Works in Progress

This painting is in about stage eight, with a ton of work to go, measuring 90 x 90 cm. My cat Visa is that grey thing that keeps showing up, and she is bound to show up a few more times, if I don’t edit her out!

These two window paintings I hesitatingly call “memory” paintings. I wake up often in the middle of the night, and on my way to the kitchen I pass by my studio door, where the window looks out on the building facing mine, lit up by some bizarre pink light.

This one is a sketch I did for the first painting, and I might take it in another direction, or leave much of it alone.

This one needs some serious work on the background, for I do see that horrible size of the door and wall treatment. Part of the problem is where I decided I needed to put the mirror: resting inside the ledge of the window, against a wire screen, difficult to ever get at the same angle twice – the wind one time knocked it over, but thankfully it did not break. So much is to be added yet and changed, but I found the size of the portrait a good challenge, with the panel measuring a total 40 x 60 cm.


16 thoughts on “Works in Progress

    1. Merci beaucoup, Jacques! Anche se non posso scrivere in francese, ti capisco benissimo e sono veramante grata delle tue parole. Sono anche molto contenta che ti piacciono quelle due viste di notte. Tante belle cose a te..

  1. Rebecca, your paintings are fun and interesting! The first one looks complicated. The night windows are a treat to see, alone with the story. The last one of you has a look that I can only describe as wonderful. The look in your eyes, is more of a feeling of expression rather that a word of explaination.
    I marvel at it!( I wouldn’t call it mundane.)

    1. Hi William,
      Yes, that first one is complicated, and it keeps changing from day to day, but I find the plunge a fabulous learning experiment. I am happy too with the self-portrait, because it does look more like me than the average ones, and given the fact that the face alone is only about an inch long, it was a challenge. Just need to figure out that door, if the mirror will stand still!
      All the best,

  2. Wow. I check your blog from time to time, always hoping to see new work. I have enjoyed the progression of “bed” paintings but this change of scope makes something very different from the intimate feel of the previous paintings. Not to say good or bad but certainly the increased distance and the inclusion of foreground objects creates a totally new mood. I recognize the window, the bed, the pink pillows but it looks such a different scene. The sp looks promising.

  3. Hi Steve. Thanks for your comments about the recent square painting, and how the perspective makes it appear or feel less intimate. I had not thought of it particularly, but I think you are right! I think it throws different concerns into the jumble, and whether that works or not, I do not know! Part of what I am thinking when I am doing these “interiors,” is that they appear to me like landscape painting, without the annoying flies, and I am trying to paint them with that in mind. I look at the formation of sheets or pillows as contours which could be hills in some way. The light moves constantly, in beams at times, and I like the chase. What is a ceiling might be more a fog or cloud. Including something in the foreground, like I am attempting in this recent one, is a part of this “landscape painting process,” I think, really just to see what happens. If it were an actual landscape painting instead of an interior, I wonder how the very subject can change the mood response. Another concern is trying to represent “reality” as it is for me, how it shifts and is in motion to discover which things are constant, which things continue to grab my interest, and which is “background.” And then, I am considerate of colors or elements which attract me, which are psychologically important to me, which add or subtract, which are part of my fleeting reality, and I fight at times to be more subjective and other times more objective. I am just thinking out loud here, no “art” intended! It is really just an experiment. The main thing that I use as a bottom line is that the space and objects are things that belong to me or things I know, and I want to know them better, as if they had “souls” like people.

  4. Morning Rebecca,
    Well morning in California. I am always interested in how people think about their work, especially while they are working. Personally, I never am interested in “story”. Often you hear people talk about the story in a painting. I have no interest in story so subject is not important to me. I am interested in shapes of value and color playing against each other, I”m interested in scope and scale, I’m interested in design. The only time I think of what happened before or what happens next is in figures or portraits. The human connection is so powerful. \
    The explosion of painters worldwide the past couple decades has lead to lots of painters of things. Some of them are very good, but I often get the impression that people are only looking at things and the light on things and not the relationships between them. I don’t often get what I want but I hope at least I am looking. I see you making decisions, building harmonies that work. I love some of the color harmonies you build. I could got decades without using so much pink but for you it works beautifully.
    I notice you mention “stage eight”, I wonder typically how many passes do you make at one of these?

    1. Hi Steve,

      I have to agree with you that the “object-thing” approach is not so interesting, a bit like soap operas. That said, I did my share of them in my studies, but I very quickly found it limiting, and found myself breaking the “rules” because of my love for colors and a kind of whimsicality, so I moved on. I am also not much of a fan of construction of the “subject.” I have found that nature usually does anything better than I dare “set up”. But, I do like the process of painting and being aware of it, both through the natural stopping and starting, rethinking, painting over, inventing and through the instinctual feeling that something needs overlap, coverup, a nearby stronger color to subdue it or refuge in more abstract shapes. And mostly, I want to paint something because of the wholeness created by the sum of its parts. Trying to make a decent painting seems like trying to present a perfect dinner plate – everything is there for a reason, to be succulent for all the senses and digested with gratefulness – so that is kinda what I hope for, without it actually being a dinner plate, or food, if you know what I mean. It’s the kind of painting that would make me feel satisfied.

      As for the number of stages that things go through, it depends a great deal on the accidents that the light makes, and whether that satisfies me or not. Of course, the further I go ahead and see new changes, the risk is always that something from before may be better than what I found later, so a lot of loss happens. The painting here in stage eight is probably after about 20 hours of work, and prior there was something I really liked and lost in the lower left-hand corner, and a burnt red-teapot in the bottom middle that I wisely destroyed.
      The size and the surface affects it; if it is panel, I paint much more quickly and with more paint than if it is linen. And I like painting fast, I like the speed of it, and the movement of the paint. I am also in a kind of daze when I come across a moment to begin frantically trying to capture something, so that means faster too, like the painting I did yesterday at 2 pm, since I know I may never see it again. So the thrill of the chase means that I work hard to get the color and tone right, and right for the painting and the other tones there. I am not big on slow careful painting, yet I am careful. Hard to explain, I guess.
      Many of the paintings here on the site are oil on panel, and several of them were done in a couple sessions of two of 3 hours. The pink ones go particularly fast, because I practically paint the whole board pink, true to my first impression. More recently, I am going larger and to linen because I feel the need for it, but as I need to move again in a few months, I need to keep a limit on my sizes. But going larger definitely needs more time for me; the scale is just more exciting, so the pressure is on to make the marks matter within it.
      I do hope you will share some of your recent paintings with me, as I am very curious to see them.
      (Funny you mentioned the pink. The bedroom walls were originally covered with a vibrant bubble gum pink when I moved in, which despite several layers of white, still shows through. I do like pink, but not that much, and yet it works so well sometimes: Everything can get saturated by the remnants of it. Just yesterday I glanced over to the bedroom wall while painting in the studio, and with a purple blanket on the bed and the light coming in, the reflected effect was wildly unreal, so I raced to capture it. That was 2 pm, yesterday, and it might not happen again. Had the walls been originally another color, that would change everything, so I am very grateful to the previous tenants. I am not sure that I could have ever invented a series of rooms based on pink walls, nor may I have ever begun the series and found it interesting)

  5. “I want to paint something because of the wholeness created by the sum of its parts.” Well put, very well put.
    It’s funny, your talking about speed. For years I didn’t understand what was happening and now I have come to realize that I let myself go too far, too fast and trip over my own feet. I think I’m finally finding a rhythm that will allow me to make better work. Lots of stopping and lots of thinking, much more so than painting. I have finally started to figure it out. Insert all the old sayings making fun of the self-taught. It’s strange because I don’t think of myself as a “ponderer”, I don’t sit in the corner and weigh the great questions of life, I am a pretty straight forward mechanically minded guy but my process for painting has to involve lots of work in my mind. Still it is not story driven, not literary, what I think of is value schemes, what the chroma should be in certain areas, etc. I try to keep it all in a visual language while I’m thinking, words don’t help much. I do some sketching in oil outside and some still life sketching but they are only sketches not paintings.
    I understand what you mean about the light. There is a motif I’ve been looking at for a few weeks. I have considered a couple ways of cropping it, I have decided what I want in value and chroma. There was one day about a week ago when the light was perfect. One of those high hazy days when it’s bright but there are no shadows, the color was beautiful, it was perfect. I couldn’t stop and do a color sketch and now I have to do it from memory. That’s OK, I hope.
    I have no work to show. For many years now I have been in the habit of reaching a point of dissatisfaction with what I was doing and after reaching that point, priming over, or sending to landfill, or in the cases of some especially egregious examples… the fireplace. This has lead to much teeth gnashing and hair pulling and lamenting by various friends, painters and non painters. I do believe though that I have turned a corner and may actually produce something I don’t want to destroy soon. I have placed a couch in front of the fireplace. Thanks for asking. Thanks for responding, I’m enjoying the conversation.

  6. Steve,
    Writing now at length en route between New York and Boston, as a long plane ride happened before I managed to get back here to your note. I’m enjoying this conversation too.

    Ah, yes, destruction of artworks. It is painful in hindsight, while feeling so right at the time. Some artists I know seem to whip out a painting or more a day (or in an hour) or several every week, touching everything with delight and satisfaction, but I am not that type nor do you sound like it. Though they are great artists, the process of immersion in a motif and the appropriate painting of it does require a different kind of time for me – a bit like time travel or having a phantom invade your bloodstream for a while. Your whole body gets seized by it, it’s hard to let go, and then there is the down time and recovery time from the process. The more I realized that each work of theirs was one of hundreds and hundreds kinda whipped out, the less I appreciated the individual ones. I guess I like knowing that the artwork is a struggle, a unique one. Yet, I like the purity of “quick” decisive paintings too. I guess I like them especially to break up the process of longer paintings, to put something in a time capsule more quickly.

    The process of painting does involve study and contemplation of form and accuracy in mixing and making marks, but that is only “pleasant” and unnoticed if I am “moved” by the colors and forms I am painting. It certainly would not be the case were I copying from a photo or something, just blank mixing and marking. Then, when the light has gone, are those minutes that become quickly hours when just consulting the stuff on the canvas. I love it when I have that end of the day time, post-observation, when I just contemplate what I have painted, look at things and tones that need changing, what is missing, what’s wrong, fiddle etc.

    But, often those sessions are followed by moments of disgust, when the very premise of the painting seems stupid to me. It happened to a painting I began a few days before leaving. I’ll have to see how much I hate it when I get back.

    A painter friend of mine said that sketches does not mean that they are less than paintings; though I understand his point, I am not sure I feel the same entirely. A quick complete assessment is very satisfactory, but I like the long haul like I like thick novels. I do feel good when I finish a painting quickly though, when I feel like I accomplished something. Often, it stems from what I originally visualized, so it was just a matter of getting the right notes and shapes down in the right place with the right kind of paint. Other paintings are less visualized ahead of time, and those are the ones that lead to more accidents and consequences of painting and experimenting.

    One of my former teachers said that if a masterpiece of a motif is in front of you, all you need to do is paint it. You don’t need to do anything “special,” other than paint it. I like this idea. The painting part is the hard part, but also the truest part; I question paintings where the artist wants to show a style, intellectual quibble, or too much artistic intervention in what is in essence a most pure beauty. Not that I am referring to all the details, but to the primary impact of what was seen.

    I also think that painting from memory is a wonderful thing, though very, very hard. I just spoke last night with Kurt Knobelsdorf, a young painter who had a recent exhibition in New York, and he is one who works from memory, photographs, and invention in a very serious. non-sentimental way. Do you know his works? I find them very interesting, and while here I will go see some of them in person.

    Another thing I have really enjoyed seeing, is something that appears in Sangram Majumdar’s paintings better than I have seen elsewhere. Parts of prior paintings peek through, and those prior paintings are often flatlike patterns. When the painting on top breaks open to these under passages, it is like going to a world beyond the 3 dimensional creation on a 2D surface – to another painting beyond. I think it’s just really cool.

    Enough rambling here. Keep that sofa in front of the fireplace, and I look forward to seeing what might come because of it!

  7. Yes, I also know painters and of painters who work premier coup and some manage excellent work. Those, I think are the few. Most, in my opinion are simply repeating effects or views or things. While some of these are wonderful it is not how I think/work or want to. I have tried. I was enticed by the quickness, the immediacy of the process, the power of the moment. I am just not someone who can get satisfaction that way. I do not think of myself as superior, just different. I recently read on the Painting Perceptions website where Israel Hershberg said he starts every painting premier coup and that becomes his underpainting. That makes sense to me. Although it’s not exactly what I’m doing, I think I am following the same line. Get close in shape, color, value and then refine to clarify the statement. I am coming to believe that’s how I have to work to have any chance. I have tried other ways and…
    I can’t agree with your friend about sketches/studies, I think that they are inherently and deliberately less than paintings. That is the purpose. To think otherwise is to go down the same road as these people who think they can make every kind of statement in a 6×8 format and be effective. I believe the purpose of the sketch is to help me to develop my thoughts until I have clarified things in my mind to the point I can make a clear and effective statement in paint. In it’s self the sketch has limited value. While I know that many people (myself included) enjoy looking at sketches by artists great and small, I do not look at them as “works” standing on their own. I see them as part of a progression no more.

    Who was it that said that nature was poorly composed and badly lit? I don’t remember but I am sure he was right. There are moments when some particular view grabs us and makes such an impression that we want to get it on canvas. This drives you to the easel, once there, you edit. That is what distills a view of whatever it may be into a coherent visual statement. This is where I, and I think you, differ from the masters of premier coup. Those masters of that style do a better job of editing that first laying down of paint. They refine the statement and make it strongly from the start. I have to develop a relationship with it.

    Memory, yes, that is what I am working from. On the easel right now it a scene from a couple months ago. I woke in the morning in a new place and looked out the window. Morning light, lovely color, interesting view of simple shapes, I took a picture but that only serves to help with the drawing. The color and value and even the drawing have to be developed from my memory and my conception. I have an idea of what I want. I care not at all if it relates well to the motif. When finished (sofa in front of fireplace) I hope to make a statement not of what I saw but what I experienced. I know I shall fall short. Whether it is acceptable or not is a mater of scale.

    I have never seen Majumdar’s work in person but have see a good bit on the web (after reading your interview I went searching) and it’s good work for certain. This is a detail that I had not thought of or even noticed. The showing thru of prior paintings is unusual. Several painters I know have shown the process by leaving marks to show the development of the work. Sometimes it’s very effective, Diebenkorn, Coldstream. Sometimes less so, Diebenkorn, Coldstream. What interests me more is to see a painter thinking by seeing a series of works along a common theme or subject. Then I really think I am seeing the painters thoughts and thought process. There is an English Painter whose work I have only seen on her website, . I love to go to her site and scroll thru the work. She has a small yellow jug with a blue throat and red figuration. This repeats thru many of her still lives and it’s presentation goes from solid with the lobes and figuration clearly defined to a soft yellow blob. How she paints it is a compositional decision. She says what she wants to say and worries not at all if you can define a particular object, she makes a statement. Her landscape and figurative work interest me less, her florals and still lives I really like and partly because I see her thinking.

    The other day I was gallery hopping with my friend Seamus. I told him I’m not the philosophical type I just say what I think. He says I am. The more I talk about such things with him and the longer we keep talking, the more I wonder about the distinction.

    Have a good trip.
    Write when you have time.

  8. Thanks for the link to Emily Patrick’s work, another artist I did not know of. There are just so many good, interesting painters out there, that I always feel like I am continually missing someone. Many, many beautiful paintings, constructions of paint. I like how after viewing her works, you can recognize an essential quality that is always hers, especially in the touch. A combination of analysis and formal concerns with tenderness, and marks that are natural to her.

    Yes, I agree that premier coups are in fact starts of paintings, an overall capture of what is there, to get it down, that first impression. Well, maybe not for everyone; maybe some people do just start with one section of the canvas and just stay there for 3 hours. You see something you like, either in front of you or in your mind, and you work hard to get it all in, in one session of looking. It’s funny, that having left the US to study drawing and painting in Italy, when I enter into the world of talking about art and painting in the US, certain terms pop up, like premier coups. In Italy we called them “first day”‘s, and that’s what they were. You could sometimes really like that first day and feel that it got the essence without need for further looking, and that was refreshing or boring. Second days were the rough ones, but they led to the third and further, where you really had to face the challenge of what it meant to push and see if you could really do it at all. Hearing the term premier coup almost makes me giggle, as it seems such a fashionable word.
    If you are painting from memory, then I really applaud you, as I think it must be one of the most difficult things to do. The liberation it might give from direct observation only puts on more pressure to deliver something very truthful to one’s visual thoughts.

    These trips to the US are becoming more and more meaningful for me. I am relieved in many ways to have been away from the US for several years and to come back now with a different kind of formation, one that is very European but not shunning of what is taught or championed in the US. The past few days I have had really great conversations with Susan Lichtman, Farrell Brickhouse, and Paul Resika, many of which are going to turn into other interviews, for they have so many good things for people to hear in my opinion. The world of artists is so enormous and daunting, so this is hardly even scratching the surface. And next week I meet with several more, including the poet and critic John Yau, for I think that his wisdom is so extensive and at heart he loves figurative painting. Today also I will finally get to the Met again. I do wish I had my painting things with me, for NY is sooooo interesting, just even looking out the window, but I am content with a nice visit with artists and art – that’s possibly more rare than the right kind of painting time!

    1. First day, I like that. It is much more applicable to the way I work. I’ve been thinking about terminology a lot lately after a day gallery hopping with a friend and a couple articles I’ve seen on the web lately. I have been cruising my library and thinking about how we may interpret words and how that relates to the way we communicate about our visual experience. Interesting. Seamus just about has me talked into starting my own blog. There is so much that interests me and I am always willing to share my opinion.

      I have only a narrow experience of the art world, geographically, so my references are limited. I envy you the broadness of your contacts. I am always excited to get a chance to hear how other people think about things. Though I can be dismissive of some ideas or approaches I do love to get that sense of how someone thinks, how they relate to the world differently than I. When that sort of exploration involves relating to someone you share some common ground with it is even more exciting and then the small divergences really do open new worlds, much more I think than when encountering people whose ideas are tremendously different. The more we share with someone the more we are more open to accepting the differences.

      Sounds like you are having a good trip. I look forward to new interviews. Especially Susan Lichtman, I see a wonderful sense of balance in much of her work, I want to know what she’s thinking. I have gone thru the links from here and the JSS site making certain lot to miss anything.

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