Good Painting? Bad Painting

In a conversation with another artist, Friedrich Zettl about liking one’s own work, I thought of how very often I’m totally in love with a painting while I’m doing it and then, when it’s finished, I remain in love for a while then I’m not anymore. At that point a painting gets boxed up and goes out to the garage. 🙂

I don’t have many opportunities here in the back-of-beyond to show my work. I could have more, but about a year after moving here, I saw that my work is not on the public pulse of the place where I live AND that public pulse is pretty faint. Even so, there is one artist for every five people in this valley. It’s a cheap place to live, for one thing.

My town is only 1 1/2 hours from Taos, New Mexico and New Mexico has a whole artistic vibe that is not mine. It’s OK with me. I love many of the paintings that belong to the Taos/Santa Fe “school” but they aren’t my paintings. In San Diego there were far more opportunities to show my work. There are a lot more people there, more venues, more juried shows.

Although I’ve painted as long as I can remember, I’ve only been anything resembling “serious” for the past 11 years. I’m sort of glad about that. It’s exciting to be beginning something at this point of life. Many people don’t have that chance. For me painting is exploration not only into my abilities (which godwilling are improving) but into color (about which I wrote a whole novel!!!) and the landscape I fell in love with 7 years ago.

A case in point for being “in love” and then not appeared this morning in my Facebook memories.

I LOVED this painting while I was painting it and afterwards. Then? I just wanted to sell it. I did sell it, but the point is, it had served its purpose relative to me. Now I think it has some problems with the composition, but that’s something I could only recognize AFTER the painting was finished, because when I was focused on painting it, composition wasn’t my main concern; I was concerned with how I was going to represent that amazing early evening summer light. At the time, I was standing under a very dark cloud which was also behind me, and the sun was — momentarily — on the other side of that cloud. A thunderstorm had just passed over everything and the road was wet. I was wet.

Since I mostly paint scenes of moments I’ve experienced in real life there’s also the problem? advantage? of having an emotional connection to the experience. I think that “colors” a painting, too. My three favorite (best?) paintings are so imbued with emotional content that I don’t know how I could ever let them out of my house. ❤ Each of them is a painting of an actual emotional and visual moment.

Not every painting I paint is going to be a “great” painting. I think I have only two of those. Many of them are teachers and what they teach can go far beyond technique, composition, color. The three paintings above demanded something from me that I didn’t even know I had. A painting is not just a representation of an image or moment in time — emotional and physical. It can also be a journey.

At this point in life, I have more patience and experience than I did when I was younger. I’m also less ambitious and ego-driven. I find this combination is also good for painting. At a certain point I find I have to surrender to the work in much the same way as I learned, in my fiction writing, that the lives of the characters were more important to the story than my little “idea” of who they were supposed to be.

Rainbow Finished

(Maybe…)

Rainbow and Mt. Blanca

There are some colors I love to paint with. One of them is Indian yellow. At first I couldn’t understand why ANYONE would use it then I tried it and discovered all of its magical properties including adding warmth to any color painted over it and it, in and of itself? I’m not a fan of yellow but I love this color. The other — which I’ve written about at length — is ultramarine blue made with lapis. It’s like “super paint.” Another paint I finally got to use in this painting is one I “met” a couple years ago? Last year? Gamblin — a paint manufacturing company in Portland, Oregon — made some colors from water pollution and one of them was a very attractive violet which I used in this painting.

I’m clearly not an abstract painter. In some discussions with other artists, I’ve wondered why. In art history and theory classes (the few I’ve taken) abstract painting is what an artist does in these many years since the invention of the camera, apparently a trajectory that began with the Impressionist painters who were (apparently) released from the duty of depicting reality as a tool of memory. Of course, having been born well into the post camera invention days it took me a while to wrap my head around the idea that people used to have to draw or sketch or paint or scenes or faces they wanted to remember. Once my little brain figured THAT obvious thing out, I understood one of the true reasons behind the human urge to create pictures. It is the simple declarative sentence, “I saw this.”

This hangs in my studio. Kandinsky is — for some reason — a very inspiring artist to me. When I stepped back from my own painting and saw this little reproduction (taken from a calendar) I thought, “It’s the same painting.”

I don’t know the title…

Day Two

The colors in the photo aren’t true, but… I’ll use my camera next time. AND it’s wet, The colors will soften… But the alpenglow on the mountains isn’t purple. It’s a true light pink.
‘Turner painted a similar rainbow but mine is pure San Luis Valley

Turner painted a similar rainbow, but mine is a legit, San Luis Valley rainbow. Thomas Moran painted it, too in a fantastic and exaggerated view of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone but I don’t care if it’s exaggerated. It’s an amazing painting.

Rainbow Over the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

“The World Is Out There” — First gallery show! 2013


I was discouraged about painting, and then…

At the beginning of the summer (2013) I entered a juried show put on by the Art Guild of the San Diego Museum of Art. The show was called, “Contemporary Expressionism; The Creative Spirit.” 

(Verb tenses might be inconsistent in the post below… 🙂 )

I thought — think — of myself as an expressionist painter and some of the paintings I’ve most enjoyed doing are those that I began thinking of painting moments in my life that marked major changes. I wanted these to be figurative and self-portraits without being pictures of me. I think of myself as a person wandering around the world doing my job and so on and also some other person who maybe has no body; she’s something else but I can represent her in paint. Anyway, I’ve done three of those paintings so far. I submitted this one to the show, and it was accepted.

The World is Out There

It hung in the Lyceum Gallery in Horton Plaza which was really amazing. I’m was very happy about this, especially because this is a painting that was not painted to please anyone. It started out to be the painting of NYC I did for Ben and Sandi (stepson and wife), but it cried out to be a water color, so I wiped off the paint I could and put the panel away. I pulled it out again to paint on some time last year. I painted the sofa and I painted over the black a couple of times. 

I got the figure from an image of Sean Connery walking out of a room in a James Bond movie. There was something captivating about the finality of his exit and I liked the shapes, the rectangles that were broken by his movement which, like the figure in my painting, was also, somehow, angular.
I painted and unpainted finally realizing what I wanted to do with it. She is wearing the Diane von Furstenberg dress Bess Altfeld gave me back in the late ’70’s when I was divorcing Matt (first husband; bad X but not the Evil X). I remember wearing it to the divorce hearing and to many other things. I loved this dress. It may be my lifetime favorite dress. She’s also wearing shoes I owned.

I made decisions about the paint, too. The colors are all “old” colors — Venetian red, alizarin crimson, ultramarine blue, lamp black. There is bronze dust gold on the carved wood of the sofa and a bit on the wall to her left. I wanted it to go with the other painting in this series I had done which is now named “Danae.”

This is the language I submitted with the painting:

Artwork Description
“This painting is 16 x 20, framed size, 19 x 23, oil on Ampersand Gessobord. I chose “old fashioned” pigments such as ultramarine blue, Venetian red, ivory black, terre vert, burnt Sienna and alizarin crimson along with Gamblin’s Bright Gold (made with bronze flakes) for this painting because it is a painting of painting. I wanted the colors to be as close as possible to colors used to dye yarn used in medieval tapestries and for coloring illuminated manuscripts. 

This painting turned out to be a journey into self and into painting. I had begun a painting for a friend on this board, but I didn’t like it, put the board away and did that painting as a water color. The black underpainting here, that looks like a chalkboard or an asphalt street (which is what it was originally meant to represent) is what remains of that picture. Then I saw a James Bond movie (!) in which Sean Connery walked very powerfully out of a door. That image rested in my mind for weeks, and I realized I wanted to paint it. Later, I saw a photo of this velvet sofa, and I wanted to paint it. I painted the sofa first. Through its many mutations, this painting seemed to be taking me somewhere to show me something. When I realized I was painting myself, I dressed “me” in my favorite dress EVER (owned in the seventies) and red “disco” heels. Then I knew I was painting the tension between the faded word “Stop” and this woman’s determined exit. That is the creative spirit; movement, specifically this movement. A painting, before it is begun, still in the mind of the artist, is really unknown; it has not yet happened. It’s that doorway leading to life’s tapestry of mystery, color, image and mind, waiting for the artist to have the courage to walk resolutely out the door.”


I was very excited about this, but couldn’t summon the nerve to go to the reception. Here’s the email I received:

Dear Martha Ann Kennedy,
The San Diego Museum of Art Artists Guild would like to congratulate you on your acceptance into Contemporary Expressionism -The Creative Spirit 

ACCEPTED ENTRY: The World Is Out There

And here is information about the show.

More information: Next Wednesday, we are hanging our Contemporary Expressionism – The Creative Spirit International Art Exhibition 2013 at the Lyceum Gallery at Horton Plaza, downtown San Diego.  The exhibition will be on view from September 7 through October 13 in conjunction with the San Diego Repertory Theatre play A Weekend with Picasso – www.sdrep.org/show.php?id=92#.  The exhibition is already on the Guild website – please take a look: Online Exhibition.   We very much appreciate all the work our website liaison Julianne Ricksecker has done putting up the online exhibition.

“Our thanks go to our juror, Dr. Derrick R. Cartwright, Director of University Galleries, University of San Diego, and former executive director of The San Diego Museum of Art, who took the time to go through over 160 entries and select 59 artworks for the exhibition.  Once we have hung the show, Dr. Cartwright will select three prizewinners which will be announced at the Friday, September 13, opening reception from 5 to 7 p.m.

The painting show turned out to be part of a whole “happening” (when will us Baby-Boomers just stop with this I wonder) at the San Diego Repertory Theater downtown built around a play called “A Weekend with Picasso.” The play is in Spanish… Here’s the blurb from the REP website about the show. I can’t believe my little painting is going to be “curated” by the former director of the San Diego Art Museum. It’s extremely cool and extremely strange but I’m very happy about all of it. It takes some of the fear out of the other stuff that’s going on… 

“The San Diego Artist Guild Presents Contemporary Expressionism The Creative Spirit In the Lyceum Gallery Sept. 6 – Oct. 6, 2013 Opening Night Reception: Friday, Sept. 13 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m As the Father of Modern Art, Pablo Picasso had enormous influence on those artists who came after him. This international exhibition features works that honor the spirit of Picasso. Enjoy this showcase of contemporary expressionism curated by Derrick Cartwight, the director of the San Diego Museum of Art from 2004 to 2009. 

From 2013: “In fact, Picasso had a big influence on me as an artist. When I went to Washington DC way long ago, 1979, to take the Foreign Service Test, I went to the National Gallery. It was a great time. It was my first time alone in a major city looking at art and I discovered that is something I LOVE to do. I saw Picasso’s linoleum cuts and I loved them. I read about them, how he did them, on the little cards beside the pictures. I came home and did linocuts just like Picasso, using a spoon to make the contact between the “plate” and the paper. It took a while for me to find the best paper for this, but I ended up using hand made paper from India. If I had a little more space in my shed I’d try it again, I think. Maybe when it’s not quite so hot and I can hang them on the clothes line. It was so fun, it was so fun to be released from “getting it right” which is still a hang up for me and maybe for every other artist. So, I think it’s cool that my very first real exhibit is in conjunction with a play about Picasso. It’s quite Fellinesque, too, as Picasso was Fellini’s muse (as Fellini has often been mine). My explanation for my painting echoes Fellini, something I didn’t realize when I wrote it. But it hearkens back to a quotation I love and that anyone can find at the end of this blog.”

The Right Word at the Right Time

I’ve been generally disillusioned and unmotivated, even to paint or even like my paintings. I shared this with an artist friend who said, “You paint the best skies. Paint a triptych.” 

I thought that was a good idea since the sky here is endlessly amazing to me and it’s most of what I paint so… I started the second painting in the triptych yesterday using Indian yellow, water pollution lavender, and ultramarine made of real lapis. I worked on it again today with zinc white (the most transparent white) and Gamblin’s radiant white which is very bright, opaque and beautiful. Here it is with the other painting (so far) in the triptych.