Goldpoint

Rules of the Plein Air Game by Jeannine Cook

It is always fascinating to realise how one evolves as an artist. I am constantly surprised at how things change, whilst the core impulses and responses remain consistent.

I was reminded of this yesterday as I found myself responding to the intricate beauty of ancient olive trees and mighty Mediterranean pines in a way that I would not have done a year or two ago.

Olive Tree (Olea europaea)

Olive Tree (Olea europaea)

Mediterranean Pine (Pinus halepensis)

Mediterranean Pine (Pinus halepensis)

Yes, I love trees, and have always found them of intense interest and delight. But now, with my eyes more attuned to their texture and patterning of wood and bark because of the way I am frequently drawing in metalpoint, I “see” differently. And more than that, I find myself learning more and more adapting and moving to a very selective mode of drawing en plein air.

There is an interesting passage in a book I read some time ago, Monet by Robert Gordon and Andrew Forge, published by Abradale Press in 1989. Discussing painting (and by extension drawing) en plein air, “To paint directly, to follow the rules of the plein air game, means to start with what is given from a particular position. Studio painting avoids occlusion problems (i.e. one near form hiding another behind it), but plein air means you have to choose your position and you have to deal with being blinded by overlapping features.”

Where you chose to stand or sit, what details you pay attention to: these are critical decisions for the artist to make at the onset of a work of art. The passage in Monet gives the example of a view down a straight road.

It establishes the visible world in depth at the same time that it establishes the position of the observing eye. It defines the relationship between seer and the seen within a geometrically precise structure.

Every time now that I start a metalpoint drawing, I need to decide on my position – where I am going to sit. This determines the details that visually jump out at me amid the welter of detailed information on the patterned bark of a tree, for instance.

Those selections dictate the “geometrically precise structure”, the composition that I have in mind (although that tends to evolve as I work). It also means that I have to “prune away” details that will not fit nor strengthen the drawing towards which I am almost instinctively groping.

It is indeed ideally a rather instinctive, non-conscious-thinking mode that I hope to achieve because I find that is when the best drawing happens. Not always possible, alas!

These are some of the more recent choices I made whilst sitting in front of mighty trees as to where I sit and what details are thus predominant and visible.

Walnut Freize,  silverpoint, artist Jeannine Cook

Walnut Freize, silverpoint, artist Jeannine Cook

Oak Labyrinth,  gold-silverpoint, artist Jeannine Cook

Oak Labyrinth, gold-silverpoint, artist Jeannine Cook

Oak Labyrinth I,  gold-silverpoint, artist Jeannine Cook

Oak Labyrinth I, gold-silverpoint, artist Jeannine Cook

The rules of the plein air game become paramount.

Pouring your Life into your Art by Jeannine Cook

Whether you like it nor not, your art is often the reflection of who you are and where life has taken you. That may be an unnerving idea, but it seems to be one that most artists, in all disciplines, have to come to terms with.

“You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved,” wrote Ansel Adams. And for photography, you can substitute any art form, from dancing to singing to visual arts or theatre.

Images of Sacha Copland dancing on a wine barrel at La Porte Peinte residency in Noyers, France, as she choreographs a new work, The Wine Project, tells us about all her past experiences and ideas. As she herself writes about The Wine Project, "There in the glass was the soil of a place and in that soil was a soul”.

Sacha Copeland, Artist Director, Java Dance Company, New Zealand (photograph courtesy of  Emma Hellowell )

Sacha Copeland, Artist Director, Java Dance Company, New Zealand (photograph courtesy of Emma Hellowell)

Sacha Copeland, Artist Director, Java Dance Company, New Zealand (photograph courtesy of  Emma Hellowell )

Sacha Copeland, Artist Director, Java Dance Company, New Zealand (photograph courtesy of Emma Hellowell)

Sacha Copeland, Artist Director, Java Dance Company, New Zealand (photograph courtesy of  Emma Hellowell )

Sacha Copeland, Artist Director, Java Dance Company, New Zealand (photograph courtesy of Emma Hellowell)

Frequently, the artist has little awareness of what is going into the art being created, if that small inner voice is in charge. It is only later that one realizes that there is a wonderful circularity in what is happening, a reason and its result, direct and obvious or much more subtle. It may be years and years later that something seen, something experienced comes floating up and into the art.

I began to realise, for instance, that my childhood exposure, on walls of my home in Tanzania, to Japanese woodcuts, wonderful prints that had been created after the 1923 earthquake in Yokohama, Japan, was the reason for my always feeling comfortable with negative spaces reaching all four sides of a piece of paper. Drawing or watercolours, it does not matter: I feel almost compelled to use the entire surface of the paper, edge to edge, to create “dis-balanced” spaces that play into the whole composition. To me, it is part of my concept of art-making; I feel very strange when I confine the work I am creating to the inner parts of the paper, leaving blank space around the image.

Marronniers III: Chestnut Bark , gold-silverpoint, Jeannine Cook artist

Marronniers III: Chestnut Bark, gold-silverpoint, Jeannine Cook artist

Le Chant des Pierres III: la Bourgogne Profonde , gold-silverpoint, Jeannine Cook artist

Le Chant des Pierres III: la Bourgogne Profonde, gold-silverpoint, Jeannine Cook artist

To me, the richness of art forms resides to a great degree on all these inner layers of life experience that the artist brings to the act of creation. Sometimes you capture and understand them, sometimes you don’t. There, again, part of the fascination of art is how each of us completes the dialogue of the art work.In other words, sometimes that artist’s life experiences resonate with the viewer. Sometimes they don’t because the viewer has had a radically different life and finds it difficult to find bridges stretching across to the artist’s world.

The question that lingers at the back of my mind is: what happens as present-day ever-accelerating giant changes in technology, urbanization, life styles and cultural mores show up more and more in art forms?

Do these changes create huge divergences in art and its adherents, particularly between generations? Or do we continue to acknowledge that certain art, in whatever form, transcends generations and centuries because the richness and power of its content and message? And, ultimately, who amongst us is the arbiter of the enduring character of that art? The super-wealthy buying at art auctions, the more “humble” supporters of all forms of art, governments and/or non-profit art organisations funding the arts, or who?

I wonder if Ansel Adamsthought of those “down-stream” aspects of art-making as he created his wonderful photographs.

Unexpected Gifts to Artists by Jeannine Cook

Sometimes, when it is hard to remember you are an artist because other events crowd in on you in life, there are gifts that come along to remind you about your real passion, art.

One that came to me last year, but has come around at the exact moment I need it most at present, was an invitation to exhibit in a solo show at the Albany Arts Council in Albany, Georgia.  The date has come around, for April 2013, at a point when it is most helpful in my life. 

Brush or Stylus: Jeannine Cook's Choices will open with a reception from 6-8 p.m. on Thursday, April 4th at the Albany Arts Council.  Later, on April 30th, I will be giving an informal talk at a Brown Bag Lunch. 

Azalea indica,  metalpoint 10 x 7" image, Jeannine Cook

Azalea indica, metalpoint 10 x 7" image, Jeannine Cook

This is the image used on the invitation, a silverpoint and copperpoint drawing I did of the wonderful, luminous big-flowered azaleas so typical of spring in the Southeast of the United States.

The exhibition will include watercolours - mostly landscapes of coastal Georgia - and silverpoint drawings of flowers, trees and other subjects that lend themselves to this high key lustrous medium.  Since the silver, gold or copper that I use in a stylus cannot be erased, the drawing is always an adventure.

Another gift I was recently given out of the blue was being selected by curator Tania Becker to be included in a six-artist exhibition at Spruill Gallery, Atlanta, Formations: Patterns  in Nature.  Four of my silverpoint drawings, two on a white ground and two on a black ground, were selected. 

Balsam Mountain Beech,   silverpoint, 15 x 11" image, Jeannine Cook

Balsam Mountain Beech,

silverpoint, 15 x 11" image, Jeannine Cook

Rings of Time I,   silverpoint on black ground, 7.5 x 5.5" image, Jeannine Cook

Rings of Time I,

silverpoint on black ground, 7.5 x 5.5" image, Jeannine Cook

Turmoil - Red Oak,  silverpoint on black ground, 7.5 x 5.5" image, Jeannine Cook

Turmoil - Red Oak, silverpoint on black ground, 7.5 x 5.5" image, Jeannine Cook

The exhibition opened on 14th March and will run until June.  It sounds to be an interesting show and I was crestfallen not to be able to get to its opening.  Nonetheless, being in the show was an unexpected surprise.

Another gift from the blue is always when an artist gets a phone call from a collector who says that they have moved to a new home and feel that another "Jeannine Cook" drawing or painting is needed.  What a delicious compliment.

These are the sort of gifts that any artist appreciates, but in my case, as I sit with my husband in a hospital room, far from my studio world, these are vital reminders of my other self.  The gods are kind!