July 30, 2014

Delicious and Simple: Raspberry Cream Tart

The raspberry patch is coming in gangbusters right now. I've been picking and eating, freezing berries for winter eating, and yesterday I made my first batch of raspberry jam, recipe here, and a Raspberry Cream Tart. I like this tart so much that I was sure I'd posted the recipe before, but I haven't, so I'm sharing it now. It is from a cookbook that I've had for many years, and which contains some favorite recipes, Florence Fabricant's Pleasures of the Table. The recipe is indeed simple if you are someone who isn't daunted by making pie crust.

Sweet Tart Pastry for 9 inch tart

1 1/4 cups flour
pinch of salt
2 Tbs sugar
5 Tbs cold unsalted butter, diced
1 egg yolk
3 Tbs ice water (approximately)

  1. Preheat oven to 425º. 
  2. Combine flour, salt, sugar in a bowl. Cut in the butter until it's in very small pieces.
  3. Beat egg yolk with the ice water, and add gently to the flour to form a dough. 
  4. Place in removable bottom tart pan, tucking excess under the edges. The dough should be about 1/4 inch above the rim. 
  5. Freeze the shell until firm, then bake until very lightly browned, around 10-12 minutes. Check on the tart while baking and prick any bubbles that arise. Remove from oven and reduce the heat to 350º

The Tart

2 cups fresh raspberries (the recipe calls for 1 1/2 cups but I think it needs more)
4 -6 Tbs sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup ground blanched almonds
3/4 cup confectioner's sugar
1 cup heavy cream

  1. Mix the berries with the sugar, using more or less depending on their sweetness. Spread them in a single layer on the bottom of the tart shell
  2. Lightly beat the eggs with the almonds, confectioner's sugar, and heavy cream. Pour over the raspberries.
  3. Bake in a 350º oven until lightly browned and golden, about 45 minutes. 

July 28, 2014

A New Painting: "Curves"

Curves, egg tempera on calfskin parchment, 8 1/2 x 6 3/8 in.

What attracted me to this image were the curves: first the sinuous snake of black hose, then the curved shadows, looking almost like a cartoon thought balloon, and finally the white cylinder with its distended bottom. The color is simple: red, white, black. When I started the painting the red was a much warmer hue, more towards orange, but I preferred this cooler red as less demanding of attention. 

Curves detail

It was a challenge to paint the reflective curved bottom of the white cylinder and I'm still not sure if it's convincing in its form. The hose was difficult, but fun, attempting the shiny curve of its volume. I have to admit that the painting pleases me.

July 27, 2014

Old Machine Tools: Elegant Geometries

I feel a tremendous aesthetic satisfaction looking at old machine tools, machines for shaping metal used for machine parts, or at many other machines for that matter. Here we see parts that all have specific purposes, but looked at with an eye that sees perfectly balanced combinations of shapes, full of surprising juxtapositions, they are like pieces of sculpture. A round notched wheel is the lowest layer of other low circular forms, which are broken by small columns, one of which seems almost figural. A friend of mine collects old machine tools (sorry, I forgot to ask dates, but I imagine late 19th to early 20th century) and I had a happy time photographing these details on a recent visit.

I love the tall openings for the gear's teeth. I have no idea why they are so tall, but looking at them I kept thinking of cathedrals. And then there are those two odd protruding cylinders at the lower right, topped with red, little exclamations.

These first three photos are the same machine, each view of it different. Cylindrical shapes, full and rich, anchor each side of a long flat rectangle.

These dramatic round volumes, which I assume once held belts to move the machine, although motionless, seem to be spinning.

An arrow, an arched volume, a flat golden blade: to me a mystery, and perfect.

Another circle of a very different sort, with regular openings enlivened by random dark constellations.

And then there are the handles, so beautiful with their swelling form, whether rising from a bar....

....or from a round wheel.

The rounded forms contrasting with the squarish ones surrounding them delighted me; it looks like a comic opera.

Then there's this small wheel with one of those beautiful bulbous handles, and a narrower version below, and a disk, and a pencil-like form: an odd collection and another that amuses me. When I think of the current handles I have around me, on my table saw or refrigerator or on my car, nothing comes close to the rich design of these. Of course the patina of age, the sense of nostalgia, of harking back to a different time, comes with looking at these old machines. And, they are cleaned and polished into perfect condition. I haven't been in a modern machine tool factory and wonder if the contemporary machines have any of this same beauty.

This silvery sphere caught my attention, looking so small and bright on the black metal. I had thought it was some kind of switch, but being that these machines might not have been powered by electricity, that couldn't be it. I did find out that it was a screw-in cap plugging a hole through which oil would be added (if I'm remembering it correctly). Whatever its use, it has a perky presence.

There are beautiful and clear relationships in this detail: the vertical and horizontal bars, the notched openings playing against the raised hexagonal bolt, and all these straight lines held up by a curved ruler. And yes, you are right if you think it might be one of my paintings, for here is what I love about machines, the fascinating juxtapositions of forms that are there when you look closely. I recently told someone that I have tried pure abstraction in my painting a couple of times, but I never could come up with the inventive and varied compositions that I find in agricultural machinery. Because of their function, machines have marvelous form.

July 23, 2014

New Prints, Cardboard and Potato

Two Circles, ink on Gampi Smooth paper; image size 14 1/2 x 12 3/4, paper size 20 1/4 x 19 in.

I was wondering if an image of circles in squares touching, with one square tilted, would come into balance or seem to swing. To me it settles into a stillness, perhaps because the points of the lower square are aligned top to bottom and left to right. One thing I regret about this print is that I didn't use a white paper, which I think would have been more lively. I could have reprinted the edition, but just wasn't up to it.

Untitled 59, ink on Gifu green tea light paper, 16 x 13 1/2 in.

During my last printing session a couple of months ago, ink splashed on a piece of paper. Rather than throw it out, I kept it because I liked the marks and the colors. I took it out for my most recent session and using round biscuit/cookie cutters, made a circle and an arc from pieces of potato, then printed them on the sheet. The pink curve looks almost like a stain left from a wet glass on a table, so the composition has a quality of a controlled accident, which I like.

Untitled 60, ink on Gampi smooth paper; 2 panels, each 10 3/4 x 7 1/2 in.

Here are more ordered compositions, of straightish lines.....

Untitled 61, ink on Gifu green tea medium paper, 13 1/2 x 10 3/4 in.

....and of rectangle-ish shapes.

Untitled 62, ink on Akatosashi paper; 12 x 14 1/2 in.

For this piece I used the same shapes as in the first potato print, Untitled 59, above, but here they float in the center of a large expanse.

Untitled 63, version 1; ink on Twinrocker paper; 4 panels, each 15 x 7 in.

Untitled 63, version 2

Untitled 63, version 3

When I printed this four-part work, I had a certain idea of how the panels fitted together, but then I realized that they could work in many different configurations, more than the three I've shown. One reason I like making these potato prints is that these surprises happen. Working intuitively goes against my usual controlled geometric sensibility, which may mean that the potato prints aren't my best work, but it does give me some pleasure to push myself in this way, a similar way to the new small drawings I recently attempted.

July 22, 2014

I Remember

Image Courtesy of Brooklyn Memories; the website is a treasure trove of old Brooklyn photos.

When I was a child, lo these many years ago, our yearly trip to the Jersey shore was an exciting adventure. There was no Verrazano Bridge, so we took the ferry from Brooklyn to Staten Island. I remember my mother making sandwiches for the trip, which now takes little over an hour. Back then the distances seemed enormous and the trip lengthy; the destination, Bradley Beach, thrilling. I was just at the shore visiting my family, and because I go there rarely, the old memories filled my thoughts. Like last year, when I wrote about it, I remembered Joe Brainard's wonderful book I Rememberand want to give a brief attempt at an "I remember" of my own. 

I remember the generous porches, and that one year from a porch like this my friends and I played Robin Hood, the raised porch being perfect for dramatic climbs and hidden princesses. 

I remember having crushes on the lifeguards, especially Donny; they were so beautiful, so strong, so wonderful. I remember being made aware of Vietnam and counterculture by a lifeguard on the Second Avenue beach whose name is lost to me. He showed us issues of underground magazines such as The Realist and Ramparts, very unexpected during the lazy days of summer. I believe that my political consciousness was awakened during those summers. 

I remember the poles connected by ropes that demarcated the safe swimming area. 

I remember learning to ride the waves on my father's back.

I remember splinters from walking barefoot on the boardwalk.

I remember the cool sand in the shade under the raised sections.

I remember the delicious feel underfoot as I walked from the gritty cement sections of sidewalk to the smooth slate. On some days it was very hot so I tried to walk on as much cool grass as possible. 

I remember coming home with sandy feet, and legs, and a bathing suit full of sand, and standing in the outdoor shower to wash it all off before going into the house.

I remember, not this small bandshell, but the large pavilion of my youth, a structure built on the boardwalk out over the beach. There were teen dances held every week, opportunities for youthful anxieties and dancing the lindy, the twist, the mashed potatoes, with my girlfriends. 

I remember pinball at the penny arcade, body pushing against machine, trying to keep the ball in play. I wasn't very good at it. 

I remember "fishing" in the lake separating Bradley from Avon. My father would fashion a net out of window screening tied at four corners with string. We'd lower it into the lake and catch guppies (were they actually guppies? I don't know but that's what we called them), watch them flop around for a couple of minutes, and throw them back.

I remember, when this park had swings, swinging back and forth with a friend and loudly and happily singing "Feelin' Groovy". We were feeling young and childish, since we were already an ancient 17 or 18 years old. 

I remember the treat of family dinners at Vic's, with their great pizza and thick tomato sauce on spaghetti.

I do not remember healthy food at the beach or on the boardwalk. I remember candy apples and cotton candy and salt water taffy and Pez and Good Humor bars, especially Strawberry Shortcake. 

I remember the entire family loaded into the car to go to Spring Lake to feed the ducks, and to drive around looking at the beautiful houses....

.....not only in Spring Lake, but also in Deal, where grand houses elicited oohs and aahs from us. They seemed of another time, almost fairytale-like. It was only years later, after painting images of Victorian architecture for several years, that I realized how important those drives were in giving me a subject for my work. Nostalgia for childhood summers, as I wrote in the blog post "Nostalgia as Inspiration", colored my artistic development. I can still remember the awe I felt seeing these houses, and I hope the sense of wonder never leaves.

July 14, 2014

A New Painting: "Shadowed Triangle"

Shadowed Triangle, egg tempera on calfskin parchment, 9 1/8 x 6 3/4 in.

This image is a fairly simple one: horizontals and a big diagonal making a triangular shape. But that truncated triangle is parallel to the picture plane and is attached to a cylindrical volume which recedes, so that adds a little complication. There was also the question of what color to paint the shape on the lower right. In "real life" it was a grassy background, but I didn't want to use green since it would be too close to the shadow colors. I tried a red but that didn't work. I ended up with a dark green-blue, which I think sits back in space where I want it but isn't too demure. 

Shadowed Triangle detail

Then there's the always tricky task of making paint look like light and shadow. I have this odd desire to be, at the same time, an abstract painter and a naturalistic one; it's a continuing and fascinating challenge.

*I'll be away for a few days; see you sometime next week. 

July 13, 2014

New Fruits

According to the botanical definition, peas are a fruit. From Wikipedia:
In botany, a fruit is a part of a flowering plant that derives from specific tissues of the flower, one or more ovaries, and in some cases accessory tissues. Fruits are the means by which these plants disseminate seeds.
Of course, in the kitchen, peas are a vegetable, but I thought I'd show some botanical fruits from the garden in this post, whether we treat them as fruits or as vegetables on our dining tables. It's the height of the pea season right now, and I'm spending time picking, shelling, and blanching peas for the freezer, a real treat during winter.

The zucchini are beginning to form, dwarfed by the magnificent squash flower.

In our short growing season here in Vermont, we can't expect tomatoes until late July or early August, and that is only for the early varieties, like these delicious Sungold cherry tomatoes.

The cucumber has a smaller flower than the squash, and its tiny beginning is decoratively spiked.

These baby bell peppers still have the remnants of their flowers on their surfaces.

With a similar flower to the cucumber, the itty bitty melon is beginning to swell. If the flower is pollinated, it will grow into a delicious hybrid honeydew, Orange Honey. If not, it will wither away.

There have been lots of bumble bees and wild bees and other pollinators in the garden, so I have high hopes for my squash and melon crops. This is a tiny pumpkin whose flower has not yet opened. When I look at the spiny surfaces of pumpkin and melon and cucumber, I think that these prickles must have evolved to protect the fruit.

And here are two fruits that we eat as fruit: raspberries, not yet red ripe.....

.....and blueberries, closer to being ready to pick for fresh eating, for desserts, for jam, and for freezing. So much potential in the garden, so much to look forward to eating!

And to round off the fruits growing at my house, a very small mushroom, the fruiting body of a fungus,  whose tiny spores have the same purpose as the larger seeds of the fruits and vegetables above: life spreading and perpetuating.

July 10, 2014

Ralph Coburn: Distillations

Reflections, Seine River, c. 1950; ink on paper, 10 1/2 x 8 1/4 in. 

I rarely write about artwork that I've seen only in reproduction, but sometimes I come across a catalog with contents so exciting that I must share them. Before I saw any of Sheila Hicks' miniature weavings in a gallery, I fell in love with them from the catalog Sheila Hicks: Weaving as Metaphor, and wrote about the work here. I was recently again smitten by work that was new to me in a catalog, in this instance the early paintings and drawings of Ralph Coburn, a Boston based artist and designer born in 1923. The simplicity, clarity, and immediacy of the work are in perfect tune with my sensibility, as is its modest size. The catalog title is Ralph Coburn: Convictions; Architecture, Chance and Choice and was published by David Hall Fine Art in Wellesley, MA, where I'll be having a show in the spring of 2015, focusing on my textiles and drawings.

Automatic Drawing, c. 1950; ink on paper, 8 1/4 x 10 1/2 in.

Coburn began his studies in architecture school at MIT, but realized he was much more interested in painting after meeting several students from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, one of whom was Ellsworth Kelly; the two artists began a long friendship. Coburn became interested in various avant-garde ideas, such as the automatic drawing above. I like its direct and fresh line and intense color.

Landscape Motive, Paris, 1949; india ink on paper, 10 5/8 x 8 1/4 in.

I find myself totally charmed by Coburn's abstracting of the world around him. He made several trips to France between 1949 and 1956, when Ellsworth Kelly was living there. If you see a relationship between his drawings and Kelly's it's because they spent a lot of time together talking about art and about their work. In Landscape Motive and Reflections above, the simple irregular elements are perfectly balanced, but in an offbeat and unexpected way.

Sign, 1949; ink on paper, 10 5/8 x 8 1/4 in.

Coburn looks at the world and sees shapes that energize a surface, and sometimes have a humorous attitude.

Landscape, Paris, c. 1951; ink on paperboard, 10 3/4 x 8 1/4 in.

Three black shapes, with the light of the paper, and we feel a surging space.

Abstract, c. 1949; watercolor on thin tissue paper, 10 1/2 x 8 3/8 in.

Abstract, c. 1950; oil on paper, 10 1/2 x 8 1/8 in.

These two abstract works, looking like they were painted with a quick movement of a wide brush, have a powerful, direct presence that belies their small size.

Composition, c. 1951; oil on paper, 12 x 9 1/2 in.

Composition is similar to the two works above in its minimal elements, but because it's approached in a much more precise way it has a different character. A circle hovers between two openings, a solitary being/becoming.

Ready Made Composition, Manipulated, and Composition Derived from a Ready Made Image,
both c. 1950; oil on printed magazine page, 11 x 4 3/4 in. and oil on paper, 12 3/8 x 9 3/8 in.

Sometimes Coburn's visual world included images found in advertising: here he painted over an ad found in a magazine, then he did another painting using just the negative spaces. The results have a  surreal quality.

Blue, White, Teal, c. 1955; oil on canvas, 39 7/8 x 34 in.

I like the flip flopping of positive and negative spaces in Blue, White, Teal. In reproduction, the dark areas look black, but must be dark blue. I like how the teal-colored shape sweeps up in a curve to end in the upper right corner, the only curve in this otherwise angular work; it pushes the eye up and out, then it is drawn back into the white crevasse.

Collage, Sanary, 1950-56; paper on paperboard, 7 1/4 x 7 1/4 in.

Coburn also worked with collage, as in this lively small piece. I get a sense of it being built, as though it was a city plan.

Arranged by Choice Composition, c. 1951; india ink on eight panels, 16 x 32 in. overall.

I love Coburn's open mind, his playing with ideas and techniques. This work, made up of 8 eight inch squares, is meant to be moved and changed.....

Sixteen Panel Moveable Composition, c. 1965; plastic resin with magnetic tape on metal-backed frame, 12 x 12 in. This shows two variations. 

.....just as this piece is. How wonderful to have a work that isn't fixed, but can be manipulated, and be constantly rediscovered. 

Lake, 1953; oil on canvas, 24 x 24 in.

With Lake, we are back to the distilled landscapes, abstract forms found in the physical world. Coburn has perfect pitch when it comes to placing shapes on a surface: their relationships are in refined tension, the spaces between so carefully considered. The works I've illustrated are only a few of the many that I admire; what a treat it has been to discover Ralph Coburn's work.