Thursday, October 7, 2010

Eight artworks at Berkley Gallery

I have spent the last week prepping for my upcoming participation in the Group Exhibition at Berkley Gallery in Warrenton, VA from October 9-23, 2010. I have eight pieces of art included in this exhibit, 3 oil paintings and 5 graphite drawings, including the recently returned drawing “Contemplation (Chimpanzee)” from the Art of the Animal Kingdom XV exhibition at the Bennington Center for the Arts. As I was packing these pieces up yesterday into the crate I started to revisit the moments and elements that inspired each piece and thought I would share that here.

 "Swift Creek Morning (Mallard Ducks)"
Graphite pencil on watercolor paper
7 x 12
This drawing is inspired by one of my many morning walks down to the Swift Creek Reservoir near my house, just outside of Richmond, Virginia. Occasionally, the mornings are overcast and misty along the water’s edge. One morning in the dead silence of the early hour, as I stood on the dock, dog at my side, cup of coffee in my hand, waterfowl appeared and then quickly disappeared in the barely light morning mist. This drawing captures the Mallard duck pair that swam by the dock most often during those quiet and still mornings, right before my dog would bark, shattering the moment like a buzzing alarm clock. 

This painting makes me laugh every time I look at it; not because of the subject matter but because of what happened before I saw this scene. If you are at familiar with the Outer Banks of North Carolina, particularly from Pea Island south, then you will understand the magic of being able to drive out onto the beach.

It was early November at the entrance to the beach access ramp at Oregon Inlet. I had just reached my destination after five hours of driving and was eager to get on the beach to start photographing the area wildlife. To drive on the deep sand of the beaches, you need a 4x4 with decent clearance and halfway deflated tires. It’s inevitable that you will encounter someone with a “regular” car who has attempted to drive on the beach and, of course, I did! As I am making my way down the ramp, I see these two people walking around their car, which is buried to the axels in the sand, looking at it like “Now how in the world did that happen?” As much as I wanted to get out to the shore line, I stopped. After introductions and pleasantries, I discover that neither of us have a tow rope but they do have a 100-foot extension cord. Yes, I pulled two people one mile off the beach with a 100-foot extension cord quadrupled between my Trooper and their Mazda Miata.

This painting is the scene that I saw immediately after getting the two stranded individuals off the beach and back onto solid pavement.

 "Over Pamlico Sound (Brown Pelican)"
Graphite pencil on watercolor paper
5 x 8
I love this little drawing. This is a scene from the Outer Banks, on the Pamlico Sound side where is can be extremely calm and quite. I actually sat on this reference for almost five years before drawing it. My family and I were renting a house in Avon, North Carolina, just north of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse on the sound side of Route 12. I found myself taking walks to the end of the road that the house was on and following a trail that led back through some really scrubby and dense trees, eventually spitting you out onto the edge of a marsh. Skirting the marsh, I would then make my way to the sound where it was so quite you could get wrapped up in the serenity of the solitude and completely miss all the wildlife swimming and flying around you.

So there I am standing at the edge of the marsh with my feet in the sound staring out across the open waters. It’s an overcast morning. You can barely make out the horizon and there is a haziness in the atmosphere. Dwelling on my thoughts, I just caught movement out of the side of my peripheral vision — it was a brown pelican skimming the water. I love pelicans! I think they are beautiful, fascinating birds. I purposely made this drawing simple and sketchy so that I could recreate that serene, hazy morning while keeping the feel of the open expanse of the sound.

 "Oregon Inlet Pilings (Gull)"
Graphite pencil on watercolor paper
6 x 9
I spend as much time on the Outer Banks as possible, from Pea Island south down to Ocracoke Island. Usually we will stay in Avon, Buxton or Frisco, but I will drive all up and down Route 12 exploring different areas. One area that I enjoy is the Oregon Inlet beach, where you can see many different types of habitat within a one- to two-mile stretch. Normally, I explore the north side of the inlet but this time, I parked myself on the south side of the inlet. I purposely went to this side because I wanted to capture references of the pilings in the water. It was a pretty overcast day and I was getting a lot of decent shots but really wanted something with more contrast, which required sun. Deciding to pack it in for the day and go back to the campsite, I started walking back over the dunes to my truck. About 200 feet from the truck, I looked back and just then the sun breaks out from behind the clouds. I looked over at the pilings, dropped everything but my camera and ran back to the spot where I stood a few minutes before. This drawing reminds me that I need to maintain patience, not only in my artwork but also out in the field.

Sometimes I witness the moments that I have recreated in graphite and oil, and sometimes I just really like the subject so much that I create the scene for the painting or drawing. “September Leaves” is one of those. I am always taking reference photos of birds in my backyard and one of the quite-often visitors is the Tufted Titmouse. For some reason, this bird always makes me think of a runway model (I know … weird.) The bird’s feathers are almost always perfectly straight and neat, they have these large eyes that look like they’re all made up, and then there is the fancy little tuft on the head. I kept finding myself coming back to this one particular reference photo and it finally dawned on me it was because the bird looks like it’s posing for a glamour shot. Even the highlight on the eye reminded me of a glamour shot. So I gathered some reference for a background and created a suitable runaway for this Tufted Titmouse Avian Diva!

 "Quiet Tide (Gull)"
Graphite pencil on watercolor paper
8 x 8
“Quiet Tide” is the drawing that’s from the moment that my wife and I walked on the beach of Charleston, South Carolina, and decided that I should become a full-time artist. I had been drawing for many years before this and had just started painting successfully. We were visiting Charleston for the first time to check out the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition. It had been an exhausting day walking the floors of the Charleston Place Hotel ballroom where all the original artwork and artists were located. I met for the first time my friend and fellow graphite artist Ray Brown who generously gave me a lot of his time at the show when he had more important things to do like sell his own art. Later my wife and I find ourselves walking the shore line over on the Isle of Palms discussing the day’s events. The sun is setting, a brisk offshore breeze is blowing, and even though it’s February, the weather is perfect. She turns to me and says, “Do it, take the leap.” And the rest is history!

 "Millwood Road (Grey-Cat Bird)"
Oil on board
29 x 14
As always, I am drawn to architectural elements, especially those with character and age. This particular brick pillar and concrete urn sit at the entrance to a country estate in northwest Virginia, a horse farm, I think. The Burwell-Morgan Mill, a working historic grist mill is just up the street, and twice a year they hold an art show that is extremely popular in the area. I would exit off Route 50 and turn onto Millwood Road (State Route 723) to drop off my painting and drawings for the show and would always pass these beautiful entrance gates to the estates and horse farms on Millwood Road. Finally, on one trip up to Millwood, I stopped, parked my car, grabbed my camera and walked along the road, capturing images for future reference. I was standing at the entrance gate of this country estate, looking at the brick pillar and the urn, admiring the orange lichens and the subtle green moss areas that probably explode after a rain shower when the sun peeks out from behind the clouds and lights the pillar perfectly. Immediately, I started taking pictures and putting a composition together in my head, thinking what bird should perch on this pillar? Just then, I hear meowing from the shrubbery off to the side and, from the corner of my eye, see a cat pop out from under the brush. This distracts me just enough that I turn my head to look at the cat. Not really interested in capturing the feline on film, I look back at the brick pillar to get a few more images and to my amazement is this beautiful grey-cat bird perched on the top of the brick pillar … Perfect! So the question is, was it the cat I heard or the bird?

 "Contemplation (Chimpanzee)"
Graphite pencil on watercolor paper
6 x 15
Last summer I spent the day at the Zoo gathering reference of the animals and this chimpanzee was just sitting there for about two hours. It had this look of concentrating with all its might, trying to discover the answer to problems of the world. Well I don’t know if the chimpanzee ever discovered the answer to its question and if it did it’s keeping the answer to itself but I left the zoo knowing I was going to draw that moment. The long composition on the drawing I felt was necessary to illustrate the depth of the chimpanzee’s contemplation.

Thank you for revisiting these pieces with me I hope that you enjoyed each story as much as I enjoyed creating each one of the paintings and drawings. I look forward to seeing you at the opening on Saturday at Berkley Gallery!

The Group Exhibition opens this Saturday October 9, 2010 and will be at both locations which are on the same street in historic Warrenton, Virginia.

40 Main Street
Warrenton, VA 20186
T: (540) 341-7367