Monday, April 25, 2016

Raiders of the Lost Art

This week is a series of shows rather than a movie. The series is called, Raiders of the Lost Art. It originally aired on Ovation, a television channel geared towards the arts. Every year they play the Nutcracker at Christmas and I always make sure to watch. Raiders of the Lost Art is all about missing art, stolen art and mysteries about certain pieces. Each show focuses on one subject so if you're not interested in Van Gogh, skip him and watch the show about Faberge eggs. I recommend you watch all of them though, they're all produced well and seem to be very well researched too.
If you need a good book to read to go along with the show, Priceless:  How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World's Stolen Treasure by Robert K. Wittman. Not as exciting as Hercule Poirot but definitely an interesting detective and a good read. Each chapter is about a different case and you'd think after a few the "operation" would start to be the same but they're not. Some art thefts were straight forward, disguise yourself as a black market dealer and earn the trust of the thief and keep the "friendship" long enough to authenticate the painting and then make the arrest. However, his job took him around the world and each country treats art theft differently. Oddly enough his statistics make it sound like The United States takes art theft more seriously than most.
As I've said before art theft fascinates me.  Why people steal art and then the hunting down of the art is like a real life Indiana Jones but with less faces melting off. As for the why people steal art, lot's of studies and papers have been written about it. Here's an interesting article about it that was written shortly after a theft of seven paintings in Rotterdam back in 2012. The alleged art thieves were arrested in 2013 and one of them confessed to burning all of the paintings. The paintings were never recovered and it's unknown if they were actually burnt.  What is it about art that makes it so valuable that people would go to such great lengths to steal it?

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Flower Power

Pink Rose 4x4 oil on gessoed panel
I'm not much of a flower painter so when I found this wilted rose I knew it was perfect to try and paint. There felt like a bit of a safety net with a wilted flower. There wasn't so much pressure to make it look so pretty and exact.
I came across this really cool frame and I know some say you shouldn't make a painting just to fit a frame, it should be the other way around but until the money tree I planted starts producing I will continue to find bargain frames and find stuff to paint to fit them. I went back and forth with this 4x4 frame and what kind of painting could work with it. The wilted rose fit nicely in the little square. The wilty rose in the cool frame will be for sale at one of three shows coming up in May.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Warm-Up Sketches

Pencil sketch of 3 men in a museum

A few days ago I came across this conversation on some social media platform, one man was expressing his disdain for the warm-up sketches. Not so much that he hates to do them, he very much dislikes how a lot of people show off what he considers finished pieces and call them a warm up. He believes a warm-up sketch should be various quick scribbles that don't necessarily have to look like anything in particular. I didn't partake in the discussion because the people involved seemed pretty hard set on their opinions and that's fine. However, I'm still thinking about this so I feel the need to voice my opinion on them.  I believe that they're an asset in whatever capacity you make them. Whether you're just scribbling to warm up your hands and arm muscles or you're trying to warm up your brain or both. If you need to warm up your brain your sketches are probably going to be more involved and look like a finished piece. Some people need both an appetizer and an entree and some people can fill up on just an appetizer. Some people consider running for a mile a warm up before they exercise and others consider tying their shoes all the warm up they need. I get that it can feel like a person is just showing off when they present a piece that looks finished as a warm-up sketch and maybe some of those people are showing off. Some people need that sort of attention, they need to be instantly validated. Don't let their needs effect how you work.  If all you need is a quick 2 minute scribble session before you get to work then do it. If you need to pine over your sketch before you feel comfortable to get to work then take your time. 
What do you guys think?  Is there a time limit on a warm-up sketch? Is there a limit on the amount of detail you can add to your warm-up sketch?  If you go over these limits does it automatically fall in the category of a finished piece? If a warm-up sketch is just a piece of paper filled with scribbles is it less of a sketch? In your opinion are warm-up sketches even worth the time? 

Monday, April 18, 2016


The movie for this week is Séraphine.  Séraphine de Senlis was a housekeeper turned artist, or the other way around depending on how you look at it. The story goes, a famous German art collector moved to Senlis to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. He rented an apartment where he intended to spend his time writing. When the landlady invited him over he discovered a painting. The landlady acted like it was no big deal because the housekeeper painted it and most everyone in the town made her the butt of their jokes. The art collector seems to have every good intention to help her out of her situation and help her reach her full potential as an artist but things don't always work out the way we want them to. It's based on the real life of Séraphine de Senlis. You can see her work here.  The movie can be watched for free at Hulu although the free version will have commercials. 
This is one of her paintings titled, Pommier. Who's the butt of the joke now? Sorry, couldn't help it. 
She would be an interesting artist to discuss.  There was a really good article I read about a horrible art dealer, one who would go around and buy up work, even if it was crap, just so he can hold the market on all of their work just in case a real dealer came around and liked what they saw. I can't seem to find that article anywhere but here's one I found about how to spot bad art dealers. It's possible this German collector wasn't some sort of a shyster but it's hard to tell. To me it felt like he wanted to go from collector to discoverer, like a talent agent, and discover the next big thing. 

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Mystery at the Museum

Ink on Bristol
Went to the Art Institute of Chicago the other day and spent the entire day there. It was amazing, aside from me losing my member card and the obnoxious tour guide in the new modern wing. Seriously, he was trash talking the impressionist paintings to a bunch of people in business attire and you could almost hear their eyes rolling at him. Just outside of this area I spotted a woman that was quite funny to me. I was on the second floor and she was on the first so I stopped and quickly snapped a photo of her for reference to use later. I'm considering painting her and titling it, Everything Except the Kitchen Sink, except she could very well have that in her huge bag. I've always found it odd how some people can just make themselves at home in public. 

The big mystery that I've been trying to solve all weekend involves this painting. John Singer Sargent's The Fountain, Villa Torlonia, Frascati, Italy. John Preston said this is his favourite Sargent painting and so he spent quite a bit of time in front of it. That's why you go to museums, you can really see the brushstrokes and the details that you miss in a photograph. The mystery is, what was Jane Emmet de Glehn painting, the woman in the painting, as John Singer Sargent painted her? The Art Institute has a very nice description of the painting and an excerpt from a letter Jane wrote to her sister explaining the painting. You can read it here. The letter confirms my thoughts on the man in the painting, "Wilfrid is in short sleeves, very idle and good for nothing".  Seeing it in a photo it looks like he's just keeping his wife company but up close you can see he has this look on his face like he'd rather be anywhere but there and just bored with everything going on around him. Back to what she was painting while being painted. I searched her paintings and came up with one that looked like it could be a possibility but wasn't painted in the same location. Doing an image search of Villa Torlonia gave an idea of what the scenery was like around this fountain but still nothing matches up with her paintings. There's a website for Wilfrid Emmet de Glehn that has some information about Jane and even more excerpts from letters she wrote. You can read here what she wrote about Villa Torlonia. To me this is more mysterious than Mona Lisa's smile.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Monuments Men and Munch

The movie recommendation this week is "The Monuments Men". It has a great cast and is based on real life events. The real life Monuments Men went out to recover art that was stolen by the Nazis. You could probably think of it like real life Indiana Jones but with less fortune and glory.  The Nazis were losing the war and they certainly weren't just going to give up the locations where they hid all of the art they plundered. With actors like John Goodman and Bill Murray in this movie there was some humor involved which made it nice because there were some pretty heavy scenes.  Opening a barrel and thinking you've found a fortune in gold but then realise it's a barrel full of gold teeth.  It is a little glamorized of course, it is a movie after all. The one downfall was that the movie only slightly touched on the importance of getting the work back and more important, getting it back to the rightful owners. It's entertaining and worth watching.  Here are a few links for more information about the Monuments Men
Edvard Munch by Isabella Alston 
Speaking of stolen artwork. Stolen art and the efforts to recover it fascinates me to no end. Who steals it, why and what will they do with it? They can't really brag about their stolen Munch because then everyone will know they stole it. When The Scream was stolen in 2004 it shocked me. I really like that painting and I was having a conversation with someone about the theft and their response was, is it really such a loss? They obviously don't care for the painting. This book isn't very long, you could call it the Reader's Digest version of his life followed by pictures and descriptions of his work. Some bits I found interesting, Munch was originally going to school to be an engineer and was very good at math, physics and chemistry but gave it up for art. Critics compared his early works to that of Manet, one of my favourites. Even though the Nazis labeled Munch's art as "degenerate" they stole 82 of his paintings from German museums. Then there's this quote of his, "Art is the antithesis of nature".  I'm not sure what he meant by that but it's a good conversation starter. What do you think he meant?

Thursday, April 7, 2016

I'm Going to Paint That Someday

Red's Java House 11x14" oil on stretched canvas
The weather has been less than appealing to be outside painting so I'm taking the opportunity to go through reference photos.  I know I'm not the only one who takes photos and declares they're "going to paint that one someday" and then never get around to it. I made a folder on the computer with those photos and I'm working my way through them. As long as I don't add too many more to the pile I'll get through it in no time. Someday I'll finish that pile of photos I'm going to paint someday.
I took the reference photo for this in San Francisco, CA. Red's Java House is on pier 30, really close to the Bay Bridge. It's more of a diner/burger joint than a java house.  It certainly caught my eye with the the way the sun was hitting it and the nice shadows, plus who could ignore the line-up of newspaper machines? Obviously the photo went in the "I'm going to paint these someday" pile.  I jumped right into painting this with no real plan, just paint what was in the photo. I did edit a few things out, construction signs and some pilons that weren't adding anything to the scene. Getting the look of a chain-link fence was tricky and the sign was tough, but the real sign looks like it was done by a sign painter so I gave it a shot. I used my normal palette but snuck in the Gamblin Chromatic Black and turquoise. The Gamblin Chromatic black is just like my Sennelier netural tint in watercolour. It has a "purply" tint to it and it works really well to mix up greys.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Movies and More

Blue Heron 5 1/2 x 8 1/2" watercolour on paper
Went looking for a specific photo yesterday and spent the day looking through my entire archive, picking and choosing what I could use for reference for painting. I had just got done telling everyone how hard it is to photograph the herons and then found a treasure trove of heron photos I took a few years back. I lucked out really, the river had flooded and this particular heron was fishing in someone's front yard, which is why it's so green and how I managed to capture as many photos as I did. They're great for practicing mixing greys. Last week I was working on buildings and trying to put some in shadow and some in light. After being reminded of the warm light=cool shadows I think I got it. Then I painted this bird and laughed at myself as it has both cool greys and warm greys and it was like the buildings were haunting me.
Now for your weekly movie recommendation. I decided that in order to better keep myself organised I'd post movies and book recommendations on Mondays. So every Monday you can look forward to that, or not.
The movie this week is, Lust for Life starring Kirk Douglas and Anthony Quinn.  It was just Van Gogh's birthday the other day so it's only fitting to choose a movie about him.  Douglas plays Vincent and Quinn plays Gauguin. Van Gogh is one of the more interesting painters I've ever read about.  I've seen many exhibits with his work and one of my favourites was at the Art Institute in Chicago where they displayed numerous letters he had written to his brother. While his style may not be everyone's cuppa tea it's hard not to admit he wasn't persistent.  Many books and art historians claim he only sold one painting in his lifetime, the exact painting differs depending on who's talking. Despite this he didn't quit.
This movie is an interpretation of the many stories told about Van Gogh.  How he cut off his ear and mailed it to a woman and all of the other greatly exaggerated drama that is synonymous with Van Gogh.  I love it when historians bring up the, he ate his paint, story.  Anyone who's ever painted knows it can get a bit out of control and the paint ends up everywhere. It only takes one town gossip to see Van Gogh with a bit of paint on his face and spread a rumour that he eats his paint.  The movie shows what his friendship with Gauguin might have really been like. They were both kind of oddballs and their work wasn't taken very seriously at the time so it's no wonder they didn't always get along yet remained friends.
The movie can be rented on DVD from Netflix,  streamed at Amazon Video, or check your local library or movie rental place.
The book for this week, Lessons in Classical Drawing: Essential Techniques From Inside the Atelier by Juliette Aristides. One thing about Van Gogh that some might not know is that he took drawing very seriously.  Here's an essay written about his thoughts on drawing. Vincent Van Gogh: The Drawings.  His paintings may make some think he had no grasp of the basics but his early work proves he knew what he was doing. One of the most important things to have, if you want to be a painter of any sort, is a basic knowledge of drawing. Proportion, perspective, control of tone, composition, they're all important and can first be learned by simply picking up a pencil and piece of paper. Doesn't even have to be a fancy pencil and paper. This book has a lot of lessons on theory and some instruction that would be worth looking at if you're a beginner, or want to strengthen your knowledge. There's a video that comes with it that is almost painful to watch.  It's difficult for many artists to paint and talk at the same time, but if you're going to teach it's pretty important.  If you can't there's always voice-over work that can be added to the video later, which is what this video needed. Back to the book, the end of each chapter has a lesson set up to get you to try out the concepts covered in that chapter.  This is actually the best feature of the book and makes it a good learning tool. I picked up my copy at Half Price Books for around $15. You can purchase it at Amazon in hardback or Kindle version if you're interested.