Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Carolyn Anderson Workshop... "Smoke and Mirrors, Baby"

Demo Painting by Carolyn Anderson

Workshops are like continuing education classes for artists. They’re completely voluntary, so the artist may choose exactly the kind he or she wants. Sometimes artists select a workshop to acquire a particular skill, but usually it’s less about skill sets and more about the instructor. Painters go to the workshops of artists they admire.

I just attended a Carolyn Anderson workshop in Scottsdale Arizona. Carolyn did all the great things expected in a workshop. She painted demos, gave individual attention, and dispensed practical advice. She also talked about art and painting in a thoughtful, and I think, profound way. It was rather like going back to college, not to the classroom, but back to one of those all-night sessions where the big questions are explored: Life, Death, God and our place in the universe. I’m afraid I’ve made it sound stuffy and pretentious. It was neither. It was thought-provoking and illuminating.

As I recall, the discussion began with the very basic but often overlooked fact that painting is illusion; in Carolyn’s phraseology, it's all “smoke and mirrors, baby.” Representational painters, and a huge chunk of abstractionists, make the two-dimensional seem like three. We are conjurers who call forth depth where none can exist. We also, and this can include abstract expressionists, make paint seem to be all sorts of other things: water, metal, flesh, to name a few.

Sometimes, we pretend that what we paint is really, really real. Trompe d’oeil and photorealism are examples. When this works as it should, while trying to amaze (ex: “gosh, those grapes look real enough to eat”), the artist is saying much more about the nature of reality and our perception of it.

More often, we admit to the illusion. We let the viewer in on the trick from the beginning. Art critics like to talk as though this letting the viewer in on the trick is a recent thing. But it isn’t. Rembrandt, for one, did it repeatedly several centuries ago. One of my favorite Rembrandt paintings is a figurative of his lover wading in a shallow stream. Her painted tunic looks more real than my laundry, the painted water more real than that  flowing from my tap. At the same time, both look exactly like what they are… paint. Rembrandt did the parlor trick with his knowledge of form, edges and values. He let everyone in on his illusion by applying the paint so thickly (impasto) that its true nature can not be denied.

Recognize the illusion, acknowledge the smoke and mirrors and the artist is ready to say something more, quite often something that can’t be put into words at all.

For some beautiful words, be sure to read what Carolyn wrote and quoted about edges on the home page of her website.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Oh, Just Be Square!

Model Boats a 6x6 oil by Shirley Fachilla

Noted colorist Camille Prezewodek recently sent me an email. We’re not really buddies, but I took a painting workshop from her a couple of years ago and have been on her email list ever since. Camille’s email was all about the square format. She thinks it gives a painting a contemporary look and feel. I quite agree as would the legion of daily painters who frequently paint square canvases, often tiny 6x6’s.
As you’ve probably noticed, your computer gives you the choice of printing “landscape” or “portrait” on an 8x11 page. These tags came about because for centuries, most landscapes were done in a horizontal format (longer than high) and most portraits in a vertical one (higher than long).
Do the unexpected and change things up or in the alternative, go square, and it makes your painting seem fresher, newer, in short, contemporary. Even better it can make folks look twice… or at least look longer! Something every painter likes.

The above is very square and tiny, a 6x6 of the boat pond at NYC’s Central Park.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Stood Up by Johnny Depp

Spanish Sword is a 20x16 alla prima open studio oil by Shirley Fachilla.

Contemporary artist Dan McCaw advises painters to decide in the initial stages of their work whether it will be a “light” or a “dark” painting. He means whether light values or dark values will predominate on the canvas. According to Dan, one or the other must for a successful painting to emerge.

Note: value to a painter means the lightness or darkness of a color rather than its actual hue. An example of pure value would be a black and white photo, no color just gradients of light and dark. But all paintings and photos contain value as the underpinning of their color.

Caravaggio was a master of dark. He was a tremendously influential painter in his day, despite a low work output and personal difficulties that included murder charges. His paintings were usually very dark in value (and often equally dark in subject and mood) with slashes of high-contrast light. They radiated drama and intensity; other painters were mesmerized and immediately tried to paint like him. Some of us still do try.

Spanish Sword qualifies a dark painting. Our wonderful model came dressed as a pirate carrying a very real and very beautiful Spanish sword… thus the title.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Bare Ruined Choirs

Bare Ruined Choirs, an 8x8 plein air by Shirley Fachilla

This is a chapel in the Mt. Olivet Cemetery in my hometown of Nashville, Tennessee. Mt. Olivet is on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s a beautiful cemetery, filled with famous and not-so-famous Nashvillians, some of whom had both grandiose and quirky notions of what their final resting place should be.
And though the cemetery is immaculate, this chapel has been abandoned and deserted for some time now. A new more accessible chapel was built in 1996, one with plenty of parking. For awhile this one was left open and became a repository for beer cans and other more embarrassing rubbish. Now there’s a chain link fence around it and it’s been left to fall apart in solitude.
I thought of Shakespeare’s “bare ruined choirs’ when I first saw it on a brilliant spring day filled with new growth and promise. (Not to seem more literate than I am, I remembered the phrase but not the author.) The new for the chapel was the new grass growing in its gutters. According to Historic Nashville, it’s one of the city’s most endangered historic buildings. Sadly, I can only agree.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Women in Hats with Flowers

Day Dreaming Gardner, a 24x20 oil by Shirley Fachilla.

Sometimes they masquerade as goddesses. Rembrandt painted his wife as the goddess Flora in hat with flowers.

Then sometimes queens pretend to be commoners complete with chapeaus and posies. Louise Vignee Le Brun’s portrait of Marie Antoinette shows her hatted with blossoms decked out as Marie’s idea of a shepherdess.
Women in hats with flowers are definitely favorite painting subjects and have been, I’m convinced, since ancient times (though I looked and couldn’t find a Pharaoh’s queen crowned and with lotus blossoms on the web).
The tradition continues with contemporary painter Dan McCaw’s wonderful women who glow from within, surrounded by light and flowers and of course, shaded by big brimmed hats.
All the lovely ladies seem to be gently telling us to gather our rosebuds while we may, for time it is a’ fleeing.

Day Dreaming Gardener is my woman in hat with flowers. She’s an open studio painting done ala prima measuring 24x20.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Van Gogh and Levitation

A New Roof for an Old Friend an 8x8 oil by Shirley Fachilla

Van Gogh’s Church at Auvers is a portrait of a church made of bricks and mortar. But the painting reminds me more of a rocket launch. Caught from an unusual perspective, with several of its verticals aiming to converge at some point far above it, the church looks as though it’s ready to levitate right out of this world and into the next.

Van Gogh, perhaps more than any other painter, caught the both spirit of the Gothic style (light, air, and soaring space) while imprinting it with his own vision. His church is both beautiful and a bit scary. It’s a relatively small church; just think what he might have made of a cathedral!
The building in my painting was once a church; and while I painted it, I thought of Van Gogh’s Church of Auvers. Perhaps its was the vivid colors of sky and building or the particular perspective, that made me picture Van Gogh’s painting in my mind’s eye. Mine has a two-color roof because it was in the process of getting a new one. You may be able to see one of the workers just visible on the roofline

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 ...