Wrapping Things Up

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Never has time moved so fast.

Twenty-one months to paint the 147 miles of Narragansett Bay seemed like a good idea twenty months ago.  A better idea would have given me twenty-one years.

When Save the Bay, Dryden Gallery and I first planned this show, I intended to paint the highlights of our bay: the beaches, parks, towns and of course the light houses, bridges and historical spots. I soon reconsidered that list. It seemed too much like a boring illustration assignment. I have a personal relationship with the bay and I wanted to depict what I love about it. This actually increased my list!

Now after twenty months and 130 paintings the “to paint” list is still much longer than the “have painted” list.  Since Donna Parsons, the director of Dryden Gallery, is unwilling to postpone the show another ten years, and because there is only 300 linear feet of wall space in the gallery, the show will proceed as scheduled!

What you will see are moments in time that caught my attention. Paintings of life- sized waves that beg you to jump in or flee, depending on your disposition.

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Twenty Four foot wave oil painting on five aluminum panels

There are tiny sketches of swells that mesmerize beach-goers.

 

You will see how one inlet changed throughout the year.

 

There are portraits of wildlife inspired by the residents of Save the Bay’s aquarium.

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And of course, you will find plenty of landscapes.

 

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Speaking of the landscapes, each painting will be numbered and flagged on a map. If you don’t find a painting of your favorite spot, you can commission one! Part of the proceeds will still go to Save the Bay.

Of course we aren’t done until the fat lady sings. I bought a paddle-board in order to paint offshore, and I hope to do a small twilight piece from the water soon. I want to get to more islands as well, so if you have a boat and some time this month, please let me know!  A few more wildlife paintings would help round out the show as well.

Suffice it to say, I will keep working till the last minute. My garden has never been so overgrown, my house never so dusty. There are books collecting on my bedside table and friends awaiting outings. I have given this show my best effort and I hope you can celebrate it with me on October 6th at 7pm at 27 Dryden Lane, Providence RI.

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In Perpetual Pursuit of Perfection

I love this Narragansett Bay project. Through it, I have been honing my skills as a landscape painter. Each time I started a new bay painting I hoped it would be better than the last. Ultimately I hoped I would get to a place where I could call the painting PERFECT!

 

 

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Perfect! That word feels so good to me. Doesn’t it feel good to you? You look Perfect! Your work is Perfect! You are Perfect! It’s what I’ve been after in my art. It’s what most of us are after. A perfect family, a perfect car, a perfect body, a perfect blog post!

Apparently though, that’s not how things really work.   Peter Fleck writes in his book The Blessings of Imperfection that we are built to make mistakes. We learn by trial and error. In fact, the very basis of evolution is errors. A mutation becomes a miracle…until it isn’t anymore and then another mutation comes along.

imagesSo is anything actually ever perfect? Is anything ever completely beyond improving?

 

Leonardo da Vinci once said, “ Art is never finished, only abandoned.” What did he mean? Is he saying that an artist, even a great artist, cannot reach perfection with his work? To most people Leonardo’s work is a 10 out of 10. Can it be perfect even if he doesn’t think so?

Perhaps perfection is simply an invention of the imagination, and maybe we are a bit obsessed with it. Are we overlooking the sublimity of the commonplace in order to pursue the impossibility of perfection?

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Well I guess I do have fun and make messes sometimes : )

This inquiry has had me thinking recently about the personal cost of striving so hard with each new painting, for that nebulous supremacy. I realized that for all the years of striving for, and believing in some kind of perfection, I lost-out on some of the joy of creation, as well as on the freedom to make mistakes and messes. I also think that at times I have overlooked my own voice, my unique contribution. Perhaps in my stressful striving, I missed noticing little mutations in my work that could open up new vistas in my artistic evolution.

I think I will follow Sara Glenn of the Painter’s Keys advice and “Fire with impunity the constipating sin of perfection” and replace it with the liberating blessing of imperfection.

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Sixty Paintings in One Day

 

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If you have ever gone to a figure drawing class, chances are you have done a gesture drawing. As a warmup for longer poses, gesture drawings are like warming up before a run. You get your eyes, mind and hand on the same page literally and figuratively.

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This one to five minute sketch  introduces you to your subject and loosens you up. The best thing about a gesture drawing is that it forces you to look at the whole model at once, to capture the feel in a few strokes. When drawing or painting our attention often focuses on the details and, to our detriment, we don’t see the overall image. Our brains are actually wired to see detail, so to override our biological impulse to render the eyelashes first, we can impose a  brief time limit. Shorter times translate into drawings with more gesture, vitality, and authenticity.

 

Recently I transferred the idea of gesture drawing to plein air painting. I set out to paint sixty, five-minute paintings in one day using gouache. As you might know if you read my posts, I just turned sixty, so it seemed like a good idea… at the time.

 

It was

 

and it wasn’t.

It was good  because the exercise helped me see the whole image right away. The influential French painter Ingres once told his students, “When studying nature, firstly have eyes for nothing but the whole”. With such a rigorous time constraint to fill the page, I had no time to see anything but the “whole”.

 

However, doing sixty paintings is an endurance event. In my planning I had neglected to figure in enough time to get from one painting site to the next. Often it was only a few steps, but I needed to move my easel, water and paints each time. The wind was whipping and constantly threatened to knock my whole set-up over, and did 4 times. Also, partly due to the wind, the gouache was drying on my palette pretty fast and after a few paintings I needed to clean up and replace colors. The whole process took longer and was more arduous than I had planed. Fatigue and the sunset were upon me before I could finish.

 

I completed the last of my 60 paintings in the studio using whatever was there as models and shortened the time limit for each to 3 minutes. I had to get home! 

 

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Though some of the landscape paintings are pretty abstract, they do have the feel of the path, the beach and the marsh.  I am tempted to take them back out and do a more “finished” rendering of the areas, but won’t. They are my gesture paintings and I will include some of them in my show, “21 Months, 147 Miles, Painting the Bay” at Dryden Gallery this coming fall. And the price you ask? Why sixty dollars of course! ; )

Swimming to Dutch Island

Because of my Paint the Bay project, 21 Months-147 Miles-Painting the Bay, I have had the opportunity to dovetail two of my favorite pursuits into a single event, Think, Triathlon or the Nordic Biathlon. I decided to call it Swainting! Continue reading

Celebration to Conservation

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A painting of mine called “Perched” is currently showing at MEAM, the European Museum of Modern Art in Barcelona Spain. The show hosts winners of two international competitions for realistic fine art. I am thrilled to be included in a show representing contemporary realism at its best. Perched is a 36” x 48” oil painting of a pear, quite different from the many gouache and oil sketches I have been doing recently along the Rhode Island waterfront.

Perched,48 x 30, Oil-2Artists may become known for a particular subject matter at which they are adept, or they may have a unique and exquisite approach to their medium. Once an artist has achieved a certain level of mastery, it makes a lot of sense to continuing doing what works so well. What interests me, however, is discovering what I can take from that past success and use in a new area.

At one time I was known as an animal portrait artist. I mostly painted dogs and had a business selling limited prints of my paintings through my company, Purebred Editions.
rapturousI received a number of national and international awards for the paintings and prints and at the time, to some, I was considered one of the top artists in the field. I could have kept painting dogs, but I didn’t.

flameInstead, I became interested in organic form and translucency. For years now, the pear in a produce wrapper has been my muse. Like my dog paintings, these are essentially portraits. I find the pears to be a lovely way to paint sensuality and explore light. Happily, I have enjoyed a positive response to these works, as the recent show in Barcelona attests.

This year however, Narragansett Bay is teaching me to be a landscape painter. It feels so freeing to simply paint what is there in front of me, designed by the sun, wind and water.

I love our bay, and I love exploring and discovering ways to share my experience of this RI treasure.

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As wonderful as it is for me to show my work internationally, I feel it is just as important, perhaps more important, to have my paintings leverage some amount of appreciation and conservation for Narragansett Bay.

To reach that goal I hope to fill the Grand Gallery at Dryden Gallery in Providence with works that range from 4 inches long to 24 feet long. Part of the proceeds from sales will go to Save the Bay to help them continue the fantastic job they have been doing for decades.

Is your brain tricking you?

What we see and what we perceive are two different things.

According to Donald Hoffman, a cognitive scientist, our brains filter out everything unnecessary for our survival. The things we think we see are more like icons on your computer screen; representatives of things we have encoded in our brains. There is an interesting Ted Talk about this: Do we see reality as it is?

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I have been aware of this phenomena to a certain extent for years. As someone who paints realistically, I know that once my brain has labeled what I see, I can no longer see it without bias. If I know a chair, which is in shadow, has four legs for support, I might paint what I know to be true and not what I am actually seeing, which is part of only three legs that reflect some of the light. There is the need to identify  individual objects with clear delineation of form, even  when they are grouped in such a way that in reality, you can not distinguish them from their surrounding. Equally true are issues around perspective. We just want to paint that desk as a rectangle even though to our eyes it’s a trapezoid.

Artists use tricks to see more accurately what is in front of them. We blur our vision to see the values better. We look at our paintings in a mirror or turn the canvas upside down to see it fresh and new.  But I have found that the best way to render something correctly is to have no idea what it is that you are painting!  Simply observe the color shapes and the changes in the edges and the values of those shapes. If you record that accurately,  voila! a perfect painting!, or at least a painting that mirrors what your eyes are seeing.

You can try this without painting. Look at something near you or look at the whole room. If you can, pretend you were just beamed here from another planet. You have never seen it before. You have no idea what it is. Look at the colors, the values, the edges and let what you see just be, without any explanation or identification.

Were you able to do this? Did you see something new or something that had been unnoticed before? I’d love to hear back from you!

Maybe not knowing can get us closer to the truth.