September 9, 2017

Safflower Road
Field of safflower, east side of Highway 46 (3 feet by 4 feet oil on canvas)

I don’t usually paint on canvas this large. But I bought a roll of it (63 inch wide) several years ago and I’ve stretched a lot of canvases since then—some really small and some larger like this one. On a previous post (August 12) I described how I sometimes under paint my landscapes so I can scrub colors on top for a kind of glowing effect. The art for that post was oil on a birch panel. This landscape is on canvas and the over painting looks amazing as it accentuates the texture of the woven cotton fibers, especially for the sky.

Over the years I have enjoyed painting huge masses of golden safflower. Safflower is a crop that used to be common on the oak-dotted hillsides of Paso Robles during late summer and early fall. I haven’t seen such huge plantings in quite a while. Much of that ground in the Paso area has been replaced with massive fields of wine grape plants.

This got me thinking about what kinds of things I like to see en masse. Of course I guess the opposite thought of what I wouldn’t like to see en masse is also hard to avoid when contemplating such a list. And of course you could go for the obvious and say that you would like to see massive amounts of coins, paper money and precious jewels and metals. And sure, I would love to see (and have) massive amounts of such items so I could buy what I want. But I think the real story here should be what would you like to see, and not necessarily have, en masse. Such a list could probably be endless, and might even change from day to day, based on emotions or perceived needs or desires in our lives.

So, this is my list as of today:

I love to see huge fields of golden yellow safflower rolling over the hills. And I have also been ecstatic over the sight of masses of wildflowers like poppies and lupines that are so bright with saturated color that they can almost hurt your eyes. Rafts of penguins in the ocean look pretty perky to me, as well a great waddle of Emperor penguins on an ice floe. (I think I would even love to hear the sounds of a large waddle of adult and juvenile penguins as they waddle about in such a mass gathering.) Off the coast of many beaches in California great pods of grey whales come up from the Gulf of Mexico certain times of the year. (Some people like to get in boats and get up close to them, but that doesn’t really give you a sense of number, in my opinion.) A flock, a colony, a brief, a pod, a pouch, a scoop or a squadron of pelicans are pretty cool to watch as they fly very close to the surface of the ocean looking for fish to eat. My son reminded me that flocks of snowy plovers or sandpipers running along the surf line near Morro Rock are really fun to see as they scurry up and back with the constant ebb and flow of water. I seem to have some kind of ocean theme going here. So, that brings up what I am not fond of seeing en masse when at the beach. Not fond of too many people with towels, umbrellas and tents covering the choice bits of sand near the surf line. Not fond of the massive piles of kelp that has washed up on the beach certain times of the year. And OMG, I am really not fond of the massive amounts of flies that are attracted to those rotting piles of detritus.

So, if I leave the ocean and contemplate other large groups of things I love to see that would have to be a forest of trees, and/or a great number of fledgling bald eagles in a single giant conifer in the forest. I love to see lots of apples in a tree or olla berries on the vines. And now that I have delved into things that relate to humans, I think I like the idea of a library full of books, and the skyline of San Francisco as you come over the Golden Gate Bridge from Sausalito. A three-scoop ice cream cone that has just been scooped will always make my mouth water, the surface of a mug of hot chocolate completely covered with marshmallows is always tempting and a mouth full of teeth is great to see. Maybe a mouth of cavities isn’t so great. And speaking of a mouth full of teeth I’m not sure I want to see a gam, herd, frenzy, school or shiver of sharks, even if they are way out in the ocean.

As I am editing this list for the final time today, I can think of more and more things en masse I would and would not like to see. So, I am stopping for now. What would you like to see en masse? Or what wouldn’t you like to see?

Note about painting on large canvases—When I was taking art classes at UCB in the 70’s all my buddies in class were renting garages to have space to paint huge canvases—6 or 8 feet or greater for both length and width. I wasn’t interested in doing that at the time. Stretching such a large piece takes special consideration when building the frame it is stretched on. But lately I have been thinking more and more of painting large pieces, but maybe not bothering to stretch them on a frame. In fact, I have painted huge skies of clouds on large canvas sheets. The trick is to find floor space to paint. Maybe I need to rent a garage? Here I go again!

In 1943, Jackson Pollock did an 8′ 1 1/4″ x 19′ 10″ painting, called “Mural,” for Peggy Guggenheim. She commissioned him to paint this giant piece as something she wanted to hang in her NY city apartment. Art historians think it was probably removed from it’s wooden frame, and rolled and unrolled at least 5 times as it was moved to: Ms. Guggenheim’s apartment entry hall, the Vogue Studios to be photographed, New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Yale University and finally to the University of Iowa in 1951. In 2012 the J Paul Getty Museum and Getty Conservation Institute in Los Angeles began restoring his mural. It took two years to do that. The mural had been hanging at the University of Iowa since 1951 and was sagging in a weird way. So a custom frame with state of the art flexible materials was developed to preserve the work. No more rolling and unrolling for this mural. Check out the mural and the story of how it was studied and preserved online. I think it’s pretty amazing.

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