Staying Neutral

March 7, 2014 § 3 Comments

Experience teaches us that limitation is the essence of creativity. Like a single flute playing in an echo chamber, the sounded notes of a few colors, a few shapes or lines set up visual resonances within the bounding space of the rectangle, multiplying complexity in unforeseen ways through their endless permutations. Using color in a limited way is a great way to explore this phenomenon. Here are some examples of works that choose to proscribe the range of color intensity, exploring the neutral zone that lies in the center of the color circle. Because of the relativity of color, the rainbow continues to assert itself but in a lowered intensity key. Color appears, not through pigmentation, but through optical relationships. Absence becomes presence.


Jeffrey Reed

October 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

While  angry, politicized axe-grinding, and issue-laden work dominates the news of the contemporary art scene, Philadelphia painter Jeffrey Reed is one who has always kept his head down, making modestly scaled paintings from his immediate surroundings. In this video, which showcases the recent work he has done in Ireland at the Ballinglen Arts Foundation and in his home in Philadelphia, Reed shares some of his thoughts about his process and about the meaning of being a painter today.

“…with these paintings, as small as they are, one might be surprised, in that most of the painting, probably 80%.. I do with a brush that’s one, one-and-a-half-inches –  Flats – very much in the mode of Hawthorne, laying in blocks of color, blocks of tone, and then pulling it into focus with smaller brushes later. But I paint from those big relationships..

I’m not locked into a certain palette.  I usually set up in front of a subject and ask myself how many colors can I get away with, meaning how few colors can I use to capture what’s in front of me. I feel like that bracketing helps me have a more cohesive painting and sense of light…

For me painting is a way of connecting to the world around me and I hope that’s also the experience a viewer might have, that they can have something evoked or triggered in them when they look at a painting, something they can identify with. I struggled with this, as I think most artists would..when I was a senior in college. I was starting to feel as if painting was very selfish; that I was doing it just for me, to get recognition or somebody to acknowledge I had talent. I’ve come to realize that it’s not that. Certainly I’d like to be accepted for what I do but it’s really to make a connection, whether it’s with the landscape around me, the world around me, like the world around Vuillard with him painting his mother, his sister; or it’s through the interaction that someone might have looking at my painting.”


March 28, 2011 § 5 Comments

Few subjects in art rival the human face and figure for psychological impact and technical difficulty. Our first clear vision in this world is that of our own mother’s face. Thereafter, the human face holds encoded meanings that become a life’s study.

In painting our own, or others’ likeness the fundamental challenge is learning to see and simplify the major and minor color shapes that the head presents to our eyes, instead of just the details of eyelashes, nostrils and lips. We may wish, in painting the head, to reveal the inner being of our sitter, but that will never happen without careful attention to the outer form. The inner and the outer are inseparable. Charles Hawthorne, the celebrated teacher of Edwin Dickinson and Hans Hoffman, relates a story about painting the portrait of a bald man, becoming fascinated by the colors he observed in the man’s head, one color spot against another, and finding later that he had accurately captured the sitter’s likeness with hardly a conscious thought as to how he was doing that. Seeing is a kind of knowledge.

Following is a gallery of artists’ self-portraits in a loosely chronological order from Rembrandt’s early self-portraits to the work of some notable contemporary painters. Every generation of artists, it seems, is similarly compelled to make its own statement of identity.

In his 63 years on earth, Rembrandt Harmenszoon Van Rijn (1606-1669) painted 88 self-portraits. He first painted himself in his twenties. They are masterful, proud, and just a bit cocky –  the new kid on the block hanging out his shingle as a portrait painter. Caravaggio had already come and gone, alerting Rembrandt’s generation to the splendors and mysteries of raking light.

Rembrandt continued to use himself as a model throughout his life documenting his aging face through prosperous times and through the financial setback that beset him late in life. The body of self-portraits that he left us are a great legacy to the world. They have much to teach the aspiring painter about how light and shadow activate an image, how it sculpts the planes of the head and sets up a dialogue between form and space. Rembrandt’s self-portraits also teach us that content or meaning is not something that the painter needs to consciously program or add on. The inner state of the sitter and the outer forms are intimately involved in each other. Only the honest, attentive gaze will reveal it.

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