Thinking of Artists as Grateful Gift Givers

Thinking of Artists as Grateful Gift Givers. A Sentiment for Fall by Curtis Green
A Sentiment for Fall by Curtis Green, 2017

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.  Maybe being an artist or even collecting artwork can be considered as snobby, pretentious and elitist.  If that view is held as true then museums, galleries and even the artists and patrons could be considered stuffy, boring and maybe even loathsome!

True, I think that some aspects of the art world are, perhaps indulgent.  There is a lot of talk these days about the over inflation of the stock markets and that talk is also true about the art markets.  Sometimes, a lot of emphasis can be placed on the monetary or speculative earnings by collectors, auction houses and art publications. Maybe the artist is even hoping to cash in by making work solely based on current tastes and trends. 

However, there are a lot of good things that come from the high end of the art world .  One thing I’ve noticed is the tendency to explore outside of the normal marketplace.  This brings in art and ideas from all parts of the world and creates a wonderful cultural exchange.  This exchange through art generates learning from and about each other.  There is no price that can be applied to this kind of diplomacy and sharing.

As I write this, we Americans are about to celebrate our holiday known as Thanksgiving.  My hope is that during this time, my little message will bring one of sharing, generosity and gratitude.  Graciousness and gratitude are often the motivation behind the work of most artists.  Creative people are generally giving people.  Creative people often feel like they “own something” that is within them and therefore express that and offer it out to the world.  That is the sharing part. 

The reciprocation comes from others appreciating the artists work.  That may be though shows, articles, interviews, requests for speaking or offering classes.  Sometimes, the appreciation is made by a patron purchasing an artwork from the artist.  That is when something interesting happens.  The artist often feels like there is more to want to give at that point.  So, it seems that an interesting cycle begins.  Like watering a garden, a society’s artistic culture thrives from this giving and receiving.

A thriving art culture usually indicates a thriving economy.  However, the currency and dividends are not always money, status or elitism.  Rather, the currency is made up of learning and sharing.  The dividends are of ideas and love for something more than just our primary and immediate needs.  Out of this, our primary needs are met by some form of payment of goods and services.  It is the gratitude and graciousness, expressed though investment in the arts, that creates a cultural prosperity and benefit for everyone.  It has, therefore, the ability to enrich our lives and our neighborhoods.

I realize this is a utopian vision and is full of rainbows, but I also think that it is at least a beautiful goal to have in mind.  It is what artists work at and what we are often called upon to do when needed, even as the world may be falling apart.  Who will paint the mural, design the gardens, make the sculpture, write the plays, movies, and books, create the songs, or make the paintings to adorn the walls? Sometimes, making work feels like it’s going nowhere yet, we do it anyway.  If the artist is not just in it for themselves, one will find that the artist will keep working on things for the purpose of sharing and giving of themselves.  They may seem fixated on a vision that may never materialize.  It probably makes as much sense as chasing a little ball around through trees and grass, for hours on end.

The Art Collector vs. The Art Collector

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?

Make art. Let those two words ring in the air for a minute. It brings to my mind the never ending question, what is a work of art? More pointedly then, I may ask myself if I might apply the same test to the two words, “art world”. What, or rather which art world? The Mega-collector art world or the Passion collector art world? Is there a difference?

The articles I am reading often refer to The Art World, that has evolved and changed as if in a linear progression from the Medici’s to the Guggenheims. It is the edgy, hip and fashion oriented, multi-million dollar mega art world. People who play here often arrive in their own personal jets. The art collector in this world is able to make large transactions for art ownership and perhaps even bragging rights. The art world is a market for investors to lodge some of their assets into art treasures, as holdings for their diversified portfolios. This is the interesting intersection where collecting is also a form of strategic asset planning. In the 80/20 ratio, perhaps one could argue the latter is for the love of the art? I’ve met a few collectors who truly love the work they buy, even as it adds to their personal equity.

Then, there is the so-assumed smaller “art world”. This art world, probably set up more like a cottage industry, where the artist makes and sells his or her own creations directly to the buyer or through a modest show. Perhaps a show here and there allows some bragging rights for the artist this time. They can announce their acceptance and approval into the show or gallery. The collectors in this art world often generate into personal relationships between artist and patron. There is as much appreciation from the artist to the collector as there is between the artwork and buyer. Therefore, the dividends are a product of a different motivation in the acquisition of an artwork.

It will be interesting to see if the Art Collector vs. the Art Collector will be “of worlds colliding” or of the worlds come together. There is a lot of talk beginning to happen about the restructuring of the art market, which could cause a radical shift in the art world.

The shift could not be so ground-breakingly new as it would be a shift toward an aggregate market of equitable relativity. In other words, the exclusivity of “gatekeeper markets” are on the same playing field as the “passion collector” market. Much in the spirit of Walter Benjamin’s essay, “Unpacking My Library”, (Illuminations, by Walter Benjamin), one who collects is one who cherishes the thing he or she owns. This collector has an “intrinsic ownership”. This type of ownership could be in the same artistic regard as if the collector created it. He or she will often assign great personal importance to the piece. Thus the dividend of personal value which over time, creates actual value that can be measured only with priceless equity.

Spring is Moving Toward Summer

A Painting titled Garden Scene at Mendocino Arboretum by Curtis Green

Spring is moving once again toward summer. The introspection and cuddled warmth of fall and winter give way to the exuberance of the brighter seasons.  The sun is higher in the sky, the brilliance of the noonday is nearly blinding with light.  The key of color and value is so near the brightest it can be that a painter is way up on the edges of the value scale.  Yet the chroma of color still remains in natures shadows.  It would be like a soprano hitting her highest notes while keeping a full timbre so as to not sound shrill or thin.

It’s easy then to understand perhaps, the often said idea that suggests all paintings are essentially abstractions.  The directness of the sun is bouncing light around everywhere, casting and mixing color in an interplay of photometric activity.  How would articulation of hyper-detail even have a chance to convey all that radiating jubilance?  No, the rendering of each petal of every flower would only wreck the dance.  Instead, the painter must be standing right on the balance of detail and fleeting shimmers.  Monet once said that he constructs his paintings simply by placing the color as he sees it where he sees it, which is from his witness of nature.

This painting was done at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden, during the Mendocino Open Paint Out of 2018. The great lawn offered this lush and abundant view, the sun gently shining. One could truly feel how spring is moving once again toward summer. To add to the perfection, butterflies were fluttering around the flowers and leaves. I can’t help but imagine, in a scene like this, how the artist might respond according to his or her discipline, music, dance or writing for example.  This response is an oil on canvas.

“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.

Here, we come across a painting “The Breakfast”, by William McGregor Paxton. He was an American painter in the manner of the “Boston School” working during the turn of the twentieth century, roughly the 1880’s to 1941.

This narrative of a relationship become stagnant has been done by others but there is so much to read into this one. The painting is clearly beautifully done in a manner that combines a European impressionist touch of Degas, the American style of realism, and a compositional influence of Vermeer, a Flemish artist who Paxton admired. One could read this painting perhaps as a comedy, a la “I Love Lucy”, however, there is probably more here than just visual humor. This may be less comedy and more a portrait of situation, predicament and consequence.

The composition of the figures had to be managed in such a way for us to feel the deadness of the relationship that is in the air. For instance, the maid with her back to us, walking away on eggshells, what will she say behind the service door? As a middle-class nineteenth century couple with all the lovely provisions, what is his justification for his self absorption? Is his role to be on the matters of “important things” now that the wooing is over? Notice the basket of dying flowers in the foreground. What luster fell from the promise she thought was her future?

So, as we see, a painting can be constructed as a stage, with its cast (Paxton’s wife may have been his model for the seated woman), its lighting and set design. These narrative paintings tell a story that create a profound amount of inquiry and thought stimulation that may enrich us for a while. That, we get to keep as a freebie while we exit the museum through the gift shop.

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/

Painting in Mendocino MOPO 2018 – Night Walk

Night Walk - Curtis Green
Night Walk

Perhaps one of the closest ways to feeling other worldly is to walk around a small quiet town at about three-thirty in the morning.  This is what I did one night during my recent week at MOPO 2018 in Mendocino, CA.  I was restless from an idea I had the other night while driving back from another painting location after a sunset.  I came up this road and saw this scene with the single street lamp and one light in the window of the house, and kept on driving.  But, that instant glance was like a polaroid.  That night, I was awake and under the snug covers but I knew the light was still out there.  What did it look like now, how it would look on canvas?  I had to go see.

My first walk was to just go have a look.  The air was warmer than I thought it would be.  That made me happy because I was going to have to walk about a quarter mile to get there, now I could maybe wander around a little and see what everything looks like.   The streets were so abandoned at that hour,  I felt like I was an apparition peeking in on the physical world undetected.  With no one around, I sensed the humor in observing our human habits, almost like being a character in  a Wim Wender film.  It’s was that hour of night where we are either sleeping, about to turn in or about to get up, depending on some individual habit, inclination or duty.

After a while, I went back and retrieved my easel and drove back to the spot.  I looked up and was stunned and delighted at the sight of so many stars overhead.  I put on my miners headlamp and set up my palette in the usual way and started painting as if it were the afternoon, except that, it wasn’t.   I was impressed by the streetlight in it’s continually lonely service, lighting a road hardly used at that hour but is there anyway, in commune with the open meadow throughout the night.  The light post, an apparatus of infrastructure, adding  order to our environment, making it more useful for us to live, even as anyone hardly notices.  A humble observation I made while painting in deeper blues and blacks.  Absurd, that I was even out there at all quietly working for whatever reason.  I looked up again and saw arched over my head and behind me the milky way, an arm of our home galaxy, as it reached around the sky and touched the sea.

This little painting was a favorite at the show that week.

 

 

Painting in Mendocino MOPO 2018 – Pt. Cabrillo Lighthouse

Contemplation for Mood No.1 – Curtis Green

In music, there are two terms called consonance and dissonance.   Consonance could be considered the pleasing sounds, dissonance could be the dis-pleasing sounds.  In a minimalist work of music, one might hear the tranquil and steady current of sound mingling agreeably in the soundscape.  At certain intervals a sharper distinguished sound may swell and recede, as if fleeting across from one place to the next and then it’s gone.

Imagine the sounds of seagulls and ocean waves roaring to the cliffsides.  The background noise is there and yet it is as if we don’t hear it, and we cherish the so called silence.  Once in a while, a distant bell or a soft distant horn is heard and we are reminded of the silence, tuning in again to the steadiness of the background sounds of gulls and waves, until we don’t notice, and then, until we do again.

The Mendocino Coast in Northern California is a sanctuary for these type of meditative spaces and environments, one of them is the Pt. Cabrillo Lighthouse just south of Fort Bragg.  As part of MOPO 2018 hosted by the Mendocino Art Center, a group of us artists went there to spend about half a day, capturing this historical structure.  Walking across and through the tall weeds and grass, looking for the pleasing angle and distance to find the “right spot” to paint was very tactile and real.  The smells and sounds of the ocean, the wind it generated across my face, the nearness of the crashing waves just a few feet from the unprotected cliffside was a moment in Earthly Heaven.

At about 39 degrees north latitude, the sun creates that “perfect light” that I love as the Fall season comes close.  The light is stark but the shadows are soft.  Again, another inherent dichotomy where one condition supports the other in a natural balance.  It invites contemplation, and sets a philosophical mood.  At first sight, I immediately had the picture in my mind before the painting began.  The light house off to one side, far enough away to show the vast space around it.  The neutrality of tone, the buttery walls, the light within the shadows.  I wanted, somehow, to paint the sound and the air.

Note: Inquiries for purchasing this painting can be made to the Mendocino Art Center Gallery at (707)-937-1764 ext. 14