Friday, April 3, 2009

An inauspicious begining

Above you see my very first outdoor painting. It looks pretty rough, as it spent years rolled up
and forgotten on the bottom of a pile of early Stapleton Kearns art in a portfolio. Here's the story that goes with it.

The year was 1975, and I was living in the Fenway studios in Boston. I was studying with R.H. Ives Gammell, and I had spent the winter in the studio, drawing casts and the figure. It was an extremely rigorous program. I had several years of art school behind me, but the Gammell studio was a whole nother thing.We worked really, really hard.

When the spring came it was Ives' habit to move to his summer home up in the Berkshire mountains, near Williamstown, Massachusetts.
Ives had a compound there that had a studio and living space for himself and in a separate but connected wing two studios and living space for two students. I was the number three student, so I didn't get to go.

I was sharing a studio in the Fenway building with another young painter named David. David had grown up in Gloucester and had been influenced by what was then one of the few active art colony's devoted to outdoor painting still in existence. His father was a painter and David had painted outside a lot. He is now a well known artist around New England.

David suggested "lets spend the summer, street painting in Boston!" I had never even seen anybody paint outside. I knew Monet had done it and I had seen pictures of impressionist painters at their easels. But very few people were painting outside in the 1970s. In fact we never used the phrase plein air, although we did know it, WE painted outside

David and I went to the old Hatfields color shop on Boyleston street, now long gone. I bought a French easel. I think it cost over 200 dollars. That was a very expensive easel. They were then a rare and very specialized piece of equipment. "Real artists", art school professors and various serious painters would come up to me in those days to ask me about my easel. Many of them had never seen one. Its hard to believe that today you can buy one at a discount store for less than the price of a decent bayonet.

David and I set up our easels along the Charles river on this gray , dreary, and foggy day, and he gave me a lesson, beginning with establishing the key of my picture. I was so excited. It was a life altering moment for me. I knew immediately that this was the kind of painting I would spend my life doing. The hook was set real deep. I have been out there pretty much ever since. I have painted thousands of landscapes.

I would get up every day that summer and take my easel out onto the streets of Boston, to the Fenway or up on the cobbled streets of Beacon Hill and paint. Robert Douglas Hunter who was then the president of the Guild of Boston Artists and a lifelong mentor to me, would come out to my location once or twice a week and patiently give me a lesson. He charged me nothing. I remember him teaching me one day up on Beacon Hill and looking at the painting I had made, Hunter said that he thought I had a natural ability for landscape painting. I was so proud. I have never forgotten that moment, or all of his time and effort that he generously gave me. I am a professional painter largely because of Robert Douglas Hunter, and I am grateful .

Neither David or I had any money to speak of in those days and we lived on next to nothing. We would try to sell our paintings off the easel to passers by. I always asked for........15 dollars.
I seldom got it. When I did though , it was party time.


willek said...

Nice posting, Mr. Kearns. Seeing this first picture of yours makes me wonder if there was a point in time that you knew you were really good at this. You stated that after this picture you knew you loved doing this kind of thing. But,was it after a certain painting? Did someone have to tell you? willek

Stapleton Kearns said...

For many years I was unable to get a constant perspective,some days I thought I was great. Other days I had no confidence in my ability. By about the mid 80's I began to feel like a journeyman, I had been juried into the National Academys' biennial a couple of times and was selling art from my own gallery in Rockport. So I thought of myself as a pro. I have worked at this relentlessly for over 35 years. I am happy to have the opportunity to work and I look forward to getting up and doing it every day.There have been times when I have had the respect of my peers and I value that highly......Stape

willek said...

Thanks, Stape. That is very helpful. Willek