“Changing Patterns”

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“Changing Patterns” • Oil 40hx28w

This painting is currently on exhibit in a show called: “Nationalism: Belonging/Not Belonging” at the Holy Family University in Philadelphia, PA. February 9-March 1st, 2016

The painting is of my grandmother and uncle. It is about the “old country” and assimilating into the “new country”. The patterns in the wallpaper note the change between mother and son. My uncle is wearing his U.S. Air Force uniform. My grandmother is cooking some Italian dish… and quite happy to do so, I might add!

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“Truth and Deception”

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“Truth and Deception”, oil, 36hx36w

The concept for this painting started after I read an article about Truth and Rhetoric. The theme of the article was that people don’t often know what the truth is and have different interpretations of the truth. Rhetoric is when language is used to persuade and may lack quality of content or be deceptive.

Not Using Words 

I wanted to create a visual definition of this concept. The first draft of this idea was the sample drawing below.

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I wanted to show that truth is there, but not identifiable. That is why the woman has her head covered. The doves are different versions of the truth, which she is releasing. Rhetoric was to be a very flamboyant character.

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In this version, I came up with the idea that he was baiting the doves of Truth with a piece of bread. Notice the squirming bird in his hand. I had a model pose for Truth. Rhetoric was from studies of old portraits.

Serendipity and Scorpions

I really liked Truth and the bread baiting of the doves idea, but Rhetoric was just too much like a pirate for me. So, I put this concept aside and lived life for a while…

Me: Must think about man in painting, but haven’t quite put my finger on it yet.

Pictorial concepts are always on the back burner in my head and I am always open to inspiration. While working in my garden, I picked up a piece of wood to find a fat scorpion living under it. What seemed so safe in an instant became a threat…

Me: Still no ideas about the man in the painting – but know I don’t want him to look like “Jack Sparrow”. Note to self…the scorpion was creepy.

True Story: Driving down my neighborhood, thinking about this painting, I pass a man walking with no shirt on. He has a HUGE tattoo of a scorpion on his back.

Me: THAT’S IT!

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The thought came to me that finding a scorpion under a rock was very much like deception. You didn’t know it was there until you discovered it and now it is obvious. What if I hid the scorpion in the back of the man in the painting? He would become the worst of rhetoric… Deception.

I drew from a model – not the man on the street – for the man in my painting. I played with the lighting to get shadows to fall where the scorpion would be.

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The Speak like a Peach

Another place I love to find inspiration is in my “Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols of Art”, by James Hall. I bought this book in college and love to thumb through it. Much of the symbolism is lost to today’s art viewers, but I find it fun to throw stuff in my paintings regardless. My dictionary tells me that a peach, especially the pit and a leaf attached to the fruit, symbolized speaking truthfully from the heart…The heart being the pit and the leaf the tongue. Ok. Cool! This helped inspire the background, which happens to be a peach tree in my back yard – not too far from where I found the scorpion!

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There you have it…truth and deception, a pictorial definition.

“Mother Nature and the Oil Slick”

OilSlick3005x7 “Mother Nature and the Oil Slick”, oil on canvas, 36hx24w

Five years ago…The model walks onto the model stand. She sits on a stool with her back to the artist. She wears a black feather boa and black hat. There is a stark contrast between the deep blackness of the props and her white skin. The artist looks at her and is reminded of what she has been seeing on the news… a black plume of oil rising from the depths of the sea, settling on top of ocean’s surface. In the artist’s mind, the model becomes a metaphor for the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. (Live models are the best inspiration ever!)

Drawing Boa

In the studio… putting the metaphorical painting together is like working on a puzzle. So just how am I going to translate this idea? The pose is seated. What is she sitting on? What has become an issue, pollution and endangerment of living things? What living things were affected? Mangrove trees, pelicans, marshland… search for reference material! She can be sitting on the limb of a mangrove tree, playing with the phrase “out on a limb” implying something is at risk. What else is at risk? Ecosystems we can’t even see? The model needs a dress of ocean blue with sequins to represent all the smaller creatures harmed by the disaster. Because of the spill she is draped with a black feather boa with the resulting hat on her head. She is connected to the Earth. Her toe is in the water. The water has that horrible rainbow sheen from the oil. Above, a cloud crosses the figure. There is definitely some grey in this cloud. The pelican stands on a small rock, its habitat severely shrunk down. This painting is a figure study combined with the historical documentation of the BP oil spill. Has the public memory forgotten the environmental disaster? I hope it never does.

“Mother Nature Loves Alaska”

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“Mother Nature Loves Alaska” • Oil • 60hx36w

“Mother Nature Loves Alaska” is about Alaska’s abundant wildlife and natural resources. March 24th will mark 26 years since the Exxon Valdez oil spill occurred in Prince William Sound. Please look up the facts of the spill and what condition Prince William Sound is in today. Good sources are National Geographic and NOAA. Both have articles posted for the 25th anniversary.

Mother Nature rings her bell to remind you.

Symbolism + Flora+ Fauna

All plants and animals depicted are natives of Alaska. Draped around the neck of the figure is the alpine forget-me-not. In creating the composition, I thought of forget-me-nots, and looked to see if they grew in the state. I was surprised to discover that this is the official state flower of Alaska.

At the bottom of the composition are the wolves, weasels, loons, and the snake in the grass. Used in language, the names of these species are unflattering terms for people. They symbolize those that would exploit Mother Nature’s natural resources.

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Mother Nature and Time

This painting evolved over time. Originally, I had created a drawing of Mother Nature and her creatures many years ago. I liked the sketch and hung onto it.

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Years later, I participated in a figure drawing group and this model posed for us. She reminded me of the drawing I had done. Knowing when a window of opportunity is opening, I went back to the old drawing and thought about creating a painting. I hired the model to pose in my studio.

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Note: I changed Mother Nature to resemble a native Alaskan. I decided she would look like the people of the land.

History and Me

Why didn’t I just create a Mother Nature painting?

My figure paintings have a relevance to things happening in my lifetime. When the Exxon Valdez oil spill occurred I was working on a publication for the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce. (My graphic design days.) I sorted through so many beautiful photographs of Alaska. Later, I saw the Exxon Valdez in the Port of San Diego where it was undergoing repairs. There was a very large hole on the front of the boat. It was so sad to see the destruction of the environment and animals via the news. The spill was a disaster with long-term consequences. I wanted to ask, what is the legacy we leave future generations?

“Justice Get Your Gun”

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“Justice Get Your Gun” • oil • 40hx30w

This painting is at Gallery Route One at Point Reyes Station, CA from January 9 to February 1, 2015 in an art exhibit called, “Reaction.” I will discuss some of the images in the painting in this post. The painting documents the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Connecticut and its effect on gun legislation.

The Figure

I use the figure and symbolism to create a narrative. First, I looked at references to “Justice” personified. Noticing she held a sword as well as the scales, I modernized her to owning a gun instead.

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Justice is based on historical figure Annie Oakley. In the 1800’s Anne Oakley supported her family by becoming an expert hunter and later became famous performing as a sharp shooter. The name of the piece is based on a musical about her called, “Annie Get Your Gun.” The imagery of the teacher-like gun toting Justice occurred to me when an NRA spokesman suggested teachers should be armed.

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“Talk, Talk, It’s Only Talk” (from the song “Elephant Talk”, by King Crimson)

Another reference is a song called, “Elephant Talk” by King Crimson. I always think of it when legislation is being introduced. The song lists words about talking, in alphabetical order. I considered a list of words about guns and the making of laws. They became the words of a spelling test on the white board behind the figure.

At the time of this post the word “control” is changing to “safety” with legislation for background checks for gun buyers being more the focus than restricting the actual guns. (See New York Times article “Fight on Guns Is Being Taken to State Ballots”, by Jennifer Steinhauer, January 2, 2015.) 

Her hand covers the word “cost.” Consider the multiple uses for this word in regards to legislation, lives and freedom.

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The Clothes

Justice wears a blouse with blue flowers. They are forget-me-nots, in honor of the 26 people killed at the school. Her belt buckle refers to the Second Amendment. It is at the visual center of the artwork and the center of argument in the gun control debate.

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Small Details

The dog wears a tag with his name, “Tommy Gun M1921.” This is a reference to the Saint Valentine’s Massacre in 1929. Automatic weapons have been on American streets for almost 100 years. I thought of the dog as a symbol for guns. There is a lot to consider with the symbolism of dogs in paintings as they have been used over the centuries. I will let you ponder that one and how it relates to this work and your personal views on gun laws.

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The teacher’s desk has a history book with a black cover. The name Sandy Hook is carved into the desk underneath its shadow. The use of red and black is my expression of the violence and sadness of what happened.

As an artist, I felt compelled to react to and record this horrible event in our current history in the hopes that it would not be forgotten and some action would be taken to save lives.

“Cooper Street”

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“Cooper Street, Downtown Santa Cruz” • Oil • 16hx18w

The Affaire 2007

The painting “Cooper Street” was created for the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History’s (MAH) outdoor art show entitled “The Plein Air Affaire” in 2007. As a participating artist, I was asked to paint landscapes around town and display them at the outdoor show along with my other works. The museum required the artists to bring their unpainted canvases to the museum to have an official MAH logo stamped onto them before setting out to paint for the show. So, between you and me, this painting has a collectible element to it. If you turn it over, it will have an official Museum of Art and History red stamp on it. The scarlet letters are rare because the museum has not hosted a plein air show in a very long time.

Standing on Cooper Street

I thought it was kind of funny to paint around the museum for its own show. The painting was produced on site at Cooper Street, between Pacific and Front Street in downtown Santa Cruz, CA. I stood under a tree in front of the brick octagon building where a very nice coffee shop called Lulu Carpenters resides. The steps the man is sitting on lead to the Museum of Art and History.

I set up my French easel and started the painting. Some people paint on site very fast and finish a painting in a day. I don’t. I set up for this painting at least two or three different days for two hours at a time. The first session is getting the composition down. In this case I played with the inorganic shapes and organic ones. The arch, the steps, the wall, the sidewalk, the trees, and the people were all considered.

“So Maybe I’ll See You There” (from the song, “Downtown” by Petula Clark)

When I stood and painted on location people came and went. Some people stopped to watch me paint for a while. Others were completely oblivious that I was painting the steps and sat right there while I was working. The man in the painting sat down to eat his sandwich during lunchtime. Lesson to be learned… you will end up in my painting if you sit in the middle of my composition while I’m painting it. I really like to add people to my landscapes. So, please, go ahead.

I didn’t want to paint him eating a sandwich, so I gave him a book to read instead. The next day, the same man passed by my easel on his way to the coffee shop to discover he had been immortalized in my painting. He was ok with it after the shock wore off.

The shoppers were added in another day. I wanted to compositionally break up the sidewalk. To render the motion of walking, I had to watch people walk, (out of the corner of my eye – it’s not polite to stare in public) while working on other parts of the painting.

Currently on Exhibit – again

At the time of this writing, “Cooper Street” is now exhibiting at Lulu Carpenters at the Octagon. Ironic, isn’t it? The site of the painting is a few feet from where it is being displayed. (Again, satisfying my sense of humor.) It will be there from November 25, 2014 to January 28, 2015. It is also featured in my book, “An Artist’s View of Santa Cruz.

The Bridge Over Highway 1

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“The Bridge Over Highway 1” • oil • 36hx24w

(Click on image to enlarge)

First Impressions

The first time I walked across the bridge over Highway 1, I stopped at the center of the bridge and looked up. I realized I had never seen the sky through a chain link fence, and I didn’t care for the creepy “caged-in feeling” I was getting. What I did like was the perspective.

Impressionist Renderings

The first thing that went down on the canvas was a line drawing. Then I started to block in colors. The fence would disappear and be re-drawn as I put down color for the sky. At one point, I started to tell myself that the fence would resemble a heavy crisscrossed mass that jumped to the foreground if I continued to render the chain link using lines of paint. There had to be something else I could try. I decided to paint what wasn’t the fence. Spots of color came through all the chain link diamond shapes. This really helped the fence flow visually with its surroundings.

Lasting Impressions

The bridge felt cage-like if I stood still in the middle of it. If I kept moving, it became a pathway. The message I got from this bridge was to move forward. Here’s wishing you a happy forward momentum.