A friend of mine (let’s call him Dino) entered retirement the other day and took up painting. You could say Dino has a life-long appreciation of art, but until now he has only thought about actually doing it. He went to a lumberyard and bought some wood for stretchers. He quietly helped himself to a bed-sheet from the family closet. He was thinking big. His work is huge. He primed with blue latex, then hit it with commercial acrylic, roller and brush.
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In this studio, a high percentage of inbox letters are from artists complaining about things. Some are like leopards jumping out of the screen, clawing wildly. As I like to keep our website fairly positive, some of this growling gets answered personally. A lot of complaints are about art dealers, art clubs, and general and specific lack of support.
“Tell your own story and you will be interesting,” wrote Jerry Saltz last week, borrowing from Louise Bourgeois. He used her quote as Number 2 in his 33 Rules for How To Be An Artist, an article he wrote for New York Magazine, the publication for which he’s been the senior art critic and columnist since 2006. Some of Jerry’s other tips: “Prize vulnerability, make an enemy of envy, learn to deal with rejection, and accept that you will likely be poor.” In his Rules, Jerry is full of idealism, artist myth-making and scrappiness.
Floating through the Chelsea galleries, up and down the democratic elevators, through the mysterious doors where minimalist girls, like wax figures, sit at laptops in sparse foyers and do not acknowledge your presence. Where liveried guards suspect your bag and camera, here and there there’s a Burton Silverman.
Coming from a background of illustration, Silverman, an artist’s artist, has found a unique place in the realist revival. To read his partly biographical The Art of Burton Silverman, you might think he’s still fighting the art-wars of the sixties.
In the comments section of last Friday’s letter, Sharon Lalonde asked, “What is the responsibility of an artist to be a good host at her opening, and what would that look like? I have been to openings where one has to guess who the artist is, or the artist is comfortably in a corner with a few friends and does not engage. I think some education in this area would be valuable.”
I’m laptopping you from a quiet nook in the garden of Audubon House, a small museum in Key West, Florida. In April of 1832, Audubon stayed in this house and counted nineteen species right here in this garden. He also painted some of the locals including the Roseate Spoonbill (I saw five of these overhead this morning), the Brown Pelican and the Great White Heron. Now the evening sky glows and beyond the quay pelicans are diving in the last light.
At the top of the staircase at the National Gallery in Budapest hangs what many agree to be the last Hungarian historical painting. Commissioned for Budapest’s bicentennial and finished in 1896, it depicts the moment two hundred years earlier when the troops of the Holy League, led by Commander Prince Charles of Lorraine, took the city back after 150 years under Turkish rule. At over 23 feet long and 11 feet high, the painting puts me at eye level with the iridescent pink flag and golden boots of an unknown colour guard, who has been crushed beneath the slain body of the Turkish pasha Ali Abdurrahman. They lay strewn across the painting’s almost dead-centre foreground.
Here’s a simple system that builds creativity immediately. (Writing that line made me feel like a snake-oil salesman. But I digress.) I’m talking about pushing yourself to doing just one more thing every day. Results are guaranteed if you do it for a week. (Sorry, there I go again.)
With personal biorhythms, obligations, as well as climate, season, and other factors, we all have our times of maximum creativity and efficiency. In my case I seem to be at my best in the early morning
Robert Lenkiewicz is one of my favourite painters. He died in 2002, age 60, of complications arising from heart problems. I was reminded again of Robert by a letter from his friend Henryk Ptasiewicz. I commend this letter to you. Henryk’s letter is in the responses to the past letter, Just for today.
Born in north London, the son of refugees who ran a Jewish hotel, Lenkiewicz went to St Martin’s College of Art and Design at the age of 16 and later the Royal Academy. However, he was largely self-taught.
Seasoned painters may think I’m reinventing the wheel here, but this idea is one that many — even many abstractionists — need to know about: The normal and obvious process is to mix a colour to match the local colour of the subject matter and then apply it in its proper place in the painting. For a change, try this: Mix a colour — any colour — then look around and try to find a place to put it. For many artists this is awkward, reverse thinking. I’m here to tell you — it’s dynamite.