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Archive for the ‘Art History’ Category

Wisconsin Winter Dogwood 2

All the years (nearly ten!) that I’ve been making art have been satisfying, but without a doubt 2015 has been the most productive for me so far.  I’ve done more experimenting, begun to work larger (20″ x 24″), and enjoyed the privilege of exhibition opportunities including changing and hanging art four times a year at a restaurant, bank, chiropractic clinic, and hospice, and currently displaying twenty-nine watercolor and gouache paintings at a fun and trendy local restaurant.

I’m in awe of this, because it has simply “happened”.  I never dreamed of being able to display my work, and never pushed in that direction.  When we moved to the Lake Country Northwest of Milwaukee six plus years ago, I joined a group which features all artistic disciplines—mainly to get acquainted with writers and poets and find opportunities for poetry readings.

For one meeting of the group (the Pewaukee Area Arts Council) we were asked to bring visual art for a kind of “show and tell”.  I really stressed out about this.  Should I or should I not even dare to bring a few paintings to share?

For several years I’d studied via books and DVD tutorials.  I’d absorbed some basics.  I’d spent countless hours every week playing with my paints and brushes, because making art had become an overwhelming passion for me—as it continues to be today, ever-green and ever-growing.  I had consistently challenged myself with goals for trying new ideas and a variety of different methods and materials.  I’d embarked on a study of art history and past artists—an ongoing, fascinating research of which I never tire.

But no, I hadn’t considered that I’d ever share my work beyond a circle of family members and friends who would encourage whatever I do simply because they love me.  I was making art because it brought joy to my heart, beyond my ability to express.

With misgivings and absolutely no positive expectations, I did decide to bring three framed paintings to that meeting.  In retrospect, I was something like Hans Christian Andersen’s UGLY DUCKLING.  I saw the swans and they were so beautiful that I was inexplicably drawn to them, even though, in a metaphorical duckling’s motif they might “kill” me.

Well, my fellow artists did not “kill” me; they responded with enthusiasm and encouragement.  Suddenly I realized that even though inexperienced and limited, I might also be some kind of a swan.

While ever mindful that these new and exciting opportunities are Heaven sent—pure grace to a lady of advanced years—I can definitely say that 2015 has been a very good year for art.  In retrospect, all of my years have been good in one way or another—dating back to 1933.

MC 3Meanwhile:  Happy New Year to you from Joe, Margaret, and the sweetest corgi imaginable—Dylan Been.

Margaret L. Been — December 29. 2015

NOTE:  The above painting is titled “Wisconsin Winter Dogwood”.

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Leonardo da Vinci’s THE LAST SUPPER is agreed by many to be the one of the most significant paintings in Western art.  Not only does it represent artistic genius, it brings to life a crucial moment in history.  Obviously THE LAST SUPPER, along with many other master works of antiquity can legitimately be categorized as “Christian Art”.

During past centuries when the masses of people did not read, and had no access to Bibles or writings of any kind, visual art was the major medium through which ideas could be expressed.  Great paintings, timeless sculptures, and magnificent cathedral murals portraying the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus were the means by which the common people could experience and consider for themselves the tenents of Scripture.  God raised up long-since-unparalled masters of art in those centuries, for the purpose of communicating truths which are now largely communicated through the Bible and other writings.

A friend who publishes an evangelical magazine once asked me if I could submit some “Christian art” for his periodical.  After scratching my head on that one for some time, I had to tell my friend that I really didn’t have anything which he would consider suitable.  He was looking for a painting with a cross, Jesus kneeling in the Garden, or a weeping woman standing by the empty tomb.

Because so many masters have “gone there, done that”,  I—an absolute neophyte at painting—would be highly presumptuous to even consider painting such a scene.  And how many people (myself included) have been turned off by ethereal attempts at portraying a Jesus who looks more like a 19th century English poet or a Swedish Hippie, than the Jewish carpenter whom He was when He walked the earth?!

Visual art differs from vocal music and poetry—or any medium where words are involved.  Words tell, and thus we do have “Christian music” and “Christian poetry”.  I have published Christian poetry, as well as essays and testimonies.  But it has been said that “A picture is worth a thousand words”.  So what kind of contemporary pictures, aside from presenting Jesus as a 19th century poet or a Swedish Hippie, can actually be deemed “Christian art”?

As an amateur artist my aim is to express joy, color, beauty plus a quality of life which includes a sense of wonder, enthusiasm, excitement, intrinsic meaning, and contentment in the moment at hand.  The Judeo-Christian worldview affirms life and presents a loving, sovereign God of creation.  I desire to celebrate life, and in so doing to celebrate the Creator.

Without making a cheesy attempt to mimic centuries of genuine artistic genius, a celebration of life is the best I can offer concerning “Christian art!”  However, I can and do add titles to my paintings, and titles are WORDS.  The following watercolor on Yupo paper is an example titled:  “By the Fiat of His Word“.

Margaret L. Been — September 19, 2015 — (First posted in another of my blogs:  http://hiswordistrue.wordpress.com in 2014. )

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Swamp Fire

Awhile back I experienced a kind of “painter’s block” where I felt like I would never again be able to paint anything which might serve to slightly elevate my very low blood pressure, let alone anyone else’s.  This has happened to me fairly regularly over the past six years in which I’ve been making art.  Because I love art with a passion, I refuse to give up where my painting is concerned and I’ve discovered ways to boost my psyche out of any potential creativity block.

Along with “keeping on keeping on”, it helps immeasurably to add a new medium or avenue of expression to the art-making so that the process never becomes routine.  I have no desire to become stylized by reproducing cookie-cutter, look-alike work; hence I’ve added gouache to my watercolor stash and periodically I produce collages from a large collection of saved “everything” in terms of visual appeal, textural quality, and treasured memorabilia.  A new-to-me paint color, often from a new-to-me manufacturer, is another exciting form of recharging my art batteries and crashing through the artist’s block.

DVDs and books by artists are an ongoing source of inspiration to me.  I view and read them over and over, constantly finding something fresh and applicable.  Hence I have not one but many teachers.  Recently I received an absolute no-fail “block-buster” via a new-to-me DVD, by a new-to-me artist/art instructor:  British watercolorist, Ann Blockley.

Ms Blockley’s love for nature springs to life through her exquisite paintings achieved with a variety of methods.  She uses acrylic ink, oil pastels, and other materials in her work, reflecting a vitality and sense of beauty in the smallest details of nature alongside a background of landscape bordering on abstract forms which I find tremendously compelling.

Ann’s color choices leap over any possible boundaries which might threaten to confine a painter enamored with, or driven by, objective realism.  Much as I appreciate the incredible skill represented in realistic art, my head and heart are stirred by work that overcomes those boundaries—work that embodies mystery and stirs the imagination.  If I want realism, I enjoy photography—another fantastic art.

In her DVD, Ann Blockley stresses what most artist’s value:  painting what we love, from our experience.  Although Ann paints in her studio (a charming antique outbuilding surrounded by her lush garden on her English country property) she gathers inspiration in time spent outdoors with nature in all seasons.  She sometimes sketches details which capture her interest when walking, and gathers information concerning subject matter to develop in her studio—along with branches of seed pods, leaves, and flowers which bring nature indoors.

I feel akin to this artist, as I never never can go for a walk without bringing in something:  pine cones, some fallen nuts (even just nutshells cleaned out and abandoned by squirrels), stones, leaves, dried on the branch flowers, etc.  Our visiting great-grandchildren love to sort through my numerous stones and rocks—plus shells that I’ve collected myself on inland beaches along with gorgeous ocean shells which have been given to me by friends who spend time on ocean beaches.  Thus, after viewing the Blockley DVD a few times, the above rendering of a swamp emerged.  Like THE GIRL OF THE LIMBERLOST, I have always loved swamps, and Joe and I were privileged to live overlooking a Northern Wisconsin swamp for several years.

So thanks to one more British artist, I have leaped over another incident of artist’s block and I’m re-energized—raring to go on.  My list of favorite and most inspirational water media teachers, through books and DVDs, has grown again.  The list includes one Canadian artist, one American, and four from Britain.  Those stats tell me that since the venerable art of watercolor painting (or rather watercolour) was long-ago perfected in England, we “colonists” can be eternally grateful for our heritage!!!  I know that I am!!!  🙂

Margaret L. Been, November 2014

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Karen's Patio

Recently a friend posed a question that has inspired me to ponder.  Knowing I’d only been making art for a few years, she asked, “Do you think you are getting any better at it?”

After pondering long and hard, I keep coming up with the same answer:  “No, I’m not improving—only changing.  And definitely growing!”  Not only growing in the sense of experimenting with my paints and stretching into areas I never dreamed of before, but I think I’m growing as a human!  After all, the intensive reading of art history and studying centuries of great art (mostly via books and periodicals, not galleries) cannot fail.  Learning any new thing will result in growth in comprehension and appreciation—and that growth fans out to impact many other areas of life.

I’m learning to see with fresh eyes—similar, perhaps, to the eyes of a child.  I’m discovering beauty in off-beat places—like the weathered and rustic back alley behind the stores in our up-north small town, and a case of colorful gelato in our local coffee bistro.  Just last week hundreds of teensy tadpoles slithering about in the shallows of the Rock River set my mental paintbrush slithering on hypothetical 140 lb. cold press paper.

More than ever before, I think in pictures and translate mental pictures into shapes not readily discernible to anyone but me.  When I paint a picture from my mind, or from an experience I want to remember, one or more facets of that scene or experience will surface in colors which convey mood and emotions.

Below you will see an example of painting an experience—a rendering which I shared awhile back, and am repeating in this instance because it shows the technique of expressing one or more facets to tell a story, rather than trying to replicate a scene in photographic detail:

Jamie and Leo's Day

The experience dates back to a wedding in September, 2013.  Family members and friends of our granddaughter Jamie and her sweetheart Leonardo were waiting outside of St. John’s mini cathedral in Delafield, Wisconsin for that moment when we could enter the church for the ceremony.  Anyone who has experienced the best of a typical Wisconsin autumn can reconstruct the scene in his or her mind:  warm sunshine, crisp air, blue sky, and the sleepy droning of cicadas.  The day—mellow beyond words.  Jamie and Leo—even more mellow and precious than the day.  When a scene or experience is mellow beyond WORDS, only a picture will suffice.

So in this rendering—“Jamie and Leonardo’s Day”—you will see sunlight, the Norman architecture of the St. John’s cathedral and campus, and the suggestion of trees in early autumn while the grass is still summer-green.  I could not begin to paint Jamie and Leo, but I could record the happiness I experienced at their wedding.

Growing through art.  Along with growing in ways to see, I’m growing in a tolerance for messes.  Life in process can be messy, but I’ve always been a neat freak.  From the onset of my art adventure, I’ve had to relax with messes and even enjoy them when they reflect a work in process.  There are paint stains on the carpet around my art table, and splatters on the strip of drywall behind where I work.  Part of the décor!  Evidence of a life lived with the exuberance of freedom from fussing and fretting about things that don’t matter!

No, not better.  Just changing and growing.  The painting at the top of this page is a rendering of my friend Karen’s patio.  I did this back in 2007, from a photo that I’d taken when visiting Karen.  I had my original painting reproduced at a print shop, to a place mat size, and then laminated—so we have placemats of Karen’s patio.  I also gave her some of the placemats, and she recognized her patio.

Were I to paint the same scene today it would be vastly different—not only because Karen is always assembling fresh details of vintage beauty in her home and garden, but because today I would not even dream of trying to reproduce a scene camera style.  Certain features of the patio décor would grab me, and I would express those features—colored by my mood and the essence of that day.

The mention of “mood” brings me to the realization that perhaps only in the arts can one’s subjective mood be the prominent and dominating factor.  In our everyday world, objectivity is absolutely essential—for survival, for accuracy in our work, in our understanding of other people, and for a correct view of life itself.

Contrary to much current thought, we live in a world which is objectively BLACK AND WHITE—in terms of TRUTH AND NON-TRUTH, GOOD AND EVIL, RIGHT AND WRONG.  But in the arts, we can express with subjectivity—life as we see and experience it, uniquely from the inside out.  Considering the countless benefits of (and reasons for) art, perhaps that is one of the greatest:  the arts are windows to subjective aspects of the human experience.

No, not better.  As far as I can see, just changing and growing.  At age 80, I’m blessedly free of a competitive spirit in my work.  Thus, art making is pure pleasure and excitement for me—devoid of any sense of struggle or drive which would mar my freedom, spontaneity, and joy.  If I can express just those three things—freedom, spontaneity, and joy—I’m delighted.  And completely contented!

Here is a very recent example called “Blue and Old Pottery”—done in gouache (with hints of watercolor and acrylic) on Yupo paper.  Not better, just changing and growing.  And different!  That’s part of the excitement of art.  No two paintings are alike!  🙂

blue and old pottery 2

Margaret L. Been — July, 2014

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Boreal Twilight

It is the night before the night before Christmas—a time of great joy for our family (50 immediate family members counting children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, husbands, wives, and significant others).  There are also friends whom we consider to be family—some who have been an integral part of our lives for decades, our children’s close friends among them.

Meanwhile, this is an art blog.  How I love sharing art talk with kindred readers!  I’ve been thinking big time about the people who have encouraged and instructed me in this late-in-life experience which has become an absolute passion and joy!

My family has been an incredible support, and they like to have some of “me” on their walls.  Joe smiles when the UPS drops packages at our patio door—brown boxes loaded with brushes, tubes of paint, and huge increments of paper.  At one time he said, “Don’t artists use the 3 primaries to get all their colors?”  My answer was “Yes, that can be done, but just look at what manufacturers have produced in recent decades.”  Joe got the point, which is pretty obvious when one views the two generous containers in my studio:  one overflowing with partially squeezed tubes, and the other abounding in delicious brand new tubes waiting their turn to get squeezed.

The support of those whom I consider to be “real artists”, has been an amazing surprise and blessing at every turn.  By real artists I mean exactly that.  These are the individuals who were often drawing and painting as children—just as I was always writing a poem or an essay.  They are professional in every sense of the world—whether in teaching or selling (and frequently they are doing both).

As a fumbling, embarrassed beginner (not that long ago—it was 2006) I never dreamed of getting encouragement from artists who know what they are doing.  But I soon discovered that collectively artists are actually the most out-going, supportive people on earth—creative souls who love nothing more than to share their passion while inspiring others to experiment and grow.

Most painters (and this is probably true in other visual art disciplines) realize that each of us is one of a kind.  We learn from each other, however each person’s work will have a signature which is unique.  There is art for all people, at all levels.  I certainly know the difference between the four to six digit paintings which hang in the most discerning of galleries, and my own art which may be displayed and very occasionally sold at an Art Walk on the sidewalks of our small neighborhood community.  I am contented, and tremendously happy to be a part of the entire scene!

I owe more than words can say to a friend, fine artist in pastels, and encouraging teacher in the gorgeous Wisconsin Northwoods—Diana Randolph.  I attended two of Diana’s workshops held at a school a couple of hours from our Northern home—one a drawing class and the other an introduction to those beautiful buttery, silky pastels.

Drawing was (and I admit still is) my very weakest thing (I can’t call it a skill)!  This is a sobering admission since the reading of Art History reveals that down through the ages drawing has been the very basis of art.  Years were spent, simply drawing.  Pre-Raphaelite English fine artist and critic John Ruskin believed that color should only be introduced after an intense discipline of drawing-drawing-drawing.  Sorry, John.  I simply couldn’t go there, and my heart does not leap at the sight of a pencil or charcoal stick.

But COLOR!  There I was immediately hooked/grabbed/enamored/and fulfilled—body and soul.  To add color!  Well I had been doing that in decorating my home and body nearly forever.  Why not add color to paper or canvas?  Diana’s pastels got me so excited that I ordered high quality soft and hard sticks, the right surface, the sandpaper, the solvent to smear in strategic spots, the whole bit—only to discover that pastel dust did nothing worthwhile for my tetchy breathing apparatus.

Realizing that pastels were out, I deduced that oils would also be a problem for this confirmed asthmatic.  So what was my logical medium for COLOR?  Water/water/water and wonderful 37ml tubes of watercolor.  (Winsor & Newton, Da Vinci, and American Journey all come in these large tubes.  I also love some Daniel Smith colors which are available in smaller sizes.)

Diana Randolph is the only “real life” teacher I’ve worked with.  But a long time friend, fine artist Jan Roberts, has also been a constant source of inspiration.  Jan works in most every medium, and I have three of her magnificent oils hanging in our home.

My bookshelves groan with contemporary watercolorists who have shared through their books.  I have studied via books and DVDs—reading and viewing over and over and then some.  Each of these artists is unique, and they have varying views on many aspects of what to do, and how.  All of them encourage beginners, and acknowledge that they once were novices as well.  (Maybe when they were three years old! )

Book and DVD studies are also refreshing and freeing!  I respond to some techniques and am not so crazy about others.  This, perhaps, is the birth of an artist’s voice—compounded from much exposure from books, films, and actual galleries whenever possible!  A person can never learn it all, and knowing that I am a student, forever growing, thrills me right down to my toes!

Here is my list of surrogate teachers in watercolor painting:  Americans—Charles Reid, Cheng-Khee CHEE, Barbara Nechis, Karlyn Holman (Wisconsin proudly claims Karlyn!), and Taylor Ikin (the “YUPO Queen”); Canadians—Karin Huehold and Linda Kemp; and British—Shirley Trevena and Jean Haines.  These are amazing teachers who differ in many ways—their main similarity being the creation of fantastically beautiful work.  Due to the marvels of technology, I have received email encouragement from some of these artists.  The profusion of encouragement never fails to remind me of Hans Christian Andersen’s THE UGLY DUCKLING.  I realize that I’m not quite a “swan”, but the swans have really made me feel like I belong—and this is a beautiful feeling!

Currently, I’m enjoying practicing a method from UK fine artist Jean Haines’ DVD, AMAZING WAYS WITH WATERCOLOR.  Jean begins some of her paintings with a single spot on the paper, and letting the subject reveal itself from that spot by streaking lots of color and water in a diagonal.  Jean stresses the need to let each stage dry completely, and to enjoy the beauty of each stage—the color fusions and the way a subject will evolve for future development.

Jean demonstrates painting cockerels (of course that’s UK for roosters).  She loves cockerels and so do I having raised numerous fancy breeds of cockerels (I think I’ll call them that!), hens, and chicks for eighteen years on our little funny farm in Eagle, Wisconsin.  So I have been experimenting, and here is one of my studies—called “Overdressed for the Occasion”.

Overdressed for the Occasion 2

It will undoubtedly take many more “bloggings” to share the countless ideas I’ve incorporated from books and DVDs.  I hope to do that in 2014.  But this blog entry has grown so long, I wonder if anyone will make it to the finish.

Nevertheless, I don’t want to edit a single word of thanks to all of my teachers, and to you readers.  You mean so much to me!!!  🙂  Merry Christmas!!!

Margaret L. Been, December 2013

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Windows to Beyond

Always Time for Tea 2

Art makes fascinating study.  I’m continually amazed at the varying views and disagreement between artists in every detail of painting.  Some staple or tape their paper to a board before proceding, while others (and I am one of these) just let the paper float so that they can lift and blend colors or rinse off areas which are still damp when so desired.  Many artists make value sketches before beginning to paint, and plan every brush stroke in advance, while others begin intuitively—letting the first blobs of paint on wet paper determine the subject of the work.

Some artists will say, “Never extend a shape to the edge of the paper or let part of an object disappear”, while others contend that disappearing shapes make a piece far more interesting.  (The latter suits my taste best, as you can see in my above still life titled “Always Time for Tea.”)

Both of my samples pictured here (the top one is titled “Windows to Beyond“) defy the supposedly “set in stone” art rule which insists that light comes forward and dark recedes.  Obviously the concept of advancing light and receding dark applies to the magnificent chiaroscuro (strong contrast between light and dark) works of the Old Masters which frequently featured portraits. 

Recently I was treated to a traveling exhibition of Rembrandt’s self-portraits at the Milwaukee Art Museum.  The face and form of the artist loomed prominently in lights and midtones, highlighted in subtle shadows and flanked by a definitive background of darks.  But I am not a “master” in any sense of the word.  Although I understand the chiaroscuro precept (among other art rules) I don’t consciously attempt to employ it.  Rather, I just sit down and paint—and invariably my darks come forward and my lights recede.  

Perhaps my darks are not true darks.  My handling of watercolor evokes the medium’s transparency and ability to diffuse, but I may never replicate the incredibly rich, velvet-textured darks produced by oils.  That’s okay.  I greatly appreciate the skills and materials which are way beyond my ken, and I’m thankful to have even a rudimentary degree of understanding concerning the principle of light and dark.  Also, quite possibly my darks come forth and my lights recede because my (perhaps one and only!) strength is COLOR.  As one of my favorite contemporary artists, Charles Reid explains: vibrant color always predominates.  Viva les couleurs! 

I delight in reading all and any art history I can get my hands on—and there is enough of it out there to keep me entertained for the rest of my life.  Most of the reading is enjoyable and informative, but I’m especially drawn to the artists who exploited color to the max—the Impressionists, Post Impressionists, and various other “Ists” of the 2nd half of the 19th Century into the early 20th.  Currently my most beloved painter of that era is Matisse who shocked the Parisian art world with his blatant use of color.  Matisse and his followers earned the title:  Les Fauves—meaning “Wild Beasts”.

Reading about artists and art movements is, to me, like eating chocolate or maple sugar—thrilling beyond words.  In fact, the reading is far better than candy!  I can’t get sick on reading art history!  Only more and more inspired, drawn, captivated, and excited about the entire amazing world of shape, texture, and COLOR!  🙂

Margaret L. Been ©2013

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A Place Within

I have been studying art history, and I’m constantly realizing how little I know while rejoicing in the fact that I have time to learn.  Especially since the Parisian Art Revolution which began in the 1860s when those “isms” which warm my heart began to develop in rapid succession, my head spins as I sort out the many fascinating developments of art. 

There is one particular aspect of pictorial language that resonates with me, a language which I understand from the inside out:  the language of color.  Here I’m thoroughly at home in my adopted country of visual art.  I’m on familiar ground, surrounded by artists with whom I could chat at a sidewalk café most anywhere in the civilized world. 

Perhaps that’s because my art is completely subjective.  Like my poetry, my art is a place where I’m free to express myself—a world within.  Even more than the components of light and shadow, typical of the Old Masters’ works, color speaks to me!  As effectively as poetry, color portrays that highly personal inner place—my soul. 

This art adventure parallels a new stage of life, a transition from country to community living.  Thirty three years ago, in the press of demanding circumstances, my husband and I moved to a country home where (like Thoreau at Walden) I could learn to live deliberately.  From that country home we moved to a wild location where there were more deer than humans, a visibly large population of black bears, and a substantial number of timber wolves.  Beautiful background for feeding the soul. 

I believe that God created each of us with a personality to be shaped and honed as He wills.  For nearly thirty years He shaped my world within through nature and solitude and (like Thoreau) I actually learned to live deliberately.  Then suddenly we were translated to a community setting.  My husband and I did what we never thought we could do; we moved from our haven of wild serenity to the accelerated pace of a city suburb—albeit quiet, and definitely not urban. 

And here I am, still living deliberately.  Meanwhile, what am I learning from art history?  I’m learning that art really is all about freedom, even freedom from the isms.  

For me, that means freedom to express my world within—specifically through COLOR

Margaret L. Been, ©2013

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