Stephen Paints a Picture – Part Thirteen

November 13, 2013

23 August 2013

“Harold put your last blog post on his site. He called it Portrait of a Conversation. Cool,” Stephen Scott remarked first thing as he returned to my place to continue painting my portrait.

“Yeah, I saw it. The more the merrier. We want people to see what we’re doing. That’s the point,” I replied.

Stephen and I have been talking all summer about finding different ways to promote art to a wider public using the web. “There has to be something akin to a virtual art fair of high quality art controlled by the artists themselves online,” he said. “I’m sure it exists, but I haven’t found it yet. Most of what I’m finding is crap,” I said. “Perhaps, we should be the ones to do it,” he said. “Listen, I don’t know my ass from a hole in the ground when it comes to using the net. I think we would make a regal mess of it.” “OK, let’s just keep it in mind and, in the meantime, I’ll keep painting.”

Yesterday, Stephen had only drawn and today, it was back to painting. “I didn’t realise how much drawing is the key to what I am doing. It’s a whole lot better when you know where you’re going,” he said. There was a lot of truth in what he was saying as drawing is a major way of thinking and problem solving for painters. The act of drawing is very different than that of painting. You use your hand differently in each, but what is more important is that you use your mind differently. I find drawing, in a way, a more direct method means of expression than painting, but it is hard to think of one without the other. I tend to think of drawing as line and painting as mass. In any case, Stephen had yesterday’s drawings taped to the wall where he could see them as he sat down to paint.

“It’s amazing how many sketches you can get doing a painting—they really pile up,” he said.

“The devil is in the details. I think you find something different every time that we get together. It’s either that or I am a damn difficult subject.”

“I have had worse, but, then again, I have had prettier subjects.”

“Ah, there is a beauty to my soul that’s difficult to capture in paint.”

“It’s what’s in the core of the work that counts,” he countered.

“Well, there is the bit about rotten to the core.”

“Just sit still for a minute. I am trying to figure something out.”

In truth, he was paying more attention to the painting than he was to me which makes sense as the painting makes its own demands on an artist. Stuff like what to do with the background or the highlights. “I have been putting it on all wrong,” he mumbled. “And, what do you mean by that?”

“I am not sure what I mean. One way or the other it’s going to be a damn fine work.”

portrait 23AugI wasn’t sure if he was talking about this sketch or the final painting, but I was quite happy with everything that he had accomplished to this point and I wasn’t about to push the point. I decided to change the subject. “I’m reading a book on the New York art scene from the ‘50s to the ‘70s and it’s making the point that it’s the galleries, both commercial and non-commercial, who set the trends in art and not the artists. It’s the cart leading the horse. A good case is how Pop Art took over from Abstract Expressionism in the early ‘60s.”

“And how did that happen?” Stephen asked.

“The commercial galleries needed a way to make more money and the shine was off Abstract Expressionism. Pop came along at the right time, around 62. ‘Old’ masters like De Kooning found themselves replaced by young pups like Warhol. Pretty much all about money, but what happened then was that places like the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney starting showing Pop artists right out of college like they were part of history.”

“That stuff is still going on. The civic galleries in this country and the States are still trying to be at the forefront of the avant-garde. Stuff like mine has a hard time finding a place in civic galleries. My shit is too retro for their tastes.”

“We critics have a lot to answer for. We are always trying to set the agenda rather than leaving it to the artists. We’re too smart for our own good.”

“You said it, I didn’t, but there are good galleries and good writers.”

“I guess, I’ve always liked places like the Met, the Frick or the Louvre. Nice quiet places filled with art by dead people. Mind you, they are too full of people these days for to my liking,” I said.

“It’s those damn blockbuster shows. You literally can’t see the forest for the trees,” Stephen complained.

“Some of those shows are pretty good. You just need a press pass and get there for the preview.”

“Stop showing off.”

VH 23AugJust then, there was a knock at the door. It was my friend Meredith Fisher. “I invited Meredith over to take some pictures of us working using one my cameras of us working,” I said. Although I have been taking pictures all along of progress of Stephen’s work and some of him painting, I have not been able to get an overall view of the both of us together. “When she’s finished, we can all take a coffee break and I can have peek at where you’re going with the painting.” Several photographs later, Meredith stopped as did Stephen. “So what do you think of the picture, Meredie?” I asked. “I think it’s wonderful. He has made it look like you,” she said. “I think that is the idea,” I replied. “Enough,” Stephen injected, “where’s my coffee?”

After Meredith left and we were back to painting, Stephen remarked, “I’m a fly by the seat of my pants type of painter. I’m going through a whole lot of white.” Actually, he goes through quite a bit of paint in general and the sketches are beginning to take on an almost three dimensional effect that really does not show up in photographs of the works. He was bashing away on the canvas with a rather large brush. “I consider the size of the brush I need, then increase it.” “Well, it does look like fun,” I said. “It is. Black can get you a ravishing blue.” “I think you are out of your mind on that one,” I answered.

“It’s Friday and you know what that means, don’t you?” I said.


“Lobster and a good white wine.”

lobster dinnerEvery Friday night over a six week period I had a deal to get five pounds of live lobster right off the boat and have a friend cook it for me. It had become a regular event for Stephen; Sophie, his wife, and me. It was a great way to end a week. “Let go over to Meredith’s with the lobster and she’ll throw together a salad or two and dessert,” I said. “That does sound like a plan,” he answered. “Yes, and we can continue to solve the problems of the art world with our witty conversation and it does work better after we have had a couple bottles of wine,” I said.

© Virgil Hammock, Sackville NB Canada, Monday, November 11, 2013


  1. Meredith’s right Virgil. It is you, sure as shootin’.
    I hate gush but IT IS WONDERFUL!!!

    • Thanks, and, by the way, Happy Birthday.

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