I set up elaborate still lifes for paintings. Even when I’m painting something else, it’s fun to see the still life sitting there on the table. I think to myself that everyone ought to have a still life table for the fun of having the things to look at and to put into interesting arrangements — whether you’re an artist doesn’t matter. Rearranging the items on the still life table could become a catalyst for rearranging things in your life (I’ve heard of some kinds of psychotherapy that use a similar tactic). Or maybe it’s something to do to nurture one’s inner decorator or architect.
In truth, though, everyone already has still lifes arranged all throughout their houses. We just don’t call them by that name. The shelf where I keep still life objects is a still life set up in its own right. I put the things on the shelf in ways that cram as many items on the shelf as possible, but the arrangement has its own unintended charm. I should paint that some time. And everyone has a corner of a room — kitchens are notorious — where a bunch of things sit in haphazard arrangements that echo the things’ uses in the lives of the home’s inhabitants. Other places to find the wonderful, revealing haphazard still life include the insides of closets, the work desk, the bathroom shelf, inside cabinets and spaces under beds.
All those compartments have a beautiful charm — are like entries in a diary telling us truths about the quiet spaces of living.
Flowers are a traditional subject, however, in traditional still lifes and so I paint them often. Moreover the flowers are organic in form and thus connect the inside and outside worlds. Nature made the flowers (and the gourd too in this still life above) and human beings made the rest in the still life above with the striped cloth.
17 x 23 inches, pastel on sanded paper, available.
In a little vase of flowers you can find so many things — the stability of gravity, the beauty of light, the profusion of nature, a riot of incident — they are all there. Even in the small compass of a little bouquet, there’s so much to see. A little vase of flowers is a microcosm of all of nature.
Pastel on sanded paper, 11 x 10 inches. Available.
I produced these during the night shift and spent a cheerful night that way. “The earth laughs in flowers,” said Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Pastel, 18.5 x 14 inches.
Il y a des fleurs partout pour qui veut bien les voir. — Henri Matisse
(There are flowers everywhere for whoever really wants to see them.)
Some of the flowers that are everywhere are actual flowers. The still life flowers came from the grocery store. Some flowers are artifacts, like the ones painted onto the vase. Some of the beautiful things that fill one’s twenty-four hours are flower-like, or metaphorical flowers, as being things that bloom and fade but which are replaced by new, similar bits of loveliness — ideas, memories, moments of insight in the process of blooming and fading — all part of a beauty-wending path of being and unbeing. But even when the flowers fall, the real flowers, they are still lovely.
Pastel. 20 x 15 inches. Available.
The flowers are surrounded by light, light like a blanket, the light that is everywhere. The colors are soft and the senses muffled. A bouquet can be a state of mind. Are flowers remembering the vault of sky that hangs above them?
Pastel, 18 x 15 inches. Available.
A jar of flowers is like a microcosm of a garden. Every combination of colors evokes its own attendant moods, drawing upon memories of days and hours past. These flowers are receptacles for so many evening and morning thoughts.
“The garden was bounded on one side by the house, from which it flowed and into which it ran, on two sides by the old village, and on the last by the cliff falling by ledges to the sea.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender is the Night
Pastel on sanded paper, 13 x 16.5 inches. Available.
I’ve been working on a series of small landscape paintings lately. This is one of them. The canvas measures 18 x 24.
The road leads to a wall of crepe myrtles in bloom. True, the road turns ahead. But why would you want to go anywhere else? When you reach the bunches of trees and shrubs filled with colors, you’ve arrived.
My daughter and I hung round the National Gallery yesterday afternoon. Afterwards, we decided to walk up 6th street and mosey over to the Museum of American Art. I haven’t been in that museum in probably twenty years. Yesterday’s experience looking at some 19th century paintings was almost like seeing the works for the first time. I must have seen this painting by Frederick Childe Hassam before, but I have no recollection of it.
I was utterly bowled over. I think that Bonnard had prepared me to see this during the twenty years interim and suddenly I adored it. What an amazing collection. We have to go back early and often. And I have a lot of rethinking to do about painting.
I’m experimenting with small pastel today. The drawing above — still in the works — measures 13.5 x 9 inches. It’s based on a watercolor — I’m copying my own watercolor into pastel — drying the fish as it were.
I’ve done the koi in pastel many times, but never on so small a scale. At present I find it very difficult to match the degree of visual incident that’s going on in the watercolor. But who knows — I’m still drawing.
Some details show the textures of the pastel marks.
Just as edges of a watercolor passage create a textural effect, so also to various elements of pastel have a unique look — the dragged sides of sticks, the varying widths of line when the sticks are used to draw, the zig zags, hatch marks, blurred passages of blended color. Each way of laying the pigment down has something to offer which at last will hopefully carry the illusion along while giving some material beauty of their own.
I am always amazed at the way ordinary cameras can capture the amazingly up-close details of artwork now. You can see bits of pigment sitting in clumps on the paper.