Monday, May 25, 2015

Classical Inspiration from Abstract Art

We've just returned from an wonderfully inspirational trip to Barcelona, Madrid and Seville where we were enthralled by the history, antiquities and amazing artwork.

Each city had it's own artists who inspired, but we spent most of our time with Velázquez, El Greco, Goya, Gaudi, Sorolla and Picasso. Quite an eclectic group!

The Communion, Picasso 1896 (age 15!)
As a representational painter, Picasso's Cubism is not my "thing." Happily, the Museo Picasso in Barcelona focuses primarily on Picasso's early work: his beautiful, sensitive realism, and his mastery is obvious. Picasso entered the Royal Academy of Art in Barcelona at 15. The Communion is an example of the fine, classical paintings he created in his teens! You can see more examples here.

What really impressed me was Picasso's dedication. There are many, small studies like the ones below, showing how he practiced and worked out color and composition. I wish had been able to photograph the full array of studies because the volume of work is impressive and shows a deep commitment.
plein air studies by Pablo Picasso, early 1900s
Of course, an artist's commitment to painting many studies shouldn't be surprising. After all, musicians practice scales, dancers exercise at the barre, golfers putt... or, ...whatever. You get the point.

Yet, many painters expect to create a "work of art" each time they pick up a brush. But what we really need to do is practice more. And explore and experiment with abandon. Without expectations.
Goals are great.
Expectations can bring disappointment.

For his own exploration and experimentation, Picasso embarked on a series of works based on Velázquez's iconic Las Meninas, working to convey the contradictory feelings and perplexed expression of the young Infanta Margarita. Picasso interpreted Las Meninas in 45 paintings.

He wasn't pandering to a current trend (like recent, ubiquitous cupcake paintings); he was experimenting and exploring to create the effect he desired. As a graphic artist I can sort of relate - how do you know you have the best font until you've tried... oh so many!

You can read a bit about Picasso's series Las Meninas here and Velázquez' masterwork here.
Las Meninas by Diego Velázquez 1656
This is Diego Velázquez's original Las Meninas painted in 1656. There is a lot to say about this painting, but in a nutshell, he portrays the artist at his easel, the king and queen in a mirror, the Infanta Margarita with her maids in waiting... and her dog, and dwarf...

Velázquez captures the Infanta's conflicting desire to explore and behave regally. Even a five year old knows when to act like a princess! But, her attention is torn between so many areas of interest. She's a child.

Picasso, 300 years later, created his 45 painting series interpreting the scene of Velasquez' Las Meninas.

The painting at the left, in particular, shows the Infanta's distraction and indecision.

Pablo Picasso 1957
All of the works in this group were painted in 1957 and all are at the Picasso Museum in Barcelona. Seeing them together reinforces Picasso's dedication to exploring this subject.

As I mentioned, Cubism is not exactly my thing. But it's fascinating that Picasso was a classically trained and accomplished representational painter before he ventured into abstraction. It's also interesting to see the lengths he went to, with studies and repeated subjects, to perfect his works and reach his vision.

Pablo Picasso famously said, "Inspiration exists but it must find you working." He lived that belief.

There are no shortcuts!

Pablo Picasso 1957

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Putting the "Fine" in Fine Art

We artists are always trying to improve our craft. The established wisdom is that it's most important to paint more. Hours of "easel time," like flight time for pilots, leads to more experience and better skills. True enough, but it's also important to observe better, fine-er art. Which is how I excuse myself for the hours spent caught in the world wide web looking for artistic information and inspiration. To be fair I've "met" some wonderful artists online but nothing beats seeing paintings in person.

Studying Jacob Collins paintings at Adelson Galleries, Inc., NYC
So this week our little painting posse ventured off on a field trip to galleries in NYC where we basked in the glory of fine art by the likes of Jacob Collins, Steven Assael, Anthony Waichulis, Sharon Hourigan, Todd M. Casey and more.*

Getting up close and personal with artwork is as much about taking in the full essence of a body of work as it is about examining details.

Viewing artwork in person allows you to really appreciate the nuances, see texture and examine the subtle color shifts that add complexity and bring a richness that can't be appreciated online.

©2011 Todd M. Casey "Bottles with Books and Letters" at Rehs Galleries
Todd M. Casey's "Bottles with Books and Letters" is a perfect example. The background is full of interesting texture and yet it's still a quiet area balancing the "action" of the objects.

This painting, which is one of my favorites by Todd Casey, can be seen at Rehs Galleries in New York.

Take a close look at those letters! Such variety in the edges and shadows! How fine is the highlight on that open book! And the amber color where the light hits the bottle lying down is just perfect! It's really exciting to see this painting in person. There are several other wonderful Caseys at Rehs.

detail of "Bottles with Books and Letters" by Todd Casey

Currently Rehs also has an exhibit called SEXES featuring work by instructors and artists at the Ani Art Academy, of which Anthony Waichulis is a founder. You can read more about this exhibit and the philosophy of the Ani Art Academy on the Rehs website here. It's interesting stuff.

"A Love Story" by Anthony Waichulis, photo Rehs Galleries
My favorite painting in this show is Waichulis' trompe l'oeil "A Love Story." He is one of the best artists creating trompe l'oeil today. I've always found trompe l'oeil fascinating. It means "fool the eye" and is a time-honored technique where realistic imagery is designed to give the optical illusion of 3D. In Waichulis' work you would swear it's a collage of actual papers! Very cool!

Again, when viewed in person the details are clear and it's an enriching and educational experience.

So what did we learn on our field trip from the classroom/studio to the big city?

Galleries are spiritual places to renew the soul.

And observing fine art is somehow calming and invigorating at the same time - which is the perfect mindset for creativity.

And, finally... no need to pack juice boxes for this field trip, since New York cafés serve wine. Win - win!

Get thee to a Gallery!
Taking in Jacob Collins works at Adelson Galleries

PS: It's not lost on me that there are few female artists on this *list - where are Angela Cunningham, Sadie Valeri and Stephanie Rew when you need a fine art fix! But our time was limited and I'm sure some of these outstanding artists are exhibiting somewhere in New York... more online research needed. And another field trip!

Thanks for sharing my art journey!