Thursday, February 28, 2013

Mexican Art Retreat: the Verdict

Fishing Boats
12 x 16
Well it's all over but the laundry.

The Casa Buena Retreat went swimmingly: the paint, conversation, and Corona flowed freely and what started as a group of individuals quickly became a close-knit team of painters and friends.  By the end we were all talking about "next year when we come back" so it looks like this is the start of a tradition.

Jane was impressive in her energy, warmth and cooking abilities.  She and fellow artist Carolyn Adams kept us well supplied with local specialities and Carolyn's famous brownies and cinnamon rolls.  The secret, apparently, is that there's no cinnamon in them.

But most impressive was the landscape and what the painters did with it.  We started the retreat slowly with a first-day, comprehensive demo of a palm tree that I painted from the veranda overlooking the sea.  Everyone tackled the same scene and we had some very lovely trees by the end of the day.

On the second day we painted under the shelter of a local restaurant and worked at beach scenes all day.  It's testimony to the work ethic of the students that they got right up after their meal of fish and oysters and returned to the easels.  Our focus for the day was relative values: the sea, sky, distant bluish mountains and close, dark rock formations had to be keyed to just the right tone in order to read correctly.

Portrait painting in the casa
By the third day we were warmed up enough to tackle a portrait of a local lady, Minerva, and the fourth painting day saw us set up under the palms, painting fishing boats in Miramar.  Believe it or not, some of the painters were complete beginners.  How intrepid is that?

In between, we took a couple of days for excursions to shop and to take a boat ride through a croc and bird-filled wildlife preserve.  It was just like Disneyland's jungle boat ride but everything was real, not plastic.

In all, it was an adventure and I can't wait to do it again next year!

The fishing boats of Miramar
Local art appreciators.  They deemed Fred's work  hermosa!
Bruno and Pinta the retreat mascots

Sunday, February 17, 2013


Our lovely hostess: artist Jane Romanishko

Not snow!
Tonight, in the wee, small hours, I'll be on my way to the airport for the flight to Mexico and the one-week retreat that I'm teaching at Casa Buena Art Retreat.   I'm beyond excited and, of course, nervous.  I'm going to set 2 alarm clocks just to be sure. 

The week will fly by with plein air and portrait painting along with the crucial good food, good wine, and great conversation.  There's nothing better than talking art with like-minded obsessives.  

I'll be taking lots of pictures to post when I return, and to keep me going through the rest of the winter here in Calgary.  We're still a long while from seeing green out our windows.  

Wish me luck and good demos!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Marrying Competing Aesthetics

Old and New
18 x 14 oil on linen
Original incarnation of Old and New
Robert Genn's blog posting really hit home with me today.  He talks about generic and specific paintings, referencing some of the great early California impressionists like Payne and Bischoff who, when they painted a tree, were painting a specific tree that they actually saw and knew something about.  On the flip side of this, is a generic tree: a stylized, simplified, or idealized version which shows what the painter thought and felt, but not exactly what he saw.  I'm paraphrasing.  His posting is worth a thorough read.

It struck me that what I wrestle with is exactly that: generic vs specific.  While a stylized tree is still my preferred form when I paint landscapes, I'm less likely to create a generic face in my figurative work.  In fact, I've become more specific over the years, trying to render the small changes of colour and plane that create a likeness, instead of stopping at the big shapes that simply depict a person of a certain age or sex.  (Can I type that word in a blog, or will it now be flagged as inappropriate content?)  And yet I think of myself as a firmly contemporary painter.

So how does an artist marry the two - specific and generic - without making a clunky, incoherent painting?  For me, it's a matter of putting something of the generic and stylized in the piece; that might be colour, texture, brushwork, or form.  Without this non-specific element, the work seems too representational and I wonder why I didn't choose to be a photographer instead of a painter.  

"Old and New" is an example of  this aesthetic decision making in action. The original version leaned more toward the real with its suggestion of texture in the woman's fur collar and folds in the hat.  But it seemed dull to me when I was finished.  (I did like the drips, though.).  I wasn't really pleased with it until I'd scraped the collar and hat to flatten them and remind the viewer of the 2 dimensional canvas underneath the illusion of form and texture.  Adding a few calligraphic, furry marks and my beloved drips completed the statement for me.  It strikes a balance between specific and generic that makes me happy.  

I'd be interested to see how some of you deal with the question of specific and generic.  Send me an image and post them in a future blog.

Happy painting!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Go Big or Go Home

Still Life with Bowl of Water
30 x 40

While I was in Scottsdale for the Ignatov workshop, I made sure to visit as many galleries as possible.  At the top of my list was Gallery Russia, whose website I've browsed longingly for years.  It met and exceeded all of my expectations.  The web doesn't do justice to paintings; you have to see them in life to understand their subtleties of brushwork and colour.  

While the figurative work drew me more than anything, I was also impressed by some of the still life work.  It's not something that I come across very often in Canada, but large scale still life seems to be an accepted and common form in eastern Europe.  I like it!  It has the benefit of allowing painters to work from life, while avoiding model costs.  So when I got back to Calgary, I set up this ambitions still life in the cool light of my north-facing window.  

My goal with this piece was to keep the colour subdued and meaningful and to use value to draw the eye through the painting.  I used an inverted U-shaped composition with the bowl of water as the focal point, emphasizing the movement with the muted red in the flowers and fabric that bracket the bowl.   

The black and white version of this painting shows that my natural tendency is to use mostly midtones - a colourist's trait - but I think the value pattern is strong and propels the eye through the piece as it should.  

I'll post more large still life as they happen.  I enjoyed this one and will do many more.

Happy painting!