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   Welcome to my blog! I'll be posting thoughts about art, photos, happenings, and other things that strike me--and hopefully my readers--as interesting. And please visit my website by clicking the link to the right--thanks!

   Also please check out my second blog, The Painting Archives to see older (pre-2004) paintings for sale.


Thursday, February 23, 2012
  early painting memories


While going through some boxes in my mother's basement I came across the oil painting above, done when I was 13. My mom had gotten me started at age 11 when she'd let me use some paints she had for craft work (stenciling furniture) and a friend of the family offered some basic tips to get started--but I was pretty much on my own at that point. That was a good thing, I think, instilling as it did an experimental approach early on.

Finding this painting brought back memories of this pivotal time in my young art life, including my first "studio"--an assemblage of cast off stuff that I put together in the basement. A rickety folding easel and small metal cabinet for my supplies, a board balanced on two stools for my palette, an old floor lamp for a bit of dim lighting. I liked the idea of it more than the reality, preferring other less gloomy settings most of the time...outside, in my room, or some other place in the house.

Besides the painting above there are lots of early drawings, watercolors, collages and a few oil paintings that have survived in the parental archives. My mom and dad knew very little about art, but respected my passion. While I never doubted their support (they always hung my work in the house, bought me supplies, and were pleased that I had such a focused interest) for the most part they let me figure things out by myself. That seems to me a good, respectful model of parenting--expressing interest, providing something in the way of materials and supplies, then backing off and allowing the child to decide how to proceed. Had they pushed and gushed and made too much of my art aspirations, I wonder if I'd have retreated.

Two things strike me about this painting. On the back of its canvas board support, on the pre-printed place to label the work with date, media etc. I had crossed out the word "artist" and substituted "painter." In spite of the fact that my parents loved my work, it seems that at 13 I knew I had a ways to go to earn the more elevated title. I definitely recall that my go-it-alone adventure into art was sometimes frustrating and difficult. Good lessons to learn early though.



The other thing I notice here is the subject matter of nature and an interest in abstraction...the composition is probably not all that original since I had an early attraction to Georgia O'Keeffe, but my interest in her paintings laid some important groundwork.

I recall other important influences around this time, including a 6 or 8 week Saturday class (the only extra-curricular art I had as a kid) at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh (memories of riding into the city alone from the suburbs on the bus...)called Design in Nature. This class was conceptual in its approach and exerted an influence on my thinking and perception forever after, dealing as it did with the beauty of patterns, textures and colors in plants, shells and rocks.

I was also privileged to have an extraordinary junior high school art teacher, Penny Russell, who maintained an active, intense art practice in her home (her daughter was my best friend so I had a person view of this.) Penny's work often ventured into the abstract, and she shared with me a process of discovering interesting compositions within randomly patterned and textured sheets of oil colors. But her most important influence was as an adult role model, always involved, inventive and curious about her own work and that of others.

These memories bring thoughts to ponder...such as how to best nurture and mentor young artists, and also that themes and interests that emerge early in life so often occupy us our whole lives. Unearthing layers of my artistic past in my parent's basement (my mother not only kept a lot of my work, but also every show announcement and newspaper clipping from way back) has been a sweet chore. I owe so very much to my parent's support and belief in what I could achieve.
 
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
  mixed media


The descriptive term I most often use in labeling my paintings is "oil and mixed media" and I am sometimes asked what this means. I choose this phrase because I use a variety of materials besides straight oil paint...to those familiar with my work, the most obvious of these is cold wax medium, a thick, room temperature beeswax paste that adds body, increases drying time and enhances the brilliance of the oils. But there are other materials that I rely upon, including:

Dry pigment, graphite, and charcoal: these powders add texture, color and body when mixed into the wax and oil on my palette. I also apply them directly to the surface of the work when it is semi-dry to the touch, or mix them with solvent and apply with a brush for gestural marks.

Various solvents: selectively applied, I use these to make textures and marks, or to wash out entire areas to expose underlying layers.

Drawing materials including graphite, wax pencil and chalk pastel: I use these for mark-making on the surface when it is in a receptive state, either semi dry or fully dry.



Powdered marble: this substance is colorless when mixed into paint and wax, and adds body--a light, almost fluffy quality, making the paint easy to spread with a palette knife.

Metallic leaf: I use this very sparingly and with subtlety in some paintings.

Sand: again I am quite selective and sparing with this material since it can be a bit intrusive in a subtle painting. It can also easily clog up painting tools like brayers and brushes. But in small doses it creates a beautiful textural layer.

Painting with cold wax medium and oils is a process that lends itself naturally to experimentation, and anything that will not conflict with the basic chemistry of the wax can be incorporated into the work (for example, dried leaves, bits of paper or cloth, plaster...)I love this aspect of cold wax painting--that the medium is so compatible with various other materials.

But however spontaneous and experimental I may be, the decisions about which materials end up in the work are carefully considered. Along with everything else--from the scale of my paintings to the decision to add or take away a panel in a multiple panel work--I am looking for what will make meaningful contributions to the work. In the case of mixed media, I gravitate towards substances that interact with the paint and wax to form complex textures, contribute to the richness of layers, or provide visually striking contrasts.
 
Tuesday, February 07, 2012
  antoni tàpies

Antoni Tàpies was on my mind all day in the studio and my work was more spare, more bold than usual because of that. His death yesterday, and recaps of his life and work have been widely reported, and I feel no need to write an informative or objective post about him. But I am moved to write a more personal response--I'm one of countless artists who have considered Tàpies among my strongest influences. When I first saw his work in 2001, it came at the turning point of my own paintings toward abstraction, and pointed the way to a form of expression that is both deeply emotional and formally strong.

Before my visit that year to Barcelona--his home city--I only knew his name and a few reproductions in books, but that was enough to compel me to visit the Fundació Antoni Tàpies. The idea of a museum devoted to a living artist was amazing enough (I couldn't think of a single example in the US) but even the little I knew of Tàpies left me wanting to see the work in person.

The main gallery was completely hung with his work (on a subsequent visit in 2008, other artist's work occupied that space) and I was torn between rushing through to take it all in at once and standing in front of each painting, appreciating it as a total experience. The gritty textures, subtle earth colors and monumentality of scale combined to speak directly to my emotions, while the unusual materials, including sand and foam, and the complex, subtle compositions intrigued me.

Leaving the museum, I considered the city in a new way--as the context of his work. The crumbling old walls, graffiti and surreal Gaudi architecture were obvious influences. Later at the Museu d'Art Contemporani I moved to tears by his huge pale colored--almost white--painting in one of the lower galleries (I've been trying to find its title or image online with no luck) which mystified me with its power.

Since then. I've learned more about the man, his political stance against the Spanish dictator Franco, his strong Catalan identity, his philosophical views of the every day materials and subject matter he used, the influence of Eastern spirituality on his life and work. All fascinating. But his work stands on its own, apart from anything that can be said or written about him (and there is plenty of that in the past two days.)

To me it feels as old as rocks and dirt, and as fresh as a young child's drawing. His appreciation of the ordinary is expressed through intriguing inventiveness with commonplace materials and images. Freedom and spontaneity, and the quirkiness of mind and memory...but always the sense of being grounded in the earth and in human history. Often profound stillness, and always mystery.
 
Thursday, February 02, 2012
  my studio

A couple of weeks ago I posted some photos of materials, shelves, walls and other random images I saw through my camera lens as I wandered around the studio. Today I took more shots, this time of works in progress.

There was a moment, as I did this, when I felt strongly how personal a studio space is, and how creative process is felt and seen in every aspect--what the walls look like, how things are arranged, what lies buried in stacks and what is prominently on view. I thought of Joe Figg's book, Inside the Painter's Studio and the rather mundane questions he asked of the artists he interviewed that, when answered, yielded enough personal detail and passionate feeling to make fascinating reading.



Most artists do have a great deal to say about their studios, and this post is a tribute to mine, which has served me wonderfully for the past 24 years. At the time it was built, it was larger than our house (which was in its early, tiny stage back then) and my older son was a toddler, my younger one not yet born. I had been painting in a rental apartment and later, in a friend's attic--and now this space, all mine, was a huge improvement. My husband persuaded me that I did need my own studio, and that we could somehow afford it, and I will always be grateful for his insight and support. From its first days, it has been my refuge, and every time I walk in the door I feel a return to creative home base.

It is not pristine by any means, and it's nothing like the vast, clean expanses seen in many New York artist's studios in Figg's book and in slick art magazines. No, over the years it has filled up to bursting, then been cleaned up and organized, in more cycles than I care to remember. In the past few years there have been some important improvements--better lighting, the in-floor heat activated, a new chimney for the wood stove, and an excellent storage unit built. Now, when it's relatively tidied and organized, it can handle up to six students and all their stuff when I teach--which would never have worked during some of its earlier, messier incarnations.



I do almost all my painting on the east wall, where I have a counter height painting table (famously messy) and my panels hung on screws and oversized push pins, as you see above. On a counter along the south wall, I have my water based mixed media materials and watercolors in progress. Another area I keep more or less clean for wrapping and packaging paintings to ship, and supplies for my workshops take up a large table at the back of the studio. Sounds fairly neat, but when I get involved in painting, things get out of hand. Typically there are works in progress stacked everywhere, papers on the floor, tools and coffee cups scattered around, books heaped on the table and couch. (It intrigues me that I prefer a neat house and cannot cook in a messy kitchen, but I tend to be oblivious to chaos in the studio.)



My studio works for me and is intensely mine, a power spot, in a way that no other space can be including my house. Sometimes people ask me if I feel invaded when visitors come in to see my work, or students spend days there taking a workshop. But for whatever reasons, I find it easy to retain my connection to what is mine about the studio at the same time that I occasionally share, and in fact enjoy sharing, the space with others.
 

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       Rebecca Crowell