In the Studio

An art studio is, quite literally, a place to create, to make art and consequently will house components of inspiration – the stuff of ideas.

Many of us carry a studio around in our head, an ever-changing tableau of notions, images and fragments of thoughts, which may combine in some magical way to form a complete painting or drawing. At its best, this process remains mysterious and is often surprising as well, hence: voila!

I have been looking at this door for four years as a possible subject and for two years have known that it would find its way into the succession of paintings. It is always a matter of timing, arriving at the right moment. The moment arrived one morning when I chanced to see a portion of my own studio reflected in the glass right where Rembrandt’s head was. The rest of the idea was simply a matter of manipulating the paraphernalia around the picture frame. This took place over the next three weeks while the painting was in progress. Some elements stayed as they were, others were added, still others were fictionalized.

The theme of the painting is creativity, which in this case, is this process of taking chosen pieces of my visual world, starting with the Rembrandt self-portrait poster and the literal studio door where I post a menagerie of paintings, photos and quotes, and seeing in that format some of the content of the creative act.

The first and most striking thing that hit me was the “studio-in-the-head,” albeit my studio in Rembrandt’s head, which for me carries the weight of a universal experience. The span of time (383 years) between his painting and mine was also intriguing. This part of the painting also shows that a simple optical effect can identify an idea that was mostly internal up to that point.

So I began the painting by going to work on the central subject, which allowed me to think about the surrounding area for several days.

Actually, it fell into place very naturally and I used several elements that were original to the door, adding a few more and leaving some areas blank for future thoughts.

Starting clockwise in the upper left, I’ve included a riverside scene; three people silhouetted against reflected evening colors. This I invented for the sake of the present painting and does not exist as a “real” painting. My studio is one mile from the Tennessee river. It made sense.

The next thing to the right is what appears to be small abstract paintings. They are actually cropped photos of my oil palette. Trompe l’oeil abstracts? At any rate, I found the snapshots interesting.

Edging over to the right there is a small vignette of my own arm and hand, with pencil and sketchpad. Drawing is the foundation for painting, at least in the traditional sense.

Just below that and left slightly is a primary color wheel (red, yellow, blue) showing gradations of hue with a black square in the center. Combining the three primaries in the correct proportions will render a black similar to ivory black.

Moving to the right, there are two photos from Bankhead forest (named for Tallulah Bankhead’s father). The bottom photo shows Jerry Foster’s upper torso lying on the ground. He was photographing a Luna moth hanging on the underside of a fern frond. Only one way to get that picture.

Below that is a portion of a small watercolor by Randi Gross (which I now own), a fine miniature painting of a dramatic ocean scene with large rock outcroppings.

The next picture is a printed copy of one of my own still life paintings. It depicts an apple and a clear marble on a Heriz carpet. The marble looks as though it could contain an entire universe, hence the title, Worlds.

The little etching in the lower right – Rembrandt again – was inserted to get his face back into the painting. I felt a little bad about replacing his face in the central print with windows, etc. This etching was done in 1630. I remember having a plastic shopping bag bearing this image, which I got from the Rijks Museum. I even included the shopping bag in a painting once.

To the left, a forty-five cent US postage stamp with a pumpkinseed sunfish on it. This beautiful little fish and its cousin, the long-eared sunfish is native to our region. The stamp also carries the idea of transport to another place, both metaphorically and realistically.

Next, a Cherokee chief dressed in white buckskin and colorful red feathers offers praise to the hills and mountains of the southern Appalachians. I bought this card in a ‘junque’ store in north Georgia several years ago.

Jean Dominique Ingres’ Odalisque, which hangs in the Louvre, continues the human parade. This beautifully painted figure with its impossible anatomy, (long back and right arm, for instance), has been staring at us intently over her right shoulder for nearly two centuries. Ingres’ careful attention to color and detail somehow overcomes the drawing flaws.

In the lower left corner, Ronnie Riner works on one of his amazing charcoal drawings, which like many old black & white movies, often seem to possess color.

Just above, a cartoon fragment with the signature, “chigger”, aka, Tommy Martin. The former orchestra leader, trumpet player, booking agent, producer and record executive has been a student at the school and at 81, is still learning.

The two oversized butterfly wings reinforce the nature theme. I keep several natural subjects around for students to draw and paint. The beautiful design and color ways never cease to amaze me.

The next postcard is Vermeer’s Guitar Player, 1672. This introduces another interest, music, along with one of my favorite artists. The prolonged “silence” in many of Vermeer’s paintings is briefly interrupted by this solo performance.

Finally, the phonetic spelling for beauty is inserted just above, along with two words, “is real.” I lifted this short phrase from Annie Dilliard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. This was the last thing I put into the painting.

Ideas for paintings come as they will and can rarely be forced. I usually have a running list of nudgings, fragments of ideas and aspirations that form a “compost heap” in my mind, hoping that the best will find their way into the long succession of paintings. In the Studio became evident to me at a perfect time and has lent me a great deal of excitement.

In the Studio
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