One of the fun things about being a writer is getting to research, nothing tedious, just reading, watching documentaries, interviewing and exploring subjects I actually want to learn about.
My main character is an artist. I’ve always appreciated art, but I’m no artist or art critic. So it’s been a good opportunity to pick the minds of artist friends, to branch out in my exploration of exhibits, art books and general art browsing. Here is a sampling from my recent research:
- The Van Gogh exhibit in Houston – the sketches where he trained himself, the early works painted in drab colors, the artworks so thick the paint seemed to rise a foot off the canvas, and at last the swirls of bright paint he was famous for – to see all of his paintings arranged from start to finish – his huge swathe of creativity, growth and originality – and the abrupt end. There’s nothing like seeing an artist’s career from start to finish.
- Off the beaten track– a few months ago I saw a sculpture made of 200 gallons of urine. Hmm, if I hadn’t known what it was I might have agreed it was pretty. I get the anger, but personally, I think there are more impressive ways to make a statement.
- Georgia O’Keeffe: A Life – I was amazed by her self-confidence in the face of criticism, and her absolute devotion to the single path of her art. For much of her career, she had to deal with belittling as a woman artist and being misunderstood by both colleagues and art critics. Even her husband and manager, Alfred Stieglitz who was huge supporter of her work, doubted her at every stage of growth, balking at her huge flowers, her desert skulls and at the sheer amount of time she needed alone to create. Fortunately, she had a thick skin and kept going, and we ended up with the mother of American modernism.
- Andrew Wyeth’s Autobiography – I’ve been keeping it by my bedside and looking through a bit at a time. It’s as soothing as a warm cup of milk before bedtime. It’s the story of his paintings with a paragraph or two about each one he displays. Artists get to be eccentric, and he definitely had his quirks. His neighbors allowed him to roam through their houses for inspiration, so he has one painting of a man sleeping in bed – a scene he happened upon him during one of his roaming sessions. His descriptions have really opened up my vision of how an artist can think. Next to one painting he talks about how he tried to portray the sound of the metallic clink of an empty can in an empty room. Next to many of his portraits, he describes what he sees – not scars or almond shaped eyes, but the story behind the face – a hunter who keeps a lover stashed in his barn loft, the tweedy doctor who lets down her hair and her Native American ancestry show through, the blood rushing to his wife’s cheeks when she’s furious with him for taking on too many things that distract him from his painting.
- I’ve talked with artist friends and picked up little quirks too, like the love of for gold drawing pencils rather than lead.
- A tall woman walks by and the artist thinks, “Man, I’d love to paint her – what fun to convey that kind of height.”
- I hear someone ask one friend what one his painting means, and he replies, “That’s not the right question. What do you think it means?”
- Another tells me about how she starts seeing people in terms of the planes of their faces, the shape of their hands, and how she would convey them on canvas.
Exploring Contemporary Art
A question I’ve had is what kind of contemporary art, with an emphasis on painting, is getting attention right now. I’ve looked online at articles from The New York Times and other art reviews, and have asked artists I know. From the little I’ve gleaned, I’ve started a Pinterest board (snapshot of the top of the board below).
Yes, this is the type of research that is pure fun for me.