Paint Schoodic

To see more paintings, learn about workshops and classes, and more, visit my website.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Just a travelin’ man

Midsummer dance, Anders Zorn, 1903
This morning I’m off with my pal Brad Marshall to see Anders Zorn: Sweden’s Master Painter at the National Academy. Before Brad suggested this, I knew absolutely nothing about Zorn. That’s ironic, because at the turn of the last century he was one of the world’s most renowned painters. In fact, he painted three American presidents: Grover Cleveland (and his wife), William Taft, and Theodore Roosevelt, along with many other of the social luminati of the time.

Portrait of Hugo Reisinger, Anders Zorn, 1907
Anders Zorn was raised on the family farm in rural Sweden. He studied at local grammar schools before enrolling in the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts.  His painting and social skills must have been prodigious, because he rapidly became a luminary in the Stockholm art world. His wife, Emma, was from a wealthy and cultured family; they met through his work.

Not content to be a big fish in a small pond, Zorn traveled to the world’s major cultural centers.  He was feted internationally while still in his twenties. (He in turn became a notable art patron upon his return to Sweden.)

Sensitive to cold, Anders Zorn, 1894.
Like John Singer Sargent, Zorn was a highly-skilled watercolorist; like Sargent and Joachim Sorolla, he was known for his loose, lyrical paint handling. Unlike them, his fame has flamed out, at least here in the United States.  What will I think of his work? Only one way to find out.

Anders Zorn: Sweden’s Master Painter runs until May 18, 2014 at the National Academy of Art, XX Park Avenue, New York, NY.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Belfast, Maine in August, 2014 or in Rochester at any time. Click 
here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Help! I need ideas.

The buoy itself, awaiting ideas. Any suggestions, friends?
Last year, when I got a buoy in the mail, one of my kids asked, “Who sent us an oversized dreidel?” This year, we’ve moved on, so the question is, “What should Mom paint on that oversized dreidel?”

Once again, I’ll be participating in Penobscot East Resource Center’s  Annual Lobster Buoy and Reverse Auction. There are a lot of very witty buoys submitted, some of which you can see here.

Last year's buoy.
Penobscot East Resource Center works to rebuild a small-scale diversified fishery where fishermen and their communities are a part of the governance of fishing. They serve 50 communities from Penobscot Bay to the Canadian border. This is the most fishery-dependent stretch of the East Coast.

If you’ve followed the news, you know that lobster wholesale prices have been in freefall—they’re somewhere near a twenty-year low. This is devastating for lobstering communities. (The New Yorker did an interesting piece on why that hasn’t translated into lower restaurant prices, which you can read here.)

So they’re a good organization, and I want to support them by painting a good buoy, one that will make patrons smile and pull out their wallets.

Gnomes are known to indulge themselves at times. I'm leaning toward painting them, but am open to suggestions.
Last year I painted a mermaid on a rock. I discovered in the process that the tapered shape of a buoy makes a wraparound painting devilishly difficult. Still, I want to paint something realistic again this year (ahem). I’ve bounced around from gnomes to fairies to gluttonous gnomes feasting on lobsters while being serenaded by fairies.

Any suggestions, friends?

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Belfast, Maine in August, 2014 or in Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Art that moves me

These are my cousin’s Black Angus, on his farm in Gippsland, Victoria, Australia.  This photo actually took first place in a county fair art contest, so I can legitimately say I’m an international award-winning artist.
Yesterday I was looking at paintings by friends on Facebook. When I’m just “browsing the catalogue” in this way, the art that interests me is often aspirational. For example, last week, I found myself lingering over paintings with a hint of spring color. It’s been a brutally long winter and I long to see the shrubs and trees leaf out.

Of course, one man’s banality is another man’s inspiration. There was a time when I was fascinated by the glacial eskers and bogs in the landscape here. After twenty years spent living on the hip of a glacial moraine, I have to admit they no longer fascinate me so much.

Black Angus painted through a fence somewhere in New Jersey. You've got just a few minutes to get cow to canvas; don't fret about the details and keep on crooning. (By little ol' me.)
So what am I finding inspirational this spring? Oddly enough, it’s cows.

They say there are horse people and there are cow people. I think that’s nonsense; I’ve kept both, and both have their place. But it’s easier to paint a cow than a horse, because it’s easier to sucker a cow than a horse.  If you stand at a fence crooning, cows will almost always walk up to try to figure you out. And they’ll spend enough time doing it that you can quickly splash a few dots of paint down and capture the essence of their cowness.

These fellows are on Sweets Corners Road in Penfield.
In contrast, you’d better bring a sketchbook and pencil if you want to try the same trick with horses. Oh, they’ll be interested in you, but horses are wilier. Either my song repertoire needs work or they have more sophisticated taste than cows. They’ll come to the fence and crop grass, but they’ll never relax, and they’ll never stay in one place long enough to get paint on the canvas. But you can get decent drawings of horses this way, if you move fast.

When I was a youngster, Western New York was dotted with dairy farms; sadly, most of them are now gone, and the ones that remain keep their cows inside. The best place to see dairy cows now is in the barns at the New York State Fair. There’s not enough room for an easel, but you can bring your sketchbook. A resting dairy cow, carefully groomed and loved by her teenage 4-H keeper, is as beautiful as an odalisque, and probably a better conversationalist.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Belfast, Maine in August, 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click 
here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Whew! That nag very nearly got ahead of me!

A running tide, painted by little ol' me.
As a former newspaper reporter, I’m embarrassed to admit that I posted about my workshop yesterday without including the date. “Who, what, where, why, when and how” was drilled into my head back in the day. But I’ve gone stupid; as I mentioned yesterday, I used to have a manager, but she’s gone to live in a yurt.

The view from the Fireside Inn. Not bad, not bad at all.
I managed to get a brochure and postcard for this workshop printed in record time. Hopefully, it has all the relevant information and is more or less accurate, because I had a lot of them printed.

A painting by one of my 2013 workshop participants, Nancy Woogen, who's coming back in 2014.

You can either send me an email and I’ll mail one to you, or you can just print one yourself.

The links are here and here. Isn’t the internet cool?

Here’s the gist of it:

Sea and Sky Workshop
August 10-15, 2014
Based at the Fireside Inn, Belfast, ME

Basic package includes
Five nights lodging at the Fireside Inn on the shores of Penobscot Bay in Belfast, ME.
American-style full breakfast buffet.
Sunday evening welcome reception.
Morning and afternoon instruction, Monday-Friday.
Ferry fare to Isleboro, ME.

Single accommodations, double-queen room: $803.25* plus $300 instruction fee.
Shared accommodation, double-queen room: $401.63* plus $300 instruction fee.
*Room rental is subject to 8% Maine state sales tax.

Available on request
Instruction only, no accommodation ($300)
Non-painting partner accommodations (at no charge in single room).
Room upgrades.
Private portfolio critique.
Extended stay to tour galleries and museums.

Register now!
Space is limited! Call or text 585-201-1558 or email

And that's me, in Maine last summer. I like this photo!
OK, I’m going to put a cold compress on my head. All this practical thinking has me prostrated in exhaustion.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

A great opportunity

Sea and Sky

August 10-15, 2014
Belfast, ME

Ocean, woods, sea, sky, hiking, birds, sea creatures, waves... what's not to like about painting in Maine?
As regular readers know, I had a fantastic summer teaching in Maine in 2013, which was followed up with a cancer diagnosis that shook my world. This—combined with my manager quitting the industry to go live in a yurt—put my 2014 workshop schedule in limbo.

Drawing at Owl's Head last summer.
I’m very picky about venues. From the folksy Great Camp ambience of the Irondequoit Inn to the elegant, gourmet experience at Lakewatch Manor, the last few years have been utterly fantastic. And I wasn’t going to settle for less. So I booted around and inquired of my friends in mid-coast Maine about inns, rental properties, etc.

The answer, when it came, was one of those “oh, duh, why didn’t I think of that?” experiences. I’ve got friends who stay at the Fireside Inn in Belfast every time they’re in mid-coast Maine, and they rave about it. All the rooms face Penobscot Bay, so when you’re not painting with me, you can paint from the balcony of your hotel room. And this locale is close enough to Lincolnville that we can scoot over there to the ferry to Isleboro for an island painting experience.

All kinds of boats in the harbor.
Belfast is one of my favorite places, not only because it has a beautiful harbor and an ambiance all its own, but because I love the little restaurant in the Belfast Co-op.  You crustacean-eaters will love Young’s Lobster Pound. We will have no shortage of good eatin’ on this trip, I promise you.

The view from the Fireside Inn... isn't this absurdly lovely?
In addition to easy access to painting locations, the Fireside Inn is close to many of Maine’s most picturesque coastal villages and harbors, along with Acadia National Park and the Penobscot Narrows Bridge Observatory. Nearby Sear’s Island is home to over 160 species of birds. Kayak or take a sailing trip. Dining, shopping and gallery-hopping opportunities are unparalleled.

I think the rates are great too:

Single accommodations, double-queen room: $803.25* plus $300 instruction fee.
Shared accommodation, double-queen room: $401.63* plus $300 instruction fee.
Instruction only, no accommodation: $300.
*Room rental is subject to 8% Maine state sales tax.

One of Camden's schooners, which we saw while painting in 2013. 
The Belfast Fireside Inn lets two adults and up to three kids stay in a room (each with their own breakfast) at the same rate. So if your significant other wants to come and sit on the terrace and play his euphonium all day, that’s all just fine.

You can add the following:

·         Non-painting partner accommodations at no charge.
·         Room upgrades.
·         Private portfolio critique.
·         Extended stay to tour galleries and museums.

When I say “space is limited,” I’m not pulling your chain. Hotel rooms in mid-coast Maine in August are at a premium. I reserved eight on my credit card; I had three commitments to the workshop by dinnertime. And this is the only time I’ll be teaching during summer of 2014. If you’re interested, you really should get in touch with me sooner than later.

 For more information, call or text me at 585-201-1558, or email

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Jesus was an Anarchist

W.W.Denslow) who illustrated the first edition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, was a Roycrofter.
This week, in honor of Dyngus Day, I’m concentrating on my home town, Buffalo, New York.

On the southern fringes of Buffalo lies the village of East Aurora, which was a center of the turn-of-the-century Arts and Crafts Movement called the Roycroft.

The Roycroft was founded by Elbert Hubbard. After achieving success as traveling salesman for the Larkin Soap Company, he eventually came to the firm’s Buffalo home office, where he was an innovative and successful employee.  A visit to England exposed him to William Morris and the English Arts and Crafts Movement. After returning to Buffalo, he founded a short-run press based on Morris’ ideals. This press was called the Roycroft Press and the movement would eventually take its name.

Hubbard was a self-described anarchist and socialist living in one of America’s capitalist boomtowns. In A Message to Garcia and Thirteen Other Things, Hubbard wrote, “I am an Anarchist. All good men are Anarchists. All cultured, kindly men; all gentlemen; all just men are Anarchists. Jesus was an Anarchist.”

But don’t dismiss that statement as quaint.  The same year that A Message to Garcia was published, President William McKinley was assassinated by anarchist Leon Czolgosz on the other side of Buffalo. Anarchism was a threat to American culture on a par with fundamentalist Islamic terrorism today.

Elbert Hubbard may have described himself as a socialist, but he was clearly a genius at marketing and branding. The double barred cross and circle logo was a logo used by the Roycroft artisans to identify their products. It came to signify the Roycroft movement, used only on authentic Roycroft pieces. Even today it commands a premium.
“I believe John Ruskin, William Morris, Henry Thoreau, Walt Whitman and Leo Tolstoy to be Prophets of God, and they should rank in mental reach and spiritual insight with Elijah, Hosea, Ezekiel, and Isaiah,” Hubbard wrote.

Somehow Hubbard managed to stay on the popular side of outrageous. He was a brilliant promoter. His championing of the Arts and Crafts movement attracted craftspeople to East Aurora, where they formed a community of almost 500 printers, bookbinders, furniture makers, and metalsmiths. Their creed was taken from John Ruskin, and it’s hard to argue with: “A belief in working with the head, hand and heart and mixing enough play with the work so that every task is pleasurable and makes for health and happiness.”

Roycroft was one of several rugged faces used around the turn of the century, when the Arts and Crafts Movement was in vogue. It was inspired by the Saturday Evening Post, and came by its current name when it was adopted by Elbert Hubbard for the Roycroft Press.
Hubbard and his wife were killed in the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915. The movement struggled on under the management of his son, but without Elbert Hubbard’s charisma, it foundered and closed.

The Roycroft Campus consists of fourteen buildings in the center of East Aurora. This complex has National Historic Landmark Status and includes the Elbert Hubbard Roycroft Museum and the Roycroft Inn.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click 
here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

America's most beautiful city

Buffalo's City Hall. Finished at the start of the Great Depression, it raises a fist to the world. Its tile bands and frieze work are characteristic for Buffalo architecture.
This week, in honor of Dyngus Day, I’m concentrating on my home town, Buffalo, New York.

A few years ago, an architect friend of mine seemed strangely excited to be visiting Buffalo. Since I grew up there, I take it for granted. It was interesting to see it through an informed visitor’s eyes.

The story of Buffalo’s architecture starts with economic boom. By the turn of the last century, Buffalo was the eighth largest city in the United States, a major railroad hub, and the most important grain-milling center in the country.

A postcard of the lake at Delaware Park, circa 1906.
All that money meant that some of the nation’s most important architects were hired to work there.  Its parks and parkways were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. Fans of New York’s Central Park will find echoes of it in Buffalo’s lovely Delaware Park.

The Guaranty Building (now called the Prudential Building) was an early skyscraper designed by Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler. Completed in 1896, it is a combination of modernism and the terra-cotta ornamentation that is so prevalent in Buffalo.

Louis Sullivan's Guaranty Building is covered in warm red terracotta tile.
Frank Lloyd Wright built the Darwin Martin house in the city. His Greycliff, a summer estate south of Buffalo, has been restored to its former glory. Sadly, his Larkin Administration Building (where my mother once worked) was demolished in 1950 to make a truck stop.

Frank Lloyd Wright's Larkin Administration Building is now gone, but other examples of his work live on.
H. H. Richardson designed the massive, Romanesque Buffalo State Hospital in 1870. He was working along the principles of psychiatrist Thomas Story Kirkbride, who believed in a philosophy of Moral Treatment for mental patients. The building itself was meant to be curative, with sunshine, beauty and fresh air aiding in treatment.

Buffalo Insane Asylum.
Kleinhans Music Hall was endowed by the owners of a men’s clothing store in the city. It was designed by Eliel and Eero Saarinen and is widely considered one of the best music halls in the United States.

The grain elevator was invented in Buffalo in the 1840s by Joseph Dart and Robert Dunbar. (Since the grain would be moved along by packet boat on the Erie Canal, this is also an early example of cross-docking.) The Buffalo waterfront is now infested with hulking remnants of these from various periods, which seem to fascinate industrial historians. I would prefer a beach, myself.

Then there is my personal favorite: City Hall. Finished in 1931, it is a fist raised to the world. At 378 feet in height, it is one of the biggest municipal buildings in the United States, and its location on Niagara Square (which is, of course, a circle) makes it tower over the cityscape.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click 
here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Monday, April 21, 2014

It's Dyngus Day in Buffalo

A Dyngus Day dousing.

Today has the makings of a party: Lent is finally over and it’s supposed to be fine, with temperatures in the 70s. Most of the detritus from the family Easter dinner is cleared away. If I were still in my hometown of Buffalo, NY, I would  go over to the East Side this evening  to watch the eighth annual Dyngus Day Parade.

Dyngus Day is always celebrated on the Monday after Easter. From its local Polish roots, it has expanded in Buffalo to attract thousands of out-of-towners to the historic Polish area of the city. It is the world’s largest Dyngus Day celebration, having grown into a week-long festival of parade, polkas and pierogi.  

Dyngus Day postcard.
This is, ironically, closing the circle with its historic roots. Historically, Easter Sunday touched off a week-long festival celebrating the end of Lent, but the 19th century saw it cut back to a single day, Easter Monday. (Those darn Protestants and their work ethic!)

In the Old Country, boys threw water over girls and spanked them with pussy willows on Easter Monday and girls did the same to boys on Easter Tuesday. When I was growing up, however, Dyngus Day was considered a sort of Polish Sadie Hawkins Day. Since it’s an evolving tradition, I don’t really know what they get up to now.

Dziady śmigustne, Muzeum Etnograficzne w Krakowie. In parts of southeastern Poland, beggers would appear dressed in straw suits. Their faces were hidden behind masks and they would grunt. This was to commemorate the rescue of survivors of a Tatar raid whose tongues were cut off and faces disfigured. For some reason this tradition hasn’t extended to Buffalo.
The pussy willows are a stand-in for the palms of Palm Sunday. Many words have been expended on the meaning of the water-dousing, but here in the far north, Easter Monday or Dyngus Day is very likely to be the first warm holiday of the year. Why not throw water?

Not everyone gets into the spirit of the thing, and periodic attempts have been made to shut it down over the centuries. In 1410 it was forbidden by the Bishop of Poznań in an edict which instructed residents not to "pester or plague others in what is universally called Dingus."

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Happy Easter!

Christ Appears to Mary Magdalene, 1511, from the Small Passion, Albrecht Dürer

Dürer, above, is illustrating the following passage from the Gospel of John:

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”

She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 

Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary.” 

She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 

Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 

Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.

Happy Easter! We resume our regularly scheduled programming tomorrow.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Dark days

Descent from the Cross, 1616-17, Peter Paul Rubens.
Today and tomorrow, you may notice that your devout Christian friends seem weary and drawn as they deal with the most difficult two days in the Liturgical Year. Yeah, they’re grocery shopping.

That and pondering the stark reality of what Good Friday and Holy Saturday represent—that moment when Jesus was dead and it appeared that his final gambit failed. It doesn’t take much for the honest Christian to stand in the disciples’ shoes, for we have all doubted our faith.

The first comic book artist was Peter Paul Rubens, who could invest even death with great motion and drama. He painted several Depositions, and they would be difficult for a modern artist to mimic, since most of us have never seen a dead body that hasn’t been propped up with embalming and makeup.

Note the beautiful juxtapositions in the top painting: John the Baptist’s face pressed against Jesus’ wounds, a limp, bloody hand in that of a swarthy and lively young man; the other blue hand being held against the fair pink cheek of Mary Magdelene, the dead Christ’s face next to his grieving mother’s face.

Descent from the Cross, 1612-14, Peter Paul Rubens.
Rubens based this painting closely on an earlier version, above, reversing the composition and changing up some figures. But something radical also changed. The earlier painting is pure Baroque religious styling: Christ is idealized, and his handlers touch him with the reverence due the Eucharist. In the later painting, he is a dead man being brought down from the cross by his friends.

The Deposition, 1545, Daniele da Volterra.
A very different treatment is Daniele da Volterra’s fresco of the deposition. Yes, he was working from drawings by Michelangelo and, yes, he’s a Mannerist, but there’s still something very compelling about that dead Christ jutting out in space toward us.

Daniele suffered from his association with Michelangelo: after the master’s death, he was the poor unfortunate assigned the job of adding loincloths to The Last Judgment. Henceforth he would be nicknamed Il Braghettone, or the breeches-maker.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Maundy Thursday

Christ Washing the Disciples' Feet, 1548-49, Tintoretto (Jacopo Comin). In this version (one of at least six painted by Tintoretto) the disciples are almost buffoonish in their attempts to remove their stockings. Judas is in crimson on the left, isolated from the other disciples. At the top right is a portal through time in which the Last Supper is taking place.
Non-Christians are sometimes surprised to learn that Easter, rather than Christmas, is the most important holiday in the Christian liturgical year. (Easter is really an entire season of the church calendar, rather than a single day.)  

Within the liturgical wing of the church, Lent is a 40-day period of penance and prayer that leads up to Holy Week, which we are in now. Today is Maundy Thursday, which remembers the Last Supper as recorded in the synoptic Gospels.  The services that will be held tonight start the Paschel Triduum, or the church’s commemoration of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The Seven Sacraments Altarpiece, 1445-50, by Rogier van der Weyden, shows baptism, confirmation and confession on the left and ordination, marriage and last rites on the right. The central panel includes the Eucharist in the background.
The Last Supper having been a Passover meal before the Sabbath, the service is traditionally held at the beginning of Friday as per Jewish tradition, which corresponds to Thursday evening in our western calendar. Its primary component is stripping the altar, but it may also include washing of feet by a priest or bishop and the blessing of Holy Oil.

The Seven Sacraments Altarpiece, 1445-50, by Rogier van der Weyden, shows the use of chrism, or holy oil, in the sacraments of baptism and confirmation on the left. 
The English word Maundy comes from the opening of the phrase spoken by Jesus to the Apostles after washing their feet at the Last Supper: Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos. (“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”)

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Local artist

The Tiger, 1929, Charles Livingston Bull, for Barnum and Bailey.
I was trying to locate a show by a friend last week. Google came up with a number of references to her paired with the phrase “local artist.” It’s a funny term, and one I dislike.

There are local movements in art communities (such as the Northern California Tonalists or the Bay Area Figurative Movement) but in general most of us are working within the broader movement of our age. This is particularly true in today’s world, where boundaries are blurred by the internet.

Even worse is the term, “well-known local artist.” It’s amazing how many artists are unknown in their home towns and well-known elsewhere.

Saturday Evening Post cover art, March 6 1918, by Charles Livingston Bull
Consider the wildlife artist Charles Livingston Bull. Born in West Walworth, New York, he demonstrated an aptitude for drawing at a very young age. He enrolled at the Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics Institute (now Rochester Institute of Technology) to study drafting, and took a taxidermy apprenticeship at the Ward Museum of Natural History.

Professor Ward sent the young man to the 1893 Chicago World Exposition to design a bird display for the government of Guatemala. His work there garnered him the job of Chief Taxidermist at the National Museum in Washington. Bull took night classes at the Corcoran Gallery of Art for seven years, until he felt ready to pursue a freelance animal illustration career.

Boys’ Life cover art, Apr 1932, by Charles Livingston Bull
He illustrated more than 135 books and numerous articles for magazines, including The Saturday Evening Post, Life, Collier's, American Boy, and Country Gentleman. As exquisite as his drawings are, he’s pretty much an unknown here, in his hometown.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Hold the date

The Servant, by little ol' me, will be in this show.
Sitting in my living room on a cold spring day, Stu Chait and Jane Bartlett and I were trying to track down the threads that connect us. We have many friends in common, but unless you’ve done a meet-cute, most of us slide into friendships without too much fanfare. After some thinking, Stu and I could be precise: we met in the Ellwanger Garden on a glorious September afternoon to paint en plein air. Stu and Jane met at a mutual friend’s opening. Jane and I no longer even remember, we go so far back.

We’ve all travelled a long way since then: Jane concentrates on contemporary dye-work and clothing design. Stu left realism entirely, working with watercolors on canvas. And I am peripatetic, wandering from plein air assignments elsewhere to figure work in my own studio.

Why is this one of my favorite pieces of Jane Bartlett's dyework? Because it is mine!
What links us as artists? All three of us are zealous about craftsmanship. Despite that, all three of us are intentionally loose in our handling, content to find the happy accident that allows a piece to transcend our intentions. Beyond that, we work in highly complementary forms and color palettes.

Vitis, by Stu Chait.
This is all ever so cool, because the three of us are having a three-person show together at RIT-NTIDs Dyer Gallery this July. The opening is tentatively scheduled for July 18. Mark your calendars, and be there or be square.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click 
here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Monday, April 14, 2014

How not to buy art

I went on ebay this morning and found you some great masters. Here, a Joan Miró for $75... or was it $90?... dollars. The only difference in buying this from a gallery is the bland assurance of the gallerista that it is genuine. And when you get it back to your brokerage office in Des Moines, it will hardly matter.

The Wall Street Journal ran an article called “How to Buy Warhol, Degas and Renoir on the Cheap.” I hope they were using Sarcastic Font, because it should be read as a story of how to get suckered.

What are people buying when they purchase a smudgy scrap of paper or a print overrun from the hand of a master? Not art, for sure, but bragging rights. And they’re not even particularly good bragging rights. Experts can’t agree about the authenticity of paintings that, if accepted into the artist’s oeuvre, could be worth tens of millions of dollars. Does anyone believe they apply the same level of scholarship to a painter’s grocery list?

And here, a genuine Pablo Picasso. You can tell he really did it because of the bull.
There was a time when it seemed like every gallery in New York had a Joan Miró print for sale at a knockdown price. And yet they were anodyne, unmemorable, and their only selling point was that the collector could say they had a ‘name’ work in their collection.

I once sold a Leonard Baskin print on ebay. I needed the money more than I needed the print. Someone got a far better deal than had he or she bought one of those Mirós. But that buyer knew art and knew the market.

And who would try to forge an Egon Schiele anyway? Just everyone, that's who.
The buyer who loves art but doesn’t know anything about it should try to learn something about it under the tutelage of good advisors. He shouldn’t be buying putative Old Masters; he should be buying new works that have room to appreciate. And if he isn’t willing to put even that much work into it, he should stick to collecting old LPs and band posters.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click 
here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

For sale to the highest bidder

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, by Thomas Moran. 1872. Since Moran was paid a cool $10,000 for this painting, his work in Yellowstone was a ‘commercial enterprise.’ Moran’s work led directly to the creation of Yellowstone National Park and an increased awareness of the beauty and fragility of the West. But never mind history and tradition; we can get more dough out of balloon tours.
While the news is filled with stories about Cliven Bundy and an aborted land grab by the BLM, a similar story crossed my radar this week. It’s on a much smaller scale, but it touches me directly. And the root of the problem seems to be the same as that being played out in Nevada: our nation’s resources are for sale to the highest bidder.

Like me, Michael Chesley Johnson teaches plein air workshops. Last week he was teaching in the Red Rock Ranger District of the Coconino Forest when he was stopped by a ranger who told him he can't take his painting workshops onto Forest land without a permit.  Because he charges a fee for his workshops, he is considered a commercial operation. If he continues to flout the requirement, he’ll get a $500 fine.

Michael Chesley Johnson's painters having a huge impact on the environment.
Michael’s groups are very small—never more than four students at a time. Like most plein air painters, he’s also a keen environmentalist, and like most plein air teachers, he polices the area in which his students work, enforcing a strict “leave nothing but footprints” policy.

So Michael duly looked into the permit and found that he can’t get one. Why? Because the Red Rock Ranger District has used up all its permits, doling them out on a ten-year basis.

Tower Falls at Yellowstone, by Thomas Moran, 1876. We have national parks in the west in large part because of artists like Moran.
What is the competition that Michael is theoretically displacing? Red Rock Western Jeep Tours was authorized for 10,055 trips, each with multiple passengers.  In contrast, Michael takes about 30 people out each season. Total.

The Park Service recognizes the need for a different kind of permit for people like Michael, but they won’t get around to creating it until 2016 at the earliest.

The field artists who accompanied every important western journey of exploration contributed mightily toward shaping our national ethos.  Thomas Moran, Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Hill, William Keith and others defined the American West for the 19th century, just as Ansel Adams did for the 20th century. And all of these artists were unabashedly ‘commercial enterprises,’ just as painters are now.

How do we train new plein air artists in that historic tradition? By taking them out into the field, of course.

Another plein air painter in one of Michael Chesley Johnson's workshops.
I have taught in public parks from the Kit Carson National Forest to Owl’s Head in Maine. The only place I’ve ever bothered to apply for a permit was at Niagara Falls, and that was because it’s crowded. And all they asked of me was a “hold harmless” agreement.

I’ve never been bothered by a ranger—never. But neither had Michael Chesley Johnson, until last week.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Pope’s Daughter

Lucretia Borgia Reigns in the Vatican in the Absence of Pope Alexander VI, 1908-14, by Frank Cadogan Cowper, recreates a scandalous incident in the life of Lucrezia Borgia. In 1501, she took the place of her father, Pope Alexander VI, at a Vatican meeting.  The artist uses a humble priest kissing Lucrezia’s feet to indict the church’s worldliness.
My friend K Dee recently put together a photostream of portraits of women to “help me remember, in case I ever start to forget, which sort of female image I find reflects a healthy civil society, and which I do not.” 

Lucrezia Borgia was the daughter of Pope Alexander VI and one of his many mistresses, Giovanna de Candia, contessa dei Cattanei. Very little of what we think we know of her is proven, but her legend has been enduring.

Portrait of a Woman, early 16th century, by Bartolomeo Veneto, is assumed to be a portrait of Lucrezia Borgia.
By our standards, Italian Renaissance society was remarkably tolerant, for the Pope openly acknowledged Lucrezia and her siblings. Then again, the Borgias treated the church like their private fiefdom and power base. And as liberal as the Italian Renaissance was about sexual matters, the Borgias stood out as libertines.

Lucrezia was described as having all the attributes of a Renaissance beauty—a long neck, long blond hair, an ethereal carriage. Her father wasn’t averse to horse-trading for her. As the Borgia family’s fortunes rose, one engagement and then another was made and broken, starting when she was 11 years old. She was married at the age of 13, to Giovanni Sforza, Lord of Pesaro and Count of Catignola. His usefulness to the Borgias soon ended, however, and the Pope quietly ordered his execution. Lucrezia apparently hadn’t yet grown into her Borgia soul: she warned him and he fled Rome.

Sforza refused a divorce and accused Lucrezia of incest with her brother and father. The Borgias responded by alleging the groom was impotent. They of course held the power, and the marriage was annulled.

Lucrezia was probably pregnant at the time of this annulment—perhaps by her husband, perhaps by the chamberlain in her father’s household. She retired to a convent, and a Borgia child was born that year. Meanwhile, the body of the chamberlain and a maid were found in floating in the Tiber. The child, Giovanni, was presented to society as her half-brother.

Portrait of a Youth, c. 1518, by Dosso Dossi, is also presumed to be a portrait of Lucrezia Borgia. If so, it was painted at the end of her life. It radiates exhaustion and cynicism.
In order to strengthen ties between the Vatican and Naples, Lucrezia, now 18, married Alfonso of Aragon, 17. “"He was the most beautiful youth that I have ever seen in Rome,” wrote a contemporary.  Soon, the twisting ties of Alexander’s allegiences made Alfonso a liability. The young man fled Rome. Lucrezia’s family ordered her to lure him back. They returned to the Vatican, where Lucrezia gave birth to their son. Alfonso was attacked by hired killers on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica; he barely survived this attack only to be strangled in his sickbed.

Two years later Lucrezia was given in marriage to Alfonso I d'Este, Duke of Ferrara. To pull this off, she pretended she was a virgin. Little Rodrigo was left behind and she never saw him again.

Oddly, this last marriage stuck. The couple had several children together and survived the fall of the House of Borgia following Alexander’s death. Both parties took lovers, but Lucrezia died giving birth to her eighth child at age 39, to all outward appearances a virtuous Roman matron of piety and good works.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!