Random Thoughts on Painting, Art, Artists, and Irrelevant Things
December 18, 2017: Mediocrity
I am feeling really mediocre today. I look around my studio and I see these silly little paintings of no consequence. My work is that of a person without real commitment to serious painting. My work is that of a person just getting by. That was never what I wanted. I wanted to make something real. That feels even more elusive now than I ever felt. I am supposedly getting better at this but it feels like such impossible struggle. It doesn’t feel worthwhile. I look at the work of great painters, contemporary painters with unflinching dedication to producing art that matters and I feel like everything I have done is for naught.
April 2, 2017: Shadows
It has been years since I last slashed a picture. But tonight I find myself struggling to keep from pulling out a knife and doing just that. A portrait I imagined would be difficult but it has gone from being merely a technical challenge to something nearer a disaster. Tonight I tried changing the background color in hope it will help me see where I went wrong, instead I am now even farther away from rescuing it. I feel I have spent far too much time on this to just let it go. What’s wrong is tiny. But I don’t know what it is. So much of it is too good to discard. I know that the intelligent thing to do is bury this canvas and forget about it for a while. Maybe when I see it again in a year’s time everything that is wrong will be revealed to me. That would be the smart thing to do. Easier said than done. How do you pretend a thing isn’t there when that is the only thing you think of?
I should forget about this. I should accept defeat because this is stopping me from setting my mind on other work.
July 12, 2016: A Quick Catch-up
It has been quite some time since I said anything. Much has happened – the birth of my son (that sidelined me for a while), and Sherri’s death. I did an interview with the local NPR station a few months ago. Listen.
At present I am writing a lot about Skid Row, about my relationship with Sherri although I am taking liberties to say whatever I want to say — so it is fiction with mostly facts. I don’t know where I’m going with that, I suppose the process is all that matters.
I am also working on canvases that document Karen’s pregnancy. I started it while she was pregnant but did not attempt to translate my sketches into finished paintings until my new studio got built early this year. I had run out of room in the house and could not bear to work amongst such clutter. I am glad for my new space.
I am also working on what I term a commercially-viable-composition. So far I hate it. My heart (and Karen) says abandon it and do something else but my head fears that my confidence will take a beating if I quit now. I know it isn’t for lack of skill but rather a lack of genuine interest, but I think it is important I actually finish something I have started. That does not happen often enough.
February 22, 2013: Robert Doak
I spoke on the telephone with Robert Doak last night – he called to discuss the photographs I sent him the day before. He thinks my painting isn’t very good, I think he called my colors flat and uninspired and in desperate need for improvement. He is right.
He first called me two days ago after I ordered some herringbone twill canvas and some paints from his store. He wanted to know if I had ever used herringbone twill before. I told him I had not. He then asked what canvas and grounds and paints and stretcher bars I use now. The subject of my materials and the ills of them consumed the next hour of conversation. In that one hour he gave me much needed knowledge about better grounds, like rabbit glue mixed with white powder, mediums to replace my dammar which he called the worst beginner-grade crap in the world, of better colors for toning canvas, whites for grounds and whites for painting; he was aghast that I never use white but rather an Old Holland Naples yellow light, because I find white much too harsh for anything but ground cover. He is sending me a tube of Adobe white and insists I purchase a small tube of flake white. We discussed the techniques of old masters and he told me of specific paintings and the colors and methods used to create them.
When he called again yesterday we discussed my paintings more and redid my order by throwing out the paints I had asked for and replacing them with paints he thinks I need to try. He makes these paints himself and many swear by them. I feel like I know nothing about anything and have to relearn how to paint properly. I have always felt that I do not adequately understand the materials of painting so this is good education for me.
I feel grateful to Robert for his advice which I know is genuinely intended to help me paint better. And I know he knows what he is talking about, I just have been too lazy to seek out this knowledge over the years; the great peril of being self-taught. Robert is supplier to some of the most celebrated painters working today – like Odd Nerdrum and Cecily Brown and John Currin. Robert is himself self-taught and says it is the best thing that could have happened to him as it meant he escaped having his head screwed up by teachers who teach because they cannot paint. He never became famous like many of his customers because, he says, it takes much more than being a good painter to succeed as an artist, and he just never had the other things like the right personality. He is nearly 80 years old now, I want to visit him in Brooklyn while I still can; I have so much to learn from him.
A few days ago I felt like I have done something right. Now, today, I feel like I have done nothing of worth. I worry that I will never be a good painter. But I am grateful for the materials lessons Robert has given me and hope they will make me a little better of a painter.
March 21, 2012
You can justify anything if you try. But I am no longer able to avoid the truth — that art is largely meaningless to me. I am only responding to the very basic instinct to draw and paint and write what I feel, and express the things I believe in and wonder about, things that little children do and have done forever. I do not care about art, not as a profession or topic of discussion. Like everyone else I will always admire the work of obvious others whose subject and manners of expression excite me. But I am finished trying to elevate the meaning and value of my own doodles (I won’t even bother titling them anymore) or try to make sense of the ramblings of others whose intentions and motivations are immediately lost to me.
I am not an artist because I paint, however driven to commit my thoughts in paint. I am not, because art is irrelevant to the things that really matter to me. I paint because I can.
January 20, 2012: The Meaning of Artist
No one should ever refer to themself as artist, only others can confer such high status. We are painters or sculptors or lawyers or librarians or engineers.
October 15, 2011: Blame it on van Gogh
I threw out 19 old paintings today. I expect I will be throwing out a few more tomorrow. They had sat in my damp basement (part cement floor, part sand and dust, field stone perimeters, highway for mice) for five years and most were covered in mold. I had about 30 canvases down there, some of which I am keeping because they mean something to me or represent a significant point in my development as a painter. It felt very strange to see these paintings, some painted over 20 years ago and hidden in unlabeled cardboard boxes whose contents I had forgotten. All of the paintings are from my impressionist and post-impressionist influence period. I even played with fauvism. Most of them are really bad pictures, especially the ones from when I was obsessed with van Gogh. It is hard to believe I thought well enough of them at the time to keep them, considering I slashed more pictures than I kept back then. I believed then that my paintings had to represent my emotional self. I painted very quickly – manically — and let whatever happens, happen. More often than not I ended up with a mess of incomprehensible colors and lines; while this may work for an abstract picture I think it does little for a representational canvas. Then again perhaps I ended up with exactly what I was feeling or thinking at the time – incomprehensible mess of thoughts and emotions.
I was in Amsterdam a few years ago and went to the van Gogh museum. By then I was off van Gogh and very much on Rembrandt (the reason I was in Amsterdam in the first place), but wanted to see what it was that might have drawn me to his work. It was a bit sad to see all these pictures I once felt epitomized the greatest in painterly expression, because… I felt nothing for most of them. They were often too unskilled in their execution – perhaps intentionally; it just didn’t work for me as they lacked the expressive power and humanity, and the visual excitement of Rembrandt and Velázquez. I am sure many people will disagree with my assessment of van Gogh’s work, but that is the way I see it.
Karen and I laughed about some of the pictures – they were just so bad. I was secretly glad she liked a few I had put in the ‘trash pile’ enough to ask me to save them, because it meant that perhaps they were good for what I was doing at the time.
September 9, 2011: Guyer Barn Exhibit
I’ve been working through putting an exhibit of a few skid row pictures together since I was asked to do one three weeks ago. Lots to do – lots to frame and Karen and her dad are working on that. Unfortunately Karen will miss the opening for what will be my first public showing since we met; she has to travel for work. I’m a little nervous about the show — it will be the first time seeing a collection of the skid row pictures in a gallery setting at the same time. I hope I’ll like them, I hope others do.
July 27, 2011: Cape Cod LIFE Article
Ashley Owen did a really great job capturing what I’ve been doing the past few years. I was really concerned the article would miss the point – like the last time I tried this. I’m also really glad she didn’t go for the typical art-speak BS; I might have begged her to keep me out of that.
March 10, 2011: Excerpts from a Recent Interview
Where, on the Cape and elsewhere, have you exhibited your work?
On the cape I was with Wilson Gallery in Dennis from 1998 until about 2008 when Mr. Wilson became ill and closed the gallery. At that point I was already working almost exclusively on the Skid Row series of paintings which I never wanted to show anywhere until I felt ready and could exhibit as a single body of work, so I chose not to pursue another gallery after Wilson. I showed a painting at PAAM years ago — 1997, I think, and most recently (last month) at the So BIG exhibit at The Cotuit Center for the Arts. Outside Cape Cod I have showed in Vermont and Connecticut. Showing work has never been a big priority as I rarely feel that I have anything worth anyone’s attention. I live by the maxim: if you have nothing of value to say, don’t say anything.
Do you still do computer work?
Yes, I still design software.
Why do you work at night?
I began painting at night — and weekends — from around age 17 because I went to school and worked during the day. Although I am not averse to painting during the day — I do it almost as much as I paint nights, there’s a certain kind of comfort I get with working sometime after 2am because I am at my most alert and emotionally vulnerable, I can feel and see clearer with the knowledge that half the world is dead and there isn’t a thing I can do about it but reflect. A practical benefit is that I can better control light at night by completely excluding daylight. Night is when I work on developing pictures I sketch with the benefit of daylight, and seeing things for what they really are.
Why exactly where you drawn to art? Any formative experience that led you to liking painting?
Why was I drawn to art? Why does the moon look like it does? I just am and have always been. Without art, even if I never show anything to anyone, there is nothing. I don’t know how many others feel as I do but the urge to make pictures is exactly that and has no connection with showing or selling what I have created. In fact I feel an unwanted burden when I think of showing my work. But I fight with the persistent question: if no one sees it, what is the point? In a way it’s like writing a letter you never send. Writing it helps you see things clearly but never sending it means you can’t change the things you wish were different. I am yet to answer that question — if it matters that no one sees the letters. Despite my feelings about my own work, some of my greatest joy is in looking at great paintings in the world’s great museums. I go to great lengths and distances to experience that joy. Paintings especially inspire me to rise far above myself in all that I do and am.
You know, I doubt I would paint if I didn’t paint what I do paint — dark and uncomfortable reminders of aspects of life we try hard to forget; truth.
Of course there are many ways to express what you feel. I could have chosen to become a sculptor or a dancer if I could dance. Painting just feels like the most direct way to vividly express emotion and tell the truth about something you want others to hear, even if I never get to show it to anyone.
When did you first go to Skid Row? When was the last time you went there?
I began traveling to the derelict sections of cities around the world in 1999 but first went to Skid Row, LA in 2005. The last time was 2008; Skid Row had become gentrified and the homeless largely driven off in place of fashionable condos, art galleries and hipsters with very small dogs. I no longer have a reason to go there although I continue to seek out Skid Rows wherever I happen to find myself.
Note: I painted Eviction in response to what I saw the last time I was in Skid Row, LA.
How do you decide who to spend time with on Skid Row? Mostly whomever will talk to you and give you time, right?
I don’t really choose who to meet, I let it happen naturally — a glance or smile that is met, however it begins. Sometimes a conversation happens, and sometimes a friendship develops. Every so often I see someone whose face or disposition is just so striking I resort to begging them to let me paint their portrait. Some have said yes and many have said no. I remember a man in NYC I approached at around 4am one January morning, I’m not sure if he misunderstood what I asked but he called me a pervert and chased me off; we were having such a great conversation up until that point.
December 31, 2010
I think all my work, everything I write and everything I paint is about loneliness. Not mine but the loneliness of others. Of all the states in which a person can be I feel loneliness is the most painful place. It distorts the mind in a way that nothing else can. This is where I find everyone, this is what attracts me to them.
I imagine that when one dies they are not cast into someplace where they experience eternal joy or physical pain, instead they are abandoned to wander an empty landscape devoid of other people living or dead, under skies that are the most beautiful each person could have hoped for, but with no one to talk to or look upon, nothing to do or hope for but wander without aim for all time. This is the greatest pain a person can endure. Sometimes I feel that the people I paint are already there.
November 9, 2010
The more I consider art from the point of view of an artist, the more I cannot be considered one.
November 8, 2010
This is the landscape I told you about. I have changed it a bit – the rocks in the middle foreground — since I photographed it a week ago. It has been a very slow process but I have steadily pulled the rocks out of my instinctive darkness.
We happened upon this sight on a drive along a remote mountain road in Utah. In all our travels never had we seen a landscape as big in scale as it was in speaking of our smallness in the face of nature’s majesty.
I decided to paint American Landscape No. 1 as a testament to America’s view of itself – a big country built on big ideas and designs.
It is a large picture — 50 in. X 60 in. as I wanted to convey something near the sense of awe we felt at the sheer size of the land and sky. Although I do not consider myself a landscape painter (this is the first one in a very long time) I wanted to paint in the manner of the Hudson River School – a grand and romantic view of America – as I could imagine no better way to communicate the majesty of America the place and America the social fabric of peoples from all over.
I am sure I will change this picture quite a bit in the oncoming months, those rocks still do not feel right and I’m afraid my skill at painting rocks is still far from where it should be. I am studying and learning. I moved into a larger studio two weeks ago. It is in the same schoolhouse – a room just above my old one. I am still getting used to it and so far it has been good.
October 21, 2010
I have on occasion been preoccupied with thoughts on how I feel about art. Those thoughts have been on my mind very much of late.
It sounds like an odd thing coming from an artist, thing is, I do not feel like an artist, or maybe I should say I do not want to be known as an artist. The very thought of it, artist, seems like such a futile way to spend one’s life, and art, more often than not, depresses me more than I can tell you.
My life without painting is unimaginable. Painted surfaces excite me. I could spend every day of my life looking at paintings and I do spend a significant number of my day and night going over paintings after paintings after paintings in books I have owned for years and books I only recently acquired. I look at paintings on the internet and pictures of paintings on postcards I collect from museums I have visited. Even my iPod has several museum applications with their catalog of paintings; I look at paintings constantly.
Painting is not a hobby for me – as some hapless person or another has assumed since I earn my living doing other things. I have felt insulted whenever someone unknowingly calls it that… “It is good you have a relaxing hobby like painting, I dabble in gardening myself…” I should think to reply with “you should try high-voltage self-electrocution, I hear it’s quite fun.” There’s nothing relaxing or fun about painting when the value of your entire life is hinged on its success, especially when you have no definition of success against which to judge your performance. And painting faces is the hardest thing I have ever done. Every new portrait at some point early in the process makes my heart feel like it is about to fail, something near the feeling of impending doom I felt the very first time I tried painting a face. I always feel like a beginner, someone without a clue on what to do or how to go about doing it, and it always surprises me when anything I paint turns out half decent. I most certainly would never use the word fun to describe the experience of painting; exciting in the way a no-damage car crash is exciting, not fun.
What I struggle with the most is the feeling of annoyance at being surrounded by art I feel nothing for, to hear about art spoken of in an exalted manner when all I see and hear feels as hollow as I imagine a life with 300 Facebook friends when your evenings are spent utterly alone. I dread telling people the details of my own work for fear they are as depressed for such tiresome conversation as I often feel.
I am narrow in what I like in art. Only paintings, drawings, stage plays, operas and a narrow field of music interest me to the point of seeking it out. Of that, painting is what I know the most and a very narrow field of painting interests me. When I hear some people talk about art it appears to me they are passionate about a far wider field of a given type of art, and some appear passionate about so many different things. I cannot comprehend how anyone can be passionate about so many different things. Does it not take all the energy you can muster to feel absolute fidelity to one or two things? Does caring about more things not dilute your love for any one of those things?
I have never been able to see what others see in Warhol or Rothko or Pollock. I probably never will. Like I see them, I am surrounded by art and artists whose vision and message are lost on me. I feel like I should be paying more attention, understanding more, engaging more, pretend to be interested in intellectual discussions that go in circles and, in the wider pursuit of actually getting things done, seem to me like pointless dead-ends. I should learn to put on an artistic scowl while contemplating a used napkin someone accidentally dropped on some gallery floor, preferably when I know other people are watching. Maybe I have too much of the engineer in me – I design software when I am not staring at pictures of paintings or panicking in front of a blank canvas. For computers, truth is absolute. We are taught and strive to create software that is elegant in design, execution and presentation; more is not necessarily better and beauty must never compromise utility. In art, truth is in the telling and the teller. I have little tolerance for ambiguities, especially when the artist himself cannot convincingly explain the value of his own work.
Having a studio in a building with several other artist studios makes it impossible to escape talk and images of art of different kinds, and thought on what art and being called an artist means to me. It occurs to me that much of the art I look at in any given museum represents maybe ten percent of the art on view. Is this the same for other people? I typically don’t spend my time looking at abstract art as I am yet to figure out what they say without reading a dissertation that never manages to be convincing. I have on occasion stopped to study the method of a painted surface on an abstract canvas that I thought would benefit my own work. And of figurative paintings, I find most too dry in subject or execution. Then there is Rembrandt and Velázquez and Goya and van Dyke and Rubens and Nerdrum and Andrew Wyeth, painters (I dislike the word ‘artist’) who thought obsessively about everything and felt very deeply and toiled without tiring to better their craft as they cared about what to say and how to say it.
I attended the armory show in New York two years ago and came away with the overwhelmingly strong impression that art has been rendered largely meaningless. What I saw was a lot of people screaming for attention though they had nothing of any discernible value to say, and for whom contemporariness in art is reason enough to eschew skilled workmanship. I consider it good evidence of my maturity that I successfully fought off the compulsion to walk out in the middle of a really stupid artist talk I attended earlier this year in Provincetown in the hope that I will finally realize that what I thought are mindless doodling are in fact high art loaded with scholastic symbolism. Sure.
Maybe it is no different today than it was in the past; I just didn’t know it because I have spent so much of my life in artistic self-isolation and seeking out only art by people whose priorities and philosophies in art mirror my own.
October 6, 2010
3:20 am. My primary studio is a former classroom about 12 feet wide by 20 feet deep with a 12 foot ceiling. It is one of 5 artist studios in an old schoolhouse at the corner of 6A and Millway in Barnstable village. I have another studio, a room in my house just two minutes walk from the schoolhouse. I work on large canvases at the schoolhouse studio and use the home studio for storage and work on much smaller pictures. At any time I have at least 2 canvases at the schoolhouse studio and 1 at the home studio in progress.
The schoolhouse is owned by a church next door and is bordered at the back by the oldest non-Indian cemetery on the cape; the gravestones make for interesting reading and history. It really does look and feel and smell like an old schoolhouse, complete with chalkboards in the classrooms and chair-desk combinations we are allowed to put in our studios should we want to. The halls are decorated with late nineteenth century photographs of former students at the time they were students, neatly-dressed children seated in neat rows in classrooms, teachers in dignified suits and dresses. Main street (6A) was the main cape cod highway then, a wide dirt-road lined with stately trees and tracks made by horse-drawn carriages.
I was uneasy my first night here – I work mostly in the dead of night. I locked myself in my studio and listened for a knock on my door I hoped would not come; something about being in the company of old death, I suppose. I still lock myself in and prefer the bathroom upstairs to the stalls in the basement, but I no longer think of peering eyes from the dark when I walk the empty hall on breaks from my easel.
I have American Landscape No. 1 on my primary easel; I just varnished it. On one wall are the Equestrian Portrait of the King of Skid Row and two completed studies for The Devil and the Addict. I also propped a canvas I built a few days ago on that wall, I plan to use it for a new picture I composed while in Istanbul in July – The Pretzel Seller of Istanbul; it is part of a slow but ongoing series of portraits of trades people. The only other canvas I have begun in that series is Venetian Glass Worker, a picture I began about 3 years ago but stopped because something else excited me. I will complete that painting eventually as I really like the composition and expect the finished picture to be very good.
On the opposite wall is an easel with a picture of a man seated on the ground with his back against a fence – A Man without Purpose. I composed that picture in 2005, I think, in Florence, Italy. I wanted to make a painting that spoke of poverty as a form of imprisonment for the free. The bars of the fence whose shadows line his back represent imprisonment. The 3 cards on the floor represent a life of poor choices and poor luck. The coins represent a loss of social status. And he, sitting idly tracing lines on the ground with a stick, represents the persistence of his condition, the near impossibility of escaping a life of destitution once enwrapped in its embrace.
A framed portrait of a blind woman sits on one side of it, and the on the other side are a stack of four large canvases – Venetian Glass Worker, an untitled picture that is but a canvas covered in writing from a page in my Skid Row journal, a prepared canvas I think I will use for American Landscape No. 2, and the painting of Vladimir Sleeping I want to work on some more.
Next to this stack of canvases is a drop-cloth covered painting of Vladimir Sleeping, a sketchy version I made very rapidly on a large canvas as an experiment. I like the effect – similar to the way I painted the first small canvases in this series 11 years ago; I plan to execute a few more large compositions in that manner. Leaning against that is the empty and slightly damaged frame for American Landscape No. 1. I accidentally dropped the frame a few months ago while moving it and chipped a corner. I do not understand how it did not suffer more damage considering how far it fell off the easel.
My work table takes up the rest of the wall and on it are brushes, bottles of retouch and final dammar vanishes, open tubes of paint, cans of turpentine and odorless brush cleaning agents, an empty water bottle, a radio, books on painters and paintings (Rembrandt, Goya, Velazquez, Nerdrum, Corbet, Delacroix, a catalog of pictures at Alte Pinakothek, etc.) and magazines (Art News, Modern Painters, Artscope, Art in America). On my table are also my palette I have had since my days in Hartford (Connecticut) – some people visited my studio a week or so ago and one of them excitedly photographed the palette with her cell phone camera; the things people get excited about. I also have my earphones for my iPod, a tape measure, charcoal pencils, a wonderful small painting of a snowy woods by Charles Kolnik, a postcard reproduction of James in a Quilted Coat, the painting, Carroll in a Fleece-Lined Coat, is sitting on the table and propped against the wall next to a small sketch I made of a man in a skiff in Venice. On the far wall, just above my work desk are two old paintings: Still Life with Sheep and An Artist Copying at the Louvre. Under the work desk is a trash pail and canvas stretching equipment. I have one comfortable chair I sit on to read when I am on break, and a rickety, well-worn, paint and gesso splattered wooden chair with a tired and torn red leather seat I use when working at the easel; I have had that chair since my days in Hartford – about 20 years. I purchased it for $5 at a garage sale one Saturday morning in Avon.
The painting, Untitled House No. 4, and a small portrait of Karen I made when she was about 19, and several stretcher bars, a roll of raw canvas, bricks for elevating large canvases from the floor, more books and a recent Cape Cod Times newspaper with articles on prescription drug abuse on cape cod, a white pedestal on which sits a white plate with a spoon and a red brick, complete the contents of my studio. I forgot to mention a wall-mounted cabinet high on one wall. In it is food – small containers of fruit in syrup, granola bars, a box of my favourite cereal, staples, a bag of Singapore dammar crystals I use to make varnish. I also have a tall red construction lamp I use to work at night. I learned to paint in bad artificial light, nothing else will do. My studio at the schoolhouse has two large windows that dominate the far wall but I hate working with natural light and always have the shades drawn. Besides, I rarely work in the day so I suppose it does not matter.
This night is almost gone. I will write some more in a few days.
September 18, 2010
2:39 am. Richard in the studio across the hall is here late. I am usually the only one about this late. He’s finishing his shift as he put it, and I’m just starting mine.
I still have to get the hang of what to write here. I planned to write about specific pictures I am working on and whatever else fills my head whenever I am here; I talk to myself a lot, hopefully not out aloud. Maybe if I write it I wouldn’t have to think it so much.
This feels strange – writing for an unknown audience. Me of all people, I hate telling anyone anything unless they ask or seem keen to hear what I have to say. Yet here I am telling (who?) things most people probably couldn’t care less about. I should do what I often do whenever I need to tell someone something but there isn’t anyone to tell, I invent someone. It makes saying things easier than just writing in a journal no one will ever read. It’s also much easier to have just one person to say it to. Karen normally gives me that someone to talk to except that she’s asleep most of the time I am in the studio pacing the floor and talking to no one in particular. It’s odd, most people think me someone who rarely speaks, Karen says I never shut up.
Emma. I will call her Emma. It very well can’t be a man! I rarely talk to men as I have very little in common with most men – as far as things to talk about, though there have been a few exceptions.
I will start by describing my studio. I hope you don’t mind.
I typically work on two to three pictures at once though there is always one that dominates my time and my thoughts. I turn my attention to the others only when I must stop to allow time for paint to dry on the primary canvas.
I have a relative few canvases in my studio at the moment. I hate clutter so I leave anything I don’t need for decoration or am actively working back at the house – in my other studio that can’t help but be cramped. So at the moment I have Equestrian Portrait of the King of Skid Row propped up against nearly the whole length of one wall. It is my primary picture although I am yet to reach that stage at which I can think of little else but work on it; right now it’s a chore. I am still struggling to cover the whole canvas surface with paint – that’s my first step, get the basic colors and forms defined in paint, let that dry, put on a thin coat of retouch varnish, then begin modeling with more paint – the real work. Right now I am buried in the tedious stuff.
The equestrian portrait is made up of 2 panels, each is 6 feet tall by 7 feet wide; that makes for a lot of surface to cover but I am nearly there – sometime next week, I hope. This one picture is so large I suspect I will have little reason to work on anything else while waiting for something to dry; I can just work on a different part of the picture – the king or the policeman or the horse or the wall. I’ll tell you all about this painting a bit later.
The picture on my primary easel is my first large painting of Vladimir sleeping. I painted this maybe a year and half ago and thought I was done with it. I saw it a few months ago and decided I didn’t like it as much as I thought I did, so it is back on the easel. I plan to paint the cobblestones on which Vladimir is curled up, that should add some interest to the canvas surface and lighten the picture a bit. It’s actually not cobblestones but I don’t know what it’s called. It doesn’t really matter, I just need to make the ground a bit more interesting than just subtle shades of grey.
Then there’s the landscape, this never-ending thing I decided to do last year and have struggled since to finish. I have spent so much time on it at the expense of so much else. As you know I gave up landscape painting a long time ago, but in Utah last year Karen and I happened upon a vista more affecting than any either of us had ever seen. We were on a road we hadn’t planned to take, it was nearing sunset, then we saw it, a mesa awash in the most heavenly light pouring through openings in darkened clouds. I wanted to write about it but I feared nothing I say can do justice to what we saw and felt. Karen cried. It was that affecting. I decided then I must paint this. I wanted to always remember that evening. I’m afraid it hasn’t worked out as well as I hoped – this picture has taken so much of my time and I am yet to capture that elusive feeling, that thing that made it seem a worthwhile work to take on. I still hold on to hope and will stubbornly continue until I get it, or more likely, wreck it. I remember Millet’s Hagar and Ishmael. He worked on it for so long in search of something he was never able to find. In the end he entombed what he had in thick black paint and left the canvas in his studio as a reminder of what can happen when one becomes over ambitious. I have already buried many paintings because I tried too hard. I hope that is not the fate that awaits this one. Sometimes I wish I never started. In any case, maybe to make myself feel good, I call it American Landscape No. 1 and have decided to paint seven or nine more in honor of this country; the beautiful, the ugly, the sacred, the profane. My next picture in this series is more my kind of composition – a rain-soaked ribbon of a road under a big grey sky with farm lands on either side. I love grey and I think the strong yellow lines in the middle of the road will make for an interesting splash of color against all that wonderfully luminous grey. I have already painted this in my head and it is beautiful in its raw simplicity. I will show it to you once I have set it to canvas, I think you will like.
Knowing there is a greater purpose makes this bearable. But where am I going to find time to paint No. 2 given the hundred other compositions floating around in my head and begging to be set free?
It’s already past 3:30! I must get to work before this night is done. The equestrian portrait.
I didn’t really get to describe my studio much – sorry. I will write you again soon and tell you about the studio. I really like it here.
August 10, 2010
Finally launched website; still lots of paintings to photograph and include and write about.
July 29, 2010
Things to remember…
- Black is the most beautiful color in painting – if you use it properly. Take a look at van Dyke, Titian,…
- Size matters.
- Texture created in layers and glazes make a picture infinitely more interesting than technical accuracy and visual clarity.
- Don’t forget visual clarity, it makes for a better picture.
- Take a closer look at Max Liebermann (saw him at neue Pinakothek); great impasto that photographs do not show.
Random thoughts on art and painting