I have a confession to make. I have become addicted to all things Grimm, thanks in large part to the t.v. series on NBC. I was familiar with the fairy tales we all grew up with, but when I purchased a book of Grimm's fairytales recently, I was amazed at the sheer volume of stories they had actually written. In addition, some of them are quite bizarre and rather morbid, and lend themselves quite nicely to a few additional twists and tweeks to make them a little more adult and open to some artisitic interpretation. Melancholia is one such painting. Judging by the apple in her hand, it's pretty clear this is based on Snow White; but if you look closely, she hasn't bitten the apple yet. She's under the witch's spell which has put her in a state of "hypnotic melancoly" (not a technical term!). In her hand is the poison apple........will she bite it?
I wanted this painting to be psychologically dark as much as it is visually dark- from the dark forest green background, to Snow White's creamy, pale skin, to that forboding, luscious red apple. And of course the position of Snow White herself; draped across her bed, her pale arm lying gracefully on the floor....Comment on or Share this Article →
Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working (Pablo Picasso)
An artist’s creative process is one of the most fascinating topics I can think of. The finished products are what most people see, but how did it happen? To me, that is “the question”. What was the inspiration? How did the artist decide what colors to use? What method did the artist use? Did the subject inspire the artist to venture into a different style in order to convey his feelings and vision? What is going on in the artist’s brain before, during, and after?
Artists can seem like enigmas- and artist’s studios mysterious places. Some artists are extraordinarily odd people, and some are extraordinary in their down-to-earth normalcy. Others fall somewhere in between. Where do their ideas come from?
Does the artist’s muse actually exist? Probably one of the most profound examples of this is the American painter Andrew Wyeth and his model, Helga Testorf. Over the course of fifteen years, Wyeth created over 240 drawings and paintings of her-the series eventually being named “The Helga Pictures”. What would drive an artist to paint the same subject repeatedly over the course of so many years? Wyeth himself said he had become “enamored” and “smitten” when he saw Helga-not in a romantic sense, but with her more visual attributes-the way she wore her hair, her clothing, the way she walked.
“The Helga Series”
An artist’s muse doesn’t necessarily have to be a person-it can be a place. When we think of Paul Cezanne our first thoughts are probably his still lifes, but in fact, he painted many, many landscapes of his birthplace-Provence, and one of his favorite subjects was Mont Sainte-Victoire.
“Mont Sainte-Victoire, seen from Les Lauves”
There is a psychology to inspiration. Some artists feel that painting, drawing, or sculpting a subject is a journey of discovery that is not complete by merely creating it once. The journey may never be complete no matter how many times the artist creates it. Other artists choose a subject once, perhaps twice-never to revisit it again.
Artists see the world around them in starkly different terms than others. What one person is oblivious to or finds genuinely unimportant, the artist sees as beautiful, moving, inspiring -and is unable to ignore. The artist’s brain is always working, even when the artist isn’t working.
I find inspiration in many things; some are not surprising. I am inspired by other artists, certain artistic styles. I am greatly inspired by music, which also is not unique. Music creates different feelings and emotions which in turn are translated into visual art. I am inspired by language and literature. Sometimes I read a quote, or a passage in a book, or even a single word, and immediately visual images appear. Other things are a bit more familiar, in a sense that they are not particularly exceptional-wind blowing through an open window causing a drape to billow; certain colors may cause me to feel a certain way, and in turn inspire me to paint something or paint in a way I haven’t tried yet. My greatest inspiration, however, is the human body-its lines, movement, strength, frailty. Exploring the capacity of the human form is probably the ultimate endless journey.
Whatever inspires us, it’s always a unique dialogue between subject and artist.Comment on or Share this Article →
Emergere means to simply emerge, or issue forth. When I was in college and first studying art, I was mesmerized by the art of the ancient Greeks and Romans. In addition to sculpture, I loved Roman frescoes, and many of them were preserved in Pompeii after the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. This painting is my modern interpretation of an early Roman fresco. Battered and worn by time and elements, a beautiful woman emerges from an ancient wall.Comment on or Share this Article →
This Easter I took a trip to New York with my husband, son, and daughter. Now, I don't have to tell anyone who lives in New York, has travelled there, or who dreams of going there, what an intensely magical place it is. I don't know exactly what it is, but the second you step out onto the street, you're in another world, another mindset. For that chunk of time you are there, you are a New Yorker. I'm lucky in that I get to go to New York at least once a year, usually in the summer while our kids are visiting their grandparents is South Carolina. While my husband is working (his company has offices in Manhattan) I visit museums, and walk the streets just absorbing everything around me. This time, however we all went together, and I delighted in seeing my children's faces as they took in the sheer immenseness of the city. Before I continue, I should point out that we live in Pittsburgh-it's no Mayberry, but it's not New York, either. So you can imagine their faces as we turned a corner into Times Square, lit up against the night sky in absolute sensory overload, an undulating sea of thousands of people before us. My son, an aspiring cellist, turned to me and said, "I'm going to come here and be famous". As an artist, I know the feeling. What is it about this place, where the odds of fame and success are so low, that it still convinces us it just might be possible? I smiled a huge smile, taking pride in the fact that he felt that same rush of inspiration that I feel every time I'm there. As human beings, I think we're wired to dream the seemingly impossible, and to believe that maybe, just maybe, we're capable of accomplishing it, even if we fail more times than we succeed.
Our first full day there, I took our kids to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I wanted them to see as much as we could cram into the day, but as for me, I was especially interested in an exhibit of the collections of the Steins-Gertrude, Leo, Michael, and his wife, Sarah. I wasn't disappointed-it was a trip back to the Parisian Avant-Garde. But a review of the exhibit is not what this post is about. On our way toward the exit, we stopped to look at some merchandise and I saw what for me is the epitome of the New York Effect. It was a large, gray eraser, about the size of my palm, and on it was printed a quote from Gertrude Stein: "If it can be done, then why do it". At the time, I hadn't quite grasped the reason for the quote to be printed on an eraser, but now that I think about it, perhaps it was a comment on the ease with which the familiar and the simple can be accomplished. As artists, how many times do we have to go back to the proverbial drawing board (no pun intended) because we're dreaming of the impossible? Before we achieve the impossible we make a lot of mistakes along the way and that big gray eraser just might come in handy. As for the quote itself, I don't claim to know exactly what she had in mind when she said it, but my interpretation is to never settle for the easy, the familiar, the "already been done".
During those once a year trips to the city, I walk the streets with a feeling of complete and utter inspiration and creativity, and when I come home, I do everything in my power to keep it going as long as possible. But let's face it, eventually life intervenes and the rapture of the New York Effect inevitably fades. Paintings don't turn out quite the way I envision them, blog posts I plan on writing never come to fruition, and all that energy and promise seems to evaporate. But the New York Effect is never really gone. With perseverence, I keep painting. I keep notes of all my ideas for blog posts that eventually will get written. With each small success, it tugs at my sleeve, taps me on the shoulder, and reminds me of all that lies before me simply because I'm an artist. I experiment with new techniques-admittedly some of them happen quite by accident, and to be honest, the accidental techniques are usually the most interesting. I continually try to think of new ways to paint. My easel and my brushes are always there, waiting for me to do what can't be done. Yet. That's the beauty of the New York Effect.Comment on or Share this Article →
My first thoughts about this painting (while it was still in the planning stages) was to do a simple figure standing in front of an iron gate. I knew I wanted the figure to be somber, but as I began painting, I discovered that placing her in front of that gate (in my mind it was a gate leading to a cemetary) would be too simplistic. I didn't want too much of the story to be obvious and contrived. So as I came to the end of the figure I found myself stuck as to what exactly to do next. She needed to be somewhere, so I decided to make it an atmospheric, emotionally driven environment. She's in mourning, and when I think of that state of mind I think gloomy, dark, rainy, lack of clarity. So I decided that her space was going to be an outward reflection of her emotional state. Using quite a bit of turpentine with my paint, I washed the background out, dabbing and lightly pulling the paint downward to create a rainy, foggy effect. Around her feet is a landscape of sorts, but again, nothing detailed. As for the figure, she has quite a painterly, sketched quality. There's more detail in her face that anywhere else, and I wanted her dress to have kind of a disheveled, worn feel to it. The flower she is holding in her hands is being crumpled, albeit gently, as her mind is wandering, unfocussed and in mourning.Comment on or Share this Article →
I think most people view black and white as bold. Designs in black and white can be quite graphic and hard-edged. Black and white conveys a message of strength. I have found in experimenting with black and white that it can be delicate and fragile. Perhaps because it is devoid of color it seems as if it can crumble to dust at the softest whisper. This piece, and the subsequent pieces that will be aded to this collection are, at their core, black and white. However I have added bold pops of color in order to accentuate and emphasize the delicateness of the figures. Vitality vs. fragility. There are bold swathes of color-not necessarily bright color, but color nonetheless that contains no real detail- I've saved that for the figures and main objects of the pieces that have been painted in simple black oil paint, then thinned with turpentine and brushed in order to create areas of light and detail. In essence the figures are"sculpted" from black paint. I've used pastel and charcoal to create areas of shadow modeling.Comment on or Share this Article →
I first conceived of this piece after hearing a song from Phillip Glass's Orphee Suite called Orphee and the Princess-based on the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. The shortened version of their story goes like this- Orpheus, the son of Apollo, falls in love with Eurydice. While running through a meadow, Eurydice is bitten by a serpent and dies. She descends to the underworld, from which no one ever returns. Grief stricken, Orpheus decides to go the underworld to plead with Hades to allow Eurydice to return with him. He agrees, on one condition-on their way back up to the surface, Orpheus must not look back- he must trust that Eurydice is behind him and not look at her until they are both out of the underworld. You probably know what happens next-Orpheus looks back before Eurydice is out of the cavern and she is sent back to the underworld forever.
This painting captures Eurydice as a prisoner of the underworld-alone, with nothing but thoughts of Orpheus to fill her days for eternity. The background color, a golden green, is symbolic of the world she is creating in her mind-the green of the meadows on the surface of the earth, and the golden warmth of the sun. Her hair is disheveled, partly held up by a golden comb, and she has with her the last vestiges of her life on the surface- an ornate golden shawl and a fan of peacock feathers.
There is a LOT of texture in this painting, with gold, black and green the dominant colors, and majority of the piece was painted using various sized knives. The piece is not framed, but will require one.Comment on or Share this Article →
This morning the Today Show did a story on Autumn-an 8 year old artist. As I stood in the kitchen and listened to the 15 second teaser before the commercial break, the cynic in me began to rear its ugly head. I remember a few years ago watching a documentary on HBO about Marla, a little girl of 4 or 5 who at that tender age was already having solo shows and whose work was selling for tens of thousands of dollars. Never mind the controversy that surrounded her work and accusations that her father was actually directing her and in some cases actually doing some of the painting. Most of the pieces I saw really impressed me and were......well, good. Really good. And if Marla actually did do all those paintings, then she is an absolute, undeniable prodigy. If she didn't, then it's sad to think that touting a 5 year old as an artistic genius is nothing more than a gimmick. To my knowledge, those accusations of Marla's paintings not being completely hers have never been proven, but as I mentioned before, I can be a bit cynical. So back to Autumn.
As the camera panned across 3 of Autumn's paintings, I thought "wow, for an 8 year old, these are really good". After I heard Autumn speak about her process, and about her inspirations (Andy Warhol being one of them), I totally believe that Autumn did those paintings. And when Matt Lauer said that some of her pieces were selling for upwards of $20,000- well, I'll keep my reaction to myself. The cynic in me thought, "her paintings are a hot commodity just because she's 8. Another gimmick". So I started thinking, are her paintings really that good?
For an 8 year old, yes they are. Absolutely. I thought that two of three were beautiful. But then I thought, what if we had been told that those paintings were done by Helen, a 35 year old? Or Robert, a 40 year old? Would they still be considered that good? And would someone pay $20,000 for them? Are they considered masterful only because of the age of the artist? That's not for me to answer, and I can only speak for myself. If those same paintings had been done by someone middle aged, honestly I would think they were just ok, and change the channel. They would even seem a bit immature. And that reaction really bothered me. But then I started thinking of the Fauves, Kandinsky's Woman Series, Henri Matisse. How many times have you heard someone say, "That looks like something my 3 year old did last week", in reference to a Picasso? Yes, there are plenty of people who don't consider technique, composition, color, brushwork, etc., and their comments probably come from a lack of understanding and appreciation for a style that just isn't to their liking. You can debate technique until the cows come home, but the truth is the artist's studio is the one place on this planet where there are no rules. Unless you want them.
Now, don't misunderstand me, there are good paintings and there are bad paintings. And an artist's tentativeness and uncertainty are just as evident in his/her work as boldness and confidence. To me, good art comes from within. It's that unshakable belief in what you are creating. It's the bold brush stroke, the emotion of color, the beauty of form. And yeah, a little practice never hurts either!
So to all the 8 year old Autumns, the 35 year old Helens, and the 40 year old Roberts, creativity is a gift to be nurtured. It's your voice. What makes art good? It's the conscious act of boldly putting brush to canvas. It's those unintended "mistakes" that turn out to be game changers that send your piece in a whole new exciting direction. It's never being afraid to experiment. It's accepting failure as nothing more than an opportunity to create something you never thought you could create. It's speaking to masses in your own unique way. It's never stopping until your creation is everything you envisioned it to be.
It's human nature to want to feel happy and comfortable. So what makes you happy? A favorite song? A fluffy, warm sweater? (it is October, after all!) Curling up on the couch with a glass of your favorite wine, a book, and some welcome quiet? For me, it's all those things, but also the desire to surround myself with things that have the ability to alter my mood and make me feel happy, introspective, creative; a myriad of things. Sounds like a tall order. But really it isn't, if you know what stirs those things in you. It's a running joke between my best friend and I that I repaint various rooms in my house as often as some people get haircuts. (if you're on the 6-8 week haircutting schedule, it's a little less often than that!) But anyway, recently a wave came over me-I'd call it a combination "nesting" instinct and the natural mood changes that occur when the seasons change. So off I went to Home Depot, picked out a new paint color and repainted my kitchen and dining room, hung new drapes, rearranged the furniture, cleaned out the cabinets, and created a space for a pantry. I needed to change my surroundings and create a new space from the old-one that would inspire me and make me feel good. Mission accomplished. New colors, new furniture arrangement, new mood. It's the same with art.
Surrounding yourself with art that stirs something in you accomplishes the same thing as simply repainting a room and rearranging some furniture. As an artist, I am always honored when people choose to surround themselves with something I've created. It means I've reached someone on some level that is meaningful to them. Whether it be the colors I use, the subject matter, the brushstroke- my painting has managed to alter their mood in some way. And that is something that makes me very happy.