. . . and again.

New Dams in Winter, detail, Neil Welliver, 1982

I know it’s bullshit to do two Art I Loves in a row, but I’m busy painting for a show in October, so bite me.

Sorry about that. I’m under pressure. Ok, so instead of just posting an image, I’ll let Neil Welliver say some things I’ve never forgotten since I first read them, things I think about often when I paint, especially when I’m “going back over” which Welliver said he never did. I usually think of Welliver when the work I’m doing isn’t remotely like Welliver’s.

Anyway, here’s an excerpt from an interview in a book published 25 years ago, Realists at Work, by John Arthur, (Watson-Guptil Publications) which I bought probably 20 years ago. It’s fun listening to Welliver sound as if he’s patronizing Fairfield Porter, who seems more and more influential a quarter century hence, especially in a lot of work I’ve seen the past few years in New York City. Welliver and Porter’s work both seem to spring from similar imperatives about simplicity and transparency of execution, paint as an end in itself rather than just a means, and the abstract qualities of representational images. His sense of color is different from Porter’s, not nearly as warm nor as varied, but you still have the sense that both artists wanted you to see the paint on its own terms, paint as what it is you’re getting, even as you see through it into the scene. Both thought of themselves as painting the light between objects, light as a field of energy, rather than representing a set of objects. Some of the Q/A:

When Porter did a really top-notch painting, he was as good as one can get . .

I think that the Fairfield Porter paintings that are good are very, very good American paintings. God knows that they can never be dismissed. I can’t imagine that. But whether Fairfield’s a major painter or a minor painter is a judgment to be taken care of by time, as it will be for all of us. I’m thinking specifically of the Columbus Day painting, which is as good as painting gets. I could say that, in terms of the way I developed my imagery and what interested me, Fairfield had little effect on me. He was extremely articulate and had one of those minds that didn’t follow the line of thought one would anticipate. There was always something new about what he said and what he saw. I spent hours and hours–days–talking to Fairfield. Those conversations were very exciting, but I think his statement that we were antithetical as painters is accurate. I think we were very very different. But he had a tremendous effect on people like Marjorie Portnow, Janet Fish, Rackstraw Downes, and Susan Shatter . . .Anyone who spent any time with Fairfield was certainly affected by his character. He was unbending and one of the most inordinately decent people I’ve ever met.

(Your) paintings are based on direct observation.

Very strongly. You’ve seen the drawings and small paintings. You see the wedding of those two things. For me the energy in a representational painting flows on two levels, and for many painters I think it doesn’t. One level is the material and the canvas. Sometimes whole sets of relationships and “energy flows” take place on that level, and whether you see the image or not is immaterial. Then there’s another level of observation of objects and space–natural associations. The simultaneous presence of those two aspects of painting is what I’m interested in.

You have a very limited palette.

Eight colors. I use Permalba white because I like its consistency. Ivory black, cadmium red scarlet, manganese blue, ultramarine blue, lemon yellow, cadmium yellow, and Talens green light.

What kind of hours do you keep?

I paint from ten to five, with five- or ten-minute breaks every two hours. Sometimes I paint longer, but usually put in a seven hour day. The painting takes from a month to five weeks.

You start from the top and work across and down until you get to the bottom. It looks as though you never go back, never rework anything. Is that true? 

Yes.

 

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