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.