Still life is a contemplative kind of painting. When you think about it, what does a still life offer? It’s simply a set of objects to gaze upon. Sometimes the objects may have clear symbolic meanings, but often — perhaps most of the time — the objects are just themselves. They might not even be fully themselves, depending upon how they’ve been painted. In the still lifes of my hero Matisse, sometimes the objects are caricatures of themselves, sometimes they are almost cartoon versions of things — bounded by heavy contour lines, generalized into broad colors.
To place overmuch attention to the acquisition of things is called “materialism,” in our culture (which has some uneasy feelings about its various economic successes). And yet we live in a world of objects, and we build our human nests (after a fashion) and fill them with things we think we need or that we cherish. And so still life painting puts the focus squarely upon the things. It offers up the quiet drama of things — or possibly a vision of sentimental attachments — or reflections of private life.
The paper horse was something I rediscovered while cleaning the attic, a relic of my daughter’s childhood when we routinely made things from paper. I brought it down and it almost instantly landed on the still life table. All the objects have some bit of sentimental energy in them (for me, possibly visible to the viewer too). But the objects on the table also seem to insist upon their abstract presence. They are simply and frankly things. Bound to the table by gravity, visible by the light they reflect, they simply are. So they hang there in space like planets revolving around a star or like the particles that physicists tell us make up the physical cosmos.
They have an abstract beingness. They just are. They are stuff. And what do artists do? They look at stuff and copy it into pictures.
Paper Horse measures 48 x 36 inches, is painted in acrylic paint on canvas.
Behind the finished paintings are lots and lots of drawings and sketches and what not. It’s all fun, except for when it’s not. But even when it’s not fun — if not fun in the right now — it’s fun later. I don’t think that has anything to do with art — that’s more about just living. Eckhart Tolle has some interesting ideas on the subject ….
What I mean, though, is that in my paintings I have ideas about what I want, but I don’t always know how to get there. In my indecisive states, I turn to my tools and make lots of trials. Since I often paint from life, it means sitting in front of the things and simply making color/drawing decisions.
Let’s put this here. Could as easily start with it being there, but here seems good. What if it’s this big. Okay, if it’s this big then that thingy is that big. (I think.) I believe it’s this color. Oops, no it’s more a fill-in-the-blank (cooler, darker, lighter, warmer, bluer, etc.) And so on, and so on.
I have begun thinking of them as rehearsals. Sometimes they’re even casting calls. Sometimes an object just isn’t working out … (So sorry, seashell, you’ve been great in other pictures but … um … you’re just not right for this one. Sorry. I’ll call you!)
Anyway, there are many versions of things. They end up in all stages of finish or unfinish. They help me think.
I got a little crazy and painted something really big — or certainly big relative to the size of my studio. I don’t know what it is exactly. It was supposed to be a duck pond, but then this butterfly showed up. Sometimes you just go with the flow.
Notwithstanding its whimsical nature, I made lots of preliminary drawings for it because I just love to draw. And the drawings become like rehearsals. So for instance, the right hand abstract panel was rehearsed a few times. Here’s one of the versions:
It ends up being a separate painting on its own, which is vertical here but could as easily be horizontal. It lacks an solid up or down. It’s 36 x 18 inches.
I made a lot of drawings too. Some of them were studies for the flowers in the central flower panel.
Butterfly Emblem needs a little tiny bit of tweaking before it finds a new home. If you are interested in having its new home be your home — send me a message!
My still life table has been a busy setting lately and this painting above, called “Food for Thought” will appear in an upcoming Art League exhibit. It’s an acrylic painting and measures 36 x 18 inches. I have been painting a lot!
The painting has a cousin, a small work 20 x 16 inches that features the same compotier.
That September show will be at the Torpedo Factory in Old Town Alexandria, VA beginning September 10th and lasting through October 6th.
I like empty bowls — and the air that floats inside their curved interior surfaces and those photons of light that bounce against the wall of the bowl and fall out into the universe. I like doing posts in themes. A recent instagram post is dedicated to the motif of an empty bowl. Two of the bowls used in the still lifes are made of papier-mâché. The third is a little Chinese teacup. I have three mediums represented, watercolor, oil and acrylic paint.
Come visit …
And thus I was able to photograph my painting.
Currently it hangs in the May exhibit at the Torpedo Factory in Old Town Alexandria. Very pretty light in the gallery today though there were areas of flooded streets just outside the building. Mother Nature dropped A LOT of rain on the Washington DC region.
Capricious Mother Nature.
Here’s a view of the installation:
Years ago I bought a beautiful table cloth at the Smithsonian institution. It has one pattern on one side and another on the inside so it’s a versatile still life cloth. As with anything else that an artist paints it gets interpreted. The pattern of the real life cloth doesn’t exactly match the pattern of the cloth in the picture. It’s like jazz — it gets improvised.
And in that strategy the artist finds a great deal to explore and enjoy. This particular cloth has a great melody. I never get tired of looking at it, thinking about it, painting it. Thank you, textile artist, whoever you are who created my still life drapery.
I’m working on another large still life. Almost everything is inside the painting already, and yet the painting isn’t its things only; thus there’s still a lot of painting to paint. I add colors without a plan, thinking “this might look interesting here.”
Almost everything is there and yet it still seems to have more potential than I quite know what to do with.
The rice bowl is textured and nubby. It’s the most textured element of the picture. But then it’s surface is composed of so many shapes.
It’s a very satisfying way to paint — or way to see — to be telling oneself: “this goes here and this goes there.”
It’s like housekeeping.
Lights comes through the back of the canvas that’s in the works. The flowers are amorphous and I don’t know how much paint and flower I want — or how much I want the grain of the canvas to be part of the picture’s essence.
All I know is that the ethereal morning light, coming through the back of the canvas, is not a thing to be held and captured.