Several times a year, I have the pleasure to teach figure drawing and artistic anatomy to the beginning and intermediate students at Charles Cecil Studios in Florence, Italy.
A competent knowledge of human anatomy is fundamental for successfully incorporating the figure into one’s work. My personal approach to teaching this is simultaneously develop observation skills while familiarize the to student with underlying structure through the creation of graphic overlays.
The class begins with a drawing is created over a series of sessions from a model. Once the drawings are at a certain level overlays of the skeleton and muscle groups are created. In addition to the model, a skeleton and Paul Richer’s Artistic Anatomy aid the student in the development of work.
The images above and below are the examples I created during the class.
An artist, my former teacher and friend, Darren Rousar, created and developed the definitive website on the historic observation method of sight-size. I recently had the great pleasure to be interviewed by him about my life and work. It can be found here.
My painting shown above won the Best Overall Oil award in the recent December, 2015/January, 2016 bimonthly PleinAir Salon competition. The judge was Gary Haynes, the owner of Haynes Galleries of Fine Art in Nashville, TN and Thomaston, ME. The picture is currently available at the Michael LaConte Gallery in Chicago.
The introduction of photography profoundly changed how we perceive images in general. A homogeneous focus over the whole picture plane, visual distortions and haphazard compositions are only part of the problem. A photograph mechanically isolates a moment in time. It is inherently tied to our experience of Time as is the moving photo, i.e. cinema. The psychological impact has been enormous.
The strength of painting is based on a symbolic power of the image that is not limited to linear narrative. Every element of a picture gains significance when the formal elements of design: line, color, value and subject, come together for a common purpose. That aim is expressing something of the eternal in relation to the subject.
This painting depicts Persephone, the goddess of the spring. She was the daughter of Demeter, the goddess of the harvest, and Zeus. Her eventual abduction and marriage to Hades made her also the queen of the Dead. For those not familiar with her myth, more can be found here.
Persephone is shown bridging the two worlds of light and dark. She offers a sprig of grain to the living world with a setting sun as leans towards the nether regions of Hades. Her weight is sustained by a ruined bust of Demeter, a symbol of the mother’s grief as the goddess of spring reigns in the underworld. It was Demeter’s entreaties to Zeus that led to the intervention that resulted in the eventual agreement of dividing Persephone’s time between the realm of the living and the dead. The result was the creation of the 4 seasons.
Her story is more a right of passage than a tragedy. In antiquity, Persephone was the a divine representation of the terrestial bride. The numerous votive offerings found in temples to attest to this. Above is a famous Pinax from Locri depicting the groom Hades with his bride.
The hope is that this painting can be enjoyed and ‘read’ on many different levels. A lot of work, effort and emotion was put into creating a piece that it is rich enough to survive the test of time and enjoyed in the future.
Great painting strives to represent the ‘eternal’ by removing temporal restraints of traditional narrative in order to touch the divine.
This is a repost from a while back but today makes it again relevant. My picture is also being reproduced in a book about the Sorrowful Mysteries published by PB Grace Publications. Check it out here. I finished this painting a while ago. Completed within a year, the scale is a bit over life size. The image was worked up using a variety of models and a lot of imagination. The picture is now sitting in storage. Hopefully it will find a home someday. This is a very personal picture that is an expression of my spiritual journey. More specifically it is an investigation into my relationship with faith and Christ. The formal characteristics are important to the meaning. I placed myself in the painting with a self portrait as a roman centurion holding the rope.
The composition is an circular with the movement guided by a play of gesture and hands. The two protagonists of the picture(the roman soldier and Christ) both embrace the cross in completely opposite ways. They relate to each other through the cross but have no direct contact. The soldier is engaged the ambiguous activity of either raising or lowering the cross. The ambiguity is important as it reflects my personal state. Christ embraces the cross. He bears the weight without strain. His portrait is the visual hub of the composition with the cross acting as the spokes of the wheel.
The other two figures, St. John and the Madonna flank the scene. St. John whispers into the soldiers ear, a precursory act to the spreading of the good news that he is destined to diseminate later. The Holy Mother is visually isolated from the scene by the cross and quietly grieves. Her emotive presence bridges the void between the works of Christ(symbolized by his hands, one active and the other passive) and the work of man(symbolized by the hand pulling the rope). Mary is consoled by a divine light that falls from the break in the clouds.
Creating the painting
As it sometimes happens, after a couple years of reflection the composition came to me quite spontaneously. I produced a thumbnail sketch after a nap under a cypress tree outside of the gate of San Niccolo in Florence. The drawing has gone missing in the meantime. After preparing the canvas I sketched the main elements of the composition in directly from my imagination. As you can see, in the original concept Jesus was seated with a different arm position. The gesture emphasized a tired Jesus and the rear figure was more actively raising the cross.
The model for Jesus was the same architecture student(Alfredo Pace, now architect) that posed for my painting of Jesus in the Garden of Olives.
He posed holding a l cross that I constructed and was set up along side of the canvas as you can see in the photo below. Another model posed for the arms of the soldier and I painted in my self portrait from a study. The Holy Mother in the picture below was developed from my imagination. Later I brought in a model to develop her in oil. St John was originally supposed to be another soldier holding a lance rising up from the center rear.
At this point I had changed the torso angle of the soldier to reduce the thrust to the left and therefore transformed the meaning of the picture. With the new torso angle, the lowered arm of the Jesus mimicked excessively the right (our left) arm of the soldier. The facture of any painting involves a series of decisions that combine the formal, thematic and ultimately emotive aspects of the work. Subject, form and meaning are so closely intertwined that one element cannot be changed without affecting the whole.
I changed the gesture of Jesus to take a more active role. Instead of a tired man resigned to his fate, he actively embraces it. He is kneeling with his right leg about to push himself back on his feet. The final change was to the other leg. It became more bent and foreshortened to help bring Jesus forward in the picture and reinforce to potential movement upwards. This helped create a movement in a counterclockwise direction. The new movement ultimately redeems the soldier as it reinforces the possibility that he is trying to help Jesus raise the cross.
Over the course of the completion of the picture a spiritual research corresponded with the development of the painting. It included study, reflection on the gospels and the Stations of the Cross, and meditation. Very little is written about Jesus’s actual bearing of the Cross in the Gospels. That is one of the reasons I was drawn to this subject. It is a powerful moment in the life of Christ and merited to be explored.
For the goal of the sacred artist is not to illustrate the gospels but to be an image creator whose work communicates the richness and profundity that its subject matter deserves.
The 5th Nationwide Juried Catholic Arts Exhibition hosted by the St. Vincent Gallery at the St. Vincent College in Latrobe, PA opens today. My painting pictured above ‘The Monk’ was selected to participate. Sad news unfortunately accompanies this wonderful event. Brother Nathan Cochran unexpectedly passed away this July. He was the visionary and driving force behind the St. Vincent Gallery and this Exhibition.
Hopefully we can all learn from his positive attitude and carry forward his dream of reviving Catholic art. To learn more about the exhibition the link can be found here.
I have never been very good at giving titles to my work. It was my misguided idealism that thought that a picture should speak for itself. Obviously the quality of the work is essentially what drives our aesthetic experience. However a good title is the starting point for the viewer. For a long time the above painting was titled The Mandolin Player. This picture has been admired and shown in many different venues. Unfortunately most people missed the underlying irony of the image. That is why I changed the title to The Trickster. Looking closely at the picture one sees that the musician is not holding the mandolin properly. In fact, the instrument is broken. There is a crack in the body near the neck. The act of looking at this piece only reinforces the silent metaphor.
The handmade frame that I constructed for the painting is also an integral part of the artwork. The latin inscription: Imago Virtutus Simulacrum Veristatis roughly translates to ‘the appearance is much more appreciated that the truth.’
You can see The Trickster in person at the Oak Park Area Arts Council Regional Exhibition at the Oak Park Public Library Main Branch. The show opens this Saturday. The OPAAC’s site is found here. The Oak Park Public Library event announcement can be found here.
I am finishing off the year by completing the clay of this small horse for an edition in bronze. Each piece will be hand finished by me: chasing (cesellato) and patina. It will be a lot of work but I am looking to it. The piece is small: 28cm(h) x 30(l).
The horse, like a tree, has a very strong metaphoric force. It is one of those symbols that will have to be reinvestigated as this animal’s role in our common experience has changed drastically over the last 150 years. Its’ absence from daily urban life (and country life) only renders the horse with more spiritually charged connotations. Domesticated animals are logically a bridge to a greater nature beyond our control. That idea can also apply to our inner psychological states. Thus the antique world’s invention of the centaur to represent man’s inner animal instincts.
Coming to terms with our personal relationship to Nature is in my opinion one of the purposes of art. This kind of investigation is exactly what we need in a contemporary techno charged world.