Stephen Paints a Picture – Part Fourteen

November 20, 2013

26 August 2013

“I think I’m going to stay a couple of extra weeks in Sackville, if I can find another place to stay. I really need more time to work on this project,” Stephen Scott told me soon after he came to my place to continue painting my portrait. “Guess you will need it,” I replied, “but the students are starting to filter back into town. I might be able to get up to Fredericton, but I sure as hell couldn’t do it every two days.” “We’ll just have to see how much more I can finish,” he said. He had with him a new small canvas that already had an image on it based on earlier drawings.

stephen paints 26 AugAfter I sat down to pose, Stephen began to block in colour on the new canvas. It was a dark day, but we needed to get on with the project regardless of the weather, so he had set up a flood light bounced off the ceiling. “I really don’t like using artificial light, but I don’t have a choice.” “Yes, you do have to be careful with the colour balance, don’t you?” I remembered that I replaced all the lighting in my studio with daylight balanced lights because I was tired of painting at night and returning to the studio the next day and finding the colour all wrong, but we did not have that luxury painting in my kitchen and we would have to wing it.

“When I go back (to Fredericton) I think my working methods will have to be adjusted,” he said.

“How so?”

“I really have come to understand this summer how important drawing is to my painting.”

“You’re right; if you can’t draw, you can’t do dick as an artist.”

“Another thing, there’s a certain aspect of resolution I require and that comes from drawing,” he added.

“Are you talking about control or detail?”

“A bit about both. That’s why I like studio painting say as compared to plein air painting for its control.”

“But you do both remarkably well.”

“I don’t know about that, but they both have their points. In the end, it’s all about producing paintings.”

All summer I have been ruminating about art with Stephen, really a conversation between two cranky old men, but in an attempt to outflank him with my obtuse wisdom, I have been rereading a number of old books on art history, theory and criticism. Last night I was thumbing through an old paperback of Herbert Read’s 1931 The Meaning of Art (The cover price was $1.45, so it should give you some idea when I bought it) and a thought suddenly came to me: “Stephen, I figured it out. You know, there are no aesthetics, at least classical aesthetics, in most Postmodern art there is only content and that’s what makes it so fucking difficult to talk about anything else,” I said. “And where did you come up with that idea?” “Reading Herbert Read last night,” I replied. “You do have a point, if you can’t talk about beauty and skill, you are pretty much left with content.”

“All those old guys writing about art, Read, Kenneth Clark, John Canaday and the like, had vast knowledge of art history which made their art criticism interesting,” I said.

“I think the people reading their stuff as well had a sense of history, art and otherwise,” he said

“It’s not that Read said modern art lacked aesthetics. Lots of modern art is all about beauty, art for arts sake. Postmodern art was forty or more years down the road when he wrote The Meaning of Art, but I just couldn’t imagine him writing in the same terms about Jeff Koons,” I said.

“Right, art was still pretty much elitist in 1930 even if there was Dada, Cubism and the beginnings of Surrealism by then,” he said

“I would venture that art is still elitist and, if anything, more elitist than it was in 1930. Most people are just puzzled by Postmodern art.”

“Yet, people are dumping big bucks on the stuff as we speak,” Stephen said.

“There are very many reasons for that and most of it as nothing to do with art and anyway the people spending the big bucks are not most people, they are the one percent or, more likely, the one percent of the one percent.”

“It’s all very depressing, let talk about something more cheerful like is it supposed to be sunny tomorrow?” he said, all the while still painting my portrait.

virgil and sophiePerhaps, I thought, we should talk about food, wine and the women we had loved, but I was not sure that we should go there, particularly, about the women as I am past my prime, but I still have a keen interest in eating and drinking. “Should we go out tonight or should we throw something together here?” I said. “Doesn’t matter to me, but your wine is better than what we would get out.” he said. He did have a point. “OK, you and Sophie come over later and I will cook something.”

“You know, I loved Freud’s portrait of Bacon. I wonder why he never finished it?” Stephen said.

“It may have happened around the time of their falling out,” I said.

“Right, it’s really hard to imagine those two massive egos getting along without ending up in drunken fist fight.”

“I think that happened on more than one occasion.”

“You can see their rough edges in their paintings, it’s all there, he said.

“There is a lot of rough painting by painters who have less than perfect personalities,” I said.

“Speaking of rough, Van Gogh sets my teeth on edge. His paintings are remarkable not to mention his drawing,” he added.

Stephen had stopped painting and was finishing a cup of, now cold, espresso that I had made earlier, “Painting is like staining wood, about surface,” he said.

“When I think about staining, I think about a flat smooth surface and that’s certainly not your painting, at least the ones you have done of me.”

“Sometimes the paint gets in the way,” he replied.

“But you’ve told me before that it’s all about the paint. I’m confused.”

“Art, and making art is confusing,” he said.

Yes, I thought, the making of art is in the moment. It’s when the brush touches the canvas. It is in that split second when decisions are made. It’s about everything and nothing. Stephen has, over this summer, made me think about the creative process. It’s something that I should have been doing all along and haven’t.VH 26Aug

© Virgil Hammock, Sackville NB Canada, Tuesday, November 19, 2013.

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