Saturday, March 21, 2009

Art Thoughts

In my last post, I mentioned some oil sketches I've done since being home. Here they are:

Janis, oil on panel, 9"x12"

Soozee, oil on panel, 6"x9"

Robin, oil on panel, 20"x16"

It sure has been good to push some paint around again.  I'm going to send my oil paints to myself in Iraq and use them instead of those crappy acrylics.  It has also been great to paint from life again.  In Baghdad, I had to use photos, but here I've been able to work from my wife (Janis), my dog (Soozee), and a model (Robin).  There's such a tremendous difference in working from life.  The human eye sees things quite a bit differently than the camera does.  It picks up on subtle shapes and colors.  Skin tones, for example, are very different, even in areas that are adjacent to each other: one area will have a warm golden glow, another will be a pale and cool neutral, and another will have rich reds.  But to the camera, they'll all be the same light tan color.  And real people (and dogs) move around a bit, so you may start a painting with the subject in one position and end up with the subject in something completely different.  That may or may not be a problem, but it's something artists have to deal with.

Now that I can work from life again, I'm trying something a bit different with my figures, and you can see it with Robin above.  I'm playing more with distortions, stretching or compressing the figure, and deliberately not trying for a highly accurate representation.  I'm looking at what painting can do that photography cannot.  And in painting, the figure can be distorted for expressive effects.  When the figure is drawn in an extremely accurate manner, I find that I notice the artist's technical skill and not so much what he/she was trying to say.  When the figure is a bit distorted, then the expressive element is much easier to see.  But it still must be based in reality.  Many artists go straight into imaginary figures; I've found that whenever I do that, the image sucks.  Figures constantly surprise me: they take different shapes than what I think they should, or the color or shadows are very different.  When I put these surprises into the painting, even if the figure is distorted, it gives the painting a veracity that can't be faked.  For an example of what I'm talking about, go take a look at Peter Howson's web site.

On a slightly different note, a friend sent me an article about L. Paul Bremer.  Bremer was the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) - he was the de facto dictator for Iraq after the fall of Hussein.  Bremer is the guy who ordered the abolition of the armed forces and the de-Baathification of the government, decisions which were disastrous and whose ramifications are still being felt today.  Now, it appears, he has decided to become an artist, and he has a web site where you can see and buy his paintings.  I took a look.  I'm not sure which job he was worse at: being a dictator or being an artist.  At least as an artist, he's not having too much of a negative impact on the world, just on those poor souls who actually buy his stuff.  And no, I won't give you a link to his site.

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