Saturday, September 25, 2010

New Jersey: The Movie

Tonight we are hosting a special event at the Artists' Gallery. Steve Chernoski, Writer/Director of the award winning New Jersey: The Movie will be on hand for a free screening. It's a fun documentary about New Jersey and the dividing line between north and south Jersey, which happens to be right around the Lambertville area. While this has little to do with fine art paintings and photos, it does fit in with our desire to explore some of the lesser known aspects of New Jersey in New Jersey Blues.

Now that the exhibit has been up for a few weeks, we've gotten a lot of great feedback from visitors. Many are familiar with the places depicted, and if not they are curious to learn more about them. Many of Rich's pieces look like very typical New Jersey scences, although you might not notice them so much as you travel throughout the state. By coincidence, many of the photos I selected are of things you might not think you'd find in New Jersey. I really like the mix of the two together. I'm glad we had the chance to put this exhibit up in our new space, the lighting and layout are a vast improvement.

I just finished a 40-page book entitled Lambertville, Photo Essay of a New Jersey River Town, comprised of images I've taken around Lambertville in the last few years, some of which are also in the exhibit. It's on display and available for purchase at the gallery for $45, and copies can also be ordered from me directly at the same price.

Rich and I will be at the gallery next weekend, it's your last chance to stop by and see the exhibit. Rich will be doing some painting, check for updates on the exact day and time.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Days Grow Short When We Reach September

The Photographer and The Painter outside the Gallery on Opening Night...

Posted by Rich- When a gallery show is finally hung, it is amazing how brief the time seems where the work is actually on display all together. It seems especially short when I consider how long John and I have been working on developing the exhibition concept, and working on our individual contributions.

The reaction to the work on display seems to be mostly positive, although I found the attendance at the opening reception itself to be disappointing. Actually, “disappointing” would be an understatement. There were a few periods during the reception on Saturday night when the gallery felt like a diorama before the mannequins are installed. I arrived over an hour late, and John assures me that between 5 and 6 PM the joint was jumping, but attendance was pretty sparse after that. We did have well over a hundred visitors to the gallery that day, however, and both John and I sold work ( the little paintings of the Lambertville-New Hope Bridge went quick! Thinking I might do some more…)

Personally, I feel more at ease when there aren’t a lot of people milling around, and I have never felt comfortable being in the spotlight; the group show openings are much more enjoyable to me, or attending the opening receptions of the other members of the gallery. One of the reasons: I don’t think I am ever 100% satisfied with my work on display. I often want to keep working on it, and have actually taken work down off the wall during the week and spruced it up before the gallery re-opens on the weekend.

Like the previous exhibitions I’ve done at the Artists’ Gallery, I was working right up until the last minute to get the body of work completed on time for the show. This time though, it was really the very last minute, and I hesitated at inviting a lot of people to something I wasn’t positive was going to be at all worth looking at.

Fortunately, John had used his photo of Hot Dog Johnny’s roadside stand in Northwest New Jersey as a publicity piece, and the work struck a nostalgic chord in a good number of patrons who showed up to see it. I had considered doing a watercolor of the same place, but I’m glad I didn’t spend any time working on one; John’s photo of the place is so good, I think any painting would pale by comparison. As a matter of fact, after seeing the publicity for the exhibition, a nephew of the original owner of Hot Dog Johnny’s came in to look at John’s photo as well.

The concept for this exhibition will not end when we take the work down on October 4th; There are still a great many places in New jersey I want to visit and see what I can find to create paintings from. The Bendix Diner, of course, is still on my list, and I’d also like to see where Les Paul lived in Mahwah.

The time for the actual exhibition will end the first weekend of October, but I will be creating a lot more work based on New Jersey and hopefully have another exhibition of the New Jersey Blues with John in the future. One thing became evident as we worked on this show: the State of New Jersey is a lot bigger than it seems, and underneath the layers of four lane expressways, strip malls, and jug-handle left turns, it is also much more interesting than it appears.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Hang Time

The "Big Letter" promo card for the exhibition.

Posted by Rich- Long days and nights in the studio the past two weeks became the norm as I got closer to the show and worked to finish the artwork. Finishing the painting is one thing; getting the work matted, framed, labeled, and generally cleaned up enough for presentation and hopefully a sale is another chore altogether, and one I am not particularly fond of.

As much as one of my previous blog posts seemed to be a complaint about the creative process I go through to complete each piece, it really isn’t all stressful tedium. Painting and drawing is really quite relaxing, and when I’m not doing any of either I find myself thinking about it, and what I would like to paint or draw when I finish whatever I have in my studio at present. To me, the nicest thing about finishing a painting is not displaying it, but being able to start another one that hopefully will come out better. If I could afford it, I’d much rather pay some one else to do all my framing and hanging while I just made more work in my studio.

I was able to finish eleven pieces for this exhibition. I had started a twelfth, a large watercolor of the Crossroads Diner. That particular one will have to wait, however, as I felt I could not give it the attention it deserves; it has the potential to be a very nice piece, and I really want to do a good job rendering the stainless steel and glass exterior. I was able to get it about a quarter of the way finished when I decided to concentrate on other compositions for the New Jersey Blues exhibition.

Besides the Crossroads Diner, other works in progress – “progress” meaning they are either started with watercolor, drawn in pencil on unstretched watercolor paper, or consist of a drawing transferred to a stretched canvas- include a 1951 Ford, front end view (I always liked the 1951’s , and I painted a similar one in acrylics a few years ago and sold it right away); a triptych of truss bridges spanning the New Jersey Transit rail line to Manhattan ( see the bridge post earlier on for details on my fascination with bridges of this type); two large canvases of railroad subjects, a tank car and a coal car, taken from photos snapped on a sunny winter day almost 2 years ago ( I like trains- not enough to have a large model train layout in my basement, but enough to buy and enjoy magazines like The Railroad Press); 2 separate paintings of old John Deere tractors ( I like tractors, too. I’d really like to try driving one. Unfortunately, there haven’t been many opportunities to try one out…no one offers a course on tractor driving) and a painting of an old Mack truck, a Model B. ( I had a metal toy of a Mack B Model when I was very small. The toy has long since disappeared, but the affection for the truck lives on; I’ve painted Model B’s several times over the years…)

A Mack "B" Model truck....

Frames and mat boards have been purchased, and a night devoted to measuring, cutting, glass cleaning, and labeling the works for exhibition took place. John and I also spent an evening hanging the work in the gallery, with John graciously agreeing to hang work the night before the gallery opens for business on Friday morning; I can always use every available minute, and then some, to get this work completed. I stayed until midnight or so after we got done hanging work to apply more paint to the Zega Farm watercolor.

This needed a lot more work...come by the exhibition to see how it looks finished, although unsigned.

John and I have exhibited work together before, and set a precedent with one of our shows by mingling the photography and paintings together in the exhibition space. Prior to this, the usual practice for the 2 artists exhibiting that month was to display on opposite sides of the gallery, splitting the space evenly. I like combining the work, since John and I both focused on the same subject, and since I feel like my eleven paintings- 3 of which are only 8 x 6 inches- do not take up much space on a wall when they are displayed by themselves, and I don’t want one side of the gallery space to appear lonely. Especially my side…

After we arranged all the pieces, it looks like we had more than enough work to fill the walls, with John's larger photographs looking particularly good.As a matter of fact, the entire gallery looks great. Unfortunately, I’m still not 100% satisfied with all the work I completed…sometimes I hesitate to sign my work if I feel like it's not completely finished, and I want to go back and add more to it.

We also created an announcement postcard that reflects the theme of the exhibition, a “big letter” design reminiscent of the postcards purchased as souvenirs or sent from resort locations like Atlantic City in the middle of the last century.

It has been the practice for members of our gallery to place art in the front window of the gallery, hoping to entice pedestrians on Bridge Street in Lambertville to come in and look at the current exhibit. John and I chose to have a large ( 44 inches wide) version of our big letter post card placed on an easel- hopefully the nostalgic appeal of the card will attract patrons in. Stop by Lambertville and see for yourself if it works!

The BIGGER "Big Letter" postcard in the gallery window...

artist in picture for scale comparison only!

The Opening Reception for the exhibition is Saturday, September 11th at 5 PM- I did not tell many people about it, mostly because I was buried in work and worried that I wouldn’t have many pieces finished in time…however, the Artist’s Gallery has a pretty good publicity mechanism in place, and John has been great at getting notices out to people, so maybe the Opening will be well attended.

…I’m already thinking about my next exhibition.

Got this one finished,and signed! It looks a lot better than this in progress piece.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Worst Thing I Ever Did...

Posted by Rich- Every time I start a new painting or illustration assignment, it always goes through a stage where it looks like it is spinning out of control and I should just start over. I make myself stick to it, and I usually am able to bring it in for a controlled landing, although there are ALWAYS portions of a piece I wish I had done better.
The stages of the painting usually go like this:
Inspiration…Sketching…Transferring sketch …line painting, monochromatic line and under painting…
then self doubt, wondering why I chose this particular subject matter, and trying to convince myself that this painting is worth pursuing despite the fact that it looks like a complete train wreck at this point.

The train wreck stage occurs during the actual application of the color media itself to the surface . This stage usually includes various amounts of sweating, tedium, second guessing, mixing and remixing colors. Until I am about three-quarters of the way to the finished art, each painting I work on has an equal opportunity to win the title of The Worst Painting I Ever Did. All of the paintings in this exhibition looked at one point like absolute disasters in the making while I blocked in colors and worked on value transitions. I continually remind myself, several times, of what I tell my students:
“Everything I paint looks like the worst thing I ever did, halfway


Some of my progress pictures posted here will attest to that.

The watercolors are probably the pieces that give me the willies earliest on—they can really look like a mess during the first stages. Any mistakes on the acrylic paintings can be painted over pretty quickly, but the watercolors require letting the white of the paper illuminate the pigment, so I have to work with a layering process…


Painting of the 7-11 in West Cape May, at the very beginning stage, and halfway was scary.

I think I enjoy the watercolors the most though, despite the willies they give me. Number one reason: they’re fast, and I can stop working on a painting and pick it up a few hours or days later with no remixing of paints. Number two, they are portable; given my busy schedule, I can transport a watercolor with me easily and get a few colors added in between teaching classes or waiting for the train. I just need a bottle of water and a place to sit. I’ve worked on paintings in airport terminals, Burger Kings, mall food courts, and waiting for new tires to be installed on my truck at the garage where I get it serviced. I’ve even done some watercolor work while commuting on the train – you just have to time the bumps and bounces and make sure you work on an area of the painting that doesn’t require exacting detail.

Another Cape May piece; these clouds were great to look at, tough to paint...

Looks like I will be trying to squeeze in some more watercolor work where ever I can this week; It’s Tuesday, and the exhibition needs to have work hanging in place by 11 AM Friday. If I get a seat on the train with enough room, I think I can finish all the pieces by then.