There is a glut of Venice images, from masterpieces to pizza placemats to Facebook selfies. After reviewing my sketches and paintings from Venice I checked out a lovely book, Whistler and his Circle in Venice. I think I've adequately chided myself about not having anything new to add.
Near the Rialto bridge I ran into a teacher, happily drawing while his architecture students were elsewhere. The teacher said that their trip was about learning to see. We are so bombarded with electronic images and tied to electronic design techniques, he said, that staying in one place and drawing what you really see is a rare experience for his students.
And for most of us, I think. In Venice I overheard "did you capture that?" so many times, saw people glued to their phones and pads through this ancient watery marvel , making sure that they themselves are the main subject of their snaps, jockeying for the "best" background for their selfies. Do you really have to wait until you get home to see what you saw? Can you imagine yourself there, without the selfie?
I had some fantastic meals, a few wonderful conversations, spent a fair amount of time in museums and churches (same thing, and aren't museums redundant in Venice?) and even braved some of the major tourist attractions. But the time I spent drawing and painting was the highlight of my four days there. I wished I had more time and would happily go to Venice to paint again, seeking out the quieter neighborhoods and smaller subjects. Just seeing, with my eyes and hands.
In May I did a landscape workshop taught by Art Students League's virtuoso abstract painter Frank O'Cain. The ideas that work for me: taking notes on the light and colors, looking at composition rather than detail, not looking to create finished paintings as much as capturing a moment. Arezzo was perfect for such a workshop-- all the light, color, architecture, trees (and food!) that make Tuscany special, with minimal Disneyfication.
I also experimented with watercolor (last 3 pictures of this set), much more portable and discreet than acrylics, although more difficult to control.
If anyone had asked me a year ago, was I interested in making portraits, I would have said definitely not. Yet it's hard for me to resist focusing on a model's face. The general plan is, with few exceptions, always the same. What's engrossing: the subtle shades of difference in bone, skin, light, and expression, the deviations from symmetry dictated by the pose and the person's own face. Not to mention the luxurious responsibility of gazing intently at one person for hours on end. I drew Tsering four times (here are the 2 profiles) before I started to paint the oil (center).
I've been back nearly a week from our winter getaway in Guadeloupe, and promise I'll post some of the lush colors from that beautiful place in a few more days. Meanwhile, news from a dear friend of my youth (say it isn't so that another friend is dying, dying of AIDS, no that still isn't over...) sent me on a search in my graphic archives. There, I found some of my own younger faces, as seen by my younger selves. Growth rings of a tree, nesting Russian dolls, memories and emotions jam packed in simple images.
Whether we know it or like it, we (the artists) are often drawing (out) our own desires, dreams, fears and memories. Maya is a fantastic model, with graceful gestures and cherubic vulnerability, but also for me a muse. Looking at her, and later looking at these drawings, I remember being eight years old, reading over and over the story of Saint Agnes. Because at the age of twelve Agnes wouldn't agree to an arranged marriage, she was paraded naked through the streets of Rome. A man dared to look at her with something less than the reverence she deserved, and was struck dead, presumably by the hand of God. The sublime personified, seen through the eyes of a pre-pubescent 60-year-old.
This week I struggled with "accuracy" when painting that most traditional of subjects, naked white ladies. Where's their navels, what color are their inner arms, do their heads really tilt that way? Have I managed any illusions of depth, roundness, softness of skin? No wonder the faces of both these ladies look stressed out; that's what I was feeling, and projected onto them. As a break and a relief, I painted just the face of the blond lady, Monica (center and then right). Monica has the delightful quirk of not holding her face in a neutral mask. She periodically breaks out in giggles, makes eye contact with those of us struggling to depict her well, even does an occasional fish-face, much to my delight. It's hardly an accurate portrait but I think my pleasure in painting it was much purer than the absorbing but almost impossible task of depicting an entire, detailed, accurate human.
Flatbush is packed with artists, but you don't actually see any of them/us outside doing our thing. The colors of the London plane trees are amazing right now and the architecture is quirkily fun. So I leaned on a tree and drew. Did passers-by stare? Felt like it, but maybe not. Added color (water soluble colored pencil) later.
By the way, I'm super excited to be included in the Flatbush Artists's salon exhibit on December 5 and 6. More about that soon!
I'll admit it, I've become one of those annoying people sketching other people on the subway. Sometimes it's just feet or hands, and I feel, perhaps ostrich-like, less detectable. Other times it's angles of heads, fleeting impressions of faces or eyes. Occasionally someone will stay in the same position long enough to get a more developed sketch. No one yet has said "hey, you stop that!". One guy asked if he could take a cellphone picture of the sketch of himself. A woman asked if she could have the sketch. (Flustered, and not ready to tear the sheet out of the book, I said "no"-- but next time I will.)
Super happy to be back at the Art Students League, New York City's storied "by artists, for artists" learning space. I'm once again studying with Terence Coyle, who at 90 years old still has an eagle eye for composition and for the human form. Attending full time gives me more of a chance to draw and try different approaches. I haven't done much with underpainting yet, so I gave it a try. Here I started with an overall sepia wash and "wiped out" the image. The next day I worked more with the form and color.
It's a delight to be home, but I'm missing plein air painting. Why not do it here in Brooklyn? Well, I feel self-conscious. Will all the zillions of passers-by find me pretentious? Will they want to comment? Anyway I'm not feeling brave enough.
So I went back to work on a picture I started in June at Joe Perez's wonderful landscape class at the Salmagundi Club. I'm working from a photo I took in Bayeux, France a few years ago. Still some work to go.
When I was a kid we took trips to Port Jefferson, New York; as a theatre student I spent a summer there; and I've been there by boat before. One of the biggest, busiest harbors on Long Island, there are thousands of moored boats, frequent ferries, and freight traffic. A power plant looms over the town. But just around the bend there is an area marked on the nautical charts only as "spoil ground" (with no depths, buoys or other detail), sometimes called Mount Misery, that all the locals know as Pirate's Cove. Remains of an old sand quarry, there is rusting machinery, crumbled bits of dock and towering sand cliffs. It's completely different on a sunny weekend afternoon, when power boaters abound, with booze, boom boxes and boisterous kids. When they leave, Pirate's Cove/spoil ground morphs back into a strange and mysterious home to shellfish and seabirds.
This was the second time Maikel and I holed up in Hadley Harbor, just off Cape Cod, in bad weather. After sitting out a downpour the day before, we attempted to set sail, and were turned back by shockingly big waves and near gale-force gusts. Drenched in seawater, we returned to Hadley, which was looking pretty cozy by that point. I sketched this scene first though a porthole, staying warm and dry, then braved the elements with my paints. By the time I was wrapping up the wind was blowing some of the clouds away.
I'm learning to always carry a sketchbook, but sometimes I'm not quick enough, or possibly too self-conscious, to pull out the paints. . Lockeport, Nova Scotia has a superb lighthouse on a small island outside the mouth of its inner harbor. I sketched it twice. By the time I went back with paints, the fog had rolled in. The fishing boats were colorful even in the fog, but I definitely regret not painting the lighthouse.
Maikel and I arrived in the fog at Seal Cove, southernmost harbor on Grand Manan island in New Brunswick. Three days later we left, still in the fog. In the meanwhile, fog did its dance of seven veils for us. Distant hills revealed themselves rarely. Close-by houses came and went, and even our own boat sometimes disappeared. Sometimes the sun streams dazzlingly through the fog, leading to what locals call "fogburn". Painting in this changing, dreamy light was tricky and joyful. I prefer the fog-bound painting, done more quickly and once I already had gazed lovingly on the scene for many hours.
This harbor is essentially abandoned, as it is an old-fashioned drying harbor, not uncommon where the tidal range is more than 15 feet, as it is here. Boats could only go out at higher tides, and would moor so that when sitting on the mud they wouldn't tip over. The distant buildings are old herring smoking houses, mostly abandoned but some are now getting gentrified. The government built the town a new deep-water harbor with floating docks. Giant boats working the fish farms come and go at commuter hours, regardless of fog (they've got radar) and tide.
Maikel and I both love this little island with its tenacious evergreens. It's between Great Spruce and Little Spruce islands, right near Roque Island, the furthest north most sailors venture. By this far north in the Gulf of Maine, there are tides of about 12 feet, so sometimes this islet is connected to Great Spruce Island, and sometimes it's on its own.
I think there is a more developed version of this subject lurking in my brain, waiting for its time to emerge.