My friend David Rosenak is a landscape painter who found himself working closer and closer and closer to home and realized he had a lifetime of paintings to make without leaving his property. When he first revealed this to me I thought it was a little odd, but perfect for him – see more about him by clicking here. I compared my practice at the time to his and I was attracted to the convenience of it but couldn’t see how it could ever work for me. I tend to want to paint everything I see, all the time, everywhere I go. But I struggle to get things done and finish what I start so, David’s method stayed in the back of my mind.
We got a dog two years ago and started taking her on walks along this ditch trail about half a mile from my house. It’s a wonderful walk. You see close mountains and distant ones, close and distant trees, houses, shacks, weeds, farmland — there are just endless compositions to experiment with. And there are never any other people down there. So I started painting there a lot and have made five paintings I’m pleased with in the last year.
These are the latest paintings are from the ditch trail. Painted last fall and late summer. The evening one was painted when my mom was sick and I didn’t fully realize she was dying, but I was extremely stressed out and painting this was a good way to take my mind off of things. The last one was painted in the month after she died. The reason I bring this up is that when I look at these paintings I travel emotionally to the joyful feeling I had while making them. Writing this post, my mental sequence was, “Wait, when did you make these? Was it before mom got sick?” And I realized it was during her illness and right after she died. It is kind of shocking, but somehow there is life and spark in being outside and making landscape paintings, despite this generally being a terribly tough time. However, I don’t think I would have been able to do it if I didn’t have this comfortable and easy location to go to. Since my mom’s death, I feel like staying home (or closer to home) all the time. I really miss her. I think as the spring comes I’ll feel a little less like a hermit. And I don’t know if I have more paintings to make down on this ditch trail. It’s impossible to commit to something like that. Time will tell. But I do like working where it’s comfortable and safe.
Both measure 20″ x 35″. Painted en plein air over a number of sessions.
City of Portland from the Bluff — University of Oregon campus
Recently I got to paint a spot I’ve been dying to paint for a couple of years and I got to paint out with a Portland artist I’d been dying to meet in real life — Gabriel Liston. His work is fantastic, he documents life and history and the news in a contemporary Rococo influenced style.
Pilot Rock – As seen from the Pacific Crest Trail near Hobart Bluff, in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.
I painted this in September after the smoke cleared out of the valley. (We had a terrible, terrible smokey summer from all the wild fires this year. This is the only bummer about living surrounded by wilderness. Avoid the Rogue Valley in August.) Painting here involves a bit of a drive and a pretty short hike. Interstate 5 is tucked in between the more distant ridges.
I had an amazing time painting in Paris. Getting out and painting in this old city, known for centuries of great art, connected me to so many of my heroes and gave me a chance to meet lots of tourists and locals. I cannot wait to go back – there are paintings there I still really want to make!!
They are displayed in the order I made them.
It was rainy and a national holiday, so all the museums were closed, so I bought some hyacinths from the nearby flower market and made a still life in the little apartment I was staying in with my aunt.
I love the Louvre so much, I must go back someday and paint the iconic entrance with the pyramid. When I first arrived, I shied away from making a painting that would be so direct, but after spending two weeks in Paris, where they really embrace beauty directly, I realized it’s just as affected to avoid beauty as it is to seek it exclusively. Best bet is always just paint what moves you. Be real, even if it lands you in a cliche.
Mid Morning looking sort of toward the east.
With a view of the Musee D’Orsay in the background 9 to the left of the statue is the tip of the museum, with it’s massive clock face peeking out a tiny bit behind the trees). I finally had a day where Paris had those impressionist clouds you see in paintings.
My local friend showed me this wonderful little park. Many paintings could be made here.
Here I am, nearing the end of my trip, embracing the obvious beauty and being happy about it. Archway to a view with a grand building? The more the merrier.
My last day painting in Paris, I was under the influence of the Corots I’d seen in the Louvre. I was also recreating the point of view of some impressionist paintings I’d seen.
Today I’m going to highlight paintings by my friend David Rosenak. This may be the longest post I’ll ever make. He has four paintings up at the Portland Art Museum this year – 2015 – in the Northwest Contemporary section. GO SEE THEM. While you’re at it, mention to PAM that they should do a better job of pointing out where these paintings are; I’ve been to that museum probably 25 times and I always have to figure out where in the world that particular gallery is.
There are so many things to say about David – first and foremost is that his paintings are absolutely captivating. I happened to stumble across two other pieces at the Portland Art Museum a few years ago. I clearly remember thinking, “who painted these!??” — and life is amazing sometimes, because I actually got to find out who, and become friends with the painter.
I found out because I posted an image on my blog and David vainly googled himself. (Just kidding David, not vanity so much as housekeeping – right? What you can’t see here is that I realized I should google myself to see if anything is interesting there. Not really. It’s only stuff I put on the web myself. So okay.) Anyway, David found my blog, read it, and actually liked my paintings too! At some point, he emailed me and we started talking about painting, art we admire and being an artist.
Over the course of these conversations David has become sort of a mentor or an example of having integrity as an artist. So, to set the stage for how he has been an example, I’m going to share where my head is/was. I felt — and still feel — internal pressure to legitimize my obsession with art by turning it into a business. But I’m not capable of “branding” myself with a style and making pieces that are predictable and popular. I absolutely think art is a noble profession and if people sell their work well enough to put food on the table, I think that’s awesome! It’s great when art can be appreciated widely, but if you’re an artist you also know there’s an icky, slippery slope to fall down when you’re making art mainly for other people. On the other hand, most of us are not simply expressing ourselves for its own sake, but trying to reach out and connect to some unknown viewer in an authentic and sincere way.
Along with that struggle, there is the battle for technical skills, real ideas and the essential but unpredictable spark of magic that makes good pieces work. It can take years to even come close to making something really special. Years of self-examining, persistent, steady work. To be really great, you have to start young and have some successes; many of those successes are self delusions, but that’s no matter, they keep you going, keep you pushing forward. After all that you still may not have achieved something great, or may not get recognition until you’re gone. It can be such a strange and insane undertaking to “be an artist”.
So here I am, needing to justify all this by making it a business and I meet David. The time when I meet him and first see his work is at a point where he has achieved something special through years of trial and error and persistence. His work is desired by collectors, galleries want to sell his work, and David simply says “No, thank you”. He does not sell his work. I repeat — his paintings are not for sale. He has goals for his work, for sure. He doesn’t create it “for himself” – as the corny line goes. He wants it to be seen in the world by as many people as possible. He knows how long they take to make, how hard he worked to make something he is truly proud of and he wants to cast them in a place where they have the best chance to grow.
And he knows they are precious. They take months and months to complete. He puts scores of hours into each piece. Because time stops for no man, his window for making them is pretty small – as it is for us all – but heightened by the fact that ten years ago David discovered he has Parkinson’s disease, which causes tremors, making painting tiny things a challenge. When he first noticed the tremor it was in his right hand, and after three years he trained himself to paint with his left. (This is so typical of David. Persistent.) Now he can only paint on his good days, still with the left hand.
More interesting things about David: he is color blind. When David was young and testing out his influences, he tried a few paintings in the style of Wayne Thiebauld, but since Thiebauld’s thing has a lot to do with color, David realized he was trying on someone else’s shoes (we all do that when we’re young, but some of us never grow out of it). Then he noticed his primary teacher was making some greyscale paintings, and he realized he’d been fighting a battle with color he had no hope of winning, so he switched to greyscale in 1981 and hasn’t looked back.
I’ve seen still lifes, cityscapes and figure drawings by David, and they’re all really good, but the little cityscapes are the best. David has painted cityscapes since the late 80’s; he showed me a few scenes near his house in a medium sized scale. And they were cool. Then he made them small (nothing larger than 20″ and most average 10″ on the long side) and bam! They suddenly really worked. As the scale was becoming more intimate, the subject moved closer and closer to his home. All the views are of his back yard or his view toward downtown Portland. Since he has the subject, scale and approach settled, he is focusing on compositions, and they get more and more mature. He likes to joke that he is essentially making the same painting over and over again in an attempt to improve it. And he has many plans for new paintings within that framework. The adage of freedom coming from limitations is really true, I guess.
Since his subject matter is his yard and what he can see from it, it’s useful to say something about his home. He has a wild, artsy little compound in SE Portland, full of cats and dogs and amazing plants, and all tended to by his neighbor and long time friend, Moe (Maureen). Moe is a gardener and you see in the paintings records of Moe’s work and their friendship. David lives kind of like a cat, moving around his territory, napping, enjoying bits of shade or bits of sun, walking over to his studio a few blocks away to paint, taking the bus across the river to his day job. His paintings are like a cat would record things because they feel so still, yet so full of life. Like a cat they contain long moments of stillness while being ready to spring to action at any second. They’re also neutral like a cat. They’re not saying, “Let’s go do this!” or “Think this!” but, “This is fine as it is. I’ll find a comfortable place here.” They say, “I see it all, and it’s fine.” They’re so documentary and so neutral that they create a deep feeling of calm. It makes me feel like the best times in the world are those times when you take your coffee outside in the sun and sit and soak in the world, with your friends or without. I love the little figures who are doing just this. They’re Moe and David, and they’re just standing there like they’re thinking, trying to decide what to do next. Pondering something, calculating. Trying to decide which thing they could do today. Or if maybe the day is best spent sunning, checking the mail, weeding a bit here. Taking a break in the business of the day to pet the cat.
So anyway, David Rosenak’s work resonates with me deeply and while I actually do really like to sell my work, his example has helped me to relax and focus only on making work I feel really good about, and let the chips fall where they may. It also gives me hope that one day, some stranger will see my paintings in a museum and say, “Who painted these?”
I received a grant last year to study anatomy and to make four figure paintings. I worked from January until last Tuesday on this project and finally I’m going to show the results publicly. I was going to post them here today, but I forgot to take photos before I delivered them to the show! Argh! I do have a couple of drawing studies from the project for you however – which you will not see at the show tonight.
Anyway, if you’re in Southern Oregon and are free, please come to the show tonight (Friday, March 6) at Ashland Art Center, 357 E. Main St.
I would love to see you all there! 🙂
Big thank you to Lloyd Haines, Wendy Seldon and Ashland Art Center for this grant program, which is a fantastic boost to the visual arts in Southern Oregon.
The workshop I just attended was amazing – we drew a model every morning and in the afternoons we studied cadavers at Standford Medical School. What an experience. These photos are from the first day – you can see me in the pink sweater with the face mask – looking frightened. First day was freaky, mostly because of the formaldehyde smell. The next day was interesting and then each subsequent day was more and more and more interesting and I’m so glad to have had the experience. Getting a sense of the physical nature of the insertions, origins, actions, structure, function of the muscles was so valuable, although really just an intro, I have much to memorize to thoroughly benefit. I’d like to go back again – hopefully this summer.
FYI – Michael Grimaldi, instructor, pointed out on the first day that these bodies were given by their former inhabitants very consciously – these aren’t coerced or unclaimed bodies or anything. Dan pointed out that studying them really shows you how that what makes us human is the animating force, and it’s true; it was surprisingly undisturbing – I kept finding myself saying, “it’s so beautiful”.
My drawings from the workshop aren’t much to write home about, so I’ll just show the cell phone photos. The real value was in the new understanding, the curiosity sparked, the ideas I plan to pursue.
This floral still life is featured in my show this month at the Ashland Painters Union. The flowers come from Fry Family Farm – carnations and green zinnias. The acorns and sticks from my neighborhood and you might recognize the painting in the back ground.
I just got back from a visit to San Francisco where I went to the De Young museum to see the Girl with a Pearl Earring show, along with Etching from Rembrandt and his contemporaries. I found it very inspiring, especially all the etchings, they are so intricate and invite you to spend several minutes with each piece, I was surprised to find them even more engaging than many paintings. The etching pieces varied in technical ability, some being astonishing in their technical prowess and some (the Rembrandts) were stunning in their communication of humanity and emotion. There were goofy ones, ones that glorified the state, religious scenes that were moving (Rembrandt), religious scenes that were like crazy pageants, simple home scenes, landscapes and on and on. Then came the paintings – wonderful banquet tables with meats and lemons and cloth, the flowers that I so love and the stunning Vermeer. That Vermeer is absolutely wonderful. (Side note: Like the Mona Lisa, she has no eyebrows.!? Curious.)