Monday, August 16, 2010

How I Look

Mount Monadnock
Corcoran Gallery of Art

Originally I was going to use my trip to DC to write a post about how artists look at paintings. Between thinking of it and writing it however, Stapleton Kearns wrote his own 4-part treatise on the subject on his blog. Like most of his blog, the essays are very informative, so I suggest you read the series, "Looking Critically at Paintings". Not only will you learn something, you will end up laughing out loud.

What I can add to Stape's (he told me once that I could call him "Stape") instructions is specifically what I am looking at and for when I go to museums and that is mostly technical information. When standing in front of a painting, drawing or print (usually too close for the guards comfort), I am always asking, "How the heck did that he do that?"

This is why I made sure to visit the Corcoran Gallery of Art and their special exhibit Chuck Close Prints: Process and Collaboration. Since I stalk prints by masters and collect all the explanations about techniques that I can get, this show was HEAVEN!!

Chuck Close, an American artist best known for his huge portraits, has produced (alone and in cooperation with print shops) lithographs, etchings, mezzotints, Japanese-style woodblocks, linoleum reliefs, and silkscreens. Many of the pieces in the exhibit have the blocks and plates next to the finished print. There are also a few prints that are shown in different phases of the process. In the exhibit, Close and his collaborators tell you exactly how they created the prints! 

That didn't make any of it seem easy. In fact, it made the pieces even more impressive.

After I left the print show, I let the painter in me look at some of the Corcoran's American art collection. That is where I caught up with some of my favorite landscape painters and the Thayer painting above. I took a picture of this painting because I love the chunky paint that helps create the light in the background. And I am in general a sucker for New Hampshire's Mount Monadnock as a subject, having used it as a model myself on occasion.

The Corcoran provided more than enough to look at in one day, so I returned to the hotel exhausted but  happy and ready to plan Day 3!

Week at the Museums of Washington DC

White Poodle in a Punt
National Gallery of Art

When my husband was sent to Washington DC for professional training a few weeks ago, I jumped at the chance to go too. I know it can be horribly hot down there in July, but I also knew I would be inside almost the whole time looking at as much art as possible. 

I ended up visiting 6 museums in 4 days!!! I returned to our hotel each evening exhausted and filled to the brim with visions of paintings, prints, drawings, films, and photos. Luckily, looking at art is part of my job!

Here are some of the highlights from my wonderful week:

Day 1: Hirshhorn in the AM

Part of the Smithsonian Institute, this museum is most famous for its sculpture collection. When I am there, I always try to visit some of my favorite paintings by Giorgio Morandi (Italian whose still lifes teach us that there is always something to paint).

On my way to the paintings, I encountered two featured exhibits. The first was the short film, Block B. This piece glued me to my seat for the full 20 minutes. One critic appropriately labeled this work "a living painting." I highly recommend seeing this wonderful little movie if you get the chance.

The second floor was filled with the work of Yves Klein. I walked quickly through these galleries without finding anything I care to see again. Judge for yourself - click his name for a link to the show.

Day 1: National Gallery of Art in the PM

After lunch I browsed through the Chester Dale Collection. I have seen many of these paintings multiple times before because it is the core of the Gallery's modern painting collection, but it was interesting to see them exhibited together. I also made sure to visit the rest of the permanent collection, including the Stubbs painting at the head of the post.

The absolute highlight of my first day was the German Master Drawings exhibit. Drawings are such a treat to see since they are fragile and must be carefully guarded from the elements by their museum stewards. As an artist, I am always fascinated by the hints of process and planning that the masters often reveal in their drawings.

This show is 6 rooms of drawings - figures, landscapes, sketches, plans...wonderful stuff.  When I bought the catalog, the employee in the shop told me that they are going to have a similar exhibit of Italian drawings in the spring! I have already marked it on my calendar!

I saw all this great stuff and I was only on the first day of my trip! Wait until you read about what I saw on Day 2....

PS. The relative scarcity of drawings on display in museums is why I always visit the Armand Hammer Collection of the National Gallery. This is where the Gallery rotates a large collection of drawings including works by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Durer, Ingres and hundreds of others.... you never know what treasure you might see in there!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Return to Painting

copyright Hannah Phelps

Orchard View
8" x 6", oil on canvas

Every year, Canterbury Shaker Village invites NH Plein Air to paint on their grounds as part of their  Mother Ann Day celebration. Artists paint until mid-afternoon, when their paintings are available for purchase and everyone eats birthday cake with Rosewater Frosting. Trust me, the cake alone made the day worthwhile, but the gorgeous weather and camaraderie with fellow painters was nice too.

I almost didn't go to the Village yesterday because last week I was in Washington, DC. I thoroughly exhausted myself by visiting 6 museums in 4 days! 

It was good for me to paint right away my first day back after seeing so much masterful artwork! In the next few posts I will attempt to recreate my DC tour, so stay tuned....

Psst:  While following the links to Canterbury Shaker Village, note that the painting on the home page was done by Yours Truly on Mother Ann Day two years ago. There is another picture of me (wearing a silly blue hat) working on it on another page!