I'm sorry I haven't been posting much recently. I've been navigating some heavy internal weather and am working up what is likely to be a somewhat epic post about it. In the meantime, here's the latest with the Guerra paint experiment:
It's going pretty well, but it’s really different! I'm still figuring out what the colors are like, and how to mix them. This process has been hampered by the fact that I inexplicably forgot to order any white. (It's on the way now.) The main problem is figuring out how to mix a range of any given color, from dark to light, something I routinely do with oil paint. With the acrylic, if I do it in small amounts, it just dries out before I can really get into painting. The solution, I guess obviously, is to mix larger quantities of paint and keep them in little tupperwares. I don't know why I'm such a miser about it; I guess I just don't want to waste the paint. But if I don't mix enough, then I run out of paint and I've wasted both time and effort. So it’s probably better to accept a certain amount of wasted paint as the cost of doing business, and, somewhat counter-intuitively, the only way not to waste it is to make it in sufficient enough quantity that it won't dry out too fast. I'm still very far from being able to really control it, though—to be able to make very specific, exact colors. To do that, you really have to be intimately familiar with the pigments, their tinting strength and mixing qualities, and I have a ways to go.
I have to say, it is really nice to just have a big bucket of water to swish my brushes around in, and not feel like I need to decontaminate myself at the end of the day.
For a kind of "get to know acrylic" project, I’m painting a copy of one of my all-time favorite paintings, Titian’s Concert Champetre, by way of Euan Uglow’s The Massacre of the Innocents (after Poussin); a kind of Concert Champetre (after Titian by way of Uglow), if you will.
The Titian (yeah, yeah, I know art historians have argued for years about whether it was painted by Giorgione or Titian or whether Titian finished it off after Giorgione's death; the Louvre has called it for Titian, so that's the attribution I'm going with) is a glowy, magical touchstone for me:
I saw it a few years ago when it travelled to the National Gallery as part of the exhibition Bellini, Giorgione, Titian and the Renaissance of Venetian Painting—which was an absolutely amazing show—and have been kind of obsessed with it ever since. It has a certain enigmatic quality that has enabled it to remain mysterious despite centuries of scholarship, keeping itself to itself, while still allowing the viewer a full measure of lush beauty, as compensation.
The British painter Euan Uglow made rigorous, in many ways extremely conservative figure paintings, but I think that his exactly measured, super-precise compositions are softened and made unexpectedly contemporary by his amazing color.
I thought of copying the Concert Champetre because I loved the way Uglow made a copy of the Poussin in order to gain access to it. From the book Euan Uglow: The Complete Paintings:
Questioned about his occasional decision to copy an Old Master painting, Uglow somewhat reluctantly answered: “I just think it is such a fantastic image. I am not trying to make a better picture or a worse picture (silly trying to make a worse picture) but just to say, here’s a marvelous picture, I know Poussin is better . . . but there are some pictures you may get somewhere near and other pictures you won’t get near at all.
I don’t know that it’s even possible to “get near” to Titian, but copying is certainly a way of getting to know as intimately as possible a work of art you love. It reveals to you the structure of the painting, its compositional bones, how everything all fits; people, sky, trees, space, all the funny little shapes locked tightly together and all packed inside a rectangle. Copying a painting is like both putting together a jigsaw puzzle and taking it apart at the same time. You understand more about its mechanics, if not its magic.
I think I will probably have to finish it with a layer of oil paint, if only because I'm unable to achieve the exact colors I want with my as yet ham-handed acrylic color-mixing. But it has been marvelously speedy so far, and I think will be finished much faster than if I had done the whole thing in oils. Anyway, that is what I was hoping might be possible with acrylic, to do the bulk of the heavy lifting in acrylic and then do the fine-tuning in oil. If it turns out well, I might make a companion copy, as a little art-historical in-joke: Manet's Le Dejeuner sur l'herbe, which, besides being a fabulous, weird painting in itself, is also a kind of latter-day reworking of the Titian. Nothing (that) new under the sun, after all. Kind of a relief, really.