Here’s a sight to simultaneously inspire trepidation and joy in the heart of any artist. A freshly swept and mopped studio with four eight feet by eight feet panels laid out along the wall waiting to have canvas stretched on them. I’ll come up with the fabric in the next few days, stretch them, gesso them and get started. Angels and Demons emerging from light and darkness is the theme of this summer project, working with the idea of duality as a trinity; within every duality lies the relationship between the two opposites, the grey area within which one can find a mixture of both sides of the pairing.
I’m not stopping work on the tarot project, they’ll be moving along beside these huge panels as light relief.
I worked on defining the features of the face first, using the Prussian blue to draw edges and shadows around the eyes, nose and mouth. Having defined the features I added some pinks and reds around the mouth in particular, but also a few touches around the nostrils and the corners of the eyes, to give them some life. I used some zinc white with a touch of pink to add some highlights into the skin, and cleaned up the eyes and teeth. To unify the painting I put a few touches of the same colours onto highlight areas of the coat, for instance the left shoulder, which in truth are so subtle as to be almost invisible, but I think they’re really important, because they imitate the natural phenomenon of reflected light, which will put discrete touches of colour onto surfaces that are close to each other.
These fires are too frequent and too intense. In alchemy the nigredo is the process of destroying the impurities of the material by burning it, reducing it to its essential element before re-combining it with another element. I’m finding a microcosmic parallel between the fires and the city and the process of this divorce: I truly feel as if I am being cleansed of non-essential material and finding the inner core of my self, the elemental centre. I’m discovering that material doesn’t matter, and the things that I really want to keep are few: my books, clothes and my tools for making things. Spiritually I have found that reducing the material needs of life has been liberating, and reminds me of coming to the United States eighteen years ago, with only a backpack and a thousand dollars. It was scary but liberating then, too.
Obviously my children come before any of this stuff, which fades to grey in comparison to the light in which I hold them.
The air smells of smoke. A breath of wind moves leaves.
In the studio: total peace. Amelia is waiting for her feet to be attended to, and there’s a field of flowers waiting to bloom. Terry said she plans to come over to work on her canvases today, so I’m looking forward to her company. She’s an excellent painter.
I added a layer of zinc white to the rocks. Zinc is a very transparent white, so it’s great for jobs like this, where I want to keep the colour and texture beneath it coming through. With the remaining paint I added a knifed layer to the Justice painting, which is now nicely textured.
The work’s beginning to pay off now, with the various layers starting to work together to unify the painting. I added a bit more texture to the jacket, but I think I’m really done with it now. Time to move to getting that face right. I’m getting interested in the desert, which in this painting has now been transformed into a spring flower field by the introduction of the air to the earth, while the fire burns with phosphorescent glow in the air. (I guess I need to figure out how that’s going to work too…) I might need to go and find some night flowers and set up a light to get some sense of the way this would look.
I painted a glaze of Prussian Blue over the sky, taking it to a nice rich dark blue that I’m enjoying so much that the Prussian might supplant the Ultramarine blue in my choice of favorite blues. I love that darkness, fading out to a deep but transparent glaze. Peachy! I also re-introduced a glaze of iron oxide (burnt sienna) into Amelia’s coat, which will make it richer and deeper, then scraped it off so the white texture shows through. Next glaze will sit over the top of the existing oxide and the white too, so there will be a rich variety of colour in the surface of the paint.
I went to Santa Barbara this weekend, where I sincerely hope I will be able to make my next home, at least for the next few months. Jim Connolly took us sailing in his boat, and we were blown out into the channel between the mainland and the Channel Islands, where the Chumash – California native Americans – are said to have originated, whereupon we became becalmed, so while we waited for wind he entertained us on his banjo and we enjoyed each others company and watched seals curling through the water. I hope to get out there with him again soon, because I think I need photos of the ocean. I have made several paintings that deal with the elements of earth and air, but none that emphasize fire or water, so I think it’s time to find Amelia in a boat, adrift in an open sea. Cyn McCurry, who I think the world of, and whose work I adore has painted several works on the theme of women drifting in a boat, and I think there’s some of her influence rubbing off on me here.
With the white paint dry enough to work on at last I was able to bring some colour into the figure. I really enjoyed using a combination of the knife, the brush and a rag to apply the paint and get these lovely textures for the surface of the leather coat. Detail shot upper left. The circles on the left are distracting right now, and are really guidelines for where the light will fall later.
I love the way the soft rag work becomes textured by scraping the surface with a knife, removing the brown from the white beneath it. Almost edible.
I added a layer of Prussian blue into the middle of the figure. I chose this blue because it has the wonderful quality of ranging from black to a rich, almost ultramarine blue, perfect for blue material emerging from shadow. Right now, of course, the background appears to be too light because of the more detailed work on the figure, so I’ll balance that up later, when I’ve put more information on the surface of the ground. I really liked the dried out lake bed stones I put into the Bombers piece, and I’m very tempted to do a similar treatment here.
I also need to get to fixing up the face and hands soon, but this will have to wait until this coat and body work is dry.
I sealed the two canvases with some burnt sienna and medium over the drawings, wiping much of the paint of with a rag.
The drawings drop back into the rich oxide and become harder to see, but the marks are clear enough for painting the next layer, the en grisaille, which will be the foundation of the painting. I like to keep this layer pretty loose to start off with, then control and fix things. It makes the painting feel as though it grew off the canvas. Temperance will need a bit of carefully observed work on her face and hands in order to really pull off the painting effectively. I think it’s going to be very satisfying making these pieces. Clearly the background isn’t there yet and I’ll start building that, referring to my sketchbook.
It’s clear that getting the Fortitude painting moving is important if I’m going the get the three main images done together. I’ll have to get my model organized and sketch the image out. This all feels good.
We had a bit of a dramatic class this afternoon, when one of my students literally passed out in my arms. I think she stopped breathing for a few seconds but while trying to revive her and listen for her breath and simultaneously thanking God that I learned CPR when Ethan and I went to camp, she came back to consciousness again, in a cold sweat. Medics were there very fast, and she seemed to recover fully afterwards, so it all ended well. Certainly not the usual dynamic of the painting studio.
The scary part of the experience for me was that she went down so fast and unexpectedly, so there was no time to think through the proper steps, only to react.
In the morning I had begun working on the Golden Bowl and I continued after the drama had subsided and my student was safely taken care of, laying down some flesh tones blended gently over the rougher early layer. I added some warm areas to the skin in areas that are away from the light, which comes from the centre of the painting. The sky obviously got its first layer of blue, which will be followed by a glaze layer shortly. I knifed this layer on mixing some cobalt blue and zinc white together so that the orange of the burnt sienna will show through and make some of the next layer, probably an ultra blue, read a little darker than where it sits over the pale mixture.
Having blended the flesh tones with a soft dry sable round brush I carefully did some touch up work to restore some of the dark tones with a dark brown and a little black.
I want to get some four foot high boards for the virtues, so I’ll have to get to Home Depot tomorrow on the way to the studio. I’ll have to get them to cut it down for me, stretch some canvas and gesso. I’m really looking forward to getting back to some work at a larger scale.
Good to get back to work! Crazy way to do it!
I worked on a drawing for Justice today, producing a pretty decent rendering of a blindfolded woman, standing within a circle with a dress that doubles as a blade. The circle discretely becomes a yin yang symbol and includes the balance in the centre of each half of the duality. I’ll have to post the drawing here tomorrow because I managed to leave the sketchbook at work, as I often do, which is why I have three or four sketchbooks scattered around, at work, in my office, and at home so that I have no excuse. I plan to use my Pre-Raphaelite student as model for Justice. She’ll be perfect.
The beautiful dancer and choreographer Caitlyn Carradine of the Los Angeles Contemporary Ensemble is going to pose for me as Temperance. I’m so pleased she said she would – she’s exactly right for the painting.
As far as envy goes (not pride – my bad, apologies for the edit this evening) it’s the opposite sin to the virtue of Justice, so I need to figure out how I’ll express this in the Justice painting. It’s tricky. I have to mull this one over for a while.
I made a drawing of the seven virtues. I like the idea of putting them all together and somehow using the iconography of each to identify each figure, without the props that usually are included.
My painting and drawing students are excelling in their work, and need guidance, which I love to give, but means that I can’t make my own work. I must be honest and confess that after the hurly burly of getting the show up I have found it very easy to procrastinate, but I’m au point now, ready to get back into it, so I need to get on the ball and shoot pictures for the paintings and get on with the work. Fairly soon I’ll be able to show my students how to get their teeth into a larger piece of work because they’re getting deeply into making their first self portraits and will soon have the necessary skills to start being more independent. I like this group of drawers and painters very much, they’re doing really well.
A photographer from the Ventura County Star is coming over tomorrow afternoon to shoot pictures of the exhibit and a journalist from the paper has called and asked for information. I’ll keep an eye out for the story and post it when it comes out, of course.
I’ve been thinking about how to express the deadly sins in these paintings so that there’s a counterpoint to the virtues, because as always I’m interested in the duality of good and evil. The opposite of temperance is gluttony. I’n not sure that expressing gluttony by painting a lot of obese people is really what I’m after, but perhaps a more symbolic approach is better. Lots of pigs? Hedgehogs used to be thought of as a symbol of gluttony – a swarm of hungry hedgehogs?
Anyone know a friendly pig farmer in Southern California? I need pigs!
What’s the narrative in the painting? The steampunk angel rises from a rolling pile of pigs while pouring liquid from one jug to another without spilling a drop! Excellent! The narrative alone would be nonsense – allegory adds a layer of mystery and secrecy that I find intriguing.
I worked at the Golden Bowl for a while this morning until I welcomed Paz Winshtein to the gallery. Paz is a terrific painter who I’ve been watching for a year or two, and have wanted to get into the gallery at CLU. She came over to see the space and get a feel for it, and we’ve scheduled a show in about a year and a half.
What with one thing and another the Golden Bowl didn’t get as much attention as I would have liked, because at lunch I foolishly ate risotto without realizing that it was pasta, not rice. I can’t eat wheat, so I was sick as a dog all afternoon and I went home, abandoning any hope of getting any more painting done today. I did manage to get a rough version of another face in there, so it wasn’t a total loss, but she’s going to need a lot of work to perfect her.
I’m really feeling the pinch of working so small after doing the bigger pieces I did over the summer, so looking at this nice six foot canvas is a pleasant promise for the future. I’m figuring out what the next piece will be, and have a model in mind for it. I’ll get some sketching done tomorrow in preparation. I’m still reading and making notes on the correspondence between alchemical imagery and the tarot, which I’m thoroughly enjoying, and I think the next body of work will probably hang on the arms of alchemy and tarot. I’m finding the balance of academic research and painting interesting, because the two disciplines are so consuming, but when one feeds the other so thoroughly the relationship becomes electric. I think I’ll work with the image of Temperance, a cardinal virtue shown in the deck as a young woman pouring water from one pitcher to another without spilling a drop. A vertical image this time, because the water pouring will need to have space within which to fall. Besides, the last three paintings have all been horizontal.