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Stephen Paints a Picture – Part Seventeen

December 11, 2013

5 September 2013

It had been a few days since Stephen had worked on my portrait at my place. I asked him, when he arrived, about the last time he was here and our conversation about landscape painting. “Sure,” he said, “something to the effect that it was minor painting.” “And, if you remember, I said, that some of your best work was landscape and you were selling yourself short. Did you read that short forward to your show at the Yellow Box Gallery (in Fredericton) that’s going up Now?” “Yes.”

“Well, let me read it to you now. It’s short. Only three hundred words. It bears repeating.”

“Stephen Scott, as you can see from the paintings on the wall, has both a fine eye and hand. These small paintings speak elegantly to the long tradition of landscape painting. He is a plein-airist which simply means that he often paints directly from nature and that gives value to the immediacy of his art. Stephen is also an unabashed romantic and that, in this time and age, is a very good thing when so many of us are trying to be pragmatic about everything in our lives. One needs to step back and view the world in front of us as something wondrous; Stephen does.

Our relationship to nature has changed over the centuries from the fear of the unknown to the celebration of its beauty. Before the urbanization of European and North American society, nature could be a dangerous place where dark things could, and did, happen. Early landscape art reflected these feelings by showing nature as a place best avoided or as a background to human, generally religious, events and, at times, reduced to visual, stock, clichés. However by the mid-17th. Century, landscape painting came into its own as a reflection of the emerging values of humanism. During the 19th. and early 20th. Centuries, landscape painting came to optimize Romantic sensibilities. Today there seems to be little mainstream interest in landscape art perhaps because it does not fit readily into the Postmodern mode except perhaps as a vehicle for irony. Back to Stephen as a romantic–he paints landscape as a window to an understanding of nature, as a thing of beauty. There is no irony in these paintings of the west coast of Newfoundland, only his sense of that what was before his eyes waiting to be discovered by him and now shared with us.”

“Do you agree with that?” I asked.

“It’s hard to disagree, only a lot has changed since I painted those pictures, in particular, my thinking.” he said.

“All that I am suggesting is that you don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater,” I said, “You have a gift for landscape painting.”

“Enough of this stuff, let’s get down to work. Time is running out. I only have a few days before going back to Fredericton.”

“OK, so what’s the plan?” I said.

“I’m going to do my very best to finish the three oil sketches and then give the cartoon (the drawing on the large canvas) a shot.”

september paletteHe was working on the third of the oil sketches, “Mars violet, isn’t it pretty? Love these colours (his palette). Just like candy.” It was a dull day and he had bounced a flood light off the ceiling and turned on the light over the kitchen sink. We hadn’t much choice as time was running out and the weather had been bad for the last three or four days. “I hate working with these lights. It screws up the colour,” he said.

“The first thing you pick up is the emotional tone of a work. That’s something I learned from Cézanne,” he added.

“Well, Cézanne is a pretty good role model, but the first thing that I look at are the technical aspects of a painting and only then, at anything else.”

“I go with a gut feeling as did Cézanne,” Stephen said.

“Guts aside, both you and Cézanne are pretty good technical painters.”

“Let’s not compare me with Cézanne, but seriously, people who look at my paintings who know me see them differently than those who don’t.”

“So, the trick, if you are going to make any money out of this racket, is to get to know more people and that’s where I come in.”

“And what are you going to do?”

“It’s already happening. Lots of people are reading my blog posts about our project. The answer, my friend, is written on the web.”

Stephen and I had been talking all summer about a better way to market art than through the traditional gallery/artists model. Communication is now worldwide and instantaneous. The question is how do you use these new technologies to market something as material as painting in a way that is beneficial to artists. With new technologies there should be new ideas. Artists should be able to deal directly with buyers be they across town or halfway around world.

“Somehow, I can’t visualize the look of it. People want to see the real thing before they part with real cash,” Stephen said.

“Of course, but there are ways around it. Artists need agents just like musicians who work on their behalf worldwide and its a very different role than is currently being done by dealers and galleries.”

“I’m game, but where do you start?” he asked.

“Small. It’s something we should really look into this fall. Perhaps we could find two or three artists here in New Brunswick who would be interested. I have some friends here who really know their way around the web who might be interested to help.”

“OK, but let’s get back to work.”

“Sure, but tell me, do you remember the first painting, or close to it, that really turned you on?” I said.

“One I remember, from when I was young, is a copy of a Winslow Homer painting at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, After the Rain.”

“Homer was quite the painter, especially his watercolours. How about something later and original and not a copy.”

“Picasso’s Three Musicians. It’s so loaded. So much expression,” he said.

“Weird, that’s a painting that knocked my socks off too. I remember when I first saw it at MOMA in 1956. I was in New York awaiting shipment to Korea after finishing the US Army photo school in New Jersey. Changed my life, I think.”

“Yeah, he just nailed it, didn’t he? A couple of other artists I like are the Pratts and David Blackwood. It’s a Newfoundland thing, but, on the whole, I think that Tom Forrestall is a better painter.”

“Well, I should get you down to Halifax, really Dartmouth, to meet Tom. I am doing some work on him and I have known him for years.”

“I would like that.”

We agreed that we had better try and work every day until he leaves for home, but I might end up having to go to Fredericton for a couple of sittings as well. “I think this is all going to turn out well after all,” he said. “I couldn’t agree more. I think we will both have our fifteen minutes of fame.”

“That’s fourteen minutes more than most people get,” he added.

VH 5Sept

© Virgil Hammock, Sackville NB, Canada, Sunday, December 8, 2013.

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