New Paintings: The Fortress, Long Tree, and Three Moons

The Fortress, Oil on Panel, 12 x 24 inches, 2018

The Fortress (detail), Oil on Panel, 12 x 24 inches, 2018

With summer freeing up my studio time I was able to complete one of springs major projects, The Fortress (above). This double square (for an explanation of what a double square is check out this post from 2016) is of a real place, which is a departure as the majority of my paintings are of imaginary places. Those of you from the Milwaukee/Chicago area will likely recognize this structure as the facade of the Art Institute of Chicago. This picture is another musing on permanence and civilization's interest in timelessness (see Tall Column, Permanent City). The title, the Fortress, implies an implicit facet of the Art Institute's mission, to protect the worlds treasures while also enshrining them as the fabric of civilization's stability. This is not a cynical painting, I don't make cynical paintings, but the Art Institute's existence is not cursory either. Everything means something and art history is a discourse, not a narrative.

Preperatory Drawing for the Fortress, Pencil on Arches Hot Press Watercolor Paper, 12 x 24 inches, 2018

I must have been 15 years old when I entered the Art Institute for the first time. It's easy to be star struck at a museum as large and comprehensive as the Art Institute. I was, then, prone to distraction over contemplation. I was giving my attention to the big names, van Gogh and Seurat. I wandered into what was then a surrealist gallery mixed with some early American modernists. Here I encountered The Rock by an artist I had never heard of, the Russian American painter Peter Blume. I lost myself in it and fell immediately in love. In many ways this was the first time I actually looked at a work of art. It was in this moment that I decided to devote my life to painting. Again, I'm no cynic, and although I prefer to keep my personal life out of the work, the Institute does hold a place of personal significance for me.

Many artists I liked as a young person have long fallen out of favor with me as an adult. But I'm still in love with Blume's paintings, their standing with me has never wavered. They're imagery is unique and strange, and his paint surfaces are immaculate. For me they're the perfect mix of old and new. He still doesn't take the prize of creating the best painting I've ever seen, however. That honor goes to The Garden of Earthly Delights by Heironomous Bosch. Its got all the ingredients of great painting; beautiful, meticulously executed, and absolutely terrifying.

Long Tree, Oil on Panel, 12 x 24 inches, 2018

Long Tree (Detail), Oil on Panel, 12 x 24 inches, 2018

Another double square recently completed, the Long Tree, above. Organic painting is much less laborious than painting geometry so the Long Tree was something of an anodyne while working on the Fortress. Somewhat less stressful work, though pastorals don't always go that way; check out the Black Cloud. I hadn't originally intended to include the calf alongside the adult cow but I liked the idea the painting could be read as a humble, midwestern madonna. Pastorals are tricky; they, by definition, should be inoffensive and digestible, something that will look good in someone's home. But they shouldn't render themselves irrelevant, either. The genre is so old that doing something new can be difficult, I usually turn to technique to give them a little bite...

Long Tree (Detail), Oil on Panel, 12 x 24 inches, 2018

This is a detail of the lower left hand corner of the Long Tree showing this massive brushstroke of cadmium yellow. It was applied with a palette knife instead of a brush and this method, called impasto, has a long history in oil painting (Rembrandt). I've been including thick paint application on several of my recent, more experimental, landscapes.

Thumbnail Sketch for Long Tree, Ink and Watercolor on Arches Hot Press Watercolor Paper, 1.5 x 3 inches, 2018

I produce many different varieties of preparatory work and I change my approach depending on the subject matter. The rigid geometry of the Fortress required a thorough drafting but something organic like the Long Tree can utilize simple thumbnail sketches, like the one above. Writing ideas down with text doesn't do a painter much good because they can be misinterpreted when examined at a later date. Creating miniature drawings is much more productive. It's also a good way to realize what's a good idea and what isn't. I churn these little drawings out by the hundreds. Most of them are in sketchbooks but when I want to use color I grab one of the many scraps produced from cutting down large sheets of watercolor paper.

Blue Moon, Harvest Moon, and Blood Moon, Each: Oil on Panel, 10 x 8 inches, 2018

A new set of three 8 x 10 inch moons, above. I've probably painted the moon more than any individual subject. The vast majority of these Earthen moons are executed in blues so I figured it was time for a deferral. The set, above, and Individual images, below.

Blue Moon, Oil on Panel, 10 x 8 inches, 2018

Harvest Moon, Oil on Panel, 10 x 8 inches, 2018

Blood Moon, Oil on Panel, 10 x 8 inches, 2018

Alma helping out with The Fortress. She's got a good eye!

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