On the beach at Le Pouldu, near Pont-Aven, Brittany, there’s a leaning formation of rocks that could be organized a bit by looking down on it and laying the horizon fairly high in the composition. It took a while to get the position right. A few minutes into the painting I realized it would benefit with a figure or some other motif in the lower right. The next day I organized my daughter, Sara, to stand in as a model. This painting was among the ones I brought home that summer. Off it went to a gallery and subsequently disappeared into the great Diaspora where all paintings go.
Monthly Archives: January, 2017
A question appeared in the comments on a recent letter about studio space. “I have always painted at my kitchen table; because of the holidays and guests coming I have had to clean. Sorry to say I have not picked up a brush since then. If my table is cleared then there are no paintings. It makes me feel sad; it is hard to find a balance between keeping the house clean and producing art. Any suggestions?”
I’m willing to bet that lots of artists have never heard of William Bouguereau. He was, however, one of the most celebrated artists of his time — admired, collected, lionized — President of the French Academy, Head of the Salon, President of the Legion of Honour. He won the Grand Prix de Rome in 1851 when he was twenty-six. When he died in 1905 his reputation started to slip. His work disappeared into the basements of obscurity. Most encyclopedias stopped mentioning him, and those that did used words like “competent” and “banal.”
One of my earliest memories is of seeing a small, domino-shaped tile amongst hundreds of items leaning on a long shelf above the workbench that stretched the length of my dad’s studio. On it was written, “Creative hands are rarely tidy.” It was the cherry on the sundae of permission — the sundae being a life in art and a messy space devoted to it.
By the time I’d left home at 18 and art school at 22, I’d already destroyed a few linoleum floors and filled a converted boatshed with fits and starts.
On Dec. 8, 1903, with government funding, countless advisors and great ballyhoo, Samuel Pierpont Langley’s flying machine plopped unpleasantly into the Potomac. Nine days later, Orville and Wilbur Wright got their Flyer off the ground. Why did these bicycle mechanics succeed when a famous scientist failed? Langley’s plans were mostly theoretical and his machine was produced from blueprint and built by others. But by studying the Wright brothers’ working notes, you see that their insight and their execution are woven together. By trial and error and over a period of time they solved problems like wing shape and wing warping. Each adjustment was a small spark of insight that led to others. Along the way they found it necessary to build a wind tunnel and other devices to test the lift and controllability of their ever-changing designs.
The subject came up again during an impromptu visit with an artist friend in Melbourne: “I’m having trouble finding my style,” she said. “I don’t want to force it — I want to be myself — but how do I make my work stand out as mine?”
With the understanding that style mustn’t be contrived but instead evolve organically as part of a developing voice, like a signature, yours might simply be honed by keeping a lookout for your own unique pictorial penchants. If you’re low on penchants, then consider what I call “idiosyncrasies of brush.”
A subscriber wrote, “Are there any authentic, intellectually respectable reasons for the apparent divide between the contrasting and often opposing worlds of 1) ‘serious’ contemporary painting and its practitioners, and 2) the sprawling world of proud retro painters, and their constellation of activities and venues that are ignored by prevailing learned scholars and critics the world over?”
He says he likes to do it in his car, or in bed, at dawn. He works at it by practicing writing very big and very small, by zooming in on still life subjects and sending flower doodles to his friends before they’re awake. For his efforts, he’s hailed as an early adopter, an agent of the new or inspirer of complaints about a medium incapable of authenticity, though the Brushes app has handily lived in the toolkit of designers and commercial artists since inception.
On Wednesday this week — it may have been the phase of the moon — there were so many questions in the inbox that I buckled under and lost it. Don’t get me wrong — I love being of service to others, and there was great stuff to talk about, like how to dispose of toxic thinners while painting on a boat, or how to get perspective into curved things. Some of this stuff I can answer. What I need around here is a Michelangelo who is willing to sit at a computer 24/7.