Olive Groves

 

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Renoir’s Olive Grove, 18×36 Stebner oil on linen

In the oppressive heat of early August, I took refuge in the studio, painting from photos taken at Renoir’s house in Cagnes-sur-Mer,  high on a hill overlooking the Mediterranean, one hot day in June.

Painting from photos is tricky. But I think I’ve come up with a little battle plan to overcome the problems intrinsic to that process: I use the photo to capture the main forms and composition, then I look at it as little as possible. Instead, I call on my memory to relive the feelings I had at that moment to make up for the lack of being on site.

As an Ohio boy, olive trees aren’t part of my visual memory bank. Sure, I’ve seen them over my years of traveling France, but never warmed up to them until I found myself on Renoir’s turf. Walking the grounds, I was smitten by their rustic, craggy silhouettes with leaves fluttering in the breeze, and the cool shade they provided. Suddenly, they were paintable!  Now, armed with tubes of colors, brushes and palette knives, I’ve been pursuing their illusive beauty. As a lover recalls an erstwhile romance, I’m wooed by the memory of their willowy presence.

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Cool Shade, Renoir. 20×36 Stebner oil on linen

I paint with eyes wide open, but remember with eyes shut, the sun, shade, breeze and scents of Renoir’s olive grove, a sacred space in my book. This man’s determination to paint beauty in spite of war, loss and crippling illness inspires me to never give up. I have many more olive trees to paint, but these two will be ready for my show,

For anyone wanting to go one step further into the world of Renoir, I repost three minutes of original footage of the crippled master painting(and smoking, of course!), late in his life.

Rear View

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Summer Bliss, Bavaria. 12×16. Stebner oil on linen. Price on Request

These first six months in my Hereford studio have been productive and happy. Scarcely a day slips by without a painting session. New students have found their way to the door. It’s a lovely life-rythmn.

Falling leaves finally turned to snowflakes as we had last week. The beauty of studio painting is that I can be in any place in any season with the scroll of the computer mouse. Taking position in front of the easel, I might as well be in the boarding line at the airport and lifting a brush is a safe landing anywhere I want to be.

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Wellies and Wheelbarrow, 16×20 Stebner oil on linen, price on request

This week was a time to revisit favorite memories while welcoming students and a favorite client, returning for new Stebner’s for his collection and gift giving.

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Afternoon Aperitif, 12×16 Stebner oil on linen. Price on Request

Snowy January afternoon warming by the fire on a farm in the Auvergne. A sunny June on the bavarian Chiemsee. Strolls in a walled secret garden in Burgundy. Or watching a Burgundian gardener.

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Paisley, Peonies and Iris. 16×20 Stebner oil on linen. Price on Request

Finishing the second of these two garden folk, I realized something was going. I’d painted two out of three of the subjects from the back. I first questioned my inner world for doing so, but then realized it’s the mystery of what isn’t seen as much as what is that draws in the viewer. You can follow these gardeners safely into their private worlds without being confronted face to face. You can look through their eyes rather than into them. That’s another subject for another season.

Who dares follow me to Burgundy or Provence to see France through my eyes in June? Time is running out!  Click here or contact me directly to open the door.

 

 

Reflections

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Pots and Pans, 20×24 Stebner oil on stretched linen

Mild as it was, January is over. Some of its goals have been accomplished. Others remain. Working in my new studio, I did revisit a number of subjects, from places to paintings. With new techniques, I reworked some old paintings.

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Kitchen Bits, 6×8 Stebner oil on linen panel

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Corner of Giverny, 8×10 Stebner oil on linen panel

After two years, I revisited the self-portrait, this time using the limited palette of Anders Zorn.

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January 2016 Self-portrait, 12×16 oil on linen

Now it’s the beginning of February, and as I have begun planning for my teaching stint in France in June(several spaces remain…), my mind was drawn back to January of 2013, when I was solo-treking through central France, including the bogs(marais) of Bourges, where the townsfolk have private garden plots, naturally irrigated by the canals. Although I was immediately smitten with this mysterious place, at last I’ve begun see the paintings they offer. I guess I had to mature through three cancer treatments(and a lot of paint, c’est clair!) in order to finally know how to paint them. Gray is sublimely colorful and shadows are as beautiful as sunlight.

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Marais at Sunset, January 6×8 Stebner oil on linen panel.

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Punting the Marais, January. Stebner 6×8 oil on linen panel.

Jump-Starting New Year

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Light on Giverny, 9×12 oil on panel

After church on Christmas Eve, we ran into a brilliant old friend we hadn’t seen in ages. After New Year, we received a card from her wishing us well and saying she had a feeling 2016 was going to be good for all three of us. What a refreshing thought. And coming from her, I realized it was more than a civil holiday wish. She really had a feeling good things were going to come each of our ways. Really?

Not that I’m negative. Anyone who knows me, knows I refuse to cave to the shadows of life. But six decades have also crushed youth’s rosy colored glasses, leaving me a little uncertain about unfounded hope. Deborah’s positive feeling challenged me to put aside my ready-for-anything boxing gloves and simply take a calm, confident pose, trusting that all the cancer treatment I’d undergone would continue to provide good test results. And all in the nick of time. You see, I was due more blood work to ascertain if all the treatment I’d undergone was still efficacious.

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Maribeth’s Tulips, 11×14 oil on linen

A week of waiting between drawing blood and seeing my oncologist ended this morning, after serving waiting room time, followed by the usual hurdle of well-meaning, vital-taking nurses: the typical patient’s purgatory. At last the familiar rap on the examination room door broke my quarantine and I was greeted by Dr. Hoimes’ handshake and reserved smile, an expression which has delivered equally happy and unhappy news over the past several years. But this year, it affirmed what I’d been waiting to hear: PSA still undetectable. That’s twice in a row- a first time for me. I’m starting to get that good feeling for 2016, myself! There’s a lot of happy, healthy hours ahead painting both here and in France.

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Happy Times: Normandy Mill 24×36 oil on linen

The Move: Rumor Squelched

1435937649892OK, we really are moving. We bought and sold in a week. But not France. Almost, but no. Why? It’s true, we tried. Look up “red tape” in the dictionary and it will describe anyone outside the EU trying to take residency there. But that’s OK. It got us out of neutral and in gear for change.

All our travels there will be easier in a few weeks, when we move to our new home in Highland Square, Akron’s closest neighborhood to what we crave. A smaller, charming turn of the (twentieth) century house on a much smaller lot, where we can still have a tiny front garden and a secret little courtyard in the back, without being enslaved to its upkeep. The organic grocery, library, pharmacy, restaurants and more are all easy walking distance. Just like we were seeking in France.

10x20 Stebner painting. "Morning Sun"

10×20 Stebner painting. “Morning Sun”

Of course it isn’t France, C’est ridicule! But it’s our new adventure, all the same, just a mile from Dorchester. Crazy but true. Now when I do cross the Pond to have a proper baguette, gorge myself on French cheese(and wine) and teach painting in the French countryside, whoever housesits(Jim’s increasingly France-smitten with each visit!) will have a lot less to care for. In the meantime, I can always strike up a French conversation at the coffee shop a few blocks away with my young French teacher, Nils.

Did I mention I’ll have a painting studio on the ground level of our new digs, to boot? Pas mal, pas mal du tout!

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Paintings: June in France

Tomorrow marks two weeks home from my summer painting/teaching excursion in Burgundy and the Périgord. Blogging was minimal because we had very little wifi. Also, there’s been a problem with my blog site domain name, which I’m happy to report was corrected yesterday. If you’re reading this, you’re back in the fold. Welcome!

I’ll try to write more about the trip in hindsight, but for now, sit back enjoy this little video of some of the finished paintings from the trip. I’ve taken time to tweet them from their raw state which you might have seen either here or on Facebook while I was gone. They are all either 6×8, 8×8 or 8×10. Now they’re ready to find their home. Feel free to contact me for prices. Shipping is free.

Back in the Périgord

wpid-wp-1433697412930.jpegLeaving Burgundy, Suzanne and I had the sublime joy of picnicking in the Auvergne, surrounded by wildflowers framing the mountains and volcanoes in the distance. Yes, sublime about sums it up. Approaching Limeuil some five hours after departure, I wondered how I’d feel upon returning. No need to worry. As we rounded the sharp bend in the road, tight against the stone wall, all the joy of this little gem shone anew. In the heat of a sunny June, the bridges and stone buildings glow golden while the rivers sparkle. Our ancient stone house, which has sustained centuries of plagues and pleasures, is even more charming than I remembered. Renovations are underway to make it even better.

There’s an extra thrill about coming to town and seeing your poster on shop windows and your picture in the paper. With the help of my trusty student and great friend Suzanne, the show is up and I’ve had a few painting sessions in the Jardins Panoramiques which surround the chateau hall at the top of the town. Tomorrow night is the official opening, le vernissage, as the French say. I’ve choked and woken several nights after hearing that I’m expected to say something after the mayor and the president of the Rives d’Arts. I feel pretty comfortable muddling through daily life in France, but never imagined a public address. Luckily for me, the president is Dutch and will speak in both English and French, so i can follow her lead, after the French mayor. There will be English speaking people at the event, anyway. The Périgord is riddled with them. And my mantra is “short and sweet”. I’ll smile my way through it and keep you posted!

Bookends

Although it only takes three hours to get from Paris to Mougny- Bazolles, it’s a trip from one world to another. All the overt stimulation of civilization Paris offers is usurped by a subtle, gentle one which seeps into your pores unknowingly in very little time. It’s the act of coming in tune with the rhythms of nature instigated by the gentle Burgundian breeze and sun.

1970401_10206194761086566_1741745792181170749_nRinging Jim yesterday at his breakfast time, the first sound I heard at the other end was a singing cardinal. I was momentarily confounded, feeling we must be in the same place, hearing the same birds and feeling the same breeze. But no, they were Ohio cardinals chirping in one ear, while I was hearing unknown ones in the other. As a very late sun set about us that evening, Agnes assured me I’d be lulled to sleep by the nightingale, to which I asked if this part of Burgundy is also home to the cuckoo. As sure as the nightingale sang to me as I climbed the stairs over the donkey barn to my garret above the house, I awoke to the cuckoo at the sun’s rising.

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The rumbles of Paris streets and subways are a distant strain as I finish my second painting of the morning. Soon I’ll be collecting the last three students from the train station to join this world of gentle beauty. Together we’ll learn from the capricious sun how to paint it’s light on our canvas.

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Before Sunset

OK, I blatantly stole the title for this blog from one of the three most annoying movies I’ve ever endured, just because it takes place in Paris. Happily, my agenda before sunset changed from a museum marathon into an attempt to see through the eyes of one of my favorite painters, Pierre Bonnard. Much more fulfilling than a day shredded away with Ethan Hawke-Julie Delpy hopeless misunderstandings.

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So what if I only saw one exhibit? That one made me very, very happy because it was another chance to stroll with Bonnard, oblivious to the throngs of others about us. Several years ago, it was the Bonnard museum in Le Cannet, on the Mediterranean. Today it was the Bonnard exhibit at Musée d’Orsay.( If you followed that day on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, you were right in my pocket. If you don’t I’ll plug for signing on. It’s going to be a much more direct way to feel like you’re right there with me, as my dear friend, Nancy Sampson, commented today.)

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But the point of the day is this: although packing things in, as I mentioned yesterday, can sometimes be stressfull, it can also make any journey worthwhile. And as you know, striding through my sixth decade, I’ve snatched onto the concept of sucking the marrow out of the bone more than ever, because we never know when the sun will set. I’d rather be tired from doing than regretting I didn’t. When sunset comes in an hour or two, I’ll be sipping wine and savoring bistro fare with a soul as content as my belly. And that should be as good a remedy for jet lag as any. If I should waken, I’ll be seeing all the beautiful colors of Bonnard’s paintings as well as those of a sunset on the Seine.

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SECOND CHANCES

"Sconset Cottage, Nantucket". 5x7 Stebner oil on linen panel

“Sconset Cottage, Nantucket”. 5×7 Stebner oil on linen panel

Some paintings lurk in corners of the studio and even find their way into a frame just to keep me humble. They were good ideas. And decent starts. But, for some heretofore unidentifiable reason, they fell flat in the end. Why do I keep them there, reminding me of my failure? They’re waiting for a second chance.

Tile Roofs and Hedgerows, Burgundy. Stebner 11x14 oil on stretched linen.

Tile Roofs and Hedgerows, Burgundy. Stebner 11×14 oil on stretched linen.

More accurately, they’re offering me a second chance, as an artist, to get it right. These images are waiting for a voice to tell their story. This week has been one of those times when I take them back to the easel to see if I can instill what I wasn’t able to on the first go. Get it right. Happily, I’ve been able to apply things I’ve learned since January to make them sing.

Gloaming Chateau, Brittany. Stebner 6x8 oil on linen panel.

Gloaming Chateau, Brittany. Stebner 6×8 oil on linen panel.

And now they’ve found voice, many will be part of my show, “Daily Pleasures”, which opens this Saturday at 7 p.m. at Every Blooming Thing, just around the corner. Others will go to the Big Apple with me after Easter for my show there, which opens April 17. Stay tuned…

Quiet Moment, Giverny, Stebner 6x8 oil on linen panel

Quiet Moment, Giverny, Stebner 6×8 oil on linen panel