I can’t believe the first quarter of the year has gone. Anyone else think those three months went by in a flash?? Well, yup, it’s the beginning of April so it’s time for me to choose ten notable pastels from the many I collected over March. These are paintings that either reached out and grabbed me or those that worked themselves quietly into my soul. In both cases, I keep returning to them. And then comes the hard part – after choosing only ten, articulating why I have chosen March’s notable pastels. Okay, let’s go look at them.
Now don’t tell me this didn’t make you smile when you saw it! Claudia Chimenti has captured dogness – those essential qualities both physical and behavioural that make dog lovers go gaga over virally spread YouTube videos. So what are those? How about the look that asks did-you-just-say-we’re-going-out-to-play-now-?; the eager energy that we all yearn for; the musculature underlying a coat of hair; the full-of-life joy of the moment; the unconditional love towards its owner. There are also the things some of us may not be too fond of – the cold wet nose, the slobbering tongue, the wax-filled ears. Ahh a dog. In painting terms, Chimenti has chosen a white/neutral background rather than a more obvious colour, and by doing so puts our focus on the pinks of ears, nose, gums, and tongue as well as the sandy brown areas of the dog’s coat and its green sparkling eyes. The off-centre positioning and the diagonal lines create a feeling of movement as if Bandito is about to jump off the page at us! See more of Chimenti’s work here.
From the unbounded joy of the dog above we come to this man whose being reflects life experience and hardship. With shirt undone and a warm glow in the window behind him, this man may be settling in for the evening after a long day’s work. He looks directly out at us with dignity but with some tension in his lips and a furrow in the brow suggesting an unease with the situation. Does he dare us to comment on what we perceive his situation to be, to express our feelings and reach out to him? Laurie Harden has titled the painting ‘Interiors’. Does the view of his dark and rather bleak surroundings reflect his interior life? What are his thoughts about his life, this moment of being captured, the future? There is a quietness in the painting that encourages us to sit and stare back into those eyes. The physical interior is dark. Harden leaves a large unfilled space to the right side of the painting permitting us a place to ponder. This space is balanced out by the small rectangle of light behind the figure the warmth of which suggests optimism and hope. See more of Harden’s work here.
More darkness but this time the dominant oranges bring a warmth to the painting that also brings warmth to the heart. Terri Ford has made a daring painting by adding a brilliant blue off to the left of the painting. Somehow she manages to balance out this beacon of light by the density of dark below and by the glow of street lights on the lower right hand side. The wall of the building on the left also works to hold the painting in place. It also gives us a secure place from which to take our bearings and move into the illusion of space. Ford has dropped sparkles of other lights through the painting to help us make our journey through the work. The sky is full of muted colours from the after-sunset glow. It’s that time of day when we can see both the exterior world and begin to see the interior world of homes. Another daring move is the placement of the dark rectangle in the middle of the painting which could become a black hole but instead, with the help of one dimly lit window sets the stage for us to imagine the rest of the facade. We have a city moving into nightfall but still with a hustle and bustle of life. Ford forgoes any of the blue we may expect to see in the dusk sky and instead retains it for the blast of neon light at the focal point of her painting. Check out more of Ford’s work on her website.
From the structure of man, we go to the structure of nature. Dunes created by the forces of the environment create natural architectural forms for us to marvel over. Another painting at dusk where the saturated colours of the day are subdued and we now only see hints of them – greyed greens and purples with a few lighter areas of a pale turquoise. The light from the sun that’s already set still glows placing everything in silhouette. The white sand still remains visible as it picks up and reflects every shred of light. Beth Tockey Williams has created a sky of clouds in various shades of cool and warm greys that delight our senses. In texture she has captured the experience of cloud, of sand, of plant life. We can see the light reflecting off the water just visible over the tops of the scrub-covered dune. A cool breeze has come up but for now, as the darkness of evening approaches, we can mediate on the quiet glory of nature. See more of Tockey Williams’ work here.
Did I say quiet? Not so here! We can hear full well the sound of surf as a wave turns, the hiccuping splish splash of waves crossing each other, the water swirling at our feet. The sky is illuminated but because the sun has set, we have lost the intensity of colour. For instance we no longer have the glow of greens and blues through backlit waves. Leo Loomie has amazingly captured that mercurial colour and movement that one finds on the ocean after the sun has set but when the sky is still radiant with light. It’s that colour of water that you can’t quite describe, that you can’t quite figure out at this time of day. You ask yourself – what colours and what values would I use to describe the effect? And you stutter, and keep looking and enjoying the moment. Well the answer is here in this painting. Look carefully but you’ll notice that even looking at Loomie’s work, it’s difficult to discern the colours! The light glints and the longer I look the more I feel I need to squint against the blaze. It’s preposterous to think that the water won’t move as we continue to look at it. I feel if I look away, the picture will change. I am mesmerized! By the way, the previous images are around 9 x 12 inches but Loomie’s pastel is waaaaaay larger at 24 x 36 in. It’s sizeable enough to envelope us if we stood in front of the real thing. See more of Leo Loomie’s work here.
Rather than representing a photographic representation of willow trees, instead, Amy Szwaya has captured with vigorous strokes the essence of willow trees with their many slim and flexible branches. We are exposed to the greyness of a wintery month. We feel the trees rather than merely visualize them. I love the mark making – there’s a strong use of line to create both subject and negative space. Although the painting is small at 9 x 12 inches, it has the presence of a much larger piece (and I’d love to see Szwaya do a scaled up pastel!). Although small, one feels the artist’s whole arm at work, not just her hand, creating the lines that overlap and cut into each other, just as the wind blows and the branches of the trees rub against each other. There is an exuberance of process evident, of the struggle of painting – the lines, the rubbing and erasing, the overlays of pastels. The hand and emotion of the artist are plainly visible. Although the lack of sunlight on a cloudy day means lack of colour, yet still we have reds and greens, the warm along with the cool. You can catch up with Szwaya here.
Now we’re talking big! Marcia Holmes takes as her inspiration lily pads in a pond. But there’s nothing pretty about these pads. Instead we have a painting filled with a nervous agitation of marks and strokes of pastel. We can still see the realistic traces of the original jumping off point but the main gift we’re offered is the idea of the life of the water and burgeoning plant-life above and below the surface – home to creatures that scrabble their way between leaves and roots, between air and water. What we see of lily pads dissolve into drips, layers of colour mass, and scribbles of lines. This is about painting as much as it’s about pond life. Holmes balances large almost flat expanses with chaotic and mark-filled smaller areas. There’s the sense of an assertive, full-arm movement over the paper of a highly energized dance of rhythm and balance, of colour and value. I want to stand before this painting each day and explore every nook and cranny, knowing each time I come to it, I’ll discover something new as I bring my day’s impressions and perceptions with me. Check out Holmes’s website for more of her work.
When I saw this mostly monochromatic pastel by Roi Weinberg, I was stopped by its stillness and the solidity of objects as they take their place in the scene. It’s a simple composition that works beautifully, taking our eyes from the top of the bottle diagonally down over the spoon and jar to the yellow object on the far right. That object connects to a second one to the left and so our eyes move there and after an exploration of the surface in front of and behind the bottle, we then take in the bottle itself. After that, I find I spring off into the large expanse of dark background where animated pastel strokes, close in colour and value, come from the direction of the light. The energy of these diagonal lines belie the apparent quiet of the still life. It hints at what may be going on off camera and we are tempted to turn to see more. I’m captivated by the various textures – the cold handmade surface of the ceramic bottle, the clear glass jar in which a metal spoon sits, and those yellow objects. I’m not sure what they are but the way the light reflects off of them, it appears they may be plastic tops. I enjoy the play of lost and found edges, particularly the way the spoon disappears into the background except for the highlight on the tip end. By the way, I read that this is Weinberg’s first still life! See more of Weinberg’s work here.
There’s a warm/cold tension that emanates from this pastel of snow and sunset by Tobi Clement. The complementary palette consists of pink-oranges and green-blues and Clement has used these to their utmost possibilities describing the natural world and the manmade one all with the same colours. Although the scene has an apparent stillness, both the subject (the what) and the painting method (the how) are given equal importance setting up yet another tension. Do we give our attention to the content of the painting or should we pay more attention to the vigorous mark-making and application and placement of colour? Look at the way the pale pastel marks themselves become the implication of icicles and frost. If we look at the painting as content, we could say that it’s about snow and cold and a survivor holding out for warmer weather. The warm glow of cloud and light on the trailer speak of optimism and warm days to come. Clement craftily directs out eye diagonally down the slash of colour in the clouds to an area of great contrast but we are then moved over the complexity of marks suggesting plants and snow mounds to another area of contrast where trailer meets the dark line of growth. And we find ourselves at the trailer. Is it inhabited? Has it been abandoned? Questions that will have to wait as we jump from the warm patch on the trailer to the related colour in the sky. Check out Clement’s website for more.
And to relieve the grey and cold of March we are transported to the warm halcyon days of summer in this bright and colourful piece by Wade Zahares. Primarily an analogous selection of blues and greens, strokes of various direction and length describe our view between two clapboard houses to the sea beyond where, in perfect timing, a sailboat drifts past. Our focus is drawn to that distant vessel but the colour and energy of application bring us back to examine the lines and structure of the buildings. We see the sides of two buildings but without more information we can’t tell if they are part of the same property or if they’re part of a row of small and large dwellings – some only for summer use or some for all-weather living. Another part of the picture has been cut preventing us from seeing beyond the picture plane. We see two birds and the tail of another – does that mean there are three birds in total or a whole flock? These instances remind us that we are only looking at a snapshot of what is. The strange object between the houses has real life intrude on the picturesque scene with the spectacle of something discarded or toppled. The overhead lines also point to the banality of life and also perhaps our dependence on available electricity and easy communication. Still, we can’t escape the reminiscences of what have become idyllic memories of perfect childhoods in our minds. See more of Zahare’s work on his website.
So that’s my ten notable pastels for this month. What did you think of my picks? Any favourites?? You know I’d love to hear from you.
A note also to say I’m delighted to be teaching a Beginner Pastel Class – “Exploring Colour” – at the Peninsula Gallery in Sidney over the last two Sundays in April. For the price, the gallery is providing all the materials (!) so all you have to do is show up. Click here for more info.
And if you can’t make Croatia, there’s always Spain in May 2018!!
That’s it from me for this time. Catch you next week!!