Posted: December 20th, 2011 | Filed under: Architecture, Recent Work
With a residence that is constructed of nearly all glass I wondered if you can even say if it has a ‘front’ or a ‘back’. It lacks any classical references. It has no formal doorway flanked with columns, no orders or pediment. It is just a shiny clear box resting in nature.
This second attempt at the Glass House had me contemplating what I perceive to be the most symbolic aspects of the iconic structure. While it may not have been the intention of the architect, there is something polarizing about the large panes of glass, a by-product of the industrial age, and the bucolic Connecticut landscape. Even though the glass is transparent, it acts physically both as a gateway and a barrier to nature.
This time I chose to paint from the opposite side of the house, the side closest to Ponus Ridge road. Taking an extreme angle from the northeast corner, I could see through the waist high kitchen area, the large brick column that houses the fireplace, bathroom etc., and part of ‘Circus’ the double figured Elie Nadelman sculpture which humanizes the house. Reflected in the facade was a classic New England stone wall, a vibrant well-groomed lawn and a collection of mature sugar maples, whose amber and green tones indicated the later stages of Autumn.
I find painting landscapes one of the most daunting and intimidating subjects. There are a lot of strategic decisions to make regarding the level of detail to paint without slavishly rendering every facet of what appears before you. Normally, I steer clear of the predictable ‘plein air’ subject matter. Yet there I was, squarely in the middle of a landscape painting. The steel framework was the reference point which brought me back to what I had come to paint – the architecture.
Posted: December 20th, 2011 | Filed under: Architecture, Recent Work
After taking a tour of the famous ‘Glass House’ I realized that it would be an ideal place to continue to explore the ‘transparent reflection’ theme that I have been working on in recent years.
In the rear of the house which is perched on a ridge, the glass surface reflects the extensive acreage and dense trees beyond. I could see the reflected landscape as clearly as I could see inside of the home including its contents: the Mies Van Der Rohe furnishings, the large brick column which held the fireplace and stash of firewood, the lamp and through to other side of the building and the yard beyond.
I find balancing simultaneous and overlapping images compelling, both visually and technically. To capture and articulate such complexity, particularly in a live setting, requires your hands and eyes to work in concert on an entirely higher level of consciousness. For some artists, the prospect of working under these live circumstances and with demanding imagery might seem extremely unappealing. I find however that these factors propel me into new avenues of growth that I might not have experienced otherwise.
Posted: December 18th, 2011 | Filed under: Architecture, Figure, Recent Work
During the last week of July, I found myself outside, in front of UConn’s (University of Connecticut) glass facade in Stamford, CT. I was intrigued by the reflected imagery as well as what the transparent shell revealed inside.
Across the street and behind me stood a Target department store. At the threshold of the store’s driveway was a Stop sign with its backside facing the street. Prominently placed in the building’s pilaster was the familiar Target logo, the red branded bulls-eye, which acted as both a symbolic and visual focal point. On the sidewalk, closest to the UConn edifice, was a modest sized tree whose trunk, branches and umbrella of leaves were completely evident in the reflection. And finally my own figure, planted on the scored concrete sidewalk with a familiar posture and expression of focused concentration. Through the sheer transparent exterior you could see a structural column which supported an elevated staircase, a grand piano and a few other subtle interior architectural details.
This project proved to be one of the most physically demanding. The height of the buildings in relation to the width of the street, along with the heavy traffic patterns, created a wind tunnel. The left side of the stretchers are smeared with paint from holding on to the canvas to prevent it from being carried off in a gust. Standing on the concrete for hours, in over 90 degree heat, fighting the wind tested both my physical and mental stamina.
Fortunately, I had a lot of visitors which helped to distract me from the challenges of the work. Several professional photographers and an online news agency stopped and asked if they could film while I worked. The most poignant moment came when a petite Guatemalan women approached holding a shopping bag. After a few pleasantries she revealed the contents of the bag: her handicraft. She showed me several embroidery pieces she was working on. The vibrantly colored thread work made me recall the indigenous textiles I’d seen while traveling south of the U.S. border. The two of us come from completely different backgrounds, have different colored skin, do not share the same native language. Nonetheless she came to connect, artist to artist, evidence that we are from the same tribe.
We continued to talk and then a middle-aged man dressed in a pin-striped blue suit came up and introduced himself. He explained that he was an accountant, worked a block away and had noticed me working. There stood the three of us: a domestic worker, a businessman and an artist. For a moment I felt like I was hosting an event. I found the unexpected gathering of individuals moving. This sort of encounter causes me to regard these projects as far more than the specific painting. They give me an unusual opportunity to observe the roll of artist in society, beyond the physical work that is created.
When I began this painting, I was vaguely aware that some of the imagery was symbolic: the Stop sign, the reversed Exit sign, the iconic Target bull’s-eye, the piano, my own reflected likeness, etc. I now realize that this piece represents a sort of professional crossroads. The well known branded logo becomes symbolic of marketing design which has been the cornerstone of my professional training. For more than 20 years I have made a livelihood out of ‘image making’ for large corporations, cultural institutions and small businesses. In a current advertising arena, where the greater emphasis is placed on data gathering and connectivity, I find myself seeking to do more than to create fleeting images for computer screens.
Posted: October 19th, 2010 | Filed under: Architecture, Figure, Recent Work
Home, Stamford, CT
The weekend of September 11 arrived, marking the 9th anniversary of the New York City attack. That Saturday afternoon I surprised myself by abruptly gathering my paint supplies and setting up outside our house. I suppose it was my own way of demonstrating that we cannot put off living fully. Life’s daily distractions tend to numb us into mundane routines.
There have been moments when I have allowed myself to become completely distracted by the never-ending responsibilities of being a home owner but my inherent creative instinct, curiosity and need to use my hands always seem to come to the surface. It (painting) is a compulsion which often makes very little practical sense yet there is a nagging urge to address it. With this project I have decided to confront those issues both compositionally and psychologically.
Several weeks earlier, while working in the yard, I caught a glimpse of myself in one of the windows of the house. The single hung, six-over-six sashes are framed with traditional flat milled trim consistent with a late 18th century home. The top of this particular window cap however is missing a piece of transitional molding. The absence of this piece which exposes the bare wood beneath and the surrounding imperfect yellow clapboards act as a physical reminder of the continual ‘to do’ list of repairs and upkeep for our old home. It is a tension point for me and I presume most women who act as primary caretakers of the home. There is an indoctrination of female members of the household to clean, maintain and improve-i.e. ‘nest’. For me this is additionally heightened by the fact that I am particularly sensitive to my surroundings. I am not exactly obsessive, but the urge to utilize my creative and conceptual skills beyond manual labor in the context of our home clash on a regular basis. I suppose this is one of the reasons why I have always chosen to paint on location, off-site. By removing myself from the home environment, I remove the distractions.
The afternoon sun was hot, exposing my left side to the last heat of the Summer. The drought of earlier months brought on an abundance of prematurely ripe acorns. The sound of dropping nuts behind me caused me on more than one occasion to look around to see if someone was sneaking up on me.
The technical and compositional theme of reflection that keeps reappearing in my work takes on a more conceptual meaning when the reflected subject is myself. I believe with all portraits the task is half technical and half spiritual. You have to be objective enough to allow your understanding of anatomy and drawing skills to construct the figure in front of you, yet you also have to be emotionally open to ‘catching’ the spirit of the individual. This, I feel, is more difficult the more intimately you know the subject. It goes without saying the psychological land mines you can encounter when attempting a self portrait.
The simplicity of the composition prompted me to examine more closely the quality and texture of the paint to enhance the effect of the piece. Over subsequent days I pushed myself to build up the paint texture on the architectural elements, i.e. the clapboards, window trim and the stone footing. My intent was to enhance and differentiate the two different spatial planes – the window itself and the surrounding woodwork.
The particular angle of the afternoon sunlight did not create the circumstances where the transparency was equally dominant as the reflection. My reflection was disrupted by transparency only in a small quadrant of the image. Storm windows were installed on the exterior side of the old sashes. During the summer months we raise the bottom storm window (and lower the screen) to allow circulation throughout the house. The upper storms gave one small indication of transparency but also the subtle illusion of a double image due to the overlapping of the two panes of glass.
I am left with the simplicity of my own image surrounded by the architectural elements. My easel, just out of frame, me looking, returning the persistent stare, a left fistful of brushes, my unseen right hand busy at work… ‘Housework’.
Posted: October 19th, 2010 | Filed under: Architecture, Figure, Recent Work
Greenwich Public Library, Greenwich, CT
The original Greenwich Library building, which looks like it was built in the 1920s, underwent an addition sometime in the past 15 years. The modern addition is gracefully married to the more classical original edifice. Just at the intersection of the conjoining eras of the library stands a wall nearly 30 ft. tall of large, simple horizontally-oriented windowpanes. Through the windows you can see columns supporting the roof, the staircase leading to the upper level, the reception desk and the windows on the other side of the interior space which let in additional sunlight. The transparent scene inside the library was made more complex because of the reflection of the exterior setting behind me. The 1930s brick cape, the street, the modern elongated crimson torpedo-like sculpture, foliage and myself are reflected and super-imposed on the grid of the windows and the setting within.
Each session brought a rotating cast of visitors, from the Director of the Library to families who had come to use the facility. I always find it interesting to observe how people react to me painting on site. The reactions are both positive, negative and sometimes just wierd. I do not want to be considered a performance artist but I do recognize that there is an entertainment factor to what I do. I like to think that I am, in some way, pulling aside the veil and exposing some of the mysterious and unknown aspects of creating art.
One day a middle-aged woman came by and immediately began to explain her own background in painting, who she studied under, etc. She told me that she stopped painting to give career guidance then she began to give me unsolicited advice and direction on what was successful in my painting and which parts needed work. The lady told me I should get my teaching degree to earn money. As I casually began to pack up for the day, she followed me to my car. Odd, this need to engage, or connect via criticism in order to self-validate. I was the catalyst to facilitate that emotion… just because I was out there doing my thing.
The majority of my interactions with observers are more positive. An example of this occurred one afternoon. A large, gentle, dark skinned black man with walrus-like eyes and whiskers to match, carefully approached me. He had a sketch book in hand and explained that he was originally from Jamaica where he was a cartoonist. He went on to say that he had been taking the bus to the Library every day to practice sketching quickly. He pulled out his sketch book and showed me his gesture drawings of what looked to be unknowing Library visitors. He explained he was trying to become a courtroom artist. He was reaching out to me as a fellow artist, I was touched.
The challenges with this painting have been as much to my visual perception as they are to my technical abilities. We take so much for granted regarding our ability to see. We absorb visual information all the time but how often do we analyze and deconstruct what we see in a framework? What do we see only upon closer examination? I find myself making greater use of my dominant eye in this circumstance by letting the image come in and out of focus in order to more clearly register the reflection and then the transparent scene. The task of rendering the reflection is made more complex because the windows are thermal paned (two-layers). Therefore the reflected image is doubled with one reflection slightly askew. It is at times mind-boggling to keep track of the images and what I am trying to depict. The compositional element that makes things a little more manageable is the window framework itself. The grid provides segments in which to tackle each section individually as well as part of the whole piece. It is a simple tool but it helps to keep me focused during the most difficult stages of the painting.
Another compositional element presented itself: my own reflection. I had ambivalence about including it and wondered if it was too trite but it was something that was clearly visible in the reflection. After including my own figure I realized that it added a more dynamic element than if I had omitted it. There is a certain self-deprecating aspect of this addition: the figure is represented from ankles to shoulders but my head is decapitated by the metal window frame. I suppose you could impute some sort of symbolism by the omission of my head and feet.
After nearly three weeks, I felt it was time to let it go. I am still too close to the painting to judge if it is successful.
(Images 2 & 3 courtesy of Wayne Campbell © 2010)