Tuesday, October 25, 2011

 Leopard's Blue Glare by Lynne Hurd Bryant

Art used to be relevant to life.  Look at Vermeer and his lustrous portraits of women working in the home, or at other "women's" tasks.  It was relevant to his surroundings, to the life and times of the artist and his models.  Even centuries later, his paintings provoke an emotional response.  Many people think this is because of their luminous beauty, but the truth is that this emotional connection is about its relevance.

Today, most artists don't paint what is relevant to their life and times.  We paint emotional voids in our quest to reproduce the dwindling beauty of the nature around us.  I look at my own work and have long felt that the missing piece is emotion and drama that might better connect my work to the viewer.  This is not so.  There is plenty of movement, texture and emotion in my work, but it lacks relevance. 

My latest piece, "Leopard's Blue Glare", made a relevant emotional impact in a way I didn't foresee.  I have a list of collectors who routinely receive emails of my latest paintings.  This piece was sent around the day that big cats and other "exotic" animals were senselessly killed in Ohio.  One collector responded to my email with intense anger about the incident, and praise for the beauty of the painting that drove home the slaughter in real terms.  The eyes of this leopard are riveting, and when viewed through this tragedy, seem to speak volumes. 

The emotion I felt was lacking in my work doesn't belong to me, it belongs to the viewer.  What is art without an emotional impact?  Certainly, grotesque and shocking artwork elicits a strong response, but what about beauty?  Shouldn't beauty bring about an equally strong response?  Beauty for its own sake is not relevant in this topsy turvy 21st Century world.  Surely art has to recognize this, and if it is to be an oasis, then let it be one that connects to this time and to this place.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Asking for trouble and finding it

 "Emu test drive" by Lynne Hurd Bryant

I don't know if being 50 has given me more wisdom about my shortcomings or merely a stronger desire to try to bend myself in new ways.  Sometimes, as when I dove into oil painting this summer, I am successful, while in others ways I am not quite so successful.

Enter a tempting offer to illustrate a book for an Australian author.  Am I game?  Sure...knowing full well that I am not an illustrator, that I was taught to paint what I see and to leave imagination out of the equation.  Illustrating a children's book requires an imagination and a skill I don't believe I possess.  My imagination, artistically speaking, has been painstakingly subdued in favor of a "clean eye."  As for the skill of drawing anthropomorphized animals from angles I can only see in my mind's eye, it is not subdued, as it is not a skill I have felt I ever I had, or would need.

Add into this something that never crossed my mind:  The animals in question are ordinary for an Australian child, but quite exotic for this middle-aged Western artist...echidnas, emus, wombats, platypuses and kangaroos.  Like most of Americans of my generation, the closet we got to a kangaroo was a zoo or Mister Greenjeans.  An emu is an easier prospect as they are raised, with ostriches, in my part of eastern Wyoming.  I see these foreigners frequently, but I had never even seen a photograph of a wombat!

To top off my anxiety about this project is an embarrassing factoid:  I have not made any art since the end of May owing to job scheduling, financial stress and illness.  Graphite pencils have always felt strange to me, because I am so much more comfortable with color than pure value.  I don't see life's issues in shades of gray, and likewise I can't see lifeforms in shades of gray either.  The preliminary work has to be done in graphite.

I am out of my comfort zone on every level here.  If the publisher moves ahead, all this work will need to be done again, but this time in colorful watercolor where I am much happier to work.  Time will tell if this was wisdom or a desire to bend in a way I am incapable of bending.