Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Winter Nocturne
18 x 20 Oil on Linen

A few weeks after I moved to Vermont there was an early winter snowstorm. After the driveway was plowed I went down to the general store to pick up my newspaper. As the cashier was giving me my change she asked "did you see the moonlight on the snow last night?" It gave me great joy to know that someone else shared that experience with me. May you all see the moonlight on the snow this holiday season.....

Merry Christmas, or Happy Holidays, to all my friends in the arts and to all those who appreciate what we do

Friday, November 22, 2013

Atlantic Surf
36 x 36   Oil on Linen

Picasso is alleged to have said "bad artists borrow, good artists steal." If that is true then I'm a good artist. Elizabeth and I once took a two week trip to Mount Desert Island in Maine, the home of Acadia National Park. It is a beautiful island with breathtaking views from Cadillac Mountain and a stunning rocky coastline. We spent the entire first week lying on the rocks listening to the waves crash, breathing in the ocean air and reading. Recreational multitasking you might say. The second week we got out our paint boxes and set to work. There was one afternoon that was particularly dramatic. It was a partly cloudy day; when the clouds parted there was a roaring surf, when they gathered again the sound of the waves was muffled. We were both excited. I clambered down the rocks to get close to the sea, Elizabeth liked the view from where she was and stayed up top. We both painted well but there was something very compelling about the way she had used the rocks to frame the sea. I loved that study and over the next few years thought about creating a large painting using her composition. One day I asked if I could borrow her study to do the big painting. "Borrow it?" she said laughingly “You mean steal it”.....

Friday, November 15, 2013

20 x 16   Oil on Linen

When I go to museums I generally find myself spending less time with the well known masterpieces, preferring instead to seek out the small studies and historically less significant pieces. These are often the ones created with the most artistic freedom. Commissioned works are very important to the survival of the artist but are always to some degree a collaboration of the artist and his patron. I like to see what an artist does when he is unfettered. Studies for large works are usually not expected to be seen, or exhibited, or purchased so the artist abandons any attempt at a pretty finish and instead allows the work to be pure expression. When these pieces do survive and are exhibited they are as close as you can come to having a conversation with the artist about his philosophy of art. The other works I like to spend time with are pieces that the artist does for his own amusement. Artistic caprices. Like musical capriccios they are generally upbeat, lively pieces. No great meaning or message, no adherence to rules or dogma, perhaps not even very interesting subject matter, just pure joy in being alive and being an artist.....

Saturday, October 26, 2013

A Morning Walk
30 x 32   Oil on Linen

Artists are liars. Botticelli was a liar. So was Renoir. Poussin, El Greco, Corregio, Gainsborough and Eakins were liars. The little Dutchmen, the Hudson River School and the Impressionists were all liars. They all showed you a flat canvas and told you it was not flat. They tried to make you believe you could see fruit and flowers in the round, pastures receding in space dotted with cattle and trees, human figures and groups of human figures, engaged in real, even mythological, activities. It was all a big lie. No matter how real, or spacious, or tactile, or vivid the image seems to you the canvas is still flat. You can lay your hand on the canvas but you can’t pick up the fruit and your hand will not be able to enter the space you think you perceive. It's all an illusion. Perhaps artists are not really liars but illusionist. Magicians. Claesz was certainly a magician. Not only your eyes but your nostrils and tastebuds are set in motion when you look at his still lifes. Corot too. You can feel the breeze and hear the rustling of the leaves in his paintings. Tiepolo was a great magician. He could make you think you were looking though the ceiling of a church and gazing right into the heavens. Rembrandt was an astonishing magician. His portraits not only make you believe you are standing in front of another person, but that you can look the person in the eye and know their character. Each time you view the painting you feel like are visiting a friend. Magic. It can make you believe you are seeing a landscape where two friends are taking a morning stroll, where sunlight floods a distant field and a gentle breeze brushes against the tall grasses in the foreground.....

View of Rupert Mountain
30 x 36   Oil on Linen

In the early '90s, when we were still living in New York, Elizabeth and I decided to spend the summer painting landscapes. After a few unsuccessful attempts to find a suitable place to rent in upstate NY we ventured into southern VT and found a place near the NY state border about an hour north of Bennington. It was an old farmhouse at the end of a dirt road, nestled in a valley with fields gently sloping up on the east and west sides. It had stopped being a working farm many years ago but the current owner still leased out the fields to neighboring farmers who used it mainly as a place for their sheep or cattle to graze or to grow a little extra hay or corn. There was a field that went up behind the house that became a favorite place for me to explore. It hadn't been tilled for years and consequently was full of lush grasses and a dazzling array of wildflowers. If you climbed all the way to the top you could look out over the valley to the mountains on the far side. It was always quiet up there, always peaceful, a great place to think, to dream. I did a lovely little study there that hung in my studio for many years. I was reluctant to show the piece, reluctant to let anyone else stand on that hillside. As time passed, however, I gradually became aware that I did indeed want to share my hilltop. I painted a larger version and sold the study. Now anyone can stand on my quiet, peaceful hillside, look out over the valley, and think and dream.....

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Adagio for Peonies
20 x 16    Oil on Linen

Sometimes, like Appassionata in the previous post, my work is inspired by a specific piece of music. More often, however, I hear what a painting sounds like while I am working on it. Not as a finished piece of music but snippets of rhythm or cadence, harmony or dissonance. In the process of painting these peonies I became aware of what the tempo of the piece should be. Artists usually paint flowers in the early stages of development in a soft, flattering light with little or no shadow to express their innocent, gentle, delicate nature. Flowers in full bloom are often depicted in a more dramatic light or a more colorful setting, using livelier brushwork to set off their magnificent array of petals. I was ready to follow that familiar pattern but as I was cutting these peonies I began to feel that they wanted to be presented in a less dramatic fashion. As I set up the arrangement in my studio I could see that it was rich and full yet I heard it not as an allegro or presto tempo but as a lovely slow movement. The brushwork was lively but not showy, the color was intense but not loud, the mood was calm, tranquil, almost meditative. It had become an adagio for peonies.....

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

24 x 20  Oil on Linen

I heard a program on the radio recently discussing Beethoven's Piano Sonata #23 in F Minor, Op. 57, the one we now know as the "Appassionata" sonata. The host of the program talked about the historical background of the piece and the way different artists have played it using recordings to illustrate his points. It was fascinating to hear a variety of artists playing the same passage. As I listened to each unique version of the opening of the first movement I thought about how I might play that passage on my canvas. The piece opens with a quiet, somewhat menacing, theme played pianissimo, then explodes with a sudden outburst. Some pianists exploited this contrast to the hilt playing nearly silent passages followed by ones that were wildly frantic. Others tried hard to find a way to make the transition without having a heart attack. It is a fabulous piece of music that can make your heart leap and break at the same time. So now the question was could I create a painting with ominous silences and violent outbursts in the same piece? I had some peonies that were about to bloom so I decided to experiment with them. They were budding, pure white festiva maxima peonies, fabulously showy when they in full bloom but achingly beautiful as they begin to open. Piano, piano I thought. Then I set them against a deep red velvet drapery creating a dramatic contrast. Forte, forte. The white theme returns in the drapery, this time less gentle, not played quite so softly. A rich dark frame is the final passage in my sonata. Breathtaking beauty in a rich, dynamic setting. Passion, drama, serenity. Interesting. Now on to the second movement.....

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Women in Art III: Painting the Feast
40 x 48   Oil on Linen

The canvas is an empty space. It is the task of the artist to fill that void with light and form and atmosphere, with wisdom and challenge, with thunderous noise and breathtaking silence, with the glory of heaven and the horrors of hell, and with all the infinite variety and nuance of the human condition. The goal is to create works of art that are able to reach out of the canvas and touch the viewer, to move them in a profound way.....

Friday, August 23, 2013

In the Studio
40 x 30   Oil on Linen

There are some artists who think that all art from the past should be discarded so new works can be created without their influence. Others think we should reject all modern art and return to the academic tradition of the 19th century. Some suggest we need to rediscover the secrets of the Renaissance while others advocate adopting a pre-Raphaelite philosophy. I suspect there are some who want to reestablish illuminated manuscripts or cave painting as the art of the day. But we can't undo what was done in the past, or what is being done in the present, and it is unimaginative to recreate work that has been done before. I think the artists of the Renaissance had a healthy approach to their creative endeavors. They admired the work of the ancient Greeks and, rather then trying to recreate Greek art, studied the principles and techniques that made those works great, then added their considerable talents, intelligence and philosophy to those principles to create brilliant, unique new works. For me the Renaissance and Baroque periods represent the height of the art of painting and my work is influenced by their principles and techniques, however there have been many changes in materials (especially pigments), technique and theory since then and when these new materials or concepts are useful I am delighted to bring them to my work. Every artist should study the work of the great geniuses that came before them and then create exciting new paintings that express their own philosophy and personality.....

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Our artistic instincts are developed from a very young age. Not long after we are able to control our fingers a crayon is inserted in our little fists and a piece of paper is placed in front of us. We are encouraged to make whatever marks we like and thus commit our first creative act. A broad smile comes across our face as we see the color recorded on the paper and the joy of creativity becomes a part of us. Mommy's applause let's us know that this joyful act has society's approval. After many happy efforts we budding artist have a desire to advance our drawings. Those joyful scribbles soon become harsher and angrier as frustration sets in. Then mommy demonstrates how to make a circle for a head and dots for eyes and the ever fascinating stick figure. Joy returns as the creative juices are set free. With time we learn to draw everything that is around us, house and family, grass and trees, even sun and rain. Then our imagination kicks in and we create fantastic drawings of monsters and dragons, princesses and pirates. We are well on our way to becoming artists, free and uninhibited, joyful and enchanted. At some point in this process some well meaning person notices our pleasure at creativity and offers us a coloring book. We use our well practiced scribbling technique to fill the page with color, blue hair, green faces, purple hands and sleeves, red, yellow and orange for the dress, shoes and legs and background. The lines of the preprinted drawings are often treated as mere suggestions of boundaries. We are then taught to keep our color within the lines and our artistic freedom meets its first test. Some of us agree and learn to control our color while others reject this attempt to inhibit their creativity. Our artistic philosophy begins to take shape. For those of us who continue to explore this avenue of creativity the coloring book experience is repeated over and over again. We are told that if we adopt this or that technique, or manipulate our pencils or brushes this or that way it will produce this or that effect. We are told that if we do this our work will be considered tasteful and if we do that it will be distasteful. As we accept or reject each suggestion, each lesson, we form our artistic philosophy. No two artists will make the same decisions, and the more we learn, the more we accept or reject, the more unique we become. Every time an artists puts a pencil to paper, or a brush to canvas, he must decide if he will paint within the lines or ignore the boundaries.....