Monday, June 29, 2009

I dreamed I met Dali and Magritte at sunset

This ad is from an old medical magazine, published when surrealism was all the rage. I believe the ad is for sleeping pills. The night sure seems long and scary without Neurinase. A good way to knock out your "enfants" too, apparently.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The elemental things - Sue McNally at the Newport Art Museum

After reading a review of the Sue McNally show in the local paper, I decided it was time to weigh in with my impressions of the show now up at the Newport Art Museum.

The first painting I saw on entering the gallery was Paradise at Night. Across the room the white spotlight effect of the moon on the dark canvas was definitely a Strange Attractor. I took quick glance around the gallery and was at first sorry that there were only 3 of these large paintings, along with 3 smaller ones. But, although the gallery is huge, it could hardly contain the energy of any more.

As I approached I discovered that, not only are the large paintings composed of 3 panels each, but within those panels are many other paintings to explore. This is not a quick show to see.

In the center of Paradise at Night, a speck of a buoy in the column of moonshine seems very tiny and far away, floating as it does below the luminous and translucent clouds that rise above it. Although diaphanous, they are clearly part of the immense atmosphere. A tiny line of breaking surf brings me back to earth and stylized waves pulse into the concave coast with a pattern like the ridges on a clamshell.

Unfortunately this is not a very good representation of the painting, but will give an idea of how it's laid out

In another painting, The Last Valley, Paradise Rocks, she succeeds in her stated goal to "place the viewer within the scene". The feeling seems more authentic because once there you encounter a barrier of brambles and thickets. It's passable, but not without planning a careful path, even then it's still a scramble, except maybe for a path over the rocks on the right side that leads, not down to the ocean, but to a side overlook which will give a different perspective on the valley.

Within this painting there are many more. In one, slabs of rock rise from the reeds and I get the impression that there is a frenetic activity going on there, perhaps small animals moving over its surface and burrowing about in the brush.

The brambles are also wonderful paintings in their own right.

I really enjoyed spending time with all the energy and color of this show. Somehow much more rewarding than the sterile, one-ironic-idea installations that are being served up to a "world ...sick to its thin blood for lack of elemental things".

The show will be up till August 12 at the Newport Art Museum.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The day job out foxed

I used to be pretty good at my day job. I was the person who could fix the website when all other attempts failed. I could build new things too. I could edit other people's things. I made it look pretty. I actually took some pleasure in it. My co-workers thanked me.

Then, for some reason that made no sense at all, management moved me to another department. I won't whine about it, after all, "I'm lucky I still have a job" but... suffice to say that this job does not play to my strengths.

OK, a little whining...can't help it.

After a frustrating morning yesterday, I went to lunch and read a bit of "The Outermost House" by Henry Beston. He writes (in 1928!),
"The world today is sick to its thin blood for lack of elemental things, for fire before the hands, for water welling from the earth, for air, for the dear earth itself underfoot."
My soul soared. Then lunch was over and I took myself and my thin blood back to my cubicle, where I found several emails waiting for me pointing out my morning's transgressions ("did not I read the documentation on the proper procedures?!").

I was sick to my thin blood alright. I finally got on my bike for my commute home and by the side of the bike-path I spied (gasp!) a magical red fox, bounding over a bush and flowing into the undergrowth. Like something out of a fairy tale.

And you know, that was the most important thing that happened to me all day.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Fragile atmosphere

One morning I heard a weather report during which the weatherman (Art Lake, for all you Rhode Islanders. For the rest of you, no, I am not making his name up...) said something unexpectedly poetic. He said "the atmosphere is very fragile today"...I'm not sure what that meant, but I liked it! I painted this on my lunch break.

NOT FOR NOTHING, BUT: I'm sorry that they rebuilt the interior stairs in the Providence Art Club. I loved the old wide wavy wooden stairs. I imagine they were the original 1880's treads, worn into smooth organic slabs by thousands of artist's footsteps.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Must see - Sue McNally at the Newport Art Museum

I just came from a tremendous show of large and beautiful oil paintings by Sue McNally at the Newport Art Museum. It's up until August 12 and well worth a trip over the bridge. More later...

Saturday, June 13, 2009

A painting for Mesa Verde National Park

This morning I finally shipped my painting to Mesa Verde National Park as my donation and thanks for my time as Artist in Residence. It's been over a year since I had a chance to live in the park and explore the cliff dwellings, so it's a bit late, but the ranger in charge of the program, Coella Drenske, was very gracious and patient about it.

This was my second attempt at a full sized oil of the cliff dwellings. I posted the sketch for the first here but ran into trouble with it and it just wasn't interesting enough as a painting to struggle with. Sort of like having an argument about a subject that doesn't interest you. So I decided it would be better just to start fresh, and this is the result. I hope they like it.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Days of paint and roses

I had a day off from work yesterday, so was tempted to paint "en plein aire", but the weather was so nice I decided to paint outside instead.

There is a jetty at the end of the little peninsula I live on, about 1/2 mile from my studio. It's not very dramatic, a scruffy and littered patch of seagrass, a short breakwater and a pebbly beach, but I am very grateful to those who had the foresight to form a neighborhood association in order to stop a developer from somehow constructing 4 houses on the little spit of land. Now association members chip in to pay the taxes and we have access to the quiet beach with a view down to Conimicut light and the Newport bridge, and large patches of beach roses.

I spent a crazy amount of time organizing my painting gear. Thinking they were more practical working outside, I decided to bring Interactive acrylics, but I'm beginning to wonder if oils are more practical outside. The acrylics do have the advantage of drying quickly, which is useful at the start, but then I like to take my time in observation and mixing colors, and it is just too stressful to keep the acrylics workable, even with the Interactives ability to be "unlocked" back to a liquid state. I think the ideal would be to use both. I may try to make up a kit with just a few basic acrylics, and then my full palette of oils. It seems like I've been trying to come up with the perfect outdoor kit for years. I guess it's because I don't paint outside that much.

By the time I got down to the jetty the sun had come out. I set my easel up in the middle of a big patch of beach roses. I thought I was going to paint the roses, but the new-green of the leaves was so saturated, it managed to overpower the wild violet pink of the roses. After a few hours of mixing greens (not my best color!) the hot sun and hunger caused me to pack it up. I was a bit disappointed with the result, but I've brought it back to the studio and if I can pull anything out of it, I'll post a pic.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Artist as collector

I did something I've only done once before. I went to an opening last month and bought a painting! It's a strange experience to be on the other side of the checkbook, but feels nice too.

I know artists who have large collections of art objects and paintings, either traded or purchased, and their homes look great. I also know artists whose home ends up looking like extended studio space. I am one of the latter. Although my studio is detached from my house, I bring my work in to hang on my limited wall space so I can look at it in a different light and state of mind. So my walls are usually badly hung with half-finished paintings. I also have very little wall space to work with, due to an abundance of windows and doors in my little house. But now I've somehow acquired some really nice pieces, mostly from the generosity of other artists, and am going to have to think about finding permanent wall space to do justice to them.

The painting I bought? A Primiano of course, that I've been eyeing since I posted it here

Monday, June 1, 2009

A refuge and a presence - Sand Island in Lake Superior

The other day I was happily surprised to receive the following email.
"I came across your writings, paintings and photos of Sand Island just now. It brought back many wonderful memories of my youth in the early to mid 1940's. My Uncle, Mel Dahl - whose interview by Carol Ahlgren I have, owned a cottage on the East Bay. Our family spent the summers of the war years at the Dahl cottage. I remember well the old Model A automobile hulk rusting away in the brush which you have in one of your photos. In the early 40's I and my cousin spent many moments sitting in the driver's seat, trying to drive that car down "the road" !"

The nephew of Melvin Dahl, who was interviewed in 1987, and whom I quoted in 1999 in my Journal of my Artist in Residence experience from Apostle Island National Lakeshore somehow discovered my pages on Sand Island and was nice enough to contact me. I love when this happens, sometimes I get a bigger kick out of people coming to my website for non-art reasons, especially when they share why they love the subject from a different perspective.

Here's the quote, it's quite an amazing glimpse into the struggles of those early Sand Island settlers, some of whom moved to the island as a way to ride out the Great Depression:

But anyhow, then this. He went out and I asked him if I should go out with him and he said no, you’d better stay home and bake the bread because I had it rising in the pans. And that was the last I saw of him. He drowned. He got caught in a storm out on the lake. He never got back. He got crushed in an ice field in his boat. I suppose one and one half to two miles outside the lighthouse. It’s a pretty heavy water...
I went down by the docks and saw one boat that had come in and they said “Did your Dad get in?” I said “No”. And they said he’d had engine trouble. (It was) about four in the afternoon and they said if he didn’t make it then he probably wouldn’t. I went back to the house...and the dog was pretty upset...
...the funny part was—that dog—we had found him on the brother and I...were out on the ice and saw the dog and it was over by York Island...saw the dog over there and took him and brought him home and then it was our dog. And that night my dad didn’t come back from drownin out on the lake—I’d gone to bed, I was alone in the house. I heard this awful racket on the porch and here it was the dog trying to get in. I just woke from a dream and I heard the dog and I thought it was my dad knocking at the door to get in.
Then of course within the next 2-3 days I had to have him put away because I had to get out of there—I couldn’t stay.

—Melvin Dahl Nov 12, 1987 interview with Carol Ahlgren

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