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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, November 29, 2007
  new painting

This is an example of the slightly more "referential" paintings I do (in contrast to my last post, which was about my more purely abstract, minimalist approach.) There are tree trunks in this, some pretty clear, some more ghostly, and subtle lines evoking the same subject in the darker panels. The title is Grove, and at 24" square, it's smaller than many of my multiple panel paintings--something new I'm exploring.

Pure abstraction, or some degree of subject matter...often ambiguous, never explicitly defined...my work ranges around in this territory. Sometimes I push a bit more in one direction or the other, when wrestling with the inner debate of subject vs. no subject, and when I wonder if it is even possible to have "no subject." But usually, it is intuition, suggestive passages of paint, or evocative marks (sometimes accidental) that pull me in one direction or the other.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
  new painting
This one, Sanctuary (72"x24") should arrive in Scottsdale today at Wilde Meyer Gallery. It has very subtle layers of rich color, more visible by clicking on the photos for a larger view. It is one of my more quiet, minimalist paintings...aside from the contrasts between panels in color, value and texture, and the I Ching symbol for earth embedded under several layers of paint in the lower panel, there is little to draw the eye to any particular place. Instead I hope to invite a lingering gaze, contemplation without words or labels.

This is one of those paintings in which I acknowledge a debt to abstract painter Mark Rothko. It's not that I give him much if any conscious thought while I paint, but his work is there in the mix of ideas and visual impressions that bubble around in the brain. I can remember seeing his work at various times and in different museums, starting when I was a teenager, and I was always drawn to examine them closely for their nuances. I think what impresses me is how much he evoked about emotion and states of mind without the use of imagery. I also find the progression of his work through abstract symbolism to his floating rectangles interesting, as he eventually found what he considered essential to express.

Right now I'm working on another painting with a minimalist aesthetic similar to this painting's, in blue and white...alongside others that have more obvious references to nature--sky, twigs, and rock. It is an ongoing inner debate for me, how much readable imagery to use, how far to push the purely abstract.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
  new painting

Here is another new painting, called Sola #2, 42"x36" oil on panel, which I'll be shipping to Wilde Meyer Gallery in Arizona next week. I am really fond of this one...I had the light blue panel painted and sitting around for months--it's very suggestive of clouds, and I love that, but I had to find an abstract context for it. The darker panels are all quite deep in their texture and layering, and seem to suggest an earthy foreground without being too literal. (Please click on the image for a larger view, then use the "back" arrow to return.)

I've been working hard to build up some inventory at Wilde Meyer, and also to show in a group exhibit at their Tucson location in January. And today I had word from my Santa Fe gallery, Darnell Fine Art, that four of the paintings that were hanging in my small, unofficial show there were just sold--all to one person. (I thank you so much, Christopher from California!)

So studio demands continue, as does my gratitude for all of this rather amazing year. I don't mean that in just a material way...yes the money is nice and needed for many reasons...but since it is Thanksgiving I'm encouraged to think about this on another level. To have had my work so well received and appreciated is very touching somehow--to know that somehow, what I'm trying to communicate is being received.
Monday, November 19, 2007
  small paintings

These small paintings are among those I'm shipping to Polderland Gallery in Milwaukee for the group winter show and sale there on December 7-9. If you are in the Milwaukee area, please stop by!

I've enjoyed doing these small paintings (the top one is 6"square, and the one beneath it is 8" square, and at the bottom is one that is 10" square--all untitled so far) especially as it has been about a year since I last set out to produce a body of them. (I have others besides what are shown here, including some for a small painting show at Wilde Meyer Gallery in Arizona.) Except for my little dog paintings that I do in the summer (which always seem like an aside) I've been focusing almost completely on my large paintings.

Small paintings present their own challenges, at least for me. It's not a matter of just reducing scale, but of developing some aspect of the composition that will carry the image across a distance--for example, highly defined texture, strong color, gestural marks that act as focal points, or strong horizontal or vertical lines. Often it is a combination, but I also like the image to be fairly simple and clear. It's really easy to end up with a confusing muddle in a small space. At the same time, I want there to be enough to engage the viewer who looks closely, as such intimate works demand.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007
  something to wonder about
This is from my friend Jim Mott (of the Itinerant Artist Project.) The painting on the left above is one that Jim did on his recent tour while in Seattle. The painting in the center is by Charles Burchfield, an American painter who died in 1967. The painting on the right is the mirror image of Jim's painting. Jim and his host, Tom, a watercolor painter in Seattle, noticed the similarities between Jim's painting and Burchfield's work, a poster of which Tom has hanging in his studio. (Click on the photo above for a larger view, then use your back arrow to return.) I'll let Jim tell the rest of the story:

At the time, we thought that I'd unconsciously noticed his poster and
been influenced...which was intriguing enough, since the closest
similarities are in the mirror image (shown on right). But things are
even stranger than I'd thought: in comparing notes just now, we realized
that I had not been to his house or studio yet when I did my painting. I
had met him at a waterfront area, and we had gone painting together. He
painted blue, open water and sailboats and showed no interest at all in
my view. Even if he had subliminally clued me in, the shadows that shape
the bright space and so closely match the Burchfield did not appear until
I'd been painting for an hour or two (I have photos to confirm that).

I had and have no conscious awareness of ever seeing that Burchfield
image anywhere before I moved into his studio, and even then I failed to
notice it for a few days. If I had ever seen the image before, it was
years ago. He had never mentioned Burchfield in conversation. During
the course of my residence in his studio, though, I learned that the
Burchfield is his favorite painting.

I agree that the similarities between the Burchfield painting and Jim's in reverse are rather startling, and I guess this is either (a) coincidence or (b) what my friend Marty calls "woo-woo" stuff. By "coincidence" I don't mean something completely random, though there's a large element of happenstance in this explanation--I'm thinking that there are certain compositional arrangements that "work," that artists gravitate towards. When buildings and other structures are involved, it's not too much of a stretch to say that interesting compositions often involve a diagonal stretch of pavement and roof lines, repeated verticals and horizontals, and complicated shadows. So, are you convinced? I'm not sure I am--though I do sound pretty reasonable!

The other explanation, of course (cue "woo-woo,") is that of a psychic connection of some sort between Jim and his host, a fellow artist with a love of Burchfield's work. I am reminded of ESP studies which were conducted in the last century, at least one of which found that subjects under hypnosis did better on tests than those fully conscious (think of the trance-like state that can occur when painting...) Besides the scientific studies there are endless stories of the anecdotal sort, of course, in which people receive information outside of ordinary means of communication. I'm willing to consider both mysterious and rational explanations...it all just leaves me wondering.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Disclaimer: I am not much of a TV watcher...maybe it's the ads...so much really awful stuff, especially with all the holiday shopping hype. But OK, it was on, and I caught an ad for an art computer game for kids with which they can "draw," "paint" and make various "fun" objects with the printed out results. I was horrified.

Understand, I'm in favor of kids being computer-literate. My older son was banging away on the keyboard playing an alphabet game when he was 2. So why did this "art" thing make me want to scream? (I questioned my rather extreme aversion to this product.) In a word, CLEAN, way, way too clean. No paints to smear around and mix together, no broken crayons (or even pristine ones) to experiment with, no squishy play doh, no slobbering glue bottles or glitter on the floor...all that tactile stuff that evolves into appreciation and understanding of materials. Just a sort of magic wand to touch and apply various pre-selected colors. Very controlled also, of course.

I guess that parents' desire for neatness, cleanliness and control form the great divide between kids who are allowed and encouraged to really be creative (at least at home) and those who have to make do with such as this. I guess it's better than nothing...but somehow I'm not even convinced of that!
Sunday, November 11, 2007
  studio visit

Here is my friend, Marina Broere, Dutch by birth and now a painter and gallerist in Milwaukee. She and her husband Cor were here for a brief but excellent visit. Besides enjoying some good food and conversation, we had a long walk through woods, fields and country roadsides. And of course, there were several good talks in my studio, and a look at some of her paintings that she is delivering to The Commercial, a gallery in Alma, WI. The ones she showed me were mostly of the purely abstract category of her work, which also includes landscape and other nature images. All are painted with finely tuned sensitivity to nuances of color and form, and breathe with a sense of light and color.

Marina's comments on my current work in progress were astute and helpful as always. I so value those artist friends like Marina who provide appreciation and support, with a measure of honest critique thrown in, and I'm always pleased to have studio visitors at my somewhat off-the-beaten-track location.
Thursday, November 08, 2007
  process thoughts
So much of the process in painting is thought and attitude rather than action, and I have been mulling this over for months. Since early summer, when my work began to sell quickly in Santa Fe, the challenge to produce a lot of work has not let up. The basic dilemma is how to be really productive while keeping fresh ideas flowing and my self-critical side engaged. Though I try not to show it, I tend to bristle when I hear, "wow, you must really be cranking them out!" (said often even by well-meaning friends and family.) Is it just me, or does that not imply factory production-line images? Disregard of my own standards? Compromising my principles? Selling my art soul to the devil? (But I over-react.)

Over the six months or so since I've been in high gear in the studio, I can see that changes and new ideas are entering my work at about the same rate they always have. But there is a difference--now I'm doing more paintings between changes. So indeed there are more similar-looking paintings than there used to be. Before I saw the bigger picture, this worried me--"cranking out," indeed?"--but my friend Mark commented "there is nothing wrong with doing a lot of paintings" and I have to agree. The rise of new ideas seems to be an organic process that can't be rushed, but in the meantime producing a lot of paintings has its benefits beyond increased sales. The faster pace has me feeling more on top of my game, I guess you could say--more skilled and efficient at the technical part of the process, with fewer false starts, and less time spent mucking around, or benched by lack of creative energy. There is a momentum I'm enjoying, that seems to be working out well.

But there are certainly things I have to beware of. My painter friend Marina Broere's recent blog post mentions what she calls the "corner of the eye" period, in which she keeps a painting in view for awhile, though not in center stage, to see how well it holds up before declaring it finished. It made me go back and re-read my own words (on the artist page of my website, under "essays") about the mental work of painting. This is the crucial stuff that must be retained. The temptation to cut short evaluation and reflection in the rush to get a painting crated and off to the gallery can be very strong, and I know I've given in to it more than once. I'm trying to give myself a break though--and to stay calm, and do whatever is the next thing that needs to be done with my full attention.
Saturday, November 03, 2007
  studio view

Even on a November evening, I now have daylight (or something a lot like it) in my studio--two fixtures with 6 4-ft. fluorescent daylight bulbs each are hanging over my painting area. Next step--a way to heat that does not involve hauling wood and huddling by the stove, poking at it for an hour every morning. I'm making these wondrous modern improvements because I need to continue being as productive as I can--no more knocking off at 4 or 5pm on winter days, as has been my habit. With good light and heat (yes, OK, pretty basic stuff!) I can keep working into the evenings as I've been doing all summer and early fall.

Besides showing the effect of new lights, this photo also tells a bit about my working methods. You can see panels in different states of completion, and trial arrangements on the wall. I just stick them up with push pins to hang on, which works fine if I make sure the pins are always secure. For bigger panels I use nails. (My wall is totally riddled with holes from doing this, so I'm not sure where that is heading..another issue to deal with someday.) I keep moving things around until I find what works, then have the panels permanently bolted together by a carpenter.

The small panel on the wall at the far left shows the "abstract expressionist" phase that happens at the start--for me this initial stage is a fairly brainless slapping on of colors, just to energize the surface. The painting next to it, the large gold colored one, is probably done, but needs to sit awhile under my scrutiny. The rest are in various stages between beginning and end.


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       Rebecca Crowell