Saturday, September 29, 2012

Adding Time to the Palette

When I went to see the "Color as Field" exhibit in the Museum of American Art, I was just blown away by the huge canvases and the color everywhere. All abstract, which is a hard sell for me. But this show was special. Unfortunately, I was only able to see it once. By the time I was able to go back, it had already been packed up and shipped to its next stop.

But it left a lasting impression.

One of the paintings (and this feels awfully familiar, as if I've already written about this, so just skip ahead if you remember it) was by Helen Frankenthaler, on unprimed canvas. This painting was done in oils. And the oil in the paint had spread out into the unprimed canvas. The color was localized, and the oil darkened the natural canvas color without taking any of the pigment with it.

Another thought: much impasto painting can crack, especially if painted in oil. So the painting gets a spiderweb of small cracks through the paint. Other things: the colors can fade depending on the light in which they are hung. Maybe even some pigments change slightly over time. Canvas gets old. It discolors a bit. Air in contact with paint and paper and canvas will cause changes.

In addition, using mixed media throws some uncertainty into the pot. I like to use oil sticks - haven't found anything that works like that for acrylics. But water will not stick to oil, so with time, those two elements should react in such a way as to cause changes.

So, rather than fighting against the changes wrought by time, I say let's celebrate them. Welcome time into the palette and use it. Incorporate paper that will discolor. Use materials that will disintegrate or even tear. Put water over oil!

I like the concept.

Below, mixed media from today:

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Endless Repetition!

I am sure I repeat myself - both in ideas and words - in this blog.

But that's because I repeat thoughts and ideas daily. Perhaps it's a necessary element of memory.

If anyone saw the moment "Memento" (I think that's the title!) about a man who could not retain new memories, maybe the endless repetition of thinking and debating with oneself and others has a purpose: to reinforce the idea or thought as long as it remains valid.

Hopefully, the repetition also serves to keep the thought or idea up to date, incorporating everything new that comes along.

So, once again, I find myself struggling to complete anything I like. I suppose the up side of this type of painter's block is that I don't have to figure out how to store all the paintings I would be producing if I weren't suffering! How ludicrous to always search for a bright side.

I think I will, soon, have to sit down and try to put some plan into words. I would like to have a philosophy of painting - something I am trying to accomplish with my painting, that I could return to when the inspiration fails to spark.

Anyway, one over the past week.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The end of innocence...

That stray cat I've been mentioning?

She's been coming around earlier and earlier in the morning, lately as early as 7:30 am.
This morning the same.
So I've been filling her food bowl and putting it out early, despite the fact that I also (gee, any connection?) have been throwing peanuts out for the birds and squirrels at 7:00 am for years (and I do mean years!).

This morning, there she was, 7:30.
I put her food out and sat outside talking to her.
She was shy this morning, crouching beneath a bush in the rock garden despite my best efforts to entice her to eat.

Finally, I started reading the paper, forgetting to keep an eye on her.
Unfortunately, so did the birds and squirrels.

She's fast when she wants to be. One of my squirrel pals is now cat meat thanks to me.

So here's the new, revised plan.

NO peanuts in the morning.
Cat food put out when she arrives, and I will sit outside with her, actively discouraging any venturesome squirrels and birds.
Once she has, hopefully, eaten and taken off for the day, then I may put peanuts out, but perhaps not.
She's fooled me once.
I don't want to be a fool again.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Why do I paint? (What, again?)

Wow, do I envy people who know what they are trying to accomplish and can put it into words. Putting something into words allows planning, organizing, projecting into the future.

I am most definitely not in that position!
Never have been.

When I went to college, I had no idea what I wanted to study, and I began school at the worst possible time for someone like me - at the time when colleges were experimenting with eliminating requirements and allowing students the freedom to organize their own studies.

I, and probably quite a few other not-yet-mature young people, used that freedom to pursue varied interests, including social lives (not-so-challenging courses leaving plenty of time for extra-curricular activities).

But also, having wide-ranging interests meant following a lot of avenues that turned out to be dead ends for me. So that old saying of 'knowing a little about a lot of things' could certainly be applied to my college career.

Maturity brings at least a small amount of wisdom. So, art! And specifically, painting.

But here I am, after years of painting and learning how to paint and how to achieve the results I want with my materials. And I find myself back at the beginning asking myself "All right, so what actually do I want to paint, now that I know how to?"

The way I know a painting is finished and successful is that it works for me. It feels done. That feeling may last or may not. So my definition of a finished painting is "I like it."

That doesn't really give me much to begin a painting with.

So I am no closer to having an answer to that question than I was when I began painting so many years ago.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Some thoughts about painting

A conversation with Jackie E the other day when we were visiting the National Gallery East Wing.

Downstairs they have a permanent collection modern art show with lots of oversized canvases - some Rothko, a Frankenthaler, a Pollock, some other greats including Alice Neel's chair and Matisse's paper cutouts. Also on the concourse level, they have the fabulous Motherwell "Reconciliation Elegy". Wow!

Some of these great painters would lay their canvas out on the ground and walk over it or around it to produce their work. Some of them worked on raw canvas, unprimed. Some of the canvas is discolored, some of the paint is cracked.

Leading to a thought: is time one of the tools a painter can - or should - use as part of her palette?

With everything subject to change wrought by time, should a painter encourage those changes, and welcome them when they affect the work?

My first thought: Why not? The attempt to fix anything forever, without the possibility of change, is a recipe for lack of life, isn't it? (Not death, since all death results in decay and glorious change!)

What can a painter do to work with the inevitable changes brought by time?

This painting is a fun and successful experiment. I made a purposeful attempt to reproduce a previous painting, but on a different shaped canvas. Original below. I do think it says something about technical expertise when the artist can reproduce something previously produced, at will. (That's a self-generated pat on the back.)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Ongoing Seduction of the Stray Mama Cat

So, after the loss of her little tortoiseshell kitten, the Mama Cat has moved her other surviving baby(ies) somewhere pretty far away. We haven't seen them since.

The Mama, however, is coming regularly, once a day, to be fed in the back yard. And I'm using the Saint Exupéry method of taming her. Each day I put the food a bit closer to me. Also, I'm tempting her with nice, high-dollar wet food and have just discovered a flavor she really loves. She ate the first offering, then backed away while I put some more out, and did the same a third time. Stayed and ate the entire can full!

Reports will continue on this long-term project. We are hoping to be able to get her, and her babies, inside before winter comes.

Here is Jane's Bucky in a Field of Daisies:

Monday, September 17, 2012

About subject matter

The original idea was to write about painting and everything that goes into it. Well, it turns out that I don't actually think there is any difference between the work and the worker. Everything that goes into my life, ends up influencing or inspiring my painting. This is a case of "what you do is what you are".

So I'm thinking today about hindsight.

Two nights ago, I heard a small creature being killed outside. I don't live in the great wild. I live in suburbia, rapidly turning into urbia.

The next morning we found a small, perhaps eight week old kitten, dead in the back yard. This sweetie was one of the family of feral cats we've begun to seduce into living with us. A mother and at least two kittens - still not sure. But now one less.

The noises I heard sounded like a bird being killed in the night. It is hard, in the dark with a casement window partially opened, to pinpoint location. It was very late and the sound woke me. I did not get up. It didn't last very long, perhaps 30 seconds.

Now, I am struggling with regret. If I had known... If I had risen...

But that's hindsight.
As foolish as trying to say that the Administration should have known there would be an attack on the Benghazi Consulate from the evidence of an attempted assault somewhere in the middle east in July.

I am mature enough to realize this.
Too bad our mainstream media haven't made that evolutionary step.

What might have been.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

"...A question of individuality..."

"... so far as I am concerned, poetry and every other art was and is and forever will be strictly and distinctly a question of individuality ... poetry is being, not doing."*

Back to the questions that I and other artists are always asking - How can you know if a painting is done? and, How do you know if a painting is good?

The quote above by e. e. cummings speaks nicely to this point. You, the artist, must know and judge the completion and the quality of your work. If you are fortunate, you will find an audience for that work that will appreciate it. Just as, when discussing any particular subject, you will find those with whom you agree and those who disagree with you, in art, your vision will speak to those who can hear/see it.

But most of all, you must be honest with yourself when you are working. Because what you do is who you are.

*From six nonlectures by E. E. Cummings (from a selection of poems, A Harvest Book, copyright 1926 by Horace Liveright)

Uneasy Truce

White Fences

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


"Blessed are the weird people -- poets, misfits, writers, mystics, painters and troubadours -- for they teach us to see the world through different eyes." Jacob Nordby (from a Facebook post).

What a wonderful way to define what a painter is trying to do. Communication on an entirely different level. Persuasion through vision. I'm reminded that trying to put some things in words runs the risk of descending into triteness and cliché.

How's that for a thought, Phil?

Monday, September 3, 2012

It's not so easy...

... keeping up with this blog. Considering that I've never been able to maintain even a paper journal or diary, I'm going to pat myself on the back and say 'ok, not so bad.'

For fun, I post below the email conversations I have had with my friend Phil (from Tai Chi class) about art. I think they began with a question about how do I judge my own and others' art, and how is art distinguished from craft? As all of you surely know, this is the perennial question and there are many different ways to make that distinction.

I believe the initial conversation had me taking the stance that as long as I am judging my work honestly, there is no difference that signifies between art and craft, since each person produces/sees the product through the lens of his/her own life experience and aesthetics...

Phil (re: Arts vs. Crafts):

... further to our discussion, if a drawing is intended to be a literal representation is its merit then solely in its accuracy?
If a writing is solely to express an idea is clarity the measure of its quality?
So, can a drawing or writing be solely "non-artistic"?  Are not either mode of expression necessarily in part artistic?

Does this test, however, a limit on your proposition that beauty lies solely in the eye of the beholder?


In re-reading and thinking about your questions and the points you make, I believe I must insist on my original point (if I remember it correctly).

Every interaction between people involves communication, whether written, visual, or unwritten and even unintended. Think of 'body language'. Think of sitting in a cafe watching people walk by. How much can you tell about them - whether or not you are correct is irrelevant I think - just by seeing their expressions, the speed or jauntiness of their step, etc.?

Also, a second point.

Each individual person has a life experience that informs his or her interpretation of the entire world/universe. Communicating between any two people is hit or miss at best, and that is only if both are attempting to communicate/understand.

Every human being who is interested enough in the world (and with survival at stake, who is not?) has learned to interpret the cues received from every source.

If you, the artist (painter or writer or photographer) are trying to communicate with your product, that is inherently an artistic endeavor, given the vast spaces between humans and their experiences which inform their ability to interpret your attempts.

All you can do is your best, and hope for the best.
So it's all art...


Now, I'm still struggling with the logical follow-on (I cannot say "consequences"), not focusing on just communication, but on the nature of reality.  I've heard very credible and intelligent persons refer to one person's reality as existing independently of others' perceptions.  However, if each person's perception has equal validity, at some point, actually, quite frequently, those realities must conflict.  At some point, objective reality should logically exist.

If I'm trying honestly to communicate my perception of reality, and not doing it for self validation, am I not doing what you try to do in a painting?  If however that perception invalidates, as inevitably it must, another's perception of reality, then is communication essentially a effort to persuade the other or others of one's own perception?  Is that not really what your paintings do?

Now, here's another formulation to try to reconcile, or perhaps not even, apparent inconsistencies.  Your expressions may inform others as to perceptions they did not necessarily reject, but just never appreciated.  So, maybe the conflicts I refer to are really failures to appreciate others perceptions.  So, then, the issue for each of us is to try to be open to different perceptions to see if we have or have not yet fully appreciated them.


Do you really have such a firm knowledge of the universe and everything in it that your definition and understanding is superior in quality to that of everyone else? 

How about quantum mechanics which defines the very basic quality of matter as something that cannot ever be completely pinned down? How about the building blocks of what we think of as solid matter - they consist of an interaction of cells - which are neutrons and electrons whizzing around in lots of empty space?

And, is the color I see as blue really the exact same color you see? Can anyone ever know? Does it matter? Why?

What is the purpose of communication? Is it to impose a particular universal view on those with whom you are communicating? Do you really want that responsibility?

Why would you want a universe in which every living person saw the very same thing in every event/happening/locale? How boring would that be?

I like your idea about "maybe the conflicts I refer to are really failures to appreciate others perceptions."

Appreciate being the operative word.
Not convince or be convinced.


All I came up with is that it is an exhibit.  You paint to exhibit your art, not for the money and not for yourself alone.  For art to have meaning, does the artist not need to show it to others?  Long ago, artists had patrons for whom the art was done, especially portraits but only to pay the bills.  Then, the artist could paint for the public.
Likewise, I need to email because of the possibility someone might read it...
Also, craftsmanship is a component because the artist must have pride in her expression, as an author notoriously has pride of authorship because of his being pleased with the sound of his own words.  So, is any form of expression then not just "showing off"?  In modern times we even have "performance art."  "Hair" the musical, anyone?
However, please help me with the issue of external validation.  The artist is proud of the craftsmanship regardless of popular approval, right?  This is a crucial factor in my emails because I enjoy doing them even though most feedback I have ever received is negative, including the current proposals to find me a padded cell.  So, I see myself as the Vincent Van Gogh of emails; "can you 'ear me now"?


As a working artist, obviously, I want my work to be desired, to be purchased. Therefore, where is the line, when I am working, between painting for sale and painting for the sake of the painting?
Perhaps, if I am good at what I do, I will also be fortunate, and find others whose sense of beauty or passion will respond to my work. Then again, with so many of people on the planet, and such a variety of life experiences and tastes, maybe the luck involved is only a matter of 'right time, right place.