Thoughts to share, ideas to ponder

Pastel Journal featuring pastel paintings in process

Beth Williams wrote a lovely summary of three paintings in process in the on-line edition of the October 14 Pastel Journal. 


Here is a clip of the page.  Click on the image below to be directed to that page!


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Feature article in the Pastel Journal

I am honored to be featured in the upcoming October 2014 issue of the Pastel Journal!

Into the Light
In addition to soft, painterly florals, artist Mary Aslin paints grand, large-scale figures. Learn how in her step-by-step demonstrations.
By Robert K. Carsten

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I titled this painting "Cantata" because it feels like it's just that: a piece of music for singers and instruments that usually has several parts. In addition to the roses, which I worked and reworked until they clustered and fell just right and naturally, the vessels and other flowers, the background edges, and diffuse light on the right, all resulted in a “cantata”, the visual result even evoking musical notes on a staff.

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Evolution of a commission painting

Some dear collectors commissioned me to do a painting of a seascape beach scene with some action in the waves, Catalina in the background, billowy clouds and very colorful flowers in the foreground.  The collectors also liked a gallery-wrap style painting with some dimensionality and texture to the painting surface.  It was to be in the entry way leading to an exterior courtyard so it was important that the painting be very dimensionally stable, able to withstand salty air and temperature changes. 


All of these factors pointed to an archival varnished acrylic painting completed on a primed dibond aluminum composite panel, a departure from my usual paintings in pastel.


After pondering the design of the home on a visit there to ascertain the size of the painting, I wondered if the painting panel could be arched to mimic the the doors and windows of the home, all of which have arches.  Oh, the wonders of the internet!  I found Serious Art Supplies in Corona where artist and sign maker Maurice Carmeli made a beautiful arched custom primed dibond panel for me.


Much delightful collaboration, small painted studies, home visits, and refinements later, the painting was hung in this week in time for the arrival of the collectors' family reunion. 




It's amazing to me how a 40 foot acrylic mural completed 16 years ago in 1999 and many plein air beach scenes from 2006 to the present came to bear on the development and completion of this painting.  I'm thrilled with the result, and more importantly, so are the collectors.

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Gravitas or joy?

One very loud voice in the world of art are those pieces which inspire awe and respect because of their gravitas or seriousness.

If both amazing skill and gravitas is present in the work, an artist can sometimes be taken more seriously than one who, for example, paints from a perspective of exemplifying joy or beauty. Many artists will say they don't want to paint just “another pretty picture” which is also a recipe for dismissal at the hands of art academics.

During political strife and warring in Spain in 1909, the genius artist Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida could be found on the beach in Valencia, after conveying to his friend and patron, Archer Huntington, that he was painting [with] 'soul clenched in a fist, grieving, sad, and joyless because Spain's sadnesses are now more palpable than ever'.  He painted thirty paintings full of joy, light, and life. It is speculated that this was Sorolla's way of helping raise morale in Spain. An article about Sorolla said that he “appears to see everything at its best, and to express what he sees in a manner full of spontaneity and joyousness...”


Examples of Joaquin Sorolla's beach paintings



In light of what is happening in Iraq with the displaced Kurds, the horrendous Ebola virus afflicting West Africa, the state of affairs in Israel, and the situation in Russia and Ukraine, it is understandable why artists who might depict the gravity of these realities with skill, sensitivity, and compassion should be greatly respected.

I find it difficult to look at the faces of weeping women who have lost their children through wars and violence and upheaval. I'm afraid I would not have the fortitude to paint such grief and pain. When Sorolla saw the scene which inspired "A Sad Inheritance", he said “I suffered horribly when I painted it. I had to force myself all the time. I shall never paint such a subject again”.


A Sad Inheritance, by Joaquin Sorolla


Despite his feelings about painting the piece, I think Sorolla has managed to depict both gravitas and beauty--there is an aching tenderness with which the priest assists these children, who are trying, despite their disabilities, to enjoy their beach day. 


And where gravitas and beauty are not mutually exclusive, perhaps joy is another thing.  Sorolla turned to joy as his inspiration, and like him, I do the same.  (And not a day goes by that I don't remind myself of my good fortune in being able to do so....).

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The Pearl Art Auction

I am thrilled that this painting will be featured at the inaugural Pearl Art Auction to be held on September 1, 2014 in Portland, Oregon.  I wish I could attend but I will be dismantling my booth that day at the Festival of Arts.  If you are in the area, a reception will be held out in Troutdale at the Caswell Gallery on August 29. 

To find out more and to register go to The Pearl Art Auction.

Here is a bit of history:

Rip Caswell, internationally recognized bronze sculptor and one of America’s leading gallery owners and art dealers, is announcing the launch of "The Pearl Fine Art Auction" to be held annually in Portland, Oregon. The inaugural auction is scheduled for Labor Day, September 1, 2014, and will be held at Urban Studio, a contemporary event venue located in the arts culture hub known as the Pearl District of NW Portland. 

Rip Caswell has successfully owned and operated the Caswell Gallery, located just east of Portland in Troutdale, the gateway to the National Scenic Area of the Columbia River Gorge. Caswell Gallery has earned a national reputation as a venue for fine artists of all mediums; including the realistic and limited edition bronze sculptures produced by Caswell himself. 

Caswell saw that the Pacific NW region of the U.S. was missing an art related event of such caliber, and so planning began on The Pearl Art Auction in order to fill that void. Expectations are that the event will draw buyers from the entire western states and that The Pearl Art Auction will become one of the west’s greatest art events.

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Invocation, 72 x 48, Pastel

It is the duty of every artist--whether musician, painter, sculptor, choreographer, or the like--to be authentic.  What does that mean? 

It means that the artist must, must, must, listen to his or her own voice and have the courage to express it.  Although there is no such thing as a priori creative thought that exists outside of influence--all artistic expression is an individual's unique spin on an amalgam of inspiration--there does exist a space or a place where that collective creativity meets an artist's own imagination and stirrings of the heart.  From this, authentic expression is born.

Every artist finds the source of his or her own creative well...and it usually involves oceans of solitary time, lots of reading, praying, thinking, and taking inspiration (picking and choosing) from the plethora of talent that exists in the world.

Always, it seems it would involve an asking or an invocation....asking for inspiration...invoking the blessing of Grace.

In the painting, this young woman gathers roses, and she is doing so probably because they are beautiful, it's a warm and delightful day, the fragrance is lovely, perhaps the birds are singing.  She is asking, invoking the desire for, the possession of, something beautiful.  The outcome (what she will do with the roses) is certainly interesting but secondary to the seeking that brought her to the garden in the first place.

Representational artists like me seek beauty in light and form and subject, and then make a huge leap of faith (if we possess the courage and fortitude for the hard work ahead) to see where it leads.

First we seek, we ask, we the young woman in the painting, we do so alone and it is our own question (we cannot and should not ever ask someone else's question).

We (hope to) have the courage to be Authentic in answering that question in the way that our unique DNA and spirit dictates.

And then.....and only we move into the realm of Art.

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Reflections on the 2nd Salon International de Pastel Grand Sud de Villepinte

Last month, in Villepinte, France (the Villepinte of the southern Languedoc region, not the one north of Paris), a showing of the works of 40 painters of pastel was presented in the local town gathering all, known as the Salon des Fetes, under the banner of the local cultural organization, L’Avant Theatre.


The Salon International de Pastel Grand Sud—in English, the International Pastel Salon of the Deep South—located in the unremarkable, but authentic and delightful, village of Villepinte, situated a short hike across the highway from the infamous Canal du Midi, with just 675 full time residents and off the two lane road leading eastward from Toulouse to Carcassonne, received 90 entries for the April 26 through May 10 show, most from France, but drawing from other parts of the world as well. I was one of 40 fortunate artists selected to present my work.  


I have participated in and been involved with many juried shows, both as an exhibitor and as a juror.  This particular art show—Villepinte’s and the L’Avant Theatre’s second-- was possibly the most professionally juried event I have ever been privileged to partake of. The jury consisted of 8 members of the community with the selection of art conducted blind: without knowledge or reference of the artist’s name. Artists who were jurors appropriately excluded themselves from the selection.  


The results of the jury were presented in possibly the gentlest and most dignified manner possible: The list of accepted artists was simply posted on the blog.  Congratulatory letters were not issued, but kindly, there were no “rejection letters” needed either.


For the display of paintings, each artist was allocated a 4 meter wall arranged in the large room according to the artist’s last name, with no preference given for booth location.  



On the evening of the show, opening at 6 PM, artists, guests and visitors gathered in the Salon des Fetes where all were welcomed by a small live band.  Then each artist was invited on stage where Paul Dussel, the director and organizer of L’Avant Theatre and the art show, introduced each artist by name and spoke a little about his or her work.  


The town mayor and the minister of culture were then introduced and each gave short speeches.  After these formal introductions, wine was served and guests mingled with the artists.  At 8:30, general visitors dispersed, and each attending artist and their guest sat down to wonderful dinner, prepared by the village volunteers.  In classic French style, the main course of was served, followed by salad, then cheese, champagne, then dessert, and finally, coffee.  Copious quantities of wine—red and rose’—accompanied the dinner.  The mood was intimate and convivial, drawing from the best of what would come to mind with the notion of art and French salon—good art, good food, and good conversation.  


The following 14 days of the salon, which was open from 2 PM - 6:30 daily, brought 1650 visitors, the many, many signs along the highway and around town, beckoning any who might be passing through on the post Easter holiday weeks.


Three workshops, concurrent with the show, were held in the adjacent Mairie, or city hall.  The first was Lorenzo Rapelli’s landscape painting workshop.


The second was Annie Cassez portrait workshop and the third was Claude Carvin’s plein air painting workshop held along the Canal du Midi. The Mairie workshop room was large and the lighting particularly good.  I happened by on the third day of Lorenzo Rapelli’s landscape painting workshop where the skill and care with which he was guiding his students to produce remarkable work was evident.  The evening of May 1 featured a concert by singer and guitarist, Vincent Perez.


One other noteworthy aspect of this show was that paintings were displayed both without titles and prices.  The effect of this was subtle but significant: as viewers strolled and viewed the art, there were no distractions to taking in and enjoying each painting. However, those interested in the specifics of the paintings could retrieve a notebook with a page dedicated to each artist, complete with a list of painting titles and corresponding prices. Twenty-eight paintings sold, including three of mine, in just two weeks.


It was a privilege to meet the genteel and softspoken pastellier, Didier Boinnard, pastel maker of Artisan Pastillier, who attended the opening dinner.


He had a vendor table dedicated to his pastels which are made in the town of Albi, about 1 hour north of Villepinte and the home of Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. 


Below is my own collection of Artisan Pastellier pastels.  I purchased the box on the left at the Salon.  The box on the right with the blue pigments (derived from the woad--the yellow flowering plant common in the region) was one I purchased several years ago when visiting the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum as a keepsake never dreaming that one day I would meet the maker himself! (And it turns out he purchased one of my small paintings at the Salon!).


An additional table also included the business cards and marketing materials of the artists along with a few portfolio books and notecards.  


The experience of this show for me, as a non-French speaking American outsider, was nothing short of wonderful. The pastel paintings of my fellow artists, most from Europe but one from Bolivia and one from Russia, had a flavor that was different than what one might see in the US. Some noteworthy differences: Many were framed with mats, most paintings were quite large (the small, “sellable” style painting was non-existent), and portraits and figures consisted of many more northern Africans….something that would make sense given the proximity of France to Africa. In a future blog, I will highlight some of my favorite paintings and say a little about the artist.  Here are some of many that I loved:


The small size of the village and the dedication and warm welcome by the organizers of the show gave rise to an intimacy and conviviality that was pronounced.


That “smallness” would not be evident in the dedication of Paul Dussel and Michel Bequet to promoting the visibility of this show: the L’Avant Theatre blog was continually updated with photos and videos featuring the artists, workshops, and events surrounding the show, and the local newspapers featured the show prominently. I would guess that there were not less than 40 signs around the village promoting the show, as well as full color posters on all the shop windows.



 I am honored to have been part of this show of pastels in France, featuring such beautiful work, and organized and promoted with the highest level of professionalism and warmth.

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Vernissage du Salon International de Pastel Grand Sud

Mr. Dussel's introduction

Such a wonderful show.  Paul Dussel introduced each artist and said a little something about their work.  I was very honored!

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A view into my studio

My studio in Laguna Beach is a wonderful and comfortable place to work. And I am particularly happy that the ceilings are high, accommodating my Hughes easel. I have enjoyed teaching here and as luck would have it, Laguna Gardens Nursery is right next door.

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