01 A VISION BEYOND ENDPOINTS Vincent Xeus
08 O BSERVATION, MEMORY & IMAGINATION Joseph McGurl
14 T HE CHANGING ARE MARKET PARADIGM Allison Malafronte
19 B EAUTY AND THE GRIT Gregory Prestegord
23 T O BE CONTINUED Karen Offutt
27 J OURNEY INTO THE HEART OF ART Dennis Perrin
33 a PAINTER OF PEOPLE Jean-Paul Tibbles
39 A N ENDLESS JOURNEY Robert Spooner
44 O BSERVATIONS FROM THE SEA Don Demers
Le Réve 48 x36 inches Oil on linen
A VISION BEYOND ENDPOINTS WOULD MOVE THE WORLD “ LET HIM WHO FIRST MOVE HIMSELF. - Socrates
The sun recedes into the far end of Highway 5 as if it just found a new destination. The fading light turns the gentle hills of the California coast into a band of green that’s much cooler than it really is. I remember driving through this spectacular view for my first public gallery show. As I write down these thoughts, I’m on my way home from the reception of my solo exhibition “The Last Pearl” in Los Angeles. The doubts and fears that I had seem to have been given an antidote by so much that happened. I was deeply touched by
the wonderful letters received and the tears left in the gallery. Magic indeed happened for me. I call it magic because none of this was ever planned, and yet things seem to be falling into place at bullet speed. Or at least that’s what my cheerful friends in the art world tell me. Gratitude makes us rich. With this opportunity, I’d like to share parts of my journey and hope to help others find their calling.
Journey, 14 x 11 inches, Oil on linen
Like many others, I started painting early, at the age of nine. Painting was never a choice for me. Instead it was a necessity. Painting in my early childhood years let me escape what I thought was suffocating in the Chinese education system, which was deeply rooted in the absolutism of the post Cultural Revolution. When my family had the opportunity to send me to school in the U.S., we took it. Everyone in my â€œteamâ€? gave their best, but to this day I still suspect that it was my art portfolio that opened the doors to my then-dream school UC Berkeley. During that time Art was my black belt. In art I could hold myself to the absolute highest standards and still appear to be cool.
The Velvet Girl, 13.5 x 7.5 inches, Oil on linen
I always knew I would be someone who turned visions into reality. After Berkeley I founded my architecture practice, and I was very fortunate to have designed several mixed-use condominium projects in China. On one end it was a dream come true, and on the other I stood by helplessly watching as my visions were compromised again and again. The pain built to the point where I realized I needed a much purer medium to deliver my visions and to make changes. So I traced back to fine art once againâ€”I needed to paint.
“ I WANTED TO BE FREE OF STYLE OR EVEN OF MY OWN INTENT. When I submerged myself in painting I asked myself many times what all this meant. I fought for years at those moments when I stared at a blank piece of canvas, not knowing what to paint. So I let my inner necessity take over, and rather than painting what I saw, I painted what I felt, even if I didn’t fully understand my feelings. I wanted to be free of style or even of my own intent. Growing up I learned how to paint by studying from the Italian and Dutch masters. I love their traditions and technical perfection, and at the same time I have an equally strong desire to break away from it. This conflict made me struggle, and the struggle kept painting alive for me. Slowly, the message behind the brush strokes began to reveal itself. After all the painting, scraping, sanding, and repainting, and through reliving all the emotions and events that took place in my life, I realized a miracle was happening. This miracle led me to so many wonderful friends. It took me to exhibiting in some of the best galleries and shows in the nation. It came unplanned, but so appreciated. And this miracle is change—the change not in the context, but in the center of all my external reality, in me. Pain is an inevitable part of life, but suffering is not. I learned the importance of being in harmony with both sides of all things. The painful elements are what give meaning to all other wonderful gifts from life. By embracing all facets of life, especially the moments of fragility, we gain balance and strength to become everything we envision. And it is through this process of cultivating self-awareness that we learn where our heart truly resides. If I didn’t go through the brutal military-style schooling when I was young, then all those afternoons of mixing paint and capturing color and light would never have felt so liberating. If I didn’t endure the hindrances when practicing architecture,
The Return, 36 x 36 inches, Oil on linen
my paintings wouldn’t have been filled with as much spirit and deep emotion. And most certainly I would not have had the opportunity of solitude that gave me a chance to reinterpret the past and discover what my true passion and purpose are. This change in attitude helped me understand that fulfillment doesn’t come from avoiding pain, but through becoming the best of myself in what I truly love—by overcoming my weaknesses and, most important, by giving. This is the central message of my solo exhibition “The Last Pearl,” a collection of figurative paintings, not about the body but about a journey to resolution. I wanted to share my learning of the dual nature of life. I want my audience to see that even though life is accompanied by things that we fear, such as sorrow, these difficulties are at the same time the very dimension that gives us power and makes us appreciate all the blessings in life.
Chignon, 16 x 12 inches, Oil on linen
I want my paintings to be a gateway for the audience to their own subconscious; my true intent is to reveal that which is beneath what we think we see. Everything is perfect as it is, so the true reflection can only be beautiful. Painting is my process to experience that beauty. For those audiences who are ready, they’ll see the light through darkness, and they’ll experience bliss through chaos. In closing, I’d like to share the final passage of a Hans Christian Andersen fable, from which I borrowed the title “The Last Pearl” for my solo exhibition: “. . . the pearl of Sorrow, the last, which must not be wanting, increases the luster, and explains the meaning of all other pearls . . . the pearl of Sorrow, in which are concealed the wings that shall carry us to eternal happiness.”
2 Learn more about Vincent at: www.vincentxeus.com
Emma Choosing, 30 x 20 inches, Oil on linen
Myth, 15 x 11 inches, Charcoal and pastel with gold leaf
Lightspeed, Earthbound, 12 x 36 inches, Oil on canvas
OBSERVATION, MEMORY & IMAGINATION Realism without photography
“That looks just like a photograph!” Many representational artists often hear this “compliment.” There is no doubt that the camera and the brush are rivals for superiority in the creation of two-dimensional images. And most contemporary painters use photos to some extent. Does this matter? It often depends upon whom you ask. Though paintings may possess some superficial similarities to photographs, in reality artists who use or don’t use photographs are creating very different kinds of art with different philosophies, methods, and technical requirements. I
often hear thoughtful reasoning as to why certain artists work from photographs, but I seldom hear discussions about the philosophical and practical reasons for working without them. As an artist who does not use any kind of photo reference, I would like to discuss some of the reasons why it is better for me to reach my goals by working only from my observations, memory and imagination. Because art is such an individual endeavor, it is impossible for an artist to speak from an impersonal viewpoint, so I hope you will indulge me as I speak from my personal perspective, and trust that it will contain some universal truths.
Study of Brick and Stone, 9 x 12 inches, Oil on panel, plein air sketch
It is also wonderful that artists disagree with each other about philosophy and methods. If we all agreed with each other, all art would look the same, and it would be a very boring art world indeed. I say this because it is important to realize that my goals are different from artists who do use photography, and I am not applying my goals and values to their artmaking process. The plein air sketch forms the basis of all of my art making. Despite the fact that many of my studio paintings are completely imagined scenes, they are informed by and based upon thousands of these sketches painted over a 30-year period. Working this way has required a significant amount of time meditating upon, observing, and desperately struggling to interpret nature in paint. Knowing that the only reference for developing subsequent studio paintings is what I have studied and painted on site encourages me to dig in and fight for every bit of information I can grasp before I leave the field. Because I am usually able to render the scene before me with enough fidelity to meet my needs, a photo to make corrections is not necessary. Plein air painting without photographic reference as a backup is similar to that old clichĂŠ of walking a tightrope without a net. It compels one to concentrate at the highest levels.
Two Fish, 12 x 16 inches, Oil on panel, Studio painting based upon imagination
I am attracted to the purity and also to the challenge of sitting in a field with only my paints and my wits trying to record the entire experience. I am a painter, not a painter/photographer, and referring to a photograph would, for me, place too much emphasis on the end-product rather than the process. In an age dominated by technology, it is important for me to keep my art handmade with its attendant flaws and minimal technological intrusion. I suspect this minimalist approach would make me a counter-revolutionary in the eyes of the art establishment. However, I don’t reject technology just because it is technology. My philosophy is similar to the Amish in this regard—if a particular technology doesn’t help me reach my goals, it is unnecessary, and I don’t want to invite it into my art-making process. Time spent in the field has also allowed me to expand my imagination and creativity because it has forced me to develop a large storehouse of knowledge that can be drawn upon to create completely imaginary landscapes. Artists working in this manner will become visual botanists, meteorologists,
Glare, Eagle Lake, 24 x 36 inches, Oil on canvas Studio painting based on a plein air sketch
geologists, biologists, architects, physicists, etc. They will be able to recreate environments in a convincing way and not be limited by the availability of reference photographs. This gives great freedom to completely invent and rearrange subject matter.
AS PHOTOS HAVE NO INHERENT LIGHT, THEY CANNOT POSSESS ANY OF THE SPIRITUAL SIGNIFICANCE OF REAL LIGHT.
Transferring the fullness of our multidimensional experiences in the real world into a flat twodimensional painting, which then communicates an idea through that image, are extremely abstract thought processes. This is because the only relationship the painting has to the real world is that if you could eliminate all your other senses, close one eye, and squint at the subject, the painting would look somewhat similar to the real world. If I were using photography, the camera would be doing some of this amazingly abstract “thinking and interpretation” for me because it would have already made a flat twodimensional image of my subject. I would then be making a flat image into another flat image. This would eliminate the sense of magic that I experience when I transfer my real world experiences directly from my mind into a painting or drawing. This sense of magic is one of the reasons I knew at an early age that I wanted to be an artist, and I still find it enormously rewarding. Perhaps the most obvious reason photography doesn’t work for my particular type of artmaking is that I consider myself a Contemporary Luminist. This means that, in a way philosophically similar to the nineteenth-century Luminists and Transcendentalists such as
Last Light, Mt. Desert, 23 x 29 inches, Oil on panel Studio painting based upon daylight and sunset sketches
Emerson and Thoreau, I have a special interest in the inherent spiritual implications of the natural world, and most important, of light. My interest in the physical nature of light has also led me to recognize its dominance in the realm of physics. For this reason, I must paint actual light rather than a photographic representation of it. Light is composed of photons, but because a photograph has no photons it is impossible to “paint light” from a photograph. If I were painting from a photo, I would be matching pigments to the photographic image rather than interpreting true light. Staying with the physical aspects of my subject, my paintings are also a study of light, form, space, and color interpreted through the painted image. A photograph has only color, but no real light, form, or space. Again, if I used a photo, I would be matching colors as opposed to interpreting true reality. Most importantly, the spiritual significance of light for Luminist painters is paramount because light provides a portal to the sublime. As photos have no inherent light, they cannot possess any of the spiritual significance of real light. For my physical and spiritual conceptions of light, using photos would be similar to idolatry, where one worships an image of god rather than the real god. If we paint from life, our subject is the real world, which exists in time and space with all its distortions and many dimensions. Our real world subject is also responding to gravity and the other forces of nature and is composed of subatomic particles engaged in a frenzy of activity. Because all of this is so ingrained and subtle to our senses, we are not superficially aware of these aspects of reality; however, if our subject were not responding to these laws of physics, our universe would cease to exist in its present state. I believe that these characteristics are in many ways subconsciously reflected in artwork produced from life, and that this is one of the reasons that art produced from life looks different from art produced from photographs—the image in a photograph simply doesn’t possess any of these essential features of our universe.
Look to the Sun, 24 x 36 inches, Oil on canvas
Physics is showing us that our universe has an ultimate reality that humankind is incapable of experiencing. However, each species can experience some slice of this reality in their unique way. For instance, because of its blindness and echolocation abilities, a bat’s conception of the world is much different than a human’s. A camera interprets what it “sees” in its own unique way, which is also different than the way you and I see. The way we experience and interpret reality is the very thing that makes us human. My art is concerned with how the human mind and our senses interpret reality, and I do not want it influenced by a device. Even using photos in a minimal way would incorporate a foreign element into my art, and it would distort my perceptions. By using only observation, memory, and imagination, I am creating art that has only one filter: me. The camera can see things that the eye cannot and vice versa. As an example, we’ve all seen paintings of rippled water painted with great complexity and photographic accuracy. This type of rendering is impossible to paint by eye because the artist has chosen a split-second photographic depiction of water from which to work. Our eyes see detail with the fovea centralis, which is located at the rear of the eyeball. It allows our eye to focus, but it is only able to focus on a very small spot at a time. Because of this, we see sequentially, and therefore cannot
Lifting Fog, Cadillac Mountain, 36 x 60 inches, Oil on canvas Studio painting based upon pencil drawings, plein air paintings, and imagination
focus on the entire scene simultaneously. Because ripples are constantly moving and are influenced by adjacent ripples, we cannot record an expanse of them the way a photograph can. Portraying water in this manner is impossible without the camera, and this way of rendering water did not exist before photography. There are many other examples where the art produced using photographs looks different from art painted by eye, such as the way a photograph is simplified when making it into a painting. But if you squint at it, the painting still retains the essence of a photograph. Other changes include the unique composition, cropping, coloring and values introduced to painting since the advent of photography. Though I attempt to achieve a high degree of fidelity to nature in my art, it remains within the realm of my emotional and
humanistic interpretations of the reality I experience. By keeping my process simple and the connection to the source of inspiration as direct as possible, I believe I am able to make a deeper connection to the world I am portraying. Thank you for allowing me to indulge in the overuse of personal pronouns, and remember that because we are all working abstractly, there is no absolute truth. Whether choosing to use a camera or not, all artists work in the manner that is right for them because it best fulfills their personal objectives.
2 Learn more about Joseph at: www.josephmcgurl.com
THE CHANGING ART MARKET PARADIGM Artists on Art catches up with Allison Malafronte
Artists on Art: The way society interacts and communicates is changing. The art market and collecting are also evolving. How do you see these two worlds affecting each other? Allison Malafronte: Yes, whether we like it or not, the majority of the world is living online. More and more people are interacting, communicating, making purchases, conducting business, learning, consuming media, and networking online more than ever before. By the year 2020 there will be 7.8 billion people on earth and 68 percent of them will be online. That means about three billion more people will be entering the
online world in the next six years. This trend cannot be ignored, and it has implications for the art world as well. The move to an online model for art sales is a reality, and more and more collectors are using online galleries and auctions, artist websites and blogs, and sites such as Amazon Art, Saatchi Online, Artsy, Paddle8, and others to find and purchase artwork. The disadvantage of the online art-sales space is that collectors donâ€™t always receive the education, personalized attention, or connection they need to make an informed purchase. They also donâ€™t get to see the artwork in person, live with it in some
way, or learn about the artist who created it, which I think is hugely important when you talk about a investment as significant and intuitive as purchasing art. If the collectors can’t connect with the art or artist firsthand, there should be someone they trust who can make an educated recommendation for them. AoA: Technology is allowing artists to both connect with one another more and present and sell their work through studio shows or full-blown online exhibitions. This has been an aspect of the art market for some time now, but how is it changing, and is it being elevated to the same or greater status as gallery or association shows? AM: The good news about the New Media culture and online world is that the main currency of that space is content and connection. So creative people who are good communicators— visual or written—have a tremendous advantage in that arena. In terms of online images— websites, shows, auctions, exhibitions etc.—being elevated to the same status as in-person gallery shows, I don’t think so. Art doesn’t always fit as comfortably or naturally in the digital box as do other forms of communication. For example, we all know that the traditional print magazine is a dying art and that the majority of people prefer to consume content digitally or online through their smartphones or tablets. But art is a visual, sensory, and emotional experience. You will never get the same experience on a screen that you would get in high-quality print and you will never get the same experience in high-quality print that you would get in person. When you reduce all the things that make a painting alive—scale, color, harmony, atmosphere, the individual style and spirit of the artist, etc.—to pixels, dots, and RGB, it limits the viewer’s experience. So, yes, the online space is a wonderful way for imagery to quickly get disseminated to a wide audience and peak people’s interest and attention. But I hope these are just teasers or “trailers” to encourage people to see the art in person. And as a way to balance the online proliferation, I hope there will be more spaces and venues opening so people can enjoy art in real time, with real people, in real ways. AoA: In a previous conversation, you mentioned the word “independent,” and that is clearly a big part of your thinking lately. What does it mean to you now? AM: The word independent means a lot to me right now as both an artist and as a businesswoman. I have worked for corporations since I graduated college, and there are certainly benefits to being plugged into a big power source with larger budgets, resources, and employees than you have as an entrepreneur. But the general corporate structure—with its politics, bottom-line decisions, and lack of creative freedom—is not necessarily the kind of environment I thrive in. For this reason and others, I think it makes sense for me to have my own business right now. “Art Independent” is something I can always work on, whether as a full-time enterprise or as a small business simmering on the back burner while I move onto other industries and opportunities. It summarizes what I’ve done up until this point in the art world and allows me to share that experience with others. It’s something that can grow and expand in any number of directions, based on what is right for the company, the industry, my audience, and myself in the future.
“Independent” is also a very strong word right now in society, business, and other industries. Book publishing is going independent, independent e-commerce is helping to fuel the economy, indie music remains extremely relevant, an increasing number of people are identifying with the independent party in politics. In the art world, independent pop-up shows are very popular, and I’m noticing a lot of artists coming together and organizing their own collaboratives, exhibitions, and projects. So this idea of freedom and independence in art, culture, and society is very powerful right now, and it’s a word that resonates strongly with me and with a lot of other creatives I know. AoA: What are your hopes for Art Independent, and how does your past inform this new future? AM: I hope to be able to help people find artists and artwork they really love and that resonates with them and means something to them. I hope to help artists find patrons and collectors who believe in what they are doing, understand their vision, and want to support it. I also hope Art Independent will play a role in creating value around work that is more interesting, intriguing, intelligent, and aesthetically compelling than what we’ve seen before. In terms of personal goals and how my past plays into the future of this company, I feel I have a good amount of experience in and knowledge of the traditional representational-art community from my years spent as a magazine editor. But I am really curious about and want to be more connected to the larger contemporary art scene. Also, I feel I have a lot of connections among artists and practitioners, but I would like to build up more relationships and rapport with collectors and patrons. Art Independent is a way for me to accomplish both of these goals, and then bring those different groups together in interesting and appropriate ways.
COLLECTORS NEED HELP FINDING QUALITY ARTISTS AND ARTISTS NEED HELP FINDING QUALITY COLLECTORS.
AoA: Both artists and collectors lack expertise in certain areas. What are those areas and how does consulting bridge these gaps? AM: I think what it comes down to is collectors need help finding quality artists and artists need help finding quality collectors. Also, gallerists, institutions, writers, curators, and other professionals in the art world often find their most inspired and meaningful connections come from face-to-face interaction or introductions. This is where an intermediary can be beneficial. We are inundated with unending information, imagery, and data these days, and sometimes we need someone who is more familiar with and knowledgeable about a particular subject or
Allison’s curated exhibition, Converge: Where Classical and Contemporary Art Collide New York, November 2012
person to help us cut through the clutter. Collectors may know what they want aesthetically, but they might not always have the ability or connections to find or ask for what they want. Also, most artists do not have the time or inclination to be hunting down patrons, schmoozing or networking, and taking inquiries from potential buyers that might not eventually come to pass. Most of them just want to paint. But once a genuine relationship is established and someone is being brought to them who has already been informed about who they are, what they do, and what they create, isn’t that going to be a more worthwhile connection? That’s because it’s an informed connection. Being an independent consultant is almost like being a matchmaker. I start by going after the collectors and connoisseurs and learning as much as I can about what they’re after and helping them define their goals. Then I match them to the best possible artist or artists for those goals. AoA: Interior design and aesthetics seem to be an increasingly important aspect to the wealthy and collectors in general. Should artists consider this while they work, or is it an afterthought or exercise in connecting the right people to the right artist and specific works? AM: Unless you are working on a specific commission, no, you shouldn’t be overly concerned with interior design or decorative aesthetics. I’m a big believer in artists needing to paint what moves and inspires them most, and that they should spend their spare time filling up on things that feed their specific direction, rather than chasing any kind of trend. It’s not always economically realistic or feasible, but the whole art-sales and representation process should work the other way: you paint what only you can paint in a way that only you can paint it and
someone will find a home for it. Now, if you are an artist who happens to love illustration and design and perhaps even have some training in those fields, by all means, be thinking in those terms as you paint. But in general, design is about demand and art is about freedom, so unless you are working on a commission with specific design parameters, there’s no need to tailor your vision to anyone else’s. AoA: I would be remiss to not bring up the ever-present battle between representational (or traditional) and modern art. Are artists boxing the air here? I keep getting the feeling that the overcorrection of modern art will level out and that “contemporary art” will combine excellence in modern thinking and technical skill. Traditional art will not rise in popularity or premier status, but just really good “contemporary art”—simply our world, represented exquisitely. The “Converge” exhibition you curated was perhaps a step in this direction. AM: Right, there’s no stopping the mainstream contemporaryart train, so resistance and whining is futile. The empires that were built by the dealers who branded and created value around artists such as Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, Ai Weiwei and others did not happen overnight, nor will they fall or disappear overnight. It took decades and decades of underground, strategic planning before Larry Gagosian could get someone to pay $12 million for Damien Hirst’s shark in formaldehyde or for Jeff Koons’ balloon dog to sell for $58.4 million. Also, no major movement in culture or art comes into being without a specific reason and without reflecting something that is happening on a bigger scale with humanity and society (right,
wrong, or indifferent), so attacking it so that “it goes away” or so that people will forget it existed is also futile. But what is encouraging for traditional painters, I think, is that the current overinflated pricing and purchasing of the top tier is likely not going to be sustainable for that much longer. Even if those artists do stick around, there is a chance their value will begin to deflate. And when and if the proverbial contemporary art bubble bursts, the public will likely be more receptive to art that doesn’t fully match the criteria of the failed system, because it no longer has the same value. So, right, representational art will likely never reach the cult status of the current contemporary mainstream—does anyone really want it to anyway?—but I think it does have the potential of receiving more attention and patronage in the near future. Yes, I still think hybrid art in particular—elements of the current contemporary world and elements of the traditional world—is going to be the most palatable to both sides as things start to change, shift, and regain balance. At the end of the day, though, I honestly can’t say for sure, and none of us can change or predict the contemporary-art-world trajectory any more than we can redirect the wind. So my advice to painters is just keep painting and let the historians and writers have the final word 100 years from now.
2 Learn more about Allison and Art Independent at: www.artindependentllc.com
BEAUTY AND THE GRIT Many artists try to capture the energy of the time in which they live. Look at the work of great masters—they tend to paint the times. I remember as a child my dad would always say, “Don’t paint pretty things.” When I would ask him why, he would reply, “Look around you. Look at all the industrial buildings that are falling apart. Look at all the poverty around us. Paint these things; they are the sign of our times.” Indeed, he was right. Many years later as a young man walking the streets of Philadelphia, I found myself working hard, low-paying labor jobs, building scaffolding for murals in rough areas while looking at all the amazing graffiti, and teaching art to inmates in prison. I thought to myself, “What a harsh world we live in. There are lots of poor, broken-down buildings, and people surviving on crack. Wow, it looks like a bomb went off in this city.” My response was to paint and portray this Rust Belt city whose factories and jobs have been lost in the meltdown of American manufacturing.
Above: Abstract jazz man, 48 x 48 inches, Oil on panel
Painting was the only thing I ever really loved to do. I have been drawing and painting since I was three years old. My parents discovered that if I had a crayon or marker in my hand, I could settle down and focus. We lived in the Fairmount section of Philadelphia, so the Philadelphia Museum of Art a few blocks away was my playground. I learned to rollerblade backwards down the museumâ€™s steps, took weekend art classes, and loved just hanging around the place and paintings. I was never a great student, but was accepted into Creative and Performing Arts High School on the strength of my art. I had a fascination with graffiti, and after a brush with the police, I found myself doing community service at Philadelphia Mural NYC light, 35 x 48 inches, Oil on panel
Arts, the most impressive mural program in the country, founded by Jane Golden. From the age of 16, I worked for PMA erecting scaffolding and learning from other muralists about the art of mural making and painting big. At 18, I was enrolled at PAFAâ€”Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where I received a rigorous classical art education. We studied everything from still life to figure painting, printmaking, and sculpture. I had amazing teachers who were also working artists. Sydney Goodman taught me not to be afraid of the paint and showed me how an ordinary scene could be packed with meaning and metaphor. Murray Dessner taught us to paint light like the Impressionists and to create a
GRITTY IS A TERM FOR REAL THINGS AND REAL PLACES AND REAL EVENTS, NOT A HOLLYWOOD FLICK. IT’S LIKE HAVING A CHOICE BETWEEN AN OLD GUITAR AND A NEW ONE.
world that the viewer could step into. Al Gury taught me about color, color planes, and the techniques of Alla Prima—also known as direct painting or wet-on-wet painting, which gives a fresh, spontaneous look to a piece. The sculptor Alex Hromych sent us out into the street and beyond to salvage old materials to remake into tools (chisels made from rebar, for example), canvases, and sculpture. Finally, Scott Noelle taught me about structure and shape, and he encouraged and inspired me to start painting cityscapes—to go out and paint what I saw on the streets. It was then that I noticed all the beauty in the grittiness. Gritty is a term for real things and real places and real events, not a Hollywood flick. It’s like having a choice between an old guitar and a new one, which one would you choose? The new one looks pretty, but the old one carries amazing sound from years of having been played. The painter makes multiple mistakes, trying to make things right in his or her work, just as people make multiple mistakes while trying to fix the world. Then the muse comes in and you’re completely at peace. How does one see beauty in the grit amongst all the chaos of the world? I think painters have been at this task for thousands of years. My work is evolving, although it is still informed and inspired by my surroundings in an aging Northeast city. A few blocks from my studio stands “the Beast”—an electrical power plant with three smokeless stacks, another relic of the industrial revolution. It captivated my imagination—and was a subject of my painting for many years. I still explore the poorest sections of the city to seek out abandoned people and landscapes, but my subject matter has broadened.
Broken down brewery, 24 x 48 inches, Oil on panel
Whatever the subject, I strive to reveal the energy, mood, and beauty of a person, space, or place. My own evolution as an artist seems like the natural progression of so many artists I admire. My work is hard to define, but has leaned toward expressionism. Recently, I have been adding more elements of abstraction for emotional depth and heft. A painting of street musicians veers off into an abstraction of the music they are creating and playing. I paint with a palette knife and other miscellaneous objects almost like a sculptor. I start out building up the twodimensional surface with layers of paint as in a relief, and then remove layers as necessary to create feeling and a sense of space and time. I donâ€™t want to be perfect. I enjoy the final effect of mistakes in my subject matter and work. The process is my meditation, my way of finding and conveying truth.
Gray scale, 48 x 24 inches, Oil on panel
Learn more about Gregory and his work at: www.gregoryprestegord.com Night snow storm, 24 x 24 inches, Oil on panel
TO BE CONTINUED In art there is an expectation of consistency. Whether it’s about having the same theme, a consistent approach to technique— even the same content—I think the outside world’s expectation is that your work won’t change. They can recognize your work from ten years past to the present. While I do not disagree with this idea, I do appreciate seeing the evolution of an artist’s growth and watching them forge ahead into new creative frontiers. It’s taken me some time to give myself license to explore a new direction. I’m not saying that I want to abandon completely the way I painted years ago. I just want to tap into something that allows me to have more of a personal connection with the subject matter as well as to develop my technical skills. I recently took some time off painting to raise my two boys. Finding time to be a mother and to paint was becoming too
Lunch, 6 x 6 inches, Oil on board
difficult—the energy and time involved was simply too much. So I had to make the decision not to put the added pressure on myself. I am very lucky to have a supportive—and employed— husband, which financially enabled me to do that. But it was very difficult for me not to create. For self-preservation I had to force myself to compartmentalize my life and put painting on the back burner. During that time, however, I was able to really reflect on what my work meant to me, how I saw it back then, where I wanted to go with it, and to ask myself what I wanted to achieve. It was important to me to work on my technical skills; that is, to refine my attempts at realism so as to give the impression that the subject matter is emerging from the canvas. The Observer, 10 x 10 inches, Oil on board
Taking It All In, 10 x 10 inches, Oil on canvas
It’s hard to put into words exactly what’s happening at each step of a drawing or painting. It really depends on what I’m drawn to at that particular moment. Some people are great at it, but when I’m engrossed in a painting, I go into my wordless little world. Maybe someday it’ll be easier for me. The process is a combination of deconstructing and reconstructing, reevaluating shapes and the drawing; the play of value and color, and what visual detail is pertinent and what can be implied. In a figurative piece, for example, I will look for a few things that stand out to me. It may be the way the light hits the face, shoulder or hand, etc., or it may be the surrounding shapes. I will also assess which part of the composition needs to be “spelled out” and which part does not. When we are looking at something directly, like the focal point of an object or a person, the surrounding area (or periphery) loses detail. And the farther out from the periphery, that surrounding area is even more out of focus.
On the Streets, 6 x 8 inches, Oil on board
Before my formal education in art, I was very detailed in my drawing and painting. Then I learned that for every five brush strokes, I should do three, and so on. That more efficient approach enabled me to see past the detail and to get the impression of realism—to have an understanding of creating something with more of a three-dimensional effect, using less information.
On the Streets, 6 x 8 inches, Oil on board
You can draw and paint everything you see in fine detail, but there is a chance of losing depth in the work. The eye is too busy trying to sort out all the detailed information rather than evoking an immediate feeling of the moment. So now I’m exploring avenues where the detail can contribute to the work. For me, it’s all about making new discoveries, having the freedom to try new things and the confidence to make it happen.
There is a constant evolution in any artistâ€™s creative journey. I have a lot to learn and explore. Ask me in another ten years and I might have a different path. Itâ€™s always changing . . .
2 Learn more about Karen at: www.karenoffutt.com
Blue Dress 12 x 18 inches Oil on canvas
JOURNEY INTO THE HEART OF ART Peonies in Cobalt Vase, 18 x 24 inches, Oil on linen
When I began painting, like nearly all art students, I looked outwardly for inspiration and for technique. I really thought that a painting was a thing to be made, or built, or executed, and so all I had to do was know what I wanted to paint and then how to do it. My teacher, M. Dell Weller, had been trained at the Art Studentsâ€™ League back in the â€™50s and had a wealth of technique. I learned to pay close attention to value, to use color in wonderful yet conventional ways, and how to draw on my canvas in order to create a roadmap for my paintings. It was a wonderful way to embark on my painting career and it gave me a solid technical foundation for the many paintings I would come to paint over the next thirty years. After school I became ravenous for information about painting and began earnestly studying how others accomplished their paintings. I became enamored of the American movement, especially those in and around the Boston School and the Ten American Painters. I perused books, visited museums, copied paintings and details, and voraciously consumed writings and
A Conversation, 24 x 30 inches, Oil on linen
thoughts on techniques on painting. Through books like The Art Spirit by Robert Henri, notes on painting by artists like Frank W. Benson, Edmund Tarbell, and John Singer Sargent, as well as the nearly scriptural text, Oil Painting Techniques
White Peonies in Ballerina Vase, 24 x 18 inches, Oil on linen
and Materials, by Harold Speed, I developed a foundational method that allowed me to create paintings in a way that I could relax and enjoy the process of painting. The struggle I had become accustomed to in “wrestling a painting to the ground” was gone. I entered a new phase of painting in which the number of successes far outweighed the failures, allowing me to meet the growing demand for my work in galleries across the country. Simply stated, my method is characterized by an initial drawing, somewhat detailed, in which I work out composition and value relationships, always drawn directly on the canvas with thin, “wash-like” paint, using a brush. The canvas is then simplified into a few (usually three to five) large shapes that are defined primarily by value and then color. The drawing, of course, is lost. Once the canvas is covered with a layer of
Watching for Swallows, 24 x 30 inches, Oil on linen
paint, I then seek to refine and tweak the individual shapes that exist independently of the objects or elements that comprise the subject, being careful not to violate the original character of the shape. Eventually edges are defined by painted “transitional tones,” and the final strokes are those of deep value accents and high-keyed highlights. Voila! The painting has emerged. It’s this method that I’ve brought to my teaching now for nearly two decades and with great success. Most students eventually understand how simplification and the concentration on values nearly always lead to a successful painting. But I have never been satisfied to settle for the way things are, so I have evolved. Through my own personal spiritual exploration, especially my study of the teachings of Abraham as translated and expressed by Esther Hicks, I have come to realize that a painting, just like any other experience in our lives, is a creation, something that
first takes place as a thought or an idea or an image that then leads to a manifestation—if allowed. And it was this realization that set me on my current emphasis that creating a painting is accomplished from the inside out. I encourage my students to first practice visualizing the finished painting in their mind’s eye before they even touch a brush or paint. In fact, we often begin our classes with a guided meditation that encourages them to “see” the finished painting. I then invite them to step back slightly and see that the painting is mounted on their easel, just below is their palette covered in swirls of paint, with brushes and paraphernalia nearby. I also invite them to “see” their own hand and to realize that they are the artist that created this painting. Through this process, the student enters the role of being the creator of the work and sets the stage for them to now “allow” the painting to come into being in real, physical terms. This simple but powerful shift takes the painting process to a whole new level!
Studio Still Life, 24 x 18 inches, Oil on linen
What I find most interesting is the constant doubting and second guessing the students engage in as they navigate their way through a painting. Invariably there is, first, a reluctance to “lose” the drawing on their way to “gaining” the painting. I just say that’s the Zen of the process and there’s no other way to get from here to there. Then, once the value shapes are identified and painted in, there is constant anxiety over how the painting looks at any intermediary stage. It’s as if they started out on a journey, began to doubt the directions they had, and either got lost or decided to return to the starting point. I sensed that it was in the lack of the vision they had for the painting that created this confusion. So I used this analogy, borrowed from Abraham-Hicks, to create a better understanding:
Sunlit Peonies, 20 x 16 inches, Oil on panel
Say you live in Phoenix and decide to make a drive to San Diego. After consulting a map, MapQuest, or GPS, you’ve
Cobalt Vase, 24 x 18 inches, Oil on linen
determined the route you need to take to arrive at your destination. You strike out on the journey, knowing that some reasonable amount of time will need to pass before you arrive in San Diego. You may have consulted some travel magazines to get an idea of what to expect when you get there and you may have even developed a picture of what that looks like or how you will feel when you arrive. Then, you relax and enjoy the drive, knowing full well that if you stay on course you will arrive. You may even take a wrong exit here or there, but with confidence and your navigational tools, you find your way back to the route and eventually your destination.
The analogy may be obvious, but the practice of navigating through a painting seems to be quite the challenge for many who set out on this journey. My experience tells me that most people are not enjoying the journey. And even more importantly, I’ve seen that how they feel about painting at all is entirely wrapped up in how they feel about the “destination.” If they are able to produce a successful conclusion to the journey—a painting that pleases them or others, depending on their preference—then they feel good about what they’ve done, even if the process of painting was tortuous. But my suggestion is this: do your best to study your subject to the point of inspiration. Determine what it is you want to say or convey about the subject—the light, the mood, the feeling, the atmosphere—and let that shape your vision of the final work. Then relax, allow the process to carry you through, at all times simply enjoying the journey. Before you know it, you will have “arrived” at your destination. Your vision of the painting will have emerged from the blank canvas that you started with, and the message you wished to convey to your viewer will have been the result of your vision and the feeling you experienced. This is the proper order of things: First the vision, then the feeling, then the journey, and the painting is simply the inevitable result. Now that was simple, wasn’t it?
2 Learn more about Dennis at: www.dennisperrinfineart.com
Violet, 24 x 18 inches, Oil on panel
A PAINTER OF PEOPLE
A conversation with portrait painter Jean-Paul Tibbles
It should not have surprised Artists on Art, perhaps, that JeanPaul Tibbles has blazed a unique trail to his current status as one of Europe’s leading portrait artists. After all, Tibbles is British, but there’s that first name, evoking images of Left Bank artist-family roots (not the case), and a unique 30-year career that includes many book illustrations for—irony alert—the American Girl doll company. Finding an agent in London even before he graduated art school, Tibbles began producing illustration commissions in 1979. Since then he’s worked for a host of ad agencies and book
publishers around the world, and he successfully leveraged his long history in illustration to shift focus recently to almost exclusively portrait work. Perhaps Tibbles’ exposure to the business of art at an early age is part of what makes him so pragmatic in his view of himself and his career. At Artists on Art we frequently hear about the extended search by some artists for “their voice,” and the apotheosis that it seems to represent to them. We spoke to Tibbles by phone at his home in the United Kingdom, but even at that distance we thought we detected a slight eye-roll
when we asked him about finding his voice. “One thing I was told at college,” Tibbles said, “was don’t worry about finding your voice—you’ll end up getting one.” The danger apparently is that when an artist looks at the work of another artist, and says, “How can I get a style like that?” the result is often the emergence of a “style” that may or may not represent the artist’s true voice. “So I haven’t worried about it,” Tibbles said matter-of-factly. “If I have one, it’s my voice—it hasn’t been contrived. Do what you do. If somebody’s happy with it, carry on.” All one needs to do is look at Tibbles’ portrait work to see a unique, powerful, uncontrived voice that speaks movingly about the person who is his subject—qualities that certainly
Inge, 32 x 30 inches, Oil on canvas
contributed to having recent work exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery in London and at The Royal Society of Portrait Painters in the United Kingdom. And here is perhaps what sets Tibbles apart from many of his peers. When Artists on Art asked Tibbles if he’s always considered himself a painter of portraits, even when his portraits were used as illustrations for books, he hesitated while politely disagreeing: “Um, a painter of people,” he said. “The portrait [has] got a lot of convention to it, [so] that a lot of portraits aren’t really paintings of people, they’re a kind of synthesis of what’s expected of a portrait.” Tibbles’ approach is to, “Let the person be whoever they are, and [as the artist I ask myself ] what can I do around their personality?” He took this approach even when he was producing primarily illustration work. Citing Norman Rockwell as the benchmark for illustration when he came out of college, Tibbles resists the Final Cleo, 40 x 28 inches, Oil on canvas
Cleo in the Mirror, 30 x 20 inches, Oil on canvas
Final Cleo, 40 x 28 inches, Oil on canvas
label “Rockwell-esque” for his illustration work—although Rockwell’s influence is unmistakable. And there, perhaps, we see an example of artist-businessman Tibbles’ reflexive sensibilities to meeting client expectations. After all, as the quintessential American illustrator and businessman, Rockwell is probably smiling down with a wink of approval on Englishman Tibbles’ success as illustrator for an iconic American brand.
Tibbles is quick to acknowledge that when he sees art he likes he tries to learn as much as he can about it, and that hints and shadows of that work can at times show up in his own. But in Tibbles’ view this is simply a way for the best of all that he’s seen and experienced over the course of his career to enhance his own work. We see an example of this in his commission of a two-generation family portrait, whose composition touches the
Josephine, Laura and Carolyn, 40 x 28 inches, Oil on canvas
collective appreciation for “The Three Graces” in their various forms. Tibbles, as expected given his pedigree as an illustrator, is businesslike and process-oriented when it comes to delivering a successful portrait commission. Client emotions have the potential run high when the painting is of a family member or friend (“That doesn’t really capture her”), but Tibbles successfully avoids trouble by first creating a solid foundation on which the final painting can be built. He starts with a visit to the client, and some photography to explore different poses, expressions and other considerations. His artistic approach is the same as in his personal work, although he finds he has less latitude in his creative impulse—understandably—with commission portraiture: “If I do a painting of one of my daughters in profile,” he said, “[that’s fine], but a client may think they only got half their money’s worth with [only] one eye in it.”
Lou Profile, 18 x 14 inches, Oil on canvas
“We’ll do photography so that they can see something,” said Tibbles of the first steps in the process. With photography, Tibbles says, the client has the opportunity to say, “Oh, this is an interesting pose, this looks like them.” He then works out from that base of agreement to begin life studies, done at this point to establish colors, after which he executes the drawing. “And then,” Tibbles said, “[we] do the life studies from that. Then, once the life painting comes in and the thing starts to become more organic, then it’s on the right course. Then I can sit in front of it improving it rather than forever trying to capture something that’s swirling around. . .”
Niki, 46 x 37 inches, Oil on canvas
But even for Tibbles, he is willing to pass on some commissions: “Trying to get someone really dull to look authoritative [in a portrait],” said Tibbles, “so you can stick them in an embassy, is not something that I ever want to worry about doing. I don’t go after that kind of portrait . . . .”
And happily, he doesn’t need to. “But if somebody wants an intimate portrait of somebody they know,” Tibbles said, “then I’m there to record that and try to do what I do around it.” For Jean-Paul Tibbles, it’s about painting people, not portraits. And for him—and his many clients—that distinction has made all the difference.
2 Artists on Art interviewed Tibbles by phone at his home in Hailsham, East Sussex, United Kingdom
Learn more about Jean-Paul at: www.jean-paul-tibbles.co.uk
Broken down brewery, 24 x 48 inches, Oil on panel
AN ENDLESS JOURNEY If you Google “how to find your own artistic voice,” you will get an endless laundry list of persons claiming to have short answers to the question. The fact is nothing could be further from the truth. There are no shortcuts. Several years ago, I was having a conversation with a consultant who claimed that all art has been done and there is nothing new to see. I ignored that statement as negative and doubtful because if I were to agree with it, I would be limiting all my efforts and reason to remain an artist. In my case, I started in 1998 when I began taking classes at the Denver Art Students League. The classes provided a creative outlet and departure from my work as a graphic designer.
Like most students I took classes from the popular instructors and soon found that the only visual outcome was work that resembled the work of the instructors. Collectors often commented on the similarities and I soon found this to be a hindrance and, needless to say, annoying. After a year I left the structure of the League and began the journey to separate myself from those visual ties. My first influences came from Valentin Serov, Nicolai Fechin, William Merrit Chase, and Richard Schmid’s Alla Prima. Then in the mid-nineties, the Internet brought a broader spectrum of artist and influence into my work—not just traditional and representational styles, but I also found a greater appreciation for those visual explorers—the abstractionists!
HAVE FOUND MY VISUAL TOOL CHEST HAS BROADENED ALONG “ IWITH MY ACCEPTANCE OF OTHER STYLES AND ARTISTS. 39
That’s when I began the long journey to find my own visual voice. For me, that journey doesn’t seem to have a destination. Through constant exploration I have found that my visual tool chest has broadened along with my acceptance of other styles and artists. It’s also important to highlight my gallery relationships. Were it not for the open-minded approach of the galleries I work with, I would not have had the flexibility to pursue these visual routes. Many galleries are looking for a consistent, cookie-cutter “product” that sells. This turns artists into production factories. Not for me.
Pinto, 24 x 30 inches, Oil on panel
The Russian-born artist Nicolai Fechin has an insightful quote that has inspired me for years: “It is always a temptation for a beginner to take the path of least resistance. He usually takes as his model the reproductions of some fashionable painter and copies them, believing by doing so he acquires knowledge. Such a begging is unsound, because it starts with the end-product of the original work—the finished results of an artist’s long and patient toil.” Fechin goes on the say that this superficial absorption overlooks the process and that the student does not comprehend the “work of creating.”
Winterscape, 40 x 40 inches, Oil on panel
Jimmy Page, lead guitarist of Led Zeppelin, echoes Fechin’s sentiments as it applies to the art of music: “Everyone’s approach to what can come out of six strings is different from another person, but it’s all valid.” Truly anyone learning to play the guitar, or in our scenario to create art, must form a foundation or toolset. These tools consist of drawing and values, composition and color, etc., and are skills generally developed with the assistance of instructors or other institutions—in other words, following the paths of others. But your journey does not have to remain here. Use your new skills to be a launching point for new development. Learning turns to skills, which can lead to exploration and visual diversity. For me this cycle continues and keeps me excited and highly motivated. My road began to diverge in 2008 while in Taos. I stopped into the Fechin House to see some of his work on display. There I could see directly into Fechin’s works—their precise drawing, bold strokes and dry brush application that created the complex layers of his completed pieces.
Portico, 49 x 60 inches, Oil on panel
Here is where my path began to diverge from that well-traveled road. I began by replacing the paintbrush with a pallet knife, which took a large part of the control out of my hands. How paint went down on the canvas (board) was more a matter of randomness. Over time, I learned that randomness could be my friend. Shapes were determined by the amount of paint delivered on any given stroke. Paint masses were removed or scraped and scraped masses became new shapes. These multiple layers of transparent and/or opaque areas have developed into an approach for which I coined the term “Scrape and Shape.” Take for example the painting Portico. This large piece is a direct result of this approach, with stunning—and I hope pleasing—visual results. To me, painting is not about subject or theme—it’s about the process. I have taught my students that it is the shape development, not the subject that is important when developing a painting. The subject is what someone else sees when you are finished with your process. Shapes! It’s all about the Shapes. My work continues to move along as though I’m following a dimly lit path to some distant destination where the small visual layovers provide continual
Blue Heron, 40 x 44 inches, Oil on panel
Urban Reflections, 18 x 18 inches, Oil on panel
inspiration along the way. On any given day I may have six to ten paintings in some stage/ phase of completion. I use an indirect method of paint application to render my works. When one piece is too wet or Iâ€™m satisfied with its progress, I move onto the next one. Over time I become satisfied with the progress and level of completeness of each piece. Jimmy Page is giving you permission to be on whatever artistic level you want to be on. Fechin asks that you be aware of the pitfalls of falling into the constant cycle of sameness. And I ask that while building and developing new skills, you continue to explore and keep your eyes out for new visual adventures.
2 Learn more about Robert at: www.spoonerfineart.com
OBSERVATIONS FROM THE WATERFRONT Thoughts on illustration and painting
Since I was a small boy I’ve been interested in being a “picture maker.” That interest led me to a career as an illustrator, with a strong emphasis on maritime subjects. I was fascinated by the ability and process of making a story come alive through a picture. Many of the illustrators of the early twentieth century became my heroes and I was devoted to continuing on in the traditions of American illustration. While illustration was the dominant mark of my early career, I was at the same time evolving as a painter.
Today my primary inspiration and motive is not to carry a storyline with my painting, but to have a human experience be manifest on the canvas. This is most often brought about through working on location; however, that does not preclude working from memory or imagination. All three of these disciplines play a role in my work. I now attempt to be motivated by non-visual factors; in other words, any of the emotional or intellectual responses a human being can have to the world—excitement, tranquility, fear, and
Bass Rocks, 16 x 24 inches, oil on mounted linen I was taken by the color and abstraction of the rock formations and their relationship to the surrounding water. The painting was created mostly on location with a few touches in the studio. The experience of taking in the water’s movement and the sounds of it wrapping around the rocks made for an engaging sensory experience.
so on. I want the visual components in my paintings to simply be the mechanism or the vehicle by which my experience is carried and shared with an audience. As mentioned, my creative process and approach to painting involves a few different strategies and methods. When I’m working on location, one of my primary tenets (and one that I emphasize with my students) is what I call “visual veracity.” I think it’s very important to develop your skills of observation and your technical abilities to be able to portray your subject truthfully. With this prerequisite accomplished, I believe you can embark on your personal journey and creative goal by editing the scene to suit your intention. In addition to this approach, visual memory plays an enormous role in my process. Allowing imagery to evolve through my personal “filter” distills the imagery into what I hope will be a true and unencumbered representation of my idea. Visual memory allows the superfluous to disappear and the salient elements to emerge.
Opposite: A Lift to Windward, 24 x 36 inches, Oil on mounted linen This is an example of my narrative maritime paintings. These are historical scenes; I envision them through studying old archives and readings. I have a pretty thorough working knowledge of sailing vessels, a penchant for history, and firsthand experience as a landscape and seascape painter, all of which combine to allow me the opportunity to create this type of work.
On the Hard, 9 x 12 inches, Oil on mounted linen This painting was created entirely on location. Although it may not be apparent to the viewer, there is heavy editing in this painting. I was after the stark simplicity of this workboat sitting in the sun by these ubiquitous buildingsâ€”a simple story. To achieve that I had to remove a lot of elements from the scene including moving pickup trucks.
I did this painting in one session on location in the company of my painting friend T. Allen Lawson. The subject matter was so simple and honest and the faint smell of earth all inspired me. Visually I loved the mosaic pattern of the fields and the buildings and the harmonious balance they created. Early Spring, Union, Maine, 8 x 10 inches, Oil on mounted linen
Lastly, when Iâ€™m creating a narrative painting (typically a marine subject), my work adheres to a storyline. My pictorial decisions are in the service of bringing out the details, facts and essence of the story. This requires study of the subject and a more academic approach to painting.
2 Learn more about Don at: www.donalddemers.com
Running High, 9 x 12 inches, Oil on mounted linen This painting is an example of working from my visual memory and my imagination. When traveling and painting outdoors, Iâ€™m often confronted with a fleeting and mutable phenomenon that happens too quickly to capture in paint. When this occurs, I take the time to pay attention and allow the imagery to engrain itself in my mind and psyche. I donâ€™t use a camera in the field and instead rely on cultivating my visual memory and attention. The work that comes from this experience often has an overt design in the final form as my personal aesthetic plays an important role in composing these works back in the studio.
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