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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Pre-Trip Errata

Getting on plane tomorrow so here are some quick sketches and thoughts in between closing up stateside studio:

I just finished the biography on Alexander Calder by Jed Perl. I had not been into Calder beforehand but developed a new appreciation for him after finishing. I have shelves of books on biographies/histories of Paris during different eras which include all the artists that where then on the scene.

For modern art eras, Calder was often featured. He was portrayed in a sort of often parroted shorthand, as an impish figure who artists in all the various movements liked (surrealists, futurists, cubists et al) even though he was never formally a member of anything.

Marcel Duchamp too was embraced by key figures in many movements which he purposely never joined. Duchamp had the glamour of enigma and an obvious influence to varying degrees on many artists who came after him for generations.

After reading this wonderful book the two had more in common than would be apparent from other books. Duchamp’s mien was always sphinx like which lent a sort of gravitas to whatever he was doing.  Calder was serious about his work but had a joyous disposition. If he did not get along with somebody, then he just did not bother with them. He had artistic theories & philosophy but he was reticent and never pontificated about  them. This lent a sort of playful veneer to all that he did to casual gallery & museum goers. There was a joy to what he did, but a serious joy.

This is the second book I have read by Perl on an artist to whom I was initially indifferent. It underscores that no matter how much one knows about art or how well formed their aesthetic sense, there is always room for more exploration and to pull new things into oneself.  And as I have often said, with certain non-fiction authors, it is well worth reading anything that they put out. Jed Perl definitely falls into this category.

 

9×12 quick sketch Calder

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It was just Duke Ellington’s birthday.  To people not well versed in jazz Duke Ellington is “Take the  A Train” or that sort of sludge of sound behind really old cartoons which utilized swing music before Carl Stalling came on the scene with his innovative sonic madness.

There was always forward thinking elements to what Duke & his orchestra were doing. He was constantly evolving and adding to his vision and sonic palette.

He composed in so many forms that it’s bittersweet to think of the years where he was lumped in with other, mere entertainers. Publicly, he never seemed to complain about this. In his final decade or so when he was starting to truly get his due,  in performance he still would often include medleys of the hits as to please the crowd. Remnants of when  this  American Mozart, despite his skill land ambition had to set toes to tapping.

For beginners to his oeuvre the best place to start are his later recordings. These works are more easily acceptable to someone  used to post bop jazz (used to be called “Modern” ). In his final years, Duke seemed to be allowed to record whatever he wanted. It runs the gambit in diversity. From Tone poems to suites, to soundtracks to trios and sacred concerts to teaming up with musicians young and old that he admired but had not worked with in small ensembles (John Coltrane, Coleman Hawkins, Louis Armstrong)

I first got into his work by delving into the later stuff. I enjoyed that so much i started looking backwards. Years ago I would not have been open to it, but now i treasure all Duke.

There is probably at least one of his albums to fit no matter where you are in the world and what you are doing. All around the globe, my pencil in hand and the rich coloration as envisioned by Duke wafting up out of the speakers.

Sir Duke Quick Sketch 9×12

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Equipment

As much as I say & feel that I do not watch much television, being in Europe makes me start to suspect my assessment is a little off. This is reinforced by the amount of books that  I go through away from the states. Halfway through my Parisian residency I always need to restock my bedside pile.

There are certain publishers which one can not go wrong in choosing almost anything by them such as NYRB and Green Intenger. The same goes in non fiction  for certain authors. For art writing & biographies, it does not matter if you know or like the artists, anything by Jed Perl, Richard Ellman, Ross King and John Richardson is worth delving into.

To almost zero notice John Richardson passed away recently. He had become a gallerist, putting together some amazing Picasso shows, often in conjunction with the artist’s family. He wrote articles for such magazines as vanity fair. His earlier years he had sat at collector Douglas Cooper’s side, moving through (art) history, bearing witness to important events and also the behind the scenes dynamics. He wrote several fantastic books on this which shows the all too human side of great artists without ever lapsing into mere salacious gossip.

Perhaps the most important thing John Richardson did was the massive multi volume set on the life of Picasso. He was working on the fourth, final volume when he died. These volumes get into meticulous detail about the artist’s life, those around him and the times he lived in. Impressively, over the course of all the volumes Richardson manages to write without agenda, neither praising Picasso to the sky nor trying to tear him down. The artist as a talented yet imperfect man is presented.

Picasso is sometimes talked about as a magician for the protean way he seemed to conjure up new genres. He was mercurial in his ability to shift styles, often creating his own new ones before dropping them to birth a new phase. However, a point Richardson goes into and one which has become more public knowledge was that he did not spontaneously create from nothing. Picasso was a bit of a magpie. Direct contemporaries used to tell each other not to have works on display when he came to visit the studio or he would borrow ideas that he liked, making them his own. Many opted to turn unfinished canvas around to face the wall like an ill behaved child.

All artists wear masks out in public. Piccasso’s public persona was that of a sui generous, fully formed at birth. There is no disputing that the talent was there from the get go but like even the most individualized genius, he took from and was inspired by ideas from outside of himself. According to  him, all his then radical ideas which freed up generations of painters were solely of his invention. There seemed to be a feeling that he would be a lesser titan were sources to be cited. Oceanic art, Matisse et al were kept hidden ingredients in his recipe book.   Great trouble was taken on his part to hide or camouflage the sources not his own which he turned to gold.

To me, this always seemed oddly tragic as much time and energy was wasted on trying to cover up that which has become common knowledge. Even some of the poorer written biographies on Picasso now easily trace some of what ideas from others went into radically new and important works.

I am paraphrasing here but towards the end of the third volume it was said that he still possessed a virtuoso’s voice but with very little to say. I think part of this was that he was existing outside of the stream of life. The vitality of being in competition with his peers or if not that then at least among them at cafes, parties and studios serves as stimulation. Being surrounded by a crowd who hangs on your every word and who in one way or another are dependent upon you is not the same.  On the first flush of huge fame it was more important to him that he keep his secrets. After that, that he not be wrong, corrected or not the alpha.

By comparison, artists like Renoir, Matisse, Calder and Giacometti even once famous and older, would make it a point to still put in appearances  at cafes and studios to see what was new with the upcoming generations while chatting of their latest works.

All this inspired me. I would never waste any time nor effort in being secretive. If someone created an effect in one of their works which I do not know how to do, unashamed, I will ask “how?”. If anyone asks me about what equipment I use/used on a piece, i will gladly tel them.  Much to my surprise, not all my peers are like this. Asking a slightly older painter how she achieved an effect, what she had used, I received a curt “watercolors”. When I politely asked for specifics it became clear she did not want to tell me. This is absurd as two people can have same recipe and ingredients yet when the dish is made they will be different from one another.

We should all feel free to ask away as none of us are Picasso.

When back in Europe I always have my painting kit & my sketch kit. Over the years the painting one is largely unchanged. A few colors added, a few taken out of the palette. My sketching kit is ever in flux. The Blackwing pencil & Kuro Toga .5 MM pencil being the two constants.

 

2019 Sketch Kit for the Road:

(Left to right )

Sharpener, .5 MM Kuro Toga, Staedler 2MM Lead Clutch, blender, two writing pen refills Waterman & Parker) Tombow Mono Zero eraser, two sided Faber Castell Lead extender, BlackWing Palomino w/Blackinwing Point Cap, Faber Castell 2B pencil w/Blackwing Point Cap, Faber Castell 7B w/Blackwing Point Cap, Staedler Eraser, two blenders Faber Castell HB Pencil, gum eraser, 2x 5MM Pentel  Lead refills 4B & 2B, Pad of Sandpiper to custom hone Lead Clutch point, Rubber eraser (bottom)

 

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50th Anniversary AEC

I had the great honor2019 of my first portrait of composer/musician Roscoe Mitchell being used for the official tee shirts for the world wide tour marking the 50th Anniversary of The Art Ensemble of Chicago.

Regardless of the nature of the ensemble he is playing in or composing for, he has been a prime inspiration to me for years.

 

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