Archive for November 8th, 2022

Stooshinoff wisdom

Harry Stooshinoff, 10 Saved Acres, February 20, Acrylic on birch panel

I hope Harry doesn’t mind if I repost most of his latest newsletter. Note his use of the word rubbish. So much of good art depends on chucking that particular quality out, especially prohibitions based on consideration of anything that diminishes the intensity of energy one applies to a painting. His letter is so full of wisdom and expresses so well what it’s like to try and maintain this creative energy in painting. My mom died in April and I’ve spent the past six months, in which I’ve had to pull away from painting quite a bit, thinking about what I want to do as a painter from here on, and I’ve been drawn toward several different paths, without actually getting back to daily work yet. Soon. But I’ve been wanting to work in several modes concurrently and this newsletter offers a lot of encouragement.

Harry talks about this kind of juncture directly. He advises that you do what energizes you, what you most want to see when you are done, not what you think you should be doing based on any other consideration–market, past work, reputation, what other people think, “branding”, whatever. What I admire in Stooshinoff’s painting is how it reflects two kinds of work I’ve deeply loved in the past: Asian art, especially Japanese sumiye painting and Fairfield Porter’s paintings in the 50s and 60s. I’m not sure he considers either of these major influences for his work, but it’s what I recognize through his work. In the background lurks Matisse of course, casting his enormous light-filled shadow, but you don’t get to him from Stooshinoff’s work except through Porter. Mitchell Johnson is another artist doing something very connected to this kind of painting, with Porter and Matisse as a backstory, but without the Asian element for me.

Harry works quickly, very quickly, premier coup, as Dickinson expressed it, and yet his use of value and color convey how light and form in landscape actually looks. That’s the marvel. He’s a loose painter, and you can often see pretty clearly how he makes his marks. There’s no attempt to refine the evidence of his hand.  The application of acrylic flows off his brush in what appear to be spontaneous gestures, but if you drill down into the details you see some very straight lines, hatch marks almost as regular as Durer’s, and exacting precision everywhere, even if some of his hills are stylized, more like karst mounds in China. I don’t think you see this terrain in Canada, but maybe the humpy kames and eskers we have down here south of Lake Ontario are common directly to the north of us on the other side of the lake. That paradox, the marriage of generalized forms and gestural marks with visual exactitude where one area of value ends and another begins reminds me of the paintings Fairfield Porter did when he was clearly using photographs as sources. Stooshinoff works from sketches done immediately in response to a scene that strikes him as arresting.  His work looks abstracted from the actual vision of a landscape, but it’s more a kind of involuntary shorthand without any pretensions: just a man working under the pressure of his passion to convey what he sees, with an urgency to move on to the next moment of looking. It isn’t some sort of transformation of what’s seen into something more interesting or valuable than an original glimpse of an actual hill with a clouded sky overhead. He just wants to be a conduit of what’s already out there, in his own quiet, quick way. Here’s his newsletter:

There really are 1000s of ways to make paintings. And I’m not just talking about the history of art and other people. There are 1000s of ways for YOU and ME to make paintings. Perhaps we think we paint the way we do because we evolved naturally onto this path, this style, and so this is our signature ‘style’ that is somehow essential to our artistic quality and integrity. That may or may not be true, and mostly I think it’s untrue. Artists have been fed lots of rubbish through the decades that, for the most part, they have internalized. Whatever artistic path we stay on is a choice, and it’s a choice we make every day. You can wake up tomorrow and make a different kind of picture. Keep in mind that for years artists feared that their dealers might say something to this effect, “….you look like you’re all over the place and jumping around too much…keep within this style that you’ve made popular and that you’re now known for”. Hmmm…branding, and all that. Again, there is some good sense in this sentiment. Sometimes it’s obvious when an artist is not committed enough and is simply flailing in multiple directions. But, the inverse is so evident as well. Artists should not harness themselves in too tightly, for market reasons, or any other reasons.….if the need is felt, there is always room to explore more, in style, method, direction, or subject.