Monday, February 28, 2011

An Artist is Defined by the Reaction to Failure, not Success!

"What can be more tragic than to feel the boundlessness of the surrounding beauty and to be able to see in it its underlying mystery... and yet to be aware of your own inability to express these large feelings" - Isaak Levitan

In my previous post, I set a goal for myself for completing 2 more counties by the end of the month of February.  Obviously, it being the last day of the month, I failed to meet to that deadline.  I tried to stretch myself outside of my comfort zone and fell flat on my face!  It happens.  More than I'd like. 

In my opinion, art is all about striving for excellence and pushing one's own boundaries.  It's really like athletics in a way.  The more one trains, one expects to be able to perform at an ever increasing level of capability.  In reality, however, both in athletics and painting, capability tends to be a very non-linear thing.  Successes seem to come in leaps and bounds (and I refer to the successes that actually matter, the painting itself and not commericial)  and not a gradual, ever increasing climb to greater ability.  One of the most disheartening things can be to produce something that shows substantial growth and then be totally unable to reproduce whatever it was that made one piece a success shortly thereafter.  It's as if lightning strikes out of the clear blue sky but no rain falls to satiate the parched ground.

The wandering about that follows can be terribly frustrating.  It's like the batter who knows he's entering a slump, flailing away at every pitch, analyzing his every motion, making sure he approaches the plate the same every time, spits only at right angles to the wind, or whatever odd association he fancies might break it that day.  In my case, I tend to revert to old techniques that I may have abandoned or forgotten.  I sometimes work through those and realize why I did abandon them.  I may flail away at my usage of color or value or brush size and get overly analytical.  And I feel that itself is the cause of the slump: the analysis.  Just as the batter begins to scrutinze his swing or his stance and forgets how to feel the bat as it's weight tugs on the arms and shoulders and cracks the ball, the painter forgets to feel just how things should look, feel the reaction of the colors together.  Art is not analysis, art is instinct.

And if I could bottle that instinctive response, I'd be a millionaire.  We are our own worst enemies.  Human beings are a thinking animal and we set standards we cannot live to and goals beyond sight.  How can we not bear those things in our minds when we try to execute?  And yet, somehow, sometimes, someone manages to transcend self and the snares that our awareness sets in our path and does something wonderful.  What seperates a master from an accolyte?  At times, even a master may fail and an accolyte may best a master.  Is it, in fact, merely the way the master deals with failure?  After all, a master will have failed many hundreds or thousands of times more than a mere student and knows the territory of failure as intimately as the territory of success.

I have quoted above a man I consider a master and some of his misgivings at his own failure.  Below are some of his works.  It makes me wonder at the boundless beauty and underlying mystery he saw that he could not express.  Mighty it must have been!

The Watermill

Vladimirka Road



Friday, February 11, 2011

Overcup Creek, Cross County

Overcup Creek
11X14, Oil on Birch Panel

This little stream winding it's way through the Delta caught my eye and I had to pull over and get out for some picture taking.  Definitely a much thicker application of paint than is usual for me here, especially in the sky.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Diamond Drive-In, Clarksville, Johnson County

Diamond Drive-In
9X12, Oil on Oak Panel

Clarksville is on I-40 and is at the intersection of the Ozarks and Arkansas River Valley.  Just north of town, the hills rise up.  I actually found this place by "driving" around in Google Maps!  The actual photo reference though was taken first hand a few months ago.  It is still in business but was closed the day we were there.  This was difficult architecture to paint!  There are quite a few interesting subjects in Clarksville that I hope I may get to paint one day and definitely some beautiful places in the Ozarks just to the north of town.

I'm trying to work on some larger pieces right now and I hope I can carry this rough yet painterly style over to those sizes.  It has been an achilles heel of mine that my larger pieces do not have quite the same handling as my smaller pieces.  I think they still look like "me" but just do not have what these small intimate pieces have.  I'm also going to try to have 22 counties complete by the end of this month.  Stay tuned and see how I do!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Jacksonport Courthouse, Jackson County

Jacksonport Courthouse
8X8, Oil on Oak Panel

The weather last weekend here in central Arkansas was fantastic!  We had highs on Saturday in the 70's!  Sunday was pretty decent too so I took a trip up to the Delta in northeast Arkansas to paint and take pictures.  I stopped first at Jacksonport State Park in Jackson County.  The town of Jacksonport is at the confluence of the White and Black Rivers.  Back in the day of steam boats, this was a bustling hub of commerce and the Jackson County courthouse here was a focal point of early pioneer life.  When rail became the transport mode of choice, Jacksonport was supplanted by nearby Newport in terms of both commerce and legal power.  The county seat was moved from Jacksonport to Newport and a new courthouse constructed.  This once marvelous example of Mansord Architecture fell into disuse for many years before being bought in the 1960's by a conservation group and a lengthy restoration begun.  I did two paintings here.  This was my favorite because of the play of light across the highly pitched roofline.  The other I guess I'll do some studio work and maybe post it later.  It's a small 5X7.

After leaving Jacksonport, I explored Newport as the temperature began to drop.  Then I headed east to Poinsett County and the anomolous landform of Crowley's Ridge where I did another small painting which I'll definitely finish out in the studio.  After that, I rolled through Cross county and Woodruff County as clouds rolled in and I rushed to finish picture taking and get home.

I can already tell that painting in the Delta is going to be very different and possibly quite difficult for me.  The sky is very dominant in the flat land of the Delta.  Pure landscapes will be very much skyscapes.  The easy way would be do a bunch of almost identical looking, non-descript fields with distant treelines or grain silos.  But I'm never one to take the easy route. 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Train Yard Nocturne, Perry County

Perry Train Yard
8X10, Oil on Oak Panel

I love a good nocturne and I think I may have finally done one that meets my expectations.  This is a train yard in Perry, AR in Perry County.  We often drive by here after visiting family and it's often at night or early evening.