All Mothers Are Masterpieces

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Artists in order that they appear: Berthe Morisot, Émile Friant, Mary Cassatt (3), George Bellows*, Arshile Gorky*, Gustave Caillebotte*, Camille Pissarro*, Carl Larsson, William Merritt Chase*, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec*, James Tissot, Alberto Giacometti*, Jean August Dominique Ingres*, Berthe Morisot, Paula Modersohn-Becker, Pablo Picasso*, Cecilia Beaux, Leon Jean Bazile Perrault, Anders Zorn*, Édouard Vuillard (2)*, Georges Seurat (2)*, Sir Thomas Lawrence*, James Abott McNeill Whistler*, Albrecht Durer*, Agnolo Bronzino, Camille Corot*, Rembrandt van Rijn(3)*, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Kunisada, Umberto Boccione*, Vincent Van Gogh*, Lucian Freud*, Charles Burchfield*, John Constable*, Christen Købke*, Édouard Manet*, Guido Reni*, Sophie Jodoin*, Marc Dalessio

* the artist’s mother

Happy Mothers Day!

Martian & Rose

Sounds like a good name for a cocktail, come to think of it. I have been eyeing these green fellas in the grocery stores here for a while, and I finally had the courage to buy a few and bring them home. I had no idea what the name for this thing was, so you can imagine the type of google searching I had to do until I came across Kohlrabi. Just a little oil sketch here, nothing special. The vegetable itself ended up inside a tasty pie.

Home Stretch

With summer nearing quickly, so is my time in Israel, and this is causing me a bit of a panic. Have I painted the bedroom enough? Have I painted anything enough? Two years ago, my fiance came up with a new problem to solve in the world of condensed matter physics, and two days ago he found the solution. It is an enormous relief and a cause for celebration, a marvelous achievement after an important post-PhD assignment at the Weizmann Institute – but it also means that we will be moving on to a new place soon. New problems to create and solve. Packing, moving, and unpacking. Looking for a new apartment, discovering a new neighborhood.

I can’t quite relate to the kind of relief he is feeling, even though the parallels between painting and physics are so striking. As a painter, I can spend a heck of a long time on a painting, trying to resolve it as I discover new problems along the way – but whether the official “end” of a painting refers to relief and the solution to the problem is another unknown. I can paint a ton of failures, one after the other, filling a room with them. The worst is perhaps when I paint a failure but don’t know it. Just last week, I splurged on 30 new wooden panels. They are not too large (for moving and packing) but already I have started paintings on nine of them. I am trying to balance the urge to paint more with the desire to paint sincerely and honestly and with the knowledge of limited time and impending change.

Blue Diagonal

As I paint my messy home with nostalgia of our time in Israel, I am looking forward greatly to knowing what our new home will be, knowing that it is around the corner. Somewhere and sometime soon. Although we can change countries and cultures with a mere airplane ride, I think that the memories of places stretch from one place to another, exerting themselves on how we think and what we find important, despite the distance of time and place.

Postcard Painting

Purple Blanket

Stephanie Pierce Solo Show in Boston

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Stephanie Pierce will be opening a solo exhibition at Alpha Gallery in Boston next weekend, April 16 from 3-5 pm. The show will be up through May 11, and I recommend going out of your way to see these new works. Pierce’s paintings are stunning visual trips for those who get to see them in person, a reward of intimate colors and forms that she has found by coming to that fork in the road and opting for the road less travelled. For closer looks of her paintings, please visit her excellent website.

The Coolest Way to Crack an Egg

With Easter and Passover approaching, eggs are appearing everywhere. I have also been working on a number of little quick sketch paintings on panel, which I will post soon. So today this got me to thinking about Duane Keiser, and I went over to visit his blog, A Painting a Day. To my great delight, I found the following video where he “cracks” an egg in the marvelous magic trick known as oil painting. I appreciate it greatly because it shows terrific skill in painting abstractly from observation while having “fun” at the same time.

Pathways to Landscape Exhibition – Curated by Dean Fisher

On a recent trip to the US, I had the enormous privilege to meet and talk at length with the artist Dean Fisher. An accomplished artist and gifted teacher based in Connecticut, Fisher recently put together “Pathways to Landscapes,” an extensive exhibition of landscape paintings by 25 contemporary artists at the Ridgefield Guild of Artists. As a survey of this nature and size is so rare today, I recommend that you run over to visit it before it closes on Saturday, March 26.

Fisher received the request to curate an exhibition after being awarded the Best in Show at the 33rd Annual Juried Show of the Ridgefield Guild of Artists. The artists he selected for inclusion – Robert Bauer, Frank Bruckmann, Hollis Dunlap, Nicholas Evans Cato, Eileen Eder, Dean Fisher, Josh Gaetjen, Christopher Gallego, Israel Hershberg, Diana Horowitz, Alex Kanevsky, Constance LaPalombara, Claire Maury-Curran, William Meddick, Lawrence Morelli, Artie Mihalopolous, Lenny Moskowitz, William Nathans, Josephine S. Robinson, Stuart Shils, E.M. Saniga, Jesus Villareal, Justin Weist, Brian Wendler and Jordan Wolfson – represent his consideration of some of the most cherished paintings available for collecting today: “If I were a collector, these are the works I would own.” Special lending arrangements were made with several galleries such as DFN Gallery, Forum Gallery, Steven Harvey Fine Arts Projects and Marlborough Gallery in New York, as well as with the artists to bring such an extensive exhibition to the public, including two or three representative works per artist. For those who cannot travel to Connecticut to see the exhibition, the following slideshow of photos provided by Fisher will offer a good peek.

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Dean Fisher is a contemporary classically oriented realist painter and has shown at Hirschl & Adler Gallery and Tatistcheff Gallery in New York. A highly respected teacher and exquisite painter of stillife, landscapes and the nude, he is a guild artist and instructor of painting at the Silvermine Arts Center in New Canaan, Connecticut and conducts workshops in Italy during the summer, including the new landscape painting program at the Certosa di Pontignano from August 27 – September 3, 2011, with details of the course yet to be announced.

Fisher, Beach-Windy Day

Fisher, Tide Pool

To view works of the selected artists in the exhibition, websites have been provided here when available:
Robert Bauer
Frank Bruckmann
Hollis Dunlap
Nicholas Evans Cato
Eileen Eder
Dean Fisher
Josh Gaetjen
Christopher Gallego
Israel Hershberg
Diana Horowitz
Alex Kanevsky
Constance LaPalombara
Claire Maury-Curran
William Meddick
Lawrence Morelli
Artie Mihalopolous
Lenny Moskowitz
William Nathans
Josephine S. Robinson
Stuart Shils
E.M. Saniga
Jesus Villareal
Justin Weist
Brian Wendler
Jordan Wolfson

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.

Eighty Painted Souls for a Thursday

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Alphabetical presentation of artists in slideshow: Anguissola, Arcimboldo, Arikha, Bacon, Bashkirtseff, Basquiat, Beccafumi, Boccioni, Bocklin, Caravaggio, Carracci, Cassat, Cezanne, Chagall, Chardin, Corot, Courbet, Dali, David, De Chirico, Degas, Delacroix, Del Sarto, Derain, Dickinson, Durer, Ellenreider, Falat, Fragonard, Freud, Gauguin, Gentilleschi, Giordano, Goya, Hopper, Ingres, Jessen, John, Kahlo, Kauffman, Kikuchi, Kokoschka, Lebrun, Leyster, Lippi, Malczewski, Malevich, Manet, Masaccio, Matisse, Modigliani, Mondrian, Monet, Morandi, Morisot, Munch, Murillo, Musashi, Norinaga, Picasso, Pirandello, Pissarro, Raphael, Redon, Rembrandt, Reni, Renoir, Reynolds, Rossetti, Rubens, Schiele, Sorolla, van Hemessen, Van Dyck, Van Gogh, Velazquez, Villers, Xiong, Zorn

Last night I returned home from Jerusalem, ate supper, attended to a barrage of emails, did some translations and began a compilation of self-portraits for a post I needed to get out this morning. The group is in no way exhaustive or exclusive, but merely what I was able to collect by about 11 pm, after which I decided to head to bed with Fairfield Porter’s discussion of Contemporary Painting in Art in Its Own Terms. Not that the slideshow was necessary or requested, I just felt it would be a nice thing to do and share (my life would probably be less busy if I stopped thinking like this, but I can’t help it, and in the end, interesting things come out of it). As I added new images to the group, my mind noted the differences between multiple earlier and later self-portraits done by the same artist. One can see in the earlier versions the influence of their training, as well as an intent to plunge ahead rigorously, and in the later ones perhaps a different kind of concern for the formal parts of the painting, a changing of the ego, and some of what I was to read after, in Porter’s words, of that “thinking that what one does is what one is; that a past origin is no more than its present derivative, and that the significance of future ends is contained in present means. From this it follows that art does not stand for something outside itself.” Lines later he writes that “painting reveals, like handwriting, the state of the artist’s soul.”

These words by Porter and this reflection on these portraits came after the last few days with time spent at the easel in spurts, but spurts that I have decided to consider in a new way. Rather than ache for a 3 hour or more stint at the easel, and then lament when I can’t find that time, I have decided to approach the reality of my current situation as a new, interesting set of challenges which is what it is, so appreciate it. As my reality is in spurts all day, every day, and as the reality around me changes in the same way, why not paint it just like that? So back to the easel I go, my moment is now. I have at least an hour of daylight yet.

Walking in the Rain

Felice Carena, “La Perla”

For the last ten days, I have had the pleasure to sit down at cafe tables or a panel discussion and talk about painting. In general, I don’t find it very satisfactory, nor do I have the burning desire to talk about paintings, especially mine. It already is a constantly devastating experience to realize on your own that what you have created is, in essence, a stupid painting. Well, much of the time, at least. And this realization causes you to wonder just what is it that you long to paint and why.

Jennifer Meanley, “The Reluctant Bride”

Talking about painting, and now writing about painting, can sometimes be a verbal, therapeutic version of my four hour walk on Saturday in intermittent drizzle to think about painting, to sort through the various images and compositions that come to mind or notice against my will the unending barrage of color and tone motifs around me. The only difference is that when walking alone and considering motifs, they are ideas I keep to myself, again for the same reason that they are highly likely to be sheer stupidity. I have had more than one experience of trying to verbalize a possible painting idea which led to the thought, “I can’t believe I just said that.” Rather than long for the brush or pencil on walks like this, I might wonder “why.” Why do I paint? Why should I not paint? What is the impetus?

Philip Govedare, “Project”

Just last week, I wandered into the bedroom which faces south and caught a glimpse of the last rays of sun moving across the fields behind my building. The fields are actually a dumping ground for every rejected item possible, from furniture left out in the rain, shoes and boots, broken televisions, plastic cups, deserted laundry blown from the lines – all of it just dumped, trampled upon, mowed over or around. Some people even bulldoze all of the refuse into mounds and set it on fire twice yearly, but it seems to be more of a bonfire activity for teenage fun than the result of absolute repulsion, with burnt patches of earth remaining as testimony. Beyond are makeshift huts used as homes, utilizing aluminum sheets, broken fence pieces, abandoned doors and warped wood. Further beyond there might be a little less despair, but given the distance and the light, I cannot see it. This is the reality out the window, if you really look at it, and no matter how far I walk in any city in this country, it seems unending. I sometimes feel so overwhelmed with hopelessness, but no one else seems to be in agony.

Claire Sherman, “Cave IV”

But, as a painter, when looking out that bedroom window at those rays grazing across the field, I was not enraptured by the idea of painting the scene of “what” was out there, but of painting the experience of looking out the window at that moment, at that split-second of seeing those colors and feeling them enter my bloodstream.  At mixing those colors and seeing them side by side, even in an entirely abstract composition. I wanted to eat them, gorge myself on them, they looked so delicious.

Kevin Marc Bernstein, “Aggregation I”

This then made me think of a conversation I had not too long ago, when a scientist friend asked me to describe what I meant when I said that the basis of figurative painting is abstraction, and how exactly so. This question came up after discussing other painters, but was in reference to the way I paint also, which can appear less “abstract” certainly. I explained that, in order to appreciate art that is more or less abstract, one must have the eye that enjoys abstract forms, and this is a joy that is instinctual yet can be fostered. An abstract form is an isolated form with a certain size, shape, color, texture and edges that has no meaning other than its own qualities of size, shape, etc. However, this abstract form takes on meaning as soon as it is in the context of another abstract form; these amoeba-like forms build meaning through their juxtaposition. And an artist has control over how much attention they give to its qualities, and less control over how much they can actually see. The best part of painting – for me – is oozing around in this mode of seeing and gripping abstract shapes.

Susan Lichtman, “Winter Interior”

The meaning of forms can simply be a tension between them, or a dependent relationship within a composition which can affect the viewer, but it is always (in my opinion) a desire on the part of the artist to create a significant meaning, an “important” relationship of forms, which cannot be put into words, but is about the experience of human perception, of being there and being moved by this composition of elements. The artist can also, through the continued observation of the color, texture, edges etc of these forms, build an illusion which to our eyes appears 3 dimensional, and when this happens, the artist is particularly interested in giving new meaning to that figure/object/scene which appears. From a distance, the edges between these individual abstract forms can appear in varying degrees of hardness and softness, which have an effect on their appearance in space, in terms of what pops forward and what recedes. The color and value of these forms works the same way in this nature of observation/perception, in that light and warmth come closer to the eyes and dark and cool distance themselves. It all depends on how much the artist wishes to create the illusion of 3 dimensions, wishes to remain in the flatness of beautiful forms, or wishes to enrich one subgroup of what’s out there, for example the chroma, the edges or the tone.

Matt Klos, “Kitchen Window, Nightfall”

Perception is also an embedded element in figurative art. Everything out there can be seen as abstract forms, but perception is what allows for a human feeling to emerge related to them. Human beings are equipped with organs that allow perception, the sensing of light, color, warmth, dimension, texture and so forth. The process of looking at something or hearing something cannot always be separated from the feeling it gives. It is not only cold calculating of size, length and color mixing, for how would we explain goose bumps and shivers when hearing a story or thread of music. Our brain causes our skin and blood to react. These are perceptions that we cannot actually control, and so all of them are not only valid for inclusion, a true human painting cannot be created without them.

Daniel Enkaoua, “Le Melon et la Pasteque”

What makes figurative art based on abstraction and perception so difficult is that the parameters are so wide for inclusion and failure. Everything is open for observation, and everything is open for impending doom. Some artists focus purely on the forms that are out there, and others focus on a human concern to them. One can imitate, be repetitive, have good luck or bad, get stuck in reportage, overboard on feeling, lack a crucial element, have no important focus, or simply have nothing interesting to “say.” The artist can choose to not give a hoot about the qualities of the abstract forms and simply plop them down, or he can care to a great extent about every part of them. Great art can be said to cause the viewer to somehow become a better, more whole human being through an increased coming-to-grips with what might be out there and what might make this walk through life more valuable. By experiencing a scene made up of cared-for components, in a composition which provides non-verbal comfort, the viewer can soak up a small beauty in abstract, perceptual reality and therefore share in this visual awe about what real can be.  A bit like having someone come in and remodel the entire backyard.

Vincent Desiderio, “Sleep”

But painters when painting are not usually thinking about the aftereffects of a possibly “successful” painting. When I get stuck about the “why” of painting, there is no one to give an answer, offer advice or provide comfort. No one is forcing me to pick up a paint brush. When I get stuck on the why, I think, and this might lead to new directions and explorations, so that the challenges change. But I turn to the works of others, especially new ones, like I look out the rear window: for a fresh rainfall of unexpected perspectives, a good douse of something that’s good for me amongst all the drivel.

Eve Mansdorf, title unknown