Archive for the ‘artists & history’ Category

The Don

If anyone reads my blog, this is the one post I hope they read, well, that and the snappy comeback reference planner and maybe the spin cycle one.  I share a studio with 20 artists and all are inspiring in different ways, but this guy, Don Sondag, is a lesson for all painters in diligence and practice. He’s just a damn good painter. His work is fresh, honest and dead on in drawing & color and un-mannered , as in he doesn’t use any fancy brush tricks or glazes or whatever to make a painting, it is without influence. He spent a few years of learnin at the student artists league in New York with Jacob Collins and Sam Adoquie, I think he knew Raymond Kinstler at some point but most all that he has achieved for himself has been through sheer effort.

I’m going to post a lot of images of his space and his work, most are pics from my iphone and are a tad fuzzy, but you will get the idea. Unless you live in the Orlando area, you will probably never hear of this guy. He doesn’t have a website, doesn’t really advertise his work, maybe is in one or two local galleries but has a good name in the area as a landscape painter and a portraitist. I’ve bugged him for years about getting a website but that’s not his thing. And in a way, I get it. He doesn’t waste a moment of time with emails and website updates and how to work photoshop or blogging, he just paints. And he’s a much better painter for it. Malcolm Gladwell wrote about the 10,000 hours it takes to master a thing in the Outliers. Don has at least double or triple that…. and it shows in the work.  His compositions are seemingly effortless and his broad brush approach is without a lot of cumbersome detail, his paintings are a lesson in what to leave out and how to paint in big shapes of value and color. Whatever the subject matter, the paintings become about shape and value and color. He’s got paintings of small planes on a tarmac that make me envious.

The simple lesson here is, if you want to be good or a master at something, get some training,  learn to draw and put in your 10 or 20 thousand hours and don’t copy someone else. The great Donnini is an inspiration to all of us here at McRae Art Studios.

All of these are painted from life by the way, including the 30×40 on the easel. I have no idea how to format these images into any kind of layout so bear with me. And share this with your friends. Don should be known.


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Who’s the man?

This guy is the man, William Wendt. My friend Don Sondag gave me a retrospective book of his work and it’s a must have book for any landscape painter, In Natures Temple. I’ll see if I can’t find a link for buying it. If this book doesn’t inspire you to be a stronger painter, nothing will.  Every single painting in this book is a masterpiece. His compositions are powerful, his color sense is flawless and his shape making skills are as good as it gets. What I see most in his work is a kind of confidence that comes from big strokes, big simple shapes and not over working a thing. I also found a painting of WW out in the field by William Alexander Griffith.

The one thing I always tell people in workshops is that you have to maintain clear separation of light and dark. Light side, shadow side, light side, shadow side. People get so lost in trying to get the color right that they lose their values. When you look at Wendts work this is what you notice first, just how simple his forms are. Why is this in bold face? I don’t know. It just ended up that way. But sometimes having a a bold face in the right place just seems like the right thing to do.

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My hero

I was very fortunate to participate in a group show at the James Rieser Fine art gallery in Carmel, a show called “After the storm”. The artists in the gallery are all of my favorites, really talented painters like Kim Lordier, Michael Obermeyer, John Burton, Charles Movali and this guy, Ray Roberts. Ray is a painters painter. If you bring him up in conversation with any artist worth their salt, they all have the same response. They all kind of look up and to the right, off in the distance and nod knowingly with a long “yeah” usually followed by a “he’s really good”. Ray combines the use of great design, great shape making, division of space, simplification of form and an amazing color sense to effortlessly guide the eye through the canvas. No space or shape is not carefully thought out. I looked at this painting for an hour or so and he had 5 or 6 that you could analyze in the same way. He’s not just a painter, he’s a picture maker. He’s got a little N.C. Wyeth and maybe a pinch of  Maynard Dixon in him, but he still has a very unique voice. Jim Rieser said that while he paints fast he takes a long time to get to the painting, thinking about it for weeks.

What I love about this painting is how the river of flowers is crafted to flow over the turning field and back to the distant hills. It’s a very complicated and difficult thing to do making a bunch of orange and yellow notes read this way. I saw the painting at first in the evening when the lights were out and all I could see was the shape of the flowers and the shape of the trees in the distance. I thought, man this guy knows his stuff. I was talking with a couple of great local painters and the thought came up that there’s a lot of homogenization going on in the plein air movement. People are all starting to sort of copy each other or use some of the same tricks so when you flip through an art mag, it’s hard to tell them apart. Ray is a stand out in my book.

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Kevin Courter

I keep meaning to write about the living artists that I admire and not just the dead ones. To be honest, I have met so many great ones over the years that it’s a long list but a few stand out. I first met Kevin in Carmel while doing the paint out there about 5 years ago. A super talent, a super guy, the only strike against him is that he keeps winning the big prizes at this event. Every time. RatBastard! He would turn in a nocturne/moonrise thing that I knew he didn’t paint at night so I figured that he cheated somehow. And then one year he calls me out of the blue… says he has a collector with a killer house and did I need a free place to stay. Out of the blue. He said he figured that since I was coming from Florida I could use a break. That’s a good guy.

Subsequently we would go painting together during the event and he and I would paint the exact same thing but come up with completely different paintings. He didn’t cheat, he’s just really good at taking what’s in front of him and bending it to suit his will. Me I’m trying to get the exact time of day, 9:03 am and the exact number of trees and he’s recarving the trees, changing the time to 10 hours later and everything else effected by the change of light. Crazy.

If I had to categorize his work, I’d call it luminist or maybe a romantic tonalist… there’s a link at right and you’ll see a consistent romantic glow in his work. How does he do it? Magic! I can’t reveal trade secrets but I will say that he is a master at the subtle interplay of value, hue and chroma. All of his color is filled with color, something may seem grayed down but it’s really two near compliments so close in value and chroma that they hum and create sort of an impossible brilliant middle color. I think there are some people who actually have a higher color perception and can really see the super subtle shifts. He’s a great shape maker too. And a hell of a nice guy.  One of the great privileges of this life is getting to sidle up to a talent like Kevin and watch him paint and steal his ideas.

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Sally brought forth the topic of favorite schools of art, referencing the Pennsylvania Impressionists, this is a great opportunity for anyone to chime in about theirs. The term alma mater means bounteous mother (and no, I didn’t know that off the top of my head) and like any good mother, these schools gave birth to a variety of artistic ideals. Most were regionally based at first, a group of artists all living in the same area and time start to converge, as artists do, to share ideas and ideals and within a few years of self influence a new movement begins. There is a difference between a school (Hudson River school) and a movement (like tonalism), the schools start off in a region and slowly branch out, often times influencing a movement (like impressionism) but sometimes it’s the other way around. George Inness work was informed by the Hudson River school and he is noted for or attached to the movement of Tonalism, an idea in painting that spread across the borders, James Macneill Whistler was a tonalist and he lived abroad.

Back to the Pennsylvania Impressionists, I first took note of this movement after going to a museum in the northeast, might have been at Penn State, where I saw a painting by Daniel Garber. I liked it so much I bought the book and it’s filled with the exquisite paintings of this school, my favorites were Garber, Edward Redfield and Wiiliam Lathrop. Garbers work was delicate and romantic, Redfield would tack a huge canvas between two trees and paint everyday in the snow, often times finishing the whole thing at one go… in the snow and Lathrop did a couple of nocturnes that are the real deal. plus a whole bunch of great almost tonal pieces.

Rather than extolling the virtues of this movement, I’ll ask you, what is your favorite school? Because I think my favorite school could kick your favorite schools ass! You can also use any good ism.

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Hermann Herzog

Many years ago there was a little gallery in Orlando that I loved to visit. It was not in the middle of the bustling city, where you might put a succesful gallery, it was nestled in between some vintage chotchki stores and a cigar bar, across the street was a lake and a highway. I would go there often to find what new dead artist the owner had dug up. That was his specialty, finding really great paintings by deceased artists. One time I went in and there on the wall was a painting of palms and scrub that pulled me in from across the room. It was somehow filled with air… not so much a painting about light as it was one of atmosphere. The price tag was $40,000 and I figured that if I scraped every dime together I had and sold the house, I could have afforded it but then I wouldn’t have any walls to hang it on. It would have been a good investment because Hermann Herzog is a well-known commodity in the realism art market, a similar piece sold in 2009 for $80K.

I bring up Mr. Herzog because our local museum has 3 of his works and they are all superior. It’s worth a trip to the Orlando Museum of Art   and the 8 bucks to get in just to see them. Two are magnificent Florida paintings and I know how hard it is to paint Florida to make it feel as majestic as the grand Tetons. Our state, as lovely as it is, doesn’t really offer the same grandeur as Hawaii or Utah or Colorado, it’s parking lot flat and covered with a lot of green, gray and brown and bankrupt luxury condos. We have great skies, for sure, because there is nothing that stands in their way. We have little distance because everything stands in its way.

But the big thing is the time period in which these were painted, 1880-1910. I can’t tell you a whole lot about Herzog, his work has luminist qualities but he’s not associated with that movement (an extension of the Hudson River painters) he trained in Germany under artists I don’t know. But I can tell you that anyone who painted outdoors in Florida at the turn of the last century had balls of steel. The mosquitos alone had to be unrelenting, hotter than hell, no bottled water, no sunscreen, no power bars to get you through the day and probably not a whole lot of roads to get you where you wanted to go. Painting then was a real commitment.

This second painting is big, 6 by 8 feet or so and it’s a beaut. It just feels right. It has a lot of detail but not too much, the sky is the hero of this story, thickly painted but has perfect luminous gradation from sunset to twilight. Still all I can think about with this piece is how many mosquitoes and noseeums he had to swat away to get it done, especially at that time of day. It’s brutal. I get welts just looking at this painting. He probably did this from a series of studies finished it in the studio in Philly but still, you gotta want it to get through that kind of torture. You might as well do color studies while being water boarded. If you are ever in the area come see these paintings, especially if you are a fan of the Florida landscape. It’s worth the trip. And bring your bug spray.

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Eric Aho

I’ve found a blog on art that is everything I would do if I weren’t so lazy and if I were a lot smarter.. it’s called painting perceptions written by a guy I know nothing about, yet. Larry Groff. It’s really good with a huge amount of  in-depth writing on contemporary realism. I am always afraid to write longer, deeper pieces because I am not a writer. It’s hard enough creating a cohesive sentence let alone a string of paragraphs that make sense and I’m just not that organized. Anyway, I was looking for this guy, Eric Aho, to follow up on the control issues I mentioned earlier.

I have always loved his work but knew nothing about him until I found this wonderful interview with the Mr. Groff. Aho’s work takes the landscape to the next level. His process involves more memory than direct observation which allows for a more conceptual approach. Read it if you have the time. I’m putting a link to the right. This site has plenty to read and look through, there are a lot of artists whose work I like and I think you will too.

And a footnote… I just spent an hour sifting through the site and it is so very inspiring. I gotta go paint something decent.

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