Retro Friday–Self-Portraits (1980)

Self-portraits, pencil and colored pencil, 1980

Self-portraits, pencil and colored pencil, 1980

Images from a distant summer, 1980, right before I headed off to college to be an Art Ed major….That only lasted a semester till I switched to an English major …and then later to Fine Art, briefly, and eventually to Film. I really couldn’t make up my mind; all of it interested me. Before 2013, I did more drawing in 1980 than in any other. I had just completed a Drawing 1 class at my local community college with Lawrence von Baron, whom we called VB. He had great models come in for us to draw, a real diverse group, and the students were equally wonderful. I made friends, went to an art museum for the first time, began to move into the world I thought would be mine. It’s so heady being 19. Fearful, wary, defiant, all there in those faces. I used to do a lot of those stylized distortions back then…I still think they’re pretty cool.

Bacon Suits

Francis Bacon - Tutt'Art@ (17)francis-bacon_george-dyerFrancis Bacon Paintings Art 187francis_bacon_25Francis Bacon Paintings Art 169Seated Figure 1961 by Francis Bacon 1909-1992

Oh Francis! Look at you all dressed up and nothing to scream at. No meat, no blood. Almost serene…you know, for Francis Bacon.

I’m still thinking about these paintings. I love his very graphic compositions, the strong color blocks, and, in spite of the distorted faces and contorted poses, I love the suits, the shoes, crisp line, muted grays and tans. I need to find time to experiment on my own men-in-suits, see what I could do with paint and color. Another dream that for now is postponed. But it is on my mind.

PS–Sorry if you were expecting a post about Lady Gaga, though it sure would be fun to have seen his take on her. Could be almost as fun as she is.

Explode the Suit! or, What happens when Francis Bacon paints a well-dressed man…

bacon BaconVanity700

When I sketch businessmen in their suits on my lunch break each day, it never occurs to me to paint them. I see mostly men in dark suits with mid-tone ties, and now with June looming, a few summer suits but in the bright sun, laced with strong shadow, a reverse of the usual dark-light pattern. Sure, there are a few daring gents, like the man who shocked me giddy with his dark shirt and jacket, rust-orange pants, red-rimmed specs and very orange hair–some men really should be painted!–but most look very well in my austere line drawings. So, I don’t think much about painting, at least I hadn’t until I was looking at some Francis Bacon paintings the other day.

WOW! I’ve been a fan of Bacon’s for many years, but I guess it’s the screaming popes and writhing nudes that stayed in my memory, not the men in suits. It really has set me thinking….How exactly would I paint my suited men if I could?

These paintings have me excited all over again, scheming about where to take my work next.



Reading: Arthur Wesley Dow, Composition (1914)

“In a word, first cultivate the mind, set the thoughts in order, utilize the power within; then the eye and the hand can be trained effectively, with a definite end in view. The usual way, in our systems of art‐instruction, is to put drill first, leaving thought and appreciation out of account.”–Arthur Wesley Dow

I finished this book a few days ago and it is without a doubt one of the best art instruction books I’ve ever read. Composition has always been a weak point for me, and since I tend to love books of this era, I gave it a try. Only after I was well into it did I discover that it was Dow’s teachings that O’Keeffe credited as a major influence in the development of her famous style. Makes sense once you’ve been through this book.

I did most of the exercises as I went along and will do them again because they really are effective. It’s rare for me to jump into the doing quite so readily; my way of learning is by reading, but the ideas this time made sense and sounded fun. They built from simple to complex and got your mind thinking and seeing in patterns rather than fussing with the technical aspects of drawing. I can see this working well for younger students or for anyone who wants to do art but gets frustrated when they can’t “draw well.” This book still won’t give them that–only time and practice will–but it might help in the creation of powerful images with the skills they already have, just the way children do. Most artists envy the sure genius of kids–this books can help you find your way back there, with smart instruction, not with commands to trust your intuition. It works.


Origins 1–World Book Encyclopedia

John Singer Sargent, Madame X, 1883-84, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC

John Singer Sargent, Madame X, 1883-84, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC

Books are sacred.

That’s what I learned growing up. We had to wash our hands before picking up a book. While singing, reading and other disruptive hijinx were not allowed at the dinner table, whether one was finished eating or not, because everyone stayed till everyone was done, the parental response to one of our questions was always “Look it up!” Oh joy! “Look it up” meant a free pass to get up from the table to consult the necessary volume of the encyclopedia—or dictionary, if the question was about an unknown word—and then enlighten everyone on the issue.  That “look it up” dictum has become an ingrained habit, one I am very pleased to have.

In my childhood home, the World Book Encyclopedia, tidy red books with glossy pages and gold stamping on the spines, resided behind glass doors in the corner hutch in the living room. Many a first-day-of-school photo was posed in front of it. My favorite volumes were CL-CZ, P and F, inside which I could find Costumes, Painting and Flags of the World respectively. Man, I loved the illustrated pages of historical and national costumes, and drew copies of quite a few of them. I never considered drawings like that to be art though; Art was to be founding the Painting section.

For middle class 1964, the Painting section was pretty up-to-date: it included the classics, stuffy and brown and hence uninteresting, or contemporary work, which had the virtue of being colorful, but seemed little different than preschool daubing in my child-opinion. Modigliani’s Girl in a Pink Sweater also couldn’t be Art, though it was featured there; after all, its simple forms and skewed features did not seem marvelously out of the way of my own drawing style. (I thought maybe this meant I’d be a famous artist one day.) But Sargent’s Madame X was something else entirely.

Madame X was the first painting I ever loved. I love it still. I love her haughty elegance, the risqué gown, the subdued shadowy palette, and of course, the virtuosity that is in everything Sargent ever touched. I’m not sure what it was about the painting that made me love it as a child, probably just the sophistication of the woman or maybe the black velvet of her dress. There was a lot of velvet to be seen in the Sixties and I loved all of it! But the child-memory that lingers includes a feeling for this woman, standing alone in a vast dark space, infused with light from who knows where, looking resolutely outward at who knows what. It was an exalted expression of the way I felt life to be, such as I knew it then. It moves me still.

A Study in Pale

Portrait of Jeanne Kefer, Fernand Khnopff, 1885

Screwonhead herringbone beach whites

Reading:  Michel Daguet, The Portrait of Jeanne Kéfer (2004)

“The economy of the palette goes hand in hand with the very measured manual gesture that leads Khnopff to prefer tight brushwork.”—Michel Daguet

Fernand Khnopff was a Flemish portrait painter active at the turn of the 19th century. I discovered his work in The Portrait of Jeanne Kéfer, a book available as a free digital download from the Getty Museum. Daguet’s analysis of the Kéfer painting is good, but I didn’t care much for his overstrained theoretical arguments. Still, it’s an interesting peek at the fin-de-siècle Flemish art scene and the way it connected with trends in France and England. Definitely worth a glance….as are many of the other titles in the series. Degas: Waiting, for instance, was excellent.

Khnopff was a portraitist who dismissed photography as an art form, but used it as a tool in his painting. I’ve been thinking about photography too, lately. His was a form of Impressionism influenced by rough-hewn modernist techniques and the luminous precision of Memling. Perfect. Khnopff’s work appealed to me right away.

What has been unexpected is the appeal that his subtle, pale palette has for me. I generally prefer an intense kaleidoscope of color; it must be the monkish side of me surfacing, I guess. Still, I’ve been looking at a number of things lately with more subdued palettes: the coloring in Mignola’s The Amazing Screw-On Head,  the subtle hues, textures and patterns in classic menswear styling and the harmonious pales I like in beach home interiors.

Will my own work change from its desire for flamboyantly color? Probably not. Maybe it is just the changeable spring weather that has me torn between stormy grays and the riotous floral palette just breaking out, but whatever it is, subtle harmonies really excite my interest right now. If only spring would definitely arrive…

Tank Girl in the 21st Century


21st Century Tank Girl: a book by Hewlett and Martin & Co. on Kickstarter

Am I excited? Oh, hell YES! I love Tank Girl and I love Jamie Hewlett’s work. Aside from the occasional art (and inspiration) that he posts on Instagram, I haven’t seen anything from him in a few years. (I didn’t get to NYC to see Monkey last summer.) There was no way I could miss this opportunity, plus I love Kickstarter. It’s such a great way to support creative work, directly, leave control in the hands of the artists.

Come on now, click that pic and support Tank Girl. You know you want to.


A Day in the Life

I stumbled on this great BBC Four series over the weekend. Want to know what the daily life of an artist is like? Here’s one way to find out, if, like me, you don’t know any successful artists to hang out with and learn from. You won’t find any contrived artist statements or high society wanna-bes–just a cup of coffee in a messy studio, the pressure of exhibit deadlines, the cost of paints and the doubts and pleasures of doing the work. Take a look. Be inspired.


2014-03-13 Jake sm  2014-03-15 scarf sm

A few profiles, which I find tricky, and an attempt to make the silhouettes read more highly than the shading of the forms….with mixed success. Would the use of color blocks for contrast enhance the effect? I need to push the possibilities further. I think I’m having a Modigliani moment–I gave both of these people the necks of swans.