Sunday, April 17, 2016

Chicago lessons

Last week I went to the Art Institute of Chicago with my wife and artist Jessica Kirby and boy did I learn a lot about good paintings. To wit: great painters give themselves the advantage...that's why their work looks masterfully effortless...we acolytes sometimes hamstring ourselves. Particularly in choice of subject matter. 
Not everything is paintable...EVERY good painting I saw that day had one thing in common: the subject had paintable information. 
What does that mean? Well, the chosen subject could be translated into brush marks because:
1. It had distinct shapes. OR, it joined with other things of similar value to make a distinct conglomerate shape.
2. It had a focal point that looked specific because it was painted large enough to be done without wearing a jeweler's loupe and using laparoscopic surgical tools. Hence it could be done with ease and energy.
3. The "background" was generalized...but because the artist did 1and 2 above, you often thought it was detailed even though it might just be a schmear of lovely color..
Check these examples:
Look at these abstract light shapes on a dark ground. There were other paintings in the same room - good ones - I just can't remember them.
Or this other Sargent..which I think is one of the most perfect pictures in the history of painting...the woman, her husband, the fountain and her painting equipment amalgamate into one big light shape on a dark to medium value field (lest you think this is mere travelogue read Jessica Kirby's blog at right or read up on Sargent's travels. This is a painting about the act of painting and painters personalities. It's as artsy as artsy gets).

At the size it appears on this blog it looks nearly photographic. Yet every  stroke in this gem is simple...anyone could make them...they're just the right color in the right place.

Homer does likewise with a big dark shape in a medium field - with select light accents. 50 years later Robert Motherwell and others did the same thing...they just kept their marks from looking like anything familiar. With Sargent and Homer I can have the cake and eat it too, so to speak.

So what are these geniuses doing that eludes me? Here's an example of the kind of thing I used to attempt (it was shot from the window on the train ride home). It was a beautiful evening, but let me list the problems with this as a paintable image.

1. The "particular" stuff - or focal point - is at the back. The foreground is all non specific stuff.
2. The focal point is small in area and the surrounding area is large. If I "zoom in" it's ambiguous spatially...especially if I render the atmospheric perspective which is part of it's charm.
3. The value range is close. Only the sky contrasts and it sits over everything. The shapes don't cut into each other. There was a gloriously boring triptych of the French landscape (also seen from a train) by Ellsworth Kelly in the modern wing.

The moral of the story? Pick paintable stuff...good shapes, discernible contrasts and do it big enough that it's easy to render. Painting shouldn't feel like defusing a bomb.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Upcoming show and classes

LAST MINUTE CHANGE, note new date: I will be having an exhibit of some recent watercolors and oils at Art Domestique Gallery in Washington, IA. The reception is Tuesday April 19 from 6-8pm. The gallery is on the east side of the square, next door to Cafe DoDici. Here's a sample:

On many of the works I tried to get a somewhat unique palette as well as a more patterned, shape conscious design to the work, reminiscent of Japanese woodblocks where appropriate. As a kid, that was the only original artwork we had at home. We had posters of Manet, Degas and Tolouse Lautrec too. All of them were influenced by Japanese woodblocks so maybe that's why I'm fascinated with that look.
I'm teaching a 3 day Plein Air workshop in conjunction with the exhibit, April 22-24. It will be for oil, pastel or watercolor and I plan to demo in the mediums most people are using...maybe all 3?
The foliage should be quite nice by that time.