Yearly Archives: 2018

Letters hans-jean-arp_constellation

After a couple of decades wielding a brush, I’m wondering if you’ve also experienced this: I paint all day and while resting I think about paintings. Then I go to sleep and dream about paintings I’ve not yet painted.

A few mornings ago, I rose from bed and, like a premium droid, set to work without question on the thing I had dreamt. After reasonable success, I wondered if this process might simplify the whole operation and alleviate mental exertion.

Letters Paul_Gauguin_the-midday-nap

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.

Letters Lucio-Fontana_Spacial-concept

In 2015, London artist Patrick Tresset presented an installation in Brussels called, 5 Robots Named Paul. The performance involved five school desk set-ups, each affixed with a clamp lamp, video camera, sheet of paper, and a robotic arm holding a ballpoint pen. A sitter could then have her portrait drawn by what appeared to be a robot, anthropomorphized by wobbly penmanship and webcam eyes studying her face. In reality, the video and the robotic arm were never connected — the drawings were made by a computer from a single photo taken at the beginning of the session.

Letters robert-genn_above-berg-lake

Scrabbling around in mountains is good for you. Among other things, I’m having occasional bouts of lucidity. For instance, I just discovered the “truth.”

I’m realizing that an artist’s own creative truth is really all that matters. Up here, it’s more than just looking for things to inflict your style on — it has to do with inhaling and exhaling. Getting it in depth. Walking helps — it slows the intake, aids digestion and speeds imagination.

Letters brett-whiteley_panorama--a-question-of-perspective

An artist wrote, “I would like to find a gallery but I’m not sure where to start. Do you have a system for narrowing down choices and how to actually do it?”

Thanks. First, you’ll need to understand what galleries are looking for in you: a cohesive vision, archival quality, steady production, some kind of exclusivity, a signature style, point of view and professional support materials, among others. Next, assuming you’ve got a top-notch body of work you’re ready to send out into the world, you’ll want to make a shortlist of your own critical questions.

Letters rembrandt_thatched-cottage-large-tree

Did you know that between 1820 and 1860 there were more than 145,000 “How to Draw” books published in the USA? In those pre-camera days, gentlemen and ladies kept memories alive by drawing them. A book by J. Liberty Tadd instructed young women to sketch pigs while standing in a pigsty — “in order to more accurately reflect nature.” Many of these books are now on the trash heaps of history, but they nevertheless remind us of other times and other values. This is being made clear in a current exhibition in New York’s Grolier Club. “Teaching America to Draw” is worth taking a look at if you happen to be in the area.

Letters georgia-okeeffe_New-Mexico

An artist wrote, “As someone who’s always organized, I long to break free in my paintings. I wonder if it’s in me to be wild and unstructured in this one area of my life. Do others deal with this dilemma? Is it a case of, ‘how you do one thing is how you do everything?’”

Thanks. Picasso had his multiple women and periods; Bacon, his hoarder studio and brushwork; and O’Keeffe her monastic Ghost Ranch from which to capture the emptiness of the New Mexico sky.

Letters sargent_mussel-gatherers-ca.1877

A good friend, Ron Longstaffe, now passed away, was an off-and-on fishing companion. A significant collector of what we amusingly called low- and medium-skilled art, he and I frequently whiled away boat hours discussing the virtues of his multi-million dollar collection. As he didn’t care for my work and didn’t have any to speak of, we always felt we could be quite straightforward with each other. Finely art-literate for a capitalist, he surprised me one day when he told me he didn’t know John Singer Sargent painted landscapes. “I thought he was just a society portrait painter,” he said.

Letters helen-frankenthaler_in-her-studio

Recently, an aspiring screenwriter friend told me she’d quit her day job. “I tried to just reduce my hours, but they kept creeping back to full time,” she said. “It was really hard to let go. I realized I was afraid of losing something I might never get back, instead of facing forward and going for what I truly wanted, which is to be a writer.” We agreed that committing ample space for a creative venture is a common barrier for would-be pros. “If I don’t go for it now, I’ll never know,” she said. We made a toast to the extravagant void in front of her.

Letters cartier-bresson_5

In 2004, at home in the south of France, Henri Cartier-Bresson, one of the world’s best-known photographers, died. He was 95.

“One eye looks within, the other eye looks without,” said Cartier-Bresson. Starting with the simplest of box cameras, most of his life he worked in black and white with a quiet Leica, without a flash. He didn’t believe in cropping, staging, tricky developing or dodgy printing. His business was trapping the momentary visual delights of life in motion. “For me, the camera is a sketchbook

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