Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Light In August (oil on canvas, 2014)

Fred and Inez's sheep farm, which I've drawn and painted more times than I can count. When I return to subjects that I've drawn or painted before, I am always struck by how they've changed. A structure is missing or a new one has been added. Trees have grown or fallen. The colors have faded or, perhaps with a new coat of paint, have become more intense. But, more importantly, when I return to a familiar subject and begin work, I realize how I've changed. The things I see or don't see, the decisions I make with regard to color, composition, value, texture, etc. reveal how I have (hopefully) grown as an artist. The subject is familiar, but the image, which is more a manifestation of myself than of the subject matter, is wholly new.

As They Were Meant to Be (oil on canvas, 2014)

The thing I like about Edward Hopper is his use of geometry. The way he uses shapes, with themes and variations, and the way he creates so many interesting shapes by using the edge of the picture plane. One of my favorite Hopper paintings is called "Nighthawks" and I love it because it's filled with triangles. There are dozens of triangles and every time I look at that painting, I discover another one that I hadn't seen before. Hopper was a brilliant designer on a purely two-dimensional level and much more of an abstract artist than I think most people realize. When I was learning how to paint, I copied some Edward Hoppers and I soon found myself plagued with the comparison - to the point that I stopped looking at his work and made a conscious effort to avoid his influence. But, obviously, the influence is still there. The paint application and the color in this image are certainly, uniquely me, but the geometry reminds of Hopper as does, I suppose, the subject. Our heroes will always influence our work in some way, even if it's only through the subconscious. What matters most is that we take what we need from the masters and find a way to make it our own.

Open Doors (oil on canvas, 2014)

This was a painting from a few years ago - a small, plain air study that I'd done on a Monday in October. It hadn't aged well and as time has gone by, I've always had the nagging feeling that it could be better. I recently pulled it down from the wall in my gallery and put it on the painting table in the studio. I began by changing the color of the sky, making it a lighter value and less saturated with blue. Of course, this meant that the color of the roof had to change and then the trees in the distance and then the barn doors and then the foreground, etc., etc... Soon enough, I'd repainted almost the entire thing. I like it much better now.

The Stories We Don't Tell (oil on canvas, 2014)

We all have our stories - the ones we tell the people in our lives. The ones that define us, the ones that everyone we know has heard at least once, the ones that we can't wait to introduce to new people that come into our lives. (I have a great one that involves my dad's new Volkswagen and a brown paper bag...) These stories define us. They've shaped us, made us who we are and they help us to show others who we are. But there are other stories. The ones we don't tell. Things that we've done or that have been done to us that we don't want anyone to know about. The stories that have scarred us or that reveal our dark side. The stories that we'll take to our graves.

The subjects in my paintings all have stories. Some of these stories I know because neighbors tell them to me. Some are just nostalgia. "Ah, yes, I remember when my grandfather used to pick potatoes there by hand." Some are filled with mystery. "You know, there were three suicides in that house..." And all of them have stories that I will never know. But I can use my imagination.

One day last summer, whilst returning from a bike ride to Bridgewater, which is about 15 miles north from me on US Route 1, I found this group of buildings up on the West Road in Monticello when I turned onto it and then headed back toward Route 1. I like these buildings. They've been fruitful so far and I'm sure they will yield many more images over the coming months and years.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

This Too Shall Pass (oil on canvas, 2014)

All good things come to an end. And, fortunately, so do all bad things.

This image is based on the old Henderson barn on the Wiley Road that has been the subject of many, many paintings and drawings of mine over the years, although I had yet do make a successful image of the structure from this angle. I often run by this building and the idea for this painting came to me on the fourth of July whilst running in the rain. I don't enjoy running in the rain, but I do it anyway, for the feeling that I get when I return home, to a dry, warm house, knowing that I was able to push myself to get through a difficult, uncomfortable and unpleasant struggle - not unlike making a painting (although, I must say, running ten miles in the rain is a lot easier than making a painting!)

I like greys that have a bit of colour in them, especially purplish greys and green greys, and I wanted this painting to be about the relationship between those two types of colors. And, of course, there was no way that orange was going to let purple and green have all the fun without him so he crashed the party. I like the telephone pole because it reminds me of a cross.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Beautiful on the Outside (oil on canvas, 2014)

I never work from photographs, but I often do a lot of drawing prior to making an oil painting. I usually work in pastels when drawing, but sometimes I'll do black and white drawings in either charcoal or pencil and then work up a color painting in the studio. I like working this way because it frees me (or forces me) to make more subjective color choices, with the colors being chosen for their contribution to image rather than for their ability to "describe" the original subject, something that doesn't interest me at all.The sky was myriad shades of blue, from deep ultramarine to teal, in all of the preparatory studies that I did for this image, but when it came time to do the actual painting, this happened. I think it's important when working to allow the emerging image to direct the activity rather than imposing my preconceptions on the work. I want my paintings to surprise the viewer, to show them something that they've never seen before. I like to be surprised myself, as well.

The Best is Yet to Come (oil on canvas, 2014)

This was based on a pastel drawing that I did out on the Foxcroft Road a couple of years ago. I neglected to photograph the drawing before it was framed under glass, so there's no image of it here, but the original image was a square, with this composition being based on the top half of it only. I like the original drawing, but I think the reading of the various forms across the horizontal format is more effective. I tend to be of a dark, brooding nature but this is a painting full of optimism.

Five Months of Winter (oil on canvas, 2014)

I confess - I've been terrible at keeping up with my blog, but I have been working a lot since April. I was tied up during most of the summer with a bathroom remodeling project that turned into a nightmare, replete with horsehair plaster, asbestos, formaldehyde, rough-hewn-oddly-spaced wall supports, ungrounded wiring and a host of other interesting and exciting obstacles which I won't recount here. Add to that a plague of computer issues which lead to my Mac ultimately giving up the ghost, and the result is a sadly neglected blog.
This was painted in late March, at the tail end of the longest, coldest, snowiest winter I've ever lived through. I've been running by this menacing, anthropomorhic tree, with its flailing limbs, at the end of the Hamilton's driveway on the Framingham Road, for years and have always wanted to paint it. I like to think that the warm colors are creeping in and displacing the cold ones.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

A Little Bit Older and a Little Bit Wiser
(oil on canvas, 2014)

A student brought a notecard with a reproduction of a painting on it to class last week and wanted me to look at it and tell her why she found the image so appealing. It was a nice painting, of a New England farmhouse and some barns in winter, with a strong "rule of thirds" composition, painted in a loose, semi-impressionistic style with local colors (red barn, blue sky, etc.) accentuated with pretty, more subjective pastel colors. The drawing was accurate and the whole thing was executed with skill and aplomb. In the end, we concluded that all of these things contributed to the image's appeal, yet I found it ripe with clich├ęs and devoid of originality. This lead to a discussion about "expectations". The image that we were discussing was clearly painted in such a way so as to meet the expectations of a broad-based buying public. No harm there - we all want to make a living. However, I believe that art has a responsibility to not meet our expectations, but to challenge them. Not to make us feel intelligent, but to make us question what we know and believe. To broaden our horizons - intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. To surprise us. To stir us up. To grab us by the shirt collar and say "Look here! Here's something you've never seen before!" I know. I know. Most people don't care about such things. They just want a painting that matches their sofa or reminds them of the place that they visited on vacation or reminds them of a famous artist who's work they can't afford. But there are people who care about experiencing something new. I know, because I'm one of them.

Anyway, this is the old Henderson potato house once again, this time in warm reds, yellows and oranges, with some purples and teals and greys thrown in....for anyone who cares.

Something to Look Forward To... (oil on canvas, 2014)

I was out riding my bike three years ago in the midst of the summer and as I went by this field right on the Canadian border, I saw this old potato truck parked way off in the distance near the woods and I really liked the way the late afternoon sun was hitting the barn. I was only about 4 miles from my house, the very early stage of what was meant to be a 30 mile ride, but when the muse beckons, one must heed her call. And so I did. I turned around and went home, changed into painting clothes, loaded my pastels into the car and headed back over to do a drawing. Unfortunately, the resulting drawing was lackluster at best. To be honest, I was disappointed that I'd given up what promised to be a much needed, stress-relieving bike ride in exchange for a mediocre drawing. So I hung the drawing on my studio wall and, over the ensuing weeks (months, really) I pondered it and tried to figure out what it lacked. I assumed it was the composition (The original drawing was much closer to a square in shape, with a lot more sky at the top and more foreground at the bottom.) so I cut some strips of paper and would tape them to the wall, covering up different sections of the drawing and changing the shape of the image, in the hopes that I would find a better composition. I cropped the bottom, the top, the left side, the right side but to no avail. Eventually I settled on this long horizontal, but the image still lacked something, so I left it there on the wall.

For three years.

Lately I've been focusing on using much more subjective color in my paintings - trying to find unique color harmonies specific to each painting and to whatever mood I'm trying to convey. In the original drawing, the sky was blue, the grass was green and the truck was red. I've been holed up in the studio this winter, thanks to single digit or sub-zero temperatures almost every day since early December, so one evening I began experimenting with some small-scale color studies based on this composition and came up with something similar to this which I thought was worth pursuing as a painting. So, in the end, I'm glad I skipped the bike ride that evening as I rather like this image. And when someone asks me how long it took me to paint this (It's remarkable how often I get asked that question) my answer will be "three years".

My initial impulse was to title it "Green Truck"... but I already used that title a long time ago.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The First Link of One Memorable Day (oil on canvas, 2014)

(Private Collection)
Over the past year-and-a-half, the focus of my work has been on subjective color or, for those of you that didn't go to art school, color choices that have little or nothing to do with the actual colors of the subject, but, instead, are chosen for their relationships with each other within the context of the painting and, also, to evoke a certain emotional response in the viewer. As a result, I've spent a lot of time painting familiar subjects, but with completely different color combinations. This is the old potato house on the Wiley Road that I've drawn and painted more times than I care to think about over the past eight years (This composition is based on a drawing that I did just before the approach of sunset last June as the black flies tore the flesh off of my legs and face!).
I'm interested in finding color combinations that work together, that trigger some kind of emotional response, and (and this is sacrosanct) don't look like anything that I've ever seen before. I like to think of the color combinations as big jazz chords, with lots of extensions, overtones and compound intervals, where a particular combination of notes, using a certain hierarchy and within the context of the rest of the composition, can create a completely unique sound. So I try to find combinations like this, where one color may be dominant and other colors may harmonize with it whilst others create tensions. The triad of secondary colors - orange, green and violet - has always been a favorite of mine and I find that by adjusting the tonality of each color (i.e. an orange can be closer to yellow or red and can be pure and saturated or dull and muted), there is an infinite wealth of possibilities within a seemingly limited range of colors. I like how the salmon-ish orange color works with the various greens and muted violets in this painting and creates a warmth and feeling of nostalgia, in a primarily abstract way that has very little to do with what the actual barn looks like.

All That Beauty and Angst (oil on canvas, 2014)

There's something about an old, derelict house or barn being swallowed up by the landscape that I love. I think it's the idea that everything eventually dies and rots, falls to pieces, and yet life itself carries on. A tree rises up out of the ground from a fallen seed, and grows to towering heights and then one day, topples to the ground, to be consumed by insects. Mankind erects massive structures, built to last, and yet they eventually crumble to dust. And we build lives for ourselves, amassing family and friends and material possessions only to one day be nothing but dust. But the cycle of life itself, goes on and on, generation after generation. I had a profound experience once, years ago, whilst out running on some old, long-disused railroad tracks. My shoe had come untied, so I stopped running and as I bent down to re-tie the lace, I noticed how the once seemingly-indestructible steel track had completely rusted and become thin and brittle, so much so that I could break a piece of it off with my fingers. Right next to it, a plant was beginning to bud and I saw the truth in that - how time moves on and nothing lasts forever, yet the cycle keeps perpetuating. This image is based on a pastel drawing that I did on Easter Sunday last year, whilst a few stalwart patches of snow were still holding out against the onslaught of spring, of an abandoned house on the corner of the Wiley Road and Hammond Lane here in Littleton.

Dawn Light Kisses the Pale Morning Snow (oil on canvas, 2014)

Contrary to what I wrote in my previous post, some paintings, like this one, which was painted in a single day, do come to fruition without a lot of agony. This image is based on the view of the Dulin's barn from the field behind it, a subject that I have been using quite a bit over the past year, as I've explored different color schemes. The sky here in northern Maine takes on an intense pink color in the early hours, especially on extremely cold days (which we've had a lot of this winter). Someone told me that it has to do with the water molecules in the air being frozen so that they refract the light. Whatever the scientific explanation, it's quite breathtaking to behold and this is not the first time that I've done a winter painting with a pink sky. I had been looking at the snow a lot (not that I've had much choice!) and thinking about the fact that the color White is a combination of all of the colors in the visible spectrum and how I can see colors in the snow when I really study it.The idea here was to paint the snow in such a way that it looks white, but that it is actually made up of many colors. I'm not sure how it comes across in this image (and that may be largely dependent on the device that you are viewing it on), but in person the bottom two thirds of this painting remind me of the iridescence of abalone. And, of course, some teals and purples in the trees, for good measure.

Reading Between the Lines (oil on canvas, 2014)

People often ask me how long it takes me to make a painting. This is a difficult question to answer because every painting is different and my process involves a lot exploration, serendipity and never knowing what the painting will look like until it is finished. In addition, many paintings begin with a series of exploratory drawings and studies as I fumble around in the dark trying to get closer to the illusive image. Sometimes these preliminary drawings will emerge in a burst of creativity over a very short span of time but, more often than not, the drawings will come over a span of several days, weeks or even months. Occasionally, albeit rarely, in image comes very quickly, almost effortlessly and an image will go from initial inspiration to finished painting in a single day. And sometimes, I'll labor over an image for months, working on it for a few days, then getting away from it for a while, coming back to it again, getting away from it again. During this time I usually find myself trying to reconcile any expectations that I might have had with whatever the image is trying to be, which is antithetical to whatever I thought I was going to do. I suppose it's like having a bright child and expecting them to go to college, medical school and on to a successful career and life of luxury and then having to deal with their decision to become an artist. This was one of those paintings. This is actually the second painting that I've done of this subject, based on a pastel drawing done on location in the late Autumn of 2012. I began this painting in early November of last year, naively thinking I could finish it in a couple of days, in time to take it with me on my trip to Erie, PA. Hah! This was not to be. I struggled with this painting through the holidays and most of the month of January. Ultimately, it ended up being a painting on which the paint was applied over and over and over, layer upon layer, creating a density and impasto surface that turned out to be exactly what the painting needed, regardless of whatever I had intended.