In the summer of 1936, 33 year-old photographer Walker Evans was invited by writer James Agee to take time off from his work with the Resettlement Administration to collaborate on a story for Fortune magazine about Alabama sharecroppers. The two set out to the tenant farms of rural Hale County and began documenting the impoverished lives of three families. Today at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, I’m staring back at Evans’ most famous work — a portrait of 27-year-old Allie Mae Burroughs, mother of four and wife of Alabama cotton and corn farmer Floyd Burroughs.
Monthly Archives: July, 2017
I am dedicating this letter to a nutty old Frenchman because Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-78) (not Henri — Le Douanier — Rousseau, the primitive painter) was one of the most valuable creative thinkers of all time. This unsettled and often irrational writer had a direct effect on the sentiments that we express today — sentiments that many artists stated in those letters.
In 1749 Rousseau entered a competition and won first prize for his answer to the question: Has the progress of the sciences and arts contributed to the corruption or improvement of human conduct?
In 1893, ten years after first moving to Giverny, Claude Monet bought a meadow next to his property on the other side of the railway. A little brook called the Ru ran through it — a diversion of the Epte, which is a tributary of the Seine. With permission from the local council he dug a pond, inspired by the water gardens depicted in his collection of Japanese woodblock prints. He bought books on botany, made designs for the layout and plants and wrote daily instructions for his seven gardeners. All this was made possible because his dealer…
In times of reasonable painting I often ask myself where my confidence comes from. Why is it that some days this goddess merely appears, seemingly unbidden, while other days I have to work hard to get a glimpse of her? What are the conditions that bring this goddess to our easels?
I’m pretty sure that in art as in love, it’s the little things that mean a lot. Don’t, for example, have outstanding issues with spouses, dealers, friends. I’ve found it vital to sit or stand at the easel, guilt free.
A burgeoning screenwriter recently told me about a side-hustle in her industry called, “pay to play.” For $30, a writer can book 10 minutes of Skype-time with a producer or distributer looking for new projects. After narrowing her pitch to seven minutes with three minutes for questions, her Skype ends abruptly with, “thanks!” and she awaits feedback by email. New to this system, my friend has already received a follow-up request from a global network for her latest script. When I asked how she knew about “pay to play,” she told me it’s a common path for actors looking to audition without an agent, or if their agent can’t get a meeting with a desired casting director.
A subscriber wrote, “I find that doing demos is extremely challenging as I never know quite where a painting is going until I get there. There seems no time to ponder, to try this and that. The expectation is to just keep painting and turn out something reasonably competent in the given time.
“I know students benefit greatly from watching demos — I just don’t know if I will ever get comfortable giving one. It’s not getting any easier. I once watched you do a demo and you seemed very relaxed. What’s the secret?”
About halfway through the HBO documentary, “Becoming Warren Buffett,” a scene shows Warren Buffett and Bill Gates sitting at a table, each painting a picture — apparently a first for both. “He doesn’t know much about art,” says Bill in a voiceover. “I can’t tell you the colour of the walls in my bedroom or my living room,” says Warren. “I don’t have a mind that relates to the physical universe well.” For a moment, I thought I detected the slack-jawed bewilderment of a guy on the precipice of failure.
My experience has been that plein air requires a different mind-set than indoor work. Small inconveniences that do not occur in the studio can make or break the effort — a cool wind on the neck or a lightly primed canvas that lets the light through — minor irritants, but important to anticipate and prepare for. I recommend building up to the activity, finding comfort with your own methodology, not expecting too much. It’s the time-honoured “field sketch,” and it’s noble. Better to have a small diamond than a large piece of glass.