Monday, December 22, 2008

How do I begin a painting?

Lately, a number of beginning or returning students have asked,"Where do I begin? I feel so stuck."

I usually try to talk them through a logical process of elimination. After all, you can't put every idea into every painting. Let's boil it down to the message of this painting only. Let's put those other ideas which are inconsistent, or which dilute the main idea, into a sketch book of ideas for later. What constitutes a "painting idea"?

But sometimes that process doesn't work. Some artists freeze up when confronted with the request for logic. Sometimes one needs a new direction. Or to express something that can't be said in the style or with the medium or with the subject matter one has been using.

And those are the times I suggest that artists just dive in. Don't allow time for conscious thought. Just grab the first thing near you, and turn it into something different. A sewing store with a sale on zippers, a hardware store with a great assortment of sandpaper, or that beautiful foil candy wrapper from that 70 o/o dark chocolate bar you've just eaten in your frustration can guide you in an unexpected and new direction.

Obsession and Frustration

Titled "Behind the Fence", this collage is probably a sketch for a painting. My recent series of paintings  depicts obscured images. In a previous post, I wrote about "Hiding", a view of a lotus pond through tall grasses.
I've just completed "You Can't Get There From Here", and will post it soon as it is photographed. 

I'm not sure how my collection of chocolate wrappers fits into all of this, but in my passion for dark chocolate, I began to notice that I loved the wrappers and was saving them. Also, I found myself picking a chocolate bar for its wrapper rather than its percentage of chocolate. Perhaps loving chocolate and wanting to lose weight may be related to images of frustration?

Monday, December 1, 2008

More Collages

What are the Big Ideas driving the arts these days?

This is part of an article found in the London Sunday Times. For the whole article, click on the link in red.

I think much of contemporary art can be viewed through the lens described below. What do you think? Do Mark Quinn's comments help understand the seemingly directionless art scene today? What makes some art look cutting edge, or at least contemporary, and other work seem as if it was made 100 years ago? Your comments, as always, will be welcome.

From The Sunday Times

 November 30, 2008

What are the big ideas driving the arts these days?
 Sixteen experts identify the key concepts that are redefining the arts. 

"Taking on the big issues: an installation in Tate Modern's Turbine Hall

Interviews by Steve Turner


Marc Quinn, sculptor

One of the essential things of the moment is tackling embodiment in an age of disembodiment. We live in virtual space as much as we do in real space. It’s to do with using the internet, e-mails and all those forms of communication. A lot of my work explores what it means to be a body living in the world. The Kate Moss sculpture is about disembodiment, because it’s a sculpture not of her as a person, but of her image. We measure our lives against disembodied ideals. This is a human trait, but becomes more prominent with new technology.
I’m also interested in how we affect nature. Issues like climate change get refracted through the lens of my flower paintings. The flowers at the florists would never normally grow at the same time and in the same place. Many of them have been flown in. Human desire is shaping nature.
Developments in technology open up new opportunities as long as you can use them expressively. I’ve used DNA and I’ve frozen things. It means you can articulate contemporary concerns using contemporary technology.

Jessica Morgan, curator

In a curatorial sense, I am fascinated that few exhibitions try to take on really big issues. I think there is a certain amount of fear in the idea of taking them on. One result is that people look to the past. There has been a tendency to revert to the early stages of modernism. It was a point of utopian hope, experimentation and bold ideas of political change.
There has also been a type of artwork that allows the audience to create or complete it. I’m thinking of artists such as Carsten Höller, who made the slides at Tate Modern, or Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster [whose current show is in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall]. They take on the role of curator and to some extent allow the curator to be an artist.
The economic shift will affect the art world. One of the things I hope may fall by the wayside is the type of fashionable production created by the market. We’d all be better off without quite so many galleries and useless publications.
Jessica Morgan is a curator at Tate Modern"                          

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Sandra Kaplan's Updated Website

My website,, has just been updated with many new images throughout, thanks to the technical expertise of my web advisor, Keith West.

There are two new "galleries". The first is titled "My Colorado", and shows my recent paintings with very personal Colorado subject matter and an unusual "take" on the West. The other is titled "Italy", and includes images painted during or in response to several recent workshops I've offered in Tuscany.

Please visit today!

Walking Near My Studio

While trying to solve a difficult painting issue last week, I was walking past the corner of Lincoln and Maple when I found a tree staring at me. Lest you think that I've taken leave of my senses, please look to the right to see this unusual tree. I loved  finding this face hidden in the branches, creative playfulness seemingly just for fun. 

Mavericks for Obama

These two sides of a single sign were seen in a south east Denver yard. Levity is such a relief in this tense political year!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Martin Puryear at the National Gallery in DC

While I was in Washington, D.C., two months ago, serving on the NEA Museum Grants Panel for 2008, I saw the most beautiful and visually stimulating sculpture show I've seen in years, maybe ever: Martin Puryear at the National Gallery.

Today, I ran across the gallery brochure, which reminded me to tell you about the show, in hopes that you can catch it at its last stop, San Francisco Museum Of Modern Art , where the exhibition opens Saturday, Nov. 8, 2008, and continues until Sunday, Jan. 25, 2009.

The exhibition was organized by the Museum of Modern Art in NYC. Click to see a significant selection of pieces from the show in MOMA 's online exhibition.

So many sculptors currently use found objects without mastering the transformative process that makes these objects into art. Both technical skill and intimate connection to the sculptural materials seem in short supply. I'm tired of seeing old rags wrapped around a rusted bed frame presented as "art." In addition, we seldom are offered incite into the nature of the forms themselves, how a sculptor can view a particular item, then reimagine it in an incredibly powerful and more universal way.

Martin Puryear does that -- and more. He has superb technical and transformational skills. But he's also an internationalist, combining images from disparate cultures so that they emerge as cohesive visual staements, the work of someone with a profound and inspiring understanding of his medium.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

New Acrylic Paint, "OPEN", from Golden

Recently, I received in the mail a few sample colors of a new formulation of acrylic paints that is supposedly similar to oil in it's drying time. The name of the product is "OPEN", and you can get a great deal of technical information about it on Golden's web site. I particularly reccommend checking out their issue of "Just Paint" issue #19 on the subject of these paints.
I haven't yet experimented sufficently with these new colors to form a strong opinion. Getting the samples did remind me of a time, back in the Dark Ages, when I was a student at Pratt Institute, before acrylics were in wide usage. Some artists at the time, particularly the Washington Color School painters, were mixing their own, by adding dry pigments to a Rohm and Hass polymer medium.
One company with a name something like "Dutch Masters" or "New Masters" sent sample kits of the paints to members of my painting class. The colors were muddy, but we were thrilled to get free samples of any paint, and proceeded to experiment.
Thirty years later, I was in Cincinnati, helping my mother move from her house to an apartment, and cleaning out her attic. I found the paintings I had painted with some of those early acrylic paints. They were STILL TACKY.
This is a reminiscence, not meant to suggest that a proven and excellent company like Golden hasn't come up with an innovative and superior product. Golden has a reputation for working directly with professional artists to meet their individual requirements. As I paint in both acrylics and oils, choosing my medium in response to my needs of the moment, I'm curious as to whether I can find a unique use for this new product. I'd love to hear from those artists among you who have tried the paint, and hear your evaluations. Please post your comments. Mine will come at a later date.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Kathy Knaus Meat Paintings

Kathy currently has an exhibition at the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design. 
I have enjoyed watching Kathy's recent transformation: formerly an abstract painter, two years ago, a chance visit to an traditional Italian butcher shop re-directed her work, reminding her of her childhood spent in the family meat market. 
As artists, we have so many meaningful encounters which could inform our work, but only do so when we are open to their potential. Kathy has connected the dots of her personal history in a way difficult for most artists. See these paintings on her web site by clicking here.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

More on art and politics

Reader had difficulty posting a comment so I'm including it as a regular post.
In future, if anyone has difficulty adding comment to the blog, let me know.

Hey, Sandra, Matt again. Blogger wouldn't let me post the reply, so here it is:

Caught much of the debate on TV at a local pub, with the sound off and closed captioning on. Being an Aspie, I didn't catch the look-into-the-eye part, but watching McCain I did get the impression of someone on the defensive. The distortion ain't working -- as the polls I've seen (mainly Yahoo!s Political Dashbord) are any indication.

We artists would face very interesting times (in the Chinese curse sense of the word) in a McCain Administration, no?) Given the sparse amounts of grant cash available, the budget-cut part doesn't really concern me that much. At worst: a revival of shoestring macrame, so to speak.

What does concern me is that McCain would spoil the GOP's base even more by giving the appropriate Arts slots (if that's the right term) to folks with ideological blinders. At least Bush gave the NEA chair to Dana Gioia (probably because he used to be a business exec), who has done alright, in my humble (but limited) opinion. But should McCain get in...::shudders::

Anyway, my .02. Good post.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Art and the First Presidential Debate

How depressing can it become?
 Who can make art when a mean spirited old man with no capacity for empathy wants to get his itchy fingers on the red button? A man who is so contemptuous of the American people that he would risk having an incompetent, inexperienced, right wing extremist as a vice president, just because that person is a woman? It's almost too much to bear.
I rushed home from the opening of my friend Kathy Knaus' art show, to watch the first presidential debate, and John McCain, who brags of his ability to work with those with whom he disagrees, was so condescending to Barack Obama that he couldn't even look him in the eye as he distorted Obama's record and message. Doesn't this tell us a great deal about his respect for those with ideas at variance with his own?
As an artist, it's terrifying when his answer to the economic disaster we now face, after 8 years of Republican administration, is the threat of a near total federal spending freeze. Imagine, for example, what that would do to the NEA, and countless art organizations around the country. All of our cultural institutions would decline, if they were able to continue existence at all. What about the Smithsonian and its numerous museums? The list is very long. And this is only one very small corner of our society which would be affected by such a drastic decision.
While not discussing specifics, Obama's response was that McCain would use a hatchet when a scalpel was needed.
You can read Barack Obama's position paper on the arts by clicking here.
We have gotten used to having guns and butter. I realize that some sacrifices may be necessary to right this economy. And, of course, the debate wasn't about art policy. But for many of us, the arts are essential to our lives, and we know that the arts are often the first to go when others try to define frivolity.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Back to Blogging

Hello, Friends. Sorry for my long absence, due to some family health problems and travel. 
One piece of news is that I've been working on an update of my website, In a few weeks, there will be a new "My Colorado" gallery page, a new "Italy" gallery page, a re-do of the "mostly small paintings" gallery page, plus many other smaller changes. I'll let you know when all are up and visible. 
Since I last wrote, I've been traveling: to Italy, to Chicago, to Washington, DC, to the Colorado mountains. I'll try to play catch-up here during the next week or so.

Monday, July 21, 2008


A 12" X 16" acrylic, painted on a grey, damp day under the cover of mats and vines on the Terraza at Selva, our home for ten days in the Tenuta di Forci, in Italy.

"Pig Cabin" and "Lemon Tree"

In May, I taught a painting workshop in Tuscany, in the mountains above Lucca. 
Creating art in Italy is difficult.
How do I sort out my sense of overwhelm?
How do I cut through the burdensome sense of history, artistic masterpieces, nostalgia, cliché, movies I've seen, books I've read?
How do I make my experience more immediate? And should I?
Everything is so beautiful - where is the real world? Do I want to find it?
Is this like diabetic shock? Sugar overload?
As luck would have it, it rained  six and one half days out of ten - beauty problem solved, which gave rise to another. Who would believe grey paintings of Tuscany in May?

Sunday, July 20, 2008


One of my newest paintings is this 30" X 40" acrylic titled "Hiding". The image came to me walking along the magical paths of Hudson Gardens, a botanic gardens in Littleton, Colorado, just south of Denver. Tall grasses obstructed my view of the lilly pond, creating a sensation of seeking without being quite fulfilled. I like the ambiguities inherent in the name, "Hiding".

Monday, May 5, 2008

Arno Motulsky and Color Vision

On April 29th, I read an interview article in the NYT about genetics pioneer, Arno Motulsky. He is currently doing research in color blindness, and has discovered that 50% of males with normal vision have the amino acid alanine in the red pigment in their retinal cones, the other 50% have the amino acid serine at the same site. Read the article here.
The implications for artists seem interesting. Years ago, the philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, asked the question, here paraphrased: How do I know that when you see red, and when I see red, we are seeing the same color?
This research answers that question by saying that, no, we don't see the same color, or at least, males with "normal" color vision don't see the same color, due to their genetic makeup. 
Many artists have assumed that people "see" through a sociological and cultural lens, e.g. how viewers interpret perspective, and that much of seeing is a learned process. Those who have their vision restored after a life-time of blindness need to re-learn how to negotiate their environment based on their new visual information. But we had thought that those with normal vision objectively would see the same color. I'm not sure what we can do with this new information, but it certainly kicks away our previous assumptions, and may create a new challenge for artists.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Congressional legislation to weaken US copyright law

I've just received an e-mail from a fellow teacher at the Art Students League of Denver, Tom Stevens warning of proposed legislation now before the US congress to weaken the copyright protection. 
 It's difficult to imagine how much the current protection artists have for their creations would be weakened by this legislation.
Here is Tom's email:
"There is a measure before the U.S. Congress which would greatly weaken the copyright law. The legislation is intended to address a problem surrounding orphan works ... these are works which have no clear owner. The legislation will relax user restrictions and penalties for any violations. What this means is that all artists and photographers will need to take an active roll in protecting their work. Read More Here.
I would suggest that you write or e-mail your congressman (if you are in the U.S.). If you don't know who that is, here is where to find out. You would then need to go here, and send your congressman  an e-mail."
If after reading this, you feel as strongly as I do about this matter, please write today.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Professional Photography of Paintings

A few days ago, I had posted an image of this new painting, with an photo taken in the studio with my cell phone - a great tool for recording an auto-accident, but totally inadequate for reproducing paintings. No matter how much I fiddled with it in photoshop. the resulting picture was a distant cry from my painting, looking more like a night view than the sunset image sitting on my easel. My cell phone image appears at the top of this post.
After carting my paintings off to Paul Gillis, a wonderful painter, but also a professional photographer specializing in reproducing artists' work, Paul's results were ready in a few days. How poor my photo and computer efforts had been.
 The second image above is Paul's photo of my work, a close to faithful representation.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Juror for the Louisville Fine Art Show 2008

This year, I have been invited to be juror for The 23rd Annual National Fine Art Show, sponsored by the Louisville Art Association. The show will be held August 30 to September 7, 2008, in the Louisville Center for the Arts, 801 Grant Street, Louisville CO, 80027. The cash prizes to be awarded total $3000.
Prospectus for this show.
Or contact: Louisville Art Association, C/O Donna Flebbe, 2391 Lavender Hill Lane, Lafayette, CO 80026.
June 2, 2008 is the deadline for receipt of the entries, so get moving. Judging from the quality of the images in last year's catalogue, this should be a very good show.

Benefit the Museum of Contemporary Art / Denver

Several limbs have been trimmed from this tree on the north side of the large lake in Washington Park, Denver, since I photographed it and painted this painting, "Mothertree". I loved the horizontal- ity of the tree, the way it beckoned  for one to climb into its branches, to become engulfed. Some of that feeling has been diminished by the hacking, but my tree still is the opposite of that one quality of tree-ness, verticality.
"Mothertree" is painted in oil on canvas, is 30" X 78", and is available for viewing and purchase in the development office of the Museum of Contemporary Art/Denver. Please contact Scott Anderson at 303-298-7554. 100% of the proceeds will benefit MCA/D.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Near Minturn

This unusual rock formation near the road between Minturn and Redcliff, Colorado, not far from Vail, has often caught my attention.  Such an unusual geologic formation caused me to wonder whether a human had created this hole in the rock. My photo, shown at the left, had to become a painting.

As the acrylic painting began to develop, the color became more intense than in the photo. That saturation seemed to come from the other-worldly feeling I had in this spot. It also was a way to emphasize the hole in the rock, and the mountain behind it.

I also enjoy the unusual red flowers in the foreground, flowers I have been unable to identify. If anyone knows what they are, please let me know!

Working on this painting gave me insight into why I have often insisted that I am not a realist. At some point in my process, the painting became much more important to me than its subject, and the success of the painting required that the color, even the exact shape of the rock be changed. For example, without that "bite" I took out of the upper right corner of the rock, the space was unclear, and the hole harder to understand.

My completed painting, an acrylic, 40" x 30", titled "Near Minturn", is below.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

"Spring on the San Juan River"

Just this week I completed two new paintings from my "Colorado" series. The painting at left, "Spring on the San Juan River", is painted in acrylic on linen canvas, and is 40" x 30". 

In the past, many of my paintings have used acrylic as an underpainting, then been completed in oil to increase the subtlety of the value and color. In "Spring on the San Juan River", I have been able to achieve the result I wanted with acrylics alone. Painted with loose transparencies that at times mimic watercolor, I found working in this manner very liberating.

Late spring is the time when the snow melt swells Colorado's rivers to their highest levels. Just watching rivers at this time creates an adrenaline rush. The extreme beauty masks the extraordinary danger the power of the water can present. I love this duality.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

My May 2008 Workshop in Lucca, Italy

There are still a few available places left for my workshop at Abbondanza Toscana in the Mountains above Lucca, Italy. The dates are May 17th through the 27th, and the price of 2100 EUROS includes everything except airfare, art materials, and a few sandwiches when we are painting on location.
 The painting above, "Castello" was created from photos I took at one of the locations we visited during my 2006  workshop, the castle where the movie "Much Ado About Nothing" was filmed.
A number of very exciting painting locations have been scheduled for this upcoming trip, and I can't wait to return to Paula Sullivan's mystical retreat, Abbondanza Toscana, on the largest intact estate in Italy, the Tenuta di Forci. Of course, I also salivate at the mere thought of Emmanuela's Tuscan cuisine.

Show at Post Modern Company

 My year long show at Post Modern Company, 2734 Walnut Street, in Denver's RINO Arts District, will be on display until the end of March. The show has been curated by Kathy Andrews. The hours are 9 to 5, weekdays. Don't miss the watercolors, prints and oils through the door to the right of the reception area. A number of pieces have been sold, and replaced with others.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Rock Circle -- A New Painting

Ever since I took the photo on which "Rock Circle" is based, I've wanted to paint it, but it didn't quite fit with my artistic priorities. Recently, partly in response to questions from my students, partly in response to several large painting commissions ("Byers Peak"; "Rock Tower"; "Water" and "Alpen Glow"), I've been exploring what "landscape",  "a Colorado painting", and a "western" painting might mean to me. 
In Cincinnati, where I grew up, one rarely gets the "long view" of a landscape. The streets wind and meander around the hills, often crossing each other numerous times like strands of DNA. In spring, summer and fall, foliage practically attacks from every side, draping the streets with color. I developed a focus on the immediate, the individual object, the close perspective.

Western paintings frequently focus on the long view, the huge tent of sky with its dramatic weather patterns, the uncluttered landscape with a few isolated cows and abandoned buildings. I decided to investigate my more intimate view of the area in which I've been living for many years.

"Rock Circle" is a group of rocks sitting in a stream, but they seem anthropomorphic, almost as if they are having a meeting. The rock forms suggest other worldly creatures, an unexpected intrusion of fantasy into my work.