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Posts Tagged ‘Influence’

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The above quote is from Wassily Kandinsky and concisely captures what might be the primary motive for my work. I think, for me, it was a matter of finding that thing, that outlet that gave me voice, that allowed me to honestly feel as though I had a place in this world. That I had worth. That I had thoughts deserving to be heard. That I was, indeed, here. 

That need to validate my existence is still the primary driver behind my work. It is that search for adequacy that gives my work its expression and differentiates it from others. I’ve never said this before but I think that is what many people who respond to my work see in the paintings- their own need to be heard. They see themselves as part of the work and they are saying, “I am here.” 

Hmmm…

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This was one of the early posts from this blog from back in 2008. It remains true to this day, nearly ten years later, as the idea of “I am here” still drives my work.

Maybe this will be one of the things we touch on this coming Saturday, August 4, at my Gallery Talk at the West End Gallery, starting at 1 PM.

Maybe. Or maybe we’ll just have a sing-along. Who knows? It’s a fluid thing.

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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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 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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“There is only one valuable thing in art: the thing you cannot explain.”

 — Georges Braque

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This is a quote from artist Georges Braque that I used on the first artist statement I ever wrote many years back. It still pops up in my mind on a regular basis, especially at times when I find myself looking at a just finished painting, wondering what is there that is triggering my emotional response to it.  These words from Braque reminds me that what I am trying to capture is not the subject matter, not a mere representation of reality.  I am trying to capture an indefinable feeling or spirit that is not calculable or even visible.

Definitely beyond the reach of my words.

It is the sum of color and light.

And texture and line.

And the spaces in between.

It is of the spirit and the life force.   When it is there, it is obvious and undeniable. And though I can’t explain it, I can see the purpose and value of that work.

And that is a good day…

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I have never really focused here on the work of George Braque (1882-1963) who is mainly known as one of the major artists, along with Picasso, of the Cubist movement. His work, through all the differing phases of his long career, is always impressive. I thought I’d share the video slideshow below of his work. It’s set to Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21, better known as the Elvira Madigan concerto, which makes it a most pleasant and calming thing to spend a few minutes with on the first cool morning of November.

 

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“When you feel colors, you will understand the why of their forms.”–Oscar Bluemner

I’ve written several times about Oscar Bluemner, an early and relatively obscure Modernist painter. Since stumbling across him a decade or so ago, I have an affinity to his work and much of his outlook on it. He worked mainly with color and shape but didn’t work in pure abstraction, believing that the subject must be based on the real world in order to fully communicate with the viewer. And the subject itself not nearly so important as the color and forms employed and the emotions they depicted. Those are things that ring with me.

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I look at the work of a lot of artists and usually see something I can relate to in much of it.  It might be the way a color sings or the way the painting is put together or in the expressiveness of a line.  Or just in simple emotion.  But very seldom do I stumble upon the work of an artist who I immediately feel as though I am sharing the same perspective.

Such is the case with Oscar Bluemner.

I came across his work a few years back.  I saw an ad for a piece of his in an art mag and was captivated.  There was something very familiar to me in it which made me want to know more.  But I could find little about Bluemner.  This was strange because he was in the right circles where one would think he would get some attention even if only by association.  The German-born painter, who was born in 1867 and moved to the US in 1893, was part of the Modernist painters group of the early 20th century represented by Alfred Stieglitz , famed photographer/gallerist and husband of Georgia O’Keefe.   His work hung in solo shows at Stieglitz’s famed NYC gallery and in the fabled Armory Show of 1913.  You would think there would be no shortage of material on him or that his name would raise the image of some piece of his work.

But Oscar Bluemner had a knack for failing.  He was trained as an architect and designed the Bronx Borough Courthouse.  However, he was not paid for his services and the seven year court battle that ensued drove him away from  architecture and into the world of art,  where his paintings never garnered the attention or lasting reputation of his contemporaries.  He sold little and lived in abject poverty, which is said to have attributed to his wife’s early death and ultimately to his suicide in 1938.

But there is something in his work that I immediately identify with when I see it.  It’s as though I am seeing his subjects in exactly the same way as he did and would be making the same decision he made when he was paainting them.  His trees feel like my trees is the way they expressively curve and his colors are bold and bright.  His building are often windowless with a feeling of anonymity.  His suns and moons are solid presences in the sky, the focal points of many of his pieces.   In this piece to the right, Death,  he uses the alternating abnds of color to denote rows in the field as I often do and has his twisted tree rising from a small knoll in the forefront of the picture.

I find myself saying to myself that I could very easily have painted these same pictures.  It’s odd because it’s not a feeling that I’ve experienced before even with the artists whose work I think has most influenced me and with which I feel a real connection.  And it feels even odder because I didn’t become aware of Bluemner’s work until long after I had established my own vocabulary of imagery.

There are finally a few things out there online about Oscar Bluemener.  You can see more of his images now than you could even a few years back.  The Whitney in NYC had a retrospective of his work in 2005 (here’s a review) and that seemed to raise awareness of his work.  So maybe a few more people, a new generation, will finally see what I see in Bluemer’s work.
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Marc Chagall Sun of ParisWhen I am finishing a picture I hold some God-made object up to it / a rock, a flower, the branch of a tree or my hand / as a kind of final test. If the painting stands up beside a thing man cannot make, the painting is authentic. If there’s a clash between the two, it is bad art.

–Marc Chagall

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I haven’t mentioned Marc Chagall  here but once over the 6+ years I have been doing this blog and I very seldom list him as one of my influences or even one of my favorite artists.   But somehow he always seems to be sitting prominently there at the end of the day, both as a favorite and an influence.

One way in which his influence takes  form is in the way in which he created a unique visual vocabulary of symbology within his work.  His soaring people, his goats and horses and angels all seem at once mythic yet vaguely reminiscent of our own dreams, part of each of us but hidden deeply within.

They are mysterious but familiar.

marc-chagall-fishermans-family-1968And that’s a quality– mysterious and familiar– that I sought for my own symbols: the Red Chair, the Red Tree and the anonymous houses, for examples.  That need to paint familiar objects that could take on other aspects of meaning very much came from Chagall’s paintings.

He also exerted his influence in the way in which he painted, distinct and as free-flowing as a signature.  It was very much what I would call his Native Voice.  Not affected or trying to adhere to any standards, just coming off his brush freely and naturally.

An organic expression of himself.  And that is something I have sought since I first began painting– my own native voice, one in which I painted as easily and without thought as I would write my signature.

  So to read how Chagall judged his work for authenticity makes me consider how I validate my own work.  It’s not that different.  I use the term a sense of rightness to describe what I am seeking in the work which is the same sense one gets when you pick up a stone and consider it.  Worn through the ages, untouched for the most part by man, it is precisely what it is.  It’s form and feel are natural and organic. There is just an inherent  rightness to it.  I hope for that same sense when I look at my work and I am sure that it is not far from the feeling Chagall sought when he compared his own work to a rock or a flower or his own hand.

Marc Chagall Song of Songs

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