Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Stories We Tell: Faith, Part II

A State of Grace 20x24 by Shirley Fachilla

For centuries, faith was a major theme of Western art.  Our museums are filled with religious paintings and sculpture that we see as masterpieces of art. The works of Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Reubens, to name only three masters, are largely devoted to religious subjects. 
Francisco Zurbaran, friend of Velazquez and follower of Caravaggio, was painter of faith with a vision particularly appealing to 21st century eyes. Zurbaran painted monks, usually as solitary figures bathed in strong light, surrounded by dark shadows, often in the throes of some sort of religious trauma. His emphasis on the individual and the individual experience makes his work seem modern. Of course, his emphasis upon religious devotion makes it seem very alien to our more secular world view.
My monk, subject of  A State of Grace, was done in open studio with a remarkably kind husband of one of the artists posing.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Snow Days

Almost Home 14x11 oil by Shirley Fachilla

Multiple snow days have made many of my painter friends as happy as school children (the white stuff has been a rarity here during the past few winters). They brave the roads and the cold to paint woods filled up with snow a la Robert Frost. You can see some of the beautiful results here, here  and here.
Me... well, I'm much less intrepid. Cold fingers, toes, noses and thoughts of cars in ditches make me brew another cup of tea and turn up the music in the studio.
Did Monet paint in the snow? Sometimes at least, he painted the snow outside while tucked inside as I suspect Sisley may have painted some snowy days from his front yard very close to his inside fireplace.
For my snow, I took a page from Monet's extensive playbook and painted the view from my front window at twilight. Titled Almost Home, it reminds me of the relief I have felt to be almost home on more than one cold and icy night.  

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Stories We Tell: Power, Part I

Power Tie 20x24 oil by Shirley Fachilla

One of the most enduring painting themes is the story of power. Kings, emperors and presidents want to be shown as worthy of rule in their portraits. The desired look seems to be regal, strong, often bejeweled and always above the fray.
But sometimes the story told is definitely not the power story intended. Velazquez's Pope Innocent X is considered by many to be the greatest of all portraits. But it's great not because the Pope seems omnipotent, but rather because he's shown as all too human. Did Innocent realize that Velazquez's work let everyone who looked see him honestly?
And then there's Charles IV of Spain. Goya as court painter shows us a royal family of decidedly ordinary, quite dull-looking individuals distinguished only by their clothes. Could King Charles have failed to recognize that rather than ennobled he was reduced?
Though the guy in my painting does wear a power suit and tie, I suspect he's just interviewing for the job. He was painted from life in open studio.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Glass Maker's Art

Patiently Waiting for Flowers  8x8 oil by Shirley Fachilla
In my home town of Nashville, we had a Chihuly summer of glass. Dale Chihuly is perhaps the foremost glass artist in the world today. He has a prodigious output and a marvelous sense of invention which is never stuffy or staid. Though it may sound like coals to Newcastle, Chihuly glass has in past years decorated the canals of Venice. In 2010, it decorated Nashville.
His glass was part of the stage set for Nashville Opera's  Bluebeard's Castle; it was on display in the Frist Art Center; and it decorated the ponds, gardens and mansion of the Tennessee Botanical Gardens at Cheekwood. We lined up to see his work lit up in the gardens during the summer nights.
Glass making requires, for many of its steps, quite a bit of physical strength. To get an idea of how much strength, you might read  Through a Glass Darkly by Donna Leon. It's a contemporary mystery set on the island of Murano where Venetian glass has been made for centuries.
Patiently Waiting for Flowers has as its subject a tiny hand-blown glass vase. The vase isn't in the style of Chihuly but is hand-made and beautiful all the same.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Ancestral Dreams

Ancestral Dreams 20x20 oil by Shirley Fachilla
George Catlin painted over 500 canvases of Native Americans and he painted them twice, once from life and once from his sketches and memories. He had wanted the government to purchase the life series. Instead it was bought in its entirety by a private collector who stored them away from public view. This was when Catlin began to paint them all again.
What strikes me most about the collection is its sensitivity. His men and women are usually shown in standard portrait poses with great dignity rather than great drama. Each is a portrait of an individual not a stereotype.
I've read several different versions of Catlin's original impetus for the series. One is that he was inspired by the Indian Removal Act passed in 1830, the year he began his travels in the West.
My portrait, Ancestral Dreams, is an open studio work of a lovely Cherokee/Scotch American. If her ancestors traveled the Trail of Tears charted by that act of 1830, they managed to find their way back.
A final small and sad irony, Catlin's paintings are now a part of the Smithsonian Collection bought by the government from the estate of the collector, not from Catlin, the artist.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Playing Hard to Get

Dreaming of Italy  20x24  open studio oil

There's a painting by Degas that has at its center a sumptuous bouquet of flowers. The lavish arrangement fills the space. But the flowers for all their exuberance, play second fiddle to the woman at their side. Pushed to the right, cropped and much smaller than the posies, the woman still controls the canvas.
How does she do it? First, by having a strong and interesting face. But second and more importantly, she does it with her gaze. She isn't looking at the viewer or the flowers but stares at something beyond the frame. You simply have to look along with her and in the process, look intently at her. It's as though she's playing hard to get by ignoring us and the flowers, and as any Cosmo article would tell you, thus garnering all the attention.
My painting borrows a little of the Degas composition though the bouquet is much, much smaller! The diptych shown in the background of my painting, as my title implies, reminds me of an Italian landscape.
For more talk of Degas, see my post here.

Is it too early to send an invitation?

Pieces by (clockwise from left to right) : Susan Harlan, Janet Garner, Shirley Fachilla, Mike Martino and Topper Williams. So many ...