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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Thomas Reis Interview

"Each painting is a summation of the interests and influences of the artist"

Thomas Reis just won the top award in the annual Art Renewal Center Online International Salon Competition. It's no easy achievement being voted the best when there are 2100 entries, but then Reis is no stranger to achievement and winning.
So far this year he has been named to the "Top 20" of 1600 entries in the International Portrait  Competition, fourth place in the Portrait Society of America members only show, and has a feature article in the Feb/Mar issue of International Artist magazine.

Illustration for Time Magazine

He graduated from Stetson University with degrees in Spanish and Fine Art and went on to complete a MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute.
He is super talented, smart and versatile. Except for a three-year stint as senior art director for JP Morgan Chase in New York overseeing the design of marketing materials and literature for Chase Vista Funds, he has managed to maintain two distinctly different career as illustrator and one as fine artist.
Although this blog is about Tom, the fine artist, I just can't resist showing you a sample of his illustration work. He is a phenomenal illustrator. His work has appeared in many national publications, including: Sports Illustrated, Time, Business Week, Rolling Stone, and The Wall Street Journal.
I worked in both fields for a while as I was transitioning from illustration to fine art, and it was not easy. In my mind, I had totally made the switch and commitment to fine art, so every illustration assignment became a chore as it required a totally different thought process. So, for Tom to be able to work in both fields at such a high level is quite remarkable.
I think now however, he is spending more and more of his time producing what we call, fine art.

Amelie  -  19"x 12"  -  Best of Show, ARC International Salon

I am pleased that Tom agreed to this interview. You will appreciate his thoughtful answers.
When I asked him why he enters art competitions and how he goes about selecting paintings for those competitions, he said, "I love being part of the art community. I feel honored and always humbled when I'm able to participate. The quality of the work produced today is absolutely breathtaking".

What would be your definition of art?  Marcel Duchamp's 1917 "Fountain" transformed the definition to include anything and everything. Art is what we call art, which, of course, necessitates human interaction. The trick may involve convincing the viewer.
How would you define your role as an artist?  Beyond technique, I'm interested in conveying the ephemeral nature of experience - a sense of atmosphere and narrative content.
How does one find their individuality as an artist?  Individuality may just be a synthesis of appropriated styles, though the great masters have had the ability to offer a truly original vision.

Recent study from sketch group Reis regularly attends  -  12"x 16"

Most of your work is figurative, including many portraits, how did that come to pass?  We are social creatures, so paintings of people probably top everyone's list. The ultimate results, regardless of subject, are always abstract - massed shapes, values and color organized on a flat surface.
How do you typically select models and work with them?  Models often select me. Inspiration, is the true model - whether the subject is a person, thing or landscape.
Do you let the subject determine the concept of the work or is the concept determined before the model is selected?  A jazz musician is given a melody which serves as a basis for a superadded structure of improvisation. The artist brings his/her interest and vision to a found scene or finds a scenario to suit the vision.
Do you consider the process of painting more important than the result?  The journey is often better than arriving.

Hannah  -  16"x 12"  -  Oil

What constitutes a classically trained painter?  The term may have been too narrowly defined by the Modernists, who reacted against the rigorous, formal training of French Academy. The term carried pejorative implications. However, Modernism may have placed too much premium on the avant-garde and its reaction to mass-culture. It has had a hard time sustaining itself with fresh insight and its art schools ironically present a mass-marketed formalistic approach to art making. "Classically trained", in the best sense of the term, seems to connote training based upon past styles and techniques. Perhaps all artists are classically trained.
Does photography play a part in your work?   My paintings often rely on photographic reference, though I prefer working from life whenever possible. Such reference affords the artist unlimited working time at the expense of the subtle values, colors, and edges found only when working from a live model. The live session imposes a time restriction, which is actually an advantage - since all but the essentials are sacrificed.

Boat Watcher  -  12"x 16"  -  Oil  -  Plein Air

Naples Farm  -  12"x 16"  -  Oil

What colors are most often found on your palette?  Ultramarine blue, Viridian, Raw Umber, Transparent Oxide Red, Raw Sienna, Yellow Ochre, Terra Rosa, Dioxazine Violet, Alizarin Crimson, Cadmium Red, Cadmium Orange, Cadmium Yellow, Titanium White, Ivory Black.

Grapes  -  12"x 9"  -  Oil

Do you paint in layers?   My work generally progresses in the same way: I add a quick imprimatura wash to kill the white of the canvas (usually a mix of raw umber and mineral spirits) wiping out the big shapes before the wash dries. I sketch out the big masses with vine charcoal, working hard to simplify the shapes, yet maintaining accuracy. Next, I use a small filbert with raw umber and medium to repaint and further refine the drawing. Once completed, I often give a light color/medium wash to each major shape which provides a rough colorized roadmap for the painting. I paint in the darks, beginning with the background. This helps me to establish the key of the painting. I squint throughout the painting process in order to see big shapes and color masses, keeping them as simple and clean as possible. I work through the middle tones to the lights, redrawing as I go. Once an area has been blocked in, it is often further refined via the addition of transition passages.

Hanok  -  26"x 38"  -  Oil  -  Step-by-step demo of this painting is featured in Feb/Mar 2012 issue of  International Artist Magazine

The Violinist  -  30"x 40"  -  Oil

Moravian Bakers  -  26"x 40"  -  Oil

Peonies  -  16"x 12"  -  Oil

How much preliminary work do you do before tackling the final canvas?   I've found through a lot of wasted effort that it's best to spend time working out the composition prior to beginning final art. I generally make a number of small sketches and color studies. Well begun is half done.
What is your major consideration when composing a painting?   The basic tenets of art -color, shape, line, value, and composition - continue to present endless challenges. Beyond technique, I try hard to communicate aspects of the ephemeral nature of experience via my work - a sense of atmosphere and narrative content.

The Reader  -  30"x 34"  -  Oil  -  'Top 20', 2012 International Portrait Competition

How did your job as senior art director for JP Morgan Chase prepare you for a fine art career?   My three years at Chase got me to New York City, which opened up a lot of doors for me. I learned a lot about marketing via the experience.
What advice would you have for a young artist/painter?  Follow your bliss and be honest with yourself. Don't worry about finding a style, it will find you.
What advice would you have for a first-time collector?   Whether the art is abstract or realism-based, purchase what you like.

Tangerines and Chopsticks  -  16"x 12"  -  Oil

Emily  -  10"x 8"  -  Oil

If you could spend the day with any three artists, past or present, who would they be?   Today - Sargent, Alma Tadema, Wyeth.

If you were stranded on an island, which three books would you want with you?   Besides "Idiot's Guide to Survival on an Island" or "How to Build a Raft" - Henri's "The Art Spirit".

When you become discouraged and feel the well is dry, so to speak, what do you do?   Constant growth is essential to me as an artist, and the dry spells can be very challenging. I have always worked my way past them.   

Twilight Hour  -  12"x 16"  -  Oil

Thanks Tom for a much appreciated and very interesting interview. I'm confident we'll be seeing your paintings winning many more awards in the future.

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Sunday, July 22, 2012

Impressionism's Influence

"Impressionism may properly be called the greatest single disintegrating force in nineteenth century painting".

These are not words you'd like to hear if you're a fan of impressionism...and who isn't, but R.H. Ives Gammell is an opinionated guy and most of what he has written concerning art has proved to be true.
Gammell (1893-1981) was no artistic slouch. Having worked under Joseph DeCamp and William Paxton, he then passed on his knowledge to Richard Lack, among others. Lack in turn became the father of the resurrected atelier system now so popular around the world.

William McGregor Paxton  -  Woman Sewing  -  30"x 25"  -  Oil  -  1913

In his insightful book, The Twilight of Painting, Gammell discusses impressionism and how it became a corrupting influence on painting.
"The name 'impressionist', first applied in derision to a small group of French landscapists, has since been given a larger meaning and is now widely used to designate an entire category of painters, in whatever period they have worked, who have been mainly preoccupied with rendering their impressions of the visible world."

Claude Monet  -  Impression, Sunrise  -  18.9"x 24.8"  -  Oil  -  1872

"The word 'impressionism' admirably suggests this purpose and differentiates it from a realism which seeks to imitate appearances, rather than to convey an artist's reaction to those appearances. Like all major trends in the history of art, nineteenth century impressionism was brought to birth by the advent of individuals whose temperament led them to seek expression in new fields. These particular men had no interest in the semi-literary art of the academicians and consequently were dissatisfied with the technical methods taught in their ateliers.
Indifferent to the world of the imagination, they were deeply stirred by the world they saw about them. The task they set for themselves was to render in paint that world as they saw it, and they took for guides those masters of the past who had been controlled by a similar purpose. Just as the academic painters based their styles on the great Italians, these men turned to the artists of Holland and Spain. Above all, Velasquez seemed to possess the artistic virtues they most prized." (Twilight of Painting, R. H Ives Gammell, 1946)

Diego Rodriquez de Silva Velasquez  -  Juan de Pareja  -  32"x 27.52  -  Oil  -  1650

Gammell explains that the impressionist painter reacts to the appearance of the external world around him, but warns that when he becomes exclusively absorbed with the appearance of things, he is apt to grow indifferent to their intrinsic nature.
He points out as an example still life painting, in which an artist may be deeply stirred by light, shade, color, and texture, while missing what the objects themselves suggest in terms of human experience.
John Singer Sargent, who favored Velasquez, supports Gammell's assessment when he stated in 1885, "The artist ought to know nothing whatever about the nature of the object before him, but should concentrate all his powers on a representation of its appearance."

John Singer Sargent  -  The Fountain, Villa Torlonia, Frascati, Italy  -  28.11"x 22.24"  -  Oil  -  1907

All this is well and good for the artists participating in the birth of Impressionism because, for the most part, they were recipients of sound training, being influenced by teaching of the academic tradition. 

Eduard Manet  -  A Bar at the Folies Bergere  -  37.75"x 51.25  -  Oil  -  1882

Camille Pissarro  -  Boulevard Montmarte  -  28.75"x 36.25"  -  Oil  -  1897

Pierre Auguste Renoir  -  Claude Monet Painting in His Garden at Argenteuil  -  19.69"x 24"  -  Oil  -  1875

Gammell goes on to say, "Traditional teaching made enormous demands on both teacher and pupil. Only a man in possession of very considerable knowledge and skill could pretend to teach and demonstrate the elements of this kind of painting. Only a student having exceptional enthusiasm, intelligence, and talent would be attracted by its stern discipline."

Paul Cezanne  -  Mont Sainte-Victoire  -  31"x 39"  -  Oil  -  1900

Actually, Gammell didn't have a problem with the basic principles of impressionism and what those principles contributed to the art of painting. What began as a rejection by the academicians toward this new painting movement escalated into an unhealthy hostility on both sides. This ultimately resulted in contempt by the impressionists toward the academicians and their supposedly bad teaching.
Well, as the impressionist concepts of painting gained a passionate following of art students, writers, and the fashionable world, government recognition soon followed...and as Gammell points out...the inevitable happened. The art of painting and how it was taught began to decline.

John Marin  -  Brooklyn Bridge  -  18.62"x 15.62"  -  1912

Raoul Dufy  -  At the Races  -  18.12"x 21.62"  -  1935

Because the new movement basically threw out the baby with the bath water, a flood of new want-a-be artists, who weren't interested in the rigors of academy training, entered the art scene...and of course some of these students became teachers...and the decline was on.

Maurice Prendergast  -  Central Park, New York  -  14.12"x 21.87"  -  Watercolor  -  1901

When any of the foundational principles of composition, drawing, values, and color are deemphasized...or one emphasized over others...all of painting suffers, and that's exactly what happened.

Georges Rouault  -  The Three Judges  -  21.88"x 41.62"  -  Gouache and Oil  -  1913

Pablo Picasso  -  Nude Woman with Necklace  -  44.75"x 63.62"  -  Oil  -  1968

Andre Derain  -  Three Figures on the Grass  -  38"x 55"  -  Oil  -  1906

As time went on, most of the teaching derived from impressionist principles took over. Less and less stress was placed on exactitude of drawing and values. Deterioration of drawing is easily acknowledged when viewing the images shown here. With color removed, it's also easy to discern poor value choices.

Jackson Pollock  -  Shimmering Substance  -  30.12"x 24.25"  -  Oil  -  1946

In closing, two further comments by Gammell concerning impressionism's negative influence on painting are: There was great emphasis placed on one's personal vision. This eventually evolved into what we today call self-expression. Secondly, the nature of impressionist thought can encourage rapid execution which may result in poorly executed works...and in my opinion can be an excuse for covering up inadequacies. 

(All quotes are from Twilight of Painting, R. H. Ives Gammell; Photos: Art Renewal Center and Google Images)

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Sunday, July 15, 2012

Oh, you're an artist!

The biggest misconceptions about artists.

You serious artists out there will be able to answer this question without hesitation. The misconceptions the general public has concerning artists is hardly ever stated directly but is revealed subtly through the questions asked of us.

A question asked of my wife...
"What's John doing today?"
Translation: Being an artist allows you to do whatever you want, when you want. It's kind of like being retired. You can work or not work. Sleep in or just watch TV all day.

"What do you do when you're not inspired to paint?"
Translation: Artists operate totally on feelings/emotion. If in the "mood", you paint; if not in the "mood", you do other stuff. Basically, artists lack discipline. It's all about inspiration. When inspiration comes into the room, you work frantically until you drop and then you don't work again until the next whiff of inspired air decides to visit you.

"It must be nice being an artist?"
Translation: You don't have a boss. You don't have to go into work every day. You can come and go as you please. You can paint what you want, when you want and no one tells you what to do. You're free of worry and responsibility.

"How long did it take you to paint that?"
Translation: That is way too much money for the time you spent on that piece. My, you artists really rake in the dough! Why should you make so much when painting is for fun and it's what many people do for a hobby? Heck, my Mother can paint.

Those are a few of the questions often heard by artists. I'm sure you can think of more. So, what are the biggest misconceptions about artists?
We are naturally gifted so creating comes easy, but at the same time we're pretty eccentric and definitely follow the beat of a different drummer.
Now, that may be true of some, but the pros I know are pretty much down-to-earth, hard working individuals.

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(As far as I can tell, comments can be made using Google Chrome, Windows Explorer does not seem to work)


Sunday, July 8, 2012

2012 ARC Salon selects winners

Well, 2100 entries, 800 participants, and six categories later, my painting "Winter's Dance" was awarded Third Place (Landscape Division) in the 2011-2012 Art Renewal Center 8th Annual Salon. Two other paintings were named 'Finalists'. 
I really am honored to receive this award because I know quite well just how difficult it is to even be named a 'Finalist' in this tough international competition.

Winter's Dance  -  30"x 40"  -  Oil  (Third Place, Landscape)

Fred Ross, founder of ARC said, "The quality as a whole and the sheer number of highly skilled, creative, and original works submitted was staggering. I was particularly pleased with the landscape entries this year,which as a category has taken an enormous step up in quality, and was along with figurative, the most difficult category to judge".

Cornish Promontory  -  30"x 24"  -  Oil  (Finalist, Landscape)

The Art Renewal Center is the largest on-line museum in the world, over 80000 images of the greatest works of art ever produced by over 7100 artists can be seen in high-resolution. I strongly encourage you to visit and support this incredible resource.

Field Tracks  -  27"x 24"  -  Oil  (Finalist, Landscape)

Why enter art competitions?

  • Art is judged by one's peers
  • Personal satisfaction of attaining a goal. For some the goal is just summing up the courage to enter, for others the goal is to win 'Best of Show'
  • It's a means of measuring one's skill level relative to others, and judging progress
  • It can be a reality check highlighting one's abilities or deficiencies
  • Exposure to a broader audience
  • Opportunity to win prizes
  • Can lead to other positive, career advancing opportunities
  • Success can lead to further success
  • Forces artist to think seriously and professionally about their work
  • Encourages artist to work harder, study more, and improve quality of work
  • Can add to the credibility and value of one's work
  • Doesn't really matter much with most art collectors
  • They can increase one's discouragement, and feelings of rejection and failure
  • Acceptance or rejection is based only on the opinion of one to four jurors
  • Is not, probably will not be a game changer
  • Costly
  • Submit only what you consider your very best work 
  • Submit only a professional quality reproduction of your entry. Absolutely essential 
  • Everyone gets rejected at some point. Count on it. Don't let it get you down. Move on.  Use the opportunity to question how your work can be improved
  • Learn from others. Be gracious to others who had more success than you

Top award winners by category

(Best of Show)  -  Thomas Reis  -  Amelie  -  19"x 12"  -  Oil

(Best Portrait)  -  Albert Ramos Cortes  -  The Man I Loved  -  30"x 24"  -  Oil

(William Bouguereau Award)  -  David Gluck  -  The Trapper  -  30"x 24"  -  Oil

(Best Trompe l'oeil)  -  Joel Carson Jones  -  More Than You Can Chew  -  24"x 20"  -  Oil

(First Place, Still life)  -  Nancy Guzik  -  Spring Teacups  -  30"x 24"  -  Oil

(First Place, Landscape)  -  Denise LaRue Mahlke  -  Living Waters  -  30"x 24"  -  Pastel

(First Place, Animals)  -  Julie Bell  -  The Order of the Wolves  -  18"x 24"  -  Oil

(First Place, Drawing)  -  Roger Long  -  Justin's Muse  -  24.5"x 8.75"  -  Charcoal/white chalk

(First Place, Sculpture)  -  Alicia Ponzio  -  The Lingering Shadows  -  12"x 28"x 24"  -  Stained plaster

(First Place, Figurative)  -  Orley Ypon  -  Resurrection  -  72"x 48"  -  Oil

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Sunday, July 1, 2012

Independence Day 2012. Really?

Two hundred and forty-six years ago on July 2, 1776, Congress of the United Colonies adopted a resolution of political independence, meaning that the 13 colonies believed they had a right to be free and independent States...absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown.
In the month prior to this, Congress named a committee of five to draw "a proper paper"...a statement justifying the action about to be taken. On this committee were Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston.
The "proper paper", largely the work of Thomas Jefferson, when presented to Congress was vigorously debated and even altered to a degree before it was officially adopted on July 4th. At that time it was only signed by President John Hancock and Secretary Charles Thomson. Most of the other signatures were affixed on August 2, 1776, and the remaining 15, later that year. 

Jefferson drafted the Declaration on this portable writing desk which he designed

The resolution to declare independence was a very big deal. Common sense, a prominent attribute of the time, caused the signers of the Declaration to hold these truths to be self evident. That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness...
But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same abject evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security...

Artist, John Trumbull (1756-1843), commemorated the presentation of the drafted resolution in this monumental 12'x 18' painting, completed in 1795.

John Trumbull self portrait  -  1802

John Trumbull was born in Lebanon, Connecticut to Jonathan and Faith (Robinson) Trumbull, in 1756. Jonathan was Governor of Connecticut from 1769-1784. Son, John, entered the 1771 Junior class at Harvard University at the age of 15 and graduated in 1773. Due to a childhood accident, Trumbull lost use of one eye which undoubtedly affected his future painting style.
As a soldier in the American Revolutionary War, Trumbull rendered a particular service at Boston by sketching plans of the British works, and witnessed the Battle of Bunker Hill. He was adjutant-general to General Horatio Gates. He resigned from the army in 1777.
In 1780 he traveled to London where he studied under Benjamin West. At his suggestion, Trumbull painted small pictures of the War of Independence and miniature portraits, of which he produced about 250 during his lifetime.

U.S. Postage Stamp honoring John Trumbull  -  October 1968

It is a sad reality that after fighting for and gaining freedom, mankind ultimately fails to maintain it and therefore sinks back into various forms of slavery...and so it is today in America.
There are lots of thoughts as to why this is so, but to me, first and foremost, it is always spiritual...personal/national unrighteousness: lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life. The symptoms are innumerable and most of us know what they are. Everything begins with our relationship to God and the heart of man. The type of government we have is a direct result of those two things.

The following video clearly reveals the various types of government.

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