Sunday, September 08, 2013

One Show Up, Another Coming Up

The painting that I discussed in my last blog post is now finished and on exhibit at the Asheville Area Arts Council.  It wasn't quite down to the wire, but kinda close - I signed it about 24 hours it was hung.

Oil on canvas, 40"x50"

It was quite a lot of fun to do this painting.  I built it using my old picture-development techniques.  I thought about what I'd want to communicate, I searched through images looking for ideas, did some sketching, and then cut out, recombined, altered, added, deleted, and changed things until I had something to work with.  Then I transferred the rough outline to canvas and started painting.  You can see some of the process in a series of photos on my website at

You don't see the whole story there, though, particularly what went into the overall concept.  I started with the idea of painting something that reflected my experiences in Afghanistan.  For some reason, I connected with the image of the guy in green in this painting.  He had been at an evening meeting we had with our district governor.  I never saw him before or after.  He seemed to be pretty sharp, paid close attention to what was being said, had a good sense of humor, but never said a word.  I knew then that I wanted to draw him, but that wasn't in the cards that night.  Fortunately, we had somebody with us who took a whole lot of photographs, so I had about two dozen to work with.

But a single guy didn't tell much of a story.  I added in the elder, who is based on one that we worked closely with, a really neat guy who was a mujahedeen leader against the Russians many years ago.  But two guys wasn't enough, either.  Since I had an elder and an adult, I tried adding a young man, somebody whose age made him susceptible to Taliban recruitment.  I worked on their expressions and finally settled on having the elder be the one to be actively engaged, the adult to be open but a bit skeptical, and the youth to be potentially hostile.  That pretty much mirrored my experiences.  To further confuse things, I thought that the Afghans should be offering hospitality (symbolized by the tea and plate of nuts), but also show a potential threat symbolized by the AK47 leaning against the wall.

Next was a setting.  I tried it outside in a courtyard, surrounded by villagers, but that was just too busy, so I moved it indoors.  Initially, the door was closed, but then I thought that it would be good to open the door and establish a connection with the local environment.  That lasted a while until I realized that the open door pulled the viewer's attention away from the Afghans, and it also messed with the lighting.  So I closed it again.  That was the last "creative" decision in the painting.  Everything after that was in trying to execute the painting to the best of my ability.

I learned a lot out of this exercise.  Probably the most important thing is that I need to go a lot further with the drawing stage and work out a lot of issues long before a brush goes on canvas.  The question of whether the door should be open or closed, for example, should have been determined that way.  There were a lot of questions about lighting, colors, and values that I was wrestling with unnecessarily in the later stages.  So I need to stay with the drawing much longer.

It also seems to me that the painting is a bit stiff.  I over-painted too many areas with too great a level of detail.  I kept thinking of how somebody like Sargent would indicate a hand, which is with amazingly few strokes of the brush, or how he'd depict the plate or glasses.  I spent way too much time and paint on mine; his would have been done with a few flicks and looked much better.  So I need to work on that.

But the painting is done and in an exhibit.  We had a good turnout for the opening on Friday night.  I got to see a lot of old friends that I hadn't seen in a long time (years, in some cases).  Two of the other artists sold their work, which is always cool.  I had several good discussions about mine.  In this picture, mine is the one that's catching the full blast of sunlight on the left wall.

But the title of this post alludes to another show coming up.  That's true: I've been invited to participate in an exhibition of veterans' artworks in November.  The show is being curated by somebody out of Washington and will actually be shown in Michigan City, Indiana, which is on the coast of Lake Michigan, a bit east of Chicago.  The actual works that will go are still to be determined.  I'll keep you posted.

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