This is an old painting. I didn’t like the foreground, so decided to repaint it with an alfresco, white table cloth and a vase of roses. It’s a southern scene, inviting the viewer to pull up a chair and sit in the shade of the garden. As usual, the image isn’t quite right. There is more rich color that doesn’t show up in the photograph.
Despite the Pandemic last summer, I did manage to get out and kayak around a couple bodies of water. When I saw this giant rock, I immediately thought of the Finnish myth of Aino again. I’ve painted Aino before but not with any of her watery crew. This isn’t actually meant to represent Aino–I’ll save that idea for another painting–rather, it is an ode to the time-honored tradition of skinny dipping in northern lakes. Sun and cold water. There’s nothing like it to make you feel alive!
Koeppel Barn, Old World Wisconsin, 8×10
Okay, I’ve been busy making some modifications — read “improvements” — to my house lately, resulting in not that much plein air painting, but I did drive down to Old World Wisconsin in Eagle to reconnoiter about a month ago. I’d been there numerous times when my daughter was young, but it was a pleasure to return after years…..I formed the plan to come down and paint AND I FOLLOWED THROUGH!
First let me say, the color in the above photograph is skewed towards the magenta. When I paint soil, it isn’t pure Terracotta, especially when I’m painting Wisconsin soil. The painting is better than the photograph of it, but this is just a Blog. One of these days I will become interested enough in photography to accurately reproduce the colors in a painting. (Actually, it could come down to replacing equipment. I used to take pictures with a Rebel XTi, but am now using a little point-and-shoot I bought for my trip to Santorini and Crete. I’m finding it tends towards overexposure.)
Anyway, I rigged this Plein Air Wagon out of an old golf club caddy, rubber bungee cords and old 5 gallon paint buckets. I had to carry my easel, wet panel carrier and pallette over my shoulder and under my arm, but I could walk quite a distance with this rig.
In the end, I used only the lower bucket, fastened with a bungee cord. I couldn’t stabilize the upper bucket. I’m still working on the problem. You can see it next to me on location below with one bucket only. Notice that the handle of the caddy isn’t
pointing straight up. The first day, I had the handle straight up, making the bucket almost horizontal when I pulled it. Almost all the mineral spirits in my solvent container leaked out. I changed the angle of the handle.
I stayed overnight with my sister-in-law, Barb, and returned the next day.
Actually, the painting above as well as the picture of me painting are both from the second day. The first day was very hot and I neglected to bring a compass to clue me in as to which way the sun would go. I set up in front of the Danish Pedersen Farm, thinking the shadows would lengthen towards my location,….but they didn’t. I stood and painted in the hot sun with perspiration trickling down my face….And I hate that…!
So, I’m giving myself credit for persevering. It’s a new future for me, involving discomfort. I’m forcing myself to embrace it!
From May 13 to May 15, I took a Plein Air Workshop from Mary Pettis in Taylor’s Falls, MN. I’d noticed Mary’s paintings for several years in Art Collector magazine and googled her to see more. When I found out she lived in Taylor’s Falls, a river town on one of the routes between here and my hometown, Aitkin, I looked to see whether she ever taught workshops and she did! I signed up for her mailing list right away.
I’ve tried Plein Air painting a couple of times in the past, with discouraging results, but know it to be an absolutely necessary step in my development as a painter, … if there’s going to be a development, that is.
In the week before the Workshop, I was cramming Richard Schmid’s Alla Prima, buying wet panel cases and getting acquainted with some different pigments, like Transparent Red Oxide, which is actually a brown. Mary, on right above is encouraging and gives excellent instruction, so I highly recommend taking a workshop. She’s completely charming and virtually every other student in the class began their introduction with, “I love Mary!” I will probably take another, after some practice.
Mary, on right below is encouraging and gives excellent instruction, so I highly recommend taking a workshop. She’s completely charming and virtually every other student in the class began their introduction with, “I love Mary!” I will probably take another, after some practice. The topmost painting in this blog entry is the painting I started on our first afternoon out. We usually went out around 1:00 and quit around 4:00 to regroup in her studio. It took me a lot longer than the others to select a site. I tramped around feeling utterly clueless and disorganized supply-and-equipment-wise. Eventually I settled, wearing a full length, Lands’ End Down Chalet Coat of Mary’s in order not to freeze. The temperature was in the forties.
The painting didn’t look like it does now — I finished it last week from the lilacs in my own yard and painted the cedar and honeysuckle from memory. It didn’t look as bad as I’d thought it might on the day though, so I was encouraged. One of the big differences, besides the changing light and complexity of nature, in plein air painting is using big brushes, plenty of paint and
trying to create a picture “alla prima,” in other words, in one session. I was helped in completing this picture in that it was relatively dry underneath now, so I didn’t have to apply paint so thickly in order not to disturb the underpainting. The second picture down is from Day Two. I was helped at the end by Mary, so I don’t take full credit for it. The artist in the clearing is Cindy McDonnell. We traded paintings at the end of our Workshop and I made out like a bandit. She gave me a framed flower painting on silk.
Mary’s studio is full of paintings of her past work, which she keeps on display because she learned a certain lesson on this one or that one. Walking in gave me the same rush as looking at Russian landscapes — Mary models herself after the Russians — and excited not only my desire to develop her skill, but, I’m sorry to say, a very materialistic desire to own all the paintings myself.
As I continue to read The Yellow House by Martin Gayford, I continue to discover fascinating details about these two great post-Impressionist painters. I’ve already commented about the way they portrayed themselves as literary characters in self-portraits — Van Gogh, in particular, was an avid reader — but now I’ve found that they sartorialized themselves in imitation of their heroes.
Van Gogh was a great admirer of a Marseillais painter named Adolph Monticelli. He outfitted himself in conscious imitation of his hero, “with an enormous yellow hat, a black velvet jacket, white trousers, yellow gloves, a bamboo cane and with a grand southern air,” and so appeared to the public in Arles, where he and Gauguin were living.
Self portrait by Adolph Monticelli
A Fete in a Garden
Monticelli had been influenced by the Barbizon School in his youth, but one notices immediately in his paintings the same subjects as Watteau, i.e. courtlife and pastoral luxury, and Delacroix, i.e. orientalist scenes. Van Gogh’s interests were more in keeping with the Barbizon painters in that he portrayed the lives of peasants. One can see the same outlining of objects and figures and the thick paint strokes in Monticelli’s work and Van Gogh’s.
Gauguin liked to dress like a Breton sailor, though he was now living in the south of France. Many of his figures are symbolic and drawn from his own imagination, so he kept adding Bretonnes to his Provencal scenes. He loved their traditional costumes. Just before arriving at the Yellow House Van Gogh had acquired in Arles, Gauguin painted A Vision after the Sermon:
Theo Van Gogh has sold a painting of Gauguin’s called Breton Girls in a Ring, which gave the artists something to live on for a while:
I think these conceits are typical of the creative mind. They weren’t put on as cosplay. They were assumed as self-expression. Costuming creates a persona; it is a step on the path of self-realization. How could persons with such inner drive to express their ideas visually, often without remuneration, NOT express themselves in their personal style as well?
This painting is set in Governor Dodge State Park in Dodgeville, WI, the scene of much Bass and Bluegill fishing. I was going for that vintage 1920s and 30s feel, harkening back to the magazine covers I’ve loved from Outdoor Life and Field and Stream. It is available to purchase at the Left Bank Art Gallery in McGregor, IA.
Next month I’m going to attend a Plein Air Painting Workshop taught by Mary Pettis, whose work I’ve admired for the last several years. I’ve been watching her Website for my next opportunity to take a workshop. For some time now I’ve wanted to do landscapes, and my subjects have more frequently been in outdoor settings.
Landscapes set in the Midwest are more difficult, I think, than Western landscapes. There you have the boon of distant vistas and the resulting changes in tone and coloration due to the retreating atmosphere. (That may not be very clear, but I know what I mean.)
My favorite landscape painters, however, are not the many fabulous Western painters, but rather Russian landscape painters. Their subjects are much more like the ones I have available to me in Wisconsin. Of course, their country is older, with older architecture and romantic dirt roads, but I take inspiration from them. They often do intimate settings, rather than the grand spectacle of mountains and water available in the Western Unifted States. The pastoral charm of these scenes is what I will be aiming for.
I recently bought a Plein Air painting called Silver Day by a Russian painter named Evgeny Zhurov (Moscow) and am thrilled with it.
I’ve just seen the Van Gogh Bedrooms exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago. The paintings are from Van Gogh’s brief stay in a house in Arles, where he hoped to found an artist colony “of the South.” He wrote enthusiastic letters to Paul Gauguin, inviting him to join him. Gauguin was suffering a gastrointestinal illness of some kind which caused cramps and bleeding and was not yet able to come, but the two artists sent each other self-portraits in which they explored their identities and aspirations.
While at the Art Institute, I bought a book called The Yellow House: Van Gogh, Gauguin and Nine Turbulent Weeks in Provence by Martin Gayford, from which I’m drawing this material. Like many people, I’ve looked at Van Gogh and Gauguin paintings for years, not knowing much about the actual men, except that Van Gogh’s closest friend was his brother, Theo, that he only sold one painting in his life, and that Gauguin had a wife and family, but left France for years in Tahiti regardless. These facts don’t, of course, tell the story (and I apologize if they are not even exactly true). I was charmed by the painting “notes” at the Exhibit and bought this book to flesh out the details.
What especially charmed me was Vincent’s desire to live and work with other artists, something that I myself long to do. He acquired the Yellow House, then set about decorating it to stimulate both himself and Gauguin whenever that superior (in Vincent’s eyes) person should arrive. Vincent wanted to create “an Artist’s House,” one that reflected their avant garde movement. but also nurture them individually. I can so identify! The story behind the portraits is also a revelation. Both artists read novels avidly.
Gauguin chose to portray himself as Jean Valjean, the hero of Victor Hugo’s novel, Les Miserables. He even scrawled the allusion on the painting — Valjean was an outcast and a martyr — and to flesh it out and make sure his meaning wasn’t missed, wrote to Gauguin, “The face of a bandit like Jean Valjean, strong and badly dressed, who has a nobleness and gentleness hidden within. Passionate blood suffuses the face as it does a creature in rut, and the eyes are developed by tones as red as the fire of a forge, which indicate the inspiration like molten lava which fills the soul of painters such as us.” Like these modern painters, Valjean was poverty-stricken, victimized by society — boys threw fruit at Van Gogh in Arles, because he was so odd — but they remained devoted to their vision and pure artistically. This purity is supposed to be conveyed by the floral wallpaper behind, as if from a young girl’s bedroom. Gauguin’s description of a creature in rut doesn’t seem to chime in, but oh well…..
When Les Miserables was published, people around the globe apparently felt that it was their own story, including both sides of the US Civil War, so it is not so strange that Gauguin should see their creative journey paralleled in the Hugo character.
Vincent, on the other hand, portrayed himself as a Buddhist monk, drawing the idea from a best-selling novel, Madame Chrysantheme by Pierre Loti, about a French naval officer who takes a Japanese mistress and later abandons her, inspiring the opera Madame Butterfly by Puccini. The monks are incidental characters, but as is so often the case, a reader may identify with a secondary or tertiary character, or a place, or a house. Vincent saw himself as an acolyte, a humble associate of Gauguin’s.
The purely personal and mysterious origins of paintings fascinate me. As one who has always identified with characters in novels and grew up illustrating my favorite (if obscure) stories, I am looking forward to continuing with the story of The Yellow House!
Aino is a Finnish heroine from the Kalevala, a long poem composed of ancient oral poetry that was compiled into an episodic whole by a 19th Century scholar named Elias Lonnrot. She was promised in marriage by her brother, an egotistical young man who challenges the older, wiser and powerful bard and shaman, Vainamoinen, to a battle of wits. He loses so badly that Vainamoinen is forced to rescue him and save his life. For this boon the young man Joukahainen offers him his sister. Aino, however, does not wish to marry Vainamoinen and while fleeing him comes to a body of water. She sees the Nakki, Finnish water sprites, playing in the water. She enters and drowns. Later Vainamoinen is fishing, disconsolate, and catches a salmon who taunts him, telling him she is Aino, but he will never possess her. With that she leaps back into the water.
Aino by Russian artist, M.M. Mechev