Monday, September 19, 2011

My Abstract Past

For Inna, 2011, acrylic on canvas, 30 x 30 inches
I have been contemplating on going back to working abstractly. From time to time I come across beautiful gestural paintings and it makes me reminisce of my short abstract period. This painting is the outcome of a commission done for a boutique opening in the lower east side of Manhattan. In this painting my influences of Rothko and Frankenthaler scream loudly, and I hope it doesn't look like a terrible knock off. I respect both painters greatly because of their use of color, light, atmospheric effects, and because of their landscape qualities. Let's hope MISSiNNA likes having this piece hanging on their wall amongst designer clothes.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Inspired By John Henry Twachtman

John Henry Twachtman, Connecticut Landscape, ca. 1889-91, pastel on paper, 16 3/4 x 20 3/4 inches, Private Collection
When you least expect it changes happen, at times they are the kind that you may not have hoped for, and at times they are the kind that you needed to make you look at life with a better, positive outlook. Changes in how we approach art happen just the same, and we have the choice to go with it or resist it. Out of fear of change, artists stick to one specific medium, size, color, format, the list goes on and on; although knowing what works best for you, it isn't always good to remain closed to other possibilities. This has been my case. For many years painting has been my only focus, other ways of producing art were brushed off (no pun intended) because "I am a painter!" I realize now how silly of me.
John Henry Twachtman, House and Tree, undated, pastel on paper, 10 x 10 inches, The Phillips Collection, Washington D.C.
At the plein air competition I took part of a week ago I was re-introduced to pastels. Artist Janet A Cook worked a few feet away from me in oils and pastel and I got to thinking about why I haven't given pastel a chance since 1998. That was the seed that was planted in my brain, and it took a book of John Henry Twachtman's art to make it blossom. In this book, I saw some of his pastel drawings done on site and I was blown away by their beauty.
John Henry Twachtman, The Ledges, ca. 1889-91, pastel on pumice board, 8 3/4 x 13 inches, Spanierman Gallery, LLC, New York
Connecticut Landscape and Spring Landscape made me realize that the effects I love in painting can also be achieved with pastel. I love a light red ground coming through the layers of paint, and Twachtman's pastel drawings made use of that technique with toned paper. I had limited myself by thinking that pastel, a form of drawing, has to be done on paper which by general standard is white. I have been aware of toned paper for years but for some strange reason it didn't click with me that I could used it for pastel and plein air.
John Henry Twachtman, Spring Landscape, ca. 1889-91, pastel on paper, 12 x 20 inches, Huntington Museum of Art, West Virginia
I remember doing some pastel work when I was 17, and what I can recall pastel was messy, and in a way hard to control. I am thinking now that maybe I was the problem and that I didn't have control of my hand and my technique. Through Twachtman's pastels I was able to see that I could also get the painterly aesthetic I enjoy so much about plein air painting. The medium does lend itself to broad and delicate applications, I just needed to be better educated. Now the blind fold has been stripped away and I'm looking to the future with excitement about the new explorations I will do with pastels. This has come at a good time since my plein air easel broke just after the competition. Carrying with me small pieces of paper and pastels to the park, I know, will be easier and I'm even thinking that the working time will also be shorter, allowing me to get more done in one day.
John Henry Twachtman, Three Trees, ca. 1888-95, pastel on paper, 14 x 18 inches, Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York
I haven't researched much on Twachtman, coming across his book this week introduced me to his art and so far I am loving it. This has also reiterated the fact that I love Impressionist landscapes, and how my use of color and brushwork keeps getting closer to the way Twatchtman, William Merritt Chase, and other Impressionists worked. It was actually a treat to find out that Chase used to paint in Central Park, and it was very interesting to see how some of the places I'm familiar with looked in the 1800's.
Berthe Morisot, A Village (A Village of Maurecourt), pastel on paper, 18 1/2 x 28 1/4 inches, Private Collection, New York
In my search for Twachtman's pastels, I came across this beautiful pastel landscape by Berthe Morisot. There is no denying I love color and loose applications, just like her.
After so much inspiration I have started applying acrylic ground for pastels on 4 ply museum boards. I have cut down large sheets into small manageable sizes that can fit in my messenger bag so that I don't have to carry other unnecessary bulk. Things happen for a reason, and this new interest will be a great solution to traveling with paint. I am heading to Madrid in a week and I would love to get some plein air work done there, but I was skeptical about carrying oil painting supplies. With a few prepared light weight boards and a small selection of pastels traveling light is feasible.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Paintings from Sagamore Hill

Cold Spring Harbor, Sagamore Hill, 2011, oil on linen, 9 x 12 inches
Here are the paintings I completed at the Sagamore Hill Plein Air Competition, I haven't done this much painting in two days ever, but as you can see I had fun and was able to experiment with different styles of painting.
Cow Pasture, Sagamore Hill, 2011, oil on linen, 11 x 8 inches

Field at Sagamore Hill, 2011, oil on linen, 9 x 11 inches

Sagamore Hill, Afternoon, 2011, oil on linen, 9 x 12 inches

Palette & Place: A Plein Air Exhibiton at the Koening Center (Oyster Bay Historical Society, 20 Summit Street, Oyster Bay, NY) will be on through October 4. Come and see the work of the talented chosen thirty five plein air artists.

Sagamore Hill Plein Air Competition

This past weekend I took part of a plein air competition coordinated by the Teaching Studios of Art. The location was Sagamore Hill, Teddy Roosevelt's "Summer White House", located in Oyster Bay, Long Island. Thirty five chosen artists descended on the grounds on Friday morning for an intense two day painting experience that culminated in an exhibition and award ceremony.
This 83 acre estate offered a variety of subjects for the artists to paint; wooded areas, fields, a nature path, a creek, and a beach. Mr. Roosevelt had it made in this fine little piece of land of his!
After getting our canvases and panels stamped, without missing a beat, we all got to work, the quicker you walked to your destination the better the chance of getting a good spot. After all this was a competition and $1000 were on the line...you better paint, paint it good, and choose a good spot!
Going into the competition I was very relaxed, after all I have spent most of the summer getting ready for this, but after seeing all the artists come out of their cars with their painting gear reality set in and I became nervous.
I headed straight towards the beach, I knew that I might find a good scene to paint there, and I was right, everywhere I turned I saw a painting in the making. It was hard to settle on one spot, and at the same time I didn't want to be too close to other artists out of fear that I would get distracted.
Little did I know that half of the artists wanted to paint at the beach. Talk about important real estate!
After walking down the bridge connecting the beach to the nature trail I saw these trees gracefully moving upwards. I wanted to paint them, and I also wanted to paint part of the beach.
I found a spot I thought might work for me, little did I know I was going to spend most of the day working on that one little painting. I'm stitll not sure how I feel about what I painted that day, I had something else in mind and not achieving that, kind of bummed me out. Different variables came into play for my lac of focus, the sun was intense and there was no hiding from it; I have the farmer's tan to prove it! Intimidation got the best out of me, but that night I relaxed a bit more and forced myself to do better the next day.
We were allowed to stay on the grounds until sundown, and everywhere you walked artists were busy at work capturing the magic of the Long Island sunset.

For more images of the event click here and here.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

A Scary Start!

Last week I started work on this new painting, a large landscape of a path through a wooded area. The way I begun this painting is a little different, I usually tone the canvas with burnt sienna and make a quick sketch using the same color and a little burnt umber for the darks. This time I'm using color triads, a process used by Tad Spurgeon. I've been a fan of his work for quite some time and going through his website can be such an educational experience. On the image above I started mapping out the composition in a loose manner using the first color triad, made up of burnt sienna, alizarin crimson, and ultramarine blue. Following Tad's technique I started a rough sketch with burnt sienna. After capturing the overall feeling of the landscape, alizarin crimson was added to the composition, defining areas a little better. Then comes ultramarine, which starts to define the painting's lights and darks.
Over the first pass using the first triad, the second triad gets added on top. This new color harmony is made up of manganese blue, yellow ochre, and gold ochre. I didn't realize until a week ago that manganese blue and yellow ochre can make such a beautiful green! I started mixing on the palette more than I should, I believe the lesson in this technique is placing pure colors next to each other on the painting surface and letting them mix there or play optical illusions of mixed colors.
Here's a closer look of both triads at play. When I was done with the first pass I became scared that I had ruined a perfectly good canvas. It was bright red, and although I knew that the red tones would come through the greens on top making a beautiful color harmony in the end, I still could not help to think that this was looking more like a Fauvist painting. Once I laid over some green I could see that nice red tone coming through. I have spent more time working on this painting, and although I admire and respect Mr Spurgeon's knowledge and work, I went back to my usual color palette and technique. So far this painting is coming out nicely, I'll have more images on the progress in the coming weeks.