I went to the Memphis Brooks museum today to see an exhibition of sky scapes by one of Memphis's finest artists, Veda Reed. She was a long time teacher at Memphis College of Art, and she was a deeply kind mentor to me when I got started on my painting career.
Veda's show is amazing, and if you're in Memphis, I hope you get a chance to go see it. One thing made me crazy, though. The text panel that accompanied it said, "It may seem conservative to be making landscapes in the twenty-first century..."
Seriously?? That seems to diminish the whole show, not to mention a great deal of the Brooks collection, and certainly the work I spend my life doing. My favorite painter John Constable was belittled as far back as the 18th C for being a landscape painter instead of doing "deeper" history and religious paintings. Are we still marginalizing landscapes as not being deep enough? Do we really have to put down landscapes in the chase after the modern concept or the avant guard? Can't we value all of it? (I also ran into this bias in my printmaking class at MCA a few years ago, though that was just one teacher.)
In a lovely coincidence, there's an article on Chuck Close in the NYT today. He was talking about feeling alienated from the NYC art scene because he's still a painter instead of a conceptual artist. He thought about changing to conceptual work after a medical condition left him largely paralyzed, and then he said, "But I was going to miss the activity of pushing paint around. So pretty soon, I thought, I'm going to get the paint on the canvas if I have to SPIT the paint on the canvas."
I LOVE that!
Yay for Chuck Close for standing up for hands-on art making as a craft and the time honored tradition of painting. I've long known that I wouldn't fit in to the faddish New York art scene, but it was deeply disheartening today to see a placard in the museum by my house diminishing the art of landscape painting. I ended up writing a letter to the new director.
On the upside, she is working hard to create a more welcoming atmosphere among the guards and staff, and no one stopped me from sketching today, and everyone was quite welcoming. That's definitely progress.
I had an intensive week of printing getting ready for the Dog Days studio sale this weekend with Melissa Bridgman. As I was wrapping and gathering, I realized I had four brand new prints, a new letterpress poster, and a good handful of recent watercolors. I decided to take a cue from bookstores with their "recent arrivals" shelf and have a rack devoted to new work. It felt lovely to have enough to do that, and it also rewards the repeat comers by making it easy for them to see the new things. It's a nice idea to have that to work towards for future shows as well.
Below is some of Melissa's lovely pottery. I have a tea tray with her moths (like those small plates) that I use daily. I was delighted when my parents bought both teapots in this photo, because I had been admiring them myself. We are a heavily tea drinking family.
Mr. Darcy was the perfect greeter all weekend. He's really relaxed in the three years since I got him from the shelter. He wore himself out, though. Here he is stretched out at the end of the show, which truly is pretty much how Melissa and I felt as well, though we didn't join him. I am so grateful to have friends and neighbors both show up for these shows and also send their friends, which happened a good bit this weekend. I love being able to do what I love for a living and also have this level of autonomy over my career. Thanks to all of you who read this blog, share my work on facebook, come out for a show sometimes, and wish me well in this. I'm truly grateful. It takes a village, and I feel very lucky.
My life changed today. When I first got my Chandler and Price press (a 1909 treadle), I didn't know much about presses. The printing area was 10x15", but it's clam shell press, which means it gives one good smack, and the pressure diffuses across that whole area. So clam shells never print well across their full area. I tried to do a couple of prints on it, was dissatisfied with the results (prints are also much darker than type, which is a large percentage of white space and therefore easier to print), and gave up. I love this press for its ease of use. I can do 500 note cards and other small items easily, but I mentally wrote off doing actual art prints on it.
I finally realized this summer that I have much more experience with it now and could probably get it to do more of what I would like. It inks the prints itself, instead of me hand inking, placing the paper and block together on a diagram to get them straight, carrying both to the proof press, and sliding it across. I can do a dozen prints that way instead of 500.
So lately I've been testing smaller blocks on the press. I started with a 5x7", which worked great when I proofed it (still haven't printed those but will quite soon), and this is a 6x9". I'm going to try an 8x10" next, which is probably about as big as I can go, but still a huge leap for me to be able to do some of my printing in a much less laborious way. I love the carving and creating the image, but the repetitive printing is the least fun for me. Today I did my first block on the C&P and printed an edition of 50 in a couple of hours (including oiling the press, set up, and clean up). Utterly amazing. My prints may be getting a little smaller from here on out...
Here's the proof of the cafe scene I printed today. When the prints dry, I'll be able to scan in a cleaner image that has a background that's whitish, like the paper. This is based on a watercolor done near Montmartre.
I'm doing a lot of proofing this week, including the two small Paris prints above that I want to print on my treadle Chandler and Price once I get them finished. I did the cafe one in red too, since that's how I've been planning the print. It was time to see how that looked.
I also took time out for a sister project. Erin wanted this for an anniversary present, and I loved Princess Bride too. It was a fun afternoon project, and I ended up with an edition of 14, so 13 are up for grabs, starting at our Dog Days of Summer studio sale next weekend (the 15-16th). Holler if you want one, though. They mail nicely. $60, 14x22".
Pups, prints, pottery and a special pimm's cup cocktail! Melissa Bridgman is joining me again with her gorgeous pottery for another weekend sale. Friday, July 15, 5-8pm and Saturday, July 16, 11-5:30. Feel free to bring friends.
Here's my monthly sketch feature for the Memphis Daily News. I went out and sketched at the Levitt Shell, which hosts 50 free concerts a year in a 1920's bandstand four blocks from my house. It's a lovely thing, with some great family history for me. My great grandparents were active in the Gilbert and Sullivan light opera group (The MOAT) that was the original reason for the shell being built. My great grandmother would take an annual trip to NYC to shop for costumes. I love that I can still go hear music here, though the overhead jet flight patterns sadly make unmiked live theater no longer viable.
While I was sketching, two boys came up to watch, ask questions, and eventually ask to draw with me. They also wanted me to draw their sneakers, which I did, but I also did a quick sketch in my journal to remember, since I gave them the bigger sketch. The kid who wanted to full on paint (I always have an extra brush) was super careful with my watercolor kit. I showed him how the different colors have different mixing areas, and he did great not making a mess in my palette. I loved seeing him so excited about making art.
It's been a crazy week. For me and for the park both. After a long process of mediation that largely failed, the mayor announced a compromise on the park. It calls for moving another good chunk of the trees planted for my mother, and I'm sure we'll lose a number in the process (I'm guessing 70 or so off the top of my head but will have to go count). I'm also afraid for some mature trees that I paint regularly. But the main space of the park is supposed to stay park, assuming the city council supports the plan. That plus some long family conversations this week left me pretty played out and dazed last night, so of course, I painted my dog. Always a good choice.
Today I went out to the park (with Mr. Darcy, of course) and did a sketch of the Greensward that I am hoping will now remain green. Until the next time we have to fight the city off paving it... Hopefully a long time from now.
I've been painting again today. I'm still feeling rusty in oils. I had such fun doing this Parisian sky, but I'm not sure about the rest of it. I've brought it downstairs to stare at tonight and see if I can make up my mind about whether to do more and what else this one might need.
I feel better about the canvas below. I just finished it, well overdue to go to its forever home.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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