March 30, 2016

Interview: with Tammy MacKenzie on living creatively

"I'm a fervent believer in the power of storytelling...and this is simply a story about love."

Tammy MacKenzie is a photographer, writer and traveler. She was born in Nova Scotia, Canada. Tammy received a BFA (Honours) in Photographic Arts from OCAD University, in Toronto, Canada. In her final year she was selected to attend  OCAD University's off-campus program in Florence, Italy. At the present time she lives in London, England, but travels nomadically photographing and writing about her experiences. In her own words, her work is based "in narratives about life's passages as we move from one experience to the next, creating personal history and memory; and about capturing the fleeting and ever-present moment through details, intended to inspire one to slow down enough to consciously be wherever they are. To look. To find. To appreciate."

I have had the privilege to attend the Florence program with Tammy and ever since to regard her as a friend. Her work and words are always an inspiration. Now, to our interview...



Maerim, Thailand 


Why do you you pursue the creative activities of writing and photography?

I'm a fervent believer in the power of storytelling...and this is simply a story about love. I stumbled into love with language around the age of 2 and fell into a full-blown love affair with photography around 22. In the years following, both have allowed me to express myself in ways that were often impossible without the help of the other; one bound inextricably to the next like a tale of quantum entanglement theories. I look back now at those dusty film prints sitting in my mom's loft from when I was first starting out, the ones trying to capture the harsh blows of the sea in Hawaii, and I can't help but feel embarrassed by my colossal naivete. It was my long-time Newfie/Cali friend Garry who pointed out to me one day (long, long ago) that my photography was okay -- maybe even good -- but how does one even know that it's me? What sets me apart from everyone else out there? In all honesty, it was these probing questions that were the catalyst I needed to light a fire under my ass and help me pursue this thing called the art of photography with any real heart.  


Newfoundland, Canada


Is there a correlation between them?

They're one in the same really. One is a visual story, the other conjures up a story through words. Both poignant. Both powerful. Both much needed today when we consider how inundated we are with media and networking outlets. I read somewhere recently that we see up to 10,000 images a day - from scrolling through social media, to web pages, to tele, newspapers, and advertising. Wow! That's a whole lot of crap to cut through the static of our lives before something beautiful can catch our eye and give us a moment to pause and reflect; to be mindful and inspired. And by the way, that's more images in one day than Michelangelo, the 16th century Renaissance man, ever saw in his 88 years of life...and look at what kind of artistic legacy he left behind? Less is more perhaps? I just know that I don't want to inundate the world with more ugly images.


Amsterdam, Holland


"Like the veridian green moss crunching underfoot in Iceland, the giant smiles of kids in Nepal playing with their busted rubber tires, or the way the morning sun rises to touch the mountain tops in orange cream kisses in India's north. It's all breathtaking. And it's all visible. You just have to slow down and pay attention."

How does your engagements with literature and photography affect your travels?

 They fill me up with a kind of gratitude I suppose. They make me see things that other realms of creativity just don't because they remind me to be in the moment and to pay attention to e v e r y t h i n g !!! To the softer and subtler things around me that others might miss. Like the veridian green moss crunching underfoot in Iceland, the giant smiles of kids in Nepal playing with their busted rubber tires, or the way the morning sun rises to touch the mountain tops in orange cream kisses in India's north. It's all breathtaking. And it's all visible. You just have to slow down and pay attention. I also don't know if it hurts or helps that I've spent the last 15 years viewing my world in a series of 35mm frames, like a virtual lens of sorts, constantly composing and framing in my head before any physical lens has had the chance to be lifted to my eyes or aimed...

shanghai-china (1).jpg

Shanghai, China


In what manner has your writing evolved in relation to your travels, including both form and content?

I've always loved putting pen to paper but never with any real seriousness. Two years ago I was traveling alone through India when I met a Scottish Poet named William who was compiling research for his next book of poetry. He was the first person I had met in ages who was actually living and loving what he did (most of my friends are just biding their time to start or still desperately searching for meaning). While sitting at a little speak-easy lounge in a seaside town in Kerala, an Israeli man asked him, "If you could do anything in life, Mate, what would it be?"

"I'm doing it now. I'm a poet...a writer. There's nothing else I'd rather be doing."

"No really, if you could be anything at all in the world?"

"I know, I know. But like I said, I'm doing it. I'm a writer. And I love what I do."

His simple words struck me and have stuck with me since because there's nothing more powerful, or beautiful, than someone's confidence in owning their passions and living them fully. When I met this man I was reading Stephen King's book called "On Writing," trying to find my way back into my love of words and conceptual images after a long hiatus from both. Since then I've thrown myself headfirst into love with poetry and prose, online classes, weekend workshops, writing retreats, and artist retreats along the way as a way to find other people who share my similar passions. It's been life changing really. That's the only way to describe it. Because when you come to something with an open heart and you find your tribe...your crew...your magic-makers and light-seekers...your community of creatives who invariably lift you up and out of your shell and validate your voice, it's extraordinary. And incredibly humbling.

His simple words struck me and have stuck with me since because there's nothing more powerful, or beautiful, than someone's confidence in owning their passions and living them fully.

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Camino santiago de compostela, Spain 

"The people and places I rub up against inspire me to savour my surroundings, which in turn inspire my words and my love of language as a way to make sense of it all"


How does movement or mobility affect your work?

It's been both a blessing and a curse that I can't stop moving now. But it wasn't always this way! I grew up with two lovely homebodies for parents, who are only now realising in their fifties the value of getting away each year and seeing some place new. Of stepping their toes in a new blue ocean and seeing the stars aligned in a different dark spot in the sky.

I would say my travels are the absolute fuel for my creativity. The people and places I rub up against inspire me to savour my surroundings, which in turn inspire my words and my love of language as a way to make sense of it all. Words and bouncing off of the next like in those chemical reactions in CHEM101, where the combined substances are always greater as a whole than when sitting alone on the wooden workbench next to each other.


Santorini, Greece


In your photography, can you describe how you frame a scene before you, considering the 360- degree axis of visual reality surrounding you?

As mentioned earlier, I'm constantly composing in my head. Sure, there are rules. Rules of thirds. Simplifying the scene. Filling the frame. Avoiding the middle. Leading lines. Using diagonals. Blah, blah, blah. But rules are meant to be broken, right? :) 

Photography is more of an emotional response for me, which might sound airy-fairy, but it's true.


burano-italy.jpgBurano, Italy


Do you think travel imparts value to life?

Do we need oxygen to breathe? Do flowers need bees? Do ocean creatures of the deep need plankton? This is a serious question of not only surviving but thriving.

I'm not sure I can adequately explain how tremendous an impact travel has had on me over the years, but I do know that I wouldn't be the person I am today without it. It means that I can feel at home anywhere. It means I can roll with the punches. I can turn misadventures into something I can lean into and laugh about later (though maybe not at the time). It's built a deep courage and a fierce independence in me. It's made me feel concurrently restless and content. And It connects me with amazing people that I wouldn't have had the chance to meet otherwise.

So to me, these things are priceless in a world where materialism and consumerism are the faith of our majority.        


Cappadocia, Turkey


What similarities have you found amongst people?

We are all essentially the same and just want the same things in life. From Vietnamese monks and shantytown dwellers of South Africa, to those Italian millionaires who own cabinets of curiosities in Arezzo...we all just want water, shelter, security, validation, and love. That's it. up to a certain point gives us happiness, but beyond that mark it's just an accumulation of wealth. Because if money really made people happy, wouldn't all the millionaires of the world be blowing the rest of humanity away with their joy? And we know that's not happening, right?

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Allepey, India


bhutan (2).jpgPunakha, Bhutan


Can you share any lessons you've learned from your travels?

There's no such thing as destiny or perfection. They just don't exist. Life is a beautiful mess, so why not embrace it for what it is? Two stories:

  • I met a Buddhist Monastic in France this year who posed the question to a room full of people, "Is the future something that just exists out there and comes to you build small little steps each day that eventually land you on the doorstep of your future?" One way suggests that we have no choice. That the path is laid out before us and we just have to walk it. But the other suggests that we are our own destiny-makers, and I like the sound of this idea much better.

 caminohearts-spain (1).jpgCamino santiago de compostela, Spain 


  • I also met a Life Coach in England this year who teaches music in Cyprus during the winter months. He was teaching a German woman once how to play the piano and she kept stumbling on the keys. "BUT I JUST WANT IT TO BE PERFECT!!!" she yelled. "It can't," He said quietly. "It never will. It will only ever be done to the best of your ability and that is all you can ever ask for because there's no such thing as perfection." Perfection is the enemy of creativity, people. It just is.

 athens-greece (1).jpgAthens, Greece


It's good to seek out people with different beliefs and worldviews as your own. If we were all exactly the same, the world would be a pretty boring place to be. But by getting to see life from varying perspectives, our own brains get to shift and grow beyond their borders. That good ole travel cliche about it "broadening our horizons" is simply this. Life is not about always being right and spouting off our own opinions. It's about learning to listen more. I mean really listen, and not always be waiting in the ready for our next set of words to leave our mouths. This. Is. How. We. Learn. New. Things.


We're all just trying to figure it out. No one has all the answers and no one has it easy, despite what our physical circumstances might look like from the outside.


Life is short, so why not make the most of it? We're here for but a mere blip on the earth's lifespan scales, so let's cherish it. Honour it. Have no regrets. And for fuck's sake, do what makes us happy!!! Sometimes in life it takes a major event like a death or maybe a divorce to make people see how precious life really is...but why wait for the tragedy? Why not start right here? Today? Now!


Life is a journey, not a destination. As British Philosopher Alan Watts once said, "The whole point of the dancing is the dance." If we think of life as an analogy of a journey or a pilgrimage with no serious purpose at the end, no success we need to get to or to attain, then maybe we won't have missed the point of life the whole way along. We'll realise that it was a musical thing and that we were supposed to sing or dance while the music was being played, not just at the end of the last note.


I think this YouTube video of one of Watts' lectures says it best:


Delhi, India


Last, a request rather than a query: can you please give advice for travellers.

Be smart. Use common sense. If a street doesn't feel right, leave.

Don't arrive at a new destination in the middle of the night.

Dress appropriately for the country's customs you're in.

Don't get sloppy drunk in a strange new land alone. talk to strangers, despite what your mom always told you.

Be open to new experiences.

Be flexible.

Be curious.

Be kind.

Pack light.

And remember to smile. Always. :)


Hassan, India 

Thank you for your words and photographs Tammy.

Tammy MacKenzie

Twitter and Instagram: @mackenziephoto






October 17, 2015

Interview, Part II: Karen Kaapcke on freedom in art, place and...

" I remember when I first started - the moment I laid down color I felt this extraordinary thing - that I could create a world! And that became invaluable to me as I would go into this world even in my mind throughout the day when I wasn't painting - all my feeling, all my thought, all my ideas, count in this world. They are unarguably true, they become the facts of the painting."



1.8.15, oil stick, graphIte, scraped off wax 


How do you believe that you have impacted others or the world-at-large via your work or profession as a professional artist and teacher? Do you consider art as an agent to change or impact life?  
This is a difficult question to answer. I have heard people, whether students or others who I've encountered tell me that there is something about the honesty with which I work that affects them.   And then, this probably goes in several directions which affects people differently.  For example, many women (artists and non-artists alike) have told me that the way in which I approached my 50th birthday has helped them see aging in a different light. I think that the fact that I bring my skills to bear on my own body in a way that is not only not glamorizing, but where that is not even a part of the equation, has provided if not exactly a green light, then at least maybe an example of how all things are deeply worthy of the artist's regard, indeed of every regard, beyond the shallow judgement of 'beauty'.  Same goes for the facial self-portraits.   In general I think it is the kind of openness I seem to have that people respond to, to going places with my work that others feel they may not have the courage to go to.   However I do have to say, I don't feel particularly courageous or open - I am just working out of where I am.  In my training, I worked a lot on trying to have a very non-judgmental way of seeing, which is probably the closest one can get to seeing 'objectively', and I think if you work this way it seeps over into the rest of your life.  To me, this is one of the great reasons to train to paint in such a manner - there's almost a morality about it.  In learning to see this way, maybe there's a way one can also view the world, even just a little, in an open and non-judgmental way.  



 1.6.15, graphite and wax, 9x12"


Do you maintain a dialogue with other Artists and what sort of impact does that have on your work?

I spend large portions of my day alone, painting - and I find that I get into a kind of focus that is not always good to break out of.   Mixing with other painters - their ideas, their passions, their opinions - can sometimes feel a little dangerous.  But then that ends, and you want to go see what's up.   Lately I find Facebook to be a perfect solution to that middle place where you want to connect but don't want to break out of your work-zone, dipping in and seeing work briefly, and engaging in conversation at any time of day or night -- it's great.   I have a group of about 5 or 6 artists who I have known for years and years, though - and we do not need to get together a lot, in fact I see them only a few times a year.  One thing that has been very important for me is that a fellow painter and I have been trading poses for over a year - every week we meet and alternate who poses and who paints.  Our conversations are rambling and glorious, we never know where we'll meander.  It has been good to have this built-in to my week so that I don't get too remote, because in general I'm a very private person in terms of painting; I usually have to force myself to go to openings to be out and in touch.

I do have a number of friends in the other arts, and the cross-fertilized conversations that we have resonate deeply with me.  And reading about other arts - I just recently read a piece discussing Paul Taylor's process of choreographing while his dancers are working out a dance piece, and he took a head movement and changed it from a shake indicating 'no' to a less literal curving around of the head, making it both more graceful and ambiguous.  I thought about this for days.  

When I was a student  I was also like this - I was almost unable to socialize during breaks.  I always brought a book with me so I had an excuse.  I heard afterwards that people thought I was snobbish, but really it was that I felt that the zone I was in was so fragile - and also, I was so sensitive to being influenced by the other work.   I still feel that way and as I have matured, I spend less and less time looking at the work of contemporaries and more of my looking-time going back in history.  



Phases of Lisa III, (oil sketch) 6x6", oil on panel


 You live in a major artistic center of the world, New York City, but also in a remote, rural village within the Loire Valley of France. How important is place for you?


I find place extremely important - but I'm not always sure how, or it is not usually obvious.  As I mentioned above, I am rather private in my painting life - and this may be largely because there are so many distractions, many of them valuable, in NYC, but it can be difficult to focus if you engage with it too much.  My studio is very near my home, so I walk there - and this allows me to keep my world pretty circumscribed.   And when I'm in France, I'm similarly circumscribed, with a work space right next to my house.  But there is a big physical difference in terms of the quality of the space and the sounds that surround me. When I get to France, I revel in the silence. This almost seems more important than the space. I close my eyes a lot, and just bask in it. I do not usually fill it with music - whereas in the city, music fills our space a lot. And then, the ideas that come for painting are different in a way that relates to this.  For example, this summer I worked on a series of figurative paintings in which I noticed a lot of flight - this evolved out of a series of paintings that I did in the city before leaving that were about wind, and the aggressive feeling of wind.  But I noticed how in the country, in France, it was almost as if the wind found it's way into the figures, and they took flight. I am also aware right away of the distance that my eyes can travel in space when there, how I can just look out and out. This all feels extremely valuable, though I am never sure what it will result in.  An obvious difference would be if I painted landscapes while in France and urban scenes while in the city, but my work has gotten much more interior, and so the difference is more subtle - but the change of place is nonetheless very powerful.

"But there is a big physical difference in terms of the quality of the space and the sounds that surround me.  When I get to France, I revel in the silence.  This almost seems more important than the space.  I close my eyes a lot, and just bask in it.  I do not usually fill it with music - whereas in the city, music fills our space a lot. And then, the ideas that come for painting are different in a way that relates to this."



"Harlem - color study", 6x12", oil on panel (private collection)


How do you define 'truth' and what is it's relation to your work, or how does it exist within your work? 

Truth is, of course, why I began. As do most young painters I am sure.  In my answer to the question regarding the shift from Philosophy to painting I mentioned that the writing I was doing was increasingly distant from anything I felt was true, and in fact the words seemed to get in the way, to be a kind of scrim.   And I felt an immediate truth in the sense that the truth was felt in the sculptures of Donatello and Rodin, and the viewer felt it as well, almost simultaneously, out of time. The sense of it being felt, and the sense that it transcended time. In conversation, I often feel my words slip away from true feeling, or from what I may be trying to articulate,  or I generally will feel misunderstood -- not in any way particular to me though, but rather in a way I think is due to the nature of words.  Probably many many people feel this way.  But it is always so important to me, that I find a way to articulate what matters, and in painting there is a sense that the piece is something that's undeniable, you can't argue with it - you just look at it, listen to what it's saying. It bears it's truth that way. I don't know about any 'absolute' truth, I don't think that's the kind of truth art gets at.  I'm not even sure that 'absolute truth' make any sense. But the paradox of art is this, that when good it is both coming from this deeply personal kind of truth and also touching a corresponding recognition of a truth in others.  In that way it transcends being merely subjective or relative -- there is a kind of universality that can come when articulating something deeply, privately true.

"But it is always so important to me, that I find a way to articulate what matters, and in painting there is a sense that the piece is something that's undeniable, you can't argue with it - you just look at it, listen to what it's saying."

The problem is, I don't think there's such a thing as 'untruth' in a work of art. To any extent that there may be 'untruth', I think that then there is not art. And so, it is also hard for me to speak of truth. The closest I can get to a definition of 'truth' regarding work might be 'authenticity' but even that's problematic. When I see a work that doesn't 'ring true' I perceive it more as 'not good' and it feels very connected to a work being inauthentic, being made for reasons such as: to sell, or to please and gain accolades from others, or is holding back out of fear, and so on. And in my work, when I feel that it is 'untrue' it is very closely aligned with the feeling of being made for such reasons I just noted and is just not finished. A work of art is so completely true it makes no sense to me to speak of 'untrue' art. Rather, that would be bad or not finished work. But what's the criteria? Not a subjective authenticity but a kind of being authentic in your response to the situation, to everything about what you're feeling as you're working, what you're thinking, what the world with you in it is bringing to the work. So yes, it's very problematic to judge other's work and so I try not to.  I can though judge my own.  



Mattresses with Two Tables, acrylic, charcoal and oil on paper, 14 x 18"


Self-Portraiture appears to be an important theme within your work. Can you share why?

Self-Portraiture began for me as a way to ground myself. The first one I did was motivated by being cut off abruptly from a gallery that I was involved with at the same time as I was coping with a difficult health diagnosis. I realized in that moment that I could either spiral out of control, or I could sit myself down and look at all this with eyes wide open. Which of course, being a painter, meant to paint it.  I did a large, rather classically painted piece, which took several months to complete. The time spent doing this, sitting there and looking, was grounding, yes - but it also was the beginning of what became a characteristic way of working for me: of taking what can seem bad, or unfortunate, or unsettling - and using that as my subject matter, and in that way transforming it. Transforming it into something neither good nor bad, but something beyond judgement and into something that has it's own intrinsic value - the constant task of painting something being to see it this way.  

"...what became a characteristic way of working for me: of taking what can seem bad, or unfortunate, or unsettling - and using that as my subject matter, and in that way transforming it.   Transforming it into something neither good nor bad, but something beyond judgement and into something that has it's own intrinsic value - the constant task of painting something being to see it this way. " 

After this I committed to doing a self-portrait a year, so that I would maintain the habit of looking at myself in this way.  Some time into this I turned 50 - and the only thing that made any sense to do on my 50th birthday was, again, a self-portrait. But this time it seemed that it wasn't a moment that I needed to ground myself with - it was the very passage of time, the movement - and so I then made a commitment to doing a self-portrait drawing every day for that year. A lot could be said about that, which would take up way too much space - but I will just add that this evolved afterwards into a series of self-portraits of my torso. After working with my face for the year, there was a moment (after turning 51) when my body seemed utterly foreign to me - and I took to bringing myself back into a relationship with my body by drawing and painting it, by looking at it in a way beyond judgement and towards its own intrinsic value. Indeed, when once my son said to me that I had better try to get rid of my 'love handles' I said to myself that I ought not to do that, for this is my subject matter.  I need my body, as it is. It is of value.



1.5.15, graphite and wax


II'm interested in the idea and experience of freedom connected to art. Do you believe that art is emancipatory? For Schopenhauer and Kant, this potentiality has: "A particular power which enables it's possessor to leave his own interests, wishes, aims entirely out of sight and thereby free himself to create a world in imagination" (Hofstadter and Kuhns, 1964, P.447).
Freedom is one of those words, like 'objective' and 'subjective' that while they make sense, don't really refer to a concrete entity in the world. They exist as ideas, as ideals - but are no less important for that. When I was learning to draw and then to paint, my teacher (Ted Jacobs) spoke over and over again about how one needs to clear one's mind of all preconceptions, to be able to observe objectively what is in the visual field.  But yet at the same time, we only are able to perceive because we have pre-conceptions that contribute to our ability to make any sense of anything; we are never going to be free of our preconceptions; there isn't any objective perception of a chair without our perception of it, which is a relationship. But having this as a functional ideal, to strive to rid ourselves of our preconceptions can accomplish several things, not the least of which is to make you aware of your preconceptions.   You will work and train hard, getting ever closer to this goal - yet will never reach it. This in no way undermines its importance as a goal; likewise with freedom. Does the notion of an absolute freedom make any sense? Freedom is always situated: freedom-from or freedom-to, and yet it is probably very important to strive for absolute freedom of both kinds in one's work, knowing all the while that one will never attain it.  

Thinking in terms of freedom from influence in the absolute sense can lead to a vacuous kind of emphasis on 'novelty'; we are always historical, our work and our selves, and there is a sense in which we are both historically influenced but moving into the future with our work in a new way at the same time. On the other hand, leaning too far back into history can lead to a repetition of a kind of value and work that may lack in relevance, and interest, and meaning; striving for a freedom from this while recognizing one's connectivity is important. Similarly, freedom to work is  - particularly these days - very important. The freedom to make anything of meaning may mean not needing to occupy oneself at all with concerns with censorship whether that censorship comes from oneself or one's family or one's state. In an ideal sense, the lack of a sense of freedom to make particular kinds of things can result in an inability to produce anything of meaning.  But this, again, is an ideal; we are, again, historical as we make - situated both in history and in our contemporary realms, and there is always the question that must be asked consciously regarding how much of something to show, how much to say, where to say it.  Sometimes it's important to push a lot, sometimes not as much.  But the freedom to make that decision - essential.

In my paintings of my nude torso, for example - my kids (teenage and pre-teen) are not so keen on them.  They have asked me not to have them around the house, and one of them de-friended me on social media for posting them.  We had a very interesting discussion about how I felt that they were important to make and put out there, nobody should influence what you feel you can make, should censor you; but I said that I recognized their discomfort and would set up a separate page for posting them, so that unless you 'like' that page you won't see the work, and also, that I would only hang them in my bedroom or in my studio, not in the other rooms of the house.  And they noted to me that they were not telling me not to do them, just that they were bothered by them.  In fact, I think it has been very important for them to see that I require the freedom to make these pieces regardless.    

I think that just the ability to BE an artist is a freedom that is continually challenged by the forces of convention and the market in our 'democratic' country, let alone how difficult if even possible it is to be an artist elsewhere. Particularly for women. Because of this it is a responsibility. A huge responsibility - when one manages to gain any kind of a voice, whether it's making scratches on paper with a stick to painting chapel ceilings: to make with deep care, to make what matters. 


"...when one manages to gain any kind of a voice, whether it's making scratches on paper with a stick to painting chapel ceilings: to make with deep care, to make what matters. "


Regarding how I paint, there's a kind of painterly freedom that one has now that relates to the very label "Experiential Realism" which I've coined (discussed in Part I). The ability to respond to an experience with one's techniques, while placing a primacy on the experience, depends upon an awareness that one has of every tradition of painting being at one's disposal. We are not bound by patron or church constraints, or by a cultural world view, or by existing in a particular moment in art history that would dictate what counts as art or as even being an artist. Many painters do choose to remain within a particular language of painting, and abide by the 'rules' of that game. But I think there is a sense in which we are truly at the 'end of history' in painting, meaning that we are kind of transcending the notion of genres that might describe history's march - one is always aware that there are countless completely legitimate ways of painting. And there are so many 'non-histories', ways of working that never made it into a larger narrative. So for me, the result is the release of a kind of play of categories.  This makes things difficult, not easier - and for many reasons. The best difficulties are mainly that one has to generate one's own rules -- so that the free play in painting does not mean that there are no rules, but rather, as I mentioned in another response, good work generate it's own rules, it's own criteria for what counts as 'good'. It is also very difficult because there are so many languages to learn -- what comes with this kind of painterly freedom is not that notion of 'anything goes', and this is very important -- it is the most difficult of projects, that one know many games, with many rules that guide each game, in order to play with this freedom in the larger sense, in order to respond to experience with painting.  

Yes - I feel the experience of freedom when I paint. I have always in fact gone to painting for a kind of freedom. I remember when I first started - the moment I laid down color I felt this extraordinary thing - that I could create a world! And that became invaluable to me as I would go into this world even in my mind throughout the day when I wasn't painting - all my feeling, all my thought, all my ideas, count in this world. They are unarguably true, they become the facts of the painting. The rules of my painting while generated with the painting are however my rules. I think if one can access this freedom, to make a world - that yes, art enables us to feel this, quite deeply. It's a freedom that is the result of learning so much of one's techniques that then, finally, the two worlds: the world of the work and the world that the work enters, commingle. 



Two Mattresses on 9/11, gesso, acrylic and charcoal on paper, 12x18"


I think that Kant's notion of the free play of the imagination and 'lawfulness without a law' really does express the paradox that I think is inherent in creating and that I very much feel to be the case. I have always felt both a complete freedom when making work while at the same time knowing all the while of the need to learn, and once having finished my studies of the need for 'rules' -- rules which, however, are then subject to your will as the creator. It's a grounded concept of freedom - not pure freedom. The freedom of the imagination is always spring-boarding off of something and the laws that it doesn't need end up in the work in a way that synthesizes, that holds together, that speaks, that then has it's own lawfulness. This is possibly the unique freedom of art, it's ability to transform conventional concepts via play into it's own world. Lawlessness can not be art, can not make a 'work', and rule-governed work cannot be 'work' either, really - once you move beyond the realm of studying. The feeling of freedom when making is full and glorious - the way knowing a language can then lead to singing! And yes, from the perspective of making you do leave everything to the side. But neither the rules, nor your subjectivity are really gone of course, they're just not felt. Those interests, wishes, aims -- for me they are absolutely not operative (in fact if I feel them when I'm painting the work never comes out); whatever rules I've learned are similarly not operative -- but you can't head into the work without all that.  And in the end the painting is what's always actually telling me more or less what's been going on. The other day I was working on a kind of portrait, for example - and I started to get a sense of mass heavier at the top, and as I worked I realized I had to chuck whatever notions I had that may have been governing my work until that point, whether it was the idea of a conventional kind of portrait, or what the head ought to look like, and so on - and I painted up more and more into this mass, and painted out everything underneath her chin, in fact I started finger-painting - and then, that is when the painting started to speak and shortly after announce itself as finished. There was that unique kind of freedom then, in painting it - that it was, as my work, absolutely subject to my every whim - but on the other hand, it had to hang together and it had it's own lawfulness that I really had to negotiate with.  But they weren't my rules, and I had to in fact break those rules to release the painting into it's own and to hear what it's rules were.

"There was that unique kind of freedom then, in painting it - that it was, as my work, absolutely subject to my every whim - but on the other hand, it had to hang together and it had it's own lawfulness that I really had to negotiate with." 

I'm excited to see any new work that you may be working on. Is there something that we can look forward to?

Since last spring I've really been diving full into working figuratively but without a model. This started during the end of the year of self-portrait drawing when I found I was no longer looking at a visual reference when I drew. This ended up being a real turning point for me, to the extent that I now work mainly without a model, though I do work from life once a week. This has opened up vast narrative possibilities, with narratives that resonate much deeper and more metaphorically than how I previously worked. The work I did over this past summer touched on re-seeing certain myths - I did two "not' paintings, a "Not Icarus" and a "Not Ophelia", and right now I'm working on the story certain figures are telling around a couple of mattresses. 

The final "mattress" painting is one I just completed; it's called "Mourning", and the title hopefully is self-explanatory. And coming up in November is a show that I was asked to participate in at the Flannery O'Connor House in Milledgeville, GA that will be presenting paintings inspired by her writing.  The piece I am putting in was begun from sketches that I did at the die-in protests in NYC last year - as I was building it up, I became increasingly involved in the spiritual dimension that I noticed at some of the die-ins, where gospel songs were sung and the 'hands-up' became more of a swaying of arms - the spiritual mingling with the notion of a kind of 'street justice', or calls for justice taken to the streets, evolved into O'Connors pained spirituality in Wise Blood.   The painting is called "Crossroads".


crossroad (1).jpgCrossroads


Thank you Karen.


Karen Kaapcke:


Hofstadter, Albert, and Richard Kuhns. Philosophies of Art and Beauty: Selected Readings in Aesthetics from Plato to Heidegger. Chicago: U of Chicago, 1976. Print


September 17, 2015

Interview, Part I: Karen Kaapcke on Experiential-Realism, Philosophy and more...


  "When I can make a painting about the weight of the night sky upon an aging woman, the particular pain of the infinite contrasted with the finite, mortal body as she looks up at that sky -- that is the kind of grappling that I think a good poet can work with, and which I can only (hopefully) paint."


"Listening To The News On The 14th Day Of The Palestinian/Israeli War", charcoal and oil on linen, 24x48" approx.

Karen Kaapcke is an American visual artist and teacher based in New York City. She has studied at the National Academy of Design and the Art Student's League in New York as well as the Ecole Albert Dufois in Les Cerqueux Sous Passavant France. Karen holds a Master of Arts in Philosophy from the State University of New York, Binghamton. She is the recipient of major awards including winner of the top prize in the Portrait Society of America Competition. Many of her projects have received widespread attention such as her self-portrait series. Karen has created the label Experiential Realism to refer to her work. In her own words "experiential realism names a branch of painting that places primacy on the experience and allows the technique to respond, as opposed to viewing the painting or drawing experience through the lens of the technique and placing primacy on that technique

I had the fortune to meet her at her home in Les Cerqeueux Sous Passavant before she returned to New York City for the end of summer. 



"World-View", 9x11", oil on panel

Can you tell me about the force or drive which led you to pursue becoming a professional artist? 

When I was heading into my final semester of grad school in Philosophy, I suddenly had a problem with writing anything that seemed 'right'.  I never had any difficulty with writing before, I was always able to write like I breathed, but I became more and more aware of how distant all my words were from anything that could be 'truth'.  And ironically, a large part of what I was working on was in the field of philosophy of language.    Not that I knew what 'truth' was or would be -- and maybe that was the issue.  There was a sense of finality to each written phrase, and that of course is all wrong.  For a break, I went downstairs to the Fine Arts Library and randomly pulled a book out of a shelf.  It was a book on Donatello's sculpture.  I was stunned, and pulled out several other books, all sculpture.  I recall Rodin also being in the bunch.  What struck me was that these guys were getting at 'it', at that elusive something that kept slipping away from my words.  And without a sense of closure or finality, but with in a way an active questioning.  I brought the books up to my office, and instead of writing I began to draw from the images.  And to make a very long story short, from there I had to figure out how to do what these artists were doing.

Can you share any further thoughts about Experiential Realism? Particularly on it's beginning?

For a while my work has seemed to escape labels, but often labels are necessary.  So I decided to come up with my own.  Experiential Realism seemed apt, because I am very connected to 'reality' when I work, but I don't believe that reality is monolithic - in other words, I think that whatever we consider reality to be, it is at least always surprising.  Additionally, I don't think that technique should be primary; I think that the world is primary and one's techniques are at the service of that world.   So, when I looked at my work, and at the variety of ways in which I work -- which I also found rare for artists who have been classically trained as I have -- I realized that this is indeed how I proceed.  I use all the kinds of training I have had as tools to respond to the experience of the world as it presents itself to me during a given period of work, with the hopes of letting that world speak as much as I speak with it.   Experiential Realism also has within it a kind of active sense, which I liked, painting -- even or particularly representational painting, as an experience.

 "I use all the kinds of training I have had as tools to respond to the experience of the world as it presents itself to me during a given period of work, with the hopes of letting that world speak as much as I speak with it." 

9838394_orig.jpgbrush, oil on paper, 4x6"


What role did Martin Heidegger's On the Origin of the Work of Art play on your artistic journey?   

The main thing is that I must've been already tending in this direction, because when I was reading in aesthetic theory/philosophy of art, it all seemed so far off the mark.  Really, just a bunch of words.  And I liked words.  Until I hit John Dewey's Art as Experience.  That work stood out as respecting the primacy of the making of the work.  But it was when I was reading Heidegger's work, that I felt: 'bam', this is it.    Because the thing is, art, or Art, is constantly escaping one -- but why?  And why does it compel a kind of uniquely unending thinking about it, and why does it compel one to make it?   When Heidegger talks about the Earth/World struggle, an active and unending dialogue between the irresolute 'thingness' of the work and the concomitant sense that the work has of being involved in a world of understanding, a whole web of meaning and references that are always pulling it beyond itself and peeling it open to more of itself -- at the time, that resonated.  This idea of Heidegger's 'world-making' aspect of a work -- I find myself thinking back on this over and over again.  That when engaged with a work, and when looking at work, there's a real sense in which the work (when 'good') creates it's own world.  In terms of painting, really good work is work that creates it's own criteria for judgment, makes it impossible to judge it in terms of anything else.  When I'm painting, and it's going well, I definitely feel that the work becomes more and more self-determining.  You have to more or less listen to what it's telling you.  You also have to keep listening to the referenced 'world' so that as you ask it questions, the answers may result in the work.  This kind of dialogue I think is maybe what Heidegger was getting at.  And when judging really good works, one ought not put one's own rules of 'aesthetics' onto it -- a really great work will make it's own rules, which it then plays by.   This is one of the ways in which aesthetics transcends 'taste'.  


"...a really great work will make it's own rules, which it then plays by." 


I continued along a bit in that direction while drawing more and more 'after hours', reading Gadamer on hermeneutics and play, and I ended up finishing my writing in a very non-academic manner, but one which perhaps heralded the idea of Experiential Realism.  I didn't let the idea of 'academic' writing determine how I wrote; rather, I let the ideas as they developed determine how I wrote them.  The writing created it's own rules.  I was astonished that my professors accepted my work - they actually really liked it and wanted me to go back to the University to discuss it.  But by then, when finished, it was time to go learn painting and drawing.  

How does your former education in philosophy inform your work?

In the most general way I think that the struggle to understand the human situation, or the non-human situation, or the connection between the two, is really at the origin of work.  It is, I think, so deeply pre-verbal that words mainly circle around it, or at least did for me.  I entered the field of philosophy with a drive to grapple with this unsettling kind of question that has seemingly always plagued me -- and I realized along the way that words were not the way for me.   When I can make a painting about the weight of the night sky upon an aging woman, the particular pain of the infinite contrasted with the finite, mortal body as she looks up at that sky -- that is the kind of grappling that I think a good poet can work with, and which I can only (hopefully) paint.


836633_orig.jpgLisa with Floating Phone, oil and black chalk on linen, 9x11"


Do you believe certain philosophies and ideas are valuable for artists to apply and pursue within their profession?

I do think that young artists need to read a ton, and widely; I think that however one reaches out to others both in the present and historically, is crucial - and usually it is philosophical and historical texts that can provide this historicity in a vital way.   We are contextual and communal and while we work in solitude, to touch others is to be situated historically.  And not just art history.  It is possible that a lot of younger artists focus on their studio work possibly to the neglect of broader reading, which is why I at one point (and maybe it cost me my job, I'm not sure!) advised my most talented students at Parson's to not go to art school for their undergraduate studies, but to go to a good liberal arts program and learn and read - and paint and draw on the side - and then afterwards, choose either a good graduate program or some good people that they wanted to work with, for their painting studies.   I don't think there's a particular philosophy or idea that is important, but I think the discipline of questioning assumptions, of kind of realizing how little one knows, and how as one grows how much less and less one knows, if that makes any sense -  is very, very good for painters.


 "We are contextual and communal and while we work in solitude, to touch others is to be situated historically. "


Can you share your thoughts about the notion of representation in painting from observation? How do you consider the "represented" or "reproduced" image in relation to the reality itself?

That is such a great question.  The need to represent, to make representational images, is such a mystery.   What I think is going on partly is that because it is a dialogue, because our very being-in-the-world is a dialogue, making work is a continuation of that dialogue.  It's a language that's learned, a technique, that enables those who use it to plug in, as it were.  There are many, many ways to plug in.  Athletes plug in.  Astronauts plug in.  

But  often when we talk about representation we make an assumption that the world is there presenting itself to us nice and neatly packaged, and then we just sort of sit down to 're-present' it.  I don't think this is how it goes; I think reality is relational, it is somewhere in the nexus of self and other, or it is a third thing that comes from our sensory mingling in the world -- in any event, it is not even apparent what reality is let alone what the representation's relation to it is.  So I think that we representational artists are actually making reality, participating in making a reality that fits for the maker.  This is kind of what I mean by plugging in.  There is a reason that most (all?) artists have at some point felt, or feel, at odds in the world - and making work - whether representational or not - is making, or trying to make, an appropriate world.   


 " The artist and viewer can not be said to be separate from the object represented; and this is why I think representation is always going to be meaningful, and has always been."


From the perspective of the 'object' (so to speak), when we talk about 'representation' there's the temptation to think of it as mimetic - as the artist copying a presentation of a thing - but objects, I think, exist also in a nexus, a context, a historical field, a physical world of potentiality, a web of meaning -- and this is what the artist paints or draws.   And by doing this, the artist participates in the reality of the object, grows it's nexus, becomes part of it's meaning, and the viewer as well.  The artist and viewer can not be said to be separate from the object represented; and this is why I think representation is always going to be meaningful, and has always been.    Sometimes I think of this as the metaphoricality of things -- I am particularly moved to paint something not because of how it looks, but when it suddenly speaks way beyond itself.


"My Father (Rest in Peace)", 40x22", oil on linen (private collection)


Are there certain questions that you ask yourself at the outset of each work or project?

I do kind of ask myself a general: what's going on? kind of question, and throughout the painting in fact I keep asking this question.  I am starting to believe more and more that the act of painting is mainly a way of responding to these questions.

Can you share a few of your thoughts about colour, as related to your practice?  

I think that color temperature is essential.   In working observationally, I think it is the most difficult and important thing to work on mixing and mixing to get the odd, surprising colors as close as possible.  It is a part of the painting that gets you out of thinking you know anything!  So it's really important to stay tuned to that.  But in terms of moving away from observation, I think it's temperature that you take with you.   The interplay of warms and cools can read, can develop a reality regardless of what particular colors you use.  


khaki shorts 2.jpg

khaki shorts 2, oil pastel and oil sticks on foam core, 12 x 8.5"


How do women figure in your work? Do you consider certain sociological or cultural factors while painting women?

I paint myself a lot, so that has meant that the female form has figured strongly in my work.  But there are a couple of other things.  One is that I began to paint and draw my nude torso after an episode where I realized that my own body had become foreign to me.  I began to work from it to bring myself back home to it, in a sense - but I found that I need to keep working this way.  I am not ever really at home in it finally.  I keep catching myself in reflections, as I age, not feeling identified at all with my body, and the strangeness of this compels me to keep using myself as a subject.  I am also highly aware of how the aging female body is not really an acceptable thing, whether as a subject for art, advertisements or other media, or just in a general midriff-baring way.  So it is an important thing to put out there.  


Thank you Karen, I look forward to Part II.


Karen Kaapcke:

August 22, 2015

Leonardo da Vinci on the Artist's Life

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), the archetype renaissance man, began his manuscripts at age 37, in which he wrote on the artist's life: of judging one's work, attitudes and much more:

4006d9c5d07511ce37db4593b97ef712.jpg Portrait of a man in Red Chalk (Leonardo), (attributed to) Leonardo da Vinci, 1512

The painter strives and competes with nature

The painter ought to be solitary and consider what he sees, discussing it with himself in order to select the most excellent part of whatever he sees. He should act as a mirror which transmutes itself into as many colours as are those of the objects that are placed before it. Thus he will seem to be a second nature.  

The life of the painter in his studio

In order that the well-being of the body may not sap that of the mind the painter or daughtsman ought to remain solitary, and especially when intent on those studies and reflections of things which continually appear before his eyes and furnish material to be well kept in the memory. While you are alone you are entirely your own; and if you have but one campanion you are but half your own, or even less in proportion to the indescretion of his conduct. And if you have more companions you will fall deeper into the same trouble. If you should say, I will go my own way, I will withdraw apart the better to study the forms of natural objects, I tell you that this will work badly because you cannt help often lending an ear to their chatter; and not being able to serve two masters you will badly fill the part of a companion, and carry out your studies of art even worse. And if you say, 'I will withdraw so far that their words do not reach me nor disturb me, ' I can tell you that you be thought bad; but bear in mind that by doing this you will at least be alone; and if you must have companionship find it in your study...This may assist you to obtain advantages which result from different methods. All other company may be very michevious to you. 

Small rooms or dwellings discipline the mind, large ones distract it. 


gwen-john-corner.jpegA corner of the Artist's Room in Paris, Gwen John,1907-9.

"Une petite morceau de souffrance et de désir,"; (a little piece of suffering and desire) -Gwen John. 

For painting is the way to learn to know the maker of all marvellous things-and this is the way to love so great an inventor. For in truth great love springs from the full knowledge of the thing that one loves; and if you do not know it you can love it but little or not at all. 

And if you love Him for the sake of good benefits that you expect to obtain from Him, you are like the dog wagging its tail, welcoming and jumping up at the man who may give him a bone. But if the dog knew and would be capable of understanding the virtue of this man how much greater would be his love!

Claude-Monet-Painting-by-the-Edge-of-a-Wood-1885-by-John-Singer-Sargent.jpgClaude Monet Painting by the Edge of a Wood, John Singer Sargent, 1885.

The life of the painter in the country

A painter needs such mathematics as belong to painting, and the severance from companians who are not in sympathy with his studies; and his brain should have the power of adapting itself to the variety of objects which present themselves before it; and he should be free from other cares. And if, while considering and defining one case, a second should intervene, as happens when an object occupies the mind, then work out, and follow that until it becomes entirely clear, and then work out the explanation of the other; and above all he should keep his mind clear as the surface of a mirror, which becomes changed to as many different colours as are those of the objects; and his companions should resemble him as to their studies, and if he fail to find any he should keep his speculations to himself alone, for in the end he will find no more useful company. 

Studying when you wake, or before you go to sleep in the dark

I have found in my own experience that it is of no small benefit when you lie in bed in the dark to go over again in the imagination the outlines of forms you have been studying or of other noteworthy things conceived by subtle speculation; and this is certainly a praiseworthy exercise and useful in impressing things on the memory.

The mind of a painter should be like a mirror, which always takes the colour of the object it reflects and is filled by the images of as many objects as are in front of it

Therefore you must know that you cannot be a good painter unless you are universal master to represent by your art every kind of form produced by nature. And this you will not know how to do unless you see them and retain them in your mind. Therefore as you walk through the fields turn your attention to the various objects and look now at this thing and now at that, collecting a store of divers facts selected and chosen from those of less value. And do not do like some painters who, when tired in their mind, dismiss their work from their thoughts and take exercise by walking for relaxation keeping, however, such weariness of mind as prevents them from apprehending the objects they see; but often when they meet friends or relatives and being saluted by them although they may see and hear them take no more cognizance of them than if they had met so much air. 

What induces you, O man, to depart from your home in town, to leave parents and friends, and go to the countryside over mountains and valleys, if it is not the beauty of the world of nature which, if you consider well, you can only enjoy through the sense of sight; and since the poet in this claims to compete with the painter, why do you not take the poets descriptions of such landscapes and stay home without exposing yourself to the excessive heat of the sun. Would that not be more expedient and less fatiguing, since you could stay in a cool palce without moving about and exposing yourself to illness? But your soul could  enjoy the pleasures that come to it through the eyes, the windows of its habitation, it could not conceive the reflections of bright places, it could not see the shady valleys watered by the play of meandering rivers, it could not see the many flowers which with the other things which may present themselves to they eye. But if a painter on a cold and severe winter's day shows you his paintings of these or other countrysides where you once enjoyed yourself beside some fountain, and where you can see your beloved under cool, soft shadows of green tress, will it not give you much greater pleasure than listening to the poets description of the scene?

The Time for studying selection of subjects

Winter evening should be spent by young students in study of the things prepared during the summer; that is all the drawings from the nude which you have made in the summer should be brought together and a choice made of the best limbs and bodies from among them to apply in practice and commit to memory.

Of Attitudes

Afterwards, in the following summer you should select someone who is well grown, and has not been brought up in doublets and whose figure has therefore lost its natural bearing, and make him go through some graceful and elegant movements; and if his muscles do not show plainly within the outlines of his limbs this is of no consequence. It is enough for you to obtain good attitudes from the figure, and you can correct the limbs by those which you have studied in the winter. 

Of the way of learning correctly how to compose groups of figures in historical pictures

When you have well-learnt perspective and have fixed in your memory all the parts and forms of objects, you should go about and often as you go for walks observe and consider the circumstances and behaviours of men as they talk or laugh or come to blows with one another; the actions of the men themselves and of the bystanders, who intervene or look on. And take a note of them with rapid strokes thus-in a little book which you should always carry with you; and let this be of tinted paper; and so that it may not be rubbed out, change the old for a new one; since these things should not be rubbed out but preserved with great care; for the forms and positions of objects are so infinite that the memory is incapable of retaining them, therefore keep these as tour guides and masters. 

Leonardo_da_vinci,_Five_caricature_heads.jpg Five Caricature Heads, Leonardo da Vinci, pen and ink on paper, c. 1490

Whether it is better to draw in company or no

I say and insist that drawing in company is much better than alone, for many reasons. The first is that you would be ashamed of being seen among a number of draughtsmen if you are weak, and this feeling of shame will lead you to good study; secondly a wholesome envy will stimulate you to join the number of those who are more praised than you are, for the praise of others will spur you on; yet another is that you can learn from the drawings of those who do better than yourself; and if you are better than others, you can profit by your contempt for their defects, and the praise of others will incite you to further efforts. 

Of judging your own pictures

We know very well that errors are better recognized in the works of others than in our own; and often by reproving little fault in others, we may ignore great ones in ourselves...I say that when you paint you have a flat mirror and often look at your work as reflected in it, when you will see it reversed, and it will appear to you like some other painter's work, so you will be better able to judge of its faults than in any other way. Again it is well that you should often leave off work and take a little relaxation, because when you come back to it you are a better judge;  for sitting too close at work may greatly deceive you. Again it is good to retire to a distance because the work looks smaller and your eye takes in more of it at a glance and sees more easily the lack of harmony and proportion in the limbs and colours of the objects. 

As the body with great slowness produced by the extent of its contrary movement turns in greater space and thereby gives a stouter blow, whereas shorter movements have little strenght, so the study of the same subject made at long intervals of time causes the judgement to become more perfect and more able to recognize his own mistakes. And the same is true of the eye of the painter as it draws further away from the picture. 

Rules to be given to boys learning to paint

We know clearly that vision is one of the swiftest actions that there is, and in one instant we see infinite forms; nevertheless, we understand only one thing at a time. 

Suppose that you, reader, were to to glance rapidly at all this written pace, and you will quickly perceive that it is full of various letters, but in this time you could not recognize what letters they are nor what they were meant to tell. Hence you need to proceed word by word, line by line, to be able to understand these letters. Again, if you wish to mount to the top of an edifice you go up step by step; otherwise it will be impossible to reach the top. So I say to you, whom nature turns to this art, if you wish to have knowledge of the forms of things, you will begin with their details, and not go on to the second until you have the first well fixed in memory and in practice. And if you do otherwise, you will waste your time, or certainly you will prolong your study a good deal; and remember to acquire diligence first, rather than rapidity.

drapery-for-a-seated-figure-1.jpgDrapery for a seated figure, Leonardo da Vinci, Tempera on canvas.

That diligence should first be learnt rather than rapid execution

If as draughtman you desire to study well and to good purpose, accustom yourself to work slowly when you are drawing, and descriminate in the lights which have the highest degree of brightness, and likewise in the shadows, which are those that are darker than the others and in what way they join one another, and then their dimensions and the relative proportions of one to the other; and note in the outlines which way they are tending, and in the lines what part of them is curved to one side or the other, and where they are more or less conspicous and where they are broad or fine; and finally that your shadows and lights blend like smoke without strokes or borders: And when you shall have schooled your hand and your judgement by by such diligence, you will acquire rapid execution before you are aware. 

These rules are to be used only in testing the figures; since everyman makes certain mistakes in his first compositions and he who knows them not cannot amend them. Therefore, you being aware of errors test your work and where you find mistakes amend them, and remember never to fall into them again. But if you try to apply these rules in composition you would never make a beginning and would cause confusion in your work. 

These rules are intended to give you a free and good judgment; since good judgement proceeds from clear understanding, and a clear understanding comes from reason derived from sound rules, and sound rules are the daughters of sound experience-the common mother of all the sciences and arts. Therefore bearing in mind the precepts of my rules, you will be able, merely by your amended judement to judge and recognize everything that is out of proportion in a work, whether it is in the perspective or in the figures or other things. 

Many who have not studied the theory of shade and light and perspective turn to nature and copy her; they thus acquire a certain practice simply by copying without studying or analysing nature further. There are some who look at the objects of nature through glass or transparent paper or veils and make tracings on the transparent surface; and they then adjust their outlines, adding on here and there to make them conform to the laws of proportion, and they introduce chiaroscuro by filling in the positions, sizes, and shapes of the shadows and lights.  These practices may be praiseworthy in him who knows how to represent effects of nature by his imagination and only resort to them in order to save trouble and not to faily in the slightest particular in the truthful imitation of a thing whereof a precise likeness is required; but they are reprehensive in him who cannot portray without them nor his own mind in analysis, because through such laziness he destroys his own intelligence and he will never be able to produce anything good without such contrivance. Men like this will always be poor and weak in imaginative work or historical composition. 

The painter who draws by practice and judgment of the eye without the use of reason is like a mirror which copies everything places in front of it without knowledge of the same. 

77cd752a900dec147b4acf4b304c2cec.jpgLeonardo da Vinci, Old Man and Water Studies, c. 1513 

Practice should always be based on sound theory, of which prespective is the guide and the gateway, and without it nothing can be done well in any kind of painting. 

Those who are enamored of practice without science are like the pilot who gets into a ship without a rudder or compass and who never has any certainty where he is going. Practice should always be based on sound theory, of which prespective is the guide and the gateway, and without it nothing can be done well in any kind of painting. 

How the painter is not worthy of praise unless he is universal

It may be frankly admitted that certain people deceive themselves who call a painter a good master who can only do the head or the figure well. Surely, it is no great achievement if after studying one thing only during his whole lifetime he attain to some perfection. But since we know that painting embraces and contains within itself all things which nature produces, or which result from the fortuitous actions of man, and in short whatever can be comprehended by the eyes, it would seem to me that he is by a poor master who makes only a single figure well. For do you not see how many and how varied are the actions performed by men alone? Do you not see how many different animals there are, and also trees and plants and flowers? What variety of mountainous regions and plains, of springs, rivers, cities with public and private buildings, instruments fitted for man's use; of divers constumes, ornaments, and arts? All these things should be rendered with equal facility and perfection by whomever you wish to call a good painter. 

How in works of importance a man should not trust so entirely to his memory as to disdain to draw from nature

Any master who should venture to boast that he could remember all the forms and effects of nature would certainly appear to me to be graced with great ignorance, in as much as these effects are infinited and our memory is not of so great capacity as to suffice thereto. Hence, O painter, beware lest the greed of gain should supplant in you the renown in art, for to gain this renown is a far greater thing than is the renown of riches. Hence for these and other reasons which might be given, you should first strive in drawing to present to the eye in expressive form the purpose and invention created originally in your imagination, then proceed by taking off and putting on until you satisfy yourself; then have men arranged as models draped or nude in the way in which you have disposed them in your work; and make the dimensions and size as determined by perspective, so that nothing remains in the work that is not so counselled by reason and by the effects in nature. And this will be the way to make yourself renowned in your art. 

The painting declines and deteriorates from age to age, when painters have no other standard than paintings already done

Hence the painter will produce pictures of small merit if he takes for his standard the pictures of theirs, but if he will study from natural objects he will bear good fruit. As was seen in the paintings after the Romans who always imitated each other and so their art constantly declined from age to age. After these came Giotto, the Florentine, who was not content with imitating the works of Cimabue, his master, being born in mountain solitudes inhabited ony by goats and such beasts and being guided by nature to his art, he began by drawing on the rocks the movements of the goats which he was tending; and thus he began to draw all the animals which were to be found in the country, and in such a way that after much study he excelled not only the masters of his time but all those of many bygone ages. Afterwards this art declined again, because everyone imitated the pictures that were already done; thus it went on deteriorating...until Tomaso of Florence, nicknamed Masaccio, showed by his perfect works how those who take for their standard anyone but naure-the mistress of all the masters- weary themselves in vain. And similarily, I would say about these mathematical studies that those who study only the authorities and not the works of nature are descendants but not sons of nature, the mistress of all good authors. Oh how great is the folly of those who blame those who learn from nature, leaving uncensured the authorities who were themselves the disciples of this same nature. 

Therefore, O painter, who do not know these laws, if you would escape the censure of those who have studied them, be zealous to represent everything according to nature and not to disparage such study as do those who work only for gain. 

He is a poor disciple who does not excel his master

800px-Verrocchio,_Leonardo_da_Vinci_-_Battesimo_di_Cristo_-_Google_Art_Project.jpgThe Baptism of Christ, Andrea del Verrocchio and Leonardo da Vinci, oil on wood, 1472-1475. 


The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci is available as a digitized version via the British Library and as a print/e-book via Amazon

June 10, 2015

An Interview with Esther Bunting on Spirited bodies, the life model, and beyond

"We speak of the artist picking up on the models' emotions and energy, but hearing their voices is a more acute communication, perhaps less ambiguous...We might imagine the life and interior of the model whilst drawing her...Her genuine story can be extremely moving, or else light-hearted and uplifting. Hearing her may affect the way that artists see her, regard her and even draw her." 


LondonDrawing_SB_DT_Oct13_1655.jpgThe Drawing Theatre, 'A Human Orchestration' at St John's Church, Waterloo, London, October 2013


Esther Bunting not only life models, but also operates a unique organization called Spirited Bodies in London, England. Via Spirited Bodies she provides opportunities for others to life model so that they will experience the beneficial aspects that such a position yields, such as empowerment and revitalization.  

MN: What was the inspiration for creating the organization?  

It was a friend and fellow life model's idea, her name is Morimda Tassembedo. She had been modelling quite a bit longer than me, and had this idea for a while, and when she finally was implementing it, she needed help and asked me. In the end, she had a lot of other stuff going on and I ended up organising most of it, and after the first event (November 2010) she handed the project over to me, and it has been with me (with some help) ever since. 

Morimda was inspired by the way when she told people what she did for a living they were often very awed and impressed as they thought it was a brave thing to do. For Morimda on the other hand, a very shy person, it was one of the few things she was comfortable doing! She was a fine artist herself. She wanted to share her empowered experience with other women, and devised the basic format. Since then it has been expanded on and explored and I continue to find new avenues with it. 


How do you believe life-modelling engenders empowerment for someone today? 

In our culture there is much pressure from the media that is embodied by us. It can take some effort to overcome the effects of our dislocation from our own bodies, and to redefine our experience of ourselves. By freeing ourselves of societal hang-ups we are empowered to focus on what really matters. Use our brains and bodies more intelligently, sensitively, and regard each other with more equality and respect. 

Do you believe that the vigilance and endurance, both qualities which life-modelling necessitates, engenders self-possession, in other words, the feeling of owning oneself, in both body and mind?

There is confidence and satisfaction that comes with successfully managing one's body when life modelling, so yes, definitely. It can be a meditation which puts one in closer connection with oneself, with spirit or essence, and allows greater awareness of one's body to manifest. 

In, Model into Artist, April Masten writes, "writing about the models experience is an essential strategy in the transformation of the meaning of art. The model has played an essential, not an auxiliary role, in the social relations, institutions and power arrangements of high art. privileging model's representations-her utterances, cultural productions, and depictions-we incorporate women's experiences into our social analysis and are forced to reconsider our understanding of the fundamental ordering of society". 

It's a worthy statement especially considering the difficulty in assessing the contribution of the life-model to a work of art and thereby art-history. Any thoughts to Masten's statement?  

I thoroughly agree with her and would love to read more of her book! Fortunately these days many life models write blogs about their experiences, there are books too and sometimes plays, exhibitions and films. In my Spirited Bodies events I play recorded audio interviews I have made with the models (and some artists) while they are posing/drawing. It adds another dimension to the experience, affording all present an insight into the varied reasons that models are there, what is going on beneath the surface. 

We speak of the artist picking up on the models' emotions and energy, but hearing their voices is a more acute communication, perhaps less ambiguous. We might imagine the life and interior of the model whilst drawing her, but we are making things up generally! Her genuine story can be extremely moving, or else light-hearted and uplifting. Hearing her may affect the way that artists see her, regard her and even draw her. This is not just, "How would you like your tea? or Have you been modelling much lately?" (typical life drawing break exchanges), but rather the stuff you wouldn't normally get to know so soon. 

I also explore the role of the model in my performance, Girl in Suitcase, which takes a look at the objectification of the model in traditional life drawing scenarios. It also explores what happens when the life model is in charge, and the boundaries between models and artists are redrawn and exchanged! 


According the historian, Marion Glastonbury, "Muteness and invisibility are not incidental byproducts of female-labour, they are what women are paid for, part of the service, the prerequisites of privacy, ease, and confidentiality for men", and connectedly, Masten states, "for working-women economic survival has often depended on silence". Do you believe that this holds true in the world of life-modeling? If so, how and why? 

In the traditional environment of life modelling this is true, unless the model is uniquely in demand in which case she can be more demanding. On the other hand, artists may appreciate a model with some character, who is not always silent, and with whom it is evident because of their vocalness that they are happy. A content model may be more pleasant to draw than one who appears to be uncomfortable. There are many artists however, who do not particularly notice the models' discomfort, regarding them more as an object. In this case it is necessary for the model to speak up. Fortunately in the world of social media and email today, a malpracticing artist or tutor may be called out and brought to rights within minutes. This naturally is a massive restructuring of power, but of course this is happening in many areas of our life! 

In a large city like London there is a surplus of proficient life models so negotiating a decent wage is sometimes tricky, but with the help of the Register of Artists' Models (RAM) we can put pressure on institutions and smaller groups or individual artists to pay the recommended rate. 

There is also the pressure to hold difficult poses for extended periods of unnatural discomfort. Each body is different and ought to be wise to its limitations to avoid damage. The hardest work is for artists painting a long pose for several weeks or months, especially if they want a challenging pose. More contemporary life drawing groups however are the opposite, with many very short poses, and giving the model total control over the poses, and with the sense that they are not obliged to hold anything which becomes painful. This is a completely different experience, though may feel more like a yoga work-out than trance meditation. 


 Thoughts, insights or feelings concerning the present or prior interrelations of the life model and the artist? 

Models come from many more walks of life now, as do artists, as society in some ways is less rigid (than 19th century for example). The recent power shift with the rise of the internet has come as a bit of a shock to some older figurative artists who may have trained at art school in the 1950s when the model really was regarded as an object. They find themselves rapidly reduced in status in the face of the models' newly acquired prestige. Not that life models have not had some glamour about them if not more in the past for example in the 1930s, but there is a present wave (I speak of in London and I imagine some but not many other cities round the world) of model empowerment. The life model community has never been more connected and sometimes co-ordinated. 

Artists from a more contemporary approach are often very keen on working with a happy, engaged model. They don't want her to be faking it, and they tend to be interested in her input as well, listening to her thoughts and ideas. She may be chosen because she is some sort of artist herself, or because she has a good connection with them. 



Any notes for artists working with models or while in in the live-model studio?

Find the right model for the job you are looking to do. Describe the job clearly and how you see it working out. Try to imagine what the experience may be like for the model. See if potential models have any questions for you, ideally have a dialogue in advance to find out each others' needs and the suitability of the match. 

Make the model feel comfortable to choose when to stretch if necessary (with longer poses) and take breaks. You may want a routine to adhere to, but try to be flexible bearing in mind how the models' needs may change as a long pose goes on, i.e. more breaks needed later into the pose.

Make sure the heat is appropriate, and again each model is different, so work with them. Patience is sometimes necessary as heaters need to be moved from time to time as they only reach part of her body or become too hot. 

Give the model a designated area in which to change and keep her stuff. Should be private if possible. 

Have regular refreshment breaks.

Ideally let the model choose her own pose, or make suggestions to her but be prepared to negotiate, and ultimately let her decide. If what she can offer is not what you are looking for, this is something you want to find out before you have made the booking. If you want to cancel a booking with no or short notice, you should pay the model some if not all the arranged fee. 

Pay at least the recommended rate. This usually just covers the hours posing, so the model must commit many more in travel and lunch breaks which are unpaid. If the travel or overnight expense is considerable you must cover that too, and it may be a good idea to provide lunch.

It is not considered appropriate to touch the model without asking! Be mindful how you describe her when working, though it is understood that for the purposes of the artists learning about the detailed nature of form and light, her body may be as if a landscape. 

Thank you Esther.

June 8, 2015

Environmental Suggestions for the Painter


Nature, which is a key inspiration for artists, requires special care and protection. Artists need to be conscious in not harming her via the use of their materials or practices. 

Below are a few green alternatives for materials which are otherwise only available in toxic compositions as well as other environmentally conscious information.  


A citrus-based alternative.

Cirtus-based solvents (not to be confused with citrus-based household cleaners) are made from the oils of citrus peels, a biodegradeable renewable resource, and offer the same performance as turpentine and other mineral spirits. 

I use Livo's Svalo's 222, an orange oil-based solvent, which was recommended to me by artist, teacher and mentor, Ted Seth Jacobs


Hemp paper, which is stronger than cotton, does not require heavy use of pesticides for its production.


Consider using an energy-efficient air-purifier


Discover your own earth pigments: to harvest colours, dig them up, remove any large peices of rock, sticks or debris, then allot the earth to dry in a sunny location. Once dry, sift out smaller debris with a wire kitchen strainer and use a mortar and pestle to grind the earth to a fine powder; bind with own choice.

Or you may purchase your pigments via the following companies:

Real milk-paint company

Earth Paint



Gelatin (which is derived from cows) can be used as a substitute for rabbit skin glue.


A few essential oils that can be used as preservatives in homemade paints:

Citronella, clove, cinnamon, eucalyptus, juniper, lavender, lemon, peppermint, rosemary, sandalwood, teatree, thyme and wintergreen.


All-purpose cleaner:

1 tbsp borax, 1tbsp liquid castile soap, 1 tbsp lemon juice, 1 quart warm water.

Harmful Chemicals to be aware of:

VOC's: (Volotile Organic Compounds) The danger of VOC's in traditional paint is due to the fact that the gases are emitted into the air as the paint is applied and as it dries. 

Biocides: A chemical agent, such as a pesticide, which is capable of destroying living organisms. The addition of biocides to paint is directed at the prevention of bacterial, fungal and algal growth on paint. 

The above and more information is available in Karen Michel's Green Guide for Artists.

February 9, 2015

An interview with Ted Seth Jacobs: guidance for the art student


Ted seth jacobs is a painter, teacher and author. He was born in 1927 and has an artistic career that spans over five decades. Ted has had over seventy solo shows and executed hundereds of commissions. He is also the author of best-selling books: Drawing with an Open Mind and Light for the Artist. He began teaching from the age of 18 at the historic Art Student's League of New York. Subsequently, he taught at the New York Academy of Art, before founding a school in France, which he called L'ecole Albert Dufois, after the mayor of the village who welcomed him. Since, many of Ted's students have become notable artists and teachers. Ted currently lives, works and teaches in Les Cerqueux Sous Passavant. 

Ted has gracriously agreed to answer a couple of my questions concerning art-student matters. The interview was conducted at his home in the late autumn of 2014. 

MN : Your thoughts on choosing a teacher to study with?  

TSJ : From the start you don't know, look at the Artist's work and select the one which you would like to most reproduce. To pick a teacher, look at the student works and see whether it is a style you would like to learn. It's impossible to know whether the teacher can transmit his style, or teach, in other words, you have to try. I didn't realize realism was based on principles. I started with a teacher who was really academic, was really well-known, he was like an institution, he had a very good reputation, most of the well-known painters had studied with him (in the 1940's), but after a few years, I recognized the work was not real, as I saw it on the model stand, but constructed. Painting, drawing, and sculpture. He was a painting instructor. Drawing teacher, the same, a cut and dry system, in general, a really artificial mechanical style. But I didn't know from the start. Sometimes I subbed for him, I knew his style thoroughly. Follow steps, get style of work, but little to do with reality. After 2-3 years what does it look like, I asked myself, in opposition to what I was told. 

MN: What attributes, if any, are key for an art student to have:

TSJ: Open attitude, most difficult is to accept a new way of seeing things. The most useful attitude for a student starting out is to say to one's self, I know nothing. The most productive way the student is to use the time is to accept what the teacher is teaching, use it , but then also, it's very imporant to ask yourself, does it correspond to what I am seeing. First: understand and absorb, then, ask: does it correspond to what I am seeing?  If it doesn't, then the person asks what am I actually seeing.

If I could remove from my mind all my preconceptions, all my verbal descriptions, all my personal preferences, then I must ask myself, what are the eyes actually transmitting? Then to go really deeply into that approach you have to constantly ask yourself, whether what I am putting on the paper or canvas looks like what the eyes are sending to my brain, you have to have the courage and the relentless determination to find the optimum match that can be made with paint. In general the most productive aproach is to assume that you can always get it closer. 

Ted provides further information concerning the subject of learning in art, in his book, Drawing with an Open Mind, which abounds with invaluable knowledge about drawing and beyond.  

January 23, 2015

The Human Aspect; Workshop Figuration


Poster Study for a Portrait of Artist/Model: Jo Sena


Portrait of Jo; state of completion after a two week pose.


The First Figure Painting, of Jo.

The first-development of my second figure painting of Artist/Model, Rui Ferreira.

figurepainting3.jpgCompletion following a four week pose.

January 1, 2015

Oil Painting Workshop with Artist, Gundula Jacobs, in Les Cerqueux-sous Passavant

Learning is movement, from moment to moment," Jiddu Krishnamurthi.

"The object of education is to teach us to love what is beautiful." Plato.

There are two predominant methods of oil painting: the direct method and the indirect method. I have been acquainted with the indirect method, in which one is painting via a series of successive layers: first, beginning with an underpainting layer, being usually monochromatic and describing the major masses of value in the work, thereafter, proceeding to realize colour and the remaining technical elements, and last, rendering refinements, to constitute the final layer. Each succeeding layer is painted upon the dried surface of the previous layer. Currently, however, I am learning the direct method, also known as alla prima (Italian, meaning at first attempt) or au premier coup (French, meaning at first stroke) under the tutelage of Gundula Jacobs. In the indirect method, one is painting without strict layers, while the paint is wet, and in the process, one is addressing the main dimensions of colour, being: 1) hue: the specific class of colour, 2) value: the relative lightness or darkness of the colour and finally, 3) chroma: the purity of the colour. As you understand these dimensions, you will need to further engage other factors, directly onto the painting surface, as you recognize it.    

Gundula is a contemporary Artist who specializes in this method. She received her Art training in the United States and is now teaching at the Gundula Jacobs Atelier in France. 

I am attending her current workshop, which is designed on a student-centric model, as each pupil is provided the knowledge and the projects that are pertinent to their development.   

The workshop is held in Ted Seth Jacob's studio, of Ecole Albert Defois, in the quaint and tranquil village of Les Cerquex Sous Passavant. 

A dual emphasis on light and paint and how to recreate the one with the other using the knowledge of observation-based principles constitutes the main subject of the workshop.  

"Every factor in your work should have its counterpart in fact" (Solomon J Solomon RA) 

One Principle that concerns the nature of colour, as it correlates to distance, Italian Renaissance Artist, Pierra Della Francesca observed two centuries earlier:

that colour in nature is more intense the nearer you are to it and that it loses its intensity as it approaches the horizon. Pierro Della Francesca the first realist in colour, did observe and set down general truths about colour. For example in his panel painting of the Baptism of Christ in the National Gallery in London, the most intense red and blue are found on the figures nearest the left-hand foreground. Farther back the figures are painted in a lighter blue and pink


I consider art to be a means of perception, a means of cognition. Perception makes it possible to structure reality and thus to attain knowledge, (Arnheim)."

I am progressing and gaining a certain insight, whilst expanding my knowledge base, all of which was inaccessible to me before. This thought imbues a certain ethos of gratitude and privilege to the overall process of development and the learning experience.  

"Few people realize how little they really see of the marvelous things happening on the retina of their eyes " (Harold Speed).

Ted-Ecole Albert Dufois.jpg

Ted Seth Jacobs standing before his studio of over 20 years: Ecole Albert Defois, which is named after the Mayor, who welcomed him to Les Cerqueux Sous Passavant.

LesCerqueuxS:Passavant.jpgEnter Les Cerqueux Sous Passavant, a commune in the Maine-et Loire department of the Pays de la Loire Region ('lands of the Loire River'). cerquex.jpg


A field en route to the Studio.Cerquex2.jpgPathway from my abode to the Garden of L'Eraudier, the farm. 

Farm4.jpgThe Garden in the morning.


October 31, 2014

The Artists Academy: Meet Norah

NorahDrawing.jpgA drawing Norah drew and presented for me on her first day of class at the Academy. Coincidentally, my name, Marsal, means a Red Rose in my native language.  

Norah.jpgNorah drawing her favourite Still-Life subject: Flowers, in Oil Pastels.

September 19, 2014

Technical Drawing Commission

Kiosk Commission.JPGA Mall kiosk designed to be developed for an excellent Private Beauty Salon, Cosmo Cuts, to be placed within the Oshawa Center, in Oshawa, Ontario. 

June 24, 2014

Digital Visual Collections Galore

Accompany an online visit of the Metrepolitan's Collection  or its  MetPublictions with the Museum's, The Heilbrunn Timeline, an invaluable and fertile resource, which provides a systematic and temporal framework, in which to experience and gain insight into the collection, courtesy of an array of Met pundits. 


The online collections offer access to over 77,000 works

257-moma-folk.jpgThe Museum of Modern Art, maintains an equally invaluable, interactive online visual resource encompassing 9,185 Artists and 55,215 works: The Collections.


Netherlands's The Rijksmusem, which means: the State Museum, also has an online collection, the Rijkstudio, which functions as a dyadic visual platform for play and study, try.


Within the Google-verse one may enter the virtual Museum known as the: Cultural Insititute to find a web-version of humanity's cultural treasures. 

"But ideas lie everywhere, like apples fallen and melting in the grass for lack of wayfaring strangers with an eye and a tongue for beauty, whether absurd, horrific or genteel" (Bradbury, Ray. Zen in the Art of Writing. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Joshua Odell Editions, 1990. Print.)

Further, digital dip into online abundant collections via Yale Univeristy Library list, furthering the trend of Open Access Images.

Ultimaltely the Web Wonderland abounds in visual resources of our collected-culture, available to Artist and all, for view, education and more...



April 11, 2014

The Department of Prints and Drawings of the Louvre Museum



Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, Self-Portrait, Ink on Paper.

 As a guardian of Europe's most extensive collection of drawings in an array of media and forms including: pastels, miniatures, prints, books, manuscripts, autograph works, woodcuts, copperplates, and lithographic stones, the Department of Prints and Drawings is one of the eight departments that constitute the Louvre Museum, and comprises of three distinct institutions: the Cabinet des Dessins (drawings), the Chalcographie (engraved plates), and the Edmond de Rothschild collection (essentially prints). 

The Department and its collections are gratuitously accesible to the public, however, entry does requires a process. One must contact the curator via written request and provide an intention for one's visit. Upon acceptance, one may peruse within the departments collections via the Departments Website and select the work's one wishes to view, whereby the department will prepare for one's prearranged visit or 'appointment'.

The department parallels a library to design; works are stored in boxes akin to books, and the names of great Artists such as: Da Vinci, Rubens and Rembrandt, run down its frames. One may place an artwork atop a provided table-top easel, or one may simply hold it within one's hands to pursue in close oberservation. It is an exhilirating privilege that requires care and responsibility.


Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, Self-Portrait. 

"...and by seeking models in which are revealed the highest expressions of which simple materials are capable, on the hands of your greatest predecessors, you will increase your resources and augment the critical faculty inseperable from serious achievement  (Speed 126)."



"In every case select the picture which in your opinion, or, better still, in the opinion of others, competent to advise you, is best calculated to counteract any obvious wekness to which your work leans ( Speed 245)."

leo1.jpgMarsal Nazary, After Leonardo da Vinci: Drapery Studies, 2014, Pencil on Paper, 8x10 inches. 

March 21, 2014

Meet Met-Publications

Visual Artist and former Studio Escalier classmate, Della Drees, dispensed knowledge of an invaluable online resource:  Met Publications,"a portal to the Met's comprehensive publishing program with 1,500 titles, including books, online publications, and Bulletins and Journals from the last five decades," available to read, search and download for free. 

A few curated gems:

Leonardo da Vinci: Anatomical Drawings from the Royal Library, Windsor Castle


Da Vinci, Leonardo. C.1510, Chalk and Ink, Royal Collection, Windsor Castle, London, United Kingdom

Peter Paul Rubens: The Drawings 


Rubens, Peter Paul. Isabella Brant, Drawing in Trois crayons c. 1621. Department of Prints and Drawings, Brittish Museum, London, United Kingdom

or Rubens: The Decius Mus Cycle


Rubens, Peter Paul. Sieg und Tod des Konsuls Decius Mus in de Schlacht, 1617. Oil on Canvas, Fürstlich Lichtensteinische Gemäldegalerie, Vaduz, Liechtenstein

Manet/Velázquez: The French Taste for Spanish Painting


L: Delacroix, Eugeune. Detail of top hatted man from  Liberty Leading the People.1820. Oil on Canvas. Musée du Louvre, Paris, France C: Velazquez, Diego. Self-Portrait from Las Meninas (1656) Oil on Canvas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain R: Manet, Édouard. Detail of officer from Execution of Emperor Maximillian (1867-9) Oil on Canvas, The National Gallery, London, United Kingdom

Bernini: Sculpting in Clay


 L: Bernini, Gian Lorenzo. Study of Daniel for Daniel in the Lion's Den, c. 1655. Red chalk. Museum der Bildenden Künste, Leipzig

R: Bernini, Gian Lorenzo. Study for Daniel in the Lion's Den, c. 1655. Terracotta. 

Musei Vaticani, Vatican City

 Finished sculpture in the Chigi Chapel of Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome

February 24, 2014

Les Nymphéas

Words and simulacrum abase the emotions and sensations, which surge in ones consciousness upon encountering Les Nymphéas, or Water-Lillies. The paintings are by French Modern-Period Artist and Impressionism-Founder, Claude Monet.

Claude Monet - (1920-26) Ninféias.jpgMatin, Detail, Claude Monet, 200cm x1275 cm, two panels, Oil on Canvas, 1920-26
nympheas-d.jpgMusee de L'orangerie, Paris, France 

 Les Nymphéas hangs within the organic walls of the Musée l'orangerie, itself situated amid a historic Garden of Paris, Le Jardin des Tuileries. The works summon a truism upon perhaps the key nature and purpose of art: its capacity to elevate the human spirit. 

Monet's special ingredient is conscious joy, suspended in a liquid medium and applied to a surface. 

February 2, 2014

Winter at the Louvre


It is a temperate and wet winter in Paris, as I attend the Winter at the Louvre Program at Studio Escalier, a contemporary classical art studio-school and international art colony founded by exceptional Artists: Timothy Stotz and Nicole Michelle Tully, in the former studio of French Post-Impressionist Artist, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, perhaps most well-known as the premier poster artist of fin-de-seicle Paris; creator of bold and vivid lithographs celebrating Montmartre's famous night-life and performers. 


Jane Avril, 1893, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864-1901).  Lithograph printed in five colors; machine wove paper; 50 13/16 x 36 13/16 in. (129.1 x 93.5 cm)


Studio Escalier

Montmartre, a district of the city perched atop a hill, was the Bohemian and intellectual locus of Paris amid the 19th century. An eclectic pantheon of Artists such as Lautrec, Picasso, Van Gogh, Dali, Degas, Renoir, Modigliani, Manet and Langston Hughes, amongst notable others, were once its denizens. 





Part of the program involves self-directed drawing from the Louvre's collections, accompanied by a weekly critique of the work by program instructors.  Drawing from and amidst the masterpieces of humanity is inspiring, humbling, and especially imparts an environment conducive to learning. 

IMG_2243.jpgEurydice mourant, 1822, Charles-François LEBOEUF, (French, 1792 -1865) 
  Marbel H. : 1,46 m. ; L. : 0,53 m. ; Pr. : 0,90 m.


The image above is a Cube Study, one of the first exercises introduced in the program, which is essentially a cubic visualization that allows one to recognize the major thrusts and  planar variations existing within the human figure.  

Underlying the cubes, are the vestiges of a Movement Curve,  an exercise, which provides a means to understand the flow and the movement within the figure.

These drawing exercises or visualizations are worthwhile to learn and investigate interchangeably; clarifying one another's presence. They provide different ways of feeling, looking and understanding the figure. They also enable auto-didacticism, via engendering a special awareness in ones process of drawing; allowing one to recognize and improve one's certain strengths and weaknesses.  


In the image above, I am drawing, The Dying Slave, a purportedly unfinished marble statue (beauty of the non-finito) by Michelangelo or Michel-Ange, in French.

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 "Draw lines, young man, and still more lines, both from life and from memory, and you will become a good artist."  The advice young Edgar Degas, once a registered copyist at the Louvre save an enduring student of the 'Masters', received upon meeting, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, a contemporary Artist whom he revered.  


The drawing, including its progression, is drawn in the block-in method, which exhibits the underlying irregular planar arrangements of the human form via deliniating its natural geometry.

The completed drawing is below.


 Time for more drawing..

December 9, 2013

Pastel Canine Commission

Sketching Bella

Sketching and composing Bella, from Life. 


Bella's preliminary drawing, in graphite.

Bella commission Bella, 2013, Soft Pastels, 12x 14 inches.