Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Canal Blues

Two more canals.  Sorry.  I'm in a canal frame of mind.   Both 9x12, top oil on mdf panel, bottom pastel on paper.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Canal with Mystery and Water

Two more canals, top 9x12 oil on mdf panel, and bottom 9x12 pastel drawing.

In his book The Experience of Place, Tony Hiss cites some experts, who studied people's reactions to the natural environment:  "Dr. Falk, the grass expert, thinks that we may have inborn responses to several other parts of the natural landscape.  'I'd be amazed if the preference for water in the landscape doesn't prove to be innate,' he told me. 'We've learned that we have to avoid water in any of the pictures we show subjects.  It's so highly preferred that its very presence will raise preference by an order of magnitude.'
   Drs. Stephen and Rachel Kaplan, a husband-and-wife team of research psychologists at the University of Michigan, think that we may have an inborn preference for winding paths, which provide what they call 'mystery': Landscapes exhibit 'mystery' when they 'give the impression that one could accquire new information if one were to travel deeper into the scene.'  According to the Kaplans, who have looked at how people respond to a diversity of environments, 'mystery ... is a factor of great power in predicting preference for scenes of the outdoor environment.'"

Monday, July 29, 2013

Far Bridge Canal

Two views of the same location on the canal approaching the far bridge.  Top is 9x12 oil on mdf panel, and bottom is 8x10 pastel drawing.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Longview Terrace

A 14x18 oil of a street in Williamstown.  Actually it's a canal view from a bridge... OK.  It's like a canal view from a bridge.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Canal Zone

I am rather focused on the canal these days.  I am using this opportunity to determine different ways to paint green, without necessarily painting green.  The top drawing is 8x10 pastel, middle 8x10 graphite, and bottom 9x12 pastel.

Dark Grassy Canal

9x12 oil on mdf panel.   The sky is barely visible in this one.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Fast Canal and Nothing Is Only Itself.

A 9x12 pastel drawing.

Below is an excerpt from the poem "Camouflage" by Lawrence Raab.

... Reality, Walker Evans said,
is not totally real ...
... If reality
isn't totally real, how real is it?
In an old anthology of poems, beside a line
about the wind rising over water and the dark
engulfing the trees, somebody's written:
Ah, too true! A sigh: truer than merely true.
Sadder than a fact. And this person
needed to write it down in the margin,
as if to tell me, leafing through
that book as a boy, what I didn't know.
Wind breaks the water's surface.
Evening falls. Nothing is only itself.

"Nothing is only itself."   When I encountered that phrase I thought of Matisse painting his still lifes and odalisques, searching for 'true painting'.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Three Canals and Matisse's True Painting

Three canals: top 9x12 oil on mdf panel, middle and bottom, 9x12 charcoal and pastel.

I will try to define 'true painting' in a roundabout way.  The catalogue treats Matisse's work as a gradual progression.  He experiments successfully for the most part during the first 20 years of his career, but he always had doubts.   When he did Young Sailor II,  an early abstract/realist painting, he "told friends that [it] had been painted by the local postman."   I wrote the other day that his still lifes of the mid 1920's first approached 'true painting' with "simulated realism through abstraction," a kind of brilliantly composed, colorfully cartoony decorative depiction of objects.   In a section on the first odalisque paintings, which were like the still lifes, except they depicted women, Isabelle Monod-Fontaine writes, "Each canvas of this last series [with two models] shows a checkerboard, which not only signals the matrix at the core of any decorative grid but also serves as a metaphor for the game of painting, which begins over and over again."  

In the next section, a further development of odalisques, Jack Flam quotes Matisse: "Underlying this succession of moments which constitutes the superficial existence of beings and things and which is continually modifying and transforming them, one can search for a truer, more essential character, which the artist will seize so that he may give to reality a more lasting interpretation."   Here Matisse reaffirms that he was an idealist searching for something eternal, like the icons he admired, and the joy of a lost Eden, seen in his earlier work.  

In a later section that focuses on Still Life with Magnolia, a masterpiece that achieves Matisse's idea of 'true painting', Dorthe Aagesen quotes Matisse: "Every time I've done something successfully, I say to myself, 'that's it, I've got it, I understand'; but no, nothing has been learned.  The conclusion of the picture is another picture."   True painting involves a continual search.

Matisse appears to find 'true painting' in the final series of Vence interiors during the mid- late 
1940s.  These were done quickly, unlike the paintings of the previous couple decades, for which Matisse wanted to make everyone understand the endless stages of each painting despite their simple-appearing final version.  Again, another wonderful quote from Matisse in the section by Cecile Debray:   "What I experienced after the operation was a liberation.  I told myself that life was gratis from now on.  Up until then I had felt overwhelmed by Courbet's saying that 'one always had to be capable of doing a picture over again, to be sure that one was not just being played on by one's nerves and chance.'  So I would do my pictures over again to try and find the law that governed my work, and I destroyed them so as to be able to begin again.
It came to me like a ray of sunlight on my house, a kind of liberation.
Before, between my studio and the world outside, there was no complete continuity.  Before, I would change the spirit somewhat, there was always a slight gap between nature and what I did: for example, I would look at the sea, and in what I did, the breath one finds in the sea would be missing.  Now I no longer understand everything I am doing.  I don't know why."

It seems that Matisse found 'true painting' when he stopped looking for it.

A related quote:  in the section on Matisse's Moroccan landscapes Cecile Debray writes, "He had come to dread the landscape genre, which he had rarely practiced after  his Fauve period, because he found the mutability of nature incompatible with his attempts to simplify and stabilize his compositions."
I find this comment fascinating.  Nature can overwhelm the artificiality of painting if you let it.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Two Canals and True Painting Possibly

Two canals, top is 9x12 oil on mdf panel, and bottom is 9x12 pastel.

I continue on my journey in the land of 'true painting'.  Here's a quote from Cecile Debray from the catalog, regarding Matisse still lifes from the mid-20's:  " The still lifes with bouquets of anemones from 1924-25... stem not only from Matisse's reexamination of his earlier works,  such as the paintings of flowers from 1905-8, but also from Impressionism and its avatars.  Accompanying these influences was the artist's synthesis of an abstract (decorative) space and a realist (illusionist) one, what Pierre Schneider has termed a 'simulated realism through abstraction.'"

The phrase 'simulated realism through abstraction' is getting awfully close to 'true painting'.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Dark Canal, Dark Woods and True Painting Revisited

A 9x12 oil on mdf panel of the canal.

A couple days ago I was able to borrow the catalog Matisse: In Search of True Painting.  I saw the exhibition earlier this year at the Met.  I am now a third of the way through the book, and still haven't encountered a definition of 'true painting'.   The only reference so far is that Matisse once said he wanted to reach 'true painting'.  I suppose after I finish reading the catalog, I will have to define it myself.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Canal and Sargent's Paughtraits

Three 8x10 pastel and charcoal drawings from the last few days. 

The following quotes are from the Olsen Sargent biography.  Sargent tried to give up portraiture in 1907.  "'No more paughtraits.' he repeated to [Mrs. Curtis's] son, using his individual spelling of the dreaded word, '... I abhor and abjure them and hope never to do another  especially of the Upper Classes.'  To Lady Radnor he was as emphatic: 'Ask me to paint your gates, your fences, your barns, which I should gladly do, but not the human face.'   His disenchantment reached its most cogent form with the terse declaration, 'No more mugs!', and later settled down in the definition he inscribed on the flyleaf of the French edition of reproductions of his work: 'A portrait is a picture in which there is just a tiny little something not quite right about the mouth.'"

Regarding his Boston Public Library murals:  "When a lady asked Sargent why Jehovah's face was indistinguishable, he reminded her that he had given up portraiture."

Would you be surprised if I told you he didn't understand Van Gogh: "... Van Gogh's 'things look to me like imitations made in corals or glass of objects in a vacuum...'"

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Marina Grande and Beginner's Mind

In addition to all the other series that I am maintaining, I started a series based upon my visit to Sorrento last year.  The above are both 9x12, top oil on canvas, bottom, charcoal and pastel.

I have always been attracted to John Singer Sargent's landscape paintings.  Stanley Olson in John Singer Sargent: His Portrait writes:  "John '... ['s] object was to acquire the habit of reproducing precisely whatever met his vision without the slightest previous "arrangement" of detail, the painter's business being, not to pick and choose, but to render the effect before him...'...[P]aint what your eye sees, not what your mind instructs what you ought to see... the artist ought to know nothing whatever about the nature of the object before him... should but concentrate all his powers on a representation of its appearance.  The picture was to be a consistent vision, a reproduction of the area filled by the eye."

Richard Rohr writes, "'Beginner's mind' is actually someone who's not in their mind at all!  They are people who can immediately experience the naked moment apart from filtering it through any mental categories.  Such men and women are capable of simple presence to what is right in front of them without 'thinking' about it too much."

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Neiderer's Pond

Two 8x10 pastel and charcoal drawings done at Neiderer's Pond in Washington Crossing Park this morning.  It was so pleasant sitting by the pond in the shade with a continuous breeze coming off the pond.  Dragon flies flew about, and occasionally a loud splash would occur, or a bullfrog would announce something.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Bench Mark

Lately I have been doing charcoal and pastel drawings along the canal.   The above two 8x10 are from this morning.  The plein air was tres chaud.

There's a bench on the canal path with a small metal sign attached containing the words:

Charles C. Meyers
I Love you and miss you
very much -
sit here beside me.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Square Corner with Humbleness

The building at one of my favorite corners in Brooklyn, Bergen and Underhill, was recently cleaned up, but graffiti, like a weed in the driveway, is making a comeback.  This is a 12x12 oil.

From In Motion: The Experience of Travel by Tony Hiss:  "The willingness to have been mistaken, the wish to absorb further, the sense that there is something still to be learned steals over us only when we consider what is in front of us valuable and worthy of our respect.  Inwardly, this attitude has another name: humbleness, a willingness to think that what we know about the people and things and places and all the aspects of creation we encounter during the course of a day can still be added to and has not yet been perfected."

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

House and Barn, No More

This past weekend, I hiked up to the abandoned house and barn, to discover that the landowner reduced them to rubble.  The above 9x12 oil on panel is a picture I painted a few weeks ago.   Sad.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Another Corner and Habitual Indifference

A 9x12 oil on panel of another corner at Bond and First in Brooklyn.

Tony Hiss, in his book In Motion: The Experience of Travel, writes: "Knowing from repeated experience that we can count on the stars to be there and that their continuing presence is not an immediate threat, we begin to think we can say with the same level of confidence that we know what they are.  Attention is withdrawn and moves in a different course.  Some people know a great deal about stars, others next to nothing.  There is always more to find out.  But habituation--not noticing something that seems unchanging and harmless--can cloak both knowledge and ignorance with the same mantle of indifference: 'Oh, yes, the stars.'  Something we have a word for."

Monday, July 1, 2013

Canal Variation

An 8x10 pastel variation on the green canal.