Love Letter to the Big Empty

End of Day in the Big empty

The painting is End of Day in the Big Empty. Some pretty amazing oil paint in this painting. The gray in the sky, the gray-blue in the mountains and the blue in the water are all the ultramarine blue made of lapis lazuli called sometimes “Lazurite.” I was afraid to start this painting but at every turn it seemed that color was offering to help me. I really love it. You can see all the fantastic things it can do.

The bright blue in the sky is cerulean blue hue by Gamblin; hue means it’s pre-mixed with white. The intense, joyous yellow in the background, where the late afternoon sun has broken through the clouds, is Indian yellow over-painted with flake white replacement. Flake white is an old, old color known also as lead white. Gamblin came up with a way to make a very close approximation without lead. I really didn’t see the differences in whites until I did the very snowy painting. I’ve discovered doing this painting why people loved lead white so much. It’s just “friendly.”

The green in the trees and the brown in the foreground are both from my collection of natural pigments — the green is Verona Earth (natural green ochre from the Lessinian hills) and the brown is Cyprus Umber (dirt from Cyprus). Toning down the Indian yellow is Iron Violet, made from water pollution, by Gamblin Oil Paints. It’s a fantastic color and has a big part in this painting. Along with toning down the Indian yellow, it’s the purple in the mountains, the sky and the water and the reeds toward the back of the pond. I hope they keep making it.



The painting is 20 x 16 inches on panel.

Painting this was more than just doing a painting. It was an incredible experience. I cried when I finished. So strange. Then this came on Mohammed’s Old click wheel iPod.



Thoughts on Painting…and Beans

I woke up this morning with two thoughts in mind. “Did it get down to below freezing last night, and, if it did, were my plant covers OK?” and “Wow, at the French Academy they actually have a book that shows what various colors ‘do’ to each other when put next to each other. That’s what art education is all about. What kind of mind would put that together? And how could anyone read it without losing their mind? And I think I’m an artist? Has the meaning of being an artist changed?”

I don’t know if it got down to freezing last night because Li Bai, Tu Fu and Li Ho are all fine this morning as are the Golden Gua attending them. The little tomatoes are fine, too. Paper sacks work well. I also made bags out of bubble wrap that worked great as well.

A few weeks ago I watched Waldemar Januszczak’s series on the Impressionists. I liked it a lot. One of the paintings (and artists) he talked about was George Seurat. When I was a young person I thought Seurat’s paintings were stupid. Just “head” paintings, no “feeling.” Then, in my late 20s on a bizarre trip to Chicago I saw Sunday Afternoon at the Grand Jatte at the Chicago Art Institute. I don’t know what Seurat was, but that painting is a force. Still, I do not know why anyone would want to paint tiny dots. This is truly an intellectual tour de force. I happen to love the painting, but I would lose my mind if I undertook such a thing, even 1 x 2 inches of that.

I woke up thinking about Januszczak’s questioning an old guy, a professor, at the French Academy about the book he was holding. It was fold-out page after fold-out page of dots. “This is where Seurat got the idea, right?”

The old guy dismissed Januszczak’s questions over and over. It was clear Januszczak was going to believe what he wanted, and the French art scholar was going to look down his nose. I felt I could read that scholar’s mind (I couldn’t), and it was thinking, “Zat is not what ze art is about, you English Pig Dog! I spit in your general direction!” Was the French professor showing disdain for Seurat or Januszczak, or was that just the guy he IS? TV documentaries don’t allow deep looks into the psyches of the people who show up for 3 minutes and vanish.

It’s true that in earlier times being an artist was a job. Public spaces were usually elaborately painted with murals. Painters’ studios bid on contracts. To get the best contracts, a studio had to have a stable of skillful painters who could be depended on to do what they were told. The skills of painting at the time — and forever — were like the skills of any profession.

Januszczak’s discussion of the Impressionists stresses their rebellion from the Academy, their determination to paint what they actually SAW. Their rebellion (as Januszczak explained it) took the shape of painting the world around them rather than the idealized and often mythological subjects that were shown at the academy exhibits — trains vs. Aphrodite . The paintings favored by the Academy were completely different from those the Impressionists were doing. Many were large, smooth, mural-paintings that might hang in public spaces. I don’t know if they reflected, confirmed or determined the taste of the time. I do know that the group of painters — Monet, Degas, et. al — the blossoming of Impressionism — changed the world’s understanding of painting forever.

I started out an art major. It didn’t last long for a couple of reasons, mostly money. My mom was supplying my pocket cash at school where I, otherwise, had a full ride. Art is an expensive major, and she didn’t want me to major in art. Also, I didn’t have any confidence. My high school art teacher really disliked ME and didn’t even look at my work. He was a GREAT teacher to a lot of my classmates, but not to me. I don’t know why. When I became a teacher myself, I took that lesson with me, realizing there would be students I didn’t like. There were very few, as it turned out.

I didn’t understand the technique part of art studies. Even now I don’t think I do. I showed a painting to a friend who has more training, and she dismissed it because the horizon cut the painting in half. That’s a “no-no” — I know that, but when I looked at the scene, at the painting, I saw the line somewhere else. For some reason, for me, the line is below the river but it is, actually, for most people just below the background trees.

I also realized I break most of my paintings in the center of the “canvas” even though I “know” better.

I wondered if I went to school if I would become a better painter. That’s when I realized I’m deeply suspicious about school. Strange for a teacher, right?

(featured photo: detail from Sunday Afternoon on the Grand Jatte by George Seurat)

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/05/26/rdp-tuesday-bloom/

Blue

Since I wrote this blog post, “How Green is Blue?” I’ve painted with REAL ultramarine blue made of lapis lazuli. I found it very very different from synthetic ultramarine which is more uniform in texture, more opaque and more intense in oil paint, anyway.

The mountains here are synthetic ultramarine; the sky cerulean blue; the shadows synthetic ultramarine tinted with white and gray
Cerulean and real ultramarine sky. The mountains and snow shadows are ultramarine blue made from Lapis Lazuli.
Blue chart from Gamblin Oil Paints, the brand I usually paint with

As for the other kind of blues? I’m feeling it today.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/05/21/ragtag-daily-prompt-thursday-the-blues/

Pocket Relics of Beauty and Human Life

Several years ago I was at the Getty Museum in LA looking at an exhibit of medieval books of hours. The raison d’être for the exhibit was the 14th century Tres Riches Heures of the Duc de Berry that had traveled from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Along with the exhibit of books was an exhibit of pigment, but I’ll refrain from another rhapsody in THAT direction. 😉

A book of hours, “…derives from the practice of reading certain prayers and devotions at the different ‘hours’ of the day.” Not a literal hour (as we think of it) as back in those days time was not measured as we measure it now, in sixty minute increments, but a space of time “…allotted either to business or religious duties.”

Books of hours that belonged to nobility — such as the Tres Riches Heures — are elaborately decorated. Others are worn, plain, well-thumbed and simple. These books are small enough for a person to put in his/her pocket; pouch hanging from a cord worn around the waist. General literacy in the Middle Ages was higher than we usually give them credit for.

In the Getty exhibit, some of the books were intact. Some were just loose pages. All of them were in glass cases. Many of the pictures depict life as it was at the time the books were painted — agricultural scenes frequently illuminate the passing seasons. The little books could give their owners a sense of order in the universe, calm and hope in the unpredictable storms of human life.

Most of the paintings are of moments in the life of Christ, important moments from scripture, the lives (and, more often, deaths) of the various saints.

One of the pictures in the exhibit — a loose page, part of the Getty’s own collection — was of a man sneezing. All the people around him looked at him in fear and were leaning away from him.

The first symptom of the plague was said to be sneezing. “Bless you!” probably accompanied by the sign of the cross, a kind of anticipatory last rites.

The 14th century was the first known epidemic of bubonic plague in Europe. Paleoarcheologists now know that there were earlier bubonic plague events, but the 14th century was unique in that Europe’s population exploded in the 13th century, and people were writing down their history.

*Books of Hours, Phaidon Press, 1996 — a beautiful small semi-replica of a book of hours that contains hundreds of pictures from various books of hours from the 13th — 16th centuries.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/03/14/rdp-saturday-calm/

The San Luis Valley and Me: the Mystery

LONG before I retired and moved back to Colorado I painted this painting:

It’s supposed to represent the phenomenon of writing about my actual Swiss ancestors before I knew anything about them, the sense I had that the whole earth is an immense grave and anywhere we go, any place we dig, we find people and stories — maybe our own people and our own stories. It’s a personal painting. I don’t show it if I hang my paintings anywhere. The figure in the painting is me. I am digging in the ground essentially for stories. The sprouts are “human beans.”

When I moved to Monte Vista several years later and hung the painting it wasn’t long before I realized that without ever having been here I had painted the landscape in which I now live, and very very accurately. Here. You can see it in these two photos my friend took last evening when we went out to see the cranes. In the first photo if you look at the silhouette of the mountains, it is what I painted. In the second, if you look at the far right facing of the sunset, it is what I painted. The mountain landscape is static; this sunset happens similarly often.

It really did happen when I wrote Savior that I wrote a novel about my family without knowing that it was my family. When a Swiss man who had read Martin of Gfen wrote me a kind of fan email and suggested I had Swiss ancestry, I finally did some patient genealogical research and found my own family, beginning in the 11th and 12th centuries, living on the exact mountain (small mountain) I had written of in my story. Their castle/fortress was as I had described it. Even their names — except for that of one character — were the same. It was so creepy, so eerie, so unbelievable that I didn’t sleep for a couple of nights.

Way too “Twilight Zone” for me.

So here I am, living in the very landscape I painted in 2012, two years before I ever saw this place.

No Where Near Being a Master

Every time I paint, I paint a masterpiece. It’s true. I am completely in love with most of my paintings as I’m painting one and right after I finish it. Then, with few exceptions, I’m not in love with it any more. Sometimes I’m on to the next one, sometimes not.

Maybe the reason I’m not a “master” is because I never got serious about painting. The pity there is that I’m not good at a lot of things and I approach the surface not knowing what’s going to happen. Maybe no artist knows what’s going to happen.

There’s a wildlife artist whose work I like very much, Greg Beecham. His work is amazing. He offers lessons — I’d like to learn some things about his technique. I’m pretty sure he uses glazes, something I’d like to try, but haven’t figured out. I watched a segment of one of his lessons and what intrigued me wasn’t him, what he was saying, or how he was painting, but how he’d literally drawn everything onto the painting surface somehow. It resembled the surface of a paint-by-number kit from back in the day.

When I approach the surface, it’s with colored pencils. Depending on the painting I’m imagining, I might have a small version in water color like this one for a BIG painting I started two years ago and that now overwhelms me. Usually I just block in main areas of color and that’s it for “drawing.”

Sometimes I draw elements of the painting and then take my painting from the drawing, but I don’t normally draw much on the painting surface. In my mind there’s a difference between a drawing and a painting. I think most artists have their ‘approach.”

I drew this painting on an envelope at a conference. There are a lot of strange things in this painting. First, I painted it in California but it is a painting of the San Luis Valley down to the contour line of the San Juans as you see them from the 160 between Monte Vista and Alamosa, pure accident. Second, it was inspired by the stranger than fiction tale of having written about my own family in Savior without knowing it at the time. When I did genealogical research later and discovered that, I realized that all I’m ever going to find as a writer is something about myself and the entire planet is an immense graveyard of bones and stories.

I integrated a quotation from Goethe as the bottom strata of the land where “I” am digging. It says: “How all in a single whole doth weave, one in the other works and lives.” This painting hangs in my living room along with another that is more mysterious, even to me.

The World is Out There

I didn’t fully understand this painting until I’d lived here for a year. I painted it in California few years before I moved. It began as a painting for my stepson and his wife, a street scene of New York I started in oils and realized it would be better as a watercolor. Quite a distance from one to the other…

My paintings — for me — fall into two categories. Personal paintings and landscapes. Only one landscape has crossed the line a little bit.

I don’t have — for myself — an identity as an artist. It would take more painting for me to figure that out. Mostly I experiment and play.

In school, I got encouragement from some teachers and outright discouragement from others. Over the course of my life, what this gave me was freedom. I didn’t even try to make a living as an artist. I didn’t believe I could, I understood the competition and the difficulty, and art went into the “garage,” the “shed,” and now the back room. It’s good that it did. Most of us are not going to be “great artists.” I’ve had some work hang in juried shows and sold most of my bigger paintings which is good because they take up space, but I think the best I can do is enjoy painting.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/02/02/rdp-sunday-masterpiece/

Natural Pigments #5

All my paintings kind of look the same because winter in the Rio Grande Riparian Zone looks pretty much the same everywhere. Today I decided to try painting all in one “swoop” and learned from my friend, Rita Cirillo, painting that way is called Alla Prima. Basically, painting wet into wet. I’m not an artist that mixes a lot of colors and with the natural pigments that hasn’t worked really well since the colors are all, essentially, dirt. They mix all-right with each other and with white, but they are also what they are, no matter what.

This little painting is the work of an afternoon, basically two hours.

I think I’m finished for a while. There is nothing new happening in the paintings now, but who knows.

Fellini…

I love Federico Fellini’s films. I think if I’d had the opportunity to know him, I might have liked him, too. I first learned of him — his films — when I was a little kid and a then-scandalous “foreign” (OH MY GOD!) film came out. My parents went to see La Dolce Vita. My brother and I had a babysitter that night. All I remember hearing about it the next day was, “I don’t like subtitles.”

I watched Nights of Cabiria in a college film class. Afterward, my teacher explained what Fellini was doing. I listened without being convinced. It’s an incredibly dark film made before Fellini broke from the post-war vision of most Italian directors.

The next Fellini film I heard about was Satyricon. There was a big article about it in Life Magazine that sparked my curiosity. I was in college, and Satyricon was at the Denver art theater, the Flick. A guy from the Colorado School of Mines was trying to date me. He picked me up at the dorm, took me to the theater, and expected me to pay half. THAT wasn’t my idea of a date at all. We didn’t see the movie and I never saw him again.

Eight years later my best friend, her boyfriend and I went to see City of Women at Denver’s Vogue (vague) Theater. It was hilarious, and it beat out all previous films in my experience for quantities of phallus images (to be fair also images of birth canals). As we were leaving the theater, we looked in the window of the nearby Mexican restaurant at all the cocktuses and laughed.

Somewhere in there I had decided that God had abdicated responsibility for guiding my fate and had subcontracted to Federico Fellini. I’d told my friend this one night over dinner. She just laughed at me until one of the songs in City of Women was this disco hit by Gino Soccio that she’d heard ONLY at my house. It convinced her. 😀

Fellini’s semi-autobiographical film about failure, the artistic vision vs. investors, monogamy vs. human nature, the constant pulls on the human heart and the artist’s imagination was my best friend for a long time. Whenever I felt discouraged about teaching, writing, love, life, money, identity, I watched 8 1/2.

In 2004, in the midst of my Felliniesque life, I even gave a paper at a professional conference. The topic was “The Image of the Hero.” My mind went right to Fellini’s corpus. I named the hero of Fellini’s films “Old Half Head,” the nickname given to a statue of Julius Caesar standing in the town square of the movie version of Fellini’s home town, Rimini, in the film Roma. Half of Caesar’s head has broken off. I saw this image over and over and over in Fellini’s films, and over time, realized that it represents what an artist does to himself when he/she gives up, gives in, loses faith. The “Fellini hero”, in many films, “half-heads” “himself.”

The protagonist of La Dolce Vita half-heads himself in the very last scene of the movie. As construction proceeds in a subway in Roma, a Roman villa is discovered and there is a floor mosaic of Fellini with part of his head broken away. In 8 1/2 the hero, Guido, stops short of half-heading himself with a pistol. The half-head is what happens when an artist loses faith. There is also “half-heading” in I Vitelloni, Intervista, and the unfinished Voyage of G. Mastorna.

I haven’t yet lost faith in the journey, even though it often seems dark and desperate. The important thing of man today is to hang on, not to let his head droop but to keep looking up through the tunnel, perhaps even inventing a way of salvation through fantasy or will-power, and especially through faith. For this reason, I think the work of artists is really important today. Fellini on Fellini

P.S. I just learned that yesterday Fellini would have been 100 years old. ❤

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/01/21/rdp-tuesday-movie/

Rio Grande in January (Natural Pigments Day #4)

I don’t know if it’s finished. It will depend what the colors do as the paint dries.

When I paint, I tend to bring bring what I love closer to me in the painting and make the things I love larger than in real life or laws of perspective allow. When I began this, the mountain was immense, something you’d see in the Cascades, maybe.

And when I finished the painting I saw I’d brought the river closer to the shore than it actually is in real life. Two things I love most here are the mountains and my river. I dealt with the mountain today, but did not move the river. Just imagine I took a few more steps… ❤

Paintbrush…

I’ve had this paintbrush since the late 1970s. It’s my main brush. I’m using it on the painting I’m working on now. It’s about an inch wide and has a short handle which is useful when I’m not using an easel.

It has a history. It did the watercolors for the YWCA in 1978 — in fact, the YWCA bought it for me when I was their artist and I was paid in art supplies. 🙂 It did most of the paintings for my one-woman show back in 1981.

It painted all the “funnyture” back in the ’90s as well as some landscapes when I was painting in acrylics. Sometime in there my brother, who was also an artist and had taught art, grabbed the brush and gave me a big lecture on brush care. Among other things, he trimmed it to a very useful shape so this absolutely GREAT brush got even better and more useful.

I have a LOT of brushes. It’s a beautiful bouquet. But this morning when I started to paint the details I reached for the oldest brush I own.

Many of these brushes have a story. Some I bought, but most were left to me by an artist friend who’s dead and others a gift from an artist friend who’s lost his sight to macular degeneration. My friend who died? She was once my boss at a language school. She retired, and there was a big retirement party for her. We all chipped in to buy her gifts. The main gifts were paint and brushes. I felt a stab of envy seeing her new, beautiful brushes. I wished I had them — at the time I had two brushes — the one in the featured photo and a 1/2 inch brush of a similar type. I also had no money to buy more. I wished I had the time to paint. I wished a lot of things hard-working people who struggle to make ends meet wish. I hated myself for my feelings, but I shrugged them off as human nature.

They’ve been well used. Both Sally and Michael were productive painters. Some brushes are worn and brittle, carrying their painting history in their broken bristles. And, every painter has his or her own way of approaching the surface. Sally’s was different from mine though I wouldn’t say that our styles are completely different. I have yet to use one of Sally’s brushes, but maybe this time. My blind friend has a very different style from mine and has trimmed his brushes pretty drastically to do what he wanted them to do. I love them, too.

The basic differences between brushes are what the bristles are made of and the shapes of the brushes. I tend to use soft brushes with sharp ends, basically brights and flats (sounds like music!). Sally used filberts and rounds.

Not my brushes…
“A Basic Oil Painting Brush Kit, from left to right: bright bristle, filbert bristle, small and large flat bristles, an old bright bristle cut into with scissors (for making loose ragged brushstrokes), Winsor & Newton Sceptre Gold II round, assortment of Winsor & Newton Monarch brights, flats and filberts; and a fan bristle. Article contributions from Cherie Haas

There’s a lot out there instructing us how to use brushes and it’s probably good, but I think the best lesson is one’s own hand, the surface, the paint and the effect we are searching for. I’m very far from God’s gift to painting, and the ONE great bit of teaching I got in my life for the use of brushes is to use the biggest one you can. Then, somewhere down the road, you might need to put in small things with a small brush, but wait. Do what you can with the biggest brush you can.

Work in progress...