Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Harmony in Green and Gold, day 1

Last weekend I taught a still life painting workshop in my studio. This was one of the two still lifes available to paint. The next morning I decided to paint it for myself. I had less than 2 hours to paint that day but decided to get started before the fruit got too old. I heard it as a piano sonata, Mozart. The stem bowl with grapes and a pear were the first movement, allegro moderato. Cheerful and brisk but not too fast. The golden bosc and lively green grapes set the theme for the piece. The lace will be the second movement, adagio. Slow, delicate, pretty. Finally the silver pitcher finishes the piece with a flashy Presto finale. Rapid brushwork, reflecting themes of the earlier movements, the lace and pear reappearing on the underside of the bowl of the pitcher. The books and dark green cloth are played on the left hand, low rich dark notes holding the whole piece together. Beautiful. I usually set up a still life then jump in and sight read it all the way through. While working on the students paintings however I had a chance to practice the difficult passages.....

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

When we were students Frank had a drawing class at his studio on Tuesday nights. I had a job restoring paintings in the morning, went to Frank's class at the League in the afternoon, ran around the corner to Carney's bar for a quick beer and roast beef sandwich then took the subway down to Frank's studio. It was my job to heat the sketch class room. Frank lives in a Soho loft heated by pot-belly coal stoves so I had to get there an hour before anybody else to build up the fire. While the room was heating I had time to spend alone with Frank's paintings. It was like being in a museum after everyone else had gone. There were all kinds of great paintings there, landscapes, seascapes, early paintings, even a few from his student days, portraits, nudes, interiors...and I only had an hour! Then there would be footsteps on the stairs signaling the arrival of the other students. "Did you ever see this one?" would usually greet the first arrival. Finally the model would arrive and we would draw for 3 hours. Frank would come down for the last hour, martini in hand, and critique our drawings. He always made it look so simple. Often he would take us upstairs to his studio to show us what he was working on. Elizabeth and I still have a sketch group once a week. It's marvelous to see how many people want to come and draw for a few hours a week even though we live in a very small town in Vermont. Last October, after a summer hiatus, one of our favorite models came back pregnant.....

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Looking Back
20 x 28 Oil on Linen

In contrast to Yin/Yang in the previous post this painting is all about subject matter. Here the design supports the subject, making the viewer feel as if they are standing to the right and looking back into the painting. But the objects themselves have meaning too. One could assume that since there are no modern objects that the painting is about looking back to another time. The silver pitcher might remind one of the 19th century. The rich velvet and crisp linen may look back to the 16th century Venetian merchants or the 17th century Dutch clothmakers. Unknown to the viewer, however, is the personal connection to the artist. This was set up to help celebrate my friend Jane's 87th birthday. She is a regular member of our sketch class so Elizabeth set up a large still life and invited the group over to our studio to draw, followed by cake and ice cream. This painting is only a small part of what was set up but it gives me pleasure to look back on the good fellowship we enjoyed that day. The silver pitcher belonged to Elizabeth's grandmother who was an important part of my life so this painting also reminds me to look back at time we had together. I remember listening to Verdi's Rigoletto while I was working on this piece, perhaps we are looking back to the palace of the Duke of Mantua and this was on a sideboard in the Duke's bedchamber as he seduced Gilda.....

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

18 x 20 Oil on Linen
Private Collection

Sharing a studio can have unintended consequences. Elizabeth set up this still life and did a magnificent painting called Rising Sun. Since our studio at that time could only accommodate one still life setup I cheerfully took up residence at the back of the studio and began reworking an old landscape. As I turned away from my painting I was struck by my view of her still life. From where she was painting the objects were in perfect harmony, but from my view they made no sense. I saw harmony not in the physical objects but in the abstract design. From her view she had created a powerful abstract design that supported her subject, but from my view there was no subject to support. There was, however, a marvelous balance of lights and shadows, patterns of colors, shapes and angles, push and pull from front to back and side to side. It was dissonant and harmonious at the same time. I had to paint it though I was in uncharted waters. We have often discussed the importance of subject matter but here the objects have no meaning, it's an abstract painting. "Art for art's sake" Whistler said.....

Friday, February 8, 2008

Sarah Bernhardt Peonies
18 x 16 Oil on Linen

I’ve always loved peonies. I grew up with them. My mother had them in the backyard. Pink and white, beautiful. She would cut them and bring them, and their delightful fragrance, into the house. It is one of my favorite childhood memories. When we moved to Vermont there were peonies, pink Sarah Bernhardt peonies, on the property. I painted them and showed it to my mother, telling her it made me think of her and how much she loved peonies. “Peonies!” she replied “Blah! I hated those things. Every time I cut them the house was full of black ants!” …..

I first posted this as a guest blogger at Elizabeth's blog On the Easel last June.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

This is a work in progress (inspired by my friend Tim, a terrific recorder player) but it is far enough along for us to have some fun with it. Suppose you are an art historian and someone has emailed you this image and asked you to identify the artist. You don't have the painting in front of you so you can't tell the age of the painting by looking at the canvas or testing a paint sample. The costume is nondescript, no clue there. The recorder dates back to before the renaissance but this couldn't have been done before then so let's start there. The preference for black and white over bold color would suggest the school of Tintoretto rather than Veronese. The recorder might reflect the Dutch love of musical themes, say Steen or Hals, but this isn't jolly enough for them. The Spanish are more sober, maybe one of Zurbaran's monks at leisure or someone serenading one of Goya's majas. Definitely not Delacroix or Ingres but later, Manet perhaps. It could be 20th century. The drawing and brushwork point toward Chase or Bellows. Didn't Pollock study with Benton before going abstract? Well, now we seem hopelessly lost. Let's just go with anonymous.....

Sunday, February 3, 2008


Cookies and Milk
Oil on Panel
Image 8 x 10 - Framed 13 x 15

This is a companion piece to the Cupcakes in the previous post, another of The Sins of My Youth. I wanted this one to be very calm and soothing, like a cool glass of milk. The color palette is limited, the composition centered, the brushwork, though lively, lies quietly in place. It is simple, innocent, almost meditative. If it were a poem I think Schubert would have written lovely music for it…..

The Painting of the Month is a special offer to my blog readers (click on the image for a larger view). This month Cookies and Milk, which retails for $1500, is being made available for $900 (includes shipping, VT residents add 6% sales tax). To purchase this piece contact me at Payment is by check only please, no credit cards. If you prefer you may make 3 monthly payments. This offer is available for 30 days from the date of this post.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

9 x 12 Oil on Linen

Okay let’s lighten up! This is one of a series of paintings I call The Sins of my Youth. I consider them to be artful studies much like Chopin’s etudes, though I suspect some might see them more like a Beethoven bagatelle. It is important to me that each painting have a certain elegance. Here, despite the rather silly subject matter, I have rigorously conformed to the laws of nature and of painting. Light and shade, form, color, design, etc. are what one would consider to be correct. Within that framework however there is a party going on! The colors can barely stay where they are supposed to be and sneak off to land in another part of the painting. The brushwork dances wildly as if it doesn’t know the right steps. The paint itself sometimes laughs out loud in bold opacities, sometimes whispers in gentle transparency. I left out the birthday candles fearing these crazy cupcakes might set the whole painting on fire…..