Sunday, July 29, 2007

This painting was inspired by a photograph by Chester Higgins Jr.

Friday, July 20, 2007

I think this is finished - maybe a few color washes when it is completely dry.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

"Metamorphosis" 32" x 36" 1999
About 14 years ago, back when I first started doing figure compositions out of my head, I had the idea of doing a hair cut painting. I worked on the idea for a long time: did a nice wash study and two or three versions in oil about 16" x 18". Sold the last of them a few years ago. A few years later I went back to the subject and did a large version, 32" x 36" or thereabouts, and called it "Metamorphosis" - that one I still have. Apparently not a whole lot of people want a 32" x 36" painting in the house of someone having their hair cut.

"Metamorphosis" is on very heavy linen and when I did it I was still painting quite thinly. Tom keeps telling me I could fix it up easily now that I paint with so much more authority and paint. A few months ago I took off the varnish and tried to fix it up. Um...impossible. The situation is similar to the problem with the French Fry Eaters: the gap between the artist I was then and the artist I am now is just too big. To make it what I want it to be I would have to take it completely apart and put it back together again, like a car engine. Forget it; it would be easier to just do a new one. I wiped out, put the varnish back on and pushed the whole project to the back of my mind.

The Haircut" 16" x 18" 1994

Then, yesterday, I got a hair cut. The woman who has been cutting my hair for the past fourteen years moved away recently; I've been forced to find someone new. When I arrived at the salon to meet my new hairdresser you could have knocked me over with a feather - Hell, you could have knocked me over with half a feather: she was the spitting image of the hairdresser in "Metamorphosis" whom I had made up out of my head- with the exception that she looked about fourteen years older. Same features, limbs and figure, even had her hair in the same style and was wearing almost the same outfit though the color was different. "Hi" I said, stunned, "I feel like we've met before". As she cut my hair I drank in everything about her: the way she danced around my head as though conjuring a shape out of clay; the way she held herself as loftily as a statue; her strong arms and delicate, accurate, hands. I watched in the mirror as, under her hands, my old silhouette melted away and the new me emerged.

When I got home I got out my sketch book and made a few scribbles from memory: I have some new ideas for the composition and I definitely need to change the colors.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Yesterday was a good day.

For some time now I've been toying with the idea of putting the guy whacking the ketchup bottle in a hoodie. If you scroll down you can see it in the drawings. Early on I tried to translate the idea into paint but couldn't get it right and had to wipe out. Yesterday I finally caught a wave and the hoodie just seemed to flow onto the canvas. It was so easy: just saddled up the tiger and went for a ride.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

This 10" x 12" painting (still in progress obviously) is the most recent manifestation of "The French Fry Eaters".

I first painted 'the boys' (as I call them) in 1999. That version was 30" x 36" and took three 10" x 12" oil studies and a stack of drawings just to prepare for. Somewhere deep in the bowels of the Internet there is a picture of one of the studies on a blog, posted there by the guys who bought it from a gallery in Alexandria, VA. Every now and then I go and look at it. I love that a couple of guys who could be French Fry Eaters themselves bought it. The other studies sold too as well as the final version but that is one I visit in the middle of the night: I know where to find it and I can be alone with my picture.

I always loved 'the boys' with its feeling of being young and male and ready to grab anything. I send the image around quite a bit to show off my skill and imagination in figure painting. Over the years as those skills have grown the I-could-do-it much-better-now feeling has grown as well. A few months ago I took my own dare, printed off a copy of the finished piece and decided to try again. I figured it would be a piece of cake. After all, the impossible drawing problems had all been solved. All I would have to do to have a little tour de force would be to copy the original with more unity, better blocking, a more confident brush. To make the project even simpler I decided to do a 10" x 12". I would dash off an exquisite painting; couldn't take more than a couple of days.

Ha. First of all, the thing is more intricate than a walnut: densely packed with intricate rhythms and mind-twisting drawing problems. After a few humiliating days spent painting and wiping out I went back to the drawing board - literally. Once I started drawing I realized some of the errors in the original, and then I got some better ideas so I had to rethink the poses...well, you get the idea.

Here are a few of the drawings. They are very rough working sketches - just hammering out ideas -but they have sufficient information for me to be able to work from them.

And here is the original.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

I finished this yesterday, toying to the end with the balance between subtlety, clarity, and open-endedness in the final surface. I think a lot lately about the play between the face of the painting, where the brush leaves its final kiss, and its bones and flesh: the composition, the harmonic structure, the color, etc. It seems a shame not to let the surface have its own voice.
Here the brushwork varies depending on what it describes. In some places the only difference between water and mist is the action of the brush. Not that I planned it that way. It was an emotional reaction: like a piece of charcoal, my brush followed the characteristic action of water, cloud, mist, rock.
Today I gave myself the traditional day off after finishing a painting. This is my ritual; I use the day to celebrate, relax, and put some psychic and emotional space between paintings.

Monday, July 09, 2007

It's getting there - one more day.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

I think I have developed a psychological tic that makes it almost impossible for me to finish a painting. As I get towards the end of piece I start to feel like I am experiencing the scene from Alice Through the Looking Glass where whenever she tries to walk into the house the path "gives a sort of leap and shakes itself" and she finds herself walking in the other direction: right back into the garden. Each time I start down the back-stretch with this piece I see another path out of the corner of my eye. Screech, turn, let's just see what's down this road before we go home...and before you know it another priceless week of time is gone and I have a bigger problem on my hands than I had before since each new addition to the piece has to be synthesized into the whole. There is always the nagging question - am I making it better: giving it greater and deeper dimension, more resonant color, images, rhythms - or am I making it (shudder) worse? And - am I really driven by artistic ambition of the highest kind: the kind that wants and needs to make every piece that comes off the brush glorious - or is it vanity - this another instance of the human need to deny limitation? I generally feel horrible when I conclude a painting since it means my living connection to the work is gone (I think I 've talked about that before on this blog) As I come to the end of a piece I feel the umbilical cord start to shrivel; perhaps these endless efforts to forestall the end are just that: another human spirit dodging, twisting, weaving, denying the inevitability of death. Or maybe I should just get my butt out to the studio and finish the damn thing.

The day before yesterday:

This is the original study. I painted this on location twenty years ago -almost to the day.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

This is almost finished. It is not from Monhegan but is based on an oil study I did the first time I went painting in Maine twenty years ago. From that sketch I did a painting that hung in my Grandmother's apartment for many years; I got it back when she died a few years ago. I've been copying the painting that was Grandma's: and just today dug up the original plein air study; maybe I'll post it tomorrow. Truthfully, I was never too wild about Grandma's painting but I loved the study and would never sell it though I had several offers. There is something about the image that really grabs me and I keep coming back to it.

The spot is in Acadia National Park. I think it is Otter Cliffs, but I'm not positive; it was so long ago. I've painted there a couple of times and every time it affects me in the same way: I get a huge rush of fire in the belly and the all-consuming need to paint - now. There is something about the mist alternately shrouding and revealing the rocks, the water pouring into the womb-like circle of stone, the almost seamless transition from water to fog to cloud to sky that completely sends me: it is so loaded with metaphor and those metaphors act on me like a physical sensation.

Reminds me of the time I saw a rare Taoist scroll at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They had the entire thing unfurled; to view it I walked very slowly alongside. The scroll opened first on a mountainous landscape with little figures moving in the valleys. As I walked the figures began to climb the mountains; as they did so they got smaller. Gradually they ascended the peaks; then disappeared altogether. Then the mountains disappeared and there was only cloud. The experience was so transcending that I felt I had begun the scroll as one person and at the end was a different one. What I want to do with this piece is express what was in that 20-ft scroll in a single oil painting. Not too ambitious.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Just in case anyone is here via the Boston Globe article (thanks Daniel Grant!, Globe!, my mother!, my high school art teacher!, my dog....) here are links to the posts mentioned. This one is to the still life Fruits and Flowers...

and this link goes to the post on my other blog, Creative Process, that mentions the arm-stirring-the soup issue:

The painting you see here is the final state of a painting that I started outdoors on a recent painting trip to Monhegan Island. I've been developing the Monhegan pieces in my studio for the past few weeks and am finally satisfied with this one. I think I achieved a prismatic feeling of light breaking apart as it moves through the water-soaked air (a very, very subtle effect) contrasting with the powerful yet mysterious energy of the ocean.
Scroll down a few posts to the painting in its original state along with other works from Monhegan.