I do not often paint large pieces. There’s a completely different physicality involved. The way I have always worked, when I see a piece in my head before starting out, included in this vision/conception is its size. If I envision it small, it’s not merely a matter of using larger paper to make it big. I can only make a thing as I saw it in my head.
With Victory I saw it big.
I enjoy the challenge of leaving my comfort zone. Most of my paintings are 11×17, this one would be 20×30. I have a large wooden easel. It has heavy brass machinery. I pull on a loop below the ledge upon which the canvas sits to raise or lower it on the wooden axis. There is a wooden crossbar on the bottom which connects the two front legs of the large tripod.
While painting the lower section of the piece, I sit on a stool leaning forward. My feet rest on the crossbar. It feels as if I am on a ship, brush in hand. Seas calm, seas stormy, call me Ishmael.
I had been in the middle of a full sized Cinefield® when my computer of six years gave up the ghost. This rendered my needed printer into an expensive paper weight. I switched to doing a painting. This is 11×14 watercolor & tan paper.
errata thought on the elderly: In media & especially television, a shorthand for “old people” they often will reference big band music (usually Duke Ellington or Benny Goodman). A few Rolling Stones albums just hit their 50th anniversary mark. If you do the math, an “old” person was not swinging their gal arround on the dancefloor to “Take the A Train” but rather Hendrix’s electro lament for a decades turmoil & new found freedoms.
“You made me beautiful” she said upon seeing the finished piece.
It was, but I just painted what I saw. With all my portraiture I go for a sort of raw reportage. If I see it, it appears in the piece. I never airbrush out (so to speak) any imperfections nor do i exaggerate any by way of settling scores. To me, all truth is beauty.
I always want people to be able to return to a piece and see new things. This is why traditional beauty has always bored me. The little quirks and imperfections make it real, make it interesting. The organics of a piece is often helped by only using people I know as subject matter. The trust allows for natural body language and facial expressions. There are some great yet unknown painters out there whose work’s power is diminished by coming across as overly academic or all the cheesy glam poses. I don’t worry about the beauty aspect, but rather the realness.
This piece is 11×14 inches. Watercolor on brown paper.
I draw every day, no matter where I am in the world. When on the road, at the very least I will do quick guerilla sketches and woodshedding in my ever present trusty pocket pad. Of late most of my formally done works switch off between Cinefield® and painting (during the execution of which I will still woodshed every night).
A new painting had been started but then it rained out every day with the forecast calling for the following week to be more of the same. I only use natural sunlight to paint by so this was not good for me. I put the painting aside and went on to start Cinefield® Where the Sauce is Deluxe. Between the weather and how labor intensive that piece was the painting sat untouched for four weeks, something I had never done before.
When I went back to work on it, it felt strange initially but I quickly found my rhythm. I am very pleased with the piece. Although I always end up over the course of working on a painting having to let it dry a day between coats. As matter of personal preference, I was not a fan of having a piece left untouched for that long a duration.
Once again I tried to change things up a little. I used a heavy stock brown paper 11×14 inches landscape oriented.
Throughout my oeuvre I had done paintings of close up of body parts. The challenge of this to varying degree is that if one does a super close up of an arm or belly without the outline of limbs/silhouette, it’s not necessarily easy to know what as a viewer, one is seeing.
Without visual guidelines, it’s tougher to show volume & mass of a body. This is one of the challenges I enjoy. If I can make the viewer feel the curve of a part without showing the edge, then it’s “easy” when doing an entire body or section.
Another aspect of this which I enjoy is that even when really nailing the volume and mass effect of the skin, there’s a sort of abstract property to the piece. I like the concept of a viewer enjoying these types of works just for the colors and effects rather than the “Does it look like this person?” aspect which can occasionally be a distraction. This piece is not as tight a zoom as I sometimes do for this type of work.
Another Song About a Girl 11×14 Brown Paper & watercolor
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.
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 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.
All the mediums which I work in are of equal importance to me. I get as much pay off putting pencil nubbin to scrap paper as an accomplished portrait. One of my biggest joys of which I never tire is portraying flesh via paint.
I never think in terms of “beauty” in the traditional sense of the word. Western idealized beauty very quickly becomes boring (same old-same old). I would rather an emotion which is real because truth is always beautiful. It is for this reason I largely prefer to work with people in my life as there is a trust there and they feel free to let their emotions be real in front of me.
For my painting I only ever use natural sunlight. I noticed at the start of this work that where the sun is when is starting to change. It appears the summer has snuck away.