Thursday, May 30, 2013

Sunrise Over la Madelene
  oil on panel  6" x 8"  

"For me, the landscape does not exist in its own right,
since its appearance changes at any moment."
"I care nothing for the motif, only for what transpires between myself and the motif."
Claude Monet

Well, there are few subjects that change as rapidly as a sunrise and trying to paint one is complete madness. The one factor that even begins to make it possible however, is that same rapid change going on in the sky and the land. The rapid change will not allow one to think at all, just react to the sky, mix color and slap it on - make decisions on the fly and remain open to movement and pattern. 

Early Sunrise, la Madelene
  oil on panel  8" x 6"  

Both of these paintings were made on the same morning, within minutes of each other. This horizontal aligned work came first. That morning I had headed out for a walk from our inn at about 5:45, on the farm trail that ran toward some cherry orchards beyond. As I walked I was looking up and back and realized the cloud structure and the light in the dawn were rapidly coalescing into magic. I rushed back to get my painting kit and ran back to the same spot. Setting up quickly, I hurriedly squeezed out some paint and began at about 6:15 or so. With brush dropping abandon I furiously mixed and painted barely looking down at my dark palette - primarily focused on the sky. It was wondrous! As I put the last touches on this first one, the sky was morphing into a new glorious stage, so I dropped the first (face up) on the grass and grabbed a second panel. This time I painted the vertical one above, with the same kind of manic energy and absorbed-ness. The small size of the panels made it possible - I might have tested my luck with a third but I had only those two panels with me - and then the sunrise was finished.
Thinking of it all now, I know something more was afoot, something more than just small panels made these paintings and the experience of making them, happen. It was the opportunity to be in a place where only going out to make paintings mattered, nothing else to distract. It was a place so special and populated with like minded folks who were supportive and funny and good hearted - a particular painter who warmed up to sharing and talking about making painting in a self depreciating and dryly clever Brit accent I could not hear or understand; and even a little boy who climbed and jumped and ran about, exploring everything (and that's what art-making supposed to be isn't it) - these are all the things that led to a couple of little pieces of a morning's dawn come to be - and that was the magic and I was so glad to be there.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Poplar Trunks in Provence
 oil on panel  7" x 10"

"And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane 
by those who could not hear the music."
Friedrich Nietzsche

When Persistence Wrests

When persistence wrests
some small victory
from frustration,
a tentative space
is chipped angrily
out of the brutal cliff face.
Sweet rest is stolen.
suspended above calamity'
before climbing on.

I wrote this poem several years ago while thinking about paintings that were giving me fits as far as getting my work where I thought it should be. Later I realized that 'should' isn't a concept compatible with making paintings - one has to banish 'should' or any preconceived ideas about end product - one has to be a little bit crazy and just allow the painting to happen, each in its own way. However, the poem is right on the money at the end - one must keep climbing or the calamity of falling back and losing ground will certainly follow. I think of all this as I sit here numb brained from jet lag, eagerly wishing to get my feet steady and back at the painting.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Poppies at la Madelene

Poppies at la Madelene
 oil on board  6" x 8"

"Art is an experience, not an object."
Robert Motherwell

The experience of making a painting can result in both the most basic and the most complex form of communication. Basic because it is simply a pleasing arrangement of colored marks on a flat surface - complex because it can evoke memory of place, time, space, form, and atmosphere. The nature of how this comes about is wrapped up in choices made at the outset based on what might be called the artist's 'expressive intent' - the poetry of the moment, the space, the light. The expressive intent is then tempered by the exploration of the motif and the evolving process of putting the paint on the panel - allowing new discoveries to influence the arc of the experience. In the end, the final work should be joyful evidence of what it meant to be alive in that moment, in that place, thereby allowing the viewer to enter in and experience the same.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Hills Above la Madelene, Provence
 oil on panel  6" x 10"  

"It is the nature of poetry (painting) to determine or affirm one's relation to the incomprehensible condition of existence".  Mary Ruefle

"Beauty is only the edge of a knowing we could not endure". R. M. Rilke

Pretty heavy quotes there but if one takes a moment to consider why it is we (or anyone) goes about making paintings, these sorts of things crop up. When a painter stands before an easel and begins to wrestle with capturing an image, the work being done is really just a struggle to come to grips with a small slice of reality. Reality in a visual sense can be a complicated beast. If that painter is giving full measure in the attempt, they will discover nuance and phenomena that were unexpected at the outset. Like juggling knives, each discovery and element will require attention while the memory of the initial visual trigger - the one thing that brought about the attempt - has to be nursed. After all this the result may be pleasing, even gratifying and well received. A best it is a small sliver of the beauty Rilke refers to, a kind of evidence of a pathway momentarily cleared into the incomprehensible whole. And that small victory can be addictive.
"I do not know if I work to make something of what I find, or in order to find what I cannot make".
The edge of knowing or ability,  which we try and push further out with each painting is really just the new discovery of what we cannot yet make - and the desire to push against that limitation is the addictive quality of painting. 
So take heart as you stand before your easel - you are boldly going where few venture, behind the lines of chaos to bring back evidence of form, of understanding. What a sweet addiction it is.