Monday, December 15, 2008

What If?

Ponte Vecchio in the Snow
4.5" x 4.75"
Original Pastel
Casey Klahn

What if you could toss it all in, and get "a life instead of a career?" Would you pull up stakes and move to Tuscan Italy - the most beautiful (civilized) place in the world? Eat hard breads dipped in olive oil, and sip table wine with no sulfates? Explore every art medium that caught your fancy, from pastels to oil; watercolors to etching?

Welcome Wreath
4.5" x 4.75"
Original Pastel
Casey Klahn

Our delightful friend, Robyn Sinclair, is an ex-pat from Australia who explores works on paper, and also oils, in the womb of art's birth, Northern Italy. Her blog is called, "Have Dogs, Will Travel". Go see her latest exploration, which is Etching & Aquatint, called Bird Woman of Venice. Her first (she claims) attempt at this time-honored medium turns out to be a keeper, and the bonus for you is that she details the whole process of copper-plate etching, complete with the application of lamp black.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Astrid Volquardsen - Artistic Direction

Astrid Volquardsen:

Dear Casey, thanks for the opportunity to give me some of your space to tell about myself and my work. I just thought the other day, how great it is, to read all these different blogs. To have a look at what's going on somewhere else. For me, it was a
great relief to find out that there is a whole bunch of people who favor the same kind of art. It makes it much easier to keep up your self-esteem, to be authentic in your work and persevere in your darkest hour. I think you know what I mean.

Astrid's interview continues...


After experimenting a lot with different kind of pastel grounds I now stick with Sennelier pastel card. Its sanded surface suits my needs very well. I do a lot of blending with my hands especially on the first layers, so I need soft pastels. There again it is Sennelier Pastels à l'écu . I love their luminosity and wide impressionistic orientated color range. Some artists criticize that they easily crumble. Well, in the end all pastels crumble and I just simply don't care, if they supply me with the colors I need. In addition I use Unisons and Girault for details.

Abends am Amrumtief
10 x 30.4 inch
Soft Pastel
© Astrid Volquardsen

While at the shore, I take pictures, do sketches and if there is time and the weather is O.K., I paint plein air. At the shore, this isn't always easy. Often I have to secure my easel or otherwise it will be blown away by the strong wind.

Most of my work is painted in my studio. Usually I work with a lot of layers and constant blending, adding a new layer and taking away parts of that layer. This method I use especially for the waves as you can see in the picture.

Detail of the wave of 'Abends am Amrumtief'

© Astrid Volquardsen

Artistic Direction

To capture light is the most important aspect for me. It's not so much about color, but always about light. In the last years my focus was on maritime landscapes and I love to paint in a small format.

Vor dem Regen
5.2 x 8.4 inch
Soft Pastel
© Astrid Volquardsen

To capture the wide open spaces at the seashore in miniature is something I really love to do, even though I do have larger formats as well. Right now I'm preparing a new exhibition in Mai on the Frisian Islands (Föhr) and have reached the point where all is in doubt. I love my seascapes, but I have the need and feeling to move on to something completely different. So in the future, I think, I will turn to more figurative work. Some sketches are already on my studio wall.

If you would like to have a look at my pastels on my website, on my homepage you have to click on “Werk-Reihen”, and then just click on the image.

Or you go to my blog, Pastell Blog, if you scroll down or look at the older posts you might get a further impression of my work.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Astrid Volquardsen

Astrid Volquardsen at the shore of Föhr

Pastellbilder-Pastell Blog

Astrid Volquardsen:

I live in the north of Germany in a small village called Bardowick, which is near Hamburg, where I grew up. Hamburg itself is a large city with a maritime touch and I recall many hours spent with my dad down at the harbor or taking trips to the North Sea with my family. So, it was a logical thing to focus on maritime landscapes, because that's where my heart lies and my soul is at peace.

State of pastel art in Germany

I started with pastels 20 years ago when I participated in a life drawing class. I just loved the way I could quickly fill in color. Immediately I fell in love with pastels and no other medium has had the same effect on me ever since.

For reasons I really don't know, pastels don't have a very high reputation in Germany. It's has not been considered to be "high art" by art colleges or galleries, but I didn't care and stuck to it anyway.

I think this has something to do with authenticity-about which you wrote in your blog, Casey. (You said) to listen to your inner-self and follow that path.

Back then I just knew this material was the perfect fit for myself, my art and what I would like to do and tried to not to listen too much to what my college teachers said about it. (College teachers still do not speak very nicely about pastels.)

To make it worse, realism might lead to a very lonely road, even though its getting better.

Pastels are still not widely known or as popular as watercolor or acrylic and there are only a few pastel artist in Germany. Gallery owners frequently told me: "I like your what?.... Pastels?...., but do you paint in oils?" After I heard that a couple of times, I started to educate the buying public and gallery owners, which actually is quite a lot of fun and a welcome change after lonely hours in my studio.

Two years ago I started to promote the pastels of Sennelier (I mostly paint with that brand). We have a widespread art supply store, which has branches all over Germany. There, I give speeches and do demonstrations of what is generally possible with pastels. I cover aspects like the different kind of pastel brands and grounds and how pastels can be applied. I show examples of American pastelists and people are really amazed at the possibilities. In addition, I point out to various websites and in the future I will highlight some blogs. Recently I started a blog and I have my own Website.

The funny thing about blogging is, that again, it's not that widely known and accepted in Germany as it is in America. I haven't hardly found any good blogs of German artist and they don't leave their comments as you guys do in America. Some artist have started to blog in German and English, but right now I don't know about that. I like to reach my German audience, so I try to figure out, how I can take away their shyness. But all these efforts have shown effects and I get emails from many people, who feel encouraged to use pastels. And I have found galleries who like my work and haven't asked me so far, if I paint in oils.

11.6 x 30 inch
Soft Pastel
© Astrid Volquardsen

Casey Klahn:

I think Astrid's outlook is that of a pioneer for contemporary pastels in Germany. Her positive attitude is evident in the vast scope and beauty of her landscapes. She has that urge to create with her medium, with faith that the public will follow her vision. I know that the work being done in other countries to promote pastel will eventually create a sudden and rewarding market in Germany, and Astrid at the forefront.

Who are some artists that inspire you that use pastels?

Astrid Volquardsen

I can't say that there is just one pastel artist, who inspires me. When I was in England 15 years ago, (there was no so far :-), I run across a pastel instruction book. The pictures of Sally Strand left a great impression on me. This impression was so big, I still can recall the look of this tiny book shop. My remaining time in London I didn't spend with sightseeing, but in search of bookshops with painting instruction books or anything that had to do with pastels. The customs officer at Heathrow must have thought that I had gone mad, when he saw my suitcase, packed with books!Realism in art hasn't had a very high prestige and there in this book shop, I saw what I always wanted to do and paint. Realistic looking pastel pictures.

I love Sally Strand for the way she paints light and keeps to the values. It always amazes me.

Another painter I highly admire is the French pastelist Claude Texier. Again, all her paintings are about light and luminosity.

Then there is Daniel Greene and Gwenneth Barth. How can someone possibly paint these portraits and capture the likeness and even one's personality? I had the pleasure to watch Gwenneth Barth during a demonstration in Paris last year. It was very interesting for me to see, how she builds up the layers of pastel. Like Daniel Greene she blends only with the pastel sticks. That's something I would like to add to my work.

In Margaret Dyers work I love the way she uses the colors and her loose pastel strokes. From Wolf Kahn and your pictures Casey, I feel inspired by the way you both use color and are finding color combinations that seem to be so easily found.

So from all these artist, I take bits and pieces and all this flows into my work now or maybe in the future.

Interview to be continued in the next post.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Interview with Astrid

Astrid Volquardsen at the shore of Föhr, Germany.

On Monday I will post my exclusive interview with German marine artist, Astrid Volquardsen.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Van Gogh's Nights at the MoMA

My friend, artist and Wordpress blogger Brian McGurgan, agreed to write a post for us with his review of the current van Gogh exhibit at the MoMA.

Van Gogh and the Colors of the Night

By Brian McGurgan

awe, energy, and wonderment

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City has a special exhibit on display through January 5th, 2009 called Van Gogh and the Colors of the Night that is well worth a visit. The show has an intimate feel to it and, although relatively small in scale, requires that you have some time to spare since tickets are given out that allow
entry at specific times in order to control the flow of visitors. I went on a Friday evening after work when the MoMA offers free admission and evening hours until 8pm but was told that all tickets for the special exhibit had already been given out. My only hope for getting in was to return to the exhibit entry point at 7pm and wait on the “standby” line. Fortunately, I was able to get in and see the show and I didn’t mind too much having to wander about the museum’s other galleries until the standby line was formed.

“…I got up in the night to look at the landscape – never, never has nature appeared so touching and sensitive to me.”

A very nice aspect of the exhibit is that it gives full focus to an interest of van Gogh’s that spanned his entire short career as a painter without delving into the decline in his mental health and the dismal drama that surrounded much of his final years. A
visitor to the show knowing nothing about van Gogh’s biography would have come away with only the slightest awareness of his time spent in hospital, but would certainly have understood the depth and sensitivity of his reflection on themes of nighttime. This fascination is expressed, not just in the display of some of his most prolific paintings, but in excerpts of letters and sketches sent to his brother Theo and to other family members and friends. In words from a letter that effectively summarize the feel of much of the exhibit, van Gogh states, “…I got up in the night to look at the landscape – never, never has nature appeared so touching and sensitive to me.”

The Potato Eaters
Vincent van Gogh

Van Gogh’s experience of the night was aesthetic – he appreciated the depth of color and the effect of natural and artificial light that nighttime provided – but also emotional and spiritual. He found the night awe-inspiring and a time of solace and inspiration. At the same time, he was not immune to the sense of loneliness and despair that are also too often a part of the human experience of nighttime. While paintings like his famous “The Potato Eaters” (1885) expresses the appreciation van Gogh had for hard-working peasants coming together at the end of a long day of labor, there is also an inescapable sense of disconnect and emptiness in the eyes of his subjects. The feeling of despair and alienation is stronger still in “The Night Café” (1888). Still, one comes away from the exhibit with a stronger feeling for the beauty van Gogh saw in the landscape and towns at night.

The Night Cafe

The highlights of the show for me included “Landscape with a Stack of Peat and Farmhouses” (1883) for the rich earth tones, including warm browns and grays in the sky and reflections in water, and "Sunset at Montmartre" (1887), for the beautiful, muted blue and green earth tones and simple composition. Van Gogh used a softer approach in these works than in some of his better known pieces
, with less distinct brushstrokes and richly colored neutrals. "The Starry Night Over the Rhone" (1888) was another favorite. Here, the short, wide and mostly straight brushstrokes contrast strongly with the swirling motion of the more famous "The Starry Night". The patches of color formed by these brushstrokes suggest a different kind of movement, giving more of a pulsating, shimmering effect. The limited palette of cooler blues and yellows against deep indigo and cobalt provide a richness that rewards a long viewing of the painting, and the suggestion of the Milky Way expressed in strokes of lighter blue against the darker sky is especially satisfying.

Starry Night Over the Rhone

The Starry Night (1889) is the final major work on display in the exhibit. Since it is part of the MoMA’s permanent collection, I’ve seen it numerous times – and usually with much less of a crowd gathered around it. I was struck by how well the painting leads the viewer's eyes through the swirling patterns in the sky, down to the little village at the bottom of the canvas, up the cypress trunk and back up into the sky. The hills and forest seem to undulate like rolling waves. The biggest surprise for me each time I see "The Starry Night" is the extensive use of greens, including a dark cool green in the cypress tree and light cool yellow greens in the sky in addition to the ultramarines, blue-greens, and yellows that dominate the canvas. There’s none of the sadness of Don McLean’s famous “Starry, Starry Night” here – only a sense of awe, energy, and wonderment. While van Gogh’s brushwork is certainly vigorous and coarse at times, and his color sense can seem crude in his less successful paintings, the results are truly stunning when his brushwork and color best come together.
"The Starry Night" is, to my mind, the strongest example of this and his greatest achievement.

Landscape with a Stack of Peat and Farmhouses

If you don’t live near New York and aren’t able to visit, don’t despair. The MoMA has published a very nice catalog to compliment the exhibit and this can be purchased in bookstores or online. The book contains many more examples of van Gogh’s nighttime drawings and paintings then are included in the actual show, and it also provides a historical context for paintings of night with a particular focus on artists like Rembrandt and Millet whose work was an inspiration to van Gogh. I bought the book online several weeks before visiting the exhibit, which allowed an opportunity to “study up” on the works I expected to see. I highly recommend this strategy when visiting a major exhibit – especially for those of us who found that art history classes back in school had a seductive, sleep-inducing quality about them. And if you plan to visit New York in the future but before the show closes in early January, stop by the MoMA anyway to see "The Starry Night", and to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to view the dozen or so paintings by van Gogh on permanent display there.

The Starry Night
Vincent van Gogh

Colors of the Night pdf. checklist at MoNA - includes the Sunset at Montemarte image that Brian mentions.

Take the Virtual Tour.

Van Gogh and the Colors of the Night