26 December, 2009

Top Ten Posts - 2009

Last year, The Colorist inaugurated a new award in the spirit of "top ten" lists, named the Top Ten Art Blog Posts of the year. Posts that made this list were memorable, displayed one or more noteworthy pieces of art, or had expository merit.

What influenced me the most in my choices of the best post of the art blogging year 2009, was the quality of the posts as blogged. That is to say, they were great blogs - they had content so meaty you could chew on them. They stayed in my memory and lingered there. The artists made me want to write, post or paint as well as they did!

Awardees are welcome to copy and paste the medal jpeg. No attribution is necessary.

Here, then, are my choices for the year 2009, Top Ten Art Blog Posts.

Milton Caniff's Studio
February 28, 2009
Gurney Journey, James Gurney

Boyhood memories, task-oriented studio layouts and dreams. This post influenced me when I had an illustration assignment this year.
"Milton Caniff laid out his studio..."

My Father Asks for Nothing

March 3, 2009
Sippican Cottage,
Gregory Sullivan

Respects. As seen through the eyes of his son, a WW II veteran relives, reluctantly but with quiet intensity, his days as a serviceman. Bring a Kleenex and use it. And if you do
n't need it, kick yourself in the ass.
"He rarely spoke about that. My father and his confreres considered themselves part of a thing greater than the sum of their parts in it..."

Stephen Haller: Remembering Morandi

March 31, 2009
Joanne Mattera Art Blog, Joanne Mattera

Mattera interviews Haller; Haller reminisces about the Italian master.
"...after that school year I set out to find Morandi in Bologna."

Opening Tonight at the Howard/Mandville Gallery

May 9, 2009
A Painting Today, Karen Jurick

This slide show of Jurick's exhibit, set to a Dean Martin track, gave me a vision for musical content in a blog post that is clear, and topical. It is an example of music illuminating
painting. And it swings!

Leonard Cohen, Courtesy of Barney Davey, from Art Print Issues

May 23, 2009

Ancient Artist: Developing an art career after 50, Sue Favinger Smith

Age-immaterial powers. I wanted music on my blog after seeing this one.

Jeanne Hébuterne in Red Shawl, 1917

Modigliani Madness
July 16, 2009
Museworthy, Claudia Hajian

Claudia's post from June 18, 2008, Modigliani’s Muse – Jeanne Hebuterne and the “Rock Star” of Montparnasse, was a bell weather post for her blog, and sets the scene for
Modigliani Madness. Tragic, funny and illuminating - Claudia's posts will fascinate you on many levels.

"Fortunately not every woman who crossed paths with Modigliani had her life devastated."

The Kiss

Gustav Klimt Kiss Vienna

July 19, 2009
Fine Art by Kelly Borsheim,
Kelly Borsheim

Unique, individual criticism of the masterwork.

"I had the distinct impression that she had just died."

Old Drawings #39
Boogie Street, Harry Bell
July 27, 2009

Harry's three artworks entitled Sunday Market, which are a charcoal drawing, a collage of mixed media, and finally an oil painting, reveal his process visually. The painting actually comes out stronger than the already awesome drawing, which is a a sign of

Pastel, Mixed
24" x 24"
Loriann Signori

Love at First Sight
July 28, 2009
Loriann Signori's Painting a Day, Loriann Signori

A magical trip to Washington State, where Loriann live-blogged her workshop with master pastelist and teacher Richard McKinley. I chose this piece as my favorite, and you should take the time to read through all of her July posts to experience her "nirvana" experience of outdoor painting.

Working on the Same Subject in Different Media
October 23, 2009
My French Easel, Benoit Philippe

The same scene, done three independent times in watercolor, then in pastel and then in oils.

24 December, 2009

Another Christmas Hymn & Top Posts

As a teaser, I will let you know that The Top Ten Art Blog Posts for the year 2009 have been selected, and will be revealed next week. Last year, I posted the 2008 Top Posts before Christmas, and you can review those here.

Now, please enjoy another Christmas hymn.

23 December, 2009

Ear Day

van Gogh
o/c, 60 x 49 cm

Today, in 1888, our favorite tortured artist, Vincent van Gogh, lost the integrity of his left ear. Holiday pressures will take their toll, but sheesh.

Now, historical critics are disputing the self-mutilation narrative, and blaming Gauguin for the ear removal. I think the original theory is simpler, and makes more sense of his strange gifting of the ear to the lady around the corner in Arles. He did it, and he gifted it. He "owned" it, so to speak. Later self-violence, where he committed suicide, also makes the original ear story more believable.

The reason the right ear appears bandaged in the van Gogh self-portraits is that he looked in the mirror to reference them.

21 December, 2009

Christmas Hymns

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

Verses: Rossetti; Music: Cranham, Holst.

Hat tip: americandigest.

17 December, 2009

Edit Your Own Work

Pink Haze River
9.25" x 13.5"
Casey Klahn

I doubled the quality of my art before I went to my show last September, by throwing out half of it.

This final installment in the How to Paint for the Prize series concerns your own ability to edit your work. Be brutal and hold up only the best works for show. The great American artist Willem de Kooning threw out almost everything he painted early in his career, and made a reputation for himself while doing it. He kept only the few paintings that he felt had merit.

Many of my own feelings on editing were posted here: The Axe Falleth.

I wrote:

"A thing I do is, after completing a run of artworks, I will spot a couple of dogs in the lot, and axe those. Then, I will look at the remainder, and axe the two or three weakest paintings, as well."

The post continued as a reprint of comments:

Carolyn L. asks:

"While you are 'axing' what questions do you ask yourself? What do you look for? Do you have a specific set of guidelines you apply? While I am sure the process is not entirely objective, there must be a thought process you pursue. Learning to evaluate one's own work is not easy. It is not a skill directly taught in art class. I would like to hear your take on the subject."

My response:
Good questions, Carolyn.

Sure, the first thought is something subjective. A niggling something that isn't right (usually a compositional problem). Often, the compositional issue has to do with proportion. Some element is too big, or too small.

The big problem is when it's close to okay, and then the struggle starts.

Distance of a day helps. I sit and look at my work a lot. I tape or tack the series on the wall and stare and evaluate. I use mats or tape to frame them. I get the rejects out of the way, although they still reside on the wall somewhere out of the way. A stack of rejects (or 2 or 3 stacks) sit around the studio, and I can refer to those for ideas later.

No guidelines. That's a little too static for me.

I look for strength in a painting.

I don't outright reject a work for technique issues. Some mistakes are okay with me if the point comes across. And, meanwhile, I am on a program to improve my technique! There's a contradiction there for you.

Some very important reasons for rejecting an artwork are if they don't fit the series, or my style direction. In that vein, I will get rid of works that have too many sharp or defined edges, or too much detail, compared to the whole.

Another issue can be dull spots where the paper just packed up too much with pastel.

Another problem can be value comparisons. Bad value progressions - too stark or too similar, are a bad thing.

Maybe a shape of an element isn't right. Too regular; wrong size or direction.

Endless...and people think art is easy!

Diane Wenzel then followed up with this question:

"Casey, your review of critical axing is very useful. But how is it when you begin a series? When you are in the heat of creation, what do you do with your critical hacking voice? If the hacker is asleep, I can see how you might become caught up in one place adding unwanted, useless details."

Well, Diane, it sounds like you are asking two questions. One: how to edit a whole series at the start. The other: do I get caught up in a the process and add superfluous stuff?

Or, perhaps you are asking that if the series is in its infancy, how can I tell which parts belong?

I never choose a series from an idea. The series presents itself based on a successful image that needs to be explored many times. So, the series is already a successful image and hopefully never contrived.

What are the qualities of that first successful image (or two)? These become my criteria. Also, my whole art statement comes into play (color - modern treatment - realism - abstract heavy).

Superfluous stuff? I go down that road often. That's why I have to edit the works after they are done. Interestingly, I will be in the groove and create nice works with new and fresh passages, and all is well then. Other times, I won't even know what I am doing in the studio!

In summary:
  • Get distance from your art, by a day or two.
  • Look at them upside down; squint; view through a mirror (okay, I added these).
  • Make sure to focus on unity of thought, so the series doesn't wander or add extra, unnecessary clutter.
  • Don't just look at technique, but rather the emotion or message.

In addition to these things, I will caution against self-criticism. The exercise of editing your art to save the best art is not a self-deprecating one. Neither is it a self-aggrandizing session. Possibly, you can step outside yourself a bit and see your art in new lights, and then you will sit in front of your exhibit of art, and be moved by it.

One telling story. The absolute last choice of my own art for my September show, one that almost got cut, actually was the first one that sold. Maybe I held the axe just right for my cuts.

13 December, 2009

Three Big Years

Turquoise Forest
13" x 9"
Original Pastel
Casey Klahn

“Color in a picture is like enthusiasm in life.”

Vincent Van Gogh

The 16th of December will mark the three year anniversary of this newsletter-style blog which I named
The Colorist. That turned out to be a good move, because for some reason that name has struck a chord, and The Colorist is widely read and many have chosen to link here over the years. Why do people read The Colorist? Partly to see my art, and partly to read the process essays that I write. Occasionally, some nugget of interest brings a reader in via the magic of Key Words.

Did you know that I, personally, am not "The Colorist?" I may paint colorist works, but the name of this blog was meant to describe a place to explore, report and essay on the central theme of colorist art. Of course, anything else that interests me makes it in here, too. I styled it as a newsletter, with a mish-mash of interesting content, all held together under the central theme of "why make this art?"

Am I any closer to that manifesto? I would say, in retrospect, that I have written, and you have very kindly read, a number of things that are descriptive of the artist's process. If that draws someone in to take a closer look at my artworks, then I guess the words have helped. I am told (and the artists in my audience will attest to this experience) that the longer someone looks at my paintings, the more they see. It is like entering a room, and then somehow one finds another hidden room, and then another one, and so on.

So what is a contemporary "colorist?" Did the high mark of overly colorful art end in the nineteen hundred and oughts with the Fauvists in France? My very good blogging friend, Adam Cope, (who does brilliantly colored paintings of the Dordogne region of France) observed this week to me that we all use brilliant color now, and the inference was kind of, "so what?" I couldn't agree more - so what? The market for art supplies is sick with brilliant pigments, and we are rich - filthy rich - with paint intensities. Is it like eating that candy corn in the fall, or that sugar cookie in the winter, and rediscovering why you don't eat them all year? They are soooo sweet! Too much!

Not a few of the artists I admire in the present day use subdued color religiously, and to wonderful effect. Art cannot be "all about color," as these artists prove. But, why do I persist? To be honest - and maybe you've noticed - for the first time this past year, browns made it into my palette.

I think my favorite artist, Wolf Kahn, has said it best. He indicates that there is a knack, or talent if you will, for bringing colors together, that either you have or you don't. Put another way, I would say that the way to failure with intense colors is broad, but the path to success is narrow. High key colors are like dynamite - useful if you know what you're doing.

For those of you who've been around the whole 3 years, reading TC, I thank you. There are others who've been fellow travelers for one or two years, and I am equally thankful for you. As luck would have it, there are also more new readers lately. Welcome, and I hope the next three years will profit you as much as these past three have done me.

08 December, 2009

Get There Quick!

batman-bomb.<span class=

"Time...is running...OUT, old chum!!!"

Every artist wishes to excel in their work. The Colorist has been looking at How to Paint for the Prize.

Because I was seeking the prize for my art last summer, I was in a hurry. One thing I knew about myself when it came to painting for my show in California was that if I didn't complete all of the artworks in a narrow time frame, their look would be discernibly different from one another. As an example, the first few pastel paintings would not seem very much "like" the last few - they would still look to be done by the same artist, but they would convey different ideas.

If focus was a pathway to winning First Prize, then I would need to get my body of work done in the shortest time possible. Long days in the studio, with early starts and after dinner sessions would be in order. Since I knew the venue, I had a firm idea of how many works I'd need, which was about 25. Since I was at an art festival, and since running out of art is the big taboo, I knew that I could fill-in with paintings that didn't match my series on the last day.

One thing that worked against my goal was the danger of reworking the same idea so often that I might produce a boring inventory. Same scene - different day, so to speak. My belief is that returning to a scene will generate more good than harm, as the artist can actually better define his ideas by repetition. A stop gap for me, though, was the limit of about 25 works.

Narrow the time frame of your painting project to keep your works coherent and focused, and your audience will appreciate the results.

Congratulations to Tom Christopher, Images from the Iowa Greenbelt, whose pastel "Barely Alive," won first prize in the Arkansas Pastel Society competition. That's how it's done.

07 December, 2009

Remembrance and Honor

View down "Battleship Row," Pearl Harbor.

In 1975, when I joined the Army National Guard in Aberdeen, Washington, there were still a few World War II veterans in uniform. One of them had the opportunity to address us on the subject of survival. What did he know about survival? Just this: he fought on the deck of his navy cruiser (second in size only to a battleship for a surface warship) on that December 7th day in 1941. Pearl Harbor day.

You don't need to hear the details of it, but we listened closely to the brutality of this mechanized war nightmare that he was reliving for us. It was bloodstory and anything but pretty.

Of course, like men will do, especially in uniform, there had to be some humor to cut the sheer magnitude of war experience. Like the time his cruiser was thrice torpedoed in the Solomons, and he had to abandon ship. From the rail of the deck, it is a long way to the water, and navy training very specifically indicates that you must plug the first orifice that's going to hit the water. And the handiest and best plug is your finger - I'm not making this up. Anyway, he didn't do it, and it turned out that the navy was right - you get a load of sea water where you don't want it!

Speaking of threes, he spent 3 days in the water, with Japanese zeroes strafing him, sharks in the water, and of course you get to watch your crew mates bobbing around in all of this mess. I'm glad he made it.

Last Saturday, December 5th., the dedication ceremony for a monument honoring the service of my father's WW II army division was held near Denver, Colorado. I was pleased to be involved by providing the illustrations for the stone and marble monument. One is a depiction of the Colorado Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, where the Tenth Mountain Division trained. The other is larger, and of a soldier climbing the face of Riva Ridge, in Italy where the 15,000 man unit fought in 1945.

See my reports of the progress of this project here and here. See my artwork related to the 10th Mountain Division here and here. I'm proud that I was asked to be a small part of it, and happy to have it co-ordinate with Pearl Harbor remembrances here in 2009, sixty-eight years post the events of that infamous day.

The Smithsonian remembers PHD.
Some first person reports for you.

03 December, 2009

Northwest University Exhibit

Casey Klahn - Exhibit at Northwest University.
All Photos: Garth Edwards

Here is a photo report on my exhibit at Northwest University in Kirkland, Washington. The opening was November 6th. The funnest opening is the kind where you can barely greet everyone who attends, and the majority of attendees are friends you haven't seen in almost 25 years. It was an honor to be recognized in this way at my alma mater. I greatly appreciate Garth Edwards, a high school classmate whom I hadn't seen in over 30 years, for taking these photos and for taking the trouble to visit.

Garth's blog is here.

My River Series is on display at the Health and Sciences Center at NU until January 4th., 2010.
Abstract Expressionism, Art Criticism, Artists, Colorist Art, Drawing, History, Impressionism, Modern Art, Painting, Pastel, Post Impressionism