Last winter? Winter before last? I started to do little water colors of the mountains nearest my town as I’d seen them on walks with Bear. They are Windy Mountain and Pintada Mountain. “Pintada” in the archaic Spanish of the Spanish explorers and the native Spanish speakers of the San Luis Valley means “painted.” ❤
They are the eastern-most range of the San Juan Mountains, the largest range in Colorado. “My” mountains very often catch the very last bit of moisture coming East from fronts that come our way from the Gulf of Mexico or California. They did that yesterday. Just an hour away, “our” ski area got 18 inches (more or less half a meter) of snow. Down here? Nothing. Nada. Zilch. I love watching them scrape snow from the clouds even when I really want the snow they’re STEALING from me and Bear.
After I’d painted them several times, their image seems to have moved into the space between my hand and eye. On the back of my paintings on board or panel, I do a “free-hand” painting of Windy and Pintada Mountains in acrylic. That’s my motif and why I named my Etsy store “Windy Peak Fine Arts.”
In the “Count Your Blessings” column, yesterday 45 “Tweeted” the closest thing I think we’re going to get to a concession speech and the money for the transition has been made available to the new president. C-19 vaccines are rolling out, including one that doesn’t need such intense refrigeration. The company that’s making it says it’s between 60 and 90% effective and it’s going to make it available to developing nations at $3 a “shot.” Our flu vaccine is 60% effective so, pretty impressive.
The big canvas on which I painted the crane came to me from a friend who lost his vision to macular degeneration. He wanted to be an art teacher when he “grew up,” but when he was still pretty young, it became obvious that wasn’t going to happen. A lot of his paintings hang in in house, and one of them hangs in mine. I have some of his brushes, too. He still likes to talk about painting. Though it’s hard to imagine the conversations make him happy, they seem to. That’s a testament to his resilience and courage. When he couldn’t paint anymore, he went after his other love, music.
I like to talk about painting. I like to talk about artists and pigments and all that stuff that some of you have “had” to read about on my blog over the years. I guess it was around this time last year I invested money I didn’t really have in a set of natural pigments and was completely enthralled by them. I still am. It’s all a big miraculous wonderful thing to me that you can pick up some dirt, pulverize it, mix it with oil or water or eggs or acrylic medium and you have paint.
Finishing the big painting yesterday left me with the bereft feeling I had when I finished writing my first novel. I poured a lot of life and time into that canvas. It sat in my garage until three years ago or so when I thought I knew what it was supposed to be and painted the underpainting. That idea never “jelled,” and the canvas just sat in a corner of my studio, partially painted, all Indian yellow and blue, waiting.
The image of the crane is something I saw briefly in the winter part of March this year. I passed the crane as he walked in solitude between willow saplings on a gray day with lifting fog. I thought, “That’s beautiful,” and kept going. I didn’t know at the time where it would lead me, that it would end up the painting on the big canvas, that I’d find an easel, that I’d drive 100 miles to get it on a glorious early fall day. I didn’t know anything about where that solitary gray image would take me. Now it’s there, no longer furtive and brief, but held as if in amber by the miracle of minerals and linseed oil, a different geology.
Doing a serious painting takes the artist somewhere. This year I’ve gone a lot of places in paintings, via paintings, in paintings. The weird part is finishing and re-entering daily life. You’ve done this THING, difficult and transformative, and when you emerge — not just from the work but the idea — and you’ve succeeded, you wonder, “Where is everybody? Where’s the parade?” 🙂
There will be some small touch-ups but it’s done. I was a little intimidated by the crane’s feathers/body but once I started it was just so much fun. This is a rendering from memory of a scene I saw in early March this year. The painting is 48″ x 36″ (121.92 x 91.44 cm), oil on cotton canvas.
The good news this morning is that I can’t think of a single 19th century work of fiction that featured eye-rolling. Some that caused it, but none that feature it. Tomorrow is the opening of the little Christmas art show at the Rio Grande County Museum and I’m both dreading and looking forward to it. Yesterday I did some work on the large crane painting and I’m not sure at all how that painting is going. It’s an exploration, an adventure in a small sense. It’s a strange thing to be attempting to paint mystery, solitude and magic, all pretty abstract, but they were part of the moment last spring that led to the painting I’m working on now.
This is how I left it yesterday. I’ve begun painting the small trees and I’m using metallic silver oil paint. This morning I got a sense of how it will be. The paint — though not dry — was somewhat more settled and the morning light hit it at an angle.
Back in the 90s I was in Laguna Beach with a friend and saw the work of a Russian artist, an emigré, who painted large beautiful paintings that gave the effect of being icons. One of the reasons was he used metallic paint. I loved his work. I’ve used gold metallic paint (made with bronze particles) in a few paintings. I like it. It does its job really well.
In my imagination, this scene with the crane needed silver paint because it would kind of disappear depending on the light. I don’t know if it’s going to work that way, but it’s fun finding out. The thing about cranes is now you see them, now you don’t.
Bear and I took a walk yesterday and there are far fewer cranes than there have been. It’s OK. They have to go down to New Mexico for Christmas. I’ll miss them, but as I wasn’t walking out at the Refuge last winter, this will be the fourth season of discovery for me out there. I imagine it will be a Rogers and Hammerstein experience with the wind whipping down the plains… The cranes will be back in early March.
I feel a little guilty posting when I’m so far behind reading, but here is the finished Sandhill Crane garden sign. It will go live in northern Montana and hang on a fence so its person can see it from the house through the winter. The mountains in the back ground are “my” mountains though the one closest behind the standing crane isn’t really “there” in real life. It’s north of Monte Vista. But I like that mountain so I stuck it in. Artists can move mountains. It’s acrylic on plywood. Tomorrow I’ll varnish it.
The painting below is The Artist at His Easel by Rembrandt. The first time I saw it was in a program narrated by Simon Schama. Art historians and commentators and critics say a lot of stuff about paintings, but what Schama said about this stayed with me. All the energy in the world is coming from that canvas. Of course logically and in the world of physics, there is a window in front of the canvas and it is reflecting the day, but even that is pretty beautiful.
I have two paintings going now — both cranes. One is the big painting and the other is on a piece of exterior plywood; a garden sign. The person who ordered it ordered a sunflower sign in August and now wants a sign for winter.
Last evening, I watched the second installment of Waldemar Januzsczak’s three programs on American art. It ended with Mark Rothko whose work I don’t get and will probably never get. Januzsczak centered the episode on the twentieth century phenomenon of New York City — which I don’t get and will probably never get. It’s strange that Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, San Francisco, LA, Chicago, Milan, Zürich and Venice were welcoming and wonderful places, but New York City? I’ve been there three times and every time I could’t wait to get out. I’ve even driven in that city, but, no. It’s not for me. Still, it is an amazing place.
Some of what I saw and heard was familiar — I, like many people, went through an Edward Hopper phase and pondered, in my twenties, the problem of alienation in the midst of people Hopper depicts so well. Now I recognize that alienation is the human condition, but at 24? I’d hoped for something beyond a terrible marriage and crowds of people I didn’t know, to whom I had nothing to say.
Januzsczak’s favorite New York artist is a man who painted New York in the 1930s, a guy named Reginald Marsh. His work is very alive, filled with people, and the kind of crowded, purpose-driven I have felt when I’ve been in New York City. I liked Marsh’ pictures, too. (Featured photo: Twenty Cent Movies)
I saw many beautiful paintings in this episode, but the biggest thing I got was the source of much abstract art was the religion of Theosophy. The essence (according to Waldy) is that under everything there is an order, a structure, a divine reason. This philosophy/religion had a tremendous influence, apparently, on modern art and was the motive behind abstract painting. Since, honestly, abstract painting never seemed to have a “reason” behind it (for me) though I often like it, it was interesting to learn this. For a long time, this has been the most important words about art I’ve read:
“The artist must have something to say, for mastery over form is not his goal but rather the adapting of form to its inner meaning.” Wassily Kandinsky
When a person looks at one religious painting after another in a museum that person might think, “Good God!” (no pun) Goethe was sorry all these artists had been “forced” to paint only one story. I shrugged reading Goethe’s words. How could he know how they felt or what else they may have wanted to paint? Painters paint for money and the church was where the money was and, what’s more, that was not just the “same painting” for a lot of those artists. Painting virgins, babies, etc. was more than that, possibly a spiritual thing.
For me, there’s something more to painting than slapping paint on a surface. Way more. I’m not going to put words on it, not any more than that.
Sadly, Mark Rothko and another Theosophist abstract artist of the era both hung themselves. The other’s life had turned into a sad country song. He’d gotten bowel cancer and was tied to a colostomy bag forever and his wife left him. It took him three tries before he found the old barn with a beam that held the rope and suspended his weight. As for Mark Rothko? Perhaps there is no why. I took all this focus in Januzsczak’s discussion as more of the same: artist’s are tortured souls who are difficult for us normal people to understand, a thread that has run through many of Januzsczak’s discussions of art.
Maybe it just isn’t that interesting to people to think that an artist might be, as the little painting by Rembrandt, above, seems to say, happy, humbled and filled with wonder at the prospect of painting. Still, I think Frank Stella was wonder-filled and happy when he painted these.
I prefer painting on panel, but with this large painting, I have copped to the advantage of canvas — weight. Whoever ends up with this painting will have to sink mollies into the wall which is really not a big deal. The image is 24 x 36 The frame brings the piece to 28 x 40. Looking at it on my little shelf there, it really dominates a room.
I tried painting an apple orchard like those I saw in Switzerland, but it didn’t work, so I got pissed off and tried to rub off the paint with a solvent soaked rag. All that happened was the paint got smeared.
I put the canvas away thinking sometime I’d paint over this failed painting. That was YEARS ago.
I recently dragged out the painting and liked it. “Hmm,” I thought, “what can I do with this?”
Then it hit me. I had to do a little drawing, and of course I had raw umber on my hand but what the hey…
I’m so glad I wasn’t in a hurry to paint over this thing. ❤