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.
As a way to honor veterans and those currently serving, here is a painting by American artist and illustrator, Norman Rockwell. Most of us know that Mr. Rockwell provided nearly countless images for the cover of the Saturday Evening Post, a magazine especially popular during the years of World War Two.
Interestingly, the title “War Hero” seems to be shrugged off by the expression of the soldier who has returned home. The Japanese flag is symbolic of the fact that he has returned, perhaps still processing his service to his country. Somehow, Rockwell was able to convey the soldier not so much in a posture of victor in battle but as one with a wider perspective of purpose and integrity. Clearly, he is held in high regard as the gathering of his friends and family admire him gratefully for his selflessness.
Rockwell’s images are sometimes knocked for being too “sepia toned” in their bucolic orchestration of sentiment, yet he remains as one of the greatest American artists for his ability to render and intrigue viewers with a visual narrative. Our civic respect still carries forward, as again today we pause to reflect on the men and women who serve for our security and our maintenance of peace.
Sometimes, the surprise of color shows up out of nowhere. It may catch you off guard, looking for one thing and then finding something other than what was being searched for. This occurred while visiting a site nested in the hillside north of Burbank, California. The day was very hot, but the place was on the visit list for some time. While exploring up a small trail, from behind branches of small oak trees, this explosion of color presented itself as a glorious surprise among the otherwise dry grasses surrounding it.
Fortunately, some shade was available from a nearby tree and I got to work very quickly as the inspiration had set itself up as excitement from this happen chance!
I believe most of this painting was done with applications from the palette knife. I may have used a brush here and there. That was another surprise, since I don’t often use the palette knife throughout the entire process of working. The deliberateness of this process was enjoyable. It caused me to lay out the facts of what I saw as it also invited an expressive interpretation as well. This painting was done in June, so it was really amazing to still see a whole hillside of poppies still in bloom.
From ancient times to the present, the genre of the still life has been a staple of artistic expression. Examples are found throughout the ancient ruins of Egypt, Crete, Pompeii for example.
The still life was a devout study for the northern Europeans during the 15th – 18th centuries. Then the still life took on a whole new meaning during the years Cezanne and the Fauves were painting. Picasso and Braque moved the still life into an entirely new purpose with their advent of Cubism, which led to the modernists’ search for form and the abstract work the expressionists.
Here is a fresh still life that was painted directly in oil, without any drawing done beforehand. This is the first one in what I hope will be more to come. The image is probably more formal in composition than it is in execution, which lends itself, perhaps more toward contemplation over literal examination.