Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Cowbells ring. Are you listening?

Probably many of you have participated in a "dirty Santa" gift exchange. Everyone brings a gift but a white elephant kind of gift. And because one man's trash is another man's treasure, sometimes a white elephant becomes a thing desired.
So it was with the cowbell above. It's real; it's old; and though I've never seen a cow wearing one, it seems very much a part of where I live. Somehow the bobble-head we brought as a present never made the transition to desired!
Cow Belle is an 8x8 oil.

In 2011, may you also find treasures in unexpected places.

Happy New Year...
Bonne Annee et bonne sante...
Gelukkig nieuwjaar...
Kul 'am ua antum bik hair...
Feliz ano Nuevo...
Kali hrona...
Shana Tova...
Yin nian yu kuai...
Felice Anno Nuovo...
Ein gluckliches neues Jahr...
S Novym Godom...

Please excuse the absence of pronunciation marks and any misspellings!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Idealized Reality


The statue fragment in the above painting is what's left of Poseidon, an over-life-size marble that once decorated the exterior of the Parthenon in Athens. Or rather it's a cast of Poseidon's torso; the original is in London and is one of the famous Elgin Marbles. This Poseidon can be found in my hometown, inside our full-size replica of the Parthenon. Even though he's made of concrete rather than Pentelic marble, he still has the power to inspire.
He's an excellent example of the Greek love affair with idealized reality. Some 2,500 plus years ago, Greek artists abandoned the stylizations and conventions of Eastern art and began their pursuit of the real.
They wanted to recreate what our eyes see. This necessitates all sorts of tricks and illusions on the part of the artist. And though the rules of perspective probably weren't formulated (the rules had to wait for the Renaissance), foreshortening, the creation of form and mass, the illusion of depth and distance were all part of the Greek artist's bag of tricks.
I said that the Greeks wanted to reproduce what our eyes see. Actually they wanted to create a vision of reality perfected, where the real is always beautiful. It's a goal artists are still pursuing 2,500 years later.

Admiration Society is a 14x9 oil. By the way, passing viewers often reach up to touch Poseidon; they simply can't resist.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Culinary Arts

Ezra Pound was a poet.. Ezra Pound Cake is a blog written by a chef who majored in English Lit. The recipes posted are nicely different with a meatless category for vegetarians and lots of pastries and cakes to try this holiday season.
Ken Auster is an artist. If you've ever eaten at a Ruby Tuesday, you've probably seen some of his paintings (at least, my Ruby Tuesday is decorated with them). Ken was helped in his restaurant commission by having a culinary school nearby where he had permission to paint the students. In his work, Auster eliminates detail, simplifies shapes, goes for dramatic design, uses impasto and has a definite sense of humor.
Mark, the model for the above painting, is a real chef who's married to a painter friend. (It's good to have connections!) The Culinary Arts is a 24x20 oil done in open studio.

Monday, December 6, 2010

There's a Rumor Going Round...

Rumor has it that the Impressionists didn't like or use black. Ah ha, it's rather easy to squash that particular bit of gossip. Simply look at almost any Manet.
Hmmm, what's that? You say Manet wasn't really an Impressionist? Okay, you have a point. But of course, Degas and Caillebotte were surely Impressionists with a capitol "I." And they used black a lot.
Okay, okay. You're right. They used black when painting people and manmade things like buildings and hardwood floors, stockbrokers and ballerinas. Perhaps, as you say, black for these kinds of things would be a special exception to any rule.
But Monet, Claude Monet, the primo Impressionist, sometimes used black as well and used it for landscapes! Ah yes, though many beautiful Impressionist landscapes haven't a stroke of black, others surely do.
Lots of my landscapes haven't any black either; but some do, like Junk Trees above. It's a 12x9 plein air of a much-maligned species, the hackberry tree. Hackberries grow fast and grow just about everywhere in Middle Tennessee. They're not "good" for anything like building or burning so they only rate as junk, though beautiful junk.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Hello Darkness, My Old Friend

Edouard Manet, as much as any fashion-conscious denizen of Manhattan, loved black. He used it to shape his compositions, create his forms (often quite flat ones) and engender high drama.
His friend and sister-in-law, painter Berthe Morisot, tried to persuade him to paint in the lighter hues of the Impressionists. But though the Impressionists were both his friends and his great admirers, Manet followed his own muse and continued to explore the many uses and advantages of black.
Right now at the Frist in Nashville, Tennessee, we are lucky to have a splendid exhibit from Musee d'Orsay. Along with numerous other masterpieces, the exhibit gives us a cornucopia of Manets in which Edouard shows us the depths and wonders of the non-color black.
My painting, Like a Melody also uses black for composition, contrast and drama. It's a color needed in almost every palette... even the impressionistic.
Like a Melody is an 18x14 oil done in open studio.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Sense of Place

 Visual art and the written word can both give a wonderful sense of place. Read Faulkner and you'll come to know Mississippi without setting foot there; explore the poetry of Robert Frost and you explore New England. Read Donna Leon (my current fav) and you'll feel both the present damp and the ancient splendor that is Venice.
Paradoxically, I think it may be harder to capture a place in a painting than it is to capture it with words.
But in my part of the world, Middle Tennessee, there are many superb visual artists who succeed in painting the beauties of this place and in capturing its special feeling.
To prove my point, on the right side of the blog, I've added links to landscapists and plein air groups that specialize in painting Tennessee and the southeastern United States. I'll mention one specific painter among the many that I find especially adept at conveying not only the look but the feeling of my state. Kevin Menck can paint a field and make it so real and immediate that I know it's got to be just down the road and around the bend.
My Cold Thanksgiving is a plein air 18x14 oil; its place is a century plus farmhouse here in Middle Tennessee.

Monday, November 15, 2010

My Kind of Town...


Even a flood can't keep a city of bluegrass and honky-tonks down. This is a very slightly modified skyline of my hometown, Nashville, Tennessee.
Cityscapes are hard. I love them, but really don't like to do them. The perspective, figuring out just how to do all those little windows, I find very difficult.
But there is a painter who made cityscapes look easy. In the 1700's, Canaletto painted his hometown of Venice over and over. It's said he painted many outside, on the spot rather than in the studio, making him, I suppose, one of the true plein air pioneers.
Canaletto had a fluid brushstroke and a wonderful way of capturing light. Most of his paintings were done for wealthy English tourists. Now they hang in museums, an unusual end for a travel souvenir.
Another master of the cityscape, William Wray, also possesses a fluid stroke and a great way with light. But rather than beautiful Venice, Wray paints the urban blight of Southern California and makes it quite beautiful as well.
My View from Metro General  is an 8x16 oil.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Let's Hear It for Negativity!

Negative space, that space surrounding each and every object in a painting can be wonderful. Velasquez turned it into painted air so real it's almost breathable. Vermeer infused it with the softest of sunlight. Van Gogh used brushstrokes to transform it into motion and energy.
Surround a figure with negative space like Hopper and the mood will turn solitary. Eliminate negative space by bringing the figure up close and personal, as Klimt often did, and there will be instant intimacy between viewer and subject.
In my painting, the chair and the parasol leave the model with almost no negative space to call her own. But she doesn't seem to miss her bit of breathing room; in fact, she's rather like a seatmate on a bus, very busy ignoring us all.

Paper Parasol  is a 20x20 oil. The girl was done in open studio; the parasol was finished later in my studio.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Last Picture Show... for the Chestnuts... this year

My city is blessed with an array of urban parks, one very special one is Radnor Lake. It's in a rather ritzy residential area and is protected enough from the city so that once you enter its grounds, you enter a quiet zone. Sounds heard are forest noises plus the occasional voices of others enjoying the park along with you.
For years, the Chestnuts (plein air painters for the land) have painted pretty pictures as a fund raiser for Radnor. The Radnor/Chestnut show is happening this coming weekend. Nashvillians can support their park by purchasing a reminder of its beauty to hang on their wall. Paintings will be on display Friday, November 5 through Sunday, November 7, from 8 to 6 daily at the Radnor Visitor Center, 1160 Otter Creek Road, Nashville, Tennessee.
Just a Walk in the Park is an 10x8 oil. Most paintings in the show will be of the very lovely lake itself. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Hierarchy of Paint

For several centuries, paintings were ranked according to subject matter. History paintings were at the top, followed by portraiture, genre, landscape and lastly still life. "History" subjects included Greek and Roman mythology and Biblical themes as well as history that might be found in a standard textbook.
Rembrandt who lusted after both fame and social acceptance often painted "history" even though his forte was character study and portraiture his bread and butter. The Night Watch, which began as a group portrait commission, became in his hands more like a history painting and in so doing, changed the standard for painting multiple folks forever. Meanwhile still life occupied such a lowly spot in the hierarchy that even women could make a living creating them.
Today history painting is a rare thing indeed, displaced by the Impressionists, then buried by Abstract Expressionism. But still life, once the stepchild of fine art, has enjoyed a prosperous existence with practitioners ranging from the renowned Giorgio Morandi to the present online Carol Marine.

My oil still life, Teapot, Short and Stout, is a humble nod to those long-ago women painters of pots and flowers who received such grudging respect.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Seeing Red

There's a story I've read about a couple of famous and now long-dead painters. Both had work accepted in an exhibit, a very important one, and their paintings for the show had been hung side by side. One painting completely dominated the other, not because it was technically better but because it was simply a more dramatic design.
A day or so before the show officially opened, the overshadowed artist removed his painting and shortly thereafter rehung it with one change, his piece now included red... where no red had been before. The tables were turned. The painting with red now was the one that attracted every eye.
Yes, there's a reason fire engines, fireplugs, stop lights and stop signs (as well as sometimes the dresses of pretty women) are red.
Though I can't remember the names of the painters involved in the above story, I can direct you to two paintings that use show-stopping red in entirely different ways. In The Red Kerchief, Monet uses red as accent, as a color "alien" to the rest of his canvas. In the amazing Red Room, Matisse uses red almost as a neutral to make every other color in his work pop with intensity.
My Stairway in Amalfi is a 24x20 oil.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

On Neutral Ground...

Black, white, grey and sometimes brown... these are the neutral colors that many artists love. We love them because they can impart both harmony and drama as the more colorful often do not.
Rembrandt was a master of the neutral palette, using it to make his own self-portraits into dramatic character studies even though he was quite an ordinary-looking fellow. James McNeill Whistler actually titled his most famous painting, Arrangement in Grey and Black rather than its more popular name, Whistler's Mother. That maternal skin glows amid all the surrounding neutrals just as an open yellow umbrella glows on a grey rainy day.
Make neutrals by mixing complementary colors and you'll create a bouquet of beautiful soft greys that suggest all the colors of the rainbow. Sometimes this leads to vocabulary confusion with one artist referring to a color as grey when another (often me) sees it as really blue or maybe pink or orange.
Whistler's Great, Great Granddaughter is my bow to the ways of James McNeill. Done in open studio, it measures 24x20.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Last Minute Invitation...


I mentioned in the previous post that my painting Lonesome Dove was to be auctioned at the Blue Moon gala here in Nashville. Actually, I also had several other paintings for sale at Blue Moon which is usually a one-night shindig benefiting the Tennessee Land Trust.
This year, the Trust has extended the show and invited the "neighbors," meaning anyone who wants to come. If you like traditional landscapes (we started with 350 pieces) and/or antebellum plantation houses (antebellum Glen Leven is the setting for the show), you'll have a good time. It will be from 3 to 7 p.m. Sunday, October 17, at the Glen Leven Estate, 4000 Franklin Road, Nashville, Tennessee. This is about 15 minutes tops from downtown Nashville taking I-65 and exiting on Harding Road. 
Unlike most sales, painting sales often save the best for last. The most beautiful, the painting that touches you heart, can be found at the very last minute of the very last day. Come to Glen Leven and see what I mean.
Springtime at the Century Farm is a 14x11 oil now at Glen Leven. {The painters of the 350 landscapes are members of the Chestnuts, plein air painters for the land. More about them later.}

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Aw Ma, Do I Have to Study?




Studies are those little paintings and/or drawings that artists make to prepare for a more finished and usually larger work. They're useful to figure out values, juggle composition and plan color palettes. They have a lot in common with homework. But most painters find them much more fun than their teenage attempts to solve for "x" in algebra.
I had a revelation about my studies a few months ago. Mine are not about capturing the exact color of what I see. They are about creating color harmonies. Because I tend to push color, I risk discordant colors and values. A study helps me avoid that. Sometimes it helps by showing me what not to do in the larger painting.
As you can see from the above twosome, it also helps me refine my composition. And as I see in looking at this post, the colors seem quite different between the two. The colors in the larger are actually very much like those in the study; unfortunately, my camera wouldn't see it that way.
To see some lovely value studies, visit Laurel Daniel's blog and while there, browse around to look at more of her work as well.

Lonesome Dove (above) is of a Tennessee Land Trust property and will be auctioned at the Blue Moon gala held in Nashville each year to promote and fund the work of that organization. It's a 9x12 oil; its study is 5x7.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Mud and the Skin of Venus


"Give me mud and I will paint you the skin of Venus." Eugene Delacroix.

When I painted as a teenager, I was taught that there was a formula to create the color of flesh. Later, I forgot this "formula" and subsequently wasted a lot of time trying to rediscover the right combination to mix the color of our skin.
Now I recognize that there is no magic mixture. Our skin (whatever its shade) is so reflective of light that almost anything goes. It becomes a prism for the colors and the light surrounding us both in life and in painting.
So yes, the earth colors, the "mud," used by Delacroix and Titan can make the creamy skin of a Venus. And the saturated cadmiums used by many of today's artists can become the colors of our flesh as well. To see a contemporary kaleidoscope of skin colors, just visit Karin Jurick's 100 Faces.

Somebody's Dream is one of my more straightforward forays into the color of flesh. It's a 20x24 done in open studio.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Lost in Translation


I once saw an exquisite Rubens' drawing of a beautiful woman with long curly hair. The woman had what appeared to be a large, upside-down, black funnel on her head. What do I remember? The funnel-hat (which I could draw now), not really the woman at all.

Of course, sometimes a work is so wonderful that it rises above obscure or absurd inclusions. Such a painting is Pieter de Hooch's Maternal Duty. A contemporary of Vermeer, de Hooch was sometimes less skilled in perspective and proportion. But with this painting, his passages of light, his color, his gesture are all quite marvelous. Today almost no one would guess that the mother is picking lice from her child's head (a necessary practice even in spotless Dutch houses).

My painting has no funnel or (ugh) lice, but smack in the middle is a very unusual... birdbath! I bet you had no idea what it was. I so loved the maple and then the composition that I included an object I knew almost no one would understand.

Japanese Maple, Cheekwood plein air 8x10.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Three Amigos


Two friends and I are having a show and sale of our paintings in this lovely (yes, lovely describes it) old barn which belongs to Susan Harlan, one of the friends. Neither Gale Haddock (the other amigo) nor I have ever done anything quite like this before.
It's both exciting and intimidating, sort of like throwing a party and inviting way more guests than you've ever invited before.

The event happens this Saturday, Sept. 18, from 10 in the morning til 7 in the evening. The address is 1312 Lewisburg Pike, Franklin, Tennessee. It's off Exit 61 on I-65 south of Nashville and is easy to find if googled.

To borrow the phrase everyone seems to use in blog invitations, "if you're in the neighborhood," please come. It promises to be a good time.

Paintings above by: left, Gale Haddock; center Susan Harlan; right, me.

Friday, September 10, 2010

First Day


There's a picture on my studio wall that I love; it's a print of Peter Hurd's painting, Eve of St. John. Hurd was a noted "Western artist" though, sadly, he seems now to be known primarily as Andrew Wyeth's brother-in-law.

Hurd began his career as an illustrator, and I think Eve shows those roots with its strong sense of narrative. To me, the story it tells is one of becoming, like a "coming of age" novel or autobiography. I find it to be mysterious and haunting; it's a work I look at often.

After I finished First Day , I realized I was trying to tell a coming-of-age story, too. First days are always a beginning, when everything promises to be a surprise and nothing is sure. Growing up sometimes seems a series of first days... except for those times growing up when you think you might die of boredom!

First Day is an 18x14 oil done in open studio.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Under the Art Umbrella

Painters love umbrellas. Our beach scenes have them; city scenes ditto. Our women carry them to keep off the rain and when it isn't raining, to keep off the sun.

I can't fully explain the passion for parasols. Shape is part of it, that regular gentle curve that leads the viewer's eye to just where the artist would like it to go. The potential for unexpected color is another. A pop of orange can be excellent when at sea or in a painting of a grey, rainy day.

Umbrella advantages can be subtle as well. Faces shaded by umbrellas are often lit by soft reflected light with shadows that take on the color of the umbrella itself. The most famous painted lady with a parasol, Monet's wife, is such a mix of shadow and reflected light that she almost dissolves into the sky and clouds behind her.

My lady is warding off the last drizzle of a Manhattan shower; there's really more sun than rain in her forecast.

NYC Shower 8x8 oil on panel.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Two Part Harmony



Diptychs got their start in ancient times when the literate wrote on hinged, waxed, wood tablets that could be folded to protect the words from nicks and marks. In the Middle Ages, those hinged pieces of wood protected sacred images rather than words. The two wooden panels became three and the triptych became the standard altar format.
Today any painting composed on more than one panel is called a diptych, triptych or polytych respectively. Together the panels should form one coherent composition, but they should also make sense (and be a good painting) if viewed separately.
Two Part Harmony is a stacked diptych born of necessity. I was painting at the beautiful Century Farm of the previous post and had no canvas tall enough for the scene I very much wanted to paint. But I did have two 8"x8" squares. So the rusty water tower and old-fashioned flowers could co-exist, just as they do in life.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Almost Plein Air



This is a little painting done from a very bad photo and my better memory. I had just finished a marvelous morning with friends painting at a Tennessee Century Farm. As I was packing to leave, I noticed an old gnarled apple tree that reminded me of one of my all-time favorite works, Childe Hassam's Peach Blossoms - Villiers-le-Bel.

Hassam was an American Impressionist and a great artist. He did Peach Blossoms (a gnarled old peach tree in bloom) early in his career, but I think it's the equal of any of his later canvases. It's very Japanese in feeling, a wonderful mix of strong design, exquisite brushwork and a beautiful palette of color.

Now a bit about our Tennessee Century Farms. They are exactly what the name implies, farms that have been continuously worked by the same family for more than 100 years. This one is also a Tennessee Land Trust property; its owners have protected it from development now and in the future, to truly preserve a very special place.


Old Apple Tree is a 5x7 panel, more about the Century Farm next time.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Different Perspective


Since the marvelous Cezanne and Van Gogh, perspective has become a much more fluid concept than it once was. Now sometimes playing by the perspective rules is important; sometimes not so much.

It's more than okay when Cezanne's apples seem to spill right out of his painting because his table looks tilted. And Van Gogh's bedroom wouldn't appear nearly as inviting if its perspective was not skewed as though asking us to come in and take a nap.

Dufy playfully ignored most of the guidelines. The contemporary Dan McCaw tinkers so subtly in the interest of design that his rule bending can almost go unnoticed.
In Sidewalk Artist, I toyed with perspective, too. I wanted the viewer to see her chalk drawing because everyone in the painting is oblivious to both it and its artist.

Sidewalk Artist, Florence 12x12 oil.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Why I Love Degas



Do I love Degas because he painted beautiful tutus, gorgeous jockey silks, and frilly silly hats in millinery shops? No, none of the preceding. I love Degas for very different reasons. I love his painted women in all their complexity and humanity, and I love his compositions.

His paintings have designs as daring and fresh as any before or since. He doesn't balance; he crops and cuts people, horses and things as though they were in a snapshot, but one taken by a master photographer.

Symmetry is not his style. He might shove everything to one side and leave the rest of his canvas empty or have the center of his painting depict nothing more than a bare wood floor.

Just Passing Through (above) is my homage to Degas. Slightly off-center, with her adult cropped to one lone hand, my little girl is just passing through the world like us all.

Just Passing Through 18x14 oil on panel.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Way In


Something an artist often wants to give a painting is a "way in" for the viewer, that is a place for the viewer's eye to enter the picture plane and then travel through the painting. As you might guess, this is often done in landscapes. Sometimes it's literally a road; but it can be a stream, a flow of color, a stretch of light or shadow. For many beautiful entry ways, you might visit Julian Merrow-Smith's Postcards from Provence.
Figurative paintings can invite the viewer in as well. One interesting figurative method is eye contact, a look from a painted eye that seems directed at the viewer.
My favorite eye-to-eye painting is Georges de la Tour's The Cheat with the Ace of Diamonds. In that work, a card cheat steals a glance at you, the viewer, while pulling the ace from behind his back. Georges liked the device so much that he did it again; but this time, the card was the ace of clubs.
The Way In, 10x8 plein air oil on panel.


Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Bottle Labeled "Drink Me"


As Alice in Wonderland discovered, physical size can be extraordinarily important. It can often be just as important with two-dimensional art. Some subjects clamor to be large; some are content to be smaller and more intimate.

An example of a large painting that needs its bigness is The Diver by Jasper Johns. Over 7 feet high, it's a dark presence that overwhelms in part with its size. To me, it needs to be seen in actuality to be appreciated.
When you look at paintings on the computer or in a book, any shrinking in size should be taken into account. Not only is impact lessened, but big paintings will appear both tighter and busier than they really are.

The painting above is a tiny 8x8 inches and wouldn't work as well if made much bigger. If I do another using the same reference, it would be both larger; and I think quite different in its mood.

Nimbus is an 8x8 oil on panel done during the Karin Jurick (master of the small) workshop in NYC.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Somewhere over the Rainbow...


"Pushing color" is an art expression that describes amping up the intensity (artists call it saturation) of color in a painting. One of the criticisms of the Impressionists, back when they were considered rebels, was that their color was too vibrant.

Saturation has only gone forward from Monet. Intense, vivid color is something contemporary eyes expect. Images in magazines, movies and on television all push color, sometimes to the max. The trick for the artist who also pushes is to keep harmony in the midst of the intensity. If he/she doesn't, it's a discordant confusion. Of course sometimes, that may be exactly what the artist intends.
The pink trees and rainbow sheep above are examples of color pushing that's meant to be harmonious. And though the colors are exaggerated, it was spring, the trees were sort of pink, the sheep sort of glowed.

Sheep's in the Meadow 20x24 oil. Displayed through Aug. 5 in the Leu Gallery at Belmont U. in Nashville, TN.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Woman at the Window


"Woman at the Window" is a painting from my open studio. If you're unacquainted with the term, open studio means a bunch of artists getting together and painting in the same studio and (usually though not always) painting the same thing or same person. It's a way of sharing costs but has many other benefits as well.

First by painting from life, you gain practice in converting the three dimensional into two. Even more importantly, painting from life lets you see colors and values missing from even the most accurate photograph.
Second, you have a deadline. The session will end, the model will leave, the set-up will be dismantled. You simply haven't the time to over think or overwork. Voila! You just may capture some freshness, some spontaneity on your canvas.

Woman at the Window is a 20x20 oil done in open studio.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

"What's in a Name?"


According to the poet, "a rose by any name would smell as sweet." That's good because naming a painting is quite hard for most artists. Some choose not to name at all so as not to influence the viewer's perception. Hence the amazing number of Untitled's out there. Others simply describe their painting as Cecilia Beaux did in "Man with Cat" or label it with the subject's name, "Madame Georges Charpentier," the title of Renoir's complex portrait of Madame, her children, their dog, and a few treasures from Madame's Parisian apartment.

Then there are the artists who let someone else do the job. For instance, Andrew Wyeth's wife, Betsy, named most of his paintings.

Perhaps the most dangerous, but potentially the most fun, title is the witty one that suggests layers of meaning. It's dangerous because it can be just too, too cute, imply something the artist never intended, or simply miss in the wit department. One practitioner of the last method who seldom if ever misses is the contemporary artist Carol Marine. The fruits and vegetables in her still lifes burst with character and personality that's often reflected in her titles.

What's in a Name? is an open studio 14x11 oil.