Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Cleaning up the studio, a painting in progress, and some art books in the works

The year 2011 arrived with blinding speed. In fact, I have a little trouble wrapping my head around the idea of 2011. It is a year past epic milestones of science fiction. No flying cars, no glittering Nehru jackets to wear. For that I am grateful. I am one of those people fascinated by artist's studios so I am sharing some recent pictures of the studio Valerie and I share together. As always, click on the image to enlarge.

The above view is looking towards both my easel and Valerie's writing desk. Thanks to Fairbanks Antiques I was lucky enough to get a decent music stand to put my gramophone on and stash some of my 78's inside. Makes the studio feel larger. In the corner are paintings of Charlotte including my latest one from last October. Below that are some of Valerie's Victorian fashion illustrations. I can't remember if they're from Godey's or Harper's.

 This is a view from my easel looking over towards my drafting table where I work on the collages. The painting on the easel I had started at least a couple of months ago and was going fairly well. It's based on a photograph I took of Valerie.  The painting is on cold press watercolour paper and like much of my other work is a combination of coloured pencil and acrylic. The mood of the painting was originally more wistful, but took on the more melancholy aspect after the death of my cousin Amanda whose future career in the arts ended before it even truly began due to a automobile accident. I have been thinking of doing a commemorative painting of Amanda but right now it is too painful to contemplate. In the corner over the drafting table are more paintings of Charlotte and some images that I find inspiring including my little reproduction of the Gainsborough painting I wrote about previously.

This is the studio looking towards the fireplace from the edge of the drafting table over to the French doors. My favourite painting of Valerie hangs over the mantel along with some of my early photographs of her. Piled on the mantle are my James Lane Allen books and along with some of my other treasured Victorian era books. The lovely Christmas tree is Valerie's handiwork. In the corner, Barnabas Collins maintains a melancholy watch over a renaissance lady on top of the bookcase.
As we come around full circle, more books, a music corner with my Edison Amberola 30 cylinder player, a steampunk AM/FM cassette deck in the form of a Edison Home Phonograph courtesy of the Thomas Radio Corporation. The closet stores paintings, art supplies belonging to both Valerie and myself. My favourite painting of Charlotte hangs on the door.

Upcoming paintings:

At the moment, there are two paintings in the pipeline. The lady listening to the gramophone and a small painting of an embracing couple. The latter painting is feeling a bit stuck but other painting is going well. I'm reviewing recent sketches with a view towards picking out my next several paintings. I've also been giving thoughts to my next set of collages but want to get at least two or three paintings finished before I shift the focus back to collage.

Art books I am working on:

It's been in the thought process for a long time, but I'm finally making some progress towards doing a couple of books featuring my paintings and collages. The first book will be an overview of what I hope are the best of my paintings and collages as well as including some of the sketches. I'm contemplating perhaps having a section on how I, as a colour blind artist work in colour. A lot of the photographs I've taken of my paintings over the years will have to be rescanned to improve the quality for print. Many of the web images do not enlarge well.

The second book will feature only my paintings of Charlotte over the last thirty years.  Unhappily, this project will require my rephotographing much of that work. About four years ago, I had photographed nearly everything to use in a future project. I had made a slideshow movie with the images and had hoped to use them in a book later only to lose them when my computer died. The back up CD I made has yet to be found.

The first phase of this project will be to purchase and install the software I've identified as an affordable page maker.  I intend to publish the books through when they're ready. I tried using their "portfolio" maker but found it too limiting. Bear with me as I have multiple irons in the fire.

Here's hoping that 2011 will be a very productive year!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Synchronicity in distant dusty corners so very close to home

1960's era reproduction of the Portrait of Mrs. Richard Brinsley Sheridan
by Thomas Gainsborough.
Click on image to enlarge
Yesterday, I stood before this very painting at the Cincinnati Art Museum. As I had posted recently, this portrait of Mrs. Richard Brinsley Sheridan (Elizabeth Linley) was my favourite non Pre-Raphaelite painting of all time. While it was great to get the exhibition catalogue with a lovely reproduction of the painting on one of its pages what I really wanted was something I could hang on my studio wall. Also, I had been planning to go over to Patti Fairbanks' Antique Shop where I live in Paris, Kentucky to do a little Christmas shopping but since I was working on a painting today, I thought I might not go after all. As I worked, I just kept getting the feeling I should go to Fairbanks Antiques anyway so I took a break to let the sunlight work its way over to the studio and hopped in the car and set out for the antique shop. While there, I'd do the originally intended Christmas shopping.

Fairbanks Antiques is in a vastly expanded and better organised location that at one time had been a downtown Paris hardware store that Patti filled with everything from her previous separate locations. Patti and her sister Lee did a fantastic job organising all the books and more. I found a couple of gifts, so I decided I was going through every nook and cranny making two circuits of the shop. Hung on the wall in a crowded corner near the front of the store was the portrait of Mrs. Sheridan in a perfect size and in a frame that fits well with the studio. I can only imagine how wide my eyes must have been when I gently lifted the picture off its hook. Dusty but in good shape. I thought I should be taking the money for this and buying someone else a gift, but at the same time I was afraid I would never see this vintage reproduction ever again so I bought it along with the stocking stuffers I found for Valerie. As I had written before, various photocopies of this painting had been tacked on studio walls for years.

Yesterday, I felt sad that I couldn't come back and visit the original painting as often as I wanted because it wasn't part of the Cincinnati Art Museum permanent collection. The original painting has a very strong presence as though something of the soul of the subject resided in the painting. That's a quality I want my paintings to have and because I knew I would likely never see this painting again went back upstairs one more time with Valerie while a friend who travelled with us was perusing the gift shop to say goodbye to dear Mrs. Sheridan. Mrs. Sheridan looked a little sad too.

Is it just my deepening into middle age or are synchronicities on the increase? I've experienced some wonderful synchronicities in the last few years of which today's would both be minor and somewhat profound. Minor because (it's a probably 1960's) reproduction of a 1780's painting but profound because its a vintage reproduction of a painting that I literally stood in front of only 24 hours before. A painting that normally resides at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. A painting that I would gaze at in my copy of The World of Gainsborough and dreamed of seeing for real. What's next? Standing in front of John William Waterhouse's 1888 version of The Lady of Shalott? Sir Frank Dicksee's 1903 La Belle Dame Sans Merci ? I already have lovely prints of those paintings on my wall so if there is to be a synchronicity involving those works, it will have to come about another way....Something wonderful I hope....

One painting finished, another started

I have to admit a lot of the time spent when the weather was warm was spent on working on my 1968 Plymouth Fury VIP. But that didn't mean I had stopped painting altogether. I finished a three quarter length portrait of Charlotte Harwell and have started another painting based on a photograph of Valerie I took recently.

The painting below is a birthday portrait of Charlotte Harwell. I have written elsewhere about her personal significance to me as an artist so I won't repeat all of that here. What is different in this painting is that it was completed in three working days, but if you broke it down into actual hours perhaps less than twenty four from start to finish. While Charlotte has been a decades long inspiration to me, I think that what is happening is that my style is undergoing some changes that are becoming more manifest in the last year or so. It has been commented to me that my style while continuing in the Victorian/English Pre-Raphaelite/romantic influence has begun to pare down somewhat.

Portrait of Charlotte Anne Harwell, 2010, acrylic and coloured pencil on cold press watercolour paper, 22x30 inches. Collection of the artist.
 By paring down, I mean I seem to be getting more to the core of the subject and less on large amounts of detail that slow down the actual act of painting. Last year's portrait of Charlotte also went very quickly though that painting would certainly seem to have more overall detail. In some respects I may still be too close to what I'm doing to properly get across what I think is happening. Whatever it is, I hope it results in better paintings.

Portrait of Charlotte Anne Harwell, detail

Below is a painting I pencilled out about three weeks ago but have only just started putting down the coloured pencil under painting today. Again, reduced to core elements. This doesn't yet look as much like Valerie as I originally intended but while taking pictures of her in a wonderful sort of Goth/Medieval/Pre-Raphaelite batwing sleeve dress with a lace overlay Valerie assumed the pose that led to this painting. I eliminated the other background elements and objects that would have otherwise distracted from the lady and the gramophone.
Untitled, acrylic and coloured pencil, 22x28 inches
Like pretty much everything I do on watercolour paper, I like to combine the coloured pencil and the glazes of paint together keeping the virtues of both. As the painting progresses, I'll post work in progress photos. In between these posts, I may also have additional postings on the Lost and Beautiful Past Facebook page which is accessed from the lower front page of the website. Next to my link to return to my main website there is now a link to the Facebook page. If it seems too quiet here, check there. I sometimes post painting in progress photos there.

Thanks for hanging in there with me!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A painting I wish I had painted

Portrait of Mrs. Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Thomas Gainsborough, 1785

Thanks to trips to the Cincinnati Art Museum in the late 1970's and a book called The World of Thomas Gainsborough, I became a fan of that artist's work done mostly in the 1780's. I adored an enormous portrait of Mrs. Philip Thicknesse (Ann Ford) at the Cincinnati Art Museum, but if there was a particular painting I was hopelessly in love with as an artist, it was Gainsborough's portrait of Mrs. Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Her actual name was Elizabeth Linley and she was an old friend of the artist, a celebrated beauty and the wife of the noted comic playwright.

I had a photocopy of this painting in my studio for years. When colour photocopiers became available, I re-photocopied it and even now she gazes out into the studio. Last Saturday, I took my mother and Valerie to the Cincinnati Art Museum to see an exhibit called Gainsborough and the Modern Woman. I knew the Cincinnati painting would be there but imagine my surprise and joy to turn a corner and find the portrait of Elizabeth Linley (Mrs. Sheridan) in all of her glory. It was less seeing a painting for the first time than it was a surprise encounter with a dear old friend.

At the time we entered the gallery there was a presentation about the exhibit given by the curator and he was rather avidly expressing his joy in the pioneering of modern art he saw in this painting. I don't really see hints of Jackson Pollack in the upper left of the painting. We had to wait about for the lecture crowd to move on in order to get a good look at the portrait. The last time seeing a painting in person made me want to tear up was the first time I saw a gallery full of Pre-Raphaelite paintings in Indianapolis in 1993.

Enough about all that. I very deeply wish I had painted this picture.

As you can see in the rather pale illustration above, Mrs. Sheridan is seated on a large rock at the edge of he woods. What I really enjoy about this painting is that her attire is so much more relaxed, as is her pose. Her hair is loose and flowing and the shapes of the trees seem to echo the flow of her hair. I am rather fond of painting loose flowing hair myself. She is infinitely more human and knowable.

In contrast to the sharp focus Pre-Raphaelite paintings I love so much, everything in this painting is less than distinct except for the most important part: her face. When I paint a face, this is what I aspire towards. She is nothing less than alive inside the illusion of 3 dimensional space placed on a canvas. In my opinion, if this painting were on your wall you would never be truly alone. That is how beautifully painted this portrait is. This is how much of this individual woman's spirit lives in this image. I've read that Gainsborough and Mrs. Sheridan were old friends. There is no doubt in my mind that he truly loved her. The form that love took doesn't really matter, only that he loved her. Everything about this painting is designed to guide the viewer directly to her face. None of the other details are as important as her face. What I find particularly interesting is that in the original portrait, she appears to be looking directly at the viewer. I'm sure the angle at which it is hung has something to do with it. This quality does not quite come off in reproductions from books or Google images. Still, even in the reproductions there is something there...

Close up of Mrs. Richard Brinsley Sheridan by Thomas Gainsborough. click on image to enlarge, then click again to see the full size image.

Maybe it's just me, but it seemed that other museum visitors seemed more drawn to her than to some of the other paintings there. Not that they were not also spectacular and wonderful in their own ways. I still love the Mrs. Phillip Thicknesse painting, but there is something indescribably magical about the Sheridan portrait. It's almost as though she could reach out, take your hand and pull you into the past with her. For me, imagery that powerful is what good art is all about. I try to do this myself over and over, and I have had only one or two paintings that remotely got in the distant neighbourhood of that goal. So I keep trying.

The Gainsborough exhibit started on Saturday the 18th of September and will run through the rest of autumn at least. If you live in any reasonable driving distance of Cincinnati, this is an exhibit worth seeing. For me, it would have been worth it for just the one painting but there is a whole gallery of delight to be found there. Oh, the rest of the museum is pretty special too. Soon, I hope to write a little something about some of my favourite pieces in the Cincinnati Art Wing  especially The Venetian Lace Makers by Robert F. Blum.  The Cincinnati Art Museum is one of my favourite art places in the region. I go there to see how it's really done. My painting instructor at Berea College, a gentleman by the name of Lester Pross was always after me to go down to the art library and look at photos of paintings reproduced in the books of the time to learn from them. Frankly, I'd much rather go look at the actual paintings. I'm sure he would too.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The long inadvertant silence ended

I was a little shocked when I saw how much time had gone by since my last post.  After my last collage was finished, I thought I'd take a little time to revive my late grandfather's 1968 Plymouth Fury VIP and Valerie and I would build an upstairs room in the attic during my vacation from the day job. Reviving the Fury went comparatively fast, home remodelling longer than anticipated. Below is a picture of the Fury and then on to the new collages I recently completed with some notes about the most recent Paris Artwalk.
 click on image to enlarge

Material left over from the last collage, From Her Voice Came The Music of the Centuries inspired two more collages to make a triptych of sorts. The original image is below followed by the two new pieces.
From Her Voice Came The Music of the Centuries, collage, 11x14 inches
 click on image to enlarge

My Longing Came In Music Soaked Memories, collage, 11x14 
Click on image to enlarge

I Know Now Who I Once Was
collage, 11x14 inches
Click on image to enlarge.

While I like viewers of my paintings and collages to come up with their own stories when they look at my work, I have my own stories in my mind as I make them. With the set of collages above, I sort of imagined a kind of Wilkie Collins meets steampunk tale in which a Victorian woman using some sort of tinfoil phonograph recorder reaches deep into the past and revives long dormant memories and longing.

It Was Then I Realised I Was Too Late, collage, 11x14 inches, Click on image to enlarge
In this image, a young man stumbles upon a scene in which one man seems to be channelling energy to another through some device he wears on his head as a woman stands transfixed in contemplation. I have no idea what this is about. Possibly the man wearing the device is a mad scientist and he is controlling both the woman and the other man. Or perhaps, the woman is in collusion with the device wearer. Or something else altogether different.

From Her My Thoughts Could Not Turn Away, collage, 11x14 inches, Click to enlarge image

The final collage in this entry was sold at the Paris Artwalk last Friday. I was just barely able to get this collage photographed as I had literally just finished it that morning and had not expected to sell it at the end of the day. The composition is as much accident as choice. The man's face had been partially cut off in the enlargement process but it also is what inspired the composition altogether. While listening to an cylinder phonograph, a late Victorian gentleman recalls the one love he could not forget.

There will not be a separate post on the Paris Artwalk as I usually do because for some reason I did not take my usual photographs of the set up and the visitors. But, having said that, it was still a most excellent Artwalk even though I was a bit off the beaten path. I'm now showing at the Paris-Bourbon County Public Library where I used to work. The set up was in the courtyard outside and even though it was terribly hot that day, still had a good time. Valerie wafted bubbles down High Street and her daughter made a small sandwich board out of one of my promotional posters and waded through the crowds on Main Street where most of the Artwalk took place. We were one block over with a few other participants. I spun gramophone records and while I did not have as many people as I normally saw, I got more people actually interested in the art resulting in the sale of the collage. Valerie had made some experimental steampunk necklaces that incorporated miniature copies of some of the collages. Of the ten she made, she sold four. 

I find it interesting that when I got a little off the beaten path, I broke my Artwalk sales drought. Everyone at the Paris-Bourbon County library was just great and I thank all of you for hosting a former co-worker. Look forward to being there in April!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

From Her Voice Came The Music of the Centuries

 From Her Voice Came The Music of the Centuries
collage, 11x14 inches
Click on image to enlarge

This is my latest collage from the Penny Dreadful series. In this one, a Victorian lady is singing into a very early cylinder phonograph that is powered by weights/counterweights located under the table while a mummy listens with rapt attention. Though it is hard to tell in the photograph, the sky is painted in iridescent white and some of the white is mixed with the gold in the mummy. When the light hits both the sky and the mummy just right, they glow.

In the detail above, one can easily see the transparent glazes painted over the image. I don't like to obscure the engraver's lines if I can help it. As I look at this, it seems to me that the detail image is a composition in its own right which I may explore in the near future. Regrettably, I've forgotten the make and model of this particular phonograph but it is an actual recording/playback device from the 19th Century.

The mummy was just too good not to use in something. I particularly enjoyed the rather rapt expression on his face. I painted him with a mixture of transparent yellow, renaissance gold and a bit of iridescent white to give him that supernatural quality. He appears to be listening deeply to something and I couldn't resist combining the mummy with the phonograph lady. I'm also endlessly fascinated by thin the veil between the Past and the Present can possibly be.

As I look at both of the detail images, I'm thinking of actually turning this into a triptych and find a way to frame all three images together. I'd love to know your thoughts about this. 

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Threshold of the Soul and other works

The Threshold of the Soul, 2010, acrylic and coloured pencil on D'Arches 140 lb. hot press watercolour paper, 22x28 inches.
Click on any image to enlarge.

For this blog, I have one new painting and two collages. The painting, The Threshold of the Soul, has been a long time coming. I started this painting in the autumn of 2007 not long after setting up my studio in Paris,  KY. It went through a long gestation period after I initially pencilled out the figure. The background went through massive changes from what had been originally drawn in my sketchbook and transferred to the larger watercolour paper sheet. It is also my first painting of a friend of mine who I regard with considerable respect and the utmost esteem. She is a writer and a person who has given much thought to the journey of Life and where she is on that journey. Without her, I don't think I would have done this particular painting quite this way. 

She stands at a portal between light and dark. It is not a literal landscape where I have clearly violated the rules about how light and dark are supposed to interact with each other but instead it is a landscape of the soul. The figure who stands at this portal is deciding whether she wants to spend a life in the light/happiness or a life in the dark/melancholy. She is more present in the light because that is where she wants to be, yet she knows she cannot fully enjoy the light before her without the dark behind her.

And So I Was Summoned From The Etheric Void, 2010, collage, 11x14 inches.

Sometimes the title comes to mind before the actual image does, and in this case, the collage is a rethinking of an earlier idea that failed in terms of composition which as it turned out was a blessing in disguise. I am fascinated by 19th Century fiction especially if it is Gothic with its attendant mysteries and overall spookiness. I also like the images to suggest stories in the viewer's mind that may have both occurred to me and not occurred to me. Is the man whose face floats overhead a ghost or is he someone who has crossed a quantum/inter dimensional void? Who is the man with the floating hat and number pinned to his chest? What are his powers and what does he use them for? What of the lady standing next to him? Does she fear the man being summoned? Or does she fear the summoner? That is for you to decide.....

I Have Loved You For So Very Long, 2010, collage, 11x14 inches

For this collage, I have a great weakness for stories involving the theme of Love Across Time. The clues here are the colours of the men's clothes and the colour of the woman's hair and her dresses. Each romance takes place within the shadow of the Gothic tower in the background as a man strides happily towards his lady love who awaits him at the outer door. In the foreground are all the past times this couple have loved each other.

Coming next: I am working on a collage set near the Sphinx and the Pyramids as an unwrapped mummy listens in utter rapture to a Victorian lady speaking or perhaps singing into a very early phonograph recording her voice onto a wax cylinder. My brother saw this one in progress and liked it very much. I may do a second possibly somewhat larger version for him.