Saturday, July 28, 2018

A Murder of Crows Takes Flight

"A Murder of Crows Takes Flight"
Steven B. Rogers - Watercolor (2018)
My wife is the true artist in our family. Even our son has the gift. A gifted photographer, painter, jeweler and mosaicist, she knows what she is doing having read about and studied her crafts in the studio. Me? I’m a dabbler although when I dabble I take it very serious. Artists should always be serious about what they do regardless of their abilities and the degree of talent. Use what the Muse throws at you!

When I was a kid my father found relaxation painting by numbers and I tried to emulate him. Like most of my life, I have never been happy staying inside the lines. And like most young students I received some basic art instruction in elementary and junior high school. I also enrolled in a couple interesting studio classes when I attended a German university in the early 1970s. I learned basic principles about color, perspective and composition and I experimented with oil and acrylic media. The results are thankfully long lost and forgettable; I never found a comfort zone in either. What I learned, however, made it possible for me to appreciate the work of others far more talented than I and I love to ramble through galleries and art museums. The humorist David Sedaris, when asked why he did not continue with his art school education, admitted that most of his fellow students had something he did not. "They were on fire for the visual arts . . . I was on fire for writing, not for painting." As an artist I have also found it easier to paint with words than with pigments.

I find my dabbling in paints is in a way cathartic, something my writing is normally not. I write about things that have deep meaning for me, or as a way of putting order to a position or debate; I do not necessarily look at writing as an emotional release. With painting I do. Having lived with a visual artist for the past 40+ years it is difficult not to think about painting. SallyAnn works mainly with watercolors and gouache and she has taught me an appreciation for what one can do with these media. Add to this the minimal muss and fuss they entail and I have grown comfortable using them for what I am trying to accomplish when I dabble. Perhaps it is an emotional release as colors appeal to the eye, black on white print may not.

That said, my watercolor/gouache paintings tend more
Steven B. Rogers - Watercolor
toward "abstract expressionism" for want of a better description. They rely on a more vigorous gestural expression of self, a personal expression of emotion whatever it might be. Perhaps what I like about it is the fact that, according to Picasso, "painting is just another way of keeping a diary." This appeals to the journal keeper in me. "Painting is self-discovery," the abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock claimed. "Every good artist paints what he is . . . Today painters do not have to go to a subject matter outside of themselves. Most modern painters work from a different source. They work from within." This is all I want to accomplish. "It doesn't make much difference how the paint is put on as long as something has been said. Technique is just a means of arriving at a statement." This is exactly how I feel about it. On occasion I will stray into less abstract formulations yet for no specific reason. Something just clicks. My last posting introduced a new watercolor based on a strong memory I have from last year’s visit to South Africa: SallyAnn has done a number of such paintings and I felt I wanted to see if I could capture my own memory.

I recently finished Alyson Richman’s The Last Van Gogh (2006), a historical novel dealing with Van Gogh’s final two months painting in and around the French village of Auvers-sur-Oise in the summer of 1890 before he allegedly shot himself. He died two days later at the age of 37 having sold only one painting in his lifetime. Since I like many of the dozens of paintings Van Gogh executed during those final two months of life in Auvers, I was curious which is considered to actually be his last. Many experts seem to agree that it was "Wheatfield with Crows," painted circa July 10, 1890 (he died on July 29) although it is difficult to date his final paintings with any accuracy.

Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

There is something strangely compelling about this painting. The wild, turbulent sky, the broad brush strokes of what appears to be a wind-swept field, the lonely road headed nowhere in particular, and the crow taking flight into the distance. Some say Van Gogh was foretelling his own demise. Having studied the painting in detail I turned to my own palette, not so much to copy what Van Gogh created. I would never consider such a thing. The painting did, however, pique my interest and I tried to picture something somewhat similar but in a more local and familiar setting . . . in this case northern New England. The result was "A Murder of Crows Takes Flight." To quote van Gogh: "I do not say that my work is good, but it’s the least bad than I can do."

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