Sunday, August 28, 2016

Redwoods, Redwoods...LOTS of Redwoods

I've been working on a painting of coastal redwoods, found along the coast of northern California. Well, I'm sort of working on it...lots of distractions and chores to do lately.

The scene I'm working on is a composite -- typical of the redwoods, but there's no one place (that I'm aware of) that will look just like it. I wanted something less literal...more mystical, something worthy of a place I think of as God's own cathedral.

 So far, I have several sources of inspiration, including some photos I took of Lady Bird Johnson Grove in Redwood National Park in 1982. One of the neat things about LBJ Grove is: it must be at the top of a hill, close to where the hill drops off. Instead of the typical dark wall of dense redwood forest, the sky is light even in pea-soup fog. I like both kinds of looks, but the bluish sky is awesome, in my opinion. (The following are scanned from 35mm slides).

Redwood National Park,Lady Bird Johnson Grove,redwoods,forest,fog,blue,ferns

Redwood National Park,Lady Bird Johnson Grove,redwoods,forest,fog,blue,ferns,iris,irisesRedwood National Park,Lady Bird Johnson Grove,redwoods,forest,fog,blue,ferns,stump

Redwood National Park,Lady Bird Johnson Grove,redwoods,forest,fog,blue,ferns,sun beams,shafts of lightRedwood National Park,Lady Bird Johnson Grove,redwoods,forest,fog,blue,ferns,sun beams,shafts of light

LBJ Grove is such an amazing place, especially when a light fog drifts in. Then the air itself luminesces, making the visitor feel like s/he turned a corner and stepped into heaven. Photos don't capture it.

Actually, the painting I'm doing now won't quite capture it, either. I'm after a different, moody, womb-like effect. I hope I can find the time and energy to finish it soon!


Saturday, August 13, 2016

"All Is Vanity"

"Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity. What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?"

This comment appears in the Bible (King James Version in this case), Ecclesiastes 1. The writer spoke of the utter hopelessness of his life -- all based on things and actions of which God would not approve.

I don't think I have much of a problem in that area, but the verses (and the ones that follow -- look 'em up in your Bible if you're so inclined) seem to be ringing especially true for me lately.

I'm getting old...OK, I AM old, and have been for a while. When loved ones around you die and the things/careers/educational goals we work so hard at just don't do what they're supposed to do, then we look at what we've really accomplished, it's possible to get to a point where everything feels worthless. Like -- what's the point? We get old, do stuff in the meantime, then die, and the world goes on without us.

What's it all for? What's the point?

Some people want to leave a legacy behind to be remembered by -- the closest to immortality we'll ever achieve here in this lifetime. But maybe we're fooling ourselves. I've often thought if I were incredibly rich and I could fund a new addition to a hospital, I would resist calling it The Mark Junge Center for Really Important Medical Stuff. No one would know how to pronounce my last name, and anyway, who cares whose name appears on the building. The Really Important Medical Stuff is all people want and need

In my head, I know whats really important and what isn't. But there's something depressing about reaching a stage where "all is vanity" is what it was all about.

Supposedly, painting was going to be my legacy of sorts...or, at least, a way to earn a living. In fact, the gift of knowing how to make money by any method seems to be a skill I never picked up along the way. I certainly worked hard at a number of skills -- science and art were the two at the top.

But it never really worked out financially, and now I'm just tired. The motivation to work at something seems to be gone. I could have a number of reasons for feeling that way, but I can't discount the sheer frustration of working hard for a long LONG period of time and being no better off now than I was many years ago.

So, that's it. At least now that I've been collecting Social Security, I can paint what I want to paint without even wondering if it would sell or not.

At least THAT thought is freeing! 


Oh, and don't forget -- you can still find me at:


Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The Heart of the Andes

Frederic Church,The Heart of the Andes,painting

Frederic Church,The Heart of the Andes,painting
"The Heart of the Andes," Frederic E. Church, 1859, 66-1/8" x 119-1/4" / 168cm x 302.9cm). Entire painting and a detail.

One of my favorite and inspirational paintings in the universe. This sucker is almost 10 feet long; yet, look at all the detail Church painted into the scene. I can't say for sure what the dimensions are of the "detail," but as you can see, he painted every leaf and stem. No blobs of paint that we're supposed to use our imaginations on. Church painted as much detail per unit of measurement as I do, but he did it on big BIG canvases! In fact, paintings like this are what inspired me to work that way.

The plant and animal life are accurate, too. I know some PhD. botanists who love Church's work because they can speciate the plants. This scene is a composite of views from Columbia and Ecuador and shows a number of habitats all at once -- from lowland tropics to the alpine mountain peaks.

So if you ever get to New York, get thee to the Metropolitan Museum of Art where this gem is hanging. Unless they've moved things, "Heart of the Andes" is directly opposite Albert Bierstadt's "Rocky Mountains."

Friday, July 22, 2016

Finished a New BIG Painting...FINALLY!!

I FINALLY finished a painting that's been bogging me down for months! Not because it was all that complex, but because I just couldn't seem to force myself to work on it. I guess larger paintings intimidate me a bit...more than they used to. And I never really liked working on big stuff anyway.

Mt,Mount,San Jacinto,cloud,enshrouded,clouds,desert,yucca,flowers,desert dandelion,Fremont's pincushion,animal,animals
Mt. San Jacinto from Morongo Valley      60" x 48"

The scene shows Mt. San Jacinto (west of Palm Springs, CA) as one sees it from the northern end of Morongo Valley. The piece features many of the plants and animals that live in this small rural community. (OK, you're not likely to see white doves there, but there's a reason why I included them).

Here are the animals that appear in the painting. Some are easy to find, others require more searching:

desert,animals,critters,cottontail rabbits,bunny,bunnies,lizard,Gambel's quail
Animals of Morongo Valley
This is obviously not a complete pictorial of every critter that inhabits this area. But these are examples of animals that live there.

Now, the white doves... This painting is being donated to a church (Church of the Lighted Cross) in Morongo Valley. White doves often symbolize the Holy Spirit, so it seemed appropriate to include a small flock of them.

Also, I normally would have painted this artwork in a horizontal ("landscape") format rather than vertical ("portrait"), but it needed to fit in a particular space. So vertical it is!

I hope the painting will be a blessing to the people of the church, the population of Morongo Valley and -- perhaps -- to the entire world!


Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Power of Art

In 1987, a movie called Fatal Attraction came out starring Michael Douglas, Anne Archer as his wife and Glenn Close as Alex, a woman Michael's character had an affair with -- and who would "not be ignored" by him. She expected more than a one-night stand, and things got out of hand as Alex invaded the married couple's life and made it a living hell. (Sadly, even the couple's pet bunny died in the process).

Fatal Attraction,Michael Douglas,Glenn Close,movie,movies,influential

I never did see the movie all the way through -- just bits and pieces of it on TV. But I remember the comments movie goers made after they watched the flick in '87 -- after seeing Fatal Attraction, they would think twice about ever having an affair; i.e., cheating on their spouses.

One movie did something that all the pulpit preaching couldn't do -- it made us aware of the consequences of making a bad choice.

Art -- good art -- has the ability to do that. It touches us in a way that verbal admonitions can't do. Art can pull on the ol' heartstrings and reach us at a visceral level, a level that is not always subject to common sense or logic. Rightly or wrongly, art moves people and makes us think in ways that mere talking cannot.

The late columnist, Paul Harvey once wrote a piece discussing this point:


by Paul Harvey

A nation might have died. Finland was so worried about menacing anarchists and so depressed over the death of Alexander Second that the nation might have rolled over and been Run over by the Russians.

But when the Finns felt their smallest weakest and poorest composer Jean Sibelius wrote something called “Finlandia” – An Orchestral piece that rallied the Finns long lost patriotic fervor, and they resisted the Russification of their land and lived happily ever after.

The Power of art over argument.

Nobody could have persuaded a generation of Americans to produce a baby boom – Yet Shirley Temple movies made every American want to have one.

Military enlistments were lagging for our air force until, almost overnight, a movie called “Top Gun” had recruits standing in line.

The power of art over argument.

Human history goes in circles. Majorities become fat and lazy ultimately to be overwhelmed by lean hungry minorities.

And the elevation of the downtrodden never relies on logic; it is instead facilitated by the persistent persuasion of gifted penmen.

British sweatshops for children existed only until Dickens wrote about them.

American slaves were slaves only until Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote about them.

Oh, yes, Lincoln himself credited her with having started the Civil War.

The power of art over argument.

More persuasive than any orator is the artist who can reduce complex considerations to a political cartoon.

Animal rights activists bemoan the difficulty of making most people relate to animals.
Yet once upon a time a cartoonist named Walt Disney created an animal character named “Bambi” and in one year deer-hunting nose-dived from a $5.7 million business – to one million.

The power of art over argument.

Statutes mandating more humane treatment of draft-horses were initiated by a book: “Black Beauty”

My generation’s first introduction to the man-animal kinship was through the books of Albert Payson Terhune about his collies.

The priority of all humanitarians should be the alleviation of suffering.

Public relations people – however gifted and properly motivated – have been frustrated in the human field.

Most every argument they advance got them denounced or derided. Logical argument on behalf of suffering animals has been met, at best, with only lukewarm success.

You want to convince the unconvinced, don’t call to arms call to “art.” Disney, Albert Payson Terhune, James Herriot -- who’s next?

Artists are time proved experts at transplanting hearts into the heartless.

These are the greatest resource of all of us who would make mankind.

I couldn't have said it better myself!


Sunday, June 19, 2016

Writing for the Arts

Writing for the Arts was the name of a class I took at California State University, Los Angeles in the late 1980s when I was finishing up my Bachelors degree in Art. I learned a lot in the class, and the professor (Sandy B.) was adamant about NOT writing in the "Artspeak" manner so typical of most art reviewers and critics. If you've ever tried to read that stuff, you know how utterly nonsensical and useless it is.

I was grateful that Sandy introduced us to a writing style that emphasized descriptive language -- wording that would form images in the reader's minds, using lots of adverbs, some adjectives and "good" verbs. As much as possible, I continue to try to write that way in what I would consider my "serious" writing (posts on Facebook are NOT included in that group!) One example of my "serious" writing appears on my website -- my Bio page (aka "Why Does Mark Paint the Desert?!?" -- you can see it HERE).

In addition, the following was an assignment for the class, talking about some early experiences (1970s) with selling my surrealist paintings at an outdoor art fair.


“Geez, that’s weird!” he said, pausing briefly, then turning away into the art fair’s forest of canvases, tinkling windchimes and seashell animals. The April sun gently warmed the barely-clothed bodies meandering down the narrow pathways.

“Really different. By far the best work in the show.” I looked up. The man, perhaps in his sixties, smiled, nodded and continued on his way.

A breeze softly lifted a lock of her long, reddish-brown hair as her mouth and eyes opened into perfect circles. “A surrealist! How neat!” She gazed at my paintings in wonder. “I’d love to buy one. Will you be here next week?”

“Probably,” I said.

She smiled. “Great! I’ll probably see you then.” I knew I would never see her again.

The flow of people seemed to stop momentarily, so I ambled over to my neighbor. “They never buy here. They only look,” he commented with the air of wisdom that comes only with long, hard years of experience.

“I think you’re right,” I answered. “I’ve gotten lots of nice comments, but you can’t pay the bills with nice comments.” He agreed.

An older couple appeared and looked at my paintings. I quickly turned, but they left before I could take a step. An older, bearded intellectual type stopped, thoughtfully puffed on his pipe, and spoke slowly.

“A Rod Serling of the brush” he said, continuing with a discourse on the meaning of my work. He told me things about my artwork that even I didn’t know. I couldn’t resist.

“Wanna buy it?”

“No, no,” he laughed as he walked away.

I had hoped to sell publishing rights to the story to The Artist magazine, but they wanted writing that showed the positive side of the artists' lives. Well, I'll admit my story isn't very hopeful, but it IS accurate!

Oh, well. At least my writing skills are still intact. I doubt I'll ever write a novel, but I can see trying my luck with writing some short stories. Author Ray Bradbury is one of my favorite authors, and he wrote some short stories that used some of this descriptive language in powerful ways. So -- maybe some day...

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Three Things I've Learned About Painting

I've been painting for what seems like forever. Like many other activities, one usually gets better with years of practice.

Making art has been like that. Some of it is just about learning how to get the paint on the canvas and to make the finished item look the way you want it to.

But I've learned three distinct principles that the Old Masters apparently knew that add so much to the power of a painting.

  • The Golden Mean. Briefly, the Golden Mean is a proportional tool that, in two-dimensional art, is a focal point of intersecting lines at given distances from the edges of the work. The eye is drawn to these point locations and automatically makes you look at them (or it). Four of them potentially exist at once, but the artist chooses one that works the best for the image s/he wants to use. It's a similar concept that photographers use known as the Rule of Thirds; only, the Golden Mean places the point of interest closer to the center: 0.382 distance from the length and width, unlike the Rule of Third's 0.333.
Golden Mean,pleasing, focal point,eye-catching,composition,art
Each of the four points near the center represents the rectangle's Golden Mean. Any of these are the best places to locate the most important feature or subject of a painting.
  • Selective Focus. Friend and amazing artist Virgil Elliot pointed out this principle --  the area of interest (probably located at the Golden Mean) should have sharp edges, and the other edges should be softened. Again, this tends to make you look at the important area and more closely resembles how we actually see things -- what we stare at is sharp, and the rest of the world appears more blurry to us. (To see Virgil's website, click here).
  • Contrast. The eye likes contrast -- very light against very dark. Painters can use this to their advantage -- make the important area contrasty -- even white next to black -- and soften the contrast on the rest of the painting.

That's my three-point message. Using one of my own paintings to illustrate all this, let's examine the piece in light of these principles:

sand,dunes,verbena,flowers,Mount,Mt,San Jacinto,Palm Springs, CA,California,desert
On Waves of Sand   20" x 24"
The Golden Mean point I used is to the lower left of center. The sharpest spot (hard to see in this small reproduction) is the creosote bush with a blowing sand cloud behind it. And the area of highest contrast is the bush and the sand cloud. (The white on the mountain peak is brighter than the blowing sand, but I kept the contrast up there low, so it doesn't grab your attention as the bush does.

After I learned these things -- one years ago, some quite recently -- I then noticed how painters of previous centuries did this stuff. The nice thing about being taught traditional approaches to art is -- one doesn't have to reinvent the wheel.

There is a lot more involved to making great art than just the above three fundamentals. But, in my opinion, learning about them helped me enormously as an artist. Next time you go to an art museum or even a gallery that carries some really good work -- look for these qualities in the paintings. The great paintings of the past and present have them. These are some of the characteristics one looks for in evaluating and judging art -- and separating the wheat from the chaff!