Monday, March 26, 2007

Have We Met?

Reese was my date last Tuesday. We went to see the "Masterpieces of French Painting from the Metropolitan Museum of Art:1800 - 1920" exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston. There was a lot to see (over 130 works), and it was crowded, and we were tired. We're still tired. We were both a little under the weather, and I think it dampened our thorough enjoyment of the exhibit. Such a privilege as Houston is the only US venue to host this exhibit, and yet we felt blah.

One time Hilary and Joy convinced Reese and me to take them to a midnight showing of a movie that we likely would have enjoyed more during daylight hours. As it was, we were too exhausted to appreciate anything about the movie.

Going to see the Met exhibit was almost an exact duplicate of that movie experience. Had we felt chipper, our reaction might have been more glowing. Our encounter with the paintings was an example of high expectations combined with feeling unwell which produced less than enthusiastic results. We stayed just under an hour, and were both ready to go at the end.

It was enough time to see the reality of some paintings that I have only seen in books. For instance, a Degas ballet scene painting, "The Dancing Class"... was tiny, almost miniature. And the thickness of the paint on one of Cezanne's portraits was almost overwhelming. Interesting, too, to see Jean-Francois Millet paintings knowing that Van Gogh held him in high regard and re-interpreted some of his work.

Through no fault of it's own, the Met exhibit didn't leave a good first impression (so to speak.) Some day soon, I plan to return to be re-introduced under better circumstances and better health.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


What defines an eccentric?

A few days ago on Laurie's blog, I saw that she had sorted all of her books by color, and I thought,

"That makes perfect sense. Why didn't I think of that?"

So now, almost all of the books in our house are sorted by color. It seems normal enough, but my family has teased me mercilessly. Honestly, haven't you always wanted a color co-ordinated library? As a visual learner, books are much easier to find based on color (for me.) Why not arrange the books in an aesthetically pleasing way?

Reese was fumbling around in the living room, and I heard him say,

"I know my bible is brown, but it's not in the brown books section. Where is it?"

"Of course, it's not in the brown books section. It's in the bible box."

Friday, March 16, 2007


Martha was relaxed. Only a few people showed up for lab. Martha has an unconcerned way about her, and the class was at ease.....very tranquil. Having forgot my apron today, I ended up entirely messy. Hmmm....I should go change.

It's quiet at home, too. Hilary went to Galveston all day yesterday, and neglected to apply sunscreen everywhere. Being fair-skinned, she ended up with a rather awful sunburn. She is having a personal experience of restrained suffering. And Joy likely has bronchitis, and though slightly active, is leisurely sluggish.

The cool, still, grey weather outside matches the subdued atmosphere in our home. Maybe I can get some painting done this afternoon.

Friday, March 09, 2007

A Fast-Flying Cloud

It's been weeks since the opportunity to paint has presented itself. Between art class and lab two days a week, and the Earth Gallery show, and company, then Reese's mom passing's been virtually impossible to carve out time for painting.

Life....and death crowds in; and time creeps, marches, and then speeds past.

Here's a verse by William Knox. I've left out the middle of the poem, which can be read in it's entirety by clicking on the link.

Oh! why should the spirit of mortal be proud?
Like a swift-fleeting meteor, a fast-flying cloud
A flash of the lightning, a break of the wave
He passeth from life to his rest in the grave.

The leaves of the oak and the willow shall fade,
Be scattered around, and together be laid;
And the young and the old, and the low and the high,
Shall moulder to dust, and together shall lie.

'Tis the wink of an eye -- 'tis the draught of a breath--
From the blossom of health to the paleness of death,
From the gilded saloon to the bier and the shroud:--
Oh! why should the spirit of mortal be proud?

Friday, March 02, 2007

Meet Martha

This is Martha in her last pose of the day. She was sitting in a chair with her legs crossed and one hand in her lap. Every now and then, she would comment on something, another class or the coldness of the room. She has beautiful eyes, and I wanted to try to capture "her look," but she kept looking at different things. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Honestly, I don't mind. It adds to the excitement of drawing from life. Finally I caught Martha with her eyes closed.

This sketch does not do justice to Martha's natural beauty. Looking at it, I can see some "mistakes" and where I should have added more detail. To be fair, it is only a sketch and is not meant to be a finished drawing. Hopefully my brain will start processing all aspects of life drawing, so that I can quickly and effectively communicate what I want to say---on paper or canvas.

Paul Cezanne once said to Ambroise Vollard, who was posing for him,

"You must sit like an apple. Whoever saw an apple fidget?"

And later to the same man,

"You wretch! You've spoiled the pose. Do I have to tell you again you must sit like an apple? Does an apple move?"

All of our models wiggle a bit. Sometimes they cough or have an itch. Sometimes the pose is harder to hold than they thought and they drop it temporarily. I can't tell you how many times that I've looked at the model, drawn a line or curve, and looked back and the pose is slightly different. Or maybe I'm not standing in the same place as before and my view has changed. If all of our models "sat" like an apple, then it wouldn't be nearly as much fun.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Alexey and Me

Here's a story I haven't told, yet. It's a little longer than I usually write, but another one of life's delightful curiosities. Three months ago right before the Via Colori fundraiser for The Center for Hearing and Speech, the Center hosted an artist reception. All the artists and a guest met the night or so before the event over drinks, appetizers, and door prizes, as we collected our supplies for the big street painting festival.

As Reese and I were leaving, we introduced ourselves to a young man who appeared a little confused. He was a Russian named Alexey and had a very strong accent. He needed a little assistance regarding the directions and instructions in our artist packets.

On the morning of the event, guess who's square was right across from ours? Alexey! Throughout the day we visited, ate lunch together, and exchanged contact information. During our conversations, we discovered that he had studied sculpture in Russia.

That same day there was an art crawl around town. In Houston, once or twice a year, lots of galleries and studios open their doors to the public, and people go from space to space to see what the art community is producing. Reese happened to know of a particular space where there was some sculpture displayed. So after a while, Reese took our new friend Alexey on a short art tour---Houston style. Everyone who met Alexey treated him like a rock star. Think about it....Russian artist? He must be amazing.

A few days later, we celebrated my 43rd birthday at the Continental Club, and Alexey and his wife, Marsha, and daughter, Barbara joined us. We had some good times groovin' and dancing to the rocking sounds of The El Orbits.

Not too long after that, Marsha, who is a studio member of the Houston Grand Opera, invited us to see a performance of Engelbert Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel. It was fascinating. The opera performers were dressed in some amazing giant puppet costumes. It was surreal; not only wonderful to listen, but riveting to watch. One reviewer described it "as listening to music with your eyes."

Then when I was presenting my portfolio for review for admission to Glassell School of Art, there was Alexey! It was like seeing an old friend. He also was presenting his portfolio to enroll at Glassell.

A coupe of weekends ago, he came to the Earth Gallery reception. There he cautioned me not to be too distracted by the life drawing class because he didn't want academics to interfere with the relaxed way that I paint. He likened my style to an impetuous freedom, or something like that. It was noisy in the gallery, and his accent is strong, but that's fairly accurate.

We planned on meeting at Glassell last week, but the door to his class said NO UNAUTHORIZED ENTRY and some lady gave me the stink eye when I approached the door.

Yesterday, I received a phone call during one of our model breaks. It was Alexey. He had noticed that our class was on break and wondered if I would like a tour of the studio he gets to use through the school. So we toured and talked and arranged to meet after my class at The Menil Collection. He was very excited to show me the Robert Rauschenberg: Cardboards and Related Pieces exhibit. We walked around together discussing all the pieces. Well, Alexey did most of the discussing. Not only did he talk about balance and rhythm, he talked about the influence of this artist on art worldwide. Even though his English is not perfect, has a poetic and passionate way of describing art. It must be the Russian in him.

To me, our time together felt like what I have read happened during the Impressionist period in Europe. Artists studied, painted, drank together, and shared hopes and dreams. They were friends and comrades, just like Alexey and me.

Figuring It Out

One thing that Patrick keeps repeating over and over in class is the importance of the gesture, which means reserving the territory in which the drawing will sit. This is slowly starting to seep into my brain. What this really means is conceptualizing your drawing before beginning, and then following through and putting one's idea in the space on the paper/canvas. Every week it's a struggle to decide what to put in the space on the paper. I want to practice all of it....the angles, the face, the hands, the twists and turns of arms and legs....but it's unreasonable to think that drawing everything all the time would continually engage the viewer.

The original reason for me taking life drawing classes was to learn to draw the human figure well. At home in my studio, it's unfair to ask people to sit and pose when I'm unsure of the direction a painting will take. Every one's life is valuable, and if I am unclear on how to draw someone, why waste their time?

But instead, this class is forcing me to quickly assess a focal point for a drawing. Having only a few minutes to compose and draw from life is scarily thrilling. As much as I really want to practice drawing the human figure, I'm finding that it's secondary to having good composition. But then I wonder if good composition matters if the figure isn't drawn well....