Friday, November 13, 2009

Waterhouse and Vermeer

I've just returned from a very fast trip to see the Waterhouse retrospective in Montreal and the Vermeer exhibit at the Met in New York - a whirlwind jaunt scheduled between Thursdays when I must be in San Francisco to teach my class.

Photos were not allowed in the exhibit but I've found a few repros of my favorites from the exhibition. The painting above just glowers at you, such a strange composition with the dark face surrounded by blinding light. In person the rough brushstrokes are surprising - the painter's drawing ability is so precise that he can throw down a swatch of golden drape with just a scumbled a stroke or two.

What impressed me most about seeing the Waterhouse paintings in person is the incredibly precise control of hue and value the painter employs to create his striking compositions. I realized every reproduction I've even seen is grossly inadequate in both color and value - including these here. Waterhouse paintings in person have enormous ability to control how you look at them, even inch of composition is worked out and every shift of hue and value is set to create a precise experience of the spaces he creates.

And yes, I got to see 'my' mermaid painting, the same one I loved and copied at age 12.

Back in New York I had just a few hours to run through the Met - saw some old favorites, tried not to get distracted, and made it to the Vermeer collection even though I mistakenly wore new shoes and had aching feet.

I did sneak a quick photo of Milkmaid and was swiftly reprimanded by a watchful guard. But it's only the second time the painting has been exhibited in the US and I couldn't resist a quick snap. A girl's head got in the way, but it gives you a sense of scale - the painting is tiny, and glows like a jewel. I never knew it before, but one of the tiny decorations on the baseboard behind the milkmaid is a cupid - indicating she is thinking of her love.

While in New York I also visited Janus Collaborative and Grand Central Academy, to see my teachers and friends and to get my annual fix of dreaming what it would be like to study full time in a classical-tradition atelier. Take a look at GCA's gorgeous cast studio -- the room is arranged so each and every sculpture cast in the room is mounted against a neutral background and lit with a single light source -

As a final stop I made a pilgrimage to Arcadia Gallery just before closing time on my last day, and got to drink in some Hicks brushstrokes and Liberace linework. I even got to see a recent Sprick still life where he plays with the perception of foreground and background. Looking at a Sprick painting is like watching a master chess player - one with a sense of humor.

Overall a very productive and art-full trip.