Taking walks at night has sometimes provided my summer form of exercise. The heat of day has dissipated. City crowds have dispersed. A few lingerers provide a companionable backdrop without interfering with one’s desire for solitude. Appearances change. The shadows of evening going into night, added to a city’s desire for constant illumination, make for interesting contrasts. Trees usually lit from above in the sun’s brilliance are lit from below or from other odd angles, which makes for unexpected shadows and textures.
This painting arose from memories of walks I used to take when my daughter was little. Some evenings I was able to slip away for a brief interlude of exercise and quiet thinking while she slept and was watched by others. We have some enormous old trees in the city and I had a favorite which back then I sometimes drew. Revisiting it now in memory adds something also, a touch of nostalgia and meaning that comes with the passage of time. Reflection and reverie have changed the tree from a real one into a dream with branches.
These fish are vying to reach the center. Something’s going on there. Others of them swim around this activity, not participants exactly, yet aware in waves of concentric bustle.
Oddly enough, this used to be a painting of a mountain. Now it’s fish. The mountain just wasn’t working out. An artistic real estate transaction needed to take place. The mountain moved out. Fish moved in.
[Top of the post: A Study of Koi Swimming, by Aletha Kuschan, acrylic on canvas]
Ever since discovering, by golly, that our computer had photo collage software on it (who knew?), I’ve played around with images by combining things on the computer and then altering them via the computer’s many interesting graphic features. This “fishwave” is one result. A photo of a heavy drapery is blended with some pictures of koi swimming and all that has been run through the washer on the permanent press cycle until it looked as you see it above. Sometimes I paint from images like this that I’ve created on computer. After they become paintings, they can be photographed and rerun through the same computerized process again to be transformed into something else. Metamorphosis.
Then, too, there’s the computer between the ears with which we can attempt daring things.
Every once in a while here, I post a collage or a “cartoon.” This cartoon (large compositional study for a painting) belongs to the Big Tree idea that I posted in mid-June.
Other collages I’ve posted include this abstract image, this idea for a child’s mural, and this study of a detail of a painting. It’s fun to organize them so that they can be compared. I’ve never seen them together except here on line.
For almost every subject I undertake, I do studies. Some of these studies take the form of collage. Collage is such a free and expressive media. You can organize large areas of a picture in one swoop.
I like to explore the possibilities and details of the images I design. Often these studies vary enough from the original to suggest new projects. This particular collage was supposed to help me figure out the tree idea, but became more about the fish. It takes on a new interest for me now as I embark on a new round of paintings of fish swimming. Meanwhile the fish in this collage have found themselves quite a nice little pond where they bob up and down like corks.
[Top of the post: Cartoon for the painting “Big Tree,” by Aletha Kuschan, Xeroxed pictures glued to paper with crayon drawing]
Abstraction is not always as devoid of subject as it appears. There might be something that looks like this. Lots of other artists have made pictures this one resembles. And it resembles other pictures I’ve made that are pictures of something. So, by following a trail of clues, being a visual detective tracking down myself, I might in time figure out what I was up to. One might in time discover what the other artists were up to as well. If I am on the same wavelength as others, what wave is it?
On the internet once I found a wonderful website set up by two photographers, husband and wife. They took amazing, high resolution photographs of the oddest things — bricks, stones, grasses, tiles, old rusted metal surfaces — anything with texture. Their photographs looked like the most ravishingly beautiful abstract pictures you’ve ever seen. And they invited anyone to use their work for free.
I downloaded lots of their pictures, like a miser at a flea market. Each image seemed more beautiful than the last, and I sat before the monitor for a couple hours, watching each image load and then copying it to use later. My printer could not do the proper homage to their stunning imagery. But I printed out some of the pictures to make a collage. My printer started running out of ink, but I continued printing, letting the vagaries of the machine add a further layer of chance to the mix.
I had cut up some paper bags and glued them together to make a large sheet. Grocery store shopping bags are incredibly strong. Then I glued the prints of the couples’ photographs together into the pattern suggested by the moment. I added a few pieces of gold foil wrappers from Lindt chocolates à la Bonnard, and voilà!
[Top of the post: Collage, La Nuit by Aletha Kuschan, a collage made of borrowed pictures and whimsy]
Some complicated things are quite easy. Interesting paradox. In the previous post I wrote about my dream of a drawing discipline that seeks complexity. I’m looking for a Few Good Artists!
Well, I’ve got to tell you my reader stats fell into the basement. Readers, come back! I’m not talking Everest here. You already do a highly complex eye/hand/brain coordination task that has become so easy, you hardly notice that you do it. You write!
Cursive. Beautiful cursive. Don’t the words alone transport you back to second grade? Cursive involves eye/hand and small motor coordination that is far more demanding than what an artist uses in a typical drawing.
You’re already doing really hard stuff, guys! So, now I’m sending you on a new mission: a Mission Possible!
Draw. Draw wonderful and challenging things. Draw, darn it! (And that’s an order.)
What I’ve discovered about fortunes and getting them is that, just as in wise fairy tales, the fortune is always located right under one’s nose. It is in managing one’s surroundings that one finds one’s purpose. Mind you, I’m not arguing against travel or change. I’m just asserting, as Dorothy did in the Wizard of Oz, while clicking her heels, that “there’s no place like home.”
Recognize that the seeds of even the wildest ambition begin humbly at your own front door. Scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson became an astrophysicist in potential at age 9 in the most brightly lit city in the world, home to just “12 stars.” So it turns out all the stars he needed were found in books and in the Hayden Planetariun.
I have a secret house in one of the mid-Atlantic states that has a secret closet. I have a secret garden, too. And at the Arboretum and Botanic gardens, I own great and vast estates.
Look beneath the soles of your feet. Search the clouds over your head. Look to your right and to your left. Your treasure is right before your eyes, and has been there all along.
People wonder how to put colors together when choosing furnishings for their home. While you can find many books on the topic, I want to add some advice that’s very compact. Go out into the garden and gather some flowers that are in bloom together and plop them into a vase without a whole lot of fuss.
The colors that we find in nature look good together. The quantities, the varieties, the degrees of contrast as well as the degrees of commonality produce a lovely effect. Too often people succumb to rules to bolster a choice. Too often the rules lead to a sterile sameness. The commonplace notion is that colors should “coordinate.” But in nature we find plenty of contrast. Often the most beautiful spectacles in nature arise amid great contrast such as the colors of a landscape under an approaching storm.
Think of the dark cloud, the pale blue-green cerulean of a luminous sky, the rich dark green of shadow and the lush powerful verdant of a brightly lit lawn. Imagine the mirror reflections of a landscape seen from the water’s edge. Imitate the dapple of the shadows from a tree’s thick foliage. Let the bright tones of a bird’s wing alight in your mind, and you’re well on your way to finding the color scheme for your life, your rooms, your home.
Arrange a little still life with flowers and let it be a microcosmos for your color ideas. Imitate nature and you cannot go wrong.
[Top of the post: Bouquet of Flowers by Aletha Kuschan]
Some people complain about the summer heat. I’m not one of them. I bask in summer heat like a turtle. For me summer has always meant freedom. It began, no doubt, with the childhood experience of being released from school. But it culminated with the myriad experiences upon which a summer is actually composed.
In childhood I had my backyard to explore, but fittingly too I had at the beginning and end of every summer the experience of traveling to visit North Carolina relatives to the rural south, where I could explore wild nature. Mostly I climbed a single chinaberry tree, which was universe enough for an eight year old girl. To this day the branches of a tree seem like welcoming arms, and a tree is almost as good as a person for company.
And so a path through foliage or trees marks out for me life’s great events. A path tempts you to take it. Walk this direction, oh brave ones, if you will. Who is the adventurer to take this road and see its great delights?
[Top of the post: Great Oak, by Aletha Kuschan, acrylic on canvas, 50 x 44 inches]
If I were giving a prize for the most overrated artist in history, it would be Ellsworth Kelly, who in truth deserves not to be rated at all for his oeuvre is painted in the purest snake oil. (For an interesting opposing view click here.) Chief among his vices is pretentiousness, for if Mr. Kelly is an artist then so is the person who lays out the paint cards at Home Depot’s paint section. Indeed, I would argue that the latter work is more fulfilling since one) it’s interactive and two) you can take the little cards home and arrange them to your heart’s delight for free.
However, more than one friend has said to me, “I hate it when somebody sees a work of art and says, ‘I could do that.'” My feeling in sharp contrast is a great sigh of pleasure in the candour of the remark. Yes, anyone could do that. So true. Moreover, I feel that when anyone can do a thing — supposing the thing has value — one should probably just do it oneself. If Mr. Kelly does this on our behalf, mind you, I’m perfectly content to pay him a decent wage not to exceed whatever they’re paying the guy at Home Depot. But if I am supposed to pretend that his achievement is equal to, say, Rembrandt’s or the Rohan Master’s or Emily Kame Kngwarreye’s then, no. I will not play that game. My own painting is far superior to Mr. Kelly’s and I make no bones about it.
I can do what he does — easily. He cannot do what I do. Not at all. (Let him try!)
Kelly is a cheap Matisse knock off. (Whew, it feels good to get that off my chest.)
UPDATE: A second post on Ellsworth Kelly can be found here.
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