Sunday, May 29, 2011

Corot, Constable & Owls Inspire a Painting

Joys I had Forgotten, 16x20, acrylic on linen panel, copyright Jan Blencowe

I worked in the studio very late last night. It was such a beautiful experience. I began at 9:30pm and by just before midnight the house was deafeningly quite. I opened all the windows in the studio to allow the breeze to flow in. The frogs and crickets were giving a choral performance par excellence and a cicada was tapping on the window screen. Out back a great horned owl was calling and his call was returned by the longer, lower call of a female from the wood across the way. Later into the night, about 1:30 AM a long eared owl joined the night sounds with his long mournful hoooooooo. The painting is coming along splendidly, I have at least four areas to work on and then I think it shall be done.

I finished this today and am rather pleased with the result. It s destined for the Summer Exhibit at Maple and Main Gallery, Chester, CT, which opens on Friday evening, June 10th, 5-8pm. Of course I would love to see you there!

Meanwhile, I will tell you that while I was pondering this painting, when it was still underwhelming  as my daughter put it, I sought the counsel of masters to find a resolution to the problems I faced.

I was inspired by a blog post from David Dunlop... who writes As I watch the painting change I notice how it has traveled away from its originating trigger image, the photo. I have no allegiance to that photo or any of its effects or information. It served merely as a prod to get me moving and thinking about a design and a general direction.

Next, I was inspired by a blog post from Christopher Volpe  writing about Corot and his gauzy, atmospheric veils shimmer with pearlescent grays composed of carefully toned neutral blues, ochers, greens, and violets ... his foliage trails into sky-brightness like forgotten music …  Volpe shares some interesting information he discovered in a write up from the national gallery that documents the palette of colors Corot used to achieve his sublime color effects.

Thirdly, I spent some time looking at a book about John Constable, who is perhaps becoming my favorite landscape painter of all time. I so admire Constable for his obvious love of the subject matter he paints, for his expressive naturalism, his exuberant paint handling and of course his clouds. 

Finally, I spent some time walking and observing the landscape, though not the exact location where this reference photo was taken I walked at park with a very similar environment. That walk refreshed, renewed and reawakened my visual memory and gave me new memories of encounters with nature's myriad textures, colors, shapes and sizes which to draw from when I returned to the easel. 

The title of this piece is loosely based on a line from Robert Louis Stevenson's poem St. Martin's Summer

St. Martin's Summer by Robert Louis Stevenson

As swallows turning backward
When half-way o'er the sea,
At one word's trumpet summons
They came again to me -
The hopes I had forgotten
Came back again to me.

I know not which to credit,
O lady of my heart!
Your eyes that bade me linger,
Your words that bade us part -
I know not which to credit,
My reason or my heart.

But be my hopes rewarded,
Or be they but in vain,
I have dreamed a golden vision,
I have gathered in the grain -
I have dreamed a golden vision,
I have not lived in vain.


It is not hopes I had forgotten while painting this piece it was a fresh experience of the joys of observing and interacting with nature that had become dim.

And for some reason I am not entirely sure of this painting and the experience of painting it has reminded me of this quote .....

The pale flowers of the dogwood outside this window are saints. The little yellow flowers that nobody notices on the edge of that road are saints looking up into the face of God.  This leaf has it own texture and its own pattern of veins and its own holy shape, and the bass and trout hiding in the deep pools of the river are canonized by their beauty and their strength.  The lakes hidden among the hills are saints, and the sea too is a saint who praises God without interruption in her majestic dance.  The great, gashed, half-naked mountain is another of God's saints. There is no other like him. He is alone in his own character; nothing else in the world ever did or ever will imitate God in quite the same way. That is his sanctity….


For me to be a saint means to be myself. Therefore the problem of sanctity and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who I am and of discovering my true self.   Trees and animals have no problem. God makes them what they are without consulting them, and they are perfectly satisfied.  With us it is different. God leaves us free to be whatever we like. We can be ourselves or not, as we please. We are at liberty to be real, or to be unreal. We may be true or false, the choice is ours. We may wear now one mask and now another, and never, if we so desire, appear with our own true face. But we cannot make these choices with impunity. Causes have effects, and if we lie to ourselves and to others, then we cannot expect to find truth and reality whenever we happen to want them. If we have chosen the way of falsity we must not be surprised that truth eludes us when we finally come to need it.


-Thomas Merton












1 comment:

Joan said...

Wow, Jan! This is a powerfully introspective blog. The painting came out beautifully. Thanks for sharing your innermost thoughts and feelings.