Friday, August 11, 2006

On Painting on Location:

Another entry from Robert Glenn's Twice Weeklies... If nothing else, read the three line habit near the bottom. It's in bold:

The mother lode

I'm laptopping you at midnight from a bedroll under the Milky Way. We're on a rock-strewn sandbar beside Lone Cabin Creek where it enters the Fraser River in the Cariboo region of Western Canada. The cabin has long since gone, along with the
hardy miners in their search for alluvial gold. So far we've traveled over 150 miles down the Fraser's moderate rapids--and there's nobody else in sight. Today, on this bar, we have been seekers of beauty and awe--another kind of gold.

All day, between thunder and squalls of rain, my friends and I have painted. The gusts of wind and blown sand have given a sparkling texture to our efforts. I find that quality work, on location, is hard won. Panoramas such as this have a variety
and complexity that defies stuffing it all into one painting. The trick here is to try to analyze and understand the nature of the various elements and reduce them to basic forms. Pillars, erratics, fans, igneous and sedimentary rocks, flint and shale, slate and limestone. Pines spaced and patterned in specific places of sustenance. Fast-moving sky above the ramparts. Foreground material is tumbled and combined every which way. There's an education in geology here--and an ore-body with refining problems for artists.

"To be a painter you need a heightened sense of observation," said Winston Churchill. It's not just a matter of looking, but of seeing and understanding. Outdoor painters need a camera—free analysis of the mechanics of form and the basic
knowledge of how things work. While form follows function and compositional design generally takes precedence over form, there's a simple three-piece habit that is worth its weight in gold:

Look three times and try to understand.
Think twice about what it is you are seeing.
Paint once with economy and audacity.

The transition from understanding to commitment can be a slow process--but in places like this we are talking geological time. What's a few million years? Besides, this may be, probably is, the last time I'll be here. For artists, this knowledge makes clear our eternal privilege and obligation. "Look thy last on all things lovely, every hour." (Walter de la Mare)

1 comment:

Rebecca Bush said...


It reminds me of the inscription on Brandon Lee's gravestone, next to Dad, Bruce Lee's grave, in the cemetary on Capitol Hill near my house:

"Because we don't know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that's so deeply a part of your being that you can't even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more. Perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless."

It's a great way to think about why we make art. To capture perhaps that fleeting moment, a little bit of immortalitiy. Thanks for sharing that, Tara! I SO want to run off landscape painting somewhere right now! :)