Saturday, October 20, 2007

Work in progress

in progress...

I tried to simplify the colors more, using fewer to mix with - I find it very hard to switch to a more tonal palette suddenly, especially in the middle of a piece, but I feel I made some progress (at least psychologically) once I threw in more neutrals that incorporated the cadmiums. And it probably will have little immediate effect, but I took burnt umber off my palette completely; transp. red oxide and ultramarine can do the job of any dark brown and be a good base for some unifying greys - I've wanted to use more of the great greys I'd discovered before and I really don't know why I haven't been. Apart from reversing the value relationships in a few places and taking a better look at the pine cone, I haven't changed much, and as anyone can see this is still moving very slowly. But on what other blog can one watch a painting of tinder get dragged out this many days while reading Old English nature poetry?

Friday, October 19, 2007

Work in progress / Old English riddle

in progress...

It has been a mediocre week. I don't know where this piece is going and I'm sorry if I wrecked some portions that may have actually been ok previously. It has been like an ongoing color study, and I decided the fauvism is fine since it is an autumn piece after all. Thinking about how the subject amounts to little more than kindling made me think of this riddle I had read before, so the last few nights after painting I've been tinkering with a translation as a mental diversion:

Ic eom légbysig, láce mid winde,
bewunden mid wuldre, wedre gesomnad,
fús forðweges, fýre gebysgad,
bearu blówende, byrnende gléd.
Ful oft mec gesíþas sendað æfter hondum,
þæt mec weras ond wíf wlonce cyssað.
Þonne ic mec onhæbbe, hí onhnígaþ tó mé
monige mid miltse; þǽr ic monnum sceal
ýcan úpcyme éadignesse.
I am troubled by flame, sport with the wind,
wound with glory, one with the weather,
eager for departure, afflicted by fire -
a blooming grove, a burning coal.
Often friends pass me from hand to hand
so that men and women proudly kiss me.
When I rise up they bend down to me,
many with meekness; there I shall increase
the uprise of happiness among men.
This is "Riddle 30," a difficult one and clumsy when translated. The answer is generally accepted as a tree (béam) with its compound meanings of "cross/ship/log" and its further use as a cup, bowl, or possibly a musical instrument.

Here the tree - and the "tree" on which Christ died - speaks, as it does in another poem called the Dream of the Rood and as other riddle subjects do, in the first person. (I'd meant to keep all mention of religion out of anything I write as I'm not a religious person, except when dealing with Old English where Christian themes are so common.) It undergoes wondrous transformations, shifting back and forth between a flammable ("lightning-busy"?) flowering tree and the various uses of its wood, seemingly unconnected and in confusing chronology. "Eager for departure [the journey forth]," describing possibly a ship, has also been seen as a warrior kenning for "ready for death" - which reinforces the shift back to a log or ember in the fire, as well as foreshadowing the notion of the cross. From there it shifts to a more personal hand-crafted object going "from hand to hand" connecting people in everyday ritual. Ultimately it takes on its highest purpose as the cross of the Crucifixion – or a crafted symbol of it, the highest form of art and something that touches all members of society. In all, this could be meant as an illustration of how God is present in all things and how "[n]o other power but God’s can connect the unconnected things of the earth and the unrelated events in time" (S. L. Higley, Between Languages).

But it's very ambiguous - that is, to us today. The third half-line is usually taken to mean the glory or splendor of a tree’s brilliant foliage (which is then possibly "gathered by the weather" if you prefer a different translation). But perhaps it also implies the glory of being the Lord's chosen tree. Maybe it refers to a ceremonial cross typically adorned with gold, silver and jewels, or even an allusion to the Dream of the Rood or similar story in which the true cross is similarly decked out and surrounded by light (another sort of "beam"). These old poets were cræftig.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Work in progress

in progress...

This may have been a couple of hours further along. I spent a good deal of time trying to get the red/orange/pink of the middle leaf and red/purple of the right leaf to make sense within the larger scheme. Then I played around with different elements in the background and trying out different colors. It has been very slow going but I will finish it and not let it languish incomplete (as my self-portrait is doing). Please bear with me.

The stick got a little too delineated and will have to be knocked back a little, especially on the left end. So far the bark hasn't been very complicated, just a matter of finding the right colors to lay down. I get frustrated a lot of the time knowing in my mind the kinds of effects I'm after in my painting and not being able to recreate them. Once in a while I look in my art books for specific guidance, on textures for example, and last night looked at Lawrence Alma-Tadema again for the first time in years - anyone not familiar already should find a book on him and have their mind blown. Sheesh ... what is this fauvist junk I'm painting? I need to restrict my palette.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Work in progress / Color chart: purples

in progress...

Showing something in progress is like having a crowd watch me walk a tightrope (I don't like crowds much). With no one around it's a simpler matter of getting from A to B, and what might happen in between is my business.... So here I am inching along. Another hour and a half or so, but it didn't really shape up as much as it could have. I thought the other day that I was getting sick, but now it seems I'm just in one of those funks when I can't focus on what's in front of me (the kind that used to be much darker and lasted very long times). Or maybe I need to get a really good night's sleep.

Thinking about being sick only reminded me of the great ones who died so young, through no fault of their own, yet were able to create such great work. That's to say I don't mean Janis Joplin types who drank and drugged themselves to death. But those like the poet Keats who died at 25, and especially my painting hero Richard Parkes Bonington who died at the same age, only a month shy of his next birthday - both from tuberculosis. I know I haven't made the most of my time on earth, but I am grateful to be alive.

I left this piece at the point where I began to add the purple in the leaf at right, and then did a chart of purples:
color chart: purples

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Work In progress: Autumn arrangement

in progress...
10/15: Autumn arrangement, oil on canvas, approx. 6x10 in.

I felt sluggish all day yesterday and could barely get this far on this piece. I spent only an hour but a long, slow hour, and my mind didn't seem to be at full power. Hopefully I can make something interesting out if this mess. I'm not looking forward to painting the little pine cone in front, or all the bark on the stick (like in the piece before). A subtler challenge might be to make sense of the stick with its cool undertones in front of the hot red leaves and pine needles in back.

It was interesting when I looked up "autumn arrangement" to find pretty flowers and harvested fruits and vegetables, and here I've set up some dead wood that I "harvested." It just shows what I find more interesting - some fallen things as they might have "arranged" themselves on the ground, waiting for an 18-month-old little girl to squat down to investigate.

Old English word of the day:

hærfest [hâr'-vəst]: autumn; this also came to mean the
month of August.
Hærfest derived from the same Proto-Indo-European root as did the Latin carpere (to cut, divide, pluck - "carpe diem").

Monday, October 15, 2007

Closeup of stick

closeup of stick
10/14: Closeup of stick, oil on canvas panel, 3x5 in.

Here is something somewhat abstract. I was going to set up an arrangement of sticks and leaves like a snapshot of random ground, thinking I had prepared a larger panel when I hadn't. So instead I focused on a portion of a stick purely as exercise (like jumping jacks), not caring much about accuracy, only color. In the back is a bunch of pine needles and a red leaf reduced to a shape.

Old English word of the day:

rind [rǐnd]: bark, rind, crust.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Banana #2

banana #2
10/13: Banana #2, oil on canvas panel, 5x3.5 in.

It took a few tries to decide what to do with the background at the top, having left it so empty. (I notice I have a subconscious tendency to find the square or the golden section within a rectangular picture plane, but that can be a topic for another day.) I found the blue-green to echo the green in the banana (should be the subject's colors echoing the background, really), and there's some airiness up there which feels nice. I always find it hard to give the feeling of air - or rather it's easy to stumble upon and just as easy to kill, but hard for me to do purposefully - it's easier to capture the light well enough to feel that I can get my hand behind an object. But painting air around something helps make it more solid.