Paintings from the Oregon Outback
Work in Progress - The Red Thread
I wanted to share some of my working process. In The Red Thread, I am exploring some of the ideas in work by Emil Carlsen and Hovsep Pushman. The set up is built around antique tea brewer and a simple, but modern white cup. Behind is a piece of upholstery fabric I love because of the soft blending of the warm colors. Originally, a sprig of eucalyptus leaves formed an eye-bridge between the cup and brewer, but they proved problematic so I scraped them out and substituted the red thread.
The problems I set for this painting were challenging - something I like to do because there is risk in the outcome: the painting will either fail spectacularly (which happens frequently) or it will become something fascinating.
The first challenge was how to create a cohesive composition with three elements - the brewer, the cup, and the thread - while using the negative space to create mystery, light, atmosphere, and move the eye in an interesting way.
The tension and contrast between large and small exists in the still life elements - something Carlsen and Pushman often use, so the next challenge was how to create a color harmony so that the lighter, warmer background recedes and the cooler, darker light on the brewer advances in space.
I was also interested in how I could use a non-traditional pathway of light - with the greatest light in the back left corner pulling the eye in and to the left first...then making that cup be part of the background atmosphere. Now the painting challenge is really getting fun.
I also explored the use of a very limited palette, wanting to make something basically colorless into something that felt full of light and color. Most of the grays were mixed from yellow ocher, raw umber, raw sienna, blue and white, with the addition of transparent brown, red, and yellow oxides, and some of the wonderful colors from Vasari. I have been using scumbling and glazing techniques to begin the sense of atmosphere and light and to evaluate and either sharpen or soften edges. I often use Q-tips and soft paper towel to rub the color over the surface and soften the edges, and while I am working on a very smooth linen there is still a bit of texture in the weave that comes into play - either a good or bad thing when it comes to edges.
At this point, the painting is not complete, but I am in that stage where the artist sits and stares (or so it seems to those watching), letting her coffee get cold while running through the various options in her mind...options like where do the values need to be equalized, does the light read right, is that edge a little off, can I still see the thread from across the room or is that even necessary...
A painting can remain in this stage for weeks as long as the coffee doesn't run out. I enjoy this process the most, solving the problems, even though if I come up with a wrong solution, I can just as easily ruin what could have been a decent painting.
In the past, I found myself much less likely to risk the ruination, afraid all that "precious" work would be lost and I would be revealed as the fake that I was.
But now it seems far more exciting to see if I can do it.
And there's nothing worse than becoming bored with your work.
Wide Open is a more contemporary take on the traditional landscape, and represents the blending of land forms and atmosphere when seen at great distance. To me, this is symbolic of the interconnectedness of man and nature, where we are our environment through the way we process our unique perceptions.
I have been thinking about doing a painting called Walmart at Sunrise.
Sitting in my car, watching the sun rise while waiting for my shift to begin at a neighboring big box store, I keep seeing this painting unfold. The sky turns from violets to pinks, the clouds drifting across the sky. The bare branches of the trees are counterpoint to the staggered verticals of the light posts. In a glittering abstract of sunlight reflecting off metal, light dances across the parked cars of the night crew. There is anticipation in the moment. Like watching the sun rise across a distant lake, when everything is soft and quiet and mystical. Like standing at Stonehenge watching the rising sun on the mid winter solstice.
In an hour it will look like an urban parking lot, over burdened with cars and discarded plastic bags and lopsided shopping carts.
But for those few moments, it is beautiful.
In a world where our lives are interconnected with technology, where we think in 140 characters, cannot function without smart phones or GPS or using an App to discover what is around us - as humans, we will always have a hunger for something real.
And if there is anything meaningful in painting, then I think the work has to be in response to some human feeling or pathos or empathy. For this, the artist has to make himself venerable. He has to develop a point of view. And even if that point of view is ignored by the majority, it is the thing that will make the work relevant to the few.
Perhaps this is the only important question the artist needs to ask when examining his own work.
I was recently asked by another artist about theme: He said, " I'm really wondering if your theme was more intuitive, or did you consciously choose to focus on something in particular?”
As an organizing principle, theme is a catalyst that fuels imagination, but I did not fully understand this until I began to study this idea more intensively by attending a workshop led by David Leffel, by reading his two excellent books (I highly recommend An Artist Teaches), and through the Bright Light Artist Guild. Theme was always a surface concern: a point of view, a series, a way of approaching subject matter.
How I now interpret concept, or theme, is as a determining factor that affects every decision the artist makes. In the case of Northwest Coast, my concept followed a classic Leffel approach: light. Using this principle, the areas that most clearly express the quality of light can be seen on the rock in the foreground, and the foam in the receding wave. The cast shadow from the rock gives you the direction of the light, and the brightness of the lit areas express the quality of the sunlight. Other areas of the painting are less important, so I suggested detail and kept values similar. I wanted to communicate the rugged coastline, the constant churning of the surf, and that moment when the sun breaks through before the next storm.
A re-emerging theme in my work is water, in part because it is ever changing, yet there is power, energy, and peace in its movement. With each surge something new holds possibility. With each withdrawal there is reflection. And the cycle begins again.
Like life. Like art.
Tea Brewer and Ginger Gar, 16 x 20, oil
While wandering through a local antique store, I happened to notice this brass Tea Brewer sitting in a back corner. The winter light flooding through the window behind the display was further hampered by the layer of dust on the glass - but sitting next to the brewer was the lovely little ginger jar. The soft lighting and the two different surfaces suggested the beginning idea for the painting Tea Brewer and Ginger Jar.
The next painting challenge was to see if I could create a visual space where the warm colors of the cloth and the brass brewer would stay in the background, while the cooler light that grows in intensity on the ginger jar would remain in the foreground. My concept was light, lost, soft and warm in the background, flowing out, increasing in intensity on the ginger jar, then moving back to the cloth and back wall. It is a story of how this magical property of light can take us from our comfortable existence and reveal a moment of beauty, or a fleeting glimpse of God’s gift, and then softly let us go.
Just a quick post here - the painting Roses will be included in an exciting new exhibition by The Artists Guild, hosted at Scottsdale Artists School. The winners will exhibit along side some of the top artists alive today at the Legacy Gallery.
I will also be attending the Artist Guild Week workshop at the end or January 2014, and excited to be studying with David A. Leffel, Sherrie McGraw, Rose Frantzen, Jacqueline Kamin and Gregg Kreutz, all Artist Guild Instructors and all in one place.
I hope to get a chance to see some of my many friends in Scottsdale that week!
Red Twigs, Drying
Red twigs, drying
-- winter shed
waits for spring
Mourning Dove, 18 x 18, oil on linen
Mourning Dove is one of those paintings that I create because I needed to express something beyond words. Last year, we had attracted several pairs of mourning doves into our yard, along with the usual finches and jays. I so enjoyed watching these beautiful birds feed on the seeds discarded by their smaller friends...I loved awakening to the lovely repetitive calls they made early in the morning.
Mourning Doves form strong monogamous pairs, and unfortunately one morning we discovered that one bird had flown into the glass window - despite the bird protection we had applied - and died of its injuries. The mate continued to return to the feeding area day after day. We thought that with the passing of a season that the lonely bird would find a new mate, but again this year, the single bird returned. There were several pair that would feed...and the single bird, returning all season.
I needed to honor the memory, of the gathering dusk, of the single bird who would feed in the gravel beneath the feeders. There was something both heart breaking and yet empowering in the return of this single bird, an unbreakable bond between all creatures. This may not be a marketable painting. I don't really care. If painting is not about expressing emotional experiences that cannot be fully explained in words, then it is merely reproduction...which can be done far more efficiently and unemotionally with a camera.
Still Life with Plums
This painting is about the energy in the volume of space between the viewer and the large urn, the way the light fills and energizes this area. It is also about color, and some of my favorite subjects - the plums we can actually eat, and the little plums left behind on my flowering plum tree with the lovely autumn leaves. While I love the real plums from the farmer's market, the robins can clean the little plums from the entire tree in a single day, so we are all happy.