Art in the Park

I've got six paintings exhibited through Sept 8, at the Cabrillo National Monument Visitors Center.  This is the annual Art in the Park event, and the Center is filled with oil paintings from Southern California artists.  These are my six, done during my artist residency at Cabrillo:

Untouched--Intertidal Zone is 20X24", Dudleya Live-Forever and Searchlight Shelter are both 10 X 8", and Stairs on Tidepool Path, Pelican Scanning, and End of Point Haze are all 6 X 8".

To pick up the thread of the last post, a few more thoughts about memory.  We can train ourselves to allow memory a role in our work.  Henri talks about memory training, and so do modern teachers like Kevin Macpherson and Terry Miura.  Henri envisioned a studio where the model would pose in one room, and the students would look and ponder, then go to another room to paint or draw.  Macpherson recommends a similar exercise with landscape--spending 20-30 minutes just meditating on a scene, then going home and painting it from memory.

But why do we need memory when we paint from life?  Well, because sometimes conditions change, or are different to begin with, from what would best express our inner experience of a subject.  And, in the case of plein air painting, there are always some edits and always gaps to fill.  If you can envision it, you can fill that gap and have it speak as clearly as the rest of the elements.  But if you don't have this skill, whatever you improvise will look contrived and not convincing.  It won't fit.

Memory is a skill you need to have in order to speak your personal truth about the subject.  And that's what you're going for--not the truth, YOUR truth.


The Importance of Memory

Solar Charm, 9 X 12", oil/canvas panel. Awarded Juror's Choice, SDAI Regional Show, September 2012 SOLD

Robert Henri's The Art Spirit (which is a must-read and re-read) talks about the importance of relying on memory even when you're still on site, and for very good reason:

"The most vital things in the look of a face or of a landscape endure only for a moment.  Work should be done from memory; the memory is of that vital moment.  ...  It is very difficult to go away from a subject after having received an impression and set that impression down from memory.  It is yet more difficult to work from memory with the 'subject' in its changing moods still before you. All good work is done from memory whether the model is still present or not."

The memory is not of details, it's of the momentary impression that struck us as we looked at a scene and decided to paint it.  So yes, some of this scene is invented.  Convincing invention has never been my strong suit, but that's something I will focus on.  More Henri for you:

"He who has contemplated has met with himself, is in a state to see into the realities beyond the surfaces of his subject." 

"Cherish your own emotions and never undervalue them."

"Don't try to paint 'good landscapes.'  Try to paint canvases that will show how interesting landscape looks to you--your pleasure in the thing."


Red Hills

Not one of Georgia O'Keeffe's red hills, but mine.  Although Abiquiu is famous for O'Keeffe's work, there are plenty of red hills throughout the region beyond Ghost Ranch.  It's a truly beautiful part of New Mexico.  The red earth shows up in swaths of land throughout this region.  Within a few miles, it can all be sandy brown, and then these amazingly colorful formations rise up.

Near Jemez Pueblo, 9 X 12", oil/canvas panel.

There are some very dark red formations right in Jemez, but this light pink hill was striking against the blue sky and surroundings.  Sure makes a painter want to reach for the saturated colors, but I think a more neutral palette said it even better.


High Desert Noon

9 X 12" oil on paper (BFK).


Route 66

9 X 12", oil on canvas panel.  These are some of the beautiful formations amid the wide-open spaces along Highway 6, which was old Route 66. July and August are monsoon months in New Mexico, so the sky is frequently filled with huge, beautiful clouds.  The rain greens things up quickly.

On the subject of limited palettes (which I hope you're all trying), I want to emphasize patience in the exploration of possible color mixtures.  Whatever three colors you choose to function as your "primaries", the possibilities are much more vast than it would seem at the outset.  The differences in color notes may be quite a bit more subtle than you're used to, but there's a lot of power in subtlety.  Try different limited palettes based on your subject.  A landscape painter that I admire, Jeff Reed, starts every painting by asking himself "how few colors can I get away with?"