March 11, 2013 § Leave a Comment
A Visual Conversation: The Paintings of Matthew Dibble
By Katherine Aimone www.artswrite.com
“Too much thinking can be an obstacle for me when painting; the ‘judge’ always seems to get in the way. My connection can only be found in the moment, and I often come back to a sense of my feet on the floor while painting. During these moments some real work is possible…. As artists, we do much better trying to keep things simple. We do better to compare ourselves solely to ourselves. Self-inventory is useful, while self-condemnation is not. Without calling our whole identity into question, there are inquiries that we can fruitfully ask. How am I developing as an artist? Am I doing the work necessary for me to mature? Did I work today? Yes? Well, that’s good. Working today is what gives us currency and self-respect. There is dignity in work.” —Matthew Dibble
March 8, 2013 § Leave a Comment
“I go to the studio everyday because one day I may go and the Angel will be there. What if I don’t go and the Angel comes?”
October 28, 2012 § Leave a Comment
“I think a painter paints what he thinks about the most. For me, this is about objects from my childhood, present surroundings, or a chance object that stimulates my interest, around which accumulate these thoughts. I suppose you could say I am more concerned with the lowly and forgotten object, the one people discard because they are finished with it or see it in a certain logical automatic way that I would like to break.”
“When I am in the painting, I don’t know what I am doing. After a period of getting acquainted, I begin to recognize that the painting has a life of its own. If I lose contact with its life the painting is a mess and if I keep harmony with it, it turns out well. It is possible to discover a work of art in the process of creating it. Beyond that, whatever emotional results may occur in the mind of the observer, I can’t control nor would I want to. I remain only the artist.”
From Walter Tandy Murch: An Introduction, by Michael Grimaldi, Linea, 2007
Walter Tandy Murch bio.
More on the artist can be found at Painting Perceptions.
April 19, 2012 § 5 Comments
“When I… started painting from observation, one of the reasons was that I didn’t want to be so damn self-conscious about my paintings… Why not just look at something and paint it the way it is? Plop! And that’s what I did.
People often say to me, why do you pick such banal subjects, and I don’t understand that at all. They don’t seem to me to be banal in the least. They’re full of magic.
I came from a very flamboyant household, very theatrical – a very histrionic household. Everything was exaggerated; you never knew what anyone meant, and I didn’t like it. And I didn’t trust my own histrionics either, or strong affect, or whatever it is… in my paintings I try to get all that out and state it exactly – ‘no no, that’s not the way that air conditioner sits in that window. Do it again, Downes, and get it right this time, the way it really is!’ And I love that! I love feeling I have now got it, banal or not, I don’t care.
The detail comes in because you have to figure out how to move from here to here; then to here and to here… you make this block without any windows and you’re not sure whether it really is comfortably that size. As soon as you get those windows in there you get clearer and clearer and clearer about what it is. And in order to move about and keep these things in proportion I need all these things.
It’s my job to find places that answer to some internal need. I think that there’s this internal need before you get to the place and that the place answers the need.
…Could you paint a mountain without being sentimental about mountains, without falling victim to the mountain rhetoric; you know: look at this tremendous canyon, it’s so deep, and look at this terrifying crag up over your head, and all that business… I’m not interested in rhetoric at all.
I think that artists, or people who are active in another art form, even if it be writing or music… are often very, very perceptive critics of a different art form… a writer writing about painting or something, because they realize the limitations of criticism. Criticism can’t do everything, it can’t explain everything, and it can’t make certainties. There are no certainties in art.
There was a statement of Stendhal’s he wrote to his sister… “Only write on matters that you feel very strongly about. When you put them into words, try to do it as though you didn’t want anyone to notice.” I thought that was stunningly brilliant, and I felt exactly the same way.
I will say this… that all of us that are painters or artists or poets, or whatever it is, we spend quite a big chunk of every day doing the thing we really want to do. That cannot be said by lots of people.
- Rackstraw Downes, from video and interview by Betty Cunningham Gallery, 2007.
April 12, 2012 § Leave a Comment
“This is a note to myself at age 14:
I was in the eighth grade and was told not to even think about going to college. I couldn’t add or subtract, never could memorize multiplication tables, was advised against taking algebra, geometry, physics, chemistry. Since I was good with my hands I was advised to aim for trade school, perhaps body and fender work.
Never let anyone define what you are capable of by using parameters that don’t apply to you. I applied to a junior college in my hometown with open enrollment, got in and embarked on a career in the visual arts. Virtually everything I’ve done is influenced by my learning disabilities. I think I was driven to paint portraits to commit images of friends and family to memory. I have face blindness, and once a face is flattened out I can remember it much better.
Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work. Every great idea I’ve ever had grew out of work itself. Sign on to a process and see where it takes you. You don’t have to invent the wheel every day. Today you’ll do what you did yesterday, tomorrow you’ll do what you did today. Eventually you’ll get somewhere. No one gets anywhere without help. Mentors, including your parents, can make you feel special even when you’re failing in other areas. Everyone needs to feel special.
My father died when I was eleven and that was the tragedy of my life, a horrible thing to happen when you’re so young. Oddly enough, there was a gift in this tragedy. I learned very early in life that the absolute worst thing can happen to you and you will get past it and you will be happy again. Losing my father at a tender age was extremely important in being able to accept what happened to me later when I became a quadriplegic.
If you’re overwhelmed by the size of a problem, break it down into many bite-size pieces. Quadriplegics don’t envy the able-bodied, we envy paraplegics. We think they’ve got a much easier row to hoe. There’s always someone worse off than you. I’m confident that no artist has more pleasure, day in and day out from what he or she does, than I do.”
April 1, 2012 § 5 Comments
I first met Alan Feltus when I was a graduate student at at American University where he taught until he and his wife, painter Lani Irwin, decided to move to Italy, near Assisi, to live, work, and raise their children. I often sat in on Alan’s figure drawing classes, absorbing his deep love of painting, particularly the work of the Italian masters. My strongest memories are of Alan sitting on the model stand before the model took the stage, surrounded by art books which he would open to certain pictures and discuss with the class, like a rabbi giving an exegesis on sacred texts.
Here are some of his thoughts about art, which you can read in greater detail, along with essays written about his work by others, from his website.
“February 2003, Assisi”
These paintings are about many things and at the same time about nothing more than painting itself. They don’t have narrative content; they don’t tell stories. What the figures communicate is not knowable, not to me and therefore not to the viewer. Or perhaps I should say what is communicated is open to interpretation and as such there are endless meanings. Endless possible readings. They are quiet images with unspoken, and elusive meanings. They are abstract in the same way instrumental music is abstract. They convey something. They create a certain mood. We feel something when we slow down and focus on what a painting says. They are readable the way the world is readable to us. We need not ask how we should understand everything we observe.
I paint without models. I draw upon many kinds of sources, but largely those painters, from ancient to modern, whose works have taught me most throughout my career. They tend to be the painters who structure their paintings tightly.They are masters of much more than that but, it seems, always masters of composition. More than not, they also painted from within. Or perhaps they, like myself, are observering art and nature all the time while not in the studio, and then while painting rely on what has been internalized. Each of us will have a unique compilation of remembered sensations and it is how this material shapes our work that will distinguish my paintings from those of the next painter. We really don’t have all that much control over what we produce when we work from within.
What unfolds on the canvas evolves slowly. My paintings take weeks or months to complete. They have many layers of changes and then more layers of refinement before every element feels right in relation to every other. Form gradually defines itself in light, and light and color begin to work.
(From a letter to Arden Eliopoulos. Assisi, May 2, 2001).
I think art wants to be something people can turn to for a kind of meaning in their lives, or for a calm place within the turbulance of our modern world. Art doesn’t have to explain our situation within the complexity of a chaotic and unstable society. Art can become social commentary, but it can also serve a much needed purpose providing a place of refuge wherein one can find a reason, or justification, for all the battling we have to do, mentally or physically, most of every day of our lives. After all, we love the art of the past for itself, generally being ignorant of the context, the politics, let’s say, of the time and place in which it was made. We hold onto our favorite pieces in our favorite museums or churches, in our books, and we love to be moved by the beauty of something newly found. Art should have that kind of place in our lives. Art should be about transcendence. It should not merely reflect our surroundings like a mirror, adding to the clutter, but become something more wonderful, more meaningful than that. It wants to be remembered and returned to over and over again. Good art feeds us. It is so important.
(From a letter to Joseph Jennings, July 27, 2000, Assisi)
Yesterday I struggled more with the painting on my easel. There have been things about the space that hadn’t been working. Maybe it made some advances yesterday. Painting can move very slowly for me. Lani’s as well. But painting is the one thing I seem to have endless patience with. I know it wants to move slowly at times. There are so many days when nothing is resolved yet those days are necessary in order to progress beyond whatever it is that holds a painting back. The painting needs to reflect an inner self. It results from a meditative state, it seems. And those sleepy days at the easel when nothing seems to move ahead are essential. You understand all that quite instinctively, it seems to me.
March 20, 2012 § 1 Comment
from Virginia Woolf:
“… All you need now is to stand at the window and let your rhythmical sense open and shut, open and shut, boldly and freely, until one thing melts in another, until the taxis are dancing with the daffodils, until a whole has been made from all these separate fragments. I am talking nonsense, I know. What I mean is, summon all your courage, exert all your vigilance, invoke all the gifts that Nature has been induced to bestow. Then let your rhythmical sense wind itself in and out among men and women, omnibuses, sparrows — whatever come along the street — until it has strung them together in one harmonious whole.That perhaps is your task — to find the relation between things that seem incompatible yet have a mysterious affinity, to absorb every experience that comes your way fearlessly and saturate it completely so that your poem is a whole, not a fragment; to re-think human life into poetry and so give us tragedy again and comedy by means of characters not spun out at length in the novelist’s way, but condensed and synthesised in the poet’s way-that is what we look to you to do now.”
February 25, 2012 § Leave a Comment
“…right now, right here, every day has the distinct possibility of a kind of epiphany, and that epiphany is the wholeness, the beauty, the majesty of experience, right there. I don’t think necessarily that you start with a belief like that that then becomes affirmed or confirmed in the art; I think it’s the other way around. I think your art leads you to that. The more you work as an artist the more you adopt certain principles, like… at any point something very terrific can happen in a painting if you stay solidly in the moment of the work and you commit to it in a completely open way without premeditation, without manipulation – just go for it.”
- video courtesy of Painting Perceptions
February 18, 2012 § 2 Comments
Whenever I visit art museums I usually walk as quickly as I can past the paintings of Sir Joshua Reynolds and his ilk (Henry Raeburn excepted) to get to Constable and Turner. Reynolds has never been, nor will he ever be, among my pantheon of painting gods. (The self-portrait above is an exception.) Perhaps it’s the knighthood that puts me off. “Sir” seems an ill-fitting prefix to the name of an artist, the archetypical rebel against rules, a free agent of consciousness unbeholden to institutions of any kind. Frank Auerbach and David Hockney refused the honor, as did David Bowie. Sir Mick Jagger’s acceptance of the title has a certain slyness about it, as if he’s winking secretly. In truth, it’s not the “Sir” I have a problem with. It’s the paintings.
Sir Joshua’s contribution to art history of course cannot be diminished. As a founding member and first president of the Royal Academy, a post he held from 1768 to 1792, Reynolds did much to elevate the status of the artist in society and to preserve traditional studio knowledge and its teaching. If the work of his hand seems too “official,” too conformative to the grand-style conceits of his day to hold one’s interest for very long, the work of his pen is another matter.
Reynolds’ Discourses on Art, delivered as a series of lectures from 1769 to 1790 to students of the Royal Academy, are rich indeed, and still speak to the concerns of students of painting today, if you have the patience to parse the meat from the embroidery of 18th century rhetoric. Neither Reynolds, nor his audience, would even faintly understand what we mean today by the term “Attention Deficit Disorder.” Ideas were things to be taken down with a quill pen on paper, not something to Google and bookmark for later. Like anything valuable, you have to work at it to get the benefit.
Not every topic or drift of thought in the Discourses will resonate today. Even in his own time there were critics. William Blake wrote “Lies!,” “Villainy!” and “Nonsense!” in the margins of his copy of the Discourses. The Pre-Raphaelites dubbed Reynolds, “Sir Sloshua.” His critics notwithstanding, anyone who has struggled under the modern “Art Can’t Be Taught” zeitgeist to discover or re-discover useful studio knowledge will appreciate the practical wisdom of Reynolds teaching.
My favorite of the Discourses is number XI, in which Reynolds addresses himself to the problem of “finish” and the relationship of parts to the whole. Many of the ideas he articulates can be found in similar statements by later artists. There are echoes of Reynolds in Matisse’s assertion that “a work of art must carry in itself its complete significance and impose it upon the beholder even before he can identify the subject matter.” Or his statement: “All that is not useful in the picture is detrimental. A work of art must be harmonious in its entirety; for superfluous details would, in the mind of the beholder, encroach upon the essential elements.”
Here is an abstract of the essential points of Discourse XI. Quotation marks enclose direct phrasing from the original text. My comments are enclosed in parentheses.
- There is “genius” in the power of expressing the subject as a whole, so that the general effect and power of the whole impresses the mind, before the subordinate parts.
- There are “great characteristic distinctions” (contrasts, masses) in all subjects which are more than just accumulations of small particulars or details… Putting in details which do not assist the expression of the main characteristic is “worse than useless, it is mischievous” because it detracts attention from the whole.
- When the general effect is presented skillfully it appears to represent the object in a more lively way.
- This raises the question of why we are not always pleased by exact imitation (wax works, e.g.). Pleasure is not proportionate to amount of detail. On the contrary – we are pleased by seeing ends accomplished by seemingly inadequate (or surprising) means.
- Excellence in color, drawing, or modeling is only attained with the habit of looking upon objects at large and observing the effect on the eye when it is “dilated” (out-of-focus), and employed upon the whole without seeing any of the parts distinctly. This is how to obtain the “ruling characteristic” (the “macchia,” the “notan,” or the tonal structure) and how to learn to put it down by “dextrous methods” (with economy.)
- The work of great masters is not in the finish but in their ability to see everything as one (interconnected) whole.
- Titian knew how to mark by a few strokes the general image and character of whatever object he painted. Took great care to express the masses of color, light & shade, which convey the effect of completeness. Lacking this structure the picture may contain much finishing of details but will always look unfinished (disorganized, lacking unity or coherence.)
- It is vain to attend to all the variations of hue if the general hue (the key) is lost, or to finish the smaller parts if the greater masses are not observed, or if the whole is not put together well.
- Affecting dexterity without selection or a discriminating eye leads to what Vasari calls “goffe pitture,” or “absurd, foolish pictures.”
- Works of great art, like poetry, raises by the power of the language the most mundane things. This is the power of great artists. No subject is too insignificant.
- On “finishing:” Not recommending a lack of detail, for the judicious detail will often convey the convincing sense of truth. This should be left to the painter’s taste and judgment. But there is a distinction between “essential and subordinate powers,” or what draws the chief attention.
- Condemns another kind of finishing: the indiscriminate blending and gradating of colors (over-modeling). The true effect of representation consists very much in preserving the same proportion of sharpness and softness found in the subject (attention to edges, or meeting of masses).
- The value of drawings which seem unfinished or rough is that they give the idea of the whole, dextrously expressed.
- A landscape painter attending to the masses of foliage would produce a better likeness than a painter who thought to imitate each leaf.
- When a painter knows his subject he knows what to omit as well as what to put in. This skill in leaving out is a great part of knowledge and wisdom.
- The excellence of portrait painting, and the likeness itself, depends more on observation of the general effect of light and shade than on exactitude in particulars. The chief attention is given to planting the features in their proper places. A painter may labor to refine the particulars but never forget to examine and weigh whether in finishing he is not destroying the general effect.
- On subject matter: In half the pictures in the world, the subject can be valued only as an occasion which sets the artist to work. This shows how much our attention is engaged by the art alone.
- Subject matter in great paintings is often of no account. The interest and power of painting lies in the dexterity of the artist under the command of this “comprehensive faculty” (the ability to regard the subject abstractly as a whole rather than as an inventory of disconnected parts.) This is the power which raises mechanical dexterity above the common level (mere skill or technique). It becomes an instance in which mind predominates over matter by contracting into one whole the multifarious expressions of nature. A greater truth may be expressed in a few lines or touches if one regards the whole, than in the most laborious finishing of the parts when this is disregarded.
- This is not to encourage carelessness, lack of finish or exactness, but to point out the best kind of exactness. Diligence in study and practice is needed to acquire a sense of the whole. It requires the painter’s entire mind, whereas finishing details may be done while the mind is distracted.
- The “ease and laziness” of highly finishing the parts, producing the “laborious effects of idleness.”
- When diligence is properly employed work cannot be too finished but, nine times out of ten, excessive labor in the detail has been “pernicious” to the general effect (unit of the whole).
- The need to give “right direction to your industry.” To acquire the habit and art of seeing nature in an “extensive view,” in its relative proportions and its due subordination of parts (the hierarchy or relative dominance and subordination of the various parts of the composition).
- The purpose of studying masters is to understand the great principles which the work embodies. Consider the works only as a means of teaching one the art of seeing nature. The great business of study is to “form a mind,” adapted to and adequate to all occasions.