Sunday, March 4, 2012

Edgar Payne Show

Edgar Payne wrote a book called 'Composition of Outdoor Painting' which is considered a classic. I have to confess that I've never been able to read the whole thing, as I find his writing style to be incredibly ponderous and dull. However, the redeeming strength of his book are the numerous thumbnail compositional studies and examples that describe his ideas, analysis, and advice in a very clear and succinct
fashion. To say that Payne practiced what he preached is an understatement. While he may be a less than ideal author for my tastes, his paintings are as strong and clear as his compositional thumbnails, and are full of vigorous brushwork and luminous color. One can learn plenty by studying his originals which are currently on display at the Crocker Museum in Sacramento.

The show features a good selection of his well known subjects, the mountains, the fishing boats, the Southwest, and seascapes, most of them sizable studio efforts. I could only find about 3 pieces that I felt were plein air studies... 2 small seascapes and an alpine scene. What struck me about his work overall is how consistently he adhered to a strong compositional division of tone into 2 major value patterns. If he wanted to further direct the eye, he would push saturation and value more in a specific area, while remaining within the key of that region. His brush scaling was straightforward: the bigger the canvas, the bigger the brush! No more image detail was to be had in the larger paintings, just big, thick strokes of paint. He also seemed to exemplify Charles Hawthorne's oft-repeated advice about ''...putting the right spot of color in the right place", letting edges 'take care of themselves', so to speak. This was especially evident in some of the fishing boat paintings with figures, where there was a lot of blank canvas between brush strokes, yet the image was resolved about a few feet back.

It was clear that the bulk of his imagery was devised in the studio, though based on plenty of firsthand observation from his numerous field trips. He landscaped many of his iconic mountain scenes with lakes conveniently and reliably placed at the bottom of the frame, whether they existed that way in nature or not.
Some of his seascapes contained foam 'serpents' that rivaled a Frank Frazetta painting, all in the service of strengthening the composition

Most of the Southwest paintings had a small grouping of figures on horseback strategically placed to provide contrast of scale to the cliffs and sky.

Payne, a scenic painter and muralist by trade for many years, created a body of work that established an iconic language of landscape in his consistent use of these devices. A critic might dismiss all this as mannerism or formula. Some might call it style. Regardless, he's an excellent painter from whom one can learn and be inspired by. His compositions are rock solid, he captured light and color of various locales and time of day beautifully. Just google image his name and you can read his imagery easily in thumbnail form. There's really nothing obscure or murky about his work. And they are luminous!

In the Flesh

4 hours of an 8 hour pose

8 hour pose

4 hours

12 hours.
I've never spent this long on a single image for my personal work that I can recall. What interests me is that one can keep finding something to paint....or repaint, correct, restate, etc. while trying to keep it fresh. Still after all these hours of labor, I can glance at it as a thumbnail on my desktop and ask myself questions like, why are her arms seemingly so long, her hand so large, what's that rash on her upper chest, why is her right breast lacking form, is her head way too small? Then again, does it matter? This kind of 'work' is more beguiling than I ever imagined. The body is a landscape full of beautiful color shifts, receding planes, valleys, translucency, reflective color in shadow, edges... the list goes on. It is a great, immersive workout. I just dive in and start painting, then repairing, then wandering through different regions conducting experiments on form description and edges... then the pose is over. Time flies by. I don't quite know how to wrap them up yet, or what to leave out. That'll take awhile. Go check out what Terry Miura is doing with the figure if you want to see how strong a reductive approach can be.

Sierra workshop full, Colorado workshop cancelled
For scheduling reasons, I've had to cancel my Colorado workshop. Unfortunately, I could not find an alternative date that worked for this year. My apologies to those that were interested in taking it. Hopefully I can do one another year. My workshop in the Sierra Buttes is full up, with a waiting list.