My Blog About Art

So much for that decision September 16, 2016 14:52

Work in progress, Harold Roth, 2016I did the grounds for the next two paintings after picking out some reference photos. I happened to start with the one that is based on a photo I took at the shore of Seneca Lake. This has lots of mossy rocks and reflected sky and a very just slightly wavy surface. So I thought cool--tranquility or something like that. Although I surprisingly could not think of a title.

So yesterday I put in the colors that will show through the sky reflection (in the upper right corner) and began making smudgy shapes for the rocks in the foreground, which will be covered with moss. Today I went further in the modeling of the rocks, as you can see. The colors are weird because they will be covered with glazes that modify how they look.

I sat there painting and thought "Although I can pick out rock shapes pretty easily, it is boring." As I sat there letting rock shapes arise from the deliberately uneven colors, I had a sudden flash of not rocks but the shapes of human bodies. I stopped painting and focused on seeing that more clearly. Not bloody bodies or dead people. But just human shapes. Mysterious. 

I thought, "This would require redoing the rocks area. I'm not too far along, so it wouldn't be much of a hassle. And it would make for a much more powerful painting." 

But who would want to buy such a painting? 

And then I thought that question, although it's important if I want to make a living from my art, and I do, can't be the determining question about my paintings. Can it?

I posted a comment on a little while ago to the effect that instead of "painting what sells," as someone said, an artist should paint what is unique to that artist--their own personal vision. It's good business sense, based on the blue-ocean strategy where you create something unique so that you don't have competition. 

So can I take my own advice? Here I was all sure that I should be painting spare Luminist type landscapes. I enjoy learning technique and working on mastering my tools. I would be happy to paint such paintings. But everywhere I look, if I let my artistic "eye" relax, I see shapes within shapes, living forms, struggling to burst through the skin of the mundane. I feel like I should be painting that hidden world. But will anyone buy it?

I don't know.

And if they don't, will I become bitter, like some artists I see posting who have accumulated literally hundreds of paintings they can't sell and who burn them (!) because they run out of room and won't sell them for cheap? I don't want to become that.

But would I? If I were refining my own vision? Or would I end up that way if all I ever did was paint competent spare Luminist landscapes?


Reading over my last post, I see something I didn't see before--that what attracts me so much about the Luminist paintings is the dream-like quality of some of them. They seem full of some hidden meaning or something about to be revealed. Perhaps I can capture that dream-like quality in my own oddball paintings of, say, a shore with body shapes. 

I'm going to give it a try and see what happens. 

Indecision: Post-Modern Vanitas vs. Spare Luminism September 11, 2016 15:16

Kensett, Eaton NeckI have been thinking about starting a new series (well, two, actually) of paintings based on industrial buildings and having a connection to the vanitas genre. I mentioned this last week and today am planning to gesso a couple canvases so I can get started. But then I happened to see this painting, which I have loved ever since I stumbled across the Luminists a couple years ago (and read everything I could get my hands on about them). It's a view of Long Island by John Frederick Kensett painted in 1872.

Kensett, Sunset on the Sea, 1872Some say the reason why this painting is so spare is because he didn't finish it, but there are other paintings from this time, the end of his life, that are similarly spare, such as this one, "Sunset on the Sea" (1872).

There's something almost abstract about these paintings, but further, they are for me serene without being sentimental and beautiful without any showboating. They are what they are--acomplished landscape paintings that for me have a spiritual or dream-like quality. 

Roth, Moon Over WaterWhen I started painting again, I had no idea where I was going with it. But I well remember the first painting I felt was really me, the original of which I have framed for myself (Moon Over Water). I had never seen Kensett's paintings when I did this one, but you can see why I'd like Kensett's late works when I came across him. I think it's the combination of his attention to color and light, the smooth painting surface (no thick brush marks), and absence of a lot of "stuff" (people, animals, boats, roads, whatever). His paintings maintain the traditional "view from a window" approach of older landscapes, yet there is something about these landscapes that feels like we would not see this view in real life, that they are unreal and therefore dreamlike. It is that quality, the unrealness, that fascinates me most.

Kensett was a very popular painter, not least of all because a lot of the places he painted were (and some still are) vacation spots for the robber barons. He was successful enough to buy himself a little island off CT where he had his studio in the warm part of the year. I don't know if anyone wants to buy paintings like this nowadays, and I would like to sell paintings. But I know that this dream-like quality, this straddling of a careful rendering of an actual scene on the one hand and on the other the capture of a fleeting moment like sunset or a sea and shore basically without a human presence attracts me very strongly, more so than any post-modern or surreal vanitas.

My problem is that I just want to do all sorts of paintings. I get a little greedy that way or feel like if I don't go down all possible roads, I will miss something. But honestly, life just isn't long enough for me to master all these different kinds of paintings, and I need to focus my painting more so I can truly master what I do--so that I can best portray on canvas the beautiful, dream-like quality I often feel out in nature. 

So I put my vanitas ideas aside for now and dug through my reference photos of the lake and the hills of upstate NY to see what I can come up with next. I found about five that are good candidates and now that I've gessoed a couple canvases, I'll start putting on a ground today.