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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Collecting Art

...or other such stuff...some of value...others...not so much.

If there is something on this planet that hasn't been collected, I don't know what it is. If it has a physical presence, it's probably been collected by someone, somewhere, at some point.
In my childhood, I collected stamps, coins, and baseball cards. Even today, there is still an urge to collect stuff. Show me a well made box, a beautiful bottle, jar, or vase, and it becomes difficult to find a reason not to keep it.
Show me an artist, and I'll show you an art book collector.

A very small art book collection

There are two kinds of collectors, the haphazard/recreational collector and the serious/purposeful collector.

This would be, on a good day, haphazard collecting

Here is a serious model rally car collection

Most of us are what I would call the haphazard type. We collect stuff because we like it, it makes us feel good, satisfies some need within us, and someday we think it will be worth something.
Art collecting can be like that...and is, for most of us. My wife and I generally fall into that category, with some exceptions. Basically, we buy what we like, of good quality, affordable, and that fits well in our home. When it comes to art, our purchases are seldom planned.
The serious/purposeful collector is totally different. Their approach to collecting is like a good novel. It has a beginning, a middle and an end...and all the individual actors have an important role to play in completing the story.

Political button collection

Lunch box collection

Edison light bulb collection

Old postcard collecting

Although there are some significant differences between the two types of collectors, all of us regardless of what we collect, can certainly benefit from the knowledge and experience of the serious collector. 
So, here are a few helpful tips for those collecting art.
1)  Only buy art that appeals to you. Be true to your personal taste. Acknowledge that you like certain types of art and don't be swayed by what is fashionable or what others suggest you should like.

How about some marbles, or paintings of marbles?

or dolls?

or...maybe thimbles?

OK... spoons

2)  Educate yourself. Familiarize yourself with all types of art. This will help solidify what appeals to you. You may even find that your taste will change. This education may be gained through art history books, museums, galleries, art expos, auctions, art magazines, etc. Figure out why some paintings "connect" with you while others do not.
3)  Do your homework.  Learn all you can about the artist, credentials, price structure, subject matter, genre of art, etc. How does the quality and price of your chosen painting compare with the artist's other works...and how will it help complete your collection?

Colored glass collection

4)  Be an informed buyer. Learn from those who have knowledge of the art market, gained through personal experience. Establish relationships with other art collectors, galleries, auction houses, etc. Read books about collecting art. Have a variety of sources, not just one or two.

Matchbook collection

5)  Have a purpose and plan for your collection. The serious collector does not purchase any and everything they like and can afford. Instead, they narrow down and focus very specifically on particulars. For example, California Impressionists between 1940-1960, or Rockport, MA harbor scenes, or the art of William Merritt Chase's students. Now if your're collecting Barbie Dolls, you might want to focus on Vintage Barbie's from 1959-1966 with dark hair and ponytails.
Good collections are well thought-out so that all the pieces in the collection relate to one another in some way. A good collection can enhance one's understanding of a certain period of art, culture of a particular era, or even stylistic changes during an artist's career. As each piece adds to the whole, the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

6)  Don't view art as primarily an investment. I have a close friend who jokingly, every time I see him, asks how I'm feeling...suggesting that maybe I might have been diagnosed with some rare, incurable disease that will soon result in a dramatic increase in the value of his art collection. Not so fast. Investment potential of art can be somewhat unpredictable.

Johannes Vermeer  -  The Girl With a Red Hat  -  9.12"x 7.12"  -  Oil on wood panel  -  National Gallery of Art

7)  Go for quality. Buy the best you can afford. It's better to have a small, quality collection rather than a large, average one.

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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Aldro T. Hibbard

Aldro Thompson Hibbard

Aldro Thompson Hibbard just may be America's greatest snow painter...if not the greatest, certainly one of the very best. His style is very distinctive and easily recognizable. Many artists have been influenced by his work, including Emile Gruppe, Paul Strisik, and Tom Nicholas. This influence is most easily seen in the work of Gruppe.
Hibbard was born in 1886 in Falmouth, MA and was a longtime, beloved resident of Rockport, MA until his death in 1972.

Log Team, Vermont  -  40"x 50"  -  Oil

A Winter Stream  -  24.25"x 30.25"  -  Oil

I've been a fan of his work for some time. I'm drawn to his strong, clear compositions. Mainly however, it's that incredible feeling of absolute confidence, boldness, and passion that is so evident in every brushstroke that I find so appealing. There is nothing wishy-washy about Aldro Hibbard's paintings...nor in his personal life either, I suspect..
I found an interesting interview in my extensive art files that Hibbard had with American Artist magazine back in June 1940. Here are some of his comments. The questions are mine and I also changed his answers to the first person and tidied them up a bit.

Ice Pond  -  30.5"x 36.12"  -  Oil

West River, Vermont  -  40.12"x 50"  -  Oil

What is your working procedure?
Having previously visited the spot and composed the picture mentally and memorized the impression it made on me as well as possible, I set up the easel... and during the first day make a layout on a large canvas. This is painted very thinly with plenty of turpentine, almost a watercolor technique with colors that approximate the probable final scheme.
If the desired effect is a fleeting one - it usually is - and I cannot hope to paint it directly on the large canvas, I have several small canvases ready for very rapid sketches when the sun reaches its appointed place. I may make several such sketches at different times before I'm ready to finish the large canvas. This may be done in the studio, though my general practice is to complete the pictures on the spot.
Often, I'll paint on a picture outdoors all day, spending the morning and midday on layout or underlay and waiting for the late afternoon to make the final color adjustments. Spending too long on one painting under rapidly changing light is dangerous. It is much better when the effect is transitory, recording impressions in small sketches and relying upon them for the final painting.

Farm House in Winter  -  24"x 29"  -  Oil

What difficulties do you incur when painting outdoors in the winter?
Glare, reflected from the snow upon the canvas. A piece of black cloth spread out under the easel and the feet of the painter is some help, but even so the picture has to be painted on the palette. Unless the artist can judge the right color before it goes onto the canvas, he is lost.

Rockport in Winter  -  29.67"x 36.12"  -  Oil

What colors are found on your palette?
I seldom have more than eight or ten color on it, but they are not always the same colors. What pigments go on the palette today depend upon the subject to be painted. Tomorrow's picture may call for different blues, reds and yellows. I often mix in advance hues and values that I know I'll need. The less mixing on the spot the better. Everything has to be planned for speed when at work in the field.

New England Winter Landscape  -  36.25"x 36.25"  -  Oil 

Any advice for students?
There are fortunately many methods of painting, yet the average student is in search of one with a short cut and a fool-proof recipe whereby he cannot go wrong. To my way of thinking the fundamentals are first in order, then some guidance as to their usage follows. The rest, needless to say, is quite personal and a lifetime job. One should experiment, thereby possibly offering something new and valuable to the art world. It is an open field and what we make it.

For those that wish to try plein air painting, what do you recommend?
Avoid using nature photographically. It's necessary to make many adjustments when painting out of doors, that's what really makes painting interesting and not ordinary. On the other hand, be a close student of nature at all times. Make mental notes, written notes, keep track of it. It is all valuable reference. Compose on different-sized areas. Leave a reserve for the darkest darks and lightest lights. Try all mediums. Some days, just draw. Don't be afraid to use pigment. Lights demand it. Get color and vibrate it without mixing it too much. Beware of too much studio landscape painting. Direct contact gives you the rare things because accidental things are happening all the time outdoors. Be on the lookout for them and grab them. Notes taken on the spot are valuable and should not be tampered with. In sketching outdoors, get the essentials which denote the morning, afternoon or evening - whatever the time of day. Get that whether or not you have time for details.

Light Across the Valley  -  30"x 36"  -  Oil

I heard you believe in rotary painting, what is that?
Rotary painting is jumping all over the canvas, adjusting practically all the time. I try to avoid laboring too much on any one spot when parts of the canvas are not covered at all. Rotary motion means consistent flavor all over.

Thanks Aldro for an interesting interview.

I discovered that Stapleton Kearns did a very nice piece on Hibbard in one of his blogs. Here's the link.

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Sunday, March 11, 2012

Grist Mills

Last October, my wife and I spent 10-days in Vermont. I created several plein air studies... (See the story HERE)... and took many photos. One of the little towns we enjoyed was Weston...home of the wonderful Vermont Country Store... and, it was in Weston that I discovered this wonderful old grist mill.
This is the first of many paintings I will be doing as a result of the trip.

Weston Grist Mill  -  16"x 27"  -  Oil on canvas

Now, I have to admit, when I'm traveling I'm thinking of paintings...and when I'm thinking of paintings I'm thinking of light, value and composition. So when I discovered this wonderful grist mill and found it visually appealing, it never occurred to me to go inside and actually see its operation. It's embarrassing to say this, but for all I know it may have been just an interesting facade. So now I'm full of regret for my oversight...not going inside to check it out.

Painting Detail

How do  grist mills work and what exactly do they do? Inquiring minds need to know.
Vertical water wheels were in use in the Roman Empire as far back as 100 BC, so they've been around a long time.
A "gristmill" can really be any type of mill that grinds grain, but we think of them as the type seen here...a multistory structure with a vertical wheel located near water.
Mills were of great importance to the agricultural economy of America. Usually built and supported by local farming communities, farmers would bring their grain to the miller and receive back ground meal or flour.

Painting Detail

Painting Detail

Classical mill designs are usually water powered, though some are powered by the wind or by livestock. For those powered by water, a sluice gate is opened allowing water to flow onto or under a water wheel, causing it to turn. It appears to me that in Weston, water flows in and propels the wheel from below.
The water wheels turn at about 10 rpm. That energy is transmitted to the mill stones through a series of gears, and a drive shaft. This increases the mill stone rotation to 120 rpm. Two circular stones, laid on top of one another, do the work. The bottom stone is fixed and is called the "bed" stone, while the top rotating stone is the "runner".

Painting Detail

Grain is lifted in sacks, by a hoist, onto the "sack floor" at the top of the mill. The sacks are then emptied into bins and the grain falls down through a hopper to the millstones on the "stone floor" below. The flow of grain is regulated by shaking it in a gently sloping trough from which it falls into a hole at the center of the runner stone. The milled grain (flour) is collected as it emerges through grooves in the runner stone from the outer rim of the stones and is fed down a chute to be collected in sacks on the ground or "meal floor". It's all a very interesting and ingenious process, proving man's creativity and ingenuity. 

If you're interested in learning more, the video below does an excellent job of thoroughly explaining the process.

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Sunday, March 4, 2012

Douglas Fryer Interview

What is it that attracts us to a particular artist's work and not that of another?

Indeed, not an easy question to answer. Some are comfortable with matter of factly saying, "I know what I like". For others delving more deeply, they may consider the subject, colors and mood of an artists work as the most appealing factors.

Douglas Fryer

When I first discovered Douglas Fryers work in a small ad some months back, in American Art Collector, I was not only attracted by the subject and the undeniable pensive mood of the work, but also by his wonderful ability to take the most complicated of scenes and distill it down to the absolute more, no less. His paintings reflect a strong design sense, sometimes balancing on the edge of pure abstraction. Through a masterful use of contrasts...light/dark, hard/soft, blurred/detailed, warm/cool...he creates a poetic visual effect gently guiding the viewer to the heart of the painting.

Farm Near Hilltop - 12"x 28" - Oil

There are many more things I could say about his work, but enough of me. Let Douglas explain in his own words what he does. You will enjoy his well considered, thoughtful comments. By the way, he lives in Spring City, UT and has a BFA and MFA from Brigham Young University in Provo, UT.

Morning Snow - 10"x 12" - Oil
Morning-Shenandoah Valley Farm - 13.5"x 22" - Oil

How would you define your role as an artist?
What I strive for in painting is what I suppose a poet strives for in the arrangement of words. My role is to arrange elements in ways that inspire contemplation and healing. I hope my work is a concrete statement about my sense of beauty and meaning. As I present to the viewer what I have done, my hope is that there is an unspoken dialogue. I say, "look over here. Consider this. Have you seen it this way too?" If the viewer sees as important those things that I have designated as having special value, they say, "Yes, I see. I feel what you feel. You've awakened an emotion in me. Your work helps me to consider other things as beautiful as well."

What would be your definition of art?
Art is the process and result of organizing elements or materials for the purpose of stimulating the senses and emotions of both the creator and the viewer of the work. Although the intellect may be used in both creating and interpreting a work of art, the content and ultimate worth of the piece is dependent upon its aesthetic and emotional qualities, and judged, of course, by the inspiration one gains by looking at it.

After the Storm - 30"x 30" - Oil

What is the major thing you look for when selecting a subject?
For the most part I enjoy painting the landscape of the valley I live in. The subject is only the point of departure, but it is a very important point. I get a very powerful initial emotion. Perhaps it is about the subject itself - my friend's sheep herd, for example, or my neighbor's farm, or a distant view of the mountains that rise up above my town. More often, however, my initial reaction comes from the forms themselves, the patterns of light and dark, the shapes that play off each other, warms and cools, all of which is the basis of abstract composition. This kind of inspiration can come from anything or anywhere I go. Of course once the subject is decided upon, everything that follows is abstraction and simplification.

Canyon Farm-February - 18"x 48" - Oil
Forgotten Land - 20"x 50" - Oil
Compositional sketch

What is your major consideration when composing a painting?
The proportions of the rectangle and the divisions of that rectangle: value patterns; the relative size and importance of planes and masses; the quality of the edges between planes; how each layer will affect the layers that follow.

American Farm - 24"x 20" - Oil

How do you determine the color key for a painting, and how do you maintain it?
In a way, color doesn't matter as much as value. If the values are right, you can do anything you want with color. I like thinking in terms of relative temperature rather than color. Nature has some pretty amazing neutrals. Those neutrals range from warm to cool. Of course the subject dictates the range in which you will key the painting. Harmony and balance and relative importance dictate to me how it will all be keyed. Sometimes I'll make it more deliberate, though. I've keyed a painting's color based upon the Golden Section before and have been pleased. Maintaining the key is difficult sometimes, and you have to be very careful about introducing color into the painting that wasn't there to start with in the block-in stage. The new color can be intrusive, not part of the same family, and generally must be toned with other colors in order to fit.
(I understand the Golden Section as a compositional device, but I had never heard of it as applied to color. I asked Douglas to explain.)

The Golden Section delineated 

Regarding the Golden Section and color, I simply planned colors relative to the size of the general plane or sum of planes they were applied to. For example the square from which the Golden Section is derived may represent a large use of a neutral - a large pale sky for example, or something like that. The next sized square would represent the relatively brighter chroma of another color or color area, and so on until the smallest square would represent the relative area of importance of an intense chroma, such as a spot of cadmium red in the composition.

Midsummer Green - 12"x 28" - Oil

What colors are most often found on your palette?
Raw umber, burnt umber, raw sienna, burnt sienna, transparent red oxide, venetian red, cadmium red medium, cadmium orange, cadmium yellow, azo yellow, indian yellow, cerulean blue, ultramarine blue, indigo, phthalo blue, diaxazine purple, quinacridone violet, quinacridone rose, titanium white, and ivory black.

Morning - 12"x 30" - Oil
Last Light - 20"x 28" - Oil

What part does photography play in your work?
Photography is vital to me. After 100,000 photographs you get pretty good at judging light and shape for the purposes of the paintings you like to do. However, some of my very favorite photographs to paint from were taken while driving down the highway, pointing the camera sideways out the window and clicking away. There are accidental things that happen with cropping and focus and movement that would not be there if I had deliberately composed the photograph. Think of Degas' bizarre cropping: brilliant and unexpected.

What would you say is the prevailing mood of your body of work?
Contemplative. Pensive. Reflective. Nostalgic.

Fence Line on a Winter's Field - 9"x 9" - Oil

Any advice for the young artist/painter?
Be observant, and appreciate things that are frequently taken for granted. Learn to draw anything, with any tool. Know as much about art history as you know about contemporary art. Be willing to experiment and be willing to sacrifice a piece as you push the boundaries. Be willing to listen to what the painting has to tell you. Know what art you like to look at, but be willing to see the value in things that you don't like at first. Be prolific in your production. Have a space set apart that is specifically your studio space and nothing else. Associate frequently with other artists. Teach someone else what you know. Read a lot. Let people, family and friends come before your work.

Any advice for the first-time collector?
Look around for a year in a number of galleries, museums, regions, and markets. Buy the best work you can within your budget. It may mean a smaller painting, but it will be a quality painting. By the best, I mean purchase a work that inspires you and will continue to inspire you 40 years from now.

When you become discouraged and feel the well is dry, so to speak, what do you do?

Thank you Douglas for your marvelous work and the great interview.

Link to Douglas Fryer's work HERE
(Southwest Art magazine will feature Douglas in its upcoming May 2012 issue)

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