Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Homage to a Hero

Well, a painting hero of mine, anyway!

Nineteenth century American artist Thomas Moran created many paintings showing Toll Gate Rock and other formations in what is now Green River, WY. I had an opportunity to visit the area myself last year, and the attached image shows MY rendering of Green River.

Like Moran, I didn't make an exact copy of what the place looks like. Each of the formations exists and is accurate, but not all of the formations are present in the same view. But, also like Moran, sometimes going for the feel and the spirit of a site is more important than a mechanically-accurate approach. In this case, I agreed with Moran.

It's a special place, and I hope to do more paintings of it as well as go there again (hopefully in the afternoon next time-- the lighting would have been nicer then) so I can do even more paintings!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Art and Horses

This weekend The Wiffee and I went to the Los Angeles County Fair , a fair that is larger than most state fairs and certainly larger than most/all county fairs. One can see and do all kinds of things there, but my personal favorites are the art show (no duh!!!) and the draft horse show.

This year, the two shows had something in common -- the art show featured artwork about horses! So besides spending hours watching those big boys and girls trotting their stuff around the ring, we saw many examples of horses depicted in various art forms. (I guess I'll have to do some paintings of horses some day).

The photo on the left shows a horse that is not a draft horse but happens to be in my favorite coloring -- a paint horse (appropriate for a painter like me!) The other picture appeared in the art show and is a reproduction of horses from cave paintings in Lascaux, France.

Art and horses -- the best of this world!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

More About Surrealism

If you've been following my blog for a while, you know I paint mostly Western landscapes, especially desert scenes. But I'm a surreal sort of person, too. I used to paint in a surrealistic style, and have always like the works of early 20th century surrealists like Salvadore Dali, Rene Magritte, Paul Delvaux and Yves Tanguy.

The last artist in that list holds a special fascination for me. I used to use electron microscopes a lot in my science days (grad school and jobs), and one type of scope -- the scanning electron microscope (SEM) -- produced images that looked very much like Tanguy's paintings: a microscopic world inhabited by bacteria, teeny-tiny fragments of bone and other hard-to-describe features.

I've made a few paintings that combined Tanguy's look with things I've seen under the SEM. I've posted one example of this above. This is what one might see if shrunk down to microscopic size, with bacterial cells of E. coli and Staphylococcus strewn all around. (Of course, I doubt our eyes or anything else would function if we were reduced to a micrometer in height, but that's beside the point!)

If we could see with God's eyes...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Autumn Equinox Time!

Ahhh...welcome to autumn!

As I mentioned in a previous post, fall seems to bring out the artistic impulses in me -- something like a migratory instinct, I guess, except in my case, it's a desire to immerse myself in the beauty of autumn.

During fall (and Christmas, too), I decorate out living room with all kinds of autumn stuff. This year, I added some orange Halloween lights to the display. They were made in China, as are so many consumer goods these days. One warning printed on the box had me a little concerned: the insulation on the wires contains lead. The instructions even recommended washing one's hands after handling the wires.

Good grief! What is it about Chinese companies that compells them to manufacture items using toxic materials?

Well, anyway, the decorations are up and, IMO, they look good. I consider decorating for the holidays an extension of what I do when I paint.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


The wiffee and I (yes, I call my wife "wiffee"!) ran off to Las Vegas, NV this weekend. I've always wanted to look into the art gallery scene there, and an art trade show, Art Expo Las Vegas 2008 was going on this weekend, too. So it seemed like a good opportunity to answer some questions I've had about whether or not Vegas galleries are a place for an emerging artist like me to make a few $$$.

The Art Expo was sort of fun. They had an area devoted to individual artists who paid something like $2500 to be there (that included a room at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino where the Expo was held). I knew one of the artists there who lives in the low desert, but I never heard of the others.

The Expo also featured booths featuring art print publishers, Iris printers (for making one's own Giclee prints) and galleries, most of them from outside the area. Only one publisher carried western/realistic art prints, so I left some information with them.

Afterwards, we made an effort to find some galleries we could visit and, if it seemed to be a good "fit," talk with them about possible representation. Only one problem:

I don't think Las Vegas galleries want you to find them!!!!

Trying to find information about them -- ads, word of mouth, special advertising publications like "Gallery Guide" or "Art Scene" -- seem to be of little interest to this crowd. Maybe the locals know where to find the galleries, but if you're an out-of-towner, try to find one of these galleries. Just try. If you look them up in the phone book and try calling them, you likely will get an answering machine. We did connect with one gallery person over the phone, but after about the first 15 seconds, he hung up on us.

I doubt I'll be approaching any galleries in Las Vegas. I don't think they're really interested in selling art.

The photo is of the Fremont Experience area in the older part of Las Vegas. In the evenings, they put on a sort of gambling-themed light show on the canopy/roof structure. (We also saw a man with a sign warning everyone of God's judgement on those who indulge in gambling and/or sexual diversions. I think we were safe this time).

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Disaster Recovery Efforts

As I mentioned in my last post, I was having trouble painting in the sky in my homage to Thomas Moran and his series of paintings entitled (with some variation) "Cliffs of the Green River."

I've painted in a new sky and a different set of clouds -- perhaps a type that lends itself more to a smaller piece like this one -- and I'm much happier with the sky.

So on I go to the other elements of the landscape. Obviously, it won't be ready to post for a while yet, so here's version #2 of Moran's "Cliffs of the Green River."

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A Disaster

In my last post, I briefly mentioned artwork in progress can turn out to be disasters.

Yesterday was a day for disasterous painting. It's a piece I just started. I finished the sketch of the important elements (Toll Gate Rock and the other cliffs in Green River, WY), painted in the blue sky, and THEN!!!--I started on the clouds.

It would have been OK if I would have known when to stop, but I kept re-working and re-working the clouds and ended up with something truly hideous. So I ended up painting them out and trying again until after midnight last night. This time, the clouds were even worse!!

Since the painting is on panel, this morning I did some sanding, trying to reduce the thickness of the paint film and the numerous glazes I had applied by this time. And I discovered using an electric sander on acrylic paint doesn't work the way I was expecting. The friction of the sandpaper produces enough heat to melt blobs of sanded-off dry paint into the remaining paint film. I had to hand-sand those spots until the blobs were gone and I had a basically smooth surface again. Si-i-g-g-h-h-h...

Well, in the meantime, I'm preparing the surface again, and by tomorrow, I should be on my way. So for now, I've posted one of 19th century artist Thomas Moran's many paintings of the cliffs of the Green River. My painting will be similar, but it'll definitely be my own. (For one, I was there in the morning, so my light will come from the right. Moran's afternoon light comes from the left).

Saturday, September 13, 2008


Well, every so often, I might call a painting I've finished a "disaster." All artists produce works that just don't work for whatever reason.

But in this case, I'm referring to natural disasters. Hurricane Ike brought frightening ruin to the Texas coast, and it reminds me how fragile our lives and our material things are.

Here in the California desert, it's unlikely we'll ever have to be overly concerned about hurricanes. Sometimes we get tornados, but they're rare.

The problem here: earthquakes. The state is riddled with fault lines. Some are active, some haven't been but could become active. We live less than 100 yards/100m from a relatively inactive fault -- a state highway lies right on top of it. And we're about 20 miles/32.2km (as the crow flies) from the San Andreas fault, which is guaranteed to cause a major disaster, 'tho' no one knows when. Someday, this area is going to get nailed. Whether we'll still be alive to see it is the issue. Or it could happen a minute from now.

The painting I've shown includes a small portion of one branch of the San Andreas fault. The fault runs along the front of the palm trees, which tend to grow along faults since underground water is able to seep close to the surface. From this viewpoint, you are standing on the Pacific plate, moving slowly towards the left. The palms and the hills behind them are on the North American plate, moving slowly to the right. Someday, the city of San Francisco will be where the palms are now, IF all that movement enables the city to survive.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Johnny One-Note

In my previous post, I mentioned a weekly art show I used to visit from time to time and how much I enjoyed a desert landscape painter that showed there.

I remember another painter I used to see at that show. I can't recall his work in detail, but it featured mountains, a lake and pine trees. All in browns and greens. ALL of his paintings.

For you see, he painted the same painting over and over again. Big ones, small ones, horizontal and vertical ones of each size. But the image was essentially the same on each canvas.

If a customer really liked the image, s/he would have no problem finding the right size and format for the available space in the home or office. If people didn't like the image, well, there was nothing else to look at in this guy's booth, so the buyers would move along and look elsewhere.

I never did talk with the artist. I'd love to know if he discovered the image was a winner: that's why he painted it and it only. Or: was it an image he liked and therefore banked his time and his material costs on re-painting it ad nauseum?

I've heard artists like this referred to as "Johnny One-Notes." No variety, no experimentation--just do what's safe and, possibly, saleable. While it isn't unusual for artists to become known for doing a certain subject with variations, THIS guy took it to an extreme.

Frankly, I think that's sad. If he's still painting and selling work, I hope he's grown in his art AND in his ability to take chances.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

First Influence

If you were to read my Bio/Statement on my Website http://southwestspaces.com/biography%20and%20statement.html (which is, of course, required reading for all!!), you would see some of the artists from the past who have influenced the way I work on my landscapes.

One artist, however, is missing from the list. This was a man with a German accent who I used to see at a weekly art show in the early 1970's at Griswold's in Claremont, CA. He painted mostly desert scenes that had an Old Master quality about them. His world was always "at the spring," with everything in bloom and rugged mountains rising tall behind the saguaros and ocotillos.

I was attending college in those days (actually, one of numerous runs in college) and wasn't working. So, sadly, I wasn't able to buy one of his paintings. I think this artist (whose name I don't remember) figured I might buy a piece sooner or later: he always made it a point to get up from his chair and come over to talk to me as I stood there, practically drooling over the beauty of his paintings.

Indeed, to this day I wish I would have found a way to hustle the money to buy one. He captured the sheer majesty of the desert in a way that inspires me today. I consider him the first influence in my painting career, and unfortunately, I'm unable to list his name because I don't know it. I doubt that he is alive today, and since Griswold's stopped doing the art shows years ago and has changed ownership at least once (it isn't even called "Griswold's" anymore), and since his studio/gallery that was located in Pomona, CA is long gone, I have no way to locate him or even search for his paintings online.

So the lesson is this: if you see art that touches you in a deeply profound way: BUY IT!! Now!! You, like me, may regret not doing so years from now. Truly one-of-a-kind art from one-in-a-kind artists is rare, and when you finally realize how much better your life would be if you only had "that painting" or "that sculpture" or whatever -- it may be too late.

You can buy that flat-screen TV anytime. They'll be around. Artists may not be.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Cactus and Other Critters

Bunnies aren't the only desert critters I put into paintings.

This is a cactus wren that I included in a large (48" x 60"/1.2m x 1.5m) painting. Cactus wrens are not the most colorful birds around, but they have a call that's unlike any other sound you've heard. When you hear it, you know you're in the desert.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Bunny Art

If you've ever wondered where my avatar (with the desert cottontail bunny-rabbit) came from:

It was one of our yard bunnies. I put out small amounts of food for the wild critters -- not enough for them to live on so they're not dependent on us -- and I take pictures of them. Bunnies, Gambels quail, roadrunners, coyotes (I don't put food out for them, but feeding prey indirectly feeds the predators), hawks, whatever. I use these photos as reference material to paint critters, almost always in a different, more dramatic context.

Look carefully at the attached image, and you'll see my avatar bunny near the bottom, right of center in a large (48" x 60"/1.2m x 1.5m) painting of the southern California desert in the Palm Springs area.

Sunday, September 7, 2008


I worry a lot, especially about things I can't control.

Take the painting, "Song of the Angels" on the right by William Bouguereau, quite possibly the best artist of the 19th century and arguably of all time. Many people today would not appreciate a painting like this and don't understand why it is an example of great art.

As one who is inspired by classical art, I'm concerned that kids today are not exposed to great art. Even college students are led to believe that work like this is "sentimental," "derivative, "boring" and worse.

Sadly, we have many art "professionals" who promote an agenda that de-emphasizes developing skill and discipline in the arts. It's like music students learning to play, sing or compose music without learning anything about scales, chord theory or other basics.

Add to this the fact that when school budgets get tight, the first things eliminated from the curricula are the art and music programs.

I'm one of those who believe so many people, maybe especially in America, see art as being entirely trivial -- nothing more than a decoration that matches the sofa and window treatment and that "ties the whole room together." And kids, and even many adults, know (and will learn) nothing about art and what great art can do for us. What will this do to the future of art and to those of us who make (and try to sell) traditional/classical art?

A fella by the name of Brian Yoder has a Website where he discusses the topic of great art in more depth than is possible here. Whether you agree with his viewpoint or not, his comments will make you think. Find his thoughts in his "frequently asked questions" section: http://www.goodart.org/faq.htm

Also, an outfit called the Art Renewal Center has many online articles and a vast collection of traditional artwork (also online): http://www.artrenewal.com (note: some of the art shown on this site, including the home page, does show nudity -- not to be confused with pornography IMO).

Meanwhile, I'll be busy -- painting in the classical style, and worrying whether or not anyone will even like this stuff in 10-20 years.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Art is My Drug

As I sit here at the confuser, I have a TV tuned to VH1's "Drug Years," a set of programs about the late 1960's-'70's and the proliferation of marijuana, LSD, speed and other stuff that became popular among the hippie culture. The programs bring back a lot of memories for me.

By 1968, I was already a year out of high school and was beginning to take on the look of the "hippies" I knew in community college. (The look eventually evolved into biker dress without the gang colors of Hells Angels et al). Many of the people I hung with used drugs; yet, for whatever reason, I didn't get into that stuff myself. Well, OK, I took ONE puff on a joint out of curiosity about the taste and how it felt to fill one's lungs intentionally with smoke. That was it. I've sometimes wondered why I never got caught up with drugs as others around me did.

I only thing I can figure is: I'm a rebel. Always have been. I wouldn't be an artist today if I wasn't willing to break away from convention and do something like that, especially when some people tell you "you can't make it as an artist." That just makes me want to prove them wrong.

I seem to rebel against whatever is popular, whatever the status symbols are, and -- of course -- the status quo. When the movie, "The Titanic" came out and it became such a hit, I made it a point NOT to see it. When SUVs became the rage, I hated 'em -- and still do. And when people tell me to accept things the way they are; or to take the safe, easy way -- hey! I'LL SHOW YOU!!!

And drugs and alcohol. Using them never struck me as being a very bright thng to do. I saw people who were out of control and acting stupid. I hate being out of control and acting stupid. I need discipline to do art and to grow in it, even when I wasn't that self-disciplined in the late '60's-early '70's.

I'm sure my rebellious nature has caused me a lot of problems over the years. But it also saved me from the negative consequences of using drugs.

Besides, art is my drug. Nothing else can compare to the high I get when a painting is turning out better than I expected. I'm not sure if art is cheaper than drugs, but I have something to show for it when the high is over. That works for me!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Desert Color

Most of the year, the desert can be a rather bland, colorless (though still dramatic) place. The greens that appear here tend to be grayed-down and subdued.

Spring is a whole 'nother matter, IF it rains in the right amounts and at the right time. Then the desert explodes with color. Flowers seem to appear from the brown sands and, in a matter of a few weeks, make up for the lack of color the rest of the year.

First to appear are the annuals, or ephemerals as they are sometimes called. This last name is appropriate, for they mysteriously appear quickly, last a short time and then totally vanish, leaving no trace or hint of their glorious existence.

Perennial shrubs and cactus bloom a bit later than the annuals. Cactus flowers, in particular, seem to glow in vivid, fluorescent hues. Pictures of some of these will follow this post soon.

The accompanying photo shows a Joshua tree, signature plant of the Mojave desert, in a field of light-yellow desert dandelions. I've already painted (and sold) a piece showing this view, which I witnessed in April 2008 in Joshua Tree National Park, CA. (I expect I'll be painting more works of this area soon).

Monday, September 1, 2008


It doesn't rain that often in the desert, as one might expect, so when it DOES rain and we get a rainbow out of it, that's pretty special!!