Do Clean House Occasionally

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Phyllis Diller, a comedian whose humor some of us actually remember quite vividly, though we are loath to admit it for fear of acknowledging how soon hath time, the subtle thief of youth, stolen on his wing, our three and twentieth year … and the three and thirtieth, the three and fortieth, and so on!

Phyllis, as I was saying, upon hearing that some housewife cleaned her house every six months, had brightly remarked, “Why so often?”  It’s a sentiment to which, I usually quite heartily concur.  As she wisely noted, “Housework can’t kill you, but why take the chance.”  I have, nonetheless, been reduced to cleaning my house as a dire necessity.  And in so doing have found some very nice sheets of Canson pastel paper, as well as some Magnani Pescia soft blue drawing paper, that are just the sort of things I need now that I’m “fishing” night and day.

It’s very fortuitous to find a stash of drawing paper that you forgot you even owned when you are right in the midst of drawing all the time.  Thus my late spring no bud or blossom sheweth.  Au contraire, it’s all fish.

So I’m going to draw like a demon with these new pages, but as to housekeeping … once I have got past the dire need, I fully intend to resume my wiser habits of old.  As Phyllis said in deeper explanation: “Cleaning your house while your children are still growing up is like shoveling the walk while it’s still snowing.”

If I start cleaning house again before six months has passed, somebody slap me!  Please!

Drawing and Dream Fishing

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I have been painting koi, and some might wonder what techniques lie behind the paintings.  Ever since the French Impressionists, we’re accustomed to the idea of painting landscape from life “en plein air.”  And I do sometimes visit my friends the koi with a notebook and make sketches. 

However, most the drawing and painting I do of the koi grows out of photographs.  Indeed, I could not pursue the images I make without the camera.  And the use of photography in these koi paintings I make leads me closer than ever backward into the techniques of old masters.  Prior to the 19th century when paint was first put into tubes, artists made sketches from life, but all their serious painting of nature took place in the studio and depended greatly upon drawings, imagination and imitation of works by other artists.  Art has always been influenced as much by other art as by “reality.”  And it’s still true, of course, though we are not always aware of the subliminal kinds of imitation in which we indulge.

My paintings develop from photographs because the camera can stop time, and thus it captures a natural effect that I cannot see with my eyes.  For instance, while one can makes lots of drawings of individual koi swimming about (which is hard enough), one cannot capture the complex relationships of many moving fish to each other.  Yet when I study my photographs I find that the koi navigate their watery paths in herd-like ways.  Their passages through their “fluid-scape” is more than the sum of individual parts.  Beautiful patterns emerge as they swim sometimes in concert, sometimes in solos, and sometimes in gentle and amicable “collision” courses during which they bump into one another and exchange a brief but cordial greeting.

Thus I need my photographs, yet I do not just copy them.  I often make drawings — studies — from the photographs, just as one makes studies from life.  Through this process of preliminary drawing, quite often new visual ideas emerge, and sometimes it’s these ideas that affect the painting as much as the source photo(s).  Then too, I sometimes recombine elements of several photos to invent a new composition and in this regard I find myself doing a modern revamp of a very ancient “old master” process. 

Sometimes I make “quick” sketches from the photos (as in the picture at the top of the post) — though I have “all the time in the world” to copy a photograph.  I find that the quick interaction with what I see helps me seize some aspects of the imagery and — equally valuable — to ignore other features, distracting details perhaps, in the search for whatever visual gesture finally expresses this “je ne sais quoi” that I want.

The painting you make is never exactly the same thing as “reality.”  Whether the artist stands before the motif, or works in the quietude of an insulated studio, the real subject of the picture is the interior landscape of the painter — the one inside one’s head.  As Degas said: “L’air qu’on voit dans les tableaux des maitres, n’est pas l’air respirable!”  And that goes double for the water!

Falling into the Koi Pond

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I’ve been painting and drawing koi again.  I have so many paintings and drawings around me, I almost feel as though I have the koi pond in my studio.  Drawing the water, the fish and the reflections is mesmerizing.  And with no pun intended, I must say that so far I only skim the surface of this koi pond.  The relationships between water, light and the passage of time, the movement of the fish in their fish world, these are weighty matters that I cannot penetrate in my pictures just yet.  But I contemplate it daily. 

I’ve gone fishing.

Welcome Back (to me)

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I have been away.  I had lost my internet connection.  Twice.  Both our family’s computers went belly up at around the same time.  And our internet provider (who shall remain nameless) could not figure out how to make the new laptop access the internet … which makes us wonder if computer numero deux actually did go belly up … since it works fine otherwise.

Anyway, I have got to be honest here and tell you that my “internet holiday” has been fabulous!  I was so addicted to the internet and then I quit, as it were, “cold turkey.”  I soon became reacquainted with life as it was lived pre-internet, and I’ve got to tell you that the low tech life is not that bad.  My musical skills have certainly improved greatly as I found much more time to practice.  And I got reintroduced to some family members around here!  Turns out that the place I live in has other inhabitants!  (Who knew?)

One of the joys of my internet holiday included a trip to the National Gallery of Art to see the Cityscapes show.   If you don’t think the Dutch 17th century artists invented landscape painting, come and see this exhibit.  It might change your mind.  It’s like lessons in the many approaches to portraying the natural and human environment.  I’m heading back there as soon as I can to make some sketches.