Sailing sketch 

Sailing in Annapolis this weekend, I was struck by a boat with dark calligraphic sails against the sky as it was cutting into the waves. 

This was a rough sketch I did later on blue paper. 

It’s been a while since I last got the paints out. Nice to get back at it.

  

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Thoughts on Jamie Wyeth, Expectations of the Artist, and the finished Stormy Sailing painting

Recently I read a couple reviews of the Jamie Wyeth retrospective at the MFA in Boston that were critical of the show, the main point being that his work as a whole lacked a unifying purpose, that he was technically exceptional, but without the capital A in Artist.

I suppose thinking of his work in these terms makes sense given the show was about his career, but I also wonder if that’s what we should expect of an artist. If you took Winslow Homer’s work over his life, would there be that unifying purpose? Maybe the struggle and wildness with man and nature, but does an artist have to have such a theme? I can understand the critique of Jamie Wyeth, but some of the comments across multiple reviews (one in the Boston Globe) about his gull paintings seeming like a nightmarish version of something you might find in a seaside New England town’s local arts gallery seemed a bit off. His gull paintings were remarkably potent, and the Inferno painting showcased also in video was incredible to me. They had a twist to them that clearly separated them from what could be called “tourist art.”

Wyeth had a range of styles, including expertise in the Wyeth family way, but I see this range as potentially representative of an exceptionally talented artist trying to find his own voice among the many he can channel, and sometimes that challenge can be more meaningful than the challenges of one who clearly has his own voice. I see it as representative of this larger human struggle to understand ourselves and our own potential.

I wonder about my own art. I have neither the skill not potential of any Wyeth, but that isn’t the point. I, like anybody else, am just trying over time to figure things out. Painting happens to be a pretty fun and phenomenal way to do that, being useful and influential beyond just the problem of conveying and conversing visually.

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Here, in this sailing painting, I am working through a style that I have been pursuing over this year–one of somewhat rough brushwork, of materiality in watercolor. Watching the Wyeth Inferno video at the exhibit and also available on YouTube got me comfortable being more aggressive on the brushes–Princeton Neptune faux squirrel brushes happen to be great for this because they are high quality but very affordable, so you can really mess around without worrying about wrecking them. You don’t need them to keep the point, that’s what the sables of stuff synthetics are for. You can see my work on the sail especially comes from scrubbing the brush into the paper, letting it dry out. I like showing that I used a brush, letting some of the effort come through because that also makes the work more interactive, more conversational–or at least I can pretend it does.

Part of the narrative about Jamie Wyeth is a son trying emerge from the shadow of his father. Another part, as Andrew Wyeth put it, was a competition. Andrew Wyeth said in his biography, “When you get fame–you see, I’m in competition with my son whether I want to be or not. Just the fact that I exist as a painter.” I don’t like either of these characterizations. I prefer not in the shadow of, or in competition with, but in conversation with.

Thanks for reading.

Making a bigger stormy sailing painting

Over this summer I did a sketchbook painting of a stormy sky over Annapolis while sailing with my brother. This morning I started a larger painting of it from the sketch.

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I stopped here to let it dry before I darken most of it and put in the rigging. I want to have more contrast in this one than the last, which I thought was too dark. I will return to it another day. Time for breakfast.

Another sailing sketch

Here’s another sketch from my sail a couple weeks ago. I did this with my compact kit in a Stillman and Birn Alpha sketchbook. While it buckles more than the moleskine watercolor sketchbook, the paint seems to behave better with a bit more life. I think I will work this one up into a larger painting later. There’s some good potential here, with a feeling of really being part of the action.

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Starting a new painting: Afternoon Sailing in Edgartown

When we were up in Massachusetts in August we had the chance to visit Martha’s Vineyard for a day and walk around Edgartown, where my family used to go in the summers when I was a kid. I haven’t been back in over 20 years, so it was interesting to see the place as an adult with kids of my own, and give a small nostalgia tour for them. Through adult eyes, the whole place seemed three-quarter sized.

We took the Chappy Ferry across to Chappaquiddick and let the kids play on the small beach facing the Edgartown warf. I enjoyed watching the daysailors scooting out as the yachts came in. One of the small sailboats caught my eye, and I planned to paint it. I am just now getting to it. Here is the framing drawing. Thanks for reading.

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