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.

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.

I was visiting Jerusalem for the first time a couple months ago, and of course I was overwhelmed by the fervor, the history, the chaos and the magnificence, but I wondered, how can I possibly paint all that? It was when I was wandering through the Arab market stalls and I spotted a staircase going up above to some invisible place, that I knew my artistic curiosity was going to intervene. A vendor nearby noticed my halt and encouraged me with, “You should go up. It’s beautiful up there.” There I was on the rooftops of the Arab quarter of Jerusalem, satellite dishes and wires everywhere, children playing on the roof protrusions, laundry of every color strung out to dry in the fading afternoon. Then as if this weren’t enough, just behind, in the distance, the dome of the Mount glistening in all of its splendor. This was to me an extraordinary mingling of decadence, opulence and modernity. I even liked the cable dishes. I felt fortunate, as if everything was going to be okay because I saw it. Nothing and no one could have stopped me from painting it.