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Monday, April 14, 2014

Great Marsh, Melting Snow

Great Marsh, Melting Snow Sketch   2014 Katherine Kean
charcoal 8 x 10 inches
"The snow is melting into music." - John Muir, John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir

Another drawing of the marsh at dusk in the winter as the snow melts.

Not just beautiful to gaze upon, marshes are valuable for many reasons. I find encouragement in the findings of this research:

Salt marshes may help slow the rate of climate change in the future, as rising and warmer oceans will enable them to more quickly capture and remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, according to a study published in the journal Nature: Salt Marshes May Slow Climate Warming . . . For A While.

“Our research suggests that the value of these ecosystems in capturing atmospheric carbon might become much more important in the future, as the climate warms,” said Matthew Kirwan, a University of Virginia environmental scientist, and the lead author of the USGS-funded and supported research. 

Salt marshes store enormous quantities of carbon, essential to plant productivity, by, in essence, breathing in the atmospheric carbon and then using it to grow, flourish and increase the height of the soil. Even as the grasses die, the carbon remains trapped in the sediment. The researchers’ model predicts that under faster sea-level rise rates, salt marshes could bury up to four times as much carbon as they do now. 

 “One of the cool things about salt marshes is that they are perhaps the best example of an ecosystem that actually depends on carbon accumulation to survive climate change: The accumulation of roots in the soil builds their elevation, keeping the plants above the water,” Kirwan said.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Night Sky

Plainview Night Sky Study Katherine Kean 2014
oil on linen 6 x 6 inches
“The sky grew darker, painted blue on blue, one stroke at a time, into deeper and deeper shades of night.” - Haruki Murakami, Dance Dance Dance

This isn't the first time I've painted this sky, this view, and I suspect I will keep on exploring. I'm amazed by the indescribable hues of this sky at dusk. I'm not talking about the vivid reds and oranges that are also breath-taking, but the other ones, the tarnished gold, the muted plum, the softly tinted grays. I wonder if it's an effect of being midway between an ocean and a desert. In the moments when the sun is all but gone and the darkness hasn't completely taken over I can see with my eye so much space and depth and subtlety of color. One day I hope to get closer with paint to what I sense with my eyes.

Monday, March 31, 2014

A Little Snow on the Marsh

Marsh With Snow Charcoal Sketch Katherine Kean

I've been away from snow long enough to get excited by it again - that is, when it occurs in what I feel are appropriate amounts. It was pretty lying lightly scattered across the marsh with just a few brittle and dry stalks of marsh grass remaining on a late afternoon in Cape Cod.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Thoughts From TRAC 2014: Part 2 Unofficial Art

Rembrandt Painter in Studio
So where does today’s representational painter fit in to this post modern art world?

Nowhere, apparently. According to the values that define Postmodern art, we do not make art. Don’t despair, we can still make work, it's just called something else, and that something is kitsch. Before anyone becomes offended, makers of kitsch are in good company. Robert Storr, now the dean of Yale’s School of Art, once named Andrew Wyeth “our greatest living ‘kitsch-meister'."

Wyeth Spring
As Jan-Ove Tuv explained in his presentation titled "Kitsch as Superstructure for Representational Narrative Painting", the values of postmodernism are non - objective, ironic and unemotional, making use of distancing objectivity, and innovation.

Kitsch, as defined by Keynote speaker Odd Nerdrum - is not the kitsch that we shrink from, meaning art that is in poor taste because of excessive garishness or sentimentality, but art that employs mastery of technique, combined with narrative, romanticism, and emotionally charged imagery – all of which are taboo for the postmodern artist. As a philosophy, the Kitsch Movement as Superstructure is based upon personal experience and is humanist in nature.

Odd Nerdrum Self Portrait in a Tree Trunk
Another term that has been suggested by Alexey Steele is Novorealism:
“Novorealism addresses the capabilities of evolutionary developed human sensory systems as opposed to technologically based expressions. Novorealism has opposite priorities to those of 'official art'. Instead of chasing novelty it strives for authenticity, instead of glorifying ugliness it contemplates beauty, instead of prescribed irony it searches for sublime, instead of detached objectivity it engages the personal, instead of craving shock, it strives for greatness.”

What is needed now? What stops representational art from becoming kitsch – and now I am referring to the other kind – the one that IS the art world “no - no"? In a word, authenticity.

Although I don't remember who said it, this stayed with me, "One must paint each brushstroke as originating in the heart and moving straight through your arm and on to the canvas."

 "You should be able to go to art with the burden of your life." Roger Sruton

Friedrich Winter Landscape

Monday, March 24, 2014

Thoughts From Trac 2014 Part 1: Postmodernism's Rules

Diebenkorn Girl With Plant
Hopper Western Motel
Diebenkorn Seated Woman Green Interior

Hopper Intermission
Although in many ways a division already exists, put firmly in place by our educational and cultural institutions, let me start by saying that I do not feel the need to hold postmodern art and representational art in opposition to each other. The history of art can be seen as cyclical and we can draw from many traditions. Art movements can be seen as a continuum; as something that is relative to the taste, development, and character of the artist and the viewer, and just as with temperatures, where there is no line that distinguishes where hot stops and cold begins, there does not need to be a line defining where postmodernism stops and representationalism begins.

That said, I found much to agree with in some of the discussions at TRAC; and language that describes and clarifies the mechanics at play that have often left me feeling at odds with large segments of the art world.

The rules of Postmodernism, how art is defined and judged in our times, were defined: self -referential, ironic, unemotional, using distancing objectivity, and innovative – it must always be something that’s never been done before.

Keynote speaker Roger Scruton bemoaned the"jokes" in contemporary art; Marcel Duchamp's urinal, Koon’s Balloon dog, Hirst’s pickled animals, and he spoke of kitsch in the negative sense of the word.

Koons Balloon Dog
“Current society is a culture of self loathing permeated with violence and objectification. “
“Kitsch is fake emotion, demands less of the viewer, it is easier to deal with.”
“Jeff Koons’ pre-emptive kitsch, pretense on all levels, so ostentatiously kitsch one hesitates to judge it.” And quoting Oscar Wilde, “Cynics know the price of everything, but the value of nothing.”

I appreciate a good joke as much as the next person, however I've also observed how the class clown uses humor to distance, to cloak and defend against genuine feelings and interaction. While there is undeniable cleverness in much contemporary art and often notable intelligence, I understand that irony's power is destructive and after awhile all the jokes become worn out and tiring. I'm just left wondering, is that it? There must be more to art than endless cerebral kidding around.

Banksy No Future
So where does today’s representational painter fit in to this postmodern art world?

To be continued …

Monday, March 17, 2014

Snow and Rain and Reverse Glass Portraits

I’m back after a lovely visit back east. As winter barely made an appearance in Southern California, I found a light snow shower the morning after my arrival in Cape Cod refreshing. It melted almost before I could take a picture of it.

The next day was unusually warm for New England. One of the sights we took in was the Sandwich Glass Museum, where I saw room after room of beautiful glass, mold blown, machine pressed, cut and engraved, and these portraits of George and Martha Washington by William Mathew Prior, after Gilbert Stuart.

Are you familiar with Ray Turner’s Population portrait series on glass? I hadn’t realized that the technique of reverse painting on glass had such a long history, as far back as the Middle Ages. The smooth surface of glass seems to emphasize and capture the slickness of painted brush strokes.

The following day was cold again, and the next day it snowed. I drove in snow for the first time. By afternoon the snow stopped and overnight rain took it away It was still cold, but not as bitter as before.

We went whale watching and saw plenty of ducks, but no whales, although there were whales around, however it seems we just missed them.

I flew back to LA to 90 degree weather and an early morning earthquake. I wonder how long those paintings on glass would last if they lived out here…

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Representational Artists Conference 2014

Little  more than an hour away from Los Angeles, Ventura, CA was the location for TRAC 2014. Feeling lucky that it was nearby, I bought tickets, booked a room, got a cat sitter for Zabrina, and off I went. There were people from all over the US and a dozen countries all gathered together to share ideas about representational art. 

Odd Nerdrum
Roger Scruton
Organized by Michael Pearce, key speakers were Roger Scruton and Odd Nerdrum along with notable presentations from art world scholars and practitioners, among them Michael Zakian, Jan-Ove Tuv, Brandon Kralik, John Seed, Michael Pearce, numerous others. In fact, one of the sad things about conferences is having to choose to hear only 14 presentations out of a possible 40 some papers.

The presentations were broken up by painting demonstrations and field trips to local exhibitions, including Women by Women at the Kwan Fong Gallery, where we were in time for a talk from Ruth Weisberg and Resonating Images at the William Rolland Gallery of Fine Art.

Women by Women Kwan Fong Gallery
Resonating Images William Rolland Gallery of Fine Art

 My head is quite full of intriguing ideas, images, and philosophies about what art is, or is not, or was, or was not, or maybe will be. It is an ongoing conversation.