Playing around drawing in ways that I don’t usually is giving me a chance to have fun this week. I am working in the Croton studio with my friends Eddi Fleming and Kristin Costa. I drew the drawing on the left with ballpoint pen on Fabriano Artistico rag paper and then applied washes of two acrylic colors. I pressed a sheet of Strathmore pastel paper over the wet washes, and then used that sheet for a drawing in graphite on the right. Since the color printed in the reverse, I reposed Kristin looking the opposite direction. The Mitsubishi pencils are so rich that all I needed were the B and 2B.
Piles of paint and brushes are modest tools for the tasks I set.
“Yes, the pantheon of truly transformative, not merely excellent, painters is almost all white, and it most certainly is almost all male. But the best critique of this reality is a parallel reality equally as energetic.
“I suspect every ambitious artist wants to do more than passably good work.
“The value of what we produce is determined by comparison with and in contrast to what our fellow citizens find engaging.
“As it happens, one is either leading or following, and if you are following, then you are behind and therefore vulnerable to the, rightfully, self-serving interests of others.”
Kerry James Marshall, “Shall I Compare Thee…?”, pp. 71-79, in KERRY JAMES MARSHALL: Mastry, edited by Helen Molesworth, New York: Skira Rizzoli, 2016.
- Painting for my first grandchild in progress
It is indeed easy to love those to whom we are closely related. However more difficult is our responsibility to treat with loving kindness those with whom we differ. Peggy Noonan notes in The Wall Street Journal that social media has reduced discussion to “snotty potshots.” James Bowman writing in The New Criterion points out that “anyone can be angry, but it takes effort to think.”
We owe each other at least an effort to think beyond potshots.
Wiliam Penn puts it in perspective. “I expect to pass through life but once. If therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.”
Laura Cummings has written a newly published book about Velazquez and the power of his painting.
She writes in The Guardian about how Las Meninas affected her, and led her to write a book of praise about Velazquez. Here are the best parts:
“The painting I saw that day seems to hold death back from the brink, even as it acknowledges our shared human fate. It shows the past in all its mortal beauty, but it also looks forward into the flowing future. Because of Velázquez, these long-lost people will always be waiting for us in the Prado; they will never go away, as long as we hold them in sight. Las Meninas is like a chamber of the mind, a place where the dead will never die.”
“To respect these portraits is to respect these people. And this depth is not an illusion. The mystery of Velázquez’s art is not just that his paintings are both dazzling and profoundly moving all at once, but that these apparent opposites coincide to the extent that one feels neither can exist without the other. The truth of life, of our brief walk in the sun, has to be set down in a flash of brilliant brush strokes that are almost disappearing. The image, the person, the life: all are here now but on the edge of dissolution. It is the definition of our human existence.”
What I like best here are these thoughts about portraits and those they portray:
“They will never go away, as long as we hold them in sight.”
“The truth of life, of our brief walk in the sun, has to be set down in a flash of brilliant brush strokes that are almost disappearing.”
The late poet Philip Larkin wrote the poem titled as above. Some say it is a meditation on original sin. I rather relate it to the challenges we set ourselves as artists and sometimes meet but often do not. In six brief lines he said much to ponder.
Watching the shied core
Striking the basket, skidding across the floor,
Shows less and less of luck, and more and more
Of failure spreading back up the arm
Earlier and earlier, the unraised hand calm,
The apple unbitten in the palm.
Contessa, a study of my model Annie Jefferson, for the painting “Ring Them Bells”
The Spring Arts Festival at the First United Methodist Church of Cumming, Georgia, opened its ninth art show Saturday, April 9 with an appropriately festive reception for artists and patrons. The reception kicks off two weeks of vocal and instrumental concerts, plays and films. Director of Music and Arts John Hutchinson has developed the festival from an initial exhibition to this rich array of offerings. I appreciate my model Annie Jefferson for encouraging me to enter my two paintings, En Route (right) with Mona Reeves modeling, and Before Flight, with Kristin Costa. Annie herself posed for two other artists whose beautiful works were among the 250 on view, Connie Lynn Reilly and Gail Wegotsky.
It was a great pleasure to meet there such accomplished artists as Lynn-Margaret Pace, Mary Negron and Jay David. We all agreed that, art being the labor of love it is, to receive other artists’ recognition is gratifying indeed.
Sufjan Steven’s “Illinoise” was the right soundtrack to start this large canvas. Larry stretched two for me before it became clear this was the right shape, compared to my two large charcoal drawings and two color studies. What Sufjan sang on the hit song from this album, “Chicago,” was both true and comforting: “I made a lot of mistakes.” You can see by the glare around the heads that I made some mistakes to correct on this, my most ambitious picture to date. I think I am being realistic rather than pessimistic to expect I will make many more. I am truly confident that I will make a great painting of “Ring Them Bells.” For this title, though, Bob Dylan’s original version is the proper accompaniment.
My thanks to Annie Jefferson and to Mona Reeves for the stalwart and faithful roles they maintain to realize my vision.
I invite my artist friends to apply these thoughts on poetry to fine art:
Now, there are as many definitions of poetry as there are writers and critics who wish to establish their turf. Some definitions are particular and restrictive, while others are deliberately general so as to include as many kinds of poetry as possible.
Many people believe that a poem must rhyme—absolutely. Many also feel that it must establish a rhythmic pattern—called “meter.” Others will settle for some form of counting from line to line—usually of syllables. These and others argue that poetry must appear in lines, never in paragraphs. To some, the defining characteristic of poetry is compressed language. To others, it is imagery or figures of speech. To still others, poetry depends on a special quality of vocabulary or syntax. There are some to whom no poem is poetic without an elevated tone of voice. To others, good poems must speak partly by implication: they argue that such indirection creates the alert reading we associate with poetry. Some say that poetry depends on what is left out, and that the “poetry” occurs in the reader as much as in the writer. However they define poetry, readers agree that good poems cannot be easily or quickly summed up in prose. They agree that how a thing is said affects what is said.
But the definitions continue to come and go. Some say that poetry has an intimate quality: its tone of voice is personal. Others insist, “I know it when I see it.” Finally, there is a kind of “behavioral” definition: if the publisher says it’s poetry, it’s poetry.
Among such a crowd of definitions, “heightened prose” may seem banal. But it touches the heart of the verbal condition, in which the language of poetry and the language of prose overlap. The border between prose and poetry remains invisible, and moreover it is constantly shifting according to the latest poetic experiments. It has proven impossible to fix the boundary for very long. Artists being artists, rules about art are made to be broken. In that sense, art is the truest kind of freedom.
Bell, Marvin. “Henry Reed’s ‘Naming of Parts.'” In Touchstones: American Poets On a Favorite Poem, edited by Robert Pack and Jay Parini. Hanover, NH: New Hampshire University Press of New England, 1996. 20-25.