Thursday, April 26, 2012

Exhibit--William Keith and the California Oak

I went recently to an exhibit at St Mary's College, William Keith and the California Oak. At first I thought I'd try to talk about Keith's life and the exhibit as a whole... But, you can get a brief overview of his life here, at the St. Mary's website. He was a California painter and a friend of John Muir, and a contemporary of George Inness. He started out painting large, romanticized Hudson River School Landscapes, but later realized there was no way a painter could capture the grandeur of nature. So he began painting smaller, more intimate scenes, characteristic of tonalism, that suggested a fleeting moment, and a reality beyond the surface. Here is one of his later paintings. It is just a moment at dusk, and appears so insubstantial, the paint is like a mist.

Here is a closer view of the foreground. There are no hard edges. It has a dream-like quality. If you step onto that grass, it looks so soft, you would probably just sink in. The cows in the upper left are barely distinguishable. The paint is translucent, with several layers visible.

This is the sky. The color here is more true to the actual painting. The sky is painted solidly, with opaque paint, and that little rugged edge at the top of the trees is the most definite edge in the whole piece. Even the tree trunks are transparent! The warm colors and distant light give a sense of spirituality and comfort.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Tree Challenge

Moonlight on Mount Lafayette, New Hampshire - William Trost Richards
Photograph courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

 Sometimes, we see something so compelling, we feel it in our bodies. That's what happened to me, back in pre-internet days, when I was a university art student. I saw a piece of art that turned my thinking around. At the time, I was subscribed to Art News, a magazine about what's happening in the (mostly contemporary) art world. In one issue, in the back pages, I came upon the picture above.

It was magical! The mood, the mystery, the stillness, the emotional connection, it all came together! In all the years of reading that magazine, I had never seen anything that I connected with so deeply. And it wasn't even contemporary art. This image is graphite and watercolor on green/gray paper, and it was done by William Trost Richards in 1873! In school, at that time, my professors would probably have flunked me if I had done anything so "illustrational."

But, I kept the picture, and still love looking at it.

And for all these years, in the back of my mind was the desire to make an intensive study of trees. Now, I plan to be doing more drawing, and studies, and paintings of trees. I will be doing an online class on drawing and painting trees with Deborah Paris. It will be challenging to do something so "old fashioned" and yet so demanding of both creativity and technical skill.
"The knowledge of how a thing is built induces an intimate sympathy, giving us constant pleasure: and the landscape painter must have as true a knowledge of the branch anatomy of a tree as a figure painter has of the anatomy of the human form."          
 -- Rex Vicat Cole, The Artistic Anatomy of Trees

I invite you will come with me on this exploratory journey, in my blog. What do you think about this? To leave a comment, click here.