Friday, March 27, 2009

Dissecting a Hibbard, a study in variety

Here is a detail from the middle of the Hibbard painting from yesterdays post.. I think this is absolutely fabulous work! Let me tell you why.

First look at the red barn on the left and notice all the yellows and grays thrown into it's sunlit side. I have spoken in recent posts about breaking one color over another. These different colors sit discreetly separate from one another. That is, the red ends and the yellow begins, no blending, here's one, and there's the other.

There are all sorts of little flecks and lines of variant color going on in there as well. This is exciting painting. You have heard me caution against painting like a house painter in flat unbroken areas of paint. Here's what it looks like when a master breaks up his big areas of paint with other colors of the same value (degree of light to dark, and that's the last time I am defining that for you, too ) If you slid your wedding ring across the surface of this painting there would always be several varying notes within it.

Beginners tend to mix their notes together and blend them so they don't sit separately . If you want good brushwork mix the color on your palette, put it in place, and then lift the brush away. Don't keep messing with it. The old guys used to use the word licking, like a cats tongue, lapping at the painting.

Put the note down and leave it alone. If you don't like it, repaint it, or throw more paint down on to it. You can't worry the paint into a picture once its on the canvas.

Sometimes I pretend I am laying tile. I make the tile on the palette and place it on the canvas. Then I go back to my palette and make another.

Look at the roof of the yellow house over on the right. Hibbard has thrown reds and greens on top of each other, they are same value but opposite colors. Your eye sees them as vibration. It looks like there is more going on than the eye can apprehend, which is what goes on outside.

Into both the red sunlit area of the left hand barn and the roof of the yellow house Hibbard has thrown accents.He is throwing both light and dark accents that are both higher and lower in value, into these passages. In the red he has those dark wedges and also some bright little bits of snow . Now Hibbard painted this, or at least a lot of it, standing before this location, but those accents and little snow spots and variations were designed. I am sure there were some there but Hibbard has organized them and made them interesting. They are all of different shapes and sizes and the thrusts of the lines and forms are different from each other. Hibbard has used enormous variation to make this thing look........well, cool.

Notice all the different sort of marks Hibbard is making. There is a whole vocabulary of them. He was a master of brushwork. Look at the bare trees over on the right side of our detail The trunks of the trees are thin, freely drawn lines from a small flat turned edgewise. Up at the top where the branches splay into twigs, Hibbard has dragged the brush across the surface leaving a different kind of a mark. Then he throws the colors of the snow from behind the trees, into those dragged twig marks to cut holes and break the masses up so they don't look like big fan blenders. All around this passage there are little jots, dashes and pointille ( my spellchecker suggests painkiller here ) that our eye reads as detail and moves on, satisfied. Look at the variety of the shapes he has made in all of that stuff , half covered in snow. The farm wagon and the sleigh in the middle of our detail are made of both large and small shapes of different size ,all of which are canted at a different angles . No two shapes are the same. If there is such a thing as total variety of shape, here it is.

It is a jazz age sensibility, a syncopated, active sort of way of presenting things. Could I call it boogie woogie?. These are not observed from nature but suggested by nature, Look at the lines describing the snow below the blue green barn and the yellow house. There's all sort of humps and arcs, overlapping each other, and every single one is different. Look at the base of that blue green barn at those shapes that define the edge of the snow there. Hibbard is mixing curved arched lines in with straight sections to get this active variety of line going on. Its like a figure draftsman mixing straight lines into the boundary of a figure to get some strength there, rather than an overly round , inflated look. If you draw a figure with only curved lines it looks like its made of sausages. Hibbard was trained in classical drawing and remembered his lessons when in front of the landscape

When I see 19th century paintings like the Hudson river school, I get all excited about those. I have done some painting that follows those ideas. However that is a studio thing. At least for me. When I am outside these are the ideas that I bring to my work. Not that I paint like Hibbard, but
I have him as an an influence that keeps my paintings from looking like 19th century stuff.

I know I have referred to Hibbard as a Boston school painter and as he studied with Tarbell I suppose that is so. Still this is a very different approach to painting than the cool and elegant interiors we associate with the Boston painters of the generation before.

I feel like Hibbard is so imortant because he is what modern art could have been. Is it any less modern than the avant garde of his period. You wouldn't say it looked like 19th century painting would you?

Someone recently referred to me as expressing Boston school ideas in this blog, and I guess you could say that. But I don't do the measured nearly academic painting of my teacher Ives Gammell or his teacher William Paxton.I have another influence and that came from the Rockport painters . I lived and worked in Rockport on and off for over ten years. I worked really hard to absorb the ideas that made the Rockport school have its own look. I think I am a sort of a hybrid of both the Boston and Rockport traditions.

The only place you can get one of the very limited supply of Hibbard books is through the Rockport Art Association. Call them, if you want one and they will ship it to you. 978.546.6604
More Hibbard tomorrow.


armandcabrera said...

Mr. Kearns

Another great post. Your analysis of Hibbard is right on the money. He is one of the best painters of winter ever. When you talk about him painting with broken brushwork, do you think he laid his colors on like that directly over the drawing or did he start with a general tone that he broke up by adding interest on top of it?



Stapleton Kearns said...

I am flattered that I am getting all of these serious painters reading my blog.
I have had this discussion repeatedly with several of my painting buddies and we have theorized extensively on his methods. Here's MY opinion, and it is only that. I see no evidence of a toned ground. I believe he did a dark line drawing in paint. Sometimes it looks like black, but other times it looks like cobalt violet. I have had good luck drawing in with cobalt violet, as the lines generally represent the darks or at least their boundaries,and that's a good color to have at the bottom of a shadow's construction.
What follows next varied at least by the period in his career or sometimes by his intentions. Here's what I mean. In his earlier career I see a lot of Metcalf influence and he seems to throw ricelike brushstrokes onto the white canvas. Later in his career he generally painted in a broader manner and I believe he laid down the big poster shapes over that dark "outline" drawing, like John Carlson described. I don't see any evidence for a grisaille beneath his work............Stape

Richard J. Luschek II said...

Nice post. I have been thinking a lot about my paint quality and a tendency I have been developing to "lick" the paint toward what I want. I should write that quote on my white board in my studio.

As you mentioned John Carlson, what was his association with Rockport if any? I saw a Carlson on sale at a local gallery and it was quite lovely. If I remember correctly from his book, he was more from the New York bunch of painters.
What kind of narrow minded jerk would simply refer to you as merely "expressing Boston school ideas in this blog"?

JAMES A. COOK said...

I have hibbards book , studied it last night. Today I studied for hours the "frosty morning" painting trying to anticipate what you would say about this painting (before I read your post) compared to what knowledge I have. I then scanned the color picture from my book into my computer to a gray scale so that I could study the value structure of this painting. Fantastic, how much more I am able to appreciate the painting in color after studying it's value scale. I had picked up on the variety as well as all the warms and cools he uses back to back. The snow looking vibrating feels to me that he paints his cools lightly over warm and high lighted warms painted over his cools laying the color down as you said without mixing. Giving it that translucent effect or that special effect he as with snow. Do I have this right. I have more questions tomorrow. I can talk all night about this guy. EVERYTHING in this painting has a purpose with reason,the way he designed it the way he painted it.

Stapleton Kearns said...


John Carlsons, association with Rockport is his having sharing teaching duties with Emile Gruppe for a summer or two on Rocky Neck in Gloucester. Rockport and Gloucester are both on the island cut off at the tip of Cape Ann north of Boston.He is most associated with the art colony at Woodstock New York.I will do an entry soon on why it is ironic that I should be writing as the "voice" of the Boston school. I was very low on the Gammell school pecking order.I don't know that I am at all typical.I have some really, great stories to tell though, and I have hung out long enough that I am the one to tell them.
I never use the word school in my propaganda. People hear school and they think you might be a student, and they don't want art by anyone who was ever a student. I would prefer you all to imagine I sprang like Athena, fully armored from the temple of Zeuss.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Hibbard seemed to paint in an order. That is this color went down in a field and then that color went down onto that and then the highlights and accents. Typical of Rockport painting. I will post on some of that technology. The more I write the more posts pile up in my to do list,which is good. Thank you for the questions guys. It really does help inspire further entries. Almost every question asked on this blog becomes an entry or will eventually when it falls into the grand scheme here..........Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Richard :
Oh yeah, I forgot. John Carlson joined Hibbard and the rest of the gang in painting together in Jefforsonville Vermont in the 20's through the 30's and they all stayed together at the inn there. I would have loved to hung out in the evenings for the discussions over dinner. I have eaten dinner in that inn many times but they were of course long gone. I have met and discussed this very briefly with the only living member of that painting group Loring Coleman. The group included; Chucncy Rider, Emile Gruppe, Tom Curtin, Aldro Hibbard John Carlson and Alden Bryant who I met, but has since passed away.I love finding these historic places and connections. I wish I had more time to research them but I all I seem to do is paint.The few remaining guys who know these stories are almost all gone now. Someday I will write a book. Hows about; "Down Country Roads with Stapleton Kearns"?