Wednesday, June 6, 2018

The River in Between

                                                The River in Between oil on canvas 50x36

 This is the third painting of these trees but finally at the scale the scene deserved. There was grandeur on the golf course that day, the fog bringing to this copse of trees an unexpected nobility. I was on one side of the Tualatin River, and they with the sportsmen were across.
It was November 4, 2016. The world would be radically threatened in four days, but this moody morning was a joy.

                                               The Flooded Trail watercolor on paper 12x9

                                           The Flooded Trail 2 watermedia on Yupo 14x11

 What do we do with so much green?
I went into the Columbia River Gorge recently to paint. It was my first visit since the catastrophic fires of the past autumn. From the interstate, I was relieved to find limited evidence though I knew it was extensive just beyond my sight line. My friend Mitch wanted to show me some island like peninsulas he had discovered earlier. The day was warm and clear and we were excited to paint. Not too far in we found the trail flooded. The Columbia was at its peak spring flow and there were many trees in standing water. Looked good to me so we sat up at the edge of the new stream, a wet tunnel through a solid green wall of vegetation. Every summer presents this same dilemma, how to make a monochrome landscape interesting? As you can see, I tackle this by adding other colors and focusing more on texture. Accuracy doesn`t matter to me but an emotional response does. Sitting in the shade with that water rippling toward me, and loving the breeze, I was happy. Later Mitch wanted to show me the views that had inspired this little road trip so we put up our gear and walked the other way around until the 'islands' came into view. They were lovely;

 We will return.
Two days later on a visit to John`s parents, we detoured to Minto Brown Island first. I had never seen it in summer so of course I expected the green. It may have just as well been Brazil. Nearly every view of the sloughs was blocked by this sort of obstacle;

 Without a machete, I chose instead to just enjoy the air. It didn`t disappoint. All of those plants were at the apex of their cycle and the smell was rich and healthy.

Below is how three of my heroes painted the summer green;

 Here Vincent Van Gogh seems trapped by the green, just like thousands of other plein air painters since. Texture was always something he excelled at so it predominates.

 He manages better here by letting the green be green.

 Now he`s finally where he can breathe again and vows not to paint the forest anymore. This gentle rolling scene is where his gift really shines.

 Gustave Klimt just totally surrenders and gives us one of the freshest, most interesting statements on green ever.

 There are more emerald shades and tints in this one and their effect is one of peace. Klimt gives us a sublime summer day to swim in.

 Gerhard Richter merely hints at green yet gives us an abstract landscape teaming growth and fertility.

Here the dense garden doesn`t even need color to suggest vitality. He probably painted it with his big toe. As all living painters know, Richter can do anything. And much better than you! It`s an old cliche to say he is the world`s greatest painter.
Unbelievably, I`ve seen David Hockney sadly shake his head on camera and indicate Richter is overrated! Now that`s green!

                                                                Hanalei Kauai Hawaii

 An interesting thing happened a couple of weeks ago. I was at a family gathering when my email notification chimed. When I later used the bathroom I checked to see what it was and it was an invitation to come to Kauai, stay in a home and paint! I thought "a groupie at last!" When I read it more carefully it created more questions than answers. A room was being offered in an old home next to the viewpoint above. However the host didn`t own it and in fact lived in a tent on the property and painted in the carport. This kind soul was looking to share the splendors of the north shore with another like minded painter. The generosity was touching. He also said he had around 40 [!] unfinished paintings and I asked to see some. Well he was no amateur. What he really needed was some encouragement. Here are two of his 'unfinished' paintings;

                                                             by Jordan Ellingston

                                                by Jordan Ellingston [this is 10 feet long]

 I told him he had found his 'voice', that elusive, essential quality artists seek mightily to find. And that the world should see these!
Last weekend he wrote again and wanted to talk. He had been painting at the viewpoint and a woman asked if she could visit his studio. He wanted coaching as she was due to arrive soon. Now I`m not exactly a hustler and all I could muster was he had to at least act like he was legitimate, look her in the eye and give her a firm honest price. A while later he texted that he had closed a nice sale with her. I felt proud of him, he`s so talented. If he just walks out his door, sets up his plein air rig at the viewpoint,  the buyers will come to him. Please stop saying they`re not done! Jordan, you may be too good for this world.

                                                                  Elizabeth Gilbert

 By the time Eat, Pray, Love entered my consciousness, it was too late. It had become a cultural battlefield so I took a pass. But after watching Gilbert give a TED talk, I listened to her novel The Signature of All Things as an audio book. It was clunky but celebrated the creative joy in science with a female protagonist. I loved it. Next I heard a short interview when her latest work was released and I was intrigued. Big Magic explores what it means to live a creative life.
Personally, it affirmed most of my own choices and was a nice pat on the back.
 Among the important messages conveyed is the idea our artistic practices need protection, not crippling expectations for a livelihood. When we prioritize our work, the rest of our lives sort themselves out accordingly. She strongly advocates that artists need suitable jobs to support their real work. It also need not be so angst ridden, that there was another more playful way to engage with inspiration. We shouldn`t take ourselves too seriously. This led to an assertion that art was really just decoration for the mind. Hmmm. She had already stated that art preceded agriculture by 30,000 years, yet it ultimately was less important for the advancement of humanity than most other tasks. Art exists to delight the imagination.
I was sure I was missing something so I listened a second time. Somehow I still think we only have a semantic disagreement on this point but I`m confused. I remember so well how literature showed me a bigger world when I was young and created a life saving sense of hope. Pippi Longstocking can do that! Her argument may be an effort to de-mystify and humanize artists, release them from their own difficult mythology. Maybe, but big magic itself is an ecstatic, spiritual experience most artists will attest to. Seems important to me, worth living a life for.

                                                      Poet`s Meadow by Amy Falstrom

 She is a wizard form Michigan. It`s not like she paints landscapes, more like she is part of it and merely opens her eyes. Her understanding is profound yet modest. One body of work is called Feral Places. She can elevate the mundane we walk through into the smoldering bit of the cosmos it is. The unity between the artist and subject is so close! Give her a look, be reassured by her vision;

                                       Light Garden by Amy Falstrom pastel on paper

                                           Moon Garden by Amy Falstrom oil on panel

She is my soul mate!

 What happens to the eyebrows of old men?
It`s like every hair in mine just read Thoreau and feel they must go their own way now. While they still can. I am constantly trying to contain them!

 An exhibit in Michigan coming up! I`ve never been there but I`m told by high authority it is spectacularly beautiful. Maybe Amy would meet me at the show?

Another urgent Pegasus by Christopher le Brun!

work for sale in my studio


Don Gray said...

Even more fabulous than your typically fabulous blog posts, Randall. Love your insights and the stream-of-consciousness feel of your writing. And that's not even mentioning your wonderful paintings! I discovered Amy Falstrom's work several years ago and keep some printouts in my studio for inspiration.

Jo Reimer said...

You've done it again, Randall. you've written a blog post that's worth reading a dozen times, taking notes all the while, and you found and generously shared some great art to supplement your own wonders. Who knew that a green woods in Klimt's hands would be supremely sexy?

Betsy C said...

I love the first painting! Also enjoyed the Klimt, Van Gogh,and Richter examples.

Libby Fife said...


Those photos strike me as showing a "density" in the landscape. It is lush and green, heavy yet graceful, and tangled. You would need a machete! And my favorites that you showed are the Flooded Trail 2 and the 2nd Van Gogh. Green is hard for me. I just have a hard time with it. Not as hard as yellow but really close!

I haven't read any of Elizabeth Gilbert's work. (It's the jumping on the bandwagon thing.) I don't know about art being decoration for the mind. My art feels more integrated than that. (I am sure I have missed her point though.) And I think of literature as being "art". I remember reading Catcher in The Rye and feeling like the book was written for me. I do agree that making art should not be a struggle. Maybe if you don't monetize it as suggested that would help. I just think that there is an entry point for every level of art making-from the Sunday painter to the ultra professional artist. And it is all valid.

Glad that you enjoyed the book though and that on its own, it is worthy of a read.

You seem like your old self (as much as I know of your old self!).

Libby Fife said...

Oh, and I forgot to add about the old man eyebrows and hair. Keep it all neat and trim and you won't look like an old man!

Sharon Leahy said...

What a marvelous meditation on Green ... I've posted it to my friends, and to the local arts association on Facebook - thank you! Namaste' ... smiles to you!