Painting with Friends

Durand-Eastman in early Spring, 11X14, oil on canvasboard. I am not that keen on early Spring colors, which to me often look clichéd, and I didn’t like this when I painted it. I like it a lot more now. It’s brassy—just like me.

Marilyn Feinberg was raised in Irondequoit, so it is no surprise that she was drawn to Durand-Eastman Park. We painted there in every season, but this painting was done on a cold Spring day when we were still in down jackets and crocheted toques. Marilyn’s coat was orange and her hat purple, which is why (I think) a local news photographer spotted and photographed us. (I’ve been photographed painting innumerable times and never when well-dressed. Yes, that begs the question.)

Marilyn and I painted together forever: when we started, we could jog the trails at High Tor on our breaks, tolerate freezing our paints in a vineyard, or nearly be washed away on a bridge in a torrential downpour. By the time she and her husband retired to Florida, we were somewhat more sedate, and marginally more sensible.
Oakland Shores Motel and Cabins, Rockland, ME, 9X12, oil on canvasboard, painted while traveling with Kristin Zimmermann.
Another painting buddy of long standing is Kristin Zimmermann. She is definitely an urban animal. Occasionally I could cajole her to leave Manhattan, but she isn’t that keen on all that green. That’s fine; I New York too. I’m accustomed to using a car to move my painting kit around, and using the subway requires miniaturization. I learned a lot about efficient packing from Kristin, but she never could stop me from tripping over my own feet.
Lake Champlain from on top of a stupid cliff, 11X14, oil on canvasboard
Then there is my young painting buddy, Matthew Menzies, who is at Rhode Island School of Design now. He painted with me while in high school. Matt spun a tale one day in which I died by falling off a cliff at High Tor, after which he and Marilyn discovered that I had the car keys in my pocket.
Last summer, Matt and I met up in Burlington, VT to paint together. Far be it from us to set up someplace sensible: we found our best view from a narrow ridge, hoisting our kits 25 feet up an almost vertical incline. I am happy to report that I am still alive.
If you’re interested in joining us for a fantastic time in mid-Coast Maine this summer, check here for more information. There’s still room in my workshops.

How not to clean your studio

Never let them stash stuff in your studio…. unless there’s no other place for it, of course. Sadly the cello and the hats are probably safest here right now.

Joe the Painter stopped by last week looking for work. I like Joe, and I have a very old house with plaster walls which occasionally need to be taped and touched up. “But Joe,” I cautioned him. “I am finishing up a painting and I really need to concentrate.” Of course he promised me that there would be a minimum of disruption and of course he was wrong. (And I knew this going in; I wasn’t born yesterday.)

There is no room to serve as a staging area when one is painting in every room on the first and second floors, reworking a hardwood floor and building two window frames. So even though I hated to do it, I stashed stuff in my studio. End of any painting by me.
The painting stash. Everything needs to be away from the walls to patch. Everything. Sigh.
This is fine, because staging a project like this always ends up being more than a full-time job. There is stuff needed from the lumber yard, and problems squaring things up. New problems that weren’t in the quote appear as if by magic; tools are suddenly needed that weren’t expected. Having a woodshop of my own, I’m useful in these circumstances.
My brother asked me why I hire out this rather pricey work when I know how to do it myself. But without more hands than mine it would never get done. A week of this disruption is more than sufficient.

There are still spots open in our mid-coast Maine plein air workshops! Check here for more information.

That fine line between art and erotica

Hermaphrodite, Mateo Bonarelli, 1652, Prado

“Son of Hermes and Aphrodite, Hermaphrodite was a singularly handsome youth. According to Ovid (Metamorphoses 4, 285 ff.) Salmacis, the nymph from a lake in Caria, was enthralled by his beauty and passionately embraced him while he was bathing. Their two bodies merged as one, with double gender.

“This sculpture, commissioned by Velasquez in Italy for the decoration of Madrid’s Alcázar Palace, is a copy of the classic marble from the Borghese Collection in Rome, now in the Louvre Museum. The high technical quality of this piece makes it a masterwork that surpasses the original.” (From the Prado website)

 I watched thisnews story about a kerfuffle about nude photographs in a gallery window in Belfast, ME last week. The culture snob in me would have liked to believe that it was a small-town issue, except that a proposal for a show of my nudes was summarily rejected at the same time by a local college gallery because they have a no-nudity policy.
Despite what the photographer says on the video, there is no clear line between art and pornography, because there have always been painters whose primary goal was to titillate, and because sexuality is part of our humanity. It cannot be simply excised from the model or the process.
Consider the dancing girls in this fragment from ancient Thebes (c. 1350 BC). One presumes that the serving girls and dancers are naked for Nabamun’s amusement in the afterlife, but it is not overtly sexual.
A feast for Nebamun, the top half of a scene from the tomb-chapel of Nebamun, Thebes, Egypt, Late 18th Dynasty, around 1350 BC, The British Museum
Compare that to the Ephebe of Marathon, which is a sculpture of a boy (perhaps the god Hermes). The school of Praxiteles was interested in presenting a new view of the gods: more accessible, naturalistic, humanistic. These sculptors were perhaps even more interested in the aesthetic issues of contrapposto, which basically means putting the model’s weight on one foot. (This is a convention we use to this day.) I can’t even figure out how to frame the question of whether the Ephebe was intended to be erotic; their social, religious, and cultural milieu didn’t make the same distinctions we do.
Ephebe of Marathon, School of Praxiteles, c. 325-300 BCE, National Archaeological Museum of Athens
Then there’s Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man (which in addition to being an exquisite drawing, has to be one of the most enduring bits of graphic design in the history of art). Here, I think the intention is quite clear: Da Vinci is attempting to write a canon of measurement for the human body.
Vitruvian Man, Leonardo da Vinci, c. 1490, Gallerie dell’Accademia

I’ve never painted in a little black dress before

Carey Corea’s mural for ABVI

On Saturday, June 1, I will be painting a live plein air painting for the Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired’s (ABVI) Play It Forward hosted by Macy’s. This event is to celebrate ABVI’s construction of an Outdoor Mobility Training Area, which will help visually-impaired children and adults learn to more easily navigate their world.
ABVI, founded in 1911, provides vision rehab services to the Greater Rochester, Finger Lakes, and Southern Tier areas.
ABVI will be able to provide outdoor
mobility training on a variety of surfaces
in their new outdoor area.
The new garden area includes adaptive equipment for children that will allow them to climb, jump, run and play just like their sighted peers. A decade ago, I helped design gardens around handicapped-access modifications at St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, so this project is exciting to me.
The painting I do of this garden (and I pray it will be fantastic) will be auctioned off to benefit the project. I urge my fans to attend; it’s a fantastic way to get an original painting by me and support a great project, as well as to see me with my hair combed and struggling to keep paint off my clothes.
In addition, ABVI will be unveiling a mural by Rochester artist Carey Corea, a very fine non-objective painter. He’s an RIT graduate and long-term commercial artist in Rochester. I haven’t seen his mural in person, and I’m excited to do so.
Just the facts:
Saturday, June 1, 2013
6:00 – 9:00 PM
ABVI’s New Vision Rehabilitation Center
500 S. Clinton Ave.
Rochester, NY 14620
Emceed by radio personality and friend of ABVI, Steve Hausmann
Open bar
Hearty hors d’oeuvres to tempt the kid in all of us
Silent and live auctions
Cocktail attire suggested
Event tickets are $100 per person.
Tickets are also available for a VIP reception from 5:00 – 6:00 PM for $150 per person. VIP Reception attendees will have an opportunity to pre-bid on silent auction items.
RSVP by May 17, 2013. For more information, please call Debra at (585) 697-5711 or e-mail: [email protected].

There are still spots open in our mid-coast Maine plein air workshops! Check here for more information.

The truth is, I have no friggin’ idea what I’m doing.

Spring in Glen Park, 10X12, oil on canvas, by little ol’ me.

I once watched Lee Haber finish a lovely painting at Rye Painters on Location in less time than it took me to fall over my easel. I really admire plein air painters who never seem to “flail around” (as my pal Brad Marshall once memorably called it). I imagine they have a protocol by which they approach their painting; it allows them to work fast and focus on what they’re seeing rather than the mess they’re making.

I have a protocol too, but it’s unfortunately dynamic. I’m a restless soul; if I master an idea, I need to move on to the next idea. It’s why I never end up with highly-finished paintings; when the conclusion is obvious, I move on. That means on some level I’m constantly flailing. (This is not a trait I admire in myself, by the way; I think it would be nice to just luxuriate in the paint once in a while.)
My masterpiece: that’s my 20-year-old daughter, studying for her physics final.
This is not to say that nothing stays the same: in oil painting there are some fairly inviolable rules that only a masochist or a neophyte would break. But there many things that you can mash up, and it seems like I’m constantly running through my bag of tricks to find some exciting way of fleshing out a thorny passage. Sometimes it works and sometimes it makes a terrific mess.
Two parrots stopped to watch me paint. “I love that,”
said the one on the left. It’s because of the green, I think.
 This only matters when I have an audience, since in the privacy of my own studio I dump all my sketches in a towering heap and ignore them. Generally when I paint in public, I am very conscious of the people around me, and I end up spending lots of my time talking with them. This is one of my Favorite Things, but I also unconsciously tend to paint “prettier” when painting for an audience.
Today I visited lovely Glen Park in Williamsville. Since it is a busy suburban park, I even combed my hair in expectation of chance encounters with strangers. But those crazy Buffalonians were excessively respectful of my privacy.
My fantastic paint box, and my fantastic ball cap hair.
Good thing, because I was rapidly down another rabbit hole—my favorite place to be, of course.  I never know if a field painting is “good” when I’m working on it, or even immediately after finishing it. (And I think most other painters don’t know either; they just know if the painting they’ve done matches their idea of how they’ve painted so far.) I simply see a series of problems to be solved. In this case, there was a triad of trees whose branches paired with the little creek to enfold the bridge into an ellipse. Had I had a little more time, I would have worked more carefully on the structure of lights and darks in the unfurling leaves. But who ever has enough time?
There are still spots open in our mid-coast Maine plein air workshops! Check here for more information.

Another Roadside Attraction

Sketch of a commercial building somewhere in Binghamton, NY, done from a diner window. Sadly, I could never find it again, and they had really good pie.

Yesterday I was flipping through a used-up sketchbook, and came across this little watercolor done many years ago. It’s another roadside scene en route to New York City; however, this one wasn’t memorized across the steering wheel.
I spent several years driving back and forth to the Art Students League from Rochester. I had a little bolt-hole near the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and a Ford Windstar wagon. (Gas was cheaper then.) I drove that route through snowstorms, ice, and flooding , which in the Susquehanna River watershed is the most terrifying of driving conditions. When I was too bleary to drive, I would pull off in a rest stop and sleep in the back of my van.
One early Spring evening, the Windstar died with a colossal bang in that no-man’s-land between Binghamton, NY and Scranton, PA. The tow-truck driver set me down at a diner where I sat with my sketchbook and pondered the situation. All’s well that ends well: I got a cheap hotel room, sold the carcass to the tow-truck operator for $600, and went to New Jersey to test drive one of them new-fangled Priuses.

The trip to Maine is more interesting driving than the Rochester-Manhattan loop. If you’re interested in joining us for a fantastic time in mid-Coast Maine this summer, check here for more information. There’s still room in my workshops.

Go see this show!

Those of you in the mid-Hudson region ought to run, not walk, to see Bruce Bundock’s show at the Rosendale Café, which opens this Sunday. He’s simply the best plein air draftsman around, but that distinction would be meaningless without his palpable empathy for the lives of regular folks.
He’s painted iconic buildings, but he tends to gravitate to the everyday: a commuter-train parking lot, a cement plant, a mobile home.  “They’re actual living and working spaces,” he said of his preferred choice of subject. “The thing about buildings is that they’re so appealing to look at, and I like the idea of blending them with the landscape,” said Bundock.  
Renovation of the Kirkland Hotel, #2. Bundock has painted many studies of this project.
Bundock has repeatedly painted and drawn the renovation of the Kirkland Hotel, a Kingston landmark built in 1899; several views are included in this show.  “I kept going out there and working on site,” he said. What drives a painter into that kind of meticulous exploration? “You have to have curiosity,” he told me. “It is the spark that leads you into investigation, and takes you through a number of different avenues, skills, techniques, materials and subjects, to see your vision realized.
A more pastoral landscape.
Bundock is known for his work in acrylics, although he also paints in oils.  “I like the idea that I can restate passages in ten minutes or less with acrylics, and with additives I can get soft edges like I can with oils.”
As Museum Preparator of the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center of Vassar College, Bundock is conversant with the Hudson River artistic legacy, and he recognizes our debt to the artists of the past.  However, he thinks we need to look beyond them. “There is a difference between those who want to ape the past and those who want to find out where their own ideas break away from those they admire so much. You have to come up with something that brings you into your own identity.”
A few other of Bruce’s paintings you might enjoy:
SummerIn Ulster County  “I saw the light that hit that and it was a meditation on form and color and light—something aesthetically pleasing, and the idea of who lives there was sort of secondary. Light plays a big role in elevating the ordinaary. It’s like a still life—more of a close-up view than a grand panorama. It was an intriguing combination of shapes.”

River Road Looking North “It is the light that gives it that Greek Isles look.”

A Pool With a View “This is up in Wyndham. It is somebody’s house; I was intrigued by it, especially the red roof being a nice foil against the green. I left the Tyvek in because it rang truer. If I stripped that away, I’d have stripped away some of the character of the house, because the renovation was part of what I was curious about. That’s one hell of a view they got up there, to have that property at the top of that mountain, that’s fantastic.”

There are still spots open in our mid-coast Maine plein air workshops! Check here for more information.