Monday, August 30

Charles M. Russell-Western Art At Its Best

Desert Flow
Acrylic on Canvas
16 x 20 in/41 x 51 cm
Copyright 2008
This summer has gone by too fast. I was reminded of that over the weekend.

Way back at the beginning of June, there was an exhibit that just opened at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston (MFAH), and I was interested in seeing it. It was The Masterworks of Charles M. Russell: A Retrospective of Paintings and Sculpture.

As I recall, all the exhibits at MFAH usually last for months and months, and you seem to have all the time in the world to plan your visit. Well, the Russell exhibit closed over the weekend. I thought it would last at least until October. Has this happened to anyone else?

Luckily, I just happened to read about its impending close, and I got down there to see it the day before it did.

I’m not necessarily a big, big fan of Western art, but I do appreciate its unique place in American art. For those in other parts of the world, this is art depicting the “settling” of the American West in the 19th century, a time of frontier discovery and conflict as the American population moved west into Native American territories. It depicts cowboys, “Indians,” cattle, horses, and beautiful landscapes among other things.

Charles Russell is regarded as one of the masters of this genre, the other being Frederic Remington. The MFAH happens to have one of the best collections of Remington paintings, and it was here that I first saw Western art.

Anyway, this exhibit was put together by the Denver Art Museum in Colorado along with the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma where much of Russell’s work resides. There is a nice mix of his early and later paintings, he died in 1926, along with about a half-dozen sculptures.

Russell actually worked as a real cowboy in the US state of Montana, so he paints from experience. I like his later work better. He was self-taught, and you can see the growth and refinement in his brushwork and color. One card next to a painting explained that his style matured after he took an extended visit to art galleries and museums in New York City in the late 1890s.

His paintings are pure realism especially those of the cowboys at work. One technique he used was to paint what I call stop-motion. This is used in a good manyof his paintings and, for example, it shows scenes where horse and rider are in mid-fall to the ground with dust billowing or gunshots just fired with muzzles blazing. It’s a technique that wouldn’t work today, but back then I’m guessing he used it to show the excitement and perils of the place and time.

The piece de resistance of the whole show is Russell’s magnificent painting, When The Land Belonged To God. It shows thousands upon thousands of buffalo moving over hill and valley in an endless stream toward the viewer with the focal point being a handful coming over a ridge at daybreak. It’s described in terms of a world masterpiece, and one art critic said, “a painting you must see before you die.”

Well, I’m glad I got to see it before then and before the exhibit closed.

Until next blog…

Thursday, August 26

Keeping It Real--Torn Between Realism and Impressionism

Acrylic on Canvas
18 x 24 in/46 x 61 cm
Copyright 2010
I wanted to let you know that I am torn between painting styles. A few months, and a few blogs, ago I talked about my painting style. I said then that I really enjoyed the loose, open, and atmospheric Impressionistic style. I still believe that is how I’m destined to paint most of my subjects.

However, and there’s always a however whenever you make a definitive statement, isn’t there?

For whatever reason, I keep painting paintings that can be described as nothing other than realism. Just look at today’s image.

Now, I wouldn’t call it photo-realism even though from a distance one may think it looks like a photo. I say that because I don't think I'm obsessive-compulsive enough to paint down to the very last detailed brick or pane of glass (thank goodness).

But you could certainly say it's representational since there’s no doubt that clearly it’s a painting of a ship in a harbor with a backdrop of office buildings.

But it’s a long, long way from the loose, open, and atmospheric Impressionistic style.

OK, so what? Why am I torn?

Like the person who keeps repeating the same action but is always hoping for a different outcome, I think painting realism has become a habit, not necessarily a bad habit, but a habit all the same.

I am torn because I don’t particularly like realism…that much. Note, I didn’t say I don’t like it at all. Just so you know, when I look at a realistic, and especially a photo-realistic, painting my first thought is, “that looks just like a photograph,” rather than, “what a beautiful and glorious painting.”

In other words, the realism actually gets in the way of my viewing the painting.

It has taken me over a year to realize this, and I’m torn because I want to be certain I’m on the right artistic path. Unfortunately, nothing in life is for-certain.

Until next blog…

Monday, August 23

My Opinion: Work of Art, The Next Great Artist

Oops, I did it again. That is, I’m blogging about the reality art TV show--Work of Art, The Next Great Artist, which I had previously said twice that I wouldn’t (blog about, that is). Sometimes you just change your mind.

I DVR’d the entire series and was consistently a week (or two) behind in watching it. Well, I finally watched the final episode this morning.

In case you don’t have a clue as to what I’m talking about, you should go Google ‘Work of Art’ and ‘Bravo TV’ and read up on what this is all about if you’re interested.

The last show aired on August 11, so I don’t think I’m giving anything away, but just in case you haven't seen it—Spoiler Alert, stop reading now if you don’t want to know who won.

In my previous blog on this subject on June 14, and in which I first said I wouldn’t blog, I talked about art not being a competition. I believe artists are not in completion with each other. Art is not a sport. After watching the whole series, I still believe that.

I was not at all surprised at who won. I had pegged Abdi Farah as the ‘winner’ on the next to last show or 'competition' as they called it. In that episode, Abdi's work was head and shoulders above the other contestants, and I just knew then he was going to win the whole thing. His artwork for that show was a larger than life profile image of himself lying flat that seemed to levitate above water. It was high contrast in what looked mostly black and white. I couldn’t tell, and the show did not provide, exactly what the medium was. It looked like charcoal and acrylic, maybe, but not sure. Whatever, it was thought-provoking, and the judges thought so, too.

The other contestants deserved to be in the final, but in the end Peregrine and Miles didn’t make the grade.

Since watching the final episode, I looked online for more information about Abdi. On the Bravo TV site it provides his bio, which I had not read. Turns out he’s a University of Pennsylvania art graduate and has previously been awarded several notable art prizes and scholarship studies, one in the South of France.

So, he wasn’t exactly a completely unknown young artist.

The show was more entertaining than I thought it would be although much of the art was self-serving and amateur-ish in my artistic opinion, for whatever that's worth. 

I don’t know if Abdi actually will be the Next Great Artist, but it should be interesting to follow to see if it happens.

Most of the online reviews of the show are pretty snarky, mostly along the lines that the art world is too good for such a reality show. However, all in all, I think it was not a bad summer diversion.

Until next blog…

Thursday, August 19

No More Monets, No More Picassos, No More Pollocks, Etcetera

I have a theory. It’s just my theory and my theory alone; it’s not based on any scientific or statistical analysis of any kind.

It is based on knowledge obtained by my reading and observation in both the physical art world (gallery openings, art museum exhibits, art news and magazines in print) as well as the virtual art world (online art news and magazines, art websites, artist websites, art blogs).

My theory is: there will not be another artist to emerge and gain lasting, worldwide acclaim and fame.

What does that mean? It means that the “art world” is now so fragmented, the competition among the huge number of artists so great, and the use of the internet so pervasive, that no artist will ever again be able to attain a lasting place of prominence.

Why do I make such a seemingly ridiculous and ludicrous statement? Well, ironically the internet age has had the effect of flooding the art market, so that the ability of any single artist to break out and achieve worldwide fame is greatly diminished.

Opposite to what you'd expect, the internet’s ability to target narrow and niche markets will mean fewer artists, not to mention fewer art galleries and art museums, will be able to promote their greatness to a broad, worldwide audience as mass communications once did.

To put it another way, there will be no “group-think” agreement on the greatness of any one artist going forward.

Artists, of course, and art galleries and art museums will not agree at all with my theory on this. So be it.

However, name me one artist since, let’s say, 2005 who has exhibited, sold, or otherwise garnered worldwide fame anywhere near the scope a Michelangelo, a da Vinci, a Monet, a Picasso, a Mondrian, a Pollock, or a Rothko—I could go on. You could make a case for Damien Hirst, but even he gained fame in the last century before the advent of the internet. (And, yes, I am aware of the notion that an artist has to be dead before he or she can become famous.)

Good luck getting a video of an artist’s work to go viral on YouTube.

Art’s best days are not behind it, but the landscape has changed. There will be no new artists of lasting, worldwide acclaim and fame. 

Until next blog…

Tuesday, August 17

I Should Learn to Draw or Paint People (Fearlessly)

Are you a people painter? I’m not. I suppose I'm just not sure enough of my ability. Darn you, self-confidence.

I would like to be able to paint people—not portraits, necessarily, but I would like to feel confident enough to at least add a human or two to some of my paintings.

I think painting people is more difficult than other subjects. That may not be true, but, perception is reality. When a human is not painted well, it looks goofy unless we're talking abstraction, which I'm not.

I think mis-painting a person will stand out more, way more, than mis-painting a tree or a building. Like the proverbial sore thumb that sticks out, it will be so obvious that you cannot paint the human figure.

The fear is that it may/will mark me as an incompetent artist. Irrational maybe, but again perception is reality. I’m really scared of faces, you know, full-on or quarter views of just a person’s face. Maybe I’m a competent enough artist but an incompetent people painter. I’m not sure when I let this fear creep in.

Today’s images are a couple of of faces I drew with graphite pencil a while back from photos. I guess they're not so bad, but the experience was nerve-racking, so I haven’t tried it since.

Just so you know, I recently received a very nice book, Anatomy for the Artist, and I must say I’m intrigued. It looks like a medical book to me, like I really know what’s in a medical book. It has pages on bones and muscles and what they’re all called. There are pages about noses and ears and feet and parts in the nether regions as well.

What! You have to learn anatomy to be an artist? I don’t think so.

I do feel confident enough as an artist to be able to look at something and actually see it clearly enough so that I can draw or paint it correctly. The book will be a big help to me in learning to see the different parts of the body even if I don’t know what their scientific names all are.

Okay, now I’m feeling a little better about the whole thing. I’ll let you know when and if I put a person in one of my paintings.

Until next blog…

Thursday, August 12

What Artists Do...or What WAS My State of Mind When I Painted This Pastel?

What WAS my state of mind
 when I painted this pastel?

It's one of those mornings when my mind is wandering, and I’m not exactly sure what this artist’s blog will contain today.

I’m only guessing that other artists feel this way, that is, not exactly sure what their next painting, artwork, or even the day, will contain.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that’s perfectly normal. Why not?

In fact, I would go so far as to say that artists are likely to be more uncertain, more unsure, more doubtful, even more confused than the rest of the merely human general population.

How can I make this statement? Have you ever known any artists? Let me count the ways. I know one artist who said, when discussing a third artist, "Oh, he's even more manic-depressive than I am."

Now, that's an endorsement!

We constantly, either consciously or sub-consciously, seek ideas, vignettes, settings, colors, etcetera, for our next works of art. That, I contend, is what sets us apart from others. Yes, we are different, in that respect anyway.

Of course, there are those artists who are organized, very business-like, with their online day planners and  timeframes for painting, applying to shows and galleries, and marketing activities all neatly and precisely arranged in order. They, of course, have a regularly updated e-mail list in which to keep their "collectors" and others (such as me, I guess) informed of their very important activities. I'm on some of those e-mail lists.

I am not like that and do not do that, and you probably are not like that and do not do that either. (I'm doing good just to get my painting done AND have this blog going at the same time, believe me.)

Anyway, I digress.

We wander around both physically and mentally. We search. We conjure. We wonder. We contemplate.

We evaluate. We over-compensate.

We apply. We render. We paint. We sketch. We draw. We shape. We sculpt. We fret. We re-do.

We are insecure.

However, in spite of all that or maybe because of all that, we look and we are able to see.

And, in two or three dimensions, we render our viewpoint of the world around us.

Until next blog…

Monday, August 9

Go On Vacation (or On Holiday) with Acrylics

At the Harbor
Acrylic on Canvas
18 x 24 in/41 x 61 cm
Copyright 2010

We’re in the ‘dog days’ of August in the northern hemisphere, which means a lot of people are on vacation, or on holiday, as some call it. Whatever you call it, it’s a time to relax and do something different. Get out of your rut.

If you paint primarily in acrylic, I hope you share my enthusiasm for the medium. If you haven’t tried acrylic for whatever reason, you really should give it a try. I think you will be happy, if not excited, about new possibilities for your art.

I am currently painting in acrylic only. I am learning as much as I can about how to combine my personal style and technique with this medium.

I am enjoying the experience. Every painting is a new experience, and therein lies the inspiration and the promise of fulfillment. I’m using a limited palette on some paintings and a broader palette on others.

So what if acrylic has its own set of quirky characteristics? You can and should use them to your advantage. For example, if you are fast and loose with the paintbrush, then you and acrylic should make a great team because of the quick drying time.

I am currently working in an impressionistic style, and I’m finding acrylics to be a great partner. It’s great for daubing and quick brushstrokes of broken color. You can quickly see the results of your creative efforts, and you can easily make any necessary corrections.

Today’s image is a painting I completed last week. I painted it alla prima in one afternoon. I used a limited acrylic palette of ultramarine blue, alizarin crimson, viridian, and titanium white.

Relax! Go on vacation (or holiday) with acrylics.

Until next blog…

Thursday, August 5

Have You Thought About Norman Rockwell Lately?

I was lucky enough to be in Washington, D.C., last weekend.

Whenever I’m in D.C. I feel I must visit at least one art museum while I’m there. In Washington, you really have your pick, and you will never be disappointed.

This time it was between the Phillips Collection, the National Gallery, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Each had something I wanted to see.

The Phillips is supposed to have one of the best collections of Impressionist paintings in America, and I’ve never been to see it.

There was also an exhibit of Edvard Munch’s paintings at the National Gallery.

And there was a Norman Rockwell exhibit at the Smithsonian.

What to do?

Well, I chose the Norman Rockwell. It wasn’t the $12US per person charge at the Phillips. Really, it wasn’t. As it turned out, the Munch’s were merely prints of his paintings, and hey, I want to see the real thing.

That left the Smithsonian. Although I am not THAT big a fan of Rockwell, I am a movie fan, so I did want to see 'Telling Stories-Norman Rockwell from the Collections of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg,’ the actual name of the exhibit.

I like Rockwell’s work although it can get to be a little schmaltz-y and tuggy-at-your-heart-strings for my taste if you know what I mean. For example, in the painting, Happy Birthday Miss Jones, there is a 1940s-era classroom in which a teacher beams out at the class that has ‘been bad’ by writing Happy Birthday all over the blackboard. Isn’t that swell? How times have changed.

I’m as sentimental and patriotic as the next guy, but if I could have given any advice, it would have been, “don’t overdo it.”

But he is an icon in American art. I think there are 65 paintings and charcoal-and-pencil studies of the paintings in the exhibit.

And his work and technique are certainly very fine. His subjects are rendered in a highly representational style. He had a long career lasting from World War I era through the 1970s.

Rockwell is probably the antithesis of en plein air painting. Almost all of his paintings were set up and staged; that is, he cajoled (or hired?) the models in his paintings to sit, stand, and otherwise be directed in the studio; hence, the tie-in with movie moguls Lucas and Spielberg.

I get it. But I still don’t necessarily like being swept up in one of Rockwell’s orchestrated scenes.

Until next blog…

Monday, August 2

Some New Art Books to Read


I hope your art day is going well. I spent the morning perusing art books at a great used bookstore. I don't know about you, but oftentimes my art books give me a lift and just the inspiration I need.

I ended up purchasing the following books:

Hopper Places by Gail Levin, a book about the locations in New York and New England where Edward Hopper painted his pictures of cityscapes, lighthouses, etc.

Monet by Alberto Martini, a book about Claude Monet, of course, but with large photos of his paintings, some of which I had not seen before.

The Great Book of French Impressionism by Diane Kelder, which is not a big book at all, but is a small format book with a little history and a lot of photos of Impresssionist paintings.

American Impressionism by William Gerdts, a sister book the one above except on American Impressionists, of course.

Portrait of Dr. Gachet The Story of a Van Gogh Masterpiece by Cynthia Saltzman, a history of the famous Van Gogh painting.

I can't wait to read all of these.

Until next blog...