Sunday, December 2, 2007

Motherwell's Puddle

For several years I’ve been working from very quick, abbreviated sketches I do on location. Paddling, fishing, driving, walking the dogs. It has been working pretty well for the last few years. The sketches are enough to prompt my memory, remind me of what I saw in the land to make me want to paint. I am interested in where this work is going. More...........something. Abstraction? I’m not sure what.

A couple years ago, Darby and I were delivering a painting down near New York, and went to Dia:Beacon, a museum in Beacon, NY, specializing in contemporary art. I would recommend it to anyone. The massive space allows work to be seen differently than in most any other venue I have experienced. I came away with a new appreciation for many artists’ work, but was completely stunned by the work of Richard Serra. I had seen images of it in various publications, but nothing prepared me for the presence of the work.
Overwhelming. Tactile. Amazing.

Then last year for my birthday we took our kids to the Albright Knox for a Chuck Close retrospective. Another powerful show. And the AB has some other great work - Motherwell, Rothko, Kline, Diebenkorn and others. All work that I hated when I was younger, fascinated by now.

Me, a continually slow study.

Last fall - a year ago - I made a big, (four feet square), crude drawing board from a sheet of luan, and decided to do some drawings on location. I did plein aire work for several years. I’m mostly irritated by the process. Well, the sitting still part anyway. I have gotten away from it, working form the most abbreviated sketches for the past few years, spending my time outside more physically experiencing the world, not rendering it. But I have had this feeling of needing to more directly confront the subject again.

And spectators. Oh, an artist, can I see what you are doing? When I was younger, my confidence in my work was easily shaken, and I was shy to begin with. I am much more confident today, and along the way I've become fairly extroverted.

On a more current note, winter seems to have arrived.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


When in doubt, get outside. Especially if there is water involved. As president (and sole member), of the South Lima Steelhead Society, it was my, ummmm......duty, to take a day off to fish.

After several weeks of unusually warm fall weather, I chose a day of rain and hail. I do love wool and Gore-Tex. Warm and dry on a cold, wet day. You can experience the weather without suffering from it. And a good reminder of why I paint the landscape.

Steelhead nearly always live in or near beautiful places.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A few years ago I saw a program on erosion (I think it was on NATURE on PBS), and the formation of the Grand Canyon. I think most of us learned - at least I did - that erosion happens a little bit at a time. Water trickles along, following it’s path of least resistance, dissolving and carrying small particles along, and as this repeats over a bazillion years - poof, there’s the Grand Canyon.

It turns out that’s only part of the story. There are occasionally catastrophic debris flows, the perfect storm of water and mud, rocks and whatever else gets swept up in the mix, that scour and accelerate the change. So things move quietly along, slowly developing and then a sudden buildup of conditions and there is more significant, concentrated change. Then back to trickling.

I trickled along for years, painting anything and everything. Frustrations built up - Where am I going? What’s my life about? Debris flow. Realizing landscape was the most compelling subject to me. I painted plein aire for quite awhile, then tried working from photographs. Then, years later again, the most significant change in my work came when I realized I was more interested in the memory of landscape, the landscape that lives in my head, as opposed to recording the exact observation of a place.

OK, so my debris flows aren’t nearly as dramatic as many in the rest of nature. But they’re plenty for me, causing me to get blocked and frustrated - kind of generally losing direction. And I’m in one now. This morning, as my wife left for work, I said, Sometimes I just wish I had a job, so someone would just tell me what I needed to be doing.

I haven’t had a regular job in over 20 years. And I’m not about to start again now. It wouldn’t possibly allow me enough time for my work. The most important part of being an artist is the same as any other small business. You have to show up for work. And this block (it actually feels like there is a barrier in my mind that I’m trying to find a way around), is keeping me from being productive. There have been a several debris flows between the first one and now, and I think I have another one coming. Which is really the purpose of this whole exercise - trying to work/force my way through it.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

I am a reader. A writer? Not so much. My work has been influenced strongly by the work of several writers, really the result of my thinking shifting and expanding as a result of reading their work. Barry Lopez, Hugh Brody, Richard Nelson, Jack Turner, Cormac McCarthy, Louise Erdrich, Jim Harrison, Thomas McGuane, Barbara Kingsolver, John Straley - and others. I love to read - my only requirement being that it not feel like I’ve wasted my time.

But writing. I was always the one that had to be reminded 438 times to send my thank you letters. My favorite thing about graduating from college was knowing I didn’t have to write another paper. So why would I start a blog?

Several years ago, I realized that I am more interested in the memory of things, than the observation of things. At that point, I feel my work became much stronger. Previous to that, I was painting some plein aire work, some still life, studying portrait painting - going though the motions, and loving the process of painting, but not loving my subject matter. Reading helped lead me - to the realization that landscape has such deep meaning to me, that it is the memory of the landscape that keeps me grounded. And reading has been such an integral part of the evolution of my thinking, that I hope that writing might help me push the evolution of my work.

So I tried a journal. No luck. If your not compelled to write down your thoughts for yourself, I don’t know that your going to journal. My wife, Darby, is a writer. She is compelled to write in much the same way I am compelled to draw and paint. She is happier when she writes on a regular basis. I am happier when I paint every day. But I don’t feel compelled to write. And a journal is tucked away so no one knows if I write or not.

The blog is not private. It’s out there for any and all. Maybe even my Mom. Next thing you know,I’ll be getting 438 reminders to do my blog. OK Mom, I’m not planning on writing every day. We’ll see how it goes.