My Art in Words
Essays about painting and making art.
My Art in Words
Essays about painting and making art.
I grew up attending Catholic School, going to church on Sunday and singing in the choir. I loved the ritual and grandeur of mass, the recitation of the responses together in unison and the enthusiastic singing of the hymnals. But like most kids, I struggled to pay attention. My mind would wander as I stared at the stained-glass windows that dominated the four church walls of St. Francis of Assisi church, soaring skywards. The stained glass outlined by dark lead cane cast colorful shapes on the congregation, capturing my attention and leaving a deep impression. It reminded me of leaves and branches, backlit by the sun, when you lie on the grass and look up at the sky. The colored shapes reflected on the marble floor and wood pews were like the shadows of leaves dappling the grass under a tree. Both were (and are) without-limit-beautiful.
I am drawn to the spiritual and emotional quality of light filtering through branches, leaves or the glass panes of a church window (or really any window.) I am always trying to capture the transitory beauty of light in my work.
Mark Rothko described the relationship between viewer and painting as this: “A picture lives by companionship, expanding and quickening in the eyes of the sensitive observer”.
I have always thought about the question, "how do you know when a painting is done?" It isn't arbitrary - it's a feeling - you kind of just know it: there is nothing left to do, everything feels harmonious. Rothko gives words to that feeling. A painting is finished when you look at it and you can feel it expanding and quickening before your eyes - just like Rothko described.
The paintings below are in progress. They are two of the clearest examples I have of what I mean when I compare the similarities of cane and glass and trees against sky.
At the moment, I am in the thick. The "expanding and quickening" is beyond my reach. Stay tuned.
I have had the best time teaching Fiber Arts at Appel Farm Arts Camp this summer!
Our final project: 100% white cotton t shirts transformed into summer-y one of a kind Sun Print Beach Bags!
1.) Using water-downed acrylic paint, Anya, Mona and Yanni saturated damp t shirts with color. As they worked, they continuously sprayed their work with water, being careful not to let the paint dry.
2) Next, they created a pattern by laying assorted natural objects with interesting shapes onto the wet fabric. They chose mostly natural objects such as sea shells, flowers, and rocks.
3. The final step in the printing process - placing their t shirts in the sun to dry.
4. To transform their t shirts into bags, they first, cut off the t shirt's sleeves and collar. Second, they cut fringe along the bottom edge, which they then tied.
The final step in the transformation process was to make each bag even more uniquely their own. Using the subtle impressions of the objects imprinted on the fabric from the sun as a starting off point, Anya, Mona and Yanni embellished their bags with silk flowers, words and buttons.
And finally, here they are, modeling their final projects - fittingly, in front of the ocean.
Saturday afternoon, Patrick drove me to a spot along the Delaware River where he used to fish in his late teens. The spot was near a boat launch at Neshaminy Park off of Station and State Roads. We walked on a path that ran along the river, through some trees and into an opening that revealed a great expanse of manicured lawn. We could see a large mansion off in the distance. Stone steps, worn down and broken from the rising and ebbing tide, led from the lawn to the bank of the Delaware River. The last time Patrick had visited this spot (more than 20 years ago) the estate was overgrown, abandoned and victimized by vandals. Today, we could see a bridal party posing for pictures in front of a gorgeously restored 18th century manor house - Pen Ryn.
Pen Ryn Estate was built in the late 1700's by a wealthy Philadelphia family, the Bickley's. Notable guests such as Benjamin Franklin and Benjamin West were visitors back in the day. Tragedy struck at Pen Ryn when Robert Bickley, the son of patriarch, Abraham, married a common, local woman, of whom his parents did not approve. During a heated fight on Christmas Eve, his father disowned him and Robert ran out of the house, across the wide lawn, down the stone steps and into the Delaware River, where the strong current swept him away.
I sat on those same steps and began to paint the river. A man with a metal detector passed by on his way to the Delaware's narrow beach. We asked him if he had ever been lucky. He told us about the time he found an antique women's purse, severely ravaged by the elements, but containing a $2.50 Liberty Head gold coin from the late 1800's. Did it belong to a long-ago guest or resident?
Sitting on those ancient steps, I could feel the vibrations of Pen Ryn's history, passing through my bones.
The paintings I painted that afternoon are light in color and mood, though the sky was constantly shifting between clouds and sun and the temperature was hot - in the low 90's. At the end of the afternoon, the sky suddenly opened and a downpour flooded the fields and swelled the river. The kind of downpour that only happens in the middle of a hot, summer afternoon.
On Saturday, I spent the day painting on Germantown Avenue at Chestnut Hill's third annual Plein Air Painting competition. It was a beautiful sunny day - especially welcome after the string of rainy days we'd had all spring.
I set up on the western side of the 8500 block of Germantown Avenue, near the corner, facing the Philadelphia Print Shop at 8am. Not many people were out and about, but as the morning progressed, the street got increasingly busier. I normally like to paint in solitude, but the friendliness of the people passing by, made me feel energized. They would stop and exclaim, "Oh, that's pretty." or "Good Luck" or "I hope you win!"
One gentleman stopped and asked, "Are they going to let you into the club?" I was confused. "What club?", I asked. He replied, "The Painters club. The other paintings I've seen today are all pastel, muted colors. Yours are bright. Do they let painters who aren't afraid of color into their club?" I laughed and said, "I hope so - I love color", to which he replied, "obviously". One woman stopped to tell me she had just taken up painting a month before and was loving it. She showed me her most recent work - a portrait of a woman. She hesitated. "It's really primitive", she explained. The linear quality of her drawing and the bold, solid shapes of color that made up the woman's body and hair reminded me of Henri Matisse. I told her to check out his work. She wrote down his name.
These small exchanges with passerbys made me feel elated. I was part of the Chestnut Hill community for the day. People were interested in what I was doing and would stop to give their opinion. When the day was over, I had completed a painting that captured exactly what I set out to capture - the way the sun emanates from the sky and washes over the trees and buildings and street with a bright, shimmering light. It was a good day.
At 3pm, the competition ended. I was dehydrated and exhausted, but it was worth it. I did not win the competition; but I felt like a winner. And I can't wait for next year.