Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Garage in Brooklyn

A 9x12 pastel of a garage in Brooklyn.

I finished the first volume of the Matisse biography. I have always loved the great masterpieces like Red Studio and The Piano Lesson in MOMA, but now think there's much more I need to learn about Matisse, and quickly, especially about the paintings that are not easy to like. I will start the second volume of the biography shortly. In the meantime I am borrowing a pile of Matisse books from local libraries.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Park Place and Prospect, and more Matisse

Though fighting a nasty cold, I had a productive weekend with images of Brooklyn.

Now I am three quarters of the way through the first volume of the Matisse biography. Matisse learned about the Impressionists, Van Gogh and Cezanne from John Peter Russell and Camille Pissarro; he learned some more from Signac but Matisse didn't stay long in the Pointillist camp. There's a comment about the painter Maximilean Luce using "a sieve to speed up the process of covering his canvas evenly with coloured dots." Though he could not afford it, Matisse purchased a small Cezanne Bathers painting, which became his source of inspiration and hope. I found one tiny error in the book: the author refers to Cezanne as "in his seventies" when he was hounded by newspaper reports of being "diseased" because of his painting. Alas, Cezanne died at the age of 67, prematurely aged from diabetes.

Matisse spent the roughly 15 years from 1891 through 1905 in poverty, maligned by his family and other artists, always in need of money, suffering from anxiety and insomnia; and always unsure of himself. Maybe his sense of humor was a deciding factor. Also his wife, Amelie. Without her, he probably would not have survived. At one point, when he thought he might be selling out, he scrubbed clean a bunch of canvases for re-use (he couldn't afford to just throw them away). Of course, I suspect he destroyed some nice paintings.

What still confuses me are the 1905-06 paintings, such as Woman in a Hat, The Open Window, Collioure, and Interior with a Young Girl (Girl Reading). They are difficult paintings, even today, not very sensuous in terms of paint application. Painting is an acquired taste like drinking beer. Matisse had guts and was willing to risk everything.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Sterling at Washington and Matisse

An 8x10 pastel of a street corner in Brooklyn, not too far from the museum.

I have been reading The Unknown Matisse by Hilary Spurling. Here are some things I did not know about the early Matisse. He was quite a prankster as a teenager, often using a peashooter to annoy people. He had no idea what he wanted to do except that it wasn't to follow in his father's footsteps as a store owner and seed merchant. At the age of twenty he was bitten by a bug that demanded that he become a painter. Somehow in 1891 he managed to get to Paris with a small allowance from his father. He lived in extreme poverty in the most run down areas of Paris with other artists for several years. The most famous painter of the day, William Bouguereau, told him he had no future as an artist. Even though the Impressionists were all around, he painted very conservatively. Actually his early work is quite fabulous. Since he started late as an artist, he worked constantly because he felt he had to learn everything at once.

Here's one amusing anecdote that gives an insight into Matisse's character: He entered the Ecole des Arts Decoratifs in 1892. The school had "dark, drafty classrooms...infested with rats that stole the bread-balls meant for picking out highlights on the...charcoal drawings." Matisse was older than most of the other art students. He "made a stir in his first class by refusing to remove his hat for the master: 'I'll take off my hat when there are no more drafts.' He was promptly suspended for two weeks for insolence."

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Le Pont d'Avignon

9x12 pastel of a portion of the bridge over the Rhone River at Avignon at early morning. This is not a traditional view. More like an abstract anvil.

Sunday, February 19, 2012


It's not Brooklyn this time. A view of Cannes from an earlier visit. 9x12 pastel.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Seventh at Fourth

It's not like I haven't been doing anything. I'm just slow this week. The above is an 11x14 oil.

I started to read The Unknown Matisse by Hilary Spurling. I am not far into it yet, but two things strike me: Matisse came from an very provincial background for someone who ended up as a great Modernist, and by the time he found some recognition, he was already in his late forties. But that's good. Great artists have to come from somewhere, and it may take time. Actually it always takes time.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Four Corners

Seventh at Fourth, 11 x 14 charcoal.

Stop at Seventh and Fifth, 11x14 charcoal.

Go at Seventh and Fourth, 11 x 14 charcoal.

Walk at Seventh and Fifth, 11 x 14 charcoal.

This weekend I turned four corners. I wanted to do four drawings of Brooklyn. They turned out to be corners, all on Seventh Avenue, at Fourth and Fifth Streets. They are all 11 x 14, and a combination of charcoal pencil, charcoal stick, and black pastel. I may turn at least one into a painting.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Brooklyn Back Yard

This would be my homage to the other Hopper, the painting on canvas that I referred to yesterday. I can do other things besides trees. Now to work on the painting in my mind.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Holding Pattern and more de Kooning

The drawing is from this morning. The weather was just as perfect as yesterday. I am working on one painting on canvas, and another in my head, so just a drawing to present today. I find that using a lead pencil, over which I use a couple carbon pencils, works nicely to suggest light. The carbon pencils sort of "spit" since they don't get along with the lead pencil.

I took a look at the de Kooning: a Retrospective catalog, and found another quote, which I had read previously but not in the biography:

One thing nice about space is that it keeps on going...

There will probably be others which I will find and produce here.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Walk'nDraw and de Kooning's Words

This morning was sunny and cold. I managed one drawing. Fortunately, tomorrow promises to be as nice, and I will be better prepared. I walked in the opposite direction, and saw compositions that I have missed until now, only because the light was so cooperative. The above drawing is made with three different pencils.

But I did make a compilation of de Kooning quotes:

In da beginning was da void.

You have to change to stay the same.

[Water,] it reflects while you are reflecting.

[Mondrian] became the greatest lay-out man in the universe.

There was no doubt he [Arshile Gorky] was the boss. It was his personality and I had to put up with it. He was the general. Like we would be walking and all of a sudden he would cross the street. So I would tell him, ‘I wish you wouldn’t do that Arshile, because you do that the right way and skip the car—but I run into it.’

Art is the thing you cannot make.

Everything is already in art, like a big bowl of soup. And you just stick your hand in, and find something for you. But it was already there, like a stew.

The trouble with a painting, you know, is that you can’t get the legs under it. No matter what you do those legs are always sticking out of the plane.

…when I was eighteen, I could paint just as good as now. Now I have to spend the rest of my life to know what I was doing.

Edges are what we see. It’s between the edges that it’s difficult.

Even abstract shapes must have a likeness.

If you are an artist the problem is to make a picture work whether you are happy or not.

If I will ever be a great painter is something for other people to find out. I am content to just be a painter.

I think that if an artist can always title his pictures, that means he is not always very clear.

The universe gives me the creeps.

Every time I paint a picture I’m throwing the dice. I can’t ‘save’ anything. That would be doctoring it. It’s a new game. It’s not like playing poker where you can trade a card for another one; it’s playing dice.

An artist is like a homespun philosopher.

Art should not have to be a certain way…Style is a fraud…To desire to make a style is an apology for one’s anxiety.

Flesh was the reason why oil painting was invented.

The landscape is in the woman and there is Woman in the Landscapes.

Well, you know a car could be on the street sitting on its four wheels, but put the car with the wheels up in the air and something strange happens, the same car, just change the position of it.

[Cuba] was like being in New Jersey, except for the palm trees.

I don’t want to be new anymore.

Actually I’ve fallen in love with nature. I don’t know the names of trees but I see things in nature very well. I’ve got a good eye for them, and they look back at me.

Goethe said that when you’re sixty you start all over again, and that’s what I’m doing.

…look at the way Hopper painted the people to look like furniture and the furniture to look like the people.

Y’know the real world, this so-called real world, is just something you put up with, like everybody else.

Then there is a time in life when you just take a walk: And you walk in your own landscape.

I am becoming freer. I think you can do miracles with what you have if you accept it.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Canal in the Early Morning 2

When I walk along the canal in the early morning, while it's still fairly dark, since I have been reading about de Kooning, and his pal Franz Kline, I am reminded of their black and white images.

There's a famous photo of de Kooning with Elaine taken by Hans Namuth in the summer of 1953. De Kooning has been working on one of his woman paintings on the back porch of Leo Castelli's summer house in East Hampton. He put up sheetrock to hang his paintings, presumably to protect the house wall, but quite noticeable is that de Kooning didn't bother with a drop cloth. The porch floor is covered with thick paint. Somebody had to clean up that mess later. I thought about it as I was cleaning up after supper tonight.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Canal in the Early Morning

Another in the series of early morning canals, planned slowly and painted quickly in several stages. 9x12 pastel.

I have completed the De Kooning biography. Long live the king. When talking about his late pastoral paintings, he said, "Actually I've fallen in love with nature... I don't know the names of trees but I see things in nature very well. I've got a good eye for them, and they look back at me." To borrow a metaphor from Thoreau (and De Kooning), the canal is an eye looking at me.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Another Hopper

The drawing I did this past weekend, and the oil painting I completed yesterday. Both 11x14.

I have spent the last couple weeks with Willem De Kooning. Where I am in the biography, he is now past being the successful "king" of the action painters. I love his work, but his lifestyle was very demanding for those who loved him, especially after the late 1950's. Interesting parallels with the other Dutchman, Van Gogh. Both would not have become who they did become without the destructive influence of their mothers.