Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The triumph of reason and your favorite Hollywood starlets supine

I will begin by announcing a show of Cape Ann art that will open this week in Gloucester, at the  North Shore Arts Association. There will be 125 examples of historic Cape Ann artists work. There are Hibbards and Gruppes and Harry Leith Ross, and a knockout Lester Stevens, a wonderful Harriet Randall Lewis, a Winslow Homer drawing, an Anthony Cirino, a Jane Peterson still life, a William Meyrowitz, and a Teresa Bernstein, and lots more. These paintings came from private collections and most are seldom seen outside their proud owners homes. If you are in the area this is something you should see.The parking lot of the art association provides one of the best views of  Gloucester harbor too.

I have been keeping a yellow legal pad handy so I can write down ideas for blog posts. I have filled a whole page so I think I will unload a few of those at you tonight. They will follow in the form of brief  one paragraph rants.

People who see me painting often come up to me and say "it must be nice to be so talented". I think they underestimate what it took to get here and imagine that had they been "lucky" like me they could do it too. I tell them
  " well, I am six foot four now, but I have been every height below that on my way here". 

I had to make some God awful crap along the way. The ability to paint is a learned skill, some learn faster than others, and few slower than me. I have known only a few natural painters and they seem able to intuitively master only one aspect of their craft. For me it has been about endurance. I pose as if I sprang like Athena, fully armored from the temple of Zeus, but what I really am is a plugger. If I had died at 30 I would be best remembered as the guy with all the hair. I have known some fine painters who weren't all that bright, but I have known none who were not incessant workers.

I had friends in high school who liked only the Beatles.They said they were the best rock and roll band. They probably were. But for these friends the fun ended there, they identified who they thought was best and looked no further. They missed Quicksilver, Spirit and Savoy Brown, Dr John and Ten Years after. The same thing happens in painting. OK, Sorolla is a fabulous painter, but there are a hundreds of other fine painters who can thrill the viewer as well. Have you seen Mancini or Shiskin? How about Rosa Bonhuer or Richard Parkes Bonington? I fell in love with Seago years ago when he was pretty much unknown in this country. I suggest you should seek out as many artist's work as you can, there are lots of voices out there. There are lots of artists to enjoy, not just two or three. Go look up Eugene Boudin, J. Enneking, and  Alfred Munnings. Do you know Anthony Thieme? How many early twentieth century Scottish etchers  can you name? I mean  other than
Muirhead Bone.

I try to be a picture maker.What you observe before you when painting is not a picture. It is nature. If you want a picture on your canvas you have to put it there. I try to make things for people to hang in their homes and enjoy, stuff to be lived with that will unfurl gradually as they observe it. Pictures are not a matter of factual transcription of nature, random and chaotic. They are designed and have emotional content. Those things are installed, not observed. That's why having your own voice is so important. Technique is grammar, picture making is about content.

  • Don't forget to put in the art!

Having your own voice, that's important. There seems to be a lack of interest in originality lately. I see artists lauded as important and new masters, whose work is simply an imitation of another more famous painter. Often they win major prizes and are written of glowingly in magazines. They look just like Richard Schmid or Scott Christensen so they have got to be good! A painters art should look as if only they could have made it. The worst thing that can be said about a painter is that he paints just like so and so. Don't play in a cover band, write your own stuff if you want to do anything really worthwhile. To be near Vermeer, is to be mere veneer. Try getting a couple of different heroes, that helps. They oughta be dead too.

Poeples art expectations. When I had a gallery of my own in Rockport ( and I might again, I will let you know) Once a guy walked in and asked if I had that picture of the old tyme sailor guy with the bell.

He wanted a zillion dollar painting and assumed that since I had an art gallery I would have it in stock. Sadly I didn't. There is only one of those. I reflected on that a long time and what I figured out told me a lot about how my customers thought. He had seen a painting he really liked and every time he walked into an art gallery he looked to see if it was there. That it was a one of a kind object never crossed his mid. He thought that every artist made a unit like that. "Nope! he doesn't make that one!" He thought it was like shoes, every shoe company makes a penny loafer, it's a unit, not an original. There was no way he would ever buy anything other than the Homer. He probably ended up with some Chi-Com ripoff of the painting. Many of my visitors could never be sold a painting because they had seen one painting that they  liked and forever would walk into galleries looking for it. Nothing I had would do. He wanted that Homer! That it was my job to make my own paintings never crossed his mind. He only liked the Beatles.

There are challenges to being a pro that many artists never imagine. I routinely see art made to compete in competitions. The artists is out to get a knockout punch. They want to make the largest damndest thing they can make. That might be the way to win prizes, but it s not (at least usually) the way to make a living in the field. In order to make a living you need to be able to produce a steady stream of salable paintings. Over a career that might mean hundreds of them. You have to be reliable and consistent. The idea is to be valued not discovered, at least in the art world I inhabit. I have seen lots of flash in the pan , this years hero artists appear like a shooting star only to disappear in the blinding light of the next greatest thing. It is usually a marathon and not a sprint.. The key might be style. Each painting must be informed by the artists unique personality more than the subject. People seem to want pictures more than manifestos. Hans Christian Anderson wrote a story called "The most incredible thing" that seems to address this idea here is a link to that.

OK that's enough for tonight! Thanks for tuning in!


I have a workshop coming up this weekend in Connecticut that is sorely undersubscribed. The weather report looks great and I intend to make it a near shattering experience for those who dare come near. It will be in Kent, Connecticut on August 23 through the 25th. and is sponsored by the Mattatuck Museum in Waterbury. Kent was one of those old impressionist art colonies from the late 19th to early 20th century. This is the southern end of the Berkshires. I teach about ten hours a day or more. We paint together and eat together all day and into the evening. You will do nothing but paint and sleep. 

Here is the link to sign up


John Pototschnik said...

Awesome, Mr. Kearns. We are on the same page, in the same book, and in the same library. I hope many others read this post. Good job.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post, Stape. So many interesting thoughts.

I enjoyed the anecdote about the guy looking for the sailor and the bell painting.

I really enjoy Seago as well as Gruppe, Strisik and others.

Perhaps the thing you talked about that hit me the most is those who are like Schmid et al. As a student, I understand the passion to learn from others. What I don't understand is mimics. At this point, I've got so many influences, that my paintings look like no one elses, though they don't have a particular recognizability. I don't strive for that. I strive to make paintings that I want hanging on my walls. I think that makes me kind of a selfish painter. But I figure if I think a painting is enjoyable, then there's got to be others out there who might also enjoy it. I hope at least the notion of a good painting has appeal.

ONe thing over the life of this blog that you've said that just sticks with me more than anything is how you have to INSTILL DESIGN into a painting. Nature provides so many great potential subjects, but it's up to the artist to artify a scene (my word. just made that up!) and make a painting, not a photograph. I'm a long way from where I want to be, but I'm enjoying the journey!

thanks for the post, mi amigo! muchas gracias! Or if you prefer french: Merci beaucoup, mon ami!


Durinda Cheek, Fine Artist said...

Thanks for the blog, Stape! I have missed having my morning coffee with you. I panicked and printed off several of your blogs to keep just in case you abandon us! I totally agree with you, I am tired of seeing mimics in the major shows. We need to develop our own voice, take what we need from the mentors and make it our own. Thanks for the reminder!

Billy Guffey said...

Work 'em like borrowed mules, Stape.

Good post. Where's the book?

Paul Birnbaum said...

Great post Stape. I don't mean to accuse you of being a cover band, but it reads like a chapter out of a Harold Speed book. I appreciate your confession of being a "plugger". As a long-time appreciator of art but very new painter, it's encouraging to hear what it takes to reach your level of skill. Makes we want to keep on plugging along.

Philip Koch said...

Stape, wonderful post. I think my favorite line of yours was-
" well, I am six foot four now, but I have been every height below that on my way here".
Wish I was up that way just now so I could see the exhibit you describe at the North Shore Art Assoc.

Philip Koch said...

Loved you line-
" well, I am six foot four now, but I have been every height below that on my way here". That about says it all.

The show at the North Shore Art Assoc. sounds great.

Celeste Bergin said...

I wish I could come to your workshop. My former husband went to Kent school and I got to visit. What a beautiful place! Glad you are back to blogging. At the risk of appearing to be a fawner..you are my favorite art blogger. (Despite or maybe because of the harsh "kitten" posts).

Stapleton Kearns said...

starlets are in the mail. Philip

Karen Eade said...

So enjoyed this post. I would pinch your "I am 6 foot 4 now" line if it wasn't for the fact that I only got to 4 foot11,so tragically it doesn't work for me. I will have to think up an alternative for myself. In your long absence I have been reading my way through ever so many of your earlier posts. You are my go-to source for advice on everything from being demoralised to the problem of clouds. Please don't take this blog down (unless you decide to charge me for it in book form, that would be grand).

Stapleton Kearns said...

Karen. Don't feel bad, most people are short!

Debra Norton said...

So good to hear from you again!

D. Malcolm said...

Thanks for all you share, both in art and in posts. It's good to hear from other serious painters who aren't afraid to speak their minds. It's certainly a challenge to develop your own voice especially within the confines of realism. I typically break a few of the classic rules or formats purposely with the hope of achieving something original.

DGehman said...

Vive le Boudin! And everything else you said is true, too! I never use exclamation points, so this post is beyond superb!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post. I hope I can get up to Gloucester and see the show. It was nice to meet you at the regional show at the Guild. Thanks for coming.

Poppy Balser said...

Stape, how tantalizing, a page full of blog post ideas. I look forward to reading more, have fiercely missed your regular posts.
Thanks for the heads up about the exhibit. Now that the ferry is running from NS to Portland I might just get there.

stapeliad said...

Good stuff as always Stape. thanks.