So many new things to catch up on, I hardly know where to start, so I'll begin with what's always the most important thing--my newest painting. Paean is the latest in my ongoing series of large multiple birch portraits. It is a paean, or song of praise, to the beauty of the birches themselves. As always, the title came after the painting. As I sat and looked at this new canvas and asked myself what it was about, the thing that most struck me was how much brighter, bolder, more unabashedly full of life it is than any of the similar works I've done in the last couple of years. It's burgeoning with life, and I think is simply a testament to my optimism, energy, and sense of delight as I settle into a new studio, continue to settle into a new home and new life, and look forward to new adventures.
Paean is the first painting completed in my new studio--a fabulous facility which I had built this summer to my own design, directly behind our house. It sits at the brow of a fairly steep slope down into a beautiful birch forest. I'm almost embarrassed by how nice it is, and worry about doing work good enough to deserve it. But I'm 61 years old and have never had a space designed and built from scratch for me and my work, and I am unreasonably excited about it and am loving working in it.
There are only a couple of windows--one above the desk in my office space, and a larger one on the north wall of the studio. I like to control the light, and there are 11 fixtures, each with four full-spectrum, daylight-balanced 4-foot fluorescent bulbs, as well as two tracks with incandescent spotlights. The windows are more for my view of the boreal forest than for the light.
Since I only work on one painting at a time and am obsessively tidy, the main space can function as both my studio workspace and a gallery of my available works, with a separate office space for writing, research and museum consulting, all my art books, supplies, and racks for paintings. The hillside site allowed for the construction of a sizeable basement storage space for framing and packing materials, shipping crates, boxes of my books and catalogs, and the like.
There is no running water, as the house is only 15 steps away, and a cabin-style 5 gallon jug with spigot provides water for coffee and cleaning brushes--the only real essentials.
I am deeply grateful to the Rasmuson Foundation for my 2012 Artist Fellowship, which provided major support for the building of this new studio. I had committed to the construction before I learned of the fellowship, but it afforded me invaluable financial and moral support for the undertaking. My next big show will be next fall, at Beaux-arts des Amériques, the outstanding gallery which represents my work in Montreal, and I am especially excited to have room to work on large new paintings for that exhibition.
Commissions Some of the other work I've done during the summer (painting in a tiny room in the basement, listening to the sounds of construction on the new studio) involved commissions, which, to be honest, I hate doing. I'd much rather go to my studio and just paint what I feel like painting on a given day, knowing that the potential audience for anything I produce numbers just over seven billion--everyone in the world--and that all I really is need is one person to love it and want it. When I do a commission, I'm acutely aware that that seven million number narrows to one, or usually two, since they're normally done for a couple, and I am fraught with anxiety over whether they will like it.
I painted Denali Drama for a couple from Anchorage who had seen one of my paintings of the mountain on an earlier visit to Denali National Park and wanted something similar. In my anxiety, I did two paintings, one larger than the other, and let them choose which one they wanted. I never paint anything for a commission that I wouldn't choose to paint sooner or later anyway, and it was actually fun. It was especially fun to deliver both paintings for them to see and choose from while they were camping in Denali Park, on my way in for a week's stay in the East Fork Cabin. They chose the larger, and Dorli and I had a brief visit with them at their campsite, all of us trying to keep the paintings upright in a stiff wind, and a better visit with them when they took one of the Park buses to see us in the East Fork Cabin.
This was the smaller painting. They are both views of Denali from Stony Hill, a vantage from which I've painted the mountain a number of times. Dorli and I climbed Stony Dome, the mountain above the viewpoint, on this trip, giving us an even more panoramic view of Denali and countless other peaks. Sooner or later, when the experience of being atop Stony Dome and seeing that view on a perfect August day has settled deep enough in my consciousness that I have something personal to say about it, I'll make one or more paintings about that experience, as well.
Finally--this post is too long, already, but there's so much to catch up on--I completed another small commission for old friends from college that I hadn't seen or heard from in decades. When I was back at Davidson College in North Carolina this summer for the planting of a tree on campus honoring my late wife Missy as the first woman graduate of that venerable institution, I reconnected with Jon and Betsy Jewett, friends whose wedding we drove to in Texas, from South Carolina, almost forty years ago. After several catching-up conversations on the last few decades, Jon asked me to do a painting for them, and it was a great pleasure to paint for them this small scene of the James River in Richmond, Virginia, where they live. Commissions are still fraught with anxiety for me, but they are more palatable when they involve reconnection with old friends or the making of new ones.