August 12, 2009

A Bit of History

Milking Time, Landaff, New Hampshire, 1991, oil on canvas, 32 x 110

Irrigation Pipes, Barnet, Vermont, 2002, oil on canvas, 50 x 84 inches

Young Pepper Plants, Gilroy, California, 2001, egg tempera, 20 x 22 inches

Blue Shield, 2004, egg tempera, 16 x 18 inches

Rope, 2005, egg tempera, 32 x 40 inches

These five paintings show a condensed overview of the changes in my work over the past 15 years. Thirty years ago, I started out as a painter of Victorian architecture, reveling in the volumes and details of those eccentric buildings. I worked outdoors, from life. Soon I began to include landscape and found myself interested in the human-worked landscapes of agriculture. I painted mid-sized paintings on the motif, going back day after day to complete the work over a period of months. I also began to work on large paintings, done using studies and photos, in the studio during winter.

In Milking Time there's a sweep of landscape space, moving the eye up and through the three roads, with the road on the left leading to a man on a tractor. During this time, I added figures to the image, which gave them a narrative intent I later decided I no longer wanted. I became more and more interested in the implements of farming and what they meant, so a work like Irrigation Pipes resulted. The drama of deep space still attracts me here, as it does in Young Pepper Plants. I had learned to use egg tempera in the mid 90s when I moved to Vermont, and did a series of small studio landscapes in tempera, including Young Pepper Plants. I loved the brilliant quality of light I could get with that medium, its rich color, and crisp handling.

Tempera turned out to be perfectly suited to my artistic temperament, and I've worked with it exclusively since 2002. Another big shift in my vision came after buying a digital camera. While learning to use it, I photographed a lot of still life; I then went out to farms and began to see the equipment of farming as so much large still life material, with strong shapes and colors. So I painted a picture like Blue Shield, with its abstract movement of curves and diagonals. Some paintings done after this one, such as Rope, are more complex in design and allude to the body, as here flesh pressing against constraints. Recent work, shown in earlier posts, has moved back to the more abstract simplified vision of Blue Shield. I am aiming towards an abstraction based in perceptual reality.

A note on technique: for many years, I painted with egg tempera using cross hatching, with many pencil-like brushstrokes building the form. In 2007 I decided to loosen up my mark-making by using my brush in a more fluid manner. In some ways this is more difficult than the seemingly demanding, but predictable cross hatching: in addition to describing form, the marks must have life and energy.

No comments:

Post a Comment