Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Painting from life with Jacob Collins- The New Avante-Garde

In a recent article in the New Yorker by the major critic Blake Gopnik, write about he is learning to draw from life with Jacob Collins.


A lot of figurative painters are really angry with me- really angry- good, they should be- not at me but at themselves. They have taken the easy way out and now many will be ignored.

For too many years I have been flattened by criticism about my insistence on painting from life. This is slow art, folks and it is coming, slowly- but coming.

I have been working as an artist for many decades. I have seen the trashing of the figurative arts. Artists persisted however, but far too many of them resorted to painting from photographs- photoshopped or otherwise. Working from models was too expensive and tedious. Frankly most of them, I think, are not good enough to do it. Even the New York Times critics are bored with the photoshopped work of Will Cotton and Photo Realism in general.

In actually looking at your subject, not through a lens but actually looking at it over a period of weeks refines your perception of it, changes it it subtle ways as you yourself are changing. Some days I am angry at the model, some days I see her beauty- these emotions affect your work.

I had a student in a workshop who would only paint while he was looking at the model through the camera. People text now as they find talking to each other awkward.

Models are expensive yes. What to do? This is a really challenging question. Dennis Miller Bunker http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dennis_Miller_Bunker would buy a few roses and paint them. Landscapes are cheap to paint- they are outside your window. They don't have to be grand, just well and honestly observed. Still-lifes- just try not to make them trite. Really think out what you put in them. I think it it better to paint one beautifully observed egg than to paint what you think is a masterpiece from a photograph.

Here is a brilliant essay by Bill Whitaker on the subject.

Go for excellence in portraiture
The world of contemporary portraiture is much too dependent on photography. Far too many practitioners can’t draw accurately and believe the only way to go is to copy photographs, even relying on tracing them! The results are all too often second rate versions of the chosen photos. Why not simply cut out the middleman and go for photos alone? The Establishment has pretty much settled on that route and painted portraits are today relegated to a second class position. The real clout resides with portrait photographers such as William Coupon. www.williamcoupon.com Our craft has access to a vast archive of knowledge, carefully built up over a period of four hundred years. For example, there is a best way to place our subjects in light and shadow to bring out the most powerful and sensitive form. Yet how many of us know what that way is and actually use it? There are proven methods, materials and approaches that will give us best results. How many of us struggle with poor paints, bad brushes, bad canvas, painting environments that hinder rather than help, and working photos that are simply awful?For portraits in oil, there is one best way. It is to paint from life in a traditionally lit studio. When you work from a photo, no matter how good the print, you are forever wondering if you are seeing colors and values accurately. When the real is sitting there before your eyes, you have more information than you can handle. It is much easier. Photos should be relegated to an adjunct support role rather than a primary source.If you take portraiture seriously, first study what has come before. The web is full wonderful art sites, such as the Art Renewal Center. www.artrenewal.org Starting there and using leads you find and a good search engine such as Google, you will discover a wealth of wonderful works – many largely unknown. You will also find works done by wonderful young contemporary talents who are doing things the right way.In another thread, Chris Saper introduced us to the fine portrait photography of William Coupon. By applying the art of light and shadow and relying on one light source, he has certainly learned his lessons from the Old Masters and applied them to photography. Far too many contemporary painters ignore or can’t be bothered with those same truths and choose, often out of ignorance, to try and reinvent the wheel, to create something from nothing.If you are serious about furthering portraiture today, or getting really good at it, go to the trouble of setting up the right environment for painting. If you are not serious, you will have many excuses. But understand that young masters like Jacob Collins, Steven Assael, Kate Lehman, Sherrie McGraw, have always made the necessary sacrifices to organize a proper working place. There are many contributors on this forum who can give you ideas and suggestions on doing this.Then begin to paint heads from life. Commandeer family members, long suffering friends, hire high school students to sit. Understand that at first your efforts will be awful. But so would your violin playing be if you were to take it up today. Cut yourself a lot of slack. Do endless practice. Be patient. You will see improvement in your drawing skills, your painting skills, your color skills, your sensitivity. Have a sitter and work from life almost every day for months, then years. I have been a working professional for over forty years and I still do head studies from life all the time. Remember, if this were easy, it wouldn’t be called Art!The world doesn’t need more collections of second rate paintings, paintings worse than the photos on which they are based. What our field needs is respect and that will only come through a large body of excellence.

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