Saturday, February 10, 2018

Two Women with a Monkey

The second of my monkey paintings is finished:

Two Woman with a Monkey
18" x 20", oil on linen, 2017-2018

There are four significant changes between the painting and the final drawing: the monkey's position, the structure of the porch, the right arm of the blonde woman, and the addition of two more oranges.

Two Women with a Monkey (drawing #2, final)
18" x 20", pencil on paper with pastel tone on reverse, 2017

The first orange - the one being offered to the monkey - provided a bright warm note in a composition that I planned to fill with cool greens and blues as well as greys and blacks. However, as the painting progressed, I had the idea to add two more oranges which proved fortuitous, creating a subtle circular movement with more energy and interest.

detail, ca. 13" x 8"

There are two more drawings related to this painting: the initial sketch and a monkey study for the new position on the table.

Two Women with a Monkey (drawing #1)
6 1/2" x 7 3/4", pencil on graph paper, 2017

Two Women with a Monkey (monkey study)
8 1/2" x 12 1/2", pencil on paper with pastel tone on reverse, 2017

This concludes my monkey paintings for now, though I have a couple other drawings with potential, including one with a lot of monkeys. Will see. 

Lots of Monkeys
7" x 8", pencil on graph paper, 2017 

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Playing with Mr. Epps

Playing with Mr. Epps
10" x 10", oil on linen, 20177

A recurring narrative in my work involves one of two cats: Mookie, a grey tabby, and Mr. Epps, a black cat. Mookie belonged to my son for eighteen years; Mr. Epps to someone I knew in my 20s who had named him after Preston Epps, the bongo player. 

In the drawings for this composition, I was thinking to use Mookie, but when I painted the woman's dark dress I thought the counterpoint of a black note worked better then a grey note.

The composition is based on a triangle - a classical solution that helps creates weight and solidity - and I went with a background of light muted warm tones to further enhance its strength. The ball is the only bright color, and is echoed by the dark red of the chair upholstery and the light red of the horizontal line dividing the upper and  lower sections of the wall.

Playing with Mr. Epps (drawing #3, final)
10" x 10", pencil on paper with pastel tone on reverse, 2017

Besides changing the cat from Mookie to Mr. Epps, the only other significant change from the final drawing to the painting was eliminating the treat on the table top and giving the woman a red ball to hold ... and having both paws on the table instead of one.

Playing with Mr. Epps (drawing #2)
7 1/2" x 7 1/2", pencil on graph paper, 2017
Playing with Mr. Epps (drawing #1)
6 1/4" x 6", pencil on graph paper, 2017

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Little One

New painting:

Little One
6 3/4" x 4 1/2", oil on linen, 2017

The image continues my ongoing narrative of individuals with demons, devils, or imps, and in this case a blue goblin. I've often been asked about the meaning of these strange creatures that have appeared in my work with some regularity over the years, but - as with all my narratives - I like viewers to have their own interpretations of a painting.

This painting is a bit unusual in having no preliminary drawings. The composition was drawn directly on the linen.

Here's a painting from 1995 with two devils being served chicken nubs:

Woman with Two Devils
6" x 7 3/4", oil on linen, 1995
Private Collection, New York, NY

And one who doesn't need the presence of a human:

Demon with Drink
4" x 3 1/2", oil on linen, 2009

Two paintings in progress:

Two Women Feeding a Monkey, in progress
18" x 20", oil on linen
Playing with Mookie, in progress
10" x 10", oil on linen

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Loretta Feeding a Monkey

The first of my two "monkey" paintings is finished:

Loretta Feeding a Monkey
14" x 16", oil on linen, 2017

A major change from the final drawing was the removal of the awning across the top. I envisioned the awning having yellow and white stripes, but after the oranges and the red blouse were painted, the awning no longer seemed a positive contribution to the composition. The yellow would have also diminished the strength and movement of the orange and red notes.

Woman Feeding a Monkey                           (drawing #4, final)
14" x 16", pencil on paper with pastel tone on reverse, 2017

Another change - small but still important - was removing the woman's left fingertips from under her right arm. When making a decision like that, I'll repeatedly cover and uncover the part in question to see if the composition looks better with or without it ... if the part adds no real improvement, it gets taken out. 

Now the second of the "monkey" paintings is on the easel:

Two Women Feeding a Monkey                    (drawing #2, final)
18" x 20", pencil on paper with pastel tone on reverse, 2017

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Monkey Paintings

Inspired by recent travel experiences, I've developed three compositions around the narrative of monkeys being fed oranges. 

Woman Feeding a Monkey                           (drawing #4, final)
14" x 16", pencil on paper with pastel tone on reverse, 2017

Two Women Feeding a Monkey                    (drawing #2, final)
18" x 20", pencil on paper with pastel tone on reverse, 2017

Woman Feeding Lots of Monkeys                 (initial sketch)
7" x 8 1/4", pencil on graph paper, 2017
note: when fully developed, this image will be either 28" x 32" or 35" x 40"

The first of the images, Woman Feeding a Monkey (14" x 16"), is in progress on the easel.

in progress: Woman Feeding a Monkey

14" x 16", oil on linen

Below are three more drawings as I worked out the composition for this first painting. Drawing #3 combined drawing #1's figure and oranges with #2's monkey.

Woman Feeding a Monkey                           (drawing #1)
4 1/8" x 4 1/8", pencil on graph, 2017

Woman Feeding a Monkey                            (drawing #2)
4 3/4" x 5 1/2", pencil on graph, 2017

Woman Feeding a Monkey                            (drawing #3)
7" x 8", pencil on paper, 2017

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Jessie's Diner

Jessie's Diner
35" x 65", oil on linen, 2016-17

The view outside the windows was the last area painted and I tried a number of ideas before finally settling on a single building with an attached wall and a swath of sky. Originally I thought to have a second building on the left side, but this solution brings in more light and balances the density of the right side. It also solves the problem of how to stay minimal and it doesn't distract from the interior.

The real-life view out the diner windows offered me little inspiration: a stretch of US route 20 and a wide parking lot with a large windowless building on the right side - the Northborough Highway Department truck terminal - and a barn-like structure filled with sand on the left.

Since the painting is large and the photo above is small, here are two details:

ca. 34" x ca. 37"
35" x ca. 39"

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Chet's becomes Jessie's

The assortment of food containers stored under the counter is finally finished. Organizing them and their colors in a way that enhanced the composition without being a distraction was a challenge. They originally had letters on the labels and images of tomatoes, chickens, oats, etc. That soon became very busy and precious; I scraped them all away, and restarted, making the containers more minimal and abstract, quieter and in harmony with the rest of the painting.

Jessie's Diner, detail of lower half
approx. 17" x 52"

I've also decided to change the title from Chet's Diner to Jessie's Diner. After my last blog post, a friend wrote to say that the original title was confusing since it is Jessica who owns and operates the diner and is in the painting, while there is no Chet to be seen. In fact, Chet had sold the place in the 1930s, leaving behind only his name printed in large block letters on the exterior. As I developed the idea in drawings, I always referred to the subject as Chet's Diner, but for the painting my friend is right. The original title makes no sense. Jessie's Diner now it is.

Jessie's Diner, in progress
35" x 65", oil on linen

Next will finish the upper wall and ceiling, and then turn my attention to the last challenge in this painting - figuring out what will be going on outside the windows. As with the items under the counter, will try to find a solution that is minimal and unobtrusive.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Chet's Diner, in progress

My painting of Chet's Diner has been moving along slowly but surely. All the figures are now in place and I've been working on the background.

In my previous two blog posts I wrote about paintings by Benozzo Gozzoli, Sano di Pietro, and Sandro Botticelli, and about how figures in those paintings were repeated to capture movement and/or the passage of time. I've played with the same idea here, putting Jessica, the owner of Chet's Diner, in three different places as she goes about her day: cooking, serving, and opening a window.

Chet's Diner, in progress
35" x 65", oil on linen

My neighbor's 24-year-old son, Ethan, stopped by the studio last week. His take was quite different and futuristic; he thought the three Jessicas were a trio of clones.

A few days earlier, another visitor thought they were natural-born triplets. And someone else told me that the idea made no sense at all.

I've always enjoyed and encouraged the fact that different viewers interpret my work in different ways. Probably the most extreme example happened at one of my openings when a person came up to me, pointed to a painting called Pharmacy, and said I must be seriously depressed to have produced such a bleak work; just a few minutes later another person came up, pointed to the exact same painting, and cheerfully complimented me on having a very amusing and insightful view of the human condition. Paintings in a way can be mirrors.

9" x 9", oil on linen, 1994
Private Collection

As for Chet's Diner, Ethan immediately recognized it as the setting for my painting, though when I'm done, the lower part of the walls will be colored differently ... not white but the same red I used on the window frames. The other major difference is that the real Jessica has brown hair, not blonde, but - together with the man's shirt - I wanted to bounce golden yellows across the surface.

Photoshop color study for roughly how the wainscoting will look when painted:

Interior of Chet's Diner:

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Dance of Salome

In my last post I included a photograph of a Renaissance painting by Sano di Pietro, showing St. Anthony in three different locations as he journeyed to meet St. Paul. Several readers wrote me afterward, intrigued by the way the painter tried to capture movement and the passage of time. A similar painting - also one of my favorites - is The Feast of Herod and the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist by Benozzo Gozzoli (c.1421-1497). In this composition, three different events are recorded. 

The Feast of Herod and the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist
Benozzo Gozzoli
1461-1462, tempera on panel , 16" x 20"
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Salome dances for father, Herod, who is so pleased he grants her a wish. Prompted by her mother, Herodias, she asks for the head of John the Baptist, haplessly being beheaded on the left. In the background, Salome appears again, presenting his head to her mother. 

The Biblical significance of this story - or any other religiously themed work - is not important to me, but I do like the narrative in this case. I also especially enjoy the color and the composition, the movement through pictorial space. And I think it's quite brilliant how Salome's right arm, the curve of her body, and the executioner and his upraised sword, all combine to create a circular movement around the sly instigator of the murder, Herodias.

As a side note, a significant objective of some contemporary Conceptual Art involves capturing an aspect of time: a stroke or shape may be repeated over and over, or photographs may be taken at regular intervals during a relationship or journey, all in an attempt to register a sense of the passage of time. Perhaps then one could say this idea is really not so new.

Another Renaissance example: the second of Botticelli's four panels about the story of Nastagio degli Onesti, from the Decameron by Boccaccio. Nastagio is witnessing the apparition of a star-crossed couple doomed forever to a cycle of horror, with the murder in the foreground and the chase in the background.

The Story of Nastagio degli Onesti, painting 2
Sandro Botticelli
1483, paint on panel, 32" x 54"
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, Spain

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Chet's Diner

Chet's is a diner in my neighborhood, built by the Worcester Lunch Car Company and assembled in its present location in 1931. It's had several owners over the years and is currently run by Jessica Fidrych, daughter of the late Mark Fidrych, a well-known pitcher for the Detroit Tigers and a 1976 All-Star. Before his accidental death in 2009, he often worked the tables.

Chet's is only open for breakfast, and Laura and I go there fairly often. I've wanted to do a painting inspired by the place for a long time, and have accumulated numerous sketches, trying out different compositions and different points of view. Three months ago the composition finally came together. Here's a photo of that drawing, surrounded with some of the sketches that led up to it: 

on the drawing wall

A few of the sketches:

A.)  pencil on paper, 6" x 7 1/4", 2004
B.)  ink on paper, 4 1/4" x 4 1/4", 2 July 2008
C.) ink on paper,  7" x 5 1/2", 2009
D.)  pencil on paper, 3 1/4" x 4 1/4", 25 November 2010

E.)  ink on paper, 4 3/4" x 4 1/4", 29 January 2015
F.)  pencil on paper, 4 1/2" x 7 1/2", 6 September 2016 

I made a large version (35" x 65") of the drawing below to work out the size for the painting, now in progress. There was no change to the composition.

Chet's, pencil on paper, 21 1/2" x 40", 23 - 24 September 2016 

I'm planning to paint the three figures who are cooking, serving, and opening a window as the same person: Jessica, the owner and cook. In some Renaissance paintings a narrative is told this way within a single image, such as in the panel by Sano di Pietro below - one of my favorite paintings in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. - telling the story of St. Anthony traveling to meet St. Paul and getting directions along the way from a centaur.

The Meeting of Saint Anthony and Saint Paul
Master of the Osservanza (Sano di Pietro)
c. 1430/1435, tempera on panel, 18
1/4" x 13"
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.


canvas on the easel with drawing transferred, 11 October 2016


"There is more power in telling little than in telling all."
- Mark Rothko

“The mind loves the unknown. It loves images whose meanings are unknown, since the meaning of the mind itself is unknown.”
- Magritte

"Now, the idea is to get everything right -- it's not just color or form or space or line -- it's everything all at once."
- Richard Diebenkorn

“What I am seeking is not the real and not the unreal but rather the unconscious,
the mystery of the instinctive in the human race.”
- Amedeo Modigliani