This past month I unearthed a bunch of tiny frames from my studio storage for the purpose of painting little gifts for friends and family this holiday season. I’d been collecting these things at various vintage stores and yard sales for the past several years for just such an occasion. Looking to tap into the peace and simplicity of painting outdoors during this colder (mostly) indoors season, I decided to attempt some miniature landscapes for these frames.
Various miniatures, oil on canvas paper, 2015
For the first time since embarking on my landscape painting journey about a year ago, I worked from photos rather than “en plein air.” Although unable to immerse myself in the atmosphere and unique light properties of the setting, I found the photos an incredibly effective practice modality due to the minimum of mental conversion needed in the controlled studio environment. The unchanging two-dimensional photo and the optimal lighting conditions were a great way to narrow down the variables in the artistic equation, freeing up my memory to attempt to rekindle some of the original vibe of these landscape locations, as well as focus on fundamentals like color matching and painting technique. I imagine this being somewhat similar to what the Hudson River School masters experienced in their studios, working strictly from memory and their plein air field studies.
Miraflores Beach at Night, oil on linen panel, 4 x 6 inches, 2015
Full Moon Sunset Over East Austin, oil on linen panel, 4 x 6 inches (oval), 2015
Each of these tiny paintings were completed with the alla-prima technique over the course of a single 2-3 hour session, including the lone non-landscape study of the inside of an apheresis blood cassette (random, I know…more on this in the coming months, hopefully…), which was a gift for my phlebotomist friend.
The inspiration for this painting came largely from oysters and their far more notorious contents: pearls.
The pearl has been a symbol of magic and purity throughout antiquity and across many varied cultures, from Western religions like Christianity to Eastern spiritual traditions such as Buddhism.
Soul thumbnail sketch, ink on paper.
In this painting a pearlescent lump of vibrant, growing flesh represents the human “soul,” or the mysterious essence of life that animates the decaying physical body, and for which modern science still has no complete understanding or explanation. Quite ironically, the only representation of this lifeforce that we mortals seem able to discern with any reliability is its supposed opposite: the physical embodiment.
Here, its life-giving energy is co-opted by the encasement of confining machinery, which can be seen as representing the limited human form, and in a broader sense, the inescapable yet corroded impositions of society and culture.
Soul, 11 x 14 inches, oil on mounted linen panel, 2015
The contrast between the hard and soft elements of this picture illustrates the human struggle to find meaning and fulfillment in the precarious balancing of vulnerability and armament. The title Soul references the mystery of what it is that makes our atoms vibrate with life, and our consciousness self-aware.
Written by N.C. Wyeth in a letter to his son Andrew:
The great men forever radiate a sharp sense of that profound requirement of an artist, to fully understand that consequences of what he creates are unimportant. Let the motive for action be in the action itself and not in the event. I know from my own experience that when I create with any degree of strength and beauty I have no thought of consequences. Anyone who creates for effect—to score a hit—does not know what he is missing!
In other words, paint what you love to paint, what feels true to you, what your passion leads you to create…regardless of how commercially successful it may or may not be, or what current trends or critics endorse as currently fashionable. Let go of worry over results and simply show up to do the work! Important words for any artist questioning their output or their vision (as we all should).