Spring is Moving Toward Summer – MOPO 2018

Plein air oil painting and fine art print of a garden in bright daylight. Vivid flowers and green grass with trees, at Mendocino Botanic Garden.

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.  Continue reading “Spring is Moving Toward Summer – MOPO 2018”

Painting in Mendocino MOPO 2018 – Sonata No.1

Plein air oil painting and fine art print of the headlands at Mendocino, CA overlooking a bluff towards the coastline and the ocean.
Plein air oil painting and fine art print of the headlands at Mendocino, CA overlooking a bluff towards the coastline and the ocean.
Sonata No.1 Mendocino – Curtis Green

Out to the Headlands

One evening, I think on the second or third day while was Painting in Mendocino MOPO 2018. I went to the headlands on the west end of Mendocino.   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 home turf near Los Angeles, California has many homes crammed side by side. There usually isn’t much space to really even see a coastline for what it is. 

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Painting in Mendocino MOPO 2018 – Noyo Harbor

Plein air oil painting and fine art print of Noyo Harbor at Fort Bragg, CA depicting a fishing boat docked to a wharf.
Noyo Harbor – Curtis Green

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.

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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

Plein air oil painting and fine art print of a lonely night scene in Mendocino, CA depicting a street lamp and a lit window from a distant house near a field.

To walk around a small quiet town at about three-thirty in the morning is  to feel a bit other worldly.  This is what I did on a night walk during my recent week painting at Mendocino MOPO 2018, Mendocino, CA.

I was restless from an idea I had the other night while driving back from another painting location after a sunset.  Earlier, I was driving up this road and saw this scene.  It was the single street lamp and one light in the window of the house across the street.  I registered it in my mind and kept on driving.  But, that instant glance was like a polaroid.

That night, I was awake and under some snug covers but I knew the street light was still out there.  What did it look like now, how it would look on canvas?  I had to go see.

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Painting in Mendocino MOPO 2018 – Point Cabrillo Light Station

Plein air oil painting and fine art print of Point Cabrillo Light Station in Mendocino, CA depicting the lighthouse near the ocean bluff.

The Mendocino Coast in Northern California is a sanctuary for meditative spaces and environments. One of them is the Point Cabrillo Lighthouse just south of Fort Bragg. 

During MOPO 2018 hosted by the Mendocino Art Center, a group of us artists went to capture this historical structure.  To get to the lighthouse, we walked through the tall weeds and grass of the headlands. Our eyes were looking for the pleasing angle and distance and to find the “right spot” to paint. It was a very tactile and real experience.  The smells and sounds of the ocean were evident. The wind generated by the ocean swept across my face. I stood near the unprotected cliff edge. The crashing waves just a few feet below created a moment in Earthly Heaven.

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Painting in Mendocino at MOPO 2018

My umbrella and easel is seen in the distance while painting at Pt. Cabrillo Light Station, just north of Mendocino, CA. – Photo by Roz Templin.

I write these weekly posts pretty much on the fly.  They are inspired by recent work, a museum visit, or some idea or reading that might pertain some interest to the lay reader of art.  Now, I am about to try something new.   I going to try to stitch together a series based on a recent visit to the Northern California coast, specifically Mendocino for the annual Mendocino Open Paint Out (MOPO), based at the Mendocino Art Center.

As a preface, it may be good to be aware that not all artwork is made in the studio.  Likewise not all artwork is made out of doors.  However, when a painter does set up outdoors and paints directly from what the painter sees in the given light, it is referred to by the French term, en plein aire, or in the plain air.

There is a history of painting out of doors before the use of the term was attached to painters.  The etymology of Plein Air as a way of describing an artist who works outdoors from nature is typically placed around the time of the Impressionists around the mid-eighteen hundreds.  Before that though, many of the artists who would later become known as Impressionists were inspired by a few Romantic painters in the French Barbizon Forest, radically painting directly from nature outside the studio!   Thus the so called “Barbizon School” that some may be familiar with.  Before the Barbizon School, English painters like John Constable and friends would take extended trips into the English countryside and paint on whatever was handy, like cardboard or wood as well as paper or canvas.  These “sketches” would be the studies used to make a final work back in the studio.  Whereas, for the plein air Impressionist, the sketch would be the final work, inspired and finished on the spot where the painter stood.

Today, Plein Air seems to have new connotations and meanings beyond the original use of the term.  Regardless, it has been understood for centuries, by early Masters, Romantics, Impressionists etc, that to learn Nature’s secrets one must observe and note them by direct observation.  The following few weeks I’ll be posting my results from participating in my first Paint Out.  The world we share is everywhere we look.  From the majesty of the tall trees, the solemn beauty of a sea side cliff, or the banality of alleyways and harbors in patchwork color, the artist’s eye seeks to compose, so, what should hopefully become apparent is the variety and comradery that occurs each day during an event like a Paint Out.

Painting in Mendocino MOPO 2018 – Searching for The Hit

Ready for a New Day.

The other night at a painting event, a large group  of painters were enjoying a dinner at days end.  The seating was community style at long tables in a courtyard.  The gentleman I was seated next to started to converse.

“How do you pick your subjects?” he asked.  “I don’t know”, I said.  We continued talking and probing this topic for a little while, finding similarity in our processes of selecting subjects for a canvas.  Finding “the hit” seemed to be the common idea.  It’s an idea that is hard to put your finger on, so to speak.  The search is just kind of intuitive while in “looking mode” that when something simply strikes you, it rings true to some kind of sensibility and one feels compelled to work with that particular thing or scene.

We spoke more about it and it seems we both agreed that a lot of it depends on mood, or more appropriately, what is found that may match the sentiment already carried by the artist.  That’s an interesting thought.   It may make us ask the question; what is the artist bringing to the subject?  What is it within that particular artist that causes a response to what is before him or her?   We loosely concluded  that the response is usually less about the actual subject or objects but rather some aspect of it that is mostly responsible for the interest.  A streak of light, a contrast of forms, a sense of space, or an  shot of color.  These are the things that are searched for in a way that cannot be calculated before hand.  It is simply seeing for the want of a story to share.