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Friday, October 17, 2014

Tourist Artists

San Marcos, 1881, Auguste Renoir. The "oil sketches" of the Impressionists
fortunately sped up the painting process in a busy piazza like San Marcos.
There was a time when, if an artist became relatively successful, his or her first inclination was to go hopscotching around the world, loaded down with paints, easel, canvases and all the other baggage any respectable painter could accumulate and reasonably expect to use in order to capture the local color of the places visited. As one of those artists today, I'm quite grateful that those times have long passed. By and large, the pocket camera, and especially digital pocket cameras have eliminated, not the urge to travel, but the travails of being a tourist artist. Moreover, the pace of modern-day travel is simply too rapid to allow an artist even a fraction of the time needed to paint such international landmarks. A couple years ago we lavished two whole consecutive days on the city of Venice. Had I decided to paint San Marcos, sitting up folding chair, canvas, easel, paints, and umbrella to ward off both sun and rain (this gets more laughable by the moment), I wouldn't have had time to see even the inside of the church, much less anything more than a quick, baggage-laden glimpse of any other part of that wonderfully colorful city. Had I decided to set up and paint in the middle of San Marcos Piazza, I would, in fact, have become a tourist attraction myself. I wonder if Renoir felt that way when he painted the church in 1881 (above).
The Peterhof Grand Cascade, 1901-17, Alexander Benois.
Yet, dozens of famous artists down through history have done just that, not just in Venice but in virtually every city in Europe. I'm quite grateful they braved the elements and the stares of fellow tourists to do so. I love seeing such painted landmarks and comparing them to what I saw, and the photos I've taken so as not to have to go through what they went through. Sometime between 1901 and 1917, the Russian painter, Alexander Benois set up his canvas upon an easel at the base of the Peterhof Palace Grand Cascade to paint the dramatic man-made waterfall above. With far less effort, I took a couple digital shots, combined them, to create the painting below.

Copyright, Jim Lane
The Peterhof Cascade, 2012, Jim Lane (The frame leaks a little.)
Several years ago I visited the tiny Sicilian town of Taormina with it's centuries of historic architecture and genuine Sicilian ambiance. I wasn't, of course, the first artist to do so, though in searching for the work of other artists also captivated by the picturesque Piazza Del Duomo, I found that the place is in no danger of overexposure. The image (below, left) is a watercolor by an unknown artist. The one (below, right) is an acrylic painting titled Picture Taormina (2010) by an almost unknown artist--me.

Copyright, Jim Lane
Picture Taormina, 2010, Jim Lane
Piazza del Duomo, Taormina.
Fishing Harbor, Capri, 1928,
Constantin Gorbatov.

Another favorite painting locale of mine is the Isle of Capri. I've done three or four paintings based upon scenes I've captured with my pocket Canon. A painting by Konstantin Gorbatov, Fishing Harbor, Capri, (left, 1928) captures the look and feel of the place as it was over eighty years ago, possibly painted from a photo, but more likely on location. My two versions of the Gorbatov's "fishing village," which is, in fact, the island's Marina Grande (the red brick building in the center is a local landmark) are seen below, each viewing the port from opposite directions. My two paintings were drawn from several photos (my own and from the Internet) and painted with a palette knife. They were designed to be hung one over the other as a pair. My photos were apparently taken at low tide.

Copyright, Jim Lane
Marina Grande, Capri, 2010, Jim Lane
Copyright, Jim Lane
Marina Grande, Capri, 2011, Jim Lane
Villefranche-sur-Mer, ca. 1920, Jacques Weismann
On the southern coast of France, what we've come to know as the French Riviera, is a small touristy town called Villefranche-sur-Mer, neatly lodged between Nice and Monaco. That's a very expensive, prime piece of real estate, though you many never have heard of the place. From a painter's point of view, unlike Capri and Taormina, it's definitely overexposed. It does have an excellent (though shallow) harbor. Cruise ships love it. Jacques Weismann undoubtedly was not the first artist to paint this lively, colorful harbor in 1920 (left) but, in comparing it to my two views (below), it's surprising how little the scene has changed in over ninety years.
Copyright, Jim Lane
Villefranche Harbor, 2001, Jim Lane

Copyright, Jim Lane
Villefranche Street, 2001, Jim Lane

Finally, on this side of the pond, this past spring, I joined a long, historic line of artists who have trekked to our Grand Canyon, situated on the Colorado River, which has engraved its magnificent vistas into the landscape of three western states (Colorado, Nevada, and Arizona). Although quite a number of gorgeous paintings by artists such has Thomas Moran and Albert Bierstadt have indelibly imprinted our minds with its stark, rugged beauty, I found it quite hard to do justice to it with my puny little Canon. It's simply too damned BIG. Even stitching together a panorama from several shots doesn't help much unless you want a painting five times wider than it is tall. So, rather than try to imitate the great American landscape artists of the past, I chose to bring to mind the final, climactic scene of a great American movie in which two high-flying, liberated women choose to visit the Grand Canyon up close and very personal. My version isn't as breathtakingly beautiful as Moran's but it is "breathtaking" in its own way. In all fairness, keep in mind that Moran painted his version in 1904 before the place was littered with 1966 Thunderbirds.

Grand Canyon ,1904, Thomas B. Moran
Copyright, Jim Lane
A Grand Canyon Visit, 2014, Jim Lane


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