Wednesday, July 22, 2015

In Light 2


I'm getting good.  It feels transgressive to say that--and I know that tomorrow I'll think otherwise.  But for now, today, I'm going to let it be and let it be said.  I have learned so much.  Certainly I am still learning.

I've worked with one model this summer.  Here she is:


Working with models continues to be a profound source of joy to me.  This model and I had the best day.  She danced her way through the sessions, literally, her body swaying with obvious delight and grace from pose to pose.  In between sessions, we made music: me playing Sade's "Sweetest Taboo" on the guitar while she sang gorgeously.  And we ate.  For me, the main joy was again having the incomparable blessing of simply being with, gazing on, and making art of a fellow human who has let light shine on her skin.

I have had a lot of inner drama around my work with models though, too.  There are of course many people that I would love to invite to work with me, and in the past I have asked a lot of people (many of whom said yes).  These days I am committed to inviting fewer.  I have made one firm inner commitment: to really only work with people who have a clear love and understanding of this form of art and the work entailed in it.  I have worked with models in the past who are interested in modeling in a vague way and certainly interested in the cash I pay them but not necessarily intrinsically interested in figurative art.  What happens in those circumstances is that you can get in countless muddles over expectations, not to mention you never really feel like the model is really necessarily into it.  This model that I worked with the other day is the rare perfect subject.  She was not only OK with getting naked, she instinctively fell into a happy reverie under the gaze of me and my camera (or at least so it appeared).  The best evidence is how the day worked to make us, her and me, into better friends.  I liked her before, but now I cherish her and her friendship.  We are good buddies (although, alas, she has moved away).

The model below is another favorite--one I've now painted many times.  I have worked on poses like the one below a number of times with frustration; this is my best effort.  I keep coming back to this model, not only for her beautiful feminine back line but her fascinating face and lovely skin.  The model was no natural like the one above, but still she had that basic engagement with the work and with this art form.  For her, interest in modeling has always seemed to me to arise from a fascination with the processes of art-making.  I think she also likes the process of modeling itself: of feeling beautiful under the artist's gaze.


I so hope that models who work with me feel beautiful, or more beautiful, by virtue of the work.  I hope in fact that they have a tiny inkling of the beauty I see before me when they consent to come to the studio and reveal themselves for my artist's gaze.  Their sharing is such my privilege.  I am so honored by it--to the point of being rendered speechless.  

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

In Light


Here is my artist's statement for summer 2015.

In Light

Where does the body end and light begin?

The first time I ever went to a life drawing class, I sidled in, feeling a little trepidatious and shy, and found a seat, all the while vaguely aware that there stood what I took to be a pillar of light in the center of the room.  I sat, unpacked my paper and pencils and paints, and looked up--at a body.  The pillar of light was a fellow human animal, a young woman, standing naked in a bath of floodlight.  I drew.  As I drew and she shifted into three-minute poses, it felt as if I were seeing, with each shift, a new face of God.  She danced with the light, reflected the light, and ultimately, for me, became the light.

I am intoxicated by this dance that we human animals have with light.  Our real bodies dance with light--or more.  In life drawing classes and in moments of intimacy, I could swear that I have seen bodies give off light.  They can shine like suns.  I paint to chase this dance, record it, and understand it.


The figure is the original perfect subject for studying light.  Skin is infinitely interesting as a subject, melding colors and textures in spectacularly variable ways.  And the forms of the figure--curves, planes, lines, angles, arcs--mold light and shadow into dazzling "scapes."  Thus there is a pure painter's interest in the body.  But of course people become figure painters for complex reasons.  Our relationships with bodies are so fraught.  Mine certainly is with my own body, I know that, and it's a relationship that desperately needs healing.  In painting figures, I find this healing, particularly in painting images of the divine feminine (the eternal, the image of the soul) realized in concrete and realistic (in temporal) ways--standing in the light.


Thus I paint with three guiding principles in mind:

1.  To paint accurately.  If we are to know and understand beauty in an eternal Platonic sense, I believe that the way forward is not through idealization (a la Plato).  I want to paint what I see and in so doing come to love what I see.  My original interest in painting was to improve my vision, to really see something that's before me and to know that I have seen it.  This interest remains.  Thus in painting I use tools of realism: photographs, grid-drawings, careful color studies.


2.  To paint naturalistically.  By "naturalistically" I mean "in the way closest to nature."  Thus I exclusively paint the figure as revealed by natural light and in modes and styles that are "natural"--that capture subjects in moments of comfortable and happy presence.  I am not interested in studying the body in extremis, in forced poses or with a forced Lucien-Freudish carnality, but rather in moments reflecting the incalculable grace of the ordinary, sacred body-in-the-world.  It's my bias that if we were able to see with correct eyesight we would see ourselves and our fellow human animals as no less miraculous and beautiful than we see animals or trees or mountains.  I favor the nude figure and the classically draped figure especially.  Clothing temporizes the body, brings it down into a specific time, place, and ideological disposition toward its time and place, whereas the naked human body lives in and takes us to places beyond the mundane.  I hold to this position fiercely, in spite of the intelligent critiques of the gaze that have been mounted especially by feminist commentators (most of whom I admire and support profoundly).  


3.  To use water media exclusively.  Being transparent, transmitting light, watercolor is the medium that's most interested in light.  Deriving directly from a running fluid, watercolor transmits the fluidity of light in a way that, for me, no other media manage.  (And, quite simply, I love the arts and processes of water media.  Watching the paints merge and settle intoxicates me.)

Thus I avow that my painting is profoundly traditional.  Much closer allied with the overtly classicist atelier movement than with any avant-garde preoccupations, I seek simply to perfect my vision and perfect my ability to recreate that vision through this art form I am in love with.  Capturing light is, for me, a way of being in light.  Fiat lux.


Tuesday, May 26, 2015


I've been away.  Like a big away--sailing around the world, or most of the way around the world, for the past four months.  Didn't get much chance to paint during that period--just a cloud study or two.  But as soon as I got back, I roared back into painting in a big way.

I started by wanting to just do some "sketching."  I have the common pitfall in my painting of feeling too precious about every mark I make on the page, and I wanted to make some messes instead--to not care about outcomes and just learn a little something about media or tools or techniques.  I do wish to broaden and diversify my approach.  So I took a big sheet of paper, drew some figures, and started, well, trying to make a mess.

Well, I don't sketch very well.  Of course I got attached to what I was painting, and of course I tried, in each instance, to do the best I could.  Here's what I got.


I am very happy here with the shading on the figure and the gorgeous light along this model's back line.  The color is good.  I learned a lot especially about managing warm skin tones with this one.


This model (a longtime favorite) has a cooler skin tone, or perhaps the photos are in cooler, darker light.  I have struggled with this view and these photos in the past (see earlier entries), usually making muddy colors and/or trending in directions that are too "oily."  I'm doing much better here.  The model benefits from a lighter treatment with warmer tones.  My downfall in the earlier paintings was using too much blue.  Here violet is serving the purpose much better.


This is my favorite piece of the three.  I am crazy about the light along the back and bum and the turned-away pose.  

I feel very ready to move to some larger scale work using the techniques I "sketched" with here.  But I also still wish to do more true sketching.  If I am going to do that, I need to do the following things:

1.  Probably not draw before painting.  If I draw the subject, I'm already attached to it.

2.  Use a wider palette.  I have colors in my box that I don't even touch.  I have no idea what they can do.  

3.  Do more abstract work.  I watch my son mess around with watercolors, pouring paints wet-into-wet, and he makes the most amazing effects.  I don't really know how to do wet-in-wet.

4.  Practice with bolder tones.  Go for the darks first.  Really dark.  

Doubtless there's more.  

God I love painting.