Friday, January 13, 2012

Be Bold

Spent yesterday in Buffalo museum hopping with one of my best friends Cathy Reda-Cheplowitz. We toured the Albright-Knox and then the Burchfield Penney Art Center.   One of the things that I love about seeing master works in person is that you can actually see how the artists painted, printed or sculpted the work. Recently I'd been to the Albight-Knox with Jim and when we visited, rediscovering its collection was amazing. Among the works are classics from Picasso, Van Gogh, Marin, Burchfield, Steiglitz, Matisse and more. Poignant at the museum is an exhibition that is "series of Kodachrome photographs pulled from the Library of Congress' Farm Security Administration collection that document the ravages of the Great Depression." (http://www.buffalonews.com/entertainment/gusto/art/art-previews/article557765.ece) The museum is a gem.

I had never been to the Burchfield Penney. Directly across the street from the Albright-Knox, its collection and curatorial style is a wonderful complement. Less focused on big manes, this museum seems to focus on high quality at both past and present. Currently it has an exhibit "Art in Craft Media 2011," with a range of thought provoking pieces in metals, glass, and wood.

However I was particularly excited about visiting the Burchfield Penney because it houses the work of one of my current favorite watercolorists Charles Burchfield (1893-1967).  Burchfield was an artist who painted in the Buffalo region and in his time was one of the best known American painters. I've been drawn to his work because he renders nature, atmosphere, and townscapes infusing the work with a profound passion of place.

Driving back from the galleries, the grey sky and the dark silhouetted trees had a new beauty. Were the trees always like that? Or did Cathy and I see trees with Burchfield's eyes?  Perhaps that is what art allows us—new vision and understanding.

Back in the studio today was a rougher start than I had imagined. I could not find this and that and then I could not find the feather I was using as a model. I tore apart the studio, searching through every bag and box, pulling up the floor tarp and going through the garbage. Finally I decided it was a lost cause. One of the dogs must have stolen it. And then I painted.

Charles Burchfield wrote "You are dead—devoid of any emotional attitude toward nature—wake up—be bold, make bold caricatures & conventionalizations."


So "The Wind Resounds—Leaving Addison" is now complete.




Gleaning 
"Winnowing fear,
restless, feral winds

surge in my mind,
shifting directions,
gathering force.
I mistake it all 
for chaff —
husks of failure
and deprecation. 
But this wind resounds
from the ancient world
and release has always
been gleaned
from grains of doubt."
—Nancy Compton Williams

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Winnowing

Painting is a bit like playing chess. The opponent however is not another person but the vision the painter is striving to express. When a student I was taught to back away from my work and even turn the painting upside down or or on its side to see clearly the composition and color relations. With my home studio, I am able to return to the canvas at any time to adjust or simply just to observe and think. Like the chess player I can determine my next move. 

Seeing from another angle.
With this blog—the combination of the camera, computer, and writing has been a digital stepping away from the canvas. It is another way of seeing with fresh eyes. I can see what needs improving but also the past and what I've lost and must recover. 

With my studio in Rochester, I am not able to return at any time to reflect on my canvas yet until complete the painting never leaves my mind. I am pondering my next move. Lately I've been extending the camera and computer. In the evening, away from the studio, I play with color, light and form on a photo of the day's work in Photoshop .

Blurring the lines: applying new values and hues in Photoshop.
Photoshop has many tools and filters that can quickly transform an image. Layers and Control Z give multiple options. However Photoshop is about pixels and back light and pre-engineered options. In the case of my oil paintings I use it only for quickly visualizing options. Oil paint is its own medium—pigment and pixels reflect light differently. An oil brush transfers color but also texture, consistency, and structure. As well paint can be wiped away, scratched into, spattered, and poured. It has a physicality.

When I returned to the studio this morning I had a clearer vision of my next moves. But the challenge of uncovering the painting's essence—beyond my original references and the Photoshop "sketches"—remained. Much needed to be winnowed. Other elements needed strengthening or definition. 

At a particular moment this morning, I saw gold needed turquoise to be gold and clouds needed to be foreboding in order in order for joy to come alive. And I realized that the first thing to confront as a painter is fear, let go the easy or commonplace. Push beyond timidity and reach. Queen must take rook.

Detail
Feather painted over, sketched in, yet to be completed.

Almost there, but not yet.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Shifting Directions, Gathering Force

Day two the painting begins to come into its own. I spent much of my commute examining the clouds, noticing how their form is defined, how they layer up and reveal, obscuring and merging with the sky and the earth.

What I'm seeking to express is a moment, a breath, the suspension of time juxtaposed against the continual motion of our lives.



Monday, January 9, 2012

Gleaning

Back in Rochester, back to my studio. Seven hours of travel brings me back to my painting studio. It is a gift of my sabbatical—a new home, a new place to create.


Compared to my home or office it is completely different as if belonging to another person. No luxuries, sparse, concentrated, no large monitors, or ringing phones, a space for one.

Looking out one of my studio windows.
From Rochester's prime days—they just don't design backs of buildings the way the used to.
My favorite view.
It is located far from my beloved forest and mountains in the heart of a mid-western city not quite to its Rennaissance. Sitting above an art gallery and lying in the shadow of an old cathedral, it should not be surprising that it is where my heart soars and my soul becomes paint. Here my deepest spirit rises above my daily concerns and sings "home".
The completed painting from my last visit. I need 4 more small canvases for the next in this series.
The painting I'm working on today is not what I was planning. I was about to start a new "pixelated" tree portrait only to discover I'd left many of my small canvasses in Rochester. Off to the art supply store I must go but time is precious.

Other images dance in my head—the beauty of my drives to and fro. Last night driving in and then again this morning, the light of the setting and rising sun, the moon, and of Jupiter were magical. The sky had an unnatural cast of cerulean blue and the earth ablaze in gold. This morning a gift on the gritty side walk—a single feather and in my bag, this poem:
This morning's gift.
Gleaning

"Winnowing fear,

restless, feral winds

surge in my mind,
shifting directions,

gathering force.

I mistake it all 
for chaff —
husks of failure
and deprecation. 
But this wind resounds

from the ancient world
and release has always
been gleaned
from grains of doubt."
—Nancy Compton Williams 
New start "The Wind Resounds—Leaving Addison".
Like a spring garden, the under-painting always brings me joy.