Sunday, May 8, 2016

Musings on Manet

I recently bought a book on Eduard Manet. I was instantly drawn to his paintings when I was younger.  They had a freshness about them.  When I was in the museums as a child I remember thinking that most of the "Classical" paintings made me want fall asleep, but these figures had life in them.  I could see the thickness of the paint applied on the surface.  "The Fifer" I remember seeing in an art book and thinking that it was nice for an artist to depict children in a way that was serious.  "Monk in Prayer" at the MFA in Boston was haunting in its realism.  Manet has a way of drawing from the past and simplifying.  The skull is painted in a painterly way reminding me that this is just a painting, and these are symbols that we are looking at.  "Le Dejeuner sur l'Herbe", is a favorite of mine for the strange landscape in the background.  Manet was looking at Giorione's and Titan's,"The Pastoral Concert," as well as engravings by Raimondi.  Giorgione's landscapes are dark and beautiful with space that seems hard to navigate.  Manet's painting too seems hard to believe for other reasons. Both paintings seem to be conjuring a pastoral ideal but Manet's is closer to what we might see in the woods yet still a very loose and imaginative landscape.  I could look at this paintings all day.  The "Olympia" and its predecessor, "Venus of Urbino," also shows how the past is suddenly thrown into the modern.  Manet was looking to the past but drawing from it in a away that made his paintings relevant to his present time yet continuing the narrative of art history. I find this dialogue with the past in his paintings fascinating weather he is drawing from great painters like Diego Velazquez or Raphael.

Monday, April 11, 2016

George Inness and Toanlism.

I have been thinking of the American Tonalism over the past month as I have been working on a particular commission.  One of my favorite painters and one who is linked with this movement is George Inness (1825-1894).  The paintings of his late career are among my favorite.  Inness was quoted as saying that "The true use of art is, first, to cultivate the artist's own spiritual nature." I can see in his work that he was interested not only in the plastic material world but another one that is harder to describe.  Inness died in 1894 at Bridge Allen in Scotland.  The end of his life sounds like something from a film! According to his son his last words were "My God! oh, how beautiful!" as he was viewing the sunset, and fell to the ground and died minutes later.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

The New Year

             "Water moving over stones"
                    5x7 oil on panel

As a year comes to a close and another begins I naturally think of life cycles and the death and rebirth.  I find inspiration in these moments where the metaphors of life and death are layers out.  The sunrise and sunsets are a constant reminder of birth and then the closing.  The highway and roads are also a clear metaphor for life's journey played out in so many songs but still hits me. 

Truck on the road
Oil on panel

 I remember looking out the window on road trips. On a long car ride the imagination would take over and I would enter into a day dream.  Sometimes I would imagine that we were from a time long past and in the future marveling at the cars and buildings.  This is a helpful habit for an artist.  Take nothing for granted! As an artist I am a witness to this time and place and record it for those that come after.  To see the beauty in this world and contemplate it before it fades or becomes something else.

               "Tree on the road side"
                 36x24 oil on canvas

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

North of Boston

Oil on canvas 36x36 on view at Walker Creek in Essex, MA
I have always found much inspiration from the area north of Boston.  The painting above is done from the trustees of reservations property in Essex. The late fall early winter is a wonderful time to paint and see the salt marshes.  The warm orchers and Indian red that can be found in the dead marsh grass can look like fire in the sun.  I love the contrast those colors with the coolness of the sky above.  
      While driving around the North Shore I find that the places I like to paint are the locations that I have fond memories.  Below is "Singing Beach" in Manchester by the Sea.  This beach was a constant destination in college and later on when I lived in the area.  Beverly Farms where we lived also became a favorite as I could walk to west beach and the marshes that lay behind it.  I have painted Chubb's Brook in most every light just as Monet painted the Cathedrals and Haystacks.  

"Singing beach with figures"

"Summer Love"

"Sea Lawn" Magnolia, Gloucester, MA 24x36
This trustees property is another favorite. There are so many interesting views and I have many nice memories of picnics by the sea and watching our children run around. 

"Nocturne Harbor with full moon" 8x10.  Above is another painting done of the harbor in Manchester by the sea.  Recently I have enjoyed painting nocturnes.  Using burnt umber and ultramarine blue together I create the grisaille "grey" tonal painting.  This location I remember walking by in college and seeing the moonlight over the harbor.  I did a drawing on location and removed a few of the boats in the distance. I like to do smaller sketches and drawings of larger paintings and work out the composition before working on a larger painting.  

"Summer Marsh" 24x36 was done by the Parker River.  I had painted here all day and used the moments of the day that worked best for the painting.  This is the great benifit to working out of doors. You can see it is toward the end of the day and the light is coming from the left side of the canvas and illuminating the sides of the trees along the river.  This painting was in the HBO movie "Olive Kitteridge" which I have yet to see. 

"Figures on the Beach" summer sky 24x36.  This last painting is made from a few visits to different beaches.  The first right hand side of the canvas is of West Beach in Beverly Farms looking over to Salem and Marblehead.  The right side originally had trees but felt "wrong" so I continued the ocean over.  I enjoy the liberties that painters can take manipulating a scene to create a desired effect where a photographer or photorealistic is often stuck with slavishly recording what is in a photograph.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Sun Bathers

"Reading at the Beach"
Oil on canvas

Above is a recent painting at Cavalier Gallery in Nantucket.  The beach is the perfect place for an artist interested in the figure.  All the models you could ask for posing for you unpaid. It can be hard working plien air and simplifying the scene to its essence.  This process is what I enjoy so much.  Looking around me and distilling the interior and exterior worlds.  I see the forms as physical but carting a spiritual mystery that no science can prove but our intellects tell us that there is something more to the world that what we see and feel.  Something behind the scenes. 

"Rainbow Umbrella"
Oil on panel
Jonathan MacAdam

These paintings for me carry that strange human weight.  The drama that a figure when placed in a landscape creates, and the questions that plague the philosopher What are we? What are we doing here? What is this strange reality that seems grows more unknowable with each generation as our knowledge grows. We are again and again stripped down and brought back to the beginning  and faced with  mortality and the question of a spirit.  As in the tragedies and comedies of Shakespeare the artist has the stage and looks at the figures from afar and can see their simple fates.  There sun bathing seems as I beautiful enjoyment of the moment and an effort to slow down death. The love affairs of Summer's past hang there suspended.  Light itself we can hardly understand.  The physics are astounding.  We can't hide from it we can only see what it reveals; feel it's warmth; contemplate its journey from the sun itself. 

"Couple at the beach" 8x10 oil on panel

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Beach Paintings

"Child at Play"
Work in progress
18 x 24
Oil on canvas

The ocean and beach is one of my favorite places to go and to paint.  The light on a clear summer day with the big expansive views allow a painter so many subjects to choose from, not to mention all the figures.  The figures bathed in light and often at rest are perfect models.  I also love drawing and painting my own family at the beach. These have been really rewarding as many include my wife and children as models.  The beach is a great place to draw as you don't really stick out as you are drawing. The views from sitting down in a chair can be interesting rather than standing.  Also, all the figures over a great distance are fascinating to me as they appear in different sizes as the perspective moves back into the horizon.
      I started the below painting by covering canvas in a warm color.  Vermillion thinned down works nicely.  Below is the almost finished painting where you can see I added my son to the composition as I wanted another figure in the foreground.  Painting at the beach also allows me to place objects like chairs and umbrellas in the painting from drawings to balance the painting with color and form that works for the composition of the painting. 

  I really enjoyed seeing some of the photographs of people at the beach by Vivian Maier recently.  The figure against the ocean as a back drop creates a great tension.  The flexing of mussels against the movement of the ocean is beautiful. Another artist who I admire and enjoy their figure paintings is Wayne Thiebaud. playfulness of Wayne Thiebauds' beach figures capture some of that fun and color that I associate with the beach.  Wayne is 94 years old born in 1920! 

Here is finished work 24 x 36 inches, oil on canvas. 
"Day in July"
On view at Cavalier Gallery on Nantucket Island.

I really love painting a group of people gathered together. There are few reasons that a group of people get half undressed and pose for free for a painter other than to sit by the ocean.  

Saturday, April 11, 2015

drawing from drawing

Girl with drink at the beach

Woman walking on beach study

Currently I have been taking drawings from the past summer with figures at the beach.  In drawing I can work out the composition and add details from life.  I have always enjoyed drawing.  Drawing is the foundation of painting. Making many lines, marks and smudges to make one big picture.  Whether you use a paintbrush or a pencil drawing is crucial. Like in music each note adds to the piece and it builds slowly to create form and volume.  I like going over and over again changing and correcting trying to make the space real and pleasing.  
Drawing takes time.  It sits you down and you are forced to look at things and study them.  In a way it is a form of meditation.  Some times it takes a lot of energy to look at things.  Really study them.  We don't want to slow down enough to do the looking.  Drawing helps me slow down and really be amazed at what is around me.  Reality is so strange and wonderful yet easy to take for granted.  As I look at people moving in space and try to discribe that space and those bodies in it I become more a part of what is around me.  More connected to what I am looking at. Most of the time the scene is very complicated and  I am forced to simplify.   Below is a small study of a girl at a beach and then an empty beach in Maine.