Friday, February 25, 2011

Artist At Work

One of the big challenges for artists is finding the self motivation to continue making work through all the other demands of life. The endurance needed to keep at it through the rejections, lack of understanding, disparagement from the ignorant, need to have income probably requiring an outside job, financial stress, family obligations, desire to have a social life unrelated to art and all the rest separates the artist from the dabbler. I've been through all that and I've made the commitment to keep going--sometimes at personal cost--but committed despite the cost.

New piece to be shown in the sculpture show at Castle Hill Center for the Arts in Truro, Mass., May 30-June10

Now I find myself in a different place. I am truly and legitimately busy in the studio because there is actual demand for my work! Who would have thought? I have had to draw up a schedule of work that needs to be made in a certain order to meet commitments for shows and deliveries. This is not a problem, by any means, but it does explain why my posts have been limited. I hope you will stick with me and this blog because I will continue to post although maybe on a reduced schedule.

Another piece for the Castle Hill sculpture show

Other Good News
My first sale at Arden Gallery is a commission! I am waiting for the panel to be made for it and will start work as soon as possible.

A Big Sale
I am starting to frame some of the eleven (11) pieces of older work that a consultant just sold to a client. The eleven pieces consist of eight works in encaustic, two works on paper and one oil painting - most from 2007. That year was a very productive one for me although there were not many sales. Now it's very nice to move the work out into the world.

A Little Bad News and a Dilemma
Unfortunately, the oil painting that is part of the sale had a problem that I discovered when I took it off the wall in our house and brought it into the studio. There was this little chip... When I pressed on the area, it felt loose and I started to scrape off the loose part. Before I knew it, most of the painting was becoming detached from the canvas.

Oooo, 2007, oil and cold wax on canvas, 36x36

The dilemma was, should I just try to repaint the loose area or cancel the sale? I chose the third option: I am repainting the picture on a new canvas starting today. I didn't want to send a product out into the world that had some kind of physical defect (that would probably come back to haunt me.) I'm actually looking forward to it because I haven't worked with oil for a while and it should be fun - just paint and no decisions. The questions is, can I really copy my own work? Well, that will be a challenge, but I'm printing out the image in a large format and will see what happens. I may have to paint two paintings - one the way it was and one the way I would paint it now. The artist's life is always a challenge.

For those who are curious, I think that the reason the painting cracked was twofold:

1) I had a very dry underpainting underneath
2) I painted with a heavy paste of cold wax medium and oil paint that probably contained too much of the cold wax. The directions say to limit it to 50/50 medium and paint, but I probably exceeded that. Remember: fat over lean? Well, I probably didn't have enough fat for all that lean underneath.

This time I am mixing in a standard oil painting medium of stand oil/turpentine/damar varnish along with the cold wax medium and I am starting on a freshly gessoed canvas. I think that will stick to the canvas a lot better. The piece will look less matte but more juicy.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Roy Neuberger, A Passionate Collector

I always have one or more books in the process of being read. Yes, I was an English major (in my first undergrad college) so reading has always been a big part of my life. Now, instead of novels, I have pretty much settled on biographies as my oeuvre of choice. Last week I finished two of them: Just Kids by Patti Smith and The Passionate Collector:Eighty Years in the World of Art by Roy R. Neuberger. These probably qualify more as memoirs, but who's looking.

They seem a disparate pair of books and, in fact, they were. What both have in common is that they were not written by professional writers, although Patti Smith is known as a poet. Let's just say that brilliant use of language was not their strong suit in either case, although both write directly and convey their thoughts clearly. (Sorry to disagree with the consensus on Patti Smith's book, but I do.) The connection between these books is that both writers relate to art: in Neuberger's case, his relationship with the official world of art (artists, dealers, galleries, museums) during his intense life of collecting, in Smith's case, her own art making and that of companion Robert Mapplethorpe.

I would like to comment on both books, but will write separate posts about them. First: Mr. Neuberger.

Roy Neuberger at age 100 (from the Wall Street Journal blog)

Roy Neuberger was a well-known art collector who died last December at the incredible age of 107. He was also a Wall Street financier who managed money until the age of 101, according to Bloomberg. I got the Neuberger book about art collecting because I wanted to know more about the mind of a collector. I already know art from the maker's side and I've read quite a few about the dealer's side, but what about the person who buys the stuff? What motivates them? I was especially curious to know if a Wall Street kingpin was just in it for the money.

Neuberger's book starts off with a very nice dedication that places the emphasis just where it ought to be:

This book is dedicated with great affection and respect to the extraordinary, original, passionate artists who have enriched my life beyond measure.

The Bio
Neuberger was born into a wealthy family but orphaned at age 12 and raised by an older sister in New York City. He dropped out of college after one semester and went to work in the home decorating department at B. Altman and Company. His co-workers there brought him to concerts and art galleries and advised him to study painting because of his aesthetic talent. Unfortunately for him, after a brief period of study, he decided that he had no ability for making art himself although he loved it.

Neuberger in 2003 at home in his six-room suite at the Pierre Hotel, NY with some of the works he collected. Just above his head is Arthur Dove's Holbrook's Bridge to the Northwest, 1938.

At age 21 Neuberger used a modest inheritance to move to Paris for four years (where he also worked for a decorator) and study works of art at the Louvre, religiously visiting the museum three times every week.  Later, after reading about the life of Van Gogh, he vowed to buy art in support of living artists.  Fortunately for him, he had great talent for making money in the stock market. He founded Neuberger and Berman in 1939 and then invented the no-load mutual fund in 1950 (a low-fee mutual fund for middle class investors according to the WSJ). He did well through many cycles of boom and bust and generated plenty of money for his real passion, buying art - mostly directly from artists and galleries, not on the secondary market.

Neuberger says that his early self-education at the Louvre showed him that, "Each time you return to a work of art, you observe different things about the composition, the draftsmanship, the placement of figures and objects, the relationship between colors. It is the confluence of all of these elements, and many others, that evokes an emotional response." In other words, he became a collector because of his passionate emotional connection to works of art, not because he wanted to make money from them.

Barber Shop by Edward Hopper, collected by Roy Neuberger in 1954 and one of the pieces most often requested for exhibition loans

In addition to closely examining art, Neuberger also read art criticism, especially four volumes of Bernard Berenson. He also found an artistic mentor in Duncan Phillips, who showed his collection in The Phillips Gallery (later The Phillips Collection) in Washington, D.C. Phillips showed him that he could mix oeuvres, time periods, styles and American with European art (originally a big distinction).

Milton Avery, Three Friends, 1944

Color in painting was Neuberger's strongest love and Matisse was one of his favorites because of his use of color. Milton Avery, whom Neuberger calls "an American Matisse," was another favorite because of his strong color, simplified shapes and interesting compositions. Later Neuberger bought Avery's works in bulk, eventually owning more than 100 of Avery's works, which he either kept for his own collection or gave to museums. Neuberger thought both of these artists showed a French influence, an affinity Neuberger felt because of his years in Paris.

Milton Avery, Gaspe' Landscape, 1943. Neuberger bought this work from Avery during his first visit to Avery's home and studio in 1943. He loved this painting and kept it with him until the end of his life.

Neuberger continued to buy the work of living American artists during the 1940s, '50s and '60s, often buying when the work was just a few months old and relying on his own judgment of the work before critics weighed in. Here is some of the history of his collection as outlined in his book:

1940-1945: Work by 24 artists including Alexander Calder, Ben Shahn, Max Weber, Jacob Lawrence, Marsden Hartley, Stuart Davis, Milton Avery

1946 Collecting Gap: The Neubergers bought a new country house in 1946 which limited the funds available for collecting.

1947-1949 : 12 more artists including Lee Gatch, Adolph Gottlieb and John Marin.

1950s and 1960s: 170 artists including Jackson Pollock, Joseph Stella, Larry Rivers, Louise Nevelson, Georgia O'Keeffe, Helen Frankenthaler, Alfred Leslie, Morris Louis, David Smith.

Jackson Pollock, No. 8, 1949, bought by Neuberger in 1950 for $800

Marsden Hartley, Fishermen's Last Supper, 1940-41, purchased by Neuberger in 1943, and kept in his personal home collection

The Kind of Collector an Artist Loves to Have
Roy Neuberger calls himself a gregarious man and he not only enjoyed supporting artists by purchasing their work but also getting to know them. He was great friends with Milton and Sally Avery, with Alexander Calder (whom he calls "the most charming man in America"), David Smith, Max Weber, Jack Levine and Ben Shahn. For his 50th birthday, Neuberger's wife Marie presented him with an album of greetings and drawings from artist friends including Pollock, Shahn, Calder, Feininger, Avery, Davis, Baziotes, Marin, Hofmann, Gottlieb, Tamayo and 35 other artists that he called friends. Nearly 50 years after receiving this book, Neuberger said, "This is the book I treasure above all others."

Milton Avery, The Baby, 1944

Helping Museums Acquire Art
Neuberger was not in it for the money nor was he the kind of collector who wanted to hoard paintings for himself. He sincerely wanted to support and promote artists that he believed in and whose work he loved. Almost by accident he discovered that if he gave a museum the funds to purchase a specific painting, he could help the artist get his/her work collected and get the museum to take a greater acquisition risk than they would do with their own funds and at their own discretion. Once he made this discovery, he used it pretty extensively.

Hans Hofmann, Fruit Bowl Version 6, 1950, acquired by the Metropolitan Museum with funds provided by Roy Neuberger

The Whitney Museum
Neuberger was also a big supporter of the Whitney Museum. (He says, "My enthusiasm for the Whitney was boundless.")  Among the works he gave the Whitney were 14 paintings by Jacob Lawrence, from the series Going Home from the War. Neuberger helped organize the Friends of the Whitney and was chairman of the Acquisitions Committee for the first three years of its existence. The list of artists whose work the committee bought is truly impressive and includes all the modern masters of pre-Pop days. Later Neuberger became a Trustee of the Whitney, serving until 1969, and helped with the museum's move to its present location. In addition to other funds, he also gave the Whitney a painting every year from his collection. One caveat is that Neuberger thought he stayed at the Whitney too long because he became "pigeonholed" as a collector of American art, rather than being known for his broad interests in other work as well.

Jacob Lawrence, No. 12 from the Going Home from the War series, 1946-47

The Metropolitan Museum
Although Neuberger was so involved in the Whitney, he calls the Met "my haven, my passion, my great love." When he returned from Paris in 1929, the Met took the place for him of the Louvre in terms of his on-going study of art, but even more than the Louvre, Neuberger rates it as "simply the greatest museum in the world."  In January 1968 Neuberger was one of the first three people invited to be an honorary life trustee of the Met in recognition of their service to the Met and to art in general.

The Dealers
Neuberger knew and patronized all of the famous New York dealers from the 1940s through the1960s (with the exception of Stieglitz who had been dismissive of him on his first gallery visit): Edith Halpert of the Downtown Gallery, Peggy Guggenheim of Art of This Century Gallery, Betty Parsons, Sidney Janis, Paul Rosenberg, Valentine Dudensing, Samuel Kootz and Leo Castelli. Once Castelli began showing Pop and post-Ab Ex work of Johns, Rauschenberg, Lichtenstein and Warhol, Neuberger stopped buying exclusively work by living artists and of mostly American artists. He began buying ancient art and African art.

Kuba Female Mask, from the Neuberger collection

The Museum of Modern Art: Alfred Barr and Dorothy Miller
Neuberger was not as involved with MoMA as with the Whitney, but he did contribute works and funds to the museum, and he became friendly with Alfred Barr and Dorothy Miller.He tells some interesting stories about early MoMA and particularly emphasizes the importance of Dorothy Miller, whom he calls "The Artist's Champion." Dorothy Miller was hired as Alfred Barr's assistant in 1934 and advanced up the ranks, becoming Curator of Collections in 1947 and finally retiring in 1969 as Senior Curator of Painting and Sculpture. She was responsible for promoting the work of American artists such as Rothko and Baziotes early on and organized six "Americans" exhibitions in which each artist had their own gallery.

A landmark exhibition (and a very tiny image) organized at MoMA by Dorothy Miller

The Neuberger Museum of Art
Nelson Rockefeller, Governor of New York from 1959-1973 before becoming Vice President under Gerald Ford (who can remember?), was a collector and patron of the arts. His mother, Abigail Rockefeller, was one of the three founders of the Museum of Modern Art and she trained all her children to appreciate art. Rockefeller admired Neuberger's collection and offered to buy it from him, but Neuberger wasn't selling. In lieu of owning the collection himself, Rockefeller offered Neuberger the opportunity to establish a museum on the grounds of SUNY in Purchase, NY, about 45 minutes outside NYC. Actually accomplishing the plan took a few years, but eventually the museum building was designed by Philip Johnson and officially opened in May 1974. Neuberger donated 950 paintings and sculptures as well as money for purchases.

The Neuberger Museum in the only image I could find of the outside of the building. 

Advice From the Master
Neuberger gives a list of do's and dont's for those considering becoming collectors including:
Read widely
Visit museums and galleries frequently
Listen to advice - but make your own decisions
Buy what you like

Roy Neuberger with some of his collection

Neuberger sums up his philosophy of collecting as follows:

A person who collects art in quantity has to be a little bit nuts. I started giving away art because I felt strongly that I was only borrowing it. I believe you must give in this world, either money or art or spirit. You must give something.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Spring in the Air

As I stepped out into the yard Monday morning with the Boyz, I stuck my nose in the air just like them to get a whiff of something quite exotic - that indefinable smell that presages spring! Could it really come? It's been hard to imagine with the heavy-duty winter we've had.

Front of our house, picture taken Feb 3rd

It's been pretty demoralizing. We've had storm after storm all winter. When it wasn't snowing, sleeting, or "wintry-mixing", it was so freezing cold that nothing was melting. The coldest temperature we saw one morning on our kitchen thermometer was 18 degrees below. Last weekend, I think it was, we had one morning of 12 below.

Looking toward the garage. The handle protruding at the left is the roof rake.

Then this morning, it was 40 degrees. The temp rose up to 52, I saw on the news. That was bikini weather. By this afternoon, we had lakes appearing in the yard from melting snow. Of course tonight the temp went down and the winds picked up (to 45 mph), so everything refroze. Nevermind, I had that whiff and it stirred my imagination.

The Boyz walking through the "avenues" in the yard that Bonnie has snow-blown for them.

Approximately the same view, taken last May

When it's been like this for so long, it's really hard to imagine that it will ever change and all that green will return. The old farmers (from the almanac) call snow "poor man's fertilizer," and if that's so, we're gonna have a helluva growing season.

A big THANK YOU to my valentine, Bonnie, for dealing with all the snow this winter! She did it ALL with her trusty snow blower plus lots of shoveling, roof raking, icicle breaking, scraping, salting, and whatever else needed to be done. The "Man of the House" proved she was up to the task of dealing with it all--and doing it cheerfully. A true Wonder Woman!

In the Studio
While Bonnie was working on the snow, I've been spending a lot of time in the studio. Much of the time I was working, but I've also been doing a lot of cleaning up and moving things around to host visitors  This weekend it was a pleasure to go in there to work and drag things out that I didn't have to put back. I had to get back to normal after rearranging for the Smith class. The trouble with moving things and stogging them somewhere is that they often don't reappear until years later - the curse of neatness!

I made these two little pieces for the sculpture show at Castle Hill this summer, but they seem less than exciting. I wasn't really happy working at this scale. (They are just 8"x10".) Sometimes the ideas you have don't pan out in the flesh. So I'm starting over and making something different.

Domino-trix, 6"x 14", mixed media with encaustic and dominoes

Here's another small piece that I just had photographed and will use as the inspiration for larger works for Greg Wright's show in the fall on the theme of pollination. The new pieces will include many more dominoes as related to my definition of pollination. There will be 12 artists who work in encaustic in this show at the Brush Gallery in Lowell, Mass. and a lot of related programming.

Of course there are also several shows connected with the encaustic conference that require work on a theme. I'm not so sure that I'm up to it. Sometimes you just have to continue on your path and not get sidetracked. By the way, a big thank you to Joanne M. for prominently posting one of my works on the conference home page!

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Studio as Classroom

A big shout-out to the Smith College class that came to my studio Tuesday and today to experiment first-hand with encaustic in their Historic Methods and Materials class. Ten students participated along with instructor David Dempsey plus Sarah Belchetz-Swenson and Phoebe Weil, two other artists who teach some of the materials.

Studio set up before class arrived

I put together a Power Point presentation for them on Tuesday at the Smith College Museum and then we adjourned to my studio. I gave a brief overview of some techniques and spent a longer time showing them in more detail how the Fayum portraits were probably painted. Each of the students and instructors got to try their hand at painting with the four-color palette of red and yellow ochres, black and white. We used the newly-streamlined horn tool from R&F on the woodburning tool set-up with the regulator.

Fayum portrait set-up today. You can see at the back of the table the portrait of me that we worked on Tuesday along with the black and white photo we modeled it from.

The revamped Fayum portrait I painted for show and tell

Once they got their hands on the materials, everyone was very interested and industrious. They worked very hard at their projects but seemed to have fun at it too. None had worked with encaustic previously.

Here are some examples of student work:

This one was painted by David based on the book cover of Ancient Faces

A good time was had by all - and now on to the next thing.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Ode to the Annual Encaustic Conference

I was invited to be one of four featured ("HOT" is their word) artists in the premiere issue of Encaustic Arts magazine and have been working on my article. (The other three artists are Kim Bernard, Howard Hersh and Paula Roland.) My article is another rear view mirror moment where I take a look back at the development of  my on-going body of work, the series I call the Running Stitch. I thought that my experience could be interesting as an example of the way one artist (moi) made a big leap in her work to a very new place.

Promised Land, 2010, 27"x42"x1.5", mixed media with encaustic, from the Running Stitch series (click to expand)

After thinking about the process and writing my article, it dawned on me that none of it would have been possible if I had not attended the annual encaustic conference that Joanne Mattera organizes every year. That is how and where my thinking was expanded. Sure, I learned about techniques and processes, but more importantly, at the conference I was able to consult with experts about moving my work forward, I saw first-quality shows of work in encaustic, and I was brought together with artists from all over the U.S., Canada and more. How and where else would that have been possible?

Joanne Mattera, creator and organizer of The Fifth International Encaustic Conference and all the other annual encaustic conferences dating back to 2007

A very big THANK YOU to Joanne for her vision, expertise, unflagging energy and determination to make every year The Best Conference ever!

Although every year at the encaustic conference is rewarding, I think that the third year in 2009 was vital to my development. That year I signed up for two post-conference workshops, on two consecutive days, one with Barbara O'Brien and the other with Miles Conrad.

Barbara O'Brien, now Curator at the Kemper Musuem of Contemporary Art

Barbara O'Brien at that time had curated nearly 50 exhibitions of contemporary art, and that was before she joined the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art as curator later in 2009. Her experience in looking at and assessing artists' work was exceptional. For that third annual encaustic conference in 2009, Barbara was also the keynote speaker, and when I heard her talk, I was blown away by the description of her aesthetic journey from an intellectual response to minimalism to embracing the beauty, warmth and richness of work in encaustic. She was very encouraging and helped the small group at her day-long critical response workshop to think about their work in the broader context of contemporary art and to describe a blue sky vision for their work.

Miles Conrad

Miles Conrad, an artist and gallery owner, developed a class called Moving the Work Forward that uses unique exercises and games to help artists assess their own work and reach their full potential. This workshop in 2009 helped me so much by having Miles' critique my work and statement and get his assistance in directing me to examine the various components of making art and marketing it. This class really propelled my thought processes and gave me some methods to use that proved invaluable.

Castle Hill Center for the Arts

This year's encaustic conference, now The Fifth International Encaustic Conference, is the first to be held at its new location in Provincetown and at the Truro Center for the Arts at Castle Hill in Truro (next to Provincetown). It features many opportunities for artists to develop their work and think about it in a broader context. For example, on Friday afternoon, Toby Sisson will give a talk on the Art of Critique:How to Give and Receive More Helpful Feedback. Giving and receiving feedback is surely an art and the first step in taking an honest look at your own work. Another talk, at the tail end of the conference on Sunday afternoon, will be given by Kim Bernard and called What's Your Work About? Kim will provide exercises and methods to get participants thinking about this topic in a fun and rewarding way.

Toby Sisson

Kim Bernard

There are two panels that will also help artists to examine their practices: Saturday morning's panel, Mastering Media, brings together five artists (including me) with moderator Joanne Mattera. The panel will discuss various aspects of art and media, from book publishing, to blogging, to operating a gallery, to organizing classes, to various tools for promoting your work. This panel is bound to be informative, thought provoking and fun. Then late Sunday afternoon, another panel comes together to discuss Submitting Your Work: What the Juror Sees. This don't-miss-it panel, consisting of three decision makers, will discuss how they view and judge work submitted for exhibitions at their venues.

Jackie Battenfield, Author and Keynote Speaker 

This year the keynote speaker on Saturday night will be Jackie Battenfield, author of  The Artist's Guide: How To Make a Living Doing What You Love. She is all about developing your work and finding ways to keep making it. Jackie will also offer a day-long workshop called Creating Your Own Success on Monday during the post-conference session at Castle Hill. Another opportunity for personalized critique of your work during the post-conference workshops will come on Thursday when Francine D'Olimpio, owner of Kobalt Gallery in Provincetown, will offer a day-long critical feedback session in a small group. Francine is also jurying the conference show, "Beeline", that will be exhibited at Kobalt Gallery.

These are just a few of the long list of workshops available at the conference. I haven't even touched on the nine demos that show how to accomplish various techniques such as the ever-popular image transfer, fusing, masking, stencilling, branding, and achieving patterned effects. Wow! So much to learn and so much to gain!

If you can spare the time, the place to really get into learning a technique or experimenting with different processes is during the post-conference week. Here you might spend a day with me Making Fine Art With Unconventional Mixed Media and Encaustic or with Michelle Belto ombining Encaustic and Handmade Paper or with Hylla Evans of Evans Encaustic in her Color-Mixing Workshop. It's all great.

The best part of the conference is meeting people and seeing friends from all around the USA plus Canada, England, New Zealand and Brazil. Currently there are 198 conferees registered, or 79 percent of the maximum. As Joanne Mattera says,

Our maxiumum is 250--a large enough number for the
crosspollination of ideas and information
but still small enough for everyone to get to know everyone else.
There is no other event like this one!

At last year's conference: Lynda Ray from Norfolk, Virginia; Binnie Birstein from Weston, Connecticut and Gay Schempp from Fairfield, Connecticut (in the background in green sweater, Jane Allen Nodine from South Carolina)

Alexandre Masino from Montreal, Canada

Eileen Goldenberg from San Francisco, California

To register for one of the very few spots remaining, click here. And I hope to see you there!

Friday, February 4, 2011

On Sitting for a Portrait

Having recently read the new Alice Neel biography, I guess I am in the portrait painting phase of my current reading list, to which I have recently added Man with a Blue Scarf: On Sitting for a Portrait by Lucian Freud. The man with the blue scarf is Martin Gayford, an art writer and critic who has published several art-related books. He sat for two portraits by Lucian Freud, one in oil and one etched, during a year and a half period in 2003 and 2004, amounting to about 250 hours. He kept a diary during that time and based this book on it.

The two portraits of Gayford painted by Lucian Freud, painting left and etching right

The book was recommended to me by new friend David Clark who said he enjoyed reading it. I liked it too although it proceeds at a very slow pace, matching the speed at which the portraits are painted by Freud.

Freud some years ago with Leigh Bowery, probably his most famous model

Of course I had been aware of Freud's work previously because he is such a well-known British realist painter, but I knew nothing else about him. He is the grandson of Sigmund Freud, was born in Germany in 1922 and emigrated to England with his parents and siblings in 1933 to escape persecution by the Nazis. He studied painting at several schools in England and became known as one of the "School of London" figurative painters in the 1970s. The group also included Francis Bacon, Frank Auerbach, Leon Kossoff, Ronald Kitaj, and several others. Freud's early style was painted thinly and somewhat surrealistically, but beginning in the late 1950s he changed by becoming much less graphic and more painterly - or at least more about the paint than the drawing. He paints now with a heavy impasto and brushmarks that form a sculptural surface on his oil portraits.

Lucian Freud self portrait 1985

As Gayford describes it, Freud paints one stroke at a time, painstakingly like you wouldn't believe. His portrait sittings go on for hundreds of hours. Sometimes, even after investing an incredible number of hours in the painting, he will abandon it. Gayford is always fearful that his portrait will be one of the unfortunate ones that doesn't make the cut for some reason.

LF self portrait 2002 (note the wall behind him)

Freud may paint for three sittings a day, for as long as ten hours a day - all the time standing up and/or dancing and darting around in front of the canvas - and he is a man in his eighties. The description of his beginning to paint the portrait after the charcoal sketch has gone on the canvas is most unusual.

"This is the first moment when paint will actually go on the canvas. There is, it emerges, a preliminary ritual when LF is using pigment. First, he rummages around and finds a palette, thickly encrusted with worms and gouts of dried pigment. Then he spends a considerable amount of time carefully cleaning a zone at the bottom left near the thumbhole. There follows more casting around for suitable brushes and tubes of paint that lie around in mounds on a portable trolley and on top of a cupboard near the wall. From the pile of old ragged sheets in the corner of the studio he selects a clean section, tears off a square and tucks it into his waistband, like a very informal butcher or baker."

LF working on another painting - note the rag tucked into his belt

But this description of the way LF keeps his materials is nothing compared to how he cleans his brushes. (I'm reminded of Pam Farrell making a new year's resolution last year to be kinder to her brushes. LF would have had a lot of room for improvement in that department.)

"The rag-apron is used for wiping brushes and occasionally the palette knife. The larger palette scrapings are wiped on the walls, where they radiate in areas, and on the doorframe. Blobs of pigment have been trodden into the floor and telephone numbers and cryptic words scribbled on the plaster. 'Buddleia', reads one. Two tall chairs, covered in a splatter of paint, do duty as extra trolleys on which LF stores a jumble of tubes. Often he carefully, though precariously, balances his palette on the back of one of these when he leaves the room."

"The effect of the paint-smeared interior is very much like certain kinds of abstract painting, or--changing the metaphor--a nest which LF has slowly, almost accidentally, constructed through the routines of his work. The walls themselves, apart from the starbursts and crusting of vigorously trowelled paint, are washed in a neutral brown....It is a strange effect in this otherwise perfect mid-eighteenth-century house; one that LF accepts, I presume, because it humanizes--personalizes--the spaces."

This part so interesting to me because I like learning about artists' studios and studio practices but it's also like learning about somebody's bad housekeeping. I have to say that not since art school have I seen someone cleaning their brushes on the walls. But, hey...

Oil portrait completed

Gayford's sessions of sitting for the oil portrait began on November 23, 2003 and concluded on July 4th 2004. He keeps a nearly day-by-day record of all the emotions that the sessions evoked and all the conversations that he had with LF during the sittings and afterwards at dinner, but in the end Gayford does think that the portrait looks like him--not that that really matters. He agrees with Gaugin that "Pictures and writings are portraits of their authors." So the portrait is more about LF than about Gayford.

Sitting for the etching

The painting went to New York to be sold after completion and both pieces were included in a show of LF's work in Venice that coincided with the Bienniale. Gayford met the owners of the oil portrait who came to the opening in Venice. Gayford mentions that his "face now played a part in their lives, hanging on the stairs in their house in California."  And here, he makes one of the best descriptions I've read of how viewers interact with paintings:

"It is an aspect of good pictures that it is impossible to memorize them. No matter how well you know them, they always seem different when you see them again (this point has been made to me by apparently very different artists, including Luc Tuymans and Richard Serra, as well as LF). Also, a certain work of art may produce quite different feelings in different people; in fact, it evokes altered responses in the same person at differing times. Indeed, its ability to carry on doing that is one of the qualities that makes a work of art good. I thought I knew these images as well as anyone could, except their creator. I had watched them grow, week by week, touch by touch. And yet I found that somehow, when I saw them again, they looked new."