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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Day 21: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

When I first planned this trip, I had wanted to make stops in DC and NYC to visit fantastic museums with great collections of Hudson River School work. When I met up with Dan at West Point he suggested we take a train into the city for a day and I said OMG CAN WE GO TO THE MET! And being the most wonderful amazing supportive fiancé on the planet he said YES! So, we spent a few hours at the Met on Wednesday. I have to say, for someone who had little to no background in art before we met, he has clearly paid attention these past four years because he had some fantastic insights and questions about the art we saw. Gold star all around for Dan. :)

Dan admires Church's Heart of the Andes.
Church's Heart of the Andes detail and signature.
Church's study of science is so evident in this painting. All trees, plants, flowers, and wildlife were very specific.
Incredible detail...each 5x5 inches of this massive canvas could stand alone as its own painting.

Reflections on Frederic Church's painting: although not one done in the United States, I think, how can I describe the landscapes I'm painting and drawing with more specificity? What notes can I take that will help me recreate a landscape in my studio? How can I be more scientific in my on-site study of a landscape and consider all its elements? The detail in this painting is overwhelming and incredible. It creates an entire world for viewers.

The Rocky Mountains, Lander's Peak by Albert Bierstadt
Detail from a painting Bierstadt did of the Matterhorn in Europe.
Merced River, Yosemite Valley by Albert Bierstadt

Reflections on Albert Bierstadt's painting: How can I work to step back from a scene to include foreground, middle ground, and background more effectively in my small paintings? Could he even see the foreground elements of this scene, or was this invented? He works light and shadow in a similar way to Moran to emphasize the mountains and make them appear even grander.

A Sanford Robinson Gifford painting of Kaaterskill Clove, where Thomas Cole (and I) also painted.
Beautiful details and color - Gifford saturated his paintings with luminous light and color.
Thomas Cole's study for The Oxbow
Oh hey Thomas Cole!
His little umbrella.
The Oxbow by Thomas Cole. My favorite painting of his!
Two other small studies - I think done en plein air.

Reflections on Thomas Cole's paintings: He is a skilled painter but his work doesn't resonate with me as much as the other artists. I feel like I didn't touch on this enough during the "Thomas Cole" phase of this trip but most of his work was still tied to European ideas of painting...there's a lot of symbolism and romantic ideation and invention in his work. He also includes figures, as I mentioned, that I think at times detract from the overall painting. In The Oxbow, it works - I love that he included himself with his painting supplies. So there is a lot of his work I didn't look at for this trip because it wasn't specifically American landscape. But, from this I should be challenged to think of some of those grand, overarching questions and the deeper meaning in my work. This might come more into play when I'm back home working on some larger paintings. Which brings me to another point - seeing this large paintings makes me feel like I can and should paint some large canvases. Not massive, but start working my way towards that. I think I can do it.

The Teton Range by Thomas Moran

Reflections on Thomas Moran's painting: Very colorful...the light and color in this piece is exquisite. When I paint mountains, I want to seek colors in the same way he did. The painting is looser in execution than I previously thought - some of the foreground you can still see underpainting and broad brush strokes! But, perhaps this serves to keep the focus and drama on the mountain range. The shadows are warmer and richer than in the pics.

This museum visit was crazy inspiring and really got me thinking about what steps I want to take as an artist after this trip.

PS sorry this is almost a week late!


Friday, June 26, 2015

Day 20: Mohonk Lake

The last official stop on the Thomas Cole leg of my trip was Mohonk Lake. It's on privately owned land and I should have known what to expect when I read the word "resort." They're not lying about what they course, mini golf, spa, huge hotel, etc. I paid $21 to get in just to hike for the day. JUST TO HIKE! I tried to be sneaky at the gate like the man I met at sunset rock advised me but I must have said something wrong, I think I should have said I was interested in a room at the hotel. So the $21 stung and infuriated me. I grumbled all the way to the top of the mountain, passing signs that said "Slowly and Quietly, Please." What does that even mean to drive "Quietly," like people slam their horns for three miles, winding their way up a steep mountain?!

I had to wear an orange wristband that marked me as "other" and included a long list of places I wasn't allowed as a day hiker, especially in the hotel. Forbidden!!! I walked past gardens and landscaping, a mini golf course, and the gorgeous hotel. It really is a beautiful building. I saw a boat dock with paddle boards and canoes for rent ($13 for 30 minutes...) and staff with crisp matching red polos. I saw women hiking in fashion sandals and wedges. I walked around for a bit looking for the view Thomas Cole had of the lake. At my car I had already decided not to paint the view because I felt like I did at Catskill Creek with the train and traffic behind me - not a place I wanted to set up shop.

There were lush green trees and perfectly manicured grass and all I saw was MONEY. If it was green, I saw dollar signs. To confirm my suspicions, I looked up what a room at the Mohonk Mountain House costs per night and it was a whopping $700!!!!! Per night! If you have that kind of money to spend on a hotel room, more power to you I guess. But wowza. So then I felt surrounded by rich people, like I had paid $21 to watch rich people hike and sit on benches and be "outdoorsy." I decided I didn't even want to draw here because at the end of this trip I didn't want to paint it. I didn't want people to say, "that's beautiful!" when all I would see is the green dollar bills and private exploitation of a landscape.

I was looking for the perfect Thomas Cole quote to describe my experience but after re-reading Essay on American Scenery I realized it wasn't a loss of landscape issue. Yes, the wildness of this landscape had certainly been lost and altered...but the landscape was still beautiful. Some of it in the kind of way a really nice golf course is beautiful. One quote did resonate: "The spirit of our society is to contrive but not to enjoy - toiling to produce more toil - accumulating in order to aggrandize." But the real issue is that this picturesque landscape is the anti-national park, the anti-state park. It is private, it is for the wealthy, it is for a family to reap profits. Not all are invited to behold this landscape with its lake, trails, forest, and wildlife. In stark contrast: "The national parks embody a radical idea, as uniquely American as the Declaration of Independence...It is a truly democratic idea, that the magnificent natural wonders of the land should be not to a privileged few, but to everyone." (Quoted from Not to a privileged few, but to everyone. Sitting on a bench at Mohonk Lake, my heart swelled with appreciation for our nation's state and national parks.

In other news...I just saw a little boy put on a wide brimmed hat and there's a 90% chance it's my same "youth aged two to five years" hat from REI...adventures of a baby head.
Mohonk Mountain House
Beach at Mohonk Lake.
Hiking trail. High heels spotted here.
View Thomas Cole painted.
Thomas Cole's unfinished painting of Mohonk Lake
But without all this to the right.
Made it to West Point!
Hey Ike!


Monday, June 22, 2015

Day 19: Return to Kaaterskill Falls and Olana

Finished painting of Kaaterskill Falls.

I started the morning off back at Kaaterskill Falls. It stormed last night so I knew they would be completely different after heavy rain. The hike up was like creeking - water streamed down many sections of the trail. The falls were rushing and the rocks were colored differently due to the rain. The sun and shadows were also different from when I left at 6:00pm last time, but probably closer to the lighting when I started the top part of the painting. So this was an interesting experience for me to have to draw upon the informations I saw in front of me, and combine it with what I remembered seeing a few days ago at that very spot. Again, these artists were so skilled and familiar with their subject matter to go home and say "yeah, I know how to paint a rock." I finished quicker than I thought I would, and in the short time I was there I again met lots of nice people who complimented my work and stopped to chat for a few minutes about my project.

The now-rushing Kaaterskill Falls.
I stopped in at the Mountaintop Historical Society, where I had read they had more information on the Art Trail. Not a very busy place...but I had a really great conversation with the older gentleman working there. We talked shop about the HRS painters and the former Catskill Mountain House. I hadn't realized this before our conversation - Frederic Church was rich, and Thomas Cole was poor. The man told me Church came from a rich family and was wealthy before he became a successful artist; Cole died young and didn't have much money. Which makes sense now that I think about it - Church lived in a mansion he built himself, Cole lived in his wife's family home with a bunch of her relatives. I wonder if he would have achieved more fame and success had he lived longer.
Mountaintop Historical Society.
I think it used to be a train station?
I am still developing a visual language for painting trees. They are tricky because you have to think about what's behind them as well, since trees are seldom completely solid. There is usually more than one bunched together, so there are layers of trees to deal with, and there are gaps in the bunches of leaves allowing us to see whatever is behind them. And then there's color and light on top of that! I am realizing that following these artists is forcing me to confront subject matter I find challenging and may not otherwise pursue with such open mindedness. I am not studying their paintings in extreme detail to see how did they do that or that, but instead confronting myself with the same visual information they had to also figure out how to translate from the real world to a canvas. I think the sense that my admired artists did is before me, and did it successfully, gives me comfort and confidence to problem solve my way through trees and rocks and waterfalls, and so on.
This is truly a great adventure and I am learning immensely each day. Being in the Hudson has been a real privilege, especially seeing the homes and art of my favorite artists. Thomas Cole was struck by this very landscape to start landscape painting, and many followed his inspiration during his lifetime and beyond. Cole describes the Hudson area: "The scenery is not grand, but has a wild sort of beauty that approaches it: quietness, solitude, the untamed, the unchanged aspect of nature, an aspect which the scene has worn thousands of years, affected only by seasons, the sunshine, and the tempest." I was able to experience some of the same wildness and solitude, and also the company of others enjoying the landscape. I have further developed, as stated before, how I describe different landscapes and experiences as I encounter new places each day on my journey. I felt more in the presence of history during this leg, learning more about the lives of Church and Cole, and life during the 1800s, and the origins of a great American art movement.
I want to reflect and share more about Thomas Cole's process tomorrow - I've been wanting to do that this week. Tomorrow I have one last stop at Mohonk Lake to finish my the Thomas Cole leg of my trip before spending a few days with Dan at West Point. Excited for a few days with my lovely fiancé!
Farmers Market strawberries on my way to Olana...SO DELICIOUS!!!
Finished painting at Olana...still some work to be done here.
Sunset at Olana.
Sunset at Olana.
Goodbye Olana!
Met a photographer at Olana who wanted to get my picture with the light. Thanks Eileen!



Sunday, June 21, 2015

Day 18: Catskill Mountain House and Sunset Rock

First off, I would like to brag on myself for a second for cooking the most amazing sandwich last night - grilled cheese with honey ham and thin slices of Granny Smith apples. It was SO GOOD. Tonight was a little less exotic...Easy Mac and the leftover apple. Still finding it less of a hassle and much quicker to cook what I have than go out to eat. I haven't posted any pics or really touched on this but I'm living out of a minivan this summer - I have a tent but so far have slept in the car every night. It's decked out with drawers, a mattress pad for my sleeping bag, cooler and box for food, camp cooking supplies, curtains, etc. It has been great and simple living...really makes me wonder why I need all the other stuff not in this van.

I started my day at North/South Lake by going to the Catskill Mountain House, or old site of the Catskill Mountain House. It opened in 1823 and became one of America's premier hotels, described as a "place of glamour and comfort in the midst of a wild and beautiful landscape." Frederic Church did a sunrise painting here so I had loosely planned on doing that...I got a decent start in the morning but don't even rmember those early alarms. The guests used to be woken up by hotel staff to see the sunrise since the hotel faced east, so I would have needed one of them to come knock on my car door.

Anyway, as you readers may have already suspected, Thomas Cole hated this place! It was an eyesore in his beloved wilderness landscape. "What a desecration of the place where nature offered a feast of higher holier enjoyment - alas that men should thrust their frivolities into the very face of the sublime at regions of the world." He was asked to do a painting of the house for advertising purposes, refused at first, but then must have needed the money because he did the painting. It was hung in a ferry coming up from New York and reproduced on souvenir dishes. Cole included himself in this painting, sitting and looking up at the house.

Hudson River School artists did use the tourist destination to their advantage by taking the bumpy stagecoach service to the area to access the mountaintop scenery. However, artists found the particular view from the mountain house difficult to paint, and I did too. There isn't significant foreground or background or contrast. Church added trees in the foreground of his sunrise painting to add interest. The view is stunning, but as one kid kept saying "it just keeps going!" and "I CAN SEE THE WHOLE WORLD!"

Thomas Cole was inspired by William Gilpins writings on the picturesque in painting. I am still reasoning through my long-ago notes from Thomas Cole by Earl A. Powell. So the idea of picturesque is an alternative to beautiful and sublime, which Gilpin proposes are three different things. The picturesque is a mode of viewing the world that stimulated the mind and imagination. It was also objective and empirical, with definable features for a composition. There must be emphasis of nature in an uncultivated state, a rough, tactile surface, and vibrant chiaroscuro (light and dark). This may not be found all together in nature, but could be united in a single painting by a gifted artist. So here we really uncover Cole's motivation to alter the scenes he saw to fit this description of the picturesque. I am finding more of his views have been altered or dramaticized or invented in significant ways from the views I have seen on the ground. This is also different from Church, who was more scientific in his approach to painting and recording scenes more or less as he witnessed them.

Another things that is ringing so true throughout this whole process is how well versed these artists were with their subject matter. Powells book says that an experienced artist could achieve successful "compostions" only if they had a "store of natural images so abundant that they can arrange 'real views' from nature..." In their studios, they had to know what a pine tree looked like, and a bunch of pine trees together, and a bunch of them in the distance....and so on. And how the light would affect all these different elements! Quite amazing.

Back to the Catskill Mountain less and less people used railroad and stagecoach for transportation, the hotel lost their clientele. There is no hotel remaining today, just the site it was on and the stunning views. Part of me wishes I had painted the grassy field with trees in with the view. Very interesting and in line with Cole's series "Course of Empire" that the pristine landscape was there at the beginning, man built on it and tried to utilize it for our own goals, but it's gone back to nature in the end.

The best I can do to show you reproductions of Church and Cole's work with no cell service.
The Hudson was a bright silver color (similar to Maya Lin's modern art sculpture at Olana..shape of the entire River cast in silver).
Wide, sweeping view of the Hudson. On clear days you can see multiple STATES from this overlook.
The oldest rock carving I could find.
Excuse the bent paper...5x7 of the very distant view of the Hudson from the overlook.

My next stop was Sunset Rock, which was a longer hike than I thought. The second half of the day I saw the different groups of people I'd seen yesterday at Kaaterskill Falls...small world up here. All were very nice, and I got some hot tips from a man with his son and another dad and his sons (I think) on Mohonk Lake, where I'm going on Monday. We had a great talk about the Catskills area and Maine too. On my way down later I met two couples from New York who again were so super nice and I chatted with them for a while. It is really life affirming to meet people who are so immediately kind and friendly, and interested in the work I'm doing.

Anyway, I hiked up to Sunset Rock and stopped at Artists Rock along the way.

Steep hike.
OMG! It's an artist on Artist's Rock!!!
A sweeping view of the Hudson similar to this morning's view.

Rain had been predicted for around 6:00om so at 3:00ish when I got to Sunset Rock I knew I was racing against the rain. The fog made a very cool affect around the mountains, washing out certain parts so they were totally white, making an interesting contrast with the largest mountain. I started painting and at some point realized that I was getting "misted" on. And that the mountain I had been painting was now fully engulfed in a cloud. And soon I would be engulfed in that same cloud. So I painted furiously with a huge bristle brush to try to get some of the values and colors down, cursing AccuWeather for giving me such false information!

I frantically packed up my bag when I could no longer deny that I was getting wet. Here I throw a HUGE thanks to my wise and beloved Dan for getting me a rain cover for my backpack before I left on the trip. I suited up in my rain gear and took one last look before I left and I could literally see NOTHING. Where minutes before had been an entire landscape, I saw a wall of white. Coming down, I saw the same white sheet at Artist's Rock. It didn't really rain until I got to my car, but now at midnight writing this it is pouring and storming. Sending prayers to the weather gods that I have a clear day tomorrow to finish two paintings that I started earlier this week.......

My fog gear.
View from Sunset Rock.
Fog behind the mountain.
The view when I finished painting.
More work to be done, thank you Mother Nature.
Aaaand this is what I saw when I left Sunset Rock.
Aaaaand when I went down to Artist's Rock...!