Sunday, March 14, 2010

Time Travel

Who says we can't go back in time? Artists do it all the time--we take inspiration from the work of those who have gone before us. We become retro artists. Some go back a decade while others go back centuries. Why do we look back? Because there's something missing in our own time? Because we missed something about what they did back then? Or because we miss what they did back then. There must be something to it--why else would any painter work in egg tempera? Why would photographer keep on working in film or, for that matter, use a pin-hole camera?

Sometimes, artists revisit their own work. I'm going back in time - again. My current portrait is based on a self-portrait in oil at about age 30. Why do that? For one thing, I looked a lot better then. The image was compelling--it features a really neat hat I bought in Florence--a straw boater with fruit. I've only ever worn it in paintings. This is turning out to be a composition in the primary colors--red, yellow, and blue.

The original painting depicted me sitting on our balcony in Cliffside Park, NJ. You can just make out in the background the New York City skyline--complete with Twin Towers. It was a great view. We had a clear view from the George Washington Bridge to the Verazano Bridge. Sorry for the somewhat blurry image of the early piece--its the best I can do now.

I didn't intend to revisit this painting but I had just completed Progress-Thomas and was mulling over what to do and one of the original source photos for the oil painting literally fell into my lap as I was sorting out some old files. Voila--I worked up a new head study, added in the hand and the rose by cutting and pasting images in charcoal on newsprint paper until I got the composition I wanted. After seaching through pages and pages of lace curtains in on-line catalogs, I found a challenging lace pattern for the top border and off I went. It took a few weeks to complete a finished drawing in colored pencil. While working on that, I ordered my gesso panel.

At this stage, I've put in about 45 hours in on the painting. The background is starting to fill in. I decided to lower the curtain so it slightly overlaps the hat. The head is still mostly in verdaccio--a grey-green underpainting that, when transparent layers of pinks, ochres and white are added, will approximate flesh tones. It worked in the original oil painting. It remains to be seen if I can accomplish this in egg tempera. Stay tuned.