Artist’s signature

June 22, 2015

Recently I read that your art should carry your signature….without you ever having to sign your name. (I’m not sure of the source, I think it might have been here .)

Friends have said to me that they can see when something has been done by me- whether graphic design, calligraphy, oil pastel or paintings. They recognise a personal mark and/or approach in the colours and visual vocabulary.

This is less easy for me to see, I’m up too close generally. But I was surprised yesterday when going through some old work and throwing pieces away (this has to happen periodically, worth another post), I discovered a watercolour (one of the ones I’m keeping) from 40 years ago (no, I’m wrong, it was 27 years ago) which reminded me of one of my recent bottle paintings.

I’ve cropped the painting and put them side by side.

The watercolour with diamonds is done at the time I was exploring the range of colours in value- contrasting crystalline transparent pastels with dense fiery reds, indigos and earth colours. And this was inspired by my mentor Abe Weiner’s work (type in Abe Weiner either in the Search box here or google to see his paintings).

I was quite amazed by the similarity in colour feel and handling of works separated by 27 years of time and development. Here are crops of both works, and underneath are the originals.

Bottles 5 late stage of development

Bottles 5 late stage of development

I’ve only recently begun to work simultaneously on two or three paintings.

And I’m discovering that there are numerous advantages for me in doing this.

First, I don’t obsess as much on one painting. Normally, I’ll spend a lot of time working into what I’ve set down initially to try to ‘get it right’. When, often what I had was already good and fresh, and I just should have left it alone! Having more paintings in the sidelines waiting for their turn, helps me detach (can you hear that sound of a suction cup letting go? Thwock)! and turn my beady eye on a new victim.

Secondly, each painting has its own character and demands a different approach in applying paint, colour, etc. (though I do try to work on paintings that have a similar palette). So it has happened that where I was getting too tight on one painting, and worked on one with a looser approach, getting back to the first one, I could let go a little easier. So far that has been the biggest advantage for me.

Third, trying to finish one painting in order to get to the next new one can put me in a frame of mind which isn’t optimal for taking the patient, caring steps needed to finish a work with honour. I am slightly bored with the end stages, I like the excitement of the first parts of the process best and have to discipline myself not to rush completion. So being able to work on several at the same time avoids the feeling of having to rush to get to the next one.

The one above is interesting, it is being worked on with others in the bottle series (see an earlier post):

5 bottles

5 bottles

 

Blue bottles still life present stage

Blue bottles still life present stage

Here was an earlier version of it:

Early stage bottles 5

Early stage bottles 5

I tried to keep those landscapey little blocks of green and pink in the background and background bottle, but just couldn’t pull it off. It was useful though, because those colours do shine through here and there in the present version (top of page) and liven it up.

I learned with this one that you can’t honour both intentions, realistic and abstract, at least I can’t – not yet. An artist friend, Eoin Mac Lochlainn, wrote in a recent conversation that it is tricky to straddle the line between realistic and abstract. He works in both sometimes and has shown them together. [Evidently I misunderstood a previous conversation Eoin and I were having, and he doesn’t consider the skies pure abstracts- see his comment below. Apologies, Eoin].Now that is tricky, but in this case I think he pulls it off. There is a clear intention there of showing the lovely empty skies with the abandoned fireplaces, and I feel they enrich one another.(Do look at the short video on his blog, and the music is wonderful).

I’m going to show some interim stages of paintings I’m working on. One reason is that I’m working on 5 at once and it is taking awhile to get to completion on any one piece. Also a factor is that there is lot of movement going on in the way I’m painting, and it is kind of exciting to share the process. Anyone who has been following my oil painting progress knows that from the beginning I’ve been working toward a looser approach- less drawing more painting.

Here is the piece that is sort of the bridge between the highly realistic work I’ve been doing and what I’m moving toward. It isn’t done yet, it’s missing some sparkly white highlights in the glass for one. But I did parts of it with a palette knife. I was going to do the whole thing with impasto, but I didn’t have enough control over the small areas and I was becoming unhappy with the assignment I’d given myself. So I went back to brush. Still, it has something fresh that I like, especially the blue bottle far right.

5 bottles

5 bottles

The next one below was one stage before where I am now. I’m including it because I love it. I just threw down the colours on there, and it has the freedom of some of the 37 minute work I did a few years ago. Even though there are some inaccuracies (shapes of the blue bottles, for ex.) I am sorry I didn’t just leave it as it was. I was especially sad to lose the wonderful rhythmic brush work on the clear bottle in the background.

Blue bottles stillife

Blue bottles stillife

 

Though I tried not to, I blended too much, with a result of a more polished, less raw feel.
The photo is also a bit too blue-green, the colours are truer in the one above.

Blue bottles still life present stage

Blue bottles still life present stage

I’ll also include Rende’s photo, and you can see that I’m starting to deviate from exact reproduction of the image. For example, the visual pun here, is that Rende has photographed the same bottles I used in the still life, in front of that still life. I’m not translating that literally because the fruit should be out of focus as part of the painting in the background. I like the painterly way I sketched it in there and am leaving it that way.

Bottle still life    Rende Zoutewelle

Bottle still life Rende Zoutewelle

Two prints for sale

June 8, 2015

Some time ago I had some prints made of a few of my oil pastels. They’re mostly sold out, but I have 2 left I’d like to make available for purchase.

Tuscan landscape

Tuscan landscape is 36 x 30 cm (14″x 12″) (image area not including wide border).

 

Living Tree

Living Tree is 26,5 x 30 cm(10,5″ x 12″) (image area, there is a very thin white border).

 

Both images are printed on beautiful quality heavy watercolor paper. Acid free.

They are 60 Euros ($67 each)
or 100 Euros for both ($112). Includes shipping anywhere. They will be packed in a cardboard tube.

Payment by Paypal or bank transfer. Contact me through the comments if you are interested.

 

 

I’m still working on my new series inspired by Rende’s photos of bottles placed in front of my still life paintings. I’ll skip the last two (nos. 3 & 4) for now because they are still in process and deserve a separate post.

The ones I’m working on now ( nos. 5  & 6) I’m excited about. They are closer to suggesting and further from explaining.
It feels to me like I’m in a process of ‘breaking my paintings open’, that seems the best way to explain it. Though photographic realism is a valid way to go for many artists, it isn’t my goal and limits me. I’m already a perfectionist and reproducing things exactly only encourages me to obsess even more!

Even in the last few bottle paintings, I’ve felt restrained by the subject matter. But my intuition tells me not to turn to more abstract/decorative work (like my oil pastels), but to find the freedom I want via realistic work. After all that is the work that speaks to me most by artists I admire, like Krabbé and Blackadder.

So breaking the painting open means that room is created for my own imagination. It means that colours and forms aren’t dictated by the objects in front of me but those objects become a departure point for my expression. It has taken me 5 years of steady work to get this far, (though I’ve been painting sporadically my whole life).

These two even started out differently- I had some ‘failed’ landscapes and abstract work lying around. So instead of gessoing them over, I sketched directly on them with charcoal, because they make colourful and unpredictable backgrounds. Also they encourage a looser approach to applying the paint. Here are the charcoal sketch and first blocking in for Bottles 6. And below that first stages of Bottles 5.

charcoal preliminary sketch

charcoal preliminary sketch

Blocking in colours and values

Blocking in colours and values

Early stage bottles 5

Early stage bottles 5

All about colour

May 21, 2015

Second in the bottles/ painting series

Second in the bottles/ painting series

This is the second oil painting in the series inspired by Rende’s photos of bottles against one of my previous still life paintings. See this post for the first one and some background info.

As I mentioned in the other post, painting something that is already beautiful is not my usual choice. But the richness he captured in the glass against the colourful painting spoke to me. I hadn’t worked with such saturated darks before, and I loved using them.

Nicholas Wilton’s latest post about colour is full of good practical information, a sort of Colour 101. And I appreciated that even though he gives workshops, he is generous about sharing his insights and knowledge for free as well. Basically he breaks down colour theory in painting to 3 main choices, and they all have to do with contrast. Are you going to use a dark or light colour next to your existing colour? Will it be saturated or diluted/toned down? And finally, will it be a cool or warm colour?

All these choices are going on instinctively while I paint. Even though I have a photo as reference, and this dictates my choices to some extent, effects, transparency, back and foreground can all be influenced by the 3 principles Wilton mentions. I’m starting on the third one now, a bit more ambitious as far as complexity. And it really does help to be more conscious of how the colour is going to work in the painting. Here are 2 previous phases of the finished painting above. In this one, after sketching in the approximate colours, I worked from dark to light and slightly more painterly than in number 1.

Set up for second painting

Set up for second painting

an in- between phase

an in- between phase

Barry Lopez (source of photo)

Barry Lopez (source of photo)

Barry Lopez is one of the writers who has ‘accompanied’ me on most of my adult journey as an artist. (See my post Barry Lopez, A literature of hope ). He is a nature writer, but that short description doesn’t do him justice. He is also a poet who feels the pain of the Earth deeply. And, he is an artist who understands and exemplifies what art is for, especially in these times.

I love these artists and role models,who have sustained their passion and honed their craft over the years. They are gradually turning into our present day Elders. Hearing Gary Snyder or Barry Lopez speak unfailingly reunites me with the best in myself.

This morning I looked at an almost completed draft of my book so far and couldn’t relate to it. I’d momentarily lost my sense of True North, and wondered how I would finish it with this late-stage failing of nerve. Unable to write, I decided to do some research for a later chapter on ‘art and wounded places’, and watched several of Lopez’s talks. And one of them showed the way out of of my impasse. It gave me a new lens for looking at my work and lifted me out of the familiar contradictions I usually get caught in when stuck.

He spoke about story telling. He’d had a conversation with a traditional man,( I sense he meant someone indigenous), and asked if this man’s people made a distinction between fiction and non-fiction like we do in Western society. The man answered, ‘For us, the difference isn’t between fiction and non-fiction, but between an authentic and inauthentic story.

Lopez asked him the difference and he said, ‘An authentic story is about us.’

‘Yes?’, Lopez asked.

‘And an inauthentic story is about you’, replied the man.

Lopez had a crucial insight as a result of this conversation. He realised that the story you tell as a story teller is not worth our listening to if it is just about you. He said,’We don’t need to know about you, we need to know about us’. I think what he is saying here, is that a writer needs to delve down beyond the purely personal until he strikes something universal in human experience which will illuminate all our lives. Also, adding my own note here, if an artist is working with rage or pain, she has a responsibility to transform it before it hits the page. We all know how bad life can be, we have the mass media to tell us all about that.

It is the artist alchemist’s task to harness that personal negativity and transcend it, and to use it as raw material to craft images of hope.

Lopez says that an authentic story needs to do two things; first of all it has to help. And secondly it has to be about ‘us’.

I want everything I write to end with this note:’Here is what I saw, what do you think?’. Instead of saying, ‘Here is what I saw and this is what you should believe’. -B.Lopez

The writers, artists and musicians I’ve respected most and who have inspired me in my life so far, are growing older along with me. Like Barry Lopez, time and experience distil their youthful passion to a focused potency. I feel enormous wisdom radiating from these people. But even more than the understanding they have gained through living and practising their calling, they embody compassion.

Lopez said,’

I want more than anything to see people do well. I want to see people thrive. And the system I see in place all over the world is killing people. I feel that as a physical pain, as grief every day when I get up in the morning. What drives me is – if you’re going to tell a story, tell a story that helps. If you’re going to collaborate with directors, filmmakers, artists et , make common cause with people whose desire is to help.

Not to direct the show or tell somebody else what to think, but to behave in a helpful manner for the benefit of everybody.

(See the 3 minute clip of this talk here )

 

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