Ideas on painting

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)

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.

Ending on a High Note in the Desert

Less_Traveled_s The Road Less Traveled, Joshua Tree, 14" x 14", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell


As the end of the residency approaches, I'm trying to get in everything I wanted to work on. July was windy and then really hot, but August has been beautiful. Mostly in the 90's during the day and in the 70's at night. Just awesome. I wonder if this bodes badly for September? I've worked on broadening my approaches, trying some new things, exploring new places. I think I have some 70-odd paintings. (I haven't been able to shoot very many of them yet, but will at some point for a future post.)

Some of the best memories: out looking for a spot to paint the full moonlight, I stopped along the road in Lost Horse Valley. As I stood there in the moonlight, I started to notice a shape or two flitting about in the half-darkness: bats. Then I noticed a few more. After my eyes adjusted, although only a handful were ever visible at any given moment, you could sense the hundreds of bats flying all around you, sometimes only a foot away. I don't know if something with the moon brought out more bugs, or that they naturally congregate there, or something else. But it was so quiet, the only sound was of the approaching bats' clicking, echolocating, like the sounds of a few marbles bouncing quickly onto a tile floor.

My easel and umbrellas were quite battered by the winds, and knocked over a few times. One evening, though, in the lower Colorado desert, I set up to work about 20 feet to the side of a large wash. After painting a bit, I heard a noise like a car approaching in the distance. As it grew closer, the sound distinctly became the rushing wind, barreling down the mountains - straight through the wash. From my vantage, I could see the smoketrees and creosote in the wash straining under the onslaught; but the only thing that reached me was a nice cool breeze. As this tended to happen every so often, I grew accustomed to it and congratulated myself for being clever enough to avoid painting in the wash, my original intention. As I heard another gust approaching, I must have reached over to grab a tube of paint, or brush, or something - I don't recall what - but as soon as the wind hit the wash this time, it made a quick turn and blasted into the easel from the one weak spot. Though it was tied down, the easel was still thrown a few feet, and the palette skidded face-down across the sand, leaving streaks of yellow and orange on the desert floor. I decided to call it a day, and laughed while I cleaned everything up. Not much of the paint was salvageable.



I can't wait to return home now and sort through everything from the residency. Already have many ideas from the sketches and notes.

The Artist's Umbrella - What are my options?

Joaquin Sorolla, Bajo el Toldo Playa de Zauraz Since summer has arrived, I thought this would be a good time to look at some of the artist's umbrellas available out there. Previously I wrote this post, and as a result have received numerous emails from artists around the world asking where to find umbrellas, so I thought I would compile what I've seen out there into one resource. I'll leave the previous post to cover the reasons why, and designate this post to what's out there and where. As always, I'd love to hear your comments on this topic.

Sir Winston Churchill painting on location in Madeira.

I recently tried out the newly available Best Brella (below, $100), designed by Patricia Kellner. Smartly designed, it is probably one the sturdiest and lightest of all the umbrellas, attaching to your easel (any type) via a heavy duty photography clamp. This umbrella was designed by an avid outdoor artist for outdoor artists, aiming to alleviate many of the issues found in other umbrellas, particularly their tendency to slip and fall over. It fits easily into a small carrying case that hardly adds any weight to your outdoor painting kit. This page on the Best Brella site succinctly explains the problem of reflective light. Standing in full sun will wear you out, but that's not the only reason to have one. Expect to see this new umbrella on location in the months ahead as it catches on.

The BestBrella on location.

ShadyBuddy by Guerilla Painter is a good free-standing umbrella, strong and lightweight. You can find it online at Guerilla Painter ($89.99), at Judson's Art Outfitters ($89.99) and Jerry's Artarama ($66.99), among others (prices as of this posting). It appears to be pretty popular, as many websites are out of their ShadeBuddy stock. Make sure you get the set with both the umbrella and the stand, not just the umbrella.

The ShadeBuddy on location.

The most inexpensive umbrella ($29.95) that will still cover your needs is a fishing umbrella available through Bank Fishing Systems in Indianapolis. The interior is a dark green and it might be a little short for some folks to stand under, but you can't beat the price. Though quite wide, this one doesn't tilt.

The fishing umbrella from Bank Fishing Systems.

And of course, the elusive Yarka - once imported from St. Petersburg by Jack Richeson, along with the Yarka field easels; unfortunately, neither of these products are being imported any longer (though the company still carries other Yarka products). Free-standing, made of aluminum and canvas with a black interior. You can call (800/233-2404) or email Jack Richeson and ask them to import these items again - maybe if they hear from enough people, they will change their mind. Or maybe not.

Yarka Umbrella, Pinecrest Lake, Sierras.

John Singer Sargent painting outdoors.

Joaquin Sorolla, Autoretrato

So, that should give you some choices. Remember, you get what you pay for. I can recommend the above; most of the other umbrellas out there aren't worth your time. (One extra tip for any umbrella, from artist Steve Mirich: sew key rings onto the points around the diameter of the umbrella - this will allow you to attach some small rope to tie the umbrella down.)

Tony Peters, San Diego

TP-TP_s I drove down to San Diego recently to scope out some new locations and paint with fellow artist Tony Peters. Tony and I went to Art Center together awhile back, and have been in a couple of exhibitions together, so it was great to catch up. We talked quite a bit - the journey of art, ideas and inspiration, artistic philosophies, etc. - when your work demands that you spend most of your time working solitarily, it's great to have a meeting of the minds (and some drinks). Tony has a lot of great ideas that he puts into his work, and has been developing a very personal approach. He's also a collecting nut when it comes to art books. If you don't know Tony or his work, check out his blog when you have a chance, as there are a lot of good thoughts to peruse.


Looking Outward, 32″ x 48″, Oil on canvas, © Tony Peters

We sketched over at Torrey Pines State Park most of the time and stopped by the harbor too; I did a sketch around sunset overlooking Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve before I made my way back home.

Exhibition at Pepperdine

as-i-sat-by-her-side_s As I Sat By Her Side, 8" x 10", Oil on board, © Eric Merrell; sketch for 36" x 48" Oil on canvas exhibited at the Frederick R. Weisman Museum at Pepperdine, Malibu

The Gold Medal Exhibition just closed yesterday in Pasadena and attention is now shifting to a new exhibition opening out at the Weisman Museum in Malibu this Saturday evening. Since I don't yet have a good image of the painting, I've posted the sketch above (I'll try to get some photos at the opening that will show it better). It's one of the larger pieces I've painted recently, which I thought would be fun since the museum can afford the space. Here is the text I wrote that will be included in the accompanying catalogue (slightly updated as we're always revising, aren't we):

"My art allows me a process to meditate on the mysteries of life and use that language to say what I would not otherwise be able to communicate. In this piece [As I Sat By Her Side] I was interested in the contrasts, the differences, and how they were all necessary to the purpose of the painting. Because of their differences, they are stronger together; one does not exist without the other.”

The surface of the large canvas was quite fun to work into. Some layering, and lots of scraping; heavily painted areas next to thinly washed in spaces. It was good to have the painting sit in the studio for a little while so I could spend some time with it. Some pieces you paint almost as they're going out the door, but some you get to live with for awhile. This piece for me is a good example of how the sketch conveyed the kernel of the idea, but that idea needed to have some room to develop before I could let the painting out.

The exhibition opens this Saturday, May 23 from 5-7 p.m. and runs through August 9. Hope you can make it out to see the exhibit, online here, it includes a lot of strong work. Thanks to Michael Zakian, Director of the Weisman Museum for all of his work assembling it.


Stability, 20" x 24", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell; exhibited at the Frederick R. Weisman Museum at Pepperdine, Malibu


Last Red Light, 8" x 10", Oil on board, © Eric Merrell

This last piece won't be in the exhibition, just a small sketch I did at sunset at Leo Carrillo State Beach in Malibu. The large canvas is at the same location, and Stability is from El Matador Beach.

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

Nature is Noisy If We Could Only Hear It

uplifted-spirit_s Uplifted Spirit, Malibu, 11" x 14", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell

The newest installation of Celebrating the Golden State: Recent Artwork by Contemporary Members of the California Art Club just opened at the Old Mill in San Marino, California last Thursday. These exhibitions at the CAC Gallery are fun because they're unthemed, you get to see what each artist prefers to paint if left to his or her own devices. Check out the link above for images of the artwork. The two paintings shown here are in the exhibition. Just when I was finishing up the landscape above and packing up my gear, I head a loud noise approaching. As I glanced up, a large hawk swooped around the cliff behind me and flew overhead about only 25 feet off the ground. The hawk appeared to be carrying a large hose or something in it's claws, but as it got closer I realized the hawk's luggage was actually a large rattlesnake. Instinctively I tried to move out of the way (of the hawk or the snake, I don't know which, best to avoid both!) but the hawk continued its flight over to the edge of the shadowed cliff seen in the painting, the angle just above the turn in the road. Apparently it wasn't interested in dropping a rattlesnake onto my palette, instead bringing the catch back to the nest for dinner. (At least the hawk waited until I was finished painting to break the silence; I can't say the same for the the plethora of weekend warriors who were charging up and down Mulholland all afternoon, creating a racket for my sole enjoyment. Motorcycles are just as horrible as golf courses and leaf blowers. The noisiness of nature is poetic next to our urban din.)

The colors of the cliff in shadow were the substance of this piece, the exciting warm and cool seen there. The patterns of light and shadow on the distant hills were important to the design of the piece, too - I always begin my paintings fairly two-dimensionally, considering the impact of the abstract design and how it supports the intent of the piece. This abstract content is what subconsciously attracts viewers who connect with it. When you're walking through a museum, for example, you usually walk past dozens of artwork before you stop at one that interests you. This attraction is usually quick and unstudied; the work has connected with you on a subconscious or gut level. After that initial attraction, you may become more aware of "things" in the painting, but the interest began with the abstract design and color harmonies. 


January Light, 7 1/4" x 7 1/4", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrel

I will also have a few pieces in the California Art Club's booth at the upcoming Art International: A Fine Art Fair, March 13-15 at the Pasadena Center, Pasadena, California. The Special Opening Night Preview on March 12 will benefit the Centennial Celebration of the CAC, and the whole weekend will showcase lots of galleries and some great paintings. Last year I remember seeing beautiful portraits by Theodore N. Lukits (1897-1992) and Hovsep Pushman (1877-1966), as well as many great historic California landscapes.

Alexey Steele is Taking Over Los Angeles!

alexey-carnegie_s On the evening of February 7th, artist Alexey Steele gave a lecture at the Carnegie Art Museum in Oxnard, California, which accompanied that museum's acquisition of his monumental drawing "Quiet Steps of Approaching Thunder." Before the talk, Alexey's good friend Maksim Velichkin set the mood for the unveiling with a piece for cello. I thought this would be a great place to recount some of the ideas Alexey (born in Kiev, Ukraine) brought up during the course of his lecture, as I've always loved his perspective. [Once you've met Alexey, you'll recognize his infectious laughter and palm-searing high-fives ANYWHERE.]

Art is very integral to the Russian way of life - when everything else in a society fails, art is still there and speaks to Truth. In many ways, art can be a tool of survival. Alexey contrasted this deep connection of Russians to their art with that of the American relation to art, the latter being one primarily of decoration today.

A living breathing Art needs public interaction to communicate, which is where museums fill their greatest role. Although acknowledging the need for galleries and collectors, he lamented that once a piece is acquired for a private collection it is no longer accessible to the public. 

The Russian idea of art deals very much with opposites: life/death, male/female, light/dark, advancing/retreating, etc. 

An idea first has personal relevance to the artist; it is only later that it may have relevance on a larger stage.

Art is communication. 

While he offered some explanations for his piece now in the Carnegie collection, Alexey was intentionally vague about defining everything. Using realism to communicate the unseen, the four-headed seraphim-esque figure is not completely visible to the viewer, and not everything is necessarily literal; to see one of the hidden faces, you would necessarily lose sight of another one as the figure rotated. This hints at those unexplained parts of normal life - nothing is ever completely seen or completely understood, but Art can give us a piece of the picture.

Moni Simeonov (violin) and Pepron Pilibossian (piano) performing Sevdana by Georgi Zlatev-Cherkin

I also have to mention Alexey's fantastic studio where he recently hosted another music concert with Classical Underground. Originating about a year or two ago as a small gathering of artists and musicians just hanging out at the studio and playing music all night, it has developed quite a following, usually boasting a few hundred devoted fans at each monthly performance. After a potluck prior to the concert, everyone sits back to enjoy the performances, which are now being taped and filmed. (Jeremy Lipking has some good photos from an earlier performance over at his blog.)

Apart from all the great musicians there (some are a part of the Los Angeles Philharmonic), there is a cadre of artists who frequent these concerts (some visiting from out of town),including Peter Adams, Glenn Dean, Logan Hagege, Dan McCaw, Ignat Ignatov, Stephen Mirich, Daniel Pinkham, Tony Pro, Christopher Pugliese, Rodolfo Rivademar, Katya Walker, and Aaron Westerberg. Here are all of the musicians for the February 9th performance, as they were the reason we were there in the first place (in order of appearance): Radu Pieptea (violin), Mikael Oganesyan (piano), Alexander Suleiman (cello), Yana Reznik (piano), Marina Kesler (mezzo-soprano), Maksim Velichkin (piano), Carter Larsen (piano), Indira Rakhmatullaeva (cello), Eduardo Delgado (piano), Moni Simeonov (violin), Pepron Pilibossian (piano), and Harout Senekeremian (piano).

Beware of Fish Scapulas, etc.

salton-sea_s Spaceship Landing, 10" x 10", Oil on board, © Eric Merrell

I recently took a trip out to the Salton Sea to explore and paint with my friends Andrew Dickson and Samantha. Man, what a gorgeous place - but so inhospitable. Not the people, though; we met some very nice folks, including Leonard Knight who built Salvation Mountain. We checked out some of the small "towns" like Bombay Beach and Niland, really more like clusterings of houses and trailers, though Niland does have a Chinese restaurant. Quite a few abandoned places that have seen a lot of weather.

The Salton Sea is a very austere place, with no real amenities around. I wanted to paint something that spoke of the simple beauty and the harsh life that residents of the area endure and become a part of. 

The beaches are mostly made of old coral and fish bones, at least from what I saw there was hardly any sand, and the water doesn't look very inviting. Not the kind of beach you'd want to frolic at on the weekend (though it was a hugely popular destination in the 1950's.) We did hear a rumor that there may be a new attempt to fix up the sea, but the odds seem to be against that type of endeavor...

Bischoff's Bright Idea

This is the second article on the history of the California Art Club that I've researched and written, which will be published in the upcoming Winter 2009 issue of the California Art Club Newsletter. If you would like a hard copy of the Newsletter, let me know and I can get one to you. To see more of the history of the CAC that I've been researching, click here.

Bischoff’s Bright Idea

© By Eric J. Merrell

When the conversation turns to color, and continues on to the painting of flowers, the name of Franz Arthur Bischoff (1864-1929) is not far away. Born in Bohemia, he first traveled to Vienna to study art before immigrating to America in 1885.[1] In the United States, he began working as a china decorator in New York City before moving to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and then Fostoria, Ohio, continuing to work in the same vein. In 1892 he relocated to Michigan, where he produced ceramic work as well as taught china painting in Detroit and Dearborn. When he moved to Pasadena in 1906 he brought with him a reputation as one of the greatest china painters of his time.[2] In a few short years Bischoff would be rivaled only by Paul de Longpré (1855-1911) in his distinction as a floral artist.[3]


Bischoff was a member of the Painters’ Club of Los Angeles (albeit a late joiner, becoming a member on September 7, 1909, a mere three months before that group disbanded[4]) and then an early and integral member of the new California Art Club, hosting club meetings at his studio in South Pasadena[5] and exhibiting extensively with them.[6] His personal sense of color is evident across the breadth of his work (he added landscape painting to his oeuvre upon his arrival in California[7]), as much a signature of authenticity as his own name.

Franz Bischoff in his studio; Courtesy The Irvine Museum

In 1911, a unique idea gave Bischoff further press and rippled through the art community. The Pasadena Daily News reported that Bischoff had come up with “something entirely new in the way of painting flowers.” He had painted a few new still life pieces - nothing new here - but his most recent floral paintings showcased “great California blooms with the glow of the electric light full upon them.”[8] The article goes on to credit Bischoff with originating the idea, and stimulating viewers’ thoughts with his three paintings of roses lit by an electric light. “…Those who have seen them declare that for illusiveness, delicacy and beauty, nothing can parallel them.” Some of these new paintings would be included in his upcoming fall exhibition.[9]

Post Script: As a way of illustrating how significant this idea was at the time, there is another story involving electric light, which comes from the Painters’ Club a few years earlier: William A. Matern (1867-1923), an Associate Member of the Painters’ Club, donated an electric bulb and shade to that group on February 2, 1909. It was motioned, seconded and unanimously carried to send him a thank you letter.[10] The Secretary, Martin Jacob Jackson (1871-1955) [11], suggested that the Club present Mr. Matern with an illuminated testimonial - Jackson to donate the work, and other members to contribute to the frame and materials.[12] Such was the importance of an electric light bulb to early 20th century artists.

[1] Edan Milton Hughes, Artists in California, 1786-1940, Third Edition, p.107

[2] Ibid., p.108

[3] Art and Artists, Pasadena Daily News, July 1, 1911, 8:1-2

[4] Minutes, The Painters’ Club of Los Angeles, September 7, 1909

[5] Antony Anderson, California Art Club, Los Angeles Times, February 13, 1910

[6] California Art Club Annual Exhibitions (1911-12, 1915-19, 1921-26), and Spring Exhibitions (1917-19)

[7] Artists in California, loc. cit.

[8] Art and Artists, loc. cit.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Minutes, op. cit., February 2, 1909

[11] Ibid., December 1, 1908

[12] Ibid., February 2, 1909

The California Art Club's 98th Annual Gold Medal Juried Exhibition

aspirations-of-man Aspirations of Man, 22" x 28", Oil on canvas, © Eric Merrell

You've probably noticed by now that I exhibit with and write quite a bit about the California Art Club. I first encountered the group sometime in spring 2000 when I took a term off from Art Center College of Design where I was enrolled (and later graduated in 2001). Luckily for me, there was a landscape class at ACCD at the time I was there, and I had a great time painting at all sorts of locations with Mike Hernandez (unfortunately, to the best of my knowledge and from a couple of first-hand accounts, there are no landscape classes there currently). I must have taken this class a couple of times as an independent study just to allow me time to work outdoors. Anyhow, I began to get involved and exhibit with the CAC before I left school and soon realized that many of my goals were paralleled by theirs. So, almost nine years later, I'm excited to announce that I've been elected to Artist Member of the California Art Club! Their idea of juried membership levels are loosely based on the National Academy of Design in New York City (fun fact - William Wendt (1865-1946), the 2nd and 4th President of the CAC, was elected as an Associate member of the National Academy [ANA] in 1912, the only member in Los Angeles at the time, but he never reached Full Academician [NA]). I've always thought that one of the best aspects of groups like these is the camaraderie one encounters, the myriad artists, gallery and museum directors, framers, historians, collectors, patrons, art lovers, etc.; it's an incredible network of people.

Along these lines, I've just learned that my painting Aspirations of Man has been accepted into the California Art Club's 98th Annual Gold Medal Juried Exhibition, to be held at the Pasadena Museum of Art April 26-May 17, 2009. (See a history of the Gold Medal Exhibitions.) This piece is from a solo painting trip I took to France from September through December 2002, showing the 14th c. Pont Valentré at Cahors. It was really cold by the time I got to the city (I spent Thanksgiving there, which is somewhat depressing without friends and family, with only a Sandwich Americàin and a bottle of wine instead of a turkey...the "sandwich" consisted of a hamburger and two eggs stuffed inside a pita, topped off and overflowing with french fries(!)). I had bought myself a jacket by this point, since the warmest layer I had brought with me from home was a sweatshirt. Three months is just about the right amount of time to spend working alone, you really get to know yourself and only start to get homesick towards the very end. It was an awesome trip, and I ended up coming home with 60-70 sketches.

I keyed the painting really cold to strive for that crisp air and chilly wind. The type of weather that lets you know snow is coming.

The Ever-Changing Landscape

coral-trees-sunset-effect Coral Trees - Sunset Effect, 12" x 16", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell

coral-trees-june-moonrise Coral Trees - June Moonrise, 12" x 16", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell


Coral Trees - Midday Effect, 12" x 16", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell

coral-trees-in-the-gloaming Coral Trees - In the Gloaming, 12" x 16", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell

These were mostly painted consecutively, one day after the next, in June 2008. I did this to observe the ways in which the light changed subtly in a consistent environment (avoiding too much seasonal change). The moonrise was first, where I found the composition; as I waited for it to rise, I admired the changing light of the setting sun. There were so many moods, changing completely every 10 minutes or so, and as I liked the arrangement I thought it could provide a great way to study the light at different times of the day. It wasn't so much that the light changed, but the landscape itself changed.

Local Color - The Movie

Nikolai Seroff [Armin Mueller-Stahl] and Johnny [Trevor Morgan] in Local Color

A new movie, Local Color, by artist and director George Gallo will be hitting theaters nationwide on November 7th. Modeled on real events in the director's life as he struggled to learn to paint, it follows an 18-year old in the 1970's who desperately wants to learn representational painting, albeit during a period when an unsympathetic art world considered it passé. After learning that an old Russian artist lives locally, he eventually convinces the old man to mentor him, and the younger artist sets forth to tackle the trials of outdoor painting. The humor, frustration and pursuit of passion put this film on a level of humanity that anyone can relate to. Click on the image above to go to the official site of Local Color to watch trailers, read reviews and more.

The California Art Club will be hosting special previews of the movie on October 12th at the Rialto Theater in South Pasadena, as well as on October 26th at the Women's City Club of Pasadena. Visit their website for more information. Director George Gallo is an Out-of-State Artist Member of the California Art Club.

This is a great time in which we are living - there are many art forms which are embraced, and which inform each other - and there is relatively little struggle between the forms for superiority, as was the case in the past. The elusive criteria sought by the viewer to understand and judge a piece for themselves, though - this should be the level of an artist's integrity, or lack of, visible in every artwork if looked for in the right place.

This movie can be viewed in many different lights - but is also important historically. It documents a time not too long ago when representational painting literally fought to stay alive by the efforts of a small handful of artists, represented by Nikolai Seroff. I don't believe the movie is saying "We need to reinstate the status quo of representational painting as it was before," but rather "This is our history, we still have a seat at the table, and representational painting still has much more to say."

Jill Bolte Taylor and How We Think About Art

This video was forwarded to me by my friend, artist Amy Sidrane (Click on the image for the video). It features an amazing talk by brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor about her own experience having a massive stroke. Taylor describes the experience chronologically in details, and explains it in terms of both the left brain and right brain and how they, as separate entities, understand the stroke differently as it unfolds. 

Most fascinating is what this reveals about our understanding of and approach to painting - Where are we mentally when we begin a painting?  What is our awareness while actually creating? Ultimately, we want painting to become as intuitive as possible (the least amount of mental "static") so that we can react specifically to all of the stimuli being received. It is this mentally exhausting challenge, working to exist only in the present (right brain, macro) while quieting distractions about life's details (left brain, micro), that I believe initially imposes a huge roadblock to creating art - but reveals a clear approach to creating, once overcome.

Robert Henri, paraphrasing: Every painting is a record of the artist's mental state at the time it was created.

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.

Welcome to my new blog

Eric Merrell in Malibu, California. Hi everyone - I hope to keep this new adventure updated with current and upcoming exhibitions, events, ideas and more. I am primarily interested in how we as artists can use beautiful color relationships to create light, and I spend a lot of time outdoors sketching on location to study those subtleties.

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