Monday I had a unique opportunity to spend a couple of very pleasant hours up close to the Bouguereau at the Weisman gallery in Malibu, thanks to Michael Zakian, the curator and art historian at Pepperdine University. Alexey Steele, Tony Pro, Jeremy Lipking, Mike Adams and I had a wonderful time getting close to the paintings and taking the opportunity to really examine the detail of these lovely works. There’s a photo of us together on Facebook looking like a bunch of gangsters.

I’ve posted a photo of the painting, then a close up of the beautifully painted hand that rests upon her hip, which I sketched out for reference. This morning I had some time to chat with John Nava, the amazing painter and creator of the figurative tapestries at the Los Angeles Cathedral, and we briefly discussed Bougeureau, who we both admire for his technical skill. John pointed out that despite his technical excellence there’s a lack of substance in the great Frenchman’s work – and I have to agree that his work tends to be sentimental althoughhis skill is so intensely wonderful that it transcends his lack of depth.

On the reverse side of the same wall there is a little study for a different painting that is of great interest to studio painters seeking to emulate the technique of the great French academic artist. In this little picture we can see the process of painting in his method.  First a drawn sketch to feel out the composition, then a little painted sketch like this example, inking out the outlines and making a loose generalization of the areas of colour. Next, a more formal drawing of the shapes on a large canvas, then rendering the actual painting.

Although I have to say that creating grass is the most boring thing in the world, I guess the patience that it requires pays off in the end and I like the way this is going. Doing this repetitive painting reminds me of the work on the Angel of Death when I painted skulls for months, going a little crazy in the process. Fortunately I won’t have to do this much longer, although I think I could use another strip of the leaves above what I’ve already done.

Shortly I’ll paint some colour over the whites, looking for a little texture and variation of hue to make the grass come to life a little. The deadline for the Carnegie show is looming, and I’m feeling the pressure to complete another big painting before the exhibit opens.

I heard some good news today: my paper about the identity of Bembo’s Visconti Sforza Magician has been accepted at the fourth International Conference on Esotericism, at University of California Davis, in July of this year. This will be the first test of material that I’ve been working on for my book on late medieval tarot cards.

I’ve continued build up the shapes of the deeper layers of the grass using dark greens and browns, mostly in the same colours that I needed for the moss. It’s all quite general, making loose gestures toward the direction and shape of the grassy leaves and stems, but not overly concerned with detail. Next I used a lovely Olive Green – one of my favorite greens these days because of its incredible darkness that thins out to a rich deep glaze, just like Prussian Blue – and used it to get some greens into the landscape over the layer of Burnt Sienna I painted quite a long time ago.

Next, in order to get the foreground going, I used a Foundation White to paint the tangled stems and leaves of the grass, first with my largest script brush, then switching to a smaller size to make the leaves recede. It looks weirdly bright now, I’ll glaze colour over this when I finish the grass tomorrow, dropping into the landscape and creating some depth.

Now the textured surface has been completed with a glaze coat of white over the top of all the greys, blues and greens. Moss has started growing on the slab of stone in the darkened carved shapes and in the crack running across the surface, while close to the grass I’ve added a bit more mass of greens, iron oxide and whites, with some Yellow ochre here and there, abusing a bristle fan brush to build highlights by pushing the lightest paint into the surface and dragging it across the textured surface I created earlier.

 

First layers of rock and grass

Building grass and lichen

In the studio I’m working on building layers and layers of paint to make the flat slab of weathered granite in the foreground appear real. I put down a dark blue-grey, then used a sea sponge to create the particles that emerge in granite, softening  the grain of the stone with a rag. Next I used a white to create areas of lichen, let it dry then added light colours (a pale green grey and a dirty and light raw sienna). Once that dried I glazed areas with a patchy white, then began working on building leaves and foliage at the edges of the stone, using a Raw umber to create areas of deep shadow that will end up behind the stems and leaves, then adding the first rough shapes of grass leaves.

I tried taking photos of the steps in between, but failed to get pictures of decent quality – my phone isn’t working so well these days. I’ll start using my little camera again.

 

Now I can reveal the big project that Mike Adams and I have been spending every available minute on this past couple of weeks.

A few months ago I began talking to friends like Alexey Steele, Mike Adams, Tony Pro and Peter Adams about the need for an academic and philosophical foundation for the revival of representational art, so I began working on what that would look like if my university was to get behind the project. Mike and I started talking to our colleagues there, sowing the seeds of the idea, then we began to put together a proposal with a budget, a structured timetable and researching a location for the event. Once we were well prepared we asked for a meeting with the CLU president Chris Kimball, who liked the project and gave us the underwriting we needed.

 

So it’s my great pleasure to announce that in October of 2012, in Ventura, California CLU is hosting The Representational Art Conference (TRAC2012), the first like it for a hundred years! I sincerely hope you’ll join us at the event.

There has been silence in the halls of academia regarding representational art in the new millennium. The success of the numerous ateliers now established in every major city in the United States indicates the depth of interest in representational art and traditional studio practices that has flourished without comment.

The Representational Art Conference, 2012, presented by California Lutheran University, offers three days of lively discussion in the delightful seaside city of Ventura, California, including keynote speakers, academic papers, panel discussions and exclusive demonstrations by prominent artists, bringing together thought leaders and practitioners who share an interest in the practice of the traditional studio techniques of sculpture, painting and drawing media in the 21st Century.

Once again I’ve been very busy working on the October project, figuring out administrative stuff. It’s going to be worth it when it’s all ready to go though.

In the studio I’ve been busy with Prussian Blue, which is great for creating that faded blue colour of old tattoos. The Emperor has new ink – two imperial eagles, one on each of his upper arms. I had trouble locating the right hand tattoo properly and had to repaint it to get it to feel as if it is wrapping around the curve of his arm properly.

The hanged man got a glaze of the same colour over the rock that I’ve added to the bottom of the painting. I remember finding this particular prehistoric cup and ring decorated stone in England in May of 2010 when traveling with a group of students in the North of England near a small town called Wooler in Northumberland, England. The location is wonderful, up high on a moorland hillside overlooking a wide valley. We were pressed for time when we went in search of the stone, and I though we would never find it, because it’s flat to the ground and easily missed. When we found it I remember being completely delighted, because I’d read about this particular site a few years ago when I was busy researching prehistoric art and architecture for my PhD, but never imagined that I’d have a chance to visit it. I’ve included it in the painting because I want to get a deeper sense of what betrayal means, not emphasizing personal relationships alone, but also referring to our relationship to the past. We are the product of many generations of our ancestors, and I want to acknowledge my debt to mine by remembering their culture and acknowledging their influence upon the present. The hanged man reaches for a ring that is sitting on a rock that’s carved with symbols from five thousand years ago, associating him with his ancient forebears.

 

At last I’ve made it back to the studio after a spectacularly busy week working on preparing a project for October. I’ve painted most of the sky with a glaze of Ceramic White, which is that lovely transparent white made by Holbein, then used Foundation White to create those denser areas of brightness. The delicate transparency of the Ceramic White makes some lovely soft colours emerge behind the clouds.

Regarding white paints, I have been hearing bad news from Michael Harding Paints, who are forced by new laws to stop production of their fabulous lead whites in tubes and instead fill caulking gun cartridges, which is ok if you use a lot of it, but would be a nuisance if you make small paintings. I’m getting the last twenty tubes in stock from my good friend Steve Aufhauser at his Continental Art Supply store.

Holbein’s Ceramic White continues to impress me. In a test of white paints exposed to bright Californian sunshine for six months this did extremely well, retaining its brightness and not cracking up at all; a huge improvement over all of the samples of Zinc white that we tried, which all cracked and colored. I will not use Zinc white again while I can get hold of this Ceramic White.

In the studio I’ve worked on the flesh of the hanged man a little more, adding whites into the highlights and blue into the shadows and the hair. I’ve scraped plenty of Cadmium Red into the lower arm, reasoning that because he’s hanging upside down his blood would have descended to the lowest parts of the body. When I move the platform over so I can reach the upper parts of the body I’ll paint the flesh of the leg much bluer, probably referring to Rubens’ Entombment of Jesus, where the dead Christ is profoundly blue and yellow over a grey underpainting.

The Los Angeles College Art Association meeting is coming up in a couple of weeks. I’ve looked over the offerings of papers and can’t find any mention of anything discussing the phenomenon of the emergence of ateliers in every US city, nor any mention of the work of countless extraordinary artists who use traditional studio techniques to create great representational art. That’s not right! We need to write about the movement, discuss the issues that face us and create a philosophical underpinning that will support studio practice.

Beside Donna’s portrait

We visited Donna Granata’s exhibit at the Ventura Government Centre to see the photo she took of me in the studio. It was a nice evening, with members of the Art community gathered together to enjoy Donna’s work and good company. I’m allowed to use the image in publicity materials and so forth, so I’ll post it on facebook pretty soon.

 

Adding highlights in Foundation White to the flesh that went down yesterday is making the figure start to come to life. I’ve extended the flesh across his belly and all the way down the lower arm. I’ll need to move the platform over so I can get to the top of the painting and work on the other arm. The painting’s going really fast!