Thursday, April 28, 2011

By Definition

I've got a little brain exercise for you.  Now, I know, I know-- me and brains, plus exercise have never gone together, but bear with me on this.

Head on out to your local sporting goods store and buy a basketball.  Hold the ball in front of you.  Is it art?

I don't think it is either.  But now put it on a marble pedestal.  Is it art yet?

Can't convince me it is.  Although some folks might at that point call it "art".

OK.  Now take three basketballs and put them in an aquarium half-filled with water.  Is it art?

If you're Jeff Koons, the con  artist who thought of it, or better yet the insanely rich guy who bought it, why yes it is!!

I have three words for this:




I can't for the life of me figure out what's more laughable;  Thinking this is a viable piece of art, or actually spending money to own it?  (Full disclosure:  If someone wants to hand me a boat load of money for a painting, I would not turn them away!)

Now, if you want one of these masterpieces, you can buy one at auction.  One went for $244,000.00.  A steal!  Or... You could go to WalMart, buy three basketballs and an aquarium and make it yourself, and no one would be the wiser...   You're welcome.

I can't help it.  I've tried to be open minded.  Really.  I've forced myself to never say out loud what I think constitutes art because who the hell am I to say?  Have I ever created a masterpiece?  Have there been books published about my paintings?  Do I sell for millions of dollars?  No.  No.  And No.  But I have an opinion.  And at the risk of offending anyone, this is my definition as to what constitutes talent and art.

First-- One of the paintings below was done by a chimp, the other by a human.

Can't tell?

Rule one:  If a chimp or any animal that can grab a brush can duplicate a humans effort-- It's not art.

Rule two:  (And this one is touchy, I admit) If  what comes out on canvas is the result of pure chance based on no preconceived thought-- You know, paint splatters, hitting colored golf balls onto a canvas, etc.,  it doesn't show talent.  It is not art. 

Simple really.  And it still leaves a whole wide range of what I would call art.

Oh, last rule--

If you're name is Jeff Koons.

It ain't art. 


Saturday, April 23, 2011


I like to think of myself as a spontaneous kind of guy.  As a matter of fact, every third Tuesday of the month, like clockwork, I set aside the time between 6 and 7:15pm to be spontaneous.  I spend forty-seven minutes in acts of spontaneity, and then clean up for twenty-three.  So I always enjoy having a painting idea come to me out of the blue, too.

The painting above, Upstairs, shows my beautiful partner Ellen seated at the top of the stairs as the setting sun casts golden light up the stairwell.  I knew I had to paint it from the moment I saw it.  This was another of those paintings I did half from life, and half from photos.  I drew the scene from life knowing how photos screw up tight spaces.  I waited for the sun to start setting so I could get the colors down.  I posed Ellen and drew her in, but then used a photo I took at the same time to paint from.  I did fake the shoes completely, though.  They were never there.  That just shows what a wild, spontaneous guy I am. 

You wouldn't think it would matter because I was working indoors, but the hardest part of this was waiting for decent weather so I could paint.  It's been an absolutely freaking miserable spring here in Maine.  It seems that for every nice day we get, we pay for it with three days of nasty, cold rain.  (Heck, we've got the wood stove fired up today on this wet, frigid day!)  Anyway, for this picture, I needed the sun to shine-- at least for a few minutes before it set.  I eventually got enough sun to finish it up.  What I'm really waiting for is for spring to finally get here, so maybe I can get outside to do some more painting.

So there you have it, my latest effort.  Another in a series of paintings I call "Paintings from around the house, because it's too miserable to get outdoors, and besides gas is four bucks a gallon, so why drive anywhere?". 

I may need to shorten that, but it came to me spontaneously...


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Next Big Thing

The powers-that-be who ran the music industry back in 1962 didn't realize it, but the revolution was coming.  By the early sixties, Rock and Roll was pretty much dead.  Elvis had lost his edge after going into the Army, and was making horrible movies.  Little Richard was a preacher, Chuck Berry off the charts.  Were you to turn on your radio, you would hear songs from folks like Acker Bilk, Bobby Vinton, and Connie Francis.  Not hard rockers to be sure.  Oh, sure-- there was some good music that year.  "Twist and Shout" by the Isley Brothers, Dion's "The Wanderer", and Booker T and the MG's "Green Onion" were big hits.  But so was "Moon River" by Henry Mancini.  Music was all over the place.  Then came a little old band from Liverpool named the Beatles in early 1964, and everything changed.

It wasn't just their "long" hair, or that they were from the exotic country of England, or that they made different sounding music.  Truth was, they did a lot of covers.  So it wasn't any one thing, but all those things combined.  They were a band!  They played their own instruments!  They swapped lead vocals!  They made great music!  Who else did that?  By 1965, a ton of Beatle-wannabee bands did.  The Beatles have influenced music to this very day because no one else has had the same impact.

Like the music industry in 1962, I think the current art industry is ripe for a revolution.  The old guard that dictates who gets hung in museums may still be stuck in the abstract art nightmare that was the twentieth century, but the meteor is heading their way.  Like the dinosaurs, they just don't know it.  Traditional painting-- classical realism, impressionism and representational styles are gaining more and more popularity and acceptance with both the average joe and high-end galleries.  The old (modern) views will fade away, letting the new (traditional) take over.

The problem is, who are our heroes?  Where are the great artists who will finally put the remaining nail in the coffin that holds Modern Art?  Nearest I can tell, they're all dead.  John Singer Sargent, Anders Zorn, Claude Monet, Winslow Homer, and William Bouguereau to name but a few, have long turned to dust.  Their art, though, has inspired and reinvigorated the current art scene to a huge degree.  But therin lies the trouble, don't you think?  It's one thing to emulate the great artists, quite another to imitate, and right now imitation is winning.  Is there someone out there painting right now who has the technical brilliance of those great masters, but is producing something so breath-takingly new and unique as to take their place and form a whole new school of art that one hundred years from now will be just as revered?  Can realism be taken to a level that has yet to be seen?  I think it can.

But it won't be me, that's for damn sure!  I don't know when that artist may appear, or what their paintings will look like, but I hope to be around when they emerge.  Too bad they won't have Ed Sullivan to introduce them.


Friday, April 15, 2011

Happy 100!

According to the blog counter, this is my 100th blog post!  It's a blessed occasion that ranks right up there with changing out a new roll of toilet paper.  It's hard to believe that what started six months ago as a blatant jumping on of the bandwagon, and with six readers has now reached half a dozen!  And I thank each and every one of you for reading.  It's been an exhilarating ride, to be sure.  So, if you'll allow me, let's take a stroll down memory lane as I present a recap of the priceless wisdom, timeless wit and ethereal beauty of the past 99 posts.  Gentle reader, I bring to you the best of Maine-ly Painting:

Here's to the next 100!


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Root Cellar

I spent the last ten days or so on location in my back yard painting this scene.  It's of the door that goes into my root cellar.  The tree shadow is from the same big old maple I painted in Mid-Winter Maple.

I must admit, I do enjoy going around and portraying rather commonplace things.  I'll save the gorgeous nude women lounging on Victorian sofas for others-- give me a grungy old door, or some big gnarly tree and I'm in heaven.

While I painted the majority of this outside, it can't really be called a true plein air.  I drew the proportions of this scene from life, because I know how photos can really screw up the perspective-- especially from close distance.  But then I went into the studio and worked on it as I would a regular studio painting; I did all the underpainting and preparation before I went back outside to capture the real colors.  I would have liked to have done it all outside, but it was freaking freezing out!  And we had a ten inch snow storm in the middle of this project that I had to wait melt.  (Ah... Spring in Maine!)  All in all, it took about three outdoor sessions to finish.

Another thing.  This part of my yard acts like a wind tunnel.  Cold Canadian air came whistling over the hedge and blew me around all morning.  I had to paint with one hand on the panel to hold it down.  I had an umbrella to block the sun, but it acted like a para-sail and tried to take the easel for a ride.  By the way (which is what BTW looks like spelled out...) that is not a plein air easel I'm using, but my regular easel and palette stand.  I brought them out from my studio so I would feel more at home.  I wouldn't do that if I was standing on some rocky promontory on the coast.  You kidding?  I'd be laughed at and chased away by all the other plein air types with their little pochade boxes.  But anyway, I gave up after awhile and retreated to the cold, but windless garage.

So there you have it.  Another view from around the house.  You have to admit, it beats driving all over creation looking for subjects when gas is four bucks a gallon!


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Winslow's War

This week marks the one-hundred fifty year anniversary of the start of the American Civil War.  It all kicked off on April 12th, 1861 with the secessionist firing on fort Sumter in Charleston, S.C.  Of course, people didn't just wake up on that morning and say, "Hey!  Let's have a war!"  it took decades of bad blood between the north and the south to get to that point.  By April of 1861, war fever was at it's highest pitch.  Young men born in the 1840's only knew of war from the stories their grandfathers told about the War of 1812, or from seeing woodcuts of battles of the Mexican War, like this one--

Winslow Homer was a young man at the start of the war, too.  He didn't choose to enlist, but he went to war as a civilian artist correspondent.  Back then, photographs could not be reproduced in print, so the major newspapers had artists record the scene, and then used engravers to make woodcuts from the art work.

The 1860's was a romantic, sentimental era.  Artwork was in the Hudson River school; full of soft, serene idyllic views of nature.  Language was flowery and lofty.  Were we to talk to a young man of 1860, we'd think the guy was the most pretentious pretty boy we ever met!  The sentimentality of the day was shown in prints like this one.

The realities of war were not to be discussed in polite society.  Folks at home saw Currier and Ives prints of bloodless battles fought by heroes in unsoiled blue uniforms with bright brass buttons:

The truth of the matter is that it was a war like all the others ever fought; a grotesque, bloody slaughter full of pain, misery and death.  And there was plenty of death to go around. 

                                                                    At Antietam:

                                                                At Chancellorsville:

And at Gettysburg, where in three days of fighting, over fifty thousand young men became casualties of war.

Winslow Homer knew that war.  As a New Englander will be, he was a pragmatic, tell-it-like-it-is kind of guy.  So, it comes as no surprise that he decided not to show the romantic ideal of the soldier, but the regular guy he saw in camp.  These are people we can relate to, even one hundred fifty years later.

Bored young men sitting around the camp, waiting for the next battle.  Occupying their time with trivial tasks, and wondering all the while if they will ever make it home alive.

Homer drew battle scenes that were used in the papers, but he shined when he turned his focus on the individual.  I believe the best Homer depiction of warfare is the small, quiet painting The Sharpshooter-

Sharpshooters were reviled in the Civil War.  They were considered nothing more than assassins and murderers.  Soldiers considered it unmanly to hide and kill-- real men stood out in the open and faced their enemy.  Homer shows the tension of the moment before the trigger is squeezed, dooming another victim who would never know what hit him.  It is as far from Currier and Ives as one can get.

By the time Homer depicted the front lines in this painting from late in the war, the American public had long grown weary of  its horrors.  The rebel soldier standing on the parapet, daring the enemy to kill him and put him out of his misery is emblematic not only of the Confederacy, but the rest of the country as well.

Winslow Homer went on, of course, to be one of--if not the-- greatest American painters.  His depiction of a former soldier working on his farm is another example where there is more than meets the eye;

After seeing so many of his fellow soldiers mowed down like wheat by the reapers scythe, this man has put aside his military accoutrements and picked up his life where he left off. 

Only Winslow Homer would have thought of that.


Monday, April 11, 2011

A Little Helpful Advice

Mind a little friendly criticism?

Warning, Rant Alert! Rant alert! 

You want to know something?  Whenever someone comes up to me at an art event where I am showing a painting and says, "Do you mind a little friendly constructive criticism?"  I have two thoughts.  My first thought is-

Yes, as a matter of fact, come to think of it, I would mind.

My second thought is-

You pretentious jerk!

But I'm a get-along kind of guy, so I always say, "sure!" in hopes I'll get a good nugget of usable advice.  Invariably I do not.  Instead, I get some blow-hard who feels the need to ooze their "I'm so much better than you" vibe. 

Look, I don't think I'm kidding myself.  I honestly think my abilities are in the middle of the pack.  I may not be great by a long shot, but I don't horribly suck either.  But I can't help the way I feel: unless you have a book published that is devoted to your paintings, or are being paid by me to give advice, or have your name attached to an Atelier, if I don't ask, I don't want to hear it.  So shut up, and keep your opinion to yourself, because that's all it really is.  And we all have opinions about art (like I discussed in Turf Wars).  Family and friends can, of course, blaze away and I won't mind at all.  It also goes without saying that if I do ask for an opinion (and I do all the time) I don't want to hear empty praise, but real challenges as to why I did something.

There's another part about constructive criticism;  A good critique takes the work for what it is, and points out something that could make it better.  Admittedly, it is a fine line.  A good critique would be something like, "maybe it would be more effective if you alternated the color temperature between your high-lights and shadows, instead of making them all one temperature"  Or, "You painted three-quarters of this in a loose, impressionist style, but this corner is tight realism.  Maybe you should make it all one style."  Those, I think are helpful.  Explaining how you would paint the picture is not "constructive criticism" but conceit.

OK, I've got that off my chest.  Obviously, this has happened to me, and I bet it's happened to you too.  So, what do you say we just make it one of our little guidelines of painting-- If no one asks you, don't offer "constructive criticism" no matter how awesome you paint.

Hope you didn't mind my friendly unsolicited advice!


Friday, April 1, 2011


Just a short post this time, I'm afraid.  I've been painting for the past seventy-two hours straight, and I'm possibly just a little hyped up on inspiration and caffeine to say much that's coherent, except that I've finally discovered a way to brighten the lights in my paintings to a level I never knew existed.  You know, as a landscape painter, I'm always trying to show the effects of the sun in the most realistic way possible.  Usually that is done by subduing the value scheme to make the high-lights seem brighter.  But that really is less than a true representation of the way light really works, and can I honestly say I've captured Nature, when all I've really done is trick up the shadows?

As some of you may know, I'm a self taught kind of guy, and I've spent thirty years studying and struggling to make a decent painting.  The struggle is the easy part.  The studying is what takes forever.  How do you study what you don't know you might need too learn?  But recently I picked up an art how-to book in a little bookshop in King, Maine that dealt exclusively with light.  All I really needed to do was follow the instructions on reverse-spectrum color composition. 

Since I started the method  (which is simply applying the principles of wave-length variations vs oscillation principles), I've actually had to wear sunglasses as I paint!  Its that bright.  Of course, I've had to change the lighting in the studio, because of the light shining out from the canvas, but that's a minor thing.  Twice, I've had birds swoop down and actually try to fly into the picture!  Geez, that was funny.  I brought the picture into my house, but I don't think I can keep it in here because it lights up the entire room and distracts my beautiful partner Ellen as she tries to watch that show about flash mobs.  And besides, she doesn't like my paintings anyway.

I guess it wouldn't be fair for me to keep this kind of painting tip to myself, and not share it with others.  I'll try to keep it simple:  As we all know, all the colors in the spectrum combine to make white light.  The very same light that shines every day from the sun.  But not at night somehow.  Anyway, simply combine all the colors you have in your studio, and then reverse the process by taking them away one at a time.  What is left is a bright color of such intensity, it makes all the other colors look dull and dreary.  I caution you to use this color of light sparingly where it is needed most in your painting.  Overuse can lead to overexposure.  It's that simple.  So take my word for it, it's the greatest tip I've ever learned about painting!

You don't think I'd fool you about this, do you?