Saturday, January 29, 2011

Into the Woods, Part II

I am working on my painting Dancing Landscape (48x36", acrylic on board) and it reminds me of the "birthplace" of my blog.  Dancing Landscape portrays the view from the trail by the petrified waterfall at Floracliff Nature Sanctuary in Fayette County, Kentucky (please see, left). Walking in the woods that day in October with a robust gathering of folks celebrating the 400th birthday of Woody C. Guthree, a chinquapin oak, I felt completely in my element. This is what I want to paint!
     The next weekend also found me walking among the trees, but these trees were on canvasses painted by Max Liebermann, Lovis Corinth and Max Slevogt. I felt a tingle of inspiration.  These artists had the same desire to celebrate nature.  Wait, maybe that is not quite correct.  Karen Wilkin in a review in The Wall Street Journal   (30 November 2010)writes: " the German works, French-type enthusiasm for the appearances of landscape seems charged here with a mystical desire to be 'one with nature,' a phenomenon  that anyone with German friends will recognize as still current."  That explains a lot!
As I took in the exhibit (actually, two: "German Impressionist Landscape Painting" and "Drawing from Nature: Landscapes by Liebermann, Corinth and Slevogt") I was besotted.  This is how I want to paint!  Freedom.  Yet firmly grounded in the given world.  Sounds like contentment...
     One painting in particular grabbed my attention:  Red Arbor with Dog, an earlier painting by Max Slevogt.  It is a dark and moody image that draws you right in.  I thought about what I could paint that would give a similar feeling and thought of the fence rows of blackberry bushes near my studio.  I could have even included a dog, since little Luke often accompanies me on walks out at the lake!  (But, I did not...) Below is my painting, Red Fence Row.
     What struck me most about Lovis Corinth was his ability to so convincingly depict the steep slopes of his Alpine setting (later in his life he painted at Walchensee in Upper Bavaria). So, it was very interesting to learn that a stroke that afflicted him at the age of 53, affected his spacial perception. Most of Corinth's landscape works were painted after his stroke.  Below is  his painting, The Herzogstand at Walchensee in the Snow. In my painting Dancing Landscape, I tried to convey the same sense of  slope.
      Viewing this exhibit, there was an overall feeling of liberation. Here is how Karen Wilkin of The Wall Street Journal describes the Liebermann, Corinth, Slevogt paintings:  "All three artists' paintings are direct and bold, as if the painterly tradition of Hals and Rubens had been co-opted for other purposes.  All three revel in manipulating paint, suppressing details in favor of virtuoso mark-making.  Slashing brush-strokes and rapid scribbles.."   It is the "at oneness" with the landscape that enraptures this artist.

There is an excellent catalogue from the exhibit:  German Impressionist Landscape Painting  Liebermann-Corinth-Slevogt, edited by Gotz Czymmek and Helga Kessler Aurisch, Arnoldsche Art Publishers

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Way I See It

When I wrote up the last blog ("Nine Years Old") I first used the photo I took on September 11, 2001 because I did not have the photo of my painting at the ready (I had to convert the slide of the painting to digital).  Looking at the two images, it struck me that I remember the day much more as I had painted it than how I had photographed it.  This is why I paint!  There is enchantment in the landscape...
    Much of my work as an artist involves collecting images for painting.  I do this every day, on every walk I take.  I am considering colors and lines.  Fortunately, I usually have my camera with me.  But before I take a picture, there is a motive.  There is a reason I am attracted to that image.  That is what I bring to the painting of the scene.  I don't just copy the photograph. I certainly wouldn't use a projector--that would remove my impetus.  In the above painting, I was mostly influenced by the brilliant blue of the sky and the late September color of the grass and sycamore leaves.  The trees had a beautiful shape, too, and I wanted to bring that out.  That shape comes through on the the photograph, and I did push and pull at the image to make it sing the way I desired.  But, if I had to go by the photograph alone, the colors would be quite different.  Personally, I think my memory is more accurate--at least in how I observed the scene that day.

My painting, "Angel Tree" also illustrates how I use photographs to make paintings. When I was walking in the woods at Blue Licks back in October, I knew that the Advent Angel Art Exhibit was coming up and I needed to make a painting.  Walking down the trail toward the Licking River, I looked up to see a decidedly blue tree centered between the arcade of trees on either side of the path.  It was a sycamore along the river.  Naturally, I took a photo, but first came the inspiration:  a blue tree!  When I arrived down by the riverside, the same sycamore was a brilliant white against the sky, like an angel.  Voila! My angel painting.  I took another photo (see photos below).  When I set to work on the painting, I was doing a fair amount of pushing and pulling to create what I wanted.  Since this was for an angel exhibit at a church, I  brought out the arch of the natural arcade. While preserving the beautiful blue of the lower part of the tree, I made the upper limbs brilliant white that in person I had only seen  from the riverside perspective. I am also working to convey how I feel, coming upon that scene which is both magic and reality. That is why I am an artist! This is my reality--how I see the world and what I want to share with you.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Nine Years Old

For some time, I've been anticipating my dog's ninth birthday; but ever since the shooting in Arizona, "nine years old" has taken on a more profound resonance. Aren't we all in wonder of the short life packed with so much wisdom?  It seems as though being born on September ll, 2001 would be a bleak beginning.  Yet, I imagine that Christina Taylor Green's arrival on that day gave her parents a hopeful perspective.  This hopefulness radiates out from that young life.  She seemed destined to be an antidote to the hatred of terror.
   I had an experience on September ll, 2001 which was not as miraculous as the arrival of a child, but it likewise gave me a lasting hopeful perspective.  My friend Meg and I set out early on a long-planned plein air trek.  When I stopped at her house to pick her up, I turned off the radio news so we could talk.  As we drove out to our beautiful destination we were delighted that it was a pitch-perfect blue sky day.  All morning through the early afternoon we were nourished by a glorious peaceful setting.  We had no idea of what was unfolding in New York, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania.  The idyll came to an abrupt end when we stopped by an antiques shop close to our plein air scene before heading back to Lexington.  The shop owner questioned whether she should be open and the radio was prominent.  The word "triage" hit me and I wondered what had happened; certain that it must have happened in the Middle East.  Meg and I had a hard time understanding all this information. We were totally dumb-struck.  The shop owner was incredulous that we were so clueless. We went to the car and headed home in a state of disbelief (and listening to the radio).  How could anyone think of flying an airplane into a skyscraper?  I still don't understand that.
    However, it was too late for total despair.  I had seen that terrorists are limited in their power. Certainly, I would not have felt this way if I lived in the places of the attacks or if a loved one had been on one of the planes; even if I had kept the radio on that morning.  But I knew,  as horrific as their carried-out plot was, it was not a match for the force of life. Humans have a much greater capacity for love than hate; or else humanity would have perished long ago.  When these tragic events occur, the amazing stories of people's lives are revealed; people who are so randomly at the wrong place at the wrong time.  I wish we could know and appreciate these stories with out the sacrifice of their lives.  It would be so much better for a nine-year-old to be allowed to turn ten and enjoy a full life of birthdays, but I am grateful for her young life of hope.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Seeing Beauty

     Beauty is very important to me.  I am not talking about personal beauty.  No, looking more like the ogre version of Mrs. Shrek than the princess (okay, except for the green skin) encourages me to seek beauty outside of myself.  This brings a lot of satisfaction and I consider it my calling in life.
    Is seeing beauty important enough to be a calling?  I believe it is.  When we see the beauty in a landscape, we are loathe to defile it.  We are careful with the resources the landscape provides.  We attempt to be good stewards of our home and others'.  When we see beauty in other people, we acknowledge their gifts and appreciate what they bring to our culture.  This appreciation nullifies prejudice and hatred.  The need for justice is lessened because less injustice exists.  We have a better sense of our place in the world as we are not threatened so much by creatures/people/landscapes as we are nourished by them.
     This is not to suggest that this is my absolute way of being.  Actually, I am irrationally invested in the opinion pages of the papers.  But, I notice that when I appreciate an other's gift; when I see their beauty; it makes me feel more beautiful.  When I am walking in the woods, my whole life is beautiful.  This is what I want to share with others.  This is my calling.