Friday, August 26, 2016

Gowanus Expressway and How to Judge a Book


Facing north this time, we present a 12x12 oil on canvas view of Hamilton Avenue under the Gowanus Expressway.

One final anecdote from the Corot catalog: Corot painted several pictures of women reading.  "According to Theophile Silvestre, a contemporary of Corot, the artist hardly ever read, but he bought books along the quays, 'exclusively for their shapes and colors,' in order to put them into the hands of his models."

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

A Site Sublime


Another corner off Hamilton Avenue, Hicks Street and Luquer, near the Gowanus Expressway in Red Hook, early in the morning.  This is a 12x12 oil on canvas.

Maybe apropos to this site in Brooklyn, I read in the Corot catalog another story about him: one time he was visiting friends in a small French village.  There he encountered a "... site so sublime that he fell on his knees before it, arms raised to the sky."

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Inadequate Allowance


A small 9x12 oil on canvas view from below the Gowanus Expressway on Hamilton Avenue near Bush Street in Brooklyn, New York.

Another story from the Corot catalog that I'm reading:  when in 1846 Corot received the Legion of Honor, "his father wondered whether the allowance given his son --then aged fifty--should be increased."  Two other 19th century artists who depended upon a family allowance to survive: Cezanne and Van Gogh.

Friday, August 19, 2016

The Spirit Came



This afternoon I went to the pond again.  The water was like a mirror when I arrived, and I planned on painting it that way, but the spirit came across the water and everything changed.  This view is of the south side of the pond.  The painting is a 12x16 oil on panel.

I'm currently reading a Met catalog of a Corot exhibition which took place mainly in 1996.  Corot, like his contemporaries who were painting plein air in Italy and France (early-mid 1820s), tried to remain faithful to the topography, though that idea didn't carry through with studio landscapes.  However, staying true to the topography was a novelty, so much so that one mid-19th century French critic (Silvestre) wrote that "... the academic landscapists prune the trees and weed out the mosses in the forest of Fontainebleau finding virgin nature too ordinary for the grand style."  I find amusing the idea that the artist can improve on nature.  If whatever one is thinking of painting doesn't appeal, then one can always move.  Significant changes to a natural setting and contrived nature are usually apparent.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Arches de Gowanus


One could call this painting, a 14x18 oil on canvas, Les Arches de Gowanus.  It represents a view under the Gowanus Expressway from Hamilton Avenue near Clinton and West 9th Streets.  It's a very busy, noisy place, though I left out most of the moving things and the sound.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Paint, Wait, and Paint


This afternoon the weather improved, so I went back to the pond.  I planned on using a square panel, which turned out to have a fault, so I resorted to a 9x12 rectangular panel.  But the vertical view was more interesting.  So here we have a 12x9 oil on panel.  I painted quickly, having already scouted out this view.  Then I waited for the wind to die down, and the water surface to settle.  I waited some more.  I had already prepared some paint.  Then it happened, and I painted again.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Frieze and Van Gogh


This painting is an 18x24 inch oil on canvas of a street view in Bordeaux just after the rain has stopped.  I focused on the frieze of walkers and the parked car.

I've been reading A Power Seething, a wonderful biography of Vincent Van Gogh by Julian Bell.  He writes that in 1885 when Van Gogh was still in Nuenen, he decided to do a series of fifty peasant heads, a project he finished.  Bell goes to say, "Vincent was now overcoming the earlier awkward disjoint between his intentions as a drawer and his instinctual feel for oil paint.  Alone in a quiet nowhere, he was pushing that medium as hard as any of his contemporaries in Europe."  Of course, Bell can write this now because we have a long view backwards, and Van Gogh did go on to paint much greater pictures,  and we know who his contemporaries were.

As I read Bell's book, I constantly thumb through a small Taschen publication of the complete paintings to get a sense of his growth as a painter.  Despite his accomplishment in 1885, if Van Gogh had died then, no one would remember him today.  What is so remarkable is that his greater paintings were done in the last four years, or maybe, the last two years of his life.  The paintings that everyone can identify all belong to the last two years.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

A Horse I Couldn't See


The first time I saw this pond, I was at least a 1000 feet above it, looking down from Wilbur's Clearing on Mount Prospect.  That was many years ago, long before I was painting pleinair landscapes.  I clearly remember thinking how nice that there's a pond there.  Like a teardrop.  Today, it was hot and so humid that the paint was not gelling, and sweat was pouring from my right wrist (I wear gloves) onto my palette.  I adjusted to the circumstances.  I was in the shade against some bushes.  On the other side of the bushes, a horse that I couldn't see, snorted  every now and then to let me know it was there.  This painting, done this afternoon, is a 12x16 oil on panel.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

It is and It Isn't


 Today it's raining, but yesterday morning, I painted at the pond again.  I've always been attracted to the idea of something being what it isn't supposed to be: the sky being visible in the ground in a reflection from a puddle or a pond, for example.  Or a lot of different paints blotches covering a 12x16 inch panel somehow reminding one of a pond reflecting the sky and trees, with a dock going into the pond.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Sky Water


Yesterday afternoon I made it back to the larger pond.  In the chapter on "Ponds" in Walden,  Thoreau writes, "A lake is the landscape's most beautiful and expressive feature.  It is earth's eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature."  A few lines later, he uses the phrase, "Sky water."  This painting is a 12x12 oil on panel.

Monday, August 8, 2016

A Pond and A Big Change


Early this morning I went to the local pond (actually there are two ponds, and this is the smaller of the two), and painted for an hour.  The result is this 9x12 oil on panel.

In an unrelated topic, other than painting, I've been reading books by and about the painter Philip Guston.  I've always wondered about his change from abstraction to figurative work, and not just any figurative work, but cartoony, clumsy-like, mythic depictions of light bulbs, Klansmen, pyramids, shoes, one-eyed heads, and so on.  When Richard Diebenkorn switched from abstraction to figurative work, and then back again, the transitions were gradual and consistent.

Guston's changed content, though painted similarly to his abstract handling of paint, occupied the last ten years of his life.  Guston unfortunately died at the relatively young age of 67.  His abstract work seems angst driven, linked in my mind to the popular existentialist sensibility of the time.  However, he seems to have reached a point where abstraction was empty for him, but the angst was always there, and led him to rediscover what he really wanted to do as a painter.  His changeover wasn't well received.  But today he seems to be highly regarded for the change and the work of his last ten years.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Thought Crimes


 A slight detour to Bordeaux in the rain again, a 9x12 oil on canvas.

I'm still reading the poet Robert Hass.  In an essay on Korean poetry, he mentions Yi Sang, a 20th century poet, born in 1910, who was arrested in Japan in 1937 for "thought crimes".  He died shortly thereafter of tuberculosis.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Like An Eye


Yesterday afternoon I visited a local pond to paint.  I wanted to see the sky in the water.  When I first arrived, the water was like a mirror, but a breeze picked up, and the water surface never kept still after that.  Somewhere in Walden Thoreau writes that a pond is like an eye.  The painting is a 12x16 oil on panel.

Friday, August 5, 2016

A Stream Runs By It


This morning I went back to where I was yesterday, since I knew that a stream runs by the base of the big tree.  Even in this dry time, the stream was running.  The access point to the cow pasture goes right through the stream, which is why there is what looks like a road visible on the other side of the stream in the painting.  I painted in tight quarters up against the gate, which blocks easy access to the stream, to make this 9x12 oil on panel.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Paint It and They'll Come


This morning I went to a site closer to home, a field off of Luce Road in Williamstown, MA.  When I was nearly done with the painting, I heard a loud snort.  A deer and her fawn had come out of the corn field next to where I was set up.  The fawn, reacting to the alarm, ran towards me while mother ran back into the corn rows. When the fawn saw me, it stopped abruptly.  I said to it, "You are indeed beautiful," and the fawn hesitated for a few seconds before turning around in the general direction of its mother.  This is a 12x16 oil on panel.