Thursday, February 28, 2013

From Luce Road

A 9x12 oil of a view above Williamstown.

Macfarlane writes, "Small islands have often inspired dreams of total knowledge in those who love them.  I have read the work of several islomaniacs over the years -- Tim Robinson's deep topographies of the Irish Aran islands, Nicolson on the Shiants and Lawrence Durrell on Corfu, as well as Nan Shepherd's study of her inland-island of the Cairngorm massif, and Gilbert White's record of his Hampshire parish of Selborne.  All these people had been animated at first by the delusion of a comprehensive totality, the belief that they might come to know their chosen place utterly because of its boundedness.  And all had, after long acquaintance, at last understood that familiarity with a place will lead not to absolute knowledge but only ever to further enquiry."

I'm an islomaniac, except worse, since I have several islands.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Two Pines and Two Questions

I'm reading The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot by Robert Macfarlene.   He writes, "Humans are animals and like all animals we leave tracks as we walk: signs of passage made in snow, sand, mud, grass, dew, earth or moss.  The language of hunting has a luminous word for such mark-making: 'foil'.  A creature's 'foil' is its track.  We easily forget that we are track-makers, though, because most of our journeys now occur on asphalt and concrete -- and these are substances not easily impressed."

I would like to leave good and characteristic marks on paper and canvas, though sometimes they are not easily impressed.

Macfarlene also writes, "For some time now it has seemed to me that the two questions we should ask of any strong landscape are these: firstly, what do I know when I am in this place that i can know nowhere else?  And then, vainly, what does this place know of me that I cannot know of myself?"

Monday, February 25, 2013

1st near 5th, with Theodore Rousseau

This is a 9x12  charcoal drawing looking down 1st Street from Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn.

I have just finished reading a fascinating book, Art and Ecology in Nineteenth-Century France: The Landscapes of Theodore Rousseau, by Greg M. Thomas (an interlibrary loan).  Of course, I have the anti-Rousseau subject matter in a Brooklyn drawing for this post, but there is a tree present.  Anyway... Thomas describes the experience of the 'virtual spectator' viewing Rousseau's masterpiece Winter Forest (in the Met):

"Rather than creating and commanding the view, the virtual spectator struggles to grasp the ideal world over the limitations imposed by his or her own body, by the vastness of space, and by the brute materiality of the surrounding forest... Viewers relive the experience of the virtual spectator who, lost in the muddy fringes of the infinite forest, struggles to grasp the organically interconnected whole.  This is not just realism but, rather, a reorientation of vision that asserts the irrelevance of a viewing subject to the independent order of the land.  Spectatorship itself becomes yet another physical, biological process of organizing activity, another earth narrative in which a humble, peripheral human visitor wanders through the landscape absorbing light and reprocessing it into art."

The 'virtual spectator' can be the artist or somebody like the artist.  We, the later viewer or spectator, sees a scene oriented toward the 'virtual spectator', who is not us.  It's like Rembrandt's painting of the Syndics: they are looking at the 'virtual spectator' and we look at them looking at the 'virtual spectator'.

In any case,  I particularly liked the idea of the viewer/artist wandering through the landscape and "reprocessing it into art."

Here's another quote:  "... the painter [Rousseau] does more than inject passion into the landscape image; he also tries to articulate the passion, the joy and tragedy, inherent in the land itself.  The land has its own history and emotional character, and a landscape painting effects an exchange between the distinct lives of the artist and natural world."

Maybe the title of the book now is starting to make some sense.

Final quote:  "... Rousseau dramatically alters the discourse of impassioned naturalism in asserting that landscape painting is a symbiotic process.  Art is the product of a dynamic exchange between the artist's creative mind and the independent creative intelligence of the external world, a dialogue between self and self-generating world.  This sense of reciprocity underlies one of Rousseau's most overtly ecological statements, an 1852 fragment describing the view from his studio of a weather-beaten little oak grove on a hill: 'Wait there for the sunset, and there will no longer be small or large on the ordinary scale of the senses.  The whole will rise up  in lively silhouettes, you will no longer suffer there; your spirit will be lost in the grandiose....'  'The whole' is apparently the ecological union of all the parts--trees, animals, earth, sky, light-- in the organic interconnectedness of nature.  And, he adds, any small bit such as a bird's beak or a rabbit's ears provides an entry point into comprehending the entire network of things, while any little rural figure conveys belonging to the earth.  Art, he implies, will achieve universal meaning only if the artist can absorb this unified network of life and reproduce it through modeling."

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Two Houses in Black and White

When I first saw these two buildings, they seemed like two people mad at each other, facing away, unable to look at each other.   The buildings have eyes and noses, don't they?  A 9x12 drawing in soft charcoal.  They are located on Carroll Street near the bridge over the Gowanus Canal.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Gowanus Canal

The Gowanus Canal seen from the Union Street Bridge.  8x10 pastel.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Heavy Painting and Corot

Of course, I reworked this painting.  Now the gates can close.

If I want to be the Corot of anything, I must work more deliberately.  In the book Corot in Italy by Peter Galassi, the author writes that Corot complained that his teacher Valenciennes painted too quickly.  Corot spent nearly three weeks in March, 1826 painting three views from the Farnese Gardens, one in the morning, one at midday, and one in the late afternoon.  The Barbizon book I cited earlier claimed that Theodore Rousseau was the first to paint the same view over a course of several days, but in fact Corot did it first, and Valenciennes before him.

Friday, February 15, 2013

First and Sixth

Another 8x10 pastel, this time of the corner at First Street and Sixth Avenue in Brooklyn.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


Another in the 8x10 series of pastels.  This a view of a driveway off of Stratton Road late in the afternoon.

Dark Road

Walking along this wet road, I was struck by how dark it appeared with the drifting snow, almost like the canal nearby.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Carroll Street Bridge

This is the first attempt at beginning what I hope is a long relationship with a bridge, the Carroll Street Bridge, which spans the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn.   I was too taken by the forms which affected my drawing but you get the idea that I am trying to convey.  As I was working on this painting, I thought that I would be happy as the "Corot of Brooklyn"; what a ridiculous idea.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Another Take

Going down this dirt road, one can easily fly pass by all the nothing that is there.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Snowy Field

An 8x10 pastel.

I just finished reading the book The Barbizon School and 19th Century French Landscape Painting by Jean Bouret (a local library book).   The book contains illustrations of paintings and biographies of many not well known artists, at least to me.  The most intriguing is Theodore Rousseau.  Unfortunately he painted with bitumen based paints, which have darkened over time and reduced the appeal of some of his paintings.  Nevertheless, he painted some remarkable landscapes, and lived a life dedicated to landscape painting.

The author ends the book with the following words:  "A few years ago before he died, Andre Derain told me that of all the places where he had painted the one he missed most was the studio in the old house he had once rented at Chailly-en-Biere, a studio that gave directly onto the Plain of Barbizon, its ploughed lands, its stubble fields, its infinitely resigned sadness.  'There was nothing yet there was everything, as in a truly great painting,' he added.  Perhaps that is the real lesson of Barbizon."

The overlapping of "nothing" and "everything" in relation to "fields" is what I like about this quote.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Sloan View

Amazingly the young bull (I assume it's a bull) did indeed stand still silhouetted before the snow patch. This is a 9x12 oil on mdf panel.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Sheep Hill Hill

8x10 pastel of a winter hill at Sheep Hill.  I love looking into the sky through the trees.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Simple Symphony

Another 8x10 simple landscape in pastel.  It depicts a field off of Sloan Road.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Hopper Addiction

An 8x10 pastel of the never ending views of the Hopper from Sloan Road.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Looking Up Blair Road

Last summer there was a bunch of high school runners who were using this hill for sprinting up.  They walked back down, and then sprinted up again and again.   Walking down and up is enough in one day for me.

This is a view from this past weekend with most of the snow disappearing for now.  I've returned to my 8x10 pastel format, to simple pictures.