Wow — I won the People’s Choice Award at Binghamton’s Rude and Bold Women show last week! It was a strong and beautiful show, and I’m so honored. My artist-friend and sometime painting student Rae Doyle-Freeman was a runner-up with her powerful sculptural papier-mâché piece, “On Her Aching Bones, Did Empires Rise.”
The People’s Choice is the only award of the show, determined by votes cast by attendees.
The Tuesday before, I got up at ugly-o’clock in the morning to board a 6:10 a.m. Megabus to NYC with artist-friend Harriet and her friend Jo from farther upstate (also an artist), to see Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Fabulous time — took the bus four hours to the Port Authority bus terminal, and then we took more than an hour to to get to the MMA on foot and by city bus, but what a stunner of a show. I knew many of the works from books — had seen one or two in person before — but there is NOTHING like coming face to face with the actual piece.
Gradually we took in and discussed, piece by piece, most of the show (gathering a small, attentive audience as we moved along!), took a lunch break when we were exhausted, then — like kids back to the pool — went back for more Sargent. Harriet and I lost Jo in the Post-Impressionist galleries, but I was glad to be forced through them in our search for her. I could live in the MMA. Another long trip back to another long bus-ride… so-o-o tired! But so worth it to experience great art, especially with friends who experience it in the same way.
The week before that, after seeing my painting, In His Limbs and Joints, installed in my cousin’s lovely home in Annapolis (such a thrill to see it hanging in their amazing art collection!) I got a look at the show, Gustave Caillebotte: The Painter’s Eye, at the National Gallery of Art, while sweetie and I were in the DC area. Caillebotte wasn’t a name I was familiar with — he was contemporary with Degas, and although more conservative, was equally experimental in his less flamboyant way — but I did know some of the work. And it was sublime. I’m slowly working my way through the show catalog, which we bought on the way out. (I neglected to obtain the Sargent catalog — the photography was such a disappointment after seeing all of the actual pieces — but I hope to soon.)
It’s been a couple of years since I last showed at the Lost Dog Cafe in Binghamton, NY. Although it’s awkward for people to look at the art when there are diners at the tables (and there are always diners at the tables in the Lost Dog!), it’s a lovely space, with three distinct exhibit areas, each with a nice hanging system. So this morning I parked my car full of art in front of their door, hauled my goods in, and set to work. This is the last time I’ll exhibit my Unlikely Dance series for a while, I think. But it looks wonderful in the Lost Dog space, as I knew it would, along with a couple of studies for the series and two new dance-themed pieces — The Grove and Three Musicians.
This First Friday night I’ll be in the Lost Dog Lounge holding forth at Meet the Artist (or so I imagine; this will be my very first Meet experience). And this month I’ll have a good excuse to have lunch and perhaps a dinner at the Dog — yummy!
I also have a few pieces in a November group show with the Fine Arts Society of the Southern Tier, at the Krembs Gallery, UHS/Binghamton General Hospital, not shown here.
Well, hot-diggety — my artwork and my endorsement are featured in the new 2014-2015 annual Blick Studio catalog! One of my other pieces was shown, without endorsement, in the Spring 2014 catalog supplement — not too shabby either — but this one’s quite a thrill. Featured is Unlikely Dance: Golden Clouds (30 x 48 in., oil on canvas), and yes, it WAS painted with Blick Oil Colors. I’ve always loved Blick — have dealt with them both personally and professionally for nearly forty years — but now more than ever! Looking forward to receiving it in the mail. (You can request one for yourself, here.)
Two weeks and two days ago I had eye-muscle surgery. Nothing scarier for an artist than eye surgery, except maybe encroaching blindness. I’ve had this wonky left eye, which tracked upward and to the left of my right eye, since I was a kid. All along there were murmurings about the possibility of corrective surgery, but as time went on either the opthamologist was discouraging it or I was avoiding it. Prism arrangements in my glasses lenses brought the disparate images together, until recently. My optometrist encouraged me to see a specialist about the surgery — for real — because the maxxed-out prisms were no longer adequate to the task and he was concerned that my right eye would lose sight to the dominant and errant left. I’d already lost some depth perception, and had a growing cataract in the right eye. So I did it. Quite a do, and I’m still recovering. My eye is still not tracking quite properly all the time, but the surgeon said it would take six weeks to heal so I’m still hoping it’ll all straighten out. Meanwhile the cataract in the right eye has grown significantly in density, so that’s scheduled for surgery in May.
Hasn’t stopped me from painting, however — in fact, I’ve been quite productive. In my last post I talked about a paint-together still life session with Mary Robertson and Jan Wood (just before my surgery), and I’ve finished the painting I started that day, Kwan Yin and Chrysanthemums. Using a process new to me, I painted in semi-transparent glazes (mixed colors thinned with oil/resin medium) over my initial underpainting, saving the lightest lights and darkest darks for last. I love the result. So I started another — Henry and Rebecca — and have worked on a couple of earlier underpainted pieces, Demeter and Rebecca.
These last two had given me problems due to my use of Turpenoid Natural for thinning the paint in the underpainting, but they did finally dry and I’m quite pleased with their progress. I’m close to finishing Demeter, thanks to a lovely paint-together session at Mary’s studio today.
This painting in transparent layers over a show-through underpainting has intrigued me for some time, and although I’d tried it before, to a limited extent, I’m finding it really freeing as an overall technique, That, plus saving the lightest lights and darkest darks for last — a lesson from John Singer Sargent — and I’m in a whole different ballfield than before: one I like a lot.
Meanwhile, my first long drive alone since surgery was the hundred-mile trip to Ithaca and back, to help take down the Joy of Dancing exhibit at the Tompkins County Public Library, where my Unlikely Dance series was the cornerstone. What a wonderful space, and wonderful show. My thanks once again to Sally Grubb, Scottish Country and contra dancer, exhibit coordinator at TCPL, and curator of this show. I got some photos before we disassembled it. A wonderful review of the show is here.
After a wonderful closing reception on December 6, I’ve taken down Unlikely Dance at the Broome County Arts Council gallery space — leaving two studies that were sold — and the six paintings are back in my studio for a couple of weeks before going to Ithaca for
three months for a small-group show called “For the Joy of Dance,” at the Tompkins County Public Library. (The opening reception for that show will be in February, though it’ll be on view January through March.) It’s like having old friends come home, only to leave again.
Meanwhile, my smaller dance series is hanging, in part, in the lovely RiverRead Books shop in downtown Binghamton, That show includes a series of large heads of dancers wearing floral crowns, which I’ve never shown before. The opening was quiet, but the music of Idlewild was full of life.
The tree is up, in our front room, the cards are mailed, and shopping looms; as I did last year, I’ll go to Boscov’s, the local Pennsylvania-based old-fashioned department store which anchors Binghamton’s downtown shopping district, with possible side trips to RiverRead and Tom’s Coffee, Cards, and Gifts. And it looks like we’ll have a record number of family coming to our house for Christmas dinner 2013 — eighteen at last count!
Through entirely separate channels, my work is soon to be published in two different commercial venues.
The first is Vestal Life, a full-color ad-supported magazine put out by a Philadelphia-area publisher.
Their publication manager called the Broome County Arts Council, who suggested a story on my Unlikely Dance project and the exhibit in the gallery space there — so I’ve sent a write-up and photos to VL for the December issue. (What a great support system BCAC is for their members.)
Then the creative director for Dick Blick, my longtime favorite mail-order and web-based art supplier, emailed in response to some sort of survey form I’d filled out; in return for an endorsement of their house-brand oil paints (which I use, and ARE great — no problem with that endorsement) my words, artwork, name, and website address will be shown in conjunction with some of their products in their spring catalog supplement. (She requested specific images she’d found on my Fine Art America site.) How cool is THAT?! Very exciting!
In the days leading up to it, I wasn’t sure I could pull it off, either artistically or socially. I had six large paintings to show for a year and a half of work, but they seemed dwarfed by even the smaller gallery at the Broome County Arts Council. Due to personnel changes at the BCAC I was hanging the show myself, but suddenly felt unequal to the task. Earlier there had been scheduling and communications misunderstandings. And I’m not good at schmoozing. In short, I succeeded in making myself crazy-anxious about November First Friday’s BCAC opening night of Unlikely Dance.
But now November 1 has come and gone, and the opening came off beautifully — well attended despite the many other Binghamton First Friday events happening all over town, fun, and yes, I believe I was reasonably socially adept. There were old friends, newer friends, Facebook followers, family members, the director of the funding foundation, and some simply interested people I’d never met before; there were dancers who’d been my models, dancers who knew my models, a high school friend/classmate I hadn’t seen since then, models I’ve drawn at the Windsor figure drawing sessions, supportive artist friends, and my GP doc. My husband Leo heeded my call for chips and salsa and showed up in the nick of time to save the day, keeping the food table from going bare (those incredible cookies from the Gallaghers went REALLY fast!).
That morning I’d managed to edit and upload high-res photos of each of the paintings so they were available as prints and cards on my Fine Art America site, and then to put together a handout flyer about myself and the grant, including a hard-copy order form for people not comfortable with shopping online. (I encourage you to order directly from Fine Art America.)
At the suggestion of BCAC director Sharon Ball, I’d matted, framed, and hung some studies for the paintings, and they not only filled out the space but seemed to truly interest onlookers, and sparked a lot of conversation. In fact, one of the small studies is already sold — to a morris dance and Facebook friend who’s been a great support throughout this process. And he made sure to tell me EXACTLY what he liked about each painting. In fact, I was surprised and pleased by the number of people who felt compelled to lead me to their favorite pieces and tell me just what they liked about them. I have always avoided the artists at solo openings — not sure why, but I think I’m afraid I’ll over-participate, or talk about myself rather than their shows — but from now on I’ll try not to draw back like that. I love talking about my work, and I must assume other artists do too.
And did I mention the ego/approval rush of the whole thing? And the ribbon-tied garlic bouquet? And the date-night out afterwards with my sweetie? Yeah, those were really good too.
Finally, I’ve finished the Unlikely Dance series — and what a journey it’s been: a year and a half of learn-as-you go planning and painting! Except for the first one I’ve started each piece with a growing sense of confidence, only to be waylaid by an obstacle or three in the form of illness, competing time demands, technical issues, composition, lighting, line…
In the case of Unlikely Dance: Roundabout, the first issue was naming; I didn’t have the piece finally composed when the call came for a list of exhibit information. Knowing at least what dance figures I was using, I called it “Unlikely Dance: Velveteen,” for the velveteen waistcoats the figures wear. But, unhappy with the provisional visual context, I decided to change from Cutler Gardens to a shoot in downtown Binghamton’s courthouse square, and settled on the new traffic circle as an unlikely — and visually interesting — dance site. The light was wonderful, and shot specifically to match the angle of the sun in the original photos of the figures. So I renamed it “Unlikely Dance: Roundabout,” for a nice dance-like reference. That caused some confusion about the exhibit name… but all is well now, and the show is scheduled to open on First Friday, November 1.
On the painting end of things, the primary challenge of this piece was the composition, which proved to be overly heavy on the right side. The angles of the figures #2 and #3, the mass of the neoclassical bank building on the right, and the unstable curved line of the traffic circle’s edge all conspired to rotate and lean in that direction; I actually found myself tilting my head when I looked at it. The darker buildings and the cloud formation on the left were meant to counterbalance that effect, but they seemed to be outweighed.
Fortunately, a darkening of left-hand elements, a lightening of the right-hand elements, a few added or revised stabilizing vertical elements (the bank window, the central figure’s spindle, the end of the cloud formation, a subtle color trail in the sky) worked pretty well without spoiling the dynamics. It’s all a lot easier to say than it was to do, but I’m happy with it now.
So: the exhibit! The culminating show of this grant-funded painting project will be in the gallery space at the Broome County Arts Council, 81 State St., Suite 501, in Binghamton. Along with the complete series of finished paintings, I’ll be showing studies and preparatory materials with each piece. Read more about it here!
Now I have to get all those smaller materials matted and framed — and in some cases, ready to show — and get print-quality photos of all the paintings in the series, to post for sale in my online shops in time for the show.
Here’s the progression of “Roundabout” as it went together:
My Unlikely Dance grant period is over on November 1; today is October 2, and I have one more painting to do. Yes — it’s deadline time again. In fact, I have a solo show of the completed grant-funded Unlikely Dance series OPENING on November 1 (details on that to come). That means I really have to have this last painting finished by the 24th so it’s dry when I hang the show on the 29th and 30th. Yikes. Work steadily, and hope that everything comes together well — that’s my plan.
It’s the second part of that plan that didn’t work on the piece I just finished (above), and I blame the Pre-Raphaelites. You know the Pre-Raphaelites, that super-sincere, uber-romantic, technically amazing group of 19th century English artists? I’ve loved them since my college days, when my second-generation abstract expressionist instructors were horrified by that forbidden love. I wrote papers on the Pre-Raphs. I collected books on them. I hung prints of their works on my walls. Meanwhile, over the last 15 or 20 years, they’ve become enormously popular in the mainstream. Oh, it’s gorgeous, schlocky stuff, and I still love it. But it’s not where I’m going with my own work. What happened was, after I’d done the underpainting of Unlikely Dance #5 – Confluence – I was unsure of how to proceed with the foliage of the tree, both on the trunk and over the figures. So I pulled an art book from the shelf to consult… a book called “The English Dreamers,” a collection of Pre-Raph and related works.
I’m so easily unconsciously influenced by others’ work I love — it amazes me sometimes. It just happens, somehow — images come off the ends of my brushes, with no conscious thought of the original on my part, that reflect some art I’ve recently seen. (Take for example the Della Francesca-looking face, far right, in Unlikely Dance: Golden Clouds, which appeared just after I’d seen “Piero Della Francesca in America” at the Frick.) So Confluence turned itself into a Pre-Raph imitation: pretty, detailed, and without visual impact of any kind. I loved it — until I suddenly hated it.
I despaired. I combed the internet for clues. I discussed on Facebook. But in the end, I went back to Degas, and then, for some reason, to John Singer Sargent. I own books on Degas, but not on Sargent, so I went to the public library and borrowed a couple. I’ve seen and admired more of his work recently, thanks to a Facebook page called I Require Art, but knew little about him except that he was American, turn-of-the-century (19th to 20th), and had painted Portrait of Madame X, that wonderful profile portrait we had to learn in art history. He was a master of “bravado brushwork,” (his idol, Diego Velazquez, was, as well) and that’s what I was after. Degas was never as consistent as Sargent, so I spent a couple of days perusing Sargent… and it worked. As I posted on my professional page on FB, “Confluence 18 – finished at last! John Singer Sargent certainly had a thing or two to teach me, this time around. Clarified the light source, punched up the contrast, simplified many elements, changed a head. I could go on…”
So now I’ll go on. Here’s what got straightened around:
1. In the first place, I’d made a composition with four equal figures, and that’s a no-no. Three, yes. Five, yes. Not four. I realized that in my previous paintings of four figures, I’d singled out one in some way, so it read as three plus one, rather than four. How to do that here?
After a couple of days with my library books, I turned back to Sargent’s portrait of four young girls — The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit — and noted how he’d not only singled out the sitting figure for that necessary “three-plus-one” compositional effect, but also set them in varying degrees of light , with one girl barely visible in the shadows.
2. I’d gotten far too detailed and democratic with the tree on the left, and it was a distraction. So I painted a dark glaze, made with a brownish “mother grey,*” over the tree trunk, and then over the foremost figure, which overlapped the tree. This solved the problem of visual clutter, of singling out one of the four figures, AND of the next —
3. My light source wasn’t clearly defined. I had light falling on the back of the left-most figure (#1), on the backs of the two right-most figures (#3 and #4), and on the face of the second-from left figure (#2). The face of figure #4 was also in multi-directional light, and I had dappled light falling through the foliage onto the grass.
With the dark glaze on the figure #1 and the tree, one of my light sources went away. With a change of head on figure #4 and a diminution of highlights in the figures’ black dresses, the light became more defined and less ambiguous. And with a slight shading of figure #2’s face, that ambiguity gave way. I also gave the piece more contrast, mostly by making the darks darker — divisions between rocks, the underside of the waterway under the bridge, and the barely-visible rocks under the water on the right.
And I think it all worked. I have impact. I have definition. And I have two weeks left to paint Unlikely Dance: Velveteen! I can do it.
The “Unlikely Dance” project was made possible by a grant from the Artists Fund of the Community Foundation for South Central New York To follow my progress in Unlikely Dance, just click on the “Unlikely Dance” link under TOPICS, on the left of any page in this blog.