This past winter I was lucky enough to get a lovely commission for two paintings from Gallery50, my long standing gallery in Rehoboth Beach, DE.
One was a large 60 x 40″ canvas that would feature Barnett Newman’s Air Heroicus Sublimis at MOMA (The Museum of Modern Art in New York City). For the other, which was to include a school visit, I chose one of my favorite galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC that revolved around Degas’ The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer. This painting would be smaller and more intimate in scale. I had an earlier photo I had taken that I would rely on for angle. But it needed to tell a story. It needed the children.
I ordered the stretched canvas. The 24″x36″ came almost right away. The 60″x40″ took over a month because of 2022 supply and shipping issues. But I had plenty to do in the meantime.
I started going through my photo files. I have lots of reference from years of museum visits, but choosing the perfect combination of gallery angles, art and figures took time and thought. The dining table in front of the fire became my workshop. It was January.
I sketched, erased, ripped up the tissue and started again. I always want to tell a story in these gallery scenes. With all the activity of a class assignment on the left of the smaller canvas, I wanted to balance the scene with a younger child fixated on Degas dancer. She is oblivious to the chaos around her. I finally penciled it on to the canvas.
For the Newman gallery scene at MOMA, I wanted to include a variety of museum goers. I like to balance the different characters, and the young girl working on her notebook was the perfect foil for the man on the right looking at his phone (by the way, that is my husband–this is a typical shot of him after he’s viewed the gallery with me and I want to linger in the space longer…he’s a very patient man). The small lettering on the sketch are color notes to myself.
Still waiting for the larger canvas to arrive, I began to work color on The Little Ballerina. I went on line to make sure the Degas gallery at The Metropolitan Museum of Art looked the same now. Covid had kept me away for a couple of years. I was surprised to learn that they had put a new skirt on the dancer. It is now longer, fuller and a beautiful pale ivory blush, different from what I had in my older photos. There is a wonderful Met video on YouTube explaining why they decided to do it and the process they used. Fascinating.
And so it begins.
I made real progress on the Met piece, and then the larger canvas came in. I work in layers of color with some drying time between sheer passes, so it was a good time to set one aside and start on the other scene at MOMA.
And then there were two. I did work back and forth, getting to stages where I wanted some drying time on one as I moved to the other. It was well over two months of this back and forth process. The snow outside my studio window turned to early spring skies and birds chirping. It was March. I can only work 4-5 hours a day with breaks. The concentration is intense.
And finally, they were both finished. And I changed my mind minute to minute as to which was my favorite. Usually the one I last worked on. I am very pleased with them both.
After several weeks of drying time, they were ready to take down our stairs and to carefully pack them both in to the car for delivery to the gallery.
The Little Ballerina, 36 x 24″, oil on canvas
Heroic Vision, 60 x 40″ oil on canvas