Monday, June 17, 2013

Toward The Cherry Orchard, Edgar Degas, Henry Moore

Toward The Cherry Orchard
  oil on panel  7" x 10"  

"...they are annoying, these young people. They want us to believe that we are old - that we are ill, have white hair, no longer able to pay court to a woman. What of it? There is more to life than that! We have the will to work - we are not old."
  Edgar Degas  

"The secret of life is to have a task, something you devote your entire life to, something you bring everything to, every minute of the day for your whole life. And the most important thing is - it must be something you cannot possibly do!"
  Henry Moore  

Both of these quotes are from the time when each of these distinguished artists were old and near the end of their days. But there is a message here for each of us, no matter what our age. It is our work that gives us something that might be called 'absorbedness' - that wonderful state of mind when all the world, except the focus of our working attention, goes away. That work also contains those days when nothing seems right, when the visual problem dogs one's steps and all attempts seem wrongheaded. Those days are as valuable as the good ones, for they teach us what we don't want the work to be and gives a reason to keep at it - and it is so important to mine those bad days for ideas to go forward 
and not allow them to be a roadblock. Sometimes I think that all talent really is, is the ability to see possibilities in perceived disaster.

So, what in the world did Henry Moore, the greatest sculptor of the middle 20th century, mean  by "It must be something you cannot possibly do"?  Perhaps it was to be the greatest sculptor since Michelangelo or, more likely, simply to pursue that evasive visual image that he always had in mind - changing as his life's work progressed and always just a little out of reach.  That is where I try to be - always in pursuit of the image I have in mind, just a little out of reach. Frustrating? Sometimes - but a true source of happiness. Maybe in each painting I can get just a little closer.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Looking Back From The Orchard, Richard Diebenkorn

Looking Back From The Orchard
  oil on panel  12" x 18"  

"I can never accomplish what I want - only what I would have wanted 
if I had thought of it beforehand."      Richard Diebenkorn

The wondrous thing about making paintings is discovering anew the place one chooses to paint, even though one has walked through that place many times previously. Someone once sked me if I made paintings in order to leave something of myself behind - my work as a kind of tombstone or memorial. I don't believe so. I make paintings because every one is a kind of rebirth into a new world, in places rediscovered. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Last Morning At La Madelene, Walt Whitman

Last Morning at la Madelene
  oil on panel  

"I think I will do nothing for a long time but listen, 
and accrue what I hear into myself,
and let sounds contribute toward me."
Walt Whitman

If one substitutes the word look for listen, see for hear, and sight for sounds, this quote from Whitman becomes a wonderful piece of advice for the painter. To be clear eyed and disciplined in truly seeing the world, the painter begins to be able to extract (and accrue) form from chaos, understanding from unknown. Spaces, shapes, patterns, similarities and differences begin to become evident and 'contribute toward' the painter. Of course, this has to happen anew each time one begins a new work - but take a page from Whitman - 'do nothing for a long time but look' - the poetry of the visual moment will more easily and readily be found.

  Afternoon Sky, Looking West From La Madelene
  oil on panel   6" x 10"  

"It is not enough to know your craft - you have to have feeling. Science is all very well, but for us imagination is worth far more".        Edouard Manet

This view was right out of the door of my room and over to the left, looking at the hill that stood, looming over the cherry orchard. I allowed the burnt sienna tone on the panel to leak through in the sky, creating or emphasising the warmer tones of the clouds. 

Monday, June 10, 2013

Iris at la Madelene
  oil on panel  

    “Only when he no longer knows what he is doing does the painter do good things.” Edgar Degas

One could not possibly paint iris or any complicated subject well without being willing to abandon any pre-conceived notion of what and iris should look like. This is the knowledge Degas insists a painter of 'good things', or what we might call visually compelling work, must lose. Granted, as one decides on a subject for a painting on a May morning, one will consider the location and the light - and the iris blooming may well be an inspiration. But when the painting begins, the painter must abandon what is known about trees or flowers or buildings and react to the shape, the form, the space, the color, and the value - while keeping the strategy for the poetry of the place alive. The painter allows the painting to dictate process and technique and each painting requires different things - thus creating the setting in which 'the painter no longer knows what he is doing' and simply follows the process. Then the good things happen.

Late Summer Hills
  oil on canvas  20" x 30"  

A well known painter of his time called out, upon recognizing Degas on the street, " Monsieur Degas, you must come and see our latest exhibition of watercolors!" Then he gave a sudden glance at the worn mackintosh Degas was wearing and added, "You may find our frames and carpets a little too fancy for you, but art is always a luxury, isn't it?"
"Yours perhaps," retorted Degas, "but mine is an absolute necessity."

Today I am 63 and while, in my mind I always seem to feel about 28, certain realities do begin intrude. The french easel is just too damned heavy to lug around; it seems to take me forever to settle in to the poetry of the moment and get set up and make decisions to put a brush to work. Then I walk over to the studio and these difficulties all melt away as I survey the work emerging and anticipate the ones I will find my next walk outside - and I consider my happy days with Dustin and Paula, I understand that years don't matter except for what joy one extracts from them. Absolute necessities.

Friday, June 7, 2013

  Courtyard Sycamore
   oil on panel  

"The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding." 
 Claude Monet

"Paint the essential character of things. 
When you do a thing with your whole soul and 
everything that is noble within you, you will 
always find that essence."
Camille Pissaro

This was done later on an afternoon and late in the week. My arthritic back pain was kicking in pretty good and so I parked my backpack kit and sat on the steps there in the courtyard at la Madelene. The courtyard is dominated by a beautiful, big sycamore tree that had been radically pruned back. These are the trees that line the main streets of all the small villages all through that part of the world and when they are pruned back like this one, they appear to be huge, complex sculptural forms. This tree had been on my mind all week - how to paint the big monster - what was its essential character?  Then I found myself sitting and looking, right up under that tree, and I determined to paint it, then and there. I set up and went to work simply engrossed with the light and shadow defining the smooth large trunks and branches, as they split and diverged near the center of the tree. The complex structure suddenly became a simple problem in shadow and light, form and the space cut up by that form. In 30 minutes I had it - I stopped. I could do no more to advance the idea of the essence of that big tree. Someone had been watching me and asked how I could have done it. My reply has to be, "by deciding to discover the simple, essential character of the tree.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

La Madelene, Afternoon
  oil on panel  

This excerpt from a poem by May Swenson seems to me to have been written for a painter as a wondrous list of how to live - at the same time the first part of the poem describes as closely as anyone who has ever been immersed in a place while trying to paint that place, possibly could.  
The poem does what the best painting does; reveal, evoke, and surprise one about something known that thereby,  becomes new.

Earth Your Dancing Place
by May Swenson

Beneath Heaven's vault
remember always walking
through halls of cloud
down aisles of sunlight
or through high hedges
of the green rain
walk in the world
highheeled with swirl of cape
hand at the swordhilt
of your pride
Keep a tall throat
Remain aghast at life

I intend to do my best to 'remain aghast at life' and in my excitement try to catch hold of at least a small piece of it - and endeavor to enjoy every moment of the effort.  May Swenson closes with another bit of marvelous instruction.

Take earth for your own large room
and the floor of the earth
carpeted with sunlight
and hung round with silver wind
for your dancing place

Hope to see some of you out there in the "silver wind" painting at "your dancing place".

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Poppie Fields, Provence
  oil on panel  

"It is not an expression of the desire for praise or recognition, or prizes, but the deepest manifestation of one's gratitude for the gift of life."
Stanley Kunitz 

The artist, Stanley Kunitz was speaking of what the essence of the creative act might be, where its origins could be found. I agree whole-heartedly. Making paintings is for me a sacred act of sorts and definitely a celebration. This why competitions at these ever popular 'paint-outs' puzzle me - how is it we can reduce something so deeply elemental to a contest without devaluing the whole idea? I have recently lived among a group of painters who, rather than compete with each other, banded together to assist and support each other. Perhaps this sort of feeling emerges at the paint-outs, but I spent time with a group of folks who each improved their awareness and process steadily and had a great and rollicking time doing it!  A large part of this magic was the setting, another larger part were the sponsors, Julian and Ruth. Credit also must go to the make-up of the group of painters during that week - a funnier, friendlier, better group could not have been imagined. Seemed to me they were all attuned to the above statement.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Trees Behind la Madelene
  oil on panel  7" x 10"   
"We work in the dark, we do what we can, we give what we have.
Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art."  Henry James
 The best days are when one has an intuitive visual connection with an arrangement of shadow and light, space and form, color and tone. The key is then to begin to explore the setting without judgement or reserve - just allow one's eye and brush to construct form from the core of massed shapes out - without concern for edges or definition - within the structured discipline of true, accurate seeing. When it all comes together the lucky painter sees the poetry of the moment and place emerge as if by magic. All that is required is a balance of opposites - freedom and control; care and abandon; understanding and unknowing - all at once. 
Hence the 'madness of art'.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Pathway to la Madelene
  oil on panel  7.5" x 10"   

"People discuss my art and pretend to understand as if it were necessary to understand, when it is simply necessary to love."
Claude Monet

"Mystery is significant."  ee cummings

My paintings assume anyone who comes across one and looks with any interest will be interested in investing something of themselves, allowing the imagination to fill in the place, the time, the space. If you need everything spelled out in detail, I'd just as soon that you walk on by and not look. In my mind, art has to live in the territory between intent and reception - and they have form a balance. Too much control by the artist is a dictatorship - I'd rather live with a bit of anarchy!  Mystery is significant (as my favorite poet says), because it allows space for contemplation and imagination. The trick for the artist is to hold onto the truth of the moment without bludgeoning it into submission.