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What Next

March 3rd, 2022

What Next

“Keep going. No matter what you do, no matter how many times you screw up and think to yourself "there's no point to carry on", no matter how many people tell you that you can't do it - keep going. Don't quit. Don't quit because a month from now you will be that much closer to your goal than you are now. Yesterday you said tomorrow. Make today count.”

It has been a long time since the world has seemed sane. Worldwide isolation has changed the very fabric of our life. I don't think any of us understand the impact the Corona Virus has had or how the future will be impacted by our lost year.

We are no more or less than rats in a weird experience. We have no Pavlov to ring a bell. We tip toe into and out of social engagement. We do our best to accept today. Yet, we struggle. The future is totally unknown. Relationships that fail, will not recover. An economy battered will never be as it was.

None of this indicates misery and sorrow are all the future holds. We are resilient. We shall forge new relationships with the world. We shall find new people, places and things. Tomorrow is not to be feared. Yesterday is gone. Today is the day to get through.

Maybe there will be a county fair, maybe not.

It Is Always A Matter Of Perspective

March 3rd, 2022

It Is Always A Matter Of Perspective

Before the virus began running amok, my wife and I went to Spain. We travelled to several cities in the Eastern part of the country. I danced with the devils in a parade. I learned about the plight of the Catalonian people. We had a wonderful trip that she documented on her facebook page. Her photography is almost like being there.

Now we did visit all the requisite spots from the beaches at Malaga to the small clubs with dancers in Barcelona. Yes, we also made lots of side trips and discovered the pure joy of the people.

I sketched and painted my way through our journey. What amazed me day after day was the incredible angles created by the architecture. I mean we are talking about buildings that are centuries old.

This is just one of the sketches. La Mezquita de Cordoba.

The Great Mosque of Córdoba held a place of importance amongst the Islamic community of al-Andalus for centuries. In Córdoba, the Umayyad capital, the Mosque was seen as the heart and central focus of the city. Muhammad Iqbal described its interior as having "countless pillars like rows of palm trees in the oases of Syria". To the people of al-Andalus "the beauty of the mosque was so dazzling that it defied any description."

I hope you see the beauty that stopped me in my tracks and I just had to sketch.

There Is More Than One Way To Make A Bed

March 3rd, 2022

There Is More Than One Way To Make A Bed

The end result of any artist's effort is a combination of many factors. What did they choose to paint? Why did they choose that subject? How did they see the subject? In the end, in addition to the tools used and the skill set supporting the artist, these questions are posed in the final piece.

One afternoon in the summer of 19, I was out on a mission to find a water scene that would speak to the joy we find relaxing by the water. I live in the DC suburbs, so I have lots of choices. The ocean is but 3 or so hours away. Between me and the Atlantic, there is the Chesapeake Bay and dozens of rivers and streams, as well as the National Harbor and the Baltimore Harbor. Obviously it is best to have a planned destination.

I make my choices based on time allowed and how much gas I have in the tank. Proof that we artists are not completely air-headed. On the morning in question, I wanted the smell and sound of the beach to surround me while I worked. A completed painting should be visually appeasing. It is more likely to be so if the artist is influenced by the environment where he or she is working. For the most part, we use all of our senses when creating. I know I do.

Back to the story. I headed over towards a point where the Chesapeake Bay meets the Patapsco River and Rock Creek area outside Baltimore, Md. I chose Fort Smallwood Park. I wouldn't consider it a hidden gem. It is just a spot that most folks haven't visited. Parked my car and took a stroll to see if anything struck my fancy. While it is true that you can paint anything, I wanted to paint something that would share the ambiance. After about 45 minutes of walking the grounds, I was about to move on to some other area. Then I heard the laughter of children and the sound of water splashing. I followed the sound down a tiny gravel road and came upon a secluded beach area.

This is it. I went back, got my car, drove down to the area, parked and unloaded my gear.

My initial step is usually to do a thumbnail sketch to make sure my composition is visually pleasing. I use a pencil and paper and put down what strikes me. I put some in and leave some out. While doing this sketch, my brain is conjuring up palette choices and styles. Every scene speaks to an artist and every artist sees a scene in their own fashion. When the sketch is complete, the fun begins.

I felt a palette knife was all I wanted to use in the painting. I wanted texture that would translate into an outdoorsy feeling. I wanted the waves to roll. Distant trees would only accent the cove where I was painting. I spent about two hours on the sketch and final painting.

Relax Just Keep Your Hands Visible

March 3rd, 2022

Relax  Just Keep Your Hands Visible

I started this with a rough sketch. I think it was about 10-15 years ago. Probably emotional reaction to the constant police presence on Marion Barry’s bumper.

When it came time to paint, it represented much deeper issues. I chose to just do it black and white because it is such a very black and white issue. Deciding to use color in the lights was to try and include the fact that the police are supposed to protect and serve all people regardless of color. The mirror is intentionally tilted to the right to imply the fear is rooted in right wing policies.

As Mr. Harvey used to say, “Now you know the rest of the story”. One more footnote, yes this is a political statement..

Here I Am Stuck In Quarantine Like You

March 3rd, 2022

Here I Am   Stuck In Quarantine Like You

Really? After 25 months, we are setting new records. I wonder if I will ever paint plein aire beyond my yard again. I wonder if I will visit the Musee d'Orsay again. Hell, I wonder if I will be able to visit the National Gallery of Art again. Really?

I feel for the younger folks. Can you even imagine having your first love and then poof, gone. No more contact. No more smiles. Just poof. It isn't a very happy picture. No prom. No sports. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Those over 20 complain. Those under 20 have no say. Social interaction is no more.

Sure, we will get through this. Probably later than sooner, but we will (at least those of us that don't die). And you have to wonder, what kind of world will there be? I imagine we will all have to learn social behavior again. We have spent 3/4 of a year in sweats and bathing a few times a week, maybe. No societal constraints exist inside our personal space. There's a lot of pent up everything. It will be a brave new world.

And when I pondered the streets during strict stay at home orders, I painted "Covid-19". Cold and bleak and void of any living thing.

That's how I see it.

The Artist Talks About May 4 1970

March 3rd, 2022

The Artist Talks About    May 4  1970

"May 4th, 1970" is one of my larger works. It measures 3 feet high by 4 feet wide. It was done in acrylic paint. Sometimes I will lay out a full spectrum palette to work (cad red, cad orange, cad yellow, lemon yellow, sap green, pthalo green, pthalo blue, ultra blue, white, black, yellow ochre, burnt sienna and alizirin) and other times I use a mixture of what I feel based on the section of the painting I am working on. In this piece, I used the later approach. Now, I do set the tubes of paint aside based on the overall painting so I can be sure that each color mixed comes from the same roots.

But I am getting ahead of myself. In the beginning, after visualizing what I want in the final piece, I do a charcoal outline on the canvas. The link will take you to original post with a photo of that initial drawing. This is just a general idea of placement and theme.

After completing this step, I quickly move to getting some values on the canvas. I just look and decide where I want the absolutes, dark and light. I have laid out all the colors I think I will use, so I mix a grey using some of those colors (my grey's are mixed using complementary colors. i.e. red and green or blue and orange or yellow and purple). Once I feel the work, I begin. The link will take you to original post with a picture of what the value work became on this painting.


After getting this image on the canvas, I step back and ponder, what area captures me? Where do I go from here? What will be the language I use to communicate the feeling I am seeking to share? I get into color. The soldiers are "bringing the heat". They are also bringing the tinge of hell with them. The students are lost in a reverie of innocence. There is something holy about using your First Amendment rights. So I used a deep cad red with flickers of yellow/orange flames. A pale violet shroud surrounds the students. I add some yellow in top to create a little tension with the violet . The link will take you to original post with the next stage completed.

At this point, I am beginning to feel those soldiers. I realize that I want to add a symbol that will clarify whom those soldiers represented so I added an American flag and used a sap green mixture to fill in the uniforms. As is my style, I mixed up some of the colors still on the palette to create shading. These soldiers represent the evil and I do not want them bright and colorful. The link will take you to original post with that stage completed.

I took a break here. Listened to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's version of "4 dead in Ohio". Listening just reinforces the feeling and gives me a better sense of how I want to proceed. The little flecks of flames are not enough. I want to create the sense that these soldiers are marching from the depths of hell. I did a little touch up on them, masks and shadows. I added fire, lots of fire from the bottom of the painting. Fire burning the flag but not even scorching a soldier. Then I added two letter "C's". I used a silver paint and black to fill them in. I hope to gesture that this attitude ranged from sea to shining sea. The link will take you to original post with what was my next pause point.

I stopped here for the night or morning, it was about 4 a.m. and I was a bit tired and needed to refuel. Some paintings are more emotional than others. By now it was early morning on May 5th and at the very least I wanted to toast John Carlson on his birthday. He was the author of the book treasured by plein aire artists, entitled Elementary Principles of Landscape Paintings. Early the next afternoon, I was back at it. I worked on the flames and the flag burning. I began to get into brighter colors on the students. Grey gun smoke was added to the top right around the students fleeing the gunfire and behind the soldiers on the right and left of the panel. Some vague detail was added to the students. I was still trying to get it to make sense when I could not make sense of it myself. The link will take you to original post with my next stop point.

At this point, I am trying to create a sense of confusion. That was the feeling on the quad at Kent State. I want to have students portrayed standing their ground, running in panic, crying out, ministering to the dead and yet I want them to be rather faceless. The students were every race, color and creed. They were male and female. They were us. I started on the left and just tried to color them in a rainbow moving to the right purple, blues, greens, yellows, orange, reds. The wounded lay dying with terrified students offering aid. Soldiers perform their duties in a cold, unemotional manner. In contrast, the students are brighter colors with a sense of hope for a better tomorrow. I paused here. The link will take you to original post where I took what was a needed break.

That break took a bit longer. I had to let what I had completed sink in. It was done, but it wasn't. I needed to tie it together. At this point, I had created a 1970's Tower of Babel. Each little frame told a story, but they each were like a tiny island in a sea of confusion. I had to sleep on this for a couple days. Then, as clear as a clarion call the Muse whispered to me. I went back to the studio and began touching up here and there. I knew what I needed. I just had to find the right energy. Then I took up my charcoal and drew the outline of my link that would take the interdependent areas and tie them together. The link will take you to original post with the painting at this stage.

Surely, it must be finished at this point. I left to let it dry. I thought about that day. It was so very similar to the experiences on Route 1 in College Park, Md. By the way, that's where I was. Another of the many young people protesting the Viet Nam War and Nixon's decision to add Cambodia to the mix. The National Guard did not fire on us, but I remember the soldiers, the gas masks, the tear gas, the rifles and the fixed bayonets. I remember thinking anyone of them in casual clothes could have been me. I also remember the fear. What was it? The little things. The fact the National Guardsmen were all white. The glimmer of light reflecting off their bayonets. The feeling in the air that we were no different than the Viet Cong to them. So, I went back down to the studio and added the little things. I grayed some areas and I added a little detail here and there. Then I added those silver bayonets. Stood back and realized. It is finished. If you have read this far, you deserve a prize. The first person that sends an email to me at macarthurart@gmail.com and shares one thing I changed or added in the final version will win a free original matted watercolor painting. The final version is included with the post.



Beauty Can Be Veiled, Depending On Whos Eye Is Doing The Beholding

March 3rd, 2022

Beauty Can Be Veiled, Depending On Whos Eye Is Doing The Beholding

Our best understanding sadly comes later in life.

Regarding comparing my art with what others accomplish, it took way too long to understand and accept this fact. Looking at your own and then looking at others is a silly exercise. You can’t win. They all look prettier or more vivid or better drawn or anything better than yours. It is ever so difficult to realize that our eyes are sending information to the same brain that suffers feelings of inadequacy.

It may be the natural order of events. I am 73. I have created artwork used by the National Cryptological Museum , Montgomery County School System, TGI Friday’s, Ingram Entertainment, the Maryland Jockey Club and more. I looked at what was on the easel this morning and thought “what rubbish, will I ever create something

Reality may not seem real because each of our realities is limited by our perception which is influenced by our view of our self worth. I say, Art on! Truth be told, there is beauty in every creation (if it is only the act of creating). Everything you create speaks. The more you practice, the clearer your voice becomes.

Art on my friends Art on!

Round Pegs And Square Holes . . . Frustration

February 27th, 2022

Round Pegs And Square Holes . . . Frustration

Posted on 4/25/2020 6:43:49 PM by John MacArthur

If you have ever had the opportunity to watch a very small child trying to develop motor skills, you know as they get older, they get frustrated. At the earliest point, they are happy just trying to put the pegs in the holes. If one doesn't work, no problem, there is another. As they get older, they are not as patient. The pegs are supposed to go into the holes. It takes a bit to learn which peg will work with each hole.

Once the skill is mastered, it becomes a default life style. We believe that every round peg will have to be in a round hole and every square peg will fit in a square hole. It becomes exponential. Learned patterns are comfortable. We don't have to think. Sadly, it is easy not to be challenged.

Art falls into these sort of patterns as well. Even though art is always evolving, eventually a style is accepted and becomes a norm. It has been that way since the Renaissance. Equipment and lifestyle brought about most of the changes. Charcoal gave way to lead which gave way to ink. Pigment was ground by the artist, then placed in pig's bladders. The creation of the tube changed that and art became more portable.

Two dimension gave way to three dimension. Realism gave way to cubism. Painterly gave way to abstract. It was always art and in always became accepted. These are things learned in Universities or Ateliers. Knowledge becomes power. Knowledge becomes language.

Then there are the Naif artists. Unless you are an artist yourself or have studied art in depth, you probably have not heard of Naif (or Naïve) art, though you may have seen examples without realizing it. One defining quality of Naif art is that it is a form of visual art that is created by someone who has never received formal artistic education and training. The artists are self-taught, giving credence to the belief that artistic ability is an innate gift.

Naif paintings are recognized for their uncomplicated or youthful simplicity. They often apply a flat style to the representation of their subjects with the most basic expression of perspective. At other times, they use atmospheric observation to create depth and/or perspective.

Ancient cave paintings are the first example of this art form. The most well-known are the prehistoric paintings of the Caves of Lascaux in Perigord, France. It makes sense. There were no Universities or Ateliers operating at that time.

The pieces are often full of color like the cherry blossom scene above. While that tree doesn’t really look like a tree, you still know that’s what it’s meant to be, and that’s part of the appeal of this kind of art. Other colorful pieces are the cityscape I have done. You can’t necessarily tell what’s what, and that doesn’t bother you at all!

People are often depicted too, and they are far more elaborate than the stick figures I drew as a kid. I have done a painting of what amounts to a modern day horse race in Sienna, Italy. There are people and horses, but they are simply and beautifully rendered in a colorful fashion.

You can see that Naïf art is generally joyful, like a bright painting of a bridge in Paris, and provides a sense of happiness as well as spontaneity. These pieces of Naif art might not have the dimension of those in other genres, but they are no less beautiful and thought-provoking.

Every Picture Tells A Story

February 27th, 2022

Every Picture Tells A Story

Posted on 4/21/2020 9:40:18 AM by john macarthur

Some people travel to Jerusalem to visit the wailing wall. Some people make a pilgrimage to Mecca. Within each country, people travel to visit historic places. Artists make journeys as well. A lot of our trips are to museums to view pieces of art up close and personal. My wife planned and executed the trip of a lifetime for me a few years ago.

We flew from Dulles to Paris and from Paris to Marseilles. We picked up a car and drove to Arles.

In Arles, we stayed several days at a hotel on the bank of the river VanGogh shared in his second most famous starry night painting. By day, we journeyed to the places Vincent made famous. We ate at the restaurant where he ate. We visited the hospitals where he was confined. We walked the streets he walked. We dined where he dined.

By nightfall, we visited the river.

I stopped and sketched and meshed with the essence of his spirit. I sat in his room at St. Remy. I looked out his window. I spent time in the vineyards. I sat next to Pont VanGogh. He is long gone, yet he is everywhere in this region.

We traveled up the coast to Auvers-sur-Orlise. There we visited the church he captured. There we walked the wheatfields where crows rose. We spent time in the room where he died and then we took a long walk up the hill to where he was laid to rest.

Almost one months journey came to an end at his grave.

"I could have told you Vincent, there is no one as beautiful as you."

A Little Piece Of Vincent In My Hand

February 27th, 2022

A Little Piece Of Vincent In My Hand

Posted on 12/20/2019 8:10:36 AM by JOHN MACARTHUR

I was only 10 years old. My art supplies consisted of a black and a red pencil (the kind you had to unravel as you wore the lead down). My father brought them home to me from the office. He was the Drama Editor at the Evening Star Newspaper. I had piles of newsprint that he would also bring home. Back in those days, all of his columns were produced on newsprint using a manual typewriter. I did dabble in painting using berries or mud or coffee or tea for pigment. As you might imagine, newsprint did not hold up very well.

Being a newspaper man, he encouraged reading at a very young age. My first grade reading included "Bring'em back alive" by Frank Buck and "Stuart Little" by E.B. White. A door to door Encyclopedia Britannica salesman found success at our door and I had free reign to dig into those tomes. I learned all about famous artists and famous art and far away places. I scoured through those pages every night.

I had a free spirit and tended to roam. My sister told me the thing she said most as a child was "He's gone again!". I traveled down Porter Street to the zoo in a push pedal car. I spent days and nights poking around Columbia Road. I may not have been on any most wanted poster, but the beat cops knew me on sight and gathered me up and took me home on many occasions.

My dad would take me to movie openings almost weekly. When I got much older, I realized he was just giving my mother a break. She was always in charge of tracking me down when I disappeared. I was just happy to be the one my dad took to the events. He would tell me a few days before the screening. I would ask so many questions about what we were going to see, it must have driven him crazy. He was patient. He sat in his study and answered every question or helped me research in our encyclopedias.

In September 1956, my father shared we were going to see a movie about a famous artist. His name was Vincent VanGogh. A couple days before going, I looked at pictures and read a short bio and looked some more. This was the first movie we would see that was about an artist. I was excited. He had taken me to see Abbott and Costello movies. We had seen Davey Crockett. He took me to "Fresh from Paris" and "Lady and the Tramp".

I remember that day. My father drove us in a car! It was the first car in the family and I was riding in the front seat with my dad. We went into the theater and the smell of fresh popcorn filled the air. My dad took me by the hand to a group of men. I was shocked. Standing before me was Vincent VanGogh ( He sure looked like him, remember I was only 10.). The newspaper men were gathered around him taking notes for their columns. There was the writer from the Washington Post and Dick Coe from the News. My father brought me, his wide eyed son, to meet Vincent. He smiled and handed me his pochade box. It had tubes of acrylic paint and a couple brushes and a palette inside. My dad suggested I go into another room and paint a little. I did. Real paint. To me, it was just like the paint VanGogh used. It was bright and thick and just marvelous!

I watched all two hours of the film. They talked a lot but my goodness the colors were magic. I was hooked. I had real paints and brushes. I was an artist. I never looked back. I paid rapt attention to the nuns when they shared art. I ended up in the art room in high school for several hours every day. I spent a good period of time in New Orleans creating and selling art in Jackson Square. The Maryland Jockey Club selected me to create the art for the Preakness in 2002 and 2003. I have been pushing paint in one way or another for almost six decades.

It all started with the kindness of Kirk Douglas and a paintbox. It is only fair to share that much later in life, my father told me that the grownups wanted to chat and imbibe (newspaper folks did not have a drinking problem) and that is why I was handed the paint box. No matter. It was my Rubicon. Now you know the rest of the story...

 

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