Paint Schoodic

Join us on the American Eagle in June or in Acadia National Park in August. Click here for more information.

Friday, December 15, 2017

A few questions (and answers) about plein air painting in Maine

Yes, there are bathrooms. We like to call them ‘heads’ on a boat
Jonathan Submarining, by Carol L. Douglas
If you’ve been thinking about taking my Sea & Sky or Age of Sail workshops, this is a reminder that you have only two weeks left to get an early-bird discount. That’s $50 off the price of the boat trip or $100 off the Acadia workshop.

The Age of Sail is June 10-14, 2018 on the historic schooner American Eagle out of Rockland, ME. Sea & Sky is August 5-10 at Schoodic Institute in Acadia National Park. Here are some questions I’ve been asked recently:

Drying sails, by Carol L. Douglas
What do you do if it rains?

While the rain in Maine falls mainly on the plain, it does sometimes rain over Penobscot Bay and the ocean. American Eagle has a canopy over the main deck for when the boat is at anchor, and we’ll use that. At Schoodic, we have access to a pavilion. In either case, if the worst happens and we’re totally unable to work outside, there are interior places where we can gather.

Are there bathrooms?

Yes and no. On a boat, a toilet is more properly called ‘the head.’ Although American Eagle is a restored heritage boat, she does have these modern conveniences. Schoodic Institute does, too.

On the boat, you’ll sleep in a berth. At Schoodic, you’ll have a room in an apartment with a kitchen, two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and access to laundry facilities. Out in the woods, we either drive to the nearest park facility, or we take an amble into the woods like the locals (bear, moose, and foxes) do.

Outrunning the Storm, Carol L. Douglas
Are these workshops handicapped-access?

Schoodic Institute is, but let me know if you have physical limitations when you register. Our painting locations are all accessible by car and involve little hiking, so you won’t miss out. American Eagle is not accessible. It was built as a working fishing boat.

What about food?

In both cases, all meals are provided, so you don’t have to worry about where and when you eat. Schoodic’s chefs prepare lunches and snacks for us to take into the field, and we have breakfast and dinner cafeteria-style. American Eagle’s cook and mess-mate feed us three squares a day on deck.

Both trips include a lobster boil. Schoodic’s is prepared by a fisherman from nearby Corea, ME, who hauls that day’s catch over to us. On American Eagle, you’re likely to see Captain John Foss row his dinghy into a nearby harborage to buy seafood off the dock. You're encouraged to make dinghy jokes.

An island lobster bake, in progress.
Can I get a glass of wine?

You can bring some along. In Maine wine and liquor are sold in grocery stores, and you can easily pick some up along the way.

What about black flies or mosquitoes?

I’ve painted in the far north from northern Alaska to Labrador, and the worst black flies I ever did see were at Piseco Lake in New York. They’re an early-summer phenomenon, which is why we’ll be out on the water in June and on land in August.

Watercolor field sketches, by Carol L. Douglas
What equipment should we bring?

For Sea & Sky, all mediums are welcome. Here are my packing lists for oils, acrylics and watercolor. The Age of Sail is a little different. I’m supplying everything, and we’re going to work in field-sketch style in watercolor and gouache, the better to capture fast impressions.

A reader once posted this comment on my blog: “Noted watercolor painter John Marin of the Maine coast not only painted many boats but also painted from a boat. He rowed out from Mt. Desert Island where he sketched and painted quick minutes-long watercolors while bobbing in his rowboat. One was on display at the Ogunquit Museum of American Art this past summer… Mount Desert Minute Drawing, most likely a view of Cadillac Mountain, and can be seen on this web page

Thursday, December 14, 2017

When you’re a terrific failure

I’ve got an image in my mind and I can’t get it out on paper. Have I lost it?

Winter Lambing, by Carol L. Douglas
If you visit my studio this morning, you’ll find a massive pile of failed sketches on my work table. So many, in fact, that I’m now out of watercolor paper and have to buy more.

A few weeks ago, Facebook friends posted the photo, below, of their house in Sanborn, NY. There was a narrative quality to the simple frame house and the windswept snow, and I asked them if I could use it for reference. It was evocative of all the many winter evenings I’d driven along Route 31 in New York. Those drives were empty, flat and dark, broken by occasional holiday lights. At the town of Barre, you could count on a cross-wind to pick up the snow and throw it into the road, making the driving especially treacherous. My painting Winter Lambing, above, was based on a photograph I took on that stretch of road.


If my mind had left it there, I’d have been fine. The photo is beautifully composed as it stands. I am not averse to open space on the canvas, because it’s often a different sort of information. But then another thought crept in and started thrumming in the background. It’s terribly familiar and it starts like this:

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;  
He will not see me stopping here  
To watch his woods fill up with snow...

Robert Frost’s little horse was nosing his way into my painting—not literally, of course, but the sense of waiting in the deep woods. Now I wanted both the little house with its lights and the road and woods. That would be a truly autobiographical painting. The problem is compositional. I haven’t worked out how to do it yet.

One of a gazillion fails.
The two images are fighting a titanic battle. I’ve lined spruces up in the foreground, with the little house twinkling in the back. I’ve put one goofy tree in front, which was a dismal solution (and the one that happened to be on my phone this morning). I’ve tried everything I can think of, in my sketchbook and with paint, and gotten absolutely nowhere. The trouble is, there’s no depth to this painting as I’m currently envisioning it, merely a series of planes stacked up one in front of the other. And as soon as the woods enter, the stillness exits.

So, I did what every (honest) artist does in this situation. I beat myself up about all kinds of other, unrelated disappointments. I had a wee dram—nay, two—and emailed my friend Martha about a cookbook she’d recommended. I watched some footage of old Rockport with my husband. And, of course, I asked myself whether I was over the hill, washed up, done. Had I suddenly forgotten how to draw and paint?

Years ago, I broke my thumb with a table saw. That was, in fact, a miracle accident, because the kickback caught me in my hand and not in my gut. I’d just had a groin-to-breastbone surgery, and the incision was still stapled. I scared myself witless, and didn’t go back to using the saw right away. To this day, I can’t touch one.

Just as with riding, the problem isn’t the fall, although that often hurts like hell. The problem is picking yourself up and getting back to work. Happily, I’ve found that these horrible dry periods are often a gloss over some serious work going on in the background, which in turn lead to important discoveries. I’ll be back at it again tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Jesus travels to the heart of Islam (by way of Christie's)

Can a painting preach peace? I certainly hope so.

Salvator Mundi, Leonardo da Vinci, c. 1500, Louvre Abu Dhabi
“Who do people say that I am?” Jesus asked his disciples. Ask a Muslim that, and you’ll get a markedly different answer than from a Christian. Muslims believe that Jesus was a prophet who was given injil (the gospel) to convey to all people. This gospel confirms what was taught in the Torah and foretells the coming of Prophet Muhammad. Jesus will come back on the Day of Judgment, when he will destroy the ad-dajjal (Antichrist). However important Christ is as a prophet, teacher, servant and follower of the Word, Muslims do not believe that he was either divine or the son of God.

While we ‘know’ that Islam prohibits painting human figures, that is not strictly true. The painting of miniatures was raised to a high art during the SafavidMughal and Ottoman empires. The miniature was private, kept in a book or album and never displayed. That made it acceptable.

Paintings of Muhammed are contentious, rare and generally old. By the 16th century, the prophet was being represented as an abstraction or a calligraphic image to avoid idolatry. In Islam, the most absolute proscription is of graven images of God, followed by Muhammed, the Islamic prophets (of which Jesus is one) and the relatives of Muhammed. However, all painting of animals and humans is discouraged.

Muhammad leads Abraham, Moses, Jesus and others in prayer, Persian miniature, artist unknown, from The Middle Ages. An Illustrated History by Barbara Hanawalt (Oxford University Press, 1998). The aureoles of flame are loan-symbols from Buddhism and equivalent to western halos.
As with so many other issues, the modern Muslim world is split on the subject. Most Sunni Muslims believe that all visual depictions of all the prophets of Islam should be prohibited. Shia Islam, however, has loosened up their stance on graven images.

The House of Saud (the Royal Family) of Saudi Arabia are not just Sunni, but have long been associated with the Salafi movement, or Wahhabism, which we in the west would describe as ‘ultraconservative’ or ‘puritanical.’

In November, Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci sold at auction at Christie's New York for $450 million. The purchaser was identified as Saudi Arabian prince Bader bin Abdullah. In December 2017, the Wall Street Journal reported that Prince Bader was in fact an intermediary for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the true buyer. Christie's subsequently stated that Prince Bader acted on behalf of Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism, which will display the work at the Louvre Abu Dhabi. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is also a Sunni Muslim country, and a key Saudi ally.

Salvator Mundi, Titian, 1570, Hermitage Museum. This shows the orb as a globus cruciger, surmounted by a cross and thus more explicitly stating Christ's dominion over the orb of the world.
The Saudi purchase came on the heels of an extensive purge of influential national figures at the bequest of the crown prince. Bader bin Abdullah is reportedly his close friend and confidant.

The Saudi crown prince is—at least at this phase—a reformer. He has been given credit for the end of the ban on women drivers. In October, he said a return of "moderate Islam" was key to his plans to modernize the kingdom. Those plans include diversifying the Saudi economy so it’s not completely oil-driven.

The neighboring UAE have been Muslim for a long, long time. Their conversion is traced to a letter sent by Muhammad to the rulers of Oman in 630 AD, nine years after the Hegira. This led to a group of coastal princes travelling to Medina, converting to Islam and subsequently throwing off Sassanid rule.

Roman coin, c. 270-275 A.D. showing the Emperor Aurelian receiving the globe from Jupiter.

So where does a 500-year-old oil painting fit into this? Its provenance is far from settled, and it was a mess, with lots of overpainting, before its final restoration. Still, as with all artwork, it has the power to speak.

Salvator Mundi means “Savior of the World.” Jesus’ right hand is raised in blessing and his left hand holds a crystal globe, meant to represent the earth. That’s a symbol that’s been used since antiquity, for both spiritual and temporal rulers. The Roman Empire knew it as the plain round globe held by Jupiter, representing the dominion held by the emperor. It was borrowed in later art as a symbol of Jesus’ dominion over the earth.

Not only is Salvator Mundi an icon, it’s an icon that flatly contradicts Muslim theology.

What was the prince's motivation in buying the painting? What does it mean that such an image has been acquired on behalf of the people of the United Arab Emirates? I can’t say, but I can read something hopeful and instructive in the journey. A child could.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Young dealers, more women

Is the gender gap in the art world closing? Not so you’d notice, but here's a nugget of good news.

Couple, Carol L. Douglas
I’ve written many times about gender issues in the art world.* I grew up at a time when there were no great women artist models. Historical figures like Artemisia Gentileschi had been expunged from the record. Abstract-Expressionism, which reigned supreme in the post-war era, was almost wholly a bad-boy phenomenon. I’m still waiting to see the inequality addressed. I’ll probably die waiting.

If you can stand the dissing of ‘white straight males,’ a recent essay in Artsy has a small bit of good news buried in it: young galleries are more likely to be run by women, and women-run galleries are slightly more likely to show work by women artists.

The Joker, Carol L. Douglas
Their sample is narrow: the 200 or so galleries that showed at Art Basel in Miami Beach. Their graphing makes one wonder if they passed the sixth grade, although it looks very pretty. 

Among galleries under ten years old represented at Miami, almost half were run by women. Younger galleries and women gallerists are slightly better at selling work than their male counterparts. Younger male-run galleries had 32% female artists, compared with just 23% at galleries more than 20 years old. The younger female-run galleries had 41% female artists; at the older female-run galleries, the share of female artists was 28%.

Moreover, there was better representation for women in North American galleries (36% to 64%) than in supposedly-enlightened Europe (30%-70%), and there were proportionally more American women dealers than European women dealers.

The Laborer Resting, Carol L. Douglas
But even there, the differences are minor; male dealers at the high-end of the market outnumber women dealers 3 to 1. At the top end of the market, the money is overwhelmingly male. “When you get to the $10 million, $20 million levels, that’s where the disparity comes…when that amount of money is at stake, politics go out the window,” said London dealer Pilar Corrias.

Another industry that’s famous for mouthing feminist platitudes but practicing gender bias is Hollywood. According to the Los Angeles Times, only 1.9% of directors of the top-grossing 100 films of 2013 and 2014 were women. “Of 25 Paramount Pictures films that have been announced through 2018, not a single one has a women director attached, in a tally first noted by The Wrap. The same is true of the 22 Twentieth Century Fox films that have been announced…”

Saran Wrap Cynic, by Carol L. Douglas
And then there’s Congress, where only 19% of lawmakers are female, a percentage that didn’t change much in the last election.

The biggest news story of 2017 has been #metoo. One thing it ought to tell us is that where there’s huge gender disparity, there’s also sex abuse. Where there's endless sexualization of women's images, there's also abuse, and the art world for the last two hundred years has been littered with insipid, pulchritudinous images of women.

The 19th and 20th century art scenes were famous for abusive, egotistical male ‘geniuses.’ As Germaine Greer said about the Pre-Raphaelites, “If they hadn't had sex with their models, they wanted you to think they had.”


* Here, here, here, here, here, and probably elsewhere as well.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Monday Morning Art School: How to mix skin tones

Michelle reading, by Carol L. Douglas
Recently I gave you an assignment on mixing warm and cool tones. The example I used was my figure-painting palette. A reader asked for more specific information on mixing skin tones.

I have read many short articles on mixing skin tones and they all seem to start with a basic misconception. That is that the human form can be represented by just a few brownish colors.

An extended matrix for mixing skin tones, by student Matthew M. The warm tones are quinacridone violet, burnt sienna, naphthol red, raw sienna, yellow ochre, cadmium yellow, transparent yellow and something I can't identify. He modulated them with tints of ultramarine blue, black, Prussian blue, dioxazine purple, and a warm mix. Overkill, perhaps, but it explains how he learned to paint so well.
We all understand that the human race has a variety of skin tones. Each person has a range of tones as well. There are pinker areas and yellower areas, and areas with distinct blue and green tones. Our skin varies by the season, the lighting, and even by the day, which is why we sometimes say, “your color is off,” or “you look peaked.”

If you mix three colors to make a human figure, you’re going to end up with something very inadequate. There are as many different tones in a single human body as there are in a landscape.

The resulting tones. With more or less white, these all appear in the human figure.
The palettes I’ve shown were done by a high-school student working in my Rochester studio. In practice, I don’t usually mix the entire array, but as a learning experience, it’s very useful. When I’m painting a person I’ve never painted before, I usually start with an extensive selection of these tones. Only after I’ve worked for a while can I see what sections of the palette I will use, and whether I need more or less white added into the mix.

You could, of course, skip that step and just hold a print of Matthew’s palette up to see if your model tends to have blue or violet or warm undertones. There are, in fact, entire books of color recipes for skin tones, which you're supposed to use exactly that way.  I recommend against that, because as soon as you do that, you’re making assumptions instead of looking.

The workhorse dark-neutral, ultramarine blue and burnt sienna.
I always start my figure drawings on canvas with a mix of ultramarine blue and burnt sienna. If the shadows are cool, I push the mix to the blue side. If they’re warm, I push it to the brown side. If I balance them perfectly, they’re as close as is necessary to a chromatic black.

Self-Portrait with Beret and Turned-Up Collar, Rembrandt van Rijn, 1659, National Gallery of Art
Getting the shadow color right allows you to leave your darks thin and loosely worked, a technique that Rembrandt used with great effect. This is usually a technique associated with indirect painting, but it works well in all figure painting.

To make a mix for blocking in the midtones, I generally start with a mixture of cadmium orange, black and white. But these are colors I use only for drawing. When it comes to applying measurable paint, I use the matrix above.

A figure painting still at the drawing stage. As you can see, I'm not interested in the subtlety of color here, but rather in getting the shapes right.
Two things will wreck the color in figure painting. The first is working under spotlights. Wherever possible, figure should always be worked under natural light. Spotlights change and narrow the color range of human skin. The second is working from photographs. Even the best cameras narrow the chromatic range of human skin.

I used the exact same palette for this portrait as I did for the figure painting at the top, with less tinting.
Race has far less to do with differences between people than is generally believed. In 1972, geneticist Richard Lewontin showed that most of the variation (80–85%) within human populations can be found within local geographic groups. Differences we casually attribute to race are a very minor part of human genetic variability. A study by Noah Rosenberg, et al showed that differences among individuals account for 93-95% of all genetic variation. Race accounts for just 3-5% of all human difference. As Ken Malik wrote, “Imagine that some nuclear nightmare wiped out the entire human race  apart from one small population – say, the Masai tribe in East Africa.  Almost all the genetic variation that exists in the world today would still be present in that one small group.”

And I usedthe same palette for this painting, whose model is Central American.
But, surely, skin tone is one area where racial differences are pronounced, you might say. After painting figure for many years, I disagree. There’s really no such thing as “white” skin color, “black” skin color, or “Asian” skin color. They are mixed with the same array of paints; we just control how much white paint we add to the mix.

Friday, December 8, 2017

The Adoration of the Magi in the Snow

Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s painting is still among the masterpieces of western art that move me most.

The Adoration of the Magi in the Snow, 1567, Pieter Bruegel the Elder
Pieter Bruegel’s birth was unrecorded, but it is thought to have been around 1525-30 in either Liège or Brabant. Just as there is ambiguity about his birthplace, there is no record of whether Bruegel died as a Protestant or Catholic. (He was shrewd; he asked his wife to burn his papers after his death.)

Bruegel’s youthful world was wholly Catholic. His training and early career were excellent and orthodox: apprenticeship to a leading Antwerp painter in the Italianate style (Pieter Coecke van Aelst), further studies with an artist-priest (Giulio Clovio) in Rome, a now-lost church altar in 1550-51. The anomaly was Coecke’s wife, Mayken Verhulst, an artist from Mechelin. This city was an early center for peasant genre painting, and she is sometimes credited with transmitting this idea to Bruegel. (She also trained his young sons after his early death in 1569; art history knows her mainly as the root of the Brueghel painting dynasty.)

Bruegel worked with three themes throughout his career: peasants, landscape and religion. In his early work, these converged and diverged in no particular pattern. As a member of a successful atelier family (he married the Coeckes’ daughter) he flourished; he had a high degree of skill as well. But his most brilliant paintings were at the end of his life. Was that simply because he had grown to maturity, or was he responding to the trials of his times?

The Census at Bethlehem, 1566, Pieter Bruegel the Elder
One of the decrees of the Council of Trent was that religious painting must be suitably elevated; saints must be set apart from mere mortals in dress, demeanor and activity. The Church recognized that saints with dirty feet were a dangerous endorsement of the Protestant concept of a priesthood of all believers.

By then, Reformation was smoldering in the Netherlands; Anabaptists and Calvinists met secretly and illegally. Bruegel left no record of what he thought of this or anything else. But from a Catholic standpoint, his paintings became positively impertinent. Of these paintings, three deserve mention. Bruegel located his Tower of Babel (1563) in a Flemish city and dressed Nimrod as a European king. The Sermon of St. John the Baptist (1566) is militant—subversive, actually—because it clearly depicts a contemporary Calvinist or Anabaptist service. In it he identifies the heretic Protestant preachers with John the Baptist. The Adoration of the Magi of 1564 is a straight-up Nativity scene, but anything but saintly. Notice Mary’s droopy veil, Joseph’s distraction, and the brutish faces of the peasants to his right.

One could ask whether these reflected the views of his patrons or his own religious convictions. I would guess that the two were so intertwined that the question is meaningless.

The Tower of Babel, 1563, Pieter Bruegel the Elder
How powerful art can be! In 1566, the Reformation ignited in the Low Countries. It did so over the issue of art, in the form of the Beeldenstorm (“picture storm”), in which church art was systematically destroyed throughout the Netherlands. Spain responded by sending the cruel Duke of Alba to Brussels (where Bruegel had settled) to extirpate the rebels. This reign of terror—in which thousands died and many more were dislocated—led directly to the Eighty Years’ War.

It was during the height of this terror that Bruegel painted The Adoration of the Magi in the Snow. It’s lovely, but it isn’t peaceful. The central stream of figures is very nearly on the march.

This weekend I uncrated a set of porcelain crèche figures. They are clichéd and indistinguishable from millions of others worldwide. Our museums are full of similar Nativities—some brilliant, many not. Some religious art slipped over the line to idolatry, and much was commissioned for base reasons of power and prestige. The Beeldenstorm set out to destroy the fruits of these bad intentions, but it destroyed indiscriminately. In his last years, Bruegel was feeling his way along the narrow space between the Beeldenstorm and the Duke of Alba. Today we see his Adoration as quaint; we don’t remember that it was radical.

The Protestant impulse forced a new way of painting. Artists couldn’t produce idols, so the pattern books of their faith—unchanged for a millennium—were closed to them. How, then, could they articulate their religious feelings? Bruegel actually painted three winter scenes of the Biblical Infancy Narratives. The others are The Slaughter of the Innocents (1565-66) and The Census at Bethlehem (1566).

Bruegel was addressing a problem which bedevils our own age: how can the artist tell an ancient, unchanging story in a new language? He solved the problem by quoting a traditional icon in the context of a new reality. In these three paintings, the new context was the Protestant priesthood of all believers, represented by the peasantry. Today we call this “appropriation art” and imagine it’s a new idea.

The Slaughter of the Innocents, c. 1565-67, Pieter Bruegel the Elder
The Nativity (particularly the Virgin and Child) is the most commonly painted subject in art. Even in our secular age, even among non-Christians, it is universal. Bruegel’s brilliance was in realizing that he didn’t need to spell out the scene inside the stable; everyone knew it. In fact, in not doing so, he allowed us to regain something mysterious and personal about that night.

I must mention Bruegel’s technical prowess. Since he invented the winter landscape, he can also be credited with chromatic modeling in snow, in the form of violet shadows and the warm highlights. Note how the roof in the building on the top left is shaped by these shifts in color rather than with darker grey shadows. (This was an artistic choice; the snow on a dark winter day is generally flat.) The dark mass of people sweeps in an arc to the Nativity, pulling it back up into importance. Bruegel emphasized this sweep by making it the busiest part of his painting, and by making the figures darker and in greater contrast than the surround. This arc of humanity plays off against the perfectly composed diagonal lines of the surround.

Bruegel was an acute observer of reality. I respond to his winter scenes because they are true to my own experience, even if the details have changed beyond all imagining. I respond to his religious vision because I spent decades feeling my way gingerly between Protestantism and Anglo-Catholicism.


(This was originally published on December 11, 2007.)

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Pubescent erotica

(Note: this post contains an image that I find offensive. Read at your own risk.)

Thérèse Dreaming, 1938, Balthus, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Metropolitan Museum in New York has refused to remove Thérèse Dreaming, a portrait of 12- or 13-year-old Thérèse Blanchard showing her knickers. This 1938 painting by Balthus is ambiguously sexual. Much of his work was more overt.

A petition started by New Yorker Mia Merrill to have it removed has gathered almost 11,000 signatures. “Given the current climate around sexual assault and allegations that become more public each day, in showcasing this work for the masses without providing any type of clarification, The Met is, perhaps unintentionally, supporting voyeurism and the objectification of children,” states the petition.

The Met has a long-standing policy against censorship. “Moments such as this provide an opportunity for conversation, and visual art is one of the most significant means we have for reflecting on both the past and the present, and encouraging the continuing evolution of existing culture through informed discussion and respect for creative expression,” they responded.

The White Skirt by Balthus, 1937, is a painting of Balthus’ wife in her mid-30s. He makes sure that we understand her aristocratic background by the drape, at right.
Balthus was a terrific liar about his own history, changing the details to suit his audience. Genetics refute his tale of being descended from the Polish and Russian nobility: his son died at age two from Tay-Sachs disease, indicating that one of Balthus’ parents was an Ashkenazi Jew. He and his brother both adopted the Rola coat of arms, although any connection to the Polish petit nobility was spurious. 

But there was something about the family that attracted celebrity. The German poet Rainer Maria Rilke was Balthus’ mother’s lover. Balthus married twice, once to a Swiss aristocrat and once to a Japanese beauty 34 years his junior. His son was a famous London playboy in the 1960s. Balthus’ funeral in 2001 was attended by international celebrities. Bono sang.

Girl in Green and Red, 1944, is also a portrait of Balthus’ wife, who by then was approaching middle age.
“A bad man is the sort of man who admires innocence,” said Oscar Wilde. Balthus may have paid homage to innocence, but he probably slept with it, too. His models Laurence Bataille and Fré´dé´rique Tison both said they had affairs with the artist while in their teens.

There is nothing one can say in defense of The Guitar Lesson. If this wasn’t high art, the owner (a private individual) would be doing time for possessing child pornography. Balthus painted several studies of this, including one with a male teacher.

Equally unnerving was his habit of painting adult women as little girls. His wife was in her early thirties when she posed for The White Skirt, and even older when she posed for Girl in Green and Red. In both cases, he gives her the face and body of an adolescent.

The Guitar Lesson, 1934, Balthus
By the end of his life, Balthus was pretty well sexed-out. In the 1990s, he took a series of 2,000 Polaroids of the youngest daughter of his doctor. Every Wednesday afternoon, from the age of eight until the age of 16, Anna Wahli posed for him, usually semi-naked.  "It took such a long time to change what seemed to be a minute detail and, from my point of view, all the photographs looked alike,” she wrote.

One of 2000 Polaroids taken by Balthus in the last years of his life. If you want, you can buy them in coffee-table book form for about $350. (Courtesy Gagosian Gallery)
When he was 14, Balthus told a friend that he wanted to remain a child forever. That’s hardly exculpatory; I imagine a lot of pedophiles do. Nor is the fact that Balthus is so compelling as a painter. That just makes him a better pornographer than most.

Formally, Balthus’ paintings are brilliant. He took the painting style of the Italian Renaissance, and jazzed it up with vivid color and compositional innovation. But instead of the Virgin Mary, we have his own fantasies about little girls. As social mores change, what do we do with him?

It’s a difficult question. I didn’t appreciate my own work being censored, and I don’t approve of censoring history. I’m equally opposed to sexualizing children, however, and I don’t think high art should get a special pass. However, Balthus’ paintings are now worth millions. They’re not going away any time soon.

Mia Merrill is not asking for the painting to be permanently shelved. “I would consider this petition a success if the Met included a message as brief as, ‘Some viewers find this piece offensive or disturbing, given Balthus’ artistic infatuation with young girls,’” she wrote.

I signed. 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

What about an artist’s residency?

Mature painters can apply for a residency at one of these great Maine art centers.

Courtesy Hog Island
This time of year, I can see the water of Rockport harbor from my bedroom window. I’ve been around the world, and I’m lucky to have landed in one of earth’s great beauty spots.

For those of you who dream about painting here, I’ve assembled a listing of visual artist residencies in the state of Maine. I have only included residencies that do not charge participating artists a fee. There are others, such as Skowhegan’s summer program, that are wonderful but cost the artist money.

Bremen, ME
Applications due February 1, 2018
Residency Length: 2 weeks

Directed toward the artist whose work brings a broader appreciation of the natural environment, culture, and/or history of the coastal Maine ecosystem, and/or supports the mission of the Seabird Restoration Program to promote the conservation of seabirds and their critical habitats.

Applicants should be in good health and should be able to regularly walk the 6/10-mile uneven wooded path to the main campus for services. Expect solitude and immersion in nature, including varied weather and the possibility of ticks and mosquitoes.

At its nearest point, Hog Island is approximately ¼ mile from the mainland. Camp staff can ferry you back and forth if necessary. Residents who are comfortable with ocean navigation are welcome to bring a kayak and tie up at the cottages for their own transportation and at their own risk.

Courtesy Haystack Mountain School of Crafts
Deer Isle, ME
Open application starting January 1, 2018
Residency Length: May 27 – June 8

Haystack’s Open Studio Residency provides two weeks of studio time and an opportunity to work in a supportive community of makers. The program accommodates approximately 50 participants—from the craft field and other creative disciplines—who have uninterrupted time to work in six studios (ceramics, fiber, graphics, iron, metals, and wood) to develop ideas and experiment in various media. Participants can choose to work in one particular studio or move among them depending on the nature of their work. All of the studios are staffed by technicians who can assist with projects. Note: this is not a workshop and participants are expected to be technically proficient.

Courtesy Hewnoaks Artist Colony
Lovell, ME
Applications taken during the month of February, 2018
Residency Length: up to 2 weeks

Magnificently situated on the eastern shore of Kezar Lake, Hewnoaks offers an extraordinary setting of inspiration and beauty. By resurrecting its art-making traditions we aim to honor its creative history and preserve its environmental integrity.

Painters, sculptors, photographers, filmmakers, choreographers, actors, musicians, writers and curators are welcome. Preference is given to Maine artists. Artists are expected to work in their living space.

Courtesy Maine Farmland Trust (Rolling Acres Farm)
Jefferson, ME
Applications opened on December 1, 2017
Residency Length: 1 month/ 6 weeks
Residencies are for Maine artists, except for the Visual Arts program.

Six, month-long residencies: two in July, two in August and two in September, for visual artists. One placement is for an out-of-state or international artist, and one for a Maine artist.

One writing residency a minimum of four and maximum of six weeks long, July through mid-August. Applicants in the following categories can apply: Poetry, Prose, Fiction/Non-fiction.

One performing arts residency a minimum of four and maximum of six weeks long, during mid-August through end of September. Applicants in the following categories can apply: Performance/Dance, Storytelling, Songwriting.

Art & Agriculture- Seasonal Resident Gardener Position
This is a part-time, 5-month seasonal position for someone with at least 2 years of organic gardening experience and an affinity with the arts. The resident gardener will be living on-site with the visual arts and writing residents, and is encouraged to use their time at the Fiore Art Center for their own creative pursuits if desired. 

Courtesy Monhegan Artists' Residency
Mohegan, ME United States
Applications opened on February 1, 2018
Session length: 2/5 weeks

The Monhegan Artists’ Residency provides free comfortable living quarters, studio space, a stipend of $150 per week, and time for visual artists to reflect on, experiment, or develop their art while living in an artistically historic and beautiful location.

There are two 5-week sessions for artists with significant ties to Maine and one 2-week session for K-12 visual art teachers in Maine.

Courtesy Schoodic Institute
Winter Harbor, ME
Deadline: January 15, 2018
Session length: 2 weeks

In exchange for a two-week immersive experience, artists lead one outreach presentation with the public, and donate within one year one work of art that depicts a fresh and innovative new perspective of Acadia for park visitors.

Three categories of applicants are considered at present: Visual Artists; Writers; and At-Large Participants working in such forms as music composition, performing arts, indigenous arts, and emerging technologies. Applications are reviewed by appointed juries including park staff, community members, past program participants, and subject matter experts.

Courtesy Tides Institute
Tides Institute
Eastport ME
Deadline: February 1, 2018
Session length: 4/8 weeks

Founded in 2013 and now in its sixth year, The StudioWorks Artist-in-Residence Program at the Tides Institute & Museum of Art (TIMA) offers residency opportunities to visual artists from the U.S. and abroad to deepen and develop their practice within a community setting. The studios, museum and housing are located within the historic downtown and working waterfront of Eastport, Maine and overlook the U.S./Canada boundary. 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

A Christmas reverie in paint

Into Swedish Death Cleaning or KonMari? Maybe you should paint that stuff before you toss it away.

Blonde Santa is available through the Kelpie Gallery this month.
I have many friends who do not observe the same Christmas traditions as me: those who aren’t Christian and those who are very Christian. I am under no delusions about the origins of this feast, but I still don’t want to put the Io Saturnalia back in Christmas.

It’s not quite as bad as the Asherah poles and high altars the Old Testament prophets were always lecturing about. Christmas can be a simple celebration of love and joy among one’s family or a chance to ponder the miracle of the Incarnation. Or, if you want, it can be stroll through Manhattan to see the Christmas lights or a bonfire on the beach in Lincolnville, ME. I’m down with it all.

This boa-wearing reindeer is a Christmas decoration given to me by my sister-in-law. I added the double rainbow and setting for effect.
I enjoy setting out my own Christmas decorations. Here are the plaster sheep made by my brother and sister in Sunday school. This January will be the fiftieth anniversary of my sister’s death; my brother followed her into the grave only four short years later. On most days, it no longer stings, but when I unwrap those figurines, I’m reminded that I’m their remaining memory-keeper. Every one of us has such people in our hearts. For me, Christmas is a safe time to unpack and visit them.

Here are my kids’ stockings. Now that they have their own homes, I should mail them to them, but it’s nice to remember the woman who started this tradition, Jan Dunlap, and all the subsequent stocking-makers in our history. So up they go on the bannister.

My Christmas Angel, by Carol L. Douglas
Here are the beautiful crocheted ornaments my mother made for my tree. They need reblocking; the starch has yellowed over the years. By Epiphany I’ll be so sick of Christmas I’ll rewrap them and vow to do it next year. Craft projects scare me.

Here is the Santa given to me by my pal Judie. He has a lush blonde beard, making him look like he has a tobacco problem. Judie and I were a Lucy Ricardo and Ethel Mertz crafting team. We had great ideas, but they didn’t always work. Actually, they never worked.

My mother, on the other hand, was awesome at crafts. In my dining room I have a lighted porcelain tree she made back in the 1950s. It’s spray-painted gold. Recently a young person asked me where I found that amazing vintage decoration.

My only successful craft project is my 4H angel, on top of the tree. I figure she’s 48 years old this year, but I could be wrong. She’s missing her tassels and her burlap dress is fading, but she reminds me of my 4H friends, some of whom still have their own angels from the same day. My mother once bought me a lovely ceramic and lace tree-topper to replace her, but I gave that to my daughter. I prefer my ratty old angel.

Happy New Year! by Carol L. Douglas
Yesterday, I tossed a few things in packages to mail to my kids. I have more of this sorting to do, and maybe I’ll get to it this year.

My friend Kristin Zimmermann had a brilliant idea about what one should do with objects of sentimental value that one doesn’t want to store. She painted them, as here, and then passed them along.

I’ve painted many of my Christmas decorations over the years, which means I’m part of the way along to divestiture. But the heck with Swedish Death Cleaning or KonMari. Come January 6, they’ll all go back in the attic where they belong.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Monday Morning Art School: drawing a globe

Start with the mechanical measurement and work your way down to the details.

All illustrations are by Carol L. Douglas (left) and Sandy P. Quang (right)
By now, the long slog to decorate for the Christmas holidays is in full swing. If you haven’t got your tree up, you’ve at least located the boxes and asked your family to help you carry them down from the attic. (Good luck with that, by the way.) Find a simple, round, reflective ornament. That’s your subject for today.

Those of you who don’t believe in Santa Claus can find a spherical object to substitute. A ball or a snow-globe will work just fine.

The ornaments in question.
Some of you might know Sandy Quang; she was my painting student in Rochester. She went on to get a BFA from Pratt and an MFA from Hunter and now works at Camden Falls Gallery. She came by yesterday to hang the high ornaments on my tree.

I asked her if she wanted to draw with me. As my students do, she had her sketchbook tucked in her backpack. “Which one do you want?” I asked her. She chose the spider ornament.

Last week, I wrote about drawing a glass dish, which is a series of ellipses on a central axis. A circle is easier to draw than an ellipse; it’s an ellipse that is symmetrical on all sides. A sphere appears to be a circle when it’s viewed in two dimensions. This is an unbreakable rule.

Noting the axes.
Both of us started with the axis of our drawing. For me, that was the vertical axis; for Sandy it was the axis holding her circles together. I mention this because when people say “I can’t draw!” they seldom realize how much of drawing is mechanical, simple measurement.

We both added details. Mine were the ellipses on the collar of the ornament; Sandy's were the beaded legs of the spider and her first markings for reflections.
Next, we both put the appendages on our spheres. For me, that meant measuring the ellipses in the collar, as I demonstrated in detail last week. For Sandy, it was the beaded spider legs. Sandy was starting to note the overall areas of reflection in her spheres.

Marking out the outlines of our reflected shapes.
Sandy and I chose different approaches in the next step, dictated by the paper we were working on. Because I had a smooth Bristol, I was able to blend my pencil line into smooth darks with my finger. Sandy could only work light-to-dark on the rougher paper she was carrying. That gives you the chance to see two different approaches to shading.

We both worked on shading next. I finished my shading with an eraser, Sandy couldn't do that because her paper was too rough.
Sandy has a shadow under her final drawing because the ornament was sitting directly on my coffee table. I put the reflection of myself drawing in my ornament.

All drawing rests on accurate observation and measurement. Get that right and the shading and mark-making is simple. And remember, you’re welcome to post your finished work on the open Facebook page, Monday Morning Art School.