Saturday, June 28, 2008

16 x 24 Oil on Linen

16 x 24 Oil on Linen

I've always been enchanted by matching portraits. The Wallace Collection has a fine pair by Rembrandt as does the Metropolitan Museum. The Met also has a marvelous portrait of Herman Doomer but the portrait of his wife is far away in the Hermitage Museum. My favorite pair is that of Stephanus Geraerdts and Isabella Coymans by Frans Hals. Each portrait is a masterpiece, together they are stunning. He looks out of the picture and gestures to his left, she looks back at him delighted by the flower he has just given her. He has a knowing smile and a twinkle in his eye, she gazes at him with admiration, each confident of the other's love. Sadly they too are in separate collections. I like to think of my still life objects as my sitters so it was only natural that I do a pair of matching portraits. Bread and Wine are a much beloved couple. They have been painted many times by many artists but, so far as I know, this is the first time they have ever been portrayed separately as a pair. My companion pieces remind me, however, of the lovers in the final scene of the first act of Lucia di Lammermoor. Edgardo and Lucia meet secretly and in a beautiful duet swear their love and exchange rings, but circumstances make their union all but impossible, for she is an Ashton and he a Ravenswood and the two families are feuding. Bread and Wine make a lovely couple but circumstances have made their union all but impossible too. After going out to a gallery together one was purchased without the other. Perhaps one day some industrious curator will reunite the tragic duo. Until then I hope one of them does not go mad.....

Saturday, June 21, 2008

I enjoy creating works in pairs. These drawings were done when I was still a student and experimenting with craftsmanship. I made my own gesso with rabbit skin glue and whiting and applied it to some scraps of paper from a lithographer. When it was dry I sprinkled some ultramarine blue dry pigment on top and then brushed on rabbit skin glue to hold the pigment and spread it evenly over the paper. It makes a marvelous drawing surface. Terra rosa pigment makes a lovely pink paper, terre verte a nice green, yellow ochre and raw umber also work well. Sometimes I mix the pigment directly into the gesso and leave off the top layer of glue. The colored gesso alone makes a soft drawing surface, the glued surface is harder but the color is richer. I started my drawing with a red conte crayon, which, I learned, would have worked better on the unglued gesso. The problem was easily corrected by switching to a pencil and using a cross hatching technique. Then I went back with a white hard pastel to pick up the lights. This was done around midnight after working a morning job, going to school in the afternoon and working an evening job. The next night I decided to create a mate for my drawing so I repeated the same process, I knew the red conte wouldn't work well but I wanted them to go together. I matted and framed them with whatever I had lying about and hung them in my kitchen. When I met Elizabeth she loved them too and they still hang in our kitchen...where they have been for almost 30 years.....

Saturday, June 14, 2008


The Laughing Rabbit
Oil on Linen
Image 20 x 16 - Framed 26 x 22

When I teach still life classes I encourage the students to bring in things that they want to paint. One night someone showed up with a Russian figurine of a laughing rabbit (I thought it looked more like a pig) and some lettuce and carrots from her garden. “Okay” I thought “let’s not be judgmental. This is what she wants to paint.” Only one other person showed up that night. He loved the fauves so we set up a still life for him with very brightly colored objects and a contrasting brightly colored background. Neither of them really wanted a critique, they just wanted to do what they do and have me give them a pat on the back from time to time. So there I was with 3 hours to kill (back patting doesn’t take very long). Luckily I had my paint box and a good canvas. I thought I might paint alongside them as a demonstration, though I knew they could care less. It was a tough choice but I went for the pig-rabbit. I painted freely and rather effortlessly knowing that I would wipe it out at the end of the class. It looked ridiculous as a figurine so I tried to breathe some life into it. To my great surprise I painted so well that I didn’t want to wipe it out. I showed it to Elizabeth when I got home and she just laughed and laughed…..

The Painting of the Month is a special offer to my blog readers (click on the image for a larger view). This month The Laughing Rabbit, which retails for $2800, is being made available for $2200 (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.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

24 x 20 Oil on Linen

My peonies are about to bloom. I can't wait. I've been watching them for weeks. First one stem groggily pushes out of the ground waking from its long winter sleep. It's so slow and tiny, it seems like it will be winter again before this little thing flowers. Then suddenly there is a second stem, then a third, then a fourth. Now it is an army on the march, pushing forth in formation, very impressive. Buds begin to appear and my anticipation grows. I feel like I'm seated in the audience waiting for the curtain to go up, eager to see the show. The black ants have arrived on the scene signaling the great event is about to happen. Finally the buds burst open as if they can't stand to be constrained for another minute. I cup my hand under them as if holding a baby. Now they are growing faster and faster. Each day they feel heavier in my hand. Soon it's as if I am cradling a plump little bird, each petal soft as a feather, yet collectively they have enough weight to bend the stem. Three or four buds on each stem blooming in succession. It's like watching a cluster of fireworks in slow motion. First one blooms, then as it matures the second begins to open, gradually the third bursts forth. By the time the last bud opens the first has dropped it's petals to the ground. Each year I cut a few and bring them into my studio to paint. This time I decided not to set up a still life but to paint the flowers alone. I painted a group of three in the middle of the canvas. I painted too fast because I was so excited. I didn't think it was going well. Elizabeth walked in and her jaw dropped, "Oh my God" she exclaimed. I said I was about to wipe out and start over. "Don't you dare" she said, "If you want to start over use another canvas and give this one to me." I finished the painting and it hung in our living room for a year before I was able to let it go. Now my peonies are about to bloom again. I can't wait.....

Monday, June 2, 2008

Cantaloupes and Grapes
16 x 18 Oil on Linen

Arthur Rubenstein described the music of Brahms this way, "Brahms was to a certain degree influenced by Schubert and Schumann, and his music is full of exuberance, but there is always the restraining hand of the classicist in him." Without comparing myself to either of these towering talents, I would say that this is an amazingly accurate account of my approach to painting as well. Cantaloupes and Grapes was started, as noted in the previous post, as a demonstration piece. I usually see demos as interesting but uninspired works and often wipe them out to save the canvas for another day. This one was different. I could see right away there was something compelling about the composition. It was begun so quickly, however, I didn't have time to hear the music. Now that everyone was gone, out of the silence came Brahms. I eagerly sat down to rework the painting. I had painted well the first day so there wasn't much to do. Reinforce the opacities, bring out the color a bit, clean up the drawing, add a little detail. There was a lot not to do. Don't force the color, don't let the expression overpower the structure, don't lose the rhythm and design. Romantic, exuberant, restrained.....