Saturday, December 15, 2012

Art, Tragedy and Death

This morning I am reminded of a passage in the biography entitled, Aristide Maillol.  This book was written by Waldemar George and Dina Vierny (his favorite model).  Maillol was a French sculptor who lived between the years of 1861 and 1944.  The passage which leads me to somber pondering reads as follows:

"I [Waldemar] went to see him at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, while his son Lucien was at home.  Just back from Spain he recounted to us the horrors of the campaign.  Maillol was finishing a statue.  He remained silent and then suddenly exclaimed: 'How difficult it is to create a foot and yet men kill one another with machine guns.'  Art was his reason for living.  Although he loved mankind and the natural world he had no other reason..." (p. 17)

As artists we lovingly study nature, we believe in progress, excellence, nobility of the human spirit, beauty.  We build.  We celebrate life.  And like a cruel child stomps an ant hill into non-existance, life and and all that we have worked to build is gone in a tragic instant.

Lives are lost.  Great cathedrals are decimated by bombs.  Things fall apart.  Civilization and artistry are anihilated. Crowds are mowed down by mad gunmen.  Percy Shelley's poem comes to mind which I have reprinted here:


    I MET a Traveler from an antique land, 
    Who said, "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone 
    Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand, 
    Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown, 
    And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, 
    Tell that its sculptor well those passions read, 
    Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, 
    The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed: 
    And on the pedestal these words appear: 
    "My name is OZYMANDIAS, King of Kings." 
    Look on my works ye Mighty, and despair! 
    No thing beside remains. Round the decay 
    Of that Colossal Wreck, boundless and bare, 
    The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Many people throughout the ages have sought an explanation for this aspect of the human condition.  I find great solace in William Blake's explanation that there are truly only two spirits that man can serve.  He called these the spirits of the "prolific and the devourer".

There are those who create, who build.  They cherish every waking moment of this activity.  This is the creator spirit.  We build families and relationships, we build society, we create art.  

There are those who, for reasons I cannot fathom except to call it their glaring weakness, destroy and consume.  Everything they touch is reduced to broken bones and rubble.

We have a choice as to which spirit we will serve.  While staring into the gaping abyss of our eventual demise, we can choose to smile defiantly.  We must create a beautiful world for ourselves, we must continue to create attachments and meaning.  We must love in life and in work.  We must dream,  We must create life in celebration of what is best in the heart of man.  

We are at war, my friends.  But the battlefront is truly within the human spirit first and foremost.  People win this battle within themselves every day.  And people lose this battle.  Our greatest weapon against it is the spirit of the prolific, the spirit of creation.  Where ever the light of love must shine, shine it!  There is too much darkness in the world.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Interview with Polly Seip, Maritime and Landscape Painter

I am pleased to have the honor of featuring another wonderful artist as part of my “Artist Interview” series.  Polly Seip is a highly skilled painter whose work has always inspired me with its interesting formats, its intuitively captured atmospheres and its delicious colors!  Seip specializes in maritime paintings and landscapes.  She is currently represented by the Cate Charles Gallery, the Sylvan Gallery, and the Trade Winds Gallery. 

Seip painting plein air

Gavin:  Please describe your earliest memories as an artist.

Polly: As I can recall, my earliest memory of being artistic was when I was 5 years old. My parents had rented a cottage for a month, along the shores of Lake Erie, in Dundock NY. It was a beautiful sunny day, the waves lapped at the shore, and for the first time I was my own (even though my parents were within sight) it was like a great adventure for me. I spent my time playing in the sand. I mostly remember what happened afterwards, it was in the excitement of having just accomplished my very first sand castle and the prospect of showing it off to my parents. It was a proud and defining moment for me, I had discovered I was an artist. And it’s funny to think now that my first memorable creation as an artist was a sculpture and I have chosen the path of a painter instead.

Sunset and Fog over Winnapaug Pond, 8x48

Gavin: What words of wisdom would you offer to young artists?

Polly: Keep it simple and no matter what happens in your Life, you will always have your art, stay true to yourself and your art, and you and your art will succeed.

Bino #137, 8x48

Gavin: Please describe your style and working methods.

Polly: My style is representational, formatted  in a contemporary fashion. My working methods are balanced between studio and plein-air works. In the studio; I work from drawings, colour and compositional studies, painting exercises, photos and the laptop are use for reference, and with plein-air painting; I work outside and strictly from life. I firmly believe the two methods work hand in hand, one helping the other and this can seen in my Binoculars Series - where I use binoculars (in the plein-air efforts) and a camera (for studio use)to celebrate all watercraft both of historical and contemporary value.

Bino #163, 10x60

Gavin: What has been most challenging for you as an artist?

Polly: There will always be challenges to face throughout life, which is a good thing. The current times seem to be the most challenging; keeping up with the digital-age is certainly a challenge unto itself i.e., constantly having to adapt to the ever-evolving electronics and such, being tech-savvy with pc’s, cameras, formatting images, online facets, etc. Though the greatest challenge of all, still, is getting into galleries. The art world is brimming with many talented and gallery worthy artists, but it’s also full with pseudo artists, making many galleries like an over-saturated sponge, so the task of soliciting/marketing oneself and jockeying for representation has become much harder. 

Bino #164, 8x48

Gavin: What interests you most (in terms of subject and theme) as an artist and why?

Polly: In a nutshell - atmosphere. I have always had an affinity for the sky, water, light, and nature. The genres of maritime and plein-air painting fulfill those interests. Why? Because it’s challenging for a number of reasons and often times challenges help to push one out of one’s comfort zone(s) whether one likes it or not and one is faced with trying something new maybe even taking some risks and when that happens strength and confidence is built, one learns and grows, not only in ones craft as an artist, but in oneself as a person.

Sunlight, Shadows and Snow, 8.5 x 8.5

Gavin: Who has been the greatest support to you as an artist and how?
Polly: Over the years, only those who have been extremely close to me, have given and shown support in varying forms, from encouragement and advice to the use of a woodshop to make frames, which I’m eternally grateful for. Thank you.

Bino #166, 10x60

Gavin: Please tell us about your influences.

Polly: While figurative artists have the Old Masters as influences, I have masters in marine art as mine; Jack Spurling and his classic ship portraiture and beautiful sense of light, Montague Dawson and his ship portraiture, wonderful water and skies, and particularly John Stobart, mostly because my Dad introduced me to his fantastic historical maritime paintings. When I was 17, I had the honour of meeting Stobart at his gallery in Pittsburgh (where I‘m from), he pointed me in the direction of the Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts for my art education. I also adopted Stobart’s palette, which has colours that are truest to nature; Titanium White, Cadmium Yellow, Winsor Red, Permanent Green, French Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Sienna, this has being my palette for the last 16 years.

Seip's Palette

Gavin: Why do you make art? Why is it Important? Why painting?

Polly: Because I’m an artist and it’s what I do best, it’s natural, and I can‘t see myself doing anything else. For me, making art is important, because ultimately it means I’m staying true to myself. Why painting, it all stems from my interests and influences, it was the right medium for my needs.

Seip's Brushes

Gavin: Please tell us about a method you have always wanted to experiment with.

Polly: I’ve long admired Pastel! Pastel is a highly underrated medium and there is something so intriguing about it! I took a pastel class in college, so, maybe at some point in my life I'd like to try it again. 

A view of the studio with a work in progress.

Gavin: What does success as an artist demand?

Polly: Being professional on all levels at all times; being your own boss in the studio, producing good work, only showing your best work in the gallery atmosphere, clean presentation of your work, being articulate when dealing with galleries and the public.

Bino #172, 10x60

Gavin: What are the most significant ideas to you in your personal understanding of art?

Polly: Art, like that of Science and Math, is woven into the very fabric of the Universe’s great tapestry and the Artist’s Spirit is a weaver.

Bino # 170, 10x60

For other information on Polly Seip please view the following links:

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Interview with Peter Fiore, Landscape Painter

I would like to welcome one of my favorite landscape painters of today, Peter Fiore.  He has graciously agreed to an interview and feature of his work here on my blog.  Thank you Peter for these glimpses into your life and work! 

Here is a little preliminary background information on Fiore as quoted directly from his website,

“Peter Fiore is an american landscape painter who is best known for painting light and his striking use of color. His landscape paintings are widely collected and are in many corporate and private collections. He has won a number of awards, most recently first place for landscape in the Art Renewal Center's Anuual Salon as well as receiving a Grand Prize in the America China Oil Painters Artist League (ACOPAL) competition. He has been featured in an assortment of publications including Fine Art Connoisseur as an "Artist to Watch" and has recently been name a "Living Master" by the Art Renewal Center.
Peter was born in Teaneck, NJ in 1955. He studied at Pratt Institute and the Art Students League of New York. Previously, he worked as a professional illustrator where he collaborated on thousands of projects. He has been on the faculty at Pratt Institute, Syracuse University and presently teaches at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. Peter has given numerous guest lectures and workshops on painting. His work is represented in prestigious galleries across the country. Peter lives and works along the Delaware River in northeastern Pennsylvania.”

Fiore in his studio

 Without any more delay, I will start the interview with Fiore!

Gavin:  Would you describe your earliest memories as an artist?

My earliest memory as an artist is actually my very first memory. I was roughly 18 months old and I remember sitting in our living room, looking towards the dining room. The warm light from the chandelier illuminated my grandmother's white hair as she stood at the ironing board. My younger brother was laying on the table. What struck me was the light of the chandelier, the white of my grandmother's hair and the long sweep of light on the tablecloth. The table seemed to float. Obviously, I wasn't an artist at the time but it seems to me that my first memory is what my whole life has been about -- being captivated by light.

The Chapel, 48x96

Gavin: Would you describe your style and methods?

My style has always been about light and how it affects color. For me, style is what your pictures are. My approach -- how I see the world -- how I organize space -- how I use color to craft that space and make the viewer see what I want them to see. Style comes from a life long pursuit of understanding and grasping your vision, harnessing that and making that into pictures. If I were to pick up a pencil, watercolor, pen and ink, pastel, a camera or my oil paints, my style would remain the same. The essence of the truth is what I'm after and that is light and it's ability to emote.

Regarding method, I wander the landscape -- various places that I like to visit. Over time, subjects will emerge. Once I find a potential motif, I will visit and return to that spot often.  I return  at different times of days, different seasons and observe it over the course of time because that is when the subject truly reveals itself. I'm not an artist that just looks and thinks that's a nice tree, I'll make a painting. It has to reveal itself in some way that touches me to want to go and make something grander then just a first observation. I have to dig deeper into the subject. Part of my method is photographing the entire area where the subject is and later in the studio taking that reference and redesigning or what I like to call it, reorchestrating the subject, so that now it will become a more heightened and personal vision.

Rising Sun, 36x36

Gavin: People love to know what materials an artist favors.  What paints, brushes, supports, and mediums do you prefer?

I'm an oil painter. I use an expanded primary palette which is based on a dual primary palette -- a warm and a cool of each of the primaries. The colors I use are Alizarin Crimson, Cadmium Red Light, Cad Yellow, Cad Lemon,  Cobalt Blue and Ultramarine Blue. To expand that palette I add Cad Red Medium, Cad Orange, Yellow Ochre, Veridian, Cobalt Violet, Terra Rosa, Transparent Oxide Red and Titanium White. The brands of color are varied. I choose them based upon a number of factors from drying rate, the oil content of the pigment and the way it mixes with my other colors and sometimes as simply as I just like the way it looks. Permanence is always held in high regard -- all the colors I use must have that property. The brands that I use are Windsor&Newton, Gamblin, Rembrandt and Lukas.

I enjoy working on primed panels, mostly with acrylic gesso. I also work on stretched, oil-primed linens. 

I use bristle brushes in the beginning stages of my paintings -- flats and filberts. As the painting develops I will use softer brushes, long-haired flat black sable or mongoose so that I can add wet paint into wet paint without troweling up the color underneath -- a bristle will certainly do that. 

My general painting medium is now Galkyd Lite -- it remains flexible and will not yellow. I like it for it's brushing ability and also for it's glazing properties. It's a relatively fast dryer. However when I need to slow the rate of drying I will add linseed oil to it.

Gavin: What has been most challenging for you as an artist?


Challenges evolve -- they present themselves, you conquer them and new ones emerge. In the beginning, a profound challenge was how do I make this stick with hair at one end behave. Forty years later, I've learned to call that stick a brush and I've learned you don't always want it to behave. That when it goes it's own way some interesting things happen. I've learned to watch and follow. The biggest challenges I face today are business -- expanding markets, reaching new collectors and hopefully in this crazy economy, I find a way to keep the lights on and paint another day.

Gavin: The art world is changing dramatically and we are seeing a return to representational art.  Would you comment on the direction we are headed and make a prediction for what the art world will look like in 15-25 years?

The business of painting has evolved radically over the last hundred years. For the general public, it's a dying art. Film and the moving picture have been supreme and will continue to be even more so. Now we have it on our travel devices. People are so plugged in that safely walking down the street can become a challenge. My job as a painter is to create paintings that ring true for me and I trust that my vision will communicate my feelings and my ideas and my touch to others. No one in this world needs a painting. My job is to make someone want that painting and wants are often bigger than needs. The way I see it, if artists continue to connect in an honest way, their work will always be in demand.

November, 48x48

Gavin: What interests you most (in terms of subject and theme) as an
artist and why?
I've already discussed that my true subject is light but I'd like to expand a little bit about themes. I find myself more drawn to building a body of work by painting in series. A subject often is not just one take -- it has to be explored and mined which results in numerous variations in exploring a theme. My current theme, I've been working on for the last couple of years, has been my White Pine Suite. It's a rather lengthy explanation to discuss here, but if you want to know more, visit There are some of the paintings with their details, my artist's statement, as well as a link to a 7 minute video where I talk about why this subject is important and how it emerged.


Gavin: Who has been the greatest support to you as an artist and how?
My greatest support in the beginning was my mother and father. I grew up being told that I could be anything I want to be. I truly believed that. My father -- his dream of being an artist was unfulfilled -- at that time it was a very different world. His parents, immigrants from Sicily, didn't think it was a way for a young man to make a respected life for himself. So my father went to college with the idea that he would become a lawyer. He would have made the world's worst lawyer, there wasn't an adversarial bone in his body. WWII miraculously intervened, he went off to serve in the South Pacific, was nearly killed several times and when he came home he declared he was going to art school. My dad was a gifted artist, but for a host of reasons it didn't work out for him. So when I decided to go to art school, the support I received from my parents was overwhelming. 

Today my greatest support is my wife Barbara. When Barbara and I were married I was still very much entrenched in the commercial art world of illustration. Never really having enjoyed being an illustrator, the industry was changing and I was no longer interested in solving assignments for the commercial world. I wanted something deeper for myself. At the time, Barbara was working as the art director for a major women's magazine online -- finally in my life there was a chance and an opportunity to make the leap -- a leap that I had been wanting to make for 20 years. Barbara said go for it, fulfill your dreams. I am and will always be forever grateful for her support then and today. Opportunity is around us all. What's important is that you be ready so that when it presents itself you can run through the door with it.

Extinguished, 72x72

Gavin:  Please share with us some information about your influences.

Influences also evolve. My earliest influence came through photography. My dad handed me a camera when I was about ten years old and said, figure this out. The very next day, I went to the library and took out a couple of books about general photography. I taught myself the mechanics of using a camera which evolved over the next few years to the point that I wanted to be a photographer following in the path of my heros, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, W. Eugene Smith, and all the photojournalists of the early and mid 20th century. My dream was to live out of a single bag and travel the world, documenting all that I saw. Photography has always been a huge part of my life -- the opportunity to look through a view finder and see the world evolve as a picture was crucial to my development as an artist. 

Very early on, right out of art school, I was looking at Monet for his color and Degas for his composition and design. Today, I look at different artists for a varied number of reasons. When I look at George Inness, I marvel at his ability to portray a moment -- capturing light, energy and emotion. On the other side of the spectrum, I enjoy Rothko for his pure sense of color, inner light and the spirituality in his work. Also, I look at De Kooning and Lucien Freud for their paint handling -- both tremendous draftsmen in paint.

The Crown, 36x36

Gavin: Why do you make art? why is it Important?  Why painting?

The reason I make art is very simple, I don't know what else to do. Since I was a child, I've looked at the world and always made things -- whether it be drawings, paintings or photography. It's a natural part of my life, I couldn't imagine not being able to do it. I've often thought that if my visual abilities, for whatever reason, were diminished, I would like to attempt writing. I enjoy it but it is a very painful process for me. 

When I was in art school, I thought about photography, I even entertained the idea of film making. What intrigued me about film was the ability to tell a story with the added dimension of time. It still intrigues me, but by it's nature is a very collaborative effort -- something I don't know if I could coexist with. That's how painting differs. It's a solitary act from inception to taking the bows. The importance of painting is it's ability to communicate in a personal, and I strive for, universal way. For that reason, it's all encompassing and all that really matters -- to strike a cord that resonates in someone else. That's as profound as it gets.

Gavin:  What words of wisdom would you offer to young artists?

Words of wisdom for a young artist, funny you should ask... When I was that young artist/illustrator I had a few minutes before a client meeting in New York City and I ducked into a coffee shop. While there, I observed a man sitting off to my right who I recognized to be Seymour Chwast, a giant in the graphic arts world and co-founder of Push Pin Studios. I mustered the courage to ask him that very question. He leaned back in his chair, loaded up his pipe and started to light up for what seemed like an eternity, puffed away, plumes of smoke as he thought and pondered (all pre Bloomberg by the way) then he leaned into me and gave me these 4 words of advice, "Keep your overhead low." At 22 years old, I thought he had blown me off. I wondered what the hell he meant by that. A few years later, I came to understand and I learned to live by those words. When your overhead is low, your need for making money changes a bit. You don't have to accept every job that comes your way. You have the opportunity and luxury to follow your own path.

Gavin:  Could you tell us about your education and training?

My earliest training was by my father. He taught me perspective and a little about the handling of watercolor. My early education was parochial school, where a work ethic of getting your assignments done in a timely fashion with excellence was expected. As much as I like to poke fun at catholic school, it was the foundation of my work ethic. My formal art education was at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn where I learned the art of visual communication in the Illustration department. Painting at that time was minimal, after all it was the time of the minimalist movement. Trying to paint representationally in that atmosphere was like swimming with cement flippers. After graduating, I attended the Art Student's League in New York where I studied painting -- the flippers were now removed. Acquiring information through reading any art book I could get my hands on both from artists' from hundreds of years ago to the blogs of my contemporaries today has been invaluable. All the art how-to books were huge in my development. I rationalized if I could get one piece of information that I could use it was well worth the entry price of the book. 

My teaching over the years has also been a very important part of my development as a human being. Learning how to communicate verbally continues to be a tremendous asset as an artist. My education continues with my colleagues at the School of Visual Arts in New York -- to be able to talk about concepts, painting, process, art, ideas and all the nuances that it provides allows me to think and explore ideas and directions that are new to me.

To see more of Peter Fiore’s work please visit his website at: