more blast from the past

Vase de Fleurs

I painted this still life in the first studio that I ever had outside my house.  The room had very dim interior light and huge ceilings.  The vault of air above my head was enchanting.  The room was badly lit and people coming by to say hello often asked me why I was sitting in the dark.  But my still life and the canvas were lit well enough.  I loved the diffuse light of that quirky place.

The painting became the DNA for several pictures.  Over the years I’ve made versions of the idea.  They all bear some resemblance to their parent and yet each one has its own identity too.

Advertisements

more brainstorming

bonnard flowers
Pierre Bonnard – flowers

I need to get some more flowers so that I have some for the new painting.  When I get them, it’s going to be wonderful making another painted study.  While I was looking for something else I found these above by Bonnard.  Found them at a wonderful site, link below.

https://www.the-athenaeum.org/art/list.php?s=tu&m=a&aid=449&p=3

I discovered the flowers while I was searching online for a painting from the book “Pierre Bonnard: Observing Nature,” the exhibition catalog for a 2003 show that took place in Australia. The painting is “The Green Path and Canal,” c 1919.  Somehow looking at the picture made me wonder if the view through the window (in my painting) should be a storm.  Bonnard’s painting is very dark and ominous looking.  We’ve been having lots of storms lately.  Summer storms can be so incredibly beautiful for color.  Then there’s the further heightening of contrast between indoor and outdoor, warm and cool, man and nature.

It’s not that I want to imitate the picture that I cannot show you here.  It’s just the source for an idea that popped into my head, which I’m not even sure I’ll use at long last.  An idea about blue-green and darkness.

We’ll see.

I’m putting violet around the edges of the picture.

more flowers will arrive

101_1338 (2)

I have to find more flowers for the bouquet.  I go in search of pictorial flowers.  I look for them in the pictorial gardens.  And a lot of things are beginning to bloom now that spring is here — even pictorial things.

Under the bright pictorial sun, with my face toward the pictorial wind, I walk through the pictorial field to pick flowers that I can bring back to my still life.

like a butterfly

leaf for butterfly wing2

I have been looking for butterflies without much success.  We used to have a garden that attracted butterflies, but not this year.  And the few I have happened upon accidentally have flitted away before I could fetch my camera.  They are known for their flitting.

However, in the absence of actual butterflies, I see no reason why one couldn’t invent one’s own.  So now I’m hunting things that are like butterflies and the first items that have answered my search are these two leaves that are early in their transformation, anticipating autumn.

Like the inventor in The Artist of the Beautiful, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s haunting short story, I’m out to create my own do-it-yourself flitter critter.  My version of the quest is less haunting and romantic, more optimistic and can-do in spirit.  But mine is also less actual in yearning for painting is illusory from the outset — my quest more so, is unreal two-fold, an illusion of an illusion.

accidental pairings

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.

dix fois, cents fois: Degas’s advice for artists

1157_10200754970055686_113377938_nTen times is probably a good number for deciding if you like a thing.  And a hundred times is surely a good number for mastering it (or for beginning its mastery).

Degas thought you should repeat things the way that a ballerina repeats her dance steps or a musician practices a musical figure.  You gain skill and sureness with each repetition.  But sometimes you also gain ideas.  The differences between one repetition and another can sometimes lead to new ideas. Thus it’s a source of invention in art.

koi-small-reworked-2

“Il faut refaire dix fois, cent fois le même sujet.”  You must redo — ten times, one hundred times — the same subject.

across the room jan 6 2012

Certainly one hundred times is excessive if you don’t love the thing.  But ten times is a way of gaining skill.  And ten times offers enough repetitions to get to know the subject in a preliminary way — to learn it.  With ten repetitions you find out if you do love the motif — whether or not it’s the right motif for you.

101_8672 (3)

And if after you’ve done the subject ten times, you wish to explore it further then you know that your love is deep.

You could do ten versions of this, and ten versions of that, and discover through the process what kinds of things matter to you.  Somewhere in that process you will find that the subject holds deeper meaning (even if you don’t know what that meaning is).  At that point you want to plunge in and really explore its every aspect.  Exploration leads to invention.

 

detail of the drawing

I have certain subjects that I return to again and again.  I did not begin them with the idea that they would become my particular venues.  I went into the subject innocently.  But I was heeding some call — even if I was unaware.

I am not sure how many subjects I have — some I’m keenly aware of — the koi, flowers, seashells, certain kinds of landscape.  If I did one hundred of each — GOODNESS —  that would be four hundred right there!

Degas is a strict task master!  But this is all stuff that one loves.  It would be wonderful to do one hundred repetitions of each subject!

Today I’m beginning the Big Tidy Campaign of 2017 and part of tidying is taking inventory.  I begin this inventory with an inventory of my thoughts — and of my fishes!

looking back, thinking ahead

Dark and light, night and day

— elemental themes appeal to me.  They beckon like dreams. I do a lot of traditional kinds of pictures — and I love the discipline of tightly focused imagery like a vase of flowers — very basic — takes you to the foundations of seeing — it is to pictorial art what the sonnet is to poetry.  But I also venture periodically into stream-of-consciousness kinds of imagery.

Sometimes I hear that call again. I am not sure what sort of thing I’ve a yen for just now, but winter’s long nights and cold clear days are great for firing up the imagination.

Not knowing what’s next, I’m watchful for ideas.  In just such moods I find that ideas arrive.  Someone told me once that I needed to pick a theme and create a consistent portfolio, and I am NEVER — DOING  — THAT.  I follow the river current of thought because I know from experience that it leads to good places.

You go off in some tangent, but later you find that the wild explorations allow you to bring back knowledge — knowledge of a sort that you can apply again even to the traditional things — to even the simple vase of flowers.

Everything you learn enriches everything that you know already. So be bold, be daring.

the periphery of interest

Contrary to the center of interest is the periphery of interest.

detail potatoes

I was reading a list of forms of cognitive bias and ANCHORING caught my attention. I found it defined as “the common human tendency to rely too heavily on the first piece of information offered.” It hinders decision making — and hence invention — by getting a person stuck at square one.

In art, it’s certainly true, that the artist who is too focused on the “center of interest” (or as I like to call it the “nexus of focal attention” or the “convergence of visual acuity” or the “intersection of visual collision” or sometimes as simply “the point of no return”) —  as I was saying: such an artist might fail to see the forest because of the humongous big tree blocking his view when his whole face is covered with its leaves.

koi-swimming-above-the-trees

I realize I’m babbling — maybe ranting — but I did say that I was turning my blog into a sort of diary.  And in a “It’s My Party and I’ll Cry If I Want to” sort of way, I permit myself an occasional rant from time to time.

I don’t like the concept of “a center of interest.”  Does it show? I file it under cognitive bias. I’m glad to see it has a name, anchoring.

The cure is to get the attention moving around again. I like natural attention, myself, that’s my personal preference. Letting your mind move around, willy nilly, as its wont. But if one’s brain has gotten sucked into the vortex, whether that vortex is at the center or somewhere else in the picture, the cure for the bias is to fasten the attention somewhere else. You’ve got to move it around — diffuse it somewhat,  forcibly, if need be.

lizard

In my notes, I envisioned a grid — a desperate grid for the really hard cases — and inside each square of the grid you examine that portion of the picture to see what beauties it holds. And no I don’t stop there.

grill-detail

Then you shift the grid a little and you have new passages, and you gaze into those also. And thus the whole image is like a matrix with many doors. Such a picture (obviously this represents an ideal) is like a shimmering tapestry of decisions and observations.

In ordinary time, the simple habit of following your thoughts in the order in which they occur is good enough at last — as a remedy against art books that posit all kinds of rules, the most insidious of which is the center of interest.

red-eyed-cicada

I give it other names to diminish its charm. If we call the nexus of focal obsession by its other names — such as, the vortex of visual obsequiousness, then we avoid its becoming stronger by means of the “availability cascade,” the tendency of oft-repeated messages to be accepted as true simply because they are oft repeated.

So, pst!   Ipsnay the enter-cay of interest-yay.

vase-of-flowers-inside-boxes.jpg 

 

 

Note to self: fighting & the beginning

dogwood tree at moms

A really wonderful painting with minimal technique is something to be sought (if technique is construed as “knowing the means of doing a thing”).  The problem with the beginning is that you don’t know what you don’t know. Usually you don’t know what you do know either.

Generally people think of the beginning as being where the rookie is. What is less often noted is that anyone can be at the beginning in some context. Artists who do the same thing over and over, having mastered it (whatever It is), are arguably no longer at the beginning. They have achieved a mastery in the sense of being able to predictably repeat past performances at a similar level of difficulty with no loss in quality.

spottie

But if you’re the sort of person who wants to be doing something new because you distrust sameness then the beginning is a place you can enter again.  It’s harder, though, than one might suppose. I can become a beginner if I adopt certain kinds of subjects that I have never portrayed. That might be great if these things were things that I want to paint. But lots of things that I never did consist of things that I never wanted to do. Doing those things now wouldn’t represent growth, it would just be stupid.

beeing

So instead the challenge about doing something new relates to doing something that you want to do but have never done before, and more particularly doing something that’s difficult to achieve even at one’s present level of skill so that the challenge really puts you out of the comfort zone.  And THEN, not using one’s present knowledge to just think oneself logically through the technical problems, but rather using one’s ignorance itself as a tool so that you can dig, grab, flail your way along.

old-sketch-of-flowers smaller

I think I would rather struggle with a new thing than to use what I already know to render the new thing into some homogenized facsimile of what I already know.  Innovation — seeking and striving to get it — is more about immersion in a new experience than it is like coping by using all the old skills on new ideas. I don’t want to prettify the new thing with the contours of the familiar old things.

bonnard boxing
Pierre Bonnard self-portrait

 

I want to confront the new thing in all its new-to-me-ness and fight my way through it just like I fought with subjects when I was a young artist.  Is that why Bonnard portrays himself as a pugilist in the series of late self-portraits made in the bathroom mirror?  Well, I don’t know. Bonnard’s intention and his thoughts across a hundred years is not available to me. But I want to find subjects that are hard in ways that formerly would send me to the fainting couch except that instead of retreating to the couch I want to stand and fight.

lattice ptg

Art doesn’t have to be a fight.  I’m not saying that. Art can be refined, easy-going.  It can be a long walk. I’m just saying that if it’s a long walk, I want to walk somewhere I’ve never been before. I am looking for new experience, even in the things I’ve done again and again. I want to experience them in some innocence. I want to be overwhelmed by them. I don’t want to know what I’m doing. I want to figure something out as I go.

little2bcollagesm