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.
Traditional ideas of beauty bore me. They blur together into a generic oh-la-la which is not remembered five minutes after it is no longer present. For me, the true, the real, will always be beautiful.
The real serves to facilitate emotion which will not appear prop-like nor freeze dried. When i first started delving into the world of social media I was at great pains to explain that with my pieces which showed real bodies as we all have or encounter, I was not mocking nor satirizing. I do not feel this need any longer and I suspect that what each viewers reaction to these bodies is, says something about them.
Times are still tough for us all. Art & culture serve to offer a way of reminding us of what we all have in common. It also is a place mark for what waits once we do not need to devote the lion’s share of our time to the bad. I do not look forward to returning to “normal” or “how it was” as those times were not great for everyone. I look forward to the time when we can give attention towards helping each other be the best versions of ourselves. In the meantime, I offer up my beauty for all.
Northern Californian artist and writer Wayne H.W. Wolfson is completely self-taught and has had an expansive career. He has amassed a large body of work in a riot of colours and eclectic styles. This makes him one of the most striking, interesting and chameleon-like artists around. A Million Ways To Die Collage by Wayne HW […]
I decided to work in a slightly different way with this painting. Most likely to the viewer it will just look like another of my paintings with no radical visual departure.I noticed a difference and will switch back forth between the two methods. Varied approaches are another thing which will allow me to keep things fresh. I want to create and not produce paintings.
The sky has finally stopped looking like a martian dawn. I was able to finish the painting which had been on hold for what felt like forever. It was an odd sensation having a painting quarter of the way worked on and having put it aside due to circumstances beyond my control.
I feel fortunate that I had other mediums I could do while I waited (collage & my daily drawing). Finally was able to suss out how to use my new slr camera. I think the photos really show you depth and detail better than i had previously capture with my phone.
“Orange Cardi” 9×12 Watercolor & Multi Media Paper