Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Life on the Madrid Subway II

Recently I took a step beyond drawing subway riders to photographing them unobtrusively. When I was able to make some candid photos of unwitting models one day, I decided to make a series of oil paintings in which I would interpret the photos. The first of these shows a Japanese woman snoozing in her seat. I decided to convert her image into a mask portrait. Based her photo, I made a watercolor study to establish the color scheme. Then I painted the mask in oil on Masonite. Here are the photo, the watercolor and the painting:

Life on the Madrid Subway I

While eating in restaurants, sitting on park benches, on buses and subway cars, I draw. I find all human faces interesting, and I draw the ones I can capture without bothering the subject. Often the subjects never catch on; they're unwitting models. I have to work fast, because even a person who is absorbed by a book, newspaper or cell phone game will often move, and I never know when my models are about to reach their stop and get off. I carry a small drawing pad. Sometimes I use an array of felt tip pens of different shades of gray, sometimes I use a 4B  pencil.......:

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Structures · the search for an inner cosmos

In the early 60s I participated in a painting workshop run by printmaker and painter Robert Freimark (http://www.artnet.com/artists/robert-freimark/9). While he was critiquing the participants' work--we were doing still life paintings--he remarked that some still life paintings could be seen as their creators' vision of the cosmos, their personal microcosmos. 

My abstract paintings come occasionally, as a false respite, a deceptive rest without rest, from representatational work that demands intense concentration on drawing. I find that the process of making an abstract painting is an intuitive search whose destination is unknown. Much more than in my representational work, I proceed by trial and error, asking the painting to tell me what to do next, which path to take. One mass or stroke of color will suggest what color and shape to put down next to it, or opposite it on the other side of the canvas. When I reach the destination--that is, when the painting tells me clearly, "Stop working, I'm done!"--I begin to understand what I was striving to accomplish.  But what I "understand" need not coincide with what you see.

My first intuitive search took me to this:

What does the image above suggest to you? I find heat and energy, movement, the thrusting and twisting of inexorable biological processes: mitosis, digestion, exchanges of gases, fertilization (note the intense red sperm cell on the upper left): the pulsing but ordered structure of the inner cosmos of the human body. None of this occurred to me on a conscious level while I was painting. I was focused on making long, sensuous brush strokes with a brush about 15 centimeters wide, which I made sure was richly loaded with paint. Intensely pigmented paint. Are the colors too intense?

Months later I chose a larger canvas (100 x 81 cm) and resolved to continue to feature a few long, sensuous brush strokes on a harmonious background. I'd read that Peter Paul Rubens, in one of his paintings, had made a twisty brush stroke over one meter long. I wanted to try that. Here's the result of my effort, with at least four long strokes in green:

Title: "Green and Gold Abstract". Again, I devoted no conscious thought to depicting, or even vaguely suggesting, anything recognizable. And when I was finished I saw a natural cosmos, an emblematic landscape where, again, movement and energy, liquids, gases and solids were operating within an orderly structure. The solidity of the green, mountainous earth at the bottom of the composition, a more distant mountain range marking the bottom third of the painting, and perhaps the contour of a third, even more distant range marking off the top third. The rest: light, condensation, rain...life. That was in 1997, a year that produced this small painting done in gouache on paper, whose title is "Rainbow Bird":

Long monochromatic strokes. A solid, tight structure.

My next abstract painting didn't happen until 2002. This is "Pink X":

Nature is still present, and decisive brush stroking. The structure built by the strokes is reminiscent of...a bridge? a building going up? Could be: as a kid I'd enjoyed watching buildings being constructed.
A year later (2003), my chief concern was to work with my favorite colors: Venetian red and golden yellow:

As in the previous paintings, there are long, sinuous strokes. In this painting and in "Pink X", pronounced diagonal forms come aggressively to the fore. Here, my intuitive search somehow led me to produce a textured shape reminiscent of skeletal muscles; I'd gone back inside the body.

A commission I received in 2007 produced "Structures", an 81 x 100 cm painting whose forms and composition were based on Chinese scrolls:

The person who gave me the commission wanted a painting based on the earlier "Green and Gold Abstract", which she'd seen and liked, but with a horizonal format and using her preferred colors.
2008 brought further structures ("Structures II" · 100 x 65 cm):

And "Blue Delta" · 100 x 65 cm: 

 Three years passed before I spontaneously decided to do another abstract, with no conscious intention whatsoever but to use the colors I had on my palette at that moment:   

"Structures III"

During the process of painting "Structures III", the only aspect that came to concern me was ensuring a balanced composition and a harmonious equilibrium between the blue areas and the areas in the complementary color (orange). 
What's going on in this series of paintings? Am I simply being redundant, or am I unwittingly hammering out an inner perception of order?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

How Portraits Develop

Apart from the sketches I make of strangers on the subway, in restaurants or in public parks, most of my portraits are made from photographs. Sometimes I take the photos, and sometimes I'll clip a photo I find arresting out of a newspaper. The two portraits below, done over ten years ago, are exceptional in that they were first drawn from black and white newspaper photos. 

Drawing, of course, is really nothing more than looking intently at a subject. If you really look at what you're drawing, what you get down on paper will represent that subject faithfully, rather than reflecting clichés and bits of visual short-hand stored largely in the left cerebral hemisphere. The left brain tends to be highly linear, deductive and rational, and quite impatient with the slow absorption of contours and detail you need while you're drawing. When your visual perception of something you're drawing is dominated by the left brain, it tends to pull out a simplified symbolic representation of that thing rather than letting you look at it long and lovingly. That's why many people who have not been trained to draw will often, for example, draw a human head in profile with an almond-shaped eye seen from the frontal position; they're drawing what they know and remember about the eye, not what they're seeing.

When drawing, painting or sculpting, you want to unchain the right brain and let it dominate your efforts to see and represent, albeit with inevitable and necessary coordination with the left side. The right hemisphere tends to be more holistic and intuitive, less rational, less linear, less deductive and more engaged by details.

So I use drawing to get acquainted with my subject.

 Preliminary drawing for "Centenarian" · Sanguine and charcoal pencil

 "Centenarian" · Oil on canvas

The model for the drawing and subsequent painting was a black and white newspaper photograph of a one-hundred-year-old woman. What I enjoy about working from a black and white photo is that it grants me complete freedom to invent the color scheme that most appeals to me. I used Venetian red to create a feeling of aged, weathered sandstone in the woman's face.

 Conté crayon study for "Screaming Brazilian Stockbroker"

"Screaming Brazilian Stockbroker" · Oil on canvas

In the preliminary conté crayon drawing, I developed my intention to distort and exaggerate the lower half of the stockbroker's face to underline the man's strong emotion and impulse to be heard. I tried to convey his stress and aggression further by using intense yellow to paint his face and neck.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Two Women

Blue Nude · oil on paper
 Belly Dancer · oil on paper

Madrid Skyscapes

From the fourth floor window of my workroom, not far from the Manzanares River, I can see a colony of white storks, a shantytown, mesas made of landfill, an electric power substation, the Madrid skyline, the Guadarrama mountains...and a massive, unobstructed stretch of sky. Three avatars of that sky, painted in oil on primed Masonite:

Moving forward

 Calvados Drinkers · A spontaneous initial study done in acrylic on paper

Calvados Drinkers · The finished painting in oil on primed Masonite. 

My aims: an intense confrontation of the viewer intended to jolt him or her into burrowing into the psyche of the two people portrayed. Means: aggressive color, sensuous impasto.

Why I draw and paint

Painting helps me make sense of my life. Making images forces me to look intensely at nature, colors, people, contours, objects and their shapes and relationships with one another and the space around them.

I'll strive here to publish some of the best of my work, and in some cases to explain not its meaning, but its evolution and the aims I pursued as the work progressed.