Springing Ahead: Art and Life in the Time of Coronavirus
So very busy in my studio this past winter, and now in early spring, I want to share some highlights and also upcoming good news; and continue a bit with my pandemic diary.
My first and most exciting announcement is that I am now represented by Rice Polak Gallery in Provincetown. I have been showing in Ptown for decades, but with many limitations on size of work, visibility, and organizational support. With this new gallery I am in the excellent company of other contemporary artists in a well-run gallery with a beautiful space in a great locale on Commercial Street. Very exciting!
I know that there are many Cape fans among you, so I hope that you all check it out next chance you get.
Here are a few new pieces headed that way in April:
Link to my page on the gallery website, still in progress:
I am scheduled for a show at Rice Polak from July 22-August 4, and there will be ample work at the gallery through 2021.
_____ ____________________________________________ ______
In the something new category, I will be doing a three-hour livestreamed painting demo on March 25th. While I have fond memories of a demo in my studio one fall several years back with an appreciative small crowd, warm conversation, some tasty snacks and a bit of bubbly…this will do for now. I am thinking that this could be of interest to friends and collectors as well as my students.
The image for the painting will be a salt marsh in late summer color, 22″x28″. I will be using a Vasari paint set that I purchased as a kind of research project about paint quality and pigments, something I get asked about frequently in my color-mixing workshops.
To hear more, sign up for the demo and/or my upcoming color workshop with the Woodstock School of Art:
CHRISTIE SCHEELE CURRENT ONLINE COURSE
In January and February I completed two demo pieces while teaching from-the-heart landscape painting workshops online for the Woodstock School of Art.
The first is an image of Menemsha on Martha’s Vineyard on a summer day. I began each workshop with a short video of water, and was delighted to find that I had a short clip from the actual day.
I had long wanted to do a contrail in a blue sky, and found that in this image it creates a nice graphic without being overly intrusive. (When I try it again I might want to make it a more assertive feature, like my headlights generally are.)
Menemsha with Extending Lines, 24″x48″.
Last summer I was fearful that this winter would bring crippling depression to many people. I worried about my fellow Americans and election results and my fellow humans worldwide and isolation and Covid fatigue and those who are/were suffering already. I worried about all of the new deaths that were coming…and have come.
But instead of all bad news, we have so many things in sight. We have hope! This has hinged almost entirely on the election results, without which we would not have the essential piece—a vaccine rollout that while imperfect, has the attention and determination of the new administration behind it. We have governance at last. We are back in the world community, back in the climate change conversation, back to consulting with our allies…no longer a rogue nation.
Still, our Covid winter has dragged on. Echoing within the isolation that I feared, our emotions are all over the place. While hope is huge…we also have fear, anticipation, the blues, gratitude, stress, loving kindness, loneliness, generosity, and enormous sorrow and loss.
Update to the vaccine conversation: I got my first dose last Sunday, booked for me by a friend. Talk about gratitude!
- Signpost with Gleaming Sky, 20″x20″.
Last week, on a Tuesday/Wednesday in February (IN the Catskills, IN a pandemic) I sold three medium/ large pieces through my gallery in Rhinebeck, Albert Shahinian Fine Art. My first word of this was Tuesday morning and by Wednesday at four the couple were in my studio selecting paintings #2 and #3. By the next day the largest piece was at my framer’s and now they are on their way to Florida.
This sequence of events may seem lightning-fast, serendipitous, almost magical in its precision. And yes, let’s savor the feeling!
But there is a back story.
It starts with the gallery being open day after day, during which time often there are no sales at all. There are frequently folks who come and fall in love with an artist or two and admire every single painting and then leave to have lunch and think about it; or go home to measure; or only one spouse is present and needs to consult with the other. And then they may drop from sight for a while—weeks, months, years—or forever.
This happens often enough that for the galleriest it can feel like the promises of return are a lot of hoo-ha, and sometimes they turn out to be. But, people frequently don’t purchase artwork on the first occasion that they discover it, especially above a certain price point. They google the artist and look for their track record and other galleries; make sure that the prices are consistent with elsewhere; go home and look at their space; discuss which piece(s) they want and where they should go. They await a renovation or a new house. Sometimes they are so busy that they can’t think straight. Other times their job transfers them to London—maybe we will see them again several years later when they are transferred back!
One of my sales from last fall with this same gallery was a a client who had been considering my work for quite a while. I believe she was waiting for this perfect spot to be created: .
The couple that bought these three paintings loved my work when they saw it a few years ago, but had a home with full walls. When they came back this time, it was with a newly acquired second home in Florida with entirely empty walls. All three pieces—the third seen below—are to go in the open-plan, atrium-ceiling living room.
I am a glass half-full kinda gal, so I remember the many stories like this where the fans of the work return with intent. It helps that I am not the one sitting the gallery during the empty moments…one of the reasons for my deep gratitude towards my galleries.
Meanwhile, I am also hard at work painting new pieces for the 2021 season for the Louisa Gould Gallery in Vineyard Haven on Martha’s Vineyard. The Menemsha piece will go there in early May, along with this piece, the first of a series of images of a sparkling day last September off-road on Poge on Chappaquiddick island.
Also, a big chunk of my February: Two 29″x87″commissioned pieces through the Forrest Scott Group, now installed on the same wall in a financial services firm in Florida. These good-sized pieces look small on such a large wall, and grace a room that is otherwise a white box with computers and a big TV screen—hopefully they give pleasure to the owners and staff!
Upcoming this year I have loosely scheduled a solo show in August at a new, beautifully renovated gallery in Fleishman’s (NW Catskills), 1053 Main Street Gallery. That show will be a mix of imagery and sizes, kind of a re-intro of my work to that region and an intro to the many folks who have been purchasing homes there in the past few years.
And then, in the fall, a solo show with my old steady, Albert Shahinian Fine Art. This show will be smaller than my last there—one of the two exhibition rooms rather than two—and feature the series that I began last fall, Things Past.
More on these shows in due time!
Art Ethicist: Giving Credit
“I recently did a painting that was copied from a picture of someone’s pastel painting (was in Plein Air Magazine.) I used oil paints, the original is pastel. Question: Is it considered unethical to copy someone else’s art work even if you are using a different medium?”
This question came in from a student last month as I offered to answer any ethical questions relating to the world of art-making, selling, and teaching.
The short answer is no. Copying is a time-honored way of creating and improving skills. While copying, you see the solutions that the artist has used and learn from them.
Your finished piece, in incorporating the skills of the original artist, will be not the same—and is likely improved—from what you would do on your own.
That leads us to the more complicated answer to this question, which involves what you do with that artwork.
If it is to sit in your studio to inspire you, no further action is required.
But if you are going to show it on social media or in an exhibition, credit needs to be given if:
~You copied another artist, or were strongly inspired by a work of theirs.
~Your artwork was done in a class or workshop and was improved upon by the instructor’s comments that were specific to your piece.
The practice of giving credit springs from gratitude and a sense of community. We are discussing it here as an ethical question, but it is also an attitude toward life and our fellow humans that has been shown to have many emotional rewards for the practitioner.
If you have benefited from the artwork or instruction/feedback of another artist, a mention or an expression of thanks is always appropriate, both ethically and to foster community-building.
December 2020 Year-end Newsletter/Life and Art in the Time of Coronavirus
What a year.
Let me begin with a little gratitude journaling.
While I know a number of people who have suffered and died from the Coronavirus, my immediate family members remain healthy.
We had a lovely summer, during which my yard grew and bloomed like crazy. My husband made repairs on and painted my studio and much of the exterior of the house. A series of breakdowns (plumbing, washing machine, car, I can’t even remember what else) forced upgrades and interior renovations as well. Also a huge amount of sorting, divesting of stuff, and organizing of those things that made the cut, projects that had been needed for years, maybe even decades.
I have zoomed and zoomed, teaching yoga and painting and hanging out with family. In August we arranged the very open corner of our front porch into an outdoor living space and had folks over at a safe distance while numbers were low in NYS and the weather held, catching up on each other’s Covid-era lives.
I am grateful to our governor for governing, and being an innovator in dealing with the Covid crisis. I have never much liked Cuomo in the past and may go back to disliking him in the future, but he stepped up and kept us as safe as he could. And I felt safer for it.
Also on my gratitude list is the greatly raised awareness created by the Black Lives Matter movement and resulting baby steps towards police reform. As I listened more intently to the stories being told and the history behind them, I learned a great deal. I also reread the three Toni Morrison novels that I have on my bookshelves and made myself really sit with the horror, understanding that it is not behind us.
_____ __________________________________ _____
The whole year was rich creatively for me in my studio. While I feel that my life has a nice balance between painting and time spent with family and friends, practicing and teaching yoga, hiking, gardening, and reading, I also see the rewards of decades of obsessiveness about my creative practice. I have so much momentum and so many ideas to be followed up on that I don’t get blocked, and that has served me beautifully during quarantine. My studio continues to be my refuge, the place where a world of things are possible.
I am very grateful for this video, brainchild of Silver Hollow audio—who created it first as an audio project—and the Emerson Resort, who added the slideshow to make this wonderfully produced six-minute survey of my work as a landscape painter in the Catskills. It was featured during their remote Community Week offerings. They had to take it down and relaunch to correct a typo, and I am afraid that there were a number of folks who tried to go to it a few hours after the launch and found the link broken. Here is a working link:
Sales have been robust. I have also done six commissions in 2020, when some years I don’t do a single one.
The commissioned painting that I did during lockdown was the largest painting I have done to date, an incredible project to have at such a time. Above is the 6’x8′ painting after it was installed by Albert Shahinian Fine Art.
Fall has been busy, with folks returning indoors and seeking out new paintings to enjoy in their homes. Here is a sampling:
After months of Covid routine I still have moments of shock at where the world has landed. I was one of the folks who believed in the scientific predictions of an upcoming pandemic and had tracked the news about the H1N1, SARS, and Ebola outbreaks (the latter not over, by any means), feeling huge relief that they had been contained before a pandemic ensued.
So I was reading intently about Covid-19 from early January. (Thank-you NY Times. I have heard people say that there was no coverage early on but that is not true—they were reporting on it daily, but most readers were not paying attention.). It didn’t take more than a few articles, as the evidence emerged, for me to become convinced that this time we were in for it, all of us.
And yet, I could not conceive, really, of what that would look like. The wildfire spread and chaos in Wuhan wouldn’t happen here, right? We would learn from their mistakes and prepare, right? And then Italy’s mistakes and oh whoops it’s here and nobody has done a thing for containment, medical treatment, the economy…nada. No learning, no preparing, no leadership…and maybe worst of all, no efforts to create a national sense of community and responsibility towards each other.
But of course, we are shocked day after day by the poisonous indifference at the top, even marveling at our continued ability to be shocked at each ugly outburst, each new blatant lie and evidence of corruption and narcissistic failure to govern.
Cutting to the chase, I will summarize by saying that when we look back on this period, it will look like the Influenza Epidemic of 1918-20; the Great Depression, the McCarthy era, and the civil unrest of the late 1960s, all rolled into one.
Looking to the nearer future, I believe that we have to seek justice and redress for those who have committed crimes. And as for those who show signs of wanting to shake off the trance induced by the orange cool aid, we need to think about what deprogramming could look like. Shaming and raging (much as it would seem appropriate because many deaths have been caused) won’t help in that effort, and if we can recoup any citizens from this zombie apocalypse, we should.
_____ _______________________________ _____
Images of my newest work:
Since last summer I have given a good deal of thought to this coming winter, mulling over ideas for how I can contribute to the comfort and engagement of others. With my back-to-back workshops for the Woodstock School of Art I have worked to inspire a creative spark, encouraging the kind of focus that is healing and invigorating. Nonetheless, I could envision winter, with its increased isolation and Covid anxiety, creating a bigger, deeper need.
So I dreamed up a workshop that I hope will bring us back to our most loved places. Going straight for the heart, it is called, “Love and Longing: Landscape and Mood”. Quite a departure from my roster of zoomed classes so far, which have focused on formal considerations, from color-mixing to composition.
CHRISTIE SCHEELE LOVE AND LONGING: LANDSCAPE AND MOOD
I have long had artwork at my friend Dave’s beautiful shop in Phoenicia, the Tender Land Home. This month we are offering a raffle for a framed oil-on-paper painting with all proceeds going to the Phoenicia Food Pantry. Tickets cost $20 and you can call in to enter if you can’t stop by, 845 688-7213. The drawing is on New Year’s Eve.
_____ _________________________________________ _____
It is in the present that we are truly alive, so I wish you connection, engagement, focus, and yes, joy, in the upcoming months.
One Small Painting on a Compositional Journey
While teaching a four-week workshop focusing on composition for the Woodstock School of Art, I began this 12″x12″ painting.
Here is the reference.
I almost always eliminate some detail from my reference photos, and change the location, size, shape and color of elements so much that I am recreating the image. Much as I am taken with the view that I choose and the moment in time it captures, everything I do pictorially is in service of the overall painting.
Here is my first version.
When I took the above shot I had already moved the white stripe twice, ending in a spot in between the other two tries. As you can see, I eliminated the cars to the right and the center line, which veers so sharply left that is squeezes against the car with the headlights (which is the focus of my painting) and divides the picture plane oddly.
I included the phone pole to the right and a very faint indication of the yield sign on the left.
I had several critiques, at this point, as I got away from the piece for a bit and came back. One was that the upper edge of the mountain too closely follows the top edge of the treeline, creating a shape that is less interesting than it could be and also encourages the eye to roll down and off the side of the picture plane to the right.
A successful composition keeps the eye circulating, starting with a focal point and then allowing it to move around the painting. This is something that is not so much a road map from the outset, but explored each time through a combination of conscious decision-making—where am I putting these headlights?—and intuitive painting. Then, when something doesn’t look quite right, getting it to where it does is a process of trial and error.
In terms of color, the blues of the mountain and the off-white of the sky seemed too bright for the time of day that would throw the road into such deep shadow. It is hard to see this in the photograph, but this brightness drew attention away from the headlights.
The below is my next version. I am starting to get an edge at the top of the mountain that is more interesting—not so bumpity-bump. I tried painting in a faint back mountain above and then painted it back out again. I gave a little more height and brightness to the yield sign.
The interaction between the tree line and the top of the mountain still didn’t feel right, and the shape of the shadowy trees going off to the right left me dissatisfied. I had been thinking about lifting the phone poll a bit higher, and decided to do that, as well create a higher shape on the right that alludes more strongly to trees or bushes on the right side of the road.
In what turned out to be my final version, I changed the direction that the highest tree is leaning so that it points toward a flat spot on the ridge line (rather than being an upward bump that presses toward another upward bump) and raised the phone pole—much better!
The yield sign went in and out a few more times and then stayed out—-I felt that, much as I liked the shape of it, it fought with the headlights for attention.
The final color is deeper and softer, with the addition of some reds around the headlights that are very subtly echoed in the off-white of the sky.
And last, I changed the curve of the bottom of the bushes as they meet the verge on the right, from a down curve that follows the white line to an up curve as the shape goes off the picture plane. That small adjustment, really kind of an after-thought, was my favorite tweak of all. It created a satisfying shape with the shoulder that funnels the eye back into the painting and toward the headlights.
Because of all of the—to me, absolutely essential— changes, this small piece took more time to complete than the 30″x40″ that I did as a demo for the workshop, but which needed very little adjustment once I started painting. It is impossible to know at the beginning of the journey how long or complicated it will be!
The result of this particular journey is a simple painting, quietly moody.
September Newsletter/Art and Life in the Time of Coronavirus
It has been a lovely summer, even within the unwelcome adjustments required by Covid-19. The outdoors is more important than ever before, with my yard functioning as an extension of my studio not just to dry paintings but also to accommodate a few private students and visitors to view artwork. We continue to be careful.
I have been as busy as ever in my studio, and zoom-teaching my workshops in a weekly class format, a more intense schedule of teaching than in the past. The prep of creating or converting workshop subject matter into these short classes is an engaging stretch of the brain for me, a kind of multi-faceted design problem. I can also reach more people with a remote version, and that feels like what is needed now. Check out the Woodstock School of Art website for details on the upcoming, beginning Monday October 5th.
____ _____________________________________________________ ____
The benefit for the Island Food Bank that I have been participating in all season long with the Louisa Gould Gallery on Martha’s Vineyard has been extended into fall. Every sale contributes to mitigate food insecurity. This is our most recent:
This painting sits squarely in my-most-favorite-things category, the aspects to what I do that please me the most and that I am the most proud of. The color is unusual and heavily mixed to greys, with the cool and nearly flat grey/green of the marsh and blues, pinks, and a hint of purple in sky and water. The bit of a brighter cool blue, the brightest color in the painting, counterbalances with a certain cheeriness the otherwise dreamy and quiet mood. It illustrates something I say frequently when I teach color mixing: that you can harmonize more hues from the color wheel if they are desaturated then if they are all bright and strong.
In terms of composition, the triangular shape of the marsh is echoed in the clouds. The whole composition would tend to pull to the left, with the clouds either drifting or tumbling in that direction and the marsh also going off on that side: but the almost centered tree and and point of the marsh to the right pull in the opposite direction and keep the eye circulating within the piece.
In my workshops I have been analyzing dozens of artists’ paintings in the manner of the above. Such fun to do this with one of my own!
____ _______________________________________________ ____
I completed another large commission in July, through Forrest Scott Group and for the surgeon’s lounge in the Florida branch of a well-known medical facility.
This piece involved an unusual amount of effort and tuning, since I was doing a large version of my photo of an earlier piece. For that piece, I used my photo reference only glancingly, so it was of little use in the large version. In addition, the designer and art consultant selected the image based on a jpeg of the smaller painting, which had a bit of reflectivity in the sky that I had not noticed earlier and that they quite liked and expected to see, understandably, in the final piece.
It is a complicated sky by any standard, with translucent oranges transitioning to cooler reds into mauves and then a soft plum-color going from left to right: oranges into light naples yellows and into the purples going up. The clouds vary in the hue of their off-white, as well. Not hard to do, just hard to do the same way a second time!
The result was satisfying though. Here is the install pic.
___ _____________________________________________ ____
This 40″x40″ was done in August, a familiar bend in the Esopus Creek as seen from Route 28 just before Phoenicia. Fog had always been a beloved subject of mine, shapes that softly dissipate.
I have had a run of one commission after another since last November. I can’t really explain this since none of them are connected to each other, except the below; and that is a story way too long and convoluted to recount. Recently finished, 18″x52″, conveying perfect tranquility:
___ ______________________________________________________ ___
I got an email from an old friend inquiring about this painting, which she had seen on social media earlier in the summer. She said that she had a dream about it the night before, and was it still available?
After a yard viewing with her and her husband and a welcome catch-up, the painting went home with her. A sweet sale in every way!
____ _________________________________________ ____
A few years back Albert Shahinian Fine Art in Rhinebeck brought a grouping of work to a home in Bronxville, NY, where the family was just beginning to settle into a new home. They decided on one piece of mine, preferring to figure out their lighting and furniture before more art purchases. This past late August Albert brought to them another two pieces that they had viewed at the gallery, and those went up as well.
My benefit for regional food banks continues with Albert Shahinan Fine Art as well. The first one that we did was more of a give-away, in which people could make a donation to the food bank of their choice and we mailed them one—or more, in most cases—of these mini collages:
For our second one, we went up in size and with another grouping, my 6″x6″ oil-on-board pieces, of which there were twelve at the gallery. After Albert sold a 4″x12″ piece on board and folded it into the benefit, we added the two of that size that he had on hand. Each sale is discounted for the collector by $100 and the same amount is going to either the Phoenicia Food Pantry or the Hudson Valley Food Bank. Here is where we stand now.
These are a few pics of pieces still available:
Inquiries for bigger/better pics of other works still available can go to me or to the gallery.
___ _________________________________________ ____
Just to introduce this with a quick peak, I have been working outdoors with found natural objects as part of my Atlas Project, creating small installations. This is a circle back to some creek workshops that I did with kids years back, finding the possibilities fascinating but not the time to pursue them. This summer I have allowed myself the gift of some time and focus on the process, which involves a lot or trial and error to come up with an arresting image. There will be more of these going forward, and a blog post soon.
____ __________________________________________ ____
We have been involved in house and studio repair projects all season long, instigating a sorting and reorganizing of just about every living and storage space we have. A cascade of breakdowns starting mid-summer led to emergency U-turns from planned projects…but much progress has been made, including a new laptop, car (a newer used Volvo wagon that I can carry up to 48″ wide paintings in, just like the old!!), upstairs plumbing, side of studio, washing machine, and paint job progressing on the house. We have been in this place since 1990 and have not been keeping up, so the sorting will continue.
It is also getting to be time to bring my houseplants in from the yard. I started with this area at the top of the stairs, where I have settled them amidst some ceramic work of my mom’s, as well as two of her paintings. She passed away last December, and I selected these two 12″x12″s from her estate because they are two of her best and because she did them in my studio about twenty years ago. The mirror was also hers.
____ ____________________________________ ____
This newsletter is almost entirely art-related, as I have had so much going on in that arena and feel that I cannot even bear to comment on the state of the nation/world. But here I go: I fervently hope that this worldwide trend towards right-wing dictatorship will turn around, starting here in November. Vote! Vote early and in person, if you can.
Considering Color: Seven Historical Paintings
Color on my mind… I have been teaching my color-mixing workshop remotely for the Woodstock School of Art and next will move onto another live-streamed class that starts with color-mixing that will be the immediate basis for paintings. In any style or genre, the artists will create three paintings in the color compositions covered: monochromatic, analogous, or complementary.
Surprisingly, I have never written a blog post about this information. So, to share with more artists than I can reach with my classes, I will analyze here seven paintings, discussing color composition as well as hue, value, saturation, and layering.
I have chosen works from some favorite painters, presenting them in order of less saturated, more tonal color, to brighter, more saturated color.
_____ __________________________________________ _____
Twachtman was a master of tonal color. In this piece, he is working in a very subtle complementary green-red palette. The greens come in more strongly and have black embedded within them for the deepest value and then move through a whole range of mid and light tones all of the way to the white of the clouds. The reflection in the water has both reds and greens in it in a lovely, soft color segue from left to right. Another way to look at the color composition would be that this is mostly a study in many colors of grey, which tend to harmonize with each other. Note the date on this very modern feeling, tonal landscape painting.
This Milton Avery figure painting uses a stunning, simplified palette in blues and browns, a combination that I have always found deeply satisfying. Blues tend to be be a kind of beacon color in the human psyche, partly having to do with the history of color—coveted, romantic, even sweet at times. The earthy browns ground them effectively. There are several value and hue shifts with both blues and browns, the lighter blue in particular is cool while the deeper blue moves to a warmer, slightly more purple hue.The deep greys and an off-black in the hair, while cool, look to be middle hues between the blues and the browns, linking the flattened shapes together into a well-knit composition..
In the Turner painting, below, a warm, desaturated monochromatic palette is used to very dramatic effect. There is not a full range of value contrast, the warm tones starting with a medium naples yellow and moving through deep, desaturated reds to to the deepest black, which is essential to the drama. The feel is of fairly bright golden colors, but in fact this is a tonal painting, relying on exquisite drawing and well-blended edges for the overall feel.
I selected this dynamic Frankenthaler in particular for it’s primary/secondary-color palette, red/blue/green. The three large shapes are equally desaturated, reminding me of slightly faded vintage cars that have been in the sun for decades. They are also of similar value and not quite flat, with canvas just barely showing through in some areas and breaking up entirely in the red. Also key to the success of the painting is the small shape of desaturated red on the right, presenting as a tint of medium value, somewhere between a pink and mauve in hue. (And of course, the graphic of that deep orange line!)
A still life by Soviet era painter Vladimir Yukin, this painting is interesting as a well-integrated color study. In a complementary warm/green palette, it does have a full range of value, from white to deep greens and reds to black, but most of the painting is in mid-value, rich but desaturated. I love this painter’s work, often distinguished by the similar treatment of fore- and background, both in terms of hue/value/saturation and paint handling. This makes the delightfully off-center composition and dark outlines key attributes, as the positive and negative shapes embed with each other within a uniform surface. Splashes of more saturated color with the red/orange flowers add drama.
I couldn’t possibly discuss color, or my comfort-art, or art of the 20th century, without including Rothko, my single most ever-present lifelong influence. He loved red, and used it oh-so well, and was the master of subtle layering. This is an almost monochromatic palette, but that top line of warm yellow-green throws that meaningfully off. The layering creates many shifts in hue and value, like the whiter color on top of the background red that goes to pink, leaving an uneven gutter of the deeper red around the orange rectangles to create a beautiful vibration. And while the narrow top rectangle has the most going on, the flattest area of the bottom orange one counter-intuitively draws my eye, enhancing that well-known Rothko mesmerizing effect. This is a perfect example of when less-is-more, the emptiest area drawing the eye more than the busiest (if you can even use the latter word in describing a Rothko!).
Kandinsky was my first true love, and immediately upon discovering his body of work at age 14, I was drawn most to his expressionist pieces over the early landscapes and the later constructivist painting. In the below piece we see seemingly all-over-the-place color, and yet it harmonizes. Several factors are at work here to create this effect of lively, dense painting that hangs together. One is that most of the surface area is actually in a neutral cream to naples yellow color, light on the value scale. This is often a factor in work that appears very bright at first glance—the brights are popped and prevented from fighting by the neutrals, which here include the black lines, as well. Two other factors are a composition anchored by those black lines that keeps the eye circulating within the painting; and that he pretty much left out purple—omitting one of the six primary/secondary colors or one section of the color wheel can be very helpful in organizing a cohesive palette.
Well, this is the most fun I have had all week. I hope you enjoy reading it half as much, and please feel free to comment—agree, disagree, elaborate!
CHRISTIE SCHEELE COLOR MIXING AND COMPOSITION FOR PAINTERS ONLINE COURSE
A Large Commission/ Art in the Time of Coronavirus
In this post I will be documenting the planning, preparation, and creation of a 6’x8′ painting for returning clients through my Rhinebeck gallery, Albert Shahinian Fine Art.
The project has presented special challenges because of state restrictions imposed due to Covid-19. The planning began before our abrupt quarantines, and the piece was finished in late May, framed, and installed June 6th.
I met these folks at a reception at the gallery on February 15th. What followed was a 31 email chain discussing various possibilities for their beautiful, big wall:
They already had a good-sized marsh painting of mine, acquired from ASFA years ago when the gallery was located in Poughkeepsie:
A sea view was always the idea, either open sea or with Chatham sandbars or with big surf. I sent multiple jpegs with ideas and they sent me many others. It seemed that they liked several of the ideas and had to go through a process of narrowing down, until they honed in on their choice, a view of blue sea, sandbars, and Monomoy from a favorite bit of beach in Chatham, MA.
These were a few of my pieces that they were drawn to initially:
In an email about 25 in, the clients were dialing in:
- In the first attachment, Moving Clouds: we really like the way you have angled the beach in contrast to the horizon. We feel this will work well with your rendition of the CBI waterfront. We also think that having a more active sky would be good, since the water is usually tranquil inside the bar.
- The second attachment shows the near shore section of the beach that we hope you might be able to represent similar to the way you already mentioned, “show just a bit of beach, a simplified swath of beach grasses off to the right… And some sky interest.” We would like to see more beach than grass though. We recognized that you would not be painting the scene exactly as is, and that is fine with us. We are going for something that looks natural, but for those of us who know the area, we can easily imagine it as the same section of shoreline.
- The third picture can be found at the following website. We really love the colors and contrast of the water and the nearshore beach, the middle bars, and the bright sand of the outer bar. We are hoping you could incorporate these elements along with the above.
All of this made perfect sense, after the discussions that we had already had. And since all of it is also perfectly within a subject matter that I hold dear and in my signature style, I was more than happy with their choice. That it wasn’t a tweaked or reformatted version of something that I had done before made it exciting and fresh.
I was lucky with several of the logistics that could have proven difficult under quarantine. First, that I could have a stretcher made in the needed size through my Vermont custom stretcher-makers Brickyard Enterprises—that they were healthy and willing and had the supplies. Next, that when I contacted Claussens linen in Belgium I was assured that the weight linen that I like to use —for its lovely slubbed surface–would be fine for a canvas of that size. Lastly, that I could get a porch drop-off delivery from Brickyard, since this canvas would not come even close to fitting in my Volvo wagon.
I always start a commission with a study, usually oil on paper and small, in the 8″x10″ range but to scale with the desired piece. Approval of the study is sought before moving forward. I agreed with the clients that the size of the painting called for a larger study, and when I realized that I had a 30″x40″ on hand , perfectly to scale with 6’x8′, I suggested that we do a way bigger study…seemed to make sense with a way big painting.
The day before the delivery of the stretched canvas, the clients decided to come by for a porch-viewing of the 30″x40″ study, since they were having a hard time seeing the true colors from the jpeg. I was so glad that they did, since it put a few questions to rest, and they left very happy.
Priming with my usual off-black gesso proved to be a challenge. I usually do this flat, but realized that I wouldn’t be able to reach the middle section that way, so I opted to prop it on the ground against a table that I use for various outdoor jobs. I wired the back of the stretcher to the sides of the table with picture wire so that the wind wouldn’t catch it, which turned out to be a wise precaution later in the day when the breeze picked up.
I positioned the canvas so that the sun didn’t hit the front, since the gesso goes on more smoothly if it stays damp.
The first coat is wettest and the last coat the thickest, following an oft-used maxim in painting, thick over thin. I sand lightly between coats, and even very lightly, at the end.
By the end of coat #3, five hours later, I was exhausted. Using a 5-inch house-painting brush, the gesso has to be thoroughly worked into the fibers of the linen, and quickly. The physical part was one thing—wrist and shoulder of my right arm, though I did try to use the left a bit—but the mental another altogether.
My understanding is that repetitive motion releases serotonin in the brain, something that we enjoy with, for example, running or walking. So maybe that explains the level of brain-dead that I felt at the end of the afternoon. It was unlike anything I had felt before, like I was stunned into absolute mental disfunction. You might think that this would be accompanied with euphoria, but it was not!
The next day, canvas back in my studio, I was not satisfied with the evenness of my priming job and, knowing that once I started painting I would be stuck with whatever it was, I did a forth spot- coat and some very careful sanding, and then got the canvas back up on my easel (with help…a two-person job).
Next up: mix a palette, making a range of blues, sand colors, and a few greens, and adding nice amounts of my wax medium for easy spreading on the absorbent gesso.
Establishing the horizon line was the first step in applying paint. For such a large canvas, it is hard to see proportion while working up close and impossible get a level line without measuring. I used, as I have before, a standard equation for proportion, in this case x is to 72″ (the height of my canvas) as 30″ is to 40″, the height and width of the study: and so I came up with the placement for the horizon and measured across a few times. The sea does need to be level at the horizon, gravity doing its work. Then eyeballing it, I decided I wanted it a little higher.
Many passages in the painting of this large version can and will be spontaneous and based upon a lot of coming forward to paint and backward to examine. But given how hard it is to see proportion while working up close, it has been very helpful to measure based on the study and not reinvent the wheel at every turn. I calculated that one inch of study is equal to 2.4″ in the large piece, and then deviated a bit where I saw fit as the painting evolved.
This clip of video catches a bit of the of the process:
The next week, a pic of the painting after one layer was completed:
The composition and all of the major shapes have been worked out, following what was established in the study and then shifted a bit where it felt natural to do so.
I add layers of paint to an area based on what, to my eye, needs brightening up. For this painting, it ended up being three to four layers, with the original dark gesso showing through very subtly to mitigate flatness. I am at heart a minimalist, so often less is more in terms of detail; but within each area there is a good deal of color shift and soft brush work.
Going up in size means more play in each area of color. For example, going from a swath of green salt grass on the outer bar an inch high in the 30″x40″, to two and a half in the 6’x8′ gave me room to segue from varied warm greens (with quite a lot of white in them) above to some burnt reds at the edge of the sand. This created a visual link to the reds in the lighter sand colors, and also explores the warm green to warm red color-wheel interaction (think olive green to burnt sienna).
This is the final version, signed off on when the collectors visited for another yard viewing. You can see the difference in luminosity.
The way that I explain my version of minimalism is to point out that if you try to pack too many elements into a painting, it is hard to fully see and appreciate any of them. Further, the openness of large shapes and soft edges creates a strong composition that works with the image, or view, to invite contemplation. In that way my pieces are very much about the painting as abstraction, while also expressing a strong sense of place.
Named Chatham Bars by the collectors, signed in front with my initials and labeled on the back with my name, title of the piece, medium, dimensions and date, the piece was ready for framing. The final step in the whole process for me was to get the piece to my framer extraordinaire, Geoffrey Rogers, in Pine Hill. It’s a short hop from here, but still required hiring a mover, due to the size.
The clients had requested a walnut floater frame, so Geoff created his own molding, which he hand-finished. He suffered a broken collar-bone in the middle of the process after a bicycle mishap, so help from his son moved the project forward to completion. Here is the painting in the shop, awaiting pick up from Albert Shahinian.
I wasn’t there for the installation, which was carried off by Albert and another art installer that he brought on board, with help from the clients. As you can imagine, getting a large painting up on this wall was a process.
This project was particularly meaningful for me in the midst of staying home during the pandemic. It not only created a complex, multilayered point of focus for me, but also worked so beautifully as metaphor—a very large canvas of a particularly open and expansive view being created within a set of constraints unprecedented in our lifetime.
Special thanks to my husband Jack and son Tony, one of whom had to help with every out-into-the-sun and back into the studio later; each up-and-down from the easel to work different sections; and the final in and out of the truck for delivery to my framer. One day when unexpected dark clouds blew up and I was home alone, I managed to get it into the studio with no damage to myself or the painting…which made me appreciate all of the help even more.
Art and Life and Coronavirus: What Does it Mean?
So many folks are thoughtfully and often with great introspection finding meaning in the human experience of the pandemic. I have been doing my habitual undisciplined musing on that and almost anything/everything else, without creating the mental space necessary to really focus on the issue. All of the reminders to value what we have are lovely now as before, but I feel that there is something more here.
I know that any train of thought that I might develop matters little in this giant sea of change and pain. But one of the reasons that I started writing a blog about ten years ago was to bring a little form to my musings, teasing out something resembling conclusions from the mishmash.
I have been considering the twin truths of life being brutal and life being magnificent.
“Life is nasty, brutish, and short.”
I looked up this quote in Writing Explained to make sure that I had it right, and lo, look what I found in the explanation:
“This expression comes from the author Thomas Hobbes, in his work Leviathan, from the year 1651.
He believed that without a central government, there would be no culture, no society, and it would seem like all men were at war with one another.
- In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain, and consequently no culture of the earth, no navigation nor the use of commodities that may be imported by sea, no commodious building, no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force, no knowledge of the face of the earth, no account of time, no arts, no letters, no society, and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
If this does not hit home in our present circumstances, I don’t know what does. As the federal government has been working for 3+ years to dismantle our government itself in favor of an oligarchy run by big money, it has also undermined the response to the virus, making life much, much nastier and shorter for many.
What is the antidote, on a personal level?
The question of what is magnificent is is almost self-evident, so let’s shift that to—what is meaningful?
For me, family, studio practice, yoga, nature, close friends, wider arts community. Now as before. I am incredibly fortunate that much of that is as accessible now as always, maybe more so.
The creative practice is huge, almost a living, breathing thing.
In person and physical contact with family, friends, and the wider community is where we feel our loss most keenly. In our far-flung life-style, many friendships were already carried forward through social media, phone, email, and/or some form of live streaming; but in those cases, we also often lamented the distance. Here, we can look to appreciate all of those forms of communication—just imagine if we didn’t have them!—and also soften into the anticipation of being unselfconsciously with others again.
For a discussion of living in the Catskills during the pandemic and on avoiding the grass-is-greener trap, follow this link to a recent short phone interview with Brett Barry or Silver Hollow Audio, who is producing a new podcast platform, Kaatscast (you may recognize him from WAMC’s Soundbeat).
As the virus has doubled down on our resources, we can only double down on what we love, exploring new possibilities and cherishing the ongoing ones that are possible, albeit sometimes in an altered fashion, in these times.
I started this post before the murder-by-cop of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the protests that have erupted around the nation in the past few days. Is it possible that we have finally had enough, that this is a defining moment in our nation? And is it possible that the pandemic has played some part in our determination to change the culture and address racism head-on, after seeing the larger number of deaths from Covid-19 in black and brown communities? Are we in fact stronger, having gained fresh perspective on what is important?
I am sharing a painful yet brilliant drawing by my friend Veronica Lawlor.
You can view her blog here:
Building on what we have that we value most, this can be a moment of desperately needed change. If finally moving to reform the culture of a racist and violent police force comes out of this period, we will have significantly moved the dial forward in America.
Art and Life in the Time of Coronavirus, May 12.
May 9: I had thought to leave off posting until I complete my 6’x8′ commission and finish the blog description of the process, but find that I miss the diary.
Snow last night and today, actually quite dark and blizzardy at intervals this afternoon, alternating with sun flurries. It seems almost cruel that our spring is so delayed, when we crave the comfort of warm sunshine and a softer outdoor experience. For me, key to that is our screened-in back porch, my warm-season living room. A day in which I can have my siding door open to the porch and take my meals and do my online work out there is a good day .
But, while cringing on behalf of my snowy flowers and leafed-out plantings today, it popped into my mind that this weather might have its uses in slowing the spread of the virus. Warm days have brought with them prematurely reckless behavior. So maybe this prolonged chill will allow the curve to turn from its current level to downward, and save a few lives.
The news is not good at all and makes me despair about human idiocy, American and otherwise. So I unashamedly grasp at straws.
On this Mother’s Day, the first without our mom, I am fortunate to be doing the things that I have always chosen on this spring day in which I feel free to pamper myself. Sometimes the weather has been 45 and rainy and put a damper on my busy-in-the-yard plans, and yesterday’s snow would have been the kicker…but today we have partly sunny and in the 5os.
Ordinarily, I would have gone to Oneonta with my sister Carla yesterday, the Saturday before Mother’s Day, to have lunch and a nursery visit for hanging pots and annuals with our mom. I always brought flowers from my yard on every visit from April through October.
When we finally scatter her ashes in multiple places, I hope it is during the growing season so that I can include some flowers.
____ __________________________________________ ____
The crumbling world around us cries out for help…socorro, socorro! I can only think in small, manageable bits about it, or it threatens hopelessness that sabotages action. So, to begin somewhere, I created a fundraiser last week in collaboration with Albert Shahinian Fine Art. I offered to give a small collage from the eleven left at the gallery after an environmental fundraiser last fall to anyone who sent me a receipt for a donation of at least $40 to a food bank of their choosing. They all were spoken for very quickly and we raised about $500. Albert sent them all out a few days ago from the gallery.
Just a start. I’ll be thinking of more, and ASFA is on board for more collaborating. I do like to use my art to raise money because it is my ready resource that folks value. These little pieces went mostly to prior collectors and a few to a student or mentee not in a position to buy a market-priced piece. I used only social media so for the next thing could readily access my best outreach resource, which is my mailing list.
____ _________________________________________ ____
I am also involved in a fundraiser for the Island Food Bank on Martha’s Vineyard through my gallery there, the Louisa Gould Gallery. Her shows this spring and summer are an opt-in for gallery artists to join her in donating 10% of sales for food security, with every dollar raised going for $7 worth of food.
We just made a nice sale of these two pieces, accomplished through shipping, as the gallery has not yet reopened.
Here is a link to the current online show of new work at the gallery:
____ _____________________________________________ ____
My big studio project continues to be the 6’x8′ commissioned version of this 30″x40″. I am creating an in-depth description of the process for an upcoming blog post.
Stay healthy, y’all, and let’s keep each other safe!
Art and Life in the Time of Coronavirus, April 17.
April 12: Today is our Dad’s birthday. We had a sweet Zoom party with family, just missing Tessa among the grandkids. Tony is not in this screen shot, but he hung out for the latter half.
Then Tessa texted a few hours later that she is out of the woods and at Zac’s house. We should get some more detail tomorrow about her plans.
I am creating a zoom painting workshop for a few students who are, of course, stuck at home. Like so many others, they thought that there would be so much lovely down time, but the experience may instead present itself as a big void, punctuated only by anxiety-producing details. (Like, for one student, that she is self-quarantined in a small nyc apartment and her immediate neighbors have the virus, with at least one of them being taken to hospital. So this would make her fearful of her own hallway.)
I am looking forward to the challenge of connecting within the technology, which in this case will be much more intricate than with my hour-long yoga classes. But I’m aware that it doesn’t matter how much we have to muddle through. While I am always conscious the of the information I want to share with my students in any workshop that I teach, I think that just now, being together will be the best thing about it.
April 14: Talk is all about how we will come out of this confinement. It is clear that is will be tentative, messy, little-by little, and still involve infections and death. This virus is so very intricate in all of its details. This was clear from my early reading about Wuhan as they were fumbling about trying to get the first handle on it.
It seems that it can spray way beyond 6 or even 10 feet just through conversation. It appears possible that the incubation period is, on outside, more than 14 days. They worry that a vaccine will not be useful due to mutations, so a treatment is vital. They know that infected folks can be contagious while symptom-free or pre-symptomatic, and that tests often are false negative (not that we are doing nearly enough testing).
So, it seems that we cannot open back up again, or even maybe live in the next several years, with any assurance that the virus is gone. Maybe it is now a part of life on earth, going forward?
In studio, so busy! This is the edition of my first three color reduction linocut, though they are all inked differently and so technically not an edition.
I planned this print for my Atlas/Watershed site map, in progress. It shows the streams’ normal flow, along with flood zones areas and the extreme breach cause by Hurricane Irene in Phoenicia. Shown are the Esopus; north of it the Stonyclove: Oxclove (which runs through our back yard) and Warner creeks.
I am thinking of one of these for the map, mostly as a color choice:
Still working on the oil-on-board pieces. What makes me happy? How I tweaked the line of the swash multiple times to create that subtle lift and almost vanishing to the right. Just that one thing, the last that I did, took me from liking to loving.
It looks like Tessa will stay in Minnesota for the time being. Reentry into her VT community would include her roommate, who works with (essential businesses) farming and food security, self-isolating, and she could not see friends nor work (like all of the rest of us!). So she is better off in Minnesota with Zac and the 5 others with whom she has been in the woods maple sugaring for the past few months.
Trump is becoming more and more unhinged. I am amazed that it is even possible. He does love conflict, and has reverted—after a short spell of acting almost presidential a little bit of the time, due to national outrage at his irresponsibility over the Covid-19 suffering—to fomenting fights among our states and backing demonstrators against stay-at-home restrictions.
He is severely mentally ill and cannot sustain even the appearance of normalcy for more than a few hours. It makes those of us who are rational scared to death for the future of us all.
I did some color-mixing and related painting conversation via Zoom today with a few students with whom I am friendly. We worked out some bugs and they were happy to take steps forward in their painting practice, as they shelter in place.
This is a spiffed-up version of our chart for mixing blues, using just three colors and black and white:
I did a few last tweaks on the new Path painting this morning:
I’ll be starting a blog post that will document the process of creating a very large commissioned piece, 6’x8′. This is a multi-step process even for a smaller piece and in normal times, and is involving even more logistics due to the size and the constrictions that we are living with. I’ll publish the post once the final piece is completed, some time in June.
Art and Life in the Time of Corona Virus, April 7.
More tears this morning, reading that the supreme court’s conservative justices overruled the Wisconsin governor so that their primary should go ahead today. This is against all public health advice, and serves only one purpose: to lower turnout so that Republicans do better at the poles.
The Times said it well, “your vote or your health”. The justices also declined to extend the deadline for the safer absentee ballots. If Americans have any remaining doubt that many Republicans are a-ok with killing us if that furthers their agenda, this should dispel it. I hope that someone files criminal charges against them, though that won’t fix this voter-suppressed primary.
Of course, this is just a dress rehearsal for more of the same gambit in November.
A big dose of warm sunshine yesterday and today, walks, yoga on the back porch, yard work, planted some salad greens…so healing! Tony and I have rejoiced a number of times that this confinement didn’t come in the frigid depths of January instead of during the rebirth of an early spring.
In studio news, I sold this painting a few days ago and now am working on a different beach path image that will eventually make it’s way to Martha’s Vineyard.
Work is progressing on the Site Map. Next on deck once I have completed the grouping for MV will be new paintings for this next Atlas/Watershed project, all of the Catskills and Hudson Valley. I am loving the way the juncture of Long Island, Staten Island, and Manhattan look as my collaging progresses!
Maps have become poignant to me in a new way in the past several months, as I daily follow the NY Times worldwide mapping of the virus. I also have been tracking the spread of cases in many of the counties in this particular section of NY State, where I live and have many loved ones. Ulster, Putnam, Dutchess, Otsego…I check on these and others daily.
One of my “because, why not?” projects during this interval is to memorize all of the nations of the world. I started with what I know—places where I have either lived or read extensively about or just find less confusing, geographically; and move out from there. South America was easy, with a little bit of work getting placement of central American countries straight. Asia not too hard; Europe pretty good; now I am taking my time with Africa and the Mid-East.
I’ll print a blank map of the world and start testing myself.
Back into the studio. This collage was maybe finished; or maybe too simple. I placed the piece of paper (all of the rice papers that I use are dyed or colored or textured by me) on the upper right on top of the board and stared at it for about two weeks. I wasn’t sure if it also needed something graphic along the horizon moving off to the left.
I tried a handful of different elements, all gorgeous in their own right, but not working on the piece. Finally yesterday I went ahead and glued down the bit of paper on the right, and oddball that the piece is, I really am happy with it. I titled it “So There”.
Hang in there. The next few weeks are critical.
Art and Life in the Time of Coronavirus, April 3.
April 2: This might be a good time to include the link to an earlier post of mine that is so relevant to these times. The rich creative focus that I have practiced my whole life is now, in the current crisis and confinement, my backbone of continuity and connection.
That is what it is always about, finding peace in creative attention. Even more so lately, because while many have extra time on their hands, we are all having a harder time reaching those lovely plateaus of concentration where we forget all about everything except the project at hand.
I had a good cry this afternoon, feeling desolate about the worldwide situation. This was partially brought on by being asked a difficult question. Leading up to a photo shoot in my yard with Casey Kelbough (more on this later), I was prompted via email that I would be asked “some thoughts on the current situation…and where you think it might all be heading”. This is something that I actually try not to think about these days, with the almost complete lack of control that we have, and the unknowable timeline.
As I looked at the rest of this year, I thought with horror of what our psyche would be if Trump won reelection next fall—even more horror than a month ago. We will come out of this sad and stressed and hopefully tougher— but could we face four more years of lying and stealing and polluting the dismantling of our way of life? After which the nation might be in ruins for ever after?
I could foresee suicides, I really could.
We already knew how little he cares about taking all rights away from us. We need to remember what we have recently learned—how indifferent he is to killing us.
___ _____________________________________________ ___
April 3: I taught my first zoomed yoga class from my painting studio on Wednesday, and it went very well. I look forward to this weekly anchor, and encourage folks everywhere to check it out. The class is billed as Gentle, appropriate for beginners, and I adjust my classes to whoever shows up. I teach in the Forrest style, slow and deep, building strength and flexibility and opening the breath.
To sign up for this 5:30-6:30pm class go to catskillsyoga.com and follow the directions there. You also have to download zoom—which is free—and you will be sent a link the day of the class, which you click on to join the group. If you are new to my classes, feel free to reach out to me ahead of time with questions or any information that you think I should know.
In the studio I have been working on the oil-on-board pieces. A grouping of these 8″x8″s are for the Louisa Gould Gallery on MV. We are going to have to launch the season virtually, with work going on her website and any sales being shipped from my studio. We are fervently hoping for in-person deliveries to happen by July 1st.
I started my period of self-isolating proactively on March 13th. I began that first week with a fierce work ethic in my studio and yoga practices and everything else that needed to be done. It worked well for me, but since then I have been searching for a more relaxed attitude—actually harder to do with all of the terrible news.
A day or two ago I saw the headline for a NYT article that encouraged us to understand that we may be less productive than usual during this crisis. I didn’t even need to read the article, I just thought “YES!”. That makes so much sense…we think that we should be more productive, but the opposite might be true. For me, this understanding hit a little release valve for me to allow each morning, afternoon, and evening to unfold as they will.
Art and Life in the Time of Coronavirus, March 26, 2020
Tuesday-Thursday, March 24-26:
In the past few days we have seen the news become worse and worse, with the NYC metro area suffering huge numbers of infected and new infections mounting exponentially. The issue of New Yorkers fanning across the country to flee—or just wait out— the problem is finally much in the news, with some states requiring quarantine.
This has been on my mind here in the Catskills, where every second or third home is a weekend place and many others are AirBnB investment properties, currently rented. I would do the same if I lived in nyc and had a place up here, but I would have come up weeks ago and then stayed, like my sister and brother-in-law did. It’s the recent arrivals that pose a risk to us all.
However, we are all supposed to be behaving as if we and every other person has it. I would say that, for those coming from the global epicenter, this should extend to face masks while shopping. And, since recently trailhead parking lots in the Skills are full when the weather is nice, remembering to keep your six feet from other hikers—it’s easy to forget while out in the fresh air. Gloves and speed at the post office, as many of us in this rural area have to pick up our mail.
On the whole, it seems that folks are good and buttoned up in their homes, as they should be, wherever they come from. Since we have a lovely series of hiking trails just up my dead-end road, our road is always the choice for neighborhood dog walkers and hikers, and it is so nice to stop for chats, as in the past, but with more distance between us. I haven’t seen many of the new arrivals in this mix, but we are all good as long as we maintain our six feet.
Cases are mounting in Ulster County, though we have had only one in Shandaken for quite a while now (maybe a week, in our new telescoped time). Otsego County, where my Dad lives in Oneonta, went from zero to five in the past few days. My dear friend Di (known locally as “Dr. Di” and also my Dad and his partner’s yoga teacher) is now City Health Officer for preparedness for Covid-19. When we chatted the other night she described their local efforts, but there had yet to be a known case in the county. I am sure that they are now on higher alert to avoid community spread.
In other Covid-19 news, the NY Times published an article yesterday by a woman in NYC whose husband has a pretty bad case—just teetering on hospitalization—and how she and her 16-year-old daughter are coping with nursing him and trying not to get it themselves. It is clear that at his level of misery, there is no way he could take even the most basic care of himself.
This brought it home in a very concrete way, since with this illness all previous protocols are out the window. Family is not supposed to step in, no one is supposed to get near—the only help can come from folks dropping off needed supplies, whether medical or food. Each household, no matter how small, is on it’s own, with a bit of doctor’s advice and the worst case solution of being hospitalized.
I am glad that we have worked so hard within our household to stay safe, though we could still, of course, be unlucky.
Daughter Tessa called yesterday, just a check in before she goes back into the Minnesota woods to continue maple sugaring until her original target date of April 13 or 14th. It was so great to hear her voice.
I had left her a voicemail with a little bit of info on what’s going on in this country, and she seemed unable to let go of the idea that Jack and I are reacting with outsized anxiety. It is such an unprecedented situation that if you are not living it, of course it would seem like that…
She is now with only six others of the original crew, all having ben there for over a month, safe and happily out of contact with the world. How she will get back here to pick up her car, and then onto her Vermont home has yet to be determined. I am dead set against using her plane ticket to Newark.
In the studio I finished the sand flats painting, Soft Glow over Tidal Flats, 30″x60″:
I wonder when I will see the sea again? Almost surely not the first of May, as originally planned, for my seasonal drop-off at Louisa Gould Gallery on Martha’s Vineyard.
Work is also progressing on the watershed Site Map; here, a detail of the most developed sections:
I have started painting the planned small oil-on-board pieces.
I am so focused on these projects that the studio constantly calls to me…I would happily spend even more time there every day, but there are both necessary and lovely other things to do—yoga, hike, cook, yard work, read, paperwork and phone calls (Jack’s job is shut down for the duration and mine—who knows?—so we are applying for all of the things), and all of the email and phone connecting with friends and family.
Art and Life in the Time of Coronavirus #5
And I am all caught up to date!
Let me know if there is anything you would like me to address: creative, ethical, time-management, etc.
Sunday, March 22: Another sunny day, though I didn’t get out in it until mid-afternoon. Took a walk with Tony and Carla, after driving to her place so that he could get some of the willow shoots that he likes to root and plant in favorite spots. We stayed six feet from Carla.
Otherwise, a nicely focused yoga practice—I am loving rock star these days—and blog and some paperwork. Emailing in regard to an amazingly still alive prospect for a large commissioned piece, probably a triptych.
I started collaging the Catskill Park section of the Site Map just to see how I am going to go about handling that while marking every single stream in the Catskill Park watershed. This has a long way to go, but provides me with a path to follow.
My palette is mixed to start right in tomorrow morning and do the second layer on the sand flats painting.
Some good news is that I feel that I feel myself coming out of my winter flatness, a lingering malaise that followed death of my mom in early December. I miss her sharply still, but have regained creative traction in the studio that makes it a a sweet pleasure to be alive, puzzling out and making manifest my ideas.
Monday, March 23: Spitting mad about that jerk Rand Paul tracking the virus all over the senate —including pool and gym—instead of self-isolating while awaiting test results. I guess I’d better get in line.
I am worried that Fauci was not at the press conference tonight, after he got a little too honest about Trump in a recent interview.
Some more work on the Site Map in the studio and I have only a few tweaks to go on the sand flats 30″x60″.
Snow today, first not amounting to much and then beginning to accumulate on roadways. Jack and I decided that he should go try to do a food shop in his truck on a day when most folks wouldn’t want to go out, and it was a very successful excursion.
Tony came in from a walk in the snow and brought me outside to see how stunning his solar jar lamp looks tonight, sitting on the stump remnants our old maple tree.
Art and Life in the Time of Coronavirus #4
Excerpts from blog, almost caught up to date.
Thursday, March 19, 11am: A very bad piece of information came in last night from the CDC, that 40% of hospitalizations in the US have been adults 20-65 years old. This is a very scary game changer, and will likely change some folk’s game, though it is a little late. Of course, they could only come up with this bit of data after observing patients coming through the system, but it is really too bad that we didn’t have this from elsewhere earlier.
I am increasingly concerned about Tess, still in the deep woods in Northern Minnesota. She last checked in on March 6th from Minneapolis, and was headed back into the woods to finish maple sugaring with her friends. Even then, it was clear that she would not want to use her plane ticket back. Now things have progressed to where she may also not want to come back (somehow) by car. It’s really unfortunate because in her barely populated Vermont community, she could have hunkered down and perhaps even gone to work as part of a her-and-boss only crew for a fellow who grows and sells fruit trees.
She also has health care in VT, and a shoulder injury, though that will not get any medical attention anywhere now.
I am torn between being happy for her that she is where she loves and not thinking about this mess at all, and wishing that she would come out and figure out her plan before things get worse.
Tony’s current printmaking assignment is a 3-color reduction linoprint, and I am going to join him in doing one. Thinking about imagery today, I am not sure if I want to go for a landscape (this process feels a little stiff for that) or a map image (the latter could involve climate change).
I picked at the watershed Site Map and finished this 24″x24″ for the upcoming season for Louisa Gould. Also had a nice phone chat with her about survival and strategies.
Louisa pointed out to her whole artists troupe that she stayed open after the 2008 stock market rout and following recession, and that she intends to do the same now. So very nice to hear.
___ ______________________________________________ ___
Friday March 20, evening: Very little studio today, a late sleep-in after a bad night’s sleep. Our internet went out just before I had a virtual class scheduled with Lulu, so that is on for tomorrow now—more on this amazing young artist tomorrow. It was sharply stressful having no internet or extender for phone when we are doubly relying on it for every form of connection, and you never know actually how long that will go on. But back on in about an hour.
As the afternoon presented, we had an amazingly warm day. It went from wind and rain to sun and calm, a day for some yard work and seed planting, while sunny, and back porch sitting when the rain blew up. I got my beloved screened in porch all cleared out of scattered groceries (left to clear of germs before putting them away) and straightened and swept it out. And then, a lovely yoga practice in my favorite spot, with sound of stream, birds, and wind in the trees.
Looking forward to more of this, eating, working on my laptop and doing yoga on my porch as the weather slowly warms. I savor this transition into from spring into summer every year, and with NYS and other states now in lockdown as of Sunday, this will be essential.
Niece’s boyfriend’s fever cleared and so far the rest of them are feeling fine.
I assume that the lockdowns, which include Illinois, will mean that Tessa cannot travel through to get to Vermont. And that we will not see her for the duration.
___ ____________________________________________ ___
March 21: So Jack thinks that Tessa would be allowed to come home, even traveling through lockdown states, because she is going home.
But we still haven’t heard from her.
In the studio I did a bit more work on the Site Map, coming up with a design solution for this particular map and beginning to see the shape it will take. I want the Watershed map to be different from the Atlas/Hudson River Valley version even though I am discussing the same turf. Different emphasis.
I also came up with my idea for the 3-color reduction print. I’ll do an interpretation of a topo map, final lines in black and the three colors intensifying in value as you climb in altitude. It will be either mounted on the site map or a stand-along piece in that show.
Speaking of which, is this a good time or a crazy time to apply for the regional museum shows that I have in mind for this and the Atlas/Cape and Islands exhibitions? If curators are picking up their emails–and why wouldn’t they be?—these upcoming weeks and months could be ideal for making my pitch, when the physical on-site work is halted.
This is a close-up of a free-hand, stretched out topo interpretation of the escarpment that bends around Woodstock and then runs parallel to the Hudson River, from the Atlas/Forms of Water Site Map.
Beneath it are linocut and mixed-media maps of Hurricane Irene, which devastated our upstate and Vermont communities with stream flooding in 2011; and projected sea level rise on Nantucket.
Sun today, a walk with Tony. Thinking about spring and how usually in May I do a few big, luxurious shops for annuals at my favorite nurseries, which likely will not happen this year. So I am taking cuttings and rooting various plants that I have in the house to combine with leafy perennials from the yard to fill my many pots, when the time is right. These are the kinds of creative problem-solving endeavors that sooth my mind…
Art and Life in the Time of Coronavirus #3
Excerpts from my blog diary from March 16-18.
Monday March 16th:
We made the trip to a parking lot in Newburgh to hand off this painting to Janet Schwarz, JSO Art Associates.
It is impossible to know if the two interested parties are really going to follow through with a viewing, mostly because of the stock market and fears of a long recession. But at least she has it and that bit of business is taken care of. Also, a large painting leaving the studio feels safer for all of the rest. (No, this is not social distancing, just the moving-things-around risks!)
On our way back we had planned a “last” shop at Hannaford in West Hurley not so much because we need anything for ourselves but because Tony is coming back tonight from college and to shop for my MiL, who has not yet focused on stocking up.
Hannaford was brutal. There was one parking space left in the lot when we rolled in at about 2pm, and the place was mobbed, a number of shelves bare. They had just restocked, but the cashier—who was whipping the items through, knowing that everyone wanted to get the hell out of there—said that the parking lot was almost full when they all arrived before 6am. Some folks were wearing masks.
Everyone was polite, though. So far, still Woodstock.
Back in the car, I observed to Jack, what would it be like if this were a really deadly plague, like Ebola? He came back with the opinion that armed folks, gun nuts, like someone we know from the old Marvel days, would have their machine guns at the ready in the toilet paper isle.
We are still good for a laugh.
Niece has been self-quarantining in the the Berkley area since a colleague in her Phd program tested positive a few days ago. Her boyfriend had been visiting during his spring break from Duke, so he was also in the net, and today has a fever. She has three housemates..also caught. She is trying to figure out how to get him tested. (There is so much wrong with that sentence.)
A few hours later we heard that the Bay Area is under a new “shelter in place” order.
___ _____________________________________ ___
Tuesday March 17th:
No test for my neice’s boyfriend. Bad sign. Now all five of them are just going to have to wait it out, and will it ever be known if they have it? It does not bode well, this continued lack of testing, since we have no idea of the scope of the epidemic without.
Numbers are ratcheting up day by day, and known cases getting closer. Saugerties has one now, and there are more in Kingston and Rhinebeck. Westchester declared a state of emergency. They declared a 8pm curfew in NYS for all restaurants, which can now only offer take-out.
Sara, who owns the yoga studio where I practice and teach, wants me to zoom a basics class a week, and I will start to think about that in a few days. She also proposed having me and/or the other teacher at CTH be her student in the studio while she zooms her classes. I love that idea, but realized that if I stayed away from the studio last weekend to avoid students and she taught, I should probably stay away from her for another few weeks. Otherwise, what was the point of that?
But, we could stay far apart, so I am tempted.
Note: Sara is a lovely teacher and is zooming her classes with online sign-up. You can check it out at:
Some nice painting studio time today, getting a layer in on on the sand flats piece. I got a late start because Tony got in and stayed up late and I found myself sleepless at about 5am.
We are setting up a small studio for him for silverpoint, cutting lino, and his remote classes in Tessa’s room, adjoining his own, and he can use my studio for messier work, like painting.
___ _______________________________________ ___
Wednesday, March 18, 2pm: I am thinking this morning, and last night while falling asleep, about what other studio endeavors I might want to begin just now. I am working on the grouping for Louisa Gould Gallry on MV and will be for a bit, to be ready with new work whenever the time is right. Also, a few more paintings for my online show with Butters Gallery, scheduled for mid-May. I also promised Judi at Gallery Jupiter that I would do some oil-on-board 8″x8″s or her (for whenever, no hurry!) that have the depth to stand on a table or shelf, like the 6″x6″s that she has; but for these the images goes all of the way out to the edge. Here are an examples of each version.
Below are five of these 6″x6″s from my end-of-residency show at the Artists Association of Nantucket in November of 2018, sitting below three hand-colored linocut maps of the island.
This is the new version, 4″x12″, on the shallower board meant for hanging.
My students and other artists and a number of collectors have loved the top version, with dark float, but several galleries are reporting that it makes the image even smaller—for the price point—and so I am experimenting with the second version, which also involves adjusting the color of the gesso on the sides to fit the image. So far, I like it.
It’a an instance of how innovation can happen based on market considerations, if taken as a creative challenge. If you are flexible and can get excited about the idea, this can work—if you are resentful of the suggestion, it’s unlikely that any good will come of it.
Here are some other ideas.
Ongoing or occasional pursuits:
~Dye more rice and mulberry paper for collaging.
~Circle back to printmaking, maybe joining Tony with a 3-color (hand) printing of a lino.
~Figure out how to make collages with failed monotypes, probably using my dyed rice papers along with. Looking at them today, I realized that some would be appropriate to use as the basis for a pastel, since the print papers are the same as what I have for years used for pasteling. I have found that trying to tweak a print with pastel doesn’t work well, since the paper really needs to have a density of pastel applied to be able to move it around, and this means pastel over the whole thing.
~Maps using walnut ink, mixed media, some found/vintage objects, using more natural materials.
~Other in-studio printmaking projects, maybe finding new ways to use maps.
~Work on watershed Site Map.
The watershed Site Map has been confusing me because I am thinking about either this Atlas theme or a Cape Cod (or Cape and Islands) version for next, and these environmentally themed projects are an enormous amount of work.
That’s what indecision does—stalls the brain, and stalls progress. I got a nice start on prepping the Watershed map on its 48″x36″ board last year, but got side-tracked with various painting projects, from my November show at Jupiter Gallery in NJ to the commissions this past winter, and more.
I have just talked myself through the dilemma (decision fatigue making even the low-pressure ones stressful), hooray. It makes sense to carry forward with the one that I have started. When the studio gets crowded I spend too much time moving things around.
This is the Site Map for Atlas/Forms of Water, finished last summer and the guide to the show I had of that name at Albert Shahinian Fine Art in Rhinebeck. The new one will have a similar format. For more about this show see my blog post:
First painting of the year to get to dry in the yard! With this accelerated drying time, I can work on the second layer tomorrow and likely finish it.
And now, for a walk in that sunshine.
8pm: Terrible news all around, numbers and economics. I have gone from reading every little thing back in early January to tolerating just measured doses of news. Despite the dread that I felt when I was first reading the reports from Wuhan, putting it all together required an attention to detail and cross-referencing with other material that engaged the grey matter . This is now onslaught after onslaught of of news that is worse by the hour, punches in the gut. It will only get worse, so let’s gear up the intestinal fortitude…
Art and Life in the Time of Corona Virus #2
More excerpts from my blog diary “Art, Yoga, and Life at the Time of Coronavirus”:
Saturday, March 14: The news is not good as regards new cases, but at least the feds and the states seem to finally be getting some traction in regard to testing (or at least real planning for upped testing). It may actually even be in time to prevent what has happened in Italy from happening here. Maybe.
Of course, this all could/should have been done two months ago.
Trump was his usual lying, narcissistic, ill-informed self at the press conference yesterday afternoon. And yet, the markets closed higher just after the start of the conference because of the declaration of a national state of emergency.
People are over-the-top anxious, with just too much coming at us all at once. The daily planning and replanning takes a toll on the nervous system, bandwidth being overwhelmed sometimes early in the day.
In the studio I am having a hard time choosing the image for the 40″x48″ canvas that I recently prepped, part of the grouping that I always do this time of year for my Martha’s Vineyard gallery, Louisa Gould Gallery. So, I am passing on to a smaller 24″x24″ canvas that will be a sea view from Menemsha, with the Elizabeth Islands on the horizon, of a thunderstorm with blue/grey twisty clouds.
Meanwhile, I am so glad that the pick-up of two commissioned pieces happened last Sunday, instead of the original plan for tomorrow, March 15, as they may not be moving around so much now as they were last weekend. These folks have a weekend place in in Berkshire County—where they discovered my work several years ago during my first environmentally-themed Atlas Project show at Thompson Giroux Gallery in Chatham.
They commissioned these paintings for their newly renovated apartment in Manhattan on the 38th floor overlooking the East River.
This was the first of the two pieces to be completed, 18″x52″.
Their thinking was to have lots of sky—not a literal representation of their view, but capturing the feel of their space.
He is a well known interior architect and eventually pictures of their apartment that include these pieces will make their way to a book and/or publications such as Architectural Digest.
The second piece, a triptych, will hang with a little bit of float between between the panels:
The couple has been buying my work for several years, and now has a selection of monotypes, paintings, collages, a pastel, and the Site Map to my first Atlas Project show, which is where they first became acquainted with my work. I was happy to sell them this complicated piece at very good value, since this one was only attached to foam core and would have started to show some wear and tear if left in my studio. They are having it mounted and framed, their framer taking out all of the map tacks carefully so they can flatten it onto a board, and then reinserting them.
I’ll show some more of the work that they have collected in an upcoming entry, and also installation pics once they have them and share with me.
___ ____________________________________________ ____
Sunday Match 15: I almost cried this morning when I read the latest from the NT Times, especially two items.
One, that as Americans are flying back to designated airports from newly travel-banned countries, the bottle-neck at O’ Hare had hundreds jammed in together for many hours while they awaited a health screening. And then later, I heard that they had not even been instructed to self-quarantine if they had no temperature. Coming from Iran and Northern Italy, really??!!
And item number two, a pic of a bar in Manhattan last night with a line of young people, standing close outside, waiting to get in for a St. Patrick’s Day party. The article went on to say that twenty-somethings aren’t concerned because it will not make them very sick, and/or it does not seem real yet (which is true for many).
No concern for their parents and grandparents and what large groups do, in fact, for community spread? Hospitals will be overwhelmed…and what if they get in a car accident and need care or surgery and the hospital has no masks, or available beds, no available doctors? Again, really??!!
So I am not feeling at all optimistic that we will not end up like Italy. Bungling continues at a national, state, and personal level. This has probably been true throughout human history with plagues, but that does not make me feel any better.
I was painting this morning by 8am, and in fact my crappy mood did lift. I have a good start on the 24″x24″ and prepped a 30″x60″ for a stunning image I found in my files a few days ago of the Brewster sandflats at low tide and early sunset.
The pic below is my inventory of studio printing supplies in prep for a lino project with Tony.
Yoga, breathing, woods walks, studio…and now blog. These days are extremely rubber-bandy, from high stress to hard-won but sweet focus.
Art and Life in the Time of Coronavirus
Adapted from my diary-in-progress, “Art, Yoga, and Life in the Time of Coronavirus”. These are the first three entries. Once I am caught up, I will post daily.
Tuesday, March 11th, 2020
I do not feel equal to this task, but have been thinking for weeks about keeping a diary on my experience of our world gone crazy/scary. So, to begin.
I have been reading everything the NY Times has written about this pandemic (finally named as such by the WHO today) from early January, though lately I cannot keep up with all of the articles. As soon as any reliable info began to come out of China in mid-January, it became clear to me that this thing was going to come at us like a freight train—one only had to read carefully to see that.
I have made myself unpopular for several months by voicing my opinion. I understand the need to stay calm— in fact, it was only by staying calm that I was able to absorb new information and put things together. But human avoidance behavior has left us unprepared, worldwide. Panic can affect our health and the stock market, but trying to minimize the situation is what has allowed the virus to spread quickly.
As always, my antidotes are making art and doing yoga. I am incredibly lucky that I will still be able to do these things even when/if I land in quarantine. I am also fortunate to live with my husband, and in a rural community where I can take long walks; work in my yard, sit on my screened-in back porch; and move freely to and from my timberframe studio, a few steps away from our back steps—all without endangering or risking infection from other people. Further, Jack and I have always worked at home, so the adjustment will be easier than for many.
Today I am playing catch-up in my studio, tweaking prints from our session at the Woodstock School of Art on Monday; and wiring and labeling a large canvas to be delivered this Monday to a private art consultant who is determinately getting business done…while the getting is still possible. Fingers crossed that she manages to show the piece before the corporation that is interested in it for their boardroom closes down.
On Monday, we said goodbye in Woodstock to our artist friends from Nantucket who visited the area as part of a continuing exchange. Hugs all around, even after much conversation about social distancing on all weekend. (On Friday evening I showed them the Ebola Elbow Bump, which none of them were familiar with. This illustrates how fast things are moving—by Sunday or Monday, the whole nation seemed to have that down.) These are probably my last friendly hugs until this thing has come and gone.
Yesterday, Tuesday, when we visited our Dad in Oneonta, my sister and I did not meet him at his retirement community, opting instead for a restaurant—in an area with no known cases–and no hugs. This was probably my last meal out for a while.
In our area in the Catskills, so many folks—including my sister—are back and forth to the metro area all of the time. I assume that the virus is here, but has not yet been identified.
This morning on the phone with my friend Jenny, I observed that weekenders from the NYC area were all soon going to be holing up in their country homes. A few hours later, I saw my New Rochelle —a hot spot for the virus in NYS—neighbor’s car in her driveway, and an hour after that my Brooklyn neighbor walked by with his dog.
That is surely what I would do in their shoes.
___ ________________________________________ ___
Thursday, March 13th.
We have no known cases of Covid-19 yet in our immediate area, but all assume that it is just a question of days, or hours. Events are being cancelled right and left and I decided yesterday that I will not be going out to eat or to any large group events. I was supposed to have a bite with a friend last night, but decided that, even with social distancing, eating out at a place frequented by travelers with someone who came back from Indonesia a week ago Sunday with a four-hour layover in Tokyo just no longer feels sensible.
We are all in that teetering spot of deciding to pull the plug on our plans…or not yet.
I will go to yoga tonight here in Chichester, and taught yesterday both at the Zen Mountain Monastery and at Catskills Yoga House, taking lots of care. I have discussed protocol at CYH again with Sara today and she is disinfecting like mad and encouraging students and teachers to bring their own props, which I have been doing at the ZMM but only partially doing at CYH. Our groups tend to be smallish and the space is ample, and classes are going to be smaller now, as well, no doubt. No kapalabhati breathing (vigorously expelling air through the nostrils) or hands-on assists, which I had already implemented myself recently.
It seems not yet the time to pull the plug on this incredibly lovely and healing practice. But that, too, is looming. I have encouraged Sara, who supports herself and her six-year-old son with her teaching, to think about how she could offer at least a few classes a week remotely.
I am not worried at present about the Zen Mountain Monastery group that I am teaching at 7am two days a week, since they have been in retreat as a group for over two weeks now and it will be the same cohort tomorrow and next week. And then a week off, and we will see what happens after that. And if next week doesn’t look good, I will cancel that, too.
The virus isn’t even here yet and we are all so stressed out.
In the studio, I tweaked and finished a few of my collages and am preparing canvases with my dark gesso blend. I have not been able to concentrate well with all of the phone calls and texting with sisters and Sara, and also my good friend Jenny.
These collages are small, 5″x5″ or 7″x5″, but a bit larger than I was doing last fall. They rely on my own dyed rice and mulberry papers which I arrange and manipulate during their drying time to create interesting textures. This has been a new exploration within my collage groupings, allowing me to create open and simple arrangements on the boards. A few other types of papers and bit of paint here and there helps.
I might have to leave my phone in the house tomorrow and turn off NPR so I can focus on painting, which I need to do both for my deadlines (should they still apply) and for my sanity.
___ _____________________________________________ ___
Friday, March 13th
8:30am: Yoga last night was lovely, and Sara had worked hard to shift to safe prop use and also be reassuring. It might be the last class that I take for a while, and we will see about teaching on Sunday.
The Woodstock yoga studios closed down yesterday. There is one confirmed case in Kingston and four further south in Ulster Co. In light of the lack of a cogent federal response, especially in regard to testing for Covid-19, organizations are proactively closing down or canceling events. We should be following the Korean model of widespread testing, but there is no leadership at the top. Incredible that we can’t get this done. Hoping that NY State will manage.
At my 7am gig at the ZMM I left a note at the door asking people to bring their own props in from the other room (whereas, just Wednesday, I brought them all in ahead of time). This is to protect them as much as me. I wonder, in the silence of their Ango, do they even know what is going on? I don’t know what the guidelines are about digital media use.
This was my forth class there. I had initially been finding the inward nature and silence of their yoga practice within the retreat to be a little disquieting in a hard-for-me-to-read sort of way, compared to my classes at Catskills Yoga House.
Today, I found it calming.
I gassed up today on my way back from teaching, deciding to pay more at the Phoenicia place rather then later in Boiceville, a potentially more crowded stop. I am now calculating that the lower the per-capita usage is, the better the odds are of not encountering the virus.
Such thoughts seem like those of a paranoid crazy person. Despite the relatively early warning that I had with my tracking of the virus, at moments I cannot believe that this is our new reality. And it is going to get much, much worse—these decisions now are almost like a dress rehearsal.
5:15: I think I finished this 24″x36″, will know for sure when I give it a fresh look in the morning. In a way that is quite timely, I painted this piece to add to new works for my May online show with Butters Gallery in Portland.
Butters Gallery went to a digital and by appointment modality about a year and a half ago, but still have 10 or so pieces of mine on the website and in storage. We decided to combine these with work from my studio, which I will set aside for the duration of the show, shipping sold work from here.
It feels most appropriate to work this way at this point in time. We will see if anyone has any money to spend in mid-May and June, but at least the personal contact/social distancing piece has already been taken care of.
This time of the year always brings of thoughts of change and transition, loss and renewal. As 2019 has rolled over into 2020, these reflections are much more intense, intricate, and prolonged for me, as I recently lost my mother…a major life event; a huge transition.
My father-in-law, not a religious man nor particularly self-reflective, used to have a timely observation in times of trouble. It went something like this: “The chapters of the good book begin with ‘And it came to pass…’ They don’t begin with ‘And it came to stay…”
The things/people/practices that we love don’t always come to stay, any more than the difficult or painful situations. It is one of the things that is interesting about mindfulness practice, that as we focus on the moment, the moment is gone. And then the next, and the next, and the next…
My understanding of mindfulness is more like riding a wave, the mind following each moment along the way with focused attention. I discussed this form of happiness as it applies to a creative practice in an earlier blog post, “Creativity and Happiness”.
And this brings us to the winter studio. As life is quieter and the colors less vivid outside of it than during the warmer months, the potency of the creative life inside intensifies.
Snow cover bounces light into the studio and makes a perfect neutral foil for open color exploration within. Instead of open windows and doors inviting in the sound of the stream and birds, I often play the radio or listen to podcasts or music. The summer feel of expansiveness is replaced by a distillation of energy as focus narrows and intensifies.
My winter work often feels sunlit. Without the canopy of leaves covering our hamlet in the central Catskills, the sun streams at a dramatic slant into my house, my studio, and the yoga studio where I practice and teach…and then is gone, as day moves quickly into evening. We count the minutes of returning daylight…
In December I ordered an enticing assortment of custom-stretched linen for my winter work, and now have, at the ready, this stack of canvases in an array of sizes and formats:
I started work immediately on the largest one, a 44″x66″, almost finished:
I am also generating ideas for my next Atlas Project installation, this one focusing on rivers and streams, exploring the ecology of my local watershed. In my Atlas/Forms of Water show I solved several problems that I saw carry over from the previous Atlas Project installation. At issue now are verbal/written components more than visual ones: how to get my “Mapping Memory” stories in a more accessible form; and how to bring more natural history and climate change discussion into the installation.
I am seeing stream-like formations wherever I go…including places I have been many (for this image, thousands!) of times. Can you tell what we are looking at?
And the other day I saw this gorgeous Motherwell painting in a catalogue that I have in my studio. Viewed vertically rather than as the horizontal that it is…another stream…
A few paint-mixing sessions with my good friend Jenny Nelson in her winter studio have yielded new teaching tools. My color-mixing workshop (next held at the WSA, June 22-23) brings the student back to primaries and how all color evolves from there, which is a very complex undertaking.
Our intention with this collaboration was to pretty much do the opposite of that detailed breaking down of color, instead creating simple, limited palette exercises—using mixtures or primaries from the tube— for new students or those who feel color-blocked.
I will use some of these prompts in my next workshop at the WSA. Constructing/Deconstructing the Landscape (April 17-19) focuses on compositional strength, so a few structured color shortcuts to augment this emphasis are a welcome tool.
These were the palettes that evolved as we brainstormed and mixed, discarding some earlier versions. Now we will each re-do these on paper in our studios with better placement and clear labeling for sharing with our students.
Our ongoing conversations about our classes and workshops always include the abstract/landscape discussion, since Jenny teaches abstraction. Mixing color is one thing when you are using a reference of any sort, including working from life, even if you will likely want to tweak and adjust. It is quite another when you have not even a suggestion of a road map and mixing your palette is the first step in figuring out your abstract painting on the easel.
The collage exploration continues to fascinate me. I went from earlier just-barely-landscape versions (about 8-10 years ago) with altered papers, book bits, pattern paper, a bit of paint:
To the collaged maps, made with many bits of hand-dyed rice papers and other things (wasp wing, samara, dried leaves, pattern paper, old books, a bit of paint):
To a simplified version of the above, where I am working more with effects created while dying the papers, and then using larger swaths of them. Here are some of my latest:
I am very pleased with this beautifully produced recording of my December interview with audience Q&A at Albert Shahinian Fine Art, by Brett Barry of Silver Hollow Audio. The discussion ranges from my decades of contemporary landscape painting to the environmental themes of my Atlas/Forms of Water show to the gallery-artist relationship. You can listen here:
I am doing final updates on the blog post about this Atlas Project show, which was the highlight of my exhibition season for 2019. Here is the link:
On this day of pouring snow, everything else I had planned has been canceled. And so, I get to be in here:
And soon enough, it will look like this:
Atlas/Forms of Water 2019
As the finale of this show and thus this post, I offer a beautifully produced recording of my interview with audience Q&A by Brett Barry of Silver Hollow Audio. This discussion ranges from my decades of contemporary landscape painting to the environmental themes of this show to the gallery-artist relationship. You can listen here:
Water is ease, water is in our dreams, water kills. Water is 60% of our bodies and covers 71% of the planet. We float, swim, sink, ride on, drink, cook and grow with, own, fight over, drown in, boil, crave, gaze at, and are mesmerized by water. It bears repeating: Water is life.
Water use has also been political since the beginning of our time on earth. As thirst, water rights and fights; severe storms; droughts, fires, floods; and sea level rise become increasingly critical on much of the planet, I have been catapulted into creating an expanded rubric for water imagery in my work. This focuses in on our environment and the challenges it faces, while continuing to celebrate the beauty our planet provides.
Atlas /Forms of Water maps the environmental theme while mapping my body of work, revealing a web of meaning around and between the individual pieces that I create. The matrix that connects all of my landscape imagery is saturated with memory, both personal and collective. To make these connections, I have created a site map for the body of work on view.
Maps functions as an aid to find our way. In this context, I am mapping our bodies and states of water; the paintings in the exhibit; memory and self; and threats to our environment, among other, more elusive things.
The Site Map has small monotypes running up both sides that are interpretations of the major paintings in the show. The four other prints are a conversation about threats from global warming: bigger hurricanes in upper left; sea-level rise in upper right: and stream/river flooding in the two at bottom, before and after.
At the top, I have included topographical contours, a loose and flattened version of the Escarpment that curves around Woodstock and then runs north parallel to the Hudson River.
Mountains are the first source of our surface water, and the painting below includes that form of water visible as the Catskill Mountains rising above the back shore, as well as mists, a cloud, and the Hudson River.
Another new collaged map for the show is of the NYC watershed, water tunnels included. New York City has negotiated—and renegotiated, multiple times—a pass on national regulations that mandate the filtering of drinking water. This exemption is a huge deal, and requires constant monitoring and regulation of the watershed townships within the areas shown, and many mandates for property owners to keep the water flowing into NYC reservoirs clean. While this makes our relationship to our larger neighbor to the south a complex and co-dependent one, it also has transformed our stewardship of our land and streams.
The below same-size collage from the year before is of the Hudson Canyon, which is essentially an underwater extension of the Hudson River, extending southeast until it drops off the continental shelf.
Also in mixed media/collage, “Forms of Water: A Taxonomy”. This small tintype drawer contains the following seven categories, from the top row moving down: states and phases of visible water; geographical bodies of water; wetlands; types of clouds; storms; waves; and human made forms of water.
Creating pieces in vintage boxes, drawers, muffin pans, and child’s blackboards has been one of my ongoing series for some years now. It requires a listening attitude to select and then bend the imagery to work with the support that I have chosen, starting the process in a different way from a blank canvas. In the below piece, the box and the piece of wood that I painted on had elements that determined both what imagery I chose and how I painted it.
For decades now, I have been devoted to painting fog, suspended water that softens our landscapes, sometimes obscuring, sometimes defining:
Many of my paintings depict wetlands, so gorgeous and vital for controlling flooding caused by excessive rain events, storms, tidal flooding, and sea-level rise; as well as filtering sediment in water and providing habitat for wildlife. Visually, salt marshes in particular create color and shape that I return to paint over and over again.
Manmade forms of water are included in the show, as seen in the flood image near the top and in the vertical painting below, which depicts a wetland developed by humans to cultivate cranberries.
The pieces in the show include landscape imagery in oil on linen; monotypes; small works in oil on board; water imagery using vintage boxes, blackboards, and other containers/support; and map collages.
I was motivated in fall of 2016 to move towards creating shows that place my open, color-field landscapes within a complex experiential web. Three major factors came into play at just that time.
The first was anticipation of a residency in Nantucket scheduled for that winter, and this dovetailed with the second, some thoughts about turning 60 later on in 2018. Given that my background is in contemporary art and that I have always viewed my progressions in landscape painting through that lens; my question to self was—what do I want to do, now, that I haven’t yet?
Among my answers to this question was learning monoprint and linocut techniques, which I now employ both for stand-alone prints and also for the Site Map. Below, some recent monotypes.
The third factor was key. Feeling profound grief over the outcome of the 2016 election, my mind returned repeatedly to the single biggest issue on the table, climate change. The conviction that time is running out here and that four years could be critical was decisive in determining the direction that my work has since taken. The acceleration of bad news in this arena since then is eye-popping—sea level rise predictions alone are much, much higher and sooner than was predicted while I was researching the topic in my February, 2017 Nantucket residency.
Snow and ice appear in my work and in the context of Atlas/Forms of Water, depict one of the main three phases of water, solid.
Water vapor, the gaseous state of water, is invisible. The closest thing that is visible is steam, such as the image of a geyser below.
Globally, precipitation has shifted so that many of the wet places are wetter and the dry locales are dryer. For this reason, I decided to create and include several pieces that depict water’s opposite, fire.
My imagery is heavily weighted toward the Northeast of the United States, as that is where I have spent much of my life. But I could be anywhere on the planet, exploring the same themes, and I bring with me memories of living in the arid Andes and central Castile; painting in rain-soaked Western Ireland; traveling Northern California to capture the coastal golden hillsides of late summer; and returning to the Nebraska flatlands of my early childhood. It all informs the matrix. It is all water.
This show builds upon my Atlas/Hudson River Valley show in March of 2017, which you can read about here:
We are collaborating with Riverkeeper and Catskill Mountainkeeper on a fundraising benefit October 12th, 5-8. That evening, 15% of sales will go to these vital local environmental organizations, as well as the proceeds of a raffle for this 12″x12″ painting:
(Note: Raffle was drawn on 11-16. Tickets were $20. We raised almost $1,300 from the raffle alone!)
This last week of April/first in May I am hard at work preparing paintings to go to Louisa Gould Gallery on Martha’s Vineyard. My sixth season with the gallery—and 20+ showing on the Vineyard—we are in a good groove together, and both excited about this line-up for the season.
For more, you can go to the gallery website:
A recent sale at Louisa Gould Gallery was the winning selection of a fellow who thoroughly researched my galleries’ websites and then sent inquires about pieces that he liked to five different galleries. After careful consideration, this is what he chose:
Reaching back to last winter…gone but not forgotten. I taught my Constructing/Deconstructing the Landscape workshop at the Woodstock School of Art. This is a very structured course, especially the first day+, dialing in on compositional shifts and how they affect movement, directionality, and mood. I always love what evolves, and this incarnation was no exception.
Here are a few of the student-executed exercises.
First, just hillside and tree or two in black gesso. Then move them around; change angle and division of picture plane; different type of tree. Several thought to break up the hillside.
This workshop feels like a slow flowering from tightly following direction early on to a much more open expression, integrating lessons learned along the way. I feel grateful for the trust that I am given to lead this guided work, since at the beginning of the workshop students feel a little hemmed in and have to go on faith that there are reasons for this, and that we are headed somewhere quite satisfying.
The first quarter of 2019 has been busy not just in the normal progression of events, projects, and deadlines, but also unusually so in the shear number and complexity of sales. Some of these required a fair bit of waltzing on my part, often accompanied by one of my galleries or consultants and assisted by my husband.
As you can imagine, each of these has a story.
A few of these stories:
In late February a designer I work with in Piermont NY, Ned Kelly, called in regard to the large painting below, wanting to show it to a client who already owned a smaller piece of mine. So off we went, my husband and I, that painting and a few others in tow, to meet up with the designer at the client’s home.
The piece actually didn’t work in the planned spot, so Ned headed upstairs to look for another likely wall, finding it above the bed in the master bedroom, across from my smaller piece that they owned.
With five people in a huge house, conversations splintered off, grouping and regrouping. By the time the painting was settled upon and the below smaller piece brought in from the car and actually installed, we had ranged far and wide, through good-natured expletive-laced teasing and the performative appearance of a shot gun. Add in two gorgeous dogs and a couple of cute kids and you have the whole picture.
Shortly after that I picked up a phone message from a person unknown to me but with a familiar last name, inquiring about a piece on my website. She turned out to be the new wife of a long-time friendly acquaintance. He and his (now I am understanding) ex-wife had remained on my mailing list for some years since I had last seen them, and I had been picturing them together, with the visiting grown kids and grandkids, exactly where I had seen them every summer for about twenty years.
But big changes had taken place. His new wife wanted to purchase a piece for her husband for their 3rd wedding anniversary. Apparently, the first wife had gotten the painting that they owned in the divorce (something I hear fairly often, actually) and he had been forwarding my invitations and updates along to his new wife, expressing enthusiasm for my work.
I had assumed years of silence meant lack of interest. But this is why I don’t take anyone off my mailing list unless they ask to be removed—I never know who is looking and enjoying and who deletes without opening.
So, after much back-and-forth and a delivery of three pieces for a staged viewing on the anniversary itself, this five-part vertical seascape was selected. I even got to have lunch and catch up with my old friend when he brought the other two paintings back to my area.
There is something in this story that feels very rich to me, maybe starting with the fact that it spans decades of time. There is a lot of life-essence in it—changes, losses, new beginnings, time passing, reconnections, and tracing the timelines of entwined lives.
We did a pop-up house party, a big collaborative effort, in Riverdale, NY. I hadn’t done one of these since the several that I did about a decade ago with Asher Nieman Gallery:
My co-conspirators this time were Albert Shahinian Fine Art, my husband, and my sister and brother-in-law, who opened up their apartment for the event. With this crew I had a driver; art handlers; a chef; a party planner; and a galleriest. Lucky me!
Below, a few of the pieces that departed for new homes:
I have two very different workshops coming up in May and June in the Catskills.
At the Emerson Resort in Mount Tremper, for all levels, an exploration of the imagery of our beautiful Catskill Mountains in May color:
And in June, for more experienced painters looking to explore a different concept:
On deck in my studio is another incarnation of my environmentally -themed Atlas Project. Atlas/Forms of Water, a solo show, will open at Albert Shahinian Fine Art in Rhinebeck this September, exact date TBA.
This show will feature all sorts of water imagery along with a new site map, in progress below. Along with the oil paintings, look for map pieces in collage and lino/mono print exploring climate change and sea level rise/storm flooding.
This builds on the show that I had at Thompson Giroux Gallery last spring, Atlas/Hudson River Valley (you can see the site map for that show in the upper left background). If you missed seeing or reading about the show, here is the link to my blog post on it:
Forms of Water explores a more a global rather that locale-specific theme, though my personal forms of water have most often been experienced in the Northeast.
Also upcoming, a small duo show with my friend Polly Law at the Roxbury Arts Group; more workshops; and fresh work heading to Nantucket. More on all of this soon!
If you are not on my mailing list and would like to be, contact me at email@example.com.
Sweetest Sales, Part Two
In 2011 I wrote a post describing some quirky and heartwarming stories that led to a sale or sales of my work:
Since then, I have accumulated a few more that I want to share.
My seven-year-old collector:
Several years ago I was approached by acquaintances who live in our little hamlet. Could their younger daughter interview me for a school project on her favorite artist?
Juliet had accompanied her father Brett to an open studio I had hosted several months prior, and so thought of me (the other kids did mostly Picasso or Van Gogh, I think!).
So we did that, and then Juliet returned to my studio for a private art class. Her mom, Rebecca–who I barely knew, at that point—read in the yard while we did our session, and at the end she came into the studio and we chatted. Juliet was still quite shy at that time, but summoned her courage to ask me how much I charged for my paintings. Her mother feared that the question was rude, but I said, no, that asking for price in an artist’s studio was perfectly acceptable.
So I pointed to a 36″x36″ and said, “This painting will go out to one of my galleries shortly and is priced at $6,000”, and then I pointed to a few other pieces in a stack and continued, “but those pieces in this stack” and I pulled out one that had been in the possession of my sister for years, “are much, much older and I will sell to a friend for a few hundred dollars”.
Her mom and I continued chatting, and then Juliet tugged on her mothers clothing. “MOM, I want to buy a painting.” Rebecca was floored and a little embarrassed, so I picked up what I thought was just a conversational ball. “Juliet, if you were going to buy a painting, which one would it be?
“That one”—she pointed to the stack, where I had stashed the earlier piece behind a few others. I pulled it out again. “I want to buy THAT one.” Her mom tried to backtrack, or at least table the conversation for later, but Juliet was having none of it. “How much would you charge me for it?”
I thought quickly. I could certainly have happily gifted her the piece, it was clear that she wanted to purchase it. So I told her that I would sell that painting to her for $150. “MOM, she said, I have savings and I WANT to buy the painting.” It went back and forth like that for a bit, Juliet also insisting that they take the painting NOW.
And so they did.
Her parents made the great call to have her go with them to the bank and make her first ever withdrawal and then bring me the money herself.
The angelic-looking and very strong-willed young artist:
I have since enjoyed getting to know the whole family better, as Brett and Rebecca have acquired a few pieces of their own and we have shared a glass of wine or two.
__________________ _____________________________________________ ____________________
She googled “Moody Greenscapes”:
And the study for the piece:
So that was just about that for that, as she explained:
Painting from 1987:
A few months ago I received an email from a fellow asking about the inspiration for this painting:
I have to say, I was very excited to see this piece, to me a standout from my abstract figurative period in the 1980’s when I was living in NYC. I remembered the sale of it to a woman who was accustomed to collecting high-end work, and I had always wondered if/how long she had held onto it. Frankly, given what else she had on her walls in her Sutton Place apartment, I was afraid that it had ended up in a dumpster.
It turned out that she does indeed really love her art–all of it, no dumpsters—even those pieces that have been switched around to different residences and in and out of storage. A few years ago, she offered to gift this piece to her sometimes personal assistant/friend and her husband. And so, it ended up in their California home…and sparked the inquiry.
I was communicating with Rich, the husband, batting info back and forth. Eventually, it was his idea to purchase two small pieces to go on either side, accommodating their budget. After studying the photo of their living room with the painting (which we started calling simply the “Sisters” painting, as is is a stylized image of me with my sister Karin behind me), I realized that monotypes would be the best bet, both for color/affect and for price. I recommended going with the pop of warm color that is in the painting, rather than trying to match the greens.
Then the couple decided that they wanted two more prints, for other spots in the room. I sent the four of them off and the next day got the email below:
“Love them! Thank you. I can’t wait to get them framed!
These are the other two that they acquired:
________________ ______________________________________________ _______________
Does a gift qualify as a sale?
Some 12 or so years ago we had a holiday party and Gary Alexander, art and science writer from Woodstock, came with his girlfriend. He had been introduced to me years before by my then-gallery, the James Cox Gallery, and had gone on to, over time, write extensively about my work. (This included an 8 page article that got into Freud and brain science and required some serious focus, even for me.)
I had my studio heated and lit that night for those who wanted to take a look, and Gary, of course, did. After a bit of circulating on his part, we went out together and he pretty quickly got snagged by a 36″x36″ painting that was almost totally in black and white, big stormy sky gleam over our Catskill mountains backlit to black.
I can’t find a jpeg of the piece, but it had a look very similar to this one, but with a black mountain range in front:
A bit later, when I went back out with another friend, Gary’s partner was kneeing on the floor, rapt, in front of the same painting.
A few months later, this piece began to—ugh!—develop fine cracks in the surface. It was a new brand of stretched linen I had tried, quite pricey, and I think now was actually stretched too tight, a rare thing. Sadly, this painting was not going out to one of my galleries, even though these cracks were not visible from a few yards back.
I knew immediately what to do. I called Gary and left a message on his machine. Can you come by the studio, I have a surprise for you?
He was there within the hour. A gentle, laconic fellow, he did not stay around to chat after I gave him the painting, but his face said it all.
I am quite sure that it was the last time I saw him. He passed away in 2017.
I hope his girlfriend is still enjoying the painting.
________ _______________________________________________________ _________
To Madrid on the private jet:
One more, a quick one, because that is how the sale happened.
In June of 2017 a fellow was drawn into my gallery on Martha’s Vineyard, the Louisa Gould Gallery, by a very large marsh painting in the window. That piece was too big, but sitting still wrapped in the gallery was my season’s delivery, dropped by my husband earlier that day. The fellow, from Madrid, helped unwrap a new 44″x68″, and fell in love with the piece instantly. His wife concurred. Problem was, would it fit in their private jet?
Just then, his pilot walked by the front of the gallery and was promptly hailed. Would this piece fit? Hurried consultation in Spanish. Yes, it would!
The piece was wrapped back up and invoiced and paid for, and out the door it went.
The whole encounter took about 20 minutes.
_______________ _____________________________________________________________ ______________
I have been steadily selling my work for decades, resulting in many hundreds of pieces going out to homes, offices, and public collections around the country and the world. These stories remind me to be grateful for each and every one of those sales, but you can see that most of the ones that stick with me are not necessarily big in dollar amount, but big in heart.