A friend who will remain nameless is a big collector. He knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. We were feet-up, scotching ourselves when I started foaming about the watercolours of John Singer Sargent. “Didn’t know he did them,” my friend announced. “He was a society painter, wasn’t he?” There was no point in continuing. Then I mentioned Anders Zorn. “Never heard of him,” he said. I tried to fill him in.
The phone rang early — it was an artist friend from the other side of Earth. A recent collaboration had left him feeling humiliated: “I compromised my vision, thinking I could get through it,” he said, “and in the end it didn’t pay off; I lost the job anyway.”
An early lesson at the bottom of my parents’ property came to mind, where I was learning to be a painter in a re-configured boat shed. A client, in search of a treasure, found the shed constraining and asked if she could commission something specific.
While Nature Herself has the privilege of playing with light, painters must, in humility, play with pigment. The transference is tricky and many painters don’t play around enough to get the hang of it. Here again, the relationship between photography and painting is useful.
“Bokeh” is a corruption of the Japanese word Boke, which means “blur.” Backgrounds, particularly, are often rendered out of focus. You may be familiar with what are called “circles of confusion,” those round spots of light that occur in photos. Photographers spend some effort to get “good bokeh” as opposed to “bad bokeh.”
Marcao Pozza-Mendes wrote from the Colorado Rockies, “Do you have a letter that deals with canned criticism? By canned criticism I mean remarking that a painting with an element like a road or river leading to a corner of the canvas always leads the eye out of the picture; there is never a way to make that work; there is never a way to break the ‘rules’ and end with a successful painting. Sometimes the canned criticism is proffered unsolicited, which makes it additionally annoying. We artists are trained not to do certain things in a painting, but there are cases where we CAN break the rules.
We all work in some sort of genre. We paint abstracts, landscapes, florals, or still lifes, for example. Generally speaking, we try to be innovative and give our work a unique spin or style. Perhaps pathetically, many of us venture into the world looking for things to inflict our style on.
We artists need to realize we’re taking part in something much more automatic, something much more anthropological. We’re repeating the artifacts of our cultures.
As part of the visitor’s tour of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C., you can look at the recently restored, nearly 200-year-old Capitol Rotunda — a massive, domed, circular room that marks the geographic center of the city and where eminent citizens lie in state and important works of art are dedicated. Constantino Brumidi’s The Apotheosis of Washington is painted 180 feet up on the 4,664 square-foot rotunda canopy. The neoclassical fresco shows George Washington majestically ascending to a godly rank, surrounded by Liberty, Victory/Fame, 13 maidens representing the original states and six groups of figures embodying the arts and sciences.
The shaping of form is one area where many artists get into trouble. In the old days students were encouraged to paint and draw cones, pyramids, blocks and spheres until they were blue in the face. It’s no wonder that so many of the classically trained painters knew how to render form. Today, for those who would master form, there is no recourse but to study and practice.
While most of us are tempted to stay and fight for our planet, there may be an opening for artists on the moon. NASA and others are doubling down on plans for Mars, but futurists at the European Space Agency are focused on a lunar colony and, with it, art.
The idea is that while scientists figure out how to breathe in outer space, artists can tackle the more nuanced details. To tap into planet Earth’s broader imaginations, the European Space Agency’s Advanced Concepts Team posted a call to artists and has awarded a residency to Spaniard Jorge Manes Rubio.
At the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt there’s a spectacular collection of Soviet Art. Massive oil paintings, posters, grandiose architectural renderings, and soviet propaganda films. My friends and I were simply blown away — I couldn’t wait to plunk down my Euros for the fat catalogue. The show is called “Dream Factory.”
In 1859, in response to growing threats in Europe, an English art student named Edward Sterling put together a new volunteer army regiment. Though eventually broadening to include other professions, the group began as painters, sculptors, poets, musicians, actors and architects and would serve as a defensive unit in various home capacities including The Second Boer War. By the turn of the 20th Century, The Artists’ Rifles Volunteer Corps was one of the most popular military services among university students.