Walter Anderson, always
I took my first trip since November last week, back to one of my very favorite places. I spent time in the museum, at the water, at Shearwater pottery, and just sitting and enjoying the breeze playing my banjo. It was deeply good.
One fantastic thing I got to do was go sketch in Anderson's cottage again. With my show last year, I've made friends with the museum staff (and enough with the family that they trust me too), so I can borrow the key and sit in the quiet of that space with extra murals and just sketch. It's a huge honor. Above is part of a half finished mural around the window in Anderson's bathroom, facing the wall of cows above his bathtub. It's faint. These colors are more robust than what's there, but I wanted it to be legible as a sketch.
Anderson couldn't always get permission to do murals. Earlier in his life he was living with his inlaws at Oldfields (the current show is all about that house and the work he made there). His father-in-law was emphatic that no painting on the walls was going to happen, so Anderson used large pieces of paper to make "murals." The piece below is one of those, and I was completely charmed. I sat and sketched it in the museum.
This is the second view I did of the cottage. You can see a smaller mural of two birds. I also loved all the shelves with small treasures, bits of driftwood and shells and stones. I have some of all of this in my own window sills at in bowls at my house, as did Georgia O'Keeffe in her New Mexico home. It reminds me of the "nature collection" my sister and I made with my grandmother growing up, but seeing these artists carry that habit throughout their lives makes me feel a deep kinship with both of them.
It's the last week for the lovely American paintings show at Dixon, and the director Kevin Sharp was giving a lecture yesterday as well, so I treated myself to another museum day. I'm getting out less than I used to with my separation anxiety dog (as well as a natural tendency to stay home a lot anyway), but I'm finding that when I do get good opportunities, I make them count more. Instead of saying, maybe I'll go to Dixon tomorrow or next week, if a friend wants to take Henry to the office for today, I jump right on that chance to do something really worthwhile. So Henry got to be an office dog yesterday, and I got a museum day.
I had one more painting I really wanted to sketch, this William Trost Richards painting of Maine. Once again, it's a bit darker and more vivid (especially in the water) than the original since I was working in low light with limited media. But overall I'm pleased, and it will also just help me remember better.
Then I had lunch outside (I'm still masking indoors) and started the tulip sketch but rushed back in to hear Kevin talk about the artist Walt Kuhn. I also worked a little bit on this Inness copy, toning it down some. It's not right, but I'm happier with it than I was. And I finished off the day sitting outside and finishing the tulip sketch at the top. I hadn't used my green ink lately, and the spring greens have had me itching to get it back out.
I keep going back to sketch in the Dixon show of American paintings. I think (hope) it has one more week for me to get back and sketch a little more. It's frustrating in some ways. You have to use dry media in the gallery (European museums are much more forward thinking about copying with paint), so I can't mix colors and gray things down a bit as I would like to. Dry colors (pencils, watercolor crayons, etc.) tend to be a bit more candy colored overall, so these colors are off a good bit, most especially on the lovely, subtle Inness. He's one of my favorites. But it's still deeply profitable as an artist to spend time looking at a painting deeply enough to sketch it even if the sketch is never what I hope it would be.
The colors were reasonably right for the Sloan, though (above). Sloan mostly painted cityscapes and was instrumental in the Ashcan school. I was drawn to this landscape, a summer holiday with his wife, precisely because he brought that fuller bodied intensity to a pastoral landscape. His colors are almost shocking side by side with the oranges and greens and a deeper blue green sea than I managed to convey here. It's an arresting piece, and I love the brushwork in it as well.
I put Henry in daycare today and did a twofer on local museums. I needed one really quiet day after getting in my final draft for the graphic essay, but then I was wanting to get out and see some great art, and we have wonderful shows up in Memphis right now.
The first was Harmonia Rosales at Brooks. Her show plays off of a lot of "Old Master" paintings and reimagines them to include heroines and mythologies rooted in West Africa. It is magic. I love painters with a strong sense of art history, and her cracking open those tropes to make room for the rest of the world is infectious and beautiful. She uses the gold of the Medieval icons and pairs it with the exuberant abundance of the Baroque, and she has a strong series of visual motifs that are meaningful and personal to her as a painter. It's a remarkable show.
I ran to the grocery and home for a sit down/have tea kind of lunch, and a bit after I went to Dixon. I love their show of American paintings. I've been three times now and have more pieces I want to go sketch, but today I worked from a huge landscape by Thomas Hill. I used watercolor crayons and inktense pencils since it's only dry media in the local museums. (I added paint to the Rosales copy when I got home while it was fresh -- I wanted that real golden feel to it.). That's limiting on colors and especially on skies, but it's so instructive to look at a painting long enough to replicate it and figure out how the artist made certain effects work.
The rain was holding off, and my favorite statue Ceres was surrounded by yellow daffodils and red tulips, so I did one more quick sketch before leaving. I love the graphic essay project, and it's wonderful to have someone want to publish you, but it's also fun to go make art purely for the joy of it on a day off. A perfect break.
and look at paintings I might otherwise have passed by, and I was so glad she could join me on the spur of the moment. I stayed behind to sketch a Grant Wood still life that I've fallen in love with. So unexpected from an artist I mostly know as the American Gothic dude. I love the curve and rich shadows behind the arrangement and the way the flowers reach right out of the frame. I could only use dry media (pencils and watercolor crayons without the water), but I had fun looking at it deeply enough to draw it even if I didn't quite match the lovely colors. (The photo also fails to do them justice.) I want to go back and sketch several more in this show as well.
Henry came home exhausted, as did I, so we snuggled into a fuzzy blanket and watched British tv and chatted with friends on the phone and knitted. A lovely birthday.
Celebrating endings too
Then I went to the museum and sketched some more. They'd put a beautiful wooden chair in the gallery, and I've always liked my work combined with wooden furniture or sculpture, and I wanted to mark its being there one more time. Drawing for me is a way to savor things.
I stayed at a small cabin right on the bayou with a wonderful breeze off the water. I sat out both evenings and watched the crescent moon set over the live oak trees. The second evening I had just one more page left in my sketchbook, and it seemed to be a perfect way to end the exhibition and the summer both by finishing the book right on the cusp of Labor Day weekend. I drew the moon in the half dark and didn't get all the colors quite right since I'm using a new palette I'm still learning my way around, but that also adds some energy and life to a sketch that might otherwise have been too one tone.
Friday Mattie wrapped the work as I packed the car, and I drove it back to Memphis. I'm sad for the show to be down but so grateful I had it, and so grateful also for the friendships I made at WAMA. They're going to keep having my prints and books in the museum store, which is wonderful, and it will also give me an excellent excuse to pop down to the coast fairly regularly. I'm still feeling the afterglow of this whole wonderful experience.
There have been some awesome printmaking exhibits around recently. Brooks in Memphis put out their full complement of Durer's Small Passion, which is detailed and delightful. They can only show it every so often since it is fragile and on paper. I think the equation is something like "for every three months it's on show, it has to rest three years" or something like that. I didn't get over as often as I had optimistically planned to, but I did make it several times and spent some quality time sketching in the end. His use of line, like with all wood engraving, is what makes the print. But I was also fascinated by the details -- crucifixion tools lying at the foot of the cross, his signature not flat with the picture plane but in perspective (though he did get his D backwards a couple of times, which thrilled me to see --- even the top drawer printmakers can screw up the backwards bit sometimes!)
I loved the trees and the animals. Several pieces had small dogs in the foreground. I did notice it was the villains of the piece who mostly had dogs (Pilate, Herod, Caiaphus), but I wonder if they simply need the ministrations of dog angels more than the rest of the cast did. I also loved Jesus in his floppy gardening hat with a spade over his shoulder (but the stigmata noticeable). Most of all I loved the Adam and Eve in the garden underneath trees that have a through line down to E.H. Shepherd and with a badger (!) among the animals gathered around. I drew the tree carefully and the figures a bit less so, but I loved spending deep time looking at this one. Walking home, a tree reached out to me and called to be drawn, so I worked on using the character of Durer's lines to describe it (even if far less small and precise).
A second remarkable show is a set of Piranesi etchings at the University of Mississippi art museum. These are in their collection as well. None of the fantasy dungeons, sadly, but still some pretty delightful and whimsical details, like the figures up on the top of this dome with letters floating beside it. The letters, I realized later, corresponded to a list of building parts at the bottom of the print, but even so, their slightly wonky air felt whimsical as well. I also sketched a few decidedly whimsical (that was the word of the day) Mycenean pottery figures. I loved their stripes and happy expressions. I wish local museums would let us work in more than graphite, but the pencil did suit the engravings I was working from, and it felt good to do master copies again, even if only bits and pieces that appealed to me.
Anderson's cottage sketches
I finally got my sketches from Anderson's cottage scanned in to show better than an iphone snapshot can. It's a miracle of a place. This top one is the wall of windows that flashed me back to Monet's first studio at Giverny -- that same porous sense of indoor and outdoors flowing together because of height and light and windows. Anderson built the window seats and cabinets, and the carved chair is a replica of his made by one of the talented family that still lives at and around Shearwater making art and keeping the legacy of all three brothers (and their mother, who first dreamed of an artist colony) alive.
Below are two from the bathroom. I loved his bathtub murals. Anderson had been cycling through Texas, and he would strip and bathe in ponds as he encountered them. At one pond, a group of cows came up to gently see what was happening in their accustomed watering hole. It was a magic moment for Anderson. He made a series of paintings about it, and he missed the cows when he got home to his own bathtub. His solution, genius and beautiful, was to paint them around his own bathtub so he could always remember and have their company.
More Ocean Springs
I celebrated delivering my new show by sketching lots and also buying a new "I HAD A SHOW AT WAMA" tea set that will forever hold these happy memories for me. I had gone to Shearwater Pottery just looking for a cream pitcher, since I'd recently broken one of my favorites. But of course I ended up with a teapot too. Actually not "of course" -- teapots are hard to make, and they don't always have them in stock. This blue/green/grey glaze was so gorgeous I couldn't resist. In an added bonus, when I got it home, I found that my new favorite tea infuser fits EXACTLY into the hole with the lid going just inside it, so it's my easiest to use teapot of all the ones I now have. (Lots of them, sadly, are too narrow for my infuser, so I use them less than I used to, but I do still rotate through them for joy.).
Speaking of joy, they got my show up on the walls before I left, so I sat in the gallery and did a celebratory sketch of it. So much joy.
I also sketched this tall tree that I've been wanting to do a print of. It's good to have sketches as well as just photos to work from, though both are helpful in different ways, especially for more detailed subjects. And I'm adding in a second vertical that I did at my opening weekend to balance it out. My mom's three best friends have shown up for me at all the truly important passages of my life, acting as her proxies. They couldn't be at the museum in person, but they sent these gorgeous flowers to mark the occasion, and I couldn't be more grateful.
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.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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