Friday, June 12, 2015

Flowers in December

I love painting from life. Everything is so clear and there is never any question of the light source or the form. The colors are genuine and the reflections accurate. The artist literally has to take a three dimensional subject and create a two dimensional painting. It’s challenging, exhilarating and most of the time satisfying. 

This piece, “Flowers in December” was first painted as a small 7 x 10 inch work. The flowers were fresh, a gift I received from my sister this past Christmas. It was stunning and I didn’t want to leave it while we went out to our mountain get-a-way. We packed it up and took it with us.

I put them in front of a window I use for still life set-ups and fell in love. I loved the way that the pine cones are treated in the arrangement. They are on the same level as the lofty roses and lilies. Pine cones are flowers, not the showy, snooty made-for-pictures roses, but an everyday beauty. The beauties that no one notices, except of course designers and artists. I loved the red and green against the cold mountain and the warm white of the lilies against the cold, cool white of the snow. I loved the challenge of painting the long pine needles, the short spuce needles and the carnation that sat center stage. I loved the simplicity of the shelf with the blue reflection against the complexity and noise of the arrangement.

The small painting took only a few days. The large work, much longer as I reflected on each and every petal. But then that’s how I like to paint. Ideas can be fast but the more I look, the more I see and feel. Enjoy.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Painting Creation Workshop July 17-19, 2015

Painting en plein aire at Shrine Mont.
Come join us! The workshop is designed to help students see and explore the natural world through painting. Beginning with the premise that learning to see is intertwined with learning to explore, and ultimately to express, this class will take students out in the field to paint in “plein aire”. The students can choose between watercolor or oil paint and will start with basics and work through the process of painting a complete work. This year our Painting Creation Workshop will be one weekend, starting on Friday afternoon and ending on Sunday. We will meet Friday and scout out the places we will be painting, taking notes on possible color schemes and compositions. Saturday morning we will head out to our first spot and dive in. Evenings will be spent relaxing or listening to the music from the Shenandoah Music Festival. Shrine Mont is a place where you can release creative energy, commune with fellow artists, worship, rest, exercise in fresh mountain air and eat nourishing food. How can you beat that? To sign up:

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

About Nature

For years I have wanted to combine my paintings with words from others that have influenced my work. People of like minds who speak about the connection between God, nature and creating; people like Robert Henri, Mary Rogers, Cezanne and Winslow Homer; people like Mary Oliver, who see the beyond the ordinary, in the ordinary.

This morning, at waterside, a sparrow flew
to a water rock and landed, by error, on the back
of an eider duck; lightly it fluttered off, amused.
The duck, too, was not provoked, but, you might say, was

This afternoon a gull sailing over
our house was casually scratching
its stomach of white feathers with one
pink foot as it flew.

Oh Lord, how sing and festive is your gift to us, if we
only look, and see.—Look and See, Mary Oliver

My goal as an artist is to be a visual poet in the manner of Mary Oliver. To see “beyond the the obvious to hear the song that is all around us, every day.

In this book, “About Nature”, I focus on the connection between my work and these influences. It’s divided into season sections that repeat, forming a continual revelation. The work is largely drawn from my home state of Virginia but not limited to one area. It shows the wetlands of Belmont Bay and the lilies from the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. There is of course, much from the western Appalachian area that draws me outside every summer. And there are my bird paintings, which started as a way to simply learn what I was looking at. There is very little cultivated landscape, mostly wilderness. It is there, when I am on my own, early, that I am transformed time and time again.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Nature's Voice

There is a place where it is cool even though the air is hot. A magical place, full of freezing cold water that comes up out of the earth. A special gift to us who have labored all week in 90-degree temperatures trying to capture the world around us. Seven springs literally come up out of Great North Mountain and flow down stream forming an ideal swimming hole. The water is ice cold and as clear as glass. You can drink it. This has become one of our favorite places to paint.

We recently finished our latest painting workshop at Shrine Mont. It was—as it has been for the last fours years—simply wonderful. It is this sense of place that we are looking for. We look for connections to the landscape—connections to the mountains, still waters, rock formations or to color. Some things speak more loudly than others.

It is always part of the workshop objective to achieve a “state of mind” when painting. The painting becomes a witness to that state of mind. Or really, the various states of mind one experiences when painting like this. The picture itself is secondary.

There is a state of mind when discovering. Something spoke to me and I listened; I explored; I looked and I felt. What spoke to me? What did I hear? What do I feel? What do I want to share? Things reveal themselves. There is no question that some places demand your attention and others do not. There could be meaning in the sound of moving water: a memory. It could be the magnitude of the mountains: the age, the vastness of one’s surroundings. It could be a reflection or the way light falls on a tree.

"Painting from nature is not copying the object, it is realizing one's sensations." (Cézanne)

This connection of the artist to the landscape, of the artist to the specific landscape, is one you find through out art history. Georgia O’Keeffe didn’t paint just any landscape but a one that spoke to her, that worked with her vision and sense of place. Cézanne had his beloved Mont Ste-Victoire. Homer, the coast of New England. Neil Welliver, the woods of Maine.

In this case though it isn’t just any place that speaks. It is also this place, Shrine Mont, in Orkney Springs, Virginia that fuels our endeavors—a place that people have been coming to for well over one hundred and fifty years for respite and rejuvenation. A place originally of tourism and now enriched with spiritual meaning. It is a place that also sits in one of the most beautiful areas of Virginia.

Shrine Mont adds a dimension to this landscape that removes us from the ordinary to the “extra ordinary”. It takes us away from the commonplace and everyday and allows us to hear nature’s voice. Things are discovered that may never have occurred had we only spent a day outside. Shrine Mont has no television, no air conditioning. It is old and worn and very special.

“At such times there is a song going on within us, a song to which we listen. It fills us with surprise. We marvel at it.” (Robert Henri)

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Submitting to the Unknown

Submissions are a part of every artist’s life. Whether it’s submitting a portfolio to an art school, a portfolio for a job, or a submission to an art show or gallery. They are something that every artist has to do if they want to put their work in the public arena.

What value does submitting our work have? Why does it seem that art making which it on the face of it, lacks opponents, all about competition? Obviously for school or a job, it's the difference between a career in art or a job in the art field. Submitting to shows and galleries can be the difference between recognition and obscurity. Art is competitive whether we like it or not.

That said, it should be remembered that if an artist is never recognized, it doesn’t mean they aren’t talented—just obscure. There are plenty of artists who have submitted work and gotten recognition who only have nominal talent. And there are great artists who have died trying. Vermeer was not recognized in his lifetime. Neither was Van Gogh.

So much recognition is about time and place—what is fashionable, what is new, who does the judging. Art has not been judged in an academy system since the late 1800s. Self-promotion and networking are how many branded artists have gotten recognition. Gallery directors can exude enormous power. But so can prestigious art schools.

Recently a friend and I have begun to submit a children’s book that we have collaborated on. He wrote the story. I designed the book and painted the illustrations. It is a daunting enterprise. Not that I haven’t submitted work before. I have and I’ve gotten some results. Some years I’m in as many as twelve shows.

But sometimes, the same painting that is awarded in one show, is not accepted in another. But submitting a children’s book is different. We are unknown. The competition is fierce. The chance of even a small nod is remote. So why bother? Why take this chance in a new arena against so many odds?

I think it has to do with taking chances. Taking a chance means that maybe something will happen. Dr. Seuss (Theodore Geiser) submitted The Cat in the Hat twenty-seven times before it was accepted for publication. Chicken Soup for the Soul was submitted one hundred and forty times. If we don’t take that chance, maybe twenty-seven maybe one hundred and forty, nothing will happen.

I try to encourage my students to submit their work—submit their work to graduate school, a job interview, or a juried art show. See what happens. Maybe nothing, maybe everything will. Count only the acceptances and discard the rest. You never know.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Seeing Beyond Oneself

A recent piece in the New Yorker magazine written by Adam Goplik, Titled “Life Studies” was ostensibly about how the author learned to draw from one of the leading “classical realists” of today, Jacob Collins. The fact that he stumbled through the learning process was not particularly of interest to me. What was of interest is how thick headed the classical realists are and what a shame that is. Classical realism is a name given to those artists who hearken back to the academy days, when students were taught a very strict and very specific way to make art. It is more or less the Pre-Raphaelite movement of today. They don’t consider any art valid after 1860 unless it is created in a very specific academy realist style. It is truly a shame because there are many things about these painters that are admirable. Their work, generally, is of a very high technical quality. They work from life and the object of their art is to create beauty. That isn’t what I have an issue with. I consider myself to be a contemporary realist. What I have issues with are the limitations they place on art, dismissing all artists who are talking about things other than what they are talking about. They (Collin’s in this article) dismiss out-of-hand not only Monet but also Sargent, Homer, and O’Keefe because they added their thoughts to what they saw. They deny the artist’s intent. And they deny an artist’s response to their time and place. Conceptually the work is much like Andrew Wyeth’s—illustrative.

Drawing from memory, drawing from the subconscious, drawing from the symbol side of your mind, and drawing from imagination are just as valid as drawing from life. To deny that, is to deny the way we think and the way we communicate visually. The idols of the classical realism school, or most or them, painted not was before them technically, but created the worlds of heaven and hell. (Unless of course, they did something no near mortal could.) They may have drawn from life, but it was staged. Jesus is not Jesus in the paintings, he was a model dressed up as Jesus. Is that more or less real than working from an image of an actual person, or a memory or a dream?

To pretend our time and place does not exist, (i.e. Andrew Wyeth and yes, Jacob Collins himself) creates a falsehood in itself, a world entirely bordering on the illustrative. Wyeth painted the rural countryside of Pennsylvania while traveling around in a five-million dollar private jet. The world he painted was not his world or really anyone’s world. It was a story. Jacob Collins paints his children beautifully but why deny their time and place? Where is his world? Beauty does not deny who we are. Beauty is not one way of thinking.

The problem with the entire “Classical Realism” movement is not that they are bad painters creating bad product, quite the contrary—much of the work is technically outstanding—it’s that they are too much like the “creationists” of art; determined to ignore the entire twentieth and twenty-first centuries. They block out additional ways of seeing. They don’t allow consideration of another way of thinking.

Do I insist my students learn to draw from life? Absolutely, yes. Without that skill, it would be the same as a writer who does not know how to read. But in addition to it being a fundamental skill that improves their ability to observe, to connect their eye/hand coordination, and aid their visual memories, it gives them access to a world that is not apparent. It gives them access to a state of being.

"The object of painting a picture is not to make a picture. The picture, if a picture results, is a by-product and may be useful, valuable, interesting as a sign of what has past. The object, which is back of every true work of art, is the attainment of a state of being, a state of high functioning, a more than ordinary moment of existence.” Robert Henri, “The Art Spirit” 1923

But then, Jacob Collins would dismiss Robert Henri. He was born after 1860.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Going Into Your Soul

This winter I went to the Norman Rockwell show not once, not twice, but three times. Not because he is a favorite of mine, he’s not. But because various friends and family wanted to go and I didn’t mind going with them. Although, the third time there, I bowed out and headed upstairs to take a look at the permanent collection.

Don’t get me wrong; I think Norman Rockwell is a wonderful illustrator. And I think it is wrong of the reviewers to compare him to the fine artists of his day: Andrew Wyeth, Georgia O’Keefe, John Marin, Edward Hopper, Neil Welliver and other realists. Instead of J.C. Leyendecker, James Montgomery Flagg and Robert Fawcett, who were his contemporaries in the field of illustration. Because illustration and fine art are not the same thing. One is not better or worse than the other, but they are quite different. They are different in intent, they are different in concept and they have different criteria.

First, let me state that I am a painter but also an illustrator. I love illustration. I am a professor of illustration and I practice illustration. But it is, as we now define things, a different genre. There are three substantial differences and Rockwell’s work has them all. Illustration is not self-expression. It has a very specific purpose, to communicate visually to a target audience. Illustration is mass-produced. It is designed and painted with the idea that the original is not what the majority of people will look at. Illustration is used usually with text. It is used to elucidate text, to visualize text or in place of text.

Norman Rockwell rarely, if ever painted anything for himself. His sole reason for painting was to satisfy the needs of a client. All of his work was designed and painted to be reproduced at a specific size, for a specific format. He was chosen by his clients because of his style both in form and in content. His work reflected the mood and feeling that they wanted to communicate with their publications.  His work was not self-expression. Rockwell’s work was, and is, a narrative story—complete with actors and props. Nothing that you see was real. When reviewers criticize his work for being sappy and sweet they completely miss the point. It was just that accessibility and “chocolate box” feeling that his clients were after and he did a fantastic job communicating that. That is what illustration does. His illustration defined the look of his client’s magazines.

There are many “fine artists” who illustrated.  A few doors and one floor up from the Rockwell exhibit are some absolute gems. There is a small room filled with the Civil War illustrations of Winslow Homer. But even Winslow Homer’s illustration differed fundamentally from Rockwell’s. Homer painted actual solders. He went to the front lines of the war and painted from life what he saw. He didn’t stage action, or costumes. He reported the war in a visual manner. Rockwell, on the other hand, painted models dressed up as solders, creating a still movie. The only thing that really makes Homer’s Civil War work illustration is the fact that it was mass-produced.

I think that it’s important to point out that illustration existed before the idea of fine art ever did—that the earliest cave paintings were indeed illustrations. They were painted to communicate a specific idea, not for self-expression or personal commentary. Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Da Vinci all illustrated the Bible. They all had clients who paid for their specific style and talent. They all used models and props for their work. Their work was very much done like the way Rockwell put his illustrations together. Rembrandt actually used his Jewish neighbors for his paintings of the Apostles just like Rockwell used his neighbors in Vermont.

But I wouldn’t but Rockwell in their company—and not just because their work wasn’t mass-produced. I wouldn’t put Rockwell in their company because their paintings are both illustrations of the Bible and great art. They go beyond the time and place of which they were created. There is an immeasurable quality to the painting. They go into your soul. Rockwell’s work, while quaint, and well executed, are of his time, nothing else. They are great pictures, technically exceptional, but have absolutely no depth. They are great illustrations.