Autumn Apples

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Three Apples, 11 x 14 inches, acrylic on canvas


I’m wondering what will happen if I just let the ideas appear, not judging or interfering in the perceptions. I think it would be delightful to be surprised by my own painting. Sometimes that happens. It is as though someone else painted the picture. If you know you’ve got a certain measure of skill, what if you just forget about all the “shoulds” that you ever heard, and instead use the skills you have (whatever they are) to respond to the motif, and let the chips fall where they may?

Then what happens? I am wondering what it’s like to do painting as a form of inquiry, as a way of asking lots of questions, following the thoughts with the colors of paint, and then be as surprised as the next person about the results.

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Well Red

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I have some plans for a largish painting that will feature an abundant amount of red.  I think about it often.  The studio is set up for other things at present, so I have to finish those first.  But for my “warm ups” I have begun doing small pictures that are very red.

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It’s fun.  It’s thrilling — to have a few bits of the much longed for experience.  I love playing around with colors.

The painting at the top measures 9 x 12 inches.  The lower on is 8 x 10.  Both are painted with acrylics.

I ate half the still life

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Sometimes for fun, or just to get started for the day, I’ll do quick drawings in Neopastel.  This time it was apples.  To add to the fun — and for my own perceptual interest — I also drew without my glasses.  I have fairly profound myopia.  It’s interesting to observe the much more generalized forms of things as they appear in my uncorrected vision.  Color looks a bit different too.  Not that it changes hue or anything.  It’s just that it gets similarly clumped into masses, ones that are a bit different from what I see when the acuity is there.

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This second one I did very quickly, without glasses.  I had to get up for something going on in another room of the house.  When I returned the light was completely changed.  Sometimes it changes very quickly.  So it’s en plein indoor drawing — one deals with all the fluctuations.

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And then there was one!

Art Imitating Life

I bought three apples at the Giant Food store (well, actually I bought five apples, but I ate two of them).  These apples have already appeared in this blog in pictures (they were competing with the clementines, you might recall).   After comparing apples and oranges, these apples are ready to go head to head with new competitors.  They want to be famous.  Here they are in their room with the picture of their idols on the wall.

They stand before Cezanne’s famous apples of Provence.  I don’t know.  It’s hard making the real apples that nature makes and Giant sells stand up strongly against the rich pigmentary apples of imagination that Cezanne conjured when he looked at the contents of his produce basket of rural France during the 19th century.  Oh, how his old Provencal apples have such grandeur, such gravitas!  Real light reflects off mine and gravity pulls them down yet they don’t quite stack up!

When doing a “picture within a picture” of this sort, calling on the Masters, one ought to be ambitious and vie with the Big Guys.  So, I did.  I tried to do that.  I got Cezanne’s picture there (in the form of an advertisement for an exhibit at the Baltimore Museum) and I looked back and forth between it and my apples from Giant Food. 

Okay, so it’s back to the drawing board for me.  It’s hard to capture the full dignity and splendor of apples from life.  Cezanne was so clever.  But I tried!  And I’ll try some more.

Here’s the same three guys by themselves.

The Apples of my Eye

Last night it was oranges, today it was apples.  And now we can compare apples with oranges. 

I followed the same pattern as yesterday.  I drew first, then I painted.  To be more exact, I made pencil drawings, then an oil pastel drawing, then a water soluble crayon drawing, followed by the painting above.

The changes in medium dictate what you can describe and thus alter the way you think about the subject.

Each one has qualities it renders easily and qualities the medium can render only with difficulty.  And some qualities, of course, it cannot render at all — and that’s gotta really press you to think.

I don’t just think about the objects, but about each little corner of photons bunched together.  Every little “piece” of what you see can become a small composition in its own right, an object of meditation, a color or line thingy to yearn for.  A speck of color, a change from dark to light, a edge that diffuses into its surroundings ….  The world is wonderfully colored and composed.

In even a little clump of apples together.

Collage of apples, close up

Here’s another shot of the “Heirloom Apples” collage, a detail of two apples first posted June 22.  This kind of collage is similar in character to what Henri Matisse made in the latter part of his career.  The paper is painted with tempera and then cut into shapes.  Streaks from the application of the paint show in the cuttings and become accidental elements of the work, giving it additional texture and interest.

This is like drawing with scissors.

[Top of the post:  Detail of a Study of Apples, by Aletha Kuschan, collage]

Just Do It

          Draw, place colors, think about apples, look at the unexpected lines and structural arrangements that arise from the blunt facts of material nature sitting there on your table.  Consider that you can get the idea of their forms with a most concise kind of line or you can probe down to what you imagine to be the molecules with a very loving, lingering observation of the fine nuances of color and tone. 
Have no thought about “style” at all.  Forget that such a notion was ever uttered.  Think only about the reality before you and your earnest efforts to grasp it.  Absolutely no originality is necessary.  Indeed, just the opposite frame of mind would be most helpful at this juncture.  Simply paint as though you were Nature’s walking, talking Xerox machine.  Your own nature is as deeply a factor as that of your apple’s nature and it will express itself if only you do not interfere.  Let yourself simply exist with as much materiality and spiritual durability as this apple and have Nature be the author who addresses us through the alternating gestures of your fumbling or your certainty.
And, as Van Gogh once said so grandly, if you hear a voice that says you are not an artist, “paint my Boy” (or Girl) “and that voice will be silenced.”


[illustration: author’s photograph of apples in a compotier]

Yes, Have Fun Too

      The great artist of the future doesn’t need my advice about painting, but of course I’m happy to offer it anyway.  The same technical advice that she does not need will have hidden inside it many healthy measures of encouragement; and as with other recipes, the finesse of the product cannot be reduced to its discrete items.  We must take it whole and let its effects filter themselves out like a savor of something ineluctable.
So my first advice to the young artist of the future, who perhaps is just now beginning to paint (at his or her reading, if not at the time of my writing): my advice is to portray the most ordinary thing you can find.  You must learn your chops.  A certain kind of painting (which is also a wonderful sort of painting) is to the artist what well practiced scales are to the musician.


  So take something like a group of apples, place them on the table in no particularly special arrangement, and start painting them with all the alacrity of a surgeon about to perform a major surgery or of a world leader upon whose judgement depends the outcome of an international crisis.  Consider the possibility that you are solving the mystery of the ages.


 Oh, but don’t forget to have fun too.


[The amazing picture on this post is by Donna Phipps Stout, a great artist of the present, represented by Jerald Melberg Gallery in Charlotte, NC.]