“The Pathless Woods,” the show of animal studies and landscapes to benefit The Asheville Humane Society, is now online. I’m gratified to see my work next to that of some fine painters. You can view the show here:
The show had a happy and buzzing opening night at the Chowan Arts Council, whose volunteers pulled long hours hanging art and laying out a spread of refreshments. People from four counties, two states and three generations enjoyed themselves, which pleased me. Two people told me how the scene below resembled places they know. Then they told me about the people, alive as well as dead and buried, in their own places.
The last time I counted, Gates County, NC has five stop lights. It might have six now, but I wouldn’t know because I’m happy with that number.
This scene is not far from the Dismal Swamp, featured in my last post and offers a different sense of lush potential. This is a field resting between crops when the trees are green. The ground is not finished–just taking a breather. Look at those leaves, and you can hear the earth boast, “see what I can do.”
Civilization depends upon this sort of readiness. How we meet it is important. When I was a child, fields like this were visited every week or so by the poor, who were paid at the end of the day to tend them. Even then, their jobs were losing out to machines.
Currently, there is a conspicuous absence of people outdoors here. I painted this scene in July, and drove by it again just this November. There were more people visible in November. Even the autumnal head count is down as deer hunting with packs of dogs–a social activity-has given way to sitting alone in a tree stand and waiting for the quarry to walk by. I don’t know what that means, but it merits reflection.
This is The Great Dismal Swamp.
Built in 1755.
I was fortunate to approach this scene in the spring when the new greens offer such contrast with the old house.
Thanks to Emmett and Bobby Winborne who allowed me to paint their birthplace.
This painting grew from a sketch, a study and a rendered drawing. I felt like a gardener before spring, transplanting little seedlings from pot to pot as I drew, measured, enlarged, and painted. Each time, I trusted the image to materials I made myself.
It is satisfying to brew one’s own ink, cut panels, dissolve rabbit-skin glue and dust for gesso. Taking handmade materials outdoors makes one look more acutely. One of my teachers, Nathan Bertling, used to tell me, “If you love your paper, you’ll love your drawing.” He meant that time spent in preparation makes for good execution.
Much is made these days of “plein air” painting, and often I’m asked, “Did you do that all plein air?” To which I say “Harumph. I was working before I went outside.”
Below is the 24 x 36″ large study I did for Harmony in Green, an early 20th-century auto garage in Edenton. It will hang my solo show there on Dec 4.
In the Renaissance, most preparatory drawings for paintings were done in chalk. This is a great way to indicate quickly where things go in the composition Such drawings look like this one, which took about twenty minutes to do. Chalk is smudgy for shadows and holds an edge for sharp lines; hence, one can capture a lot of information with it.
But to test out large blocks of light and shadow, one turns to ink. Since we live a century into the era of comics and posters, it’s nothing for us to look at a poster and register an image. Most poster- or comic-style drawing, though, is a very efficient shorthand, which purposely omits reference to the third dimension. If you were busy perceiving depth in a billboard, you couldn’t read that billboard while driving. In short, what we spend in depth perception, we gain in information. Non-realistic pictures are worth a thousand words, as marketers the world over agree.
Realism, though, is priceless. Witness this gem from Luca Cambiaso (fl. 1550’s):
Yes, this is realism, albeit at its most stripped-down. No one doesn’t like these Renaissance robots. Just the act of breaking these abstract figures up into front (lit) planes and side (shadow) planes gives them life. This is simplicity: a little doing a lot can make for a monumental effect. If you remember Genesis 1–or any other creation myth, for that matter–you have already noticed that life will not go where there is no form.
So here’s the same treatment applied to a 24 x 36″ study of the building I’ve been working on. A little doing a lot over two square yards. The ink is walnut ink made from the bounty of North Carolina, and the pens used in the drawing are reed pens, just as Cambiaso used.
First, I corrected the date given for my show in Edenton next month. It is now to open on Thursday December 4th. The time remains 5:30pm. The volunteers who run the Chowan Arts Council Gallery didn’t want the show to conflict with the lighting of the town Christmas tree.
Second–and as promised–another look at Bunch’s garage, which greets entrants into the town. Last year I made the quick sketch of it in China ink, paying attention almost entirely to the shadows cast by the molding. The building sports a certain posture despite its age, so I returned to the spot, this time to study the texture of the corrugated sheet-metal siding:
The rhythm of verticals in the building’s fabric makes a strong contrast to the contorted oak forms behind. I chose a prepared paper to catch the sense of atmosphere that nourishes the trees and ages the building, because, for the time being, the structure’s age contributes to its dignity. I also abandoned the brush, intending to suggest brittleness with the use of goose and steel pens.
Making a drawing out of a million tiny lines demands an upped tempo and a light touch at once. It asks both draftsman and viewer to see with two faculties that our historical moment hates: aggression and restraint.