November, 2015

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  • Harvey Dunn and his Students at NRM

    This weekend I saw a show at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA that really knocked my socks off.  It was a pleasant surprise- I had never been to the NRM, and I know but a little about the ‘Golden Age’ of American Illustration.  I do like NC Wyeth’s pictures and have seen more than a few in the flesh, and have seen many reproductions of Howard Pyle’s work; but I’ve never really gone deep into the stuff: to be honest, strict ‘narrative’ pictures are not my cup of tea.

    Personally, I’ve always been more drawn into the pure aesthetic aspects of painting – what does it look like, how is it painted, how do the colors interrelate. But more than that, frankly I find it hard (in what must be a current ‘golden age’ of visual effects in cinema) to focus on narrative in painting – how can you compete with hollywood?  No one reads ‘story’ magazines that would necessitate illustrations, and the public has the attention span of gnat; images fly by them on Facebook and Instagram, consuming more visual information in an hour or two than people 40 years ago would have in a year.

    In spite of all that, painting is still here- the public again appreciates things that are hand-made, unique, artisanal, and artistic (insert any number of other hip buzzwords here).  I believe paintings that are ‘painterly’ have an important significance today- to celebrate with abandon the materials with which something is crafted: to make it clear that the image is not a photograph,  is in fact a painting, and is not even trying to play the ‘I can render as well as a photograph’ game.  People at times lose sight of the fact that we can keep painting as truth, without attempting to make it relate to the aesthetics of the advent of photography, or the high academic 19th century art that came in its wake.

     

    Because of all these thoughts swirling around in my head these days, I was so happy to find myself surrounded by Harvey Dunn’s work this weekend.  Yes, his work is ‘illustrative’ (a term used often in the pejorative by fine artists), but it is also flat-out brilliantly painted, and much of it bizarre experimentations.  I found his work unique, and thought I would share closeups of his work here.

     

     

    An introductory short film on Harvey Dunn by artist James Gurney, compiled from archive footage shot by Frank J. Reilly, a legendary artist and teacher in his own right.

     

    Here are a bunch of close-up details from the show in Stockbridge – all images are cropped, so while these won’t give the best idea of his compositions, you can definitely get a sense of Dunn’s breadth of technique.  I found his variety of styles, different applications, thicknesses of paint, unabashed bravura and utter fearlessness stunning.

     

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    And here are details from a few of my favorite works by one of Dunn’s highest regarded students, Dean Cornwell.

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    There is much more to see in the show than this, and the museum itself is pretty amazing- though Rockwell’s studio is not open for visits until spring.

    Masters of the Golden Age: Harvey Dunn and His Students runs until March 6, 2016

    Here is an amazon link to the best catalogue on Harvey Dunn- I picked it up this weekend, tons of good writing, very much worth it.

    And this is a link to Amazon’s only book on Dean Cornwell, ‘The Dean of American Illustrators’

     

    Click here to be taken to the exhibition’s page on the museum website

  • Stapleton Kearns Class, November 2015

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    Last weekend I had the pleasure of hosting a workshop for Stapleton Kearns, who over the course of the past 40ish years has made his name very well known and respected in the American painting community.  Personally, I was excited to have someone with his experience come teach, Stape has a unique perspective…. after all, he was working outside in all seasons long before the current ‘plein air’ movement made it popular, back when it was just called ‘painting outside’.

    Still, it seems most people know Stapleton these days for his work online; he regularly churned out posts on his blog for about three years, rarely even missing a single day of posting.  He wrote about art and landscape painting from every angle, some angles twice.  I’ve often called his blog the best (and free!) online resource on landscape painting, because in my opinion it is.  During the class, we were happy to be able to announce to the students that finally, Stapleton will be releasing a book- curated from both from his blog’s content and new writings, edited into a much more digestible package (the publishers have scraped his blog for content, it runs over 1300 pages, and it’s all there to read online, apparently longer than War and Peace).  If you are interested in updates on the book project you can sign up for the mailing list by clicking here, following this link.  The book is only in very early stages of development, so late 2016/early 2017 I would imagine.  

    In spite of the first day’s brisk weather, the pace was set by the seemingly inexhaustible enthusiasm for painting and art history that Stape brings, his class ran 12 hours on the first day, 10 hours on the second day, and 7 hours the third.  It really was a bit of a whirlwind of a weekend.

    Each morning Stapleton worked on a demo- he started a painting on each Saturday and Sunday morning, and on the third day did a demo that was particularly interesting- rather than working from nature, he worked on the painting as if it was in the studio, turning it into a ‘studio landscape’.  This seems to be one of the most common questions students ask during landscape courses- what do you do to the paintings in between working outside and having them framed, hanging in the gallery?

     

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    Tonal Portrait

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    Here’s a shot of Stape’s demo-  in action on the first morning

    Saturday’s demo at the end of the first session 

     

    So the demos in Stape’s class are a bit different than what you might expect- he goes to great efforts to make his painting non-literal, but interpretive, leaving out or adding in great swathes of the landscape.  He stressed that observation is but a means to an end- as he says, “You cannot observe design into a picture“.  This raises an interesting point- while many today (myself included) teach outdoor painting based on the optics of light outdoors, teaching the basics of atmospheric perspective as they affect color, Stape prefers to speak on the aesthetics of color and choices that he as an artist would make along the way.

    In spite of raising this clearly advanced concept, he repeatedly reminded the students that the first step is for them to learn to copy exactly what they see in front of themselves, either through studying cast drawing and painting, or faithfully representing the landscape in front of them.  That attitude of tackling both the most complicated aspects of aesthetics and design, while being true to the struggles of learning to draw from life allowed us to really talk about art more than just painting throughout the weekend.

     

    The evenings we met to go over hundreds of images of paintings- and eat pizza

     

    There were two nights of evening lectures in my studio- the first night, Stape went through a brief history of modern landscape painting, from barbizon to hudson river school, to American impressionism.  Afterwards, a tour many of his own paintings, showing us briefly the sort of work he does in the studio from his outdoor paintings- and for those who stuck around, a brief talk on design as it applies to landscape painting using as example Aldro Hibbard – if you are interested, here is a link to Stape’s blog with all posts tagged ‘Hibbard’

    On the second night, the lecture was reserved for another of his heroes, Edward Seago.  Along with talking about his pictures, Stape gave an impassioned summarization of Seago’s career and personal life that I was unfamiliar with.  Again, here is a link to Stape’s blog with all posts tagged ‘Seago’

     

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    Nadine and Vaijayanti hard at work, totally surrounded

     

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    Here’s Stape on the last day finishing his demo from imagination and memory

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    Bonus shot of the piglets and chickens, only because they were awfully cute.

     

    Reading List:

    Here is a link to Amazon with all books tagged ‘Edward Seago’ (I just picked up the new one)

    This is a link with all books tagged ‘Aldro Hibbard’

    All books tagged on Amazon with ‘Willard Metcalf’

    And as Stape said, ‘if there was only one book on landscape painting’ John Carlson’s guide to Landscape Painting would be it.

  • Ben Fenske Demo, Halloween 2015

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    This past Saturday I hosted a painting demonstration by Ben Fenske in the studio.  We hired a model, and Ben talked through how he approaches a figure painting as he worked for ~2.5 hours.  Like our last demo in the studio, we had a large group, 30something people in all.

    One of the aspects of hosting these demos that I really enjoy is that it starts to feel like we are building a bit of community-I like the idea of getting a group of people together to discuss art.  Although I am teaching plenty these days, I am actually not trying to start a school.  The artists that I invite here are all people that I respect, who i wouldn’t mind sharing a studio with for a few days.

     

     

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    Ben will be teaching another course through my studio in mid-March, which will be announced on my website and mailing list next week.  If you’re interested, inbox me: it’s already half-full.

     

    Below is a shot of Ben’s painting and palette at the end of the session:

     

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