cursory look at her life with just the highlights and a few images and a video. Please do some research on your own. It’s well worth the time.


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I don’t paint like a woman is supposed to paint. Thank God, art doesn’t bother about things like that.

Alice Neel

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Thursday was International Women’s Day and I saw an article on social media that asked if you could name five female artists. It wasn’t difficult for me but this is what I do so I am regularly scanning the work of others, past and present. I see a lot of work by women that is incredible and have been directly influenced by many of these women.

But I could imagine for the casual observer it might be a difficult thing to name five female artists. Any honest person that does a quick scan of the history of art can plainly see that this field has long been dominated by males. But this makes it like most other fields of endeavor and reflects a societal bias that has often long placed less importance on the accomplishments and the self-expression of women.

It is something that must and will change. It is changing before our eyes.  I say that because I have had the great fortune to be associated with a number of galleries that feature increasingly large rosters of female artists. This is not by design. It’s just that more and more interesting and wonderful work is being done by female artists who have finally realized that their voice, their expression, should be secondary to no one.

I have seen the numbers grow substantially over the years and am excited by it, mainly because the things that I see in the art that attracts me are usually perspective dependent, not gender dependent. Anything that broadens the field and gives a wider range of viewpoints and more options is a good thing in my opinion.  The gender, or race or nationality, of the artist should not play a role in our perception of their work unless that work deals directly with these subjects.

Hopefully, soon an artist will simply be an artist. Not a female artist or a black artist or a Latino artist or whatever subtitle people choose to attach before the word artist.

One of the artists that jumped to mind for me when I read the question about naming five female artists was Alice Neel (1900-1984) who was famed for her portraiture. She had a very distinct way of using color and always followed her personal muse, never adhering to any particular genre or school. She was a bold painter in a time when the female artist was still very much underappreciated. In the years since her death she has gained great recognition for he work. I urge you to take a closer look at her work and her life.

Alice Neel. Hartley. 1966. oil on canvas. 127 x 91,5cm. gift of Arthur M. Bullowa. National Gallery of Art Washington.

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Edward Hopper- Pennsylvania Coal Town

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I believe that the great painters, with their intellect as master, have attempted to force the unwilling medium of paint and canvas into a record of their emotions. I find any digression from this large aim leads me to boredom.

Edward Hopper

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Emotion is that intangible quality that separates art from craft. Emotion does not have to be at the extremes of rage or depression or giddy elation. It is often subtle and calm or densely introspective. Hopper’s work was imbued with quiet emotional undertones that make his paintings, even those scenes of the most seemingly mundane moments, truly memorable.

Art is, at its foundation, emotion.

 

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Woke up late this morning, at least by my standards. I bolted awake directly coming out one of those weird dreams that seem like something out of a dystopian novel like 1984 or Brave New World.

Or taken from any recent newspaper.

I wanted to go back to sleep just to try again, maybe come out this sleep with something better. Second times a charm, you know.

But I couldn’t so I headed over to the studio for my morning rituals. But that feeling from my dreams lingered, like a foreboding prophetic omen that is always at the edge of my thoughts and my vision.

I have a floater in my right eye that sometimes, when I am looking straight ahead, will dart across the far right periphery of my field of vision. It’s been there a while now but I often still finding myself jerking my head reflexively to see what is there. Of course, there is never anything there yet its continued presence gives me an unsettling feeling as though something could be there when I look the next time.

Uncomfortable dream or terrible omen? I’m rooting for uncomfortable dream but who knows what our subconscious is up to these days.  So much of the info, the indicators, the patterns it selects to process from the outside world enter without our knowledge.

It all reminds me of the image at the top, a painting from back in 1996 or thereabouts. I can’t locate a slide of this piece but came across an old photocopy yesterday and was really taken with it. It’s called Strange Victory II designed as a kind of companion to Strange Victory which was an early painting that I showed here and was based on a favorite poem of mine with that title from Sara Teasdale.

There is a lot that I like in this painting– the subtlety of the colors, the textures and the contrast of the figure and the tree against the backdrop. It is so simply constructed but has a fullness that is often elusive to me as an artist.

I think it’s a great companion piece for this week’s Sunday Morning Music. This week I chose Don’t Give Up, the Peter Gabriel song from back in the 1980’s. This version is from Willie Nelson accompanied by Sinead O’Connor, from his 1996 album, Across the Borderline. I think it’s a first rate cover of the song and I can envision the image of this painting when I listen to it.

Take a listen and have good day and better dreams.

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 I will give a proof to demonstrate with facts that there are no rules in painting and that oppression or servile obligation of making all study or follow the same path is a great impediment for the young who profess this very difficult art.

–Francisco Goya

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The great Spanish painter Francisco Goya (1746-1828) is one of those artists whose work doesn’t always move me, especially that work that came before he was fifty year old and was serving as a Court Painter to the Spanish Crown. That work is fine but remains, for me, unremarkable. It feels academic and restrained and not unlike the work of any number of other Master painters.

It adhered to all the rules.

But with an illness in 1793 that left Goya with the deafness that profoundly affected him, his work began to move in an altogether different direction, one that would mark him as one of the great transitional artists in the move from the Old Masters to the modern era.

The work began to grow darker and was not centered around portraiture and genre paintings that would please the upper classes. The work from this time dealt with themes based on mythology, superstition and witchcraft, and the wars and political upheaval in the Europe of that era. It is often disturbing work that often eschewed the traditional rules of painting and created a new art form would come to define his name. One of his most well known paintings, The Third of May 1808, shown at the top, is considered a groundbreaking work in that it left behind many of the ideas that had ruled painting before it.

No Rules is an idea I have tried to embrace throughout my career. It’s nice to know that someone like Goya was one of the first painters to embrace it.

Here’s another thing that Goya said that strikes close to home for me:

Fantasy, abandoned by reason, produces impossible monsters; united with it, she is the mother of the arts and the origin of marvels.

Reason in painting is a quality that is not often discussed. But I believe that there has to be a sense of orderliness– reason— in painting that allows the viewer to connect with it, even if they don’t always fully understand why. Even the seemingly most chaotic abstractions usually possess a rhythm and sense of reason that allows an interaction.

I have really come to admire Goya’s work more and more over the years. The more I look the more I like. His work has directly– my Outlaws series came about as a result of seeing a group of his miniatures– and indirectly, with his words and thoughts, influenced my own work. Here are a few of my favorites. I encourage you to look on your own. Here is a link to a site with 700 images of his works.

 

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“What does that represent? There was never any question in plastic art, in poetry, in music, of representing anything. It is a matter of making something beautiful, moving, or dramatic – this is by no means the same thing.”

 Fernand Leger

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I found it hard to believe that the French artist Fernand Leger (1881-1955) hadn’t shown up on this blog before. I’ve always enjoyed his work, especially his use of simplified forms, visible line and dark-tinged color. These were qualities that I knew I wanted for my own work in the early days when I would look at his work and that of a few other artists. I liked most of his work, from his early Cubist inspired abstractions and his later more figurative work.

But I really identify with his words above. The idea of painting moving past the idea of pure pictorial representation into something more like the expressive phrasing of dance, music or poetry is an idea that has clanged around in my head for a long time.

It is to look at a painting of a cow, to use an example, and feel the same sort of response which comes with experiencing the grace of a dance or the beauty of a musical passage.  The gesture of the painting, its movement and rhythm, and the emotions that it evokes have transcended the apparent subject it portrays. The cow as the subject of the painting is replaced by the emotional response to the forms, lines and color in the painting. That response becomes the subject and that cow becomes less of a symbol for a cow and more of a representation of the emotions that the painting brings forth.

Some magical cow, huh? Don’t know why I chose a cow as an example. It was the first thing that came to mind and it is early, so bear with me.

The point is that I see often this in Leger’s work. I feel an emotional response to some of his work without even recognizing what might be considered the obvious subject on the surface.

It’s something I desire for my own work. I would imagine that most other artists do, as well. But I don’t know if there is an actual way of ensuring that it takes place within one’s work. Maybe it’s either there or it’s not. Maybe it has to come without conscious thought, from a clear and empty mind.

I don’t know. But I can hope.

Here’s video slideshow of some more of Leger’s work.

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The value of the prototype does not consist in the rarity of the object, but in the rarity of the quality it represents.

–Victor Vasarely

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I have to confess up front that I am not a big fan of Victor Vasarely (1906-1997) or the Op-Art movement of which he is at the forefront. It’s not that I am denigrating it. I have seen a number of pieces that I do like and I can certainly see people being intrigued by its color and forms and how it can reverberate in certain environments.

If I had a mid-century home with lots of glass and chrome, I might think about hanging this type of work. But I live in a cabin in the woods.

It’s just not to my particular taste, that’s all.

That being said, I immediately nodded in agreement when I read the quote above from Vasarely. As I read it, it jibes well with my own views on the intrinsic value of art and how the artist behind it affects the artwork’s value beyond that of a mere object.

When I have spoken with students in the past I try to impress on them that while they must learn their craft, they should also focus on making themselves fully rounded humans with an individual voice that reflects their uniqueness and individuality.

I urge them to read more, listen more, and to look at more things, all preferably outside their own known preferences.  I believe it creates a sense of fullness that will extend into their work, giving their work a greater sense of that quality that takes a piece beyond being a mere object of decoration.  And today, when there are more artists than at any other time at any point in history, its that rare sense of this quality that can make the difference in how seriously an artist’s work is viewed.

I don’t know if that ever gets through to these kids or if it even holds true in reality, but it seems right to me. I personally try to view each piece as a combination of skill, experience, acquired knowledge and influences, and the flaws and strengths of my own character–hopefully, the better parts of it.

Sometimes it works and at those times I see the quality represented by it that Vasarely described. When it doesn’t, I see a mere object that lacks the fullness that I am trying to put in it. I can see that I have somehow withheld some part of myself from that work and I try to figure out how to overcome that deficiency.

But most of all, I keep trying to find that rare quality…

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