“…Show the whole world that you are not afraid. Be silent, if you choose; but when it is necessary, speak – and speak in such a way that people will remember it.”– Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
In my previous post, I reflected on the 3 things I would like to see in my plein air paintings, and on which I concentrate during the painting process. Over the years I have decided my plein air pieces should communicate a particular moment or fleeting experience, that they should exude a sense of place, and that my energy and passion about my subject would be translated right into the paint. This is what I think about while I am painting outside en plein air. In this post, I’m thinking about the three elements that I’d like to see in all of my paintings, whether they be created in the studio, or outdoors.
I strive to focus continually on what I am actually making: a painting. I love paint. I love the way it moves, the ways it combines, shifts, grades, piles, skims, washes and flows in luscious, semi-opaque and transparent layers across the paper, canvas and linen.
And I’m focused on discovering subjects I would love to paint; not only their overt shapes, colors, and appearance but the essential character of each. I often find that my attraction to a subject is tied intimately with its possibilities for design. Certainly, as a representational artist, I would like my subject to be recognizable, but more than that, my goal for my painted subject is that it be remarkable in some way, and true to my feeling for and experience with it. I believe that the universe we see is a shadow of a greater and yet more beautiful kingdom, which may be made visible to us if we simply look for it, and with a desire to fully appreciate and understand it. Beginning with my choices of subject matter, I would like my work to reflect my beliefs.
“Artistic growth is, more than anything else, a refining of the sense of truthfulness.”– Willa Cather
Lots of paintings are created that look like “the thing” itself, but how much more challenging (and enjoyable!) it is to do a painting that is something new, or interpret a common subject in an innovative way, or better yet, communicates an original idea that is worthy of sharing with others. I want to sing this song in my own voice. I believe that is what will instill authenticity in my designs, and not merely depict the physical details of what superficially appears to me. I want to make the invisible visible. That’s what makes it truthful, for me to genuinely express how I see the world, and why.
“Paradise is to love many things with a passion.”– Pablo Picasso
Secondly, I would like the same ingredient that I want to maintain during the painting process—call it “feeling,” or passion, or emotion—to appear in the final result. I believe that this is the most important thing I can do as an artist: to express my feelings about the subject in a way that would communicate itself to the viewer, in my color selection, energetic brush strokes, and in every aspect of design.
To do that, I need to bring love to my easel: love for painting, for my subject, for the act of creating. It could be the most important thing I do in preparing to paint. In fact, I have spoken to many collectors who tell me that it was the feeling they had when they first looked at a painting that drew them in and ultimately encouraged them to purchase it. It seems that the truth of an artist’s experience is conveyed on one level through fundamental skills, and on another in how those skills are authentically translated by his/her passion for what is being created. I say “authentically” because I do believe that it is only through the specific, unique voice of each artist that great artworks are created. What is art for, if it is not to interact with others in sharing both the unique qualities and universality of our experiences?
“The beauty of the universe consists not only of unity in variety, but also of variety in unity.”– Umberto Eco
That brings me to the third element that I strive to bring to my painting, with each thought, at every stage, and through each brushstroke: variety that expresses beauty. Thank God that there is such a variety of artworks that have been created throughout history, and yet today! Perhaps that mirrors the abundant variety of life experiences across the globe, in continents and nations, and in the lives of every individual who has ever drawn breath… and the fact that beauty exists everywhere when one searches to discover it. Variety is truly the spice of life: that’s what makes it interesting, complex, profound, and even incomprehensible. A life of rote repetition is a spare one. Artworks that reflect the variety to be experienced in life speak to us, through contrasts of dark and light, control and spontaneity, line and form, objective and subjective color, the observed and the emotional, realism and abstraction, mind and heart. No two clouds or trees are the same, no brushstroke imitates another, no painting is a duplicate.
But scattered statements in themselves have no unified impact. I have been thinking that what unifies the body of work of a great artist is how that artist handles the variety of options that face him or her at the start of every painting. It isn’t that the artist chooses the same subject to paint every time, uses the same palette, or always does this or that in the painting process. It’s that the artist allows the soul to be expressed in each work, in the way it needs to be expressed. That means giving one’s self permission to listen to the inner voice no matter what, despite what other artists are doing, what collectors are buying, or what is “in “ at the time, or even nagging feelings of self-doubt. “Ultimately,” says Joe Paquet, “we need to cultivate self-trust.” Artwork created in one’s own voice produces unity in everything that an artist creates. And that’s more than simply artistic “style”: that is the truest expression of one’s creative existence.
I hope I might be succeeding, in some degree, at making each of the three elements—truth, passion, and variety—integral to each of the artworks I create. And I have had some sage guidance provided to me by artists both here and gone as I strive to do so. I would like to leave you with an (incomplete) roster of these artists—historical masters and contemporary– that have inspired me in working with these three elements in my own painting. I wish you the very best as you strive to create your very best paintings. See you at the easel.
Truth: Zufar Bikbov, Carl Bretzke, Roger Dale Brown, Josh Clare, Nathan Fowkes, Kimball Geisler, Winslow Homer, Charlie Hunter, Michelle Jung, Laurie Kersey, Yuri Krotov, Isaac Levitan, Calvin Liang, John MacDonald, Michael Obermeyer, Joe Paquet, Norman Rockwell, John Singer Sargent, Randy Sexton, Mian Situ, Matt Smith, Ken Spencer, Colley Whisson, James Whistler, William Suys, Jr…
Passion: Peter Adams, Jill Basham, Jill Carver, Frank Frazetta, George Inness, Quang Ho, Ruo Li, Michael Malm, C.W. Mundy, Tibor Nagy, Devin Michael Roberts, Jason Sacran, Jeff Sewell, Joaquin Sorolla, Vincent Van Gogh, N.C. Wyeth, Joseph Zbukvic…
Variety: Eric Bowman, John Burton, Mike Hernandez, Mark Kerckhoff, Chuck Kovacic, Kevin Macpherson, Angus McEwan, Jim McVicker, Larry Moore, Ned Mueller, Patrick Saunders, Bryan Mark Taylor, William Wray…
These are the gifts that painting gives to the world.