My Blog About Art

Vials Series: The Black Crow December 07, 2016 10:43

My next work in the series is "The Black Crow" (sometimes also called the Black Toad) which is based partly on the alchemical idea of the first stage in alchemy, which involves, yes, rotting or putrefaction. The Black Crow means the decaying of all the gunk that is part of the Prima Materia ("A formless primeval substance regarded as the original material of the universe"). What's left is purified. I wanted to combine that idea with some of the images from vanitas paintings (yep, still on the vanitas thing--that's what the image is in the corner of this paragraph): an hourglass, most importantly, although I am thinking about including a tipped-over glass and skull and perhaps a pipe in the foreground around the hourglass. I'm not so sure about that. But I know the hourglass will be there, along with a black butterfly and a piece of lead, the quintessential Saturn metal. Saturn rules this stage of alchemy.

Saturn is dry and cold, like the Dry Valleys of Antarctica, which I thought would make a great background for the hourglass and crow. So I started that landscape on canvas. Then painted over and started it again. Then decided to put the Milky Way in the sky instead of just blueness. Didn't like it, painted over it, and painted the Milky Way again in another way. Painted over that and found it had too much texture to paint over so I had to trash that canvas, something which I almost never do. I always reuse a canvas, but I pretty much never paint with texture. Thing is all the dots of the stars stuck out like warts. So I stuffed it in some cardboard and put it in the dumpster. <cringe>

I started again on a wood panel, but after just putting the ground on, I didn't like the feel of it and put it aside. Felt like I was really spinning my wheels. 

I dug around in what I have on hand and found a pre-gessoed Ampersand panel I got a long time ago. I forgot how slippery they are! I don't like how bouncy canvas is, but I like how the paint glides over a well-gessoed canvas. 
 
The Black Crow work in progress, sketch inAt any rate, I started over yet again on the panel. Then again. That time was the winner. And why? Because I went for some colors I really like to use together, pink and light blue. I just love the sort of shimmer they give. This is a strong pink from anthraquinone red and zinc, and the blue is anthraquinone blue and zinc. Then together I made a violet. This is not the best photo, since I took it at night, but it gives an idea. I have been having good luck with doing drawings on my paintings using Faber-Castel pastel pencils. These erase great with a wet paper towel and don't make dents in the paint. I painted the crow last night but still have more work to do on it.

Speaking of canvas, I've been thinking of switching to panels instead because of gessoing. I usually add about 6 layers of gesso to the pre-primed premier canvases I get from Blick to make them as smooth as I like, but I hate doing it. I make a big mess and I never get the gesso layer perfectly right. I often don't have a gessoed canvas ready to go when I am ready to paint. So I am going to try something else. It's much easier to gesso a wood panel, so I'll try that, and I also would like to try some pre-gessoed linen canvases that Jerry's has. I've heard that linen is stiffer than canvas, and this brand is supposed to be pretty smooth. It would be great to not have to gesso things ever again. Because we hates gessoses.


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.