Looking Back, Reaching Forward

I’ve been taking a dive into the world of JMW Turner in recent weeks. I still have not managed to see the new film although hopefully I’ll get to see that soon.

I’ve seen Todd Henry of ‘Accidental Creative’ fame discuss a model that describes the phases of creative growth – discovery, imitation, divergence and crisis. The phases are just what you would expect: A growing awareness of an interest in an area; copying of the masters; making work that is their own; and finally a recognition that to move forward the old techniques will need to be abandoned.

There are clear echoes of this pattern of growth in Turner’s work. A major inspiration for Turner was Claude Lorrain, born Claude Gellee, 1600-1682, and sufficiently famous to be known just as ‘Claude’. John Constable described Claude as ‘the most perfect landscape painter the world ever saw’. The book ‘Turner Inspired – In the Light of Claude’ explores the relationship between the work of Turner and that of Claude from a century or more earlier and provides many examples of Turner’s recreations of Claude’s images.

There is a distinct evolution in Turner’s style with time. His early work closely resembles the paintings by Claude but slowly he drifts away from the precision embodied by Claude to something much looser. Eventually of course Turner’s work becomes very loose indeed, perhaps the result in his passing into the crisis phase?, which gave us work that was in turn to inspire generations of artists to come including the Impressionists and the case is made in ‘Turner, Monet, Twombly’ that the reach of Turner extended to Cy Twombly.

In this dive into the work of Turner I was struck by some of the comments on his use of color and in particular incorporation of ‘new’ colors into his work that gave it a sense of vibrancy bordering on gaudiness. As an earlier adopter of new paints that set him apart from his contemporaries I couldn’t help but wonder whether Turner over did it a bit with these paints in the same way that early adopters of HDR technology did initially (and still do in some cases!).

I do find it amusing that for someone like me who has largely ignored history I’m finally coming around to the recognition that there is much to be learned from those that have gone before us. Spending time looking back at the work of the masters can indeed help to propel us forward. Or as Mary Oliver put it in ‘A Poetry Handbook‘:

‘To be contemporary is to rise through the stack of the past, like fire through the mountain. Only a heat so deeply and intelligently born can carry a new idea into the air.’

Friday Inspiration: Jasper Johns

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I’ve been thinking a lot about aging recently – are my best years behind me? They very well could be! In the physical sciences such as mathematics or physics people seem to have made their important contribution in their early 20’s. Perhaps because they’re less contaminated by dogma at this stage in their career. In the biological sciences scientists are generally older, when they have had an opportunity to amass a broad and deep understanding of their field, when they make their most important contributions. What about in the arts?

It was interesting then, with this as a back drop, to see an exhibition of Jasper Johns recent work ‘Regrets’ at the MoMA. Unusually this wasn’t a career retrospective, or a themed retrospective as one might expect fitting for 83 year old Johns who is referred to as America’s greatest living artist but rather a new body of work completed in the last year. The work caused such excitement among the MoMA curators that they rushed the whole body of work into the museum for an exhibition in a matter of months. They tell the story here.

For an able description of the work check out this article on ArtSpace.

It is interesting to see how the work evolved and spiraled out from a single photograph. An approach that might not work for all of us but is worth having in mind when it comes to exploring options to extend and deepen a body of work.

Jasper Johns: Regrets (March 15–September 1, 2014) from Above York, LLC on Vimeo.

Friday Inspiration: Jamie Wyeth

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One of the things that I often wonder about is ‘what does it take for the children of ‘successful’ parents to be successful in their own right?’ All too often the children of successful parents fail to step out of the shadows. Sometimes that’s by intent but I suspect more often that not it’s just that it doesn’t happen for those kids.

That clearly doesn’t seem to have been an issue for Jamie Wyeth, a third generation artist whose grandfather Newell Convers “N.C.” Wyeth and his father was Andrew Wyeth. Jamie seems to have had a somewhat unusual childhood having left school at 11 to be home schooled and to train as an artist under the guidance of his aunt Carolyn. I get the sense that while he may have had shown some talent as an artist early on that he’s really worked hard and received very open feedback on his work from one of the great american realist painters – his father. In the video below that shows him at work on ‘The Inferno’ (I couldn’t believe that was watercolors on cardboard) you hear Wyeth talk about painting being ‘drudgery’ at times but you keep working for those moments when it all comes together, a point that I have now heard many artists reiterate in their own way. The muses favor those that they find working!

Wyeth has a major retrospective exhibition going on at the MFA in Boston now until the end of the year. It looks like it would be fun to see since it pulls together all of the various aspects of Wyeth’s work in a way that hasn’t been done in a number of years. Check out the exhibition site here and hear Jamie Wyeth talking about his work below.

Friday Inspiration: Hobie Porter

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When I first saw Hobie Porter‘s work I wasn’t sure what I was looking at – a ‘straight’ photograph, a digital mash-up or what. He is of course a landscape painter, and his work is a juxtaposition of the grand landscape with artifacts that he’s found. Perhaps not surprisingly what caught my attention are his seascapes in which he incorporates old ropes, propellers and a variety of other things that he’s found at the beach. One of the advantages that painters have over photographers is that they are able to paint what ever they imagine and so I had assumed that these beach artifacts were figments of Porter’s imagination. Not so. While there may be an element of interpretation he actually collected these objects for use as reference and then for the exhibition shown in the video below displays them as part of the exhibition. Check out the videos of Porter at work and of him discussing his art below.

Hobie Porter ‘Continuum’ from Arthouse Gallery on Vimeo.

Hobie Porter ‘Full Circle’ from Arthouse Gallery on Vimeo.

Friday Inspiration: Wolfgang Bloch

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I’m always on the look out for how artists represent the ocean and in that search recently came across Wolfgang Bloch‘s work on the web and in his book ‘Wolfgang Bloch: The Colors of Coincidence‘. Wolfgang is a California based painter who has an interesting approach – he uses juxtaposition of materials as the substrate for his paintings which are often two solid fields of color with a breaking wave at the meeting of those fields. His work is subtle and quiet and looking at it I can easily imagine being along on a stormy beach looking out to sea. Check out more of his work here: www.wolfgangbloch.com and listen to Wolfgang talking about his work below.