Monday, September 24, 2012

pennies, baseballs

I'm having this rotten day and a friend just shared with me this website to cheer me up, the homepage of Jacqueline Lou Skaggs, who makes oil paintings on pennies. So my first but short-lived reaction to this was kind of like horror at the thought that this woman spends her time making these beautiful little images on pennies, because as a painter, I tend to put myself in the shoes of other painters and the little story that played back in my head when I saw this penny was the idea that I might spend all day painting something on a penny, using tiny little paint brushes, my eyesight going wonky and my back sore, bent over this penny for a tiny image best seen with a magnifying glass.

I flipped through the paintings quickly at first, zooming past this piece called Last Supper Table, depicting a table, just a table, where I noted briefly that it's a little strange to see a painting of a table and nothing else, but then what do you expect on a penny? Then there's this piece a few pennies down, of a town in the distance with the long rambling title: Through Carelessness He Loses His Cow. And I noted the fact that it's a wheat penny, the ghost of the wheat shape just visible. And so these thoughts then started running through my head:

  1. these paintings have two images on them. Lincoln's head and a bush. The wheat penny, and a little town. The year, 1990 and a table. 
  2. the texture of the pennies are lovely
  3. the fact that each penny comes from a different year is noteworthy, making each piece an individual on many levels
  4. these paintings are nothing but tokens, worth a penny but worth much more
  5. they are tokens I could put in my pocket and take with me, and no one would know I had a painting with me.
  6. I could trade them for other pieces of art, like baseball card trading. 
And then I saw this painting: the baseball one. Ah-hah. Yes, I like these paintings now. Just a painting of a baseball, why would anyone paint a baseball on the ground? It seems to tell no story. Well, I'll tell you why: because it's a painting on a penny. Simple is good. 

And it does tell a story, but most painters would not bother with a fuzzy little image of a baseball on the ground, because larger canvases make good platforms for grandiose ideas. 

But there are some big ideas in this little painting--something about baseball being the American past-time and pennies being American currency. A simple little image of a simple little baseball on our most basic form of currency. 

Can anyone tell me why this is called Four Witches Stand? I'm assuming this a play on the words "for which it stands, one nation under god indivisible" etc... but how is this related to baseball? it's the American past time, and a reference to the pledge of allegiance makes sense, but then where are the four witches coming from? This is a nod to the Salem Witch trials? The crucible? would baseball and the crucible be related somehow?

Crucible->Arthur Miller->Marilyn Monroe->Joe DiMaggio?

thoughts, please.

Saturday, September 8, 2012


So these are the paintings I've been working on for the last few weeks. Actually, you could say that I've been working on these for the last few years. Figuratively, and literally you could say that. They were painted on reused canvases, some of which I laid the foundation for two or more years ago.

They are paintings of home.

I'm sure everyone has complicated feelings about their families. Sometimes I think my family is killing me. I didn't want these to be touching and loving pieces, but I didn't want them to be without love. They are meant to be gritty, messy paintings of the feelings I have about my family. how working so hard for them feels like running up an endless sand dune. But I would do it for them forever. And probably I will.

These pieces are somewhat abstract, somewhat primitive. I've had a hard time working in this style in the past. I have a hard time making paintings that seem raw, genuine. Studying art in college made me overthink my process. I didn't want these pieces to be like that.

Amazing how hard it is to get back to a primitive state. As adults, we refine and refine our actions, behaviors, character.

My daughter has made some of the most lovely poetry and paintings I've ever seen. I don't know if I've ever told her that. But my daughter, who has this primitive, unrefined, chaotic brain, has the ability to be so creative it blows me away. It makes my own paintings

Saturday, August 4, 2012

mama and baby

watched the last episode the 2nd season of downton abbey today. couldn't take my eyes off the tv but needed an excuse to keep the show on. picked up my paintbrush...

citrus and cactus blossoms.

Last night I made some new still life paintings of citrus. I had some clementines and limes in the fridge.

The pictures of these paintings didn't turn out very well. There are a lot of subtle tones in the background that don't come across in the photos. In the painting of the limes there's a pleasing, slightly yellow/slightly green tone in the background that just doesn't come across in the photo. Likewise, the background in the painting of the clementines is slightly more yellow than what appears in the photo. Just a little.

And, I finished the painting of Craig and the cactus flower.

I'm trying to decide what the subject of the next cactus flower painting will be. There's a night blooming cactus in my front yard that only blooms one time per year, and the blossoms last one night only. It's amazing. It blooms every year around August 1. I'm considering this for my next subject. Here are the pictures I took of the cactus this year:

First of all, aren't they incredible?? You know, I said that these flowers bloom every year around the first of August, but I have only been in this house for two summers now, and only seen this cactus bloom twice. So...what do I know.

I don't know if I'll ever forget the first time I saw this cactus blossom. The house was new, our stuff was still in boxes, I'd been living on Luna bars, I was exhausted. My family was away when we got the keys to the house and I did the moving myself. I'd just had this crazy, disastrous experience wherein I tore out the carpet and discovered that the hardwood floors in the hallway were black and stained. Look at this:

So then I hired this guy, who turned into a good friend (and an awesome handyman), to refinish the floors. Only I had so little money that I hired him for a pittance. And he completely came through for me. He worked for like three or four straight days, loooonnnnggg days. He didn't have a car, and in fact he lives like 45 minutes away, and I was picking him up every morning at like 7AM and dropping him off sometimes as late as 1 or 1:30AM. During the day I'd run errands for materials or spend my time writing freelance articles just trying to make a little more money. That was at the end of July. I moved in our stuff on the first of August and that took days because I was doing it by myself and trying to do it without hiring anyone because I had no money. (this is a common theme in my life:)

Plus...I don't know if you can imagine what my house looked like at this point, but just look at those floors. When we pulled out the carpet, there was tack strip lining the floor in every room. Nails. Debris. The carpet had left an old people smell that was slow to go away. Plus, I was convinced (I mean, convinced) that the people who lived in the house before we bought it were now dead. I knew they were very old, and that they had not died on the premises (there's actually a law that says you have to disclose that information if someone has died in the house). But I had some concerns (serious concerns) that the house was haunted. Because...look at those pictures of the floor and imagine a house that looks like that all over. It looked like a torture chamber.

It was hard to imagine it wasn't haunted. I was scared. I slept every night on the floor in the living room with the light on low and the television on. I even slept in my car one late night when I pulled in at 4AM with a load full of stuff that needed to be dropped off (I am incredibly scared of ghosts).

So by August 1ish I was bruised, under fed, broke, stressed and sleep deprived. My new house was a fearsome stranger in my life. And I stepped out of the house to take out the trash and go work one morning and I saw this.

A gift for me, from the house. To me it was a sign that all was ok.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Does CPR work on aliens?

I had never heard of Davis Cone before. I'm not sure if he's famous or if I am only one of a handful of people who have ever heard of him. I was surfing the Internets the other day and I found his website here.

The image titled "Bad Axe In Snow" (the top) is possibly my favorite. I don't know why. The colors? The contrast? The way red, yellow and orange neon signs reminds me of the first night I ever spent in Manhattan when my two friends and I walked up and down Christopher street and stared goggle-eyed at the adult toy shops, our faces pale blue and green in the harsh fluorescent lights, which seemed to embody some kind of depravity I was unfamiliar with at the time but which was becoming altogether very clear? Something about the bright neon lights in that painting just rings true. About night time in Manhattan. I have no idea where the Bad Axe theater is, by the way. If it's in New York. 

So this is what I love about paintings by Davis Cone:
  • the fact that he paints movie theaters. Movie theaters, places I loved growing up, where special things happened. 
  • Cars date his paintings, make me remember parts of my own life. The same happens with the fact that his movie theaters have signs that say the name of the movie playing at the time, which is genius. 
  • all the movie theaters in his paintings look familiar, because all movie theaters look alike or share qualities, and that makes me realize that he is painting something that everyone in the US will think looks familiar, and that is powerful
  • that the people in his paintings are always seen from behind, or from a distance, or in shadow with faces obscured, is lonely and sad, like paintings by Edward Hopper, who I admire and also captured neon lights and harsh fluorescents very well. 
  • the small towns look like so many places from my childhood, while the images of new york strike memories of adulthood, and so for me that is powerful also
  • the striking contrast between light and dark
  • his photo-realistic style captures people and cars in mid-movement, so that they are sometimes blurred, as they would appear in a photograph, so that there is a sense that one is capturing a real moment, something fleeting and mundane on the whole but that has been captured so lovingly here that it may seem as though he has validated and given importance to something otherwise irrelevant.
I have to be honest, I'm not into hyper realism. It has always struck me, somehow, as an exercise in futility (because a photograph would do almost the same thing) and a very impressive parlor trick (because a photograph would do almost the same thing). What is the point? Why? On top of that, the very fact that, although I'm not sure I could paint in this same style myself, I know what it would take to get it done. The hours. The agonizing. The looking back and forth, over and over, between a photograph and a canvas. The comparing of colors. The seconds spent holding your breath as you try in vain to limit your movement to only the tiniest, most precise flick of the paintbrush. Again. and again. and again. 

Seeing paintings done in this style usually has an effect on me that is similar to fingernails scratching a chalk board. It's like smelling someone's vomit and then nearly vomiting yourself. (being very dramatic here) It's a sympathetic reaction. 

SO I haven't posted anything on this blog in a long time. I'd like to fix that. Where did I go? I don't know. My last post was January of 2011. Although I kept painting for a while after that last post, my family took away from time I would have spent writing in the blog. And then there were other things. Financial stuff. Other stuff. And then last year, around this time, we bought a house. After we moved, my painting supplies sat in a corner in the garage for an entire year. One year.

A month and a half ago I got a text message from a friend. It was a funny conversation so I'm going to post part of it online: 

Her: How's ur vacation going????? U paint as a side job right????
Me: It's awesome and yes I do:)
Her: Nice! How much do u charge? I can text u a picture
Me: I don't know what my rates are--when do you need it?:)
Her: Well it's for my parents wedding anniversary and it's today. I dont need today whenever. I can send u the pic I want.

That's all I'm going to post. I don't know how she would feel about me posting this conversation, but I hope that most of you got the punchline... "It's for my parents wedding anniversary and it's today."

ahah. yes. I dont need today whenever. (clearing my throat) funny. 

I don't know what it takes to paint in a hyper realistic style, but I can tell you that I did do the portrait, I tried to make it as realistic as possible and it took me about 20-22 hours. Although my friend didn't expect me to produce the portrait that same day, I don't think she realized that it was, like, going to take the effort that it did. "It's for my parents wedding anniversary and it's today." nice. 

don't you love the bizarre things that come to you in text messages? Today I took a CPR training class with that same friend and I texted her this question: 

Does CPR work on aliens?

I don't think she thought it was nearly as funny as I did because I could barely contain myself just thinking about it.


So I hadn't painted in an entire year, and I hadn't painted a portrait of human figures in much longer. probably 12 years. I don't often go around showing my friends my paintings, because I don't always paint in a style that's realistic and to that matter I don't always know how to tell if paintings are any good. But the portrait of my friend's parents I knew would have an effect on people. I knew I could show that painting around and they would understand exactly what they were looking at, and whether or not they liked it. Whether or not it was "good." Plus, portraits impress people if you can do them right. So I hadn't painted a portrait in a long time and it turned out pretty well and I had to do a little boasting, so I showed it to a couple people.

So one of my very good friends is a 75 year old man who believes that no song or piece of music written after 1930 could be rightfully classified as music. I knew he would like the portrait. I showed it to him, and also the portrait I drew of walt whitman in high school.

He seemed impressed, which was the goal. I try not to make boasting a habit but there's nothing wrong in a confidence booster every 10 years or so.

He told me that he thought that most artists would, if they could, paint realistically. That any painting style that is not realistic is covering up for general incompetence. I had inferred that he felt this way based on previous conversations (this is a man who possibly questions whether or not the Beetles could be classified as musicians, although he does get a kick out of the "material girl"), which is why I very much wanted him to see my paintings, so that he would know that I do have that ability, to paint realistically, even if I don't always choose to use it.

And that's when we started talking about Davis Cone and Chuck Close, and of course my friend had never heard of these people. I showed him the paintings.

I really don't care for work by Chuck Close, probably for reasons relating to the aforementioned fingers on chalkboards and vomit and all that. I mean, I'm ok with the work. his paintings. I do see some value in these pieces that look like photographs because the paintings have themselves become like an excuse to look at these ordinary-but-weird faces.

The best example of this that I can think of is his painting of "Mark", who I have always thought of as "man with face like rat".

Afterall, under what other circumstances would I spend any time studying a face that looks like that, unless it was painting 8 feet tall and made by some kind of mad genius? Yet when I look at his hideous clothes and wide open, innocent eyes and I have to stare at him. and wonder if he's perhaps a serial killer still living with his mother. that's what he looks like to me. If I passed this man on the street I wouldn't look twice. I wouldn't even want to.

So that's the value of paintings by Chuck Close.

But Davis Cone. Ahh.

The word that comes to mind is "loving." Lovingly rendered. Beautiful, beautiful paintings. Movie theaters.

My last bullet point in the list at the beginning of this post (which is slowly turning into like a combination dissertation and endless biographical monologue), wherein I gave some of the many reasons why I liked paintings by Davis Cone, said this:

  • his photo-realistic style ...(blah blah blah)... so that there is a sense that one is capturing a real moment, something fleeting and irrelevant on the whole but that has been captured so lovingly here that it may seem as though he has validated and given importance to something otherwise irrelevant.
I decided to recap that for you because this post is like the length of a dickens novel and if you've actually made it this far, you've probably forgotten what I started off talking about in the first place. I appreciate hyper realism in this case because there's some feeling that the time he spent on these paintings, which must have taken hours and days or years, has given weight to the subject. That some things are worth spending the time on. That some paintings, even if you could have just taken a photograph, are worth painting because the subjects themselves are worth the contemplation. The time. That making a painting in this way implies a tenderness for the subject. It's like a love letter. fuck yeah. 

There's this other guy, also a very realistic painter. Jan van Huysum. They've got some of his paintings at the Getty museum, which I have been to several times. They say that he only worked from live subjects and this man lived in the 1700's and he painted a lot of flowers, which means that he would sometimes take years to complete a single painting because he had to wait for flowers to come in season and other related complications. Here's an example of his work, I believe it's at the Getty: 

I get in trouble with the security guards at the Getty around this one painting by Mr. van Huysum because he painted--I shit you not--a fly on one of the flowers. So I can admire this particular detail, I get right up against the painting with my nose like within centimeters of the canvas, and the security guards say it's is too close and they make me back off.

A fly! Who would make this gorgeous painting of these amazing, vibrant flowers, only to put a fly on it?  What kind of man, what kind of painter, does that? What maniacal artist is so OCD, wants his paintings to be so realistic, he's willing to mar it with a fly? Or maybe, what sense of humor drives a respectable person to do that? I'm not even sure what about this fly impresses me so. Perhaps because I've never seen anyone bother to put a fly in a painting before. Perhaps because it looks just like a real fly. 

I could talk about this for days. About realistic paintings and the potential value of painting realistically. 

Since I painted my friend's parent's portrait, I've been working on a few other projects. I started painting some pictures of cows, for one thing. The picture below is titled "Purple and Clarence". Because that is the name of the cows. 

My best friend growing up, who is now the person I share my life with, had this obsession with cows when we were in middle school. She made up this whole story line about this group of super hero type cows, and named the group the Good Cow Brigade, and they (the Brigade) did battle with the evil cows, lead by the most evil cow of all, Chompy. The good cow brigade was so influential in our middle school years that I still call my mom "moo" and she still calls her dad "doo", and there is still a stuffed animal cow named Tuscany sitting on our bed. 

Cows are very special to us. And I love their box-like bodies. their vacant faces which seem prideful and disinterested. Their unmoving bulk. And painting them is particularly enjoyable, especially the ones with black on them. I love black, but only on cows. Of course I have to make the black myself by mixing blue and brown--I haven't a tube of black paint anywhere in the house. Inky, dark. Bottomless. 

The painting of Purple and Clarence I like because it of its soft, chalky quality. and I like the fuzzy edges around the cows, as if it all were a dream or a memory. an illustration of some idyllic, breezy field. 

Here's another painting I did recently:

It's not done yet. But it's close. This cow might be named Coffee. Or Craig. 

And then there's another project I'm working on, one that isn't coming as easily as the cows, and that's paintings of cactus flowers.

This is my first one. It's 20x20 inches (much larger than the cows, which were painted on small canvases) on gallery wrapped canvas. Oil paint, applied with paintbrushes and a palette knife. 

I'm painting cactus flowers because I think they're beautiful, and because I think they're even more beautiful when you contrast them against the cacti themselves, which are prickly and...uninviting. 

I'm not sure where to go with this one. I feel like the flower could use some's relatively realistic, but in the middle of all this unrealistic chaotic color. What's a girl to do? Does anyone read this blog anymore? if so, can you give a suggestion?

I need to go. It's late. I barely slept last night. I've started binge-watching Downton Abbey on netflix. it's a great show. I'm going to go watch it and get some painting done. Also, I just finished watching the second season of the Sherlock show on the BBC. Please tell me some of you have seen it and that like me you re-watched the last episode of the second season like 4 times because you were trying to figure out the great mystery at the end. And that the reason you love the show so much to begin with is because you love the original stories and you think that this tv show manages to be a brilliant mixture of old stories and new portrayals of them. Then I will know I'm not alone.