Summer 2010We are all weathering the ‘downturn’, all in our different ways, but we are weathering it. My days are broken into segments. If we can, and the weather permits, Betsy and I try to sneak off for an early morning bike ride down Wax Orchard Road and back. Then upon our return, the early part of the morning is taken up with business; Anelecia comes in at 9am and moves into action putting out fires, asking questions, responding to letters, phone calls, emails, working with clients and galleries on ads, prints, catalogues and books, etc.
By mid-morning I am in the studio, usually working on a large painting. The concept of a painting takes years to develop but usually about a month or six weeks to complete. Currently I’m getting ready for a show in New York at PPOW in October. Each morning, the fresh paint is squeezed out from 150ml tubes onto the palette atop large mounds of paint from the previous days’ work.
1.Initially, working indirectly, thinking abstractly, I establish my drawing, based on references, preliminary drawings, oil studies, photos and the live model, objects, interior or exterior spaces; feeling out the whole painting at once, working from the general to the specific. Once the major diagonals and compositional elements are placed I begin the process of refinement, drawing in each figure and element more precisely. This process is usually done in thin transparent washes of oil (but because Betsy has encouraged me to use less turpentine, for health reasons, recently I’ve been blocking in the painting initially with an acrylic wash, this step prevents evaporating turp fumes from being ingested, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin). The first phase is done with a limited monochromatic earth palette. Sometimes I will use sanguine, cobalt purple or white chalk (NuPastel ) to move or re-establish specific detailed passages.
2.The second, and middle phase of a painting is the heart of the painting and usually the most difficult, it is where the truth lies. This phase involves opaquely laying- in most of the color and opacities. I utilize a quick drying medium for this, usually an alkyd resin such as Liquin or a Gamblin medium (Galkyd). This step is done directly with a full prismatic palette and is often a hit or miss process. It can be laborious. One tries to maintain a sense of spontaneity. A passage may work, in it’s initial ‘blocked-in’ phase, but then, transcribing the energy of the initial light and dark break-up into a more fully resolved passage, in full color, is where the real work is found. It can be difficult to hold and sustain the energy and idea of a piece throughout this rather technical part of the process. Once a painting is fully opaquely painted with full attention paid to every area of the painting; when every section has been carefully considered, then one may move on to the final phase of a painting.
3.This final phase is, unification. This is usually achieved through a series of glazes. I use a traditional Ralph Mayer medium for a glaze, If I need it to dry faster, for a series of glazes or for completion, I’ll add up to 1/3 Liquin, by volume. Gamblin makes a lovely asphaltum, but ivory black or a neutral combination of transparent primaries will also work beautifully, if handled discriminately. One doesn’t want the glaze to significantly darken/overpower the painting or become brown soup. It should unify and add a luminous sense of atmosphere, slightly darkening the darks, and thereby lightening the lights. The glaze is often applied universally and then carefully wiped out of the light passages. A glaze like this can only be used in the very last phases of a painting as it will contain to much oil for adherence by subsequent layers of paint.
One painting is completed before the next one is begun. Betsy calls it my ‘one lane grassy path’. I can focus best on one project at a time. One of the perks from all of the MRI’s and headwork I’ve been going through over the past few years, is that we have made some fascinating discoveries about my brain. It turns out that the right hemisphere of my brain is much larger than the left hemisphere. The main vertebral artery which should feed the left side of my brain dissipates somewhere in my neck. It is an anomaly from birth. About this discovery Betsy says jokingly, ”This explains a lot!”
We are all just hormones and physiology. Which is why as artists we are each unique. It is why an artist’s touch is individual and distinguishable from every other artist’s touch. In the recent New Yorker article “The Mark of a Masterpiece” David Grann discusses ‘the ineffable sense of connoisseurship’ which Thomas Hoving utilized to spot an original (versus a fake) piece of Art. This idea was brought up a few years ago in the book, “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell. If one is well versed in their craft they can tell instantaneously if something is authentic or not. The recent discovery of a possible Velazquez in the basement of Yale University currently has everyone excited.
But I’d like to throw out another question to artists, connoisseurs and historians. Upon what are the attributions of the early ‘religious’ Vermeers based? The “Christ in the House of Mary and Martha”1655 in Edinburgh, and the “Diana and her Companions” 1656 in The Hague are so very different in temperament, touch, subject matter and composition, than the other authenticated early Vermeers , such as “The Procuress” 1656 and “A Woman Asleep” 1657. And don’t even get me started about the St.Praxedis painting, which is a copy of an Italian painting, and wasn’t attributed to Vermeer until 1986. As a painter I understand how an artist develops and how quickly one can improve, but, to this artist’s eye, the “Diana” and the “Christ “, don’t appear to be by the hand of Johannes Vermeer of Delft, perhaps , Vermeer’s near contemporary, Utrecht’s Jan Vermeer, or some other follower of Nicholas Maes. These attributions were made in the late 1800’s when Vermeer paintings were just beginning to become more valuable. As late as 1898 the “Diana” was still attributed to The Utrecht Vermeer. The reigning Vermeer expert at the time, Bredius, was reluctant to make the attribution even after the “Christ” painting was bought privately for a steep price and the comparisons were made in terms of general coloration by a young deputy director in The Hague, Willem Martin. It seems to be a house of cards upon which these attributions were made and still stand to this day. The art of authentication certainly is not a science. But, it would be interesting to have some further tests done on the early “Vermeers”, as they continue to appear in most every major survey as examples of his early work.
Ok, two more brief opinions before escaping for the Summer to Maine. Firstly, I think that there is absolutely nothing wrong with putting a Chihuly Museum at the Seattle Center near the Space Needle. Jeff Wright has every right to build it and I think it would benefit the community. Secondly, I am so excited about the move of the Barnes Collection to Center City in Philly. Derek Gillman is awesome, and will undoubtedly shepherd the project into a world-class facility. We should always remember, as the public and as art lovers, that the desires of the artist should trump the desires of the collector. Albert Barnes gathered an amazing collection, but ‘that collection’ is not more important than each individual piece in that collection, because what is most important is the will of the artist, and the will of the artist is for their work to be seen and appreciated by as many people as possible. The Barnes collection and estate was undeniably beautiful, housed on North Latches Lane, it was an experience like no other, but the time comes when things change and we have to adjust to those changes and to have the masterpieces of the Barnes Foundation housed in well lit and spacious galleries where many more people will have access to them, will honor the paintings and the original will of the artists over the wishes of the one-time owner of the paintings. I am all for the move and I look forward to visiting the New Barnes when it opens on the Parkway.