I have a new studio dog. I've been wanting a black and white dog for a while, just for the graphic deliciousness, and I found a dog in foster care for Memphis Animal Services who is snuggly and loves people and walks well and hangs out next to me while I work. We're having a ball. I'm really grateful. He's nervous being left by his own, which I hope we can lessen over time, but he's a fantastic companion.
Henry has also been encouraging me to get back into more steady sketching, so here are a few scenes of daily life along with Henry.
I took a whole day off today and spent the whole day outside. It was glorious. Mid 50's, but sunny and calm, so it was really delightful to be outdoors. I walked Gideon, shopped at the farmers market, walked Gideon, went to Dixon, and walked Gideon again, taking a nice long, poking-around-in-the-forest kind of walk at the end of the day.
Dixon was great. I met up with two of my favorite sketcher friends. We drew for ages and talked in the sunshine, ran into the cafe to get lunch to go, and sat at an outside table, drinking in the sunshine, talking art, cats, dogs, more art, balancing jobs and life, travel, cats again, art again. It was so deeply good. I've really had my head down working to frame and get final prints for the show ever since new year's. It was wonderful to sit in the sun with friends for a long, unhurried time.
I went back to do some more sketching in the Thiebaud exhibit. I love the lines and almost abstract shapes of the black and white aquatint. And I love that he did a whole series called "Delights." That kind of small, every day delight has been an intention focus for me during the pandemic, and it's lovely to be seeing his take so beautifully and in person.
My second piece of the candy apples couldn't at all capture the richness of the painting, since I was working with a limited set of colored pencils. The Inktense pencils do have a lot more richness and saturation than the regular watercolor kind, but they, like any others, are pretty limited to the hues they give you. It's much easier to mix colors in paint instead. But looking at any painting long enough to sketch it really teaches you a lot, even if the sketch is (never, really) what you hope it might be. I had a ball, though. And I love taking that kind of immersive time with great paintings.
My last day of the trip was Missouri and Arkansas. I stayed at a different park in Missouri than the one I love (full after the last minute delay due to smoke), so I slanted down the state through the Ozarks. The stand out highlight of the trip was a small antique store in Knob Noster, MO, (that name!) that had a commercial kitchen attached and homemade PIE. A brilliant combination. I didn't buy anything permanent, but I did get a strawberry rhubarb pie with some of the best crust I've ever had.
It was a great easing into home, since I've come back to a fantastic exhibition of Wayne Thiebaud's prints and paintings at Dixon. I've been looking forward to this show for months. I went the first week with an artist friend and had such fun comparing our ideas about the work. Yesterday I went back to spend more time with specific pieces I love and do a little sketching. I plan to go at least once a week while it's here. I'm fascinated with how he uses hatching to define spaces instead of outlining all the time (the meringue below, or the man with the paper's shorts. Exquisite.)
One thing I thought about over the summer is how to take the slow down of the last few months back into my home life. Sadly fall is going to be less busy than I'd hoped, given the resurgence of the virus, but I still want to be intentional about giving myself permission to take days off without feeling guilty. I love working in my house and having studio space available right here, but it can be hard to take time off when work is in the next room hovering over your consciousness. Potter Melissa Bridgman, who works harder than about anyone I know, gives herself a weekday sabbath, since weekends get so crazy. I love that, and I plan to implement that for myself. I'd like to use it to do more regular museum visiting, since that really feeds me. Yesterday I took my first weekday off. I went to Dixon to sketch, had a leisurely lunch on the back porch with my journal, banjo, and the Thiebaud catalog, and visited a friend in her yard in the afternoon. It was marvelous. I've got time before WAMA to get my prints in order for the show, and I'm going to enjoy the lead up instead of stressing about it.
I have an insane amount of stuff to do this week, but I celebrated finishing my last commission by stopping at Dixon on my way home to see the American Impressionists exhibition one more time before it closes. I also wanted to sketch this lovely Boudin from our permanent collection. It’s not always on view, and I love having it out. I’m way out of practice for this and didn’t leave enough room on the left (I always get larger as I go), and pencil is not my best medium, but it was so good to spend some time looking deeply at this one. I’m celebrating vaccines by making time for some important things I haven’t been able to do lately. Like getting a couple of waltzes and a good visit with my sister yesterday. Means so much. I have missed dancing for that jolt of joy in my life. Art is deeply satisfying and necessary and how I interact with almost all the world, but dancing is JOY. I’m so grateful to be easing back with a vaccinated partner or two even if it will be a while before we fill a gym with sweaty, smiling people.
I hit the point of full vaccination last week and have been doing a few cautious things the last few days. I've been wanting all spring to go to Dixon and see the American Impressionism show there, so Tuesday morning I went right as they opened and had the exhibition to myself. It was gorgeous and thought provoking and interesting, and I got a lovely chat with Kevin Sharp who saw me there and talked about the Prendergast piece and also Euphemia Fortune's chickens. They were one of my favorites, and he said he loved that she lived just near the big, craggy ocean shore but chose to paint daily life, and beautifully. I loved that too. Although I hated that she felt she had to disguise her name and go by a first initial to be able to exhibit.
There was a bench by the William Wendt (sadly not by the chicken piece, though I may still go back), and I loved the upright composition of this one, with the brown creek at the center falling out from underneath the viewer. I loved the tiny line of sky at the top and the dark masses of trees. I had taken my Inktense pencils (my watercolor brush pen, fine in Europe, is not allowed in the local museums), and I drew very quickly in the almost dark. The painting is lovely, and the sketch is chicken scratch, but it reminds me of the composition, and spending enough time looking at a painting to draw it is always a good exercise.
I also wrote down the quote from fellow Texas painter Edward Eisnlohr: "If you can't find a landscape worth painting within ten miles of where you are, then you shouldn't be a painter." This reminded me strongly of John Constable and Walter Anderson and all my art heroes who painted their own places instead of rushing off for the grand and fashionable scenery of the day.
The next day I went to Brooks to see the French posters exhibition, which I also had to myself for the first hour. They have enormous Mucha, Steinlen, and Toulouse-Lautrec lithographs. Fantastic. I love Mucha for detail and fun, but I must admit that the Toulouse-Lautrec ones had the most arresting compositions. I sketched this one, partly for the wonderful design, and partly for the bass player at the bottom. It's been wonderful just to stand in the presence of art again. I have missed that so very much this last year. And I love sketching from it as well. I learn so much every time.
One of the crazy fun things about having artwork at Dixon Gallery and Gardens is being able to go out and do a tour on various afternoons. For me, as an artist who works mostly at home in solitude, it’s great fun to get to dress up, go out in public, and talk about art, ideas, and where my work comes from. I love getting to answer questions and see folks interacting with my work. This year, of course, things are different, but Linley Schmidt taped me (outdoors in the cold, bless her, because I didn’t want to take off my mask indoors, and I’m terribly muffled talking with it on) in the gardens and shared this video for a virtual “tour.” It’s a little harder to just wind up and go without questions or feedback, but fortunately talking is one of my comfortable places. And I do really love the chance to have to put into words the less formed ideas floating around in my brain while I’m working. It pushes me and clarifies my own thinking. Being in this show is a huge honor, and I enjoyed getting to draw the through lines from the St. John’s gospel back through the history of marrying art and text.
I spent a couple more days doing intricate and steady work on my current prints, but tonight I was missing my sketchbook. The Memphis Urban Sketchers had a "virtual sketch crawl" today (Saturdays are our normal days), so I wanted to join in. I sit on the sofa a lot in the evenings, but this is my other favorite spot. I'm grateful, so grateful, that I had spent the last year working to make my house a warmer, more pleasant place to be. This corner is one of my new happy places.
I just framed the poster last month to remember a really pivotal show for me. It was a solo exhibition of Berthe Morisot, and she's my new art hero. She just flat out went for it. She was showing in the salon in her 20's and then showed at every Impressionist exhibition that they put together themselves. Frustratingly, fully half of the show was from private collections. Museums just weren't collecting her when they were sucking up every available male impressionist canvas. And her work is amazing. One critic called her "the angel of the incomplete" because of her confident, calligraphic style.
After I saw her show, plus another current woman artist show, also at the Musee d'Orsay, two different friends challenged me to go for it if what I wanted was another museum show. My first, at Dixon, was a career moment, but I'd been having this "what now?" feeling ever since. I don't see ever landing in the Orsay, but Morisot's gumption and drive made me redouble my efforts, and I was awarded a show at the Walter Anderson Museum of Art for 2022. Which, given the current world situation, is perfect. And I'm so glad for something really exciting to work towards just now. It's been a huge bright spot for me lately.
I’ve never known that much about abstract painting, and I’m generally drawn to more figurative work, but I’ve been looking forward to getting enough space from show season and crazy family stuff to get over to Dixon to see this exhibition. It’s a stunning one. I’ve been twice this week and could even be tempted to go back another time before it closes on Sunday. Rothko is my absolute favorite of the abstract painters, but I had fallen deeply for a Helen Frankenthaler painting in Omaha a few months ago, and there’s a less totally stunning but still lovely one in this show. There’s also a gorgeous de Kooning, and I loved the second show of just Dzubas paintings (an artist I wasn’t previously familiar with) collected by a local businessman. It was a stunning retrospective of four decades of his work, and a number of them sang to me. I loved seeing the progression too. My only quibble with the main abstract show was that it was only one painting per artist. I really like being able to see two or three of the same artist, compare them together, get more of a feel for the body of work. Their survey of women artists earlier this year (with many less famous names — I was already somewhat familiar with a number of the abstract painters) was even more disorienting that way. I wanted to see more than just one. It’s almost jarring to move artists with every painting and have no compare and contrast ability. But that’s a small complaint about a stellar show overall.
I went back the second time with every colored pencil I own to try to capture a little of the texture of the Rothko, and the Stamos had also been calling my name. I did one small sketch of each. The de Kooning was too intricate for me to take on that day, and I didn’t have any of the right colors for the Dzubas pieces I liked best. With watercolors I can mix anything, but pencils just are what you have. The last two pieces are both by Dzubas.
My partner was digging around on YouTube and found this video of me talking about My Own Places, the landscape exhibition I had at Dixon Gallery and Gardens in 2015. They invited me as a current landscape artist to do a solo show as a complement to their Southern Impressionism exhibit. It was the highlight of my career so far, and it was fun to revisit talking about the way I paint and carve prints and how those two media differ from each other. And how keeping a sketchbook has radically broadened the work that I do.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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