How much of what we know is truth and how much is the convention of our times?
|After the final cutting, Carol L. Douglas|
In the 21st century, we are being driven inexorably toward higher and higher chroma (color intensity). This isn’t just happening in painting, but also in photography, home furnishings, and hair coloring. Occasionally an artist will take refuge in monochrome, but the delicately modeled colors of our predecessors are out of vogue. We live and die at 1280 x 720 pixels, and delicacy just doesn’t cut it on a computer monitor.
Yesterday, David Dewey spent a few hours with Clif Travers and me, going through a wealth of Joseph Fiore paintings. These are in storage and represent his entire career, from his studies at Black Mountain College until shortly before his death. Unlike most painters, Fiore didn’t run through clearly defined stylistic periods. He operated on parallel tracks of abstraction and realism, each informing the other.
Guardian of the Falls, 1983, Joseph Fiore, oil on canvas, 52 x 44, courtesy of the Falcon Foundation.
His folios are full of small studies in watercolor, oil, and pastel, now chemically stabilized. The majority are formal color exercises, many based on a mathematical grid of his own devising. David identified these as Bauhaus in character, which in turn takes us back to Paul Klee, Josef Albers and Wassily Kandinsky.
Klee closely connected color and music, making the connection between harmony and complementary colors, and dissidence and clashing colors (whatever they may be). Albers was a hands-on scientific colorist who taught at Black Mountain College when Fiore was there.
Field sketch for Guardian of the Falls (above), courtesy of the Falcon Foundation. It’s watercolor and about 12x16.
Fiore’s color studies are a balm to the eye starved for subtlety. There are grids of closely analogous greens and browns; grids punctuated with black. In addition to being beautiful, they fly in the face of our current color model.
That just shows how much of what we think we know is the convention of our time, not eternal truths of painting. Take, for example, all of Kandinsky's twaddle in Concerning the Spiritual in Art. For much of the twentieth century, people took that seriously.
The artist’s job is to get through all that to the nut of the matter. The only way I know to do that is to paint—a lot.
David mentioned that he uses Arches 500 in his studio work, but mixes it up in the field. The accidents that ensue help him avoid staleness. This is exactly my goal in alternating between watercolor and oil in this residency, and in painting so big and fast. I am trying to shake up my oil painting.
|I was able to maintain the truth of the landscape in my sketch.|
Nature has a certain awkwardness. We landscape painters are taught to edit that away into a ‘better’ composition. After examining so many paintings, I wondered how much of that is also a fashion issue. I resolved to not do it in my afternoon painting, but to be completely faithful to what God and man had laid down in that field. I don’t think I succeeded. The personal impulse is just too strong to ignore.
|But when I started painting, I succumbed to the urge to prettify.|
With all that fizzing in our heads, Clif and I went back to the farm and returned to work. The lake was still unsettled from this week’s storm, so I painted the small private cemetery and its lane. The lake beyond made this very much a painting of the intersection between land, water and man.
Having spent the morning in study, I didn’t finish the painting to any high surface. It’s slightly easier to do that with watercolor, since it goes faster. But in either case, the pace is starting to tell on me. I’m getting tired.