Hindsight is Nineteen-Twenty

     I was rummaging through my studio, sorting and clearing out a few things.  Stacks of old canvases and sketches, basically untouched, began to reveal a story.  The story was the progress of my work over the last decade.  Going back and looking at the old canvases was like going through a lost photo album.  I could remember the thoughts I was having, the difficulties or successes of the moment.  It was astonishing to see where my work was at ten years ago.  Of course, I had to consider and ask myself, where will it go from here?

     It is the beginning of a new decade, however, this one seems more significant since we are beginning the “Twenties”. The “Twenties”.  When we say that it seems we often think of that decade of a hundred years ago.  In many ways that decade seems to mark the beginning of the modern age as we know it now.  Many of us often nostalgically fantasize what it would have been like to live then.  “I wish I could have lived in the “Twenties””, we may say to ourselves or others.  Well, now we can!  Since we are all now able to say we were alive during the “twenties”, we may correlate what is similar and what is different about our decade compared to the one hundred years ago?

     The nineteenth century into the twentieth marked a period of dramatic change from agrarian society to an urban cosmopolitan society.  The turn of the century must have been confusing with the shift of the industrial age creating so many modern advances in commerce, politics and social norms.  The globe was just finishing World War One, machines began to fly, there was an establishment of the working middle class.  Notable artistic responses were the angst-ridden German Expressionism, American Regionalism, and the beginning of Modernism.

     The twentieth century into the twenty-first could be compared similarly.  We experienced an Electronic Revolution and the Information Age.  Our society is moving into a more global one, socially and financially.  Our artistic responses have been non-object-oriented conceptual works and experiential communal art events. 

     But how do these art responses relate to us today?  It seems apparent that the two decades, ours and the one a hundred years ago, share in one similarity in that the age was baffling and fast paced.  The speed of information and change then and the speed of information and change now could be comparable.  The change is in our frame of reference. What if the fastest thing you remember is the horse compared to the car? The pace at which information flows, our twenty-four hour society and the access to every known fact at our finger-tips creates another kind of dizzying pace that could be relative to the one felt by our great-grandparents.  The artist becoming a navigator, simple responder, or an aggregate processor puts us in alliance with our times to our culture.  The pace and confusion is reflected in our art as we should expect it would.  The axiom is, after all, art is often a reflection of our times.

As the new decade approaches, these milestones often create in us a period of reflection.  Like my activity in my studio the other day, many of us tend to weed out and separate things during the change of the new year.  The question becomes, what do we keep?  What do we let pass?  How will we shape our future?  If our times today are considered as chaotically filled with constant updates of information and announcements of events that pass by our lives as ephemera, we may begin to consider a slowing down.  I am already reading and learning of “slow movements” and “returning” to various things like, dinner-time at a dinner table and actual eye-to-eye engagement with others.   

     At the beginning of this decade, around year 2000 I ended my career as a closet landscape painter and decided to pursue oil painting in its traditional practice, honestly and earnestly.  The idea was to create a kind of answer to the dis-embodiment of object- oriented artworks.  I still believed in the artwork as an object, and I wanted to make my artistic output closer to the definition of the word painting.  My statement at the time was; after de-constructing everything, my current work is a record of my serious pursuit of putting it back together.  Well, okay.  A decade has passed since then and I feel less rebellious towards my own time.  

     One of my favorite books on art history is titled, “The Story of Modern Art”, by Norbert Lynton. The book was required reading during my art history days in college, and I still have it. Albeit the torn up and dog-eared pages are over-highlighted, it remains a good read.  Interestingly, the book covers in great essay style detail about the changes and developments in art from the Impressionist period of the eighteen-sixties into the twentieth century.   On the very last page of the book is this quote, “What Western man has lost is the kind of tempo that goes with looking and the stillness that goes with a focused attention.

The Opposite of a Critique

Photo by Chris Barbalis

Article By Curtis Green, Photo by Chris Barbalis

     At one point during my time as an art student, we learned how to describe a work of art.  This was an excellent exercise for all of us young eager and emotional students ready to pour out our guts to anyone who would listen.  Our professor had us put our work up on the wall.  There, we were to stand before everyone else and start divulging our own descriptions of our pieces.   This was opposite of a critique.  A critique included our work on the wall for sure, but now others would talk about what they saw and thought about it.  This time the artists would speak for themselves.   Oh boy! Continue reading “The Opposite of a Critique”

Thinking of Artists as Grateful Gift Givers

Painting of A Sentiment for Fall by Curtis Green

By Curtis Green

As the holiday season approaches, I started thinking about artists as grateful gift givers. Artists can be thought of as gracious and giving or snobby and pretentious or maybe a mix of all of these.  As my thoughts were coming together, I remembered a funny routine by comedian George Carlin about his views on the game of golf.  The bit explained his unique perspective about the game.  He joked that golf was a snobby, elitist, pretentious endeavor played for the sake of chasing a tiny ball around for hours on end.  Perhaps art can be viewed with similar terms.  Continue reading “Thinking of Artists as Grateful Gift Givers”

The Art Collector vs. The Art Collector

Photo by Aaina Sharma

I read a lot of articles about the art world. I subscribe to current articles that often relate what happened at certain events or shows. They offer news from small galleries to big museums, auctions and art fairs around the world. These articles are shared and reposted over several platforms. They sometimes read like a red carpet review of “who wore what, where and when” but they also contain serious information like auction trends and percentages per genre. Topics may be about a particular artist, who has somehow busted an all time record for the sale of a single piece. This industry reading is part of what one does, when one does, what I do, make art. I wonder, is there a scenario of the Art Collector vs. the Art Collector? Continue reading “The Art Collector vs. The Art Collector”

“The Breakfast”, by William Paxton

The Breakfast, c. 1911
William McGregor Paxton (1869-1941)

With encouragement, I write these posts to invite appreciation of the visual arts. Each painting has a reason into how it came to be. Likewise, we as viewers can have many reasons for how we respond to it. Thus it begins, each time we go to a museum, to look at paintings, take them in and enjoy them for a while. This type of looking is not based so much on whether we prefer certain styles or colors, but a deeper kind of looking that guides our responses and shapes them into our own ideas or considerations. Continue reading ““The Breakfast”, by William Paxton”

Painting in Mendocino MOPO 2018 – Sonata No.1

Sonata - Curtis Green
Sonata No. 1

Some evening, I think on the second or third day, I went to the headlands on the west end of Mendoncino.   It is a popular point, especially during a sunset.  I drove down to have a look and found this view looking southward down the coastline.   The thing I found fascinating was the sparseness of the cliffsides.   My usual environs have many homes crammed side by side without much space to really even see a coastline for what it is.  I often think, when I stand at a place where the land meets the sea, about it being the edge of the continent on which I live.  There might be only ten or twenty feet left of the land for me to travel before I can walk no further.  Yet, I could walk three thousand miles in the opposite direction and experience all the life and sights the United States has to offer.  Conversely, the rest of the world is out over the horizon somewhere should I be able to fly or sail across the open water.

The sun was setting on my right side as I turned my attention to the land capturing the last of the days light.  Only a few indications of human tracks were noticeable.  A pathway leading to a cliffside look out, or a structure, barely visible on the distant shore across the bay.  I was virtually alone, able to tune into the sound and strength of the ocean the wind past my face, I could even hear the sound of the bristles across the course surface of my canvas.

The cliffside basks in the last light of the setting sun, the shadows indicate the waning of the day, wrapping itself into the promise of a new day only after the nights journey. The scene was an encompassing experience of the environment.  Looking at it was like listening to a beautiful piece of music, even the gestures in the act of painting was an attenuation of focus and meditation.  It was the word that came with the thought of visual music; Sonata.

Painting in Mendocino MOPO 2018 – Noyo Harbor

The Krystal at Noyo Harbor - Curtis Green
The Krystal at Noyo Harbor

Just north of Mendocino, CA is a town called Fort Bragg.  It reminds me of what Oceanside may have been like in the 1950’s.  The light quality, when the sun is out, is washed in an introspective glow with shadows of blue and grey against the warm strike of light.   Sounds don’t seem as loud, and the pace is easy going.  There is an interesting sub-culture around harbor towns.  I met one it’s characters while having lunch at Noyo Harbor.

Noyo Harbor is nestled in a small bay inside a narrow inlet from the open sea.  A bridge crosses high overhead allowing the Pacific Coast Highway to continue straight into and out of town.  Driving down into the harbor is like going into another micro-village with its own markets, restaurants, businesses, hotels and apartments, even it’s own version of a library!   Noyo, it appeared to me, is not just a place but a way of life.

While enjoying a plate of fish n’ chips at a table with a view, this scene depicted above caught my attention.  As soon as I was finished, I knew I was going down to the dock to paint it.  A spry woman, in her nineties and wearing a red sweater, arrived at the table and announced that she noticed the attention to the boat and said that it belonged to her, “That’s my boat!”, she said.  From there she regaled stories about her and her late husband, travelling the open ocean to as far Australia in that small fishing vessel!  She said they even saved the lives of those on board a sinking yacht during a stormy night,  even as they risked there own lives doing so.  She was a wonderful, sea going salt with a fiery glint of a life lived beaming from her eyes.

Later, I set up my easel and began painting the scene of the storied boat at the dock.  I began in the center, laying in the darks under the dock and around the hull, that would become the armature from which the rest of the painting would build from.  As I was forming the hull in paint, I noticed some people arriving on the lonely dock, one of them wearing a red sweater.   Oh no, I thought, they’re leaving!  The elder woman and her crew readied the boat and in minutes they were off, motoring past as I quickly painted a few details while the boat was on the move.

I waved to the two crew members bringing in the ropes. and to the helmsman, the woman in her red sweater standing just behind him. She was looking straight ahead, chin up and out onto the sea.

 

Painting in Mendocino – John Hewitt: Watercolorist

Vikos Gorge, 2018 – John Hewitt
Vikos Gorge, 2018 – John Hewitt

As a young first year art student, I had a staggering revelation moment when I embraced the idea that modernity is not new. For the longest time, words like contemporary and modern were used almost interchangeably to describe what I had in my mind as old art and new art. In other words, abstract or “idea based” art made currently was modern and anything else prior to the last twenty-five years was categorized as not modern therefore antique or classic. Simply put, the idea of modernity has been around since the middle ages. The use of modern to mean the contemporary “right now” is relatively recent and was used in that context quite a bit during the mid-twentieth century onward. It helped sell products and a incorporate a sense of fashion or aesthetic that promoted the idea of progress and sophisticated thinking. Although the concept of modernity has been around for hundreds of years, mostly we may use the word modern to mean recent, as in the context of contemporary time, like today or yesterday. But, what if we use the term modern to describe an aesthetic style or movement? What if that aesthetic style is not popular now? In this case, the term modern may be used to describe a fixed period in history. Consider the popular expression “mid-century modern” used so often today. It is describing a fixed period of time when certain thoughts, ideas and aesthetic sensibility were based on influences of the middle part of the twentieth century, which were both contemporary and very modern.

The recent watercolors by MOPO co-founder John Hewitt, are in my opinion, paintings that utilize the vocabulary of modernism and realism without any detection of self-consciousness. His newer paintings done recently in Greece,  seem to employ several things that announce their orchestration very subtly. They have a beautifully proportioned amount of purposefully naïve automatism, a genuine engagement in response to subjects, and a touch of classic “modernism” based on established design principles. They create a sublime abstraction of objects. What I mean by that is, there are two things happening almost always in his paintings; subject and idea. Think of it as the representation of things beautifully reduced into the realm abstraction. The paintings are usually titled as to what the image is depicting such as a thing or a location, yet, the image is made with bulbous and singular strokes like that of an ancient ink wash drawing, a but with color.

In preparation for this post, John wrote me about his own work, “I always refer to the basic principles of design as essential to my approach to give structure to my statement. I do chase sublime as a goal often as did the landscapists of late nineteenth century. My approach more expressive with raw emotion evident. I always choose a great shape over a detailed representation although I like both.”

For me, to look at Hewitt’s work is to allow the painting to play on that back and forth between facts and impression, intention and accident. I’d rather liken it to listening to a piece of music that happens to be on the wall. These are paintings that work best to sit back and simply enjoy the arrangements of the images made in this case with a brush, wielded in the manner of a conductor’s baton.

John Hewitt cites Millard Sheets and Vernon Nye as positive influencers on his work, methods and career. He lives and works in Fort Bragg, CA and is a co-founder of the Mendocino Open Paint Out, now going into its seventh year. He also leads several international workshops annually. See more of his work and workshop schedules at http://johnhewittart.com/