Sunday, November 22, 2009

My Andrew Wyeth Painting

In late August I was in Hammondsport,NY and ducked inside an antique shop to get out of the rain. Killing time I walked around and noticed this painting  hanging near the entrance. It was in a god-awful frame of cheap pine, the glass was all dusty, and my first thought was,"Andrew Weth print-badly framed.". After a turn around the shop I came back to the print. I'm always interested in anything Andrew Wyeth.

To my surprise the 'print' looked like an actual watercolor. I couldn't find a signature. The price was $50. I asked the lady working the desk if she had any information about the painting. She said the shop was a co-op and it wasn't one of her pieces - but I could take it outside in the better light if I wanted to examine it. I declined. The rain had stopped and the Hammondsport Square was filled for the Palette Auction. I walked out.

After the auction my friends wanted to browse so we ended up back inside the antique shop. I pointed  the painting out to them and said it was done in the 'style' of Wyeth, but it was unsigned. They encouraged me to buy the painting, saying even if it wasn't an actual Wyeth, it's still a nice watercolor. I hesitated. The style certainly looked like him: drybrush for the shrubs, fingernail dragged through darks, outstanding draftmanship...but the composition was bad. What was that white shape in front of the boat? A log? A bank of snow? And there was no signature. I know from my reading that Betsy had Andrew sign EVERYTHING, and his watercolors were usually signed "A.Wyeth" in pencil. Maybe there was a signature on the back of the painting? Stranger things had happened...heck they found a copy of The Declaration of Independence behind an old photo. You never know....

So I bought it. When I got home I took it apart to examine it closer. The paper was old. It had been taped off for a border. It was an original watercolor. There was nothing on the back, and no signature on the front. Hmmm...the size bugged me too. I knew Andy liked to paint on full-sized sheets, even when painting plein-aire. There are pictures of him walking around with 22x30s tucked under his arm. This painting is 15x19, an odd size.

So the painting sat for two months. My Mom noticed it on a visit and asked if I'd painted it. (Thanks Mom!) I half-thought about contacting The Brandywine Museum to see what they had to say. Life goes on though and I never got around to photographing it. Then a couple of weeks ago I was photographing some paintings and pulled it out. I took some digitals, wrote a quick email and sent it off to the Brandywine Museum, pretty much addressed: "To whom it may concern, or (whoever is interested). This is what  I wrote:

"Hello, I was wondering who I would contact to find out if this is an original Andrew Wyeth? I bought the painting in a Hammondsport, NY antique shop. It is an unsigned original watercolor on older wc paper 15x19. The painting is smaller with a border approx. 11x15.5. Any help would be appreciated. Thank You, Jeff Perrault"

Then I went for a run.
Of course while running I played out various scenarios: the kids getting their college education paid for by an old, forgotten Wyeth, no answer at all and i live with the mystery. My favorite scenario was somebody at the museum asking to see the painting in person, and me getting my picture taken with Betsy. When I got back from my run - no emails. Oh well.

Then at about dinner time I noticed an email from Mary Landa, and I must admit my pulse rate went up. Mary Landa is Betsy's personal assistant, and the one most knowledgeable about Andrew's paintings, (besides Betsy of course). She was there when Andrew revealed the Helga paintings to Betsy. She's the one putting the Catalogue Raisonne together. Apparently my email had been read, the attachments looked at, and it had been bumped up to the top. It was a definite "Holy Shit" moment. Here's the email:

"Forward: Mary, What do you think? Lora
Lora B. Englehart

Public Relations Coordinator"

and then: "Dear Mr. Perrault,This is a lovely little watercolor, but there is nothing to indicate it is by Andrew Wyeth. Wyeth’s records were quite complete and just about everything out there that was sold had a signature.

Thank you for sending this – I wish I could help track down the artist.  Mary Landa"
Darn! Double Darn! But hey, it is a "lovely,little watercolor" very skillfully done. It was way underpriced. I'll give it a decent frame and a home. (Still would have liked to have my pic taken with Betsy, though.)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Discovering Dirk Dzimirsky

"Trinity by Dirk Dzimirsky, Charcoal on Canvas

Normally I'm not a fan of photorealism. I guess I don't see the point of making a painting/drawing look like a photograph - from a photograph. I'm sure there was something shocking and fun about it way back when, in the 60's when Chuck Close and Estes were pioneering the effect, but in my opinion it quickly degenerated into cliche and technique. These portraits, while technically photorealist, I think go beyond photorealism.

The artist is Dirk Dzimirsky and he's featured on the cover of the Fall issue of Drawing. An interesting quote from the article: "When looking at magazine photographs its obvious that beauty-mania removes every sign of a human face...I want to oppose this with my portrait drawings and show people as they are. I believe art has to be true - then it really is beautiful. for me, Things such as glamorously styled magazine beauties or pinups are not only boring but also have something disgusting about them."

Nelson Shanks said something similar when talking about judging entries for the portrait/figure category in the recent Artist's Magazine competition: ""Remember it's no longer 1880 or before! In other words avoid too much romanticism and make your work reflective of your time. Reacting , perhaps, to a number of portraits of beautiful women , Shanks admonishes, "'Pretty is dangerous ground." If your subject is inherently pleasing to the eye, it's important to look beyond that - toward what appearances may hide..."

Dirk Dzimirsky in his work goes beyond appearances AND technique. Go check his work out.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

WIP Preliminary Drawing

I'm reading "The Black Swan" by Taleb. Halfway through it. Here's a paragraph guaranteed to keep me in bed in the morning: "Many people labor in life under the impression that they are doing something right, yet they may not show solid results for a long time. They need a capacity for continuously adjourned gratification to survive a steady diet of peer cruelty without becoming demoralized. They look like idiots to their cousins, they look like idiots to their peers, they need courage to continue. No confirmation comes to them, no validation, no fawning students, no Nobel, no Shnobel. "How was your year?" brings them a small but containable spasm of pain deep inside, since almost all of their years will seem wasted to someone looking at their life from the outside. Then bang, the lumpy event comes that brings the grand vindication. Or it may never come."
Last year my dog made more in guide fees than I did in sold paintings. Lately I've been dwelling too much on that fact.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Tom Buechner's Friday Night Class: 2nd and 3rd Sessions

Second Session

The Different Levels of Expertise are categorized as follows:
  • Novice - has minimal exposure to the field.
  • Apprentice - has completed a period of study beyond introductory level and is usually working in a domain under supervision.
  • Journeyman - can perform routine work unsupervised.
  • Expert - is highly regarded by peers; whose judgements are uncommonly accurate and reliable; whose performance shows both skill and economy of effort; and who can deal with unusual or tough cases.
  • Master - Can teach others; a member of an elite group of experts whose judgements set regulations, standards or ideals.
I guess in this table I'd fall somewhere between Apprentice and Journeyman. It's a long road with a lot of work involved. That's why I find this Friday Night Portrait Group so valuable. Tom Buechner is a Master, and it will be interesting to line up all nine portraits in June and see where I've gone and how I got there.

I like the effort above. It was taken after my second session when I was ostensibly trying to work with a very limited palette getting darks and lights down while simultaneously going for a likeness.  Before each break I took a photograph and the model's expression changed subtly in each photo. She is barely a teen and at first she had a "deer-in-the-headlights' expression with wide eyes and a cautious tilt to her head. As she became more comfortable with people staring at her, the expression became more confident, at times cocky, without her even being aware of the change. I liked the initial expression as it showed an openess and vulnerability.

Most of my time spent on this portrait was attempting to capture this expression and get a likeness. Others in the class had different goals and Tom is the first one to admit a likeness is not the sole goal of the sessions. The critique was held at the beginning of my third session (their fifth).

It was my first critique with this group and I wanted to be on time, but I also had to instuct my kids in how to carve pumpkins. They wanted to start them that night and I wouldn't be there. Still I thought I'd made it to the door of the studio on time. My heart sank when I saw everyone already seated with their paintings in front.  uh-oh. Everybody said Tom was punctual; I knew that going in. So I apologized to him and the group, explaining I thought the start time was 7:30. Tom looked at his watch and said, "It's 7;32 Jeff." Darn.

My portrait was up last, obviously, and we all have to say something positive about our own effort. Well that was hard, so I mumbled something about liking the fleshtones. When your painting is suddenly thrust into an objective space in front of you, it's difficult not to see the flaws. There were many. In striving to get the expression I'd gone for way too much detail, particulary in the eyes, and the eyes were too dark. The temp of the shadows was off. Edges were too hard. Etc, etc. Note to self: I've noticed that when you're working on a painting and the reading glasses come out you get waaaaay too close to the painting and forget to step back.

After the critique the model takes the stand for a final bow and we're allowed one last shot. That's the effort below. I'm not going back to this from photos because, like I said I want to line them all up in June. I'm not happy with the result (I liked the one above better), but it is what it is.

About Me

My photo
Elmira, New York, United States
In many ways I think like a photographer. The image itself is becoming more and more important to me; the actual application of paint less and less. Blasphemy in some painterly circles. I choose to paint figures and portraits because I consider them the most difficult subject.