Friday, August 31, 2012

Is Charles Burchfield Really Caspar David Friedrich on Anti-Depressants?

I was  looking at some wonderful paintings by Charles Burchfield (American, 1893-1967) in an album put together by my friend Anne McGurk on Facebook this morning. My eye was caught by this heraldic watercolorDawn in Early Spring. 

Burchfield delivers a sensation of the earth rising up to meet the heavens. You look at the painting and you feel like drawing in a great, deep breath of the life-giving spring air. It's bracing and invigorating.

Just as I was enjoying that boisterous sensation, another image that was much quieter crept into my mind- the uprising arches of a ruined cathedral in the winter forest. Of course it was my old friend Caspar David Friedrich knocking at my mental door. Friedrich is the most famous of the romantic German landscape painters of the 19th century (he lived 1774- 1840). This is his Cloister Cemetery in the Snow.

I immediately thought how much fun it would be to look at the exuberant Burchfield next to this elegy by Friedrich. I think it's almost certain that Burchfield knew and admired the old German's landscapes. Clearly Burchfield's trees in the center of his watercolor cluster together in an almost self-consciously cathedral-like way. Narrow arches point heavenward in both Burchfield's and Friedrich's paintings, and both artists contrast that with lace-like countermovements of little branches or even just lively brushstrokes in Burchfield's case.

Bottom line is that despite their compositional similarities, these two paintings couldn't feel more different.

Here's another great Friedrich winter painting, Abby in an Oak Forest. 

It's not that Burchfield or Friedrich is better. I think we need both kinds of paintings- art that's playful or that celebrates, and art that calls us to reflect on things that have passed, to wonder about what survives and what is lost. Wistful art.

I joked with my title for this post about anti-depressant medications. Burchfield was unlikely to have taken them as they really weren't much available in his lifetime. And judging from the slightly over the top mood of the Burchfield watercolor,  a hefty dose of Prozac might just have sent him into a manic orbit of our planet. Friedrich on the other hand would be a fascinating subject for study. Would the right anti-depressant have lifted him out of his beautiful melancholy? And if so, would he have taken at least a few steps in Burchfield's direction?

What the real tenor of the day to day emotional life was for either of these artists I have no idea. What we can say is that both of them, each in their own distinctive way, made the most of what they had. And we get to delight in the richnes of their results.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Drawings With Rembrandt on my Mind

Philip Koch, Summer, sepia ink, 31 x 41 1/2"

At age eighteen I made the decision to become an artist. Blame it on an art history survey class I took my first semester at Oberlin College in 1966. I hadn't taken an art class since the summer between 7th and 8th grade, so my drawing skills were largely undeveloped. No matter, as my teachers in my first studio art classes at best gave lip service to traditional drawing, but really pushed abstraction and conceptual art. This wasn't all bad as it let me jump into the pool without feeling bad. One teacher went so far as to tell me "Drawing has been done. We artists have new tasks nowadays." For someone with few skills, this was a tempting philosophy.

I painted abstractions with acrylic pigments for my first two years, as that was what everyone did in the Art Department. Actually, I learned a lot in the process about color mixing, the qualities of paint handling, how to make different kinds of edges, and so on. All good stuff.

But as time passed the more I worked the more uneasy I became. My paintings were too simple and I feared they werea becoming all too predictable. As luck would have it, I was spending more and more time browsing through the college's art library randomly sampling any book on painting I could find. Edward Hopper caught my eye with his oil paintings and watercolors, but with drawings, it was the big Old Master himself, Rembrandt (Dutch 1606 - 1669), that did it for me.

Rembrandt, The Mill on the "Het Blauwhoofd', sepia ink

Now Rembrandt's art couldn't have been farther away from the work I'd done the previous two years. He drew primarily with sepia colored ink (likely made from walnuts I believe) and used a homemade pen fashioned from a the stalk of a reed he picked out of the local creek. His drawings affected me with their sense of atmosphere (air itself in Rembrandt often seems laden with moisture) and a powerful drama of lights cast shadows. I remember my older sister Kathy presented me with a book of his drawings as a present on my 22nd birthday. I poured over it night after night like it was a sacred text. Maybe for me it was. (I still have the book in a place of honor on my studio bookshelf).

Down to the Bay, sepia, 22 x 44"

 If you've seen Rembrandt's ink wash drawings you've been treated to his masterful ability to put things into groups and orchestrate their movement around the page. They actually show you only sparse detail, but they deliver a remarkable presence and personality to the landscape or figures he's depicting. 

I knew he was 300 years ago, but to my eye his ability to say so much with so little opened a door. One could do art based on looking at the world he seemed to be saying. By example he showed that could produce works that were incredibly alive, amazingly personal, and somehow just as up-to-date as anything else. Work that good sometimes seems to stand outside of time.

The Trees,  sepia, 30 x 42"

So I began teaching myself to draw from observation. At first I needed the confidence that being able to erase (a lot) provided, so I stuck to conte crayons and charcoal, drawing media forgivingly easy to erase and re-adjust. But after a few years my old romance with Rembrandt came back to haunt me enough for me to take the plunge with waterproof sepia drawing ink.

At first I worked on a very, very small scale, like 3 x 4", and starting with ink so watered down it resembled weak tea. With waterproof ink you can radically dilute the ink until it's barely perceptible on your white paper. It dries quickly and where you need to go darker you simply add another coat of ink. You can see this method in the drawings above, where the darkest areas have ten or more successive layers of ink.

I'm showing here three large studio drawings that were done from tiny plein air ink drawings I did on location. In both the small and the large versions, I tip toe into the drawing, taking all the time I need to slowly build up the darker tones. That's the beauty of this technique- it's perfect for when you're feeling restrained and a little cautious. For when you want to whisper rather than shout. The drawings actually have a very loose brushwork. You can even get a little wild with making playful little abstract patterns with your brushstrokes, knowing all the while the lightness of your layers of ink will keep the piece from getting chaotic.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Guide for Going Back to Art School!

Philip Koch, Edward Hopper's Beach, S. Truro, MA, vine charcoal, 9 x 12", 2006

Last year about this time I wrote a short piece about teaching art students to draw and paint. Tomorrow morning I start a new semester teaching Life Drawing and Painting One at MICA. I looked up the post I wrote  at the time listing some basic ideas I want to remember to get across. Reading them over, they strike me as pretty good. I added a couple of more thoughts to flesh out what I wrote back then and inserted into the list.Here's the new expanded blog post:
I teach two classes a week at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. It's a large art school ("America's oldest continuously degree-granting College of Fine Art"). PAFA up in Philadelphia is older, but we can claim Abraham Lincoln giving his second inaugural address at MICA, which is pretty cool

Every summer brings to an end a period of intense painting activity for me, a time when I do a lot and speak little about it to others. It's my annual "monk" period. This is good for it clears my head and allows me to think afresh about what I want to say to my students on the first day of class. 

This Fall I'm teaching Life Drawing and an introductory Painting class. Both are required classes and always have a few over twenty students. I love teaching these offerings because I believe they offer perhaps the greatest potential to genuinely help young artists grow. On the first day you can't descend into all the subtleties and details. Since the students' ears are working overtime on Day 1, tell them what you feel is most important.


Philip Koch, Cape Cod Morning, oil on canvas, 36 x 54", 1990
Permanent Collection of the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art

So here are the things I'm planning to say:

1. Art is a visual experience before it is anything else. Expanding your capacity to see is our goal, so we are going to give you as many opportunities to look as possible. If you look a lot, you start to see. Those are not the same thing.
1 1/2. One of the problems with art school group critiques is that the student artist is right there and able to verbally make a case for their drawing or painting. It gets one into the habit of thinking if one has something elegant or insightful sounding to say about your work you'll be OK. Well, as long as you're standing right next to your painting that's displayed on the wall, so much the better. But 99% of the time your work has to stand alone. You have to do something that purely visually grabs strangers and pulls them in.

2. While there are many competing ways of working in today's art world, no one gets anywhere by barking up every tree simultaneously. Many branches of the art world have their own validity, and we are not here to deny them that. But we are going to concentrate on just a few approaches to making art so me can make the most progress in the short time we have together.
2 1/2. Pick you best ideas out of the whole multitude of ideas that race around your head. Do as much as you can with them for a sustained time. Later, if some of those other ideas are still of interest, you can take them up down the road.

3. You have to become an expert not only on your own work, but also the progress of all your classmates. They are here so you can learn from them- how are they solving their problems? What do they routinely do well? What pot holes do they keep falling back into that you should avoid? If you
come to class and share your work, you are shouldering your responsibility of helping your fellow artists.
So you have to come to class.

4. We are going to require you to work standing up at all times. If you are standing you awaken your senses, including your eye. Artists have as much in common with dancers and athletes as we do with poets and philosphers, so we employ the whole body in our work.

5. Put your Home Studio piece up on our critique wall first thing when you enter the classroom in the morning and leave it up until the last possible moment before you leave at the end of the day. It will look different in our classroom studio than it did at home. You want as much time as possible to see what you may have overlooked. Also you want to see your work in the context of your fellow artists' pieces.

When you hang your work up, hang it with a sense of pride. There is no more important piece of art in the world for you than the one you are putting up each morning. Make sure it is level (and if it's a drawing pin it down lovingly flat with pins in at all four corners.
5 1/2. Inevitably there will be times when you become unhappy with your results. If you've developed the habit of taking care of your work and presenting it well, those dark periods will be shorter and less intense.

6. You must save all your work, both in class and the work you do outside of class for your Home Studio topics. Even if a piece is not successful (if you are trying to stretch your art wings you will fail some of the time) you have to absorb its lessons for you. A successful artist never "loses" her or his work, and you won't.

7. Entering into a creative frame of mind is difficult at best. The setting where you do make your drawings or paintings is critical to your success.

I like to talk about The Muse, the mythological figure who represents our deepest and most inventive side, and for convenience I call her a "she." The Muse has made it known through the years that she doesn't like to work surrounded by squalor. To get the Muse to come join you as you work you must keep your work space clean. After class you must clear up you work area, throw out your dirty rags, wrappers, recycle cans, etc. Remember, The Muse is watching. She is legendarily fickle. Do not annoy her or she won't help you with your art.

Philip Koch, Monhegan Dawn, Ochre, oil on panel, 6 1/2 x 13", 2011

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The painting that made it to NPR

It's rare that paintings get much attention on National Public Radio.

NPR had a great story on this Monday about one of my favorite Edward Hopper (American 1882 -1967) oils, Morning Sun, that's usually in the Columbus Museum of Art in Ohio. Above is a drawing Hopper made of his wife Jo that served as the basis for the painting (reproduced below). Here's the story:

It's a funny story as NPR's reporter Susan Stamberg (who has a great voice by the way) relates that she traveled to the Museum expressly to see this particular Hopper only to find it had traveled to the current big Hopper retrospective in Madrid. The painting Morning Sun figures prominently in the exhibition and in a wonderful 16 minute video overview of the Madrid Hopper show. If I can be permitted a plug for my own Hopper-influenced paintings, the video includes a glimpse of my own work on exhibit in Hopper's boyhood home in Nyack, NY at about minute 3:40. It's beautifully photographed and while in Spanish it would be of interest anyone who loves Hopper. Here's the link:

Small world department: For some years I've served on the Art Advisory Board for the University of Maryland University College's Art Program.  (UMUC runs one of the best contemporary art exhibition programs in the state and is the only institution devoted to collecting Maryland artists. I'm a supporter and a big fan).The same day I heard the NPR Hopper story I went down to College Park, MD to attend an  Art Advisory Board meeting. My friend Brian Young, the Curator for the UMUC Art Program, and I talked about the Susan Stamberg story. Brian told me that he once served as a courier for Morning Sun when he worked at the Columbus Museum of Art and accompanied the oil painting when it traveled to New York to be in a museum exhibition in that city. Small world indeed!

Not that long ago drawings were made by artists to help them make their oil paintings- it is far easier to make necessary changes and adjustments to charcoal or graphite than to oil pigments, and drawing media are a whole lot cheaper too. Hopper, like so many artists who went before him, took full advantage of his drawing skills and often very carefully plotted his canvases first with drawings on paper. 

It's fascinating to compare the drawing study at the top with the final oil version just above. There are over 20 little written notations for color ideas where Hopper points to spots on the drawing with arrows.
And he changes the figure dramatically to a younger and thinner woman ( painting is always a romance after all). 

The painting focuses on the balance between the woman and the other big actor in the canvas, the powerfully stated panorama outside the window. It is a delicately balanced composition, and Hopper no doubt worked long and hard to set up the drama of the dialogue between figure and the window. They contrast against each other (rounded v.s. geometric, hard v.s. soft) but ultimately they keep each other very good company.   

Below is a drawing I did on location this April in Edward Hopper's bedroom (in the Edward Hopper House Art Center in Nyack, NY, the same room featured in the video I linked to above about the Madrid Hopper exhibition). The view is standing in the upstairs hallway looking into the famous old artist's bedroom.

And here's the oil version of the same scene I painted while in the Hopper House, Sun In An Empty Room, oil on panel, 12 x 9", 2012. I worked on the oil with my portable easel squeezed into the very narrow hallway. I used direct observation of the source, but also studied the vine charcoal drawing as I worked on the oil. Drawing can be a tool to simplify a complex source down to its essentials. In the drawing I had included the antique wooden high chair that had been Hopper's (imagine his folks strapping little Edward in to that chair and struggling to get one last spoonful of his breakfast porridge down his throat). As I worked up the painted version I decided to stress the glow of the light on the varnished old floorboards instead, so I mentally removed the furniture to give an unobstructed view.

Several other oils begun up in the Hopper House are still in progress in my studio. One I'm particularly excited about is based on this view of the same bedroom. I'd show it to you in its in-progress state, but I've learned the hard way not to show unfinished work. It's bad luck to do so ( my operating theory is that the art gods are watching and take such premature displays of unfinished artwork as an invitation to mess with the artist. They love to inspire us artists, but if they think you're getting ahead of yourself they love nothing better than to reach down and mess with you in your studio). I am currently working on the new oil and have done two different color ideas for it in two alternative pastel drawings. You'll have to stay tuned to see what comes next. I'll be showing some of them in my show in New York at George Billis Gallery (Dec. 11. 2012 - Jan.19, 2013).

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Difficult artists?

Charles Warren Eaton (American 1857-1937) Midsummer Night, oil

I was driving home from the gym yesterday and found myself musing back on a frustration that happened years ago.

A former student who had served as my teaching assistant for one of my classes at MICA called me up after their graduation and asked me if we could get together for lunch. They needed professional advice. The student had been a real favorite of mine and had been a great aid with teaching one of my classes. We met in a deli near my school and the former student picked my brain about how they could further their career as a painter, work with galleries, gain collectors, and land a college teaching job. In a situation like that I feel honored to be seen as someone who knows about such things, and I try to be as helpful as possible.  Happily the student has gone on to some success with exhibiting their work and has a good job teaching art at a university.

But after our meeting I felt a little uncomfortable and realized that for the two hours we had spent together, the former student hadn't once asked me anything about myself or my painting, or even thanked me for my time except in a perfunctory way. I walked away from the encounter wondering if I had ever been that self absorbed when I was an art student. Looking back at how I'd interacted with a lot of my professors, including the ones I really liked, I reluctantly concluded that sometimes the answer had to be yes.

The art historian Gail Levin wrote a big biography of Edward Hopper that drew extensively from Hopper's spouse Jo's diary. According to Jo, her husband was often cruel to her and they frequently had stormy battles. One of these altercations ended according to Jo with her grabbing Edward's wrist and biting him so hard that she exposed the bone. Edward isn't here to defend himself against this charge, but from other accounts I've heard from people who had direct dealings with Hopper I've been told he was often remote or even rude. So the question remains, what to make of Hopper?

One of the things that drives me a little batty are all the writings about Hopper that dwell on feelings of loneliness and isolation one can find in his paintings. Well there is some of that, but often I wonder if the writer isn't just projecting some of their own emotional baggage onto Hopper's art. I can't think of an artist who, through his work, better celebrated the brilliance and drama of pure sunlight than Edward Hopper. At this he was amazing.

Especially when you see his work in person and can go right up to the canvas' surface you sense how colorful and rich his paintings are. Sometimes in the little corners of his paintings the layering of unexpected but perfectly chosen hues just takes your breath away. So many of his paintings are light years away from the listless and alien adjectives that have been placed on them by later commentators.

I never met Hopper in person. If even half the stories about his troublesome behavior are true, I glad I'm didn't.  Instead I know him thought his art. His work is an affirmation of the warmth and richness that being alive on the earth can offer us. There is a palpable delight in color and light and shadow. If that is experienced by one of his figures who is lost in a private reverie or enjoying a quiet moment of solitude, so much the better.

To me the world is a richer place because of the work Edward Hopper left behind. His paintings are tools that show us how to see and feel more deeply. This is an extremely generous thing he gives us. To do it he had to devote himself to the often trying, difficult work of making extraordinary paintings (trust me, this ain't work for the faint of heart).

On that same drive home when I was stewing about my disappointment with that former student, I also noticed a stand of trees I'd passed many times before. I'd never really looked them. Perhaps the light was just right this time but they leaped out at me as having the most amazing color and pattern. And suddenly my irritability was swept away and I felt fortunate to live in a world that has such a garden of  verdant delights. And I also felt gratitude for all the painters who'd done great landscape paintings that have helped me learn how to see the beauty and the meaning that is out there in the natural world.

As I looked for an image of just such a painting to illustrate this blog post, I stumbled across the moonlitEaton painting above. He's a guy I know almost nothing about other than that George Inness (another of my heroes) and he at one time both had studios in the same building in New York City. Inness once bought one of his paintings. As a kid growing up in the woods of upstate New York one of my all time favorite things was how the forest looked on nights with a full moon. It delighted me, but those sorts of things tend to stay locked away as a private reverie. Then you stumble into a painting like this by Eaton and you know there's someone else who was standing with you in those woods, drinking in the magic of the moonlight filtering through those pine branches.

P.S. I suppose this is a terrible point to toot my own horn, casting a spotlight as it will on my own self absorption, but the Maryland Institute College of Art's new Sept./Oct. newsletter, Juxtapositions, is just out. It has a full page feature on my 14 residencies over the years in Hopper's old studio on Cape Cod.
In a fit of megalomania, I just have to share it:

Monday, August 13, 2012

Painting the Connecticut Coast

Last week I was up in Connecticut for the grand opening reception for the Art Essex Gallery where nine of my oil paintings are hung in their inaugural exhibition. While there I did some painting right down on the water in East Haven, CT where the Farm river flows in to Long Island Sound. My old fried Bob Wetmore who I've known since elementary school days has a place right on the River. It's got amazing views. Above is Connecticut Shore,  oil on panel, 8 x 16", 2012. 
The view is looking due east with Long Island Sound's open waters off to your right. This Connecticut low country played a big role in American art history- for example the American Impressionist landscape painters who gathered in Old Lyme. But for me this is special territory more for the work John Frederick Kensett (American 1816- 1872) who created some of the most amazing paintings from the 19th century of the shoreline of Connecticut and neighboring Rhode Island. 
When I first started looking seriously at landscape paintings, it was Kensett more than any other painter who convinced me that landscape painting could be as surprising and as radical as any other style of art. That's a conviction that has only grown in me as the years have gone by.
What inspired this oil was the morning mist that cast a cool veil over the far distance. One of my very first moves was to lay in a band of light bluish greys in the distant water and contrast that with some subtle yellows in the foreground ripples.
In truth the cool v.s. warm contrast from front to back wasn't as clear cut as I painted it. But I knew I needed a little extra chromatic drama. There was an elusive glow from the sunlight passing through the moisture laden air. It was delicious and the colors had to evoke that.  This special quality to the light is the kind of phenomenon I believe you have to be there on the spot to experience it before you'll be able to paint it. A painter has to invent the chords of colors that create the feeling he has inside- if you stick to only hues that can literally be observed you're likely to miss the stir of emotion a really good scene provides. As Degas often observed, you have to tell little lies to get at the bigger truth with a painting. So it was here. 
While I was painting probably 30 different sailboats went by. I experimented will all sorts of placements for the boat, at one time having two sailboats gliding along together, but in the end I chose to underplay the boat in favor of the landscape and clouds. No one painting can be about everything. 
Here's the other painting from the week,  Mouth of the River, oil on panel, 7 1/2 x 10", 2012. This is painted from the same vantage point as Connecticut Shore, but here I've turned to look toward the north. The Farm River is flowing southwards toward Long Island Sound behind us. It's very early morning and there's only the three sailboats moored in the river to keep us company. Again my eye was caught by the mist turning the distant peninsulas to silver grays.The sky in real life was absolutely cloudless and at first I painted it empty. But compared to all the stacking up overlapping planes in the painting's bottom half, it felt too low energy. So I invented some gradations and shapes to keep the bottom forms company.  

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

George Bellows at the National Gallery of Art

Yesterday my wife Alice and I drove down to Washington, DC to the National Gallery of Art to see their huge George Bellows (American 1882 - 1925) show of paintings (through Oct. 8, 2012). 

Bellows was a school mate of two of my favorite artists- Edward Hopper and Rockwell Kent (both also born in 1882- obviously a great year to grow new artists) at the New York School of Art. All three showed a marked influence from their teacher, the charismatic Robert Henri, whose work was characterized by rapid execution with large brushes and a high sense of pictorial drama. Kent and Hopper gradually moved more away from Henri's style and vision as the years went by, but Bellows seemed to find a more comfortable fit  and stayed with the swashbuckling application. 

I've always been a fan of Bellows' paintings but was still surprised at how much impact most of his work had. Some of my favorites were his early landscapes from New York done along the Hudson River and the East River. Above is his oil Rain on the River which particularly grabbed me. 

Rainy day paintings can easily turn too gray and loose their energy. Bellows is careful to avoid that trap. While still keeping the painting mostly towards cool colors, Bellows scatters hints of a light copper orange color throughout the painting, especially successfully I think in the river water. There's what I assume to be a puddle of orange in the lower right hand corner of the canvas. It's strikingly dramatic and could have popped off the painting's surface but was held back in intensity and size just enough. It's a wonderful demonstration of someone knowing when to hit the color contrasts hard, but also of knowing what's just enough and stopping when he needed to.

Bellows never missed the chance it seemed to to put white steam or smoke billowing out somewhere (you can't help wonder he did it so much just because he liked how "billows" sounds like "Bellows"). And whenever he did hit a painting with the cool highlights of white smoke, he was certain to include somewhere else in the painting a counter-balancing warm highlight (such as our copper colored puddle).

One other thing about this painting. Bellows obviously saw this scene before him and let himself be captured by its eccentric charm. The path that winds through the park at the left really stars in this piece.  Another day it would have been dry and not reflecting down all those almost white grays from the sky. If you look closely at how he painted the path you see it's laid in first with a slightly darker gray. Over that Bellows carefully puts in a lighter gray to highlight its wild curving shape. But again he knows when to stop so the path doesn't take over the whole composition. Bellows at first can look to the casual observer like a wild man, but underneath he knew about restraint and finely tuned balance. 

Were it not so loosely painted, this Bellows oil below could have passed for an Edward Hopper. It's a remarkable painting, sporting some amazingly intense blues. To me one of the keys to its success lies in the extreme prominence the artist gives to the white surf. It is boldly white and would jump right off the painting and into your lap. But Bellows pins it down under the visual "thumb tack" of the house, the convex swell of the hillside, and the telephone pole. The three of them join forces to push the whitecaps back into the space of the ocean. Take a close look at that telephone pole- it's either an invention by Bellows, or if it did exist in the source, he radically exaggerated its height to make its impact on the water more formidable.

Wanted to end with one of my all time favorites out of the National Gallery's show- the monumental Island in the Sea.

It stands out in the exhibition as probably the most minimal of the displayed paintings. It looks for all the world like Bellow's classmate Rockwell Kent had painted it. It's a beauty and shows how much can be achieved with a few well crafted silhouettes and some subtle gradations of warm and cool grays.

My suspicion is Bellows used the same procedure I do- working outside on a small scale in oil and with drawings, and then assembling his bigger studio paintings from those plein air studies. When you do that you inevitably have to invent more forms and color chords to fill up the expanded surface area. Bellows was good at inventing, very good.

Reminder- My website has a new address:

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Koch's Paintings in Connecticut

Just returned from Essex, Connecticut where on Saturday evening I attended the grand opening of the new Art Essex Gallery. They have a really extensive show up of work drawn from the George Billis Gallery in New York. The space is absolutely enormous (apparently it was at one time a grocery store) and is beautiful for showing art. There is a lot to like in the inaugural show.

Every time I go to an opening of a show of my own paintings I resolve that I am going to get good photos of the work and the crowds, and this time was no different. But then I get carried away looking at all the art and then fall into conversations with visitors. Before you know it the evening is over and my camera hasn't yet made it out of my pocket. 

I did get some quick images on my phone, and think they are at least helpful to give you a sense of scale of the individual pieces (for better images of the paintings look at  my previous blog post).

Above is me standing in front of my 84" oil The Morning, a Cape Cod view I'm particularly proud of. (Notice I'm wearing the fetching Edward Hopper House Art Center t-shirt presented me the Hopper House in Nyack, NY in thanks for a talk I gave there a few months ago.  And here's a view with the grinning artist removed to give you a glimpse of the other half of the painting.

Three more of my oils. At left, Sailing Yachts,  14 x 21", The Reach, 10 x 15", and First Light, 30 x 40"Below is a better view of First Light.

While up in Connecticut I stayed with my old friend "Bob from Cub Scouts."  Bob and I met in early elementary school and have stayed friends ever since.  Our mothers were actually our Den Mothers for our Cub Scout group. He's no longer in Cub Scouts (Bob was always something of a high achiever) but turned into Dr. Robert S.Wetmore, orthopedic surgeon. He was on call for the weekend and did six surgeries just on Friday, which tells you this guy has got stamina! 

Over breakfast on Saturday I was treated to a blow-by-blow demonstration on napkins of how he would insert a titanium rod to reattach a motorcyclist's femur that was currently in two pieces. Partly just thinking about the afternoon's operation made me queasy, but another part of me was intrigued. For many years I've taught artists' anatomy as part of my Life Drawing Class at MICA and have developed a certain fascination with the mechanics of how we stand and move our bodies. And isn't the femur everyone's favorite bone?

I considered becoming a surgeon for about 5 minutes when younger. I fainted dead away in my junior high school auditorium in front of several hundred other kids when they brought us together to watch an anti-smoking film that featured a lung operation. When you're a guy in the eight grade, that is about the most humiliating thing imaginable, leaving me so internally scarred that I had no choice but to become an artist.

As a teenager I spent lots of time in Bob's home (his parents always made me feel more than welcome). It was situated about 20 feet from Lake Ontario. Bob just bought a new home, a condo literally perched on the rocks above Long Island Sound. Upon seeing it my immediate thought was Bob had recreated his boyhood home at last. I smile about that, as in my own way that's exactly what I do through the paintings I make. A number of my blog posts over the last few years have remarked about how much of my old neighborhood I summon up as I paint the old familiar forms- rocky beaches, steep hillsides, deep forests, and a whole lot of watery foregrounds.

The novelist John Irving in one of his earlier books (can't recall just which it was) comments that so much good writing has happened when the novelist reaches back and picks up the old memories of childhood. These are the most vivid of images, Irving explains. They have to be to have survived in the back of the mind all those years into the writer's adulthood. Certainly it's true for me. I suspect for my friend Bob purchasing a new place to live by the water is a way for him to reach back and touch one of the best parts of his own growing up.

Warning: Don't look at the next photo of Bob's living room if you're prone to jealousy.

Here's a photo of my easel yesterday morning set up right outside of Bob's condo on Long Island Sound. There was a wonderful mist in the air that lent everything a touch of silver gray. I'm looking north up the little Farm river moving inland towards the middle of CT. It was a great motif for painting!

Reminder: my website has a new address-

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Art Essex Gallery Grand Opening in Connecticut

George Billis Gallery in New York will be holding their second solo show of my paintings this Dec. 11 - Jan. 19, 2013. In the meantime, Billis Gallery has been working to establish a new venue in the historic town of Essex in Connecticut and has invited me to show a number of works in their inaugural show. The grand opening reception for the Art Essex Gallery is this Saturday, August 4 from 5-8 p.m. I will be attending so if you're in the area please come by and say hello.

Here are some of the my paintings that will be in the Art Essex Gallery. Above is Road to the Shore, oil on canvas, 42 x 28". Painted near a small country lake, the source originally caught my eye because it reminded me so much of the quarter mile long drive way I used to walk everyday going to stand at the bus stop for the school bus to pick me up. It had a marvelous canopy of branches overhead. Walking along it you usually found yourself looking up. It's a favorite memory.

This is my oil The Morning, a large canvas (42 x 84") that is one of my best tributes to the special beauty of the tidal shorelines of the Northeast. It is based on an oil I painted on location in South Wellfleet on Cape Cod, looking south into one of the countless inlets and marshes. I had stumbled across the source while driving around looking for painting ideas and, seeing the road sign that said "King Phillip Road", figured I'd better turn down it and see what it offered. I wasn't disappointed.

First Light II, oil on canvas, 30 x 40"

This is a harbor viewed just before sunrise in Annapolis, Maryland. The copper color of the water is actually very faithful to what I was seeing as I worked with my portable easel set up on a bridge.

Of course every painting is more than just what it depicts. My father passed on to me many things despite his being one of the most quiet people I've ever met- one was his love of the ocean and sailboats. He taught me how to sail when I was eight and spent countless hours afloat with me before his life was cut short when I was 13. To this day sailboats serve as a living reminder of the parental love I felt from this man. I actually taught myself to be an artist by making elaborate drawings of hulls and rigging in the margins of my junior high school notebooks. My friends at the time were struggling to draw race cars in their notebooks, but somehow that was never an imagery that spoke in a personal way to me. 

Three Tree Trunks, oil on panel, 9 1/2 x 12 1/2"

I grew up in a home on the wooded shoreline of Lake Ontario outside of Rochester, NY. You get to know the trees around your house almost like family members- they all have their unique personalities. These three trees are across the street from my studio. They're mature survivors surrounded by younger saplings.  Looking at them I get the feeling they've seen a lot in their years.

The Reach, oil on panel, 10 x 15"

My father used to love to go sailing at night and would always ask me to come along. I'd go though I found it a bit intimidating. Years later as an adult I began to be invited to go and stay in Edward Hopper's old painting studio in S. Truro, MA that overlooks Cape Cod Bay. We always go in the off season when there's almost nobody up there and the surrounding houses are all dark. Sometimes when we're there there is a full moon and it's doubly impressive against all that darkness. I imagined what it might be like to sail off of Hopper's beach past the long row of undulating sand dunes.

Sailing Yachts, oil on panel, 14 x 21"

Another of my reveries to my boyhood sailing days, a harbor view of four boats moored in the quiet of early morning. The first rays of sunlight are just beginning to hit the tops of the boats' masts. As I don't work from photographs but do everything on site with a portable easel, I have to get up really early for paintings like this one. I don't mind as it's perhaps the most magical time to be down by the water.

Deep Forest Pool, oil on panel, 16 x 20"

I used to paint in the Litchfield Hills of northwest Connecticut every summer in Norfolk, where Yale holds its art and music summer school. It's a very heavily forested area now that farming and logging have receded, so I used to seek out beaver ponds to paint. They're one of the few places in the woods that are open enough to give you any kind of view. This oil was done entirely from memory, heavily relying on the bright white bark of birch trees in high contrast against the deep black water of the pond.

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