In a Moment

Renaissance painters largely did Royal/High Society  portraits along with the obligatory religious work. It was important for the portraiture to look like the subject. However, there could be subtext either positive or negative in the clothes the subject was wearing, the accoutrements around them.  These send their own narrative out into the world.

The painter locked in the subject’s position, then worked from there. Now, with camera/photos, people expect, if the subject is leaning their head to the left, then paint it exactly that way.

I have often written about the relationship between artist & model and audience expectation. Another aspect which has changed is positioning.

I want my portraits to look like the subject and I include every little bit of minutia that I see, from a blemish to an about to fall off button. when not working from a live subject, I do not rigidly adhere though, to position offered up in the photo .

Once I did a commission, working from a photo. When I was done, it was the spitting image.

“Oh, my head had been tilted back slightly more in the photo.”

It had not been a flattering angle, chosen because it decreased a chin but increased nostrils as focal point. A strange argument to me, as angle aside, it looked just like her. Most people would never see both the photo and the portrait.

Not by way of excuse but as part of my usual modus operandi, I do sometimes slightly alter an angle. It is as if I am capturing the moment before or right after that in the photo. Depending upon the naturalness of the pose, at other times I do not alter a thing.

She took possession of the portrait. Upon hanging it in her home, she snapped at photo of it on the wall. At one of the fuller cocktail parties she faux-casually brought up her portrait. Wanting some justification for her initial cool reaction she had been eager to show a party goer or two  the photo I had worked from and the finished portrait both of which rested within her phone.

“Oh, that is great, it looks just like you, especially in the eyes!”

After a few more comments like this, she felt better. She put away the photos of twins, born a minute apart.

 

“Blue Pillow”

Watercolor & multi media paper 9×12

 

 

Left Bank

What makes for a good trip or proper travel is not checking off a list of places to see with their associated objects;

The Louvre, Mona Lisa….

It is absorbing the feel of a place, ambience of scents, sounds..In taking time to do this, one notices how others live their lives & what is important to them. It also allows for a deeper memory retention of the entire experience which then adds to the “you”. It is what is actually meant by “Travel broadens the mind”.

For artists there is even more of a potential benefit.

Every artists works & travels differently. I am always “working” regardless of where I am in the world. The only variation is what equipment I am utilizing. Short trips will find me leaving the paints at home, filling my coat pocket with my trusty pocket pads as I like to travel as light as possible and most likely would not have time anyways.

Any give place should effect an artist. Not in the most obvious way such as “I am in London, I painted Big Ben”.

It is ambient light, the lines of architecture, they become further accoutrements to the palette. It does not mean that one enters artistic phases ala Picasso and Cubism et al. Rather, work done in one place  does not look exactly as it appears back home. The artists voice is ever present but there are different components to the fore, mixed in with some of the more familiar.

If you have never been or only as part of a tour group, then every place in France is lumped in together. Despite some commonalities, each area is distinctive with their own cuisine and habits. It is the same with the ambient light.

Aix-en-Provence is all beautiful yellows punctuated by bursts of trees and the sounds of fountains. Lyon is soft pinks as if the buildings are made or at least coated with the delicate charcuterie which they are the masters of making. Paris in itself is diverse. From arrondissement to arrondissement, from the Left Bank to the Right .

People, myself included, proudly proclaim themselves of their side of the river and which number arrondissement.

I like even some of the seemingly “ugly” streets with their time worn dirty gray and fatigued creams. These areas tend to be where some of my artistic heroes lived, cheap rent and every third door a no nonsense bar having been the draw.

I like working with colored pencils on gray or brown paper. I limit my palette intentionally as a challenge to myself. Getting the effects that I want in this way makes it “easier” when using paints. Although I use mainly pinks, it is realistic in that in the real world there are seemingly limitless colors but go out on street  look at buildings and the street. On encounters a fairly limited palette.

These pinks, urban children of Fauvists, remind me of some parts of Paris. Not that this color is found there but it is same effect, translated in my minds eye. This little corner I continue to pass almost daily. It has been there forever and i do not think it ever had any straight lines about it.

I initially encountered it when staying at my first great apartment. It was en route to my groceries and favorite bars. Four floors, impossibly winding stairs that made you drag your shoulder against the wall as you ascended since the light was always broken. The biggest part of the place was the bathroom, with a large old tub, frosted glass windows which opened up onto a shadowy verdant courtyard with its cracked flagstones. I kept the primitive hi fi in the bathroom doorway since it was connected to the bedroom. Only music with a minimal of voices sounded good as it was a mono player. Mostly Zoot Sims duets and Lester Young trios.The neighbors would lean against their window boxes of geraniums smoking and slowly nodding their heads to the music. Dark silhouettes with one wavering orange eye-dot that would flare with inhalation.

Hard work and I was fortunate to be able to trade up apartments. I remained in my neighborhood just moving a few streets down. The building has become one of the visual shorthand for the deep affection that I hold for the every day in Paris and those first exciting years.

W.Wolfson ’19

Left Bank 9×12 colored paper and pencil

 

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Roman Senator’s Wife

I am reading Roland Barthe’s Camera Lucida. Some of what he says of photography is equally true of current figurative painting.

Everyone has a phone which allows them to now capture the minutia of their daily lives. This has effected photography as even someone with no artistic inclinations can take a shot which is frame worthy given the right location. now we are witness to location porn or given the ease of snapping photos, luck of happening upon an interesting moment more than compelling individualized photographic voice. Digital photos have become akin to infinite monkey theorem albeit at an extremely accelerated rate.

With painting the negative impact is slightly different. Regardless of an artist’s style, people expect a type of hyper realism, being able to capture and document their lives with a pocket sized device instantly would make anything short of this, espcially when time consuming posing is involved, seem absurd or archaic at best.

To paraphrase Barthes on being the subject of a (portrait) photograph:

I am at the same time: the one I think I am, the one the photographer thinks I am and the one he makes use of to exhibit his art.

While hyper realism bores me, I do aim for each work to capture the subject’s likeness. Not a disconnect but an unexpected effect sometimes occurs. The subject of a portrait has a definite image of themselves. The artist may notice something physically or psychologically that they do not see in themselves (or like).  The effect similar  to when one hears a recording of their voice. Few think it accurate.

Part of what Barthes has in mind, perception of oneself versus the relationship between artist and subject. With portraits, I want accuracy of portrayal but it has always been that it is the artist describing the subject using their words. Words in this case being the artist’s style/voice. I talk about you but I choose my own words to do so.

This is a 9×12 piece on French cotton paper. The inherent properties of the paper is a softness and delicacy of line.

 

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Two

I have a definite methodology to how I work. But on the road there are variations. This is an aspect of how I feel a location should subtly add its flavor to work being done (there). In the states, I do my hour or two of woodshedding at night, the end of my day.

In Paris the lighting is better to do it in the morning with my coffee.

Even in my stateside studio, different times of year present better hours to paint by, as I use natural light to do so. It takes anywhere from three days to a week to really nail down what hours to pick up the brush. I am lucky though, that there are some aspects of a piece that I can do in less than ideal lighting.

I do not go to museums every time I am in France, as I know that I will always be back. Sometimes all I need is the poetry of the streets to inspire.

There is the constant though, of chatting with my peers.

While here, a huge sale by a post-pop artist got us all talking. The question of “Is it art?”

Eventually we all got bored with gnashing our teeth and started discussing nudity in art and the conected social mores in North America.

There is a cyclical debate of what seperates art from eroticism (“dirty” or “porn” labels)

Some say it is merely a matter of intent. This is too simplistic and facilitates filling the room with devil’s advocates and semantics.

Of course,  intent is always important as proven by Duchamp, but a more reliable yardstick which also keeps in mind a modicum of rationality are the components and concept of the work.

A work can seduce or excite but is it doing so because a main componant is titillation? The same question can be asked of shock value. If a work happens to induce heat, then regardless of why, it can’t be “dirty”. Someone setting out first and foremost to excite makes it so that a different label may be appropriate to apply.

Courbet’s L’Origine du Monde comes to mind. It is graphic to some but beautiful, there is no question that it is art.

The first question being asked should never be “Is there nudity?” nor even necessarily “is it art?” but rather, “is it good ?”

Having to ask if it is art is sort of like  guestioning yourself if there has been too many drinks to safely drive home, it becomes almost besides the point.

I used my canson watercolor paper 140 lb. A thing which appeals to me about it is that it’s not temperamental, being effected by wet weather as the French cotton ones that I used to solely use was.

For photos of my work I am just using my phone and as the paper has little tooth, the photos (I never work any digital magic on pics) gives accurate gist of a piece.

Song & Bellissima 5.5 x 8.5 watercolor and paper

 

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Raspberry tart

Where a painter who eventually becomes famous worked/lived does not necessarily reflect their posthumous reputation.  This is because more often than not the factors in no particular order are location, price and availability.

Not apparent from the work with which he became known, Paris was very important at the start of painter Ellsworth Kelly’s career. Several years ago, address in hand, I hoofed it over to this first studio (which remains just an apartment, having probably passed through dozens of hands since he lived there).

It looked just like all the other apartments arround it, neither more spacious nor with better light.

This year having read Jed perl’s excellent book on Alexander Calder, I decided to take a look at where on of his studios was. Once again, it was the same thing with the added touch which I think he would have appreciated, of a Chinese restaurant below his place.

Most people, when they think of an artist’s studio are imagining a large space, perhaps with a skylight or two. Or at the very least something which will look suitably dramatic and cinemesque upon seeing it after the fact.

For every Cezanne studio museum, there is Kelly’s or calder’s.  This is because no artist is thinking in terms how it will look once they are famous and gone. Calder liked most of his Paris studios because they were an easy walk to the cafes he frequented and his friends, yet slightly set back as to avoid the noise keeping him up.

Kelly’s motivation  had been the even more pragmatic financial one.

Another aspect of the painter life which many give no conscious thought to is the personal visual lexicon. This ever growing vocabulary is made up of the intentional such as portraits but also the instinctual. This is the every day as encountered by the painter, not made dramatic but rather it’s beauty drawn out. Cezzanne’s apples, soutine’s elevator operator et al.

The painter is not bragging of the incredible life lived a la some instagrammer’s vacation or food photo. They are recording the every day encounter(s) whether it’s the view from a studio window or some utilized necessity such as hat or groceries waiting to be put away.

I had no ambitions towards this as I had been unaware of the phenomenon until I started practicing it. The concept of “draw/paint from the guts” doesn’t mean to viscerally go at it until some sort catharsis is achieved. This misconstrued point is more about conveying the true, the reality without over thinking it nor worrying about drama.

Now one of my greatest pleasure in life is capturing on paper some little thing as it is from my daily existence. As ever, serving the process has become the pay off to me.

This is my second Paris painting this year. A dessert I had meant to try for a while, which was delicious.

I used 5.5x 8.5 spiral bound canson watercolor  paper 140 lb. When i first started painting i used exspensive blocks of french cotton paper. This was initially my practice paper. Although the paper’s “voice” is inherently different, I have now long used it for fully realized pieces, espcially when traveling.

Raspberry tart

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Paris Painter

I have said time and again, for me truth is beauty. I am interested in the real, real bodies real emotions. Even and espcially those which seem counter to traditional ideas and portrayal of beauty.

This honesty has  always been the facilitators of the emotional resonance that is my raison d’etre for all my work.

By no means am I doing something new. From Lucien Freud and Jenny Saville back to Tintoretto and courbet, honest portrayal of people has been utilized to create a powerful, real beauty made even more so because of the seeming imperfections.  Proudly, I am merely adding my voice to the chorus.

Traditional beauty bores me except in the smallest doses. It’s akin to the frosting flower off of a cake. I’m not adverse to now and then taking a bite, but it’s sweetness has no true flavor.

The thought of using my work merely to shock or insult is anathema to me. I work too hard on my chops and conveying my philosophy for such things.

This is my first painting back in my Paris studio. Unintentionally approp as today is mothers day in North America.

It has been overcast. The sun would come out, then retreat like a shy friend, then blaze too bright to see the paper properly.

I had to go slow,  it ate into my record buying time, but I am pleased to the extreme with the results.

5.5x 8.5 watercolor and paper

Michelle

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Sina Queryas

I wanted to capture mood  through subtly of true emotion, not what is exaggerated as to clearly broadcast for easy understanding.

Collecting art has become rarefied. Where as formerly passion and an eye (personal sense of aesthetics) were the main & most important prerequisites, they have been supplanted by space and money.

The size of my works is intentional. I have in mind new collectors for whom space is at a premium. Apartment dwellers should not feel it an impossibility to start a collection.
I also have in mind burgeoning collectors who are just starting to delve into the myriad genres of art out there. A large piece starts to dictate what directions a collection will go in for people living in normal sized spaces. Smaller works do not create a visual limitation.
I want the collector to live with my works and not (feel as if) under them which may occur in apartments.

I am starting with a handicap in that works which seem to garner the most attention are those which have components of novelty & gimmick or that look reminiscent of established (“famous”) artist’s work. I follow my own North star even when it is a more solitary journey, hoping to pick up a few others along my way.

Always is the striving for emotion to come across in my work(s) and this size bolsters it by almost creating a senses that one is witnessing a scene, the viewer as a voyeur.

 

watercolor & Paper 5.5×8.5 (Last American Painting for now)

 

Sina Queyras