Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Seeing Red

Red Iron Oxide, Red Ocher, is one of the earliest pigments used in human artmaking. It has been used by every culture on Earth. It is called Indian Red and Venetian Red. It is the color of the earth and the color of blood. I've been applying warm red glazes to my painting today with Red Iron Oxide.

Hands - Pinturas River Canyon Southern Patagonia, 7300 BCE

The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum features a wealth of programs for the public. They have a program, Painting With the Landscape: Making Paint with the Earth Beneath Our Feet, that will be given later this month. On the first day they will show participants how to gather minerals from the landscape near Abiquiu, New Mexico. On day two of the workshop they will show participants how to process the minerals into pigments that can be mixed with binders to make paint.


photo: Robert Reck
Link: Georgia O'Keeffe Museum

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Survivor In The Art World

 L.H.O.O.Q. by Marcel Duchamp - Postcard of the Mona Lisa with Moustache and Goatee, 1919

Early in the 20th century the Dada movement responded to industrialization and the madness of World War I with absurdest or anti-art. In the 1960s Pop artists took commercial imagery out of advertising and put it on the gallery walls, see: Andy Warhol's Soup Cans. This legacy eventually brought us artists like Jeff Koons with his monumental sculptures of cartoons. Now Bravo television has a reality show called Work of Art. The winner (survivor) will receive $100,000 and a solo show at The Brooklyn Museum. Of the 14 contestants one will be eliminated each week after a critique of the week's artistic challenge. And yes, I've watched the first two episodes and am downloading the third right now as I blog. I find the show squeamishly reminiscent of my MFA program but like driving past a burning building I cannot help but slow down and look.

Jed Perl, art critic for The New Republic, wrote "There was a time when I might have dismissed “Work of Art” as a case of the pop culture czars turning the art world into another one of their fiefdoms. But after I watched the first episode, I was tempted to reverse the equation. I began to wonder if the whole ludicrous phenomenon of reality TV could not be traced back to the art world, and the cult of pseudo-documentary filmmaking that began with Andy Warhol’s Chelsea Girls in 1966."

Here in a film called Sleep by Andy Warhol we see an obvious precursor to Miles 2nd challenge, his Bed Piece, in Work of Art if not... the very origins of reality television!

Sleep by Andy Warhol

Work of Art: The Trailer

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Craft of Making Paint

At M. Graham & Co. artists' colors are created using time honored natural ingredients. I'm told by Diana Graham, “We looked back into history and found the ingredients that painters used when they made their own paint.  Nut oil was preferred because it yellows and cracks less than linseed.  Blackberry honey crystallizes less than others.” 

 Painters' Assistant Grinding Pigments, Parmigianino, Red Chalk on Paper, Italian, 1530s

Watercolor and gouache are normally made with some form of sugar. Today that usually means the ubiquitous corn syrup that is also in so much of our processed food. M. Graham & Co. use blackberry honey in their watercolor paints. As a painter who identifies with the Pacific Northwest I can think of nothing more romantic than painting with blackberry honey. As for oil paints made with walnut oil, on the company's Material Safety Data Sheet I especially like the part where it says, WALNUT OIL – Ingestion can produce a laxative effect, a hazard I'm willing to risk!

Photo courtesy Diana Graham

The Grahams' backgrounds in the art business brought them together over the phone. Now in a shop nestled in the hop fields of Oregon the Grahams take a craftsman's approach to creating quality artists' materials, “Individually made, we create our colors a few hundred tubes at a time. Days, not hours are spent slowly coaxing its own distinctive nature from each pigment until the richness inherent in each is fully developed.” Overseeing all of this fine work is Annie, the shop cat. Once a neighborhood orphan, she now reigns supreme. You know that a company has high standards when they have a cat in a top executive position!

Annie the M. Graham & Co. Shop Cat
Photo courtesy Diana Graham

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Walnut Oil: Prefered Medium of the Renaissance

I may be more of a renaissance woman than I thought. I was running out of painting medium when I bought a bottle of walnut oil at the grocery store to tide me over and I’ve never gone back. Walnut oil cleans my brushes without drying them out and is not toxic or stinky like turpentine.

 “Grind the colors with walnut oil or linseed oil, 
though walnut oil is better because it yellows less over time.”
Vassari on Techniques, 1550

M. Graham & Co. Makers of Professional Artists' Colors and Mediums, create their oil paints with walnut oil... “Preferred by artists for over five centuries oil color ground in walnut oil provides rich, vibrant color with greater freedom of control over all types of painting application. Free flowing and slower drying, walnut oil enables delicate passages of finely blended color, rich jewel-like glazes or juicy full brush application with no addition of solvents. Because of walnut oil's unique refractive index and non-yellowing nature, colors ground in this fine oil are naturally more alive and brilliant. They retain their clarity and are free from the discoloration associated with other drying oils."

 Did Raphael achieve his juicy jewel like colors with walnut oil?

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Great Raphael Shows Up Unexpectedly

Today I began working on panel two of my Triptych for Thornbush Hall. On an Ampersand panel I made preliminary marks with graphite pencil then painted over them with a ground of iron oxide yellow blended with zinc white and walnut oil. I cover the board and then blend and blend with a fan brush and feathery brush strokes until it takes on a warm golden glow with a texture like doe skin.

 Yellow Ground - Triptych for Thornbush Hall

Even while I am in the process of downloading the sixth and final episode of the BBC's Desparate Romantics television series about the Pre-Raphaelites, I find evidence that although they made their mark the Pre-Raphaelites never could supplant the great Raphael. Here today, in the year 2010 on the packaging of my Ampersand panel are the words, Raphael painted his masterpiece La Fornarina on panel in 1519. And yes, according to Ampersand's packaging, it seems La Fornarina herself, Raphael's own mistress, extols the virtues of painting on panels.

Ampersand packaging with Raphael's La Fornarina

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Beautiful Game

The World Cup of soccer “the beautiful game”, is going on right now in South Africa. After tying England 1 to 1, today the USA team plays Slovinia.

Dynamism of a Soccer Player by  Umberto Boccioni, Oil on Canvas, 1913

Italian artist Umberto Boccioni, captured the spirited energy of the game in his 1913 painting Dynamism of a Soccer Player.  "To paint a human figure you must not paint it; you must render the whole of its surrounding atmosphere . . . movement and light destroy the materiality of bodies." from Boccioni’s: "Technical Manifesto of Futurist Painting".  

Futurists believed in making a complete break with the past. Unfortunately, they also believed in Fascism. Boccioni enlisted in the army in World War I, fell from a horse and died. The Futurist movement died shortly thereafter.

Link to: Museum of Modern Art to view more works by Boccioni.
Link to: Futurism Manifestos and Resources
Link to: World Cup Calendar

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Blue Arc & Medieval Masterpiece

The painting I’m working on now has a board blue arc that reminds me of one of my favorite works of art, Très Riches Heures (Very Rich Hours of the Duke of Berry). In this 15th century illuminated manuscript a blue arc of sky describes the passage of time.

Monthly Labors, August - Très Riches Heures by the Limbourg Brothers, 15th c

Painted by the Limbourg brothers, Dutch painters working in France, the work is in the International Gothic style. International because at that time artists traveled to fulfill commissions for the courtly elite and were influenced toward a more universal style.

The paintings illustrate the pleasures of courtly life but what I find most charming about these paintings is the inclusion of peasants enjoying themselves as well. In the month of August, the well-dressed courtly class prance on horseback through the foreground. The Duke’s castle Chateau d’Etampes occupies the background. In the middle ground of the painting are the peasants. Not only are they seen gathering hay but also they are clearly enjoying skinny-dipping in the river perhaps even more than the nobility enjoys the finer sport of falconry.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Desperate Romantics: The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood on BBC

 Desperate Romantics - BBC Series

I just watched the first episode Desperate Romantics, a six episode BBC series about the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood based the book Desperate Romantics: The Private Lives Of The Pre-Raphaelites by Franny Moyal. These were English artists who in the middle of the 19th century challenged the London establishment with their art and with their lives. Watching Desperate Romantics is a little like watching Sex in the City but with guys, in London, 150 years ago… and I mean that in a good way. It inspired me to dust off my art history books and re-examine the Pre-Raphaelites.

The paintings featured in each episode are highlighted with commentary on the BBC Desperate Romantics website.

 Beata Beatrix by Dante Gabriel Rossetti - Oil on Canvas, 1864-70

Artist rebels, the Pre-Raphaelites were named as an act of rebellion against the English Academy’s entrenched adherence to the authority of the high renaissance painter Raphael. The brotherhood formed around the painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Son of an exiled Italian revolutionary, it was Rosetti who influenced the group to form a secret brotherhood. They believed in bringing a new moral and literary rigor to painting, observing nature directly and disregarding conventional rules.

Ophelia by John Evertt Millais - Oil on Canvas, 1851-1852

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Yellow Cross, Black Cross

Pilgrim in the New World, Oil on Board, Peggy Sue McRae 2010

I have been painting mandalas, circles and squares, but I painted this yellow cross with the American pilgrims in the new world lurking in the story-telling part of my mind. That is why I call it Pilgrim in the New World. Combining the potent strength of the cross as a visual image with the idea of land and landscape reminded me of Georgia O'Keeffe's Black Cross, New Mexico

 Black Cross, New Mexico,  Oil on Canvas, Georgia O'Keeffe 1929

I saw the crosses so often - and often in unexpected places - like a dark thin veil of the Catholic Church spread over the New Mexico landscape. evening when I was living in Taos we walked back of the morada toward a cross in the hills. I was told that it was a Penitente cross but that meant little to me at the time. The cross was large enough to crucify a man, with two small crosses-one on either side. It was in the late light and the cross stood out-dark against the evening sky. If I turned a little to the left, away from the cross, I saw Taos mountain - a beautiful shape. I painted the cross against the mountain although I never saw it that way. I painted it with a red sky and I painted it with a blue sky and stars.

That cross was big and strong, put together with wooden pegs. For me, painting the crosses was a way of painting the country.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Tibetan Sand Mandala

Pilgrim's Progress

My New Little Painting

After a period of not painting at all I have just completed a small painting. It is oil on a deep cradled board and relates to my interest in mandalas, American pilgrims, my own protestant heritage and the four cardinal directions.