Drapery study demo

Drapery Study (2018)
Charcoal heightened with white conte on Gray Paper
16 x 22″

When I teach drawing classes, I try to find a balance between formal, academic drawing and experimental markmaking which allows the student to express themselves more freely. I find studies like this to be incredibly valuable. The level of complexity requires an ability to see past details and break down the subject into simple shapes.

“All good work is from the general to the particular, from the mass to the detail. Keep that in mind as a fundamental principal of all good work, whatever the kind.”

~ Daniel Pankhurst

This type of work also trains the student to work with focus for extended periods of time. It requires commitment, and a strong work ethic.

For my current class schedule, please visit Lake Tahoe Community College. 

 

Sierra House Mural (2015-2016)

The Pollinator Mural at Sierra House Elementary School, South Lake Tahoe

I was asked to paint a mural at my daughter’s school in 2015, on the theme of the decline of the pollinators. The school has a strong connection with nature, healthy living and science. They have growing domes on site, and use them to teach the kids about all aspects of the food chain. At a time when farming has become a highly mechanized, chemical agrobusiness, and many people have lost their connection with nature and where their food comes from, Sierra House’s program is a great example of how consciousness is shifting. The mural was funded by UC Davis CALFresh Program.

The mural took months to complete. It’s located in the Multi-Purpose Room, so I got to see lunchtime, music practice, and indoor sports whilst I was working. It was fun to be around all that energy, but I did wear headphones quite a lot – those kids are loud!

The painting features melting honeycombs to represent global warming, bats, mosquitoes, ladybugs, honey bees and monarch butterflies which are dying out because of neonicotinoid use in agriculture. I also added local medicinal plants, flowers and fruit. Portraits of actual kids from the school and staff felt like a great way to personalize the mural, and make it relatable for the kids. 

I wanted the mural to be cautionary, but optimistic. It is, after all in a school full of very young children. However, I’m just starting work on what I regard as a ‘grown-up’ version of of the same theme, for a private client in Heavenly Village. It has been dubbed the ‘Monsanto Mural’, and will feature much stronger, darker visual language to protest the status quo in our food industry. We will be live streaming the creation of this mural starting early 2019, on a dedicated website. Follow our progress via my blog on this website, Instagram and Facebook Page.

Master Copies and Studies

Egyptian Peasant Woman and her Child, after Leon Bonnat (2017)
Oil on Linen
32 x 24″

I saw this painting for the first time whilst visiting the Metropolitan Museum in New York in 2015. I made sketches in front of the huge canvas (73 1/2 x 41 1/2 in. (186.7 x 105.4 cm), striving to absorb as much as I could. It was a transformational experience. 

Master copying has a long tradition in classical art education. I teach oil painting, and as part of my curriculum, I have my students copy a masterwork. This gives them the opportunity to really immerse themselves in the techniques of one highly accomplished artist. By examining a painting in this much detail, the student gets to experience a taste of creating something amazing. This Imitation gives them the confidence to accomplish the second part of this assignment: Emulation. In this piece they create their own original artwork using the techniques and style they just learned. This application of principals is a time-honored method of teaching which became unfashionable for many years, and is now enjoying a renaissance in the Atelier style of teaching.

 

Léon Joseph Florentin Bonnat (20 June 1833 – 8 September 1922) was a French painter, Grand Officer of the Légion d’honneur and professor at the Ecole des Beaux Arts. Bonnat is said to have studied this peasant woman and child from life while he was in Egypt for the opening ceremony of the Suez Canal in 1869. The painting was praised at the Paris Salon the following year and again when it was first exhibited in New York in 1876. When Catharine Lorillard Wolfe bequeathed the picture to the Metropolitan it was deemed “a true and vital portrait of two clearly realized individuals [with] a wonderful dignity, sobriety, strength, and beauty.”


There is a full-length oil study for this painting in the Musée Bonnat, Bayonne.

Next: John Singer Sargent

The Lightbearer (2018)

Light Bearer (2018)
Oil on Linen
21 x 16″

 

After making a Master Copy – imitation – the next step for my students is to apply the skills they have learned by copying, by making a painting of their own design in the style of the master – emulation. This exercise has a long tradition in art education, and was a crucial step for apprentices in the Renaissance.

This portrait of my daughter reflects the influence of Léon Joseph Florentin Bonnat, whose masterwork An Egyptian Peasant Woman and Her Child ‘ (1869–1870) I copied as a demonstration piece for my Oil Painting class in the Fall of 2017.

Malala Yousafzai (2017)

Oil on Canvas

40 x 40″

Malala Yousafzai was 17 years old in the portrait I painted of her. She holds her hand across her heart in gratitude after being announced as a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, on October 10th , 2014. She is the youngest person ever to have won the prestigious prize.

To me, she represents the courage and compassion needed for the next generation to make the world a better place. Young activists like Malala and the teenage gun reformers campaigning in the #enough movement are inspiring, and make me hopeful that my daughter will grow up in a safer, fairer world.

Learn more about Malala here.

8% of the profit of the sale of this painting will go to the Malala Fund.

Sylvia Pankhurst (2018)

Sylvia Pankhurst (2018)
Oil on Canvas
40 x 40″

Sylvia Pankhurst was the daughter of Emmeline Pankhurst, founder of the British militant group, the Womens Social and Political Union (WSPU) – better known as the Suffragettes. The term ‘Suffrage’ means the right to vote. The suffrage movement began as a peaceful campaign in Britian in 1897, but progress was very slow. By 1903, women in Britian decided they would use whatever means possible to achieve the same rights as men. Even if that meant damaging property and sacrificing their lives. Their motto was “Deeds, not words”.

Sylvia organised spectacular demonstrations, rallies and marches all over Britain publicising the WSPU and trying to persuade the Government to give women the vote. She addressed huge audiences, and even lectured on woman’s suffrage in the United States in 1911. She was also imprisoned several times, beaten and force-fed.

However, she disagreed with her mother and sister Christabel on the use of violence. She felt that tactics such as setting fire to buildings, destroying golf courses, smashing windows of shops and politicians’ homes, and destroying works of art was wrong. She broke away from the WSPU and set up the East London Federation of Suffragettes, a new campaigning group in the East End of London built on her own principles and which men were welcome to join. Another reason she split with the group was that she wanted to help the working classes achieve equality, not just the wealthy women like her family. She used her art to draw attention to the plight of these struggling workers, touring England making beautiful paintings and drawings of them.

As a result, she was shunned by her family, and they never spoke to her again. She continued her work, travelling the world. She ended her days in Eithiopia, where she had undertaken many major social and political projects, and established the first teaching hospital. She died a hero in the African country, a friend to Emperor Hailie Selassie. She committed her entire life to helping others, to promoting peaceful politics, and campaigning for better conditions for all people.

8% of the profits of this sale will be donated to https://womensfoundca.org

The Women’s Foundation of California is a statewide, publicly supported foundation dedicated to achieving gender, racial, and economic justice by centering the experience and expertise of communities most impacted by systemic injustice.

 

Compassionem (Pieta) (2017)

Oil on Canvas

40 x 60″

My decision to paint the ‘Pietà’ came after reading a piece by George Saunders on the role of artists at times like these:

“…the people making a lot of these Trump initiatives don’t seem able to imagine the actual victims of their programs….So those of us who are in the arts or in journalism can do some work to put real people on the other end of this thing.”  *

The war in Syria and the effect it is having on a whole generation of children was calling to my artistic mind. I too found it incredibly difficult to look at the images of suffering children. Hearing about them wandering unaccompanied around Europe, having escaped the horrors of war in Syria without their parents, was devastating. The feeling of helplessness at not being able to do anything apart from donate money with my daughter made me want to turn away from the pictures.

It was then that I started to understand what I needed to do. I needed to connect with one individual, instead of millions. Then, maybe I could start to move. As a parent, I can’t fly into war zones to physically be there to connect with the people I want to paint, so I have to use the internet instead. This window on the world has revolutionized the information we have access to now, but I feel it has also desensitized us. We are bombarded with terrifying and traumatic images so often, that we have to emotionally detach to an extent. Sadly, this has led to a cold attitude to refugees, compounded by fear.

I contacted the photojournalist, Manu Brabo, to see if I could use one of his photographs for a painting.  He said yes, please do anything to help these people. As a direct witness to the atrocities of war, photographers like Manu are doing one of the most difficult jobs in the world. As heartbreaking as it was for me to paint the Pietà, the reality is that I was working in my lovely studio in California. No bombs were likely to rip apart my house. No militia was likely to beat down my door.

‘Pietà’ is Latin for ‘Pity’, and is the traditional name for a representation in art of the Virgin Mary mourning over the body of the dead Christ, usually shown held on her lap. Michelangelo famously carved a Pietà from marble in his early career. I am not a religious person, but I am a passionate art historian. The moment I saw Manu’s image, I knew this was my way to honor the suffering of this Syrian man who I had never met.  Perhaps then, even one person who is hostile to refugees entering their community might see things differently.

By painting him, holding the body of his dead son, I felt connected to him in a way that was beyond witnessing. I felt like I was channeling his pain through my own body. I had to keep wiping tears away because I couldn’t see what I was doing.

8% of the profit from the sale of this painting will be donated to the International Rescue Committee.

Founded in 1933 at the request of Albert Einstein, the IRC delivers lifesaving care to people fleeing conflict and natural disaster. Year after year, the IRC is one of the highest-ranking nonprofits for accountability, transparency, and efficient use of contributions.

*Vox.com, interview with Alexander Bisley

Lost Property (2018)

Oil on Canvas

30 x 40″

This is one of the most difficult pieces I’ve ever painted.

 

I organized and curated an art exhibition with my group, the Tahoe Activist Artists last year, entitled ‘We the People: Visualize a World of Conversation and Connection’. One of the venue hosts is a board member of our local women’s shelter, Live Violence Free. She told me about the shocking prevalence of human trafficking in our community. I have lived in South Lake Tahoe for 14 years, and was not aware of it. As a parent and teacher, I felt compelled to act.

This image of a young girl bearing a barcode tattoo on her neck reflects a common way for traffickers to brand their victims. They mark them as their property, a dehumanizing act which dates back to Roman times, maybe even earlier. Human Trafficking is modern slavery, and happens with devastating regularity in our culture, and globally.

The arrangement of the model’s limbs echoes a Swastika, symbolizing the mass dehumanization of the Holocaust. As a descendant of a Holocaust survivor, this felt particularly poignant.  The Swastika was better known as an ancient spiritual symbol before it was appropriated by the Nazis, and so the subtext of the pose is a message of hope and transcendence.

Tahoe Activist Artists conducted a poster campaign during the Superbowl this year, the busiest time for human trafficking in the US. We used “Lost Property” on two of a series of poster designed to raise awareness, directed at victims, the public and people paying for sex. We were sponsored by Tahoe Douglas Rotary club, and Whittel High School INTERACT program.

8% of the profit from this painting will be donated to 3 Strands Global Foundation, who work towards a world free of Human Trafficking.