Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Oil on linen, 24" x 30"
Winter sunsets are the most spectacular here in dandyland, though they are colder to watch. Silhouettes of trees present technical problems - one of the pleasures of seeing them is the intricate lacework of their uncountable (and unpaintable) twigs and branches. Reduction is a slippery slope. Is a daub that suggests the color and effect of a million twigs really the best solution?
Back in the 80s there was a charming older couple who collected my work living in Cincinnati. Their collection, gracing an Italian Modernist house in the posh hills above the city, was impressive - Jasper Johns, Barnett Newman, (less to me - David Hockney) - some of the more restrained examples of abstract expressionism and minimalist painting of the late 60s/early 70s. I did feel a rush from seeing my work hung on the walls with that of "famous artists" whose work and lives I had studied in books.
Once when we were talking about painting, Mr. ___ asked me a question which has tumbled in my head ever since - "Why do you not use subtle colors?" I think he meant the relatively unmixed, "unbroken" hues and primary colors that I was, and continue to be, fond of, but I was stumped to understand what he meant by subtle in my own terms. I took it as a backburner challenge - a question to explore. l've been exploring it ever since.
In another sense, landscapes that look like paintings, "contemporary" paintings that look like landscapes, are marked as naive by many art viewers. Paintings are expected to come loaded with all sorts of info besides a view, a simulated view at that. And what is more postcardish than a view of a sunset? Surely only second rate photographers are enticed into enthusiasm over something so un-subtle as the ephemera of weather, sunlight and land. "Paintings are about the materials they are made of - canvas and paint." - so a very dull curator pontificated to me once. What he really wanted to say, but lacked the nerve, was "I don't like you."
Perhaps this is all related, in our culture, to the reason that black and white (+gray, brown, and navy) make serious, important, reasonable clothing for dignified people & occasions, while scarlet, spring green, lemon yellow, iridescent blue, etc, etc, are for primitives, lower classes, and children - silly people.
What I do know is that sunsets and sunrises, as subjects for paintings, are a bit harder to sell than landscapes without the brilliant colors. If you want to sell it, and you have to do something involving the color effects of the sun on the horizon, choose a moment before or after the most colorful one.
All this is very much besides the point of a painting, something which flares into existence as unexpectedly as a phoenix.