Monday, August 31, 2009

Smuggling red

Here's an update on the kittens, as you can see, they are growing rapidly. Isabelle is the black and white one and Toast is the other. OK, on with the show! Here is that painting again and below it is the next detail.

Here is the middle of the painting. I would like to point out a couple of things here. One is that I have deliberately painted different passages separate colors. I could have decided to take a tonalist approach and make them, all similar or closely related, I often do. Each of those brushstrokes is a different color than the ones around it. Look at the small green tree in the center of the detail. Above it is another tree that is ochre colored, above that the hill is a grayed olive color, in several variations and then the top of the hill is covered in pines that are an ultramarine color.

Look to the right of that middle tree. See the streak of light running in front of the big white pine down to the water? It is hot.

I am doing something here I call "smuggling red".

One of the things I do to landscapes to make "em" cooler, is smuggle red. Let me explain that to you. Blue and yellow are easy to see in the landscape, the sky is blue, the foliage is green ( blue and yellow ) surfaces in the light , dry grass and other things in the landscape are yellow. But red is more hidden. It tends to be woven into everything else. Often as a modifier. You don't see it out on its own as much as the other two, but its there just the same , woven into everything else.

Good color in landscape painting often calls for recognizing the role various reds have in the color notes of the painting. There's a story about a venerable New England painter who taught a lot of workshops. At the end of a long day he would run up and down the line of students, outside at their easels when he was tired and he would just say to each of them "more red, more red!" It sounds silly but it was more than a joke, because it WAS good advice. Almost every learning painter fails to get enough red into a painting. I try to weave a lot of it in as it steps on all of those greens that are so annoyingly It also takes the electric look out of a sky and keeps shadow notes from being too icy. Red is a wonder product!

So I smuggle reds. I am sneaking it into things, feeding it into other colors. I make a hot pink color myself and tube it up. It is the exact opposite of the color of green leaves and grass in the sunlight. I like to step on my greens with it, but it also goes nicely into skies and other places too. Some of the old landscape painters used to carry a color then called flesh, now called Caucasian flesh, I believe, for a similar purpose. My hot pink color is nothing like the old flesh color but the principle is the same.

Look along the water line at all of the reds and sienna I have stuck in there. They enliven the passages and form a nice foil for all that green.

You can see there is a warmer , slightly redder note in those passages, but I have played it up. I think there was more red there than the camera caught in this shot but you get the idea.

Let me point out to you another example in that passage. Look at the top of that big white pine.
Notice all of the red in that? You can paint the lights in pines with a lot of red and as long as you have some green in the shadow note, they look good. Nice and warm out there in the light and its another part of the canvas that isn't covered in green. I am always looking for ways to vary the greens, and to reduce the area it covers in a summer picture like this where I have LOTS of green anyways.

I was asked in the comments;

Do you consciously paint a space for your signature, or do you just sign it somewhere after the painting is finished?

I always sign a painting at the lower left, as that is the traditional place to do it, and I want it found. Sometimes ,very rarely there is a design reason to put it in the lower right. I don't usually use any design strategy to make my signature fit, but I do try to paint that corner with very little impasto (texture). I always let a painting dry before I sign it. Signing over a rough surface is a nuisance. I often have to wipe it off a couple of times before I get a good signature, I couldn't do that on a wet canvas I sign with a rigger. I make a point of getting the signature on straight. The lip of the frame is going to be right there, and will show up a crooked signature. If you want to sign on an angle, make sure it is enough of an angle so that it looks deliberate.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

More of the same demo

I am going to continue a little with some details and explanations on the piece I discussed last night. The photos tonight are taken in the studio under my halogen lighting and the picture looks much warmer, It is probably more accurate but all photography seems off to me. I have tuned them in photoshop but I am never really happy with the results.

As I explained, I did an underpainting in raw umber. I wanted the real traditional look of a brown ground hanging out under my thinnest passages. I am not a big fan of burnt umber and seldom use it. I sometimes underpaint with burnt sienna, and occasionally ultramarine. Drawing is mostly delineating the darks, all of those are colors I would be happy to have operating on the bottom of my darks. That is, I won't have a problem if they mix into the color of my shadows. Raw umber is also transparent, warm, and dries quickly. I have seen people get into big problems underpainting in bright reds and cadmium yellows etc. that act as a pollutant in their shadows.

Here is a detail of the upper left hand corner of the painting. If you click on it you should get lots of detail and the ability to inspect my brushwork. The birchs were actually dead, I put some foliage on them, this was done with a #12 brush for the most part with little details going in with a #4 and a rigger. It is and arrangement of different sorts of marks. There are plenty of thin accent lines along the trunks and branches they make the passage pop. Without there contrast the area would look dead. I also made sure the sky was low enough in value that the white trunks would show against it. It was not that way in nature. This is an example of something I have said before.

although you worked hard to learn to state your values accurately, there are times, particularly in landscape painting when you will want to state them artistically. They are subject to the decision making process and are a tool of design like any other.

I made a point of placing at least four values in that passage. I arranged them deliberately, they are:
  • the sky
  • the foliage
  • the bark shadows on the branches
  • the bright note of the white branches
Each of these notes is necessary to tell the story of what is going on there, and each value needs to be a step apart from the rest. The most common fault I see in the work of beginning, and intermediate painters is a lack of enough values. They might for instance see that one thing is darker than another and hit it with a heavy dark,. rather than having a choice of several different darker values in their inventory.It reminds me a little of something I heard about primitive premathatical cultures who would count, one, two, three. many.

I have deliberately used a light and fluttering brushstroke to describe the foliage and I have thrown little accent marks in there to suggest individual leaves. I have also thrown some little shadow notes onto the trunks of those trees, little dark accents, and leaves that cross in front of them all break up the overly linear look. That keeps things from getting too perfect. I want those trees to twist in and out of the flickering light and appear and disappear as they rise towards the sky. This kind of situation calls for a fair amount of finesse or it looks wooden and inartistic.

Here's a detail of the foreground left, again if you click on this you will get a larger view. There isn't a leaf or blade of grass in there. All is suggested with brushstroke that generalizes their appearance. The last thing I would want to do would be to fill a corner like this with carefully rendered detail. From a distance I want the passage to read as grass and goldenrod and all, but up close I want it to be beautiful paint. I always like the magic aspect of impressionism . It is sometimes paint and sometimes nature. It is a sort of dance along the line between the two.

I also paint with surface. The paint is thicker and thinner, hopefully in an artistic way. When done well the paint has a luscious quality. One of the thing I like about handling, which is made up of brushwork and surface, is that there are so many things out there that try to look like paintings. The way we know a real painting these days is in part by handling. In today's world handling is more important than ever, There are blown up photos, projected and then naively copied onto the canvas by souless meatpuppets, there are giclees and there are prints on canvas and who knows what else!

Notice in that detail also, my signature. I think a signature is more important today also. It is a sort of branding, a certificate of authenticity in a way that was unnecessary before the rise of the many paintinglike products. I could never understand why an artist would have an illegible signature. Whats the point of a meaningless glyph? If you made it, claim it, certify the damn thing!

Beneath that signature is a date, see it? I spread it out below the whole signature because I think that looks cool, but that year is there. Many years ago my work was far more old timey looking than now, and I even used to sell it through antique galleries as almost all of the galleries then would only show modern art (how things have changed!) My father suggested that I should put dates on all of them lest anybody think they were old. But I didn't know the best reason for doing it until a few years ago. Then old pieces I had made in the late seventies and early eighties started appearing in the auctions. The catalog would always note "dated 1981" or something like that. I want people to see a work trading at auction is not my current work for a number of reasons.
  • I paint a whole lot better now,
  • I don't want people to think I am feeding my art into auctions myself in order to get whatever I cab for them.
  • I want people to see that the lower prices that art by a living artist almost inevitably brings are for things I did many years ago, and not for my current mature work.
  • I like to have people see those sorts of dates and think, "gee he's been around for a while!" That is reassuring to people that I am an established painter who didn't just start out last week. I wish to be recognized for my endurance.
Here I am, painting at Profile Lake in the White Mountains. Both Bierstadt and Jervis McEntee and a whole lot of other 19th century painters worked right where I am standing. Its my blog, I can put my picture in it if I want to.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

A demo and some philosophy

Above is a location that I painted last week. It is near the village of Sugar Hill in the whiote Mountains of New Hampshire. I painted here because Banks gallery of New London is doing a show in Sugar hill at one of those big old wooden resort hotels from the 19th century and wanted some local images.

The first thing I did was to throw a little tone on the white panel to back off the white a little bit. Then I began drawing with my brush.

I knew that the problem facing me was that the landscape was so broad and I wanted as much of it as I could get. Placement of the various elements on the canvas was going to be tricky and I wanted to be sure to get that right before going on. I knew I was going to have to simplify and decrease the breadth of almost every passage because my canvas was 18 x 24. If I was working 18 x 54 I would not have had to do that, but then I would have needed to lay down to paint it.

Here I am putting down the mass drawing in raw umber and a little thinner. I don't want to use any white as that will end my ability to shove it around with a rag on the canvas. It was pretty warm and the paint was very thin and my panel somewhat absorbent, so it was flash drying, which I like.

I am starting to add some color now with a number 12 (thats big) nylon brush. I have been fooling around with some nylon brushes lately. They are softer than the bristle and give a different sort of a mark. I think I like them for lay ins as I can draw with their edges and they lay very thin paint nicely too. I am moving fairly quickly here. I have a pretty complete monochrome drawing so it is easier to work it up in color now.

I am dtill doing all of this with that one big #12 brush. Well almost all anyway, I used a #4 bristle here and there, such as in the drawing of those birch trees and to lay the color on them in the next stage below.

Here is what I brought home, after an hour or so refining it in the studio. I made a few improvements, for instance the birches along that pathway on the left were dead, so I resurrected them by putting some wispy leaves art there top. I was thinking about Corot as I did that. I emphasized the golden rod because I love that stuff. It has a great color and takes the painting into late summer as that is when it blooms. I was still unhappy with the water and the negative shape at 6 o clock formed to the left of that little bush. It seemed too regular and geometric.

Here is the painting after I have reworked the water to get a different and I hope more refined reflection and ripple pattern. I also reworked that little foreground bush. Since the deadline for the show isn't till next week, I will stick the painting onto the shelf that runs along one side of my studio and look at it for a few days to see if anything about it bugs me. If not, its done and off to the show it goes!

Deb asked me this is the comments.

How do you balance the need to sell a few paintings here and there and thus to "produce", with the burning conviction that nothing you "produce" is really worthwhile, and the time would be better spent studying and practicing? Its almost like my artistic life is divided into the financial constraints of needing to have stuff "out there" to sell on one hand, and the need for personal growth and spiritual connection with the art on the other.
Is it better to disappear from the gallery scene for awhile and retreat to learn and grow? And then, what do we do for groceries?

Well first of all, Ya gotta eat! I have had the good fortune of being able to paint what I wanted and for the most part people wanted to buy it. Of course I always wanted to be a landscape painter. If I had wanted to float sharks in formalin, I would have starved. Who'd want that?
There have been periods in my life where I got to go to figure drawing groups routinely and that is what I recommend you do. Find or start a figure group at the local art center and draw figures one or two nights a week. There is no better training.

If you can leave the gallery scene and just study and not have to eat snowballs all winter it might be good to do some workshops or find a good atelier nearby (for you its Ingebretson studios) and do some additional study. I have had a few times in my life when I took some time out for that. I took several months off and studied anatomy at the Art Students League one winter.

But, for me the need to make a living has been a force for the good in my art. All of my heroes painted for a living. Virtually all of my life I have been doing one landscape after another, always trying to make them better. Tying my survival to that result has made me a very motivated worker. I don't buy that idea of the artist being ruined by the need to make money at their art. That is a romantic notion best left behind when leaving art school. You don't have a problem with the Rolling Stones making a living do you? How about Frank Loyd Wright, Kathryn Hepburn or Mark Twain?

I have known very few painters who became REALLY good who were wealthy. Fredrick Leighton and a few others come to mind, but more often the wealthy become dabblers and self indulgent purveyors of obscure claptrap that no one finds enjoyable or interesting. Almost all of them are spared the nasty and unpleasant feedback the real world offers to an artist. That feedback is useful and corrective though unpleasant.

Many of the artists I have known worked their entire careers until retirement in the graphic arts, when they retired, sometimes as early as 55, they were never the equal of their brothers who had done it every day since high school. They just never caught up on that 30 year head start their competition had. I am not saying that retiring to paint is wrong or will be unfruitful or unfulfilling, but you don't think you could retire at that age and learn to be a concert violinist or a thoracic surgeon do you? Painting is just as hard as those things. People take it way to lightly. When I am working and some well meaning passer by says, ""that looks so relaxing", I want to tear their arms and legs off.

I guess I have done it again, I try to be so nice, and then I end up exposing the harsh truths that are perhaps usually unspoken as they are.......harsh. Tomorrow I will do a post about two cuddly, heartwarming cartoon bunnys with big happy smiles and little calico aprons. Maybe I can find a picture of some nice wax fruit.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Guild show, a painting, and a demo.

Here is a painting I did early this summer on the Penobscot Bay near Belfast, Maine. This is the mouth of the Little River where it empties into the Bay. The painting is 24 x 36.

I made this painting standing in front of the scene as is my usual practice, but of course I fine tuned it in my studio .This painting is more like a Hudson River school painting, that is it is more detailed and less impressionist than many of my paintings.The background goes nicely into fog, and you can see the atmosphere over the bay as it stretches out to the distant shores.A beached sailboat waits the tide in the middle ground.
I am almost always happiest out painting somewhere beautiful when the light is good. We had a lot of rainy days earlier this summer and when there were these few sunny days it was great to be on the shore working in the warm sun. That helped me get in touch with my inner lizard.

Here is the facade of the Guild with its windows on the court facing Newbury street.
This painting will be my submission to the 95th anniversary show at the Guild of Boston Artists at 162 Newbury Street in Boston.

Above is a video of one of my several mentors, Robert Douglas Hunter, doing a demo recently at the Guild. The snowscape behind him is incidentally one of mine. The show in the room where he is working was called Robert Douglas Hunter and his students.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

My first year in Rockport

.Abovee is a painting I did of Rockport a couple of years after the year I am writing about, but it seemed to fit. This painting was done from a historic photo, but a lot about Rockport hasn't changed much.

I worked out an arrangement with the art association that allowed me to work a few hours every morning and then at noon I would go and work in the shop. Rockport is a tourist town, but It also has been an art colony. It was traditional for the artists to own their own galleries and show only there own art. Rockport in those days had many small art galleries.This set up an unusual situation for the individual artist. In the rest of the world, a for a client to come into a gallery and find the artist themselves standing there, was disconcerting, it seemed odd and maybe unprofessional. But in Rockport, when they came in ,they were expecting that.

The two "glassblowers and I set about making the shop space fit our needs and getting our inventory together for a couple of weeks, and then we opened the shop for the Christmas shopping season. We had tiny twinkling Christmas lights which made all of the little glass animals sparkle. I painted nothing but 8 x 10s, one a day. The shop was tiny, and I had only half of it, so it was like doing a show in a piano crate, but it worked. Rockport at Christmas was magic. Most of the town was built in the federal style and was arrayed on ledges and hills around a protected harbor facing the ocean. Some of the buildings in the town, including the one across the street from our shop went back to the revolution.

When the big torch was running the shop was steamy hot, although it was cold outside. Our windows were always frosted and flocked with ornate crystals of ice. People swarmed in to see the glass rods stretched and twisted into little flower pots and lacy pianos and silly elongated dachshunds. It was all very lovely and in the evenings we were often open late . I sold some little paintings, and was beginning to know a few people about Bearskin Neck, the narrow spit of rock, sticking out into the ocean, upon which our shop was located.

We were really low tech. For instance, we did take MasterCard- Visa but that was in the days before the card readers. We had one of those sliding imprinters, that made a frottage of the customers card, but we had to call the card company every time and get an authorization code to write on the slip. We had a payphone in the shop, a legacy from a previous owner, and we would feed it a coin and call in the card numbers.

In the town square, about a hundred yards from our shop was an enormous illuminated Christmas tree, and the town decorated all of the light posts about town with little trees and wreaths covered in tiny lights.

Working at the art association introduced me to a lot of its members. There were still a lot of the oldest generation about then, and I knew many professional artists who are gone now. Many of them had studied painting in New York before the second world war and could reminisce about Raphael Soyer or George Bridgeman. They remembered Aldro Hibbard and Max Kuehne, they remembered when the town was mostly artists, shopkeepers and fisherman. Today it is a suburb of Boston. There were also a number of old retired illustrators and widows and children of well known artists . That whole world is gone now. Only one or two of those artists are still alive. If you had asked me who the Rockport artists were then, I could have read off a list of about fifty. Of that list, perhaps five are still alive today. Looking back, it was a pretty egalitarian place, and I had some good friends among those elderly members of the Rockport Art Association. Considering I had shoulder length hair and fixed my shoes with duct tape and wore my only sweater every day, they were relatively accepting as soon as they understood I wasn't dangerous.

One of my jobs was to carry jugs of water down to the sketch room in the basement of the farthest gallery. where in those days there was no running water. That brought me into contact with Martha Nickerson, whose bailiwick the sketchrooms were. At first she was upset that I might be taking over her job, but soon we got on well, and she pretended I was a grandson. That got me into the sketch groups so I could draw from the figure about eight to ten hours a week.

Though I still was very poor, I look back on this as a wonderful time in my life. It seems to always appear to me under glowing Christmas lights and populated with smiling faces of the artists all now passed away. The colonial architecture that formed the sets along the quiet streets in the blackness of a Massachusetts winter evening gave that time the feeling of a movie about the turn of the last century. Many movies have been shot in Rockport because it is so beautiful.

I was painting so hard and taking in all of the ideas that had defined Rockport painting for nearlt a century. I learned new things about color and I realizerd I knew next to nothing about design. It was exciting using all of those little paintings I made to learn about the Rockport style of painting. I was selling my paintings for eighty five to one hundred and twenty five dollars a piece.

One of the artists, not a famous one, but a kind one, Joe Rimini, came into my little gallery and sitting at my easel, gave me a lecture on color. He threw ideas at me like painting passages exactly the opposite of their intended color and throwing the real color down into that, he taught me about using formulas based on color wheels and weird broken color systems . Rockport painting has often had a lot of color.There were good old paintings in the town buildings and in the art association for me to study.

I didn't have money to frame all of my art so I hit upon the idea of painting on the round, flat stones from the waters edge behind my shop, where the tide lapped at the back of the building. I painted all of these rocks with dumb subjects like lighthouses and lobsterboats, surf scenes and pictures of motif number one, the old fish shack in Rockport Harbor, that is the symbol of the town. As silly as the subjects were, the color theory applied to those rocks was wild. I ran endless variations on color schemes and formulas. I tried out odd groupings of pigments and restricted palettes. I did a lot of those rocks.When I say painted rocks, it probably conjures up an image of something a whole lot less cool than these. I built a glass shelf in a gilded nook to display them. They looked very grand indeed in that presentation. I sprayed them with Krylon so they had a gloss like a wet pool ball. I sold dozens of them for ten, twelve, fifteen dollars, It paid for my groceries.

I knew an antique dealer up the street who had a a shop in a great location he called the Musee. He saw my painted rocks and asked if he could have a few for his shop on consignment. They often looked antique, like something Victorian. I had forgotten he had them when one weekend the phone rang and it was Jack, from the Musee, who said. "I have someone here who wants to buy this rock, what should I charge them?" I told him "Jack, just about anything you get for a rock you're ahead!"

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Off to Rockport

Now I had a plan, going to Rockport, and a little money with which to do it. The Pinto wagon was in the vacant lot next door with an empty gas tank. I scrounged around my friends apartment and found a red can marked gasoline. I went down to the Pinto opened the tank and poured in the gas. When I started her up, she would run, but not get enough compression to move. My friend, whose can it was, showed up at about this time and explained to me that it wasn't gas in the can, but kerosene for a space heater he had once owned. I sat in that Pinto smaoking unfiltered cigarettes and muttering, while I gunned the engine until it burned all the kerosene. Then I walked up to the gas station and got the can filled with gasoline. I put that in the Pinto, then drove back to the gas station and filled the tank.

I thanked my musician friend for allowing me to stay in his apartment and I split the lottery winnings with him, so he could pay his rent.Then I jumped in the Pinto wagon and drove the 40 miles north to Rockport, which I had never seen before. It was late fall now and the tourist season was over, as I drove down into the little town of Rockport there was an inn with a sign out that said winter rentals. I went into this inn, the Lantana house, and the inn keeper who had just purchased it was willing to rent me a room by the week. I remember her asking a fee that was equal to all that I had. I told her I would give her ten dollars less, that I needed the rest for food. There was a convenience store across the street and I bought a can of ravioli, a loaf of bread and a pack of Pall Mall straights, but no lottery ticket. I didn't want to push my luck on that one.

My new landlord mentioned in passing that the Rockport Art Association, around the corner, was looking for a part time janitor. The next morning I went there, and up the almost 200 year old steps to the directors office. The week before, the new president John Manship, son of the renowned sculptor Paul Manship had fired the entire staff.

The director was just moving into her new office. I asked for the job, but I must have looked pretty rough, I had been on the road for a month and only had the clothes on my back. She said something like, we will call you if..... I went back downstairs and there was Reynolds Beale, the grandson of the American impressionist Reynolds Beale, and he was working there already. I noticed that there was something on the front walk flagstones. I think it must have been snow, but it might have been dry leaves, its been a long time. Ren Beale handed me a broom with a conspiratorial grin and I went to work, unhired. About an hour later the new director realized that I was working there, and that she might as well add me to the payroll.

The little money I had was spent and the food I had bought at the convenience store was gone. For the rest of that week I had nothing to eat. I think I went about five days without food. I knew no one there to ask for help and besides it was actually pretty easy, after a day or two the hunger went away.I was afraid I would hurt myself, but I think we are made to be able to take a lot of abuse, our hunter gatherer ancestors must have done this routinely. At the end of that week I approached the director and asked if she would advance me the money I had earned for the first weeks work, and I went to the grocery store.

That week I had a chance meeting with a fellow who, strangely, had also just arrived in town from Minnesota. Her had an old girlfriend who had a tiny shop in town selling little animals and trinkets that they made out of glass, over a welders torch. They called it lampworking, but most people thought of them as glass blowers. He saw my painting, I had only one with me at that point, although I did have my paint box, an aluminum stan-rite easel and a few colors, and he invited me to join the business, He said I could pay my share of the rent when summer came and we started to make some money. I now had a part time job and a share in a little shop in Rockport. It was along hard winter,but I was starting to get somewhere now. This was the late fall of 1983, I was to have along history with Rockport that began then.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A few misplaced years

I thought tonight I would throw in another chapter in the ongoing biography I have been writing.
In 1976 I decided I would return to my home state of Minnesota. I had met a beautiful young woman who lived there and I felt like I had received my training in painting and could return and begin a career there.
I moved to the South Minneapolis area and rented a cheap apartment with a friend. After a year or so I moved to an apartment in an old residence hotel from the 1920's called the Oak Grove Hotel. It was a great apartment, high up and overlooking the whole city, with French windows and a bedroom that made a good studio. I lived on very little, working part time in a nursing home and selling the occasional picture. This was the disco era and for me, like a lot of my generation it was party time. I did a lot of stupid things and went nowhere as an artist.

I remember being rejected by a gallery that told me I knew how to draw, but I couldn't paint, I looked at the art in the gallery and I remember being so perplexed as I thought it was all pretty weak and I couldn't understand why I couldn't get shown. In retrospect my paintings must have seemed pretty dark and formidably academic to the dealers then.

This was in the height of the duck art fad, I remember how depressing it was to see all of these pictures of ducks that were totally artless. The artists who were doing them looked at each others art and were oblivious to the history of art entirely. No one had any idea what I was up to, and no one valued what I did. I painted all the time and the years of work at my easel must have made me a more mature artist but I think I mostly spun my wheels. I show nothing from this era in my portfolio and there is a good reason for that. Still those years of pushing paint around did help to get my brushwork practiced I guess. Still they were my lost years.
Because I lived in the city, I had a hard time finding subject matter, I worked some from photos, I painted urban scenes and mostly I just made up the paintings, working in imitation of the Dutch painters of the 17th century that I so admired. Nothing could have been less commercial or less interesting to the Minneapolis art world.

Toward the end of this period in my life, I met a woman, Mary Rose who had a farm house out in the country along the St. Croix river, a beautiful area about an hour from Minneapolis. Her husband would give me a ride out there, I had no car, and they would let me stay in a spare room and paint on their land. She painted mostly wildlife, but we exchanged a lot of ideas and it was good to have another painter to talk shop with. She had a lot of talent and a good work ethic. We got along well and I enjoyed my time painting on her farm immensely. I began to return to doing more plein air work and I started making some better, and cheerier art. I got into a small gallery that sold a few paintings. That was a first for me. Although I had sold paintings myself, and done outdoor shows, it was really the first time I had been in a gallery that hung and even sold the occasional painting.

I let my apartment go and moved that summer into an out building called a granary, on the farm. It was an uninsulated board structure like a barn, upstairs in its loft area I put my furniture and I ran a cable out there from the house so I would have electricity. There were about a zillion pigeons living out there too. When I was moving in and Mary Rose was helping me, she started to sweep the place out, but I remember telling her, why bother? Unless you figure out a way to evict all of those pigeons, what difference will it make? As the summer passed, and the fall came I kept adding blankets to my bed. At night it was getting down into the teens and it was becoming obvious that I couldn't stay here much longer. Mary Roses husband bought a new car and gave me his old one, a Ford Pinto wagon.
I had been in Minnesota for six years now and it was obvious that I was never going to have an art career there. Very few artists could make it there, as there was almost no market, and what there was, was either for duck art or abstractionist work done by college professors who actually lived on a salary from teaching. I had a few hundred dollars in my pocket from the sale of a painting, and I decided I would return to Boston. It was 1983.
I got into that Pinto and started driving east. About Ohio, the rear main seal opened up and I started losing oil. I pulled into a gas station and the mechanic told me that to fix it was a big deal involving pulling the engine. There was no way I could do that, so I drove to a K mart and bought a case of oil. I kept putting oil in the top of the engine and losing it out the rear. I left a black line all the way from about Toledo to Boston, but I got there. I think I used about a quart every 100 miles.
Arriving in Boston I stayed briefly with my sister who lived there, and then with an old friend, Sam Rose. he got me a little painting commission, a picture of a young boy pulling a sled, for an older gay man who wouldn't pay me until I got the buttocks JUST right!

I moved from there into the spare bed room of a musician friend of mine who lived in a run down old apartment house in East Cambridge, in a neighborhood fill of body shops. I remember I was again running out of money, and with my last few dollars I bought at neighborhood convenience store, a can of ravioli, a loaf of bread, a pack of Pall Mall straights, and A LOTTERY TICKET.
I prayed over that lottery ticket, God if you want to help me here, this would be a good way to do it! I suppose a lot of preachers would frown on my praying over a lottery ticket, but not many of them ever had to. I would never do it again, nor had I ever before. I don'ordinarily buy lottery tickets, but this was nearly my last dollar so I took a chance.

My musician friend, an acoustic bass player was out playing a gig , and I was watching his TV, it was one of those old ones where the tube distorted the figures and made the people look like they were in a fun house mirror. The alien looking anchorman with his head squished like a hammerhead shark, read off the winning numbers as I looked down at my ticket, it hit! Not for a million, but I matched several numbers, I think I won about four hundred dollars.

More tomorrow night in the exciting saga of Stapleton Kearns, artist - foo, l and the escape from Charles Darwins plans for me.

I will be unable to answer comments for about two days, and the next post will load automatically ( I hope) I am not going to be able to get online for a few days. The blog should continue to appear though.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Inness in the last years.

The above painting is not actually from the last couple of years but it is in the late style and I wanted to include it. Because of his increasing age and frailty, Inness, ever wandering first visits Florida in 1890. Then he moves there, to Tarpon springs. When we think of Florida today , it is a land that has been developed and is familiar and rather ordinary. In Inness'es day it was before the boom development and it must have been pretty primitive in general. Tarpon springs was home to the American sponge diving industry and is on the bayous and marshes facing the Gulf of Mexico.

I think it must have been difficult for Inness to adjust to the new scenery. After a life time of sturdy oaks and broad meadows Florida must have been a shock. The sunsets were good though, and he seems to have made do. I personally feel that the Florida paintings are not his best but I think this next, abstract one is good though. It is called, home of the Heron,

I think that is the little guy in the middle there. Does this picture look like Inness is channeling Whistler to you? It does to me.

Here is another of the Florida paintings. It is deeply mysterious and highly arranged looking.

In 1894 Inness wanders once more and with his son by his side, dies at Bridge of Allan, Scotland. His last words upon seeing a sunset, were, "My God,Oh, how beautiful"

This concludes our epic journey through the life and art of George Inness, please check to make sure you have your personal items with you as you disembark. I will return to this outline of American landscape painting but I think I will take a little detour for a few posts and allow you to decompress. I will return to the art historical posts in about a week.

Images provided by, Americas largest online museum, and a great resource for anyone who wants to see great painting.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Late Inness

The painting above Early Autumn Montclair, is about my favorite Inness. It was painted in 1891 and he lived until 1894, and painted more after this. Inness continued to grow and get better all of his career, here he is late in life, undiminished and powerful. Only the essential forms are defined, everything else in this painting is merely suggested. There is again the decorated band across the center of the painting. That major tree is located almost in the center of the painting, but its pairing as a group with the smaller trunk pulls it just enough to one side that it is not static.

The shapes are peculiar, unique and decorated with little accents and incidentals. Look at the way the leaves scatter up into the sky at the middle left. The light blasts into the trunk of the tree and all about that area are lights stacked on top of darks on top of lights. The muted yet rich color is completely synthetic, Inness did not observe this scene and rush home to paint it. He did not paint the day, he painted the machinery of GOD.

Here is another similar painting that mines the same ideas, however it is more open and "major key". There is again, the decorated band of syncopated upright trunks across the middle of the painting. Nothing else I know of in the history of landscape painting looks anything like these two paintings.

This is another nice arrangement. The fine trunks of the trees, are a foil for the similarly shaped streak of light behind them to their left. The "blocky " groups of trees along the horizon are another Inness device we have seen repeatedly. Look at how Inness so neutralizes those greens that he can fill a picture with them and it is not a problem. We don't see it as being too green, but it IS all green.

Over the course of his career Inness made a number of pictures similar to this autumn scene. This painting was exhibited at the National Academy, just prior to Inness death and carries on a type of painting he had worked at his entire life. The forms of the painting are dissolving in the warm atmosphere.

I will return tomorrow and finish the paintings and life of Americas greatest landscape painter George Inness.

images from and

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Inness through the 1860's

The painting above, entitled Winter Morning Montclair is one of the most famous of Inness's paintings. The art I am showing tonight is from the next period of his life, and mostly from the 1880's. In 1885 Inness moved to Montclair, New Jersey. This painting has a melancholy wistfulness and seems to me to warn gently of that time when the autumn leaves are off the trees and the bleakness of winter is beginning. Notice the heavy forms of the strongly painted dead trees in the foreground, contrasting with the wispy delicacy of the thin trees above. The whole painting above thosedowned and blasted trees is dissolving into the warm tone of the atmosphere. That warm note pervades everything, including the sky, and the forms are melting into it. Look at the color that is stitched through the painting like the warp of a tapestry, showing even in the clouds and the blue note of the sky. That warm sienna note runs like a drone behind every color on the canvas.

Here is another classic Inness composition with his quirky dead trees and the bands of receding space across the middle. He is scattering his habitual accents across the painting. The little light and dark accents are placed particularly along that line formed by the important group of trees with the dark shadow at their feet, and the stone wall. All of the trees are bizarre shapes and there are some really oddly shaped clouds in the sky too. I think that any one of those in a more ordinary painting would draw too much attention to itself and look odd. However in this painting Inness has so many really weird shapes that within the context of the picture they don't draw too much attention to themselves.

I knew a few women like that many years ago. They had a strange feature, a wide mouth or a long nose. Any of their features placed on another womans face would have ruined it. But in concert with their other features it worked, and they were beautiful. Everything in a painting looks the way it does because of its relationship to everything else in a painting, just as everything in a novel or movie must seem reasonable within the context of its internal logic.

The painting above entitled Early Autumn, Montclair is one of the artists personal favorites. The pretense of naturalism and the depiction of a real place has ended and been replaced by an arrangement of forms and color fields that now are the subject of the painting, rather than anything of this world. The design is similar to one I have written about before, that I call the string of pearls. You can read about that here.

This painting has some of that same device. Except for the sky, almost everything happens in that band across the middle of the painting. The foreground is particularly empty. A few dark jots and marks are there to tell us that grass and earth are there. An arrangement of upright trunks and posts contrasting with backgrounds of their opposite values form as rhythmic arrangement through the center of this picture.

There is also another one of those mirror devices in here again. See the triangular shape of the dark house to the left of the middle of the painting? Now look to its right and there is the same triangular form again, the same size in a light value. I am not quite sure what that right hand structure is, sitting there on its little posts, maybe its a rack for drying something. Either way, notice that behind the dark house triangle it is light, but the "rack" triangle sits proudly in front of a dark value. Pretty much all the darks in this painting are connected up also. The post I sent you to above, also shows a diagram of the English Painter Seago using the same device. Here is a post of Hibbard using it,

This painting is mysterious and also has a geometric armature hidden just below its surface. The painting is cut almost in half horizontally by that dark line at the foot of the trees. The painting is cut almost in half vertically by the incursion of that sky shape descending vertically through the middle of the painting. Like the painting above, almost all of the "detail" takes place along that band across the middle of the painting.

Almost everything in this "picture" which is now hardly that, it is more an arrangement, is an ethereal barely perceived kind of ghost vision. Little hints of branches and a few of the vaguest indications of the structure of the trees are indicated. It is not an artful arrangement of the shapes of some particular place in nature. The paintings now are becoming more an arrangement of shapes and reduced colors that only secondarily recall nature. They have become almost entirely poetry and only a tiny amount of narrative to tether them to a vision of a real world. Inness ,under the influence of Swedenborg, believed that god, or religion was concealed in the appearance and the mathematical structure of nature. He had an idea of correspondence between the visible forms of nature and the Godhead, which I have to confess I don't really "get".
I think what strikes me about that idea is the difference between nature as a creation of God ,and nature as a manifestation or container of God. The latter idea is transcendentalism of the Emersonian sort, I loved reading Emerson and admire his prose and astute metaphoric sayings about life, still I can't really join Emerson or Inness completely in their near pantheistic vision of nature. Their is a wonderful history of that thought written by Van Wyk Brooks, called "The Flowering of England". It used to be held up as an example of great writing, although today's world would probably find it florid. If you want to read a sympathetic little history of the Concord writers, Bronson Allcott (father of Louisa May), Emerson and Thoreau you will enjoy it
Tomorrows posts will take us into the next, last and most synthetic period of Inness's painting. I think you will find them exciting. They are psychedelic, just wait and see!

images from and

Friday, August 21, 2009

Inness in New Hampshire

I must do a very short post tonight , here is a picture of Inness as an older man than we saw before. He is less wild eyed and more formal looking, but there is still something very unusual about him here also. As I said before he was a very strange cat. That's a big painting behind him.
In 1875 Inness returns from his five year trip to Italy and moves to Medfield again. He spends that summer in the White mountains. I told you in a previous post how many of the painters of this area summered in the Conway area. Inness rented a studio in the upstairs of a school in North Conway. I believe the building is gone, but I have seen it pointed out on an old map, so I have a good idea where it was. It would have been almost right on the intervale valley that leads up to Mt. Washington. Inness painted the Whites in a different way then his friends from the Hudson river school. He painted more intimate scenes with lowering clouds and romantic themes. He didn't seem to be interested in painting the grand, dramatic mountain vistas, of which there are many. Here art several New Hampshire paintings.

I have included one more, not a New Hampshire picture but painted a little over a year later. This is one of my very favorites. I don't have a very large image of it, but I do have this.

I must close. I will see you tomorrow, when I can write a little more. The next phase brings Inness into a new and radical style and astounding growth of picture making ability.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Inness in Italy

In 1870, financed by a Boston art dealer, Inness returned to Italy for five years. Inness seemed to have a wanderlust. As a landscape painter it was certainly useful to put new scenery in front of the easel.

Above is an Inness and it is filled with interesting little things, scattered artfully about its surface. There are all these actors that Inness likes to trot out onto his stage. There are little white rocks, some goats, and an extremely odd tree in front of the lake. Inness is scattering these things across his canvas as decorative accents. He begins to use these accent spots in so many of his paintings now that they become a personal mannerism with him. If I were to try to imitate Inness, I would scatter these little accents all over.

Notice how the big odd tree in the right foreground is countered by the smaller odder tree on its left in front of the lake.To the right of the foreground tree is a triangular rock,with a friend or two. Out there by the smaller tree in the mid distance to its left, a matching triangular rock with a friend or two. There are juxtaposed mirrored passages, one large and one small right in the middle of this painting. None of this happens of course by accident (sometimes referred to in this blog as observation).

The midground of this painting is based on a decorated diagonal line, here is a post from some time ago I did on this time honored device. The post I created the link to shows the same device used in both a Metcalf and a Hibbard. That puts it into three successive generations of wildly different landscape painters. The rising diagonal line in this painting is crossed by another diagonal going the other way that is smaller. The foreground is a sort of a big X as a result.


It feels good to throw one of those capitalized "important" sentences in, I haven't done it in a while. I think it is really important to stress over and over that artists like Inness are not "painting the day", or just copying that which is in front of them. They are making slightly concealed, intelligent arrangements, sort of armatures on which they hang their paintings.

Inness has also counterchanged that big foreground tree against its background. It is bright against the dark shadow that runs behind it, and then stands proud of its light background because of the shadow side it bears as it rises.

Here is another Italian picture from the same era, and again it has those little incidents scattered artistically about its surface. There are also the counterchange games going on here too. (If you need to backtrack and read about counterchange go here). See the little tree in the foreground again standing bright in front of that shadow behind it?It is counterchanged against the bright green above that with its color. The background being green and the tree red.

There is also a sort of strange symmetry going on with the bright ruined arched bridge in the foreground, mirrored by the bark group if trees above it in the same position. They are mirror images of one another separated equally by that band of dark that runs across the middle of the painting.

  1. This image is REALLY strange. It is so mysterious, almost creepy. Squint at it to eliminate its details and notice the absolutely bizarre arrangement of its shapes. Notice also how Inness "sews" the little monks head to the wall above him. There is a pleasing balance of the horizontals formed by the plane trees and the forms of the ground with the uprights of the tree trunks decoratively arranged across a band upper part of the picture. Those on the left are dark in front of the light sky, for two thirds of the way across, then those on the right third are light against a dark background. In the foreground below each section a mirror image is happening. Below the upper section of dark trees against a light sky is a section of light tree trunks against a dark background. Below the area of light trunks against dark foliage above, the lower band has dark branches in front of a light background.
Incidentally all of the darks in this painting are one big unit. You can place your finger anywhere on them and move about the entire dark shape without lifting your finger.

Well that's it for tonight. See you tomorrow!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Inness in Medfield and the Barbizon school and the Hudson river school contrasted.

Inness lived in and visited many places. In 1860 Inness moved from New York to Medfield Massachusetts. Medfield was then a quiet rural village surrounded by open fields, woodlands, and rolling hills. It is of course now a part of the grsater Boston sprawl and irt is now very proud to list in its town website that Charles Innes (sic) once lived there. It is always amazing to me how foreign art is to most people, even supposedly educated people.No one who proofread this text or evidently anyone else in the greater Medfield pantheon of civic officers knew either Inness's first name or the correct spelling of his last name. Curt Schilling lives there today, they got his name right of course.

Prior to this time Inness made some great paintings, like the Lackawanna Railroad picture. But his output had been mixed and many of the pictures prior to this time were uneven. But now Inness becomes a mature and confidant artist. The painting above of the broad fields of Medfield
is as fine as anything made by any American painter. That sky is a tour de force, and he has developed his "take"on the Barbizon style. He is now , in my opinion Americas finest landscape painter. His breadth of handling makes the Hudson River school paintings of a generation before seem a little primitive.I absolutely love Hudson River school painting, but I think Inness is, at this point, operating at an artistic level far above any of them. The American art appreciating public of the day agreed, and artists like Bierstadt and Church were rapidly forgotten, and died in obscurity. Upon the death of Albert Bierstadt in 1902 a critic famously remarked "I had no idea he was still alive!"

This is a really great Inness. Again from the Medfield period. All of the detail is now subordinated to the larger shapes and the painting is an arrangement of shapes and colors intended to arouse an emotional response in us. I have been talking so much about Barbizon style paintings that I think I had better show a few. Below is a Theodore Rousseau, not to be confused with the later Henri Rousseau who painted the jungle scenes in a primitive style a generation later. This painting is arranged rather than observed. It is a synthetic landscape not a topographical image. Rousseau did not "paint the day".

Below is a Camille Corot.

Notice the minimal detail in those trees , I think by way of illustration I will throw a Hudson River school painting in here so you can see the difference between the two approaches.

Thats a Bierstadt above, and below is a Church. Look at the difference in the detailed Hudson river school paintings and the simplified broader look of the Inness paintings and the Corot.

images from and

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

More Inness in the 1860's

This Inness is of Lake Albano in Italy and was done in 1869. All of the pictures I have posted so far have in my opinion been done using Hudson River school technology. They all have that "something" which is Inness, but they are still luminist style paintings.

But as early as 1860 Inness began moving toward the Frensch style of painting and away from luminism. I guess no artists development is absolutely linear. Tomorrow we will see several more paintings from just after this year which also bear the same influence.This painting has a Dutch look to it. It also is a more ordinary place. There is a view to a distance, but it is not a singular picturesque vista. There is a noticeable economy of means in this painting too. In the tree behind the figure for instance, the few branches in the light are worked up, but everything to the right of that is not. There is more mystery and slight of hand in this picture than the typical Hudson River school effort. But the major difference is the surface, there is a rough painterly finish on this painting that is light years away from the enameled handling of the luminist painters. Inness is using the bands of light and dark to get recession. I spoke about layering light and dark values here.

In the period when this was painted Inness was living outside of Boston in the village of Medfield. So everything in this painting is now buried beneath an urban landscape. There may now be a Jiffylube right where that little man is sitting.

The "spotlight" treatment of the lights seems not so Hudson River school to me also. This is not the only example I have seen of an artist foreshadowing a much later period in their development. I know that Willard Metcalf did it in his Gloucester paintings on the trip he made there with Hassam. That might make an interesting post.

The painting above reminds me of James Hart and except for that idiosyncratic oddity that Inness brought to all of his paintings, could have been made by any one of a number of Hudson River school painters. Inness did a lot of pastoral pictures of this sort in the 1860's

I can't imagine any one else making this one though. It is obviously Barbizon influenced. The tree is reminiscent of a Corot motif and note the softened abbreviated handling through out, but especially in the fore ground . The design is quirky too. That tree leaning up and out of the picture to the viewers left is unconventional, and the pyramidoidal grouping of the trees in the background is very arranged looking. Notice that the water below that, also forms an inverted pyramid. This painting also has a lot of that "strangeness" that makes Inness so unique and interesting.

It is too hot to continue tonight, I am going to leave the studio and look for somewhere a little cooler. I will see you tomorrow, when I will show paintrings made in Medfield Massachusetts.

images from and