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William E. Elston: Paintings, vol.26

October 2018


Winter Lecture Series

I will be offering a series of lecture/demos this winter. They will take place in my studio and will cover the following subjects:

Lecture 1: Painting Really Large in a Really Small Studio
Lecture 2: Studio Practice for the Plein Air Painter
Lecture 3: Realism - Two Hundred Years of Revolution

Space is very limited; only 12 seats will be available. Each lecture will consist of a lecture/slideshow with Keynote presentation, followed by a live demonstration of painting technique and/or studio method. It will include many historical examples and artist anecdotes. There will also be a brief question and answer period. Each lecture will last approximately 2.5 hours, and will include a short intermission.

These lecture/demos will be presented in my Snohomish studio on Panther Lake. The amount of information will be dense, and should be entertaining as well. They are not directed primarily at painters, though they will include some practical advice about painting and understanding paintings.

Refreshments are included, and senior citizen discounts are available for those 65 and over.

Further information and signup can be found at my classes website.

Lecture 1: Painting Really Large in a Really Small Studio

Plaza Guemes, Buenos Aires, oil on canvas, 76 x 96 inches, work in progress, copyright ©2014
Plaza Guemes, Buenos Aires, oil on canvas, 76 x 96 inches, work in progress, copyright ©2014
This lecture/demo will focus on strategies for executing a large studio canvas. The primary example will be a piece that I've been working on for a couple of years. It measures 76 x 96 inches, or 6.3 x 8 feet.

Working at this scale presents a unique set of challenges, from developing the composition using studies, montages and photographic sources, to figuring out access to areas of the painting that would normally be out of reach. The painting in question is about three fifths finished, so it is in a perfect state to see how the image was constructed.

In this lecture I also hope to throw some light on the creative process itself. Michelangelo said that great art consists of thousands of tiny adjustments. Any art consists of thousands of small decisions, and in this lecture I want to expose some of those choices and explain how they are made.

The presentation will include slides, including some documenting the progress of the painting from cartoon to present, live demo, and will also include historical examples.

At the same time, the lecture will be a travelogue, since the painting is based on a plein air study that was done in Buenos Aires in 2008. I’ll try to place the painting in context, as a moment in time’s continuum, as well as a reflection of universals that are true anywhere that humans inhabit and engage in social interaction and display. Plaza Guemes is a world within a world, and like most worlds, it is now much different than the Plaza Guemes that served as inspiration for this painting.

Lecture 2: Studio Practice for the Plein Air Painter

Raining Bridge, oil on canvas, 30 x 40 inches, copyright ©2003
Raining Bridge, oil on canvas, 30 x 40 inches, copyright ©2003
When the plein air (painting outdoors) season ends, often the painter is left with a handful of unfinished paintings. Traditionally, before the advent of paintouts, plein air competitions and the like, the artist would finish the painting in the studio, often relying on sketches, photographs, memory and other source material.

In the heyday of the 19th century, plein air was often seen as a way of collecting data about the landscape in order to produce what were called the "grand salon machines", i.e. oversized paintings intended for the Academy's annual exhibition. Much of this lecture will be devoted to this history, from the advent of plein air painting in the 1830s, and in contrast to the contemporary plein air movement.

Ideas will be presented for setting up one's own studio, whether dedicated or just a corner of a room. Other strategies for integrating studio and plein air work will be discussed.

This lecture/demo is intended to explore and celebrate a more expanded and traditional view of plein air than what is common today. It will serve as a counter to the fetishization and commercialization of contemporary plein air events and practice. The history of plein air and the importance of the artists’ social life, centered around traditional art colonies such as Skagen and Cos Cob will be discussed.

Lecture 3: Realism - Two Hundred Years of Revolution

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Le pont de Narni, 1826, Musée du Louvre in Paris
Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Le pont de Narni, 1826, Musée du Louvre in Paris
This lecture presents the history of Realism from Courbet to the present, a philosophical thread in art that is relatively unbroken despite the Modernist hegemony. The thread is traced from Realists like Courbet through Impressionism, Naturalism, American Scene and Social Realism, the Socialist Realism of Russia and China, the shin hanga tradition in Japan and the Realism of the present.

A primary goal of the Realists was to undermine and upend hierarchies, both social and perceptual. Some were active politically as well as culturally. Courbet was a socialist that was imprisoned for his role in the Paris Commune. The objective was always to see things as they are, not as they pretend to be. He maintained that “the only possible source for living art is the artist's own experience.” Courbet once said that he wanted his epithet to read that “He belonged to no school, to no church, to no institution, to no academy, least of all to any régime except the régime of liberty.”

One finds some of these same sentiments in the writings and works of the Social Realists of the 1930s and 40s. Artists like Ben Shahn, Jack Levine, Philip Evergood, Isabel Bishop, Paul Cadmus and others depicted the social dislocations and political corruptions of the Great Depression.

The Realists carved out an aesthetic space for the depiction of labor that contributed to the development of the labor movement itself, in much the same way that the painters of the American wilderness helped to create the conceptual foundations of the environmental movement. I hope to show that the Realist movement, the intent to “see things as they are,” still has a great deal to offer in the present day.

The lecture will be accompanied by a brief demonstration of the sight-size method, a 19th century practice that is ideal for training perceptual accuracy.

Please visit my painting or classes website for more information regarding upcoming exhibitions, events, classes or workshops.

View my painting website
View my classes website

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