Sunday, May 18, 2008

A New Study, An Old Problem

Here is a figure study after an old illustration by Joseph Leyendecker. The original has a rather shabby-looking painter frying a sausage while holding his empty palette. I changed him to imply that the viewer is the subject of a painting (the old master is looking at his subject--us). This is 16x12 on panel. Great fun to do because of the wonderful example provided by Leyendecker.

The old problem referred to in the title of this post is simplification and vigorous brushwork. My own prejudice is to use one brushmark for two or three. That is, I want to avoid overworking my paintings and to provide the viewer with something to do--some active involvement--when looking at my work. Leyendecker is a great example. His work is well-designed, economical in execution, and often stunningly real. I've been trying hard to correct this old, overworking problem of mine.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

New Work

I have been working very hard these past few weeks to complete a commissioned portrait of former four-time Iowa governor Terry Branstad. Finished at last, this painting is big--36"x30"--and represents one of my rare forays into formal, "official" portraiture. Here you see the painting, with the Iowa capitol on the right and the clinic building of Des Moines University on the left. This work will be unveiled formally in the University Library next week.

During the same period, I've pursued other works, of course. To the right is a small portrait of Kathe Kollwitz, the famous German artist of the early 20th century. Ms. Kollwitz wasn't a painter, per se. But she had an unerring eye and hand that delineated the depths of sorrow she felt at the blows that life dealt her. She lost a son in World War I and a grandson in World War II. The Nazi government of Germany prevented her from teaching art. She was marginalized as an artist by the politics of her country. In general, she spent her life in suffering, and it shows in her art. She was a very great artist and an important influence on me personally. This portrait looks darker than it is. It was painted using only raw umber and white; I'm debating whether or not to add color at all, knowing that Kollwitz probably would not.
Finally, during the past month and a half I've
been looking into the old still life genre known as "vanitas." Searching for a theme, it occurred to me that these paintings are reminders of mortality, of the frailty of humankind. And since I once had a career as a heart specialist, assembling a group of objects that symbolize the risks for heart disease seemed especially interesting. So here is a sketch for a much larger painting. This one is 12x9.