in the middle of things

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The last few days I’ve been working on a large still life painting.  It’s in the in-between state — a kind of messy place where some elements seem well realized and other features are inchoate.  I seem to have settled on colors and positions but I’m not sure they won’t change.

It’s a new way of painting for me because usually I’m working from a motif that I can look at whereas in this painting I am working from drawings, from direct observation of some of the objects in isolation and from old photographs taken at different angles from the motif I’m painting.

And I’m working from an idea, too, of wanting to emulate Bonnard my hero while also wanting to do my own thing.

The painting has a ton of texture.

yellow still life aug 21 detailI like doing new things.  Not sure where this one’s going, but the journey pulls me along.  I work on one section at a time.

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There’s so much stuff that it’s like working on several paintings within the painting.

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Some of it doesn’t quite make sense, so for instance, I’m not sure what to think about my out-of-kilter stacked boxes.  That’s one of the Bonnard quotes.  If you let the perspective drift — “just because” — because Bonnard did, what will that mean?  What does it mean in Bonnard’s painting? I don’t know.

I’m not expressing myself well.  I think it’s because I really don’t know where any of the picture is going.  It’s a strange mental place in which to be.  I don’t mind it, though, not at all.

Indeed, it feels like I’m learning something about painting that I’ve wanted for a long time to explore.

I feel like a painting tourist.  I’ll be content to walk around inside the picture’s world and gawk!

It will be interesting for me to look back at this post and compare wherever the painting ended up going with what it was like here in the middle.

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featured work: crepe myrtles

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The crepe myrtles are blooming right now.  All over the region they are in fullest flower, some trees are covered with blossoms.  I have always loved them from my earliest childhood. My mind connects them to the many journeys to North Carolina to visit my Grandmother back when parts of North Carolina were still rural and wild. I remember the heat and an enormous landscape, a quiet that overflowed with insect noise.

We all have different sources of nostalgia, but I think that sometimes in art we communicate the nostalgia inside the painting — even if your summers had radically different referents — perhaps you can feel the nostalgia as a force in itself and find in a picture something that returns you to a place of special meaning in your heart.

I painted this landscape a couple years ago.  And it’s today’s featured work for my new website at Fine Art America where reproductions of some of my pictures are sold.

https://aletha-kuschan.pixels.com/featured/brilliant-summer-aletha-kuschan.html

This picture pairs well with another crepe myrtles painting, both have similar bright colors and energy.  One is vertical, one is horizontal.

I keep seeing wonderful crepe myrtles on my trips through the region.  I have got to find time to portray them again.  Just drawing the shapes of the forms takes me back to a dreamtime of my past.

 

en plein neighborhood

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My daughter and I set out for Capitol Hill yesterday in the late afternoon, she to walk and me to draw.  Someone has a beautiful garden right off East Capitol Street, full of zinnias.  I had noticed the flowers on a previous walk.  So I tossed the old aluminum easel into the back of the pickup, assembled some oil pastels and off we went.

The mosquitoes didn’t start biting until really near twilight so I wasn’t munched too much.  However I was concentrating so much on my drawing — how hard do YOU concentrate on your tasks? —  that the whole bottom of my right leg was soaking wet before I realized that the gardener’s sprinkler was reaching my location.  Is that concentration or what?  Maybe it’s possible to concentrate a bit too much.  A little less concentration and I might have avoided the soaking …

That discovery seemed like a good cue to switch motifs.

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I drew the yellow ones until the mosquitoes started dining.  Then it was clearly time to quit.  We took a bit of a walk afterwards for exercise, my daughter and I, and I staked out some more locations to draw.

Capitol Hill residents are assiduous gardeners.  There’s many lovely places to choose from — almost too many — it makes the choices harder.

These are drawings I may use in something or other, but I make them just to be outdoors drawing.  I have been buying flowers for still life.  And I have some lovely fake ones that I use also.  Sometimes I take a flower from a photograph or an old master image.  It’s fun to mix it up.

If I decide to do dog portraits, Capitol Hill residents are prosperous in that department too.  While I was drawing, every manner of canine imaginable was being walked in a kind of impromptu, nightly, canine parade.  That would be fun — not sure the owners would have the patience to wait for a full portrait though …

Flowers, on the other hand, are very patient.

what more to say

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I was making plans when I painted these just as I am making plans now.  I had forgotten.  The bouquets were experiments in painting.

I was leaving one place — literally leaving — I was quitting my job.  Husband and parents thought it was a bad idea.  I quit anyway.  I suppose they all knew me well enough to suspect that I would do whatever I wanted. And I thank each one now — daddy, momma, husband — in the quiet of my head and heart because they provided a healthy dose of obstacle — not that I viewed their reactions in those terms at the time.  Rather, I see it now.  Seeing the obstacle they manufactured — their gifts — makes me wonder right now about the obstacles that I face right now.  How many of them are gifts in disguise?

I have been the loud proponent of mistakes in art.  Through making mistakes you learn.  Art has the great luxury of affording human beings considerable latitude in mistake making.  In art sometimes the mistake opens a door into new territory.  Screw up a drawing,  learn that exaggeration in art hides expressive possibility.  You learn that lesson not in vague terms as I declare it now in words but in the precise, specific way of a tangible shape in some particular drawing.

Looking back I can see how taking my family’s advice also might have led to a good path. Perhaps I should have heeded them and this path I took was “the mistake.”  It’s difficult to say, really only a matter of interpretation.  Had I taken their advice, I would still have needed to make important changes. I thought back then that I needed to change my outward circumstances.  Now I’m more inclined to see the inward changes as being most needful.

“Six of one and a half dozen of the other.”  One thing I love about my family, especially remembering these events, is that whether I kept the job or left it none of them intended to make a big deal of it for very long.  They thought quitting was a mistake.  All of them thought so.  They said so.  I quit against their advice.  All the lines were redrawn. Life rolled along.

I trust my intuition.  I made the right choice.  And I needed the obstacle gifts they gave.

Anyway, the flower paintings were doors and windows.  I am building a new metaphorical house in thought and I decided to use — to install — these particular portals.  I want to look at a flower world.

Cleaning house has brought me close to the past. I find things that “spark joy,” as Marie Kondo puts it.  I have also found things that evoke regrets and loss.  Where to put things comes later in Kondo’s scheme.  First you discard, later you organize.  Me, I have parts of the past to discard — aspects of my own personality to discard also.  Or, at least I intend to put certain personality features into deep storage.  Impatience or a bad temper might be useful on some exceptionally rare occasion.  I’ll want my impatience and anger then — perhaps.

For now, I reshuffle aspects of my personality and intend to keep only the traits that I really use along with ones that “spark joy.” I write this so blithely.  Naiveté lends charm to certain bold acclamations.  I am building a mental house and hopefully the physical house will conform to it. For sure, the physical house is much easier to clean and arrange.

the kitchen chaos

 

kitchen drawingThe view between the arching flower stems is what caught my attention, but afterwards I tried to put as much stuff of the chaos onto the page, knowing that parts of it would be out of proportion.  I decided to tackle something that I figured would be impossible really to depict accurately, especially in the time I was allotting.

The dark light of an overcast spring day made the (ad)venture doable.  So off and on I’ve been gazing at a jumble of things on the kitchen counter. (Remind me I need to clean that counter.)  It would be an interesting motif to do at night too with the overhead yellow of interior light casting down on the objects in that way that Bonnard taught us to love.

I’d love to do the view from the arching flower stems again in the future.  I’ll need more flowers.  These have already surpassed their prime.

color scheming

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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.

Arrangement & Experiment

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I like to experiment with things.  Put the objects on the table, perhaps move them around a little, but not to think about them overly much.  Follow the instincts.  Set the stuff down and begin. Sometimes I paint the scene fast.  The painting above was done rapidly.  It’s a very small painting. It’s the size of a postcard.  I wanted to see how much I could convey without much fuss. The arrangement was crowded.  I think the general sense of it has come through.

Looking at it now, I see how much I borrowed from Matisse without realizing.  That’s the kind of influence that’s especially beneficial, when the earlier artist’s thought just seeps silently into your brain.  One learns by much looking. We learn about painting from seeing other pictures.  And there are so many ways of arranging things, maybe an infinite number.

 

This image is owned by The Baltimore Museum of Art; permission t
Matisse still life

 

 

For some time I have been portraying the objects on my table somewhat randomly as your eye might catch them when you walk into the room and scan the surroundings in an absent-minded way. They are composed and not composed at once.  The picture is a composition. It has structure.  But the things do not.  They are random.  The structure that the picture possesses is sleigh of hand.  The objects simply are.

sea shell in setup

Why shouldn’t objects be portrayed haphazardly?  Isn’t that how we encounter them?  And all the spaces between the things, the strange wonderful interstices, I like to discover those spaces.  I feel like I should make them as truthful as possible. I want to get the contours right whenever I can because that’s so much a part of the thing’s identity. The things have identities.  Shades of Plato!

Just the top of the teapot peeks over the edge of this picture. That’s where the paper ends.  It reminds you that the picture is artificial. The actual world seems not to have edges.  But the picture does.  So that’s where the objects stop.  And the accidental contours of their abrupt conclusions can be fascinating.

 

 

 

Reassertions

detail green flowers

When I was eighteen I thought I had an instinctive understanding of art. The things that I loved hit me with force.  I didn’t question the things I liked.  I didn’t question what I didn’t like either.  I moved toward what I wanted and ignored the things that didn’t appeal to me.  I had ideas — really they were closer to feelings — about what should be done first, about how a thing ought to be drawn, and about the inner nature of color.  I didn’t know at first how to mix colors, but I was pretty sure that I could learn it because something about color just felt familiar.  I thought I could see the “colors inside the colors.”

I make no representation about whether my ideas were “correct.”  It doesn’t matter because the whole notion of correctness is difficult to assemble anyway. These were simply my ideas. It never dawned on me to question them any more than I would question the wisdom of taking the next breath. They felt right.  But I also had hidden ideas, ones I wasn’t aware I possessed, ones that I note in retrospect from the advantage of age.  So, for instance, I would portray my motif a certain size without noticing that I was making the choice.  A particular, very specific placement of the motif into the canvas felt right and I had made the choice without first even asking the question. I had selected something that seemed obvious.  I wasn’t aware of choosing.

So I had a natural relationship to what I was doing. Ah, youth.  How easily one can spoil one’s happiness.  I was impatient as a young person (not an unusual quality in the young).  I expected things to begin “looking right” sooner than was even possible.  I made no provision for error.  What happens when you make a mistake?  I got easily discouraged.  I was impetuous.  Sometimes when a painting was actually going well, I abandoned it because it didn’t satisfy the ideal I had in my head that I was chasing.

That was then. Now I have noticed as I paint, as I have observed myself in a mental movie that plays inside the walls of the cranium, that I was putting down lines and marks technically in a fashion that’s a lot like the way I painted in my youth at the very beginning.  Moreover, I have seen a resemblance between the still life I’m doing now and one that I made decades ago.  How do I describe the delight?

It is almost as though I get another shot at one aspect of being young.  If you could travel via time machine to one random moment in your past, not even selecting some special moment, but if you could relive the most ordinary moment, but by so doing could recall the way the world seemed to present itself to your awareness at that young age — how marvelous that would be.  That’s how this experience feels now.  Not quite that intense, but I do get to re-experience some random thoughts I had long ago — only this time I get to bypass the adolescent impatience and self-criticism.  I just enjoy the surface of the painting as it unfolds.  It is as though one wakes up and looks out the window at the morning with the exuberance that a ten year old feels.

It’s an elixir of youth. Spring is coming, but not for the first time.  What if in anticipating the coming spring, one remembers the many springs of time past?  What is the combined impression of many spring times converging into the same channel?

Perhaps it’s the green of the table cloth that is like the green of new plants or the blanched background that wants to be bright like a bold, yellow sun.

new flowers

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A jar of flowers is like a microcosm of a garden.  Every combination of colors evokes its own attendant moods, drawing upon memories of days and hours past. These flowers are receptacles for so many evening and morning thoughts.

“The garden was bounded on one side by the house, from which it flowed and into which it ran, on two sides by the old village, and on the last by the cliff falling by ledges to the sea.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender is the Night

Pastel on sanded paper, 13 x 16.5 inches.  Available.

learning the owl

In idle moments I play in earnest.

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I get better acquainted with the subjects of my paintings. You cannot know an owl too well.  And the vase with the songbird design on it needs understanding too.  These late night drawings keep me musing over the topic of my picture. I drew them from this set up seen below, seen here in daylight.

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They are parts of this painting that exists as yet only in sketches and in thought.

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