Looking at the landscapes of George Inness, and a few other tonalist painters from the 19th century, I am drawn in by the lure of the blacks. Deep, rich, throbbing, cosmic blacks. They remind me of the blacks of the shadows of Van Eyck, and other flemish masters. Blacks that defy reason, and yet have the effect, among other things, of bringing certain forms of the composition into full disclosure. Rendering them so pointedly clear as to be somewhat ominous. I have yearned for these.
Yes, I have longed for these blacks, and also, I have been harboring a desire to paint my surroundings, to apply myself to landscape study in earnest after so many years of focusing almost exclusively on figure. Recently, I went so far as to mention, in response to a question about my work, that “I also do landscapes”--which is stretching the truth I would say, since the last thing I did that could really be called ‘landscape’ were some thumbnail watercolors back in 2010, and before that, a single class taken with Philip Govedare as an undergraduate. What could have possessed me?
Thus, starting from last weekend in the midst of a most welcome rain storm (or what felt like a storm after so many weeks of uncharacteristic drought), I have found myself furiously gessoing small panels and boards in an effort to make this taste of black-in-landscape come to me as quickly as possible, and without further study or conjecture about how in the heck one is supposed to go about making good landscape. Oh yes, I have to admit I have been less concerned with perfecting the ground than one should be, too; I am acting a bit of a glutton. But what do I care? These sticky little rectangles are falling (and failing) from my easel like so many hastily opened chocolate bars, half finished and flung even as I move to gorge myself on the next. Yes, I am a glutton these days! It’s no wonder each session has left me feeling a little empty, and somewhat embarrassed of how little I have accomplished thus far. When will this binge end? Perhaps when my understanding catches up to my urge to attack my surroundings with paint. Am I painting angry? Perhaps. The only thing for it is to paint more.
I am learning my way. Today, it came clear that the way to handle these curtains of trees upon trees, especially evergreens near the water in the summertime, is to start the thing with a base tone of blue. Then the blacks can be added--not washed in, but hatched--to make form, like building the fur of an animal that extends from the taut and muscular frame underneath. Thousands of little terriers.
Yes, my mind is brewing with a black and sticky logic, not too well defined but searching dutifully, and a bit frantic. Like household chores blurrily undertaken in a concerted effort to stave off sadness, this is the particular moment of my art. When it passes, I hope I will have gained in virtue.