Monday, December 8, 2008
This painting of an old sawmill and sugar shack back in the woods was started in northern Vermont last winter. There are times when you realize that any additional work will take away rather than add to a picture, and you'd best quit while you are ahead. But other times, I think a painting needs to be more...resolved. Often artists will use the phrase "I don't want to overwork it," and there's something to that. However, as long as I continue to make good decisions, I find I can safely push a painting to greater finish. I worked on this one quite a lot in the studio. I had a reason for taking this approach.
Sometimes when I make a painting in one session it will have vitality but lack other valuable qualities. It may contain little descriptive drawing, rather like a novel or movie where the characters are not fleshed out to gain our interest. We don't care about them because we don't know who they are. Dickens, for example, was a master of this; the Teletubbies, not so much. A picture with this fault may grab our attention but contains little "meat" to keep us interested and reward our further inspection. After a quick glance, we are off to something else more interesting.
I should also point out that some pictures can't be worked out in the short hours spent on location. Because I was attracted to the scene by the stacked logs awaiting the sawmill and the low-tech, common-sense architecture, I wanted to take this picture to a higher level of completion.
The ability to do this sets me apart from many other landscape painters and is often my edge in galleries and shows. I learned to do this through the academic training I received back in the 1970s under Ives Gammell. The extra care and work in a picture may store value there, just as it might in a lovingly crafted piece of furniture or a finely built luxury automobile. Since a painting won't fuel your car, rip down a 2x4, or feed your cat, it has no reason to exist, other than it be well-made.
It is because of this, that we often point to a great craftsman such as a carpenter or mason and exclaim, "He's an artist!" We associate art with things well-made. Often, well-made is the result of extra care and longer effort. As a culture, we are so aware of the intellectual part of painting, it's easy for us to overlook the other half of its makeup, as a physical object that must be crafted into existence and not just thought up. Concealing this effort is called making it look easy. Sometimes I am able to do that.