Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Spring has arrived, the growing season begun, daffodils are blooming. As I was falling asleep last night I thought about how I would like to paint them this year. When I awoke this morning Brahms' first piano trio was playing in my head. Before long the daffodils and the music merged and I clearly saw, and heard, the composition for my painting. A bit of shopping, a trip to the flower patch growing by the stone walls lining my driveway, pick up a few things from the kitchen and off to the studio. Scrape off the old, dried colors on my palette, prepare some fresh paint, strain the clear mineral spirits (for cleaning my brushes) into a clean jar and wash out the sediment from the old jar, look for a canvas that is the right size and has good karma. Now that the still life is set up and my materials organized I am ready to start painting...almost. What's the rush? Sit, meditate, gather your thoughts, hear the music. The hours have passed by quickly but no time has been wasted. I have only an hour or so left to paint but that is all I need. On the first day of a new painting I like to take my time. It is like the final rehearsal before a performance. I get the feel of the canvas, plan my composition, lay a few tones down, perhaps practice some of the more difficult passages. Tomorrow I go off to the League to teach and when I come back it will be dry and ready to go.....

Friday, April 24, 2009

Silver and Gold
23 x 36 Oil on Linen

I've been reading Oliver Sacks' Musicophilia. It examines the place music occupies in the brain and chronicles anomalous perceptions of music by his patients. Some experience seizures when exposed to certain kinds of music (musicolepsia), others hear tunes or musical phrases repeated over and over (brainworms), some, like Schumann, are tortured by a single repeated note. Some suffer from amusia (perceiving music as noise) while others with perfect pitch cannot help identifying the musical signature of a car horn, or a sneeze or a dog's bark. Last night I read the chapter on synesthesia. Synesthesia literally means a fusing of the senses. The most common form is seeing color when hearing music, D major is blue or G minor is yellow. Some people experience letters of the alphabet as colors while others can taste musical notes. Normally only the auditory cortex of the brain is activated when one hears music but a synestete experiences activity in more than one part of the brain. If they see color when hearing music both the auditory and visual sections are activated. I hear my paintings as music and am often asked if I experience synesthesia. I think not because my associations are not so specific but rather general patterns and rhythms and dynamics. The auditory and visual sections of my brain are playing with each other or having a conversation rather than acting in concert. Reading this book has made me aware, however, that I hear music all the time. It is at a very low volume and is easily overridden by, or combined with, any other brain activity. It does not disrupt my life in any way but it is always there. If my mind is not occupied with another activity the musical volume increases and keeps me company. It has been my constant companion as far back as I can remember. On the other hand I've probably never experienced a genuine moment of silence in my whole life.....

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Roses and Apples
18 x 16 Oil on Linen

I met someone at a party and introduced myself as an artist. "Oh I would love to have your life" he said, "just wake up each morning and paint exactly what I see in front of me." We were standing near a kitchen counter with a toaster oven, a small vase with a flower and a napkin holder on it. "Well" I replied "if you paint exactly what you see you'll be painting a mask of what is there." He looked confused. "You are only seeing the front of everything" I continued. "To paint a convincing illusion of what you are seeing you need to also paint what you cannot see. You must be able to convince the viewer that the vase not only has the front that can see but also a back side that you cannot see, and that there is space between the vase and the wall. You can't see weight and yet the flower must look lighter than the toaster oven. Then of course you have to think about what it is that you want to express." "Oh" he said deflatedly "that's a lot harder than I thought it would be, but at least you get to do what you want and then sell it for a lot of money." "Oh yes" I said not wanting to deflate him again "Rubens did quite well for himself." I didn't mention that Van Gogh only sold one painting, or that Rembrandt had to sell everything that he had, or that Hals died in the poorhouse.....