Sunday, April 13, 2008

Early Spring

This is Rachel, Early Spring oil on linen, 14"x17". In the detail shot you can see drawings of Rachel on the wall, and I found a scan of one of them. I think this drawing is possibly from the first session I ever had with Rachel - a drawing group at Round Top Center For the Arts in Damariscotta. She was a totally unique person in so many ways. She was rather shy and very soft-spoken, but she preferred to be without clothes, and was perfectly comfortable that way. She is an artist herself - a painter- as well as a dancer and consummate yoga practitioner. Those things combined made her one of the best figure models I've ever come across. She was also very sweet, and could be pretty silly and funny, as I found out when we got better acquainted. I should mention that she was also a gearhead, and could swap out a transmission on a Subaru faster than I could change an oil filter.
This particular painting was a kind of breakthrough for me, because it was a consummate disaster from the get-go. I had recently purchased the John Howard Sanden book on alla prima (or in his words: premier coup) painting, and I had designs to do a painting of Rachel with no study and no underpainting in one - maybe two - sessions. Like I said, it was a disaster as far as my initial idea was concerned. But I really wanted to finish this thing and make something out of it regardless. Rachel was game, so she sat for me for I don't know how many sittings. At one point I thought I was done, but coming back to the piece a few days after a session, I realized that her head was totally misaligned on the shoulders, and no amount of fancy rendering could cure it, so I sanded it out. Rachel came the next week and was totally floored that her head was gone. I repainted it, and when I was done, she told me it was the best likeness of her that she'd seen so far - and she modeled for a LOT of people. It's true, she has a unique look; what with her aquiline features and dramatically bowed lips. It was hard to capture these things without concentrated objective observation. And even though the paint surface is not what it should be, her likeness is true.
I look at this piece now, and now that I know so much more about the physical properties of oils, I can see I was very flawed in my technique here. However, it was all an important experience, and I have to thank Rachel, as she stayed with my not-quite-there-yet vision on this one. She was also a good sport in another way. Notice the leather pants hanging from the window. She showed up one day wearing these - a new purchase - and I remarked, "Look at you in your rock star pants!" She was abashed, and sought to hide her embarrassment by getting naked. That was Rachel, and that's why I had to include the pants.
For my growth as a painter, I feel that I need to re-visit this kind of painting. It's really quite difficult, and can send an artist to a new level if you can get through it. I just need the right model.


Martha Miller said...

Hi Rob

To hell with the paint issues - you are an amazing draughtsman! This is a beautiful painting.
Have you ever read the book(I think it's called) Sitting for a Giocometti (Giocametti?) Portrait? It's a fun read. He kept wiping out his painting and starting over. The guy who was sitting for him had to stay in Paris far longer than planned and finally just grabbed his portrait off the easel and told G that it was DONE. I think that G had OCD...

Martha Miller said...

draughtsman? (drinking a bit, lately?)

oh, i wish there was a spell check on these things!

amazing DRAFTSMAN!

Rob S. said...

Actually, I like draughtsman, which is the old-school/European spelling of the word. And I thank you for the compliment! I'm much sloppier in my approach than it looks, believe me.
I've always had a thing for Giacometti, despite my realist tendencies. His work was always so personal and sensual.
Sargent had the same issues at times, and he had a few women weeping at the fact that they had to return for an 80th sitting or some such because he scraped out the head again. The portrait Mr. and Mrs. John Phelps Stokes, is a good example.