I left the kids home with their dad, and went to visit the Art Gallery of NSW last Saturday by myself. What an inspiring day! Along with the Gallery’s permanent collection, I was fortunate to see the “America: Painting a Nation” exhibition.
After treating myself with a roasted pumpkin sandwich, a cup of soy flat white, and a chapter in “The Signature of All Things” in the gallery cafe, I bought a $20 ticket and went downstairs to experience the national development of America through the eyes and hands of American artists.
You can read reviews of the exhibitions all over the Internet (such as here and here). I’m not an art critic to review anything. But I’m an artist, and I shall share with you which paintings have touched and inspired me the most and how.
There were Two Original John Singer Sargent
Among all the beautiful portraits and landscapes, there were two original John Singer Sargent Paintings! I almost fell to my knees when I saw them!
One was a small outdoor painting titled “Dennis Miller Bunker Painting at Calcot”. Isn’t it amazing how these loose brush strokes could make such a splendid painting? My nose was almost touching the canvas as I examined it, and I soon realized that my right index finger was ticking this and that way as my eyes followed the direction of his brush strokes.
Images of Australian moms pushing a pram, strolling in a park, followed by one or two small toddlers keep appearing in my mind. Perhaps I will paint that one day, once I have the control with my brushes and paint to make such confident loose-looking paintings.
Then there was the large “Mrs. Edwards L. Davis and Her Son Livingston”. It was life-size. Larger than life. At 86 inches high, it seemed to go fro floor to ceiling. Standing in front of this painting, I suddenly understood why some people would pour millions and millions into acquiring a single canvas with nothing but paint on it. I would if I had the money.
You can’t possibly finish looking at it when it is exhibited. It takes a life time. It takes a life time to look at it as a whole, and then examine it inch by inch, then back as a whole, then inch by inch, then back again… Though the people look like they are going to walk out from the wall to haunt you, especially at night, that’s what is so thrilling about having such a magnificent life-size portrait in your home, isn’t it? You’re haunted by it, and you’re possessed, and you’re obsessed!
Now I start to consider the possibility of John Singer Sargent having a deal with the devil. Do you think he did? For what other Muses could be as powerful?
How to Paint Hope?
I was almost unable to move myself away from “The Promised Land” by William Smith Jewett. The photograph failed to do it due justice. You really have to see it in person when you can. Oh the eyes of the man!
How can eyes be painted with so much hope? How can you paint hope? How can you paint so much hope into eyes?
Of course, the “warm” colors of the painting like red and yellow (as opposed to blue for example) can convey a sense of just that, warmth, and therefore it is a more hopeful color. The techniques, skills, composition and execution are all brilliant, but all that is just the beginning, isn’t it? There is much more. What is it? Some kind of Creative Genius of Hope and Promise working alongside the artist?
Bones and Flowers, Death and Sex
Then these two paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe struck me. They resonate with me at a very personal level and I know why.
Flowers have always been a symbol of beauty, youth and sometimes sex. I know Georgia O’Keeffe has insisted that the exotic imagery in her work was not her intention, but rather it was in the eye of the beholder. This may be exactly what I behold — a lack of something can make you see more of it in such imagery.
When you see a skull, death or the idea of it enters your mind. I admit that I’ve played with the idea of suicide and hurting myself from time to time, and the cruelty of humans to animals has always been on my mind, too (I regularly donate to WWF, and I try to be a vegan but we still have seafood occasionally). So I immediately fell in love with the idea of painting skulls!
Now I feel an urge to paint skulls with flowers. I think this will make me less dangerous to myself if I can get my feelings out on the canvas rather than letting them fill my head. I would love to travel to the desert to collect bones, but this is unlikely to happen given my current situation. Do you know where I can acquire some real animal skulls?