Monday, January 29, 2007


Underpainting, 12x24

I have been hanging on to gift type boxes for the last year or so. Simple shapes, with lids and without, different sizes, different materials. I am a bit of a pack rat and I keep a lot of things that I have an affinity for somehow, such as glass bottles, vases, vintage food containers and I even have a good sized collection of plastic soldiers going. I guess I hope that someday I will find how to incorporate them into my work, but I also just like to keep things that I think are cool, or beautiful or that have some kind of meaning for me.

A few years ago I tried and tried to paint colored glass bottles. I loved the bottles so much and I felt more strongly about them than the landscapes. But I couldn't translate the bottles into a good painting. I wasn't ready to do it and it drove me crazy. Chastened, I went back to landscapes, and proceeded to throw myself into those, with some success, I think. But because I am never completely happy with the now, I kept daydreaming about which direction to go in next, even while I was frantically busy with barns and landscapes.

Last week when I realized that I better get back to work, at least a little, I thought it was a good time to experiment. After a long discussion with Doug, who helps me so much with all of this art stuff, I felt that it was time to pull out the boxes and see what happens. In my mind, I kept picturing paintings of simple box forms, in my usual palette and composition. Generally, I try not to do that, but this time I was able to come close to what I was thinking about ahead of time and the two pieces that I posted last week are a good start I think. I did a few more underpaintings on Saturday, including the one above.

However, I am struggling with how lame it feels to paint a still life. This bothers me because I actually like them, we have several still lifes by other artists in our collection and clearly some of the best and most well known art in history has the still life as its subject. When I was working with pastels about five years ago I couldn't stop feeling foolish about focusing on pretty little teacups, flowers and pears. I did them, loved the process and they were nice and still I wondered about their purpose. But I felt that same way about landscapes at first and so maybe the tension of all of that is what holds everything together for me. And after looking through my book about the paintings of Alberto Morandi, whose work I love, I felt a bit reassured about focusing on such simple forms.

Despite all of my over thinking (I might have a bit too much time on my hands right now), it was exhilarating to paint those boxes that I have been collecting. To set them up, do the underpainting and then make whatever changes I wanted. The colors are not true, I have changed the backgrounds, the foregrounds, nearly everything except the space and forms. Which is like my process with landscapes. So I think I will keep going and just see where I go.


Ed Maskevich said...

Morandi is an excellent reference for a still life painter. His body of work is a wonderful example of visual contemplation. Myself, I have always loved the still life. Cezanne would tell young artists that the subject was not as important as how they painted. He suggested that they repeatedly do paintings of their stove pipes. Ialso think that the boxes are a wonderful echo of your barns.

Tracy said...

Hi Ed. Doug in all of his wisdom bought me a Morandi book when I began doing barns a few years ago. While I liked his work, I didn't really see why Doug thought my work had any connection to what he did, until fairly recently. I got it after I began to greatly simplify the forms and also paint the same images repetitively. And you are right, I do feel that the boxes are a natural (for me) extension of the barns.

Anonymous said...

Tracy, the box motif is working well for you.
When I read your post, my initial reaction was "ohh, a touch of Giorgio Morandi..." and then you mentioned his name - so there you go, you're on an interesting path! I agree, Morandi painted sublime pictures - a brilliant artist.
It's odd to me why so many people seem to have a negative reaction to the still life genre. A great still life can move the senses and evoke emotions to the same degree as any other genre - at least that has been my experience...

Tracy said...

James, thanks for the reassurance. And I agree with you, the still life does get a bum rap by many, including me, despite the fact that I am drawn to them.

Maybe it's because they are usually not as shocking or edgy or titillating as so much of the art we see these days. I don't know.

Susan Constanse said...

They are a natural evolution for you. I wonder what you'll end up doing with the toy soldiers --

Still lifes can have a lot more going on than people think. The objects are sometimes chosen to represent a metaphor or to be a symbolic portrait. My husband, who reads voraciously, shared a tidbit with me about still lifes. Early paintings had to have a religious theme so the early still life painters had to incorporate symbols that were of a religious nature. In lieu of an artist statemnet, the artist would drovide a docent that could interpret the symbols in the painting for the viewers.

Tracy said...

Hi Susan, I know what you mean about still lifes having a message to impart-the thing is, I don't really have much to say, at least not consciously. When I try to do that it's lame and when I don't try then I feel lame.

But I do feel more encouraged now that these boxes may have more going on than I thought at first. And that is the same process I went through when I began painting landscapes.