by Janet Fish, 2008. oil, 60 x 60.
Courtesy DC Moore Gallery,
New York, New York.
I recently attended the opening reception for a display of Janet Fish’s large, colorful, richly populated still life paintings at DC Moore Gallery, in New York, and I visited a class working on simple still life paintings of folded sheets of colored paper at the New Orleans Academy of Fine Arts. Talking with the artists in both locations reminded me how still lifes provide an opportunity to share some aspect of our lives with those who look at our drawings and paintings.
In Janet’s case, the paintings were composed of colored dishes, ceramic sculptures, crockery, animals, utensils, baskets, fabrics, and views beyond her studios in Vermont and New York. As she has done for decades, the artist selected objects with shapes, colors, surfaces, and functions that appealed to her; and she put them in front of her easel in such a way that there were distinct patterns of bright, warm lights and cool, dark shadows. On one level the paintings were about the abstract patterns established by the decorative and reflective surfaces, and on another level they said a great deal about Janet’s joyous attitude about life. Every one of the paintings was a celebration of the objects and places that enrich her life.
The balance that Janet strikes between abstraction and representation was reversed in the small studies of folded paper being created by students in Diego Larguia’s beginning oil painting class at the New Orleans Academy of Fine Arts. The instructor recommended the exercise because it simplified the process of judging the relationships between shapes, values, and colors; and it introduced students to the idea that no matter what they choose to paint they will always have an opportunity to tell viewers about their individual thoughts and feelings. “If we allow ourselves to become absorbed in the painting process, we will eventually reveal something personal in our finished paintings,” Diego told the class. “When we fold the sheets of colored paper and decide which view to paint, we have already begun the process of associating the abstract shape with something in our experiences. We may think of the folded paper as a shape that looks like an animal, a person, an object, or building, and then we start to feel something about that representation. The finished painting may still be an abstract combination of angular shapes, but somehow it will reflect the personality of the artist who created it. To prove the point, look at how the other students in the class have folded and arranged their sheets of paper. They are all different because the people who selected them are different.”
|Diego Larguia instructs a
student at the New Orleans
Academy of Fine Arts.
Diego then explained that during the remaining sessions of the 16-week course, the students would be painting objects they selected from the inventory of still life props maintained by the school or treasured objects they brought from home. “As you gain confidence and skill, you will start painting real things that have greater significance to your lives, whether you fully understand that significance or not,” the instructor explained. “The wonderful thing about still life painting is that it gives artists the opportunity to present objects that appeal to them, that work well compositionally, and that stand as metaphors for their ideas and feelings.”
I will be writing about Diego’s class for the summer issue of Workshop magazine and sharing more of the photographs I took during the session because I think his teaching will be helpful to others who are studying oil painting and/or still life painting. I’ll also include some of his plein air landscapes recently exhibited at the D.O.C.S. Gallery in New Orleans, so readers will have a chance to appreciate this gifted young artist.
If you draw or paint still lifes, I would like to read about the ways you compose, execute, and personalize those pictures. I’d be especially interested in knowing if you find yourself thinking about the history of the objects or the people who once owned them, the reasons you are attracted to the particular shapes and colors, the meaning implied by the relationships between the objects, or the great still life painters of the past.
M. Stephen Doherty