Tuesday, December 15, 2015

With You There Beside Me
(oil on canvas, 2015)

(Private Collection)
A couple of buildings from the old Schools farm, just north of my house. In fact, I can see the back of that big barn from the window over my kitchen sink. This has been the subject of several drawings and paintings over the years. This is a variation on a composition from six years ago but with a very different color scheme.

The elements that have drawn me to landscape as a subject matter are the deep space, the light and the atmosphere. Other common subjects – figures, interiors, still life, etc. – usually deal with relatively shallow space, with controlled lighting and not much atmosphere. But the landscape seems to extend away from us forever – or at least as far as we can see, and I relish any opportunity to try and create the illusion of that deep space on the flat surface of a canvas or sheet of paper. And once the surface of the painting has been pushed back far away from the viewer, there opens up an enormous vacuum that can potentially be filled with light and atmosphere. Easier said than done sometimes, and it's something that I find a lot of my students have difficulty with. Even I have difficulty with it sometimes.

A Perfect Day in August (oil on canvas, 2015)

Another "green" painting. (see previous post.)This is a painting that took me over a year to complete. It began as a series of pastel drawings done in August of last year (2014). On one particular day, I had finished a pastel drawing and reached into my backpack for the canister of "Wet Ones" hand wipes that I always have on hand to clean up with, only to realize that it was empty! I drove to the nearest store, getting green pigment all over the steering wheel of my car and went in to buy some more wipes. Of course, I ran into someone I know! There I was with green hands (and probably green smudges on my face)!

I began working on the painting in the autumn. I got to a place where I didn't know where to go with it, in October, although I knew it wasn't compete yet. I went back to it occasionally throughout the winter and following spring, but never to my satisfaction. I made some changes during this past summer and was happy enough to hang it in a show that I had in September, but when I got it back from the show, I realized that I still wasn't completely content with it. Then, in November, on the eve of a trip out to my gallery in Erie, PA to deliver new work, I decided to give it a major re-working – repainting the sky, the path and most of the greens in the foreground. One of the major problems was that the path was too segregated from the grass surrounding it. I put some green into the path and some orange into the grass and it works much better now.

I've made five trips to Erie in the past two years, never once without a wet painting in the car, and I wasn't about to make an exception!

Growing Old Together (oil on canvas, 2015)

Of all the primary and secondary colors, I've found that none has more variations than the color Green. There are a seemingly infinite number of mixtures from light to dark, warm to cool, intense to dull, that can all be classified as "greens". Yellow-greens, blue-greens, intense grass greens, grey-greens, brownish greens, moss greens, etc.. I have also found that green is a difficult color to work with. Getting the many permutations of green to get along with one another in a picture can be a challenge. Although the landscape here in the summer can be filled with intense greens, those same greens can appear artificial and unnatural when translated into oil paint on canvas. But I enjoy the challenge of working with green, as trying as it can be. It is an essential color for conveying the summer light of the rural, agricultural landscape where I live.

This is the old Currier house. I have painted this subject before, from farther away, at different times of the year and even from the other side. This summer, whilst cycling by it, I was attracted to the shape of the shadow on the side of the house, which only occurs for a few minutes each day. It took me a few tries to get the timing right, but I managed to get out there a few times at precisely the right moment and make some graphite drawings, which gave birth to a series of color studies in pastel and, eventually, this painting.

Several people, upon first seeing this painting, have asked me, "Where is that?" which always puzzles me because it's such an abstraction and not at all an illustration of a particular place. Perhaps (and I like to think that this is the case) when they see it, it makes them think of a place that they want to go, rather than a place that they recognize. In fact, one friend, when first seeing the painting, didn't ask where it was but, instead said, "I want to live in that house."

Monday, December 7, 2015

Awash in the Patina of Nostalgia
(oil on canvas, 2015)

I shall forget you presently, my dear
So make the most of this, your little day,
Your little month, your little half a year
Ere I forget, or die, or move away,
And we are done forever; by and by
I shall forget you, as I said, but now,
If you entreat me with your loveliest lie
I will protest you with my favorite vow.
I would indeed that love were longer-lived,
And vows were not so brittle as they are,
But so it is, and nature has contrived
To struggle on without a break thus far,—
Whether or not we find what we are seeking
Is idle, biologically speaking.

Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1892 - 1950

Thursday, December 3, 2015

All That Remains (oil on canvas, 2015)

Nothing lasts forever.

I have found, although I never consciously intended it, that the ephemeral nature of all things is a recurring theme in my work. Time marches on — minute by minute, second by second — and everything changes. I spend a lot of time outdoors, walking around with my sketchbook, running and cycling, and I'm constantly struck by how much the landscape around me, even in my little microcosm in northern Maine, changes year after year. Old buildings sink into the ground or collapse whilst new ones appear, seemingly to take their place. Fields become forests and forests become fields. New trees rise up as seedlings from the ground on to which old trees have fallen. Broken, pock-marked roads get repaved only to become broken and pock-marked once again. Objects that were once pristine become weathered, worn, faded and cracked and eventually decay.

But there's an inherent beauty in the decay, one that I find immensely appealing, especially when I see man-made objects that have become part of the landscape, the steel and painted wood consumed by rust and mold, illuminated by the setting sun, which itself serves as a constant reminder that time is always moving forward. Perhaps that's one of the things I love about painting: it's a way to preserve, at least for a while, that which is fleeting.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Remember When You Were Young?
(oil on canvas, 2015)

My mother grew up on an onion farm in upstate New York. My uncle and my cousin, both named John Musaccio like my late grandfather, still grow onions there. I have extremely fond memories of visiting there when I was a boy and still enjoy spending time there whenever I can (which isn't very often since I now live about 700 miles from there!) When I was young, most of my grandfather's onion fields were on the Warners Road – a two-mile long, perfectly straight line made of dirt and gravel, with drainage ditches running along both sides. The ditches were traversed via narrow "bridges" which were each composed of, essentially, a culvert covered with dirt. Punctuating the seemingly endless (especially to a young boy) row of onion fields were various dilapidated structures – storage sheds for tractors, plows and other farm equipment, as well as shacks which served as temporary housing for migrant workers during the harvest season.

This image is the latest of several that I have done over the past seven or eight years based on an old photo that I took of one such structure on the Warners Road. I don't like to work from photographs (and I never actually looked at the photo whilst working on the painting, referring instead to some of the many drawings of this subject that hang on my studio walls) but I find myself repeatedly drawn to the geometry of this image. The combination of rectangles, triangles, squares, circles and ovals – juxtaposed with the amorphous shapes in the landscape – are fertile ground for a painter.

I don't envy the work of farmers, but I'm grateful for those that choose farming as a profession (or, perhaps, like artists, the profession chooses them...) and I often identify with them. So much of my work involves germinating the seeds of ideas to fruition with a combination of hard work, skill, patience, knowledge combined with a dependency on the weather and hands that are never, ever really clean.

The Space Between Us (oil on canvas, 2015)

(Private Collection)
I have found that a good many people believe that the beauty (or lack there of) in a work of art lies in the choice of subject matter. When people first learn that I am an artist, they often ask me what subjects I paint, rather than how I paint or what my work is about. I have had people come into my studio and look at my paintings and ask me why there are no animals in my pictures or if I have any lighthouses.

I believe, however, that the true beauty of any artwork comes from the form of the work - the seemingly inevitable (one of my favorite words!) arrangement of lines, shapes, values, colors and textures - scribbles and marks made with human hands, that somehow miraculously call to mind the familiar, whilst simultaneously showing us (if we take the time to look) something we’ve never seen before.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Best Kept Secrets (oil on canvas, 2015)

I work a lot.

I am often asked how long a painting took me to make – usually a difficult question to answer. My process involves a lot exploration, experimentation, improvisation, risk-taking and wandering down untrodden paths or into the wilderness where there is no path. I want to make images that I've never seen before, which makes it virtually impossible to simply sit down and "make a painting" from start to finish. A great deal of the time that I spend in my studio is devoted to drawing, much of which is very loose and gestural, drawing from observation, memory and my subconscious, whilst I keep a sharp eye out for pleasant surprises that emerge from the work. This happens not nearly as often as I'd like and much of the "work" that I do ends up in the trash bin. But the work is, nonetheless, an important part of my overall process.

This painting of the old McBride house, which has been the subject for numerous drawings and paintings over the past few years, began late one night, over three years ago, as a very small, experimental color sketch. I had covered a piece of paper with blue pastel and then smudged it with my fingers, sprayed it with fixative and then dew the house from memory in various blues. The drawing itself had a lot of problems, but I found the color scheme interesting and thought about developing it into something. But, as sometimes happens, the drawing got misplaced and I moved on to other things. Over the past few years, the drawing periodically surfaced, from the depths of a pile of papers or from underneath a table and I would always find it interesting and think about working it up into an image, but to no avail. Until earlier this year.

There were many more drawings, as I worked out the composition and color scheme, before I embarked on this painting, which is markedly different from the original sketch that was the impetus for the final image, which didn't have the shed or any trace of reds or red-violets in it. I enjoy allowing the images to come to fruition in there own time, as was the case with this one and many others. I like to be surprised and I like thinking that out in my studio right now are more small, rough, late-night sketches that may one day, like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis, become wonderful paintings.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Everything is Going to Be Alright
(2015, oil on canvas)

For the past couple of years, the focus of my work has been the use color harmony as a means of expression. For each image that I create, I endeavor to create a unique combination of colors that work together to convey the content of the image. I try to imagine the colors for each image as a cast of characters in a story - each one playing a specific role in the overall drama, whilst simultaneously making an important contribution to the cast as a whole. My process involves mixing all of the colors for each painting before I actually begin to paint. This allows me freedom to focus at first on the color relationships for the image. Once the colors are mixed, I begin to paint, but often during the painting process I will modify colors, add new ones and decide that certain colors that I have pre-mixed have no place in the painting after all.

This image was based on a motif that I explored several years ago - the back side of an empty house on the Littleton/Houlton town line. I sold the original painting a long time ago and never referred to it for this painting, but I did have some of my original pencil drawings that I had done on location at the subject in the spring of 2010. This ended up being a painting about yellow - my goal being to create a visual representation of the sense of warmth and comfort that can come from reflecting on pleasant memories from the past as a means of alleviating anxiety about the future.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

As Long As It Takes (oil on canvas, 2015)

(Private Collection)
This is another variation on the subject in the previous post, this time with a green sky, a pink driveway and slightly different composition. I spend a lot of time working out the compositions of paintings, sometimes doing dozens of small thumbnail drawings with myriad variations in the placement of shapes within the frame of the image. I try to avoid compositional clich├ęs and I like there to be a little bit of tension created by an imbalance, like a syncopation in a piece of music that creates a feeling that everything could fall apart at any second. Life is like that sometimes. All the time, really.

Until We Meet Again (oil on canvas, 2015)

(Private Collection)
I did some drawings and a painting of this barn back in the autumn of 2009, shortly before the barn was razed. The structure was on a corner of the Front Ridge Road here in Littleton, a spot that commands spectacular views to the north toward Mars Hill and to the east into New Brunswick. My focus lately has been on using color as a means of conveying emotional content as well as a way of creating interesting (and, hopefully, beautiful) color harmonies that I haven't seen before. The idea is to divorce the colors from the objective colors of the observed world and to find ways to make them work together within the context of the specific image in a way that is harmonious, while simultaneously imbuing the image with personal, subjective content. Easier said than done, I can assure you, but this is one of two paintings that I did early in the year, based on the memory of this barn that had no wall on the eastern side.

Perfectly Imperfect (oil on canvas, 2014)

(Private Collection)
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Or so they say. I'm not sure that I agree with that, though. It's true that what's beautiful to some might not be beautiful to others. We live in culture where we're constantly being told what is beautiful and what isn't (mostly by people that are trying to sell us something). Many people manicure their lawns and their bodies, exerting a tremendous amount of energy and resources to be able to appear beautiful according to an ever-changing, arbitrary standard. But there's another kind of beauty that appeals to me, and that's the beauty that's inherent in things when they are in their natural state, as they were meant to be. When we look at things without expectations, we can often see beauty and perfection in what may at first appear to be chaos and ugliness. It's the idiosyncrasies and flaws that make each and every person and thing unique and in that uniqueness lies true beauty.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Chicken Cathedral (oil on canvas, 2014)

(Private Collection)
I worked for years as a commercial artist in the fields of graphic design and illustration, using my skill set to visually communicate other people's ideas. But when I made the move to Maine ten years ago to focus full-time on my art, I decided to paint just for myself. Consequently, I don't do a lot of commission work and I have turned down a fair few projects, regardless of how lucrative they may have been. However, I have had the good fortune on a few occasions to have been approached by some exceptionally open-minded patrons who, in the hopes of obtaining a work of art with some personal meaning, have invited me to explore their property and look for subject matter that would interest me, while allowing me complete creative freedom as well as the liberty to work at my own pace. This image was the fruit of such a project.

I visited this farm many times from late spring until early October last year, making numerous pastel drawings - some that I was very pleased with and others (as is often the case) that just didn't work. Ultimately, I found myself repeatedly drawn to this interestingly-shaped building - dubbed the "Chicken Cathedral" because of the hand-carved wooden rooster atop the cupola - and the various old oil tanks that surrounded it, their oval shapes providing the perfect foil to the angular nature of the architecture, whilst reminding us of the utilitarian nature of the building itself and its place on the farm. I confess, I had a wee bit of trepidation that the client might be disappointed that I had included the oil tanks (You'd be surprised at some of the stories I've heard from artist friends who regularly do commission work!) but in the end my fears were unfounded and they were quite pleased with the final image.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

There Are No Coincidences (oil on canvas, 2014)

(Private Collection)
I made this for a dear friend who's been a constant source of inspiration and spiritual guidance. He loves trees and the title is something that he reminds me is true on a regular basis - especially at those times when I need to hear it the most.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Happily Ever After (oil on canvas, 2014)

(Private Collection)
I've never been interested in symbolism in my art. I can appreciate artists who use it, and some of my favorite artists use symbolism to wonderful end, but I've always been more interested in the purely formal aspects of painting and drawing (i.e. line, shape, color, texture, etc.) and using those to convey emotions. Although my work tends to be much more abstract than naturalistic, at heart I am a realist. I just believe that images can communicate much deeper truths once we transcend literal description. I tend to choose ordinary, mundane subjects for my paintings and I then try to imbue them with qualities that will touch the viewer on an emotional level by means of how I paint them and the choices that I make with regards to color, value, paint application, composition, etc..

But this is a painting that's rife with symbolism....