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.