Saturday, January 30, 2016

Ken Auster

 'Into The Light'
by Ken Auster

Somewhere in 2003,  I was on my 24th year running a frame shop with no other future plans but to keep on doing what I knew how to do.  In my off hours, I'd look at art on the web, mostly to sell in my gallery and I landed on the artist Ken Auster.

Mind you, I had never painted in oils, never really painted much at all - I was a drawing freak since I was a kid.  When I saw what and how Ken Auster painted, something sparked a flame inside of me.  For years I framed trendy stuff - cottages, florals, quirky Amish scenes, etc - none of which ever convinced me to join the painting world until I saw Ken's work.  There were everyday, simple moments - glimpses of people, colorful city streets, surfers at the beach - real life that's all around us.

What really grabbed my attention was his style of quick, deliberate brush strokes that meant something - nothing more needed to get the point across.  It was the first time I'd ever heard the phrase 'economy strokes'.  It was impressionistic, never over-done and it made me want to paint.

The end of 2003, I'd taught myself how to work with oils, took photos everywhere I went, and that was the beginning of my life as an artist.

 'Lunch Hour'
by Ken Auster
I bookmarked a gallery that Ken Auster was part of back in 2003, kept up with his new work, and sometime around 2007, that very gallery contacted me about representation - the Morris & Whiteside Gallery in Hilton Head (now The Red Piano).  The first thing I said to Ben Whiteside was 'isn't this the gallery who has Ken Auster's work?'.   Needless to say, I was floored - quickly accepted Ben's invitation and I've been part of his gallery ever since - with my paintings hanging next to Ken's.  Holy cow.

I know Ken knew his impact on my life and although we never met, I knew him through his paintings.

Ken passed away yesterday I'm told, way too soon.  This is my small tribute to a brilliant artist who lives on through his work.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016


6 x 8"
oil on panel

Most people know Toulouse-Lautrec for his short stature and his paintings of the Moulin Rouge.  I'll tell you a bit more about this genius, who was also a printmaker and illustrator born in France in 1864.

He was the son in an aristocratic family, his parents were first cousins who, early on, split up and Henri was raised by a nanny until the age of 8 when he went to live with his mother.  He was a budding artist early on.  At 13, he broke his right femur and a year later fractured his left, which never healed properly.  He suffered from several genetic disorders, attributed to a family history of inbreeding.  As an adult, he stood at 4 ft, 8 in tall which most likely was why he immersed himself in art.

Toulouse-Lautrec had a tragic life, contracted syphilis, abused alcohol to deal with his pain, had a nervous breakdown at the age of 34 and died at the age of 36.  He left behind more than 700 paintings, 350+ prints and posters and over 5,000 drawings.  The quintessential suffering artist I'd say.

What stands out to me is he painted real people in real places doing real things.  Not glamoured up but people as they were, warts and all.  Honest and sympathetic.

From the National Gallery of Art in DC, a woman in Henri De Toulouse-Lautrec's painting 'A Corner In a Dance Hall' seemingly looks on at a visitor studying another piece.

Friday, January 22, 2016

"Black and Blue"

6 x 6"
oil on panel

For many, I hope you are home safe and sound and ready for snowmageddon - I was hoping we'd have a little of that here in Atlanta.  

My work days were interrupted by my 19-year-old furnace dying, fortunately it was replaced yesterday - so now we're broke but warm and happy.  So the painting goes back on to recover from that.

I could go on and on about Andy Warhol, but most people know how brilliant, odd, prolific he was.  One of my very favorite movies is Basquiat - the late, great David Bowie portraying Warhol.  Great flick to stream in this wintery weekend.

Friday, January 15, 2016

"Mother Figure"

8 x 6"
oil on panel

Naturally I began obsessing about James Abbott McNeill Whistler after finishing my recent painting - an artist best known for his large, iconic oil painting 'Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 1', widely known and referred to as 'Whistler's Mother'.  It's permanent home is in the Musee d'Orsay in Paris.

In America's museums, you can see stunning portraits by Whistler - like 'The White Girl' in DC's National Gallery of Art among others.  I love his moody, low-tone color, landscapes.

There's several stories about the portrait of Anna McNeill Whistler.  One is Anna stood in for a scheduled model who was a no-show.  It's been told that Whistler originally envisioned the pose standing up, but his mother preferred to sit if it were to be a lengthy pose.

What may surprise many is the painting is huge - about 64" x 57" without the wide, original frame that Whistler designed himself.  And the pure, beautiful details really are stunning, especially the delicate headdress and her hands and hankerchief.  

I loved studying it more and painting it - I broke out every tube of Torrit Grey I had and really noticed the subtle differences in Whistler's painting - the cold vs. warm greys throughout are a great lesson in mixing paints.  My next larger piece will be of this scene and his painting,  I'm very excited.

Sunday, January 10, 2016


5 x 7"
oil on panel

Here's one of my favorite paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City - a large portrait of the artist 'James McNeill Whistler' by the friend and fellow artist William Merritt Chase.  I've read when the two painters met, they became instant friends and both agreed to paint a portrait of each other.  They probably were trying to hone their portrait skills to compete with fellow painter John Singer Sargent who was all the rage at the time.

Chase presented Whistler with this finished painting, even inscribing in the upper left corner the words 'To my friend Whistler, Wm. M. Chase, London 1885'.  Chase painted this portrait honoring Whistler's low-key palette and painterly style - only Whistler was apparently offended, exclaiming it a 'monstrous lampoon' which started a rift between the two men for a long time.  It is believed Whistler destroyed his painting of Chase, never to be seen.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

"Dead Head"

6 x 6"
oil on panel

I've always loved this painting by Guido Reni, in the Art Institute of Chicago - 'Salome with the Head of Saint John the Baptist', painted around 1640.  Reni was one of the top-billed, successful artists of the time in Italy and extremely prolific.

I confess, I get most of my bible education from television and movies and I mostly remember in the epic 'Kings of Kings' when Salome does this provocative Dance of the Seven Veils for her stepfather, Herod, then asks him for the head of Saint John the Baptist on a silver platter.  Compare that visual scene to Reni's depiction - Salome is seemingly nonchalant when presented the dead head with no visible blood drippings,  dressed in heavy layers of clothing with her staff looking on.  It's pretty tame.  Probably politically correct for those times.