Tuesday, June 9, 2020

"Staying Home" (If Edward Hopper's Model had lived during the Pandemic and had Pets")

2020 has been a very strange and disorienting year so far with lots of new phrases and expressions being added to our lives. One of these is the concept of "Staying Home" in order to "flatten the curve" and slow the spread of the COVID 19 virus. Besides sometimes being challenging- staying home had some silver linings mainly because people slowed down and had time to try things and do things they didn't have time for in their normal full and busy lives. Many people were sheltering alone which reminded me of the Edward Hopper paintings of single figures isolated in a room. Other people saw this relationship and many Hopper paintings were shared on social media. 

One of the last little trips I made before the pandemic hit, was a road trip with two friends to see the Hopper Hotel show at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond. I have always been a Hopper devotee. My uncle, an art historian and painter, was a lecturer on Hopper at Washington University in St. Louis, and since I learned to paint from him, I looked at a lot of Hopper paintings over many years. I even named one of our dogs after him... The show in Richmond was fantastic and I fell in love all over again with the painting "11 am" which I have depicted on the left hand wall in this painting.  I also stole  the wonderful figure from Hopper, reversed her pose and made her the woman isolating alone in "Staying Home".

"Staying Home" oil on linen 36" x 36"

But she is not alone at all. Another silver lining to the pandemic was that many people realized that it was the perfect time to bring a dog or cat into their lives. Pets are companionship and comfort and that is what we all needed. A record number of animals were pulled from shelters and placed into loving forever homes. So the woman in this painting is surrounded by her dogs and cats in the warmth of a cozy interior. The other painting on the wall is Bonnard's "Woman with Dog" -another favorite painting of mine. 

Other activities that people were doing while staying home are represented in the painting; such as learning chess, (I think the cat is winning), making sourdough bread, and doing hours of handicrafts such as knitting and needlepoint. My daughter was staying home in Brooklyn. She described her experience being in the city and sometimes called us to let us hear the nightly 7 pm ritual of people coming to their windows, shouting and beating on pots to thank the healthcare workers for their hard work, devotion and personal sacrifice. So that is what is going on in the buildings outside. 

I thought of calling the painting "7 pm" to echo the Hopper "11 am" but I finally just settled on 
"Staying Home".

"Sanctuary" oil on linen 36" x 48"

I was working on this painting at the beginning of the Pandemic so I titled it "Sanctuary". The room is a place of calm and reverie, isolated from the chaos and stress of the outside world. 

Formally the painting is a play on the Matisse painting “The Piano Lesson” which is on the wall. The real painting hangs at MOMA and I visit it whenever I am there. It is a mystifying work of art. 

In "Sanctuary" the boy at the piano is the reverse image of the boy in the Matisse. Other elements I have pulled into this painting are the arabesques of the wrought iron balcony, the angles, horizontals and verticals which are either opposing or aligning with those in "The Piano Lesson". The colors also relate to Matisse’s palette. The owls have found the sanctuary to their liking and the head of the boy in "The Piano Lesson" has always looked quite owl-like to me. 

Monday, April 27, 2020

Contactless Portraiture in the Covid Era

I thought I would take this moment in time to write a little bit about how I do a portrait whether it is a simple portrait of a person or a pet, a complex narrative  portrait, or something in between. 
"Portrait of a Young Poet"

"Toby with Jed and Bizzy"

A narrative portrait is collaboration between the artist and the subject of the painting. The concept is based on portraits from the Renaissance in which the artist depicted aspects about the life of the subject as well as a painted likeness. Renaissance portraits of noblemen often had the person in the foreground, with a view behind him of his lands, armies or fleet of ships. Sometimes the subject wore his jewels to convey his prosperity or held a book to indicate his intellectual life or a globe to denote his worldly travels.  I became interested in this form for a number of reasons. The speed of modern life and the advent of the digital age make it difficult to keep a “hard copy” of our family history. It is rare that people have time to keep photo albums or write journals. The idea of a narrative portrait is to tell the story of the subject or subjects, in the case of a family. This can mean telling about their lives, their professions and interests, their relationships, and their connection to one another. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a particular moment in time but can make references to things from the past or even look into the future. The idea is to create a family heirloom that will be passed on from one generation to another. I suggest that when the painting is finished the family write a short document about who is in the painting with an explanation of all the references that are made, putting it in an archival envelope and placing it in the back of the painting. 
The process can be completely virtual without me ever meeting with the subjects in person and when it is finished the painting will be shipped to the client. It starts with an email exchange in which I send a series of questions to get to know what the client is looking for in terms of the painting size, who is to be the subject or subjects of the painting, the setting for the painting, etc. 
Once I have this information, we set up a phone call which could also be a facetime or a zoom meeting. And at this point I ask for a few photographs to be emailed or texted to me as beginning resource material. After that I start working up a composition. This is a small sketch on grid paper with written notations. I email the sketch to my client for changes or approval. When the composition is set, I often ask the client to take specific photos and email them to me, if necessary. Then I build the canvas using all archival materials and start drawing, then painting. If the client is interested in seeing the process, I am always happy to send photos as the painting develops.

I was thinking that at this point in our lives with family members isolated apart from each other, working together virtually to discuss and conceptualize a painting, then have me execute it, could be a meaningful project.  I also love doing single portraits as well as painting a human with their four-legged best friend, or just the four-legged friend. Please feel free to contact me for more information.

Preliminary Sketch for "Shadow's Woods"

Final Painting "Shadow's Woods"

Preliminary Sketch for "Come for Drinks"

Final Painting "Come for Drinks"
Preliminary Drawing for "Sunday Morning with Shelties"

Final Painting "Sunday Morning with Shelties"


Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Dance an Ode to Matisse

In recent years I have been looking back at various artists who have influenced my work in one way or another during my career, and studying their paintings by incorporating one into one of my own compositions. It is now time for Matisse. I first starting looking seriously at the paintings of Matisse on a trip to Russia in 1987. I was with my husband, who was a foreign correspondent. He was reporting on stories in Moscow and Leningrad, so I took the opportunity to go along and visit the Hermitage Museum. To my amazement, among the incredible collection there were a large number of Matisses -- none of which I had ever seen, even in books. You have to remember, back then St. Petersburg was still called Leningrad, the Communist Party still ran the Soviet Union, and the number of Western visitors to the Hermitage and exchanges of paintings between Russia and the West paled compared with today. One of the paintings was The Dance, which was commissioned by the Russian collector Shchukin, who asked Matisse to paint a second version of the one that hangs in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The panel that Matisse did for Shchukin depicted the figures more robust and muscular, less graceful and in a strong orange-red color, whereas the figures in the painting in MOMA (which is the version I loosely copied in my painting), are lithe, simply drawn and lighter in hue, and the entire painting is imbibed with an airiness and lyricism. The Dance was deceptively hard to copy, which says a lot about the simple shapes and  elegant line which is the beauty and magic of Matisse.

"Dance", oil on linen, 36" x 48"

My painting "Dance" is another in my ongoing series called Animal Dreams, in which I am creating dreamlike sanctuaries for creatures that are threatened in the real world. In my Dance, a cellist is performing in the foreground with his loyal Foxhound and a hat set out on a chair for donations. There is a forest outside and a supernatural light pours through the window, casting a swathe of light across the Matisse. The music and the warm light attract a family of foxes who, inspired by the dancers on the wall, form a dance circle of their own. I chose the musician to play a cello because the shape of the cello and the case echo the shapes of Matisse's dancers, and because I love cello music and often listen to it while I work.  I recently read Fox 8 an exquisite and powerful little book by George Saunders about a fox who is the daydreamer in his pack and teaches himself how to understand "Yuman" by hiding in the bushes outside a home and listening to children's bedtime stories. The power of this knowledge leads him to learn that the habitat of his pack is in impending doom from developers who are clearcutting the forest and building a shopping mall. This book in a microcosm shows the way urban sprawl is affecting wildlife and even causing the extinction of some species. In my own neighborhood I see foxes on a daily basis and strangely, since I have been working on Dance a large, beautiful red fox has been keeping a close eye on me and my dogs. I make a point of nodding to him in appreciation that he is there.

The Dance at the Hermitage 
The Dance at MOMA


Thursday, November 14, 2019

We are all just Passing Through Like the River, oil on linen, 36" x 48"

He came to me in the night
two weeks after he departed this earth
I heard him climbing the stairs
which he had not done for years
I awoke and could see his silhouette on the landing
back lit by the hall light
his big strong head and shoulders monumental

I got out of bed and tiptoed to him
and sat down
He leaned against me and spoke in a deep baritone
which I always imagined he would have
I am sorry I left without explaining
But you shouldn’t grieve for me
We all know we will be leaving and moving to our next life
Who is We? I asked, pressing my forehead against his
The Animals, he said.
We exist before we come to earth and we exist after we depart
We learn while we are there-
about human frailties and strengths
about cruelty and kindness
and we give selfless love to those who care for us, to those who need us
Then we get our next assignment
and we depart
So please don’t grieve for me, you see
We are all just passing through like the river.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Rembrandt, fka Remy, RemDog

Dear Rembrandt, aka Remy, RemDog,

It is only a day and a half since you left us and our hearts are aching. Your absence leaves a literal and figurative giant hole in our lives and in our living space. I just thought I would write down some memories and message them to heaven, where I am sure you are now, reunited with your right front leg, enjoying a peanut butter kong and relaxing on a sofa, (as you were the all-time couch connoisseur), without a worry in the world and pain free.

 We brought you home from a shelter in western Virginia on December 30th 2007. We looked at the adoption form for the first time when we were almost home and noticed it said Mastiff Mix.  Haha

You were a bit of a hard luck Harry from the beginning.  You were such a mellow puppy … and then suddenly too mellow.  You came down with Parvo Virus on New Year’s Eve and spent two days at Friendship Animal Hospital in Intensive Care. This would be the beginning of your love for that place, with many more visits in your future. Miraculously you survived and this time when we brought you home you were no longer mellow -- but a wild guy!  You were big and strong even as a puppy and you could do some real damage in an astoundingly short period of time. I guess we didn’t really understand crating back then but here is a list of some of your achievements:
The lion foot leg on the oak dining room table – yes, oak -- gone in minutes.
The toes of two cleats and a custom-made mouthguard right before a big high school game. I made the excuse you were just excited for your boy, who was playing wide receiver in those days, but you are very lucky he didn’t tear his ACL that night, playing with plumber’s tape wrapped around his toes.
Every single toilet brush and dustpan in the house chewed to a nub. Some of those nubs still exist.
Two sixty-pound potted water lily plants, pulled out of the pond, shredded and strewn about the yard. I caught you red handed (pawed) and you stood there with your big goofy grin and your slow tail wag looking so proud.
And that is just to name a few. We were happy when your focus turned to bully sticks and marrow bones.

Your adolescent years were spent trying to get you to conform to societal norms. You loved everyone and everything, but we sometimes had to modify your 70 pounds of enthusiasm. When you hit the front door at a run (your unique form of greeting the mailman), I worried it wouldn’t stand the impact. Several training classes, some private tutoring, and a lot of treats did the trick.

Do you remember how much cats loved you? We’ll never forget when Jordan adopted a tiny sick kitten who we named Otis. He came into the house and started purring wildly the moment he laid eyes on you, and from that day on he thought you were his mother. Even when Otis grew into a very large snowshoe Siamese he still buried his face in your armpit and kneaded his paws into your fur until sometimes you couldn’t tolerate it anymore and you would stand up and send him flying. But he always came back for more love. Everyone did.
There was something about your hulk and kind demeanor that attracted people. I will always remember the day you were with me in a bookstore and a tall woman, elegantly dressed in business attire, came up to us. She stood there gazing at you while she stated that she didn’t like dogs. Then she got a little closer, looking at you even more intently and said, “He is very handsome.” Then she touched your soft ear and bent down to rub your head. Before I knew it, she was sitting on the floor with you between her legs, giving you a total body massage and you had rolled over into her lap. You convinced her that a dog might be a good alternative to a boyfriend. You had that effect on lots of souls through the course of your beautiful lifetime. 

One of my most “body contact” memories was during high school football preseason and Augustin and some of his buddies would come home from practice for lunch and to cool down from the summer heat. They would stretch their sweaty selves out on the sofa and watch TV and you would be right in the middle of them with their legs draped across your hulk and your big head resting in their laps. I wish I had pictures of that now.

You were a pro traveler and liked nothing better than a road trip. We sussed out the dog-friendly hotels up and down the East Coast. We would walk you up to the check-in desk, having already made a reservation for a dog “under 40 pounds” and hope that no one looked down. I’m sure they did but saw your sweet brown eyes and big smile. No one ever asked you to get on a scale. You knew to tip toe down the halls to our room as quickly as possible so as not to cause a distraction. You always enjoyed a king size bed and a good night’s sleep on nice linens.

You liked a vacation as much as anybody and loved taking the ferry over to Block Island or a trip to the Berkshires. One year I decided that I wanted you to learn to kayak with me. We practiced first on dry ground. You learned to “wait” while I got in, then slowly squeeze into the small space in front of me. When we got to the lake, all went well even with the kayak heavily listing toward the front. Then we got a little too close to the shore and you decided to disembark and do some exploring -- through poison ivy -- then came back to the kayak and settled back in between my legs. Enough said. It was a very itchy remainder of the summer.

And then there was the relationship you had with my teenage art students. This part really brings tears because it was so meaningful to me. You knew the days that I had classes and you seemed to know who was coming. You knew the ones that were stressed, the ones who had had a rough day at school, or whose parents were going through a divorce, or the ones who had just had a break up with a boyfriend or girlfriend, or the one who had no friends at all. You would greet them as they entered the studio and flop down on the floor at their feet and they would flop down with you and bury their face in your broad back and stroke your fur. Then after a little while they would gather themselves and go to their easels and start to draw, calmed and renewed. Anyone who ever doubts the concept of a therapy dog should have born witness to the effect you had on these kids. And sometimes they drew you. There were some wonderful drawings of RemDog over the years. All we had to do was pose you in front of a donut and say “leave it” and you were the perfect model.

You were also a champion foster brother to many puppies and fearful dogs. You could make a rambunctious litter of five sit at attention with a soft but firm “ruff”.  We called you “The Sheriff”. You also knew intrinsically how strong or gentle you needed to be from a chihuahua puppy to a big 14-week-old pit mix who needed some exercise. One of your most touching charges was the special needs puppy from Lucky Dog we fostered for four months. All four of her legs were malformed from birth and Lucky Dog had provided her surgery on her front legs to try to give her some mobility. She was terribly fragile, and her bones broke easily, so you couldn’t play with her. But boy she adored you and you knew that. You would lie by the puppy pen and she would wiggle up to you and give you kisses through the bars. You were the braveheart to our shy fosters. Just your presence made them feel safe and more confident, and your enthusiasm for everyone who entered the house gave them a new attitude toward life.

There is a long list of funny stories but I just want to remind you of a few. We don’t want people thinking you are a saint, right? Did I mention that you were very food focused?! There was the Washington Post Sports department holiday party each year that you enjoyed thoroughly.  One year someone brought a platter of beautifully decorated cupcakes. At the end of the party, a little girl came up to me, tugged on my skirt and said “you know what? I just saw your dog eat 19 cupcakes and I counted.”  You were fine because you were a gastronomical tank.

A year ago July when you were limping I feared the worst. An x-ray at Friendship Hospital showed that you had bone cancer at the top of your humerous and there was no alternative to amputating your front leg. Everyone was worried because you were a big guy with a giant head and already had an iffy back leg (from a prior run in with a Hummer on Connecticut Avenue that led to FHO surgery at Friendship. This is another story for another day). But we were not ready to part with you.  So the surgeon took off your leg and stitched you up with the most elegant strip of stitches I have ever laid eyes on. And you know what? You did great. Within 24 hours you were up on three legs and learning to maneuver. There are times when having a huge food drive really pays off -- anything for a cheese stick! With the help of a big stroller/bike trailer thingy you could do anything and never missed a walk in the neighborhood, a stroll to Bethesda for a Sunday morning bagel, a trip to see friends at Strosniders Hardware, a vacation, or a party. You loved your weekly visit to your favorite, lamb treat generous physical therapists and your best friend Matt at Friendship. Fourteen months of a full life. But then that big C raised its ugly head again in your lung and spleen. Once again you were a trooper and an inspiration until the bitter end.

Rembrandt, aka Remy, RemDog, we are going to miss you buddy -- your big warm calming presence, your goofy smile, your gorgeous brown eyes and soft ears. But we know you are up there in dog heaven seeing old friends and making new ones and romping around on all four legs.
We love you. Forever.

Modeling in the Drawing Studio

Roadtrip! with siblings

This past August in Maine

So good at making others comfortable

With his special foster sister Deana, now Danica

Another shot with her
With human sister. A classic RemDog look

Best snuggle of all with human brother

The summer of the kayak adventure

Sharing a cigar and a bullystick with dad