A few years ago I walked in West End Gallery to preview a Tom Buechner show. A large nude of a large woman was hung near the back. Lin Gardner said the artist painted it many years ago. She said something else. Tom had sadly said when looking at it, he could not paint that painting today.
Some time ago I was having work done on my house. The contractor was a friend, but he surprised me when he said he’d been in West End Gallery recently. I asked if he liked anything. He said the paintings were nice, but only one stood out for him. It was a small landscape upstairs, propped up against a wall. When I asked him what he liked about it, he said it “looked just like a photograph”. Later I was in the gallery and searched for the painting. I don’t remember the artist, but my friend was right – it looked just like a photograph.
Technique is a seductive lover. The beginning artist falls in love (as well he should) with Technique. She is his ‘moon and stars’. The artist is learning the craft of painting, practicing night and day to capture reality. Technique whispers in his ear urging him on and on, until one day he is competent with the brush, familiar with his craft, and well on the road to capturing reality. Now a crossroad appears; choices must be made. Does he follow Technique down one path, or does he explore the options in a circle all around him.
Technique is beautiful and tempting, but for a painter her way leads to a dead end – the photograph.
It wasn’t always so. Before the invention of photography, and for some time after, an artist was judged on how well he represented reality. Over time, as photography was perfected and became an art in itself, it became apparent to artists that painting was in a futile competition with photography to represent the physical nature of reality. Painting then opened up a variety of possible realities: Impressionism, Abstraction, Abstract Impressionism, Fauvism, Pointillism, – a multitude of paths for any artist to choose. Paths that begin with Technique, yet ultimately divorce her.
Painting is not photography. It is the art of laying down a medium to express an idea to the viewer. Its purpose is not to capture reality. Its purpose is not to look “just like a photograph”. There is a movie on Netflix about a man who spent eight years on a drawing of Marilyn Monroe. His start was a photograph. His aim was to go beyond the photograph. In order to judge whether he had succeeded, he asked David Hockney to view the drawing. Hockney was appreciative of the artist’s effort, and thanked him for the opportunity to view it. Later, after the artist left, Hockney turned to his assistant and remarked, “It’s just the f—ing photograph”. In other words, the artist had failed. Using painting to approach the photograph asks the question – Why?
Photography is an indispensable tool for artists, opening infinitude of choices for the artist. No longer bound by the model in front of him, the painter is free to represent life. Dancers can be caught in mid-air, muscles taught. Fleeting expressions moving across a face can be caught. The photo is a useful reference used as a platform from which to leap.
A painting is a record of choices. An artist begins with a blank surface. The first line is a choice, then a decision, then another choice and another decision, on and on until there are no more choices or decisions to be made. One reason every painting is unique is because the artist cannot replicate the multitude of choices he made, even if he wants to. An artist can’t paint the exact same picture twice.
An artistic career is like a blank canvas. Large and small choices are made, roads and paths are chosen, and it’s rare for an artist to find his way back to a choice he made. The direction is forward; exploration, discovery, drive the artist ahead, always looking ahead. Near the end of his career an artist can look back at the choices made. There is a record in the work left behind. I think maybe Tom Buechner, when looking at his painting of the nude, realized the journey he’d taken. I believe him when he said he couldn’t paint that painting today, not because of age or loss of skill, simply because of the accumulation of choices and decisions he’d made since then. Life is change and we can almost never go back, but in a way we have photographs to take us back.
– Jeff Perrault
I tend to like to paint and leave the marks of the brush or pallet knife, whatever the case may be, showing on the canvas. There is something about it that has always appealed to me ever since I was a Little kid.
To stand back and look at a painting and be knocked over by its realism….. then to walk up and see the evidence of the brush and little dabs of paint all over the place. Take a few steps backwards and again be hit by the image, and yet up close it’s a mess of paint dabs…. nothing more, a great big illusion. I want there to be a threshold that once you cross it and come close to the painting it is an abstract field of color. Then step back and it’s a believable image of some sort.
When I am unsure of myself, I’ll get tight and try to control the paint too much. But if I am touched by a subject, I let it rip and most times the picture paints itself. I just seem to be along for the ride, like someone else is doing the work and I am just an observer. That’s what keeps me painting, those magic moments….
Then sometimes, it takes a lot of work and calculating, sweat and tears to get a painting to work out well….. like the title of the old movie, “the Agony and the Ecstasy” seems to fit pretty well. You never know.
As for “Upstate”, it’s a subject that I’ve been painting for years. I always thought I was just painting old barns and fields. But as it turns out, I’ve been documenting the demise of the family farm. So many of the scenes that I’ve painted over the years aren’t there anymore. The barns and houses have fallen down and the fields are now overgrown and the overviews have disappeared! The herds of cows are as rare as hen’s teeth. I remember at the age of 10 having to carry a newborn calf, still wet from birth, across the field to the barn, in the painting “Ground Fog”, the mother cow following along, licking her newborn as we walked. Somehow that connects you to the land.
Upstate isn’t a place—-it’s a state of mind.
Just a reminder that our annual exhibit from Tom Gardner, this year titled “Upstate”, opens tonight with an opening reception here at the West End Gallery. The event runs from 5-7:30 PM and is, as always, open to the public. The shows runs from tonight until June 7 and features a wide variety of Tom’s well known work. We hope you can make tonight’s opening part of your day. We feel that it is a great show and is one that you won’t want to miss.
The Take FIVE! event this past Saturday here at the West End Gallery was a huge success with large numbers of you coming out to take the opportunity to see five wonderful artists demonstrate their talents. One of those artists was probably recognizable to many of you as he worked over a landscape at his travelling easel. It was Tom Gardner, who has been one of the pillars of the painting scene in the Corning area for many years . Also known for his public sculpture which graces a number of area buildings, including the clock on the front of our gallery, Tom has been masterfully documenting the Southern Tier landscape and people for most of his life and has in recent years added scenes from his travels abroad.
Tom Gardner has created a new body of his work for his new show, “Upstate”, that opens this Friday, May 3 and runs until June 7. It starts Friday with an opening reception that runs from 5-7:30 PM. The show features many of Gardner’s instantly recognizable scenes of the local landscape as well as some stunning scenes from his travels in Italy as well as scene from his “White Trash” series which features scenes gleaned from old photos painted in a sepia tone that gives them the look of a vintage photo. It’s a great looking show and there is something for everyone here.
We hope to see you Friday at the West End Gallery!
Here’s a general schedule : Judy Soprano and Tom Gardner will be here from Noon – 5:00. Craig Palmer will be here at Noon and stay through most of the afternoon. Wilson Ong will start the portrait from life at 1:00 and complete it sometime between 3:00 and 4:00. and last but certainly not least, Michael Barr will be arriving between 1:00 and 2:00 and stay for the majority of the afternoon. No matter what time you come, the creativity will be flowing at the first annual Arts In Bloom at West End Gallery!
We’re very excited here at the West End Gallery about this coming Saturday, April 27, when we will be hosting Take FIVE. Starting at noon and ending at 5 PM, each hour will be filled with artist demonstrations featuring some of our favorite gallery artists.
Michael Barr will be demonstrating his masterful photorealistic drawing and painting techniques.
Tom Gardner will feature his many oil techniques as well as previewing his upcoming show of new work which opens here at the West End on Friday, May 3.
Wilson Ong will be doing one of his famed portraits from a sitting model right before your eyes.
Craig Palmer will show the oil techniques that make his work shine.
Judy Soprano will perform a watercolor that shows her mastery of the difficult medium.
This is a wonderful opportunity to get a first hand look at some of the most gifted artists around showing off those talents right before your eyes. So mark your calendars and get in here Saturday. It should be a great time!
Take Five is being ran in conjunction with Slow Art Day and Arts In Bloom . Arts in Bloom is a countywide event which allows visitors to meet artists, watch them work and find out what inspires their creativity. Slow Art Day is a global event that encourages art lovers to take some time to look at artwork slowly, to discover or re-discover the joy of looking at and loving art.
So let’s fill this Saturday with art!