Posts

Showing posts from July, 2014

Should Artists Paint Directly from Life Anymore?

Image
John Singer Sargent, An Out of Doors Sketch, oil

Friday night I drove down to the Academy Art Museum in Easton, MD to hear Peter Trippi, the Editor of Fine Art Connoisseur magazine, who had just judged the paintings that came in from the Plein Air Easton event. He spoke about each of his selections for prizes. But he also addressed bigger concerns from the point of view of an enthusiast of observational realism in painting. He argued against the misconception that painting by direct observation of nature produces nothing more than a photograph-like copying of reality.



Academy Art Museum, Easton, MD
As a someone committed to "painting from life" for over four decades I know it has changed the way I look at the world. Try an experiment: stare closely at a photo. Then raise your gaze and look out a window at perhaps the cars on the street outside. What you see through the panes of glass is overwhelming to the eye. You're now taking in tens or hundreds of times the number of …

Deep Water

Image
Philip Koch, Deep Forest Pool, oil on panel, 16 x 20", 2012
My father died just as I was turning thirteen. It hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks.  I remember him as tall and quiet, physically very strong, thoughtful, and always kind to me. When he was around I felt OK. My mother sadly had enough of her own struggles that she just didn't have it in her to be very supportive. But in his own way my father made up for that. In his presence I felt held up and safe, and after he died my family moved into painful new territory.  I hung onto that memory of how my dad made me feel as if it was a life raft. 

Where I live we have a pool and for the last half dozen years I've been taking my granddaughter Nora and now her younger sister Maya swimming with me. When she was two and three, Nora would cling tightly to me as I carried her around the 3' depth of the pool's shallows. Bit by bit she learned to dog paddle and tread water.  Still much of our pool time consisted of …

Claude Monet and Me

Image
Here is one of my new paintings, White Mountains: Cool Sky,  oil on panel, 7 1/2 x 10". It is based on the drawing below, White Mountains, vine charcoal, 9 x 12", 2014, that I made on location last month up in northern New Hampshire. 




For about 30 years most of my painting was done camped out in the field with my portable easel and my oil pigments. It was an unbeatable experience in deepening how I see and extending the range of color chords I can employ. I am very proud of the paintings I made this way.
Eventually though I confronted the fact that working in oil right in front of my sources often made me too conservative. After all, much of the time nature's colors can be restrained and understated. Nature has a way of pulling you in and I often erred on the side of being too faithful to everything I was seeing. I wanted more slack in the reins to explore additional color options than just what I was seeing directly in front of my easel.  
So I hit on the idea of working i…

My Dream Last Night of Charles Burchfield

Image
Charles Burchfield's watercolor November Sun Emerging


Regular readers of this blog know of my interest (some would say obsession) with the work of the American watercolorist Charles Burchfield. This morning I awoke from a dream I had about the famous Western New York painter.  I was showing some friends the studio Burchfield had used. Unlike his actual studio, the walls were gleaming white and were covered with subtle and distinctive abstract leaf designs (appropriate as before his painting career took off, Burchfield worked for years designing wall paper at a firm in Buffalo, NY).

We were seeking the special inner room where Burchfield made his paintings. We moved through a series of hallways that became progressively more narrow.  I realized was going to have to crawl through a space so tight that I feared I would get stuck.  Maybe Burchfield could fit through that space, but clearly I couldn't.

What a metaphor. It was saying I think you can love Burchfield's work, …