Wednesday, November 25, 2015

There is no camera around when I paint.

Here's my new painting Uncharted II, 30 x 40", oil on canvas. I'm letting it dry on my studio floor until it's ready for me to brush on a protective coat of picture varnish. 

It's a painting I made entirely from my imagination. A friend asked where it was done. I told them really nowhere- I wasn't so much after a location as a state of mind. 

When I'm painting there are no cameras or photographs around. That makes my process a little different than the big majority of realist painters today. It's ironic as my grandfather, John Capstaff, was the inventor of the world's first commercially available color film (Kodachrome).

I don't have anything against cameras, but to me the real subject of a painting is the vision an artist has on the inside. That's notoriously hard to photograph. The point of art is to emotionally stir the viewer. If they feel in a different place after they've looked at your work you've done your job. A good piece of art energizes the viewer, it takes them on a little journey. 

I work from either direct observation or from my memory. It's a deliciously slow process, far more time consuming than working from a camera. Relying just on your eyes and your imagination as you paint puts some extra slack in the reins. You end up wandering in directions you hadn't meant to go. Of course you go down some paths that turn our to be dead ends. You backtrack and try another way, and then another. 

Looking at one of my completed paintings I find 100% of the time my favorite things are things that I didn't realize I was doing when I was making the painting. That sort of wandering takes up a lot of time, but it's the only way I know to get to a place I've never been before. Hope you'll come along.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Wonderful (If Slightly Haunted) Houses at the Burchfield Penney Art Center

Here's a conte drawing by Charles Burchfield with a remarkably delicate touch. While it's heavily detailed the drawing seems light and airy, almost like Burchfield made the paper breath with life. 

I've been meaning to post these two photos I took of it last month when I was staying at the Burchfield Penney Art Center (BPAC) in Buffalo, NY as part of my being the Artist In Residence there for 2015-16. The piece is from the Art Center's Burchfield Archives and is really large- though I didn't measure it it's easlily well over four feet wide. Burchfield made it on several sheets of newsprint paper he had glued together.

Going through hundreds of Burchfield's drawings in the museum's Archives I periodically come across giant drawings like this one. I asked Nancy Weekly, BPAC's Head of Collections and Charles Cary Rumsey Curator, about this. She felt Burchfield would sometimes make preparatory drawings at the same full scale he intended to use in some of his large watercolors. Some are detailed like this piece, others are just the simplest of gestures, sometimes only a few flowing lines. Nancy Weekly felt these were Burchfield's way of "warming up" to practice just the right sweep of his arm to give the sense of movement he wanted for his finished paintings.

I don't know if the above drawing ever led to a finished painting. This watercolor below by Burchfield, Old Houses in Winter, 27 3/4 x 43", 1929-41 from the Collection of the Swope Art Museum in Indiana gives an idea of where he might have been going with it.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

A Fresh Look: Burchfield and Me

Above is my vine charcoal drawing, Darkening Cove, 8x 12" and a freshly painted Darkening Cove oil, 24 x 36" I based on the earlier drawing.

When I was invited to be the Artist In Residence at the Burchfield Penney Art Center (BPAC) in Buffalo, NY for this year I imagined it would lead to some unexpected benefits. One I didn't foresee came from examining the museum's impressive holdings of Charles Burschfield's drawings. Burchfield did tons of drawings, many in preparation for his wildly imaginative paintings. His drawings made a deep impression on me..

Returning to my Baltimore studio from my October stay at BPAC  I was struck by a vine charcoal drawing I'd made back in 1997 of a tidal marsh near Edward Hopper's studio in Truro, MA. The drawing had led to an oil painting some years later. Fresh from the recent BPAC experience, my original drawing whispered at me to go back into the oil painting. With many freshly repainted passages, the oil has new wind in its sails. On Monday it will be headed to Button Gallery in Douglas, MI.

Here are some Burchfield drawings that I particularly enjoyed from the museum's Burchfield Archives: