Archive for the “Books” Category

Painted NightAnother library find – this one based on lecture and seminar notes a student kept from several years’ worth of study with David Leffel. The version I have is older than dirt (published in the 1980s, I think) and many reproductions are in B&W (blech).

HOWEVER…his handling of light is intriguing – clearly influenced by Rembrandt – and so far the element of the text that is sticking with me is his repeated discussion of “concept”. His theme here is that the subject is not the painting – the concept is. Is your painting concept about a certain direction of light? a particular thrust of action you want to emphasize? Too often, as animal artists, we can end up being slaves to our reference material. Leffel’s point is that our paintings are NOT about our reference material – they’re about our unique concept.

An example: my piece “Painted Night”. I had a rather blah noonday photo of a wild stallion with striking pinto markings, and wanted to use it in some way. One night when I was lying awake noodling on art ideas (does anyone else do this besides me??) I was thinking about that handsome boy, and this bolt from the blue – this concept – came to me … and the painting you see here is the result. I assembled all the reference material I could – none of which was nocturnal – spent time outside at night during a full moon studying colors and values, and then went to work.

There’s much in which I disagree with Leffel (particularly his handling of color – natch!), and others do as well (check out the Amazon reviews of his books)…but I thought this takeaway worth sharing with you.

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What spawns this post is another library book (in this case, “Contemporary Women Artists”, by Wendy Beckett – Universe Books, 1988…30 years ago contemporary, anyway) celebrating Post-modern artists of the female persuasion.

There’s a piece in the book titled “Dark Green Painting” by Edwina Leapman, 168×183 cm (about 4 1/3 x 4 3/4 feet) which is pretty much what you’d expect: a dark bluish-gray-green surface with, possibly, some slight variations in hue (hard to tell) and texture (also hard to tell). Here’s a fragment of what the author says about the piece:

“‘Dark Green Painting’ can certainly hold the attention for a long period…there are hidden colours, an elusive pink that only reveals itself to the attentive eye; there are almost imperceptible brush movements, soft clouds that seem to drift to and fro on the surface and to swim up gently from the depths. Unforced depth is Leapman’s special gift. She has said: ‘The surface is both above and below’, a very profound observation… Alan Green, a Minimalist painter…has said of Leapman’s art: ‘Each work exists as a demonstration of human frailty…their strength lies in the doing. These paintings actually have to happen…the time actually has to be spent and mistakes actually have to be made.’ ….if the making of a work demands such ascetic concentration, it is not surprising that this manual prayer, as it were, soaks deep into the canvas.”

There’s more, but this seemed enough for our point.

So. If this same critic were to confront one of my rodeo or grizzly bear paintings, would she be in such raptures of bemusing description? (I’m guessing not). Which begs the question, is non-objective art – with no particular center of interest, and no drawing or other skill required besides manipulation of medium – perhaps more engrossing for a viewer? Does it allow for more interpretation on the part of, and therefore more involvement by, the viewer? And, ultimately, does that make it more worthwhile, or give it more longevity?

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I’ve been promising a look at my library, so herewith commences the first in a sporadic series of posts about my propensity to collect art books.

At some point, I’ll take a photo of the whole shooting match (whenever I can get off my lazy butt to do it) and show everyone the large amount of shelf space in my studio that’s dedicated to books.

In the meantime, I’m starting with Da Man, Da Master. I have 4 books of his total – I don’t know if there are other Kuhn titles available – but could only find cover images of 3 of them online:

  1. The Animal Art of Bob Kuhn, (no cover image available online) published 1973 by North Light, and apparently written by Kuhn himself. Mine is softcover. Has LOADS of his life sketches, arranged by topic (lots you’ve not seen elsewhere: dogs, apes, camels, cows…) along with natural history notes and his own drawing notes. Also has several pages on “the making of a painting” and his approach to same – invaluable. Then pages of sketches plus paintings and more of his charmingly informal information that an artist would appreciate more than a collector. The color and quality are not great, but this is as close as it gets to a Kuhn “how to” book for other artists – he even has compositional diagrams and drawings show he achieves some painting effects. I wouldn’t give mine up for anything.
    Cover: two bull moose in an Alaskan landscape
  2. The Art of Bob Kuhn (Masters of the Wild series), Tom Davis, published 1989 by Briar Patch Press Inc. Sections of text and B&W photos (Kuhn’s family, Kuhn on safari) give personal and artistic history and philosophy (and plenty of that), and also include working sketches and life sketches. These sections are interleaved with plenty of gorgeous reproductions of Bob’s work, with a fair amount of story about each piece. Another of my treasures.
    Cover: “A Stillness by the Pool”, Bob’s amazing study in red and orange of a tiger over a kill
  3. Wild Harvest: The Animal Art of Bob Kuhn, published 1997 by Chuck Wechsler (Sporting Classics, Wildlife Art Magazine). Much more a typical coffee table book, this is almost all color plates and the artist’s commentary on each. Absolutely wonderful as a compendium of some his best, but doesn’t replace the others.
    Cover: “Lair of the Cat”, a cougar painting that won the Prix de West purchase award
  4. Bob Kuhn: Painting the Wild, published 2002 by the National Museum of Wildlife Art. This is a nice little softcover catalog that accompanied the retrospective exhibition the museum held for Bob that summer (2002). Has about 20 pages of monograph covering his history, style, approach, and so on, then about 40-50 pages of color plates. The museum may still have some of these books in its gift shop – worth a call to find out.
    Cover: “Pas de Deux”, a snowshoe hare and red fox in a winter landscape

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I’m working my way through a massive library find, Artoday by Edward Lucie-Smith, which attempts to survey modern art from 1960 to the late 1990s. It’s an enormous undertaking (the book, not my reading of it) and both interesting and thought-provoking.

F’rinstance … I perceive a bias on his part against representational work. Maybe he didn’t mean it, but quotes like these are hard to interpret otherwise:

“…an entirely studio-bound painter who depicts only what he sees…his work has no flights of the imagination.” (on Lucian Freud), or

“…seems like a fairly limited theme.” (on Realism), and

“This loss of stylistic direction … has led to a compensatory emphasis on content rather than style.” (on the 1990s New York art scene)

The last quote in particular struck me – is he saying that style really should matter much more than content? This doesn’t help me understand why people like some of the Expressionist stuff from the mid-20th century – I can’t forgive how deliberately raw, childish, and sloppy it is, and can’t look any further.

I spent a few hours at the Yellowstone Art Museum when I was in Billings about a week ago; YAM focuses almost entirely on post-modern Montana artists. Some challenging stuff in there, or just plain odd – although there are also Deborah Butterfield horses, and I really love her work. Why are plexiglas cubes filled with crumpled waste paper worthy of a museum? Or giant canvases with no discernible object, subject, or center of interest, and crudely rendered? For that matter, there’s a Montana artist who is well-known in this area (and in NY, I think) who has made pencil outline drawings of horses that look like a kid did them. I’ve seen these drawings humbly framed and offered for sale at $1200.

So am I just a philistine?

P.S. there will probably be more to say as a result of reading this book…not least of which is that it’s leading me down some interesting experimental paths.

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