Saturday, March 28, 2009

Marla the Muse...take two...

Ahhhh....I feel so much better.

I decided to do another study from the life study of jewelry designer Marla 
Trudine ( this afternoon to make it more like her. Less bold color. More subdued. As I have talked about on the previous post, I can get really carried away with color.

And I don't like it anymore when I do.  It makes me cross with myself. Small notes of high color work for me in the right place.

This was a very cathartic experience for me. And I may do it more often with a study I am not happy with. I have plenty of them! I KNOW how I want to paint when I paint from life, it just doesn't always work out the way I want it to.

This way, you can go back in, work out what you didn't like about your study, and put what is missing in the new one. Then you take the learning to the next. HOPEFULLY.

Marla Trudine, 8x10", oil on linen.

Visit Marla's website to see her one of a kind jewelry pieces.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Marla the Magnificent Muse...

It has been a while since I have had the absolute privilege to paint Marla. We worked together a few years back on a series of paintings, and were featured together in ART TALK magazine with both the model and the artist being asked  "what makes an art muse?" 

It is an elusive thing and I was reminded of this once again when Marla sat for my teaching class at LAAFA  this week. I was excited to see her and paint her again. She always comes prepared looking amazing. Really makes the effort. And one just can't wait to get going. We had decided ahead to do a 50's movie start set-up. She couldn't be more perfect for that old Hollywood glamor look. Think retro Jayne Mansfield but with fiery red aubergine/eggplant hair.

However, I never know what I am going to get when I paint Marla.  I also never quite paint her the way I see it in my head.  I wanted to do a great piece but it missed the mark I fear. My husband said my head sketch looked like I had thrown myself at the canvas. Hmm.. A student said it was very bold and daring. What does that mean translated?  I know the sketch had energy to say the least. And I know I enjoyed painting Marla despite around the teaching situation which presents certain challenges.

And then I think of my favorite master artists who repainted the same face time and time again, J.W. Waterhouse for instance had a "look" that he preferred in his paintings and often used the same model again and again, they didn't always have a consistency. Although Waterhouse came pretty close! Harrison Fisher is another artist I really admire whose women had a certain look and was know to rely on some model favorites. He drew like a dream and did most of his work in watercolor. 

The thing is in my head I see Marla, who by the way is a very intelligent and talented jewelry design artist of quite some renown, as a delicate thing. But her exterior is super sexy (think Vargas pinup girl) and colorful, almost larger than life but in a GREAT way with terrific style, a beautiful blue tattoo over most of her back, and tons of VA-VOOM in the best possible way. That undeniable intelligence underneath it  and a slight vulnerability perhaps too. It is a powerful mix.

I have decided I may do another painting using my head study for reference to see if I can quiet it down. Maybe Marla should not be quietened down at all. Maybe one should just keep on painting her.  Ponder, ponder...

Hmmm...the artist's muse returns.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Clamming up with John Asaro

I have long admired the work of John Asaro and been intrigued by the story of his disappearing act into a depressive mist, dropping off the LA art radar after considerable success, becoming by popular myth a recluse. Every great artist MUST have one of those periods. I am working on mine. Hope it comes soon.

So it was great to finally meet local legend John Asaro (  in person this Sunday at his Bergamot Station mega exhibition 'Bella Donna' featuring over 60 life-size figurative oils in all the colors of the rainbow, see previous post.   For a guy in his 70's, he sure  looked incredible and much younger than his years. 

This guy knows how to do high-key color and apply it to the female figure in  variously twisted  large contorted compositions. Lots of warm and cool 'color interplay' in the skin. Lots of hard edges. Lots of lost edges.  He uses red acetate glasses he told me to check his values. You can tell he is holding on to his value pattern, and then applying wild color combos on top. But he never lets go of his values. And that is what makes it all work in my opinion. Squint and it was all clear. 

Some paintings are quite 'in your face'. But I was very impressed. His art voice is original. I thought some of  his earlier work a tad too  Sorolla-esque,  many of the 'mother and child' images  and beach scenes of old, featured in his now out of print book "A New Romanticism".  NO, it will not be re-released. He is 'over' all of that now, he shared with me. Glad I got the book when I did. Offer me a good deal and it's yours.

Asaro taught a generation of LA artists at Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, from 1974 to 1981. He invented the Asaro planes of the head, head, to show how light falls on a face in plane form, still used in art schools today.  

It was good to see the show was benefiting fine art scholarships at Art Centre. It was not so good to see that only four paintings had sold as of Saturday afternoon (mostly small ones including two of his daughter which probably means he was keeping those anyway). The show was closing just three days later and we all know that most paintings in a show are sold either before the show opens by special preview or on the night of the reception.

I felt depressed for him actually. There is only one reason an artist is hanging out at  a huge gallery showing his work on a Sunday afternoon outside of a reception. To sell paintings. His show catalog, which he was graciously signing if you had paid your $30, was selling like hot cakes.

This is Asaro's big comeback. In an interesting docu-film playing at the show he said he has found his calling, painting the female figure, and through it quit depression. Dark days gone.  I personally would have expected these paintings to fly off the wall. But the prices were generally  high going all the way up $300,000 mark. Usually you have to be almost dead to command those kind of fees. I am glad he is not. 

A lot of paintings were huge. My husband said quietly to me, he should have painted them smaller. Who can hang things this big except a museum and a few billionaires? Who can afford them in this economy? Except a museum and a few billionaires. Also, those 'in your face nudes', might have put some off. Not quite right for the dining room.

Maybe sales were not his agenda. I suspect not. But this collection took three years to paint he told me. Everyone needs to eat. I loved one clip in the film where he squeezed out a whole tube of Old Holland red  on his palette in one go. He obviously gets through a lot. NO skimping on materials here.

Asaro is as superb a draftsman of the human form as any I have seen. His color is glorious. . His value range killer. His cast shadow treatment, merging in and out of the human form in shadow, magnificent. 

 So I was determined to  have a bit of a chit-chat with him. But I could see, as other people approached him, he was not effusive in nature. A man of few words for a stranger.  A bit guarded. Mine was a very one-sided chat really.  I have seen clams in hot garlic broth open up more. But I kept on at him.

Fortunately I was wearing a big hat so he just thought I was one of those menopausal crazies. He had no interest in me at all despite me clearly knowing quite a lot about him and surprising him with super-intelligent questions. Knew for instance that he had used Sara Streeter in a lot of the work, see previous post, and other tid-bits of Asaro history.  It was also obvious I knew a few people in the room and was in the art world, not a stalker.

I would have thought that would have sparked at least just one 'two-sided' sentence. A flicker of interest.  Alas, no. 

The only time I saw a real spark in him, was when one of my students who I bumped into at the show, came up to join me trying to converse with him. She is VERY beautiful, think Angelina Jolie,  and he instantly wanted to paint her of course.  Gave her his card...come up and be in my etcings...ah....the life of a male artist.  He perked right up! Charming.

To tell you how good the show was for me, after I left I found myself going back for another hour just to really study  his work again.  Now he really thought I was stalker status. There was so much to learn from him. He is still a great teacher. And Asaro's new direction in his art speaks for itself. Wonderful.

If I had the space and money, he would be hanging on my walls.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


AS a teeny tiny tot growing up in England we had a candy called LICORICE ALLSORTS, see top picture, and then think M&M's for the tasty American translation.  High- key colored delectable edibles.

I devoured these  treats with gusto as only a kid can and I still hunt them down at ex-pat British foodie stories All that neon-glo color! It EXCITES ME.  Grrrrrr...

But, truth be told, these color candies all tasted exactly the same. Pink interchanged with orange or blue. Basically color overkill with no subtlety of flavor which brings me to my painting journey, especially when I paint from life.

I was thinking about color overkill today. Why exactly did I liked the study I did in my teaching class at LAAFA this morning and why I don't like an awful lot of studies from thenot so recent past?

IN my adult art life one of the biggest problems I have faced (and there have been MANY), is having this urge to paint high key "raw" color.  Give me a hot sugar pink or ice blue and I wanna slap it down. Pure unadulterated art bliss. Just like those childhood candies. 

I see these beautiful tonal painters, Jeremy Lipking, la-di-da, but when that fuchsia pink is in front of me, well, padlock me down. I just don't want to grey it down at all.  Embarrassing in a Lipking workshop...I was there! Paint fuchsia on my art tombstone...may she R.I.P....Rest in Pink, the hotter the better. Quote me on that.

Look to Ovanes Berberian for an artist who I think does high-key color just right! ( Not easy.

So I was somewhat pleased today when the model turned up in a Licorice Allsorts colored head wrap. Most of  the delightful Marina,  from my angle, was in light shadow. But in that light shadow, I still saw that sugar plum pink, candy apple green, and Dunkin' Donut blue. Don't you just marvel at blue icing? 

I held back deliberately. Kept it muted. I was so proud of myself.

 I prepare for my class, a combined still life and portrait from the model event.  I take in props, whatever it takes to make the class inspired to paint. This can take quite some prep. time which I don't think students always realize. 

At 7 a.m. today I was  mixing a rainbow of colors on my palette around the color wheel, mixed from only three primaries, (see palette picture), cad. yellow, magenta, cyan blue. Yes, the old printers' color wheel. Still-life was daffodils today. Now that it sheer 'yellow' magnificence and one has to be prepared.

I have a feeling of wonder when I see what just three high key colors can mix. It amazes me EVERY time. All these people who want the perfect answer to color...the perfect tube of paint to buy from the art store to get you straight in to art history?...

Try just experimenting mixing from any three versions of the primaries (red, yellow and blue) and see what can happen. See what you can learn about color from doing it repeatedly over a LONG period of time. See what you can learn about color from changing those three primaries, say, going toward yellow ochre, alizarin crimson and ultramarine blue? Or vermillion, yellow ochre and black (Zorn palette).

Cut back to the candy I dipped into that Licorice Allsorts-esque  color wheel on my palette sparingly during my one hour of painting around teaching. It was there when I needed it which I surely did. But I kept it subdued.

Restraint, and an understanding of raw color,  used in just small tiny tot bites....ahhh...Now hand over the Licorice Allsorts. Prompto.

I'll get very gray otherwise.