I was given this small 12 x 12 canvas by the University of Maine at Presque Isle's Art Club and asked to do a painting on it for their upcoming fundraising auction. I always find the square format to be challenging in terms of composition because it's such a stable shape. I've known artists who use the square format almost exclusively and I've known artists who avoid it completely. I don't recall ever intentionally stretching a square canvas, although I have done several paintings that are almost squares, e.g. 30 x 32 or 34 x 36. I like to create a little bit of tension by having the dimensions be unequal. I have even consciously arranged the forms within the frame of the picture in such a way as to make the image look like a square, even when it isn't.
This image is based on a drawing that I did a few weeks ago. I was planning to develop this idea into a larger painting, but in a vertical rectangle format on a larger canvas. I will probably still do that, as soon as I finish the painting that I'm working on at the moment (which is turning out to be one of the most difficult things I've ever undertaken, but that's a subject for another post...). Creating multiple paintings of the same theme, but with variations on the composition and/or color scheme, has always been appealing to me. The size of a canvas is also a very important consideration because the scale of the marks that I make changes relative to the size of the painting and larger paintings allow for viewing both at a distance as well as up close. When making a large painting, I always try to make the painting work from a distance, but I think there should be a lot of smaller scale things going on that provide visual interest when the viewer gets in close to the painting.
Oftentimes, when I am outside drawing I don't even think about composition, preferring instead to draw everything that I see and then compose several pictures from the same subject once I return to my studio. I have several strips of black paper lying around the studio and I use these to compose images by placing them on all four sides of a drawing. I then move the strips around as I explore various compositional possibilities. I played around with placing the strips of black paper around my drawing of this subject and found this square composition, which I think works well. Staggering the horizon creates a slight diagonal and makes for a more dynamic arrangement than if the horizon went straight across.
This painting will be included in the UMPI Art Club's 12 x 12 auction on Friday April 6 at Sorpresso Café in Presque Isle, ME.
“A painting is not a picture of an experience, but is the experience.” – Mark Rothko
A few months ago, my daughter and I went to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, one of my favorite haunts when I lived in Massachusetts. I was particularly eager to see the Mark Rothko exhibition, as I haven’t had many opportunities to see his work in person.
I first encountered Rothko’s art when I was a senior in college, during a trip to the Museum of Modern Art in NY. I wasn’t familiar with his work when I walked into a gallery and was awestruck by a painting of white amorphous open-edged shapes surrounded by a light grey ground. As simple as it sounds, there was something sublime and spiritual about the image and as I gazed at it, I was moved to tears. I later learned that not only is this a common reaction by people to Rothko’s work, but one that he intended the viewer to have. I have read a great deal of his writings, as well as interviews with him, and have always felt an affinity with his ideas about painting, especially about art being a spiritual experience rather than a conveyance of information or mere decoration. This has always been an important aspect of my own work. The MFA Rothko exhibit began with paintings from the past that had influenced Rothko. Not surprisingly, the first painting was one of my favorite things, the small Rembrandt oil “The Artist in His Studio”, a painting steeped in the sublime.
Seeing the Rothko paintings reminded me of the importance of seeing original art in person. Modern technology enables us to see just about any work of art, no matter where the original is, in digital reproduction. When I’m teaching studio classes, I often mention the work of a specific artist that has relevance to something a student is doing and I’ve had other students immediately pull up images of that artist’s work on their phones – an extremely useful teaching aid in the classroom. Technology also allows artists like me to share our work all over the world. But there’s no substitute for having a direct experience in front of the art, to stand where the artist stood when they created it and have nothing but air and light between you and the materials that the artist used to bring their vision to fruition.
While in Boston that day, I made the mandatory foray to the big art supply store near Fenway Park where I found a new paint color: Manganese Violet. I was immediately smitten by this semi-transparent, warm violet (I’m partial to anything purple to begin with, anyway!) so I bought a big tube to add to my ever-expanding palette. The other colors welcomed it into the fold with open arms and it played a large role in this new painting.
I am a full time artist, originally from Massachusetts, currently living in northern Maine. I work primarily in oils and pastel, and occasionally watercolor. I offer instruction in drawing and painting at my studio, which is in an old renovated potato barn. Please feel free to view samples of my work (You can see a larger version of each picture if you click on it.) and leave a comment if you are so inclined. Be sure to click the "Older Posts" button at the bottom to see more work. I don't always have time to respond to comments, but if you wish to correspond with me, you can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org