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Archive for the ‘The Old Masters’ Category

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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The Softness of Dawn I

Recently my husband and I were treated to a visit to the Milwaukee Art Museum, where an exhibition of Rembrandts was on display.  My art museum experience is limited, so I was the quintessential country bumpkin—totally awed and “wow-ed” by the size and richness of Rembrandt’s paintings.  (However, most of them were self-portraits.  One portrayal of Rembrandt goes a long way!)

Obviously, there is nothing like the medium of oils to capture depth and complexity of texture.  Acrylics may mock the effect, yet somehow they look “so acrylic”!  Meanwhile due to the fumes and my dicky pulmonary tubes, oils were never a consideration for me when I began my love affair with art. 

But I have no regrets!  I’m totally besotted with my watercolors—more and more as time passes and I become more versant in the beautiful language of transparency.   

The above rendering was achieved effortlessly—in fact all I did was charge transparent paint onto wet paper.  The water and paint did the rest.  This technique is intensely satisfying.  There can never be a duplication or a knock off, when an artist steps back while letting the materials make the art. 

This humbling experience reminds me that maybe I’m not really an artist at all—but rather just a facilitator.  Obviously, Rembrandt and others of his genius—past and present—really have been and are artists.  But for me, I’m thoroughly delighted with “The Gift to Be Simple”!  🙂

Margaret L. Been, ©2013

NOTE:  Although most water soluble paints (including acrylics and gouache) can be thinned to a modicum of semi-transparency, some watercolors are highly transparent.  Any watercolor starting with the word “Quinacridone” will be transparent, as will many of the Winsor & Newton paints.  As well as Winsor & Newton, I also use (the very affordable, professional quality) American Journey Paints.  American Journey has a gorgeous bluey-greenish transparent color called “June Bug”.  

Regardless of brand Permanent Magenta, Alizarin Crimson, Dioxazine Purple, Indigo, and French Ultramarine are normally transparent.  Gamboge (a gloriously rich yellow) is semi-transparent.  These, along with June Bug, are major players in most of my paintings.

Margaret L. Been, ©2012

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I have been doing some fascinating GOOGLING, on the subject of the revered Old Masters of art.  According to one well-known contemporary British artist*, the Old Masters were not really masters at all:  they were just a bunch of tricksters.  This critic claims that they only pretended to paint by “eyeballing” live subjects in their studios, that no human could ever paint like the Masters appeared to paint from observation—and that instead they achieved their art by means of secret pre-camera optical devices, boxes with pinpoint holes in them, etc.

How ridiculous, to the point of being sick!  The claim that the Masters were tricksters is as outrageous as to say that Bach didn’t really compose his classic works from his innate genius and disciplined musical studies, but rather that he used some kind of pre-electronic musical gimmick.  Such buffoonery ranks with the spurious “experts” who expound that Shakespeare didn’t really write all of his plays—a claim which drives us lovers of classical literature nearly off the wall with anger.

One cogent writer on the issue of debunking the Old Masters states that denying the reality of genius (in any field) reflects the current trend to bring every human down to the same level.  This trend is a denial of the truth that we are made in the image of a Creative God—and a mockery of the fact that each one of us is unique.  We are not stamped out of the same mold, randomly produced by a chaotic Big Bang!

I respect and acknowledge the genuis behind the Old Masters of art just as I acknowledge the genuis of Shakespeare and Milton, Bach and Mozart, Da Vinci and Einstein.  And it should not take a genuis to realize that there are exceptional individuals in every arena of human endeavor, manifested in diverse areas from the galleries of Le Louvre to the playing field of the Green Bay Packers!  (This Wisconsin person had to put that in!  🙂 )

Having said all that, I’ll move from the sublime to the ridiculous.  Unlike the Old Masters, my art is a bag of tricks.  Whereas there is such a thing as genius in art, there is also such a thing as folk art and simply having fun.  Art is big! Fortunately there’s room for anyone who wants to grab a paint brush and go for it.

The above “not masterpiece” is full of fun tricks which anyone can perform:  1)  The speckles (on the gold background and in the reddish flowers) were created by rubbing water soluble colored pencils on an emery board nail file and letting the grit fall on wet paint.  2)  Colored pencils were also used to shade around the letters, inside the handle of the jug on the right, between flower petals, etc.  Then a wet brush loaded with paint of a similar-in-range color transformed the pencil marks and blended them into the actual paint.  3)  Those charming blotches on the (presumed to be) teapot at the left were achieved by dabbing a balled-up tissue on parts of the wet paint.  4)  The letters were templates from a child’s magnetic alphabet.  5)  The bird’s nest type thingy on the lower right of the painting was formed by that completely no-brain device known as a stencil.

So you see, I am not an Old Master (although I am fairly “old”).  I’m just a happy folk artist with a bag of tricks!”

Margaret L. Been, ©2012

*For more on the ridiculous mockery of the Old Masters, you can GOOGLE:  “Why David Hockney Should Not Be Taken Seriously”, by Brian Yoder.

And here is yet another “artist in training” at my dining room table atelier:  our great-grandson James.  Who knows?  Perhaps he’ll move beyond the tricks and become one of the “greats”!  ↓  Human potential is an awesome thing!

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