Abstracting an Abstract

Today’s watercolor experiment:

Today I began by abstracting another painting of mine. This painting (Abstract 072415) was an abstract of one of my photos. This time I used colors that were complementary to the blocks of color in the original. I wanted clean boundaries, straight lines between different colors. I used masking tape to cover one color while I painted the adjacent block. The trouble began when I removed the tape. The paper came off with the tape. I was so frustrated that I just pulled it of quickly, the way one does if one wants to pull a bandaid off with the minimum of pain.  In the majority of cases (all the ones I know about), the skin stays on while the bandaid comes off. In the case of my watercolor, a big swath of paper came off.

I took a break from painting.

When I felt better, I used gouache to paint the areas roughened by the tape. I pasted one segment of the tape and the ripped paper attached to it, back in its original position. A bit of scaffolding or history of the process I used to create this composition.

Here is the result of today’s experiment:

Watercolor: Abstract - Color Blocks of Complementary Colors from 072415

Abstract of Abstract
16″x12″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Block

The original abstraction:

Watercolor: Abstract 072415

Abstract 072415
16″x12″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Block

And the original photograph:

Photograph: Abstract

Abstract 072415 – Reference Photo


It Worked

It worked.

Distraction, I mean.  Yesterday I mentioned that this was the first year I didn’t get a happy birthday call from Mom, not because she forgot to call, but because she died earlier in the year. One of my ways of dealing with sadness and bad feelings has been to compartmentalize. However, it was hard to imagine how to distract myself from being yet another year into my 7th decade together with the loss of another who could verify circumstances of my early existence.

However, thanks to my wife, Joy, I was able to be most pleasantly distracted.  We went to San Francisco to the de Young Museum to see an exhibition of J.M.W. Turner’s work. He was a British painter who is known for his atmospheric oil and watercolor painting style. Turner actually represents the invisible atmosphere in his work. Most of his canvases are downright luminescent, usually brightly lit with amorphous shapes that represent sunsets, windy or cloudy skies, or the turbulence of the sea, where the boundary between water and sky cannot be determined.

We saw other exhibits at the de Young. Of particular interest to me was a collection of abstract art from San Francisco Bay Area painters, many of whom were associated with the American Abstract Artists group. The paintings in this gallery, most of which were new to me. inspired me to continue my own efforts in abstract painting.

Finally, the gallery containing recently acquired prints by Richard Diebenkorn really sparked my interest. The clean lines and simple design gave me many ideas for my own work.

It was a very nice day, filled with enjoyment: enjoyment of seeing new things, learning and thinking of what to do in the future. I thank my dear wife for helping me with my distraction.

Photograph: Selfie in San Francisco

Happy Selfie

Happy Birthday to Me

Birthdays are bittersweet.

I love watching children who express utter delight at the attention and excitement on their own birthdays. I observed this with my grandson at his second birthday a few months ago. We dimmed the lights to show off the cake and its bright candles. William was focused on the cake and the lights and his mom helped him blow out the candles. Will clapped for himself, totally engaged in the moment.

I doubt if I did the same thing at his age. When I was two, I was one of two children. Mike, my older brother was five years old at the time. He had been diagnosed earlier that year before as ‘profoundly retarded’ (using the parlance of the time) and autistic. Autism had just been added to the diagnosis manual. I can’t imagine myself expressing utter delight at much of anything at that time.

Was I ever utterly delighted at age two? I can’t check this out with my mother any more since she died in February. There are very few, people left (if any) who knew me when I was two years old, so I suppose that whatever I say happened back then, happened. Photographs might be able to refute this, but I contend that photographs do not always tell the truth. Videos or, in my case, 8mm home movies might be a bit more truthful, but even if I could locate them I could not watch them without jumping through technical hoops.

I am 63 years old today. Mom died in February so this is the first year that I wont be getting a happy birthday call from her. That makes me sad. I’m sure this sounds ridiculous. It does to me. Perhaps it is time for distraction. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem. It is difficult to be distracted however, on one’s birthday.

This is me at age 3. I couldn’t find any birthday party pictures.

Photograph: Early childhood photograph

Me at Age 3

Abstract 072415

Today’s watercolor experiment:

I liked the blocks of colors I used yesterday. As yesterday, I also worked from a reference photograph. But unlike yesterday, I present the painting before I show you the source of my inspiration:

Watercolor: Abstract 072415

Abstract 072415
16″x12″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Block

I know that I see the representation of a set of objects in this painting. This is most probably because I did the abstracting. I urge the reader to refrain from looking at the photograph below (if this is possible) before deciding what this abstract study represents. Is it as obvious to you as it is to me?





Photograph: Abstract

Abstract 072415 – Reference Photo

A Link

I have been having a great time inking and painting small-scale architectural sketches of interesting buildings I photographed during my walks around New York City (Sea Food Building, The Beer and Soda Building, Clock Building, Studio School Building).

However, I do miss painting abstracts in a larger format (Abstract 062415, Abstract 053015, Abstract with Film, Abstract with India Ink).

Today’s watercolor experiment:

The photograph of the storefront below inspired me to make a transition from my representational building sketches back to the abstract paintings.

Photograph: Storefront in Color

Storefront Colors – Reference Photo

The red panel caught my eye. The geometry of the rest of the storefront reminded me (rightly or wrongly) of Mondrian.

Watercolor: Abstract - Mondrian Storefront

Storefront Abstract
12″x16″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Block

I painted the essential landmarks of the photograph to create today’s study. The photograph and the painting have the same visual elements. I wonder if an observer, not seeing the reference photograph, would think of a storefront.

S a Bagel?

There were many places to get good bagels in New York City. Where my wife and I lived, it wasn’t a long walk to Ess-a-Bagel. In Yiddish, ‘essen’ means ‘eat’. Therefore ‘Ess a bagel’ means ‘Eat a bagel’. What could be simpler? The bagels were enormous there. So enormous in fact, that a diet expert advised me to cut them in thirds along the edge, instead of in half, to make a healthy sandwich. Whitefish on a poppy bagel was my favorite.  I used to schlep there on a Sunday, pick up the New York Times (when it was full sized), and get half a dozen bagels, some white fish and, if I was feeling really extravagant, some lox and cream cheese. Then, a short walk home and it was time to feast and read, then make sandwiches for the coming week.

Today’s watercolor experiment:

Ess-a-Bagel fits right in with my interesting-storefront genre. It may not be as interesting as the Trattoria Dell’Arte from yesterday, with its oversized nose in the window, or the classic look of the Central Park News edifice, but I consider my snapshot, a family photo. This is where we went to get some our favorite meals.

Photograph: Bagel Store on 1st Avenue and 21st Street in NYC

Ess-a-Bagel – Reference Photograph

Below is my ink sketch:

Ink Sketch: Bagel Store on 1st Avenue and 21st Street in NYC

Ess-a-Bagel – Ink Sketch

The fire hydrant, the trash bin and the newspaper dispenser and adjacent pole cast short shadows, allowing the entire storefront to be lit by the bright morning sun.

Below is my watercolor rendering of this scene.

Watercolor: Bagel Store on 1st Avenue and 21st Street in NYC

4″x6″ 140# Mixed Media Paper

My favorite image of the three presented here, is the photograph. Being a family photo of a sort, I read into it more than is there. For example, the direct lighting from the east reminds me there are no buildings across the street. It also reminds me of my walks home, squinting my eyes against the sun, my mouth watering just waiting to dig into my whitefish in between two halves of a poppy seed bagel.

The Nose Knows

New York is a city of signs and symbols… and restaurants. To attract customers, the enterprising restauranteur needs to distinguish his or her restaurant by a symbol to attract the walk in trade and of course, by the food. What is the essence of good eating? Taste? Aroma?  The person responsible for the display at Trattoria Dell’Arte had the right idea. The designer prudently resisted the impulse to choose a tongue as the icon for the trattoria and opted for the nose. A wise decision. The nose is intimately involved in the enjoyment of food and a more pleasing part of the anatomy to display in a window.

Today’s watercolor experiment:

As I walked south on 7th Avenue, not too far from Carnegie Hall in Manhattan, The Nose caught my eye. I was fascinated by the storefront I saw on the other side of the street.

Photograph: Trattoria with Nose in Wndow

Trattoria Dell Arte – Reference Photo

This snapshot fits right in with my series of bookstores (Fine Books) and other interesting New York buildings (Studio School Building, Central Park News, The Beer and Soda Building). In fact, from my vantage point across the street, my first impression was, this storefront was another bookstore. “How clever,” I thought, “that must be someone’s nose in a book.” Alas, it was a restaurant.

My ink sketch is below:

Ink Sketch: Trattoria with Nose in Window

Trattoria Dell Arte – Ink Sketch

It was so much easier continuing with the watercolor with a color photograph to work from.

Watercolor: 'Nose' in the Window at Trattoria Dell Arte, NYC

Trattoria Dell’Arte
4″x6″ 140# Mixed Media Paper

I’m glad I took a photograph of the Trattoria Dell’Arte. Who would believe that a restaurant (and not a bookstore) would have a giant nose in its window.


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