Versatility – Being Open and Curious

I think many of us who are curious by nature continually seek the new and different. You can be in any field and possess an ongoing openness to learning. As an artist, I’m drawn to exploring different styles, media and techniques.

And, last week I was reminded of this.

A colleague from long ago, who had left the business world to pursue her passion in animal rights and equestrian training, contacted me about my animal paintings. I had been known to her for my interpretative pet portraits, having done many on commission. When she went to my redesigned website, the e-gallery now showcases my current body of more abstract work. So, I sent her JPEGs of the paintings with which she was familiar; and was reminded of the versatility seen in my art over the many decades of practice.

For those of you who are not familiar with the animal series, here are some examples:

Weimaraner –
“Lucy” | Acrylic on board | 11-1/4” x 13” (Artist: Meg Fitzpatrick)

“Pug Parade” for Sarasota Magazine 2004 issue | Gouache on paper | 28” x 35” (Artist: Meg Fitzpatrick)

Australian Sheperd – “Blue Eyes” | oil on canvas | 12” x 12” (Artist: Meg Fitzpatrick)

Yesterday at the Dallas International Film Festival, Laura Linney talked about life as an actor. She became animated when she talked about colleagues of “tremendous range.” Those who say “Yes, I can” when given a script that seems against their type. She was not surprised when Paul Giamatti (questioned by some as the right choice) nailed his role in HBO’s John Adams. He was her example of range. Giamatti won both the Emmy and Golden Globe as Lead Actor for this role.

Linney’s point about developing range, to me, is what makes an artist (really any creative person in any field or occupation) stretch, experiment and explore different approaches to their work. And then, when they have been at it long enough with some mastery, they are called versatile which I find a compliment.

…until Sunday, April 29th.

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Pay It Forward with Art

Dick Solomon, President of Pace Prints, wanted his New York-based business to make a difference, in a memorable way, when his gallery exhibited at this year’s Dallas Art Fair.

He did so when he offered Greenhill School art students a chance to work side-by-side with the well-known, Texas-born artist, John Alexander, and Justin Israels, one of Pace’s master print makers (see image below).

Pace Prints | Live demonstration of making a monoprint | 2012 Dallas Art Fair (photo: Meg Fitzpatrick)

To start, a faint pencil sketch of a monkey guided John Alexander (above right) and Justin Israels (above left) as they began painting on a thin aluminum plate, which has a rough-toothed surface to better absorb the printer’s ink being applied by John with a brush (see image below).

Print titled "Sitting on the Throne" begins

The painted metal plate and a wet paper were pulled using a press, lent by UNT’s College of Visual Arts and Design, to print the painting. Here’s an incredible tidbit – the pressure was 600 tons per square inch (see image below).

The method of making monoprints means that no two prints are alike. It’s the most painterly of all the printmaking techniques; it is essentially a printed painting.

With each technical step, John and Justin bantered with the wide-eyed Greenhill students. Here are some of the comments I found interesting:

“Being an artist is a lonely job.” John came to print making a decade after he was established as a painter. He welcomed the printing process because he liked working with another human being. Justin and he sometimes break into a dance with a James Brown song blaring in the studio. Legend has it, according to John, that deKooning played a TV in his studio as a substitute companion to ease the silence.

“Draw from life.” He recommended that the budding Greenhill artists go the Museum of Nature and Science and sketch the stuffed animals. He still visits zoos and museums to carefully observe the anatomies of flora and fauna and replenish his mental data bank of visuals.

“Give the monkey (any animal) a personality.” John imbues his animals with spunk. Some of his friends have commented that the creatures bear a resemblance to John, specifically his eyes.

“Sitting on the Throne” | Artist: John Alexander (2012) |monoprint: printers ink on paper (photo: Meg Fitzpatrick)

“Sitting on the Throne,” the final piece of art, is to be sold with a portion of the proceeds benefitting Greenhill School to further fund the kids’ education.

Pay it forward…with this Art Fair twist, everyone wins

…until Sunday, April 22th.

(PS: You can have a John Alexander creation in your freezer. With business partner, Dan Aykryod (of Saturday Night and House of Blues fame), John designed the skull bottle for Crystal Head Vodka. The legend of the 13 skulls, referenced by Indiana Jones in the movie franchise, was the inspiration for this concept.)

Exploring Austin with the Nasher Sculpture Center

Clock Knot (2007) | Artist: Mark di Suvero (b. 1933) | painted steel | “498 x 260“x 420” | Collection: Metropolitan Museum of Art. (photo: Meg Fitzpatrick)

Although Di Suvero enjoys devising names, he held a contest to name this work. A New York City poet suggested Clock Knot, the winning title.

On a sunny Saturday, a group from the Nasher Sculpture Center’s Avant-Garde Society gathered in an Austin hotel lobby, Starbucks coffee cups in hand, eager to start a day full of learning more about art.

As with most field trips, we boarded a bus and turned our attention to Nasher’s Curator Jed Morse who began explaining the significance of our first stop – University of Texas Austin. (Note: Jed is proud UT Longhorn alum.)

His story was interesting.

New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art has more art than they can possibly exhibit. Much is warehoused and rarely, if ever, viewed. This “embarrassment of riches” isn’t unusual for a major museum. However, what is unusual and quite clever are the partnerships the Met is forming nationwide to make their stored sculpture and art accessible to the public.

UT Austin was among the first “experiments” between the Met and a satellite location where a large quantity of sculptures (28 in total) were loaned on a long-term basis. This gesture boosted the UT administration’s and faculties’ vision of implementing “Landmarks,” a campus-wide public arts program which has proved to be a success. Plus, as the university continues construction and renovation, a percent-for-art policy has been approved whereby 1% to 2% of the budgets for building projects will go toward acquisitions of art. According to The New York Times, the campus is “poised to be a destination for modern art.”

Jed walked us through the grounds and buildings giving us highlights. On view were sculptures by well-known artists, including Mark DiSuvero (see photo above). DiSuvero has said his large-scale sculptures are really “drawings in space.” Instead of charcoal and paper, he uses steel I-beams, industrial materials, a crane and space. Favored by Dallas collectors, we have easy access to more of these bright red structures back home in the Dallas Museum of Art’s Ross Avenue Courtyard, the Meyerson Symphony Hall and NorthPark Center.

On tours such as this one, my friends and I play the game, “If you could bring one piece home, which one would you pick?”

From the UT Landmarks collection, my choice was the Ursula von Rydingsvard sculpture, Seven Mountains (see photo below). It was made by gluing and doweling four-by-four inch lumber beams, the most ordinary of materials. Next, Ursula hand chiseled the surface until it became craggy and ancient, as if Mother Nature had eroded the forms into stone cairns over eons of time. Then, graphite powder was rubbed into the surface and burnished with steel wool pads until a silvery gray sheen developed. Simply gorgerous.

Untitled: Seven Moutains (1986 - 1988) | Artist: Ursula von Rydingsward (b. 1942) | cedar and graphite powder| Collection: Metropolitan Museum of Art (photo: Meg Fitzpatrick)

If you are visiting Austin, you can take a self-guided tour of The Mets’ sculptures. Just download the map available on http://www.landmakrs.utexas.edu. The site itself is a good read, full of information and easy to navigate.

Hopping back on the bus, we next headed to the Austin Museum of Art’s 12- acre Lake Austin location, Laguna Gloria which was built in 1916 as a private residence. There we played miniature golf on artist-designed putting greens. Art on the Green is a 9-hole outdoor phenomenon where all ages interact with nature and art. The set-ups were challenging, goofy and a blast, as you can see by one of us in action…

Art on the Green | Laguna Gloria with AMOA-Arthouse | March 9 – May 20, 2012 (photo: Meg Fitzpatrick)

We visited the studio and home of artist, Ginger Henry Geyer who is represented by the Valley House Gallery in Dallas, stopped for lunch at Chez Zee (of course – food is a given at any Avant-Garde Society event), and then visited two private residences.

Below is the entrance to the second residence, designed by the San Antonio-based architects, Lake Flato who are famous for their Texas Vernacular Style.

The couple who lives here has been cited in ARTnews’ “Top 200 Collectors” international list. Naturally, the works we saw were first class as was the couple who were so gracious, warm and welcoming.

This was the last stop of the day – a peaceful waterfront peninsula.

Architects: Lake Flato (photo: Meg Fitzpatrick)

Many thanks for the fantastic organization of this day trip go to Maribeth Messino Peters and Scott Potter who Co-Chaired this year’s Travel Committee.

No matter which city is selected for the 2013 trip, I’ll go and recommend anyone who enjoys this sort of adventure also join me and the Avant-Garde Society. http://www.nashersculpturecenter.org/Membership/Avant-Garde-Society

…until Sunday, April 15th.

Amon Carter Museum – Extend Your Tour

Last Sunday I sang the praises of John Singer Sargent and the current show, Sargent’s Youthful Genius: Paintings from the Clark, at the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth. The little bird, in the photo above, perched on the street sign was also singing.

Before I left the building last Sunday, I took a detour on the second floor just curious about what they had in their permanent collection. For those, like me, who took lots of art history courses and sat in a darkened class room and watched slides of the best examples from the period in discussion, I was delighted to find many real McCoys at the Amon Carter. Here are paintings you can see firsthand; or, in the case of this first work, “in the flesh:”

Swimming (1885) | Artist: Thomas Eakins | oil on canvas | “27-3/8 x 36-3/8“| Collection: Amon Carter Museum

Thomas Eakins was a highly regarded teacher at the Pennsylvania Academy of Arts where he continued the Renaissance tradition of studying the human body. The painting, Swimming, is considered one of his finest renderings of the human form. His students posed as models. He included himself in the lower right corner gliding towards his dog, Harry. Swimming raised some eyebrows because the academy had a policy of restricting professors from using students as subjects. A year later, Eakins was asked to resign after a classroom incident when he again ignored another school policy. Male models were to be draped whenever a female student was present. He is quoted as saying that he left “with his conscience clear” because he had “little patient with false modesty which is the greatest enemy to all figure painting.”

Flags on the Waldorf (1916) | Artist: Childe Hassam | oil on canvas | Collection: Amon Carter Museum

The American artist, Childe Hassam, was cited in my art history books and lectures for his prolific output of urban and coastal scenes – 3,000 over the course of his life – and, more importantly, for his adoption of the Impressionism style. Among American collectors, dealers and museums in the early 20th century, Hassam was instrumental in popularizing the softer pastel color palette and free staccato brushstrokes being used by the European Impressionists.

When you visit, also look for excellent paintings by artists among the greats like Winslow Homer, Mary Cassatt and Georgia O’Keefe.

Above is a section of the “front porch” (or loggia) entrance to the Amon Carter Museum. Philip Johnson’s design specified that all the arches and columns were constructed using Texas shell-limestone. Johnson took several trips to Leander, TX. quarries before finding the right cream-colored stone.

The building itself has an interesting story. New York-based architect, Philip Johnson, was hired to design what became the first modern museum in Fort Worth – finished in 1961, with the Kimball (1972) by Louis Kahn and The Modern (2002) by Tadao Ando to follow nearby. Propped on a hill overlooking downtown Fort Worth, the International Style of the Amon Carter was noticed by the inner art and architecture circles on the East Coast. Welcomed murmurs were heard about the sophisticated tastes existing in “Cowtown” and Texas.

Next weekend, I’ll be touring the visual art scene in Austin with Jed Morse, Curator at Nasher Sculpture Center, and a group from the Nasher’s Avant-Garde Society. My prediction: I’ll have many topics and photos to share with you in two weeks.

…until Sunday, April 8th.

John Singer Sargent visits Fort Worth

John Singer Sargent is on my Top Ten List of best painters who ever lived. The Clark Art Institute has lent four of his paintings to the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth. One of them – “Fumée d’Ambres Gris” (1880) – is among my Sargent favorites.

Why is he in my pantheon? One reason is his masterful handling of paint. As seen in “Fumée” (refer to image below), Sargent manipulates the color white in a way that every studio art teacher can use as a textbook example of how to handle white. There is no color white in nature; it exists only in a can or tube of manufactured paint. And, every beginner painter (myself included) automatically uses it straight from the tube; and, thus fails to capture the essence of sunlight or the subtle recesses of a distant wall. From Sargent we learn a trade secret: mix white with other colors to capture on canvas what you see in life. To imitate sunlight, a touch of orange is the secret. To render a remote corner, violet grey is the solution. “Fumée“is basically a monochromatic painting, but on examination you rarely see white “straight” from the tube.

Here are a few other reasons, which are evident in “Fumée,” that I greatly admire Sargent. His compositions are cropped, a device that was modern for his time. He was innovative in his choice of subject matter, using travels to exotic locales for ideas. The North African woman inhaling vapors in “Fumée” was an image from a trip to Tangier.

Fumée d’Ambre Gris (1880) | Artist: John Singer Sargent | Clark Art Institute | Purchased in 1914 by Sterling Clark for $5,000.

Since I’ve opened and shared my art voting book, my number one favorite Sargent painting is “The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit,” which is on permanent display at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA). I remember being fortunate my senior year of college when I was selected to intern at the MFA. I’d take breaks and “visit” this painting – simply staring firsthand at the masterpiece that I had seen in an Art History slide lecture. Decades later I lived in the Boston area and would again sit on the same wooden bench before the sisters and sketch as a way to practice drawing and linger with Sargent. The study below is of eight-year old Maria Louisa (the sister in the left most corner). Of note, the Boit heirs gave the MFA the six-foot-tall, blue-and-white vases you see in the painting. They now flank this nearly life-size (87-3/8” x 87-5/8”) group portrait.

The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit (1882) | Artist: John Singer Sargent | Museum of Fine Arts, Boston | The portrait captures the (almost too) well-mannered sisters.

From my sketch pad (2002) | Study of Maria Louisa, one of four sisters in Sargent’s “The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit”

If you are a Sargent fan or simply like looking at an excellent painter’s work, I recommend the drive to Fort Worth. “Sargent’s Youthful Genius” is open through June 17th, as is “The Age of Impressionism: Great French Paintings from the Clark” across the street at the Kimball Art Museum.

…until next Sunday.

Daylight Savings | Spring Renewals

Last night we reset our clocks and remembered the ditty, “Spring forward. Fall back.” For me, spring is about going forward, renewals and becoming more alert, after a semi-slumber in the coldness of winter.

Each year just before I adjust my clocks, I start to notice birds chirping earlier and louder in the mornings. It’s time to admire the daffodils blooming around Dallas and in my yard. One of my Spring season rituals is to fill a vase inscribed with “Happy Dog” (a message that captures how I feel when daylight savings happens) with these bright yellow flowers.

“Happy Dog” vase that I bought with my sister, Anne, on a memorable road trip through Massachusetts and Vermont

Even though the azaleas blossom along Preston Road every spring, the pop of fuchsia always surprises me when it first starts. For all of my friends who live in Dallas and haven’t yet taken this route recently, the bushes just started their show.

The visual delight of azaleas | Preston Road just South of Mockingbird Road

Spring is also a time when my creativity flows more effortlessly. (Side note: I suspect I was a grizzly bear in a prior life.). I’m more alert and awake to my surroundings because I like noticing the newly resurrected colors, smells and sounds. Below is a study of “Hope Springs Eternal” from a series of small abstraction paintings that I did in 2009 as a way to explore certain concepts about time (like the seasons), people and relationships, without using figurative imagery.

Hope Springs External (2009) | Artist: Meg Fitzpatrick | 2” x 2” oil on masonite board

Enjoy the extra hour of sunshine in your day. The first official day of Spring 2012 is March 20th…until next Sunday.

Inspired by Ordinary Materials

“The artist’s world is limitless. It can be found anywhere, far from where he lives or a few feet away. It is always on his door.” – Paul Strand (1890 – 1976), photographer

The most prosaic materials with a touch of “je ne sais quoi” can find a place on my studio walls, like the plastic six-pack rings and fabric netting that cushioned a shipment of holiday fruits. I lived with them hanging from this black clip for about a year wondering….

I found the design of these six-pack rings elegant. This might seem an oxymoron, but their negative spaces are ovoid surrounded by a mesmerizingly rhythmic pattern and the plastic is a cool-shaded blue. I had saved discarded boards marred by a saw mark which is now the intentional thin white line contrasted against a solid red, blue or dark brown color. Then, I explored ways to suspend the translucent rings and create cast shadows. The five finished pieces in this series called, “Save the Dolphins,” can be hung alone or as a group. Here are examples:

“Save the Dolphin” Series | Artist: Meg Fitzpatrick| 11-1/2” x 11-1/2” | acrylic on board; mixed media

What appealed to me about the fruit packing material was its delicate quality. The transparency of the mesh made for another experiment with cast shadows. The wheat color was perfect against a dark brown surface. For “Save the Dolphins” and this piece named, “Quantum Wave,” the materials were suspended by using hardware-bought clear plastic nuts and metal bolts. The “Quantum Wave” when lit shimmers, yet the piece always has a 3-D wafer quality.

Quantum Wave | Artist: Meg Fitzpatrick | 38” x 19” acrylic, graphite, mixed media on board

As I’ve spent more time getting educated and learning about sculpture at the Nasher Sculpture Center, I’ve noticed that I have become more experimental with materials and some of my paintings, like these, are a hybrid of painting-sculpture.

Notice the beauty in the ordinary and enjoy your week…until Sunday.