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

Phew, Time for a Trip

What a crazy past couple months this has been, and I wonder if it’s the same all over. As I am leaving tomorrow for a much welcome trip to Italy (with a whole day in Rome to ponder Domenico Morelli and wander the grounds of Villa Borghese) I realized that I have not shared any of the recent paintings I have been working on in quite a while. The truth is, I have started so many, but they are taking longer. This has much to do with the fact that I am going through many more stages along the way where I stop, ponder, and decide to paint something else on top. So these images here are far from what I would call finished. They are moments of pause in the process, and will likely go through enormous changes before becoming yet another painting. Sometimes I have craved a rewind button, but the further I push it I find some interesting surprises happen that have very little to do with what I began. Losing paintings has become crucial to finding learned paintings.

Penchant for Pink

As I am leaving for the US this evening for two weeks, I thought I would post some of the paintings I have been working on since my return from Italy to Israel. My flight does not leave until midnight, so amidst the little bit of packing I must do, I will also spend a good part of the day painting. It seems to appear that I am currently fixated on pink, but this is only because in the short time I have been back, the pink sheets were the clean ones! And they make everything take on a pinkish hue.

My trip to the US will include seeing my entire family reunited for a birthday and a wedding, before I begin a busy trip to visit about 20-30 contemporary artists across the country for a personal studio visit. I will begin in the Midwest (Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana), then California (San Francisco), and finish in the New York area (Brooklyn, Boston, Baltimore and Philadelphia). Quite a hectic trip, but I am very excited about meeting them, seeing their work in person, and discussing some international artist opportunities I am developing for significant contemporary figurative painters.

Summer Sojourn in Italy

Pink Window of Time, 29 x 32 cm

I returned in the wee hours on Friday, September 3 after a 7 week stint in Italy at the Certosa di Pontignano just outside of Siena, and since then I have been able to improve my website and post new images. Though most of my time in Italy was taken up by things other than art and painting, I did manage to begin close to 30 paintings, all on linen, though many of these are “failures” that will become the underpaintings for others in the future. As much as I might appreciate the quick, rapid sketch, I also enjoy the challenge of returning to a theme again for further contemplation, allowing it to become a greater niche in my thought process. So some of these images here are very quick and not so big, while with others I was able to at least get a second session with it. The painting above, for example, was something I came across when going to answer the phone. That pink light coming in from the window lasts no longer than 5 minutes each evening before sunset, so I tried getting back to it a few days in a row. The painting below instead was another view I came across in my room when the entire Certosa lost power in a massive thunderstorm. I was struck by the reflection on the floor, the blast of white and the inclusion of a television, and I was forced to paint very quickly before the lights came back on an hour later.

Approaching of the Storm, 16 x 25 cm

Closet, 35 x 48 cm

Pink Journal and Paper Bag, 33 x 40 cm

I suppose one might think that a long stay in Italy would involve numerous landscapes or street scenes, but after my enduring plunge into domestic chaos and focus on the beauty in the mundane, even in luscious Italy I stayed away from painting the rolling hills of Chianti. I preferred coming across pink journals and paper bags. Still, I did venture outside a few times.

Blue Clouds, 16 x 25 cm

Afternoon View, 16 x 25 cm

Arch Study, 30 x 42 cm

But I kept returning to my room, where things seemed to change constantly with the flux of the days:

Amber Wall, 30 x 43 cm

Pillows, 16 x 25 cm

And the following are some other quick, unfinished sketches, which may hold something that can be resolved (but probably not):

About 2 weeks before returning to Israel, I began to think about my dilemma as an artist, about what it is I want to paint and what I don’t. As much as I would love to move often and walk into new places of transit to find new chaos and stories unfolding, it is hardly practical. And then the solution dawned on me, and I am extremely thrilled to get into this whole new world of works. And there will be no need to change countries, houses or furniture. What bliss.

Time Spent in the Shower

Though I am extremely busy at the moment getting ready for a six-week painting stint in Italy, I have spent a lot of time in the bathroom lately working on this painting. Not a bad place to be, given the recent wave of terrific humidity in Rehovot. I have started a few other ones of the bedroom, including the mere beginning of one here. I find that though the setting remains the same, it appears differently to me each time. So much of the cause is the changing light and the composition. This start of the bedroom I actually envision more refined and detailed, yet less colorful and more solemn. The challenge lies in trying to accomplish this even though everything moves every day, and I am very intrigued about how I can face this and capture it in different ways.

Pushing 40 cm

For the last year, I have been very good at limiting myself with surfaces that will be manageable when the time comes again to change home and country.  I gave myself a maximum limit of 30 cradled wooden panels (my favorite painting surface) under 50 x 70 cm, along with various sizes of linen (which I dislike now for the tooth) and paper.  Still, I felt stifled by the smaller sizes I have been working with and I really needed a solution.  On heavy duty painting paper, I have found that with several coats of gesso, the paint slips around for me like it does on panel.  And with sizes reaching 100 x 140 cm, I am thrilled to work on sizes that take in a greater perspective.  Though I used to work large on linen, I have found that the texture “irritates” me, gets in the way and forces me to paint in a way that seems less natural to the way I paint.  I love when paint slips around and feels like it has a liquid mind of its own, and panel – and now the gessoed paper – provides this kind of surface.  The images here show 2 different pieces I have started.  I intend to work them quite a bit more to see how they can evolve, allowing myself the artistic luxury of reconsidering marks, colors and composition. Like sinking your teeth into something tasty after a prolonged artistic surface diet.

Outdoors with Sangram Majumdar

“Female Tree,” oil on linen, 11 x 14 in

From April 30 to May13, I had the great privilege of introducing the fabulous artist Sangram Majumdar to Israel, during his visit as the guest artist for the Jerusalem Landscape Painting Marathon. After countless correspondence, I was absolutely delighted to discover that he is even more pleasant and inspiring than I had guessed, and completely down to earth. Upon his arrival we set to work hanging a beautiful exhibition of his paintings and drawings. I was also able to watch him give a fabulous painting demonstration where he flicks paint around with palette knives at supersonic speed, and – in talking to him at length – to discover that we have very similar approaches in painting. I realised that it has been over 2 years since I have been able to talk about art and motifs with a painter, and so I immensely appreciated all the time we spent together.

One of the things we have in common is that we are mostly indoor painters who tend to like chaos, mundane messes and flashes of color. And when we go outdoors to paint, which is a very good thing to do despite preferences for the indoor studio, we stay away from pretty plein-air scenes like hills, sky, clouds, pretty farmhouse, etc. His demonstration painting subject, in fact, was of a pile of rocks, sticks and ashes, even though the setting was large, grassy and full of trees. We also both like subjects which seem a little too difficult, as it then becomes a process of trying to pin down abstract elements within a labyrinth of unrecognizable shapes.

“Ein Gedi Pool,” oil on linen, 11 x 15 in

When we went to the Ein Gedi spa at the Dead Sea, we hiked with our painting gear in 90 degree weather in the hopes of finding something paintable on the weekend, away from Jerusalem. I had never been to the park, so I was not ready for the tourists, mini waterfalls, rocky cliffs and foliage. In the end we found shade under a tree, me painting the above pool looking down and Sangram painting the cliff wall in front of us. We talked about art, swapped some colors and painted for about an hour and a half before a park guide gave us a warning to pack up before closing time. Even though I didn’t really have time to push the painting further, I was happy about the viewpoint and some of the color mixtures I was able to get correct.

“Nachla’ot Stairs” oil on linen, 8 x 14 cm

Back in Jerusalem, I was able to join the Marathon for a few afternoons, choosing a staircase in the Nachla’ot neighborhood, a study of a boulder, and a composition which included what was, marvelously to me, trees the shade of a deep pink. Part of the painting experience is in realising, as you are working, what colors things actually are. And to discover deep pink trees is one of the little eye-opening delights in painting from life. Though the painting is not finished, I appreciate it for the personal moment, and I consider it an always useful exercise of the eyes and brain.

“Pink Trees,” oil on linen, 9 x 13 in

Since Sangram’s departure, I have been looking at the paintings, and though they might not satisfy or need further work, I appreciate them for the experience they provided. Back at home without the 5 hour travel time and problems of transporting wet paintings, I can squeeze a little more painting time into my day, but I am thankful for the practice outdoors as preparation for the upcoming 6 weeks I will spend in Tuscany this summer. Mostly, I am very thankful to have met a new artist friend. The process of painting can be extremely hard, abstract, and at times, feel like a dead end which can question your own merit, so it’s nice to make new friends which can immediately understand.

Vertical Motifs

I just realised when looking at some of my recent paintings that there seems to be an inclination to be inspired by vertical motifs, so I have included a few here. The cypress tree was in a field near my home, and I liked its loneliness in the landscape. It is just a simple tree, and one you could probably find anywhere, yet it called out to me to paint it. I suppose I prefer a single tree over clusters, as it gives importance to the tree, as if it were a person standing there, day after day, under the sun. After about a half hour, some Bedouins came by with a flock of goats and sheep to look on, and I was happy to hear their compliments. I went to visit their farm the next day.

This next view is in the bedroom, an indoor tree, and I liked coming across it because of the water bottle and one of my prized possessions: the catalogue from the Antonio Lopez Garcia exhibition that I saw two summers ago in Boston. I hope one day to afford to get my hand on one of the major catalogues of his work.

The third painting is a start of a mini, flat light self-portrait. I find the challenge of going smaller and still trying to get forms and shapes right a good one. It is not finished yet in my opinion, but I have also received advice that I should leave it as is. I am not so sure, but I will share the start in case I move forward with it and hopefully not regret it! Today my roll of heat-activated adhesive arrived from Talas in the States, which means I will soon be able to move back to linen and larger sizes. The adhesive will allow me to safely and temporarily attach linen to supports, and this means I will be able to safely remove them for future travel purposes, a great relief when I think about the bulk of panels I have already covered in just a year.

Heat Wave

Here in Israel we have had our first taste of a very hot summer to come. These two paintings are from the last couple of days, when the sky has gone yellow and hazy, filled with sand blown in from the desert and some very humid air. I started several other ones, but I am displeased about them at the moment – I will see if I can rescue them from their doomed voyage to the world of unsuccessful paintings. An hour after working on the self-portrait with floral blouse, the kitten got up from the salmon sheets and knocked over the mirror, shattering it to pieces.

Self-Portrait with Floral Blouse

Salmon Lover