The Quick Study – Continued – The Tetons

In last week’s post you read about my creation of two quick studies, which lead to a posed question, “Are these two works, done so quickly, viable paintings?”

Let me continue…

I found myself painting in Jackson Hole, Wyoming – home of the Tetons.   I had painted all day long, from sunup to sundown, I was exhausted!  As I was packing up and heading home, the sky, which had been moody and grey, opened up with color I had not seen before.  I just can’t paint any more I told myself.  The color grew and I was just stunned by it – so I pulled the car over and yanked the French box out, along with three small 16 x 20 cardboard panels and in a few minutes was painting – like a madman!
In seconds, the sky grew and grew with color!  I was alongside a road and other drivers were swerving off to experience the drama going on.  In just a few moments I had the small canvas covered with simple spots of color, then the scene grew and changed, and I changed canvases – throwing one on the ground and painting the one underneath on my easel.

It happened again, in 10 minutes the canvas was covered with color, a few quick accents and fini!  And then, the sky drama entered into another phase of intensity!  I threw the second 16 x 20 off the easel and began another.  In my mind I was wondering if anyone would believe this?  My body ached and my mind swam with paint and color.  Then it was over as quickly as it had begun.

In a matter of moments, the sky, mountains, and ground, created a powerful memory what a display.  I had three 15 minute quick studies, each rich and vital, filled with spontaneous color, passion.  I hadn’t even had a chance to take a picture with my camera – who would believe this!  Now seasons later, I look at these quick studies of the Tetons and their grandeur – and am impressed that I was there and had the nerve to give it a try!  A color memory that was real and still lasts.

The question again, “but they are so crude and unfinished?  Do they work?  Are they paintings? Or just a study…a sketch done in haste?

An easy question yes, but the answer is somewhat elusive.  Another experience to share next week as we find that answer…

The Quick Study

I am a plein air painter, and doing so, over the years I have developed the knack of painting fast and furiously!  Calling it a knack is somewhat disrespectful?  It has more to do with many years of training and miles and miles of canvas laid out in front of me.

In this blog entry I want to share with you, a few paintings, studies, sketches; that I have never exhibited or shown to anyone – yet.  They are quick studies – done in the fervor of a moment.  They were all painted plein air and each has a story to tell.

In Evergreen, where I live, there is a wonderful view of Mount Evans and the continental divide.  I call it the Golden Willow view.  I have spent many hours painting there on my own and with students, when teaching plein air classes.  The great thing about Golden Willow is that to the west is the grand simple view of Mount Evans, and to the direct east, the other side of the road, is a wonderful red barn scene.  Both views have Bear Creek meandering along with field grasses and mulberry shrubbery.

As I was teaching a small class at Golden Willow, I set up my French box easel and painted along with the class, which I do regularly, as we learn by seeing the teacher do.  The day was young and the sky brilliant blue.  I had little time to work on my painting, as students needed attention.  But the scene is so simple, just a few pieces of color, and I had the confidence and experience of the scene as I had painted it many time previously.  This morning it came together very quickly and had a certain spark going on!  Luckily for the painting, I got involved with the students work and didn’t have time to return to my painting so it remained simple, quick and spot on.

As the day progressed, clouds rapidly grew and built into a grey rainy afternoon.  I changed views and this time faced east toward the red barn.  Now my adrenaline was pumping even more, teaching for me is an active sport of sorts – I respond to the students work as they respond to the ever-changing scene before them – it can be quite exciting, and I put this rush in my painting of the barn.  In a few moments the painting appeared!

My strokes were clean and crisp and every one of them worked!  Quickly the weather was changing and drops of rain and wind encouraged the process.  I was impressed with the quickness and felt good to preserve this seemingly effortless study.  Both paintings measure 20 x 24, and were painted in a 30 minute time frame!  Wow!  I came home with two field studies that day in November and felt that I had captured the area in a way that I hadn’t done before.  Some of the canvas in both paintings remains uncovered – causing a wonderful vibration of texture, color and temperature.


With this said, the question arises “Are these two works, done so quickly, viable paintings?” I look forward to answering that question in my next post.

Some random thoughts on a cold winters day – Noel Kelly

Five years ago in a small gathering of artists, critics, activists, and theoreticians in Dublin, a hand went up in the audience when it came time for an open forum on the subjects previously discussed. The hand was attached to a lone figure sitting to one side of the main group of people. His question was very simple. The questioner explained that due to health reasons he had been out of contact of the mainstream art world for over 10 years. In fact, he had spent this time in a psychiatric clinic. He asked Am I still mad, or has aesthetics disappeared from the world of contemporary visual arts? There were a few embarrassed giggles in the audience and after a very dismissive remark from The Chairperson the mans question was passed over. I admit that I was one of the people who giggled in embarrassment for the person asking the question. But, afterwards I began to think that perhaps my reaction should have been focussed on the rest of us in the audience who were so completely caught up in our new models of representation, thought, practice, and intervention. Perhaps, it is us that could have spent the last few years in a mental asylum; maybe ours was the tyranny of thought control and this mans simple question was a clarity that our overcomplicated lives desired.
Some years later, in conversation with a group of peers, we were discussing this man. In our discourse we posited the opinion that perhaps we were all a little mad. This is one of our characteristics working in the world of the arts. Our minds have so many potentialities that it is perhaps the artist who is the only truly sane person, and we, the curators, the critics, and the theoreticians have complicated the experience of the viewer with double talk, trendisms, and spaghetti-like arguments that are there to make us look like serious intellectuals that ordinary people couldnt possibly understand as they were not part of our club. This supposition was later borne out at a conference of art critics that I attended in Ljubljana in 2005. A presenter at one session held in their hand a heavy tome of theory that they had written. Their opening gambit to the gathered audience of supposed peers was – (to paraphrase) this is the book that I have written. I wont go through it here as it is too complex for you to understand so I will explain it in simple terms that you will all comprehend. As you can imagination the reaction to such condescension was one of consternation. However, once again I thought of the man in Dublin and wondered – who is the more mad, the person who sat in the audience in Ljubljana and accepted that they were not intelligent enough to understand this important new theoretical tome, or the person who views art with a simplicity and love that can provide for a marriage of the aesthetic and meaning; to which the theory and rhetoric become subservient handmaidens.
I like this idea of handmaidens and have brought a version of it to many conversations. These handmaidens are so easily identifiable. In fact, my new description is perhaps a little more specific. I now call them the black crows and ravens. They descend the steps of aircraft, disembark from trains, get off buses around the world at specific times of their migratory cycles and descend upon towns and cities around the world who are unfortunate enough to host biennials and such large-scale exhibitions. I say unfortunate, as the good city fathers of these venues in their wonderful support of culture naturally assume that their cities culture and well-being will be a very central focus on these migratory visitors. In fact, the opposite can be true. For the most part, our black clad crows and ravens want only to listen to their own raucous songs and calls. They gather and form a transitory community that once they have fed and gorged upon the feast of art, they leave and the cities are left with a few bones that the general audience are then allowed to gnaw upon in almost empty spaces.