My wife Alice took this photo early this morning. I had stepped into my painting studio while waiting for the kettle to heat for my morning coffee.
My studio is a place where I spend a lot of time. A kind of sanctuary from distractions and interruptions. A place to concentrate on the dreaming and imagining that go into making one's painting happen. This Saturday morning after an unusually stimulating couple of days the quiet of the studio felt especially inviting.
I had just had a lively conversation with Heather Gring, the Archivist at the Burchfield Penney Art Center in Buffalo, NY. Heather is helping curate the museum's upcoming show next Spring of the work I've done over the last two and a half years as their Artist in Residence. We started making choices about which of my paintings will form the core of that museum's exhibition. Heather and I will be selecting drawings by one of my favorite artists, Charles Burchfield, from the museum's Archives to include in the show that echo ideas I've developed in my paintings. To me that's an especially exciting prospect. Beginning to finalize which works will be in the show is like an extra gust of wind in my sails.
And I spent the last two days up in Wilmington at the Delaware Art Museum. I attended the Symposium on the Museum's current exhibition, An American Journey: The Art of John Sloan, organized by Heather Campbell Coyle, their Curator of American Art. Sloan was a big influence on me in my early days as an artist. Years ago I took my first figure painting class at the Art Students League of New York in the very room where Sloan himself used to teach. I remember discovering a dusty framed photograph hanging on the classroom wall of Sloan with his students. Sloan stared out at the photographer with his usual thoughtful gaze. It felt like he was looking straight out and into me.
At Delaware Art Museum's Symposium I heard over a dozen scholars tell of their research on the myriad influences of culture and politics that shaped Sloan's painting. (I don't think I've ever been in a room with so many Ph.D.'s). It stirred up a host of stimulating and contradictory ideas, almost too much to think about. I'll be reflecting on them for some time.
Art historians and museum curators have a particular job. They juggle multitudes of influences and create a framework to understand where an artist fits into an over all historical pattern (they are historians after all). Their minds have much ground to cover.
For a painter, it's just the opposite. While we're aware of art history and outside influences, our job requires a stepping away from the outside world to narrow our thinking down to the canvas at hand. It means turning to introspection and a meditative state of mind.
Placing just one painting at a time on my easel I let myself slowly sink into its world. At first it's the most tentative and delicate suggestion, an image that is just starting to emerge. Inch by inch I have to imagine that new territory into being. It's a time for slow exploration, sometimes frustrating trial and error, and ultimately the satisfaction of realizing an inner vision. A safe, quite place to let this all happen makes it all possible.
P.S. On Sunday, December 3 at 2:30 p.m. I'll be giving a gallery talk at the Delaware Art Museum, John Sloan from a Painter's Perspective. All welcome.