Posts Tagged ‘Influences’

I recently picked up  the second volume of The Complete Graphics of Eyvind Earle, a 9-pound behemoth of a book featuring the work of the artist who I have written about here once before.  It’s an incredible book, full of spectacular imagery and pure color that I find both inspring and humbling.  He had a tremendously long career, about 70 years, that began with a one-man show at the age of 14 and continued through stints as a fabled Disney artist and graphic artist known for his  highly stylized greeting card design.  Through it all, there was an amazing consistency and brilliance to the many pieces produced by a prolific artist in such a long career.  I find myself overwhelmed by the variety and quality of his work as I go through the book which only covers a small part of work.

Just incredible.

There’s great clarity in the work of Eyvind Earle.  The compositions are often both complex in design but come across as simple, a duality that I really find appealing.  The color is bold and could be a little sharp in tone if it weren’t harmonized so masterfully within the picture plane.  He is a pure genius at handling harmony and contrast– another duality that strikes me. 

I also like the fact that Earle was an unabashed landscape artist, feeling no desire to express himself  through figurative work.  He found total expression in his handling of the landscape around him, often depicting the open spaces and coastlines of California. They are not mere scenes but have emotion and a depth that goes well beyond the surface, another aspect that appeals greatly to my  desires for my own work.  In short, it’s just beautiful work and an inspiration with every look.

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Well, it’s the day after Christmas and I’m trying to clear my palette from the holiday and get ready for the new year.  Not the holiday but the actual year 2011.  I’m starting to really begin to think about moving in new directions, even in a subtle fashion.  I’ve talked before about how this change is important to me and how it keeps me excited in the work.

Sometimes this new direction comes in the form of new compositions or a differing use of the materials at my disposal.  Sometimes in entails visiting past work or influences and seeing how they interpret at this point in time.  The same composition painted at different times often brings surprisingly different results.  Maybe my color palette is different at one time versus the other or maybe my emotional state is different, which has a huge effect on my work.

As for past influences, sometimes the time that has passed allows me to see different aspects of the painting I’m looking at and take this aspect into my own work.  The painting I’m showing today is an example of a past influence that I have used.  It’s Death on the Ridge Road from the great Grant Wood in 1935.  I love this painting.  It has so many aspects to ponder and take from.

When I first used this as an influence, in this painting from 2001 on the right, I focused mainly on the movement in Wood’s painting.  The curve of the road and the shapes and positions of the vehicles hurtling at one another, along with the lean of the telephone pole at the top of the hill set against the moving sky, all give this piece a sense of motion and action.

At the time, I wanted my painting to carry that same sense of movement as I felt in Wood’s piece but in an even simpler composition, without the drama of the vehicles potentially crashing together.  In my painting the road and motion in the leaves of the tree carry the action aspect.  It very much a different piece, compositionally and emotionally than the Wood painting.  At that time, when I painted this, that was what I took mainly from the Wood painting.  Now, I might focus on other aspects and create work that is quite different than what I first pulled from this influence.  For instance, today I might want to pull something from his shadowing at the bottom of the painting, something I actually have used in a number of paintings over the years.  Or the symbolic aspect of that lower telephone pole and the way it creates an almost shadow-like effect of a cross on the hillside.  That is filled with possibility.

So I will spend the next several weeks taking some time to look at past work of my and work from those I consider influences, such as Grant Wood, and hopefully something new will merge.  At least, a newer version of my work with a new facet.  We shall see.

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I’m battling a cold and don’t feel like I have much to share today but I did want to show this piece, Flower Beds, from Vincent Van Gogh.  It’s not one of his better known iconic pieces but whenever I come across it, it makes me stop and look.  It’s from early in his career and is painted in a more impressionistic fashion than his later, more signature works with their bold strokes of vivid color.  This piece seems to be a bridge between his influences and the style that he later adopted as his own, going from the darkness of the past as represented by the cottages to the new, colorful strokes that are the flower beds.

I like seeing that transition, almost can feel how Van Gogh was taking on his own voice at that time.  Seeing things with his own eyes for the first time.  Becoming the Van Gogh we know now.

I don’t know why I mention this piece today.  I was thinking that I don’t often mention Van Gogh as an influence even though I consider him a large one.  I think I try to avoid invoking his name simply because I hear so many painters list him as their primary influence and seldom see the energy or passion in their work.  His work had an incredible accessibility and drew such an  immediate  basal  reaction  that it makes him an easy, romantic choice as an influence for many.  I guess it’s a fear that if I come out and say it, that I’ll be lumped in with the posers when I would rather just have my work speak for itself, away from any comparison.

As it should be.

But how do you not like the guy’s work, not feel inspired by his need to constantly move forward in his desire to express the rhythm and feeling of the world around him?  How can a painter not want to capture the essence of his singular voice?

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I wrote yesterday about how music and other stimuli influence my work.  Since then I’ve been thinking about that and a comment made by writer David Terrenoire about knowing other fiction writers who refuse to read other writers for fear of having the voice of this other writer creep into their own.

I believe the creativity of any artist, writer, or musician comes from their own unique perception of the world around them, how they see and take in everything to which they’re exposed and reflect it back to the world.  I don’t think it’s so much that they create new worlds but how they synthesize what they encounter in this world into their own personal version of it.  This synthesis of influences is what gives an artist their unique voice.

I was recently talking to a young painter, still in a college program, whose work showed real promise but it was obvious he was still in search of a voice.  Every painting carried the earmarks of the painter he was influenced by during its making.  While all were well done, there was nothing yet visible that stood out as being uniquely his in any of the paintings.  It was obvious he was still gathering influences, seeing what was out there and trying to copy it first.  I asked him how he liked to paint, how he saw his work in his mind and he said he wasn’t sure yet.

He hadn’t started synthesizing yet.  While obviously talented, his voice was not present yet.

But at some point, for any creative person,  there has to be the transition from simply taking in information and reflecting it just as it entered to a thought process that allows new data, new influences, to be taken in and transformed internally into something uniquely their own.  Their own voice becomes unmistakable.

When that happens, I can’t say.  It’s probably different for every person and maybe it never happens for many.  Maybe there’s an aspect to this I’m overlooking because I am just thinking out loud here.

As is often the case, I don’t really know…

The piece at the top is a tiny new painting,  the image being 1 1/2″ by 3 1/2 ” in size and matted in a 6″ by 8″ frame, called Hold Your Banner High.  It is available at the West End Gallery as part of their Little Gems exhibit.

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