Brushwork!

My studio mate, Angelina, is an oil painter.   She was classically trained and studied in Italy. Her work evokes the style of John Singer Sargent—lush, expressive, juicy. A painting session for her can include the use of 3 or 4 brushes. But sometimes only one. I was looking at a portrait she did of our daughter noticing the sketchy quality. The likeness looks like Kate, but not every muscle is fully formed, not every feature is examined. And the foliage in the background would be impossible to identify. The edges of the canvas were painted, not all the same color and the rough, dry brushstrokes gave the boundaries of the picture plane a lively quality.

Wandering into Gordon’s space I observed his process. He pours thin paint, then blends with a soft bristle brush. He combines that technique with impasto applied with a palette knife. His subject is also figurative, but has less form than Angelina’s. Thin veils of color merely suggest a figure. His palette is generally simple, not mixing much on the canvas. His color choices are frequently neutral. Line is often made by something he can’t control like a feather or a stick or a piece of semi-rigid plastic tubing that can contain ink.

The stories these two artists tell about the people they paint are very different. The psychological narrative is shown to the viewer, not only by line, shape, form and color on the canvas, but through the use of brush and paint technique.

I’ve always felt that acquiring these techniques comes best from the artist’s investigation of the materials while exploring their own psyche. Jackson Pollack, not the most articulate guy on the planet, but the guy who rocked the art world in probably the most dramatic fashion thus far, said that “Technique is just the means of arriving at a statement.” He also said: “Painting is a state of being. Painting is self-discovery. Every good artist paints what he is.” And “Each age finds its own technique…”

In our group at ArtHouse 23 watching the development of style and technique affirms Pollock’s ideas. Most people have developed very different styles that reflect their sensibilities. This week we’re going to play with that a little and push the envelope. We’ll look at paintings by a few artists and observe possibilities, then we’ll play.

Bring at least one underpainting that isn’t fully resolved but that has “good bones”. Using that painting as a structure you will “hang” brush technique on it based on my calls. Bring something that isn’t precious. I will lead you to apply certain technique on certain passages. You will need to determine on what passages to work when. It will be impossible to know the end. This may or may not take the full class time so have other work also.

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