Descanso Gardens

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I decided to take a month off from the studio this January, and instead refreshed my visual senses with a trip to the west coast.  For months I had been feeling the creative tug of painting landscapes again.  A fresh breath, so to speak.  

I had seen a quote by Vincent Van Gogh attached to the new Hockney/Van Gogh exhibition coming to Amsterdam this spring (https://www.vangoghmuseum.nl/en).  In a letter from December 1882, the artist wrote “Sometimes I long so much to do landscape, just as one would go for a long walk to refresh oneself, and in all of nature, in trees for instance, I see expression and a soul.”

I couldn’t agree more, So in the beautiful Descanso Gardens in the hills on the outskirts of LA, I found my muse.

I had been to the gardens before, and one of my favorite spots is the Japanese Garden with its striking red bridge.

The camellias were blooming. In 1942, when people of Japanese ancestry were forced in to internment camps following the attack of Pearl Harbor, E. Manchester Boddy, who owned the working ranch, purchased 100,000 camellia plants from friends, two Japanese-owned nurseries.

Now a non-profit organization, the Descanso Gardens Guild manages the gardens in partnership with Los Angeles County.

This gorgeous place showcases the beauty of nature at its best and the desire to preserve it for future generations.

I’ve visited the gardens on many of my trips to LA, and I never get tired of it.

Descanso: The Red Bridge, 30 x 40″, oil

 

Turtle Bay Memories

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A little while ago, I got an email from a woman who had spent her honeymoon on St. John, USVI in the 90s and over the years had collected prints from my pastel series “The Seven Beaches of Caneel”.

I had originally done the series years ago, at the beginning of my “second” career as a fine artist.

She had 6 of the 7 in the series I had produced in 2002, but was unable to find number 7.  “Turtle Bay” was nowhere to be found.

Over the years, slowly but surely all the prints had been sold from Bajo el Sol Gallery, my first gallery representation, located at Mongoose Junction on St. John in the US Virgin Islands.

I had a master set of the prints, and photo files of the original pastels, as well as a copy of the original photos I had worked from.  There didn’t seem to be any prints left anywhere except for my master set.

I loved Caneel after discovering it. I used to walk through the grounds constantly when we lived on St. John for over 7 years. It was beautiful, built on National Park land and including the old Rockefeller Estate.  There really were 7 very unique beaches on the resort, each with its own personality.

Turtle Bay was at the far end, just below the old Rockefeller Estate house.  I offered to re-create the image to size as an original pastel to complete her set.  It meant a lot to her, and it was wonderful to re-visit the beach in my mind.

Caneel Bay Resort got severely damaged in the hurricanes of 2017.  I’m not sure if the resort will rebuild or not.  But the memories will live on.

Here’s Looking Back at Britain

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This has been a crazy year, and often when the world stage becomes this stress-inducing, I turn again to the English countryside.

Sheep Unshorn, 10 x 10″, oil

I am sure part of its allure is my beautiful British husband.  The charm of his country stole my heart, along with him, years ago.

Cows In Repose, 10 x 10″, oil

But recently, I revisited some earlier trips and found images to paint in small 10 x 10 canvases just perfect to group, or appreciate on their own.

Two Swans Swimming, 10 x 10″, oil

I dropped these off at Gallery 50 in Rehoboth Beach, DE just in time for the holiday season. And I can begin to contemplate the coming winter months in the studio.

Ashford-in-the-Water, 10 x 10″, oil

The perfect time to sit at my easel and paint my memories and dreams.

Highclere, 10 x 10″, oil

Clearing Skies

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This painting was done with great care for a husband who wanted to give his wife a very special birthday gift.  He mentioned that he could do jewelry or clothes or a trip but he wanted something that would express the warmth of family life that they had shared for many years.

And so I started “Clearing Skies” . His only direction was that he wanted it somehow focused on Washington, DC where they had lived and worked nearby for decades, and that somehow he wanted to include family members.

He also wanted it to be a surprise for her October birthday.  So not a word to her, or anyone in the family, all of whom I know personally.

I set out early one cool day last January to do some reconnaissance and see what location might work best, focusing on major Washington DC landmarks.  It also had to be a scene that could accommodate multiple figures.  Other than that, I was open to inspiration.

As luck would have it, it had been cold for weeks, but all of a sudden it was warmer and had a misty rain in the air creating dramatic fog effects everywhere. As I crossed the pedestrian paths near the mall, I was thrilled to see colors and light that was interesting and different from the normal “postcard” DC scenes.  Perfect. What I thought would just be a thinking photo session, showed real results.

My patron left it completely open to my creative direction, but asked if I would include him in the process.  He’d never worked with an artist before, and was keen to have a better understanding of how an artist works.  We set up an email link so we could communicate without being discovered.

I sent him sketches.  He sent me family images that I could work from when I got stuck with Facebook or personal archives.

He was very complimentary, and I could tell, very excited about the project.  He also said he had no idea when we started how much work went in to creating a large painting.  It was fun for both of us.

I, of course, wanted to make sure he was pleased, but also create something that I loved artistically. I also wanted it to have a long life of enjoyment, hopefully by future generations.

I wanted something that they would never get tired of walking in to the room and discovering it as new over and over again.

I completed it with a couple of months to spare so it could dry and be framed and ready to present.

I hope this family can cherish this memory of a particular time and place for generations to come.

 

Clearing Skies, 30 x 48″, oils

More Patterns

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When a client loves your work, but it doesn’t quite fit their space, consignment work is often a solution.  I was nervous about this type of work when I first started painting full-time and had a few requests.

But then, I realized in my decades as a creative director for my own graphic design firm in Washington D.C., interpreting a client’s wishes with beautiful color and design had been the way I made a living for many years.

The only difference in fine art, was that the question it had to answer was “will it fit in with my aesthetic lifestyle”.  “Will it touch the new patron emotionally with color, content and design” is common in both commercial art and fine art. In my design business I often, after a few conversations, had to figure out a way to solve the problem in a way that I loved, but also pleased the client. Art commissions work the same way.

Patterns II started with the client loving a piece they had seen in one of my great galleries that represents me, Gallery 37, in Milford DE.  Having seen one of my wave paintings and loving the style and color patterns, they wanted something larger for their home.  After some back and forth meaningful dialogue, I realized it was the color palette, movement, serenity and the rock formation that had intrigued them in the smaller painting they had seen which was based on a seaside scene in Portugal I had photographed years earlier.

I found it was a joy re-visiting a painting that brought back memories of the trip along the Portuguese coast and a unique photo session for the original painting.  As I was working on a new interpretation, I thought of Monet and his Rouen Cathedral and haystack paintings…subjects he returned to again and again.

I was happy with the results, as was the client. There is a satisfaction not just in the physical painting, but also in interpreting the clients dreams of a piece of art they will live with and love for a long time.

Patterns II, 48 x 36″, oil

Cows, twilight and a moon

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It is the first day of spring today with a forecast of snow tonight…climate is on my mind.  What better way to deal with it than to escape to the perfect English landscape on a summer’s day.

This is the Cotswolds in England a few summers ago, just south of the lovely village of Tetbury, and this scene was the view from our bedroom window at The Hare and Hounds Hotel.  The next morning we were going to tour Prince Charles’ Royal Gardens at Highgrove House which is nearby.

As I watched out the window, the sun began to set, the cows barely moved across the field and the moon rose giving everything a magical quality.

I added the traveler peering over the wall, decided to decrease the size of lamp and have the edge of the wall in the foreground disappear a bit into the rich grass.

I refined the sky with the ever-present British clouds skirting the horizon, and added details to the incredible farm buildings in the distance. I watched this scene from my window until just the moon lit the sky.  The cows didn’t stray far.

Working Title “Moonrise”  oil, 30 x 48″

Will the trees still be here tomorrow?

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I think about the destiny of the natural world for the next generations. With the climate change prognosis so uncertain, I worry that we will miss the window of opportunity to protect such diversity and beauty. I hope it is not slipping away.

My two young grandnieces are the future. They love the outdoors and see it all with that new sense of wonder so common in the young.

I had visited Bath, in the UK, a few years ago in November, when the leaves were falling and everything had a muted, mysterious end of season look to it.

Walking through the botanical gardens, I came across these birch trees, hanging on to their last leaves, framing a gorgeous color palette of greens, rusts and gold.  I had noticed a woman pushing a baby carriage earlier and decided to place her moving in to the distance of this scene.  My nieces, Lilly and Abby, became my models from a photo their mom had taken in a different setting.  I placed them in to this park, put fall jackets on them and had them enter this special space.

This was a difficult one to get the sense of shadowed uncertainty I wanted, but still keep it fresh and hopeful.  I hope I succeeded.

Note my last, final changes in the small details.  There is always a moment when I am not sure I am finished and spend time, often days, just looking, thinking, looking again at other artists work (Doig, Wyeth, Wiesenfeld, Celaya) and making those final decisions that mean it is finished.

I added a leaf over the girls’ head, and a falling leaf between them and the viewer, changed the tone of the green lawn, some subtle rays of sunshine and edited Abby’s hat to be smaller and less “matched” to her jacket.  I was finally finished telling the story.

“Will The Trees Still Be Here Tomorrow”, oil on linen, 40 x 30″

 

 

Children at the Museum

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A few years ago, I was in Cambridge and saw a museum scene in Cambridge of children relaxed and attentive on the floor of a gallery, contemplating and studying the art.

A patron asked if he could commission a new version with a similar vibe since the first one had sold this past summer. It was a familiar scene I have seen over and over again no matter where I go, a classic…students immersed in the art. So I took it on, trying to be original but capturing the fun and excitement of young students visiting the museum that had worked so well in the former painting.

I chose The National Gallery of Art this time, in Washington DC. I never have a total preconception  of what I will paint.  I always figure I’ll know it when I see it.  I knew I wanted young children in school uniforms visiting a museum. I found lots of school groups.  But not the age I wanted. So I kept looking.

When I walked up to the museum on an early weekday morning reconnaissance mission, I was pleased to see a group of children, in uniforms, sitting on the curb outside the museum.  I had my potential reference, at least for poses and styling details.

I  went in to the Museum, and walked through the galleries trying to decide on the art I wanted to showcase. When I walked in to the gallery with the vivid colors of Caillebotte, I made my choice, and shot several photographs of different angles.

Then for the school group.  I found the children again, and took enough photos of different poses from the back so as not to identify them, to get positions and poses.

I went home to sketch and realized I still wasn’t sure  about proportions in the space.  So back to the Museum for an hour or two of watching children come in and out of the room to determine height and proportion in relationship to the art and room. Perspective was tough.

Finally I had it.  I looked online for different uniform combinations, and decided on the blue, gray and black to compliment the colors in the art.  And only then was I ready for the weeks of sketching and painting and playing with colors and shadow.

Luckily, we were all pleased with results.  More often than not I try to capture models in an actual scene and then change them enough so they suit the scene.  Much easier than the cut and paste method, but with perseverance, this worked out well.

“Child’s Play”, oil on linen, 24 x 30″

Sunday Afternoon

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I have always loved the intimate setting of the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC.  I have visited it for decades. I had an hour to kill when I was downtown near Dupont Circle recently, so I popped in.

It was hot and busy out on the surrounding streets, with people getting coffee, visiting the street markets…hustle and bustle.

When I entered the Phillips, it was cool and golden.  The art is purposely juxtaposed to present different styles and eras in close proximity.  It gives a richness to the experience of wandering through the rooms, just as this couple was doing.

The red chair, the bright stairwell, and the soft glow around the painting they have focused on is a magnificent play of light, shadow and color surrounding a superb collection.

“Sunday Afternoon at the Phillips”, 30 x 24″, oil on linen.

Divided

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The Kreeger Museum is a hidden gem in Washington DC.  Hidden in plain sight on Foxhall Road NW, it is just a few minutes from Georgetown and Key Bridge. The private, non-profit museum is set on 5 acres of sculpture-filled, tranquil gardens.  The museum is the former residence of David & Carmen Kreeger, and focuses on 19th & 20th Century art, as well as prominent Washington artists.

It’s truly a lovely setting to view art. I’ve always particularly loved homes that have been turned in to museums. These rooms in the Kreeger are conducive to contemplation, as seen by these two women.

Separated by William Christenberry’s “Dream Building II” and surrounded by Clifford Still’s “Untitled”, Sam Gilliam’s “Cape”, and Josef Albers’ Homage to the Square:Wet and Dry” the two women are each lost in their personal worlds.

I especially loved the play of sculpted shadows set against the color of the paintings.  The women become part of that neutral palette, allowing the art to really define the space.

Divided, 24 x 36″, oil on linen