Still Life

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Homemade still life

I am currently enjoying a short, very short break from work in what I call my other life and am taking advantage of this brief respite bonding with my sourdough starter and my oven. Not exactly the time of year to be working with sourdough cultures, the cold season and all, but I´ve had this mother starter since the summer of ´11 and I just have to refresh it to make it come alive again before I use it.The whole process can take a few days, from start to finish, but it is precisely this long process of nurturing and handling and waiting that appeals to me since it is the antithesis of what we have all gotten used to in our instant, 10 mb per nano-second, at-the-swipe-of-a-finger culture. I like the idea of making something in the exact same way it used to be made 200 years ago, and the product, if it turns out the way you want it to, is, for me, just as much to behold as it is to consume. When it comes out good. Half the time I´m not happy with the result. So many parallels with painting, this bread making thing.

Here are some sourdough boules from these past days. After many months of trial and error, I´ve settled on and have been using for quite some time now a dough recipe actually developed for pizza by Jeff Varasano, a pizza guru whose recipe is all over the Internet and can be found here. I pretty much follow it to the letter but have varied it only slightly by using more sourdough starter and adjusted the other weights accordingly.

...And this is how the crumb turned out.

...and a couple more. I use a dutch oven inside my gas oven to bake the bread in as I like the way the heat seems to work better in this system. Any serious bread maker knows this trick, especially when one doesn´t have access to strong wood-fired ovens. The resulting color of the crust is much more even, for one thing, and the crust itself is much better. 

....and then, I decided it was time to paint a still life of bread using bread that I had made -- something I´ve been wanting to do for a long time now and have finally found the time to do it. A sort of homage to my sourdough boule before consuming it. To my Spanish friends: "yo me lo guiso, yo me lo como", right? Anyway, here it is:

...this is what the set up looked like in the studio. The December sunlight I have to work with in my studio with its northeast-facing window is quite fugitive and I had to work quickly. Also, I didn´t want the bread going to waste.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Van Dyck Show

...Anthony, that is. This is the current exhibit going on at the Prado. Flemish painting fans take note!
 It will run till the third of March, so if you´re in the vicinity and have the inclination....
You can read about it here.

And, in keeping with the season and with this artist´s show, I´ve chosen this exquisite study....
He makes drawing with a quill pen and wash seem so easy.

My best wishes to everyone...!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Diego´s long shadow

Hands down, by a million miles, on his worst day--maimed, blind and crippled, Diego Velazquez is the  painter par excellence and has always been and will always be the painter´s painter. When you look at this artist´s work up close, within inches from your eyes, and you can tilt your head and try and look against the light so you see the thickness of a particular brushstroke laid so eloquently, effortlessly, and sublimely over the 350 year-old linen; or when you contemplate the many thin, transparent, almost watercolor-like paint marks placed strategically, intuitively, juxtaposed against the impasto in such a way that makes you think: "of other way would have worked..."; and when you see his "on second thoughts" about a certain passage and are able to analyze how he dealt with that particular "error" and you try to console yourself in your ineptness and say to yourself "so, he made mistakes too" and realize just after you´ve had that thought that his biggest mistakes would have been your most fantastic achievements in your wildest dreams (and so you´re back to feeling inept) just makes you want to drop everything, wondering why you ever even thought of taking up painting in the first place. At least it´s what happens to me...

There have been volumes written about this artist´s work and life; nothing that I could write here would be new or eye-opening and so I merely wanted to focus on a lesser-known work of his and just let the reader look and admire with quiet reverence for a few moments.

My initial reaction whenever I´ve looked at this piece has always been one of startle, a sudden mild shock, as of one who was not expecting to bump into anyone when he turned around. The way the head occupies the space around it; the air around the head -- one can almost imagine the damp, cold, musty atmosphere of the room--so still and austere in its grayness; the look in the eyes of the sitter: so frank, so unassuming, so unpretentious, probably completely unaware of the greatness of the genius that is observing him and recording him on canvas. Real, natural, almost present here and now...timeless.

Technically, the so-called "Pope´s Barber" is flawless, exquisite. So deceivingly simple in its execution, bereft of any superfluous apparatus, its amazing achievement is how the painter has been able to take such a simple, seemingly nondescript model and transform him into something of sublime beauty that establishes a special relationship with the viewer more than 350 years later...

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Juan Carlos Martínez Moy an immensely talented sculptor I´ve met recently. We´ve coincided working in the same facilities several times this year and I´ve enjoyed strolling over to his work area to watch him work during the brief moments of pause from my tasks. From our little chats, I´ve learned that he was born in Cádiz but has lived in Madrid for many years that he no longer has any trace of the southern accent. He learned the art of modelling and sculpting formally and, as is evident in his work, this has been central to his life. He is intense and passionate when speaking of his craft and about art in general and yet very selfless in offering help or advice to others,  always willing to drop whatever he is doing at any given moment to lend a hand. Here he is at work on a clay figure of approximately 75% life-size.

And here is the finished figure, out of which will come a resin statue which will then be hand painted.