Monday, August 8, 2016

Artistic Olympic feats: raising the bar

Sports are not really my thing, but here's what I love about the Olympic Games - seeing the degree of perfection that is achieved through training, sacrifice and dogged commitment. They raise the bar for themselves and all of us.

As a non-swimmer/runner/gymnast, my Olympic aspirations are focused on improving artistically and recognizing how important it is to raise the bar in my studio. One of the best ways I know to do that is to be exposed to better quality art. Museums are great, but for more timely inspiration I turn to art being produced today. Since it's not ancient, it must be accessible. That's what I figure anyway.

Artists well-trained in representational painting are my Olympic heroes. People like Jacob Collins, Todd Casey, Sadie Valeri, Danny Grant, Jeffrey Larson, Juliette Aristides, Jeremy Lipking, Candace Bohannon, Scott Waddell, Graydon Parrish, Sydney Bella Sparrow, Stephanie Rew, Justin Wood, Michael Shane Neal, Patricia Watwood, Michael Klein and so many others. Their training stresses mastery of traditional fine art skills...and practice. Lots of practice.

Lately I've been listening to podcast interviews with accomplished artists discussing the processes and routines involved in creating their masterworks. I love their honesty, insecurities and frustrations, but the thing I value most is seeing how dedicated they are to the work. Like Olympic athletes, they put in a lot of hours. And they love it. They know how to capture the very subtle nuances that render form realistically, just like a gymnast knows exactly how to use each muscle to execute a move. They don't quit or make excuses.

That professionalism inspires me to keep pushing the limits, trying more complex subjects and not settling for less than I hoped to achieve. Basically, raising the bar in the studio.

oil painting, progress shots, still life, apples
Gathered Ladies ©2016 Dorothy Lorenze
Here's a small example. This little painting of lady apples was coming along well enough. But, it's only 4x8" so some of the details were hard to capture and after it was "done" something still wasn't right.

The apples were looking fine and that's the important part... right? But the cloth under the board wasn't working for me. I couldn't get past thinking it needed... something. So I finished the "finished" painting by re-working the crevice shadow and repainting the cloth with more subtle value changes. Now the crevice is better defined and the fabric rounds over the table edge more believably. It took time, but it's so much better! And now I'm happy.

Sometimes you just have to compare apples to apples - and crevice shadows to crevice shadows.

I really believe that "keeping company" with Olympic caliber artists through private study, as well as internet demos and podcasts, has raised the bar for me. Getting to know their personal commitment to art making and hearing about their work habits helps me stay focused on my tasks and goals.

If you're interested, some internet art resources were mentioned in posts earlier this year and in 2014. Also, you can check out these podcasts: John Dalton's Gently Does It, Danny Grant's The Studio,  Antrese Wood's Savvy Painter Podcast and The Clark Hulings Fund's Thriving Artist Podcast. If you have other favorite art podcasts please share them in a comment.

I tend to listen to these interviews on long drives or during studio time and it's always inspirational, but if you want to be a total art geek (and who doesn't?!) it's even better to listen with a notebook and internet access so you can google the artist's work or historical references and make notes as you go.

The main thing to take away from all this is: don't settle. There is no growth without risks. And nothing worth having ever came easy. Do the work. As a kid, when we left for school in the morning, my dad would bark,  "Learn somethin'!" I'm still tryin'!

"Whether you're already an accomplished painter or just beginning on your path to artistic excellence, there is always more to learn, and higher levels of perfection to aim for." Daniel J. Keys 

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Electric Paris... in Greenwich

If you love the elegance of Paris and the rich artwork of the late 1800s get yourself to the Bruce Museum in Greenwich before September 4th to see Electric Paris! What a treat.

This gem of an exhibit includes paintings, prints, photos and drawings by Degas, Cassatt, Bonnard, Vuillard, Toulouse-Lautrec, Tissot, Hassam, Curran, Maurer and Prendergast, among others. The intimate rooms are laid out beautifully, moving from night street scenes to interiors lit by candle light and finally, dramatic theatrical lighting. This exhibit is the perfect opportunity to be introduced to the Bruce Museum in Greenwich. Electric Paris is just magical.

Bruce Museum, Electric Paris
Charles Courtney Curran, Paris at Night
Bruce Museum, Electric Paris
Willard Metcalf, Au Café
Bruce Museum, Electric Paris
John Singer Sargent, At the Luxembourg

Another excellent show on exhibit this summer is The Artist's Garden: American Impressionism and the Garden Movement at the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, CT. Following the theme of Impressionist works inspired by the Garden Movement of the late 1800s, the artwork features gardens and those who tended or enjoyed them during the "Garden Movement."  This was a time that paralleled the Impressionist movement and overlapped the Progressive Era of political corruption reform and workers' and women's rights.

So it shouldn't have been surprising (but it was) that there were more female artists in this exhibit than I can remember seeing in any recent museum exhibitions. Perhaps it is because the museum was founded in the home of Miss Florence Griswold and on the grounds of what is arguably the first Art Colony in the USA. Although, truth be told, virtually all the artists who frequented Miss Florence's boarding house were men. It would certainly have been "unseemly" for women to travel on their own before the 1920s. Then, women's suffrage and the Roaring Twenties happened... and things changed...a bit. After all, we only had to wait nearly 100 years for a woman to be nominated for president!
But I digress.

Here are some of the brilliant works at the Griswold Museum until September 18th.
Florence Griswold Museum
Violet Oakley cover Everybody's Magazine, June 1902

Florence Griswold Museum
Lillian Wescott Hale, Black-Eyed Susans
Florence Griswold Museum
Childe Hassam, Bois de Boulogne
 The Artist's Garden features American Impressionist paintings, prints and graphics, curated by the Philadelphia Fine Art Museum. It's the perfect companion to the NY Botanical Gardens' Impression: American Gardens on Canvas. I have to say, you'll see far more paintings at the Griswold. And the bonus is the café with river view as well as the inspirational main house, where guest artists turned the paneled dining room into a work of art. Just because.

This wonderful exhibit continues through September 18th.
Florence Griswold Museum
American Impressionists' painted panels in Florence Griswold's home (& Luisa)

Earlier this summer, I had the pleasure of seeing an exhibition of another famed American Impressionist, William Merritt Chase at the Phillips Collection in DC.  I was "on the road" between NC and NY so, unfortunately, I didn't have time to enjoy the entire museum, but the Chase exhibit was a treasure and well worth the stop. Again, the rooms were fairly small, giving the exhibit an intimate feel which suits the work brilliantly because many of Chase's paintings give a sense of observing, or interrupting a private moment. In fact one painting of a woman, seated and looking over her shoulder, is titled, "Did you Speak to Me?" as though she is literally being interrupted.

Photos were not allowed so these images are from the Phillips' website and they happen to be among my favorites. The images don't do justice to the works, which are full of rich color and texture and have to be seen to be appreciated fully.
Phillips Collection
William Merritt Chase, Portrait of Dora Wheeler
Like many of the Impressionists, Chase's compositional style was influenced by photography, as is evident in how he crops the image of the girl in the foreground. And again, it's simply a glimpse at a moment of children at play. So ordinary and so elegant at the same time.

Phillips Collection
William Merritt Chase, Hide and Seek

The paintings I would most love to revisit are Chase's exotic interiors. And of course, his The Tenth Street Studio is my absolute favorite fantasy world! There is so much to explore in this microcosm of creativity. Viewing it in real life, you can appreciate his exquisite rendering of texture – a thing of beauty to study and aspire to. 

Phillips Collection
William Merritt Chase, The Tenth Street Studio
William Merritt Chase, A Modern Master is at the Phillips Collection through September 11th. The exhibit then travels to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston in October, so I may get to study those interiors again this fall!

Go. Be Inspired. Enjoy!
And thanks for joining me on my artistic journey.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Summertime Tomatillos

"Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer
Those days of soda and pretzels and beer"  by Nat king Cole

I don't know about you, but my summer is far from lazy - squeezing in all the family visits that we can while prepping for the many art opportunities available during the season. And please don't' mention the gardens!

Add to that an upcoming solo exhibit in September (Muscoot Farm Manor House Gallery) and I'm painting all the time. The classic artist's conflict ensues - so many ideas and so little time.

One of the benefits of summer is the luscious, fresh produce. With it's short shelf-life the only option is to paint faster, so that helps with the time crunch! I'm easing into it with tomatillos which are slightly less fragile. They are a fascinating subject: smooth, glossy fruit surrounded by a papery husk. All green, with such subtle variations of texture, hue and value.

Setting up the still life, I thought of a quote by Henri Matisse, that quite honestly is often on my mind while painting,
"I don't paint things. I only paint the difference between things." 
painting set up, work in progress, wip
Work in progress, tomatillos set up with pottery

To a line up of three round, green things I added a Mexican plate, which just happens to be another round, green thing. So the differences took on a greater significance, making a tougher challenge!

Recently, on the Savvy Painter podcast, I heard the artist Ann Gale say that she likes to focus on how similar things are. It's the other side of the same coin and well worth noting as a representational painter. In the same vein, my painting coach, Todd Casey often talks about wedging another small shift between two values to create a softer transition. Observing how similar and how different. It's the thing that happens in a beautiful portrait with smooth, glowing skin. It's always on my mind, but I'm not there yet.

So I paint tomatillos. And, of course, listen to Latin music for atmosphere. (Hey, Gregorian chants were playing while Monk's Mead was on the easel. Painting is lonely, I have to entertain myself.) Thanks to Pandora's thumbs up option, one song has been in my head: "El Perdón" by Nicky Jam and Enrique Iglesias. Latin, rap and... reggaeton?! Who knew.

Here's the problem - the refrain "Esto no me gusta" means "I don't like it."
The phrase being repeated while I paint is, "I don't like it"! 

Seems sort of counterproductive.
On the other hand, the title is "El Perdón" which means "forgiveness" so maybe that's the message. Plus the beat is wonderfully relentless!

still life, mexican pottery, oil paintng
Tomatillo Trio ©2016 Dorothy Lorenze

So, it's not Nat King Cole's 1963 summer classic that kept me company, but Nicky Jam of rap and reggaeton fame. Go figure. It kept me going and I finished this painting in just over two days. Pretty speedy for me! Thank you Nicky and Enrique. Here's a link, have a listen.

The line "yo sin ti, y tu sin mi" (me without you, and you without me) also resonates, because I couldn't do this without all of you who enjoy my work. Thank you!

Thanks for supporting me on my art journey.