Monday, April 2, 2018

Working through some classical exercises

I was born a few hundred years too late, or about 40 years too soon, because the classical art training I coveted wasn't available - or accessible to me, at any rate - in my college years. So I've set myself the task of working through some of the elements that might have been part of a more classical, fine art education.

This artful bucket-list includes painting genres that feel essential to an old world, fine art background. The most recent challenge pulled from the bucket was a vanitas painting. Vanitas paintings have to do with the transience of life. They are as old as Rembrandt and were very popular in the Netherlands in the 1700s. This one is by Karel van der Pluym, a student of Rembrandt's and it seems to fit his penchant for imbuing mystery and moodiness into his subjects.

by Karel van der Pluym, a student of Rembrandt
Vanitas paintings are not cheerful. Mortality is implied with symbolism galore - from skulls to snuffed candles - with a side helping of guilt-inducing luxury or sinful, secular pleasures. Fun times!

Still, I've felt compelled to tackle this genre. But vanitas motifs are almost exclusively male which didn't excite me and I didn't have a skull to paint (that's OK because they're super creepy tucked in a dark corner of the studio). So it was fortuitous - and a tad freaky - to find an old, peeling, babydoll's head to stand in for a skull. Thus, my "vanitas maternitas" was underway.

What was meant to be a generically female-themed vanitas became more personal as many of the objects either belonged to my mother or reminded me of her personal items from years past. Gloves, compact, pearls, playing cards - all brought this painting very close to home.

This piece was emotionally wrenching and took far longer to paint than any other. After the composition was underway, my mother's health began to fail and the theme of mortality was all too real. Eventually the composition became a personal touchstone to commemorate motherhood, as it included a photo of my mother before she married and me as the baby in the highchair. On the dice the numbers 5 and 2 represent my mother's five girls and two boys. (Coincidentally, the "5" is in shadow and the "2" in light - just a fact, no judgement). The book under the doll head is, I swear, a vintage Encyclopedia of Mother's Advice, chosen for size and color before noticing the title!

I don't know if this painting will resonate with anyone other than me. And it doesn't really matter. What started as a classical challenge became something of a soul searching journey. It sat for months, unfinished, in the studio after my mother died. I hoped, eventually it would feel right to work on it again and I'm glad I got to that point. When I look at it now, sometimes I sigh, sometimes I'm sort of proud and sometimes I just feel at peace.

vanitas still life, pearls, pocketwatch, queen of hearts painting, vintage gloves
Vanitas Maternitas ©2018 Dorothy Lorenze
"Painting is silent poetry and poetry is painting that speaks." 
- Plutarch

The next art bucket challenge is a cast drawing. My subject is the head of a bearded old man, purported to be Saint Andrew. Like all good challenges, it's kicking my butt. But I WILL get it done. More on that in a future newsletter.

Peace to you all, my friends.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Violet Oakley and Inspiration or Imitation

In honor of women’s history month I'd like to "introduce" Violet Oakley who I rediscovered at the Woodmere Museum’s exhibit "A Grand Vision: Violet Oakley and the American Renaissance” this fall. Oakley was an artist working during the Golden Age of Illustration when so many beautiful posters and children’s books were published. I've always admired these books, from Mother Goose to Last of the Mohicans. But I wasn’t aware of the professionalism and scale of Violet Oakley's illustration. This exhibit focused on her grand murals including the studies and research that went into creating them.

Along with fellow artists Elizabeth Shippen Green and Jessie Wilcox Smith, Oakley had studied with renowned illustrator Howard Pyle (who also taught N.C. Wyeth). Pyle admired the talent and accomplishments of the women. That’s great. But, he referred to them as the Red Rose Girls - and that name sort of set the hairs up on the back of my neck! Turns out it wasn't as sexist as it sounds, the name came from the Red Rose Inn where the three women lived. (Were there any Red Rose Boys? No, certainly not.)

Oakley also studied with Cecelia Beaux, one of America's earliest professional female artists. While she admired and was influenced by the style of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood painters, she developed her own themes of peace, equality and justice.
The Pre-Raphaelite influence is evident in Oakley's women.

Violet had her work cut out for her. Not only was she a woman working as a professional artist in a man's world, but, due to her father's disability she was the sole support for her family at an early age. Fortunately illustration was at its peak and not yet suffering the stigma of "mere commercialism" that denigrated this art form in later years.
Painted for the Pennsylvania Senate Chamber.

Oakley's creative ability and professionalism led her to seek large commissions. She was the first woman chosen to execute grand murals for civic buildings, including the Pennsylvania’s Governor’s Reception Room which she painted at age 28. Her large, historical allegories are on the scale of Sargent’s murals in the Boston Public Library and Sorolla’s paintings at the Hispanic Society in New York. Moreover, when she was asked to step in to finish an important state project upon the death of artist Edwin August Abbey, she demanded - and got! - equal pay for her work. Unheard of then, and rare even now.

Whatever the subject, she found a way to render her passion for humanity, equality and peace into the scene. At the end of World War I Oakley became interested in the League of Nations and took it upon herself to document these peacemakers by making sensitive portraits of the delegates, many of which were on exhibit at Woodmere.

Drawings of UN delegates reflect Oakley's interest in peace

Oakley did a lot of research and spent a great deal of time setting up varied compositions. The exhibit showed multiple iterations of some compositions - an interesting insight into her process. While mastering the power and majesty of historical allegories with such themes as Peace and Unity, Love and Wisdom, and Divine Law, Oakley also sensitively portrayed essential human attributes of tender care between individuals, especially mother and child, as in these paintings. Life, full circle. 
Part of Oakley's Youth in Art series for a private residence

The Pearls, 1911
So, how will Oakley's paintings influence me. First, I love the style of her compositions, from the art nouveau-like figures in their theatrical poses to her patterned borders reminiscent of illustrated storybooks. And her sensitive, elegant lines are breathtaking. There’s a geometry to her murals and stained glass that adds strength and character to grand history paintings. But I’m not a figurative painter so I won't be emulating her style in a literal way. Inspiration is not imitation.

My inspiration might be to pay homage to the manner in which she stages people creating sensitive interaction. Oakley’s subjects were often renowned figures - and mine are often pottery and vegetables! But still, I hope to capture that essence just a little. Plus, observing the hierarchy of color and value in her compositions is a reminder to use those elements to move the viewer's eye through the painting to grasp the full story.

It's a good idea to figure out what it is about a particular artist that inspires and then perhaps add a touch of that aspect within the scope of your own work. Otherwise you run the risk of being a shallow version of the artist you admire. We all have our own voice. Be inspired. Don't imitate.

In addition to the work itself, I admire Violet Oakley for her conscientious commitment to being a professional artist. She made no excuses and had every expectation that she would be treated as an equal. She did a tremendous amount of research and preparation for every project she undertook – all of which added to the emotional impact of her paintings. There are no shortcuts for master work!
Oakley's study for Youth and Art with grid overlay for transfer
Since this is National Women’s History month, it’s important to note the barriers that Violet Oakley transcended. News about her acquiring the important Pennsylvania civic commissions headlined the fact that “a woman” got the job (her name was only mentioned in the subtext). There was surprise – and doubt – that a woman would have the strength of body or mind to execute a series of large, important historic murals. Not only did she execute these massive murals onsite, on scaffolding, she did it in a long dress!

In interviews about this accomplishment Oakley said she got the work not because she was a woman, but because she could do it. It was pointed out that there is no “masculine mind” any more than there is a masculine liver.

Violet Oakley was clear on her ability as an artist and her rights as a human being. She stayed focused on what she aspired to achieve and did the work necessary to fulfill her dreams. That is what inspired me most about this incredible artist. No excuses. Just get it done. Not quite as easy as it sounds.

You can read more about Violet Oakley on the Woodmere Museum exhibit page.

Thanks for joining me on my artistic journey.

Just for fun... here's some of my research for this post -

Monday, January 8, 2018

Goals and resolutions

Hard to believe we're a week into the New Year already. Did you make any resolutions? I guess most have to do with health and happiness. Super good goals, hard to quantify. What about art goals? If you're an artist, your art career needs to be healthy to make you happy. And if you're a collector...  find art that makes you smile!

Some of my past goals have included tackling new subjects, showing in new venues, joining new arts organizations, attending workshops, tracking of artwork and sales better and painting more! Generally, focusing on becoming more professional. This year I'm thinking of doing a related series of paintings, but I haven't quite figured out what the theme will be.

I've already accomplished one goal (more of a to-do list item) - reorganizing my studio, with Todd Casey in preparation for his workshop. Amazingly, it really didn't take that long. Funny how true that is for many projects I procrastinate about. My studio  looks so much bigger, so open! Such a worthwhile effort.

If you're into making art goals, an important one is to set up and maintain a website. This was reiterated time and again in marketing sessions at the Figurative Art Convention this fall. When someone has seen your work and been intrigued by your style or subject matter, your website gives them an opportunity to check out new pieces, peruse your body of work, become familiar with individual paintings and get to know you better as an artist. Here's the artwork page on my website as an example.
artwork website, painting website

Setting up a website is not as daunting as it might seem. I'm no expert and don't even know the terminology well enough to explain it all, but I encourage you learn and get your work online. There are many website hosts that are reasonably priced and easy to maintain and edit yourself: Wix, GoDaddy and Network Solutions are three that I've tried. I started with Network Solutions but left because of problems with features I specifically wanted. So I moved to GoDaddy, which is where my website is now. Their customer service has been very helpful whenever I needed them. Wix is another host that I used for an organization I'm in. It has nice design options and was easy to work on.

Ease of editing is not just a stress reducer, it's a money saver. You need to be able to update your website yourself in a timely and accurate manner - and not have to pay someone to do it. You don't have to be tech savvy to use Wix or GoDaddy. Honestly. I'm certainly not! Do some research, make some calls, ask a lot of questions and get started.

And here's why. In the last few weeks several paintings were purchased from my website after buyers had seen them elsewhere. They didn't make the purchase at the time, but kept thinking about it, revisited the work online, then decided to make it their own. With an online presence folks interested in your work have another opportunity to fall in love with it. 

The other reason to have your own art website is that it's what professional artists do. Even if you show in a gallery, buyers expect you will have a website. They will stand in front of a piece they like and google your website to see what else they might love. And galleries want you to have that breadth of exposure and professionalism. Of course you must always abide by your gallery agreement in terms of pricing and sales. It's only fair since they brought your work to the collector's attention.

These are the paintings that were recently purchased from my website. In each case the buyer had seen the work somewhere previously, but was not yet ready to buy. Also, my website has additional information, like what the painting means to me or how the composition evolved. Collectors like to know the story behind a painting.
Ticket to Ride ©2017 Dorothy Lorenze
Gentleman Caller ©2017 Dorothy Lorenze
Taking Measure, Following Threads ©2016 Dorothy Lorenze
If Wishes Were Horses ©2017 DLorenze
Tête à Tête à Tootsies ©2017 Dorothy Lorenze
Meanwhile, while researching the technical aspects of hosting, etc., start gathering the content needed: a brief bio, resumé with exhibitions and awards, education, affiliations, organizations as well as any interesting news, publications or press. You will also need decent photos of your work: no frames and no glare. It does sound like a lot, but most of it is material you may have gathered for shows already. 

The thing we really don't want to tackle is the technical part. It may be unfamiliar territory, but believe me, you have done more difficult things in your life! I was at the Apple store in a workshop for new users with a woman who was grappling with iphotos. She was clearly unhappy and feeling incapable. Then the tech guru said, "don't worry, it's not like it's a heart & lung machine" and she sat up and said, "Oh! I can do that!" She was an operating room nurse and he had unwittingly put it in perspective for her. Basically, if you've learned to drive a car, you can handle a website. 

Get to it! And in the words of Dr. Suess, "Oh the places you'll go!"

Have a beautiful and creative 2018! 

Thanks for joining me on my art journey.