Compulsions

Regular readers know that I have certain motifs that I do over and over.  Happily in art, redoing the same things over and over demonstrates an artist’s artistic health (rather than the opposite).  One of my compulsions that I may have neglected to display finds an iteration above.  The landscape is based upon a favorite published photograph that, for some reason, I like to draw and redraw more times than I can keep track.  It’s not my published photo, either.  It’s someone else’s.  Perhaps I have alterred it sufficiently well to beat a court case should the photo’s owner ever magically recognize the source of the drawing.  Well, they say that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” and I have flattered this photographer (whoever he is) A LOT.

It used to be part of the artist’s career path — particularly in 19th century France — to first study law, then abandon that in a bohemian moment to take up painting.  Given the impulse one feels to make copies of other peoples’ work, perhaps we should bring that career trajectory back.  However, though I am not a lawyer, I do believe I could persuade a jury that the photographer only owns his image and not the scenery itself — and truly it is the scenery that I have explored — and transformed.

Well, enough about lawyers.  The salient point here is that sometimes you feel a deep attraction to a thing.  I cannot tell you what intrigues me about this favorite scene.  And distorting it and changing it interests me even more than merely drawing it.

But why ask why!  Sometimes you must just give way to these impulses.  Feel the pull of the thing, and let it captivate you.

Art Book Companions

There’s a story about Delacroix, his suffering indecision, not being able to figure out the colors of a detail in his painting.  He tells his assistant to order a coach for him so he can visit the Louvre where he would, no doubt, consult Rubens.  So the assistant orders the coach and Delacroix prepares to board it, when seeing the shadow of the coach on the ground, he is suddenly confronted with his solution in the form of yellow lights and violet contrasts.  Thus he sends the coach away and continues with his painting.  Nature came to his rescue!

Me, I need art history for my rescue — not that I face any problem as thorny as whatever Delacroix was trying to resolve.  I could have summoned my own coach to take me to the National Gallery of Art.  All I’d have had to do is put the key in the ignition.  Zoom, zoom.  And I’d have been there.  Today being Sunday, I’m quite sure I could easily have found a parking place.  Sometimes these days just finding a parking place seems like reason enough to do a victory lap.  Of course, if you did that you’d risk losing the space you had just found …

Well, I don’t need to actually visit a museum today.  I have a really terrific art library and the books have their own magic — not as grand as seeing actual works, but nothing to sniff at either.  A good art book is a boon companion.  Right now I’m consulting Monet about my drawing.  Seeing his “The Manneporte, Etretat” I am struck by how solidly everything is realized.  The foot of the cliff that reaches out into the sea is so heavy and physical.  The light that covers it like a cloak is so beautiful and true.  The half lights are perfect.  What was moving, transient and probably damp and messy — thinking about the cumbersome business of his taking canvas to such a location and dealing with the wind that ripples the sea in such a lively way — he resolves all that with such admirable visual logic.  Meanwhile, my picture’s characteristics are so different.  For the drawing I’m doing at the moment, I don’t even have the subject in front of me, and the action takes place entirely on the sheet of paper, deriving what energy it has from the contrasts of the colors themselves and the character of lines.

Still Monet’s sea picture is like an anchor.  It steadies my thoughts — is like taking a walk along the beach during a pause in my drawing.   Monet was among my first loves, among those who first led me into the way of painting, and I find that all these years later he’s still a welcoming teacher.

Monet, “The Manneporte, Etretat,” 1886, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

You can’t see my crown yet …

You can’t see my crown yet, but I’m gonna be the Pochade Queen.  I am on a mission.  Been doing as many small landscape paintings as I can each day.  Paint faster than I can think, do it, put it aside, begin another, later go back to the earlier ones, paint some more, and on and on.  It is like swimming laps.  Or like playing scales and seeking a mellow tone.  Or like walking and thinking — thinking hard about stuff while staring at the ground, the grass and the little rocks passing by your feet in a miniature world at ant level.  It is so automatic and dreamlike.  Why isn’t work always like this forever?

Our weather is different.  But I will paint autumn in winter perhaps as now I paint summer in the fall.  I paint from drawings.  There are there to guide and yet also there to evoke memories.

The light falls upon these rocks and makes them glad.  The air is still yet buzzing with insects.  The quiet is overwhelming the senses.  The solitude is vast.  Such great and spacious days!

You can’t see my crown yet, but it’ll be there.  When I’m the “pochade queen” and have painted me a hundred little corners of the earth.

First things

What is the first thing you should draw?  What do you choose to draw?  A landscape?  A face?  Still life objects?

What is the first thing you notice?  Why did you notice that, you suppose?  When did I first find art enchanting?  Or life, when did I realize that I am part of the spectacle?

A baby cooing, a laugh, a cry.  The intake of air.  The bracing cold of the atmosphere.  The warmth of sun.  Feeling oneself in tropical suspension with the everythingness of all.

What should the first line describe?  Why am I noticing?  This and not that?  Or that and not this?

my landscape

A secret bunker studio should have a secret garden.  I visit my garden a lot and I portray some its many secret faces.  It’s rather like the garden in a fine rare dream I had once — ah, the unconscious, master narrator! — and perhaps sometime I should relate that dream someday.  But another time.

For now, my garden will have to depend upon its own secret mystique.

Hidden in the dense forest of painting

Hidden in the dense forest of painting is a bright-colored bird.  There’s also a finished painting in there, too, but I have to fight my way through a thicket of confused ideas before I find it.  I start paintings and sometimes bring them quite a ways along before setting them aside.  The reasons for quitting work are subtle, but necessary — when I find that I simply cannot seem to go forward.  From long habit, I now recognize that the impasse has a purpose.  And after setting the thing to the wall or burying it far back in the stack of canvases, one bright day I stumble upon it as though it were a previously unknown creature and discover that I have a whole new relation to it and a brand new set of shiny ideas.

There’s a painting like that now, which I have pulled out of the pile.  It’s time to resume work on it.  And somewhere in this picture a bright tropical bird is almost ready to sing.  Ah, all I need is to work my way through that thick forest.

always the koi

I never quite realize how happily working on the koi pictures gets my whole brain humming along   They are large drawings, and a great part of the thrill of working on them comes from their size.  I can hone in on a “small” part of the picture — which is really the size of a “regular” drawing.  And yet I can also move through the picture, taking in its large possibilities.

The process of bringing the picture into being is gradual.  It happens in steps of quiet transformation.  It provides steady work too.  And it’s always good to have something to do.

Revisions

In my “getting back to work” phase, I have been doing a bit of this and that.  Here’s a bit of this.  After a session during which I resumed work on a large koi painting that I had abandoned months ago, I picked up this small landscape above, which I had initially painted very fast and I gave it a second going-over.  I’ve been away from my work for a while, and thus I use this and that to get my head back into the game.

I am browsing and nibbling at art.

Sneaking back to work

Wow.  It seems like forever since I’ve been able simply to draw!  And it’s been nearly forever since I’ve had a moment to reflect and write about art.

I found myself with crayons in my hands again, and I hardly knew what to do.  So I pulled out the favorite fake flowers and just started drawing.  When non-art life is as hectic as mine’s been lately, I figure I’ll give myself complete permission to do whatever I want.  And when presented with the possibility of drawing whatever I wanted, I chose these flowers.

They really are swell flowers.  I like them a lot.  And I hope they like me too.