Friday, May 29, 2015

Apologies to Mr. Sargent

oil 5x7

But then, Mr. Sargent had his own ideas about how he should look on the canvas:
In Sargent's self portrait, he is nobler, fresher, younger, a little more aristocratic.  I have painted him grayer, more tired, and my trademark splotchiness that can only portend the onset of a grave illness.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Uncle Ernest, or The Importance Of Remembering Ernest

Uncle Ernest

My grandfather’s brother, Ernest, owned a small ranch on the north fork of Little Butte Creek, while my grandparents had a large working ranch on the south fork.  The north fork was fast and cold, dropping through a dark canyon of steep slopes and tall firs.  Ernest had a cabin there, and he diverted water from the river through a channel in which he had a water mill for producing electricity.  I remember the burnt-out refrigerators and washing machines sitting around his property; his regulator for the power was not very effective.

My grandmother didn’t think highly of Ernest: she thought he was lazy and a “smooth operator”, not a compliment in those days.  It’s true that Ernest took a relaxed approach to caring for his land, and he did not run cattle of his own, spending a good part of the year in Arizona.  Sometimes he would come to our ranch to play guitar while Papa played the fiddle and Celeste played the harmonica.  I think he must have enjoyed his life a good bit.

Once when I was quite young he showed me the bullet lodged in his wrist; the doctors had been unable to extract it without doing damage.  He and my grandfather told the story of how when Ernest was 22 and Papa was 18, (around 1910, in Arizona territory) their father bought a gold mine from a fellow they called the Frenchman.  Apparently the Frenchman changed his mind and wanted the mine back, and a dispute resulted.  As the two young men were riding with their father up a canyon to the mine, the Frenchman ambushed them and shot my great-grandfather and Uncle Ernest.  Ernest, though wounded gravely in the stomach, shot back and killed the Frenchman.  My grandfather was arrested for murder and held in jail for a month while the authorities awaited Ernest’s recovery, so that he could give his version of the story.  Papa loved to tell us that he wore out a brand new pair of boots pacing in that jail cell, not knowing if he was headed for the gallows.  I still have a copy of the newspaper account of the events.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Two portraits

7x7 study from Curtis photo

Edouard Manet 8x10

I have always thought Manet was fascinating, clinging to a more classic style of painting, yet joining or even leading at times the Impressionists, loosening up his brushwork in later decades.  He broke with the tradition of painting biblical or historical themes and chose to paint scenes of common life, and yet his love of figurative paintings kept him grounded in the use of form, rather than letting loose with the light effects of Monet, et al.  They say he became so absorbed when painting that he took on an intense look, which I tried to replicate in the above painting.  Others who knew him also painted him, without making him look like a dangerous lunatic.

 Portrait of Manet by Fantin-Latour, from a group portrait

Manet self portrait

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Quick Sketch

Edgar Allan Poe 5x7

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing, 
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before…

Recently I have been caught up in too many different activities, with work, vacation planning, and a never-ending array of demands on my time, and I find it difficult to make time at the easel.  So I decided I might just as well use what little time I can squeeze in and do very quick studies like this one.  I plunge in with no preliminary drawing and slap some paint down, trying to get a resemblance in twenty minutes or so, not worrying about the brushwork or level of completion, and when the time is up, I am done.   Poe's face, looking deeply troubled, lends itself to caricature, and the simplest rendering finds some of that emotion.

Another quickie, 5x7

While these studies aren't great wall-hangers, they give me hope, since I am finding some improvement in my instinct for proportion and accuracy, with no measuring or fussing, just slap dash grab, trying to capture the essence.  I don't kid myself - I have a long row to hoe before the level of finish is what I would like, but as a carpenter, I understand you need to gather your tools before you start building a table.