I had many balls in the air these past few weeks including my first smaller trip outside of the city. Slowly, I worked on a painting where I tried a few new things. I am pleased with the results. The camera i had gotten during the pandemic as to be able to properly capture my work ended up being more of a nemesis than help. Despite having done all kinds of research beforehand, it was only after the fact i found out how notoriously difficult that it was to use. I sucked it up and went for a consult, the store owner was helpful, not trying merely make a sale. I ended up with a Sonny which is amazingly easy to use and feels good in my hand too. This is first painting i have used it on.
I got some new paper to try for both my lyra pieces and watercolors. While the results with the Lyra were good, I much prefer my usual paper for the medium. I then decided to try doing a watercolor piece with it. And while I am very pleased with the results, with this too I prefer my usual paper. For both mediums though, the results were good enough that I will use up the pad, switching off between it and my preferred paper.
One of my great pleasures in life is portraying flesh in paint. I never tire of making volume and mass appear on what started off as a flat white square.
This piece is 7×10 “Marlina”
addendum: Deracine Magazine has new summer issue out, It has one of my early-proto “In the Eights”. The magazine has a clean minimalist design and is worth checking out
Slowly whittling down my previously on hold list of mundane but necessary things I had not been able to do while sheltering in place. I’ve managed to keep a steady if somewhat slower rhythm with my work.
I have specific pens, pencils etc that I use. Of course I constantly challenge myself by using lesser quality equipment, it makes using preferred stuff feel easy. As far as travel kits, i am forever tweaking that, the cases and holders all my equipment goes into. I always have three kits; the one for just bopping around the city. This is the smallest and its just a refillable pocket pad, retractable pencil and in the pocket sleeve of the pad a blender or two. This is used as I sit in cafe or bar locally, just doing quick guerilla sketching. As a side note, this is always within reach of my hand and has been around the world with me. I realized that because of the pandemic, it saw zero action for a year plus! It has sat in drawer of one of my tabourets awaiting its chance to see some action. My other kit is for short trips four days or less of being away from home. This is pocket pad, 5×8 pad few traditional pencils of different degrees of hardness and two types mechanical pencil & blenders. It’s still fairly compact, easily carried in book bag. Short trips, I do not bother bringing any painting accoutrements. My last kit is for longer trips week or more and this includes paints etc. The long trip kit is the one i tweak the most often as it’s important for me to work but very quickly space within a suitcase can be taken up.
I discovered during the pandemic a small company that made cases geared towards road warrior artists. The case was very flat and it came loaded with “free” pencils, erasers and all kinds of other sketching swag. Obviously I have not had chance try it out on road. I did try the pencils and sharpeners. All of it was of such low quality it got thrown out. It contained a small cellophane pouch inside of which was three short, pudgy graphite sticks. It reminded me almost of tailors chalk. I had never used it before, so decided try for hell of it. I enjoyed challenge of it and was actually pleased with pieces i did. My way of thinking was that if I could make something happen with low quality version, then using some made by a quality company would be even better. I started doing some research. One thing i found was that the Lyra graphite sticks were said to be basically the same thing, with benefit of being able to sharpen to a point where as the sticks were basically short rectangles.
I had bought one along with a sharpener ages ago but had not used it. I started messing around with it and found i really liked it, the pieces I did were loose and had a painterly effect. Lyra also makes water solvable ones. I bought one to try. It is a game changer for me. It fits in my pocket and all i need is that and one brush and I can do monochromatic watercolors. This will allow me to paint on short trips and not have to up the equipment i take. The actual process is quicker than my normal painting and best of all, I do not need sunlight and can actually do these at night. Two things not possible with my regular painting.
here are my first tries with it. I am sure that the more I do this, the better i will get but I am already pleased with results.
After all the time spent on my last CINEFIELD®, it felt great to get back to painting. I feel all the mediums in which I create are of equal value even though some of my audience only knows me through one of them.
I have started reading The William H Gass reader. Right out of the gate I found myself deeply enjoying it. One of the first essays is on books which were touchstones for his life as an author. Early on he makes a point of drawing a distinction, it is not supposed to be a “best books” list but rather ones which resonated personally for him and which served in his journey into becoming an author.
He mentions Flaubert’s Bouvard et Pécuchet. Of the trinity of Flaubert, Balzac and Zola I had always held him in the least esteem (with Zola being, in general, one of my favorite authors). Right before returning to France a few years ago I read the excellent bio on Cezanne by Alex Danchev. Cezanne talks so passionately about Flaubert, i felt the stirrings of considering giving him another try.
That season I kept meeting Helene and Charlie for drinks and book talk. Her admiration of the trio was the inverse of mine. Her description has stuck with me:
“With Balzac, it was all money, money, money if only I had the money. With Zola it was sex, i need power to get sex, I use sex to get money to get power to have sex. But Flaubert, there is an author, the sentences each meticulously crafted.”
I decided to give Flaubert another try. I went to Gagliani and bought Sentimental Education and Bouvard et Pécuchet. I read Sentimental first. It was good, i definitely had more appreciation for Flaubert than I used to. It was Bouvard though which sealed the deal for me. I found the book darkly funny in the way early Celine had been.
What is interesting to me is that when this book is discussed it’s merits are often described via a shorthand of being “funny” ala wacky Swiftian satire. I think people perceive it this way because it and Sentimental Education form perfect bookends. The later is more outwardly “dark”. I like it, but really it is just a romantic era story of squandered potential and the dried up promises of bygone youth. And, of course, the usual chess like romantic patterns of the main characters. Bouvard is actually a darker novel.
Gass has very much same assessment. His articulation spot on and obvious, but not until you have heard him say it.
I would never argue interpretation with someone on art unless they were 100% wrong. With my own work, unlike when I was first starting out, I rarely talk about it. Fascinating though that art can have completely differing interpretations. Is one person wrong or are they merely noticing and emphasizing in talking of it, a different aspect than someone else?
The pandemic has effected people in drastically different ways. I am not talking about how they directly handle it i.e wearing a mask, not wearing a mask et al. Rather, the sea-change that has come over people in regards to their personal philosophy. For some it served as grim reminder that life is fleeting so live while you can. For others, it has served to bring on a sort of cautious vigilance less something else unexpected further swat us down.
A type of cabin fever-life is too short bubbles up in many and temporarily dictates their actions. I find myself getting notes, photos, movies which when looking at, I keep this in mind.
One of the photos which I recently received had an interesting compositional point of balance. I decided to make a painting of it. As i worked on it, I found people all had different interpretations on it. “Hot” “Silly” “Weird” “Beautiful”. Like Bouvard, it has a little bit of everything in it. The main overriding intent is not for me to say as why would I want to make anyone wrong and temper their enjoyment.
I have noticed lately that there are a lot of museum shows & installations “walk through a van Gough painting” type of things using projections and other tech. I am sure this will attract revenue. For anything which is lazy, bad or dare I say plebeian, there are intelligent people out there ready to supply articulation as to justify it. The gimmick as (art) museum show; “This will attract those who don’t usually go to museums.” It is not so much bringing culture to those who normally would not bother but rather a transmutation of it into something akin to the latest block buster movie.
The problem with this is that it makes the artist/work besides the point. It is spectacle as focus and not artist work/intent. The deeper problems with this, as it is many people can not stand in line to get their coffee without keeping their head bent down in their phones as to be blasted by digi-sensations as to distract them from their five minute wait. A Picasso-laser show type thing is further contributing to a complete lack of the public’s ability to “merely” stand and look at a work of art. All art regardless of era and medium has a component of contemplation to it. We are perhaps a few years away from people going to one of the great museums of the world, standing in front of an immortal piece; a Renoir, a Velazquez et al impatiently waiting for the razzle-dazzle to begin.
When reading about art, depending upon where you live, there is a lack of the ability to go out and actually see the painting or works by a specific artist. The internet is good to look something up and get the gist of it, but it can not compete with the real thing. There is a difference. Looking at works mainly online, going to mutli media mutations of an artist’s work have changed what looks “right” or “good” to a modern art audience. They do not want to see brush strokes or other evidence of an artist’s hands which are a part of their voice. A smooth machine like perfection as encountered online, on postcards is what is now preferred.
One could imagine Soutine talking to a gallery owner or museum director and being told “Don’t worry, we will smooth down the rough edges digitally…”
You can’t fight progress nor the populist bent but merely offer an alternative for this willing to explore. The ability to portray flesh in all its beautiful imperfections is something I will never tire of.
Life as we know it has remained if not completely on hold, then altered. The rhythms & goals now a familiar stranger. It had rained off and on, so I did two Cinefield® pieces while waiting for my necessary to paint sunlight. The weather finally obliged me and I went to work on a new piece. With the changes of season the ideal times to paint & to photograph the finished paintings change.
Of course I have this memorized, it has become reflexive, a sort of muscle memory of light utilization. One thing which has always served as a reminder of shortly being about to change my painting hours are activities that I am doing beforehand. Coming back from my Parisian residency heralds a shift, etc etc.
Without all my usual activities as prompters, I found out upon completion of this piece, that I have hit a optimal hour to work change. It was an odd sensation, a bitter taste in my mouth. I will be the first to recognize that many have it far worse than I. It once again firmed up my resolve to put my work out there, not as any kind of cure nor solution but to offer up to all, a brief respite from what ever trials are currently being face.
For me, truth will always be equated to beauty. It is the imperfections of someone you find yourself caring for (or desiring) that your mind calls forth when thinking of them. That crooked smile, a small scar on the chin from scratching too much during bout of childhood chickenpox. Traditional beauty, the yardstick many use in their aesthetic aspirations becomes generic and boring very quickly.
When the more casual art fan is given a bit of art history, almost always a shorthand is used. The impressionists are reduced down to a bunch of guys with beards who used seductive colors in a lush, hazy sort of way. This was one aspect of it. They were the first (building off of their immediate predecessors Courbet 1819-77, Millet 1814-75) to be showing people as they were. There was no idealization of the denizens of the boulevards and theaters. The paintings are stunning but one encounters broken capillary noses, clothes that need laundering, eyes with lids heavy from lack of sleep. It was the real, every day life as they encountered it, caught on canvas.
Since then, every single painter did not stick to this direction. The impressionists freed up art and from aspects of what they did has sprung a multitude of genres, sub genres. But, there will always be a section of painters out there capturing real life with their brushes and pencils. A favorite painter of mine, Wayne Thiebaud is often lumped in as a “Pop Artist-Painter” because of his subject matter, cakes & candies (his portraits are among some of modern paintings best and he should be better known for these). What makes pop art is not what is portrayed but rather an ironic coolness. Thiebaud is not aiming for this but in the tradition of the impressionist portraying his life and what is in front of him.
One of my first times going to the Musée d’Orsay, a painting which held me before it, showed a man in red pajamas not looking very well as he lay covers pulled up almost to his chest. His skin was very pale but with waxy yellow undertones and little suggestions of green. You know things most likely are not going to end well for him and the painting itself is unpleasant to look at but also beautiful in its execution.
One of my greatest pleasures in life is portraying flesh in my painting. I never want to lapse into mannerisms though and so constantly challenge myself. I portray flesh in all its varieties, hot from a blush, pale from sickness, bruised from some mishap. One of the best self portraits I have done and which is frequently used as my author’s photos shows me with a black eye I got. There is no program or symbolism in any of this for me. For this piece, although one could look at it as encompassing all of 2020, it was just meant as a challenge to myself to show one person’s very bad day, the truth being beautiful in its honesty and execution. Terrible beauty.