Monday, February 27, 2012

It's Not Easy Being Green

5" x 7" watercolor on 140 lb Fabriano Artistico rough paper
South Florida.

A quiet walk outside is disturbed by a tumult of squawking.  A company of parrots traverses the sky.

Three lanes of traffic on US-1 come to a halt as a peacock casually crosses the road.

A car dealership on Bird Road (I kid you not), first thing in the morning before it is open is sprinkled with pepper - hundreds of nondescript black birds called grackles. They loudly perch in groups on every car, every surrounding wire, and along the rims of bordering buildings.  Every day I suppose the employees must rewash the cars if they are ever to hope to sell them.

In Miami, a white ibis, with its orange decurved bill, visits our home so often that my wife has named it.  When he appears we call for our son Matthew and stand together at the window, watching, as the ibis strides across our yard.  He is "Commander", his bearing so proud that it must be so.  Sometimes he brings his army - ten or twenty other birds.

After dropping my son off at a weekly Saturday activity, I'd drive to a spot  in downtown Davie, Florida, where the branch of a tree would extend along the shoreline of a canal.  There every week, without fail, a white ibis would stand.  I like to think it was the same bird week after week.  I sketched him and painted the surrounding trees and the leaves on the branch.

The next week, when I returned, the branch had been cut. The ibis was gone, the beauty of the spot diminished.

This also is South Florida.

This little page had a few incarnations.  A few months ago I sat in the backyard of my sister-in-law's house in central Florida, and sketched the stylized sun that was hanging on her fence.  I then attempted to paint the fence, in yellow ochre, and was not at all happy with the result.  I tucked the paper away.  Then, when I saw the ibis, I decided to put him on the same sheet.  I paint the trunks of the trees and then the leaves in the middle of the page and the leaves were so tedious that I quit.  I put off doing anything more with the page - again for weeks (if not months), not wanting to deal with the leaves.

But then I saw master watercolorist David Lobenberg, at his blog here, and his loose treatment of leaves, and I thought - voila! (because that is how artists express excitement - voila!) - and pulled out the page again.  I had done this before - why not here?  Not all of the leaves had to be so exacting.  I began covering the page with a wash and then the impression of the leaves and grasses from memory.  I was surprised at the richness of color and the depth.  It was enhanced by the yellow ochre underneath I think.

So there you are:  a Florida story. 

6" x 3" watercolor on 140 lb. Fabriano Artistico extra white hot press paper

A few days ago, from a distance, I spotted some more Florida wildlife.  Retirees.  In their native habitat.  A lucky find, I think.  Ah, South Florida, with so much to offer.

My Most Valuable Critic has complained that my last three pictures (the two in this post, and the one in the last) look too similar. 

"They are so green", she said.

"But they are outside", I replied.

"But they are so green," she said.

"Then you can consider this to be my Green Period!" I replied, brandishing my beret, then tilting it smartly on my head. 

And what, I ask you, could she say to that?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

A Watercolor and Haiku

watercolor on 3-1/2" x 7" 140 lb Fabriano Artistico hot press
Along the path
Pigeons gather to be fed--
The house empty.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Art Noir

Ink and watercolor in large moleskine
You may think as you read this post  that it is about literature and not about art.  But it's all about art.  Be patient with me, and the art will come, I promise.  I just want to share some gems I have found along the way.

I admire good writers for much the same reason as I admire good artists - their ability to create worlds or to reflect this world in new and personal ways.

Every November I go to the Miami Book Fair International to hear author after author reading and discussing their works. During the last festival I was excited that Robert Pinsky was scheduled to be a part of a panel.  He is an amazing poet, a former Poet Laureate of the United States and recipient of many awards.  I think his poem "Shirt" is a masterpiece of writing, and love the way in which he reads it.  (You can hear the poem here being read by him, and can follow along with the words if you'd like.)

Ink and watercolor in large moleskine

I'd seen various writers speak during the day, some of whom would require tickets because of crowds that massive auditoriums could not accommodate. I had trouble finding Mr. Pinsky, though.  On the verge of giving up I finally found him and the rest of the panel in a large white tent to the side of the fair, near the entrance.

There were 20 people inside the tent at the most, maybe less.  The vast tent was nearly empty.  Massive blowers were running during the whole presentation, for air conditioning I suppose, which made it very difficult to hear.

The panel consisted of some writers represented in a book called  New Jersey Noir.  All of the writers and most of the audience members were from New Jersey.  I am not from New Jersey, of course, which made me something of an anomaly.  I also differed from the other audience members in that I was busy sketching Mr. Pinsky and the other accomplished poet on the panel, Gerald Stern.

I have not yet read the book - I plan on doing so.  Apparently, though, Joyce Carol Oates, the compiler of the collection of works in New Jersey Noir defined "noir" in terms of crime and New Jersey's colorful history of mayhem and murder.  Robert Pinsky disagreed.

And this is where I did a double-take.  When he started talking, I thought I was listening to an artist.  He talked about how the world around us contains not only what we would think of as classic beauty.  A representation of the world in that way would be incomplete.  Before I go on, I do not remember any of his examples except one (half of my brain was sketching and I took no notes); that single example was that the authors had to fight the big blowers to speak in the tent we were in - that was part of the overall sense of place and time that we were experiencing.

A building has cracks, discoloration on its walls, uneven texture, the creak of un-oiled hinged doors opening and closing, the musty smell in the hallway, the dim lighting in one corner, the bright light in another.  A paper may be taped to a window at an uneven angle.  It may be torn or bent. A person may have hair unevenly strewn, one eye closing further than the other, hair in the nostrils, and puffy cheeks.

There is the ordinary with the sublime, the everyday matters -  it is the fullness of the picture, warts and all, that is worth conveying.

The podcast "99% Invisible" had a short episode on the sound of escalators - how they were part of the soundscape of Washington:

“There’s a secret jazz seeping from Washington’s aging Metro escalators - those anemic metal walkways that fill our transit system…they honk and bleat and squawk” -Chris Richards, “Move along with the soundtrack of Metro’s screechy, wailing escalators” The Washington Post, 01/14/11

It is our role as artists to notice these things.

You can hear the episode here if you'd like.  It's worth it.

Or during my trip to Georgia Tech in Atlanta, one of my favorite finds was this plaque on the tiled wall behind the toilet in the bathroom:

I have never, anywhere else, seen #1 and #2 referred to formally.  Have you?

Mr. Pinsky's remarks reflected my view that Imperfect is far more interesting than Perfect, and, as far as I am concerned,even more perfect than Perfect -  more complete. 

Mr. Pinsky is a poet, but he thinks like an artist.  He is an artist in the broadest sense, and I am sure it is true. A writer is an artist, a musician, an actor - all of these are artists.  I would prefer, however, that they classify all of these folks under a different heading, so that I can actually find material about artists and not about mimes, for example.  A pet peeve of mine.  I will look for a podcast on artists and find a band, for example.

We are as alike as we are dissimilar, we artists, whatever creative engagement we may have.  Check out, for example the fifth member of this band.  (If you can't stand the wait, she first appears at 38 seconds).  This is how it should be, don't you think?

Perfect imperfection indeed!