looking back


I painted this summer scene of crepe myrtles a while back.  It will become part of a landscape portfolio that I’ll be assembling soon.  It’s an oil painting measuring 30 x 24 inches.  In contrast the ones I’ve been posting lately are acrylic paintings.

It’s fun to see how it looks with its new landscape companions.

Past and Present Tenses

I used to make small paintings in emulation of artists I admired such as this painting of a sprig of holly in a crystal mug meant for a study of the early still lifes of Van Gogh.  The lozenge pattern of the mug, which one can find analogies for in certain Van Gogh drawings, was as significant as the “green-black” of the holly leaves (a color that Van Gogh loved) or the expressionistic pointiness of the leaf’s shape.  The scale, the smallness, the spontaneity of going outdoors and collecting a sprig and painting it all of a sudden were other things that I took from this master who I wanted to understand.

Yet there’s not just emulation of a famous artist:  the holly tree grew outside our house, you could see it from the living room window.  The mug was a fixture in the kitchen cabinet, container for many a cup of hot cocoa on a winter evening.  These were ordinary items from my life at that time and signified more about my life than I ever guessed then or than I can even guess now.

Whether memory lane provides a quiet stroll through the past or a fast-paced on-ramp into the future is sometimes difficult to gauge.  This painting that I made years ago seems to chide me now for the less-than-spontaneous patterns of my current art-making.  If I go back to that, I sense that I am not really going backwards but forwards….

Looking backwards, going forward

I have been thinking a lot about beginnings — thinking back to the time when my desire to paint was brand new.  After thirty years I bought a new paint box — a compact box, with a sturdy handle and clean new surfaces.  After thirty years’ practicality I thought it was an innocent enough gesture.  Let myself feel young, left my artist’s heart feel brand new.

I have four dozen of small panels.  I’m ready to explore my own household, survey its common objects and do inventory.  To be an anthropologist of my own life strikes me as a very worthy goal.  What ordinary things are lying about for my inspection?

I want light, shadows, colors, edges and some in-between-ness of things.

At the top is a painting I made long ago — can be exemplary for me — I painted a leaf from my yard and a farmer’s apple.  The tree that made the leaf is gone now and a garden has taken its place.

More Memory Lane

Spring cleaning is a time of perpetual surprise.  I found this in the attic, this picture that I forgot I had even painted.  The sentinel tree lives at a nearby wildlife preserve.  I did this, I’m guessing, about twenty years ago.  I’ve done a lot of landscape drawing this year and some landscape painting.  But in looking for something to compare/contrast with this picture, I decided to use a drawing I made last spring.  It was one of the first really fine days and I took off during lunch to draw a little at my regular place.

It’s a bit of “apples and oranges” since the media are completely different.  But looked at as merely images, I’d say that I’ve gotten a lot weirder as I mature.  At a certain point in life you get comfortable  — finally — and then you can really let your hair down — and let your tree’s branches go wild.

[A little black speck to the right of the top of the sentinel tree is an ant.  He had the nerve to crawl on my picture as I was photographing it.  Filing that under “everyone’s an art critic.”]

The Real Me Doesn’t Wear Glasses

Either I wear glasses or contacts, or else I stumble around.  My vision is bad enough that if I put my glasses down momentarily on the table, I sometimes have trouble seeing well enough to retrieve them afterwards because glasses are small and I am near-sighted.

When I painted this I was in a glasses only phase, I guess, between episodes of contact lens wear.  And I’ve always had a problem with drawing my glasses in a portrait.  It’s not that they’re difficult to draw or anything like that.  I just never draw them.  I draw the distortions that glasses create, but I omit the frames and get this slightly disjointed quality in the face.

I think that deep down I have an aversion to my glasses.  I appreciate the clear vision they provide, but I want to see my face as simply a face.  I have two personalities.  The public one that wears the glasses, and the inner me who has simply a face.  The conflict between them produces a sum that is just a little bit cubist.  Well, that’s the least of it now.  I made this portrait ages ago. 

I suppose you won’t be surprised to know that the real me doesn’t have grey hair either.

My Italy of Thought

Years ago I began a large painting, one of my first large pictures.  Painted it in the living room of my parents’ North Carolina home using a ladder as an easel.  The motif was based on a parcel of land down the street from their home.  I tried to transform it into Renaissance Italy, the sort of place one of Giorgione’s gals would hang out.

These are samples of the several compositional drawings.  (There was a bunch.  I’m not sure what happened to them all.)  Looking through old notebooks, I found this one made in pencil (above) and this other in conte crayon (below).  The crayon adds to the Italian feeling, don’t you think?

Me of Long Ago

Before I let my hair grow very long and looked in profile toward the left, I looked like this.  This image is a photo of a xerox of a drawing that I made at an uncertain date long ago.  I don’t know where the original drawing is now, but since I inherited from my Depression Era-surviving parents a deep reluctance to throw anything away, I’m fairly confident it will turn up.

The blue is an exaggeration of a picture of a picture.   I think it’s very jazzy, very Miles Davis.  I was Kind of Blue, you see.

I have a whole box of ancient drawings.  Sometime, I need to go through them and do my walk down Memory Lane.