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.
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
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
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).