Gallery Talk Painting Demonstration John Robertson
The Santa Paula Art Museum has invited John Robertson to speak and and give a painting demonstration and gallery talk about large-scale figurative painting. 3:00 PM, Thursday, March 10. Please join me at:
Santa Paula Art Museum,117 North 10th Street, Santa Paula, Ca.
$4 Adults, $3 Seniors, Students and museum members free
The painting you see in the photograph is of Luis, a tattoo artist who works in a tattoo shop in the same complex where my studio is located. As you can see, he is covered in tattoos including his face. He has plenty of piercings also. Luis has been tattooing for about twenty years and is quite an accomplished artist. He paints in oils and not surprisingly his subject matter tends towards the dark side. This painting is 40″ by 84″ ink and acrylic on unstretched canvas.
The Santa Paula Art Museum has gallery talks every second Thursday of the month at 3:00 pm for talk and tour through the Museum’s galleries led by guest curators, artists, and experts.
One doesn’t think of landscapes being painted in black and white. But what I like about painting in black and white is that it is about seeing the true shape of objects. It seems to reveal more about the landscape than one painted in color. The observation of things in the
photographic terms of the negative and the positive adds up to something different than what we normally see. The scene becomes more apparent when you see only dark and light. And it is easier, as a painter, to create balance in the composition of the painting.
Why Black Paint?
With that in mind my recent creative challenge is to use only black paint on a white background. I have done so because black contains all colors. It is the most elegant and gives a sense of completeness. But it also can be the most intense. Depending on the placement, when black is incorporated into a white field of color it can bring into the space excitement or quietness. It can become aristocratic or base. Black paint is alive and gives life to the surrounding shapes and colors.
And nature seems to be a good place to use only black and white paint. Landscape painting is what I started painting first. My goal was to document the scene what I was seeing. I wanted to capture what it looked like, as best I could. But after doing a number of landscape paintings I felt a need to connect with the environment more. So the paintings changed as I responded with nature. The work became more of a relationship with the scene. With that the images became more raw and uninhibited – and for me, gave the experience a second life through painting that experience. The black and white paintings seems to bring the painting back to the basic and these negative and positive, add up to something bigger.
My Sweetheart ( now, my wife) had a small cottage in Venice, Ca. and in the early mornings, before sunrise we would walk to the Venice Fishing Pier. So the painting is how I generally saw it – in black against the white, early, just before the sunrise. There is something about the Venice pier that makes one want to walk to the end of it.
“But look! here come more crowds, pacing straight for the water, and seemingly bound for a dive. Strange! Nothing will content them but the extremest limit of the land; loitering under the shady lee of yonder warehouses will not suffice. No. They must get just as nigh the water as they possibly can without falling And there they stand- miles of them- leagues. Inlanders all, they come from lanes and alleys, streets avenues- north, east, south, and west. Yet here they all unite….”
So the ocean, and piers always draw me to them. I want to walk to the end of them – to the extreme end of land and pier. I stare out to see as far as I can see – to the horizon. And my imagination carries me past the line dividing ocean and sky.
Ventura Fishing Pier
My studio is now only a few blocks from the Ventura Pier. If I stand on a crate I can see the ocean across the railroad tracks and through the trees. My wife’s studio is a few doors down from mine. Although we do not go down there in the early mornings as we used to do in Venice, sometimes we do take the short walk to the pier and have lunch at the fish taco stand. Then, without hesitation we wander to the end of the pier and stare out to the horizon and the wonder of our good life.
I originally painted this wall-sized, black and white portrait of Abraham Lincoln because it seems the Gettysburg Address is just as important today as it was when Lincoln gave the speech – and just wanted to paint it for the fun of it. I like the whole idea of using an iconic
image for a painting. Most artists paint contemporary figures but, in this case, I wanted to paint the image of our 16th President which carries echoes of our historical past. One of my favorite quotes of Abe Lincoln is timely. ” America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”
And this seems a good as place as any for one to read the Gettysburg Address – probably one of the greatest speeches of all time. What is surprising to lot of people is how short it is. 271 words long. Only a couple of minutes reading time – but a good read. Worth the time.
The Gettysburg Address:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
For those, like myself, life things explained to them, here is a good and simple analysis of the Gettysburg Address.
Someone recently asked why I had painted Randy’s Donuts when there so many more attractive objects to paint. I try and paint only objects or scenes that have a personal connection to me. When an artist has a concern or personal interest in a subject then what shows up in the painting is the heart and soul of that connection.
That is what I am really trying to paint – not the subject but the abstract connection between the subject and me. So, the case for Randy’s Donuts – . In my early twenties, and in college, I supported my family by driving a truck. For about four years I drove by (and sometimes stopped) at Randy’s. It was a landmark or milestone for my commute to the warehouse. When I passed by it on the way to work it was the starting point of the day. And on my drive home, in the evening, the large donut reminded me of my children whom I would shortly see.
Drawn to Ornaments
What does this have to do with owning and hanging a painting of Randy’s Donuts ? A site, or home or building that has a true relationship with the context (the owner, the environment, etc) may have little effect on first viewing but the more we are engaged with a good design, in its context, the more it attracts us. A site, an interior, etc. at first glance, may impress us by drawing us to its ornaments, the objects on the tabletops or mounted on the walls, etc that does not have a true relationship with the creator. That tends to be something mass produced. And so, over a period of time ornaments will leave us cold when we realize and see the affected nature of its features. The beautiful interior or objects become just that – beautiful – and looks as cold as stone. But a piece of art engages us through it’s quality and meaning to the viewer. So – collect objects that you connect with personally , either through a personal relationship or context of the piece, and, in the long run you will find greater satisfaction in your collection.
Los Angeles River Bridge Viaduct not only join two sections but cross over a third. It is the beginning of one side and the end at the other – a symbol of the meeting and the crossing.
Much like a painting that bridges the gap between the decorative and the inspirational. It contributes to the nature of the space by intervening between the object and the viewer. Like the bridge the art cannot stand apart from the viewer but needs to reinforce the relationship between the two.
First Street Viaduct (Black and White Painting)
What made me think about the First Street Viaduct was that the 6th Street Bridge is being torn down and a new one constructed in it’s place. (What is a viaduct, you ask: A viaduct is made up of multiple bridges connected into one longer structure) The 3,500-foot, curving concrete 6th Street Bridge connects the Los Angeles downtown Arts District to Boyle Heights ( The “Arts District” is being gentrified and will be gone soon. Artist’s Lofts are being sold for over a million dollars so any artist worth his salt in art will not be able to afford to live in “The Arts District”). The two bridges have been in many film, television and commercials. It appeared in “Grease,” “Terminator 2,” Kanye West music videos and television epepisodes”Paladin” ” Gunsmoke,” “Little House on the Prairie,” Vikings,” “Lost” and “The Amazing Race.”
The historic 1st Street viaduct (bridge) was originally constructed in 1889 (wood and nails) and then torn down and rebuilt in 1929 at a cost of $975,000. In 2014 it cost $975,000 just to paint the stripes on the road. Again it was torn down in 2008 and reconstructed, after 3-year closure, in December 2011. Like the 6th Street Bridge it was a restoration of a cultural link between the city’s core and neighborhoods to the east. The bridge also was part of the extension of the MetroLink Gold Line’s Eastside tracks.
Here are some basic facts of Los Angeles’ First Street Bridge
Built 1929. Concrete arch bridge over Los Angeles River on First Street in Los Angeles
Design: Open-spand concrete arch
Dimensions: Length of largest span: 148.0 ft.
Total length: 1,327.2 ft.
Average daily traffic about 24,000 cars daily
Inspection (as of 09/2012): Deck condition rating: Satisfactory (6 out of 9)
Superstructure condition rating: Fair (5 out of 9)
Substructure condition rating: Fair (5 out of 9)
Sufficiency rating: 72.1 (out of 100)
Hmmmm. I guess it is relatively safe to travel
The black and white painting is of the grain elevator in the town of Bigelow, Minnesota population 231. Recently I visited Bigelow where my sweetheart’s brother-in-law has a farm. (My sweetheart is actually, my wife)
They live in a small community about ten miles away from the farm and he commutes out to the farm from town. During the summer months he rides a motorcycle out to the farm. That’s not exactly what you would expect a farmer to be driving, but those country roads are great to ride on a motorcycle.
I’ve been to the mid-west a number of times and fascinated with the prairie elevators. I’ve noticed just in the fifteen years that i have been traveling to Minnesota and Wisconsin that these grain elevators are disappearing. This grain elevator is about a hundred-and-twenty-feet tall and in this part of the country usually stores feed corn or soy beans. It sits next to the railroad tracks and at certain times of years the farmer’s trucks are busy hauling their crops to the elevators. I’ve been on the farm during harvest time and it is interesting to see his big combine harvesting the field. It is hooked up to a gps so it can actually harvest the field on it’s own. The combine is guided up and down the rows harvesting the soybeans or corn. He plows the fields in the same manner letting his big tractor guide itself by the gps.
I am one of those typical Los Angeles Lakers fans who like the Lakers when they are winning and do not pay much attention top them when they are losing. I try and only root for teams that are winning. I’m a fair weather friend. You’re not feeling well? Sorry to hear that. Please pass the salt.
As far as the LA Lakers are concerned, at least they have somewhere to go and that is up. Maybe. Here is the “no brainer” comment. “They have to re-build.” What does that mean? I don’t know what that means. I don’t know much about basketball. I can’t even build my own life properly much less tell someone how to rebuild their lousy basketball team. But I know there are plenty of people out there quite willing to tell anyone how to do anything.
I know. How about picking in the draft or getting a couple top-level free agents to “elevate” the team. I think they know that too. All I know is how to “elevate” on the escalator to the third floor level of the Century Mall to find Fatburgers for a Kobe Bryant XXL Cheeseburger with fries. I find I need to put on more weight with the remote possibility that I can float better in the “Y” pool.
But what I do know is this: Please, Los Angeles Lakers, no more wins this season. Don’t do anything that may jeopardize your critical draft position. We want to win – so you need to lose.
The painting is 20″ x 24″ ink and acrylic on sporting news newspaper mounted on stretched canvas then finished with a protective coat