Saturday, April 26, 2008

Easter Lilies
30 x 24 Oil on Linen

Spring brings out the altar boy in me. I always thought I wanted to do religious paintings but whenever I create a figure composition it seems anachronistic at best, or, at worst, insipid. Illustrating a story from the bible is one thing but bringing a sense of genuine spirituality to it is something else. When Easter season arrives however, and lilies appear, still lifes with religious themes come easily to me. Bread and grapes represent the last supper, a wicker basket could look back to Palm Sunday or ahead to the wood of the cross, the rising pure white lilies signify the resurrection of Christ as He emerges from the tomb. For me it is powerful imagery and I've painted it a few times. But this subject matter also appeals to me as a secular theme. It's difficult to see a crucifixion or a raising of Lazarus as anything other than a religious painting, but a still life enables me to broaden my audience. Easter Lilies, for example, won a prize at the Salmagundi Club in an exhibition of paintings with a floral theme. I don't know if the people who own this painting bought it for religious or purely aesthetic reasons...and it doesn't was created to appeal on both levels.....

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Twinkies and Superheroes
20 x 24 Oil on Linen

Sometimes I go off in odd directions. Often I find myself revisiting my youth. Although I claim to have been bored by childhood I must have had some fun because all of the paintings that refer to my youth are cheerful and lively. Twinkies and Superheroes is pretty typical. How can you not love a painting with Spiderman flying through the middle of the piece? I wonder what art historians will have to say about this piece. “I see the influence of Warhol and the pop art movement. The comic books were obviously inspired by Lichtenstein and the cupcakes by Thiebaud. Of course Koons had a tremendous effect on his work.” Actually none of those things are true, although those artists have made such subject matter acceptable to those viewing my work. My work is indebted to the old Dutch still life painters, Claesz and de Heem; and to Hals and Titian and Velazquez and Van Dyck…..

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

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Gallery
12 x 16 Oil on Panel

Once an art student decides they have mastered the principles of painting they then have to decide on a course of action to get those paintings out into the world. The usual course is to create a body of work and then take them to the gallery of your choice who will, of course, lavishly praise your paintings and offer you a one man show. It seemed obvious to us that the galleries that would be most receptive to our work were the ones that were showing Frank's paintings, but we didn't think introducing our paintings into his market was the kindest way to repay him for teaching us to paint. So as we mulled over which lucky gallery should have our work we thought it might be a good idea to test various markets around the country. Juried exhibits are a great way to do this because you only need to send one piece and can disperse your work over a large area in a short time. In the back of American Artist magazine there are listings for shows so we sent away for prospectuses of any show that took oil paintings. Of those we took the 10 best prospects, filled out the forms, labeled the slides, wrote checks for the fees and happily painted as we waited for our acceptance notices to arrive. One by one they came back...rejected...rejected...rejected. Of the 10 shows we sent to we got 9 rejections. The only exhibit we got into was a small painting show in Wichita, Kansas. We humbly packed up our paintings and sent them away. A few days later the president of the Wichita Art Association called to tell us that my painting, The Gallery, won 1st prize and also a purchase award, Elizabeth's painting won 2nd prize.....

Friday, April 11, 2008

8 x 12 Oil on Panel

One of the things I love most about painting is that, like music, you can continue grow and develop till death do you part. You don't just learn to play the violin and that's that. Jascha Heifetz didn't like recording because, he said, "In 5 or 10 years I will play a piece differently." So it is with painting. Once you understand the principles and are able to produce a respectable picture then you are ready to start painting. Gradually you stop being a painter and start being an artist. Facility creeps into your drawing and brushwork and you struggle more and more with expression, substance, communication, emotion, or in the case of some schools, eliminating emotion. When I sat down to paint Peppers however I knew exactly what I wanted to say and had the facility to say it boldly, crisply, succinctly. It was finished in a single sitting of less than 2 hours. Delightful, splendid. Sometimes at openings I'm asked how long it took me to paint a particular piece. As I try to force my clenched teeth into a smile I explain that artists are not paid an hourly wage, if they were the inept amateur would demand far higher prices than a master. Then I relax and tell the story of Whistler v. Ruskin. Ruskin didn't much care for Whistler's "daubs" and, making reference to Whistler’s Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket, accused him of "flinging a pot of paint in the public's face." Whistler sued for libel. When he was on the stand, Whistler was questioned on the amount of time it took to finish the painting. When he replied that it took only a couple of days, the defense asked if two days of work was worth the 200 guinea price of the piece. Whistler replied, “No. I ask it for the knowledge I have gained in the work of a lifetime”.....

Saturday, April 5, 2008

People often remark how rich and lively my paint looks, how vivid the colors are, what beautiful quality the work has. It is always followed by "What kind of varnish do you use?" The answer is not in the top layer of the painting but on the bottom. Without a good foundation whatever comes on top will suffer. I don't believe in painting secrets so here is how I prepare my ground. Start with a good piece of linen. Stretch it by hand so that it is neither drum tight nor floppy. Gently heat rabbit skin glue, 40:1, 40 parts water to 1 part glue. When the glue is completely dissolved it is ready, don't let it boil or it becomes rubbery. I use 3 coats of glue to size the linen and isolate the oil ground from the fabric. The first coat can be applied warm with a large brush. Don't be stingy, you need to saturate the linen. When the first coat is thoroughly dry brush on the second coat, not hot, at room temperature. Allow it to dry then add a third coat. You are now ready to apply the lead ground. Since white lead has been banned as commercial paint you have to buy it from an art supplier or grind it yourself. I find the lead goes on easily if it is warm. I make a double boiler by putting some lead in a glass jar and then heating it in a pot of water on a hot plate. Lead fumes are toxic so do this with a lot of ventilation, I do it in my barn. Apply the lead to the canvas using a large palette knife, fill the weave and scrape off the excess. When this is dry add a second coat. Two coats are enough unless you have a very heavy weave then you may want to add a third coat. After it is thoroughly dry you are ready for the final coat of glue. Sprinkle some dry pigment (the one pictured here is terra rosa) on the surface and brush on the same glue that was used at the beginning. It's as easy as 3-2-1, glue-lead-glue. Beautiful. Now you are ready to paint a masterpiece.....