TM8491 Midsummer 36×44 oil on panel
When I was a student beginning my study of art, I found the book Creativity and Taoism – A Study of Chinese Philosophy, Art, and Poetry by Chang Chung-yuan (published by Harper Torchbooks of New York in 1968) while browsing a local bookstore (yes, there used to be lots of bookstores). I bought it on a whim, and it has been informing my thinking about art ever since.
Perhaps one of my most favorite paragraphs begins “In the spring of 1952 when Jacques Maritain delivered a series of lectures at the National Gallery of Art in Washington he explained that the inner principle of dynamic harmony seized upon by the Chinese contemplative artists should be conceived of as a sort of interpenetration between Nature and Man. Through interpenetration things are spiritualized. When the artist reveals the reality concealed in things, he sets himself free and, in turn, he liberates and purifies himself. This invisible process, fundamental to Chinese art, is the action of Tao.” Maritain points out that at the root of both Oriental and Occidental artists’ work is an experience without logical reason, by means of which objectivity and subjectivity are obscurely grasped together. Interpenetration.
Midsummer is a hallelujah moment. It is based on an experience at my local pond. It was a day with storm clouds clearing out. I was standing by the pond’s edge looking across the water with the sun behind me. Trees were casting shadow patterns on the water in front of me, while trees on the far bank were reflecting their green structured forms into the pond. A sheen of pollen drifted on the water, obscuring slightly the crisp reflections. At my feet, I could see green reflections from the trees behind me interpenetrated with shadow and light. The entire view was interwoven of light, shadow, sky, trees, and reddish grasses. Everything looked real and abstract, present and ethereal. I wanted to shout to Maritain you should see this!
Details below. Enjoy.
TM8491 Midsummer – detail from upper left with lily pads, shadows, dusting of pollen
TM8491 Midsummer – detail from lower left of center
TM8487 So Many Possibilities 30×40 oil on panel
When I look at a pond, I see hundreds of paintings waiting to be painted. Often the first painting I begin is an overview showing the context of what is to come. In So Many Possibilities I’ve presented part of a millpond in Concord, Massachusetts. The fallen tree, or snag, caught my eye as it showed the completion of a tree’s life cycle – a hunting ground for fish and a sunning spot for turtles and frogs. The reflections in the water portend pondscape abstractions, while the rhythm of the trees might become a source for arboreal abstractions. In any event, a pond deserves its own portrait first. Enjoy!
TM8463 Let the Moment Last 36×36 oil on panel
I thought Let the Moments Last was finished when I signed my name to it, but time and experience have taught me that nothing is ever really finished until it leaves the studio. Hanging the painting on a different wall with different light caused it to seem too dark, so I decided to bring more light into it by lightening the lighter sky reflections and bringing in more pale leaves to give the painting a little “zip.” Details below, along with the original version.
TM8463 Let the Moments Last – detail from left of center with added willow leaves
TM8463 Let the Moments Last – detail from right of center with reflections and added floating leaves
The original version is below.
TM8463 Let the Moments Last 36×36 oil on panel
TM8491 They Come in Pairs 36×40 oil on panel
While photographing an old quarry in Gloucester, Massachusetts recently, I saw movement in among the shadows under the water’s surface. To my delight, I was soon watching young fish darting in and out of the shadows, their slim bodies a calligraphy of movement. Setting my Nikon Coolpix on close-up, and zooming in as much as I could, I started shooting. Three hours later, I had lots of pictures and an idea for putting my new friends into a painting underway at the studio. The painting itself was a subtle play of willow leaves and sunlight on water – but it needed a little something more, the telling detail, to bring it to resolution. I knew the slim bodies of the fish, echoing the shapes of the willow leaves, would be perfect. Indeed, I was so excited about the fish, I went back the next sunny day to shoot more. And a patient frog. He says hello. Enjoy.
TM8491 They Come in Pairs – detail from lower left showing layered reflections and use of layered, fine spattering
TM8491 They Come in Pairs – detail from lower right with young fish and floating leaves
TM8490 Inside June 36×40 oil on panel
When Monet painted his cathedral series, he was watching the effect of changing light on his subject. Lately, I’ve been watching the changes at a very specific place at my pond over the course of a few months. Initially, I liked the hefty tree trunk reflections interwoven with saplings. Now, I love the complexity of light and shadow, patterns of surface growth that are always changing, and tantalizing clues to what lies at the bottom of this shallow part of the pond. April Comes, April Goes is from this same spot, as is Finally May. Now, with Inside June, we see a range of sappy greens coming into the picture. What will July bring? Find out soon. Details below. Enjoy.
TM8490 Inside June – detail from upper left
TM8490 Inside June – close-up showing first layer of paint textures in tree trunks and film on water achieved through use of layered glazes with scraping and fine spattering
TM8490 Inside June – detail from bottom edge of painting showing layered paint application with textures first, followed by glazes, some direct painting, and spattering
TM8490 Inside June – detail from left edge showing reflected trees and branches, partial film on water
TM8489 Spring’s Periscopes 30×40 oil on panel
Long before the larger, white water lilies dare to reveal themselves, the tight yellow “fists” of yellow water lilies thrust through the water’s surface like an invasion of periscopes. They make me laugh with their slightly ungainly deportment and reluctance to really open up. These are the tough guys. Surrounded by lily pads and underwater vegetation, the blue ripples connect and work to abstract the composition’s elements. The strong orange stems, just visible drifting under the water, add a note of complementary color. Details below. Enjoy!
Technical painting notes: When I started this composition, I knew I wanted to paint the yellow lilies, but I also wanted to emphasize the range of color (not just blue) that can be seen at the pond. The colors just beneath the surface, with their muted red, violet, and orange tones, are as much the subject as the buds. I also wanted a crisp, bold play of contrasts in the brushwork, achieved by letting the initial layer of textures and streaks show through.
TM8489 Spring’s Periscopes – detail from center
TM8489 Spring’s Periscopes – detail from lower left with water lily buds and view into shallows
TM8488 Finally, May 24×44 oil on panel
In early May the pond is about reflections more than surface vegetation, and what a feast of color and abstraction it provides. Finally, May brings reflected trees and branches, cloud-scudded skies, and sunlight penetrating the surface to this strongly horizontal composition. Spring and summer provide so many opportunities to study the way sunlight interacts with the pond, both in terms of light and shade across the surface and the way light enters pond and is reflected back from the shallow places. As I worked on the painting, I kept thinking that May was really throwing a party, sharing all the color, excitement, and gaiety of spring. Details below. Enjoy!
TM8488 Finally, May – detail from upper right with tree reflections, close-up of brushwork
TM8488 Finally, May – detail from center bottom showing scraping through layered wet glazes
TM8488 Finally, May – detail from center left showing layered construction of image, use of scraping, wiping, spatter,
TM8488 Finally, May – detail from lower right showing reflections, ripples