Friday, July 25, 2008

Rethinking Rothko

The Hay Field- Evening
18 x 24

I've been reading the James Breslin biography of Rothko. I am not sure why I bought it in the first place, but it prompted me to also reread some of my other books about art and artists from that era, and to rethink Rothko. I vividly remember the first day of my first college art history class in 1967 (I was 17 -yikes!). Clement Greenberg was on the reading list and I have had a serious bone to pick with him and just about everyone that followed down that path for the next 30 years. It seemed to me that everything about art that was beautiful, transcendent and lyrical died or at least went on life support during that time. You can definitely put me in "the emperor has no clothes" column when it comes to much of what is called modern or post modern art. I am fully aware this (in much of the art world's opinion) makes me tragically unhip, provincial, narrow ,etc- and I'm OK with that.

However, I also remember the first time I saw a Rothko painting in the Museum of Modern Art in about 1969. I was stopped dead in my tracks. It was big yet quiet, bold yet meditative. And the color seemed to just envelope you. Big surprise to me, I was really moved by it. So, the biography and my collateral reading put some things in context that I had not really grasped at the tender age of 17. By the time I entered college, Rothko and his crowd, had been supplanted by "the next big thing" - Pop Art- and that Pop had swept away not only abstraction, but a rebirth of representational work by artists like Fairfield Porter (also a thoughtful critic and at odds with Greenberg) , Jane Freilicher, Larry Rivers, Nell Blaine and others. So all these years I really should have been pissed at Andy Warhol instead of Jackson Pollock!!??!

But to be honest, I was always willing to grant a dispensation to Rothko. Now, from a distance of many years and seeing how my own work has developed over that time, its not so hard to see why. If Rothko himself is to be believed - and he was often contradictory or in later years, silent about his art- he thought that the purpose of art was to transcend, to transport, to access the best part of our humanity. His paintings are beautiful - full of lush, transparent color, creating indeterminate spaces (fields) that invite us in . They mirror the story of his life, our lives, the human condition-love, loss, courage in the face of despair. He wore his heart on his sleeve, or at least on his canvasses. These paintings are the very antithesis of the formalism of early abstraction or the commercial, hip, smug, snarky, or souless stuff that came next. I think Rothko is perhaps the only abstractionist who was able to make his paintings of nothing truly about something, taking them beyond the merely decorative- which is why viewers respond so strongly to them.

"I'm interested only in expressing basic human emotions—tragedy, ecstasy, doom. If you . . . are moved only by . . . color relationships, then you miss the point."
Mark Rothko

Casey Klahn over at The Colorist posted a video about Rothko's work that I think is particularly moving. Since I can't figure out how to post it here, I'll send you there to see it.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Good News!

For the last three years I have been invited to participate in the Albuquerque Museum of Art's annual Miniatures show . Each invited artist can exhibit 3 pieces that are no larger than 120 square inches each. Last year the Museum decided to add a new feature to the show and asked a small number of artists to exhibit larger scale works in addition to their smaller pieces. I am very happy to say that this year Summer Moon, 36 x 30, posted here previously, has been selected by the curators as one of the larger pieces for the 2008 exhibit. There are 92 artists included in the show and 12 of those (including me!) will exhibit larger scale works. The show opens on October 4, 2008 and runs through December 7, 2008.

I'd like to thank Linda Blondheim for her mention of me on her blog today. Like me, Linda is a native Floridian and a landscape painter. Her blog is a delightful read- chock full of great advice on just about every facet of painting and the life of an artist, as well as delicious recipes and great anecdotes.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Summer Moon

Summer Moon
36 x 30
The last week has felt a little like trying to walk fast in waist deep water. You know that feeling? You are moving but it feels like slow motion. Its part decompressing from the show, the trip home, having to deal with a bunch of stuff immediately and having a painting deadline for some larger pieces looming.

The full moon in June was just a few days before the summer solstice, which means it followed the lowest path across the sky of all full moons. That makes it appear larger to us- scientists have a number of theories about why that is, but everyone agrees its some sort of optical illusion. I'm not so sure.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Telluride Plein Air- Day 7

Today was the second day of the public sale and the last day of the event, winding up this evening with the Artists Farewell Party. Its been a long week- lots of hard work, fun and not a small amount of stress- which I think finally caught up with me today. However, I am happy to say I sold well - 6 paintings (my personal best at this show) and I also learned that perhaps I can adapt my new style and way of working to my plein air work. As always, it was a pleasure to be in the company of the many fine artists in this show. Tomorrow, I head for home bright and early.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Telluride Plein Air - Day 6-Happy 4th!

Goodnight, Telluride
16 x 16
OK, so you didn't really think I was going to paint in Telluride for a week and not paint that mountain, did you? This is an awful image- trying to photograph these while still wet and half dry etc. is just not getting it, but I hope you'll bear with me and just know this piece looks a lot better in real life!

My auction piece sold last night (and was bid up quite nicely) and today was the first day of the public sale as well as the town's big 4th of July celebration. The parade started about 11:30 and right before that - right on cue- a formation of F16s flew directly above and down Main Street, than banked away up and out of the box canyon. Very cool. Happy 4th everyone!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Telluride Plein Air - Day 5

Last Light on the San Miguel
12 x 20
The San Miguel River flows out of the San Juan Mountains through the Telluride valley and joins the Delores River 72 miles downstream. There are many pull offs along the banks as well as a river trail in Telluride itself. I painted it last year twice and knew I would want to do so again this year. Unfortunately, I was unable to get a good image of the painting- the last glaze was not dry yet and so I have glare.

Today is a busy day. We will turn in our auction piece at 10AM (I'm using this one), then the Quick Draw starts at 10:30. This is a 90 minute event along Main Street where each artist will produce a small painting which will be for sale immediately after the Quick Draw. Tonight is the Collector's Cocktail Party and Silent Auction. Each artist picks his or her favorite piece for this auction and the artists also vote for the Artists Choice award ($1000)

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Telluride Plein Air- Day 4

Fishing at Lizard Head Pass
10 x 12

Lizard Head Pass (10,222 ft.) is about 12 miles south of Telluride. The day I went there started out sunny but weather in the pass can change quickly . I was just finishing up my under painting when a storm started to roll in from the southwest. I was packing up to go when a car pulled over at the pull out where I was parked. This fisherman got out and proceeded down to the stream. I thought he provided the perfect bit of scale for this immense landscape.

Telluride Plein Air- Day 3

Morning at Leopard Creek
10 x 8

Leopard Creek is a small stream that runs north-south "down valley" as they say here in Telluride. I actually discovered it last year when I was here but never got a chance to paint it. So I headed there on the first day. The greens in the grasses are actually a bit cooler and more intense - the product of a last minute scumble with thinned cadmium green.

One of the many challenges of this week- in addition to the ones I mentioned in my last post- is integrating my "new" indirect painting method into plein air work. Plein air painting is an alla prima sport - the high wire act of painting. My strategy has been to do as many under paintings as possible the first couple of days, let everything dry, then glaze. Risky business since we have to have all our work ready by Thursday!

By the way, we are allowed to pre-sell all work so if anyone out there is interested in this piece, please contact me and I'll put you in touch with the Sheridan Opera Foundation (show sponsors) to complete the sale.