Nicholas Baxter

Blog posts tagged “Leonardo”

On The Road 12: Spring and Summer Plein Air Adventures

I’ve been so busy painting in the studio for an upcoming exhibition of all new still lifes (announcements soon!) that I forgot to post about my spring and summer landscape painting fun.

Part I: April

At the beginning of April I was in Arizona, where as soon as I get out of Phoenix, I’m reminded why it’s one of my favorite nature states: so much variety of vast and mentally cleansing wild terrain! On this trip I had the good fortune of being able to paint the low desert in the south and then venture north of Flagstaff to paint the completely different high desert plains.

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Salt River, Tonto National Forest, oil on panel, 9 x 12 inches, 2016

high-plains-wupatki-national-monument-lowres

High Plains, Wupatki National Monument, oil on panel, 9 x 12 inches, 2016

Part II: May

In late April I headed to the motherland of classical art for some work and pleasure. First stop was Venice, where I was too busy to paint, but caught some great iPhone snaps (not hard to do basically anywhere in Italy) with my now-antiquated 5s .

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As the calendar turned to May, I traveled with friends to the lush hills of Tuscany, where I had the opportunity to experience the best views the entire region has to offer–from the mountains further inland (overlooking Leonardo’s birthplace Vinci) to the stunning Mediterranean coast–and produced these two plein air studies.

That's me underneath the arch. Photos courtesy of Luca Natalini

That’s me underneath the arch. Photos courtesy of Luca Natalini

view-from-monsummano-alto-lowres

View From Monsummano Alto, oil on canvas panel, 8 x 10 inches, 2016

Lerici Sunset, oil on panel, 4 x 6 inches, 2016

Lerici Sunset, oil on panel, 4 x 6 inches, 2016

In between travels I managed to squeeze in a plein air session while home in Austin, on the occasion of a few artist friends being in town. We made the short drive out to one of the city’s little natural treasures, McKinney Falls State Park, which boasts some active waterfalls and a variety of interesting rock formations with a kind of outer space vibe.

Lower McKinney Falls, oil on canvas panel, 8 x 10 inches, 2016

Lower McKinney Falls, oil on canvas panel, 8 x 10 inches, 2016

Part III: June

In June I ventured to the altitudes of Lake Tahoe for the first time, and got roasted by the deceptively strong summer sun while painting the beautiful vistas of Heavenly Mountain and Emerald Bay.

Western View From Heavenly, oil on panel, 4 x 6 inches, 2016

Western View From Heavenly, oil on panel, 4 x 6 inches, 2016

Emerald Bay, oil on panel, 11 x 5 inches, 2016

Emerald Bay, oil on panel, 11 x 5 inches, 2016

On the eve of my departure I caught an ultra-quick sunset session as the haze from California wildfires filtered out some magical orange and pink rays. Since I only had time to block in a quick impression of the scene, I revisited the piece after I returned home in order to smooth everything out and push the atmosphere.

Lake Tahoe Sunset, oil on panel, 11 x 5 inches, 2016

Lake Tahoe Sunset, oil on panel, 11 x 5 inches, 2016

Part IV: July

In July I visited Ireland for the second time, but first as a plein air painter, and was excited about the opportunities for new environs. The Emerald Isle did not disappoint as I found my way into the mountains south of Dublin for a quick session, then to the picturesque Howth coastline just north of the city, which had me most nostalgic for my boyhood summers on Cape Cod here in the States.

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Keeping my painting out of the rain.

Mountain Stream With View, oil on panel, 11 x 4 inches, 2016

Mountain Stream With View, oil on panel, 11 x 4 inches, 2016

One of the only moments of the day without any tourists in the shot.

One of the only moments of the day without any tourists in the shot.

Baily Lighthouse at Howth Head, oil on panel, 8 x 10 inches, 2016

Baily Lighthouse at Howth Head, oil on panel, 8 x 10 inches, 2016

Anatomical Study from Cadavers

One major artistic discipline for which I have the least formal study is anatomy. I find the human figure and its underlying structures infinitely challenging in all of the complex shapes, sizes and movements they’re capable of. I’ve logged many hours of figure drawing practice from live models as well as a few painting sessions but never have had the opportunity for long term, in-depth study, starting from the inside out. Which is why I jump at the chance for any opportunity to briefly work on this artistic area, and recently was given a rare and unique invitation to observe and paint a cadaver dissection at a local training facility for medical school and EMS students.

Knowing about the rich artistic tradition of anatomical study from cadavers, which began in earnest during the Renaissance in Europe, I was thrilled to uphold and carry forward this practice as a contemporary artist. In recent times the tradition has mostly faded, and I relish the privilege I was given for a day to revive it and link my artistic practice to that of the old masters and forefathers of modern Western art, like Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Titian, among others.

Leonardo Da Vinci, Studies of the Shoulder and Neck, c. 1509-1510

Leonardo Da Vinci, Studies of the Shoulder and Neck, c. 1509-1510

Which isn’t to say that I regard myself to be in their rarified company in any way whatsoever, especially artistically. My accomplishments and artwork are quite meager in comparison with their mastery and all they left us with. What I mean is that, they started and passed on a beautiful tradition of deep artistic study melded with science–a tradition that I, in some small way, have been able to carry on, by practicing in a similar manner.

This day of training, although completely fascinating and enthralling, was not easy. We were set up in an examination room kept around the temperature of a refrigerator, due to, of course, the presence of a draped cadaver in the center of the room. Needless to say, these temperatures are difficult to be in for long periods of time without a lot of physical activity to keep one’s blood flowing and core temperature at a comfortable level. So after a while, painting with cold stiff fingers and shivering chest became the biggest challenge…and amusingly, allowed me to relate in a strange way to the severed and dissected arm of the cadaver perched on a crumpled medical drape in front of me, cold and stiff in its own way.

After observing the technician peel back the layers of skin and fascia on the forearm, all the while listening intently to his explanations of the detailed anatomy and its functioning, my friend James and I then watched in amazement as the arm was severed at the shoulder joint (quite easily) from its cadaver, and placed before us for further study. I gloved up and made a pleasing arrangement with it, and then got to work for a short hour and a half oil sketching session. Here’s the final result of an amazing day of learning and painting:

Study of an Arm, oil on panel, 9 x 12 inches, 2016

Study of an Arm, oil on panel, 9 x 12 inches, 2016

Death & Rebirth

I’ve noticed throughout the various efforts of my life that the completion of any large, time consuming project ushers forth what I’d like to call an energy vacuum.  In this cosmic void is where, given the abrupt surplus of “free time” and mental energy, I suddenly grapple with all manner of restless limbs, anxious neuroses and existential crises which had no life in the formerly airtight seal of goal-oriented focus I’m capable of (for better and, clearly, for worse).

I’d compare this phenomenon with what many historians and political scientists refer to as a “power vacuum.”  This comparison, to me, seems obvious, as I believe the phenomenon follows the fundamental metaphysical principles of the universe–and of all matter, for that matter.  Life, or energy, rushes in to fill all voids; the kind of energy involved is irrelevant, as is whether it’s great or it sucks for nearby humans.

Anyway, this time around, trying to avoid the free-fall after a steady climb up to that cliff called “achievement,” I seized the opportunity to run off the fumes of my recently finished painting series and finished some older abandoned pieces, a few random and experimental “lesser works.”  One of which was the topic of a recent blog entry.

Here’s the end result of that experiment:

Rebirth

"Rebirth" Oil on Canvas, 18 x 36 in, 2011-12

Which segued perfectly into remembering I had a tiny 5 x 7 inch half-assed underpainting laying around the studio, mocking me for the past 3 years.  So I silenced its unconsummated, jeering voice and finished that sucker, thus reversing the Bad Artistic Karma I’d accumulated from that former abandonment. (Note: Artistic Karma is a concept I explain in my painting book that I put out in 2010.  Look for a future post on that. But for now, how’s this for some more good Artistic Karma: my previous post featuring a reference to Leonardo Da Vinci was written and made live–unbeknownst to me at the time–exactly on Da Vinci’s birthday.)

Endgame 1

"Endgame 1", Oil on Canvas, 5 x 7 in, 2009-12

A barren, scorched landscape dominated by a central phallic symbol, imposing and rough.  The aftermath of mankind’s masculine aggression against Mother Earth. The finish line of industrial civilization’s race to oblivion. Totally Fucked.  Still unsure of what to call it… “Endgame 1”?  I like the sound of that for now. A little nod in the direction of one of the more important contemporary writers on this topic.

Nothing too impressive, but nonetheless, a satisfying little exploration of atmospheric effects on a small scale.

I can see some more experiments with this theme and subject matter in my future…I really want to tackle some realistic landscapes–with a twist. But for now, here’s to beating ennui and apathy and Living Without Dead Time.

 

Then, And Now 2

While looking through a file cabinet today I unearthed a relic from one of my more memorable childhood artistic phases, centered around a lively obsession with the comic book, cartoon, toy, and eventual movie franchise Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I’m not sure how old I was when I produced this mess masterpiece, but thankfully my skills have developed since that time.

I often wonder, with no shortage of amusement, if the seed of my current deep appreciation for the Italian Renaissance masters was planted as a child by these cultural icons of my 80’s generation.

 

Leonardo

I find it fascinating, in hindsight, the attention I paid to more intricate anatomical details like veins, even at this young age...

The Apostasy

...considering how this focus has remained and evolved up to the present day.