Thursday, June 12, 2014


West Side

It seems to me that folks just love to know what makes an artist tick.  They want to learn where the artist gets his or her ideas, or what motivates them.  When asking me where I get my inspiration, the question is usually framed, "What the hell are you thinking?"  Believe it or not, I get that question a lot.  Even when I'm not doing anything artistic.  People just want to know, I guess...

So, to settle your curiosity, I thought I'd tell you about a series of paintings I'm doing called "Americana".  And when I say a series, I really have no idea how many I will do.  It's kinda like a Hollywood TV series;  They have no idea how long the show will go on either.  Sure, they want their show to be a huge hit like M*A*S*H or Gunsmoke-- long running, highly revered series.  What they don't want is Manimal.  But, unlike a Hollywood television series, I guess I'm going to keep doing them as long as I want regardless of the "ratings".

So anyways, Americana stems from my love of American history.  Ever since I was a wee tyke I have long felt I was born a century too late. Maybe it was because when I was about 5 or 6 years old, my family moved into an old, beat-up house in Maine.  Nothing had been thrown out of that house for decades.  Aside from the truck loads of garbage that were in every room, it was also chocked full of antiques; Horse-hair parlor furniture, brass beds, old books-- you name it.  Something inside me clicked, and to this day, I have a love of antiques that makes me want to learn about the world those things occupied.

My affinity for days gone by shows in my art as well.  When I was a kid, while my friends were drawing '69 Chevy Nova's or spaceships, I was drawing Civil War soldiers!  (Yeah, I was a geek).  As I grew older, I hid my inner geek and started painting more conventional landscapes and such. But in my mind, a sight like December Field or Farm Lane could have been seen a century ago. 

December Field

Farm Lane

Recently, I thought it would be fun to challenge myself and do an old-fashioned scene straight from my imagination, but with costumes and props to bring about a sense of authenticity to the scene.  I chronicled the making of Morning Chores here.  With that painting, I let my Americana flag fly.

I followed it up with The Scyther:

The Scyther

Then came Sugar Maple Season:

Sugar Maple Season

 Followed by Ice Harvest:

Ice Harvest

Each picture gave me a chance to research and explore the past-- and re-live it a little too.  The best part is that they are a boat-load of fun to do!

As I was getting more involved in these pictures, I started to look around the art world to see who else was doing stuff like this.  To my surprise, I didn't really find anybody.  Oh sure, Western themed art is huge right now.  Scenes of Cowboys and Indians and rustlers on the range are doing quite well.  There are also plenty of painters who do period genre pictures as well.  Those artists hang out at living history reenactment gatherings, take some photos and paint cute kids in bonnets or grizzled frontiersmen (who are really accountants in their day jobs).  Those paintings look pretty much like scenes straight out of Little House On The Prairie.  But what I want to show is the act of living in those times, not just how it looked.  If you think about it, the pictorial possibilities are endless.

As I came up with my Americana theme, I wanted to keep certain parameters in mind:

First off, like I just mentioned; show common people-- men and women-- of the late 19th century working or doing everyday activities that were part of their lives but are forgotten by us these days.

Be as authentic as possible. 

Come up with my own scene-- I will not just colorize an old black and white photo.

Speaking of photos-  Do not use a photographers viewpoint whenever possible.  What I mean is this:  In today's world, we all use photos to help us paint.  Most of the pictures we take are from cameras held up to our faces, giving us a view point of about five and a half feet off the ground.  Even if we eschew photos and paint from life, the view point is the same.  I don't want that.  My viewer could be looking up from the ground, or high overhead looking down from the ceiling.  It's an old illustrators trick, and one I really like.  So I'm stealing utilizing it.

As I was doing these paintings I had no earthly idea what I was going to do with them.  I was painting them for the number one reason to paint:  Because I wanted to.  Luckily, the folks at Bayview Gallery in Brunswick, Maine saw them and asked to represent them.  So, I guess if you do what you love good things will follow.  Yeah-- who knew?

Our hope is that this will be a long-running series.  After all, the world doesn't need another Manimal.



Karla said...

Congrats on the gallery representation. The paintings are great! I especilly like the ice Harvest one.

Anonymous said...

You're right about western themed Americana. There certainly is quite a bit of it. I think some east coast Americana is a great idea. My personal favorite is the maple sugar harvesting.