Many years ago, when I was out shopping with my mother, I pointed to the rays of sun coming through some breaks in the clouds. I told her that, whenever I see that in the sky it always struck me as a pathway to heaven. She told me that was a really nice thought. I was a little taken aback since I thought everyone saw those rays of sun the same way. It was of those clues which informed me that I do see the world a little differently. Regardless, when I see that even today that’s what I think of. The difference now, is that too many people in my life have taken that pathway.
The pictures I took in anticipation of this painting were taken shortly after such a loss. Not wanting to focus on that loss but rather on the beauty of the day I watched for those streams of sunlight. I also didn’t want that to be the dominant theme for this painting, just a gentle reminder. Autumn is such a beautiful season especially here in New England. Looking for those things of beauty and capturing them is the work of the painter. But the story of the painter’s life is also woven into every picture. So this is “Autumn in the Marshes” in Rye New Hampshire, across from Odiorne State Park. It is also streams of sunlight coming down from heaven that says you are always in my heart.
Distinctly seasonal paintings also seem to mark the passage of time. Chunks of time that is. Instead of days or hours it’s a few months. Of course the seasons are different in different places, but here they are very strong markers. While winter seems endless sometimes, especially when they are as rough as this one has been, it adds a special sweetness to Spring. The same is true of Autumn, it is truly glorious here, and even though it means winter is around the corner, it’s beauty overrides that unpleasant feeling of hostile weather ahead. So too, with as tough as winter is, it causes us to slow down, and maybe hide from the world outside. Sometimes we need to do that, which is fine as long as we don’t stay there very long. There are realities in life and while we need to face them, doing so in limited doses can be the only way to get through our own winters. Spring can’t come soon enough, but I’ve also learned neither season nor healing can be rushed. Everything in it’s own time.
Being that I missed posting a new blog around New Year’s Day, it seemed right to post about the many facets of time instead. That is, since I ran out of time the beginning of the month. So time is what it is, sometimes it runs away and sometimes it crawls. In deciding to write about time, and being that this is an art based blog, I couldn’t resist sharing one of my favorite paintings by Salvador Dali, “The Persistence of Memory”. One could get philosophical about it all and I’m leaning in that direction but I will try to resist to a certain extent. Regardless, time was at a premium this year it seems, and it was persistent. While I did get a lot accomplished, there is still much to be done. It does a person good to recap all your you’ve done over the year, because it’s always more than you think. You often find yourself saying, “That was just a year ago?”. It’s when you’ve said that a couple of times you can sit back and say, “Yes, I have gotten a lot done”. It’s the part about how much you want to yet get finished, that is the little devil on your shoulder telling you it’s impossible. It’s time now, to kick him to the curb.
I started the year moving into my new home when renovations weren’t quite completed. Yes, there were some setbacks with the renovations but persistence was key. Winter came, with it a fine blizzard covering the yard with a nice white blanket of snow to hide what would be the next phase of work – the outside. That is what’s good about winter, there are some things that just can’t be done and so there is a degree of hibernation. I used that time to work on marketing, finishing the inside of my house and I even managed to complete a few paintings. But time was short once again. Waiting for Spring seemed like forever and it came too quickly, all at the same time. Even when it did come, it rained and rained and rained. That is what usually happens in Spring, but it always seems never ending when you need to start an outside project.
The painters were hired and ready to go as soon as the rain stopped. They understood I was opening my gallery and it needed to happen before the opening. The folks working on the parking lot, steps and walkway also knew and were just waiting on the weather as well. Somehow it all came together. That’s the thing about time, fast or slow, time passes and things do happen and hopefully we grow. The first healthy snowfall of this winter didn’t hide a thing. It just made the gallery look like Christmas, as it should.
Every year though, we loose loved ones. Some are part of that passage of time, while others leave us long before their time has come. It was also such a year. Always, we must look forward. And always when I think of such things I am reminded of the first sentence of from “A Tale of Two Cities”, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” Again, I begin again. Again, I try and rest some, while the earth is frozen, looking forward to Spring but wishing to sleep deeply with renewed energy. Maybe, when I have rested I can write of the one who died far too young.
On Wednesday, Norman Rockwell’s painting entitled “Saying Grace” sold for $46 million at a Southeby’s auction. It is the most an American painting has ever been sold for. They had estimated the value at being between $15-$20 million. It is especially interesting when considering the criticism he has been the recipient of for many years. In doing a little research for this posting I went to look for such comments and I came across an excerpt from Richard Helpern’s book “Norman Rockwell The Underside of Innocence”(http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/314405.html). He makes some interesting points. The comments I was expecting to find were on a similar tract, both that Rockwell’s work was more illustrative that painterly and that his depiction of life was idealized and naive. According to Mr. Helpern, Rockwell intentionally painted scenes that were overly innocent both to illustrate what could be and what wasn’t. Rockwell did it to bring that sense of innocence to his audience in order to bring joy. Apparently, Rockwell’s life, like all of our lives, was not perfect, but he could make it so in his pictures.
Now, my original intent of this blog posting was to compare and contrast Norman Rockwell with Vincent van Gogh, in anticipation of going to see a VanGogh exhibit on Tuesday (http://www.phillipscollection.org/exhibitions/2013-10-12-exhibition-van-gogh-repetitions.aspx). My thought was of the money Rockwell made on this painting, $3500 in 1951 ($30,000 in today’s dollars) and in fact as the artist for the covers of “The Saturday Evening Post”. Also in the excerpt of “Norman Rockwell The Underside of Innocence” is a quote from Rockwell where he states that getting paid well helped. Then there is Vincent VanGogh who only sold one painting in his whole life. There’s the contrast part. I wasn’t really expecting to find a real comparison, just the obvious, they were both painters. After reading Helpern’s excerpt I realized they had much more in common.
The definition of “romanticism” in literature, that I was taught, was that it was improving upon nature. Of course that statement in itself could make some people crazy, but just bear with me. Rockwell’s overly innocent paintings were in fact an improvement upon reality. Vincent van Gogh painted peasants, because he saw them as noble. Likewise, van Gogh’s landscapes are brilliantly colorful and full of life, an improvement on nature, if you will. So perhaps, Rockwell and van Gogh were not so different after all. That is, if you put aside their incomes during their life times. But then, van Gogh and Picasso are the most prominent artists in the list of the world’s most expensive paintings. In current dollars, Vincent van Gogh’s seven paintings in that list add up to $712 million. Curious, what is it worth?
There was a time when time moved more slowly. A time when we would write letters to friends, family and sweethearts when we were not near them. Long distance phone calls were expensive and there was no such thing as cell phones, text messages or the Internet. I feel sorry for those of you who, because of the times we live in, will never receive a love letter. It is a sweet moment made tangible. It can be lived over and over, every time you read the words written from the heart. Ah, I may seem a sentimental old fool to some, but I suspect not to those who have such letters tucked away in a trunk somewhere in the attic.
The painting in today’s post is called “Love Letter from Montreal”. On a trip to Canada in anticipation of my son’s wedding, I saw this beautiful young woman, sitting at a picnic table in the park. She was wearing a long white dress with the sun shining through it and a fountain catching the light in the pond behind her. Besides how lovely she looked in the light and scenery around her, was an almost remarkable thing. She had a pencil and was writing on a piece of paper. She was not texting on her phone. So, with the whole scene having a romantic feel to it, she must have been writing a love letter.
It is of course natural to ask who she is. I have no idea is the answer. When I saw her sitting there I took pictures thinking that she would make a great subject. This being quite a departure for me, I wasn’t sure it would ever come to be but I couldn’t put it out of my mind once I saw the pictures. I was trying to focus on local scenes of the ocean, salt marshes and boats, but she wouldn’t let me go. Coming up with the idea that she could be writing a love letter (a stolen idea, I confess), made her completely irresistible to paint. It was also my first figure painting after years of dipping in and out of figure drawing with a group of artist friends. This was my chance to take my time, as opposed to the limited time when working with a live model, to really focus on a figurative piece.
I am now reminded that Vincent VanGogh worked at painting working people, not the nobility and religious figures who had almost exclusively been the subject of paintings previously. Perhaps I’ll get a good picture of a lobsterman I can work on. I expect to be duly inspired to do so after I return from the Van Gogh exhibit in Washington, D.C. next month. I’m just a little excited about that!
I’m afraid I’ve become one of those businesses that has started the process of promoting a holiday special early. Whether or not it’s too early remains to be seen. The first part was to come up with an idea and then the promotion would follow. My holiday special is a drawing for a free watercolor painting of someone’s house. The combination of doing a little research on advertising outlets and being approached with advertising “deals” it looks like I’m launching it this weekend. This weekend is New Hampshire Open Doors. It’s a weekend sponsored by N.H. Made where items made in New Hampshire are promoted throughout the state. Of course they recommend that you have a special offer during the Open Doors weekend, so my free painting drawing is it.
My original launch date was going to be November 15. That’s when an add will be in a holiday gift guide mailed throughout the region. That seemed like a reasonable date. Then I spoke with the folks that send out envelopes of coupons. That seemed like a good outlet as well. That goes out November 5. A little early, but a good way to cover more territory. Then I joined New Hampshire Made, only to find their Fall Open Doors was the weekend of November 2nd. So there you have it. Now, I’ve become “one of them” . You know “Them”, those crazy businesses that start holiday specials way too soon. Perhaps next year I can plan better for the Open Doors weekend , but until then I’m launching my holiday promotional campaign.
I invite you to come visit the gallery this weekend, or whenever it’s convenient for you. A map of the participating businesses participating in the Seacoast region can be downloaded by clicking here.
I promise however, I will not put my Christmas decorations out before Thanksgiving!
On that list of things we all love about New England and it’s seacoast in particular is the whole lobster thing. Whether it’s the lobster boats, lobster rolls, lobstermen or the buoys we see all around; New England + seacoast = lobster. Some months ago I was in Portland, Maine at Harbor Fish (http://www.harborfish.com/). It’s a fabulous place to buy fresh fish, being right on the harbor as well as an icon of the city. I took some pictures while there for painting later. One of which I completed a few weeks ago. Besides the market itself, I started wandering around the area, that is, behind the market where the boats come in to drop off their catch. As luck would have it a lobster boat was coming in. Always ready with my camera I got off several shots knowing that would be a painting someday. There was a wealth of things to take pictures of so more will be coming but that lobster boat quickly moved to the top of the list.
As I often do, I print out pictures I want to paint with all good intentions of getting right to it. I’m afraid though tending to my art gallery has put me behind in my painting. Nevertheless, I stared often at the photograph I planned to paint, the fact that the name of the boat was ‘Bout Time, was not lost on me forever trying to get to painting it. The final push to put other things aside and just paint it was after a more recent trip to a friend’s house in Falmouth, Maine. Looking out on Casco Bay I saw a lobster boat moored amidst the pleasure boats. At this distance I went for my telephoto lense and focused in on it. It was ‘Bout Time. Alright already I guess it was about time to paint it.
Once I’d painted it, it was time to photograph, frame, post it to my web site and blog about it. Again I found myself caught up in other work. Once again, I was given a reminder to get to it. Tuesday I went for a walk on the beach. Now that the tourists are gone I can once again enjoy long walks on the beach with my dog Tigger. There floating in the water was a lobster buoy. All those buoys I’d seen hanging on barns and houses, I finally had my own. Now that I’ve lived here for a year I guess I was due. I haven’t decided just what I want to do with it yet but I’m thrilled to have it. I’m thinking I need to get a dowel to put in it since it’s missing that part but I may just get some rope and string it like it’s a pearl. For right now it’s parked on my palette until I start my next painting, hopefully tomorrow. Just a few more odds and ends to clean up before I get back to my easel.
What’s that you say? Me and Frank Sinatra, “I gotta be me”, that’s what I’m saying and it does pertain to painting. Continuing to work on my seascapes, this week I got in a little deeper. I decided to take on a schooner. I did this with some trepidation at the start. An instructor, Stapelton Kearns, said he never paints boats, #1 because they sink and #2 because boat people, specifically sailing types will tell you every bit of rigging you painted wrong. But throwing caution to the wind, and because I was quite happy with the photograph I had taken I decided to go for it. Now, this photo was taken a few weeks ago when a friend took me out on his sailboat in Casco Bay in Maine so I could photograph lighthouses. Everyone likes lighthouses and it would give me that much more material to work with building my inventory of coastal paintings. As luck would have it just as we were passing Portland Head Light, up ahead of us were two beautiful schooners coming towards us. I had already taken a bunch of pictures of the lighthouse and now I had these schooners to shoot. They are tour boats out of Portland. They were going back and forth instead of straight towards the lighthouse because of the direction of the wind. Once we were past them I turned around to see the perfect picture, the schooner and the lighthouse in the same shot. There ya go, I couldn’t have set it up any better if I tried. With a picture like that, I just had to paint it.
As is my usual process I started back to front, starting with the sky, then the water, and coastline. All that was left was the schooner. That being the case I was well on my way. Then, last Friday evening we went to the opening of a show called Between Land and Sea at the Waslingham Gallery (http://www.thewalsinghamgallery.com/) in Newburyport, Massachusetts. It was featuring the art work of Ronald Tinney & Robert Scott Jackson. Ronald Tinney being a favorite of my friend with the sailboat because Tinney’s beautiful marine paintings of sailboats among other things. We met Mr. Tinney at the opening and chatted with him for a little bit. He said he studied marine painting for 10 years with Donald Demer. Then he commented on the difficulty of painting schooners. Wow, and just like that my confidence in heading back to my easel the next day to tackle that schooner was seriously diminished.
“Nothing ventured, nothing gained” right? It was now time to paint the schooner. I thought I would have been inspired by the visit to the gallery. Instead that little voice in the back of my head started filling me with doubt. Before long I decided I was just making a mess. I kept hearing Ronald Tinney saying he a realist painter. I also keep seeing the painting I liked best at the gallery, “Sailing Under a Full Moon” by Don Stone, an Impressionist painter. And there it was, I am an impressionist painter, I prefer to suggest rather than tell the whole story. I want to dance with color. So I scraped away what I had done and walked away, thinking “I gotta be me”, no I didn’t sing it. Let the canvas dry some and come back to it and paint that schooner the way I want to, the way I like to paint. And I did.
I like to write, it comes easily to me, but I’m sitting here staring at the screen wondering where I could possibly begin to write a tribute to Aunt Mary, who died a couple of weeks ago at age 92. Maybe I could talk about how smart and strong a person she was, but no, that’s not really where I want to go with this. I could talk about how much we all loved her, that is her 20 nieces and nephews, but that seems like a given. Calling her the matriarch of our family, which she was, sounds way too formal and stark, which she was not. I looked up to Aunt Mary and I saw her as an example of how to live life on your own terms.
When you were with Aunt Mary there was never any shortage of laughter. She called things as she saw them. Of course sometimes that was what was so funny. Even with that though, she was kind and accepting of others. She started out as a secretary and retired a partner in a company. When I was in high school and typing was an elective, she told me not to take typing. “No matter what, if you know how to type and you’re a woman they’ll think you’re a secretary” she told me. A few years ago, I reminded her that she had told me that. Her response was “Well that was pretty dumb now with computers”. But it wasn’t dumb at all. Even if my typing is lacking it was a great lesson for me in what the world was like out there. Not in a harsh or ugly sort of way but a realistic perspective.
Yes, Aunt Mary was a realist, but she also had that touch of Irish that led her to leave out any unpleasantness where family was concern. There’s no need to speak of that, now is there. But she wasn’t just our Aunt Mary, she was everyone’s Aunt Mary. It’s what our friends called her as well. Even in a sympathy note from a friend who said, “I’m sorry to hear about Aunt Mary’s passing”, she didn’t say your Aunt Mary. But I also would say everyone should have an Aunt Mary, meaning just like mine. She saw a painting of mine on my web site and told me she wanted to buy it and to send a bill with it when I shipped it to her. She followed it up with “and if you don’t charge me the full amount I’ll ship it right back to you!”
When her time to go was nearing, I decided to paint while waiting for the news that would soon be coming. I painted a sunrise thinking maybe just one more day Aunt Mary, just one more day. It was not to be. Her’s was a life well lived. She had friends all the way back to her childhood, I think that says a lot about a person. She traveled all over, tried new things and she kept telling me I was the modern day Georgia O’Keefe. When my mother was dying she told me I’d always miss her because she was my mother but Aunt Mary, I will always miss you too. When I’m uncertain what to do, I will continue to ask myself, what would Aunt Mary do, just as I have been doing the last year and a half. Just by her example she helped me through the worst time in my life and she never even knew it.
In thinking about the busy week I just had, I am reminded of the children’s book “The Velveteen Rabbit” by Margery Williams, and my favorite quote from it:
“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’
‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.
‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’
‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’
‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
This week was my ribbon cutting with the Hampton Area Chamber of Commerce. It was posted in our local online news on Patch (click link to see). So, now I must be “real”, right? The reality is, the work is just beginning, the skin horse is right. So, I will make sure I don’t have sharp edges, I know I don’t break easily and I really hope I don’t loose my hair in the process. I really, really hope my eyes don’t drop out though!
In addition to my ribbon cutting I was also able to complete a painting this week. It was from a photograph I had taken at the Portland, Maine Yacht Club after my first sailing experience. It was a great day, the weather on Casco Bay was wonderful. I had a shot at steering, but that bit about not steering into the wind kinda got lost on me. Regardless, no harm done and it was pretty clear, this sailing stuff requires a person to pay attention. The other tidbit about steering in Casco Bay is that you are careful not to run into the lobster traps when you see the buoys bobbying around in the water. Besides the fines being very steep, I would not want to upset a lobsterman. When we returned to the dock, I was continuing to take pictures. I turned around for a last look and there was the picture of the day. A sailboat, brilliantly white from the sun, perfectly positioned in the archway of the boathouse. The island in the background and all the other boats scattered about on their moorings added a sense of poetry to the scene.
Painting my little corner of the world is a rather new adventure. Harbors and boats, beaches and marshes are all around me. I’ve only delved into such scenes a few times but now it’s going to be the norm, at least for a while. And, generally speaking, that is what people are looking for when they come into my gallery. I have a boatload (yes, I said that) of photos I’ve taken the last few months so I have plenty of material for when I’m manning the gallery. I’ve just completed two such paintings with another one in process on the easel.
The first is of the Harbor Fish Market in Portland, Maine. It’s a very cool fish market with a huge variety of fresh fish. The back of the building is right on the harbor so the boats can pull right up behind. Personally, I found the backside of the building more interesting than the front, which was very cool too. There’s something about those lobster boats and all the gear that goes along with them. I’m learning all about such things these days which maybe I can share once I actually do get that painting done. Once I finish the one on the easel, my next oil painting in the studio will be of Portland Harbor, behind the market. Can you tell how anxious I am to get to all my new subjects?
Besides the coastal scenes there are also the local towns which are wonderfully picturesque, not to mention very historical as well. One such town is Newburyport, Massachusetts. It was first settled in 1635 and the downtown area is all brick sidewalks and old houses with great shops. On a recent visit, going on the art walk to all the different galleries there was a street musician playing. His music was beautiful and he had a very interesting look about him. So, yes, I got out my iPhone and took a couple of pictures. The result is this watercolor. I think it captures the essence of both the town and the piper.
I have plan for paintings of Portsmouth, N.H. as well, there just aren’t enough hours in the day!