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.