Monday, December 28, 2009

Back Out There, December Evenings by the river

Harold Speed wrote a book on drawing, and one on painting, both classics from the early 1900's. "Oil Painting Techniques and Materials" is, I think, a little less common to find then the drawing book, and was written in 1913 or so and begins with a sympathetic, but critical, chapter on "modern art". He welcomes the reinvigorating honesty of the new work (Cezanne, Picasso, etc) and their attempt to express emotion, but suggests that without craft, and a greater depth of intention-not just aesthetic- that the modern work will not be great.

His intent is to get the young artist out of the morass of the boring academic work of the 19th c, but through and beyond the modern work then happening. It all sounds so sensible, and would think that plenty of young artists were inspired at the time to try. I don't know that they were or were not successful, or if that matters, but clearly they were in the shadow of what snowballed through the 20 c.

And now, after almost exactly 100 years, it seems like there is sort of a returning to trying to learn what Harold Speed was trying to hand down. That there are a lot of artists trying the so called "classical" style, and forming so called "Ateliers", I suppose indicates the thirst for that sort of knowledge that comes from hard work and patience, like learning,I would guess, to play a classical piece of music.

I sometimes hope that I could get on that band wagon, maybe just on the end, as it feels like something I'd like to do, if I had the time and patience to do it. But really I don't, I prefer to figure out how to get paint on quickly and in a way that looks like it belongs there, and looks right the next day, and the day after. I can't even visualize a 12 hour drawing, all the measuring! Though when I look at the bad distortions in mine, that i did not see when drawing, I am always surprised, and know that some measuring would help.

But what really matters is, I think, the theme, what it's all about, in the altogether, and not just one piece or another, but the whole bunch of them from the very beginning to the very end. What is being said? I think i have some idea of this, for my own work, by the tail, and have all along, though I don't know what it is, if its any good, and I fear naming it for losing it. I somehow think that I would be able to say it, write it out, but I doubt very much I can say much more except note a few motifs that I return to again and again and wonder what the thread was.

There's a river, and a field, and a tree or two. There's a sky with light not quite even in it. Its later in the day, when the color is more mysterious, but I don't know that this is important, or just when I feel like getting out to paint. Sometimes there's the same things but in a figure, trying to get a bit of light, or a tone, and then, in each, there's trying to build the underlying structure of it all, the lines, the trace through, usually literally.

Today, in the cold again with gloves, I painted in the fields by the river. I am back there, off and on, when the sun starts heading down, and I think i make an inch or two of progress.It is such a struggle, between the sketch, and trying to build some depth in it, towards something that isn't a sketch, but isn't dead either. Something with drips in it, but something with light, that's what i really want to see happen.

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