Self Portraits

Luna final

Every man’s work…is always a portrait of himself. (Samuel Butler)

Same goes for women. (LP) 

I have come to believe that an artist can’t accurately see their own work within the time frame they are doing it. The work can be exactly what they had intended (tho this is very rare!) and they can make fantastic improvements as they move though the process of the piece, but I wonder, can the artist see the intrinsic gist or essence of the work during the time it is produced?

I suppose I can only speak for myself personally on this. I look back at work I did when I was in my early twenties and I see that I was sad. It’s as clear as if it was written across the canvas. I didn’t know then that I was sad, nor did my work speak to me that way, at that time. It’s just in looking back years later that it becomes clear. Maybe because I am fairly content these days I can see the discontent from years ago.

Similarly, during the time I painted my animal poster series, I did not see the paintings as I do now. I was focused on details and accuracy and didn’t realize how strong the colors and simplicity were. Only years later did that become clear to me.

Knowing this, I wonder what my work is saying beyond my conscious awareness.

This piece above is, as Samuel Butler asserts, a self portrait, though it is not a painting of me.  Like so many others, I love the ocean. I don’t really know why. I love swimming in it, looking at it, painting it. It is part of me somehow. The idea of this painting has been brewing for a few years and happily for me, my child Anna posed for the piece.  The painting means something to me, though I’m not sure exactly what.

Art schools, critics, patrons and grant bestowers need to hear that you do know exactly what your art means. An artist is often required to articulate in words so others can derive meaning from it in a way that makes them comfortable. The work is derived in the heart, goes to the brain for an explanation in order for another to process a watered down and inevitably altered idea of the piece with their brain. Maybe it allows them to then see the piece better. Maybe not.

A friend once said that an artist analyzing their own work is like a bird discussing ornithology. I love that comparison.

Hopefully this mirroring of self in art is somehow of use to others, weather it is explained in words or not. I suppose that is why we do art, to communicate what we think and feel and see on a level that taps into a bit of the unknown or unspoken.

Enter, Rejoice and Come In

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It’s that time of year again!

It will soon be the eighth year I have swept the dirt under the rug, hung the paintings and opened the door.

My open studio is next weekend. Oct 25th and 26th from 11:00 to 5:00.

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There will be food!…and art!

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Come sign the book

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And learn about my art class.

for adults..

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My tradition during these open studios is to offer drastically reduced prices on paintings that are not slated for a gallery.

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That could be the small landscapes I have done over the past year

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or older paintings that are not headed to a gallery.

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Thanks to my iPad and paypal I take credit cards.

So I hope you can come see what I’m working on, visit a while and if you are in the market to buy a gift or something special for the wall, I hope I have just what you are looking for! If not there are 19 other artist’s showing this weekend as part of the West Bay Open Studios and I can show you what they do and give you a map to get there.

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I’m the red dot in the middle nearest the water. # 10 on the signs you will see on the road.

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Not number 20, that’s someone else….also worth seeing.

You will find my studio at 323 Harrison St. North Kingstown RI

See you soon I hope!

Giving Birth

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I love painting large, but boy is it a big commitment. Kind of like having children.

First, you are so excited by the idea of it.

You are in love with the thought of having babies, or making paintings. You order the materials you will need and prep the canvas (with babies it’s a different set of preliminaries).

Everything matters. The type of surface you use matters a great deal if you are painting. The type of paints, the mediums, the solvents all matter. The parallel with babies would be all the healthy food you try to eat and all the fun food you try to avoid once you know you are pregnant.

 

You do the preliminary sketches and begin the underpainting.Or you figure out a name and go into labor. Take your pick; they both can be excruciating.

When you are separated, you fluctuate between excitement and worry.

When you are interacting, you focus and pray. Luckily, a painting matures faster than a baby AND you do have the option to throw out your failures.

Sometimes, both paintings and babies go wrong. I know it must be my fault but despite hard work, focus and prayer things go askew from time to time.  Then, I double down and usually pull it back together. But almost always it’s different from the initial vision (especially where babies are concerned).

I’ve made thousands of paintings.

I’ve made two children.

I don’t love all the paintings I’ve done. I only love a small percentage, really.

I love 100% of the children I have made.

A Show at the Festival

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Just a quick invitation to join me tonight at the Coastal Art Gallery for a group show of local artists, myself included.

It’s behind the Beach Rose Cafe on the pier, Wickford, RI
Sat. July 12 from 6:00 to 7:00. You can visit the gallery tomorrow, Sunday, as well during the Wickford Art Festival.

I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.

When I graduated from Pratt Institute 34 years ago I knew everything there was to know about art. As a top student, I had taken lots of courses, visited all the major museums, and knew all the important galleries. For 5 years I had studied art and illustration intensely and I lived in New York City, which was still the art capitol … Continue reading

Drowning in Metaphor?

Preliminary sketch for my next painting, Anna in the Waves.

“A work of art should be like a well-planned crime.” –Charles Baudelaire

In last week’s blog was an image of an oil sketch for my next painting. This week I have a pencil study for it. I’m hoping this painting will be like a well-planned crime.

I’ll be painting the ocean and my daughter Anna, yet the painting won’t be about either of them.

It will be the first in a series of paintings using metaphor for various emotions  in regard to ….life.  It’s about that repeating fear/joy continuum that is life for most of us. Only those who are truly enlightened seem to have no use for fear. This painting, however will be about joy and power and feeling invincible. I like the idea of using the ocean as a metaphor for life because most of us are ambivalent  in regards to the beautiful, powerful, unpredictable ocean just as it seems to me that we are (I am)  ambivalent about life; overwhelming, hard, wonderful, terrifying, amazing.

Metaphor is a handy way to communicate, though I wonder when an artist uses images as metaphor how often the viewer “get’s it”?  People bring to a painting what they know and believe and so a painting will speak to each person differently. Metaphor has the potential to be trite to some, but possibly prophetic to others.

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Painting by Vladimir Kush 

Then again, you can not depict a 3 dimensional world 2 dimensionally without using metaphor. Representational paintings are always metaphors! Right? An artist’s brushstrokes are metaphors for ….tree, apple…whatever they are depicting.

Then there is what Henry Ward Beecher said : “Every artist dips his brush in his soul and paints his own nature into his pictures.” A metaphor about a metaphor.

Enough with the metaphors!

As Jim Butcher said “Life is a journey, Time is a river. The door is ajar”. (LOL!)

 

Painters are Gambling

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sketch for my next painting

 

Painters are compulsive gamblers.

In the studio I mean.

Gambling is defined by the willingness to risk something you value for the hope of gaining something of greater value.

We know that artists traditionally gamble with their financial security. Many also gamble with their health by using toxic materials. Why do they risk security and health? I think they are addicted to the possibility that the next painting will be the big jackpot. The painting that says it all, that wins the big awards and goes down in the chronicles of great art. Or, if they are of a different temperament, the painting that is simply closer to their intent or vision than the one preceding it.

 

The Carrot

As for myself, the average compulsive  painter, there is just enough occasional improvement  to entice me to continue. OK, maybe this is not the drug that addicts all artists to their craft. Some get a high from producing and really love the process. The basic need to create is in everyone to a greater or lesser extent.  But personally I am also dragged along with the notion that someday I might be able to produce the sort of paintings that speaks deeply to your humanity, to your essence, to your spirit and that these paintings would be taken seriously by many, including  the curator of a  museum, maybe even a great museum. There, I said it! Silly me. Silly, since most all of my work is very commercial.  Oh well, big goals are good goals. The point I had intended to make is that dissatisfaction with current work is nearly a constant for myself and many artists.

I heard Robert Mankoff, cartoon editor of the New Yorker Magazine, speak in an interview on NPR the other day. He said, “Everyone has an idea for a cartoon that they think is great, only real cartoonists are unhappy with what they have.”

Of course there are lots of happy artists out there pleased with their great works. You are lucky if you are one of them! But dissatisfaction is the fuel that feeds many artists who have a commitment to that elusive je ne sais quoi that is  art.

As Ken Danby said, “Whenever I’m asked to identify my best work, or my favorite, my answer has always been the same – ‘My next one!'”

 

 

 

 

 

Test your art knowledge!

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Guess which art movement this painting belongs in!

Here’s a little quiz of art terms, most of which I pulled from a Huffpost Arts and Culture article. See if you are an art aficionado!

1 Postmodernism is…

A. Art that happened after Picasso died

B. Art that happened after Modernism

C. Abstract painting that looks like  posts if you tilt your head just so

D. A rejection of modernisum

 

2 Art Deco is…

A. Any old ornamental art

B. A portrait of Anderson Luís de Souza

C. Design style of the 1920′ and 30’s

D.. Cubist Artworks

 

3 Monochromatic means…

A. Black, white and grey

B. Of similar colors

C. Weak color

D. One color modified by black and/or  white

 

4 Experssionism is…

A. Paint that’s thrown on the canvas

B. Angry paintings

C. Paintings of happy, sad or angry people

D. Dipictions of inner emotions

 

5  Readymade means….

A. Art that is already framed

B. Art manufactured factory style (I’ve worked in one of these factories!)

C. Objects initially made with no intent to be considered art but placed in an art envoirnemnt by an artist with the intent of calling it art.

D. Paint by numbers

 

6 Futurism is….

A. Art that hasn’t happened yet

B. 20th Centery Art that celebrates speed and what was new at the time

C. Art that foretells the future

D. Paintings of Robots

 

7 Contemporary means…

A. Art from living artists

B. Art depicting current themes

C.  Modern Art

D. Abstract Art

 

8 Tone is…

A. The color of an area

B. A “Shade” color

C. A beautiful body

D. A color with both black and white added

 

9 Avant-garde means…

A. An art movement from the early 1900’s

B. The front gate guards at Buckingham Palace

C. A new kind of drink

D. Any new or experimental concept

 

10 Zombie Formilisum is….

A. Zombies at a Prom

B. The way Zombies don’t behave

C. An art movement devoted to the Zombie culture

D. Contemporary Formilisum

 

11 Formilisum means….

A. Being polite

B.Fancy clothes

C. A movement around the 1950 professing “Art for Art’s Sake”

D. Abstract forms

 

 

 OK that’s enough!

How did you do?   1-D, 2- C , 3 – D, 4 – D, 5 – C, 6 – B, 7 – A, 8 – D, 9 – D, 10 – D, 11 – C

Realism is Dead! Long Live Realism!

Why can’t we just get along? You know, the realist painters and the contemporary art world. The zombie-formalists and the zombie romanticists. The former clad in the armor of ironic cynicism and the latter wielding the shield of authentic emotion, both resurrected from a by-gone era.

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Zombie Formalism – Leslie Wayne

I’ve been wondering that lately. Why is the art world so divided? I’m speaking of the local art world. The world where pretty babbaling brook paintings run up against abstract  de Kooning-esque angst-filled oils for consideration in the same show. How do they compare?  Inevitably the judge of the show is in one camp or the other and his or her camp naturally wins. When people speak candidly about the “other camp” it’s not very polite. Let’s take a look at what happened.

First a disclaimer

I’m no art historian. I’m a realist painter born in the age of irony. I went to art school and found my home in the illustration department because realism was frowned upon in the fine art department. During my years at Pratt Institute Andrew Wyeth had a retrospective show at the Metropolitan Museum. This was an outrage and all the fine artists I knew boycotted the museum. I saw the show but kept my nose at a slight tilt so that if anyone saw me looking they would know it was with distain. I didn’t want to look naive.

Let’s go back in time to 1839.

A baby was just born in the South of France to an affluent family. A family that could afford to have a portrait done with the new amazing technology of the day. A photograph! By that time Daguerreotypes were all the rage of the up and coming middle class. Artists were already using the photograph as a tool, but only on the sly! One artist caught using a photo ended up in a lawsuit.By the time that baby was a young man perhaps the idea of creating a likeness in paint seemed a bit redundant. Photographs were beautiful in-and-of themselves and any silly could copy a photograph. What was the value of a painting beyond a likeness? Texture, color, composition….these were avenues worth exploring.

So that baby, Paul Cezanne, did that and changed the art world forever.  I recently read a quote of his from a much loved art newsletter by Robert Glenn, “Everything we see falls apart, vanishes. Nature is always the same, but nothing in her that appears to us, lasts. Our art must render the thrill of her permanence along with her elements, the appearance of all her changes. It must give us the taste of her eternity.” (Paul Cezanne) This is certainly a bigger challenge than rendering an accurate portrait, don’t you think? I just have to add that Cezanne used photography as reference too!

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Paul Cezanne

Of course the world was changing in vast ways at that time so we can’t pin the modernist movement in art solely on the introduction of the photograph. Cities were growing, the industrial revolution was changing daily life and World War One had people reexamining their beliefs.

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George Bellows

Meanwhile realists still worked on depicting the new life: George Bellows, Robert Henri, John Sloan, Grant Wood and the ever popular Edward Hopper. But the world’s attention was mainly on those deeply influenced by Cezanne: Matisse, Picasso, Mondrian, Giacometti, Morandi and many many more.

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Picasso

It’s interesting to me to read a quote by Bonnard about Cezanne: “The painter who was most powerfully armed in front of nature, the strongest, the most sincere.”

What is interesting about this is soon the Post Modernest’s response was a blatant dislike of anything sincere. As I understand it, “Skeptics reject sincerity because ….blind belief can led to evils like the Klu Klux Klan.” Does sincerity lead to a lack of critical awareness? Does it lead to sentimentality? James Bauldwin said, “Sentimentality is the mask of cruelty, as it is dishonest.”

Meanwhile realists were still out there…or were they? Well, we did have Andrew Wyeth just dripping with that evil sentimentality, but in a sincere way I think.(Am I being ironic?)

Much of the realism that has been done over the past 20- 50 years is illustration or commercial painting for home decor. Of course, some of it is very beautifully and insightfully painted and some of it is pretty trite. For instance the ubiquitous  naked woman draped across the couch or worse still, the naked woman draped across the Victorian era couch. (You know the era when we could marginalize and sexually objectify women and get away with it.)  One of my students asked why painters paint the same few things over and over again. Good question! One answer is because many buyers want to be comfortable with the paintings he or she buys. They want to have already seen it. And the gallery wants the artist to paint something similar to what they sold last week, because that is what they have marketed. And of course the artist needs to eat so she paints the same pear for the 54th time. (If you know me you know what I’m talking about!)

The Fine Art World has no concerns about sales. It has always been a dialogue of responses  to itself. Over the years it has become more and more difficult for me to understand though. If you read about contemporary art you must be verse in that incomprehensible “artspeak” language. Sometimes it seems that the art world has become a case of the Emperor’s Clothes. It appears to me to be spiraling with nowhere to go but self destruction, evisceration. Perhaps in the post-apocalyptic art world there will be the possibility again for sincerity without shame, where we can all live in harmony with whatever expression a person decides to pursue. Where Traditional Realists, Photo-Realists, Avant-garde, Conceptual, Digital, Environmental, Installation, Interactive, Video, Performance, Pop, Post-whatever, Neo whatever, Commercial,  and even those damn nudes on couches can coexist without malice, because all have been produced honestly and with (God forbid) sincerity.

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Jeremy Lipking

Thank you to John Seed who has a rock’n contemporary realist art blog, to Matt Asby and Brendan Carroll for the NY Times article on Irony in Art and to my friends at Wikipedia who are always a big help.

 

You are invited!

“You cannot teach a man anything, you can only help him find it within himself.” 
― Galileo Galilei

I started teaching a couple years ago. Eventually I dubbed the group that faithfully schleped heavy boxes and bags of art supplies to my studio each Monday evening the “Monday Night Masters”.

 

Currently I have 5 very dedicated students. As they have progressed I teach less and coach more. They are becoming capable artists and it’s a privilege to paint with them each week.

 

We are going to celebrate their achievements this Sunday at my studio from 3pm till 5pm with over 40 recent paintings.

 

Please come join us! 323 Harrison St. North Kingstown RI.

 

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