On the left is my Pochade box, the very same painter's box that I used in Wellfleet last summer (see post from August 25, 2011). As shown here, it was on its way to 10 days in Paris. Not wanting to arrive rusty at the Luxembourg Gardens, I practiced a bit with this traveling equipment on the upstairs roof of our apartment building in New York City. What you see in the box's lid, the lid that becomes an easel, is a quick sketch of our roof pergola against the city sky. My plan was to visit Luxembourg Gardens and several other parks with this little box in hand, and to do quick oil sketches like the one shown here.
When Joan Osofsky, my traveling companion, and I arrived in Paris on April 11th, the weather had changed from days of marvelous sunshine and warmth to days of rain and cold. Paris was too wet and too chilly on many days. I needed to put aside plans for outdoor painting. But there were other ways of doing art work. Paris, after all, is a wonderful place for painting inspiration and practice whatever the weather. I was comforted and kept from disappointment by a story I remembered about the painter Bonnard and his approach to traveling as a painter:
At the start of their journey, Bonnard is picked up by a painter friend who has filled his car with painting equipment. Bonnard comes to the car empty-handed, no art supplies. His friend is shocked and asks Bonnard how he will be able to do his work on their trip to marvelous sites for painting. Bonnard responds simply: "Moi, j'observe (Me, I look)."
If it was okay for Bonnard to gather observations that he would later use in his studio, it was okay for me. So, on those rainy cold days, I replaced my Pochade box with paper and pencil and the ipad I looked, drew, and took notes and photographs as we made our way through the city streets, parks, and in museums.
Here are some of the images and notes from my travel journal.
This photo was shot through the window of one of the many stunning interior design studios on the Left Bank, near the Seine. It speaks to me of the power of fabric -- how it folds, spills over itself, its color. I need to put more fabric in my paintings.
Again, a photo with a store window (that's me you see taking the shot). This is a poster showing a detail from a very large painting by Pascal Vinardel, a contemporary artist whose work was being exhibited at the Galerie Mezzo (click here for www.galerie.mezzo.com
). This image says to me: Keep painting women who are sitting at tables.
Even in the very bad weather, the light in Paris is amazing. I love this shot for both what is says about light and what it evokes about painting. So many other painters have captured the Seine with this wide sweep of the river in the foreground and the border made by walkways and the street. As you stand here, it is so easy to imagine Matisse looking out his studio window and seeing this scene with his own distinctive eye and then capturing it for all of us on canvas. I wish I had a studio that looked down upon this. How many times could I paint this view!
I love to paint cabbages. Cezanne had his mountain, I have my cabbages. These are cabbages from a display at the market on Rue de Raspail, just minutes from the apartment where we stayed. Every stand was a visual delight.
In New York city, I make regular trips to the Union Square Market to find vegetables, fruits, and flowers to put in my still life paintings. That market is a very special part of living in New York and I enjoy the gift of its location right between my home and the painting studio where I work. But no matter how much I love Union Square, it doesn't take my breath away the way Paris food markets do.
This is the view from the window of what is now a museum and what was once a marvelous private home. I am taken by the arabesque that fills the garden and the iron guard in front of the window. A painting rule: Include the arabesque in a painting, whenever you can. Matisse knew why.
Our visit to the Museum of Hunting and Nature (Musee de la Chasses et de la Nature) was a delightful surprise. Don't be put off by fears of animal head trophies and endless paintings of hunting scenes. Yes, those are there but so is so much more. Add this museum of things that need to be seen in Paris (click here for museum website, www.chassenature.org
). Near the end of our tour, Joan and I came across a wonderful little room, an installation intended to be a portrait of the wife and husband who were the great patrons of the museum (the museum is made of what was their private collection). Francois and Jacqueline Sommer were great hunters and conservationists. The artist Mark Dion created as a portrait of them a hunting cabin filled with some of the couple's books, furniture, art work, travel souvenirs, smoking and drinking paraphenelia, etc. He did their portrait through objects that were meaningful to them. I have been working on this idea of portraits through objects for a while --- my own self-portrait through my painting of my favorite shoes, Dorothy's portrait that includes items from her silver and antique maps collections and her favorite jewelry, portraits of Beth's Aunt Rose and Uncle Jack through a painting of objects she gathered from the porch of their lakeside house. Seeing this room in Paris gives me lots more to think on and work with.
Yes, Paris style. Sometimes, the amazing fabric in Paris becomes amazing clothing. This is only one of countless shop windows with something fabulous in it. Looking at a jacket and shirt like this one, I understand why Matisse collected both textiles and finished pieces and clothing, and why they were so important for his painting.
This is a small section of the architectural gem that is Ste Chapelle on the Ile de la Cite. In that space, the amazing stained glass windows capture your attention. But there is more. For me, I fell in love this time with the walls and with what happens as you look across the walls and the columns. Color and pattern everywhere -- many different patterns artists put together to create an impressive effect of variety but also of complete coherence. It all works together.
Oh, this view in the Luxembourg Gardens. So many painters have painted it, but my favorite remains John Singer Sargent's versions (for an example, click here).
Yes, I did use the Pochade box. There were days when it stopped raining and it warmed a bit. On one of those, I finished this oil sketch of that view in the Luxembourg gardens.
And, when I returned to my studio in New York and the one in Pine Plains, I was able to put some of the Paris inspirations to work on canvas. See the fabric, the arabesque in that little dolphin fountain element, the strong color, the patterns, the influence of Cezanne in the arrangement of fruit and clay jar.
Even when the weather is not perfect, when it is overcast and it drizzles a little too persistently, the light in Paris is marvelous. I struggle with finding the right words. It's something I feel only in Paris, nowhere else -- a sense that life is being lit just as it should be.
In reading Edmund de Waal's wonderful book, The Hare with Amber Eyes, I find a quotation from the poet Rilke about Paris in the spring. I can see that light again.
...in my own experience only Paris and (in a naive way)
Moscow absorb the whole nature of the spring into them
as if they were a landscape...
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Oil on canvas, 87 3/4" x 114 1/8"
When Tim Jones and I first talked about a portrait project, just about a year ago, the pose I had in mind was of Tim at work. In Pine Plains and neighboring communities, Tim is well-known as a sixth-generation blacksmith who uses his formidable skills in the design and production of beautiful metal furniture. I could see a painting of him in his workshop studio, near his forge, anvil, and other tools. I even had a master painting to inspire me: The wonderful painting on the left by Velazquez, Apollo Visiting the Forge of Vulcan (1630). Velazquez's placement of people in the space where they work and his addition of work-related objects tells a story. It suggests psychological complexity and creates direct appeal in the painting (but no, I was not thinking of including a visitation by a god or many shirtless men).
I had also recently completed a portrait of Ralph Boekemeier, another famous resident of Pine Plains, at work. Ralph had found very meaningful and rewarding his work as a master carpenter. He and I had tried out many poses but it was only after he said that he would like to be painted with his tools that something clicked. I moved my easel from the studio into his basement workshop and we were able to capture the right pose -- Ralph at his drill press. Why not do Tim at work and launch a series called something like "Pine Plains at Work?"
Oil on linen, 20" x 24"
But it was not to be, at least not this time. The more Tim and I talked, the clearer it became we would go beyond an image of someone at work. Tim wanted the portrait to be a broader statement about who he understands himself to be, especially for his son; and painting him just at work -- Tim as blacksmith/Tim as artist -- was to put him in too small a box for what he would call his identity. He talked about there being more to his life than work. His love of nature and being outdoors needed to be part of our project. Arrows and antlers had to be in the painting. Tim said he could see himself posing in front of a favorite large green and grey lichen-covered rock on the mountain where he lives. He was so convincing about this that, in spite of the cold December weather, we went off to the mountain. It was indeed a great rock and he did look right in front of it. But I had my worries. The plan was to begin the portrait in mid-April and finish it in time for the Hammertown summer exhibition. How could we be sure of a sufficient number of comfortable days of dry and warm enough weather to work outside? Also, the pose was on a mountain. How would I get myself and all my painting gear up the side of this mountain? How would and I and my stuff stay put on this mountain? Tim's offer to build a platform on which I could paint couldn't be reassuring enough, given how much I move around as I paint, especially back and forth. So, we went back to talking about what we might do in my studio to capture something of the outdoors, and also to address Tim's idea that there was "more to his life" than what just one pose would suggest.
During the winter months, I worked on ideas for the spring painting of Tim. I looked at many other portraits. But it was by accident, in a literary magazine, Times Literary Supplement, that I came upon the portrait painting that just stopped me in my tracks.
Oil on canvas, 20" x 31"
On the left is Portrait of a Goldsmith in Three Views (ca 1529-1530)
by the Italian artist, Lorenzo Lotto. It seemed perfect for the project with Tim. It was a portrait of an artist/artisan and it spoke to the issue of the need for more than one image of a person. In this painting, Lotto made the point that painting could be just as good as sculpture at showing the fullness of human form. I wasn't interested in the painting versus sculpture debate but I was very drawn to how Lotto had put on canvas the psychological idea about the multiplicity of identity: people are not captured in just one pose or view. Lotto's painting of the same subject from three different angles was the first of its kind. (If you want to know more about Lotto and his painting, see Roderick Conway Morris' review of a recent exhibition of his work in Rome, click here for the review).
When Tim and I got together again in April, I showed him this painting and we talked about recent research in psychology on self and identity. We covered ideas like those about fluidity in identity and about how people negotiate their many identities while they simultaneously seek to hold onto some sense of unity and coherence of self. Tim connected with these ideas instantly. We were soon onto talking about how many and which of his many identities we would place on the canvas and what else we would put into the painting. It all fell quickly into place. Without lots of words, we decided: the identities would be three. They would represent Tim, the outdoors person in the central position; Tim, the artist/artisan, the image I had anticipated and knew what most folks would expect, on the right; and on the left would be Tim, the man who needs to go out into the public to promote and sell the work he designs. Also effortless was our selection of clothing and props for each Tim. He sat in one place in the studio, just changing into the right clothing and props for "each Tim," and I moved my easel around the room. Here is what we came up with through our collaboration, Portrait of Tim Jones in Three Views:
Several friends who read my last blog about my new dog, Ula, said they would like to see some examples of those paintings with little dogs that I wrote about in the post. At left is Goya's haunting painting, The Dog,
from his Black Paintings series. To see Bonnard's The Bathroom with little brown dog at center stage, click here. And for an early but still provocation Lucian Freud of Girl with a White Dog, click here.
From September 18, 2011–January 9, 2012, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City (MOMA) will present a major exhibition that will cover the full career of Willem de Kooning, an artist thought by many to be one of the greatest and most productive artists of the 20th century. The exhibition with its more than 200 works will take over the entire sixth floor of the museum. Including paintings, drawings, sculptures, and prints, the exhibition will allow a look at some of the artist’s most famous landmark pieces and a view of de Kooning’s development and change over seven decades. Visit http://www.moma.org/visit/calendar/exhibitions/1149 for more information (click here to get to that site).
A wonderful way to prepare for a visit to this exhibition is to take a look at the very competent biography of de Kooning: Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan, de Kooning: An American Master. 2004. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
The book offers wonderful depictions of the artist at work in his studios that will only enhance the viewing of the works he produced in those studios.
Without reducing one to the other, the authors effectively make the point that de Kooning’s life is his work and that de Kooning’s work is his life. Also, in their very careful look at de Kooning, the most individualistic of painters, the authors bring to life an entire society and culture. We learn not only about de Kooning, but also about the key people in his life; other important figures; the cities and other places that he inhabited; and the important artistic, intellectual, and political trends of the time.
The final chapters of this big book that cover de Kooning’s final work about which there was much debate are fascinating. They display of the mix of people and the mix of motivations involved in the production of these late paintings and show us the inadequacy of many of the questions we ask about art and life. The authors successfully complicate how we think about art its authenticity.
This is the current exhibition at The Drawing Center, 35 Wooster Street, New York, New York. If there were a book titled The Best Small Museums and Places to See Art in New York,
The Drawing Center would certainly be in the book (www.drawingcenter.org
). For anyone interested in drawing very broadly defined, this is a place to know about and visit. The current exhibit includes 59 rarely exhibited engraved metal printing plates, all from the Istituto Nazionale per la Grafica (ING) in Rome. There are contemporary plates and very old engraving plates, the earliest dating back to the 16th century. Even without the prints that were produced, it is wonderful to see up close the plates themselves and all the art, the skills of the engravers who drew and sculpted the plates, that went into making them.There is also a very special treat to be found in the exhibit within the exhibit, the "Decalogo" of Paolo Canevari (b. 1963, Rome, now in New York)
. There are 10 large etched plates that the artist intended to be the artworks. Although prints have been made from them, the artist conceived of the plates and the installation of them as the art. They work as emotional and political statements. Go experience them.Both the exhibit and the exhibit within the exhibit are at The Drawing Center through June 24, 2011.
This is Paolo Canevari's plate of an etching of a burning tree. It measures 55 x 35 x 3/4 inches. He has done the engraving with dry-point on nickel-plated copper. The surface he works on is highly reflective. What you see in the photograph is his etching of a tree in conflagration, and reflections on the gallery floor and walls (with other plates hanging on the walls). Also, if you look closely, you will see me taking the photograph of the plate. Those are my feet that have joined the trees root system.
It has been a long winter. Hoping that a painting of flowers would make spring come sooner, I started a bouquet of parrot tulips in oil.