13 December 2015

The value of place. Work in winter.

'Brixton' 8"x10" oil on canvas board
Another year draws to a close and I can't shake thinking there is a parallel universe where I am making a living as an artist,  painting that is . From time to time I catch myself thinking things like 'Right about now I would be getting into portraiture' or 'What would happen if someone commissioned a mural? ' People always say I must feel fortunate but I don't because along with a modicum of talent, an artist must must must have an entrepreneurial risk-loving nature that I do not possess. It's a ballsy thing to be a professional artist.  I despise self-pity and yet, here I am. Full of it. 
So before I dig myself deeper let's switch to the good stuff, what have I learnt from landing my sorry self on these parts with their different kind of  weather and light. A sense of place. 

'Horse Guards Rd" 8"x10' oil on canvas
 A sense of place is important to me right now may because as a two-time immigrant, I am sick and tired of travel for work (no, not the leisure kind, that one is fun.) 

My palette has changed.  I have noticed Emerald Green creeping out of its shell a and making it into the walls of brick buildings while that lazy painter's friend, Mr. Sap Green, hasn't been seen for months.  Then Ivory Black slipped into  my box and I found myself often  reaching out for Payne's Grey in my watercolor set. Lemon yellow with its cool acid whisper seems to be gaining over hearty ol'  Cadmium. Alizarin camps on my skies instead of the brighter Indian Yellow of sunnier days. Ocher with its perfect grey tonal value buttresses many a passage. Some colors have even morphed into something else: I recall the days when Transparent Oxide Browns were my go-to for  creating transparent shadows and undefined corners. These days it just  lends its warmth to different flavors of gray.  In short, I am finally painting London.

'Knightsbridge' 8"x10' oil on canvas
 My few successes capturing  the luminosity of California were hard earned. I came to London  a bit apprehensive that I wouldn't find the landscape stimulating enough, that I had worked so hard at creating vibrant color and vivid light  just to see it discarded. But once in England clouds showed up with their incredible variety ...and then  it started raining.  I knew right away my fears were misplaced.  That was painting gold right there along with muscular trees, softer light and lots of interesting people and endless bouts of  the flu. So I carried on adjusting and adjusting to my new surroundings, letting the palette build itself.

 Other things started to happen besides the pigments reshuffle. In the bright Los Angeles light, I favored describing the volumes through saturated contrast often letting either the light or the shadow carry the weight of detail but never both. I'd let the  shade be transparent  and act as a breathing space while the sun-drenched areas lived apart letting the magic happen in the borders between light and shadow. Under the British light, the local colors become explicit, matter-of-fact, shade is a question of gradations and shape is described by a continuum of edges and transitions. 

'Harrods at Night" 8'x10' oil on canvas
 I've also learned quite a bit by observing what the native artists do. True, nowadays most art is universal, techniques could be a matter of taste rather than one of location but visiting some of the shows at The Mall galleries (a good place to see proper painting without any sad claims to be 'questioning issues of social transcendence, gender roles or inner turmoil ' or any such nonsense)   I have always been struck by the air of 'family' the art emanates. And not only because British artist overwhelmingly favor soft bright colored frames instead of dark or gold. It's hard to put the finger on one thing and I've mentioned this before but British art has a thing for accuracy and another thing for proper draftsmanship that is quite refreshing. On the other hand, a lot of the art lives in a low saturation content spectrum, aka a certain 'chalkiness', as if the painting hasn't left behind the reliance on the drawing. 

'Tottenham Ct' 12"x10" oil on canvas

'Whitechapel' 10"x8" oil on board.

  When I was about 19 years old, I used to think the Flemish masters like  Van Eyck,  Memling, etc.. were just odd fastidious painters with a very particular taste for thin trees, sad skies and  fish-eyed pale subjects. Then I traveled to Belgium  and I was shocked, shocked! that the landscape and the people looked exactly like the Flemish portraits I had studied in school.  The poplars were thin, the  skies and the streets of Brussels awash with cool light and pale alabaster people. Turns out the Flemish masters fitted right in and had been faithful to a fault. 

Paintings match the environment. It is logical of course. And it is a sign of a great talent that one might recognize the light from the flat application of pigments. Think  of  a  California Impressionists like Rose or Puhuff  versus a Wyeth or Hopper. Even within environments: I can see the candlelit nocturnal Rome in Caravaggio versus  the diaphanous Tuscan softness of Raphael.  Even cosmopolitan Sargent who traveled the world so  much and yet only seemed to able to capture the color of money... (I'm joking!). 

Now if I can only stay put in one place so that I can travel. That would be the bee's knees.