Dateline: Mitchell, Oregon, Day 6, Sept 11, 2011

Today Jer went to Paulina, Post, and Prineville, where he got milk and cereal and gas. I stayed at Hollyhock Cottage and worked on the three partly finished paintings.

Here are the paintings, in the order of today’s workings:

JOU, Basalt Formations at Picture Gorge, Sept 2011, 30 x 40″, oil on canvas

JOU, The Painted Hills, 2011, 18 x 24″, oil on masonite.

JOU, The Hills at the Painted Hills, 2011, 12 x 24″, oil on masonite

The first large painting appears too dark on my laptop, but I can’t trust this kind of screen for accurate color. So if it looks too dark, we know where to place the blame. The leaves on the bottom left of the painting are exotic terrain, introduced by actual leaves that the painting got placed behind.

Tomorrow we will go off in search of something else to paint. Surely there will be something:-) June

Paintings from the Sandgren Workshop

[Ed. note: this is a re-posting from the southeastmain blog]

By june

I’m finally ready to post the paintings from the Sandgren Workshop, not because they are fascinating and wonderful, but because, well, because it’s time.

I did six paintings in three days, and then I reworked them in the studio. Five of the paintings were single framed views; the sixth was a stab at making ambiguous space. One of the paintings was so bad it’s now face-down in the studio.

Day 1, at Seal Rock State Park, south of  Newport, Oregon, on the coast:

JOU, Seal Rock Park 1, 16 x 12″, oil on masonite, 2011

JOU, Seal Rock Park 2, 12 x 16″, oil on masonite, 2011

For years, I have pondered the difficulty of painting treescapes immersed within brushy, unfocused areas. Perhaps ambiguous, unoriented, fragmented space might do it, but here, it’s “just” a matter of painting the light through the fog. Now I should have known about light through trees long ago, but insights seem to come slowly to me. This was an incidental insight from Eric Sandgren, the workshop instructor. He spoke a lot about layering of planes, but demoed the light, and that  stuck with me.

Day 2, Cummins Creek at Neptune State Park on Cape Perpetua, south of Yachats

JOU, From Cummins Creek Park, 16 x 12″, oil on masonite, 2011

JOU, Cummins Creek Tree, 16 x 12″, oil on masonite, 2011

Day 2 was sunny and bright, unlike day one, when the advantage of painting trees under the trees was that one didn’t get dripped on. The general palettes of the two days were quite different, of course, and Eric got to home in on color intensity as well as value. He nattered on about warm and cool colors, a concept which I theoretically have understood for years, but never worked in nuance before. So I practiced seeing warms and cools where they weren’t obvious, and did as suggested with the intense ultramarine in the ocean on the first painting of the day.

After I got home, I reworked these paintings, and in doing so I lost their freshness. I am disappointed in how they turned out but not in what I learned as I fussed and fretted over getting a rhythm and sequence to the materials. So during and after day 2, I’m thinking “layering, intensity of hue, values, rhythm and sequencing, and planes.”  Well, I tried to think of those things, serially and all at once. Multitasking at its most difficult, particularly as I am supposed to be handling a paint brush at the same time….

Day 3, North Park, Yachats (which isn’t called that anywhere but in Eric’s handouts. But it’s so obvious that misnomer didn’t matter)

JOU, Yachats across the Bay, 24 x 12″, oil on masonite, 2011

I had gone to the Sandgren workshop hoping to deal with the vexed question of painting something more than the framed, monocular perspective, the traditional view of ocean and land. The Yachats painting was my attempt to incorporate larger issues into an ocean painting. It, like the two from the previous day, has a lot of flaws, including serious overworking in the studio. However, it contains all the elements of ambiguous space that I need to do it again, better.

The conditions on Day 3 are the stuff of plein air legend — I had on four layers, a hat and gloves, the wind howled and the rain spat, and it wasn’t until 2 PM that it warmed up enough for me to take off my gloves and undo the top button on my coat. Nevertheless I was pleased to have found one way to work toward capturing the oceanic space as well as the sense of the whole scene as one might view it from various places. Eric’s insistence upon planar composition made sense to me in a way that years of thinking about shapes as a compositional basic never has.

So, while the final products may have been lackluster, my sense of excitement in cementing some ideas that I have circled for years continues. –June

Benton, Pollock, and, um, Underwood

As I explored in previous posts (here, here, and here), I’m continuing my quest for compositional methods and ways of seeing that can give me a framework for my mostly intuitive working.

Thomas Hart Benton and scholars discussing his work have dissected his use of vertical spirals, collage-like murals, and falling-into-your-lap figuration.

Thomas Hart Benton, The Arts of the West, 94 x 159″  1932

Jackson Pollock, a younger follower,  friend and admirer of Benton’s, used Benton’s compositional techniques to achieve very different effects:

Jackson Pollock, Number 31, 1950

Pollock, when asked why he didn’t go to France to learn how to make great art, replied, “It’s here. It’s not in Paris. It used to be with Benton but now it’s with me.” (as quoted in Henry Adams, Tom and Jack, the Intertwined Lives of Thomas Hart Benson and Jackson Pollock, Kindle edition, location 2509)

While the connections seem strained at first glance, other art scholars also note continuities between Pollock and Jackson:  Jonathan Fineberg, in Art since 1940, says,

Benton’s adulation of ‘American’ frontier masculinity must have appealed to Pollock.  Benton’s work, reinforced by the example of the Mexican muralists, sowed the seeds for the emergence of a grand scale and an epic quality in Pollock’s painting of the forties.

Jackson Pollock, Mural, 1943

And to quote from Adams again,

All-encompassing principles of design are what make [Benton’s] painting work, and once we recognize this fact it also becomes not too difficult to grasp that what we see in [Pollock’s Mural]… are qualities that go back to what Pollock had learned from Thomas Hart Benton. The basic compositional system of the painting — vertical poles, arranged in a lateral sequence, which serve as the locus of spiraling rhythms — derives from the methods that Benton laid out in his articles in the series [entitled] “The Mechanics of Form: Organization in Painting.”  … For years, Pollock had been slowly drifting away from Benton’s influence. In Mural he returned to the principles of his master, if not in terms of surface imagey, in terms of format, and compositional structure and fundamental expressive purpose.

[Adams quotes painter/sculptor Harry Jackson]: He [Pollock] admired Tom Benton and he wanted to be able to do what Tom dreamed of doing, that is, to make Great and Heroic paintings for America. He was painfully aware of not being able to do it the way he wished and he was determined to do it the way he could.”

And then Adams says what we are all thinking:

Of course, one would never confuse Pollock’s final product with a Benton. The brushwork is too wild, the drawing too strange, the figures (if they are figures) too difficult to make out. But given these elements, which had also appeared in Pollock’s earlier work, it is evident that Pollock was now starting to organize them in a different way…. The discipline is in the composition, which is now unified, so that everything forms part of a web of visual movement…. By going back to Benton’s principles he had found a way to be even wilder than before and yet to make paintings that held together.

So what does this have to do with JOU/June O. Underwood’s paintings (and the ostensible reason for this blog). Well, here’s one way it worked for me.

Recently, for a number of reasons, I have been painting barns, plein air. I have discovered a rather methodical way to get to my studio-painted, larger, and for me most exciting works; I do a bunch of plein air studies, meant to be rather mundane but decent paintings which can hold their own over the couch, and then, in the studio, try to transform them into larger, more complex composites of the plein air experience, vision, and memories. In the last post, many of those studies along with the composite versions, were reviewed by Sam Underwood.

My barns, unlike bridges and city-scapes,  have their origins in the horizontal high desert of eastern Oregon. Barns as structures, may obtrude into the landscape but they are shapes rather than lines, and so their verticality translates into paintings less like poles and more like hulking forms:

JOU, Buckhorn Ranch Barn, 12 x 16″, oil on masonite, 2011

Even when placed at a distance, they are still shapes, not transparent or spiralling verticals:

JOU, Grain Silos, Eastern Oregon, 16 x 12″, oil on masonite, 2011

Shapes are nice but they don’t provide the vertical spirals around which a canvas can be organized. They tend to be solid, often stolid, while my painting pushes toward movement and a tension of swirls — more Benton and Pollock than Morandi.

In light of my thinking about Benton and Pollock, however, in the studio work on barns, I found a solution which came out of rational thinking and then extended itself intuitively.

JOU, Barn Memories, 34 x 36″, Oil on canvas, 2011

 

JOU, Barn Interior, 9 x 22″”, Oil on masonite, 2011

Barn Memories was the result of intentionally working the struts, beams and supports of a barn interior across the face of underlying barn scenes from the high desert. Of course, ultimately I had to go to memories and personal experiences to choose visual and emotive materials (see the process on my personal blog, southeastmain), but the recognition that a barn interior with its exposed structure and porous, unfinished exterior through which light and scenery could enter, was a direct result of consciously seeking a compositional structure like Benton’s and Pollocks.

Barn Interior was done after Memories, using the same elements with different emotive qualities. The proportions of the support are also different, providing a very different dynamic of horizontals and verticals.

These two paintings provide the first conscious pushes in my studio painting to integrate a reasoned approach with an intuitive one. And the cerebral knowledge comes directly from research on Benton’s compositional theories. –June

Below, in the continuum, are a sampling of my paintings, from 2007 through 2011, which intuitively worked toward the vertical, in your face, spiraling movement and sprawl of the Benton/Pollock concepts. For me, they provide concrete evidence that this process integrates my spontaneous painting processes with my more “thinky” approach.

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