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November News

backlighting

Well, autumn has almost arrived in Israel, beginning with powerful thunderstorms last week leaving pools of water for me to sludge through on my way home from Jerusalem. It is still sandal season this week, but at last I am in need of a sweater and jeans.

I have not been at the easel often recently, for exciting reasons I will share soon, but I was able to work on this painting sketch above (50 x 65 cm). My intent was not to do another self-portrait (I still have no grasp of Hebrew to approach people for model requests), but rather to focus on the backlighting scheme, how everything is painted gray at first, belongs within tones of gray and only lines of light delineate the elements in the painting. Sadly, this photograph shows more contrast than seeing the original.

I don’t tend to like “obvious” paintings, the ones where you know instantaneously what you are looking at. I prefer putting important elements in the shadow, elevating something apparently plain by rendering it more fully, alluding to the absence of someone or something. I guess I just like to make paintings that you can only understand more fully if you look at it more slowly.

I have some tremendous inspiration for an upcoming set of painting series, which will focus on my love of, and educational background in, humanism. Some will be dark, others outdoors, and for still others I will need a ladder. I have a few model “victims” in mind other than me and my cat, and I look forward to beginning them, to seeing where this melding of knowledge, memory, and in-depth observation will lead.

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9 Comments

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  1. November 14, 2009

    I like this painting, Rebecca, although I instantly
    thought- why isn’t the rest of the painting developed
    as much as the face? Of course the face is the most
    interesting thing to look at- but I remembered what
    George Nick said to me once when I asked him what people meant by “the subject” of a painting. His answer to me was “the whole painting is the subject.”
    I followed that question by asking him what made for
    a masterpiece. He said, ” a painting that you want to
    look at for a long time.” You touched on both those
    answers in your own analysis of your painting. I wonder if you will develop those shadows or move on to the next painting.

  2. Rebecca Harp #
    November 15, 2009

    Hi Hunter, Thanks for the extremely insightful remarks. I did work on the painting much more, darkening the whole scheme and a number of tones and rendering certain things more highly. Most of the attention was given to the chair, the cat, and the light patterns. Other things like the face and easel I left more as is, as I had seen it out of the corner of my eye while looking at something else.

    I completely agree that the whole painting is the subject, but within that subject, that whole painting, I sense different “substances” that vary so greatly in weight of presence; I feel that they require different ways of handling the paint and different distances and modes of observing them. So sometimes I do render shadows more highly, while other times I like to keep them vaporous and vacuous.

    I was aware also that by putting a figure smack in the middle it might upset the classical group that says you never must…it is more of an illusion that it is central to the picture, or aggressive or frontal. It is merely a necessary part to the whole, and that whole is much more about the abstract patterns of light and shade and the varieties of substance within a rectangle. Along with being about a dozing kitten and a roll of toilet paper 🙂

  3. cpompilius #
    December 3, 2009

    Hello Rebecca,
    I just discovered your blog and spent some time looking. Your work is engaging, and you write lucidly. I’m curious what your understanding of humanism is. Also, I share your intrigue with Velazquez.

  4. Rebecca Harp #
    December 3, 2009

    Thank you for discovering my blog and contributing remarks to further discussion. When I spoke of humanism, I am referring to my four-year study of Italian Renaissance Humanism at university. It was a self-designed major and was comprised of four tracks of “absorption:” 1) courses taken in the curriculum of study which the Renaissance humanists had established (art, music, literature, poetry, philosophy, etc); 2) the study of Humanist writings and creations; 3) the study of scholastic analysis of the humanists; and 4) an immersion program in Florence which involved courses again in the curriculum and allowed me to pursue my thesis. A “dream” of a major, don’t you think?
    Essentially, as an artist, I am focusing on that core element of humanism, the dignity of man and his efforts; I believe that this dignity is seen on many levels, and I do feel it shapes strongly “what” I paint.

  5. December 4, 2009

    Yes, it would be a “dream” major for me, but probably a nightmare for others. I have never been able to separate the making of art from art history, which is itself not separate from the history of the world. (I’m speaking mostly of Western history.) Continuing to read history as I practice art has led me to some rather unexpected places, and I’m still trying to sort things out. I just read a fascinating article on the French Revolution, or I should say a reactionary aspect of it. The point is that the humanism of the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, revolutionary movements, and liberal democracy can be seen as an organic process. It can get rather depressing if one looks at in terms of decline, which I’m inclined to do. The contemporary art world is but one example of a byproduct of this decline.

    On the other hand, it’s nice to see work like yours, thoughtful and enjoyable to look at. Hunter’s comments are very good too, from George Nick. If you look at a painting a long time there must be something good about it.

    I look forward to following your work.

  6. Rebecca Harp #
    December 7, 2009

    I agree with you entirely, Charles, on the difficulty of separating what we artists do from the history of art. Sometimes I wonder, why bother, when I look at artists like Velazquez, Rembrandt or Levitan. But something pushes me to believe that I might be able to say something well in paint, that might be of some value, if I observe and think hard enough, and so I keep trying. Most of what I do are failures though, and I fully accept this as crucial to the process of just trying to be the best person I can.

    I too read all the time in conjunction with my painterly efforts, as my brain seems to be an all-purpose sponge, loving science, mathematics, history, geography. I am less interested in politics though. Roger Kimball wrote a recent article on the art world vs. the world of art that you might enjoy: http://pajamasmedia.com/rogerkimball/2009/12/02/the-art-world-vs-the-world-of-art/

  7. December 14, 2009

    Thanks, Rebecca, for the Roger Kimball article. Where else can you learn words like peregrinate? Actually, I used to be quite a fan of Kimball. I read two of his books and looked forward to his articles in “The New Criterion” when I subscribed to it. When I learned what neoconservatism was, however, I dropped my subscription. I still like Kimball though. He makes an important distinction between writing about art and aesthetic experience, in favor of the later. And he is irreverent.

    We just returned from an annual Christmas party that is attended mostly by artist friends. The food was great as always, but I was speechless as usual, except that I met a man from Poland, an automotive engineer. We had a great conversation about economics and globalization, from which I learned quite a bit. One artist got bored of the conversation and excused himself. He happens to be a great painter, and is widely recognized as the don of Detroit painting. His name is Robert Wilbert, and you can see two of his paintings here…

    http://www.artnet.com/Artists/ArtistHomePage.aspx?artist_id=664770&page_tab=Artworks

    I’d enjoy hearing what you think of his work.

  8. Rebecca Harp #
    December 14, 2009

    Charles, thanks for that link and for introducing me to another talent of note in the Midwest. The first image of the male nude immediately made me think of Euan Uglow, very strong, yet I loved the Cleopatra feel of it. The mannequin with the self-portrait was also deeply honest and reminded me of both Lennart Anderson’s sp and Fairfield Porter’s. Sounds like you have great get-togethers there.

    I also have been taking a walk around your site, and I have found several lovely gems. It was an extraordinary pleasure for me to find out about their small size. You manage to accomplish a great deal in one day in terms of finish. I was impressed. And I just think that they work really well being on a small scale. Do you have a link to larger pieces you have done, as referred to in the article in Art in America? I would be interested in taking a peek.

  9. December 18, 2009

    Hi Rebecca,
    Thanks for introducing me to Euan Uglow. Wow. Just when I thought I’d seen everything. It’s so nice to discover someone new. I’ll have to show him to Mr. Wilbert, as well as other friends. Both painters have an affinity for structure. I worked with Wilbert for a year before I went to grad school. I learned from him the importance of seeing and organizing space, not in a minimalist or reductive sense, or as an end in itself, but as a prerequisite to more meaningful expression. Not that I’ve achieved this, but I think I’ve got things in the right order, and I think you do too by what I’ve seen of your work.

    I’m glad you asked about my larger work because it motivated me to put some of it up on my FaceBook page. I hope you’ll have a look and let me know what you think.

    http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?ref=profile&id=725455822#/album.php?aid=147608&id=725455822

    I’m glad you found my blog. The blog is a long story, but each painting takes more like two days to make. I do love working on a small scale though.

    What did you mean by the Cleopatra feel of Wilbert’s male nude?

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