About the Artist1 Newsletter for 2011: “Everything Builds”
2 Newsletter for 2010
3 Newsletter for 2009
4 Paintings in Their Homes
Winter 2010-2011 NewsletterHongnian Zhang, classical Chinese historical scene painter and one of my instructors at the Woodstock School of Art, themed his class in Fall of 2007 around multifigure compositions. Telling a story in a painting with a large number of figures, requires the artist to lay out the canvas so that differences between characters deftly support the depiction of the main event. Characters may be shown in different poses, expressions, have different outfits, be engaged in different activities, be in shadow or be in light, be in the foreground or be in the background, and so on. Hongnian makes choices using the Chinese philosophy of bringing the yin into balance with the yang. A harmonious whole is created by the artist through the creative juxtaposition of contrasts.
In 2010 I addressed this challenge in the completion
of several multifigure compositions. The largest and most time consuming was a 72"x80" painting of a military homecoming parade, begun in 2008 as a private commission. The project remained to be completed as a personal project when the original plan for its use did not work out. In 2008 I had photographed the models, who are actual soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines stationed locally in Glenville, NY at the Scotia Glenville Armed Forces Reserve Center, and in Albany (Fox Company Marines). Colonel Jim Pabis, a National Guard soldier with a day job in Saratoga Springs who had helped me with connections to find the models, proved enormously helpful in 2010 with a time-consuming process I have heard about from other artists who do historical paintings: getting the details right.
Military uniforms vary, even down to the exact pattern of camouflage. The details of ribbons, badges, buttons and blazes can be bewildering but of course, the models would be seeing the painting and would notice any mistakes. Construction of the town setting also required research. The background and buildings are meant to represent Anytown, USA, but are actually a composite of views in Saratoga Springs (the building with red awnings front right, for example, is an Indian restaurant on Caroline Street).
Although the soldiers all walk in the same direction, some are waving some are not; some look left or right, some look ahead; some are smiling, some are not; some are male, some are female; different ages are represented, as well as different branches of the military; and so on. Each model was photographed individually. The challenge of this multifigure composition was to choose who went where, and with what pose.
I finished the painting just in time for a show in June at the public library in Lincoln, MA. My mother grew up in Lincoln and my parents moved to her family's house ten years ago. This was not the first time I had shown art in Lincoln. In 2003, Lincoln's Codman Community Farm, a heritage breed farm that is open to the public, showed the farm animal paintings that I was then making (and provided many models for such) in the farm office, and subsequently in a full barn show in 2004. Lincoln's library has a nice gallery as well, and I had signed up in 2003 for a slot in their rotating show, despite a seven year waitlist. In February of 2010 the call came, by then a complete surprise. A review of the gallery space showed that its main wall, which faces library visitors through a framing pair of doors, would be perfectly filled by the as yet unfinished military painting. The show opened June 5th with a friendly and fun reception catered by my mother, who decorated the refreshment table with pretty spring blooms and colors. Lincolnites, relatives and family friends were in attendance, as was a reporter from Lincoln's weekly newspaper, which featured the painting on the front page a few days later. The responses to "Coming Home" were amazingly emotional and personal. So many people loved it so much that it became my first experience of being the creator of art that takes on a life of its own, acting as a magnet for drawing out people's feelings on a subject that is of great significance to them.
careful and accurate article and included a video interview (in the online version) of Sgt. Gibson, the Marine model who attended the reception. Paul Post had just published a book of his selected writings over the years featuring local veterans, titled Soldiers of Saratoga County. A number of the individuals in the book also attended the reception, including Gene Corsale, former NY Military Heritage Institute Veteran of the Year, and Carol Hotaling, a lady responsible for making thousands of big yellow ribbon bows which have decorated local venues over the years.
In the summer I completed a multifigure composition depicting equine and human competitors at Saratoga's St. Clements Horse Show. This painting was donated to a benefit auction at HITS on the Hudson, a show jumping venue in Saugerties, New York. St. Clements Horse Show has been an annual event in Saratoga for ten years, and attracts a high level of competitors. The layout was developed from a composite of photos I'd taken there over several years. The auctioneer was a gallery owner who shows Hongnian's works.
Like anything else, multifigure compositions require practice. The Lenox Gallery of Fine Art in Lenox, MA has been showing my work for several years and it was for them that I completed a large multifigure composition of concert goers at Tanglewood, an outdoor venue for classical music located a few minutes from the gallery. Visitors come from around the world for the Tanglewood Music Festival each year. Grounds open before the concert for picnics and socializing on the lawn. On a sunny afternoon the colorful shade umbrellas, blankets and coolers, and the mingling community of music-lovers create a beautiful scene in the hazy hot air.
This year was also the year I finished an overdue commission to paint a portrait of the offices of Scott Varley Realty. The office is located on Division Street, on the ground floor of a condominium building. The challenge here was to portray the warmth
and welcome one feels when visiting the office, located in what could be seen as a cool, emotionless, modern stone and brick building. Several of the realtors in the office helped by modeling. The busy and varied passersby shifted the view of the cold building exterior to give a feel of the comfortable, cozy feel inside Scott's office. Creating a multifigure composition with the building as a backdrop, rather than a straight building portrait (which would have been truer to life as the street is normally rather quiet), resolved the problem.
Meanwhile, Siro's Restaurant, the famous high-end eating establishment at the Saratoga Racetrack with a rowdy band and bar area out back under a tent,
continued to show my work in its main dining room after a shift in ownership. They prefer that I give them scenes of the life at the track occurring outside the races ó the backstretch, the grandstand, the red and white awnings. This special niche subject has been depicted by many internationally known racetrack genre painters like Larry Wheeler and the New Zealand painter Peter Williams, both of whom show in Saratoga in the summer. Luckily Siro's is also willing to display one or two of the many jockey portraits I've completed. Jockeys work long hours in very dangerous conditions, with the finesse and amazing strength required to handle incredibly powerful animals many times their size. It has been a privilege and an honor to be able to observe and paint portraits of these athletes for the past several years.
Pedro Rodriguez, a successful jockey based at the Finger Lakes Racetrack several hours west of Saratoga, rode his famous mount Tin Cup Chalice in 2008
to become the first winner of the Big Apple Triple, a threesome of New York races culminating with The Albany at Saratoga. I had the good fortune to get beautiful shots of both jockey and horse at The Albany 2008, showing Tin Cup slightly disheveled as he was in life, winning brilliantly despite his small body and two near-death illnesses. Pedro was also riding him during the early morning accident which took Tin Cup's life in the spring of 2009. I went out to Finger Lakes to deliver his portrait and was shown a magnificent day by Pedro and his friend, trainer Elizabeth Vesci. Finger Lakes is such a friendly track and these insiders seemed to know absolutely everyone. A highlight of the day was a visit to the Casino's bar, with Pedro proudly carrying the painting under his arm to many compliments.
In the Fall, the house in Lincoln sold and I spent several months helping to pack several generations worth of stuff and prepare for the move. I now have a lovely collection of still life objects and drapes, each of which represents a special memory of a family member. Photos eliminate many details, as well as the nuances of light and color that provide needed material for realistic painting. A return to working from life gives a chance for my eyes to recover the feel of three dimensions, which can then translate into more accurate and inspired paintings from photos.
Best wishes for a wonderful year in 2011,