The Canadian painter Robert Genn notes that artworks can be image-driven or idea-driven. I would argue that even the image-driven paintings are underlined by strong artistic ideas. As I drive around the Horsebarn Hill of a cold rainy day in April, I am looking for signs of spring – and impermanence. A project such as A-Year-of-Plein-Air-Painting-on Horsebarn-Hill benefits from representing the passing signs of the seasons.
Two magnolia trees overflowing with pink and white flowers are spilling over the parking lot by the Department of Agriculture. Taking advantage of the university lockdown due to the COVID-19, I park across the handicapped spaces, next to the building, facing the trees, and take a photo for reference. Then I do a quick thumbnail painting, about 3 x 3 in. The strong perspective of the road takes the viewer in the landscape, but it competes with the subject of the magnolia trees. A tiny notan sketch shows the potential to crop the sketch, and bring the focus back on the blooms.
Once all these problems are solved, the painting should come effortlessly, isn’t it? I tone the surface with a light orange-pink mixture. I mark the main shapes with thin paint, and follow with thicker paint. As I forgot my knives home, I use the end of the brushes to get some abstract lines in the branches and bushes. Painting the flowers is pure poetry – and they reveal the problem of the empty space in the lower right side. I take a break and ponder what to do: Should I add a figure? A car? A bird? No, they would distract from the subject. I end up allowing some blossoms to fall on the pavement – the painting comes to a solution.
Horsebarn Hill: Wordless Butterflies, oil on canvas, 10 x 10 in.