Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Circle and The Self

Mandala is Sanskrit for circle. In my current paintings I'm using a circle within a square to represent the circular passage of time anchored by the four cardinal directions, time circling in space. Carl G. Jung said the circle represents the unconscious self. He said, "It became increasingly plain to me that the mandala is the center. It is the exponent of all paths. It is the path to the center, to individuation.... I knew that in finding the mandala as an expression of the self I had attained what was for me the ultimate."

Tibetan mandalas have coded teachings and prayers embedded in their intricate designs. This White Tara mandala is used in initiations and to look upon it is considered a blessing.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Artist as a Tortured Genius

In the last week I have watched both The Agony and the Ecstasy, (1965) staring Charlton Heston as Michelangelo and Lust for Life, (1956) staring Kirk Douglas as Vincent Van Gogh. Both movies were based on novels by Irving Stone, both portray the artist as heroic, driven and crazy, especially Van Gogh. 

 Kirk Douglas as Vincent Van Gogh in Lust For Life, 1956

Both movies were Hollywood epics  in the grand style of the 50s and 60s. Heston and Douglas were both at the peak of their Hollywood careers. Both gave stunning performances as the tortured geniuses they portrayed. I'm sure the real Michelangelo and Van Gogh had their issues and I would be the last person to say that being an artist won't drive a person crazy but I do think these actors hammed it up a bit. I was left wondering how much these movies told me about the actual artists and how much these movies told me about celebrity culture in mid-twentieth century America.
Charlton Heston as Michelangelo in The Agony and the Ecstasy, 1965

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Three White Paintings

Jasper John's White Flag, purchased directly from the artist by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is a painting John's himself considered among his best. He used layer after layer of beeswax to collage newsprint, charcoal, rag and white pigment onto three separate panals, the star panal, top stripes and longer lower stripes panals. The completed painting measures just over six and a half feet high by ten feet wide. The Met's timeline features a multimedia web page about John's White Flag.

White Flag by Jasper Johns, Encaustic, oil, newsprint, and charcoal on canvas, 1955

Perhaps a precursor to John's monochrome Flag was the Russian avant-garde painter Kasimir Malevitch's painting Suprematist Composition: White on White painted in 1918 and now in the Museum of Modern Art. Malevitch developed an aesthetic theory called Suprematism that expressed pure feeling by exploring space with basic geometric forms notably circles and squares. He may be best known for his painting Black Square.

Suprematist Composition: White on White by Kasimir Malevich, Oil on canvas, 1918

The painting Crystallizations by Mark Tobey showcases a style employed by Pacific Northwest mid-twentieth century artists known as "white writing". The white writing technique was a form of unified field painting that borrowed heavily from Asian brush calligraphy and ultimately influenced American Abstract Expressionism. Said Tobey, "What I had learned in the Orient had affected me more than I realized. This was a new approach. I couldn't shake it off. So I had to absorb it before it consumed me. In a short time white writing emerged. I had a totally new conception of painting. The Orient has been the greatest influence of my life."

Crystallizations by Mark Tobey, Tempra on paper, 1944

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Don't Forget the Hudson River School

My sister Betty suggested a painting by Frederic Church or one of the other works of the The Hudson River School in my search for the Great American Painting. Rightly so, these wildly romantic painters known as the Hudson River School worshipped nature in the drama of the American landscape. Like their contemporaries, the great 19th century American writers, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, these artists inspired the early conservation movement in America.
Twilight Wilderness by Frederic Church, Oil on Canvas, 1860

"Some paintings seem to bear their nationality on their faces. 
Church's Twilight in the Wilderness could only, I feel, be American. 
Church specialized in works of sheer vastness of the American continent."

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Great American Painting

Please vote for your favorite Great American Painting in Blackfish Art's poll in (see right-hand column). If you have suggestions for other Great American Paintings please leave a comment below with your suggestion. Criteria: both the artist and the subject must be American.
George Washington (Athenaeum) by Gilbert Stuart, 1796, Oil on Canvas

One of the first great American painters was Gilbert Stuart. He is perhaps best known for his portrait of the first American president, George Washington. His portrait of Washington even has its own website: George Washington: A National Treasure.  I encourage you to visit that engaging site. The above version of the portrait was painted after the original and was intended, along with a matching portrait of Martha Washington, for the Washington's home in Mount Vernon. These later paintings were never finished. Said Abigail Adams, who waited 16 years for delivery of her finished portrait by Stuart, "Genius is always eccentrick, I think. There is no knowing how to take hold of this man, nor by what means to prevail upon him to fulfill his engagements."

Is this the Great American Painting? Below, Georgia O'Keeffe recalls musing about the idea of the Great American Painting while painting a cow's skull, from her 1976 autobiographical book Georgia O'Keeffe.

Cow's Skull: Red, White and Blue by Georgia O'Keeffe, 1931, Oil on Canvas

"As I was working I thought of the city men I had been seeing in the East. They talked so much about writing the Great American Novel - the Great American Play - the Great American Poetry. I am not sure that they aspired to the Great American Painting. Cezanne was so much in the air that I think the Great American Painting didn't even seem a possible dream. I knew the middle of the country - knew quite a bit of the South - I knew the cattle country - and I knew that our country was lush and rich. I had driven across the country many times. I was quite excited over our country and I knew that at that time almost any one of those great minds would have been living in Europe if it had been possible for them. They didn't even want to live in New York - how was the Great American Thing going to happen? So as I painted along on my cow's skull on blue I thought to myself, "I'll make it an American painting. They will not think it great with the red stripes down the sides - Red, White and Blue - but they will notice it."
Georgia O'Keeffe from Georgia O'Keeffe, Viking Press, 1976

Flag by Jasper Johns, 1954-55, Encaustic, oil and collage on fabric and wood

Inspired by a dream of the American flag, Jasper Johns painted Flag. It turned out to be his breakthrough painting. Johns painted "Things the mind already knows" managing to bridge pop art, minimalism and the conceptual art of the middle 20th century.

 American Gothic by Grant Wood, 1930, Oil on beaverboard
Grant Wood's American Gothic is one of the most well loved, and arguably the most often parodied American painting. Wood epitomized American regionalism. He got his dentist to pose for this painting after visiting his dentist and noticing the man's large, beautiful hands. The woman is Wood's sister. When the painting began to receive attention she apparently objected to being pictured as a the wife with a much older man. She spread the idea that this was a farmer and his daughter, not his wife. 

 An American Portrait by Fritz Scholder, (date not found) Oil on Canvas
Fritz Scholder was perhaps the most influential contemporary native American painter of the 20th century. He was the first to reject romanticized cliches and explore native themes in a contemporary self-expressive style. Said Scholder, "In today's world, love, art and magic are greatly needed." 

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Interruptions and Process

 Moon Mandala, Peggy Sue McRae, 2009, Oil on Panel

Sometimes I don’t paint at all because I know I am going to be interrupted. How I deal with this issue has a direct effect on my art making process. After a period of not painting at all, feeling frustrated, I finally put a small 12x12 inch panel on my dining room table and just painted a little bit when I could. Eventually I had a finished painting.

The paintings that I am working on now are similarly constructed. I start with basic geometric patterns and layer color on each part until the “universe” of my painting reaches a dynamic state of harmony. Between painting sessions I look at the work, studying it to decide what it needs next. In this way the painting slowly evolves.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Artist Interruptus - The History of Women Artists

The summer of 1994 I picked up a University catalog and saw a class I knew I wanted to take, a class that did not exist when I started my bachelor's degree in Fine Art in 1970, The History of Women Artists I & II. I did go back to school and I did take those classes. Besides entertaining stories about renaissance fathers dressing their daughters up like boys in order to sneak them into the males only academies, the particular challenges that women face making careers in art were revealed.

Artist Thinley DiMarco in her New Studio

Women artists deal with interruptions that most men cannot even imagine. My friend Thrinley DiMarco is a sterling example. Raising six children by herself, caring for her elderly mother and managing a Buddhist retreat center are a few of the reasons her art making has had some starts and stops. Now, she has just completed building her new studio and is ready to work again! I will return to Thrinley after she has had a chance to create some new work. Meanwhile... Congratulations!

Thrinley's Studio