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Posts Tagged ‘Painting’

Wyeth/ Balance

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It’s all in how you arrange the thing… the careful balance of the design is the motion.

-Andrew Wyeth

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I read this quote from the late Andrew Wyeth then looked over a large group of his work, examining each piece with these words in mind. I could really see the importance of the placement of the elements in his work, how it was the characteristic that truly defined his work. It was this that gave his work a poetic feel.

His use of negative space is masterful, the empty areas taking on an important role in the overall feel of the work. Placing the central character, the focal point of the picture, in any in any other spot would change the whole piece, would make it feel less.

It would feel off balance, at least in the form that Wyeth defined it. That balance is his signature.

And I think that is true for many artists. This idea of balance and motion makes up the artist’s eye. Every artist has a slightly different way of seeing things which creates their own unique visual voice.

Myself, when I feel stuck or blocked or feel that I have painted myself into a creative dead end, I look back at older work. It is often the balance and motion with the composition that affect me the most. It serves as a reminder to not lose sight of this idea of balance, to not focus too  much on other parts of the painting that, while important, may not have as much effect on the overall impact of the piece.

Balance in the design creates motion. Good advice from Mr. Wyeth.

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Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off – then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.

–Herman Melville, Moby Dick

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I’m no sailor but I know that feeling, that drizzly November in my soul as Melville wrote. A glumness descends accompanied by an anxiety that cannot be quelled and the idea of being around people sets my jaw hard with my grating teeth. If people still wore hats I am sure I would be aiming to knock them off their heads.

Or worse.

I can’t head to the sea to alleviate my hypos as Melville describes this feeling which I believe is taken from the word hypochondria. No, for me, it is time to try to barricade myself in the studio and pick up my brush which is my equivalent to hoisting the sail.

With brush in hand there is a freedom with no boundaries that can hold me. No rules to follow, no one to tell me what I can or can’t do.

A brush loaded with paint is like a sail filled with a strong wind that will take me anywhere I want to go.

I can create my own sun when it’s gloomy outside or my own moon and stars to guide me through the dark. I can look out on a landscape free of all traces of people and if I occasionally want to see one I can make them far away from me, small and distant.

That keeps me from knocking off their hats.

The hypos seem to be getting the upper hand of me so I think it is high time to pick up my brush and set sail.

But if you see me on the street in the meantime, hold onto your hat.

 

 

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There are two ways of spreading light… To be the candle, or the mirror that reflects it.

–Edith Wharton

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This is a sort of new painting headed to the Principle Gallery for their upcoming Small Works show that opens next week. I say sort of new because it is a painting from a few years back that was changed in a way that made it a completely different piece.

Back then it was titled Candle and it was just as it is without the female figure and the boat. With its simplicity and color, it was a favorite of mine and it has been here in the studio for the last year or so, much to my delight. There has always been something in it that speaks to me.

But I have recently worked on a few paintings with small female figures in them and their presence has had a real impact in those compositions, adding a real layer of meaning and depth to those paintings. In the studio, I started to to look at this painting– without the figure– and began to see her there. I could see her adding a symbolism that would change and enrich the painting.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to change the original painting but day after day all I could see was a ghost of that figure in place. The original began to fade for me, began to seem lacking, as thought it had waited for me to add this figure and make it whole.

So, this what you have now.

I changed the title of this painting with another addition, becoming Fiona’s Candle. The Fiona comes, of course, from the British born US Diplomat Fiona Hill who testified in the recent Impeachment Hearings. Her strength, her intelligence, her straight forward approach, sense of purpose, and her unwillingness to suffer fools or alter her moral compass for them made a deep impression on me and many others.

We could use a few more Fiona Hills.

In this painting, I see the female figure as having those same characteristics. She is seeking, as Edith Wharton wrote above, to spread the light, to illuminate the truth– which I see here as the Sun, a set and constant thing– as either the candle or the mirror that reflects it.

I am usually averse to changing pieces that speak so strongly to me, that seem to already have a life force in them. But there are always exceptions and this painting, for me, seems to have been fortified, made stronger by one simple addition.

 

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YCAC Student Work 2019

Well, my annual workshop up in Penn Yan has come and gone for the year.

Phew!

I don’t know why but afterwards I inevitably feel like I have been beaten with a sock filled with nickels– bone tired and a little achy. Most likely it’s because running around, talking and painting, in front of a group of people all day is way out of my comfort range. I am not used to that much interaction with people without a break. I think I told the group that  my normal day was actually not far from standing on the lawn of my studio and shaking my fist and hurling profanities at an empty sky.

So having to rein that in and be a civil human who is trying to assist someone takes some effort.

But this year’s group, like every group, has been absolutely wonderful. They were (and are) kind, smart, humorous, generous of spirit and outgoing, though there is a bit of shyness about their painting sometimes. They make my job much easier than I think it is. By that I mean they would probably be just as happy if we accomplished half  of what we do in those two days.

And we do a lot in those 12 or so hours of painting which is remarkable for a group that has many folks who paint maybe once year and have little, if any, experience with painting. Plus, they are learning a pretty idiosyncratic style that requires the touch and understanding of the materials that can only be obtained with long periods of practice and repetition. It can seem pretty frustrating for them at points in the two days. My job, as I see it, is to impart what knowledge I have and to help them in any way to make them feel less frustrated, with the hope that they will try to keep going on their own after the workshop ends.

This year’s painting could have easily brought about a great deal of frustration. It was a fairly complex composition with multiple beds of flowers that required lot of intense painting. It was a whole bunch of work for such a condensed period of time.

And they did absolutely great with task. It took a torrid afternoon session on the second day but their work really popped and each painting made it to a satisfying completion. I am always amazed at how well the work comes out and how, though they share the basic composition and color selections, there is a great deal of individuality to each piece.

I am proud of their work and I certainly hope that they are equally as proud. They should be. If not, they fooled me because they seemed happy enough when they left.

And though I am tired and will no doubt soon regret the decision, I have already agreed to return next year, this time returning to the wet work with inks that marked my earlier work. Sounds lie a lot of work with new materials but most of this year’s attendees are already planning on coming. I have no doubt that it will be fun.

So, thank you to each and every one of you folks who came and worked so hard. Thanks for your efforts and your welcoming spirit. I could not possibly appreciate it any more. Hope you’ll come back again.

And with that, let’s listen to a little Long John Baldry with, of course, Come Back Again.

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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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Wassily Kandinsky- Couple Riding 1906

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The true work of art is born from the Artist: a mysterious, enigmatic, and mystical creation. It detaches itself from him, it acquires an autonomous life, becomes a personality, an independent subject, animated with a spiritual breath, the living subject of a real existence of being.

–Wassily Kandinsky

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Leave it to the great Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) to so well describe that sense of life I am looking for in my work and about which I have often written here. When it is real, it takes on a life of its own. It still possesses the personality and psyche of the artist but grows, adding layers and dimensions that take it well beyond the reality of the artist.

These two sentences from Kandinsky hit the mark squarely — animated with a spiritual breath, the living subject of a real existence of being–and are just perfect for how I see this process.

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Arthur Dove- Fire at the Sauerkraut Factory

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We cannot express the light in nature because we have not the sun. We can only express the light we have in ourselves.

-Arthur Dove

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I liked this quote from the Modernist painter Arthur Dove (1880-1946) and while searching for an image of one of his paintings to accompany it, came across this painting. I liked the painting itself but it was the title that really caught my attention. It’s called Fire at the Sauerkraut Factory and was painted around 1936.

It made me wonder where this sauerkraut factory was and when it burned. Dove was born in Canandaigua, NY,  and raised in Geneva, NY, at the north end of Seneca Lake, whose south end is just a short drive from this studio. In those areas around Canandaigua and Geneva are large fields where cabbage is grown. There are, as a result, several factories in the area for the production of sauerkraut. I am not sure if it still applies but at one time this area and one village in particular, Phelps, was the sauerkraut capital of the world.

Just makes me wonder if Dove was basing this painting on a fire from the home of his youth. I was able to find an account of a large sauerkraut factory fire in that area in November of 1917. This story of the fire mentioned that the fire was fought solely with chemicals which might account for the multiple colors of the flames in Dove’s painting.

It also mentioned railroads tracks next to the factory which encumbered the firefighters. I believe the fence-like structures at the lower part  of the painting are actually railroad tracks.

Perhaps Dove, who was living in NYC at the time was visiting either his or his wife’s parents and witnessed the fire or was told about it, with the person telling the story mentioning the wild colors of the fire as the chemicals mixed with the flames.

It’s one of those tiny questions in small stories that may never have an answer. But I like to think that this might have been the story behind this painting that I like and chose to accompany a quote that I also like from the artist.

 

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