Saturday, October 17, 2020

November Thoughts, on the new home and upcoming upheaval of an election.

Went onto Google Maps and did a walkabout through our old neighborhood in Seattle of 30+ years and felt the tugs... some things have changed, some have not. But the familiar is what i miss.
I know every crack in the sidewalk of the old neighborhood, the occupants of every house. As much as I bitched and moaned about the things there that were making me nuts, ie: seaplanes right overhead, cut through traffic down our narrow street, houses 16 feet away fron each other, windstorms year round, and incessant grey skies in winter and the smell of burning forests in summer... there was the unaccounted-for familiar. The faces of friends, the feeling of connectedness, the sheer education of the population. I didnt weigh them appropriately.
The pandemic has interrupted the healing that needs to take place when you rip old roots up and move your tree of life. I am reminded of an old favorite Harry Chapin song: “ and now she’s acting happy, inside her handsome home, and me.. im flyin’ in my taxi, takin’ tips and getting stoned..”
It is not a perfect soliloquy (right word?) I love many things about the new life here. But the pandemic and its extension into the forseeable future by deniers and those who do not take it seriously means the healing of the roots and their nourishment are delayed, and unnecessarily delayed indefinitely so that the roots bleed longer than is healthy, and maybe longer than is recoverable.
We knew the change would mean a time of re-rooting would be necessary, and all was anticipated. Everything would be interrupted while new roots would be introduced. All helped by old friends and family visits each bringing thier own style of fertilizer. But I find myself staring up into the grey sky today and longing for that familiar... any familiar beyond the lawn. The growth was stopped. New connections and friends retreated (mea culpa) and time stopped having any meaning. The problem is at this stage of life, is that time is no longer kind.
The oaks at the top of the rise on 29th Ave NE are still there, the house looks the same and i imagine the new occupants are doing well. A glance at the Bryant Cafe on 65th is still the hub of the neighborhood, even if the patrons have changed some, and I hope Sarah has new favorites.
I am happy to have great horned owls speaking to each other at dusk here, and the profound quiet in the evening. I enjoy biking to the Rail Trail, and walking on the beach. But I miss the connections. I miss people. And when I look at who we are and what we are embracing I am hungry for hope... hope in this shifting cultural landscape that is so unwelcoming to roots of any kind.
Please vote. If you do nothing else this year, vote.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Notes on Gesso and Panels

Q: What is your process for panel preparation...Do you treat first with PVA and then Gesso? You paint with you use a Gamblin oil primer or a acrylic many coats...both sides? Curious. Thanks

A: Sort of depends. When I built the large panels, had to do pinhole fills so when all was sanded, used commercial primer sealer which was sanded smooth. Usually just gesso direct. Paint with oil and alkyd, alkyd medium. All my gessos are acrylic. Usually do a clear sealer on back sides, not always. Baltic panels are very stable. Larger panels get 7-8 sanded coats, smaller 4-5.

Q: What kind of panels do you use?

Baltic birch, or double tempered masonite only...  Favorite small panels are double tempered masonite, with edges smoothed and well grounded makes the best panel for up to about 10x12". It is extremely stable, and I love it. Have used it for decades. Anything beyond that size I go to 5mm baltic birch. I bought a lifetime supply of it in Seattle, and use smaller paintings un supported, and larger ones supported ("cradled"). Some of the large ones were done with 3mm supported for weight loss, and I wish I had picked up more of it.

Q: Gesso?

A: The large 48x60" panel in the pictures has 5 coats of white Liquitex gesso. Finished withtwo coats of grey tinted Speedball gesso, sanded between. My first few coats are Liquitex, which is heavy and a bit more plastic. Final coats are neutral grey Speedball gesso, which is thinner but sands better. It is much harder.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

So long Maestro Mort Drucker

I corresponded with Mort years ago. Told him he was responsible for my artistic life, which he was, and I wanted him to know while he was still around that I knew that and he should as well. I enclosed a couple books, and he wrote back a long letter with some drawings of his, and some signed stuff.

He taught me how to draw. Countless hours in the desert sun of Fort Bliss and El Paso where we were stationed I studied and then copied his parodies on used copy paper my father brought home in boxes from the base, wearing down many a pencil. There could have been national secrets on the one side, but I was only interested in the blank sides. I was a weird lonely kid with thick glasses and I found my voice in his drawings.

He was a master of caricature and nuance, anatomy and physicality, line and shade, humor and satire. I soaked it all up, and made it my way of dealing with the outside world. Pencil, pen and wash, a myriad of line shading tricks with hatches, swirls, textures. My BFA belonged to Mort.

I remember being excited for the new comic books to appear, but I lived for the new Mad Magazines. They came with new Drucker parodies. More drawing... hot women, men with machine guns, vehicles, and an endless assortment of background characters he carefully penned to life. And those hands... his knowledge of anatomy was no less than extraordinary. And always, always somewhere there was Alfred lurking in the scenes.  A very deep well to draw from... literally.

Mort Drucker was my teacher and invisible friend. I am grateful for the chance to connect with him, and sadly bid him adieu.... the world is a duller place without him.

Friday, January 24, 2020

A Solution To The Failed Paint Tube Caps

It has been a constant battle for me, trying to keep older tubes of paint from being unusable. Once the caps crap up, and don't fit anymore, the tubes start to end-dry, and then harden. Especially the alkyds, which cure when exposed to air. I have wasted too many hours of what is left of my life digging out caps, cleaning off threads on tubes, and digging out tubes to get to the wet usable paint, only to have to do it again next day. For oils this is not as big a deal. Oil is cleanable, and usually takes so long to cure only a skin forms on the tube that does not penetrate into the tube. Hardly any need for caps in oils as a result. Acrylics and alkyds are a different story.

So, I was looking at bolt end covers after looking at a wire shelf end cap in my hardware cabinet, and a light bulb went off. It appears that the vinyl bold caps come in many sizes and depths. My tubes are  mostly 3/8th inch (or 10mm) and there is an end cap that size. They come in a variety of depths as well, as they are designed to protect bolt ends from injuring others, or from paint when a bolted product is painted. Protects the threads.

I also found a 3/8 inch silicone end cap in the auto world, as vacuum line caps, so I ordered some of those as well. I am currently using both and will see which is better. I suspect the silicone will work better, as it it stretchier and more pliable, making a better seal. If one buys them in bulk, they are cheap. The green ones in the photos were 50 for 10$. If you get the 3/8 x 1/2" length vinyl caps from the hardware store, they are over 50c apiece. I suspect the silicone will be more resistant to paint adhesion as well, since I use silicone pans to mix gesso, and just squish the pan when the remnant is dry, and it just falls out or easily peels out. Nothing sticks to it....

Stay tuned, and I will see how they do.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

An Artist's Voice

A painter’s voice

A while back I posted some thoughts on the passing of Russell Chatham where I mentioned the dilemma of being compared to others while trying to develop one’s own “voice”. I was asked to expand on that and thought it might be worth doing. 

It is true that we are each an amalgam of our lifetime of exposure to others influence, and all those contributions help create the language we as painters use to both observe and respond to our world. And it does not matter what ‘style’ one paints, from abstract expressionism to cubism to realism or any of the other “isms” that get thrown around in the world of pigeonholing fine art. All painting is representational, and all is an attempt by the painter to observe and respond to the inner or outer (or both) world we find ourselves in a way that gives us deeper meaning. I think that when an artist is successful, that meaning becomes shareable. 

There is a long tradition in the apprentice model of learning where any artist learns things from others before them (or alongside them) who are seemingly doing a better job of it than the apprentice, and emulation is a common reaction. 

It can also be a trap.

When I was in art school, Andrew Wyeth was a big deal. Many of us “realists” (as opposed to “representational” which is all encompassing) studied Andrew Wyeth’s voice in detail, and painted paintings that mimicked his work to the best of our abilities. This is an old technique in art schools everywhere, not unique to mine. But I realized at some point that I was not speaking with my voice, but with Wyeth’s, so I began to pay more attention to his (and others) PRINCIPLES rather than style. That change kicked me off onto my own path and for better or worse I have tried to keep to the trail.

There are many Wyeth “clones” out there, people who stayed with the Wyeth style, painters who felt most comfortable speaking with his voice than their own and I have met plenty of them. Mind you, I was on that path too so this is not a judgement, just an observation. Most of the ones I know are phenomenal painters who have successfully tweaked Wyeth’s voice to work for them, but I admit that I feel a little estranged from them. Kind of like meeting Elvis impersonators, some of whom are extraordinarily talented individuals, but without a voice of their own. I am often confused by what I am looking at, because I knew what Wyeth was doing, the underpinnings of his conversation with the world, which were unique to him. Those underpinnings were what gave Andrew Wyeth’s paintings so much depth. Wyeth’s paintings are not about his paint, they are about what he FELT. I don’t see the same depth in those who mimic him because his paintings were the perfect union of knowing what he wanted to say and saying it with his own unique voice.

Just to be clear here… I am in no way making any comparison of myself to the great Andy Wyeth. His influence on me is just the scaffold on which to make the point. 

Part of the process of finding my own voice has been looking at others work over the years from a principle of painting or drawing standpoint, or not looking at others work at all. For many years I stopped going to galleries and museums to look at other’s work and worked in my own isolation struggling through the processes of tweaking my own painting to do what I wanted it to. It is important to note that there is a significant underpinning to my journey of study and experience that equipped me to do so. This does not mean I don’t look at other’s work, but I don’t study it. I just let it impact me as viscerally as possible. It also does not mean that I am any model of success with my own beliefs. It is a process that is never perfected.

Eventually, I think every painter has to do two things:  One, have a point. Have something you need to express, something you can articulate. And two, spend the time finding your best unique voice to express that point. Every painter has to give him or herself permission to do both.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

So long, Russell Chatham.

On Sunday, November 10, American landscape painter Russell Chatham passed away. 

"Bare Trees and Hayfields in November" Russell Chatham

Many years ago when I was fairly unknown, those who did see my paintings mentioned that it reminded them of a painter named Russell Chatham. This is back before the internet days and I had no idea who this guy was, or why anyone thought to compare us. I spent my early years trying NOT to paint like Andrew Wyeth, to find my own voice, only to be told I sounded like this other guy. 

Someone told me he had a book out, and after failing to find it at the library I went down to Elliot Bay Book Store in Seattle since they had a reputation for having or finding any book. The fellow at Elliot’s told me they had no books by or of Russell’s work, but he was represented just downtown at a gallery called Kimzey Miller. He thought they might know more. 

So I walked uptown from Elliot’s and found Kimzey Miller Gallery, which happened to be having a showing of Russell’s work, and they had a few of the books “One Hundred Paintings”. While I was there I walked around and looked at Chatham’s paintings and did not see the connection, but you do not get to control others impressions and the comparisons, whether warranted or not, and they kept coming… including a reference in a large article done about my work in Southwest Art Magazine later. 

Russell was by then a seasoned and well loved tonalist, and his paintings were far beyond my abilities and skillset. They simply glowed… Over time, the best explanation of this comparison came from another painter and friend, Kent Lovelace, a lifelong friend of Russell’s and instrumental in the production of his early lithographs. Kent thought that we “looked at the same things”. I can agree with that, and later realized that Kent belonged in that same assessment. We were all painting the same places, responding to the same things. California, Washington, western mountain states. 

As I purchased a copy I was chatting with them about why I was looking for the book, and Terry Miller found that interesting enough to ask for a studio visit. That visit led to my representation by the gallery, my first one-man major show, and a several year relationship with them. So now my paintings were hanging next to Chatham’s at KMG and there was, to my eye, no viable comparison to be made. Not that it is necessarily a bad thing, just not what you want when you are trying to develop your own voice.

Though not directly influenced by Russell’s work (at least consciously), his impact on my life and career turned out to be weighty. I was later represented by three other galleries that also represented Chatham’s work, in Wyoming, Montana, and New Mexico. Although I still see no resemblance, I cannot help but feel grateful for the association. 

The last time I saw or spoke to Russell Chatham was 2002 when I shared billing with him and Kent in the last show Geoff Sutton did at his gallery Sutton West in Missoula, Montana. Russell was out of sorts that night and went home early after the post-show dinner. He was entering a phase of his career that was upended by financial and personal misfortunes that we were not aware of at the time. I did try to contact him (a best regards) later through a mutual writer friend who was going to meet him in California, but she was not successful locating him. He had returned to his early origins on the West Coast and was staying out of sight. Even Kent could not get ahold of him. (It is true that if you were female, you had a better chance…)

So, in the 2002 show card I am posting here, I find myself standing with two phenomenal painters, two of which have left us for the Orion Belt, and I must say, it feels sort of lonely to be the only survivor on the card.  

Travel well, Russell Chatham.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Scaffold Easel

Ok... the amazing scaffold-rolling studio-easel system is done. I decided to move all of that to this place, as I dont want to clutter the page up too much with this sort of thing.

So, here is the description. It is a standard inexpensive 'bakers' scaffold. I needed one for my storage in hatfield, and to use on the high work in the new studio and show space here in Harwich. By attaching some wood attachment points with the scaffold pins and bolts with wing nuts, there is nothing on the scaffold that is not easily removed if the scaffold needs to be a scaffold.

after the attachment points were made (simple chop saw carpentry) I made a tray and angling system for the largest panels along the 6' side. On the ends, I made two smaller adjustable easels, one a standard shouldered easel, and the other a table easel for paper paintings and small things. The entire system rolls with fingertip ease on the 6" casters. It's home is in the north end of my painting area, but can easily roll out into the show area if I need more space around me. The back side is also a work space, for doing shipping or other tasks that need a flat area.