Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Another Day, Another Frame

I purchased this painting many years ago. It probably appealed to me since it was so simple and bold, unlike my own paintings. The old frame was probably not as old as the painting, and was typical of what someone may have selected in the 1960s or 70s - "contemporary" with a linen panel. While narrow frames are often effective with large works, they all to often carry the air of "what's the least expensive". Since the frame was stained and falling apart (it looks better in these photos than in real life) , I knew it would be reframed at some point.

Painting as framed when purchased

Old frame detail

Label on back

As with many of these long term (long term in the sense they get put away and forgotten), my thoughts about the final design may go through several revisions. I cut and joined the basic frame last year, and like the painting, it didn't get out of storage for quite a while. 

Silver leaf applied

Due to the fairly large size (24" x 28"), I wanted to do something with more wall presence, but not fancy. My usual technique for almost any project is multiple layers of material to create finishes that have variations and undertones. 

This started with gesso, coated with pigmented shellac, then silver leaf. The panel was painted in dark blue, then a silver leaf design applied. I wanted the design bold, with the same "casual" feel as the painting. 

Painting corner design with gold size

Silver leaf applied to designs

Afterwards, additional shellac, casein washes, and finally, wax and rottenstone. If this snow season persists I might get all caught up on the unfinished projects..

Detail of finished frame

Another project crossed off the list

Monday, February 9, 2015

Summer Painting Revisited

While snowbound I am pursuing my resolution to finish up those artworks that never quite got done. A side benefit is that it allows me to mentally revisit more pleasant weather.
This painting was started during one of the Artists Guild ofShrewsbury's plein air painting days at the Artemas Ward Homestead in Shrewsbury.

I enjoy the initial blocking in of a painting far more than the finishing details (perhaps I should change my style to this look). As frustrating as it may be to have something hanging around so long, I find it sometimes helpful as I can spend a lot more time thinking about it, and the painting may evolve in a different direction from my original intention.


Second stage

As often happens, I was working on the frame at the same time.


This is another one started at one of our plein air sessions. It has such a rural look, hard to believe I was located in the parking lot for the retirement facility next door. 
I have no trouble getting started.

Some of these elements will be deleted, others added or changed.

Since the property was on the market, there was no activity, but once I got home and revisited it, I felt I needed to take some license to add "life" to it.

 After this, one more large one painting to finish, and then I can start some new works without guilt!

The Berkshires in Winter Part II

The second day of our December trip to the Berkshires was devoted to museums. We were anxious to revisit the Clark (Sterling and Francine Clark Institute) in Williamstown, as we had not been there since the opening of the large remodeling/addition project. The approach to the new wing is rather cold and sterile (perhaps it would have felt more welcoming on a day with better weather.

New wing at the Clark 

The new wing has large open spaces for temporary exhibitions. Currently on view was Monet/Kelley, showing how Ellsworth Kelley was inspired by Monet's work and environment during his 1950s stay in France. The "finished" Monet's in this particular exhibit were, I felt, some of his least successful. But the large oil sketches were electrifying, and had you not known the artist, you might have guessed they were contemporary paintings. Sorry that I could not take pictures in this exhibit.

Impressionist Gallery at the Clark

19th Century Salon at the Clark

Grant Wood: Death on the Ridge Road, 1935. Williams College Museum of Art

Our next stop was the Williams College Museum of Art, with its interesting and eclectic collection ranging from Early American to contemporary. I was surprised and delighted to see one of my
favorite Grant Wood paintings in the collection, Death on the Ridge Road.
One of the current exhibits was Franz West (Austrian, 1947-2012). His works were strange, sometimes funny, particularly his "adaptives" which vaguely resembled tools and appliances you may see in a dream or nightmare. In his original gallery installations, he intended for visitors to pick up and handle these items in order to interact with the art (we did not have that privilege in the museum).

Franz West

We then moved on to Mass Moca in North Adams. The highlight was the multi-story installation by Sol Lewitt. While not an artist I particularly care for, it was fascinating to see an art environment so large you wander through it, almost as if in a shopping mall of visuals.

When you visit Mass Moca, you may not care for the art, but the visit is so immersive that even if you feel contemporary installation art is some sort of con game, you still can enjoy the ride through the artist's vision.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Sometimes it Takes a Long Time to Finish a Painting

One of my New Year's resolutions (sure to go flying by like all the others) is to work on unfinished paintings, revisit ideas and sketches, and if need be, send hopeless starts to the great art trash bin in the sky.

Painting on site

This painting is one I worked on during one of Tower Hill BotanicalGarden's "Arts Weekends" in October, 2014. It was the time of fall color, but they day turned out gray, then misty, then rain. Still, found a spot under a tree, and at least the acrylics didn't dry too fast like they usually do.

In its first state

The painting looked OK while I was outdoors, and one visitor from Charleston wanted to buy it (I never heard from her, so I assume she came to her senses). Since I wasn't excited by it, I put it away since I knew there was something wrong, but couldn't put my finger (or paint) on it. I then realized that while the foliage was brilliant on that maple tree, it looked out of place because the staff keeps the grounds so clean that there were no leaves on the ground. I also felt it needed softening, but with a few more bits of color, so I added the figure with the umbrella.

Enhanced version

It was still looking rather uninteresting, so I tried the old artist's trick of putting it in a frame to see a more finished effect. Surprisingly, this is all it took to give it a lift. Still may need more tweaking, but now it doesn't seem so hopeless.

Now on to the rest of that lifetime supply of unfinished work....

A frame seems to help

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Winter in the Berkshires

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This past year's tactic of making trips closer to home is paying off. Our second December 2014 trip was a visit to the Berkshires. We have passed through on quick visits in previous years, but this was our first winter visit, and in spite of the gray weather, we really enjoyed seeing the landscape when it is not leaf covered.

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Whenever I read Edith Wharton's "Ethan Frome", I can almost feel the bitter cold and stark atmosphere. Having been through some of these small towns on a gray and snowy day, I can see that she captured them accurately.

Reminded me of Wharton's line about "the rest of the Fromes in the graveyard"

We opted to stay in Lenox, so we would be central to the museums. This also gave us the chance to sample a terrific restaurant in Lenox, Nudel.

Well, I picked the hotel because of the indoor pool, as well. 

On our first day, we visited the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield. A combination natural history and art museum, this was also the time of their "Festival of Trees", where local businesses and organizations sponsor trees decorated with a theme (this year's was "Safari"). Some were quite clever, and this did make an interesting addition for the season.

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Some of the galleries were devoted to a new installation of items from the permanent collection. Called  "Objectify" it juxtaposed various objects, and was designed to look as though items were shipped in from around the world, with the viewer seeing the uncrating. They also provided this lovely frame for "photo ops"

Where's John Singer Sargent when you need him?

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Newport Holiday Decorations 2014

Instead of any major travels, this season we are taking some shorter trips closer to home. More and more sites are promoting their holiday decor, so this week we spend a couple days in the Newport, Rhode Island area.

Our first stop was Blithewold, in Bristol, Rhode Island. This home, while grand, is much smaller and homelike than the Newport mansions. The volunteers decorated throughout, with different themes. Some of these were clever interpretations, and all were lovely. The centerpiece, however, was the tree that was tall enough to reach the second floor in the stair hall.

The next day we toured three of the Newport mansions: The Breakers, Marble House and The Elms.

If you have never been to visit these mansions, you will probably have a hard time grasping the size and grandeur. These "palaces" were only intended for the summer season, so any holiday decor is a modern interpretation. Photography is not normally permitted, but during this season they do allow photographs of the main decorated areas in the three houses. Frankly, most of the decorating looked pretty much like what you would see an any upscale shopping mall or grand hotel lobby. It does seem like an uphill battle: Do you do simple designs that will be lost among the house's architecture, or try to match or out do it? 

The "Poinsettia Tree" under the watchful eye of a Breakers staff member.

The most intriguing aspect for me was the use of LED candles, which provided a lifelike, flickering flame effect. These are perfect for house museums, and also for people who don't want live flames around.

Marble House and The Breakers are both so over the top, that the floral decorations didn't have a chance (I didn't even have the heart to take a picture of the main hall at Marble House - even with a wreath of enormous size on the marble wall, it still looked just sad. The Elms, more restrained in its elegance, seemed like better coordination of color and theme.

A decorated mantelpiece at The Elms

The Elms grand holiday tree
But all was not lost. We had breakfast and lunch at Annie's restaurant on Bellevue Avenue - where the kitchen staff puts up the ceiling decorations. Apparently there will be a contest to guess the number of ornaments.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Vermeer and the Camera

Vermeer's "The Music Lesson"
The other evening I finally got to see the film "Tim'sVermeer". In short, this is the story of Tim Jenison, an inventor and entrepreneur who became interested in the "photographic" quality of  the Dutch painter Johanne Vermeer's work, and wanted to see if technology aided the artist. His theory is that a primitive (by our standards) optical device, the "camera obscura", which was well known at that time, was used for drawing. He did not understand, however, how this would have aided in the color. Bit of a spoiler, a mirror was also required.

Jenison, an art novice, finds he can make an almost perfect replica of a photograph using his technique. He then moves on to the next step, working as he believed Johannes Vermeer (1632–1675)  did.

The film takes us through the process of recreating the physical setup of the studio arrangement, including replicating the items appearing in the painting "The Music Lesson".

There are two art experts and authors appearing in the film.

Philip Steadman, author of  Vermeer’s Camera, examined the paintings of Vermeer and through geometry believes he has proof that the painter used a camera obscura to create the drawing/composition.
Artist David Hockney wrote Secret Knowledge, where he is convinced the use of technology (in terms of lenses, etc.) was in use by a number of artists, and earlier than believed.

I found this all intriguing, and like any modern person, found myself "googling" into the night to learn more.

As contrasted with the "Vermeer" replica in the film, it doesn't seem that these two authors actually put their theories to the test to create a painting. There were also some interesting comments in some of the reviews and articles below. The film comments that there was no underpainting or drawing in Vermeer's work - but this is contradicted by critics, as there is evidence of underpainting, and the fact that drawing done in chalk would be obliterated during the painting process. The film oddly enough shows Jenison's painting having a drawing marked on the canvas.

Another quibble was the selection of the work; probably for dramatic effect, the work selected is in the Queen of England's collection, and much was made of the fact that it was not available, but that Jenison was given an opportunity to see it privately, when in fact, the work is on view for special exhibitions, including the National Gallery.

So, still not conclusive. Did Vermeer rely on this technology? Use it in portions of paintings or only certain paintings? Or did he simply have a unique "eye" and a repertoire of artistic "tricks" to create illusions. When I look at images of  all the known Vermeers, they seem to vary in their "photographic" appearance, with some looking decidedly "painterly".

Young Woman with a Water Pitcher, ca. 1662. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Marquand Collection, Gift of Henry G. Marquand, 1889 (89.15.21)
Study of a Young Woman, ca. 1665–67, Metropolitan Museum of Art. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, in memory of Theodore Rousseau, Jr., 1979 (1979.396.1)

Perhaps more people will be inspired to experiment with these theories (or maybe Vermeer's equipment will turn up at a yard sale) and we will have a more conclusive ending to this story.

Some additional resources.

You can find just about everything we know of Vermeer here. See a page of this website dealing with Vermeer's possible use of a camera obscura here.

Some additional reviews, commentary and interesting stuff: