Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Every Artist Has a Lot to Teach Us

Tom Hinkle, who lives in Portland, Maine, has contributed numerous paintings to Still Point Art Gallery exhibitions over the years. His beautiful landscapes feature the places in Maine and the moments of his life that are memorable and rich with meaning. Many of his pieces focus attention on the Maine coast, and he does great justice to its character and importance to the people of Maine.

Tom HinkleNightfall at the Point.

Tom Hinkle, Discovery.

An article in Hinkle's recent newsletter really caught my attention, partly due to the title, "When Is a Painting Finished?"and partly because of its references to turn-of-the-twentieth-century painter John Singer Sargent

John Singer Sargent,
Bedouins, c. 1905.
(public domain;
Wikimedia Commons)
I was in Boston in November and had the opportunity to view the John Singer Sargent Watercolors exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts. Some ninety of Sargent's pieces were on display for this show, and it was wonderful to see the incredible variety of the artist's watercolor creations. Some of the pieces displayed his brilliant use of translucent color that perfectly captured the sun-soaked landscapes that he seemed to favor in his later years. Others were more rich and dense in their use of color, recalling his earlier use of oils. A few that were especially striking and memorable showed his skill with portrait paintings, which he was well known for before he turned to watercolor. It was hard to move away from his painting, Bedouins; the eyes in this piece are sharp and direct and captivating. 

So, seeing a reference to Sargent in Hinkle's newsletter, I had to read on and, with his permission, I provide excerpts here:
Oil paintings can be refined and adjusted, perhaps forever. Does the artist stop because he is tired of the work, or because he's truly satisfied with it? I find that at least some aging is good; I may see a possible improvement that had eluded me. This can even happen after years of the work being exhibited or stored away. I look and "Yes!" Recently I had that experience with a rocky shore scene which I considered one of my best: the foreground was not right. I've spent hours working on it, again. A strong foreground is essential to depth. 
Which brings us to John Singer Sargent, the preeminent portrait artist of the late nineteenth century. Sargent painted in oils; he had a genius for capturing a personality, not merely a likeness. His technique is less detailed than it may appear, testament to his skill. Since a portrait is a commission, he had to deliver it, without endless adjustments. Shortly after 1900 Sargent quit the portrait business and turned to landscapes and urban scenes . . . . 
Now he wass entirely in charge; he chose what he wanted to paint and did much of his work in watercolor. He was amazingly prolific, sometimes averaging one work a day. But watercolors are like that. They tend to be swift and right the first time, or you throw them out and start fresh. . . . 
John Singer SargentTramp, c. 1906. 
(public domain; Wikimedia Commons)

The traditional water color painting of Sargent's day was pretty and sedate. Urban scenes were predictably sourvenirs. Sargent's style was bold and intensely colored, his subjects never predictable scenes but rather true artistic compositions, never an entire famous building, but a corner of one, a bit of architectural detail rendered with a sureness that I find amazing, a striking Venice canal scene with gondoliers taking a nap in their boats. . . . 
Sargent's skill at capturing the human face was not put aside when he was devoting his time to watercolors. Relatives and friends, and chance acquaintances, provided subjects. One of the most brilliant is a water color portrait entitled "Tramp," an old man rendered in bold strokes, yet eerily alive.
The lessons? Paint rapidly but be sure to get the basic lines right. Don't try to be photographic . . . . In the end, I am not Sargent, never will be, and don't plan to change to watercolor. But, every artist has a lot to teach us.

Christine Brooks Brooks
Shanti Arts

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