Featuring 10 completed 2020 paintings
I don’t think about death so much anymore. Instead, front and center in my mind are staying well, our country’s disgraceful response to the pandemic, the urgency of promoting social justice & equality, and the dire need to trounce Trump. Not to minimize any of those life-and-death themes, painting remains my preoccupation.
Writing about my artwork and internal process is obviously trivial in these desperate times, and yet here I go again. But first, let me express that I hope you, my readers, are hanging in there. Thank you for the amazing feedback after my March blog about the early weeks of quarantine. Here’s an update.
At that time, I had started ten canvases in a series of Venice paintings, COVID-19 cases were surging in Italy, and I felt safely locked down at home in Carlsbad. Now, the virus has stabalized in Europe, and—as everyone knows—cases in the United States are increasing exponentially. While Lindsey and I have continued to vigilantly remain sequestered at home, I’ve finished that first group and I have started six more.
In this article, I’ll present each of the completed pictures, my process, and plans for the rest of 2020.
About a year ago, I wrote about how Monet and I were reinventing ourselves at the age of 68 and that I had begun “self-identifying as an oil painter.” I didn’t really know what that meant then, but I think I have a better understanding now.
Describing myself that way was totally presumptuous. The quintessential artist, Monet essentially painted all day, every day, and he created 36 pictures of Venice. I’m serious about my craft and dedicated to it—usually painting 4-5 days weekly. But I only work for 2-4 hours per day and feel like finishing 10 canvases in six months is a big deal. I’m into it, but to “self-identify…” is audacious.
Still, I’m proud to share what I’ve done thus far on this series.
“Venice Homes” (above) was loosely based on a Monet composition, which I felt was appropriate given that I was following in his footsteps with this series. However, I was determined to allow my own style to naturally emerge—rather than attempt to concentrate on his approach, as I did during “My Year of Monet.” Certainly, nothing of his looks like “Palais Bembo” either in color choices or detail:
In my last post, I showed the progression of this composition, which originated from a watercolor I did in 2003. My greatest hope at the time was to someday have the ability to paint this building in oils. Mission accomplished!
Monet’s masterpiece of the Doge’s Palace (below) gave me the idea for this project, when I saw it at a retrospective exhibition in Denver last December. Obviously, you can see in the photos below that my version uses an entirely different palette and has more clearly defined elements than his:
He uses subtle and soft tones of French Ultramarine Blue in the sky, purple shadows, and green and yellow tones in the water. Instead, I chose two of the most vibrant blues, Cobalt and Thalo, a combination I don’t think I’ve ever tried before. My water has much sharper contrasts and relies on Cobalt Turquoise to produce bluer greens than Monet’s, and my brushstrokes provide noticeably greater contrasts between dark and lighter shades than his mellower tone. Compare the details below:
My point is that I’m not trying to imitate Monet, even with similar compositions. I’m simply trying to be myself.
In the earliest days of isolation, I felt more driven. After all, faced with mortality, it seemed best to fill my days creating art. However, as I settled into a routine at the easel, I came to a more comfortable place within myself. That peaceful feeling is attributable to the enthusiasm so many of you have had for my work. Gone are the doubts that used to regularly pop up, because you’ve already allowed me to fulfill my goal of getting paintings on walls.
These days, I’m filled with much more confidence. I’ve spent 25 years developing my skills and am no longer aspiring, I am doing. There’s less effort to mixing precise colors or getting a particular effect. My technique is pretty set, and I merely try compositions and just see how they turn out. Some I like more than others, and oftentimes my favorites are different than yours.
These next two were based on grainy video images from our only trip to Venice, in 2003. Lindsey’s current favorite is the gondolier; it’s not mine.
With a more relaxed perspective, my past obsessiveness has been replaced by a methodical attitude. My only routine activity is to paint most afternoons. The canvases are sorted in numerical order on a wall in my studio, and corresponding palettes are stacked in cubbies. A spreadsheet helps me keep track of the colors for each. I turn on some music, put on a pair of gloves, and am immediately in “the zone.” For the next few hours, every fiber of my being is focused on the act of painting—unrestrained, unattached to the outcome, and fully present in the moment.
I felt more compulsive in the early days of the pandemic, when I was afraid that I could die the next day and had to fill the world with more of my artwork. However, when I realize that I’ve already given away about 250 paintings, I can acknowledge that I’ve done enough—the rest is icing on the cake. So now, my approach is more love than lust.
My original idea, as expressed previously, was to use my 2003 video images to paint scenes of Venice like Monet had done. However, as I got going, I clearly didn’t have enough good source material.
Deciding for the first time to use online images took some getting used to, but I made effort to manipulate the pictures I found to make them more my own. I also combed through my friend George‘s vacation photos. He and his wife, Holly, have been away since April, so he gave me access to his home and computer and told me and Lindsey to help ourselves to puzzles, Lysol wipes, rubbing alcohol, and paper products, when those items were hard to come by. This painting is from one of George’s pictures:
Struck by images of Venice’s flood last November, I decided to make a statement about climate change and how the “City on Water” was affected. With continued rising tides—as occurred last month, as well—the entire city is in jeopardy, most notably the Doge’s Palace, which was built in the early 1300’s. The ruination of Venice particularly demonstrates the devastation that is likely to result from global warming.
My motifs shifted again when the coronavirus lockdown of Venice led to some unexpectedly beautiful consequences. Without tourism and countless boats polluting the Venetian lagoon, the water turned clearer and serene. The colors of the city also changed, as I captured in the ninth picture, my favorite:
Rumors of dolphins and swans returning to the Grand Canal surfaced, and I believed them when I started this picture. Actually, dolphins were confirmed off the coast of Sardinia, Italy in the Tyrrhenian Sea, not the Adriatic, where Venice sits. Nonetheless, I liked the symbolism of the dolphin’s return and included one in the painting. Can you find it? (Detail below) The swans were in Burano (below right), an island suburb of Venice.
When I consider what’s coming up next, I’m reminded of J.I. Rodale, a writer and publisher who popularized the term “organic” for gardening. While taping a TV interview with Dick Cavett in 1971, the 72-year-old Rodale remarked, “I’m going to live to be 100, unless I’m run down by some sugar-crazed taxi driver.” A few minutes later, he died of a sudden heart attack on the stage.
I am looking forward—but, who knows? I’m planning on completing 20 paintings of the Venice series in 2020, and since six of the second set are already pretty far along, I’m not feeling pressure or a sense of urgency. As a matter of fact, I’m taking a couple of weeks off from painting while I work on the blog and my website and do other things for a change; and, I’ve appreciated the time away.
Whether I finish the Venice series, paint until I’m 86 years old like Monet, or die trying, I am content with my achievements as an oil painter. I’m also quite satisfied with what I accomplished professionally, as well as personally; but, I’m not labeling myself. Thus, I’m only identifying as “Leigh” from now on.
Under normal circumstances, I’d give most of these paintings away in November. However, these are the most abnormal of times, so I’m doubtful that I’ll make them available this year. Regardless, I expect to write again to share the completion of my Venice series. Until then, there’s so much I wish for, but for now, I hope you all remain safe and healthy.