I am so excited. It is getting closer to show time. Today I packed up the paintings securely in boxes.They are ready to take down to the gallery where I transfer them to the capable hands of the installation committee who will hang them tomorrow evening. They make the aesthetic decisions about where to place each one. I am always amazed at how they accomplish the difficult task of hanging each painting at just the right height, and with just the right spacing.They also adjust the lights to optimize the lighting for each painting. The show opens to the public the next day, on Wednesday, September 5 at noon. The opening reception will be part of Gallery Night, on Friday, September 7, 5-8pm. This show has been in the planning and painting phase for two years, it is strange how something that has seemed so far in the future for so long finally suddenly becomes NOW! This is the first time that the paintings, which, until now, have just been a succession of individuals, become an entire collection, seen all at once. Excited as I am, I am also wonderfully calm because I am sure that my paintings and Marian’s together will make a wonderful synergy.
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Countdown to show time – a million little tasks to pull together. Last week I updated my mailing list and addressed postcards. The hefty collection of invitations winging their way towards friends, colleagues and family makes the show finally feel very real and very imminent. The frames ordered from Franken Frames arrived last Wednesday and I spent two days framing the smaller paintings. Today I picked up the large paintings that had been framed by a friend.The paintings now look ready for the gallery – all dressed up and ready for a party. This afternoon I trucked some posters to various locations. The show opens in 9 days.
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Turning Points, the September show at the State of the Art Gallery, which I will share with Marian Van Soest, will include portraits and figurative work in addition to landscape paintings. Although from time to time I have painted my family, and fellow artists at work and play, this is new subject matter for me to exhibit. This past year I focused on a serious study of the proportions and relationships of the human body. These portraits are the result of this learning experience and represent a work in progress. Almost like practicing handwriting, the face and figure becomes a new alphabet to say some things that I have wanted to say with paint, but not had the skills to do so. Painting nature in all of its dramatic variations is exciting, and makes people happy. However if the role of the artist is to portray the world around us as it is, the artist will have to confront not just the beauty of nature, but the various conditions of the people in it, document their history, some of the difficulties that they have faced as well as the messes and problems that they create.
Among my role models in this endeavor have been Kaethe Kollwitz and Jacob Lawrence. Kollwitz’s work is infused with empathy for the less fortunate. Her etchings and lithographs offered an eloquent and often searing account of the human condition, and the tragedy of war. Lawrence concentrated on depicting the history and struggles of African Americans. His most famous series was the Great Migration, which documented the development of the northward diaspora in the early 20th century.
Although I don’t have the skills those two artists had, and probably should not use their styles and techniques as my standard, I look towards them as people who took their responsibility to leave the world a better place very seriously. I, too, need to use my canvas as a vehicle of social responsibility. Hunger, war, pollution, inequity, grief, anger, fear, are some of the things that our society likes to sweep under the carpet, and avoid thinking about. Especially if we don’t experience these conditions ourselves, we can come to the conclusion that they don’t even exist. It is important to keep all aspects of the human experience in the forefront of our consciousness. My goal is to make an image, even if unpleasant, compelling enough so that people will not turn away In disgust, but will sit with the image and contemplate the idea behind it. Well, I’m not quite there yet. I have practiced with my friends, family, and colleagues. The portraits in this show are people in comfortable circumstances. So far, I’ve worked with expressions of thoughtful introspection, and happy smiles in my effort to learn the script of the face, so to speak, to understand skin tones, proportions and relationships of the structures of the face. This show is a turning point. I have rounded the corner, and I am going down a new road.
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It is as if I had a bungee cord attached to me today. Every time I go down into the studio, some small forgotten chore rockets me out again. It takes a certain amount of courage to return to the painting. Especially after a day like yesterday, where each stroke was a pleasure, each color laid down was either perfect next to its companion, or easily scraped off and corrected. The top two thirds of the face went this way. However, the creases of the mouth, the turn of the lips, the folds and curves of the chin, the shadows of beard, all presented challenges that seem insurmountable.
Today is also difficult because the layer of paint laid down yesterday was sticky and unstable, not easy to slide the next layer over without dislodging what’s underneath, but also impossible to scrape off smoothly.
I am tired. Painting twelve consecutive days is taxing. I didn’t get enough sleep in the last three days, and no exercise. Finally, I decided that going out shopping for food, spending some time with Andrejs, and doing other life affirming activities would be a more healthy choice for this day. The painting and I need to take a break from each other and rest.
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Finally started the Bridge at Cass Park – I quietly think of it as Monet in Cass Park. Of course, this required cleaning. First the stove needed to be scrubbed. When that was shining, and perfect, it was clear that there was no room for painting in the studio. Things needed to be put in order again. Then the canvas could be marked off into a grid, the painting covered with saran wrap and gridded, and I could begin to lay out the painting. I covered the canvas with the “first draft”, and scraped gently over everything I put on the canvas. That leaves a good, smooth surface for making the inevitable corrections, perspective, scale, light, and especially important in this painting because of the tricky part about painting a bridge that looks like a bridge
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