Monday, May 10, 2010

Gary Haven Smith Studio Tour

This past Saturday eight of us caravaned out to Gary Haven Smith's studio to see how he creates his sculptures and paintings. It was a bit rainy but that helped to keep the black flies away- always a scourge this time of year in NH!

This first image is of the outside of Gary's sculpture shed. The large door allows him to back his truck up to unload the huge rocks onto the trolley for his stone saw. You can see a new sculpture sitting at the entry.

This second image shows his saw in the background. It is about 1 story high and uses a diamond tip blade (strand). He has rails to pull stones on a trolley towards the blade. A consideration in his design is the limitations of his equipment. He can only lift the saw blade up about 5 or 6 feet so that the stones cannot be too large or need to lie down and accommodate a horizontal cut. Another consideration is that his crane can only lift 2000-2200 pounds. Eliminating weight by removing stone is imperative.

Next to the stone cutting studio is a another space where he mills metal pins for joining stone, carves slate, assembles smaller pieces. There was an amazing amount of equipment - and ingenuity on display. It becomes clear that Gary is a problem solver when it comes to interpreting his vision.

Upstairs is his painting studio which is less coated in stone dust! It was a tight space so it was difficult to take many photos without seeing the backs of all the attendees. This is a shot of the painting station with a jumble of oil paints and the encaustic medium he uses to apply them to slate and lead. It is fun to see some of his older paintings and how they relate to the most recent work.

After we were done touring the studio everyone spent a few moments to walk around Gary & Susan's lovely yard which has a variety of Gary's older and newer pieces. These sculptures benefit so much from being placed in a landscape. The light color and curvilinear lines of the stone provides a contrast to the dark green trees and grass.

For those of you who missed the tour we will do it the next time we have a show of Gary's work in about 2 years.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

John Bonner, Bits Of Sea

McGowan Fine Art announces the opening of “Bits of Sea" featuring the paintings of John Bonner. The show will run from May 18- June 18, with an artist’s reception on May 21 from 5 to 7 PM. This show is free and open to the public.

John Bonner finds his inspiration in the gritty seaside towns of the North Shore of Massachusetts Bay. The wind roughened clapboard, houses perched on harbor side hills and elusive views of the ocean through historic homes are his chosen imagery, but it is the thinly applied glazes of paint and broad strokes which are the true appeal of his paintings.

Sewall Street Fall Over Spring is the quintessential Bonner scene. Painted clapboard has lost its vivid color and milled lines through exposure to the ocean. The colors are muted and edges lost, but the expanse of blue sky with billowing clouds brings freshness to the scene that might otherwise be missing. The bright blue sky glints off of windows and reflects on the wind coarsened homes. Long shadows cast between the closely built homes and randomly arranged telephone poles bring a strong sense of place to these pieces. These can only be paintings of a Northern New England town. As in Sewall Fall, Harborview Over Porch provides a small glimpse of the ocean placing these scenes firmly on the coast.
These rugged scenes give Bonner ample opportunity to ply his craft. In the small gem Fallen Spruce, he uses rough oil washes to imply fences or wispy branches of a tree. By not wasting the viewers gaze with detail he calls attention to the heightened morning light and strong structure of the buildings. “It captures my informal nature,” says Bonner. In Wild Blue Yonder the artist puts this informal nature to work with bold strokes in the blue sky and unusual perspective looking past a house to the sky beyond. These are paintings to remind you of home, but then take you beyond to a place of color, movement and light.

Monday, May 3, 2010

From Homer to Hopper at The Currier Museum

Just went to see the Homer to Hopper show at the Currier Museum in Manchester, NH. Full disclosure here - when I thought I was going to be an artist my medium was watercolor. I love it and all of its possibilities.

Watercolor is often treated as the ugly, younger sister to oil painting and sculpture. Because of the necessity of moving quickly with the medium many think that it requires little thought - and all action. Those who have become proficient at watercolor know that it is a medium that requires more than fast action, you must think quickly too. As a painting emerges the painter must be willing to chance it all with each new layer or incorporate the mistakes. From Homer to Hopper displays a beautiful and broad range of paintings in which to closely study the medium.

This show follows the arc of skill in American watercolor mastery from the early 1800's to the present day. For the early painters it was a medium that was easily transportable and lent itself to the quick portraits an itinerant painter needed to produce. I deduce from the early American examples presented that it was mainly used to color and didn't really take advantage of the natural tendencies of the medium- to pool, puddle, bleed and glow. These paintings are coarsely done but charming and serve to highlight the leaps that watercolorists made less than two generations later.

In the later 1800's we see the ascendancy of painting over imagery. Homer's "Fishwives", shown above, is a stunning tour de force of layers built up to create the moody, atmospheric scene. The artist has not shied away from scraping at the surface to expose a the paper through the pigment. The rich colors and heavy contrast negate the myth of the light, airy watercolor.

Prendergast's The Stony Pasture shows a lighter touch with watercolor. It is the antithesis of Homer's heavy hand with pigment. All the colors are fresh and sit on the surface of the paper. He has allowed the pigment to pool naturally creating a graded line at the edge of each shape, curving it around to create volume. He has let go of the fussy detail seen in the earliest watercolors in this show and allowed the strokes to seen. It is a seemingly spontaneous approach.

I was unable to find images from the most contemporary works (you can see many here) but there were some real beauties to be seen. A Burchfield studio scene is stunning. There was also a beautiful Arthur Dove from his Flour Mill Series. I saw another at the Phillips Collection that still sticks in my head- clearly it held a fascination for Dove. There was also an early Georgia O'Keeffe that is quite strong. These more abstracted pieces pave the way for what it to come later in the show.

The contemporary pieces are what really got my attention. The beautiful abstraction Visitors by Mark Toby with its use of opaque white drawing on the surface brought to mind some of the lovely ink and gouache drawings of our own Bert Yarborough. I was not aware that there was a history of using this opaque calligraphic line. This is very appealing to see this thread of aesthetic discovery over time. Another contemporary piece worth spending time with is a large abstract of lines by Sol Lewitt. While simple in concept it is quite mesmerizing. The lines flow across the surface creating a subtle movement. This is a piece I could live with.

I highly recommend seeing this show before it closes on June 7th. While it lures you in with the big guns of Homer & Hopper, it is the lesser known pieces which delight.