Driven to paint Plein Air

Newberry, Sunrise Hwy, oil on canvas, 9x12"

The day before yesterday we were scheduled for an electricity outage 9am-4pm. I got up early to cut out a wood palette fit to measure my French easel, grabbed Frida, and went for a drive on the justly named Palms to Pines Hwy. The cows reminded me of how rural the area is. About 30 minutes later I was in the 100 degree desert, making a loop I found a spot between Salton Sea and Borrego Springs to paint. High noon and not a shadow to be had. My students will tell you I veto painting things with no shadows, broke my rules, and decided to paint with the focus on the soft dusty arid colors. I painted for about 40 minutes, really it was too hot, Frida couldn’t wait to get back in the car. The rest of the drive ascending from valley to valley was gorgeous and I was grateful to arrive home to the mile high coolness of Idyllwild.

Pushing the Composition Envelope, Melissa Hefferlin Still Lifes

Effortless Complexity and Boundless Imagination

Decades ago, Melissa Hefferlin told me that growing up, whenever she did something wrong,  her scientist dad would sit her down with paper and pen to make columns of pros, cons, and alternatives to her bad behavior. She dreaded these episodes (apparently they took place fairly often). But they served her artistic mind very well, especially in composition.

Challenge to Picasso and Vermeer

Art is very complex with many elements such as color, light, form, emotion, imagination, subject, etc. But composition is the granddaddy of fine art. Composition in painting and drawing is the arrangement of contours on a flat surface. Two important parts of it are groupings and the balance of the entire work. To try to create something new in composition is a daunting task and throws down a challenge to Vermeer and Picasso. It seems that Melissa is unfazed by the project. 

In full disclosure, I mentored Melissa in the early 1990s, but I can’t claim any credit for her brilliance since then. 

 Groupings

Hefferlin, Journey of a Higher Hare, oil on linen, 36” x 29″

In Higher Hare, my photoshop markups below reveal the play of a triangular pattern in the cloth, table, and part of the wall. When an artist is composing they have some flexibility to accent patterns they see or sense, Melissa takes full advantage of utilizing these angles. Another artist might not see them and paint only what he/she literally sees, but that doesn’t create these almost music-like beats. 

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Ex-Student Chan Luu’s Recent Painting Floating Flowers

Lovely new painting from one of my ex star students

Chan Luu, Floating Flowers, oil on linen, 2019

Today Chan sent me her newest work finished today. I wrote back to her, “It is has mystery, and it seems the petals form from chaos, beautiful use of the white and darks, and very elegant composition, a masterwork.”

Chan Luu is a fashion designer icon, yet 10 years ago she came to mentor with me and to learn everything she could about painting, drawing, and pastels. About a year ago she stopped studying with me but continued painting on her own, I am so proud of her ability to make such powerful and delicate works. I am always excited when students gain the knowledge to create whatever they want and have acquired the skill set that gives them that freedom. Yay to Chan and all my ex-students who have matured so beautifully as artists.

Crazy Journey Last Night – The Kiss

Newberry, The Kiss, oil on canvas, 24 x 36", 2019

Don’t Let the Moment Pass and Go For It!

Several months ago …

Last night I went to bed early after a  long day of painting edits, only some of which were successful.  While painting I had been streaming movies and TV episodes in the background.  One scene in particular caught my eye. It was of a couple kissing, joining lips in classic Hollywood fashion. The scene was stuck in my head when  I went to bed around 9 p.m. I woke up at 9:30 p.m., only a half hour later, with that image still in my mind, and I thought, “Why don’t I paint a kiss?”

Right then I messaged my favorite female muse, who lives in Hollywood, and asked her about the project. Then we discussed who would be the right guy for it. The face had to be stone-like in structure, a big nose (I like painting big noses), and masculine. I remembered a male model that posed for some of my other projects a few years ago, and he, I believed, lived in Hollywood. I messaged him about the project, and he told me that he was leaving Hollywood in the morning (today!) for good. He gave the actor’s dream everything he had, and he was also going to be a dad, and he and his mate were heading to a cabin in the woods in Michigan. I searched his FB page and saw pictures of a vibrant, beautiful woman. I asked: “Are you already packed? Would you, could you, pose with your mate tonight for the “Kiss” painting?” He said: “Yes!” My muse loved that I decided to do the project with them, but she also thought I was crazy for doing such a spontaneous thing.

Newberry, The Kiss, oil on canvas, 24 x 36", 2019
Newberry, The Kiss, oil on canvas, 24 x 36″, 2019
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The Sky Problem in Landscape Painting

Newberry, California High Desert, pastel on dark paper

The Problem: A Bright Sky

In real life the daylight sky is bright, much brighter than the landscape’s trees, vegetation, mountains, and water. Think of it as a large lamp. But when you paint a landscape truthfully the effect backfires, the sky will be bright but the earth part will be dull and muddy. Light on the green trees, stone buildings, and red flowers can’t complete with the sky’s light. Even though you are seeing a sun filled landscape, your painting won’t feel that way, but you’ll feel disappointed with your skills.

The Lie

Claude Monet Landscape
Claude Monet

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The Problem with Equating Form, Light, and Space with Being Old-Fashioned

A Newberry still life recreating how depth gives a feeling of movement between objects.
Olaku's use of twilight to convey depth, light, shadow, and reflections.
Abiodun Olaku, Conversations, oil on canvas, 2014. An excellent example of a contemporary artist integrating form, light, and depth. And notice the groupings of people, as if the more we look we will be able to hear their conversations. Compare this to famous postmodern artists below with their empty, flat, trash devoid of human empathy or perception.

Mediocre artists, forever disappointed that they don’t match up, have a hard time acknowledging history’s great artists.  Michelangelo, Monet, Vermeer, and Rembrandt are hard mentors. One way second-rate artists work around this is to change the rules of aesthetics. The most extreme case is postmodern aesthetics, which obliterates the importance of mastery of the medium, or using any medium at all, and believes shock concepts are the essence of art requiring no skill.

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Secularization of Hell: The Illusionists, Curated by Michael Pearce at Studio Channel Islands with TRAC2019

Dream of Art History by F. Scott Hess

The illusionist exhibition at Studio Channel Islands in Camarillo, CA. April 6- May 21, 2019

Oh god, the exhibition is a living nightmare. I prefer the worst/best of postmodernism, at least Duchamp cleverly matched ends and means. But, with only a few exceptions, this show is about classical technique with creepy content. You can see the show online on critic Joseph Bravo’s Facebook page.

Sandra Yagi
Sandra Yagi, photo Studio Channel Islands

It would be horrific if we saw a woman opening her chest to let birds fly out or the dancing skeletons of a pair of baby conjoined twins! But the technique is so bland and plastic-like that it leaves us feeling nothing about Yagi’s subject matter.

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Towards Puccini

contemporary oil painting of Opera composer Puccini.
contemporary oil painting of Opera composer Puccini.
Puccini, oil on linen, 60 x 70 inches.

Java

I was a happy kid. One of my earliest memories was listening to Al Hirt’s Java on my toy-like portable record player. I couldn’t get enough of it, and I would dance as I listened to it over and over again. Then shit happened: school compulsion and family discord. Both of which I hated. They cut into my joy and my sense of freedom. Painting soon replaced dancing and a different kind of music replaced upbeat jazz.

Violins

I discovered pop music with classical components like the bands Chicago, Electric Light Orchestra, the Beatles, and Elton John. But they missed something. After art school my paintings began to take on more depth, time, and themes. I was going crazy listening to pop radio stations. They kept repeating the same hot songs. Out of frustration I turned to the classical music station, not so much because I loved it, but at least it was complex and varied.

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Damn Complex Chaos to Visual Language

newberry-orb-3-oil-pc

Cutting to the chase a painting that is flat is more like a cereal box than like a Rembrandt. What makes painting interesting is transforming forms, depth, and light from the real world to a canvas. It is a very complex visual language that conceptualizes how we see, and it triggers suspension of disbelief, rewarding us with the perception of movement and light.  A painter cannot just cut and paste reality to the canvas, the transition deals with how we perceive, how light bounces off forms and textures, painting techniques, and oddly, even how well our studios are calibrated for light.

Some years ago I was having trouble painting. I would stand back and see a mistake and try to paint a correction, but when I got up close to the painting I just couldn’t capture the nuance I was hoping for. I was getting near 60 years old and I decided to totally re-educate myself about painting (even though I already had four decades of painting behind me). The project was to paint a  sandstone orb that has personal significance to me. My studio has the greatest daylight from 11 am to noon, and I like to paint into the night, so figuring out the artificial light was essential. I painted each orb under different artificial lighting conditions. I also used every painting technique I knew, from thin liquid applications to scumbling to super thick blobs of paint. This series of nine alla prima paintings, all in private collections, were the result of these explorations.