randomness of everywhere

flower photo blog

You can aim the camera in some random direction and encounter some intriguing possibility for painting.  Or you could just aim your eyes or even your mind, your imagination, your memories, I suppose!

This photo sneaks in a view of my favorite still life cloth.

butterfly cloth in black & white

butterfly cloth in b&w

Above, a black and white photograph of the green-yellow-pink butterfly cloth that features in the still life paintings that I’m currently working on.  Got it at Joann Fabrics last year.  In black and white it’s like a drawing and all the wonderful intricate lines stand out.

like a butterfly

leaf for butterfly wing2

I have been looking for butterflies without much success.  We used to have a garden that attracted butterflies, but not this year.  And the few I have happened upon accidentally have flitted away before I could fetch my camera.  They are known for their flitting.

However, in the absence of actual butterflies, I see no reason why one couldn’t invent one’s own.  So now I’m hunting things that are like butterflies and the first items that have answered my search are these two leaves that are early in their transformation, anticipating autumn.

Like the inventor in The Artist of the Beautiful, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s haunting short story, I’m out to create my own do-it-yourself flitter critter.  My version of the quest is less haunting and romantic, more optimistic and can-do in spirit.  But mine is also less actual in yearning for painting is illusory from the outset — my quest more so, is unreal two-fold, an illusion of an illusion.

morning thoughts

100_9951

The difficulty one encounters in trying to paint dreams is that often you cannot remember them.  Dream memory is exceptionally fugitive. That feature of itself draws in a certain scientific interest (for those who study dreams) because it’s so startlingly different from ordinary perception.  While you will most probably forget what you did this morning over the course of a few days, you are most unlikely to forget it seconds after it happens. But how often has one awakened from a dream only to see it seem to disintegrate even as one watches?

Some dreams last in memory and others don’t.  Even what distinguishes the one sort of dream from the other is unknown.  But while dreams cannot be counted on to furnish stable material for art, the process that one’s mind uses to dream is most probably accessible — to some extent — in a waking state.

I’m searching for some random things to include in certain pictures that are in the works. I say the things are random, but I only mean that they’re random in the way that dream elements often seem to come in bizarre forms.  And one thing clearly connects to another as though by some great law of causality.  But when you tell the dream to someone, it seems to make no sense at all. I am putting things into pictures just because, and wondering afterwards if the stream of consciousness leads somewhere.

Your dreams, O years, how they penetrate through me! (I know not whether I sleep or wake.)  — Walt Whitman, Years of the Modern

me & my twin, separated by Time

NT; (c) Bradley Manor; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
NT; (c) Bradley Manor; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Her above, me below (as I was some time back).

Young woman my photo compare

I wanted a picture for a drapery study.  I needed a model, and having none I used myself and my mirror.

Then today I find Young Woman on a Terrace Giving Grapes to a Cockatoo, by Winifred Hansard Firth quite by chance.

What can I say?  Great minds think alike.

 

Like a real pond

After working on my drawing at the secret bunker studio, I took photos as I usually do.  Then got an odd notion.  Why not photograph the picture from below as one might see it if it were mounted high upon a wall.  (Sometimes that’s the only way you can photograph pictures when they’re housed somewhere.)  And as I saw how distorted the image became, I inclined to indulge the distortion in extravagant ways.  After that I was in search of distortion, the stretchier the water’s topography, the better.

When you’re photographing the real fish, their movements and the wave patterns are often stopped artificially or alterred greatly from what our brains tell us we see.

Photographing the drawing from every angle across its flat plane, I saw the fish begin to “swim” even more — round the curved edge of the earth’s watery.  Like koi explorers they looked to drop off the edge of the space-time.  And the blues widened like a curtain furling.

If I were to use these distorted photos of my drawing as reference images for other pictures, I could draw the distortion right in and jazz riff something new.  Or one could combine the distorted sections into a new “whole.”

Collage is possible, or rescrambled puzzle pieces made more puzzling.  Lots of improvisations possible as one follows the path.  Or the wave.  The fish wave.

I decided to treat my drawing like it was a real pond.  With real fish, who move.

Drawing and Dream Fishing

koi-drawing

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!

Alternatives

When I walk around the easel and look at the still life from the other side, it looks like this.  I think this is such a pretty view.  Sometimes it’s hard not to jump at doing this view right now.  But I have to finish the other one first.

And, you never know.  The fish might start to beckon again.

Fish?  Flowers?  Fish?  Flowers?  It’s tough!