Painting as tribute

Dear Artist, There are lots of reasons to paint. This morning’s inbox included about a dozen. They ranged from “spiritual need” to “$1800.00.” Another subscriber mentioned, “A nice memorial for my friend’s gerbil ‘Alice,’ who recently passed away.” After her lengthy explanation I was not sure if it was her friend or the gerbil she was memorializing. Then there was the guy who said he was painting today because he didn’t feel like mowing the lawn. Ah yes, Spring. “Spring has sprung, the grass is riz. I wonder where the mower is?” But I digress. No matter how seemingly banal your painting motivation might be, something else can be implicit in virtually every project. You just need to think of art-making as a form of tribute. A tribute, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is “a thing said, done or given as a mark of respect.” When you think of it, all of nature and a great deal of what mankind has done are worthy of tribute. Further, when you consider appreciation of beauty or history or even the possibility of life enhancement, our art takes on greater meaning and more power. There’s a simple way to put this idea into action. When you approach a subject or a motif, pause and contemplate. Ask yourself what a possible back-story might be. Recently, Peter Segnitz and I made a little video that tries to describe this attitude. It’s called “Painting as Tribute” and we’ve put it at the bottom of this letter. Some of us may come by this attitude quite naturally. For others, it’s easy to get stuck in the gumbo of commercialism or clock watching, as if we had a job in a gerbil wheel factory. While our work has job-like elements, it’s not really a job. It’s a calling. It’s a supreme opportunity to honour and make permanent our time and place in the nature of things. With such an attitude, there’s a greater imperative to do it well. Best regards, Robert PS: “The artist fills space with an attitude. The attitude never comes from himself alone.” (Willem de Kooning) Esoterica: Without getting sidetracked by the self-importance of our creative missions, we all have an obligation to try to extract the maximum from every opportunity. Even that tiny gerbil — what a temple of design, miniaturization, spirit, persistence, forward planning. What wondrous lungs, heart, brain, nervous and digestive system. What miracle its DNA carried to her offspring from every cell. That gerbil is a subject so noble, so holy, that it deserves a considered attitude. “The whole world is a church.” (Sylvain of Athos)     Moment of tranquility by Louise Francke, NC, USA  

“Little River”
original painting
by Louise Francke

I need to paint. It’s not a “whether — or,” it’s a “must.” Thinking of a new painting frees my mind from the mundane everyday chores. When in the studio or out in the open fields, it is magic whether the painting or drawing is problematic or not. Life is too precious to miss. Painting life as it is or as a dream preserves my moment of tranquility. Every painting is a witness to much more than what I see. These perceptions draw me back to my childhood memories which randomly resurface in unexpected places.       There is 1 comment for Moment of tranquility by Louise Francke
From: Brian Bastedo — May 05, 2011

Love your painting, Louise! Also your comments above.

  Subject elevated to tribute by Katherine Harris, Bracciano, Italy  

“Barbarano Romano, Main Gate”
oil painting
by Katherine Harris

I agree that paintings are tributes — Think about it — whatever subject we deem worthy of realizing in a painting, we have first necessarily elevated to the category of a tribute. I always feel while I am painting, whether it’s a nature scene, a portrait or a still life, that I enter more deeply into an experience that might have begun as only a glance or a passing thought. Magic!         The blue rub by Carmela Martin, MA, USA   I was watching a few of your video clips this morning and really enjoyed watching your process. I noticed in a couple of the paintings that at some point you went over the entire painting with blue paint on a rag. The “paint” seemed to come out of a small bottle and I wondered what it is you are using. Since the already painted work did not smudge, I’m guessing you were going over dry acrylic. Is that right? (RG note) Thanks, Carmela. You’re right. That blue rub is Phthalo blue cut with water and acrylic medium to form a transparent glaze. Other colours I’m currently using as glazes include Cadmium orange, Process magenta and black. And yes, the underlying acrylic paint has to be dry — so I paint most of my paintings in two or three stages. However, the painting in the recent video Painting as tribute was done in Golden Open (slow drying) Acrylic, alla prima, that is, in one sitting.   Intellectual pleasure by Luciano Botta, Trevignano, just outside Rome, Italy   I want to thank you for your bi-weekly letter which gives me new ideas every time, a new input to my work and to my life also. I just subscribed to your service and I feel grateful to your effort. A propos of the reasons to paint I would like to add a new one: there is an intellectual pleasure in spending time in this activity. I am an abstract painter and would be interested in all you can find and publish about abstract painting. (RG note) Thanks, Luciano. I agree that abstraction can be an intellectual challenge as well as a pleasure. I’ve spent most of my life trying to understand abstract motifs and their charm. Stages in my quest can be found by cruising prior clickbacks. You need to read the introductory copy of each entry to get an idea what I’m trying to understand. I’m currently reading a wonderful book by Tina Dickey: Color Creates Light: Studies with Hans Hofmann. Hofmann was a great German-American art educator who had a powerful effect on many abstract painters. If I ever get to the bottom of the subject, you’ll be the first to know.   Art appreciation flourishing by Melinda Wilde, Gabriola Island, BC, Canada  

“First Nation’s Pride”
watercolour painting
by Melinda Wilde

This beautiful… image, music and words! I volunteer at our local after school art program here at Gabriola’s elementary school. I would love to show this to the kids. Maybe I’m fantasizing but on Gabriola Island I think art of all genres is appreciated by the majority of islanders just a little more than in other communities I have visited. An example would be the recent show I launched at a local gallery to which the grade seven teacher is taking her class as a field trip. That said, I’d love to get a copy of your “Painting as tribute” video to show my kids and my adult students and whoever else is interested. (RG note) Thanks, Melinda. I truly wish it was possible to mail out a free disc to everyone who has asked for one. For the time being you need to go to our video page and use a laptop, an iPad or similar device. I’m sure the time is not far away when kids, for better or for worse, will have a terminal at every desk. There is 1 comment for Art appreciation flourishing by Melinda Wilde
From: Suzanne du Plooy — May 03, 2011

Beautiful painting! I love the contrast between the totem and that moody grey sky.

  Confessions of a fire demon by Olinda Everett, Matlock, Derbyshire, UK   Your letter and website have become for me a source of thoughtful inspiration and also a means of staying in touch with reality. Over the years I have come to accept this concept of the humility that art fosters in us, as we realize that the small work we do is flawed but magical at the same time — personally, that is, as a means of becoming and growing — however imperfect in reality. I am a potter, not a painter, though I used to paint in the past. Potting for me has the necessary front and back of life in it. I can be very dark in my work and I am certainly very serious about it being art. But I am very aware of it coming out of the kiln with the unintended consequences of my hubris and ambition in cracks, puddles, dirty crystals… I am afraid that pots do rather betray one more than the painting of a landscape might. I spent fourteen hours tending to my creaking kiln yesterday and today opened the box to find the usual amazing mixture of unexpected results. Some better than others, ok. One piece in particular was a very rough almost childish piece made from simple slabs that had not been finished in any particularly elegant way. The reason was that I dried the piece on its side and that side, drying more quickly, cracked. So, I though, another test piece… But then I warmed to that flaw. I dribbled a very spiteful yellow stain on it and sponged on geometric shapes of overlapping gory colour. Then I covered the lot with a completely new and untested white glaze. The piece came out, toasted, rich, deep, foaming, its contours organically hinted at here and there by specks of half hidden colour. And it is ever thus; whenever I make something unplanned and really allow myself to engage freely with the piece, respond to it and listen to its voice, I get a really good result — one that I like, anyway. Your twice-weekly letter is just as encouraging and enlightening to me as if I were a painter and not a fire demon. There are 3 comments for Confessions of a fire demon by Olinda Everett
From: Sheila Minifie — May 03, 2011

I love your solution. As you probably already know, the Japanese Wasabi aesthetic loves the imperfection of things – as in a crack.

From: Debra Ward — May 03, 2011

Sheila, I had a chuckle with the wasabi comment. The theory of imperfection’s beauty is called Wabi Sabi. Although a theory around wasabi may work too…hot and lingering?

From: Liz Reday — May 03, 2011
  Loss of a close friend by John Ferrie, Vancouver, BC, Canada  

acrylic painting
by John Ferrie

For the last decade, I had a wonderful friend and mentor named Lorne. Lorne was a lovely man who loved music and art and drove around in this ridiculous scooter. He spent half the year in Vancouver and wintered the other half in glorious Puerto Vallarta. We visited him last February and I asked him if he was happy there. I thought he might be getting bored living in a remote fishing village in the middle of Mexico. He said he loved it there and was “living in his Oasis.” Lorne had a wonderful way of descrambling my life. He would say, “Just give me the bullets John” as I was trying to explain my current emotional and important colossal art hurdle. He would have me detangled and up and running in minutes with a new direction and full wind in my sails. Sadly, the day after we left him in PV, this sweet, gentle man passed away. They said they found him in his chair, with his glasses still on and was watching TV. We had dinner with him the night before he died. We laughed and giggled like school chums and the last thing he said to me was he would see me back in Vancouver at my exhibition in April. He was scheduled to speak at my show. I had a flurry of emotions the day I heard of Lorne’s passing. I was so terribly confused and the lack of information the Mexican coroner was giving, only increased my disbelief. There were a million phone calls and dozens of messages left on his face book page. There was a memorial a few days later; I just stood there and was very, very sad. The week before Lorne passed away, he found this hideous ornate chair on the side of the road. I asked him what on earth he was going to do with this rotting piece of furniture. With that, Lorne’s eyes danced with excitement as he went on about how he was going to write his various hopes and dreams, aspirations and prayers all over the chair. Then, he was going to torch the chair and take the charred frame, shellac the frame and put red leather cushioning on it and make it his office chair. Two days later, we were in a remote field as he was madly scribbling all over the chair and then we doused it in gasoline. The flames must have been five feet high and the whole thing was a bit terrifying. Lorne was madly photographing it and giggling with glee. The chair project was never finished. But I wanted to somehow pay tribute to my friend and highly influential mentor. I painted a painting of this chair, blazed in Flames and it became the most unusual and highly spoken of painting in my recent collection. I wish sometimes I could say the perfect thing to sooth peoples’ emotions. I wish I could cry on cue at a funeral or memorial. And I wish that the most special people in my life could live on forever. One thing I know I can do is paint my tears, paint my emotions and paint a tribute to the very special and wonderful people who have touched my life and will continue to influence the man I am today. There are 3 comments for Loss of a close friend by John Ferrie
From: Sheila Minifie — May 03, 2011

How very beautiful, his spirit, his chair and your desire to tribute him with your painting.

From: M.A. Jorden — May 03, 2011

A fine tribute indeed John and different from much of your other work. Your friend would be proud.

From: Jan — May 03, 2011

Please accept my condolences on the sudden loss of your dear friend. Your honoring him, and his curious chair, is truly a tribute and celebration of his joy in creating, and the fun he had the day he discovered his last creation.


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Painting as tribute

From: cassandra — Apr 28, 2011

Spring is spring, the taxes riz

I wonder where my refund is?
From: Marvin Humphrey, Napa Valley — Apr 28, 2011

Painting is a profitable addiction. I’m obsessed about doing it, and it helps pay the mortgage.

From: Sandy Sandy — Apr 29, 2011

Well done and inspiring video Bob! I love when you get poetic.

From: Margot Garwood — Apr 29, 2011

The Beauty of nature evokes and calls us to the Divine. This is the purpose, the Truibute, I offer through creating art.

From: Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki — Apr 29, 2011

You are so right to glorify the gerbil and other gerbil-like creatures. They carried our DNA, with its mammalian (an artsy) part, through the dinosaur cataclysm, hiding in their underground studios. Isn’t that amazing? When that meteor struck Yucatan, if the only mammals in existence were non-gerbilian artists, the promise of humankind would have been washed away from the planet and the creatures of today would be digging out curled skeletons still gripping gallery door knobs.

From: Madeleine Wood — Apr 29, 2011

The video clip was a much needed gift for me this morning, as I go out to train for census. The sensitive balance of sound and visuals arrest me. Words, images and music well woven to open the mind.

From: Dave Chapman — Apr 29, 2011

Thank you very much for this letter and the video “Painting as tribute”. It really struck home with me. Not sure what else to say but it would be remiss of me not to thank you. Almost makes me want to get a gerbil.

From: Dar Van de Voort — Apr 29, 2011

I always use the term, “portrait worthy”, even if it’s a barn.

From: Andrea Pratt — Apr 29, 2011

Great little clip. Do more! I want to see your own channel on YouTube.

From: David Westerfield — Apr 29, 2011

I too, have had in-mind the idea of “tribute” when painting. A tribute to God for the world he provided. It is easy though, to feel in-adequate. With the gifts we have as artists we need to point out the beauty we see to others who may not have noticed.

J.S. Bach made his music as a tribute. He signed each piece “Soli Deo Gloria”, to the Glory of God alone.
From: Barbara Boldt — Apr 29, 2011
From: Claudia Roulier — Apr 29, 2011

I do the story line all the time have since I was a kid, I make up stories to go with my paintings and in fact we are going to dry run with that idea in our upcoming show!

From: Junardi Armstrong — Apr 29, 2011

Thanks you so much for the lovely and poignant video “Painting as Tribute”. I especially enjoyed the music and wonder if there is CD in particular that was used. Perfect choice for that venue and the video was meditative and took me back in time almost!

From: Henry Larsen — Apr 29, 2011

Spring is sprung

Da boid is on da wing, But dat’s absoid, Da wing is on da boid. (Ogden Nash I think)
From: Johan Sandstrom — Apr 29, 2011

This is a very sensitive and very nicely put together video and art of yours. Thank you for sharing

From: Susan — Apr 30, 2011

Thank you for reminding me of the purpose of my art. You are right,I feel our whole way of life should be to “God be the glory”. I want to thank John Ferrie for his letter,Iam sorry for your lost of your friend Lorne,sounds like someone I would have loved to have know. Peace Susan

From: Leonard Caspar — Apr 30, 2011

To see a world in a grain of sand,

And a heaven in a wild flower, Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, And eternity in an hour. (William Blake)
From: Isis Charest — Apr 30, 2011

I really enjoyed your “Tribute” Thank you for using your creativity to make the video!

From: Geary — May 01, 2011

Thank you Robert. I am a painter and get your “twice weekly” and have mostly agreed with your interpretation of what it means to BE an artist and what to go for in freeing oneself…(something I dearly need being accused of taking too long on details) and thank you first off for that. But, this piece here is your best work to “educate” us to the true heart of what it means to follow in this journey as an artist. Thank you much.

From: Andrew Bloore — May 01, 2011

Yes, there is always stuff to distract us from what art is all about. And yes, this painting thing is a high calling.

From: D. K. Gold — May 01, 2011
From: Fredericks — May 02, 2011

Joan decided to die at home. I received a call from her husband, one day, asking if I would drop in for a visit. We sat in the living room where her hospital bed was positioned by the window which looked out over her garden. After an hour or so of coffee and conversation she nodded to her husband. He rose, and left the room and returned with 2 large cardboard boxes.

“These are for you.” she said. I looked inside and discovered all of her painting supplies and materials. I gasped for I was a beginning painter. “I want you to pass on my love for the beauty of God’s earth, in your painting.” How well I understand the meaning of painting with as a tribute. Both in the Joan’s memory and as a celebration of beauty of God’s creation.
From: Marlien van Heerden — May 02, 2011

The timing for this letter in my life is just incredible!

Why do we as artists constantly punish ourselves with : what’s the use anyhow??? Thank you for your contribution. Thank you for your encouragement!
From: Lionel Moore — May 02, 2011

It is too bad that in this life we are constantly attacked by our own lesser beings–commercialism and clock watching are only two of them. Artists give glimpses of how we may rise above all impedimenta, including organized nonsense of all sorts, and truly embrace truth and beauty, and in our small ways, attempt to make it more permanent.

From: Michael Amadio — May 02, 2011

“If you work with your hands, you’re a laborer.

If you work with your hands and your mind, you’re a craftsman. If you work with your hands and your mind and your heart, you’re an artist.” (Saint Francis of Assisi)
From: Darnéy Willis — May 02, 2011

I paint large scale canvases with bold invented color – lyrical and very expressive color passages of natural images viewed so very close up only part of the external contours of the particular images are seen. I don’t use the natural details normally seen with such a view.

For many years my primary interest has been flower images, mainly from the iris flower. These images are meant to be more than visual illusions or mimics of iris flowers – they are intended to be metaphors or doorways into visual, emotional, and sometimes even spiritual journeys – into flowerscapes of peace, order, beauty, and unity. They are metaphors of the human condition, of the magnificent yet fragile nature of our humanity and our constant dependence on our Creator for inspiration, protection, nurturing, and restoration. I realize humans are capable of extremely ugly horrible cruel things also, which is worth addressing in paint as well, but that is for another time. Presently my work is a joyful celebration of living, having purpose on this earth, and bearing fruit. PS: Ode to Mowing In the middle of my yard one day I did stand As I thought to take matters into my own hands The grass was so high it tickled my thigh I decided not to yield to this product of the field And proceeded to pursue what the mower could do So I rescued my mower from its winter storage To begin the campaign to destroy this forage I noticed that the paint had turned to rust I wanted it to glisten through the gassy dust I grabbed sandpaper and spray paint too And soon filled the air with dusty blue Inspected the outside and turned to its innards Knowing it had gone through a long winter I changed its oil it wasn’t very clean Adjusted the gas to run very lean Sharpened the blade to cut very fast And I was ready to mow this jungle at last But one look at the sun so high in the sky Told me my throat would soon be dry One glance at my skin so pale and white Told me I could be in a lot of pain tonight So in the middle of my yard where I did stand Prepared to take matters in my own hands I decided over my mower not to gloat Perhaps this job was better for a goat As I returned my mower to its winter storage again I decided my mower I did not need Perhaps I was better at growing seed.
From: Maxine Wolodko — May 02, 2011

I’ve watched your video several times and each time something new jumps out at me. As I work on a painting, my mind is often occupied by the story behind the subject – thinking about what I know, and wondering about what I don’t. And of course, while my imagination is working on the story, another part of my brain is paying equal attention to how I will paint it. I believe that one informs the other. My interest in the story adds to my excitement and passion for the painting. I also love your comment about “designing your own world”. In reviewing my work of the past few years, I keep coming back to the idea that I am painting places that I want to be.

From: Anneke van der Werff — May 03, 2011
From: Peggy Kerwan — May 03, 2011

Painting As Tribute:

Almost daily I create with color-texture-energy. I believe my tribute/inspiration is to life itself. Suffering a year of ill health in my early twenties (I’ll be 60 in Sept) and witnessing family and friends surviving through multiple events of tragedy, violence, and illness (some not surviving) I appreciate how blessed my life has been ~ miss_peggy_artist
From: Laurel Alanna McBrine — May 03, 2011

Thank you for this video – I didn’t get a chance to watch it until today. I really identify with your words. It is so true that everything I paint really is a portrait, whether the subject is a person, a dog, a piece of fruit or a pile of rocks. I pay tribute because of something that catches my eye, usually color or light, and I have an irresistible urge to capture that effect for posterity.

From: Brenda Wilson — May 03, 2011

A perfect morning meditation. Loved the music, the setting, the history, the philosophy and, of course, the painting.

Thank you
From: Lena Groves — May 03, 2011

But a bit too much wasabi in the wabi sabi

From: nancy holloway — May 03, 2011

I keep this quote from Saul Bellow in my studio as expressing, in part, my view of art and one reason I paint: “I feel that art has something to do with the achievement of stillness in the midst of chaos. A stillness which characterizes prayer, too, and the eye of the storm. I think art has something to do with an arrest of attention in the midst of distraction.”

From: Anon — May 03, 2011

Your letters are a gift in my life. I can communicate with new people, learn of new places, new words, (which I look up and then use in my own vocabulary). You, Robert, open so many doors for me. Thank you.

From: Rick Rotante — May 05, 2011

Shouldn’t every work we do be a tribute? I’ve done works of those who have passed and in so doing paid tribute to them. The act of painting alone is a tribute. We honor the intended subject and hope to capture its significance. Any subject we paint will hopefully honor it or at the very least raise it up for others to see and appreciate. Art itself is a dedication of expression of an ideal. A homage to traditions and those who have come before. Even in a commercial environment, the work needs to done with excellence and deliberation; otherwise it becomes an indictment, a denunciation of all that is good with art. As many do, I believe art is sacred and those who practice it should be aware of all that has come before and appreciate the entitlement that is given to anyone privileged to be in such company.

From: Durinda Procop — May 06, 2011

My tributes are invariably to place. I am dragged kicking and screaming to put folk into the scene. I’m not sure what that means.

From: Judy Grewe — May 06, 2011

I got a call from a young lady who saw one of my paintings in a popular restaurant that holds a gallery for our local watercolor society…..she wanted to buy a painting I was showing called “Cuban Fantasy”. I wasn’t showing anything this quarter as there were too many other show and projects going on….so I called her back to let her know she perhaps had the wrong artist or perhaps as in the art world…my name had ended up on someone’s work. I called, her mother answered and she described a heart floating in the stars called “Cupid’s Galaxy” that was indeed mine from the previous show. Then she went on to tell me her young son, Ryan, who was the middle child, had died in November of an autoimmune disease and since he painted too, my picture would complete Ryan’s Wall of his sweet and tender works. The family was hoping to buy and give it to the mother for Mother’s Day. It really wasn’t for sale because it was the original work that was used for St Luke’s Heart Center Christmas Card many years ago which I created when I worked in the Center….I had pulled it out to show at the last minute because the theme of the show was” Love “. I was so touched by her story. Then she told me her name is Amy. My oldest daughter is Amy. Then she went on to tell me that Ryan was surrounded by Amy’s (love) and at the rehabilitation center he had an OT named Amy that had been so supportive…which turned out to be my bosses girlfriend, Amy. With so much love and karma going on I had to give the painting….which is why I am the starving artist. But I so love these things and why I paint to bring smiles and love. I always have my day job….but everyone knows my passion job!

From: Gail Caduff-Nash — May 12, 2011

Absolutely true. I began painting as a way to study Nature, because nothing focuses the attention on the details like painting (or drawing) – and I felt I was honoring Nature by recreating her creations – or by emphasizing them so that other people would notice her details, too.

Since then I’ve done about 4 ‘portraits’ of deceased pets for other people that were well received, and to “honor” Jesse Helms for his great contribution to the arts, I painted for him a nude. ;)
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Late Sunshine Before Rain, St. Just

watercolor painting, 15 x 22 inches by Tom Henderson Smith, Cornwall, UK

  You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013. That includes so many people who wrote thanking Peter Segnitz and me for Painting as tribute. While the morning at the old farm was a fun experience in itself, I had no idea Peter was going to do such a sensitive job with such a high attention to detail. The video is relaxing and philosophic, but also contemporary. For me it was the first time I had two microphones sewed onto my fleecy. And also James Keith Lanier who wrote, “The grass has riz, spring has sprung. The human song must be sung.”