Monday, June 11, 2018

This is a painting I hadn't seen in ages, it's about ten years old or more. It was part of a series of surfing paintings that I enjoyed working on so much. I can date the painting in a concrete way: it was before iPhones. So this painting went out in the world without a good photograph for me to keep. Now that I was able to see it again I at last have a photo.  

Painting landscapes with figures in them was a source of interest and still is---usually I do like figures in a landscape more than an empty landscape. Lots of people don't like figures in a landscape at all. When I showed this series to the gallery I was in at that time they weren't  accepted. "People don't like paintings with people in them." I know that isn't true, I knew then it wasn't true. What that gallerist really meant was that he hadn't had experience selling landscapes with figures. But I think that's normal. It seems that we tend to judge most everything through the lens of our experience, and maybe that's why older people are so much wiser, and younger people are so much more open. 

Monday, June 4, 2018

When I first started painting pictures and had an art studio, an interior designer brought me a tear-out from a magazine, probably Veranda or World of Interiors. It had a chest of drawers that had been painted very prettily in the 18th century. I'd never really noticed painted furniture before.

"I have a chest of drawers I can bring you, if you can paint it to look like this. Can you?"

I said I thought I could.

So began a source of bread and butter that lasted many years. It kept me secure in the periods between paintings selling, and it fed my growing interest in antiques and decorative arts. Sometimes the projects were big, and sometimes they were small. I do know that even after years of doing it, every single one of those projects, even the most minor, taught me something new. It was helpful in my development as an artist to see that the exploration of something that one would think had long since been plumbed to it's depths could still render fresh discoveries. The decorative arts are fascinating in that way.

Since I didn't know the technique of painted furniture it was a lot of guesswork in terms of materials used. I made do, improvised constantly. I studied old auction catalogues and antique periodicals to discern what made a period piece of painted furniture so wonderful. It's a science, and such an inner private world, the decorative arts, and particularly so is that niche of decorative arts involving painted furniture. There are some books that claim to teach it, but how can you really---there are too many variables. The most one can do is present a few formulas for certain styles but it's too broad a palette for a definitive treatise I suppose. Visually it where it comes into its own, where it speaks best for itself. And certain old designers like Elsie De Wolfe, Syrie Maugham, Sister Parrish, Nancy Lancaster, created with their artisans some painted effects  that are so stunning and perfect they rival anything that's been created in interior design. It was an education in many ways to soak these things up. I love the decorative arts.

One thing that I regret is that I have so few pictures of the work. After all those years you'd think I'd have stacks. But iPhones didn't come into being till I was just about done with that part of my life, and I was never the type to walk around with a camera. Taking pictures is so much EASIER now. I photograph everything now without thinking about it. The iPhone is best work tool ever.

But back to the time I'm talking about---it was fun to look for photos of my work in the same magazines that I liked to browse for ideas. It was fun to see them here and there. I did tear those pictures out. Instagram has reminded me of several things, because I do see things pop up on instagram and Pinterest that I did ages ago and forgotten about, and it's a nice reminder of some of the projects and some of the people.

The picture I added above was one I found. It was pretty, a powder room and WC. I was pulling silver leaf out of my hair for weeks.

11"14" oil on panel, an urn in a garden in Leconfield, East Riding Yorkshire

This was painted plein air. Sometimes I think about the plein air craze that seemed to topple everything else around, a juggernaut of a style if there ever was one, at least in the town where I lived. If you didn't paint plein air there wasn't much chance of having your work shown. Clubs were formed, dues were collected, shows were invented,  more dues were got to be that every time I went somewhere I (and every other artist there) was paying a due. So I participated in them less and less. In my opinion it encouraged people to paint the same things in the same manner, but it also meant the artists were being charged fees at literally every turn. Since the only way to recoup any of this was to have more shows, and sell more plein air paintings, you can see the snowball effect.  Oh well, I think every generation of artists have a few crosses to bear that are specific to that time and place. 

For a while it was even looked down upon to work in your own art studio...for a painting to have value it must be painted plein air. Isn't that strange? Things are changed now. People talk on their blogs and websites about working in their studio and no one seems to think it's an aberration. Styles do move on, thankfully. I think it's two different kinds of working. I like both. I think it brings out something different to work in those two environments. Sometimes the pleasure of being outside, in the fresh air, is really the spell that lures people again and again...especially if you are lucky enough to be in a pretty place. California is so good that way.  To me it was good in doses, but a show of plein air paintings is too much for me to take at this point. I don't want to see all those paintings that look alike. My mind is on to something else. 

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Cont'd from Pears With Abstraction


This is the continuation of the post titled "Pears and Abstraction", which I hijacked in order to continue going off on the tangent about my experience reading Proust--I wanted to finish my thought. If you're interested then read the first part before reading this.

 Everything I thought about Proust prior to reading him was wrong. I'm not sure now where my skepticism came from---but I think it was references to him in the biographies of various authors I've read and liked, early 20th century authors. They all seemed to have either known Proust, or  read Proust---they all admired him, and for some reason considered him as something apart from a normal writer. So without knowing really what "Remembrance of Times Past" was about, other than an account of Parisian life, I thought it must be a sentimental memoir disguised as fiction, probably dropping names and painting a romanticized image of a bygone era.   I had read the oft-quoted scene concerning madeleines somewhere, as well--- that was all I knew of the book.

The book is so much better than I ever dreamed it could be. He's a better writer and a greater artist than I thought was possible. Somehow he hands you the human experience and bit by bit you keep taking it and thinking, "Oh my god, he understands everything." It's quite mysterious and very beautiful.

My favorite part of Proust's method is that despite the poetic writing, it's very matter of fact. I don't think I've read a less sentimental book. It is self effacing to a degree. To me the era of 19th and early 20th century Paris is captured with the realism of a documentary, even though it's fiction, and quite poetically written. I'm not sure how it seeps into the brain so effectively but I'll give an example: As a child I was addicted to the Little House on the Prairie series of books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and to my young mind the characters of Ma, Pa, Laura and Mary were as real to me as my own relatives. It's hard to imagine a more home-spun narrative. Yet somehow I feel exactly the same about the characters in Proust, which I would never have believed even remotely possible. I find that odd. I've been reading my whole life. Why do some authors have that power and others don't?

The arc of Proust's story is a bit of mind blower, regarding the skill of its construction, and the patience of the author to work it out slowly. It does take an attentive reader but it pays you back. It changes scenes with a breathless ease, without confusion. Groups of people gather and yet you know who is saying what. Their voices are that identifiable. Large sections will be devoted to shallow social scenes, for instance, that are very Jane Austen in their sharp observations, punctuated with a line or two of deep insight, and to me by amplifying that contrast it seemed like Proust was saying, "Don't confuse life with social life. One is not the other." Proust's actual father was the brilliant doctor who was behind discovering the cure for Cholera, and Proust had a very intelligent mother, so it's obviously from his parents that Proust himself had an incredible mind. My puny brain cannot compute the talent and intellect behind a book like this, I can only admire it.

However---as counterpoint I just read a horrible review of Proust by Germain Greer.  You can look it up on google, and you'll get an alternate view. I happen to disagree with her, but she's much wiser than I am, and more well read certainly, and she defends her view with a lot more emphasis than I could ever conjure up.

In case anyone is ever interested in reading Proust and wonders what someone says who did enjoy the process, these are my thoughts:

I'm glad I didn't think that a beginner's French was enough to try to wade through Proust. Right now, when I think of the people I've read about who said, "Oh, I learned French so I could read Proust", I find it hard to believe. Perhaps they thought it sounded good in an interview. Someone would have to be a dedicated linguist at the least, to achieve that, and they do exist. But for english speakers who are shaky with their French, the Moncrief translation has been praised as very true to the original in terms of intent, poetry, rhythm, so don't hold back reading Proust just because you don't speak French. Proust's vocabulary is immense, not in the 'big-word' sense, but in the case of using an appropriate word, versus a handy one. It's said that most all of us  have dumbed ourselves down culturally to using a certain set of words over and over despite the fact that our language contains the case of Proust I was amazed at the breadth of his vocabulary---the simplicity yet the variety of chosen words. It has great impact.

The descriptions are written at genius level. Yes, they can get tedious, but they become so real that it sticks in your mind as if you've experienced it yourself. Also, his descriptions of people are uncannily realistic, so much so that I don't get irritated or panicky when yet another character gets introduced, as has been the case with some other writers I've  read. In the hands of many authors  too many characters can get confused. Proust has a lot. There are so many of them...but for some reason I don't have trouble telling them apart like I often do in other's books. I wonder why that is?

The reputation of Proust going on and on are justified. But throughout  the story, there are also masterpieces of brevity when you least expect it, and the only person I can compare him to on that score is Jane Austen. You know how Jane Austen can encapsulate a complex situation with one sentence, make it droll and witty, with a perfectly timed sting at the end? Proust does that constantly and it is a wonder to read, just as it is with Austen. Writers like that just don't come along. What a pleasure, what a joy, to read authors who write so well and who are so clever. I think Jane Austen would have admired Proust.

When I'm all done reading the final volume I'm going to write down my thoughts in a post while they are fresh.
One thing that did strike me was that saying you are reading Proust seems to sound pretentious or strange to lots of people, so I've instead looked him up online and seen some very interesting documentaries and this and thats on youtube that people pull together who are experts on the subject. I'll never be an expert on Proust or want to, I'm just so glad I got past the first thirty pages which had stymied me at the first, because the ensuing journey has been magical.
30"48" oil on canvas, another of the series I'm working on. Pears with Charcoal Abstraction

Monday, May 21, 2018

Pears With Abstraction

This is a 30"40", oils on panel. 

The bifurcation of realism and abstraction interests me so I've been exploring it more and more and more and more. 

Sometimes you see a photo of an interior and among the stacks of books you see placed for decoration you see coffee-table books about Diana Vreeland, or Venice, or a famous photographer, and sometimes you see PROUST on the spine of a big coffee table book. I wonder if those Proust books contain photos of his vanished Parisian world? For a long time I didn't try to read Proust because in some interview somewhere, some person had said, "You know, I learned French so that I could read Proust in the original language." Without knowing anything about Proust that seemed like a worthy goal to me, so I think at the back of my mind somewhere I decided Proust should be read in French, and I would learn French one day to that end. Then years went by, I didn't learn French and I still hadn't read Proust, etc. And finally one day I bought an English language Proust volume in a charity shop---luckily it was the first one in the set, because I sure didn't know that it took many volumes to contain Proust's 'book' . The first volume is called "Swann's Way". Every now and then I would start at the beginning but couldn't get past the first thirty pages. The style of writing---intimate, beautifully written,  but rhythmic, and seemingly obsessed with trivia---made me very  sleepy. It didn't help that the beginning is famously about him being put to bed as a child.  I found it soporific in the extreme. That went on for three years. Pick it up,  start on page 1,  read ten pages then put it down and forget about it for another 8 months. I thought "What a strange book. How did it become a classic? How did anyone get through it if it's that slow?"

Eventually timing must have been just right because one day when I picked it up again I was absorbed and the absorption stayed till I was done with that volume. It was only then I discovered that it went on for a long, long continuance, so got the next installment on Amazon. ( I would have bought it at the bookstore but it was impossible to find.) I have to continue this on the next post, the page won't take more text. 

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Interesting instagram

When i learn how to post a photo I'll put one here. When I least expect it the people in charge of blogger change the method and I can't post a photo----not sure why.

In the months or year I've been doing instagram, it's fun and interesting, especially to see examples of good taste from all over the world. There's a channel that shows clips of animal in nature that's amazing as well. I'm bored to death with images of what people cook for their supper, however. As much as I read cookbooks, study them,  and try to cook properly, it's very strange to me to see people posting images of their dinner. I don't understand it. Perhaps it's just another version of the impulse to share their food with strangers. Since they can't feed you off their plate, they'll show you a picture of it.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Another art critique

Art critiques are so useful that I go to them if I get the chance. One reason is that doing your work in the sanctity of your studio or out in the field is only part of the creative job. The other part is putting your sacred cow in front of other people, to praise, to criticize, to ignore. An elemant of growth is coddled and stunted if one doesn't do that.

Some good artists I know have said, in essence but without using the exact words: "I know the people at that critique. They won't tell me anything I need to know." Other artists have said, "I can't be sliced and diced in front of all those people, I just can't." First, people don't slice and dice, at least I haven't seen it at any critique---if anything, people sugar coat things too much. (Understandable) Second, people don't have to be smarter or more talented than you to tell you something that carries weight. No one has a monopoly on the truth. The best lessons in life are always right in front of you----that I know---and it wouldn't be possible unless we can gather wisdom from most of what we come across. Even if it is a lesson in how not to be.

 You may hear ten asinine comments from one person and then the eleventh thing that pops out of their mouth is the one comment that you've never heard before, or not at the right time that made it meaningful.

Yesterday the critique I went to shocked me on many levels. I wondered while sitting there if I made a blog post about it, how much detail I would go into. You don't want to criticize needlessly. It was very strange. It was so clear as the critique wore on, at points interminably, that some of the artists there wanted to grow as artists and some simply wanted to make sure their painting was going to get into a certain contest or sell chop-chop double-pronto. In the monetary case, the critique was therefore a tool to make sure their painting was squared away with the right finishing touches. In the contest case, the critique was a tool to make sure a certain number of pairs of eyes declared the painting was not offensive or out of linear perspective or something. Personal growth was somewhere far away.  I do think there's a big lesson in the observation of this----sometimes you have to let go. People are people and we have to accept each other. I hope people accept me with all my funny ways, so that means I have to accept other people with theirs.

This time the magnifying glass was on shadows for some reason---cast shadows in particular. Quickly one could sense a third of the artists at the critique were willing to play with shadows, alter them if necessary, as a compositional device---and about a third were firmly opposed to doing so: shadows must be completely accurate to the light source, etc. (The remaining third were silent observers in this escalating conversation and presumably had no strong opinion for or against altering shadows for artistic intent or following what nature---or in last night's case--- cameras---had provided ample proofs of.) It was noticeable that the painters who painted from photographs as their sole resource for images were the most adamant about following whatever cast shadow the photo had indicated. It was a peculiar conversation. Two groups of painters that one would think had more in common than not, were communicating to each other with increasing difficulty, and one had the feeling that the English language was ultimately the only thing they shared. And it still wasn't enough. So what I learned last night---I always learn something at the critique---was that a critique in my case is definitely something that I want to bring increased understanding to me of how what I'm doing is striking others, and not use the critique, as I saw some doing, as a form of corroborating what I already hold dear.

I did learn a couple other things but I'm going to keep them to myself. ! Ha.