Such fine paintings

Mist, by Daud Akhriev
I needed to see some inspiring landscape today, since I’m busy hemming dresses and baking cookies for my kid’s wedding. Providentially, I received a link to this slideshow of Frenchboro Island (ME) paintings by Daud Akhriev.
Clarity, by Daud Akhriev
The Maine coast was not (believe it or not) designed primarily for tourists; it is above all a working waterfront, with equipment that is—if we’re honest—rather homely. Akhriev is so inventive in his compositions that he doesn’t need to romanticize that industrial grit out of his landscapes. The surge and motion and energy of the working waterfront is all there.
Akhriev was born in Kazakhstan in 1959. He graduated from Vladikavkaz Art High School and the Academy of Fine Art in St. Petersburg (then Leningrad) Russia, under the tutelage of Professor/Academic Piotr Fomin. Following his graduation, Akhriev moved to the United States, where he lived and worked for 20 years.
Harbor Afternoon, by Daud Akhriev
Currently he lives in Andalusia, Spain, and is an exhibiting member of ASPAS and ESPES. He is a signature member of Oil Painters of America.
His Russian training is apparent in his paint handling, which hews to their tradition of sparking, energetic brushwork. It’s also apparent in his superlative drawing skills.
One more workshop left this year, and it starts next Sunday! Join me or let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in 2014. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Self-Driving Cars and other good design

a guest post by Sandy Quang

1968 Jean-Pierre-Ponthieu concept-car of the future. Some ideas just never get the respect they deserve.
Inspired by a short conversation about self-driving cars this weekend, I decided they would be a wonderful thing to investigate. Imagine what a car that didn’t have to dedicate a quarter of its internal real estate to navigation would look like.
Would the shape of a self-driving car even stay the same?
The most well-known examples are Google’s self-driving cars, powered by software called Google Chauffeur. As with any newly-designed product, driverless cars are bug-prone and still need lots of testing. But the appeal of this idea is not only functional, but aesthetic.
Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion Car, 1933.
In the early twentieth century, a famous American designer, Henry Dreyfuss, embraced the Streamline aesthetic, improving the look and feel of American transportation and consumer products. Dreyfuss pioneered the full-sized plasticine car model.
A BMW prototype carved in industrial plasticine. How much nicer if they were made of chocolate.

The process of designing cars themselves itself, for people who love to create, is an art itself and can often be overlooked. If you depart from the ideas of what current cars look like, the possibilities are amazing. 
One more workshop left this year, and it starts a week from today! Join me or let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in 2014. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Falling apart

American Landscape with Indian Camp, by Ralph Blakelock, showing the damage that can result from tinkering with technique.
Yesterday I mentioned the deterioration in Albert Pinkham Ryder’s paintings. He was not, by any means, the only painter whose work has suffered over time.
Prior to the 19th century, painters had a limited range of materials at their disposal: vegetable oils, waxes, plant gums and resins, and eggs, milk, and animal hides. Pigments were made by either grinding minerals or extracting dyes from plants and insects.  Some of the extracted pigments turned out to be fugitive (meaning they aren’t light-fast) but generally those old paintings are in remarkably good condition.
The 19th and 20th centuries were a period of constant modification of materials. Some changes have been inarguably for the better—for example, there would have been no Impressionism had there not been an explosion of new pigments in the mid-19th century.
Holy Virgin Mary by Chris Ofili. Now, seriously, how does a conservator preserve elephant dung stuck to a canvas? (And in this case, does it really even matter?)
Whenever I visit the modern collection at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery I am struck anew by how badly some of their paintings have aged.  20th century artists had no reason not to use the tremendous variety of synthetic materials that industry was creating—synthetic media, plastics, adhesives, and drying agents. As the definition of what constituted painting broke down, artists also incorporated materials the ancients would have understood to be ephemeral or beneath their calling: dung, straw, paper, urine, blood, etc.
Woman, by Willem de Kooning, 1965. He definitely experimented with obscure additives to keep his paints open longer, but so far scientists haven’t actually found any mayonnaise in his paintings.
Willem de Kooning, for example, allegedly mixed house paint, safflower oil, water, oil and egg in with his paints. Some surfaces of his paintings remain soft and sticky fifty years later, which has to present a bit of a problem for conservators. Anselm Kiefer has used lead, sand and straw in many of his paintings.
Mildew attacking orange paint in a Clyfford Still painting.
Learning to paint in the 1960s and 1970s, I used a medium made of equal parts varnish, turpentine and linseed oil, with a few drops of cobalt drier thrown in. Having seen the ghastly cracking of fifty-year-old paintings made with this medium, I decided that medium shouldn’t be a DIY project. Better to trust the scientists who work for the reputable paint manufacturers.
Another technique I discontinued is underpainting my oil paintings in acrylics. Certainly, oil-over-acrylic won’t delaminate the way acrylic-over-oil will, but who can say how the two paint systems will interact over time? I think it’s fine to paint in oils on acrylic-primed canvas, but any part of the painting that shows through (and that includes the toning) should be done in oils.
It was trendy a few decades ago to dismiss the archival aspects of painting, to embrace the ephemeral. If, say, de Kooning is the equal of Rembrandt, why would we not want to see his works survive for the ages?

One more workshop left this year, and it starts a week from today! Join me or let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in 2014. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Nobody owns technique

This recipe doesn’t spell anything out for you; it presumes you understand how to bake. (BTW, confectioners sugar no longer weighs out at 2.5 cups to the pound. I’d guess it’s milled differently today.)
In 1954 a woman named Doris passed this cookie recipe along to my mother. Its telegraphic style always makes me smile. Those of us who learned to bake from our mothers or through 4H can follow this recipe without a problem. Those who didn’t, probably can’t. It presumes a basic understanding of baking.
Once a friend was fretting about how she couldn’t find an uncomplicated muffin recipe. “But they’re all just lists of ingredients,” I said. “You always assemble them in the same order: sift the dry ingredients together, beat the wet ingredients together, and then fold the two mixtures into each other.”
I showed this recipe to Jane Bartlett, who remarked that when she teaches Shibori she frequently tells her students that nobody owns technique. This is a very apt observation for both baking and the fine arts. There is nothing one can patent about artistic technique, any more than one could patent the order of operations for baking.
Dance of the Wood Nymphs, by Albert Pinkham Ryder. It was probably a lovely painting when he finished it, but his disregard of commonly-accepted protocol meant it was an archival disaster.
Painting is so straightforward that departing from the accepted protocols is often foolish. A few years ago some of my students attended a workshop teaching painting into thin layers of wet glaze. The tonalist Albert Pinkham Ryder did that in the 19thcentury, and his works have almost all darkened or totally disintegrated.
One can learn a lot from books, but one can’t learn everything.  A kid in my studio announced her intention of making an apple pie the other day. (She is an excellent cook but her food heritage is non-western.) I gave her a cookbook and the supplies and left her to it. Imagine my surprise when this was what she came up with:
Elegantly layered, but it’s not an apple pie. Not everything can be learned from books.
To make an apple pie, one needs to know what an apple pie looks and tastes like, but it also helps to have assembled an apple pie under someone else’s tutelage. The same is—of course—true of painting and drawing. Yes, one can learn something about them from books, videos, and the occasional visit to an art gallery, but a good teacher really does help.

One more workshop left this year! Join me in October, 2013 at Lakewatch Manor—which is selling out fast—or let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in 2014. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Start with the canvas!

Autumn leaves…. as done by a painter.

When the gifted Shibori dye-master Jane Bartlett offered to help me make fancy cookies for an event, the planning revolved not around the baking, but what array of icing colors would yield the most natural fall colors.
“I suppose I have to get up early and make the dough,” I sighed.
“Yes, you must start with the canvas!” she answered.
The canvas: my mother’s Christmas cookie recipe.
My trusted assistant Sandy Quang (who has a BFA from Pratt) also pitched in. At one point I was lamenting that the maples leaves I made with fuchsia and chartreuse looked good; the ones with fuchsia and green did not. “That’s because the pink and green are too close in value,” Sandy observed. I’m so happy that her pricey art education is paying off.

Jane Bartlett puts her dye-mixing skills to work, in a medium she’s never used before.
“The reason male artists are more successful than their female counterparts is that they never get sidetracked into projects like this,” I grumbled as the hours stretched on.
She left the color streaky, to imitate the veins of the leaves.
“No, they get sidetracked into furniture-making. This is ephemeral art,” Sandy chirped.  
A good array of pre-mixed pigments speeds the job up.
I suppose that label could be applied to all good food preparation, which certainly gives humanity more joy than, say,  Mark Quinn’s Self, which is a frozen cast of the artist’s head made of his own blood. 
Sandy specialized in oak leaves; I specialized in maple leaves. Jane was a generalist, but nobody particularly liked doing the sumac leaves.
Each time I teach a workshop at Lakewatch Manor, my students react with joy to the artistic, delicious meals they are served. I observe that the innkeepers seem to take equal joy in making them.

One more workshop left this year! Join me in October, 2013 at Lakewatch Manor—which is selling out fast—or let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in 2014. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Giclée this!

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a Van Gogh–impasto and all–hanging on your wall? His Wheat Field with Cypresses, 1889, for example.
I really love Van Gogh, but never felt like hanging a print of his work on my wall. Paintings which sing through their brushwork tend to look anemic in prints. Printing technology has improved amazingly over my lifetime, but the ability to capture impasto has thus far eluded us.
Dutch researcher Tim Zaman may have broken that barrier. He has developed an image capture technique capable of recording a painting’s surface details. The captured image is then reproduced using OcĂ© high-resolution 3D print technology (brought to us by Canon, of course). The process works like a dye-sublimation printer, with the printing head moving back and forth many times, adding a new textured layer with each pass.
Reproductions with brushwork have existed as long as there has been offset color printing: the texture was simply brushed over the printed image (a slightly-nicer version of decoupage). Marrying this to giclée* printing—with its great color accuracy and fine grain—could give an awfully good imitation of a painting. But not even the best “enhanced” giclée print on the market would ever be confused with an original painting.
Ever since Durer was making wood-block prints of the Passion, there’s been an effort to bring art to the masses. It’s been a losing battle, since art is essentially elitist (which is why museums wax rich selling images of paintings by artists who never earned a penny from their work in their lifetimes).
Now, imagine being able to buy an exact replica of, say, Anselm Kiefer’s Nigredo—with straw and other stuff sticking out of its surface—for, say, five thousand bucks. Sure, it’s an absurd price for a print, but a bare fraction of the cost of the original. If you are interested in disseminating art to the masses, this is a fantastic trend.
And what about being able to see a virtual Mona Lisa up close and personal, instead of from 45 feet away and behind bullet-proof glass? The real painting could be retired to an oxygen-free tank, and its exact copy displayed for the masses. When some idiot attacks it, the copy can be quietly retired and a new one printed to take its place. Or how about having a virtual Mona Lisa in every city art gallery, instead of just at the Louvre?
Anselm Kiefer’s Nigredo, 1984, would look a heckuva lot better in a 3D print than in a flat one.
(If you object to that, you might be mistaken about just how much of the Mona Lisa that we see today was laid down by the hand of Da Vinci. By the time a painting has undergone generations of conservation, it’s more of a collaboration than a masterwork.)
*If the word giclĂ©e bugs you, you’re a smart student of language. It’s an American neologism for high-end inkjet prints. It is based on the French gicleur, or “nozzle.” Rumor has it that it is also modern French slang for ejaculation, so I have to remember to not use it when in France.
One more workshop left this year! Join me in October, 2013 at Lakewatch Manor—which is selling out fast—or let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in 2014. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Rye Painters on Location, 2013

Regatta off Milton Point, 24X20, oil on canvasboard. A terrible photo of a decent painting.
Rye Arts Center’s Painters on Location is back and in fine form. I love this event—I get to see good friends, paint serious plein air, and then attend a swank little reception and auction. In general, Rye Arts Center does as much as is humanly possible to take care of its artists, and we appreciate it.

Brad chatting with another artist.
This year I painted with my pal Brad Marshall. It made for a great time and for better paintings from both of us—I think—since we coached each other over the rough patches. I saw Linda Richichi, Marilyn Fairman, and Kathy Buist, and met some new friends. (If I have any twinges of regret, it’s that Bruce Bundock sat this year out; he’s buried prepping for a portrait show at Vassar.)

Painting with Marilyn Fairman and Brad Marshall. Marilyn was blessed by a seagull shortly after this photo was taken; mercifully, it missed her canvas.
This year, I had an anonymous telephone bidder putting in bids for my auction piece. I can’t say that’s ever happened before, and it lent a fun twist to the evening. Since painters have collectors, I thought I’d guessed who the anonymous bidder was, but it turns out my guess was wrong. Now I’m just baffled. But if you know, don’t tell me; I enjoy the mystery.

Painting with Brad on a luminous autumn day. Perfect!
One more workshop left this year! Join me in October, 2013 at Lakewatch Manor—which is selling out fast—or let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in 2014. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

My painting in its frame.
The bidding public. Rye supports its arts center.