Out Now: California Light book

Now available: "California Light: A Century of Landscapes," by Jean Stern and Molly Siple (published by Skira Rizzoli, NYC). Though you can buy it on Amazon (for slightly less), if you get your copy through the California Art Club for a few dollars more, those extra dollars will greatly help the non-profit club continue to organize great exhibitions, lectures and paint-outs. There is also a very limited number of copies signed by all of the authors - this is available exclusively through the CAC. This beautiful coffee-table sized book (276 p., full color) features historic and contemporary members' artwork, as well as the history of the first 100 years of the club. Authored by Jean Stern, Director of the Irvine Museum, and Molly Siple, a frequent author on California art. As the Club Historian, I wrote the brief chronology of the club that was also included (Reducing 100 years' worth of history to fit on two pages is incredibly hard - here is the expanded version if you're interested.)

Color for Painters: A Guide to Traditions and Practice

A new book on color by Al Gury was just published by Watson-Guptill this last year. Al was one of my most influential teachers when I was studying back in Philadephia; he is currently the chair of the painting department at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts there. Titled "Color for Painters: A Guide to Traditions and Practice," this is a very thorough book that should prove helpful for students and those artists just beginning their voyage into color exploration as well as interesting and thought-provoking for many who have been painting for years. (Here is another book that Al wrote a few years ago, this one on alla prima painting.)

This book covers a great range of topics including the history of color usage in art, how artists organize and conceptualize their color, and a whole lot more. I wouldn't be surprised at all is this became a staple in art classrooms.

Wishes for a Happy New Year

Thanksgiving, 20" x 16", Oil on canvas panel, © Eric Merrell

This year flew by - I got married to my sweetheart Ramona! Adding to that excitement, I had a solo exhibition at The Forbes Gallery in New York City, gave a lecture on California art history, and took trips to paint out in Cape Cod and the Salton Sea, among other places. I'm looking forward to 2011 - lots of exciting new projects and travels!

One particularly neat item coming to fruition is a new book titled California Light: A Century of Landscapes. Due to be published in April 2011 by Rizzoli International, this will be a beautiful coffee-table sized book featuring the artwork and history of the first 100 years of the club. Authored by Jean Stern, Director of the Irvine Museum, and Molly Siple; little ol' me even has a credit for contributing the chronology of the club! You can purchase an advance copy online here.

Wishing you a warm and happy holiday season and a prosperous 2011. Here's a toast to all Art that adds to our lives, creates memories, opens our eyes to new things, challenges us and gives us a sense of purpose: Prost!

An American Paradox

An American Paradox (found here)

A Country That Loves Art, Not Artists In a survey of attitudes toward artists in the U.S. a vast majority of Americans, 96%, said they were greatly inspired by various kinds of art and highly value art in their lives and communities. But the data suggests a strange paradox.

While Americans value art, the end product, they do not value what artists do. Only 27% of respondents believe that artists contribute "a lot" to the good of society.

Further interview data from the study reflects a strong sentiment in the cultural community that society does not value art making as legitimate work worthy of compensation. Many perceive the making of art as a frivolous or recreational pursuit.

USA hopes to help close the gap between the love of art and the ambivalence toward artists in society.

Other insights further illuminate the depth of the paradox: • A majority of parents think that teaching the arts is as important as reading, math, science, history, and geography. • 95% believe that the arts are important in preparing children for the future. • In the face of a changing global economy, economists increasingly emphasize that the United States will have to rely on innovation, ingenuity, creativity, and analysis for its competitive edge—the very skills that can be enhanced by engagement with the arts.

As author Daniel Pink posits in his book A Whole New Mind—Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future, we have moved beyond the Information Age and into the Conceptual Age. "In short, we've progressed from a society of farmers to a society of knowledge workers. And now to a society of creators and empathizers, of pattern recognizers and meaning makers. . . . We've moved from an economy based on people's backs to an economy built on people's left brains to what is emerging today: an economy and society built more and more on people's right brains. . . . aptitudes so often disdained and dismissed—artistry, empathy, taking the long view, pursuing the transcendent—will increasingly determine who soars and who stumbles. It's a dizzying—but ultimately inspiring—change."

Statistics referenced above provided by Urban Institute, Investing in Creativity: A Study of the Support Structure for U.S. Artists (2003), and Rand Research in the Arts, Gifts of the Muse: Reframing the Debate about the Benefits of the Arts (2004)


Twin Mystery To many people artists seem / undisciplined and lawless. / Such laziness, with such great gifts, / seems little short of crime. / One mystery is how they make / the things they make so flawless; / another, what they're doing with / their energy and time.

-Piet Hein, poet and scientist (1905-1996)

Happy 100th Birthday CAC!

One Hundred Years! It's an amazing feat for any group, let alone an art club where the demands of the career as well as individual temperaments generally keep members working in isolation. Today marks the Centennial of the California Art Club. The founding of the club was first reported by Antony E. Anderson in the Los Angeles Times on December 12, 1909, one hundred years ago to the day. The early meetings took place along the banks of the Arroyo Seco in South Pasadena and throughout greater Los Angeles, and included artists like Franz Bischoff, Aaron Kilpatrick, and William and Julia Wendt. The CAC's predecessor, The Painters' Club of Los Angeles (1906-1909), had limited its members to male painters in the L.A. area. With the founding of the new club, the rules were widened to allow women, sculptors, and others living as far away as New York City to join. Throughout the CAC's storied history it has embraced time-honored techniques found in the grand traditions of painting and sculpture, molding them into contemporary relevance; at the same time it helped to present such progressive events as the first black American art exhibition in Los Angeles (1929) and the first G.I. Arts & Crafts exhibit (1946, also in L.A.), and maintained a venue to present exhibits of diverse themes and backgrounds.

Over the past century, the club has counted among its members Sir Winston Churchill, architect Richard Neutra, illustrator Dean Cornwell, artists Alfredo Ramos Martinez, Sergei Bongart, Nicolai Fechin and Theodore N. Lukits, as well as many distinguished guests and speakers: the Mexican muralists David Alfaro Siqueiros and José Clemente Orozco, conductor Leopold Stokowski, violinist Xavier Cugat, architects Frank Lloyd Wright and his son, Frank Lloyd Wright, Jr. (And of course, most of the well-known Southern California artists throughout the years, too numerous to mention in this post but listed online here).

In recognition of this milestone, I thought I'd link to my article on the Birth of the California Art Club, originally published this past spring. Here's to the next hundred years!

The California Art Club will be publishing a large coffee table art book (due out in early 2011) with Rizzoli Publishers to commemorate the Centennial, and will be full of paintings by historic and contemporary members of the CAC. Purchase your copy here.

The new logo above was designed for the Centennial by CAC Associate Artist Member Stan Prokopenko.

Rex Lewis

At the latest manifestation of Alexey Steele's Classical Underground series on November 9, the audience was treated to a special performance by Rex Lewis. Rex was born blind and with severe brain damage, but despite his inability to perform simple tasks like tying a shoelace, when playing, he's completely focused. Music is his world, and saying that he plays the piano beautifully is only a small part of the story - he only needs to hear a piece once to be able to play it back verbatim from memory. [youtube=]

Along with Brahms' Waltz Medly Opus 39 and Chopin's Fantasie Impromptu, he even played an improvisation off of a Chopin Nocturne. His mother Cathleen Lewis has written a book about their life of music and struggles together, titled "Rex." Proceeds from the book help pay for Rex's piano and voice lessons (yes, he apparently also sings well too!) [Buy "Rex" on Amazon] Rex is easily able to do what we all struggle to do as artists (and, I would imagine, musicians) - focus. As soon as he sits down on the bench, other distractions are tuned out.

Here is the story and video of Rex featured on 60 Minutes in 2006.

Alexey Steele and Classical Underground featured in the Los Angeles Times, August 2009.

Concerning the Spiritual in Art

Wassily Kandinsky, Bavarian Mountains,

So you've read everything out there on painting you can find, from The Art Spirit to Hawthorne on Painting. What else is left? Doesn't anyone have anything to add? Well, yes. Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) - whose work began in the representational realm and later metamorphosed into abstraction - found plenty of unique ideas to work with in the pursuit of color, these being assembled in his often-overlooked book Concerning the Spiritual in Art (originally published in 1911; click links to read the books online). 

Kandinsky's ideas apply to probably almost any type of art, since it concerns color on a psychological level. He talks sensitively and in depth about the relation of painting to music, how colors "move" and what we might associate them with, and how we see and react to certain pigments. Giving a nod to the a picture is worth a thousand words cliché, he explains "It is clear that all I have said of these simple colours is very...general, and so also are those feelings (joy, grief, etc.) which have been quoted as parallels of the colours." He lists two "weapons" at the disposal of the artist: form and color. But, "the artist must have something to say, for mastery over form is not his goal but rather the adapting of form to its inner meaning." 

An excerpt on the effects of color: "To let the eye stray over a palette, splashed with many colours, produces a dual result. In the first place one receives a PURELY PHYSICAL IMPRESSION, one of pleasure and contentment at the varied and beautiful colours. The eye is either warmed or else soothed and cooled. But these physical sensations can only be of short duration. They are merely superficial and leave no lasting impression, for the soul is unaffected. But although the effect of the colours is forgotten when the eye is turned away, the superficial impression of varied colour may be the starting point of a whole chain of related sensations...As the man develops, the circle of these experiences caused by different beings and objects, grows ever wider. They acquire an inner meaning and eventually a spiritual harmony. It is the same with colour, which makes only a momentary and superficial impression on a soul but slightly developed in sensitiveness. But even this superficial impression varies in quality. The eye is strongly attracted by light, clear colours, and still more strongly attracted by those colours which are warm as well as clear; vermilion has the charm of flame, which has always attracted human beings. Keen lemon-yellow hurts the eye in time as a prolonged and shrill trumpet-note the ear, and the gazer turns away to seek relief in blue or green."

"But to a more sensitive soul the effect of colours is deeper and intensely moving. And so we come to the second main result of looking at colours: THEIR PSYCHIC EFFECT. They produce a corresponding spiritual vibration, and it is only as a step towards this spiritual vibration that the elementary physical impression is of importance.(1)"

Wassily Kandinksy, Black Accompaniment, 1927

Rather than sampling the book overmuch, though there are a lot of great passages, I'll let you read it. A few of Kandinsky's associations and relations to music:

-  The cold sensation of ice upon the finger – once removed, is quickly forgotten. The same happens with color, once you look at something else, the sensation changes;

-  One type of warm red is exciting, but a different shade of red can trigger pain or disgust;

-  "Everyone knows that yellow, orange and red suggest ideas of ‘joy and plenty’." – Delacroix

-  Painting must consider the deep relations among the arts, and especially between music and painting. – Goethe

-  Sharp colors are well-suited to sharp forms (yellow triangle); soft deep colors to round form (blue circle);

-  Warmth is towards yellow, coolness is towards blue. Yellow is typically terrestrial/earthly/aggressive, blue is celestial/spiritual/calming. Green is a restful place between yellow and blue. Yellow moves bodily towards the spectator [i.e., John Carlson's quote that "Yellow is on the tip of your nose,"] while blue moves away from the spectator;

-   White has a joy and spotless purity; black contains grief and death; gray is silent and motionless, being composed of those two inactive hues, black and white (the restfulness of gray having none of the potential activity of green). Gray made with an optical mixture of red and green, though, is a spiritual blend of passivity and glowing warmth;

-  Gray = immobility and rest. Delacroix sought to express rest by a mixture of green and red (of. Signac, sup. cit.);

-  Red – unbounded warmth, determined intensity, glows in itself maturely;

-  Yellow has an irresponsible appeal; it reaches out to the spectator more than red;

-  Light warm red (similar to medium yellow): strength, vigor, determination, triumph, the sound of trumpets. Light cool red – notes of a violin;

-   No color has so extensive a scale of varieties than red does;

-  Orange is like a man convinced of his own powers/a churchbell/contralto voice/or the largo of an old violin;

-  Violet is a cooled red in the physical and spiritual sense; Morbid, extinct quality; Worn by old women; In China it is the garb of mourning; The sound of an English horn or a bassoon;

-  Red has movement within itself = potential of motion, immovability;

-  Light blue – flute; Dark blue – cello; Even darker blue – double bass; Darkest blue of all – organ;

-  Absolute green – placid middle notes of a violin;

-  When blue sinks almost to black it echoes a grief that is hardly human.

If nothing else, Kandinsky's writing shows us new ways of thinking about color, and more arrows in our quiver, so to speak, especially since, per Kandinsky, "the artist has a triple responsibility: (1) He must repay the talent which he has; (2) His deeds, feelings, and thoughts, as those of every man, create a spiritual atmosphere which is either pure or poisonous; (3) These deeds and thoughts are materials for his creations, which themselves exercise influence on the spiritual atmosphere."


“It is evident therefore that color harmony must rest ultimately on purposive playing upon the human soul; this is one of the guiding principles of internal necessity.” -Kandinsky

"Trust your feelings entirely about colour, and then, even if you arrive at no infallible colour theory, you will at least have the credit of having your own colour sense." - John F. Carlson (1875-1947)


1. Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art

Evelyn Payne Hatcher (1914-2009)

evelynpaynehatcher_s I've just learned that Evelyn Payne Hatcher, born January 12, 1914 in Chicago, passed away on February 16, 2009 at Rosewood Estates in St. Paul, Minnesota. She was 95. Evelyn was the only daughter of Edgar Alwin Payne (1883-1947) and Elsie Palmer Payne (1884-1971), both well known California artists. I had the great fortune to meet this wonderful lady at her home in Minneapolis, MN; three times, actually. The first time, at her invitation, I flew to Minnesota in January 2001 and interviewed her for the California Art Club (this interview became the cover article of the June 2001 issue of the California Art Club Newsletter). This was extremely convenient as I could stay with my grandparents, who lived only 10 minutes away. Evelyn had many records and scrapbooks from the lives of both of her parents, some of their artwork, and generously answered my many questions. She had lots of great stories of early life in Laguna, Pasadena, and Santa Barbara and the colorful characters that inhabited the artist colonies. Evelyn always had a quick wit, something in the vein of Mark Twain; once, after I introduced my family who were in town to her, she later remarked "I was happy to meet your parents. You chose nice ones." I took her out to dinner one cold winter night for her birthday, which my trip coincided with. I remember she lamented the cold Minnesota winter; compared to California, the growing season for her flowers was much inhibited. We became friends, corresponding through email and letters, and on a cross-country painting trip in January 2002 I met her at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, a favorite spot of hers, where we spent some time looking through the collection.

Though an accomplished artist herself (she had some of her own paintings up at her house, and even gave me a critique or two of my own work), she told me that after growing up with such famous parents she tended to look for something a little different. 


So she became interested in Anthropology and Art History, in particular American Indian art (Navajo), a good fit for someone of her background and knowledge (Evelyn earned a doctoral degree in anthropology from U of MN in 1953). Among her accomplishments as an author are two books, Art as Culture: An Introduction to the Anthropology of Art, and The Drawings of Edgar Payne 1883-1947,; she also edited, updated and re-released her father's famous book Composition of Outdoor Painting for multiple printings (currently 7th edition). One of her good friends was Rena Neumann Coen, mother of the Coen Brothers of film fame. Both women taught at St. Cloud University (Evelyn was a Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at St. Cloud and an Adjunct Professor at the University of Minnesota), and Mrs. Coen wrote a book titled The Paynes - Edgar and Elsie, American Artists.

A final book is due this spring, titled Made for Trade.

Evelyn donated several paintings by her parents to the Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota, the Minnesota Center for Book Arts and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts ("Canyon Portal," by Edgar Payne, which used to hang over Evelyn's fireplace), ensuring the work for future generations.

Coincidentally, a few weeks ago I was reminded of the fact that I had tape-recorded my 2001 interview with Evelyn and decided to see if I could find the tape. I did, and have started to transcribe it. I haven't gotten very far into it yet, but I can picture myself sitting again at her kitchen table drinking tea, snow piled high outside, her stories making that long-gone era seem like just yesterday.

New Book on Painting by Al Gury

A great new book on painting will soon be released: Alla Prima-A Contemporary Guide to Traditional Direct Painting by Al Gury is due out on January 6th, 2009. It is published by Random House and is available for pre-sale on most book sites. Al is unique in that he is able to communicate painting in ways that a student of art can understand.

I got to know Al when I was living and studying in Philadelphia, both at the University of the Arts where I was enrolled and at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where I was able to sit in on some of Al's lectures and painting classes. I was very fortunate to have such a sensitive and encouraging mentor to help point the way, someone who was doing what I wanted to be doing and was able to help me understand how to get there.

Al Gury is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Painting Department at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (America's first art school and art museum), as well as an instructor at the Fleisher Art Memorial and the University of the Arts, all in Philadelphia.