I see the world around me as an arrangement of spaces. Over time I recognized this as a familiar process. In the beginning, it was a method of discovery, learning how things come together and then deciding what I liked. We visited art museums when I was a child. I became comfortable looking and making my mind up about what I liked. I bought post cards of those works in the gallery store so I could put them on my wall or in a scrap book to look at and study. I became a child art critic.
My best friend’s mother was an artist and held art classes for us in their basement. We sat on benches with a back on one narrow side to place our paper on while we straddled the seats and painted.
I took art classes after college in community colleges and worked in studios. It was hard to create work worthy of a critique. As I continued to look at art, I began to understand the dynamics of the rectangle space, how the edges create energy. I took classes at a university and was presented with the notion of painting the air, the three-dimensional space in the frame.
I discovered landscape design in my early thirties. I had become a gardener and through those activities learned about this profession. In school again, I began to put gardens on paper. I found this process familiar as I arranged the three-dimensional space on a flat piece of paper to meet the needs and desires of the gardener. My ability to see a completed landscape in my mind is largely due to the practice of painting the air.
Whatever is within my vision, I continually study the relationships between objects, the proportionality. Whether they are cabinets in a kitchen or sidewalks and driveways and doors and windows, even street signs, I see them as part of a moving picture. I sometimes wonder if this is an advantage or a hinderance. It certainly gives me plenty to think about even when in the company of others and allows me to remain relatively quiet.
These are three favorite masterpieces. They are all at the Art Institute in Chicago. The first by George Seurat, who lived from 1859 to 1891, was a favorite when I was a child. I saw one of his paintings in a museum in Indianapolis. A Sunday on La Grande Jatte was first exhibited in Paris in 1884. All those small dots intrigued me. Every inch of the canvas is filled with spots of paint. The people in the painting are made of and surrounded by them. There is so much to see in this scene: umbrellas, dogs, caps, walking sticks, sailboats, a monkey. The reclining figures appear to be sinking into a field of dots.
The second by Claude Monet, who lived from 1840 to 1926, is one of a series of paintings of large wheat bales at different times of day. Stacks of Wheat (End of Day, Autumn) was exhibited in 1891 in Paris. I have seen them at the Art Institute, but many years ago saw them at the Louvre in Paris. To place the enormous bales in the front of the painting, leaves the viewer no choice but to examine imposing towers of wheat. In this painting as in the first, uncountable strokes of paint form shapes, this time with blurred edges. Again, the atmosphere is painted and envelopes everything.
The third by Edward Hopper, who lived from, 1882 to 1967, is a painting that I would love to look at every day. In Nighthawk, the scene intrigues me as I study the patrons and the server. The interior lighting in the diner pulls me in every time I look at the painting. The darkening streets surrounding the building create a mood we can feel. This painting shows how the use of the edges of the canvas keep the movement of the diagonal lines within the frame. The direction of the shadows, the building, the streets, and even the leaning of three of the people are pushed back into the composition by the edges. Our gaze follows this movement and comes back to the lighted room again and again.