When I see details like this I discover that I’m more of an abstract artist than I realize. But I love the visual incident of passages like this one, this detail of the painting Distant Oak.
I rarely — almost never — paint with acrylics now. I’m an oil painter. But I recall I did love the ways you could put layers over top each other quickly — and could with the addition of some white paint — recreate the bottom layer again and thus play rather easily with transparencies and texture.
This bit of abstraction appears on the lower left hand side of the painting.
We know each other by our faces. But how can you see the face of the past? I didn’t know what prosopagnosia is when I painted this. Sometimes instead you just heed your instincts and follow the forms as they appear.
Prosopagnosia (sometimes called face blindness) is a cognitive inability to recognize faces in someone with otherwise unimpaired vision.
Here it’s a visual metaphor for a distant past and the persons who lived in it, whose faces we cannot see clearly because they live in a perpetual realm of mystery and unknowingness.
I learned about prosopagnosia from reading various books by Oliver Sacks.
I have loved Richard Diebenkorn’s work since whenever it was (a long time ago) that I first saw it. Without knowing anything about him, just seeing one of his pictures on the cover of a magazine, I fell in love. His ideas have affected me since.
Here in the drawing from one of his little notebooks (above left) and the detail of my painting Distant Oak (below), I think the affinity shows. I never met Mr. Diebenkorn (who was the same age as my mother). But I still think of him as being one of my teachers.
When photographs of pictures happen by chance to appear side by side, sometimes you discover relationships between images that you didn’t know were there. And so it seems that the Little Collage has some sort of parallel relationship to the Lattice painting that I made many years ago.
Maybe I’m crazy. But I feel as though they share some inner logic, as though they are versions of the same thing.
I didn’t think Frederick Remington was a real artist because he painted cowboy themes. I was that peculiarly annoying thing: an East Coast snob. But I was young. One must forgive the young for their annoying stances — especially when it’s your own young past self!
Anyway, I was at the Museum of American Art last weekend with an agenda: I wanted to make a drawing after Childe Hassam’s painting “Tanagra, The Builders” (which I posted recently). While I was there I also did a certain amount of wandering around and encountered this tour de force by Remington. It stopped me in my tracks.
In all humility I made a rapid sketch of the main horse, rapid because by that time I was supposed to meet some other people, and I only had a few minutes to spare.
I’m glad that I make these fast drawings these days. I used to feel intimidated and it cost me some wonderful opportunities. There’s nothing to lose and much to gain in simply drawing the world around you.
The time of year when the air is warm and cicadas sing is precious to me. My painting seeks to capture that sensibility, the feeling of the afternoon that seems endless. A Perfect Summer’s Day is all the summers rolled together in memory, of all the years, of all the light and shadow, and generations of cicadas singing, a day when the air in the shadows is visibly humming.
Sometimes I put the seashells into color environments that recall their ocean homes. Sometimes I plunge them into a set up of bright colors that I favor.
Here the seashell is not ocean artifact — it is still life object, sitting on a tabletop covered by a yellow leaf and floral patterned cloth with brilliant red and bright violet backgrounds adjacent. I realize now that some of my paintings record the evolution of still life table changes, that the different colored backgrounds feature a succession different objects as I cycled through various color and pattern choices, using them for various different objects. Thus the same color scheme used for this seashell appears also with one of the flower pictures.
The still life table is like a theatre stage and the still life objects are actors that appear in different scenes of the drama.
A close up view of the fish drawing is pure abstraction. You can hardly tell there’s a fish there except for a bit contour — that along with being told — does vaguely produce a minimum of fishiness. I am an abstract artist — in some respects. Someone told me this, one of my insightful students. I wasn’t even aware.
Why do I like the scrawl of the crayon more than the specific features of the fish itself? Well, I only like them better in some pictures. In other pictures I’d be quite content to imitate the look of a koi sliding through the water. But here the energy of crayon markings in bright colors has gotten the better of me. The markings capture some of the alacrity of koi energy.
There’s still fish there. And it matters too that they’re fish.
This detail occurs in the giant rehearsal drawing. I reworked it based on some random lights and shadows that fell on the drawing when I was outdoors photographing it. Here’s a picture of it indoors with the tool box and step stool to give a sense of its actual size.