Friday, November 13, 2009

November Oak
oil on canvas
16" x 22"
When we first came to live in the old church, I was just blown away by the ancient old oaks that stood guard all around our little home. They towered over us and swayed with the wind and shaded the entire acre and a half and were almost too immense to comprehend. So I set up my french easel out under them and began painting, looking up at the cold late autumn sky through the muscular branches. I never tire of them and when I'm feeling blocked or unsatisfied with my work I find I can go back to this source and rediscover what my painting needs to be about - light and space and place and form. This one dates from our first year or two there, maybe 1986.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Under Route 719
oil on canvas
14" x 18"
Right on the north end of town there is a wooded creek that snakes along between the old part of town and the newer business strip of autobody shops and bus terminal and carpet places. It is a wild sanctuary that no one wants - a kind of flood plane that has a mix of wild meadow and woods and second growth and thick white pine stands that were planted to sheild buildings along its edge. It is a favorite place to paint because no one bothers me and the varied subjects have been wonderful. So here I am one summer day at the least picturesque place along the stream - the pre-cast concrete spillway under a local road. Once upon a time this would have been a sturdy stone structure echoing the craftsmen who built it - now it is what it is. Yet I found the play of dappled light and shadow, the dark little stream and the steamy summer light cooling in the shade all transfixing. I always find the discarded edges around our modern life spaces hold the most interest.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Creek Bank
oil on panel
Down in a nearby creek and examining the overhanging bank - marveling at the glow created by the light reflecting off the water as the water undercuts the trees and tangle of growth above. I suppose from such things the Grand Canyon was created.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Late Afternoon
oil on canvas
14" x 18"
There are usually black cattle dotting this hillside. One hot day I had parked the truck up against the fence line and had worked most of an afternoon looking the other way toward some old dilapidated barns. I'll set up in the bed of my pickup so I can see over the fence line and the tangle of briars and weeds. As I was closing up for the day I happen to glance up the opposite hill, I was caught by the quickly receding light as it broke through the lower parts of the big trees along the field's edge. I scrambled the french easle and all my stuff around 180 degrees and put a small canvas up and worked like crazy to get the essence of that sideways glance. That seems to be a reoccuring theme with me - trying to catch the moment that one is captivated by out of the corner of one's eye. It is more than a little nuts to try and make a permanent, tangible visual statement based on something fleeting and uncertain. Its also the great fun of the whole enterprise.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Creek Mudbank
oil on canvas
12" x 18"
A small stream nearby that can get pretty low in the height of summer. I set up in the gravel in the middle of the stream and looked back toward the mudbank, where the roots of a tulip poplar were exposed and the woods crowded the edge of the stream with a wild tangle of undergrowth and mature trees.
I have a wonderful little book on black and white photography titled something like 'Beauty and Art'. The writer is dead-on when he says that an artist's primary task is to bring 'form out of chaos'. By form he means understanding or a moment of clarity, or even a moment of quiet significance in the most ordinary setting. Just the sort of challenge that will get my attention every time.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Islands In The River
Oil on Canvas
7" x 10"
I spent some days making monochromatic studies. I was intrigued by the idea of conveying the space, the place, the moment in time strictly in terms of value. Sort of limiting my method to increase the expressive potential. I'd recommend it to any painter as a way to get down to the barest necessities and eliminate a lot of extemporaneous and unneeded. But color is always there, waiting for you. Inescapable.
Degas always said he believed in working from memory - forcing the artist to focus only on the things remembered as the essence of the real. Of course, he also made those georgious wax figures and horses to assist his memory - along with the life-like drawings. Seems he was playing both sides of the street, so to speak. I love being out in the world working too much to go the memory route - so I'm always testing ways to eliminate as much as possible while still grabbing hold of the moment.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

October Oak
oil on panel
6" x 8"
Our home is an old church built in the late 1860s and my studio is an old one room school house also on the property. The church was in use well into the 1930s. A local farmer's funeral was the last service observed there. It was winter and the horse drawn hearse foundered on the muddy, snowy road and the men had to lay down logs to corduroy the worst part.of the road. The school house was built for black children who weren't allowed to go to the white schools, and was the last one room school in use here in Loudoun County, just shy of the mid twentieth century. One breezy fall day day a couple of years back, a sedan stopped in the dirt road that fronts our place and an elderly black lady got out of the car and stared at the studio.
We invited her to come up the little hill and go inside the old building but she said she couldn't make it over. She just wanted to look at it one more time. It turns out the lady was the last teacher at the school.
I've heard stories that she walked four miles from Purcellville every day to teach those children.
The school/studio and our home are surrounded by eight 200 year old oak trees, huge and majestic. They have been silent witness to all the struggle and joy that have played out in this place. Sometimes when I'm stumped about what to paint and the sun and wind through those giants reminds me, I go out under the oaks and look up and listen for the ghosts as I work to capture a moment.
If I'm fortunate the painting carries the essence of the place.