(Sorry I’m late this week. I had to go to Santa Cruz unexpectedly this weekend.)
I don’t remember exactly when I painted this one, but it was probably in the early 2000’s, maybe in spring. It’s the Highway 46 side of Peachy Canyon Winery. I have painted the entrance side of the vineyard on Bethel Road a number of times, but only painted this side once. (See March 10, 2018 post for a mural I did in acrylics on paper of the front entrance.) At the time I painted this I was experimenting with rendering the rows of grape plants in unusual ways. I thought it would be interesting to curve things a bit. But I imagine that if it were real the vineyard workers would have a hard time maneuvering the curves as they disc down the weeds between the rows in the spring. In my head it seemed a pretty interesting idea. Actually, with all the rain we have had, I imagine that such work is being done, or planned to be done, as we speak here in our CA vineyards right now! Just have to wait until the soil dries out so the tractors don’t get stuck in the mud. I also remember loving the contrast of the trees and shadows up against the absolute yellow of the sod in the background. I was also thinking about the dark shadows and trees running horizontally and vertically through the landscape. And the blades of grass around the edges were also intentional. In fact, I still do that—trying to elevate the inevitable weeds that seem to float in the foreground of my current watercolor landscapes. I remember I was really interested in adding elements that weren’t there and removing things I didn’t like or things that I wanted to emphasize which obliterated the reality of other things that just had to go. I hope some day to get really good at simplifying elements of a painting like Picasso.
I think I have already written about the brilliant way Picasso simplified the subjects in his paintings, especially in his later work. But if I have it does bear repeating and here’s a great example of that simplicity: The Norton Simon had a great display of a series of lithographs he did from 1945 to 1960. The exhibit was called States of Mind and it ran at the museum from October 2016 to February 2017. It featured groups of images that came from the same lithograph stone beginning with a first iteration, or state, then changing over and over as he rubbed out certain parts and adding other lines and ink for emphasis. Picasso said he became interested in the moment of a painting (lithograph actually) “…when the movement of my thought interests me more than the thought itself.” So, he etched in an image, say of a bull. Then he inked it, printed it and then reworked it and printed it again in its second state. He would go through this process over and over until he came up with a final image. And what struck me so profoundly was the way he did that with that bull, for example, until the final image took about 10 linear strokes to create. And all of this came from images in his head. Very cool.
As I have said before, I would never compare my art with the likes of Pablo Picasso. But for this painting I did the best I could with my idea of what I wanted the Peachy Canyon Vineyard to look like. Because not only did I adjust the colors, lines and shapes, but I took out a very unattractive wine barrel with a blue and white sign. I get that it is a business and they were just advertising. But that is the great thing about being a painter; we can scrub out or look past things we don’t want to see. I wanted only the slightest bit of human activity shown here and that took the form of the wonky rows of vineyards in the background.
Sometimes I wish I could conjure up something as inspired and terrific from an image or scene that I can see only in my head. I have never felt very confident about doing that. A couple posts ago I mentioned that I had seen the recent movie (At Eternities Gate) about Vincent van Gogh. There is a great scene where he is talking with Paul Gauguin and Gauguin asks him why he needs to have something to look at when he paints. Gauguin tries to convince him he should not need to look at anything and that what he paints should come from his mind, or imagination. But van Gogh persists and tells him that he loves going outside and painting nature. Of course going outside to paint and just looking inward is probably the same because your mind sees what it wants to see anyway. Maybe some of us are better at taking the pictures we have in our heads and putting them down on canvas with paint. I can’t hold onto an image for very long. And if I try to make something out of a fleeting scene from my imagination, it always looks contrived or stiff to me. I think painting something that only exists in my brain is like walking a tightrope without a net. I crave the net like I crave sunlight. I enjoy the prospect of trying to capture something on canvas as the sun moves across the sky—deepening blues, adding dark shadows, causing bright white outs and changing highlights. That kind of slow moving scene gives me a net that I can count on, it gives me just enough time to study what I am looking at, making quick decisions (on canvas) and commitments for watercolor. Oil on canvas is a little more forgiving if you change your mind. You can’t turn back for watercolor—you can only start over. In fact, I have timed myself and know that if I have 30 minutes to capture a moment outside on paper or canvas, that’s all the time I need. I just want a net that lasts about 30 minutes; all the rest is smoke and mirrors. So, I guess I will never paint like Gauguin or Picasso. I am going to imagine that Vincent van Gogh had a similar sunlight sensibility. That’s right, it’s me and my friend Vincent all the way!
RIP Lorene, 3/31/2019 (An Irish Lass)