Monday, August 25, 2014

Why Collect Art?

an early 20th century painting by Yvon Dieulafe
These last two weeks have been filled with travel and family visits. I haven't had a paint brush in my hands since mid August but I have been looking at interesting collections of antiques and paintings belonging to various family members. I've been watching one collection in particular grow steadily over the years. It's an interesting collection of paintings and hand pulled prints spanning a period from the mid 19th century to the present. The styles represented range from Hudson River school realism to impressionism to folk art. The collection interests me precisely because it is so diverse. As an artist, it's easy to sometimes become too focused on styles that are closer to how I paint.
Here's a small sampling of the collection with my apologies for the glare and reflections in the photography.

a gorgeous pastel by Paul R Koeler of Gerome Park in the Bronx. It reminds me of my father's description of one of his childhood homes in the still un-developed Bronx. His house sat alone on a hill faced by a boulder strewn field of fox dens.

The collector told me he chooses pieces based on their quality even if the artist might not be well known, rather than collecting pieces based solely on an artist's reputation. As he explained, even the most recognized artists have pieces that aren't very good, while there's some very good art by lesser known names. His comments made me think of the often repeated advice to artists to only put your best pieces out there.

A typically textured and colorful piece by John Costigan

I envision this collection bringing future viewers as much enjoyment as some of the 20th century personal collections do today. I know the collector fully enjoys the art that he lives with daily. As he said, it makes him smile when he opens his eyes each morning.

a folk art piece by Jack Savitsky who painted throughout the 20th century

an eastern landscape from the 1800's by William Henry Hilliard
an etching from the dust bowl era by Joe Jones

a 19th century piece by Walter Shirlaw

a marine piece with beautiful transparent water

Whose art do you collect and why?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Austin, The Last Stop

An oil sketch of cypress trees at Lake Bisteneau
© Theresa Grillo Laird

I'd never been on a month long painting road trip, so I left Florida with high expectations. Traveling from place to place while stopping to paint was even more fun than I anticipated. Despite some less than ideal weather, I painted in landscapes that I was seeing for the first time, seeing fresh with painter's eyes.
After staying at Lake Bisteneau in Louisiana and three different locations in Arkansas, my husband Pete and I turned west. The plan was to stop in Austin, and Perdenales State Park before continuing on to New Mexico.

Austin Wildflowers  ©Theresa Grillo Laird
16x20 oil

The trip had been full of surprises and the mid June heat in Texas was one of them. I had only seen Austin in the fall and was not prepared for heat that was somehow less bearable than in a Pensacola summer. Even with an air conditioned travel trailer, it was too hot to sleep at night. Austin became our last stop.
In Autumn, I'd been drawn to the fields of gold grass with dark green trees standing like sentinels over a molten sea. Now in late spring, these same fields were green and filled with every kind of wildflower imaginable. Beautiful!

In Austin my road trip ended but I can't wait for the next one!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Painting on the White River

On the White River

My favorite place to paint while I was in Arkansas, was at the White River tailwaters near Beaver Dam. The river is icy cold because it's flowing from the bottom of a very deep dammed lake. It's a popular trout fishing spot for that reason.The river level changes during the day with the release of water from the dam upstream. Fishermen arrive early, wearing waders despite the 95 degree heat, and pack up when the horn sounds signalling the release of water. Each day when they left, I had the river almost completely to myself. I loved the solitude and fell easily into the rhythm of painting while absorbed in the stillness of the trees and the gentle rippling of the river.

On my first day, I set up on the edge of the river and focused on the opposite bank. The river was low enough to see part of the rocky bottom. I was about a half hour into my work when the warning horn sounded. At first there was little change in the river. But gradually a sound like rapids could be heard and the current became noticeably faster. I had to paint faster too because the rocks along the bank I was painting were getting covered by water. I included the rising water in the painting. 

Water Rising 9x12 oil
©T Grillo Laird

I had such a good painting day that I returned the next day. The sky filled with clouds as I set up. I wondered if the nearly constant rain was what caused the river and surrounding woodland and even the humid air to seem infused with blue and green color.

Choosing from half a dozen possible painting subjects, I turned my easel towards the bluffs rising high above the river. I set up a 16x20 panel and began to work. My palette for both days was a range of greens, blues and browns mixed from 3 primary colors.
Once again the warning horn sounded at about 12 noon and the fishermen packed up for the day. I wasn't concerned about the rising water since I'd seen the extent of it the day before, and I had set up on a rise on the riverbank.

getting started
Soon the horn sounded again. Fifteen minutes later it sounded for a third time.My husband Pete and I looked at each other with the same question.Three horns! Does that mean it's time to build an ark? I kept working.

You can see little ripples in the water as the river started to rise.
Too  soon I heard the rustle of quickening water.I kept an eye on the river to my right as the rustle turned into a steady rush. My husband started moving excess equipment to higher ground. The river had risen less than 2 feet the day before so even if it rose higher than that, I felt I'd put enough room between me and the river's edge.
I was so busy congratulating myself for timing things right as I painted,- the river was now about a foot away- that I didn't even think to look to my left until Pete called out a warning. The water had snaked around to the left and I was now standing on a little island surrounded by an icy moat. I wasn't finished painting but the water was so close that I just started tossing everything up on the bank. I watched my water thermos float away as I hauled my easel towards the bank. I finished packing up from a high spot in the woods and assessed the day's work. Though unfinished, the canvas still gives me enough information to paint a larger studio version.

as finished as I was going to get for the day
 If I return to the area around Eureka Springs, I'll surely paint at this spot again. 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Plein Air Large

The work in progress leaning against my car.

Near a fishing pier at the western tip of Santa Rosa Island and bordering the Gulf of Mexico, is a serene little "lake" of seawater enclosed by the surrounding beach. Before the Hurricane 10 years ago, it was a little shaded oasis surrounded by trees where beach goers could go to escape the heat and sun of the open beach. The trees are gone now but the long sweeping lines of the dunes gives it still a sense of calm and serenity. This is the spot I chose to try a very large plein air painting. 

I chose a 24x48 inch canvas and covered the back with brown paper to keep the sunlight out.The canvas size size was partly an experiment to see if anything good can come out of working so large the field. But it was also what the long lines of the scene seemed to call for. I didn't bother with an umbrella. I knew it would be more of a distraction covering only part of the canvas, than a help. I set up on a clear afternoon, angled my canvas to catch the smallest possible amount of wind, and waited for the late day light. Near sundown, the white sand of the Florida Gulf Coast lights up with all the colors of the late day sky and the dunes take on beautiful vivid blue and violet shadow shapes, but effect doesn't last long.

On my first day out, I was content to get the main shapes, values and approximate colors down. When the sun went down I packed up and waited for another day with similar conditions.

at the end of day one

On day two I set up at the same spot on top of a wall. For the sake of accuracy, the wall I'm on doesn't go around the whole fort but encloses some batteries facing the Gulf of Mexico. 

Here's the view I was painting.

I still need another session in the field with this canvas to gather some more information. At that point I'll decide whether to call it done or give it more time in the studio.
When I next blog about this painting, I'll  talk about the palette of colors I used and I'll share my conclusions about working this large en plein air. 

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