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John's Blog

Friday, March 25, 2011

Cornish Pasties

I'm sitting here on death row for some unjust reason. I told them I didn't steal that old lady's purse but that rigged jury found me guilty anyway. I'm sure that the prosecuting attorney paid off that lousy no good lying witness...just to finger me...and now they're asking me what I want to eat for my last meal.

Cornish pasties, I whisper without any hesitation. "What?", they ask. I again tell them, in a slightly irritated tone, that I want Cornish pasties...that's pass-tees, not paste-tees. I want them just like my mother used to make them.
You need to start with a good pastry recipe. Then roll that out to the size of a plate. Any size plate will do, but I tell them to use a very large plate since this is my last meal and I intend on taking my time eating it.
Once the pastry is prepared, on one half section of it, you are to place cubes of good tender meat, onions, carrots, and turnips. Go ahead and add some diced potatoes while your at it. After all that's done, salt and pepper everything and add a dab of margarine. Fold the pastry over the ingredients and crimp the edges. Prick the pastry with a fork before baking and brush a little milk on top before you put it in the oven. You'll need to bake it for a little more than an hour. Oh yes, be sure to bring me plenty of catsup. I remember, my Mom was always appalled that I would ruin such a wonderful meal with that red stuff. She said the proper sauce was, Lea & Perrins Worchestershire Sauce.

As they head off to the kitchen to prepare my meal, my mind wanders. I think of all those old tin miners back in merry old England that used to carry this very meal with them into the mines (without sauce), there in SW England...Cornwall County, to be precise.

It was the perfect meal, a complete meal in a small package. It could be eaten without cutlery and the thick, crimped edges allowed the miners to hold their food without polluting it with toxins.
That Cornish pasty became so popular over the centuries that it has now been awarded Protected Geographical Indication status. In other words, there are specific standards by which the recipe and methods of production must adhere. Only Cornish pasties prepared in Cornwall can actually be called a Cornish pasty.
Wait till the guys in the kitchen discover that one.
Yep! I'm going to live to see another day.

Oh, I'm sure going to miss painting! That last painting I did, I was really happy with the composition. That little corner market in St. Austell, right there by Mevagissey on the eastern coast of Cornwall, just said England...and right there on the wall was a large painting advertising Cornish pasties. Ahhhh!

"John, wake up. How long are you going to stay in bed? Don't you need to get a painting done for that show so you can get it shipped off this week?" Awakened and dazed by the muffled sounds of my wife, I stumble out of bed and wash my face.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Naturalists

The Naturalism movement swept through Europe and lasted for only a brief 20 years. It began in France in the late 1870's and by the early 1890's was already in decline. The godfather of the movement was the brilliant Jules Bastien-Lapage who died at the age of 36 and yet he fathered a very amazing group of devotees throughout Europe.

Jules Bastien-Lepage, The Ripened Wheat - 20"x 41" - 1880

Another group of young artists dubbed, Impressionists, were also on the move at this same time. Growing restless and tired of the same-old, same-old traditions of the French Academy and the resultant "predictable" works, a tension was created between the old way and a new way.
Spurred on by a rising middle class anxious to purchase art they could relate to, and by increased scientific discoveries, a group of influential writers and critics were calling for the "modern"...for change...for an art that reflected the times. Arising out of this came two major responses, Naturalism and Impressionism. Today we hear little or nothing of Naturalism while Impressionism and plein air painting is the rage.

Pascal-Adolphe-Jean Dagnan-Bouveret, Bretons Praying - 123" x 84" - 1888

The negativity toward Naturalism, as recorded in Gabriel Weisberg's book, Beyond Impressionism, the Naturalist Impulse, was in part due to the working methods of its artists.
Taking advantage of technological advancements in photography, the Naturalists may be considered the first photo realists. Using photos and sketches of their subjects done from life, they constructed very detailed, highly refined, sometimes life-size paintings from this material...a new type of painting never before seen was the result.

Charles Sprague Pearce, Woman in the Fields - 31" x 26"

These artists were academically trained. They possessed a mastery of drawing, human anatomy, and composition. Photography became a source of note taking and enabled them to achieve a level of detail and refinement that stunned the art world.

Peder Kroyer, Fishermen on the Beach - 1883

The Naturalist's goal was to capture a "slice of life" through images that were linked to country or urban life. They selected themes of daily life often featureing working people, depicted in a non-sentimental way...warts and all. Because of their stated goals, landscape was only viewed as a stage for the depiction of the human figure.
To achieve this phenomenal realism, many of the artists built outdoor glass studios (much like a greenhouse) in which they posed their models and produced detailed studies of them in a controlled rustic setting. In many cases these studies were then taken into the studio where the large paintings were created.
Well, all this photographic realism eventually led to their demise. Art critics began to criticize their work as being too factual, too scientific...just too photographic.

Jules-Alexis Muenier, Tramps - 58"x 56" - 1896

Some modernists, those that primarily supported the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist movements attacked them as being too literal and out of step with the new direction.

Emile Claus, A Meeting on the Bridge - 28"x 38"

They were condemned for lacking courage and initiative. Some even called their work regressive..."obstacles to innovation".
As a result of all this criticism, some of the painters began to disguise their working methods, wanting to leave the impression that their work was in fact created without photographic aids. Things just never change do they?

Gari Melchers, The Sermon - 63"x 87" - 1886

Well, the move toward more and more "modern" won out. Sound training eventually became a hinderance if one wanted to be free to express themselves. This led to almost a century of various "isms", many of them worthless.

Anders Zorn, The Mora Fair - 52"x 66" - 1892

Well today, things are changing. Many ateliers are springing up that are returning to the academic training of the French academies. Young students are hungry to learn long established methods of the masters. Realism is finally on the upswing. The young generation coming up is already producing some incredible work.
Two artists that seem to be influenced by the Naturalists are: Jeremy Lipking and Joseph Todorovitch. Four art academies doing a fine job training future artists are: Angel Academy of Art, Studio Incamminati, The Florence Academy, and The Water Street Atelier.

Source for article: Beyond Impressionism, the Naturalist Impulse, Gabriel Weisberg - Harry N. Abrams, Inc. 1992; Photos: Google Images, Art Renewal Center

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Saturday, March 12, 2011


I first heard the term "Naturalism" in 1987 when Southwest Art did an article about my work. There was an association made between my work and what was called naturalism. I really liked the term and thought it affectively defined my work. I continue to use the term when defining my painting. My explanation has always gone something like this: "I want my work to feel very natural, with minimal embellishment of the scene, depicting it as it is...paintings that feel very natural and real."

To achieve this affect, I use color studies done on location, photography and imagination. My most creative work incorporates all three resulting in a painting quite different from all the reference material.

I have since come to realize that what I do is not really "Naturalism". In reality the movement has its similarities to what I do, but it also has notable differences, one of them being a degree of finish that I have yet to attain. But, hey, I still like the designation. I'll just use it with a small 'n' as in naturalism.

Jules Bastien-Lepage, Potato Gatherers - 71"x 77" - 1879

One of my absolute favorite art books is called, "Beyond Impressionism, The Naturalist Impulse", by Gabriel Weisberg. In fact, I liked the book so much I later went back and purchased a second one, just in case the first one wore out.

Naturalism was short-lived. Beginning in the late 1870's, it was pretty much over twenty years later. It began in France, "Duh", and rapidly spread throughout Europe.

Jules Bastien-Lepage (1848-1884) was the undisputed leader of the new movement. His achievements were furthered by his dear friend, Pascal-Adolphe-Jean Dagnan-Bouveret (1852-1929), after Bastien died at the early age of thirty-six.

Dagnan-Bouveret, Breton Women at a Pardon - 49"x 55" - 1887

Due to a rising middle class in France, writers and critics were calling for a less idealized view of life...a modern, more scientific, factual reality. The Impressionists responded one way while another group of young academically trained artists responded in their way. This group became known as the Naturalists...setting the stage for conflict.

Next time: The Naturalists: Their techniques and their eventual demise.

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Saturday, March 5, 2011

ACA Demonstraton

On March 1st, I had the privilege of giving an oil painting demonstration before the Associated Creative Artists group in Dallas.

A small group of Dallas artists, led by Bill Hummelbaugh and Ramon Froman, chartered the organization in 1954 under the name Artists and Craftsmen Associated. I was Newsletter Chairman of ACA for several years, then Vice-President, and finally was honored to serve as President for a couple of years in the late 80's. So, we have a long history and I have fond memories of almost a decade of participation.

In preparation for the demo I did a considerable amount of preliminary work. Since I am not a super fast painter, and normally a demonstrating artist has just about an hour and a half to perform a feat of magic, I arrived with the monochromatic block-in seen above. Even before this stage, a concept for the piece was decided upon. My starting point was the picture below, taken several years ago on a painting trip to Ohio.
Before the first brush stroke, decisions were made concerning composition, mood, and selection of colors to be used.

Here's the starting point of the concept.

Above is the preliminary color study done on gessoed paper. The 4.5"x 7.5" study is typical of the approach I use in working out color before beginning the final work. Colors used in this piece are: Chromatic black, cadmium red, yellow ochre, lemon yellow and white. The monochromatic value block-in was done using a mixture of chromatic black and yellow ochre.

This is as far as I was able to get with the painting during my demonstration.

Hillside Overlook - 9.5"x 16" - Oil on canvas

This is what I am calling the final painting, completed in the studio yesterday.