On a Local Painter

Image result

This weekend I was able to attend the Great Lakes Art Fair at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi, Michigan. Artists from all over Michigan set up their art in booths and are able to talk freely with attendees, even sell their artwork. A wide variety of art was featured, including paintings, drawings, wood and metal sculptures, ceramics,glass works, photography, jewelry, printwork, and artisanal treats such as olive oils and dips, jerky, and even handmade soaps.

Although I may be biased by a predisposition toward fine arts, the booths that contained paintings were my favorite. I recognized one of my favorite Michigan artists, Thomas LeGault (whose work you can find here), and discovered a brand new one, Gerald Freeman.

Freeman paints primarily classic cars and other vehicles such as warplanes and bicycles, usually set in a backdrop of nature, but other works he was showcasing included human portraits, architecture, and a yacht on which fishermen wrestled with a huge fish popping out of the waves. His paintings are hyper-realistic–on his website, you can hardly tell that the pictures are of paintings and not of photographs.

In talking to him at the art fair, I learned that he does paint using photographs, but he doesn’t limit himself to just these. He would find a particular car he liked in one photo, then use the backdrop of trees or a dirt path from another, and, in the case that there was a person in the photo, he would often use a model in a studio. He said he wasn’t one for outdoor painting, but just a glance at his gallery told me that he loves nature, and had spent years studying it, trying to capture its beauty.

What struck me about his paintings, though, were the cars themselves. Though hyper-realistic, the natural backgrounds of his paintings gave just a vague hint of being painted, if you looked closely for brush strokes–very closely. But no matter how closely you looked at the cars, you will find only a perfect mirror image of the landscape around it, down to the exact warping in the curved exteriors. I almost expected to see my own reflection peering into the paintings, looking back at me in concave form from the smooth, shiny bodies of the Mercedes and Lincolns.

They were absolutely flawless.

One particular painting showed the dashboard of a convertible. He told me that he had done it with oil paints, which floored me because, in my comparatively little experience, oil paints are quite thick and hard to use for such perfect, minute details. But this one, just as the other ones, was photo-realistic.

Talking with Freeman and seeing his paintings was incredibly inspiring. Sometimes when I see art that seems unachievable for me, it’s discouraging, and it makes me feel like no matter how much time I spend practicing, I’ll never get to that skill level, or I’ll never create something as wonderful as *this.* But somehow, hearing Freeman talk about his passion for painting filled me with tenacity. If he can hone his skill over time to create paintings as gorgeous as these, then one day, anyone can get to that level, with painting or with anything.

You can look at the rest of Mr. Freeman’s gallery here.

Paint Me (Upside Down) Like One of Your French Girls

Do you remember when you were young and played on the monkey bars? When you were overcome with super strength and curiosity turned you upside down? The backs of your knees hinged over the metal poles and your body trusted itself to unfold and dangle. The wood chips became your ceiling, the clouds a fluffy carpet. Your world and perspective had changed so much and yet, you were still you.

Image via arthur.wikia.com

On Wednesday, I took the first class of a term of an Oil Painting course at the Ann Arbor Art Center, a medium I’ve never worked with before. In fact, I’ve never had any technical training on painting at all. I’ve always been a more splat and spread sort myself. But like all second-semester seniors who want to absorb the most out of this college life as I can get, I decided to buck up and challenge myself, destress after classes, and perhaps come away with framable piece of art.

The first exercise was to use our paints to copy a black and white photograph of a young girl. The girl was half in shadow, save for a little triangle of light where her eye peeked through. We also were not using any water with our paints, which meant that we would have to cake a lot of paint on the canvas because it dried so quickly. And things kept getting more interesting. “Now turn the photograph upside down,” our instructor, Claudia, said.

Suddenly, the face I had just seen before disappeared. Where her shadowy eye had been was now just an imprint of a hollowed out triangle (think pirate eye patch with a hole in the center). There was a slice of light that cut through what had been the girl’s neck. Where had that been before? To the left of her visible eye was a curvaceous bump: the indent where the skull shapes the eye bone. Where did her nose go? All I could see was a black dot in the center of the face. Not only was the model photograph upside down, we were going to paint to match this upside down figure. Claudia told us, “Don’t think of it as a face. Take each part of the photograph as its own shape. What’s connected? Where is the white space? Think tonally – is this dark or light?” This was easier since we were only using one color. You either painted a section of canvas or left it alone. But, still, this was no walk in the park for a beginner like me.

Now take your computer and flip it (or do a handstand and crane your neck). I suppose that my painting has a slight haunting Victorian schoolgirl look to it, but I walked away from class quite proud. Somehow, I had created this person on the paper in front of me. The ultramarine hue was beautiful and I hope to use it much more in the class. The girl’s visible eye turned out really well, as did her lips. I know there is much more to work on, technique-wise, but I think the most important lesson is to practice perspective. Keep challenging everything that you see. An eye isn’t just an eye. It’s a line connected to another line that doesn’t touch but curves around and loops back. A shadow isn’t just a dark spot; it’s a locus of contrast, of contact, of substance. I expect that I’m going to walk away from this painting term with a lot more on my palette than just a few still lifes.

Maybe it’s time for a trip down to the local monkey bars to get some more practice on perspective.