Posts Tagged ‘painting’

Last of the Old Masters

September 9, 2014

Robert Henri - Dorita - WikiArt

Robert Henri – Dorita – WikiArt


“Know what the old masters did. Know how they composed their pictures, but do not fall into the conventions they established. These conventions were right for them, and they are wonderful. They made their language. You make yours. They can help you. All the past can help you.”
– Robert Henri.

This morning I went once more to see the Robert Henri “Spanish Sojourns” exhibit at the San Diego Museum of Art. This was the fourth time I’ve gone to see this particular exhibit. The other three times it was paired with the fantastic “Sorolla in America” exhibit; this time I went for the Henri alone.

I almost didn’t go. I’m pressed for time these days, and I only had about an hour to see the paintings before beginning the drive up to work. And I felt I had already seen what I needed to on my previous trips. But I had been planning to go once more by myself, and I figured this kind of Henri show would probably never happen again.

This is the last day of the show in San Diego. If you happen to catch this post within the next few minutes – and unfortunately, I mean the very next few – get yourself over there. Drop everything and just do it. You won’t regret it, I promise.

I saw in the news that the exhibit will be stopping in Jackson, Mississippi next. Same message for folks in that part of the country – if you are at all a fan of portraiture, this is not a show to be missed.

This last visit was amazing, but a bit sad, too – looking at paintings I knew I would probably never see again. I had a particularly difficult time saying goodbye to Dorita, the painting at the top of this post. She has long been a favorite of mine, and I’d been overjoyed to discover that she was a part of this exhibit. I do hope I get to see her again someday.

Every time I look at Henri’s paintings up close, I am further blown away by them. I’ve long been a fan of Henri’s, and I’ve long had the suspicion that he was grossly underrated. My suspicion was given some legs when I read Richard Schmid’s good opinion of him in his book Alla Prima. This last visit… I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, and what so many others seem to be missing, if Henri’s limited fame is any measure. Henri’s paintings are so like the paintings of the Baroque, with his dark palette and glowing light… The brushstrokes are those of a modernist, but the compositions are those of an old master. I am beyond suspicion now, and I can make the following three statements about the artist:

One: Robert Henri is one of the truly great portrait artists of the last century.

Two: Robert Henri is as of now, bar none, my favorite portrait artist.

Three: I am ready to give Henri a certain title. This title has been given to different artists before; it was first given to David, I believe, and has since been given to different artists from Goya to Renoir. I personally will stake my own claim and give this title to Robert Henri,

Last of the Old Masters.

Paintings of Van

May 23, 2010
Mountain Man Necktie - oil painting

Mountain Man Necktie

Here is a portrait painting I completed just a couple of weeks ago, which I’ve named Mountain Man Necktie. I figure it’s time for me to get back to what I do, to what interested me in becoming a fine artist so long ago – painting people. I’ve been spending a lot of time working on the experimental: making pigments, making gouache paints, researching historical techniques and colors, playing with different illustration techniques, etc. Which is fine: I’m not going to give up on that stuff. I’ve got the kind of brain that just can’t leave things alone – if I’m going to make art, I’ve got to think about how I’m making it, and why. It was the same way when I was writing music. But I can’t lose sight of the aim of all this, which is just to make art.

The egg tempera, by the way, is probably out for now, for a number of reasons. First of all, I have bad tendons in my wrists, and I must maintain good relaxation while painting, or I injure myself and need recuperation time, sometimes for weeks. Egg tempera doesn’t exactly lend itself to a relaxed painting technique. Also, I tried painting oils over a tempera underpainting – which is the main way in which I wanted to use egg tempera – and it presented some more unexpected challenges. As intrigued as I am by this ancient medium, I don’t think it’s for me, unless I figure out a different way of using it.

Arizona - oil painting

Arizona Daybreak

So, back to oil painting – and it feels great to be producing something again. The above is a picture of Van, a great model I took some reference pics of a while back. This is the second painting I’ve made from that photo session, and I’m working on a third. The first is on the right there, and it’s going to be the first painting I put up on Ebay to see if it’ll sell. I’m not going to sign it, since it was worked on a bit by an instructor of mine. But I’ll get a feeling for selling my art online – or not, depending! The others will follow.

The current one, about halfway finished or so, is below. All the research and thoughts about using more natural, more local and less toxic materials is beginning to have an impact on my work. These are both done with limited palettes – specifically, I’ve excluded any synthetic organic pigments. In Mountain Man Necktie, the one at the top of the page, I used yellow and red ochre, raw sienna, cadmium red, ultramarine blue, ivory (bone) black and titanium white. The one below is the same except that I’ve excluded the cadmium red and raw sienna, and added cobalt blue for the coat and rose madder for a few of the skin tones. One industrial toxic color each: cadmium for the first, cobalt for the second. Doing without the cadmium on this latest painting has been a bit of a challenge, but I think it’s working out all right, and it’ll get better as I explore more earth color variations for skin tones, Indian red, Venetian red, etc. The cobalt blue I’ll actually be happy to let go – regardless of philosophy I just don’t care for it much as a color. It doesn’t seem to do any of the things I need it to do on the palette. Obviously it worked out all right for Monet…

Work in progress - oil painting

Work in progress

I’m sure I’ll keep using the cadmum colors from time to time. The point isn’t to be purist about pigment use – the point is to be aware of it, and to reduce the use of industrial toxic chemicals when possible and convenient. If I can use cadmium red only for the necktie, and replace it with a red earth color for the skin tones – rather than using the cadmium for all the reds in the painting – then I’ve made an improvement in my materials: earth pigments are unquestionably more ecologically friendly than cadmium pigments. In this latest case, I think I’ll be able to do without the cadmium altogether. I’ll post the painting again when it’s finished.

Pigment stuff: I’ve mixed up my homemade madder lake and carmine lake both into oil paints to accompany the weld lake oil paint I made earlier. They are both extremely transparent, and beautiful. I haven’t used them in a painting yet, but will certainly do so when I can. I’ve been studying drapery, from life, so I will probably try these paints out as glazes for drapery studies. Soon.