Monday, January 30, 2012

You Only Hurt The Ones You Love

The Bloggist

John Singer Sargent said this about portraits; "The definition of a portrait is a picture of someone whose mouth isn't quite right."


I remember when I opened up my very first starter kit of oil paints.  It had six tiny tubes of paint, a 3X6 inch coated cardboard palette, a small bottle of linseed oil and another of turpentine, and two bristle brushes (one of which I still have thirty five years later.)  But no instructions!  What was I supposed to do with this crap?  How was I supposed to learn to paint if no one was going to tell me?  Printed on the back of the box was a cryptic blurb about discovering the joys of painting-- blah, blah, blah.  But it did say that if you mixed Burnt Sienna and Titanium White together you get a lovely "flesh" tone.

So I did portraits.

Over the years I've done a ton of them.  I've painted friends, brides, grooms and family.  Some for free, and some for a fee.  Some I wish I had another crack at.  Others, I'm sure, the owner's wish they had picked a different artist to do them.  Fair enough.  There was even a couple that I thought I did okay.  But I keep trying.  Like all paintings, you never know when one is actually going to come out great.  It's just like Hide-And-Go-Seek.

My poor family has faired the worst, in their opinion.  I did portraits of both of my children about a dozen years ago.  Starting with my son Tom:

The photo I used for this was when Tom was about five years old, but I painted this when he was nine.  Everybody said I made him look too old.  "Just wait," I said  "he'll look this old eventually."  So what if it took another five years...

Since I did this to Tom, the next year I painted his older sister Leigh:

She was thirteen, and yeah, everyone said I made her look too old.  I do remember trying to down-play the hardware she had on her teeth.  She wasn't thrilled I showed her braces to begin with.  Ten years later I did another portrait of her.

"Thanks for the green spot in my hair, Dad" was Leigh's comment on this, (apparently, I still have some underpainting showing through,) "and do I really look that old?" 

But then I thought I'd give Tom another try.  Here is the lad at nineteen:

"Geez Dad,  you made me looked pissed off!"  Or so thought Tom.  He was nineteen, and he looked like this all the time.  I thought I got his demeanor nicely.  However, I promised to make him look more pleasant the next time I paint him.

I got it in me to try another one recently, so I went after my beautiful partner Ellen.  Now really, Ellen is a lovely woman.  But she rather dislikes what I did to her.  

"I like what you tried to do," she said to me "but don't you think there's something a little wrong with the mouth?"

John Singer Sargent would have known exactly what she was saying...


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Leaving Well Enough Alone

I remember well when my blessed Mother said to me, "Hey, idiot-- if you can't say something nice about someone, then don't say anything at all!  Unless years from now someone figures out how to make a computer that'll fit into a house, and then after that people come up with a way for all the computers to interact with each other, and then you start writing a blog-- Then it would be okay.  But that'll never happen, so shut up and finish your peas." 

So, since I have Mom's permission...

I have lots of interests, but really only two passions:  Art and History.  I've been studying American History for as long as I've been drawing-- which is entering it's fiftieth year.  So, I really love seeing a good painting that accurately depicts history.  That's why I admire someone like Tom Lovell so much. He really was "An historian with a brush" in his command of authenticity.  Another painter in the same vein is a fellow by the name of Mort Kunstler.  I own a few books that showcase Mort's art.  He works devilishly hard to get the details right.  No one is going to look at one of  Mort's paintings and say, "Ah Hah!  He's got the wrong Corps Badge on Joshua Chamberlain's hat!  What a dope!"  Nope-- if Mort painted it as a Maltese Cross, then you know damn well it was.  Recently, Mort set out to right a grievous wrong.

Here's a painting you probably will recognize:

It was done in 1851 by a German artist named Emanuel Leutze.  It depicts Washington's army crossing the Delaware River on Christmas morn of 1776 to surprise and defeat the British army stationed across the river in Trenton, New Jersey.  It was as big a humiliation to the Brit's as Merrill Streep playing Margaret Thatcher.  But I digress..

I have always enjoyed this painting.  For starters, it's a damn big painting-- it's life size at 12 feet tall and 21 feet long.  It also has a marvelous design. The oars mimic Washington's heroic upright figure and American flag.  There is life and movement in this painting, along with drama and beauty.  Look at the rays of light streaming down from the stormy sky, leaving George back-lit dramatically against the sky, or the pull and struggle of the oarsmen fighting with the ice flows.  It really is a masterpiece.  This painting was a hit from the moment it was unveiled in the U.S.  It now resides in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. 

But as any history buff will tell you, its all wrong.

First off, Washington's army crossed the Delaware at night during a snow storm.  They didn't use row boats so much as flat bottom scows and rafts.  The American flag depicted hadn't even been conceived at that point in time.  (And Betsy Ross never sewed it).  There's also a question as to how ice choked the river really was that December.  But Leutze didn't care about that-- he wanted to convey a heroic George Washington braving the obstacles that tried to impede the ray of hope that is Democracy!  It's a painting, not a high school text book illustration.  And that's where Mr. Kunstler comes in.

This is Mort's historically accurate depiction of Washington's crossing:

With all due respect to a well known and talented artist-- what an un-Godly boring painting!  I know it sounds harsh, but this is a good example how not all illustration is art.  Yeah, it's accurate.  Now what?  It seems Mr. Kunstler used up a couple tubes of Prussian Blue painting this one.  It's so stagnant in its depiction of movement, I think George is stuck in the ice.  I can also detect a fair amount of camera perspective in this design, in how the rear of the flat bottomed boat recedes in the distance.  The fellow passengers are also out of scale.  If the guy poling on the left stood up, he'd dwarf the six-foot Father of our Country.  One thing Mort had to fake are the lamps and torches.  I doubt they would have been used if they wanted to sneak up on their enemy, but he needed some device to light George and the scene. 

Look, Mort tried his darndest to show a scene that took place during a pitch black night over two hundred-thirty five years ago.  A well-nigh impossible task.  More power to him, but to me it's a failure of a painting.  In my opinion, it would have been nice if he put a little art into his history.  I don't know if Tom Lovell ever tried to depict this scene-- I haven't been able to find an example if he did-- but I can understand why if he chose not to: Might as well leave well enough alone.

I'll finish my peas now...

Thursday, January 12, 2012

About Damn Time!


Some people yearn for Oscars, or Tonys, maybe even Grammies.  Some may want Best of Show, or Jurer's Choice.  Hah!  Not me, when it comes to awards, I want true recognition of my world caliber blog.  That's why I was so extremely happy to be notified by SamArtDog that I have been nominated for the coveted Liebster Blog award!

To quote my notification:

                                             The Liebster Blog Award has been given to
                                               Maine-ly Painting by Reform School Art

Liebster is a German word that translates as
favorite or dearest
The award originated in Germany
 and is intended to recognize up and coming bloggers.
 Those distinguished by this award have
fewer than 200 followers. 

In keeping with its pay-it-forward tradition, 
I have nominated the following three blogs for the award:

Warning: I'm being serious here:
Mara Schasteen's blog Expressive Naturalism.  Mara is a talented painter of the Richard Schmid School, but gives her paintings a life of her own.  Her blogs not only discuss her trial and tribulations on painting, but being a young mother trying to paint.  I recommend it. 
Next is Virginia Floyd's A Painting Journal.  Virginia is using her blog to talk about her efforts with learning how to paint.  She's a lovely lady who is busting her butt trying to figure out this painting thing.  Follow along.
Lastly, I would give the Liebster Award to Daniel Maidman's Making Art and Thinking About Art.  When Daniel says he's thinking about art, he's not blowing smoke.  Daniel is a talented figurative painter, and a writer for Artist Daily.  He takes you on a trip with every one of his blog posts.
My only regret is that a nominee must have less than two hundred followers.  There are so many great blogs that I love, yet have dozens of followers.  There's Imaginative Icecubes!  And Me and My Corner Chair! not to mention, ur 17 i am 2!
So thank you, SamArtDog for nominating me.  It's nice to know that even the little guy can make a mark.  I will continue to keep Maine-ly Painting the bar on which all others rest their elbows! 

Monday, January 2, 2012

Here's To The Next One

Last painting of 2011

Happy New Year to all of you who go for that sort of thing.  I mean, isn't November to November a whole year?  Do we say "Happy New Year!" on someones birthday?  Why not?   Didn't a year go by since the last one?  No, we wait until we get a new calendar from the oil or insurance company before we grasp the concept that we've just moved one year closer to the one they'll notch on our tombstone.

I'm sorry-- all of that was a result of my New Year's Resolution this year to be more crotchety.  It's a stepping stone to my ultimate goal of being a curmudgeon.

We just took our Christmas decorations down, and I'm feeling wistful for the holidays already.  I'm not a nostalgic person per se, but I do enjoy tradition.  I'm "Old School" in everything:  I play golf with old-fashioned blades for clubs, not new-fangled "game improvement" irons, I like baseball played on grass under a summer sun, or football on the frozen tundra, not in a dome.  Hell, even my painting technique is swiped from the old traditional 19th century types.  So for the month of December, I listen to the same Christmas music I've played for decades, and adorn my house with the same decorations year after year.  For one month I transport myself to a time and place that's not here and now, but then and always.  It's like taking a month long vacation from the world.  But now I'm ready to get back at it, and start making something of this new year.

I'm not a huge fan of Pablo Picasso, but I do agree with a quote that's been attributed to him.  When asked which one of his (horrid) paintings was his favorite, Pabs replied, "The next one."  I'm sure we can all dig that.

For myself, on the damn too infrequent occasion that I paint a real good picture, I can't wait to paint the next one.  Will it be the continuation of a trend?  And when I paint a picture even my Mother thinks sucks, I'm chomping on the bit to paint the next one.  Will it get me back on the right track?  The new year is "the next one," isn't it?  If I had a good year last year, can I keep it going this year?  If I had a bad last year, will this year be better, or continue the trend?  The damn thing about it is we won't know until next year.  Half years don't count.  A good start can always finish bad, and a bad start always has room for improvement.  We won't be able to tell until we get that calendar from the insurance company telling us to get ready for the next year.

In Memoriam:

My Cannon Power Shot S3 digital camera --  2007-2011.

Last weekend, my faithful sidekick took it's last photo for me.  That camera spent a year being covered in fish scales and guts when I worked on a lobster boat.  It's been to the Caribbean twice.  It's photographed snow, summer, rain and rainbows.  It's recorded good times and beautiful sunsets.  It's taken something close to 15,000 pictures.  And if I hadn't dropped it on the ice last week, it would have taken thousand more.  Sure, it was only 6 mega pixels, and the flash didn't work all that well.  It was also bulky and cumbersome,  but it went everywhere with me. 

Here is the first photo I ever took with it:


And the last:

So, R.I.P. old friend. 

I'm sure the next one will be much better!