A Walk through Walden Woods in search of Thoreau’s Cabin.

I spent last Saturday walking through Walden Woods in search of inspiration for my #caredimenisons commission. The new Care Dimensions building is located in Waltham, MA. not far from Walden Pond. The commission features three paintings inspired by the natural environment of Walden Pond. The quiet serenity, sense of peace and the smell of autumn trees on the trail was invigorating. Thoreau, who lived in Walden Woods for two years after the death of his brother John, (his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson owned the land at the time and let him live on it for free), wrote his most famous essays while huddled in his very small cabin. A replica of the cabin is on site and invites visitors to imagine what it was like for Thoreau to live there. I understand Thoreau’s desire to live simply and peacefully. I hope my paintings reflect the Walden Pond Thoreau came to know so well.

How Paintings tell a Story

My goal as an artist is to work with designers and architects on site specific projects; working with designers and architects presents an opportunity to interact with professionals with whom I can share my ideas and who can in turn share their visions for how they perceive the final building will engage the user.  Currently, I am working on the Care Dimensions commission for their new facility in Waltham, MA.

By creating site specific work, I can pre-determine the size, shape, palette and subject of the work.  As with all of my commissions, this one attempts to connect the mission of the patron, in this case a hospice center, with the local scenery and history, Waltham, MA., and given this location, the writings of Concord native author Henry David Thoreau whose book Walden recounts his experience of living for two years in Walden Woods near the Waltham/Concord town line.

The three paintings in this commission attempt to celebrate the beauty of Walden Woods as they simultaneously act as metaphors for the trajectory of life.

The painting on the left is meant to suggest sunrise seeping through the trees, breathing life into the foreground. The light source coming from behind and creating a shadow in the foreground mimics stage lighting, a common practice in Baroque art and one that gives the painting a theatrical quality. This sets the stage for a life to come, a promise of a future to be explored. The trees point to the right, guiding the viewer to the painting in the center.

The central painting includes a pathway in the composition. This suggests moving forward into unknown terrain, climbing up a path that is a bit crooked and uneven, but guided by the light that is now in the background.  The open space in this composition is on the right of the painting-the light blue of the sky which holds a sense of distance, a way forward, the bend of the trees guiding the wanderer up the path and into the near distance.

The painting on the right contains the body of water that one expects to find on Walden Pond: calm, cool, and a deep Prussian blue value that bespeaks a brisk New England autumn day.  In this composition, the trees shift to the left, allowing the viewer to return to the first painting and engage with all three paintings as one unit.

The trees are included in all three of the paintings to represent the rootedness of life, a visual symbol used in many cultures such as in Navajo Sand-paintings.  The water is symbolic of the ephemeral nature of life, another visual and spiritual symbol recognized in many cultures and throughout history.

As a naturalist, Thoreau understood that the path to a greater understanding of our life on earth is through an understanding of the natural world around us and of which we are part: “We can never have enough of nature”, he wrote. We must be refreshed by the sight of inexhaustible vigor, vast and Titanic features, the sea-coast with its wrecks, the wilderness with its living and its decaying trees, the thunder cloud, and the rain which lasts three weeks and produces freshets. We need to witness our own limits transgressed, and some life pasturing freely where we never wander.” (reprinted from walden.org/thoreau).

Working on this commission for CareDimensions has provided me with the opportunity to share my ideas with architects and designers, with the CEO of this important Hospice facility, and to channel the writings of Henry David Thoreau.  Next: the mission of Care Dimensions and symbolic in the paintings.

 

If you are interested in finding out more about how my work, please contact me to discuss your ideas.

Care Dimensions Commission: The in-progress paintings in my studio

Care Dimensions commission as it unfolds in my studio.

Using simple household tools such as a turkey baster and a squeeze bottle, I apply layers of colored pulp to the surface of the painting, building the many elements of texture that make my process so unique. The three dimensional quality of the surface will mimic the original, natural environment.

The three paintings in-progress at the beginning of the work day. The challenge of working on three paintings at once is to make sure they flow together. The palates for each must be unique so they hold their own identity; at the same time they must also work harmoniously together. It is a challenge I embrace as I see this as a musical concept-harmony and identity, almost like instruments playing in an orchestra.

 

 

  Close up image of the Fall inspired painting. The cotton abaca pulp is applied with the turkey baster while the overeaten pulp is applied with the squeeze bottle.

End of the work day, Friday, October 27. The Fall painting is coming along with a new layer of colors having worked on it all day. The Summer inspired painting (right) will be worked on next. This allows all three painting to be worked on at the same time and to keep pace with each other. That is, when one painting is worked on for a period of time, I leave it for a few days until the other two paintings are worked on to meet the same level of completeness.

What the final paintings will look like. This is what the art review committee chose during our meeting in August, 2017.

Care Dimensions Commission: Painting the Background

A turkey baster is used to apply what will become the blue sky of the autumn inspired painting.

The commission for Care Dimensions  in its beginning stages in my studio, October, 2017.  The panels have been covered with a base sheet of pulp and the first layer of what will become the skies is poured directly onto this layer.  Using basic “painting tools” such as plastic spoons, a turkey baster and recycled plastic cups, I begin this essential stage of the painting process, working on all three paintings at the same time to ensure time management-as one painting dries between applications of color, I anticipate the paintings will be completed by the end of November.

 

 

Two of the three paintings resting on the vacuum table in my studio, October, 2017. The painting on the right exhibits several shades of blue pulp on it. This is necessary to determine the which is the correct shade to be used for the final painting.

Over beaten abaca (pulp from the banana tree-very strong, used to make nautical rope) is removed from a blender after color has been added. The blender is used to ensure the color is evenly distributed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What the final paintings will look like. This is what the art review committee chose during our meeting in August, 2017.

Care Dimensions Commission: What is a Blank Canvas?

The three 62 x 31 x 3 inch panels in the studio, September 2017.

A blank canvas is many things to an artist.  It’s a challenge and an opportunity. Having ordered the three panels from my friend “Ron the framer,” I secured the base sheet of pulp to the surfaces and am ready to begin the painting (left). This is both an intimidating moment and one of pure thrill. I love the challenge of working in multiples and on a large scale with imagery that needs to work harmoniously, as one unit, in tandem with its neighboring paintings. The subject of each painting needs to flow back and forth so that one compliments the others, all the while holding its own identity. This is a far more challenging task than when working on a single image that does not need to share space with other work.

Me taking photos of the wall for which the three panels will be installed. October, 2017.

Because I work with architects and designers, the blank canvas extends to the intended space where the work will be installed. Often, this space is the construction site-full of dust and debris.  I honestly love visiting the site, donning a hard hat and photographing the soon to be completed wall.  The busy workers, noisy power tools, and smell of production are reminders for why I enjoy making site specific work.  I love the companionship of working with people who see a vision, a future space where one does not currently exist. In many ways, this is what I see as an artist looking at a blank canvas: a future space where one does not currently exist.

Next post: the beginning stage of the paintings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.” Leonardo da Vinci

My commission for the new Care Dimensions facility in Waltham, MA.

It is with great joy that I share with you that I am working on a commission for the new Care Dimensions Facility in Waltham, MA.  This commission consists of three original 62x 31 x 3 inch paintings of nature scenes inspired by Walden Pond.  Since Walden Pond has had an historical impact on the local culture, it seems an appropriate subject for the paintings.

As far as the subject is concerned, the inclusion of trees suggests seasonal changes and the water represents a nourishing force that reflects the intentions of this care-giving space.  The pathway in the center painting refers to life’s journey, sometimes smooth, sometimes jagged, but always moving into the future.

These three images were chosen from examples previously supplied by Meg Black  to                 members of the Care Dimensions staff during an on site meeting, August, 2017.

The paintings will be created using abaca, (commercially used for marine cordage and nautical rope), cotton, linen, canvas, pigment and pearlescent pigment.

The paintings will be delivered to Care Dimensions in Waltham later this year and will be installed by the opening reception that will take place sometime in early 2018.

I am very grateful to the staff of Care Dimensions for entrusting me with this exciting, and, having worked with Hospice when my dad was sick with cancer, emotional commission.  It is my goal and intent to create, in the words of Michelangelo with regard to his commission for the Pieta, the most beautiful work of art I can possibly make.

I look forward to posting updates about this commission as it progresses throughout the next few months.

Video of my new painting, Rocks and Water as Metaphor for Life’s Journey.

Rocks and Water: Art historical inspirations.

I am often asked “what influences you as an artist?” The answer depends on the subject I am working on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For this Rock and Water as self-portrait painting, I considered the sculpture of Doryphoros (the spear barer) by Polykleitus.
In this classical Greek work, Polycletus does an outstanding job with the zigzagging lines that flow up the sculpture. Notice how the feet are going in one direction, the knees in the opposite direction from the feet, the hips follow the knees and are contrasted with direction of the chest, etc., all the way up to the head, which follows the direction of the feet-where the sculpture begins. Brilliant. I tried to do something similar with this painting: the rocks are rough, the tide pool smooth; the next set of rocks is rough again, the shoreline is smooth; the waves are rough, the ocean water is smooth, the sky is rough again-same as when the painting begins with the rough rocks. Thank you Polycletus for being such a great composition teacher.

 

 

 

The other artist I was influenced by as I worked on this painting was Winslow Homer. His seascapes are churning, rough, jagged. I love the blue/greens he uses. He gives seascape painting a good name. I love anything he does where it concerns water. I tried to make my waves the same blue/green color and make them churn as he does.

 

 

 

Finally, I have to say JMW Turner’s Slave Ship with its boiling water and death defying waves is just awe inspiring. The way he makes a yellow sun appear angry and how the ship is tossing in the wind is one of my favorite moments in art history. Very happy the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston owns this famous painting so I can visit it often.

Day Nine: Rocks and Water as metaphor for life’s journey.

Rocks and Water as Self Portrait 2017), 40 x 40 x 3 inches, pulp painting.

Start of day nine. I begin today’s studio session with the goal of painting the waves so they appear to be crashing up against the rocks and in contrast to the calm waters of the tide pool in the foreground.  For me, this is where the metaphor of rocks and water as life’s journey comes together.

The ocean water is soft and cool at the shoreline, but, when the weather conditions are right, the ocean tide relentlessly crashes against the hard rocks.  The rocks weigh much more than the water, but the strength of the crashing waves can literally move the rocks into new formations. Ultimately, the rocks are smoothed by the water,   and over time, they will disintegrate.

The crashing waves represents how life challenges us-often unexpectedly.  These sometimes violent storms shift us much like the waves shift the formations of the rocks.  We long for the stillness of the tide pool, but we find our strength when we are challenged by the storms.

Similarly, we want to see ourselves strong like the rocks, able to weather the most violent storms.  But time softens us, heals us, the storms we weather wizen us.  We are smoothed at the edges and anticipate the next storm, for which we increasingly know we can weather.

Rocks and Water as Self Portrait, MFA Thesis exhibit, Massachusetts College of Art, 1989.

This metaphor for life is why I have returned to the subject of rocks and water as self-portrait for close to 30 years now.  The paintings in my MFA thesis exhibit from Massachusetts College of Art back in 1989 featured this same subject.  Even then, as I was just starting out on my journey as an artist, I saw this connection between rocks and water and life’s journey.  Here goes: day nine.

 

 

 

 

Day Seven: Rocks and Water as Self Portrait.

Day seven. The water section needs a lot of work-more energy, increase the crashing waves. This is the part of the creative process that is difficult. The painting feels to me that it is going nowhere. Faith in the process is crucial at this point. #megblackstudios