Thursday, October 13, 2016

Grandma Moses Palette and Landscape Envy

When it comes to painting, my interest definitely is classical still life. Landscape might as well be moonscape. And I guess that's why I'm so intrigued (that... and the fact that's so damned difficult).

Recently, I saw the landscapes of Anna Mary Robertson Moses, aka Grandma Moses, at the Bennington Museum in VT. After trying my hand at plein air painting, I have a better appreciation for her landscapes. Although to be accurate, Moses did not paint out doors; she worked from printed images. Not to take anything away from the woman: she started painting at age 76! Arthritis had made it too difficult to create her scenes in needlework. You could say she settled on painting when the lady-like craft of needlework was no longer an option. I say she had determination as well as skill. A lesson for all artists.

The primitive style and casual busy-ness of her landscapes dotted with rural structures is what we generally admire. But on this day, as I took photos of my "favorite" paintings throughout the museum, the theme that emerged was about color.

Below are two landscapes with delicate palettes by Anna Mary Robertson (Grandma) Moses.
landscape, delicate palette

Vermont landscape, delicate palette
(My apologies for not noting the titles of Grandma Moses' works.)

This painting, "Old Mountain," is by another Vermont painter, Milton Avery, whose work is also shown at the Bennington Museum. It bears a striking similarity, palette-wise, to the snow scene by Grandma Moses above.
Vermont landscape, delicate palette
Old Mountain ©1943 Milton Avery
The painting immediately below is Grandma Moses, and below that, another Milton Avery which feels almost like an abstracted version of the Grandma Moses painting. So interesting that both drew me in!
Vermont landscape, delicate palette

Mountain Meadow ©1960 Milton Avery
The landscape below by Lorenzo Hatch also caught my attention. He captured this scene beautifully with a lovely, sensitive palette. If you think about what you actually see looking at a woodsy scene it can get really green very quickly - there is generally more depth of color. I love that this painting renders the environment so exquisitely without being overpowering in it's green-ness. And, of course, you have to admire his outstanding drawing skills.
Vermont landscape, delicate palette
Indian Summer ©1904 Lorenzo Hatch
These paintings were in different exhibits on different floors throughout the museum and I hadn't set out with an agenda in mind, just taking photos of images I liked. It was after reviewing the photos that evening that I noticed certain similarities seemed to have "spoken" to me. Most likely filling a need after my recent oh-so-green plein air attempts!

figure in landscape
May Palmer ©1901 Frederick MacMonnies
This painting by Frederick MacMonnies is a lovely Sargent-esque figure and the background landscape is very different from those above. It's boldness stands in contrast to (and reinforces) my preference for the sensitive palettes of the Avery and Moses landscapes.

The real reason I photographed this painting was that I admired how simply he indicated the glittery sparkle of her jewels. Not that I'm a figure painter, but the same effect is sometimes needed in still life.

Looking closely at the woman's white dress in the insert below, you can see how non-white it actually is.

I sampled the dress color in Photoshop and the square of taupe is the same color as her dress in that area. Totally grey-brown. And yet, looking at the figure, it still reads as a white dress. That darker background is what allows the pearls and gold to shine in contrast. Voilà!

close-up sargent style

This painting is in the Bennington Museum's Gilded Age of Vermont exhibit, a lovely room in their permanent collection that includes furnishings as well as sensitive portraits by William Morris Hunt and trompe l'oeil by William S. Reynolds. If you are heading north for "leaf peeping" this fall you should put the Bennington Museum on your list of destinations. It's worth a visit.

Thanks for joining me on my painting journey.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Challenges, Inspiration, Growth & Workshops

First... a huge "thank you" to everyone who came to our art show Farm to Table: landscape, still ife and intimate interiors at Muscoot Farm Gallery in September. It was great fun to meet so many art lovers and see many old friends. And it was wonderful to share the space (and the work!) with Leslie Carone, a dedicated artist, cooperative exhibit-mate and supportive friend!

One of the side benefits of holding an art exhibit is that gallery-goers have lots of questions which presents an opportunity to think through what went into making our art.

brass, oil painting, vintage chalkboard, still life
First Bell ©2016 Dorothy Lorenze
And to think about the challenges that allow every painting to become an opportunity for artistic growth.

In my painting, First Bell, the challenge was rendering brass shadows and highlights in a believable way.

Luckily, painting brass is not quite as challenging for Todd Casey, my painting coach. So he did a demo resulting in this beautiful little pitcher and pear. Todd made it feel accessible.
painting Workshop
©2016 Todd M Casey courtesy Rehs Gallery

Brass is "brassy" and it's easy to overdo the shininess. Seeing Todd's depth of color helped me to realize that brass can still be brassy with less overall shine. In fact it's the contrast with the duller, darker colors that helps you see the shine.

I was also reminded that to round the form, the darks on the light side should appear lighter than the lights on the dark side. Word juggling! While it makes your brain hurt to think about it, in a demonstration, you can see it.

Tackling a painting challenge in a workshop with Todd is like doing it with a safety net. Todd has taught me how to see better, how to find the subtlest difference between colors and values. And how accurate drawing creates the structure for representational painting.

He's a master artist and master teacher, sharing all he's learned from experiences at Water Street Atelier, Grand Central Academy, San Francisco's Academy of Art, as well as working with with Warren Chang, Max Ginsburg, Jacob Collins and more.
Todd will be holding a workshop for a small group of serious painters at my studio in Granite Springs October 22-24th. If you are interested let him know right away because space is limited and filling quickly. More information is available here.

The quote below aptly expresses my belief about raising the bar for ourselves with each painting -
"One must have a high opinion of a work of art - not the work one is creating at the moment, but of that which one desires to achieve one day. Without this it is not worthwhile working." Edgar Degas

Painting workshops challenge, inspire and support us in raising our own painting levels. 
And helps us to see.

And just to show that even non-painters "get it" here's a poet and philosopher on the subject -
"It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see." Henry David Thoreau

Thanks for joining me on my painting journey.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Paving the road for art

How do we get to where we are? Some parts of the path are clear but there can be an underlying script running in the background. One that helps or hinders.

For girls that script is often about self-deprecation. In an effort to be "nice" we make ourselves "less." As one of 5 sisters (plus 2 brothers) and the mother of 4 daughters, I think I know that script pretty well.

Realistically and statistically, although we make up 50% of the world's population, women are underrepresented in nearly all careers. In the art world the difference is extreme. To even that score one step is to help girls give themselves permission to do... whatever they aspire to do.

To that end, I'm introducing my grandchildren to the possibility that they can be artists.

Here's our youngest exploring art at the exhibit at Muscoot. (If this seems like just a ploy to post a photo of this sweet child, I won't argue.)

I'm told that she did not fully appreciate the large animals at the farm. They were a little scary - clearly she already likes art better.

But seriously, it's important for kids to feel like they can be creative. And sometimes they return the favor, as I described in my very first blog post when another grandchild gave me courage.

My art path took a long time to develop. Along the way there was discouragement from some totally unexpected places.

In a pastel class years ago, our teacher was an abstract artist who exhibited at galleries in NYC. Quite an accomplishment, to be sure. We were doing still life and mine included one of my kids' scruffy teddy bears. In imparting her professional wisdom she suggested I pick a subject with "a mythological or humanist story" because "you obviously can draw, but in 'The Art World,' to get ahead, you should never let them know that you're a mother." She was serious.

Denying my kids was never going to be an option. But, apparently, denying our femaleness might help an art career. I'm not bitter, because I haven't really tried as seriously as others have, but I feel their frustration.

My frustrations have been smaller. Going back to finish my college degree I was told, "Oh no, you can't pursue art part time." The explanation was you had to be a "serious artist" to get an art degree and that translated to "full time student."

Well, I was feeling quite serious considering I wanted to do this with four kids at home. But rules are rules. So I took all the art classes that "part time" would allow, eventually got my BA, rather than the coveted BFA and have continued studying privately. It may not be the same but I've learned a lot and experienced a lot.

So what does all this mean? Life's not fair. Sometimes you have to work harder than the next guy to get what you want. Maybe, if you really want it, it won't seem so much like work.

Ryan Speedo Green, photo from YouTube
Much of this came to mind this week after listening to an NPR interview with Ryan Speedo Green who happens to be, by his own description, a very large black man who developed a love for opera singing. He's had a hard life and a harder time getting people to take him seriously as an opera singer. But the man sings! And he's sung at the Metropolitan Opera. It was a fascinating look at one person's determination to overcome obstacles that just shouldn't have been there in the first place.

Wouldn't it be great if we could just be objectively supportive, not allowing preconceived notions to get in the way of our own, or someone else's, heart's desire?

I guess I'm preparing my attitude, trying to keep it tempered with practicality as I'm about to attend the American Women Artists national art exhibit and symposium on women and the arts in Bennington. I expect to hear lots of statistics and stories about how women are underrepresented in the art world (they are) and fired up talk about feminism (sadly necessary). What I don't expect is to accept these facts as excuses to fail or to maintain the status quo.

I need to remember that my own attitude and effort are, for now, the only defense I have against gender inequality - until the world wises up. I know I have to work harder. When it comes to equal opportunities and respect for women we're moving in the right direction, but I'm not holding my breath.
Uh oh, another feminist subject. Maybe it needs a cigar... or a rifle...?!

PS - to all the new folks who recently signed up for my blog/newsletter, this is longer and more personal than my posts typically are. Hang in there. There are lighter, more artsy, posts to come.