werkshop

works in progress

Sunday, October 19, 2014

cartouche

Antique (particularly 17th century) Dutch silver has been very influential for me.  In particular I love the way the dutch silver masters treat cartouches ...


The dutch masters loved to abstract a device, the cartouche, which itself is (as I see it) an abstraction from that central heraldric device, the shield...
I love too what Gaudi, apparently taking off where the dutch masters left off, did with cartouches ...



Then again, Gaudi may have been more influenced by the artists and architects of the Bavarian Rococco (who were  probably themselves  influenced by 17th century dutch silver masters) ...
So here is my version...




Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Hermes

Bearer of messages...
rosy and blue thoughts...



Saturday, October 11, 2014

Traditionalist

My determination to become an artist was really formed in my grandfather's sculpture studio when I was six.
1880's?
the studio then and now

Working in that old studio, dark and claustrophobically crammed with old plaster casts, I was looking backwards at a tradition that itself, as a neogothic style,  was looking back to older traditions.  I felt lots of live roots there though.

  Soon after,  I read Robert Henri's book about being an artist.  He said that  becoming an artist - particularly a painter - wasn't something you did just because you thought it would be fun.  If you committed to that career, it had to be because you  felt you had to do it.
 
Henri

Henri's dictum made a lot of sense to me.   I soon found my Dad's old college art history textbook and spent hours poring over the pictures.  That was a world that made a lot of sense to me.  Soon I was taking classes at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, drawing classical and Egyptian sculptures, spending as much time there as I could.  Being at the Boston MFA was like being able to step physically into the world of my Dad's art history textbook.  Some of the pictures in the book I could actually see there, and they were even better in person.  
Copley


It was as clear to me as it can be at that age that I wanted to become an artist like my grandfather, but it was also clear to me that it wouldn't be simple  My grandfather's studio was a crumbling shambles.  My dad's old textbook seemed abandoned and dusty.   Even at the Boston MFA, a place that was by no means cutting edge when it came to new art, it was pretty clear that the future might not be  interested the art traditions that attracted me.   

An early painting effort ...
... always I was interested in social realism, in part because my father was a sociologist by training and interest, and no doubt in part because social realism was a strong Boston painting tradition (Boston Expressionism).  Here is an example of Boston Expressionism ...

Jack Levine

According to legend, German Expressionist painter Oscar Kokoschka had inspired young Jack Levine and his friend Hyman Bloom and others to become expressionists during Kokoschka's visit to Boston in the late forties, and this in turn gave rise to the Boston Expressionist school.  \

I started taking as many classes as I could at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and there I fell under the spell of legendary art teacher, Ralph Rosenthal.  Rosenthal, who had taught Bloom and Levine, became a second father to me, and the Boston MFA became a second home.  Rosenthal had also taught Boston Expressionist Benard Chaet, who became a mentor in college.  


I came to feel a similar relationship to 'Boston Expressionism' that I felt to my family tradition and to the 'old masters' tradition - connected but distanced too.  All these background influences were important to me and have become more important over the years.  I hope to show that they are still relevant.  I think this can be done without turning one's back on the many ways the art world has changed.  I don't run screaming anytime I go into an art museum and gallery and see an installation piece or some 'new media', or whatever.  I mostly don't particularly practice such art forms, but they influence me.





Monday, October 6, 2014

Lovers

Several of the paintings in my show Human Touch have something to do with pairs of figures who seem to be either close friends or lovers...
This is a theme that interests me a lot - I suppose a relationship between two is the most basic social unit.  This painting reminds me of one of my favorite Rembrandts, The Jewish Bride...
There is tenderness, but there is also uncertainty.  

Another painting of a couple, perhaps two friends in conversation, or the older self talking with the younger self?:

Although I only thought of it recently, I think this Kokoschka at the Boston MFA was part of the inspiration for that painting...
It's so much fun to figure out some of the things that have influenced one's work that one wasn't even thinking about.  It's like detective work in one's own mind.  Here is another Kokoschka I often think of ...
Here is my painting that I think is partially inspired by it...

I think these paired figures are going to be a central motif for my next show.  I am fascinated by the theme of two people trying to communicate with each other, reach each other, touch each other.  Kokoschka has always touched me a lot when he addresses that theme - two figures who seem so close but also so far.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Birth of a Man

This painting has been one of my most perplexing...
I've been working on it for about 20 years.  It's always had something to do with the temptations involved in living life in a body, I think.  I've never been sure if I was painting about virtue or vice though.  It seems to be about both.

When searching for images of allegorical figures of virtues and vices in medieval art, which I think were among the things I had at the back of my mind as I worked on this painting, I found this painting Dance of Death...
The figures in this painting reminded me of the odd little dance my figure is doing, in a state that seems to be somewhere between life and death.

Here is a detail of an earlier state of the painting (it's always interesting for me to look  at earlier states of my own paintings, since my paintings usually develop over long periods of time and go through many phases), which I think gives the impression of someone straining both with and against their sensual and physical nature, much the way some of Michelangelo's characters seemed to do...

Seeing my picture (older version) as a whole puts the story of the individual's struggle and relationship with the sensuality of his body and physical existsence in the larger social context of duty;  the man is, I feel,  protectively walking with a child, likely his son ...
The child is reaching out, starting his own journey, reaching out with/towards his own aspirations, perhaps striving to his elder behind, as the young ultimately do.  The man seems rooted, while the child seems ready to burst forward.



In it's current form ...


I think that my painting is partially inspired  by  Andrea Castagno's painting of David  ...
I did not really think of the connection until after I had gone a long way with my painting, but it seems obvious to me now.  I think  that the Castagno painting is turned upside down in my painting in some ways.  The dark, cloud-scudded sky in Castagno becomes a dark water with rivulets in my painting (hard to see the rivulets in my photo though, the little whitecaps) and where Castagno's David is triumphant and sure of himself, my character seems doubtful and a bit lost, 'at sea'.

As I continued to work on my painting, I thought of Birth of Venus by Botticelli ...
That is what inspired me to add the shell at the bottom.  The pink bird was there already and made me think of the nymph who is flying in from the right hand side of Botticelli's painting, with a pink cloak to cover her nudity.  What is so interesting about Botticelli's Venus is that she seems to be a young woman who might be coming into the full glory of her sexuality, but this seems to be connected with becoming very self-conscious about her body, and even ashamed.  I feel that that is part of what is going on with my young (or not so young) man.  He is not  'perfect' the way that Botticelli's Venus is.  He seems quite ordinary.  But my sense of him is that he is sensing his own beauty and feeling bodily shame at the same time.  Perhaps the body begins to feel like a shell that carries the soul, or the spirit, sometimes comfortably and sometimes uncomfortably.   Perhaps if one balances passion with good sense, one can keep one's balance, but one might be pitched overboard if one gets carried away, or if the seas become too rough.

As always, I'm not quite sure what my painting is about, but these are some thoughts I have about how it has developed...


Monday, September 15, 2014

A Windy Day

This next painting for my Human Touch show (showing at The Venue, in Bloomington, Indiana during October) is a little bit different.  It was inspired by memories of one of my favorite childrens' books from when I was a kid, The Snowy Day...
For some reason I remembered the story as having something to do with red boots, but it's really more  about a kid enjoying his new red snow suit, a day off from normal activities and a fresh layer of winter snow.   I've ended up making a series of paintings based on childhood memories of this book, featuring a youngster playing in the rain in yellow boots. A touch of Wind in the Willows entered into this series too...
My series of paintings incorporates a personal symbol that has been especially  important to me;  a 'skyhook'.
The little creature in my series of paintings is  using a skyhook to shake free raindrops from the sky on a windy rainy day, or perhaps hopes to go on a windy ride.  I was thinking about my own childhood, of course.  I loved to go outside when it rained, playing all kinds of imaginary games with just the breezes as my friends.  

The name 'skyhook' comes from the title of my great great uncle's autobiography ...
My forbear John Kane was a house painter in and around Pittsburgh who became a noted ('primitive') easel painter.  'Skyhooks' were used, at the time,  to hold suspended scaffolds for painting work on tall buildings.  The 'skyhooks' I draw and paint represent, perhaps,  the way thoughts and feelings reach out towards things.  They create links between us and the world around us.

This is my favorite painting by John Kane ...
The arches on the top remind me of the arch of the sky.  I think that must be part of what John Kane was thinking about when he painted them in.  I also like Kane's landscapes  and in them you can really see how important the arch of the sky was to him...
This is the most recent version of my design, the one that I think will be in my Human Touch show...

I wanted this character to look like he was about to fly away, having snagged a bit of windy sky with his sky hook - something like a kite.  I hoped to express something of the fear and wonder I felt as a child on windy, rainy days (and still do).  I often felt as though a thought could get swept up in the wind and whirl me away.

While I was searching for The Snowy Day, I found a delightful children's book picture of  a windy day ...

I think that what I loved the most about The Snowy Day was the simplicity of it.  A boy plays in the snow.  You couldn't have a simpler story.  I aspire to that in my work.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Prodigals

I'm never quite sure what my paintings are about, but I usually know what the starting point was for a painting.  My idea for the painting I am discussing here, "Prodigals", was that it would be a version  traditional paintings from the story  of the return of the 'prodigal son'.  I think of the story of the prodigal son as a story that the medieval era was particularly fond of...
This is a particularly touching, and very early (1200s?), portrayal of the return of the prodigal son from St. Denis, which I think is one of the churches most responsible for popularizing the story.  You can see that the prodigal son, who has squandered his inheritance,  is surprised by the warmth of his father's welcome home.

 Perhaps more typical is this also touching, but more hierarchical version painted by Rembrandt centuries later...

Rembrandt's onlookers seem to scoff at such a scene of tenderness between a father and a son, and at such forgiveness, as if that in itself was a terrible scandal.

What I wanted to do in my painting was to show rapprochement between a father and son (or between a mentor and mentee, perhaps, or really, between any two people) as a mutual event.  I believe that this is how rapprochement is in life when it is real and lasting;  two people must both consider their faults, acknowledge mistakes, etc..   This is true, I think, regardless of age and relationship.

Here is an early 20th version of the prodigal son's return  from the stained glass of a New York church, a church that has a rather amazing cycle of stained glass.  The slatey blues and the glowing purples are very striking...
My painting, like much most stained glass, features a lot of blue, and what could be interpreted as fanciful leading. This lattice work,  or leading-like, part of my painting owes some of its inspiration to the work of my forbears, who did artwork (altars and such) for churches in Germany from the 1860s until recently...
As gothic revival artists (and really, trailblazers), they did a lot with filligree.
Clearly, amidst the late 19th century mania for decorative detail, my forbears were not taking a back seat to anyone.  I guess something about the idea of a painting on the subject of inter-generational rapprochement encouraged me to pick up on this family trait, this love for intricate tracery, with an eye towards understanding its possible meaning.  It seems so rich, but signifying what?  Perhaps signifying the flow of energy in relationships?  Here is an earlier state of my "Prodigals" painting...
Here is a  different approach to a similar idea...
These two characters, both youngish,  don't seem quite sure if they are fighting, or making up, but either way, some energy connection is happening.

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