Wednesday, May 30, 2007

I haven't been painting for the past few days so here is a sketch from life drawing (20 minutes; a very tricky pose).

The reason I haven't been painting is that I am getting ready to go to Monhegan Island to paint seascapes next week. I haven't been on a landscape painting trip in years, not since September 2001 when Tom and I went to Maine for two weeks. Towards the end of that trip I went out at dawn as usual to paint the harbor across from our little cabin while Tom slept in. As I remember I painted quite well that day. When I got back around 9:00 we had breakfast, then I took a shower. Tom flipped on the TV and as I emerged from the shower I asked if there was any news and, well, you know the rest. We didn't get much painting done after that.

This time I am going with two of my female artist friends and Tom is staying home for some quiet time. I suspect he will enjoy having the studio to himself for a while. BTW I think I have persuaded him to guest blog while I am gone. That should be interesting.

Note: Tom says he did not sleep in that day and has the painting to prove it!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

I often wonder if someone following this blog can see the difference in a given work from one day to the next. As I mentioned in an earlier post, even Tom sometimes can't tell what I've done.

A few posts back, when I was writing about the spider mum still life, I talked about there being three stages of a painting. I was then working on finishing. With this piece I am in the middle stage. Emotionally I'm past the first big rush of inspiration. On the canvas, the painting has been thoroughly stated: there aren't going to be any big compositional changes at this point. Now the painting feels like a piece of clay. One day I push it in one direction, the next day I push it another, coaxing it into essential form.

Last time I worked on the rocks in the foreground. This takes skilled painting. It's all close values and color triads: one step up, one step down, a half step cross, and red, blue, yellow, an intricate dance. Do that long enough and your head spins but if you do it right the beautiful abstractions of value progression and color prism start to coalesce into an illusion of concrete reality: rock.

Today I went in the other direction: luminosity, atmosphere, vibrations of light in water-soaked air. I let my mind melt into the vast swimming space and listened to the big pulsing circular rhythms. I dipped my brush in a fluid soup of medium tinged with color and traced what I heard on the canvas.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Today was one of those days when being an artist is pretty much like being a regular working stiff. I spent the day modeling the rocks in the lower right hand corner - and let me just say that it is quite difficult to make a rock look like anything other than a misshapen potato let alone a work of "intuition and delight" as Gulley Jimson would say.
Who is Gulley Jimson? He is the artist hero of my very favorite book, "The Horse's Mouth" by Joyce Cary.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

I am copying a seascape I painted years ago - years and years ago. The original, seen here, was a painting I retrieved from my Grandmother's apartment when she died; it had hung over the mantel in her living room. It is a very reserved painting but not, I think, a dull one: there is a mystery and presence in its quietude. The copy is coming out quite differently - as if the thin serene shell of the painting's surface burst open and all the vitality underneath has come surging through dancing and shaking maracas.
What I ultimately want for this painting is to have it all: I want a sense that a veil of calm mystery barely contains the dynamic forces beneath and I want realism that barely contains abstraction.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Realism/Abstraction and Lisa

I thought I'd give myself a mini-exhibit called Realism/Abstraction. Is Gerhard Richter the only artist who can get away with this? Because I really had fun doing the abstract.
I had my dealer over for dinner last night. I suppose she isn't technically my dealer because she doesn't own the gallery, but she is the Gallery Director and, next to Tom, one of the most important people in my life. We met ten years ago when I first took my work into the gallery. I had been in a few times and had an impression of her as a very tough, intense, somewhat scary person. At that time the gallery was a couple of notches above the places I had been showing, but I thought I would give it a shot. The owner wasn't very excited about me or my work (he has since changed that view) but Lisa seemed to connect with my work immediately and morphed into the picture of gentleness and sweetness as we sat and talked and looked over the paintings I had brought with me. That was a whole decade ago. Since then she has sold more work for me than I would have thought possible and tripled my prices along the way. And we have formed a very deep bond - the more unusual because although we are women of almost the same age (I am a year or two older) we are almost complete opposites. Had we gone to the same high school we would never have met: I was an artistic intellectual, she was a super jock; if we had somehow become acquainted I am sure we would have found each other utterly baffling. When we were both young women living in New York City we actually lived within blocks of each other in alphabet city, we probably passed each other on the street. I was going to the Art Students League: drawing my skeleton in the morning, painting in the afternoon, working in the Carnegie Hall coatroom at night (I still shudder to think how many expensive hats and coats I ruined...) thinking and dreaming about painting all day and all night. Lisa was working in the fashion industry setting sales records and dancing at Studio 54 'til the sun came up (she is a fabulous dancer). We live near each other again here in Vermont. I live with Tom and our dog and a lot of quiet; I think and dream about painting all day and all night. Lisa lives with her husband, three teenage boys (her son and two stepsons), lots of animals and lots of noise. And she gets my work like no one but Tom and makes a place for it in the world.
I really wondered what she would think of the abstract. The gallery is very, very conservative and shows nothing but realism - tight realism. I set it out casually in the living room, leaning against a bookshelf, and waited to see if she would notice. She did. She loved it, loved it, loved it, wants it in the gallery, wants to sell it. Thanks Lisa.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Picked up the seascape today...thoughts later.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Water Matrix

This is the first abstract painting I have done since I was 12 years old, when I used to do quite a lot of them. There was a moment back then - I remember I was walking to school - when I had a vision of doing a painting of Moses on Mt. Sinai receiving the ten commandments: a painting of someone having an epiphany. I tried hard to carry out my vision but I just couldn't realize it. It became clear to me that the problem was that I didn't have the necessary skills. I began to study life drawing, became hooked on representational painting and never looked back - until now (BTW I never did do that Moses painting).

And now it all seems so different. I just don't see the huge difference between abstraction and realism that I used to - I was very, very dogmatic in my youth - now abstraction and representation just seem like different points on a continuum, or flip sides of the same carpet.

This is an abstraction of the same still life set-up that I used to paint the big still life a few posts back and it feels like a variation on the same theme. When I paint representationaly a large part of my attention is on abstraction anyway; this time I just allowed the abstract elements to float to the top and let the subject matter rinse away. I call it Water Matrix.

Friday, May 11, 2007

This is a five-minute pose from a few weeks ago. I thought it captured that "I just finished a big painting and I feel so free" feeling. I'm spending a few days catching up on my life and doing things way to boring to post.

But meanwhile I'm thinking what to work on next:
Should I finish the abstract?

the new version of the French Fry Eaters?

the ladies?

the seascape?

Maybe I will take my new landscape easel for a test drive, or....will I follow my heart of hearts and get back to the Feast of Venus?

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Finally, finished. By the way double-clicking makes the image larger. There are about three days' work between this post and the last as I am not posting every single change anymore. For one thing, it got too depressing - I discovered that sometimes I really do work hard all day and make the painting worse. Also I thought the blog was getting too repetitive, that perhaps not everyone could discern the huge changes I thought I was making each day.

Tom and I often have this conversation:

Me (after working all day): do you think I improved it????

Tom: I can't tell what you did.

Keep in mind that Tom is a fabulous artist himself (check out his website!) and often comes into the studio when I have nothing more than an incomprehensible scribble going and says "Wow, that's great!" (In this conversation I say: "All I have is an incomprehensible mess, how can you say it's great?" - by which I mean 'please, please, please tell me it's as great as I think it is' - and he says 'I can tell what you are doing and where you are going with it and it's fabulous') So it is not like he doesn't have an amazing eye but, still, he can't always see the particular brushstroke that I attach so much importance to, so perhaps others can't either.

I worked until I dropped on Saturday: from 1:00 until 7:00. Sunday I worked all day in my garden and by Monday (yesterday) I was stupified with exhaustion. But I felt I just had to get the painting done. There wasn't much left to do at that point, mostly putting in the design on the tablecloth, and I just stumbled through it. I wiped out the whole first hour's work and it didn't get very much better after that but I just muscled through and did what I had to do.

My usual practice is to be well rested for the last day working on a painting so I can take it all in and reach for just a little more. This time I was tired, very tired. I saw all the new doors opening in the painting; heard the sirens sing of new rhythms and avenues to explore and...ignored them. I had a very new thought. Usually I go through those doors: the two hours the last day should take stretch to six. I try to get it all it and I am always left disappointed and empty. My new thought was that maybe if I don't try to play out each possibility but leave the painting in such a state that when I look at it I still hear all those calls and see all those larger possibilities the painting will stay more alive and I will be less disappointed when I'm done. That is either great wisdom or the rationalizing voice of an overworked artist who needs rest. Time will tell.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

This is really coming together now. I didn't think I had the psychic energy to finish this painting until I spent a day doing the semi-abstraction from the previous post. Somehow the discharge of half-formed thoughts completely refreshed my inner mind. Giving myself permission to break long standing internal rules brought me a sense of freedom and lightness; when I picked this up again it was with a completely new attitude: I was ready to finish.

The process of making a painting has, for me, three stages: beginning, middle and end, or, as I call it, finishing. Each stage calls on a different part of the creative faculty and requires a different mental and imaginative posture. Of the first two I'll write another time, my concern now is finishing. It is in finishing that all the disparate ideas: color harmony, rhythm, light, form are brought together and merged into an aesthetic and poetic whole. I float around sharpening an edge here, floating a color wash there, sometimes - screech - I stop and rework an entire passage. It is as if I am painting a separate, almost invisible painting: a scrim that overlays the painting on the canvas subtly, magically transforming the image, bringing it to completeness.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

"Who ordered that?" is what my grandfather, a prominent physiscist, said when quarks were first discovered. And it is a bit the way I feel about this painting. It looks like a radical departure from what I have been doing for the last 25 years but it feels like a completely natural development.

Here is how it happened: I am alone in the studio, really alone, for two days a week now because Tom is teaching at the Art Students League substituting for our former instructor Frank Mason. On Mondays and Thursdays he makes an "extreme commute" driving 5 hours down to the city, teaching for the afternoon, and driving back again. This leaves me alone for a very long time and I miss him painfully. On the other hand I have the studio, the house and all the space around completely to myself twice a week. The privacy and solitude have given me a freedom to tap some very deep roots. Yesterday was one of Tom's teaching days. I had planned to finish the big still life I've been working on but instead grabbed another canvas and just painted. I had been thinking about how to draw out the poetic layers of the big still life in a more abstract way but in the event what I put down had nothing to do with all the thoughts and sketches I had toyed with. I painted like I did when I was a child: completely spontaneously, charting the changing shapes of my thoughts and feelings as they came.

This isn't finished, but today I really must work on that big still life.