Black Shirt

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.

Black Shirt Watercolor & Paper 9×12

Blue Nails

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.

Blue Nails 9×12 Watercolor & Paper

Speechless

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.

Speechless 9×12

Orange Cardi

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

Ils s’appellent zabbahdoo 2

I greatly admire the work of Jenny Saville. I was given one of those huge, beautiful coffee table books on her work. She works in a very different manner than I (this book was not of her recent work, so I am only speaking of this moment of time, no idea if she has changed). For some of her portraits, she would take photos from medical books of grimacing mouths and use those for subject’s mouth as opposed to just painting the subject’s mouth as it was. A lot of portraits in the book were pieces where the subject looked as they are in real life but a lot of the attributes were Frankensteined on from other source material.

I have no desire to work in this manner, i do not know that I even could. But, it did inspire me to do another of my close up portraits. One of the genre of portraits I do is a compositionally tight shot so that it is not necessarily immediately apparent what the viewer is looking at. One of my great joys is in portraying flesh in my works. With these type of portraits, it forces one to really nail the effect as the viewer does not have the usual visual clues which serve as a short hand in revealing what they are looking at (i.e an identifiable limb such as a hand or foot et al).

My original conception for this piece was to had a bit of canvas on either side of the body which would have been a different color and served as a clue. I decided to tighten the shot into more of a zoom.

I am very pleased with results. Long story short, this photo was not taken w/my new camera but rather my phone. You very much get a sense of the flesh and the blood below the surface, in person there is even more going on.

“Ils s’appellent Zabbahdoo 2” 9×12 Watercolor & paper

 

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Magic Hat #2

In the past I have written extensively about how the ready availability of cameras via our phones have made people forget how to look at paintings. People want the same realism in painting that they can achieve with their phones.

This has had a ping-ponged effect  to the mentality of a lot of painters. They seem afraid or embarrassed to have a painting or drawing look “merely” like that. It is pursuit of the hyper realism that makes many works by artists who have chops look freeze dried or still born.

The best authors have always been the best readers (diverse and ever exploring & expanding their taste). Painters have their own version of this, which is looking at art. The internet & amazon make it so that even with sheltering in place, one can have a wealth of images at hand to peruse. And there is no longer any restrictions in regards to what one likes or pulls inspiration from. Read any biography on previous eras and the new had to reject the old or  face harsh criticisms from peers & critics. Now it is possible to catch a spark from both Rothko & Frans Hals and no one would care. It’s a freedom that’s invaluable.

With no chance of doing my yearly European museum crawl this year, i have delved back into my sizeable collection of art books. Even had i only looked at the images, it served as an empowering reminder:

“It is ok for a painting to look like a painting.”

I recently had done a collage where i sought to intentionally make something beautiful for everyone to look at. I have just finished a series of collages and decided to do the same thing with a painting. I was helped in this by utilizing a long time model, her comfort making it natural, the organics adding to the beauty. I just used my cell phone to take the photo, it gives you the gist of the work but in person (or with a better camera) there is more going on).

9×12 Watercolor & Paper “Beauty; Magic Hat #2”

 

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Paper

I had unintentionally lucked out. Where I lived in Paris had five art supplies stores all within a five to ten minute walk. Each was good for specific things.

One aspect of all which was nice was that each was for working artists, this was reflected in the pricing, quality and selection. All the places were “historic” except the one closest to me. This one was still good though, it just meant the Soutine had never bought his pencils nor charcoal there.

All the staff at each place are artists themselves but they are almost shy about it. There is none of the (sometimes) overbearing networking as occurs in North America. I became Pals with Quintin. He finally showed me some of his work. intricate ink on paper works. I did not just offer up the small talk compliments but discussed technique with him which cemented our friendship.

After that, for years, every time I went into his shop I would get the sale price plus employ discount on my basket full of stuff.

A few years ago I went in early in the morning on my way to an afternoon of sketching and heavy lunching. We chatted and at first he seemed distracted but after a few minutes of talk it became clear it was more a type of embarrassment.

He was going to follow a girl he liked, really liked, to Ibiza where he would also work on his graphic novel. It was unclear if they would take him back on the staff when he eventually returned to Paris. I should load up as much as possible now as to take advantage of the deep discount.

It was the end of an era. Most likely a mistake on his part but that and/or an over earnestness is right of passage for youth as they find their way. I put things in my basket, he handed me blocks of watercolor paper. Seeing me doing math in my head, assured me not to worry about it.

Standing at the counter i knew to let the woman behind me go first, feigning to have forgotten something.

We were alone now, we shook hands. He turned around and grabbed a bunch of stuff off the backboard which he put in my swollen bags. Shaking hands, we exchanged information.

Back in my studio looking at all the stuff he gave me, I was pretty sure they would not be having him back. I had blocks of 7×10 French cotton paper which became one of my mainstays. I had so much of it that it lasted me several years.

I am constantly, from piece to piece switching what paper I use as it keeps things fresh. I do not know how it works for others but in my head i envision a piece before executing it and this vision includes its size too. This has kept my piles of paper dwindling but at a leisurely pace.

Despite plans already solidified, shelter in place finds me on the wrong side of the ocean, Paris right now for me as for most, just a magical daydream. I am very fortunate to be able to continue to work though. My stateside studio has taborets full of supplies.

Since I am going to be around, as i mulled over a new piece I carefully emptied them as to dust inside them. Something which was more busy work to contemplate by than actually needed. To my surprise I found that I had finally reached the end of my Quentin paper! It is all right I have plenty of other paper but this was, for me, the best cotton paper.

I decided to get a new paper to try, a 9×12 non-cotton paper. Right off the bat I enjoyed using the paper. It handles different from my French cotton paper but still enjoyable. Using the new paper, despite all going on, I get that familiar pleasure of serving the process & my craft. I hope Quintin is on some Spanish beach with his hippy chic drinking wine and looking out at the sea, I hope that I find myself walking around my arrondissement sooner than later.

 

“Blue Pillow” 9×12 Watercolor & Paper (new paper)

“Hand Selfie” 8×5 watercolor & Paper

 

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Blue Pillows

With my work, I prefer a certain degree of density. The great thing about watercolors is that they allow for this density but in conjunction with a delicacy inherent to the medium.

Often I like the viewer to feel as if they are ease dropping upon a scene. It ads to the emotional cadence of a piece to not have anything explicitly spelled out. When walking through Paris, one will see these little vignettes play out in endless variations, their true meaning unknown to all except the direct participants.

It is a give and take as equally, I have found myself a player on this urban-impromptu stage. Being watched as I lean against the balcony railing, doing dishes in the back-facing kitchen or sitting up late at night reading in bed, mine just another square of light and gentle activity among the mosiac.

This piece is 9×12 watercolor & multi media paper.

 

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Not Cool

I read a lot. I mix it up though, not sticking merely to one type of thing. One genre that I like to read is biographies on artists and/or artistic eras and movements. It has become much easier to appear in print, especially if one has a hook such as “Secret Lives of …”, so I highly recommend reading up on whether a work of non fiction is accurate or not beforehand.

Having read all the better biographies on the impressionists it spurred me on to seeing their work in person. Their works retains an emotional power, sometimes more than that of a few of the modern masters who came after them. Even with this retention of power though, their work has lost its “dangerous” aspect. Unless well versed with their era, looking now at a Monet or Renoir one would never suspect how they had upset and scandalized Parisian culture.

Matisse who proceeded them had similar problems. After a small showing of some of his works, newspapers said that the colorful “blobs” were germs and that viewers risked catching something by viewing them.  This taunt would even be repeated while he was within earshot in the streets. Looking at his works now with their radiant joy and color, it’s difficult to imagine that they had at  one point been considered scandalous.

All of this underscored what I had already known, I would rather put my energy & attention towards creating as I want, rather than trying to be “cool” or cutting edge. Today’s “dangerous” (which seems to go hand in hand w/ “cool”) work is destined to not necessarily become unappreciated but most likely made safer by whatever generationally comes down the line.

A then radical innovation I cribbed from the  Impressionists which many painters I admire continued with  is the  painting objects & people from my every day life. I do not look for the drama but rather the real and let the truth supply the emotion.

I have an ongoing Series titled “A Valentine of Sorts”.  All the pieces are 5.5×8.5 and compositionally, are often a small section of a larger scene (i.e just my hand instead of my entire body, just a glass instead of an entire tablescape). Their commonality is in being things from my every day life, observed and then captured.

“Her First Docs”  Watercolor & Paper 5.5×8.5

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