I was drawing at the National Gallery of Art yesterday — practicing figurative drawing for the regular life class I attend — and made this drawing after Jules Dalou’s portrait of Alphonse Legros. I suppose they had an idea about hair — as an expressive feature — that really gets exploited in 19th century art. In Alphonse Legros’s own self-portrait (see below) he seems to have somewhat less dramatic hair than that with which Dalou portrays him.
While I was drawing the sculpture, I got very caught up in the features of Legros’s magnificent, fictional, lionesque mane. My drawing is inside a 9 1/2 by 6 1/4 inch Stillman and Birn notebook. I also made a slightly larger drawing on Strathmore drawing paper (not pictured). And I’m eager to get back to the museum soon and make some more drawings after the sculpture — because — the hair!
Here’s a photo of the sculpture on NGA’s website — different angle — but it’s a link to an image that you can zoom into if you’re so inclined ….
At first I thought the bust was by Rodin because the room is full of Rodin sculptures of various sorts and sizes. I had never heard of Dalou before, but now I learn that he was an amazing sculptor with a quite expansive, varied oeuvre.
And while looking for information about the National Gallery’s Rodins, I happened upon a fabulous Rodin drawing that NGA owns. The link below also has a zoom feature. So, I’m thinking about this kind of drawing too as inspiration for life class. How freely Rodin approached the figure, but of course his freedom is built on tons of knowledge. Here’s the link to the drawing:
So many things to see, so many things to draw, ain’t life grand?!
A few weeks ago in September I went to the Botanic Gardens to draw with a Meetup group. I decided to use some Sennelier oil pastels that I have — just because — and it turned out to be rather a challenge. Sennelier oil pastels, as you may know, are expensive and lip-stick like (when new) and corrosive to the paper (eventually) because of the oil in them. I used them on Arches oil paper, and since mine are not new, rather than being lip-stick like, they were just sticky. I knew then that precision was not the effect to seek and so I bashed the color around. And it’s kind of pretty if somewhat incoherent.
For a second drawing, I used Neopastels (Caran d’Ache) which I love. Not much detail or evident precision in this drawing either but by the time I began it I had been standing rather a longish time, balancing my box of pastels under the drawing itself, a very ungainly way to work! The flowers are composed of little flowerets that cascade across in a ball. I got the ball quality, but not the parts. Still, not bad to get some if not all of the complex perception.
The gooey Sennelier drawing sits inside the closed Arches oil paper tablet. The Neopastel sits propped against furniture on the studio floor where I can see it as I work. (I’m working on a largish painting of a moth at the moment). Seeing it there it has begun to affect me with its bright colors. And even though the kind of flower portrayed isn’t even evident from the drawing, I find myself wanting to go back to Botanic gardens and make more incoherent drawings like these. And I’m wondering if I could make a whole incoherent painting of them, one made exclusively from drawings.
So, we’ll see. But for now, I’m all moth.
Here’s a detail of the gooey Sennelier where you can see the texture available. It’s a very expressive material for a certain kind of work. I wasn’t quite in the mood for it that day I used it, but its appeal sneaks up on you later on after the work is done ….
The color relationships are not unlike those of the flower painting I made recently, which is now on the wall at the Virginia Art League during the month of October.
I have been painting a lot lately so much that I haven’t had time to blog about it. And nearly all of the paintings depict flowers. The painting above measures 30 x 40 inches. After having painted so many flowers in vases on tables, I wanted to do something amorphous. The theme of amorphous arrangements is one that I’m just beginning to explore, and there will be others besides the one above. Indeed there’s an even larger painting in the works.
I still paint the flowers on table tops, of course, and one of the recent pictures is a traditional still life because I love the flat receding plane of the table top with its still life theatre.
Long time readers know that I like to paint pictures of koi swimming and this still life has a fish component, so that was fun. The painting above measures 16 x 20 inch inches so it’s small, but it’s got attitude. And what’s particularly new about these paintings is that I painted them using acrylic paint which I haven’t used in a long time. I have had such a blast using this fast drying paint. Each kind of artist material has its own peculiar charms and I like to range among the opportunities. I think particularly now that using acrylic paint is going to teach me things that I can afterwards apply profitably in oil painting.
The fish pattern paper featured in the second painting comes from a wonderful store in Old Town Alexandria called The Paper Source. It will be fun showing the store’s staff what I did with the beautiful deep blue paper I bought there — the first of the paper’s soon-to-be frequent appearances in my art.
My flower mélange is partly inspired by the store window of Caruso’s Florist at 17th and M Streets in Washington Dc where there’s a dramatic window display. I was walking in the evening in mid-September, strolling around the block a couple times because I was early for a meeting. That’s when I came upon Caruso’s store window. It was one of those great felicitous accidents of happening upon something that you had been hoping to find! When I returned to the store the next day with my camera, the store’s owner greeted me. He is just about the nicest guy you’re likely to ever meet. So, if you visit Washington DC and want to meet somebody delightful, make a straight path for Caruso’s Florist.
I have a lot of project ideas right now. Some of them are underway, others are just buzzing about in my brain. It’s been a very exciting time of full days.
In other news if you received one of the cards with a reproduction of my paintings and are a new visitor to the blog, welcome. Hope you find many things to enjoy.
I just learned that my pastel “Pickle Jar of Flowers” has been selected for inclusion in the upcoming “Mark” exhibit at the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, Virginia.
Here’s how the gallery describes the exhibit:
Pencil marks, painting strokes, woodcuts, or a dynamic editorial eye are all marks artists use to create their works. Mark-making has been associated with conventional pen, pencil, and paper, but artists make marks on ceramics, plates, fabric, and film, with tools ranging from sticks to scrapers to pixels. Artists can also be marked with memories, conditions, or experiences that shape how their artwork is made. Specific tools, techniques, and the artist’s physicality are embedded in every work of art. This exhibit will show the viewer how the artist’s mark can be the most important element in transforming the ‘blank canvas’ into an image. Artists are also encouraged to provide a brief statement about their ‘mark’. The curator is Charles Jean-Pierre.
The exhibit will be on view from September 5th through October 1st with a reception taking place on Thursday September 14th from 6:30-9:30 pm.
A print of the painting is available for purchase here:
This small painting Sea Flower will be on exhibit beginning this week in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, at the Torpedo Factory. It combines two of my favorite things — a Queen conch seashell and my favorite floral cloth.
Here’s another view of the cloth, a detail from another painting.
The favorite floral cloth ends up in a lot of things.
In Sea Flower the two subjects almost blend together in a fairly abstract image. It was the camouflaging of the seashell in the painting that made me realize that the Queen conch is kind of a flower itself, a hard beautiful calcite flower.
The painting on exhibit is for sale. Inquire for details.
In a previous post I wrote about making large paintings. When it comes to the seashells small is ideal. And the actual shell sitting in front of its portrayal illustrates some of the sensibility connected to painting things life size. I feel such a longing to have the thing be as actual as possible — which is not always the same as its being “realistic.”
I want to make a picture of the shell. I want the elements of the medium to be visible. Oil pastel is a beautiful substance in its own right. The drawing of the shell, wanting it to look actual, and the use of the oil pastel crayon, wanting to have the textures of the mark present in the picture — these things go together.
Then it’s fun to have the seashell “pose” in front of its portrait just as any sitter might do ….
One of the ways that I get ideas for new works is from chance occurrence. While I was looking through image files, I found these two pictures side by side — rather as they appear here. The image on the left is a notebook drawing of the koi. The picture on the right is a scene from an old studio where a large drawing was nearly complete.
Seeing the two works together like this, the one on the left could almost seem to be the same size as the one on the right — and that gives you an idea how it would look enlarged. Making large works is not merely about enlarging small works. The large picture ought to seem as though it is simply “the right size” but seeing this small drawing in this context does suggest that it might look good on a much larger scale.
The process could as easily work the other way. You could see some huge painting in a museum and realize that it offers you a subject that you could do on a smaller scale. The key, whatever the circumstance, is to be open to new ideas.
The queen conch shell is essentially radial. It has these spokes that go outwards from its folding calcite structure. You could think of them as shapes somewhat like volcanic cones, and they sprout along the undulating surface of the shell, forming its outer layer. Inside, the shell rolls in upon itself creating inner chambers where the animal has lived during different phases of grow.
That’s the shell.
The background is a very dark blue cloth. It might be reminiscent of the sea, which is after all where the Queen Conch lives.
Above that imaginary horizon … I’m not quite sure what these other things are — triangle wedges. They are dynamic shapes. They echo the spikey-ness of the seashell. But beyond that, they (I refer to the negative shapes) have yet to be identified.
Perhaps it’s a self portrait, and I am the cup — beset by indefinable and menacing-seeming massivities on either side. Under me is a solid slab, but it’s probably cold — solid but cold.
Or maybe it’s your portrait. Maybe it’s not me — I am a sunny optimist, after all. So maybe I just drew it, and it’s your portrait.
At least it has abundant green, green like leafy forest over-hanging canopy. And it has orange, warming deep and comforting. And that emblematic slab — the tile coaster where the coffee mug sits — is blue ethereal. And those un-identifiable massivities are night colored like a field of stars. The emblems, the symbolism are much to unravel.
Maybe it’s just a still life of a coffee mug. But one cannot rule out the symbolic portrait.
Which is it? You or me?
Sometimes the best part of a still life might be the depiction of the turn in a fold of cloth. In ordinary life I don’t suppose people think much about the leading edge of a cloth as it folds under itself. I know that outside of my practice of art I rarely think about such things. It is art that brought me into contact with such ideas.
Perhaps physicists sometimes think along this line. Once, very late at night, I heard a physicist explaining multiple dimensions on the radio. He said that the hidden dimensions might be like tubes that coil in upon themselves.
Well, whether or not there are hidden folded dimensions that create the universe there are certainly frequent occasions when the cloth folds, and the observation of the fold is a marvel to behold.
Sometime I’ll have to talk about the rest of the painting, the part above the fold.