I Never Paint Roses Oil on canvas. 30 x 22 inches (76 x 56 cm ) . $850.
Henri Matisse once said, "There is nothing more difficult for a truly creative painter than to paint a rose, because before he can do so he has first to forget all the roses that were ever painted." I've always avoided painting roses for that reason; it's tough to approach it with fresh eyes, and even tougher to avoid slipping into trite, Hallmark-greeting-card prettiness. But there was something so strong and vibrant about this particular rose, spotted near sunset at the local garden center, that made me feel like trying.
I Never Paint Roses Oil on canvas. 30 x 22 inches (76 x 56 cm ) . $850.
Painting someone you know well is very tough. You simply can't capture all the nuances of the personality, those hints of shared memories. And then there's the reaction of your model, who always thinks he's a bit younger and better looking than that, surely?
Alice's Dodo. Oil on canvas. 35 x 35 inches (90 x 90 cm). $950.
I must have been about five when I first fell in love with the ludicrous, haughty, peevish dodo drawn by Sir John Tenniel in my old-fashioned edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The dodo was so obviously a made-up creature that I found it hard to believe my mother when she insisted he had once been a real bird.
“Then is the Cheshire Cat real?” I asked in confusion. “What about the Mock Turtle?
I suspect dodos weren’t very peevish at all but rather enjoyed a sort of bovine serenity during the 4000 years they grazed through the woods on the island of Mauritius, digesting windfall fruit with the use of gizzard stones and letting their wings atrophy because there were no predators to chase them into the air.
Then Dutch sailors stumbled upon the island in 1598 and ... well, suffice to say that within 64 years there was nothing left of the dodo but a few sketches, anecdotal accounts and very incomplete bone fragments. Two hundred years later, an enterprising schoolmaster went to Mauritius and hired locals to slog through the swamps, groping in the oozing mud with their toes in search of dodo remains. This turned up hundreds of skeletons, and in 1863, just as reports of definitive fossil findings went to press, so did the illustrated Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, making it a pretty big year for dodos.
They had another pretty big year in 2009, when a previously unpublished 17th-century Dutch illustration of a dodo was put up for auction at Christie's with expectations that bids might reach £6,000; it sold for £44,450. I’ve decided to jump on what I’m hoping is the crest of a new dodo craze. I whipped up this painting from a model I saw in London's Natural History Museum. My starting price is $950 but there's always the chance that bids will rush in, taking it to £6,000 then £44,450. I’ll let you know how it goes...
I call him Wilbur, and I fell in love with him as soon as I looked into those weird eyes. Turns out that horizontal, slit-shaped pupils are more practical for peripheral depth perception and are common in many animals, including cattle, deer, most horses and quite a few sheep. You just don't notice them because these critters generally have a darker eye color. Obviously, the odd eyes add a LOT to the overall animal magnetism. Could Wilbur's funky ocular style lead to a fashion trend in slit-shaped contact lenses for humans? When it goes viral, remember you read about it here first, folks.
And then there's sweet, old Titan, the first horse my sister-in-law and her husband bought many years ago, the start of a whole string of giant draft horses. I keep looking behind him for the Budweiser wagon.
I was lucky enough to get a commission to paint both these handsome creatures for friends who have a country home in California. I am delivering Wilbur and Titan to their new home on Wednesday evening. It's not easy to part with them and I will miss their friendly faces around the house.
Corn and Heirloom Tomatoes. Oil on canvas. 36 x 24 inches (91 x 61 cm ) . $750.
As anyone who has ever grown corn will tell you, it’s always a race to see whether you or the wildlife will eat it first. Back in Ohio, Rich spent years trying ever-more elaborate ways to keep animals out of our vegetable garden. Eventually he discovered a solar-powered electric fence: it had cups hanging on it that smelled deliciously like peanut butter, and when the deer or other critters nuzzled the cups, they’d get zapped, and would re-route their feeding patterns elsewhere. The first night we turned it on, I was sure we’d wake up in the morning to find deer carcasses scattered around the perimeter of the garden, or possibly the scorched bodies of neighborhood children or dogs. But we soon learned, by constantly forgetting when it was on, that having fifteen volts of electricity shooting through your body doesn’t do any actual damage, it just makes every cell in your body suddenly shriek, “WHAT THE HELL? DO NOT DO THAT AGAIN!”
It kept out the animals but attracted every kid in the neighborhood, all wanting to “accidentally” touch the electric fence and get zapped with their friends looking on. Posting a dramatic yellow sign covered with lightning bolts and dire warnings only served to encourage them. One day, a neighbor’s houseguest noticed our dog, Pie, had been accidentally shut inside the garden. The young man kindly reached through the fence to pet the dog, and just as his hand came in contact with her head, his chin touched the electric wire. Dog and man flew apart with identical howls of shocked surprise. I rushed over to apologize, explaining this was an electric fence to keep out pests. “Well, it works,” he said shortly. “You won’t see me around your garden again.” Nor did we.
Originally published Thursday, November 17, 2011
I was just reading a blog called “A Fantasy About Retiring Abroad,” in which a financial planner weighed the pros and cons of living in a foreign country. Her conclusion was it would be utterly impossible for her (and by implication, anyone with any sense) because the Europeans – specifically the French – do not have a “can-do” attitude. Oh honey, I wanted to tell her, that’s the best reason I can think of for living in Europe. It’s such a relief to live among people who aren’t constantly striving to exceed their own impossible goals. How sad that the financial planner couldn’t even have a fantasy that failed to meet her efficiency standards.
The Islander. Oil on canvas. 13x18 inches (46 x 33 cm). $650.
I think Jan the Islander has the right idea. Originally from Germany, he has spent 20 years living on a remote island off the southern coast of Portugal in a whimsical house he’s covered with gifts from the sea: shells, old oars, bits of driftwood he’s carved into mermaids. He gets a great deal done on this work of art yet manages to have plenty of time for sitting in the sun and chatting with passersby. I’ve never seen him wear anything but a bathing suit and, rather incongruously, a wristwatch. I’m hoping it’s broken, and that he wears it to remind himself: “My watch doesn’t work anymore and neither do I.”
Originally published Sunday, June 12, 2011
Artichokes with Lemon. Oil on canvas. 26 x 18 inches (65 x 46 cm). $700.
Good news for artichoke lovers! Medical science has decreed that this tasty vegetable has tons of antioxidants, aids digestion, strengthens your liver and gallbladder, and reduces cholesterol. This last is especially good news to me, because I have been on a strict cholesterol-lowering regimen from my Spanish physician. When we learned mine was a trifle elevated, he told me I had to start drinking more red wine and eating more dark chocolate. I mentioned that I’d heard Spanish ham was also good for lowering cholesterol. “Yes, it is,” he said. “Not all ham, of course.” We shared a little chuckle; how silly was that notion? “No,” he went on, “the only ham that lowers cholesterol is the best ham, jamon Iberico, from pigs that are raised on an acorn diet. You see, because their diet is strictly vegetarian, they do not generate cholesterol. So it is very good for you.”
That almost seemed to make sense, until I reflected that other animals – cows, for instance – also have a strictly vegetarian diet, and they’re positively bursting with cholesterol. But who was I to argue with my physician? I promised to increase my consumption of jamon Iberico, vino tinto and chocolate negro. I also started eating oatmeal every morning. Eventually my cholesterol levels dropped to the point where there was no more talk about going on medication. Was it the oatmeal, the wine, the chocolate or the ham that did the trick? Who knows? Who cares? I’m doing my best to include all of them in my diet. And now I’m adding artichokes to this rigorous regimen. Let’s face it, they’re a lot more fun to eat than Lipitor.
Originally published June 12, 2011
I once took a life drawing class where week after week I sketched a slender young woman with a conventionally pretty face, and I have never been so bored in my life. Give me a face that shows its years and its owner’s zest for living, and I can do something on the canvas that’s worth looking at. I have read that the purpose of life isn’t to arrive at death in perfect condition but to slide into it sideways with your hair mussed, your clothes disheveled, a martini in one hand and chocolate in the other, shouting “Whooeee, what a ride!” Those are the faces I want to paint
I don’t know if the the old Indian woman in the green turban has ever actually had a martini, but I feel certain her life has been vivid. I know the man in red somewhat better; he’s a British gentleman who serves as headmaster of the Portuguese art school Art in the Algarve. I have always felt that at heart, he’s a bit of a buccaneer, and I’ve tried to capture that hint of a piratical gleam in his eye. I suspect both these good souls will arrive at the pearly gates someday saying, “Whooeee, what a ride!”
Originally published May 13, 2011
Pears have the most boring history of any fruit on the planet. They do not loom large in the Bible or Shakespeare or modern urban legends. Botanically speaking, they’re members of the apple sub-family of the rose family, but unlike their illustrious relatives, they don’t get computers or wars or sporting events named after them.
Pears don’t ordinarily draw much attention to themselves, yet I can’t stop admiring their gorgeous, extravagantly rounded shapes. They remind me of the marvelously exaggerated curves of the most famous artist’s model in modern history, Sue Tilley. She has been the subject of many paintings by British artist Lucian Freud (grandson of Sigmund Freud), and in 2008 his large nude painting of her on a sofa fetched $33,641,000 – the highest price ever paid for a work by a living artist.
So far I haven’t found the perfect human model, but I did fall in love with these pears while I was painting them. I almost felt like a cannibal when I ate them afterwards in a salad.
Originally published March 28, 2011
There is something mesmerizing about staring out across a body of water.
My husband and I recently spent a week with my family in the mountains of northern California, laying under Costco umbrellas on an artificial beach, looking out across a man-made lake and telling each other how great it was to get back to nature.
My husband used to work near Lake Merritt in Oakland, California, and often recalls the time a popular local preacher claimed that he could walk across the water. He told his followers to gather on the shores of the lake one afternoon, and they arrived in droves to see the miracle. At last the preacher drove up in his enormous red Bentley convertible. He got out and stood on the shore looking out over the crowd.
“Do you believe I can walk across this water?” he called out.
“Yes!” they shouted back.
“Do you believe I can walk across this water?” he yelled out in a louder voice.
“YES, YES, WE BELIVE YOU CAN!” the crowd shrieked back.
“Then if you believe it, I don’t have to do it,” he said, and got back in his Bentley and drove away.
His congregation continued to flock to his services and hold him in high esteem. Now that’s what I call a miracle.
Originally published August 2, 2010
About this blog
I love to talk about my paintings – and often do, as my long-suffering friends will attest. These are some of the stories I tell people who ask, "So what were you thinking about when you painted this one?"