Tuscan Landscapes, 2010 edition

I've been home for two weeks now, and am finally getting around to posting, as promised lo! those many weeks ago, all the plein air landscapes I made during the 6 weeks I spent teaching in Tuscany this summer. When I look at these paintings and back to the ones I made 2 years ago, I'm pleased to see how much I've loosened up since then. You may very well laugh at my interpretation of the word 'loose' but really, I'm working on it. I mean, I wish I wasn't the kind of person who has to "work" on loosening up but . . . I just am.


I don’t think anxious, uptight people like me can “fight” that aspect of our personality, per se:  you can only recognize it, and slowly, fiber by fiber, unwind those parts of your psyche that are so tightly wrapped, a process that I’m finding does get easier and faster as I let go of more and more things and, periodically looking back, cannot for the life of me see what the hell I was even holding onto, anyway. It’s both liberating, and a little depressing, to see so clearly, retrospectively, what mountains I have sculpted out of molehills. Perhaps my entire painting trajectory will ultimately be a record of this very process, written in ever messier paint.


Frankly, although it’s great to be back, I’m also a leetle bit depressed. I was painting almost everyday in Italy, so freely and so happily, and now I feel like I’ve kind of landed back in the same narrow rutted routine, where  I don’t get much done, and yet don’t much feel like painting, either, even though I’m still on summer vacation time, precious free days I should be grabbing greedily with painty hands and wringing all the studio juice from that I can. I thought it was going to be easy to transplant my italian painting joy back to Portland . . . and yet, so far, it hasn't. I feel most myself, most alive, most happy, when I am painting. Even when the paintings aren’t necessarily so great. It’s sort of magic. Why is what Gerhard Richter calls “the daily practice of painting” so much harder for me to, well, practice, when I am ensconced in my so-called “real life”?
A caveat on sizes:  all the paintings look like they're the same width, which, of course, they're not. The way images are formatted on blogs sort of equalizes them in a weird way — the tiny paintings look huge, and much more in your face than they are in real life, and the bigger paintings get squinched, and don't look their best because the nuances of color & brushwork are lost. Alas. I’m not sure how to do it better.


6" x 6"

The first painting I made, in less than an hour of slap-happy palette-knifing and pure joy in being outdoors in a beautiful field, with the sun warm on my shoulders.

15 cm x 30 cm

Made standing in a wheatfield in the rain. I couldn't figure out why my thinner wasn't behaving normally — I thought it was because of the rain beading on my palette — until I realized that the funny smell of nail-polish remover emanating from my jar was acetone, instead of odorless mineral spirits, and completely useless for painting purposes. It also slopped all over my nitrile-gloved hands, and due to its rapid evaporation left them numb and shaking with cold, so that I had to stop painting and go take a hot shower.

17 cm x 17 cm

Sometimes when it's raining, it's handy to have a nice view to paint looking out of a window.

8" x 10"

I don't really care for the way this painting turned out, but I had an absolutely transcendent experience while I was making it, strangely enough.

5" x 7"

This little, fast painting ended up being one of my favorites, maybe because for once I just . . . stopped. I like how you can see so much of the salmon colored ground showing through, and the un-mucked about brushstrokes. It was overcast that morning, so there weren't any of the nice dramatic shadows I usually like to paint, but somehow it turned out okay anyway.

25 cm x 35 cm

I went back and made a bigger version when the sun came out. Weirdly, I don't think I'd ever done that before — made a study, and then a bigger version of the same subject. It was interesting, trying to take successful elements from the study but not to repeat myself exactly, finding some new things to do on the second go round, or a change of emphasis. The problem when you like something too much the first time is that you'll try and do the same thing again, which is usually deadly.

5" x 7"

Another personal fave. Maybe because I made it the day after an absolutely disastrous painting session, and was absurdly cheered to discover that I wasn't doomed, after all, to a lifetime of hideosity?

20 cm x 20 cm

Another small study that led to . . .

30 cm x 30 cm

A bigger revisit, with the composition slightly adjusted to fit in more of the parasol pines. I love those trees. I also learned that, apparently, they are the tree that give us pine-nuts. So, they're beautiful, and they also give us the taste. How great is that?

17 cm x 17 cm

This was a revisit of a spot where I made a painting 2 years ago, in a wider format that also included the church which is just to the left. This was another one where I just felt free and fresh and fast while I was working, and hopefully it shows in the results.

8" x 8"

A similar experience here, as well. You can see I have a thing for a) long shadows falling across roads and b) telephone poles and wires.

25 cm x 35 cm

This painting was also made looking out of the window, at a part of the property they call the 'Sacred Grove', for reasons which remain unclear to me. But it's a lovely little hill punctuated by cypresses, which you approach via a long path through two anomalously manicured hedges. This was meant as a quick and dirty study for a larger version, and originally looked like this:

until I came back and palette-knifed the shit out of it, which resulted in some interesting textures, even if the composition isn't quite quite, somehow.

(unfinished) 30 cm x 40 cm

I was in a super good mood about this painting initially . . . but then could never quite get in the mood to finish it off with a bang. I think the intense citrus yellow on the hedges is too bright, and the blocky shadows of the trees are too hard-edged next to the softness of the foliage and the clouds. It's sort of hard to get back in the headspace to work on it, now, but you never know.

6" x 6"

Another small favorite. I guess I have a thing for road signs, too.

(unfinished) 25 cm x 35 cm

I was calling this painting the 'quadfecta' because it has a telephone pole, road-signs, shadows, AND a car in it (which gave me no end of trouble). Maybe you have to be a boy to really be a natural at painting cars? Not to mention a roadside shrine! Unfortunately, I ran out of time to finish this one too. I have a photograph to paint from, but it's not really the same at all.

30 cm x 30 cm

This is definitely my favorite finished painting from this summer. I revisited the site with some trepidation, but ended up enjoying the hell out of myself, in a slightly different way, for this bigger version. Is it too terribly sacrilegious to confess that it reminds me of all those crucifixion paintings, with Jesus on the cross & the two thieves on slightly smaller crucifixes on either side of him, only with telephone poles, and no dying people?

Yeah, I guess it probably is.