Posts Tagged ‘painting


use a bigger brush

met an esteemed doctor of neurology the other day when we interviewed him for a work project about creativity.


after we were through, he asked me if i painted. when i demurred and said, “not often, i have to think too hard about it.” he said, “use a bigger brush.”

a piece of advice that i just can’t seem to forget.


this work is something i have painted for an upcoming silent auction. when it goes online for pre-bidding, i’ll let you know.

let’s all remember, when things get rough, complicated, difficult, or seem out-of-reach, just “use a bigger brush.”


flowers, art, and death

this morning when the alarm rang it woke me up in the middle of a dream that i was robert motherwell’s studio assistant/biographer (last night before i fell asleep i had been reading about richard ellman, james joyce’s and oscar wilde’s biographer) and motherwell was finishing one of his monumental black and white paintings and it was all black except for at the very right edge where the black overlapped a block of white that had been painted to look like the edge of a sheet of deckled paper laid over a narrow section of black, and as that was revealed to me, i said, “that bastard.”

i assign no meaning to the above paragraph.

i am a compulsive obituaries reader. today, there was a lengthy paid obit about the life and times of a 94 year-old man. one paragraph, as they are, was devoted to his survivors and those who had predeceased him. those who had gone before were a sister and a son, ronald. then the list of survivors began, it included his second (loving) wife, children from both marriages and their spouses, grandchildren (11) and great-grandchildren (unnamed, but numbered, there were 18), [numerous] nieces, nephews (one named kieron, singled out for some reason), and the coup de grace: peter paul rubens (not his real name), the deceased’s son’s partner (italics mine).

i thought that was sweet, charming, progressive, and a sign, perhaps, that even in death, love is universal.


iris, photo-realism, and lowell nesbitt

lowell nesbitt for your edification.

a man who put his money where his mouth was. we could use more like him.

these recent photo studies of a bearded iris blooming in our garden reminded me, as i was manipulating their outcome, how much i admire the work of lowell nesbitt (not that i’m comparing myself to him, but that these photographs were evocative of his work, triggering memories i have of selling his editions in the ’80s and knowing when to share the sexuality of them with a client and when to concur with the client that they were just pretty pictures of flowers. sometimes i was more successful than others when it came to sharing his rapturous abandonment to nature and form and i could always tell when i’d stepped outside the comfort zone of the collector by the look of disbelief that clouded their brow or the uneasy shuffling of feet and the rise of color in their cheek. perhaps the provocation was worth it to me, that uncomfortable moment when “sex” reared its beautiful head in conversation between strangers, some more ready than others to free fall into its embrace. okay, i may have pushed it, a bit, for the thrill, but what is the point of art if not to disturb?)


an essential reading list

last night was the Chuck Jones Center for  Creativity‘s 2nd annual Red Dot Auction.  it’s one of those projects that is not only complicated (coordinating artists over a several month period–you know, as they say, “it’s like herding cats in a room full of rocking chairs.” –you’ll forgive the trite platitude or turn of phrase today–it’s 5:20 AM, i worked 14 or so hours yesterday, much of it standing and ‘on’; frankly i have no idea why i’m sitting here at the computer five hours after turning off my bedside light after said very long day, but here i am nonetheless, understand?), but also immensely rewarding (see above parenthetical reference to coordinating artists, rocking chairs, and cats.)

after last year’s red dot auction, i went on record saying that it was one of the most emotional and outstanding art events that i had been a part of in my over 30 year career in the visual arts and last night was no different, perhaps it was even more compelling; we worked with more artists, there were a dozen more submissions, the anticipation from the center’s supporters started early with rsvps rolling in as soon as we had sent out a “save the date” notice and went unabated until moments before the doors opened last night at 6 PM. (more on rsvps, serendipity, and the work featured in the photograph above later on in this post.)

over 200 people filled the Center’s new facility at South Coast Collection in Costa Mesa almost as soon as the doors opened last night–it was, as they (them, again) say, “nature abhors a vacuum”, the glass garage door went up, the place filled up immediately (where did they all come from? there wasn’t even a line…all i know is that one moment the venue was empty and the next moment it was alive with the delightful chatter and banter of people enjoying themselves. i love when that happens.)

we ask artists to donate a work of art created on a specific size of canvas, this year it was a 12″ square stretched canvas. the work can be of any media and design as long as it fits on the provided canvas. each work is submitted anonymously; the artists are asked to sign their work on the reverse. by doing this the bidders at the auction must fall in love with the work of art and not worry about the status of the artist based on who they are and where they stand in the art market. we reach out to artists from across the nation, some extremely well-known with decades-long careers, others, well others with more love in their heart than notoriety in the art world. this year, because it is Chuck’s centennial, we asked our contributors to consider the life and times of Chuck Jones as a theme for their submission.

i wouldn’t consider myself an ‘artist’, my talents lay elsewhere, but i like to create things and have for as long as i can remember. collage suits me; i’ve always thought of it as an archeological dig with much to discover as you work your way through the art, twists and turns revealed the more you look at it. “two roads” (above image) was my submission this year. i was inspired by chuck’s “essential reading list” that his daughter, Linda, had shared with me years ago for another project (as yet uncompleted, but it will be one day, it will be.)

chuck’s library (or a portion of the thousands of volumes) has been a part of our working environment as long as i’ve been working for the jones family — 20 years this october — and i’ve always found his catholic taste, i mean the man read everything, fascinating, thrilling, daunting, and inspiring.  i had thought at first that this work would be a riff on robert frost, utilizing some of my photographs of country roads as a reference to frost’s poem, “the road not taken” (…two roads diverged in a yellow wood…), but as i worked on it, i realized that the ‘essential reading list’ was just as important, so the work turned toward sharing that with the viewer. this collage is composed of hand-colored inkjet prints of photographs i have taken, acrylic paint, oil stick, cotton thread, plastic buttons, graphite, paper, bronze, and copper.  on the flaps (like book covers) that open in the center of the image i have written frost’s poem; the rest of the text is chuck’s essential reading list (which is at the bottom of this post for your enlightenment.)

but what has tickled me so about yesterday is this: at about 9:30 AM yesterday morning, the phone at my desk rings and when i answer a woman asks, “is it too late to rsvp for this evening’s event?” to which i replied (jokingly) “yes, it is.” we shared a giggle and i assured her it was not too late and after taking down her name, i said that i look forward to seeing her and her husband that evening. i added their name to the rsvp list and went on my way with the rest of my day.

as i was greeting guests last night, i introduce myself to a charming couple, “welcome, i’m robert patrick, i’m so glad you could join us this evening,” and she said, “i spoke with you this morning!” and we laughed about our little encounter and i wished them well, directing them to libations, nibbles, and the silent auction. we nodded at each other a couple of times during the evening and shared a conspiratorial grin as they perused the artwork that was part of the auction. the evening slowed down eventually, people were beginning to collect their winning bids and take home the art they’d successfully bid on and my ego getting the better of me, i went over to my painting to see who had bid on it.

that’s right, the woman i had spoken with in the morning, and met just that evening, had won my work of art. the serendipity of it all delighted me, but i said nothing and went on my way with the rest of the night. i saw them collect “two roads” and as they were leaving i walked up to them and said, “i’m so glad you could join us this evening and i wanted to thank you for successfully bidding on my contribution to the red dot auction.” the look she gave me was priceless, “this is yours?!?”

“yes, it is,” i responded, “isn’t it crazy wonderful that our day ended this way?” and it is crazy wonderful when strangers come together to support the arts and serendipitous when that love threads its way through their day. so, thank you mr. & mrs. __________. i look forward to seeing you again and i hope you enjoy “two roads” for a very long time, maybe our “paths” will cross again.

Chuck Jones’ list of Essential Books every literate, English-speaking person should read (at least once, probably more often)

  • A Spy in the Family – Alec Waugh
  • A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
  • A Travel Abroad – Mark Twain
  • A Treasury of Science – Harlow Shapely
  • Animal Architecture – Karl von Frisch
  • Anything by Robert Parker
  • Babbitt – Sinclair Lewis
  • Cabbages and Kings – O’Henry
  • Career in C Major – James Cain
  • Cold Mountain – Charles Frazier
  • Damon Runyon short stories (at least three)
  • Double Indemnity – James Cain
  • Elmer Gantry – Sinclair Lewis
  • Farewell, My Lovely – Raymond Chandler
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls – Ernest Hemingway
  • Gamesmanship – Stephen Potter
  • Major Barbara – G.B. Shaw
  • My Life and Hard Times – James Thurber
  • Peter Rabbit – Beatrix Potter
  • Roughing It – Mark Twain
  • Seventeen – Booth Tarkington
  • Short Stories of Somerset Maugham (at least two)
  • Silent Snow, Secret Snow – Conrad Aiken
  • Sir Niguel – A. Conan Doyle
  • Stalky and Company – Rudyard Kipling
  • The Autobiography of Lincoln Stephens
  • The Bar Sinister – Richard Harding Davis
  • The Crock of Gold – James Stephens
  • The Elements of Style – Strunk/White
  • The Gnome King of Oz – L. Frank Baum
  • The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
  • The History of Mr. Polly – H.G. Wells
  • The Jungle Books – Rudyard Kipling
  • The Killers — Ernest Hemingway
  • The Little Drummer Girl – John le Carre
  • The Moonstone — Willkie Collins
  • The Poems of Robert Frost
  • The Red Pony – John Steinbeck
  • The Short Stories of Ring Lardner
  • The Short Stories of Saki (H.H. Monroe)
  • The Spy that Came in from the Cold – John le Carre
  • The Touch of Nutmeg – John Collier
  • The Varming – Owen Johnson
  • The White Company – A. Conan Doyle
  • Three Men in a Boat – Jerome K. Jerome
  • Treasure Island – R.L. Stevenson
  • Turnabout – William Faulkner
  • Vile Bodies – Evelyn Waugh
  • Words at Play – Willard Espy


flesh (lucian freud)

michael kimmelman’s remembrance of his time with the artist is here and is well-worth the read.

lucian freud, naked man with rat, 1977/78, oil on canvas, 91.5 cm x 91.5 cm, collection: art gallery of western australia

our relationship is fairly young when compared to other artists whose work has influenced my emotional, visual, and intellectual acuity, but what it lacks in maturity with those other artists (here and here)  has more than been made up by my deep visceral response to his work and i might add, my utter devotion.

he had floated around the periphery of my contemporary and modern art knowledge for a few years, but when the museum of contemporary art in los angeles hosted a one-man retrospective in 2003, my infatuation quickly turned into a case of full-blown art lust.

before you say, “well, the majority of his work is nudes, that must be what robert’s nattering on about,” i will disabuse you of that notion right now.   to be in a roomful of lucian freud’s paintings is to be psycho-analyzed by them.  he takes you down the dark forest paths of your emotional core, and at times skipping ahead as you stop to make sure you know where you are, even to catch your breath; when you suddenly realize he’s left you to your own devices (a breadcrumb trail behind you notwithstanding).   somehow you manage to go on; to go back would be a far worse thing to do, leaving you emotionally vulnerable when the end, you believe (because he seems to hold out some hope), will allow you some insight, some enlightenment, some knowledge of yourself and your place in the world (as he sees it.)  it’s not all bad.

oftentimes, his view of his subject is omniscient, standing above and looking down on, and not in a condescending manner, but, in a concerned way, he’s showing you (the subject and the viewer) his compassion through this thorough exploration of your body, your skin, your hair.  all that paint!  my god, he slathers it on in deep rushes of impasto, layer upon layer, looking at you (the subject and the viewer) as if you were under a microscope and i think, perhaps, even stripping away your facade to reveal the real you underneath all the artifice of your daily life.

and, and, you’ll see a look of what appears to be utter despair on the subject’s (and on the viewer’s) face, poleaxed with posing, holding onto that last shred of dignity that being naked/nude leaves you with after hours and hours and hours and perhaps days of his god-like examination (it is a bit of being pinned like a butterfly to a board–see nabokov for a companion in literature).  except for many of his portraits of the performance artist, the gargantuan leigh bowery and these portraits are more straight forward, your view of bowery is less compromised and in a way, even more respectful, not to say that freud is disrespectful of his other subjects, but all that looking down and then suddenly your face to face with bowery in all of his obese glory–it’s a shocking shift in tone and intent (to my eyes and spirit).

then, in early 2008 i was fortunate enough to see an exhibition of his etchings, accompanied by related drawings and paintings at MoMA and once again i was stunned by his ability to strip away, isolate and present the essence of his subjects and by that very act of exposing them, the viewer too is revealed.  this emotional use of line seemed to me to be without peer and it may be that his abstract way of looking at a subject reminds me of my love for clyfford still or it may be that his tender portraits of his dogs reminds me of my fondness for the delightfully insouciant work of marcel duchamp–it is that emotional tweaking that sparks a fire in me unlike any other representational artist i know.

i was surprised at how saddened i was to hear of his death this past week.  it was like losing someone close to you that you don’t see very often, rarely talk to on the phone, but somehow always pick up where you left off the last time you shared a time and a place together.


giotto’s circle (roseroserose)

there was the circle.  actually it was the perfect red circle painted by giotto in response to a request by the pope to see giotto’s work before hiring him that i read about in david markson’s brilliant “wittgenstein’s mistress” although the story of giotto and the perfect red circle (hand-painted without a compass or other assistance–just his hand, the brush, the paint and a surface; think about it,) may have been a part of my art history library (the one you keep in your mind, the one you draw on unexpectedly–that grain silo on a country highway at the edge of a town that hardly anyone, even you, visits.)

there was the circle.  i knew it would be the beginning.  i knew that the message would start to reveal itself once the circle was down.

there were vague notions of ideas, but none of them fully formed, just an avid interest in the perfect red circle.  my fingertips turned red from the craypas as i rubbed its redness into the canvas (a cherry kool-aid red, a candy-colored & -coated red from over-indulging; the red of lips freshly kissed, slightly bruised — a hush of violet.)

giotto is not a favorite artist of mine.  i am not disposed to the early italian renaissance, i mean i get it, but that doesn’t mean i have to like it.  i could care that the contrapuntal stance suddenly ‘enlivened’ painting toward a more natural representation.  but giotto started this [project.]  there was the circle.  and there were roses.  and there is always marcel duchamp.  i cannot go further than the front door without packing up my rrose selavy & quietly tucking her into my _______ (an yet as unnamed carry-all [port-manteau, peut-être] for ideas & my past.)  please see this blog post, my heart belongs to dada for further proof. )

i am not a painter.  my visual expression is usually relegated to what i can make a digital camera & my computer do.  i attempt to compose photographs (you may have figured that out on your own, should you be any little bit familiar with this blog) that have some beauty or some symmetry or for that matter, asymmetry or that they somehow tell a story (sometimes about me, other times about greater & smaller things, at times they say nothing at all.)

some ideas start out strong (“this is not a …”, above,) but quickly are covered over when a better idea came along (you’ve been to that bar, haven’t you?  the one where you’re just getting into someone — & they you — & suddenly something better comes along — for either one of you & whatever it was that was working for you, isn’t any longer.  i know you know what i mean.)  ideas are like that, aren’t they?  creativity is like that bar–it’s a fairly busy bar–most times anyway, but there are down times too, when your life might get in the way or there’s some other thing that needs YOUR ATTENTION NOW.

there was the circle.  it needed paint.  i know that acrylic paint makes a great adhesive, so i was already contemplating mixing up the media by the time i dipped my first brush into the burnt sienna (the undercoat) & then i needed to spend about a half hour (with assistance, no less) looking for a palette knife or putty knife or something to make a little impasto (or a lot) & finally ended up with a cake spatula (see above, left) which worked on this small surface perfectly (at least for me, the inexperienced painter.)

which.  there was the problem of not being a painter, truly.  i suffered some regret as paint went down, sometimes on its own, other times under my not-quite-as-confident-as-i-thought hand.  i told myself, ‘no matter’, work with what you have, follow your instincts, for god’s sake “use some brighter colors!”  think about the color, the composition, the forms; it’s not like i don’t write about it often enough & here i am struggling with concepts that i know.  because, did i say this before?  i am not a painter.

before i got too carried away by the surface texture of the paint, i sidled over to the computer & started selecting different roses from my ‘botanicals’ file (thinking, as i was, that only one [1] rose would anchor the painting, center, front–giotto’s angel’s wings, his perfect circle its halo); i chose several different favorites, printed them & cut them out in a close approximation of their actual shape, but leaving some ‘edge’ (an angle, a scissor cut) to them, but only because the tiny, tiny, tiny details are best left to someone with more patience than i–of course, that is only partially true, i can maneuver among the shoals of tiny details without incident, but like most people or at least most people like me (which narrows it down quite severely, doesn’t it?) i prefer the grand gesture, the details to follow as best they can, scrambling behind to keep up with the sweeping grandeur that is ‘high concept.’

as sure as i could be, i placed the yellow rose in the center of the circle (poor giotto, clumsily painted over as he is) & pushed it into the wet paint.  in true amateur painter manner, i stepped back, with brush in paint-splattered hand (i may have stuck the tip end of the brush between my lips, a cigarette to think more clearly) & contemplated my work: the balance, the subject (was the visual result now before me an expression of what i felt?), & realized, with all of those other roses laying to the side of the canvas that i was not done with them, yet.

& they all found a home, although there may have been one or two that were rejected (their sad little faces, “why not me?”) & so i set those aside with another use in mind (they ended up on the reverse with my signature.)  but suddenly i now found a triangle (a golden rose triangle) thrusting up into the center of the picture plane (a rose bowl float sliding into the your peripheral vision, just like on new year’s morning as the floats make their away around the corner from orangethorpe onto colorado blvd. in pasadena–an “ooh, look at that one!” escaping your lips.)

& i thought of the flutter of angel’s wings (a scene from kushner’s “angels in america”, maybe not as angry, but still, retributive.)  so.  & i thought that there might be just the faintest whiff, the odor, the scent, the suggestion of an erotic moment (do i need to spell it out for you?  no?  i thought as much.)

those unfurling petals that push the center of the rose up toward your ______, an invitation to smell, taste, indulge, relent, submit, a slave to their power.    do you lose yourself in their beauty?  it is their strength, that beauty, that scent, that sex.   & don’t they make it difficult to love them–the thorns, pin-pricks of anguish, scratches of anticipation; all there to make you want them more, because it is the pain of handling them that makes them that much more desirable.  even after you’ve been hurt by reaching out to their beauty, you are incapable of resisting going back in for another opportunity to bring it close to your ______.

you know the probability of hurt is great, but their beauty completely blinds you to that danger as the reward (their domination of your soul) is so utterly irresistible.   what could feel better than love & yet could cause such despair?

it kidnaps you, love, that is.  you may receive a ransom note, all cut out newspaper letters jumbled together, demanding X for the release of Y (the union that produces zygotes.)  & i know that some of you will debate the relative value of one over the other; others may rush in (otherwise known in romantic literature as ‘fools for love’–a description that, unfortunately, applies to the majority — even the most calculating among us.)  you may prevaricate, waste time, dither, sweat, say yes! then as quickly say no!  all of which are the symptoms of love’s relentless hold on our lives, its foreplay were we in the mood (or in a clearer state of mind) to admit.

(did i know this is where i would end up when i started this project?  & please, consider the parenthetical thoughts, phrases & digressions as asides delivered directly to the audience in a knowing & conspiratorial tone of voice–perhaps accompanied by a wink of complicity, we are, after all, actors upon a stage, blah, blah, blah… [what to do about the poor ellipsis, so overused & under-appreciated, but so perspicacious an ending to our blathering.] )


what painting are you?

let’s say you’re being interviewed by barbara walters in prime time & not on “the view”  (it could happen.)  she’s asked you about your  success at/in/because of ________ & you’ve plugged your most recent book/movie/stage play/feat of heroism & then she pauses, looks you in the eye as she licks her lips (you know what’s coming, her publicist gave your publicist the list of questions ahead of the interview, but because your private jet was late arriving in nyc & your iphone/blackberry/android ran out of juice, you had just received them minutes before the interview, but you did know she was going to ask you this):  “wobert, what painting are you?”

it’s not “what tree are you?” & consequently it’s a much more difficult question to answer.  if you’ve any relationship with art, the answer suddenly becomes fraught with pitfalls & potholes.  there are  so many to choose from!  they each represent such diverse emotions!  if i say ______ by ___ _______ will i sound elitist?  but if i try to identify with my market share, & answer _______ by ____ _______, will i be perceived to be common by my peers?  but i like them both, you opine!

“today, barbara, i am _______ ________ by ______ _______,” you state, “but tomorrow or even later today, i might be ____ __ by _____ ______, because i am many different paintings & could not possibly choose just one to represent who i am.”

this is me today:

fernand léger 1881-1955 french, composition indienne, 1942, oil on linen, h 940 mm w 800 mm, signed and dated

atelier fernand léger, no. 134; galerie louise leiris, paris; perls galleries, new york; thomas gibson fine art, london

literature: georges bauquier “fernand léger”, le catalogue raisonné de l’oeuvre peint.  maeght, paris 1998.  tome vi, 1938-1943, no. 1095



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