Saturday, June 20, 2009

Yet more John Carlson paintings.

Here's another Carlson. This one is getting pretty stylized. I did a little research tonight on Carlson in order to have some useful things to say and I ran across some information on him related by one of his students at Woodstock, Carl Peters. Peters became a well known Rockport painter and lived until 1980. At 16 Peters declared he was an artist and reputedly painted every day of his life thereafter.

Carl Peters once was explaining Carlsons palette saying "see that Prussian blue? That's Carlsons color, Carlson said if you make a green with it its green, if you make a purple with it its purple"
In later years Gruppe and a lot of other painters who had used Prussian traded it for Thalo blue. I wonder if Carlson would have, if he had lived into the 50's or 60's?

Carlson moved to Colorado and taught there for several years. Here is a picture I assume is from that period. Like the example above this one is highly stylized. I think both of these pictures are not the equal of those we looked at last night. I feel as if the are TOO designy looking, as the 20's slid into the 30's there was a period of painting sometimes called American scene painting that was often guilty of designing too much of the nature, ( in my opinion), out of their art. In part this was an attempt to reconcile the modernism that was storming American art with their wanting to still paint real things, all filtered through a desire to be as American as possible. A strange brew. A lot of the art done for the WPA was of this sort . So much in fact that it is sometimes called Post office art.

I think a lot of very weak art has been done in recent years by artists who can't decide whether they want to be modern or traditional. Years from now I believe we will look back on this as a transitional time as a resurgent realism reclaims its place beside the "modern " painting that has been the official art of the 20th century. There are some artists who have done this well, but they are very few. My friend Charles Movalli comes to mind.

Question? How much polka can you add to rock and roll before you wreck it? Not much. The two are not complimentary. I grew up in Minnesota, so I don't just hate polka, but it really ruins good rock when added in even the tiniest amount. The opposite is also true, How much rock and roll can you add to a polka before you ruin it? again, not much! Hendrix wisely avoided playing a shodish.

Now there's a particularly fine example of Carlson at his very best. Its not a winter image either. Notice the "envelope", that is the enveloping color note that runs like a drone throughout all of the painting. It is that spring green that is up in the tree trunks and in the branches against the sky, and on the ground. There are grays in the trees and the sky and a few patches of a rust color to relieve and compliment the greens. Carlson studied with Birge Harrison, a tonalist. This painting shows a lot of tonalist influence. When I look at this picture the middle aperture between the trees seems like a Gothic arch to me.. I think maybe this was a deliberate device to give a holy, or cathedral like feeling to the painting. Notice the upside down repetition of the same shape just to the left of the upright arch. All of these trees are tied together with great rhythmic, concave and convex springing arches that operate as a geometric substructure behind the randomness of nature. Carlson has hung nature on his scaffold of abstract design. He has also painted the trees with great delicacy. His values are a whole grade lighter than I would expect them to be. This also gives a quietude or reserved hush to the picture. I think this particular picturee is magical.

Here is another forest interior, but it is a new design and different from anything we have seen so far. I always enjoy seeing an artist try to find every single different way he can handle the same subject. Fredrick Waugh is an example of this. He painted the sea in every conceivable manner. Incidentally, you think I have rolled out a lot of obscure Carlsons? I could do this for a month with Waugh, none of which are from books. Ok, one more, and I am going to bed.

Now that' cool. Look at the way he has used the snow patches to break up the trees so the picture isn't too geometric and liney. Notice how they are all different but they all have a rhythmic relationship to each other. The way he has broken these up reminds me of Abbott Thayers designs for dazzle painting dreadnoughts in WW l


Patrice Erickson said...

I'm thoroughly enjoying these posts about John Carlson's paintings. I will have to buy his book. I recently read Edgar Payne's book on outdoor painting composition, which helps me see how beautifully Carlson composed his landscapes.

Jonathan said...

Hi Stape! I love these posts on John Carlson. I bought the book your recommended on Carlson and its such a great and informative book, I would of loved if the pictures were in color to see them in their full potential but a definite great buy, thanks for the recommendation!

willek said...

Hi, Stape. These are just great and your take on them is especially informative. Don't you think he may have come across those "arches" and decided to "do" them? That they might have been what attracted him to that view as opposed to another?

Two of us comfortably painted cows in a pasture in a downpour yesterday under a portable canopy. Then the sun broke through and the effect was overwhelming. Great day. I have to push that paint around a litle more before it dries and will get it off to you for a crit. WillEK

Knitting Out Loud said...

Yes, the last snow painting is especially wonderful. Where are these paintings? Can one see them? Did you say and I missed it?

Bob Carter said...

I've been a fan of Carlson's since I first read his book about ten years ago, but this set of color images in the last three posts is a revelation. I don't think I would have identified the two stylized pieces in this post as his if I saw them without identification. I much prefer his earlier work. Seeing all these images together makes it clear that he repeatedly drew on some of the same devices. The most obvious is the use of the S line, often in a foreground stream, that leads into the picture and toward a main subject. His influence on Gruppe, his student, is clear in this. Gruppe also liked to use linear leading lines (e.g., a rowboat or dock pointing toward the main point in a harbor scene). One of these Carlsons uses the rowboat device. I love seeing this stuff in landscape paintings, because you know you're looking at the mind of an artist at work, creating a design that leads the viewer instead of recording a scene like a camera. The problem, however, is that sometiimes it can be a little too obvious. I think the first of these teeters on that edge.

kev ferrara said...

Carlson's stuff is so heartfelt and robust, I just love it to pieces. Reminds me of Harvey Dunn and NC Wyeth.

Thanks so much to you and your Carlson benefactor for sharing the good stuff. When the Art History of the 20th century is rewritten (without the politics), Carlson will stand a mile high, I'm sure.


Jo-Ann Sanborn said...

What a treat for the eyes! I've enjoyed Carlson's book for years, and am delighted to see so many of his paintings. Thanks so much for sharing.

Jeffrey Hayes said...

A real treat - thx for showing these. Spot-on about his use of Prussian Blue.

Mary Bullock said...

I love Prussian Blue!

Stapleton Kearns said...

I have a few left that I will post tonight.

Stapleton Kearns said...

You will find you can read that book over and over and still find new insights.

Stapleton Kearns said...

This painting was done in the studied which means that there is far more likelihood of invention. I think that there were branches there, but I believe he invented to make the arches. We will of course never know for sure so....
trust me ,I'm a professional!

Stapleton Kearns said...


I know of nowhere you can go and see a collection of John Carlsons paintings.That's why it is so cool for me to be able to post these. They are wicked obscure.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Bob" design is what makes pictures "work" but it needs to be concealed. Too much and it becomes over designed looking like some of the "post office" art of the WPA era

Stapleton Kearns said...

The benefactor who kindly provided these images (Linda)has done us all a great service. No one I know has seen this many good Carlsons.
When the nonpolitical history of the last century is written, come dig me up.

Stapleton Kearns said...

You are welcome. It has been fun seeing them. I have never seen this many before either.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Prussian may be impermanent. It depends who you ask. I do sometimes use it, and I sometimes use a thalo that has been cut to look like it. I wouldn't want anyone reading this blog to start using Prussian without realizing that it is a pigment that some have derided. I personally have seen many old paintings containing Prussian that seem to be OK. I have some of my own that are 20 years old.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Mary: I do too.Also Moxie, cigars, and waitresses who call me honey.

Todd Bonita said...


I gotta tell you, you did it again, great post, these color Carlsons are awesome to see. Thank you. Funny.. coincidentally, I just started reading his book again about a week ago. you've enlightened me on the notion that he was taking great liberties redesigning what was before him..I'm sure it's elementary to a lot of folks but I really didn't know that. Humbled again by the great Yoda of art, thanks Stape.
p.s. I'm with you on the cigars and waitresses who call me honey but Moxie hits the gag reflex.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Yoda? Have you any idea how tall I am?
You know, no one outside of New England has any idea what Moxie is.

Unknown said...

You can still find Moxie? Where?

"squef" the sound it makes when you step on dog poop in your bare feet because your silly dog got his run wrapped around the bush in the front yard and was waking the neighborhood barking, and you had to go out in the dark to untangle him.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I can buy it at my local Hannafords. Its not hard to find. I AM drinking a nice can of it now.Canned in Bedford, New Hampshire.

Squef = Klaus Fuchs maiden name.


rdahl said...

I just found än odd thing in the Carlson book. On page 52 (in my edition 1958?) is the same picture as the third from this post. Only the tree on the left is been reworked and has become two! (no drinking I swear, at least not this time)

I guess he improved on the design and learning is an ongoing processs.

Shirley said...

Please let me know where (galleries, any city) we can see John Carlson's and Wrendt's paingings. email