Friday, January 27, 2017

The Best Cat Painting Ever- John Sloan's oil Green's Cats at Delaware Art Museum

John Sloan (American, 1871- 1951), Green's Cats, oil, 1900,
 Delaware Art Museum

Earlier this week my wife Alice and I stopped in at the Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington.  As always happens when I visit there my eye was caught by one of the Museum's early oils by the famous Ashcan School painter John Sloan, Green's Cats.  

Remarkable for its liveliness, the painting just nails the inimitable personality of felines. Quite an accomplishment when you consider it's almost completely devoid of any details.  Sloan has chosen a view where the cats have turned away, hiding from us their distinctive eyes and whiskers. Typical of cats, they seem oblivious to our presence. 

To learn a painting's secrets I often like to turn it upside down.  It helps one see just how Sloan arranged his painting to make it express its "cat-ness" so powerfully.  For starters, Sloan expanded the scale of the two cats to completely fill his canvas. There's no question that they, rather than the room, are the main story.  

Sloan places his furry models so there's only a tiny bit of empty space in between them. While that space is technically empty the cats' bodies squeeze it into a distinctive shape. This negative shape, as artists would call it, knits the two cats together, hinting that the two felines have worked out their own special relationship.

The black cat's body is painted in as an almost completely flat shape. But Sloan invests energy and personality into the cat by giving its outer silhouette is a surprisingly expressive collection of unexpected shapes. I love the way the black diamond shapes in the floor tiles dance around the black cat's body. Notice how they almost look like the shapes of the cat's ears and paws. 

Sloan's painting is so satisfying because he builds such a convincing space around his cats. They seem perfectly at home in this intimate world he's created.

Heather Campbell Coyle, Delaware Art Museum's Chief Curator and Curator of American Art , is putting together the first big survey of Sloan's art since 1988.  An American Journey: The Art of John Sloan will run at the Museum October 21, 2017 - January 28, 2018. It should be a lot of fun to see. I'm sure the cats are hoping to be included.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Getting Creative- Rooms by the Sea from the Hopper Studio

Edward Hopper, Rooms by the Sea, oil on canvas, Yale 
University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT

The first painting I ever paid attention to as a teenager was Edward Hopper's Rooms by the Sea. It was reproduced in a issue of Time magazine that I saw when I was about 15. Like a normal teenager I paid little mind to fine art. But the painting with its mysterious contrast of a door opening right into the sea stopped me in my tracks. I remember thinking "Now that's a painting!" 

In 1983 I had the good fortune to become friends with the owners of the studio in Truro, MA where Hopper made this painting. I began a long series of residencies in the studio and started my ongoing series of oil paintings of its interior. Here's the corner of his studio that inspired Hopper's Rooms by the Sea.

Hopper was a master at rearrangement. He moved the door from the left side the doorway to the right and lengthened the empty white wall. Most critically he moved the sun to shine directly on a wall that in real life faces north and is always in shadow. By changing the lighting he made his composition spring to life.

Here's one of his preparatory drawings where he is figuring out how to create a convincing new lighting situation.

Edward Hopper, preparatory drawing for Rooms by the Sea,
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

Over the years I had done a number of paintings and drawings of this corner of the studio but I had always stayed true to the shadowed lighting that surrounds the wall and door.

In my newest painting Rooms by the Sea: September that I began in the Truro studio during my most recent stay there last Fall I decided to try inventing a new light direction of my own. Here streaks of an imagined early morning sunlight cascade over the wall and door. I'm very happy with how my little bit of fantasy turned out.

This painting, along with 33 others, will be included in the exhibition Light and Shadow: Paintings and Drawings by Philip Koch from Edward Hopper's Studio at Swope Art Museum in Terre Haute, IN February 3 - March 25, 2017.