Looking back to 2008 – Part 2: Outer Nature

by Alden Cole on February 28, 2018 · 0 comments

“Spring Fling” • oils on masonite panel 12″ x 16″ • painted behind the Philadelphia Museum of Art one fine morning in early spring, the year I started painting plein air again after a break of a number of years, drawing on nature observed, refocusing away from “Inner Nature” after painting exclusively from the imagination for quite some time, and returning to the portrayal of “Outer Nature”. It was a whole new creative challenge that ultimately persists to the present, although the focus now has shifted from landscape painting to The Portrait, which I still consider the most challenging of the painterly skills. Some work in that direction is featured in this blog, two postings back, from 5 December.

“Earth Wind & Fire” • oils on masonite panel 12″ x 16″ • my second plein air painting that season, done on friend SA’s deck on the 8th floor of the Park Plaza, a high-rise apartment building turned condo association on Ford Road in Philadelphia, overlooking a section of Fairmont Park – just trees and sky, with a storm blowing through. That was the spring when I was socializing quite a lot with a couple of the more colorful characters in my life who shall remain nameless to protect their innocence. I had met them together in early December 2007 at the opening of my Lighting Show at Isaiah Zagar’s Magic Garden on South Street in Philadephia. When they came up to me to introduce themselves and congratulate me on a beautiful show, I remembered that I had met DB, the male member of the duo, at my POST open house in October, earlier that year. His cohort SA introduced herself as a former New Yorker, as well as one-time couturier, having designed wedding dresses for wealthy patrons for a number of years, which established an immediate connection between us based on shared experiences as New Yorkers working in the fashion industry.

“Raccoon Point: Looking West” • oils on masonite panel 16″ x 15″ • painted Memorial Day weekend while visiting the Maryland shore of the Chesapeake Bay with friend VN. The weather was about as good as it gets that weekend, so we spent much of it sitting comfortably outside, close to the water, painting and talking about life and love and everything in between. “Vissi d’arte; vissi d’amore.”

“Raccoon Point: Looking South” • watercolor on paper 9″ x 12″ • private collection. On Sunday, the second full of the Memorial Day weekend, I turned my attentions to working in a combination of colored pencil and watercolor, mediums which gave a very different look to the landscape and the water from my oil painting of the day before, seen above.

“The Lotus Pond at Bartram’s Garden” • oils on canvas 16″ x 12″ • collection of J. Henning.

Several times late that spring and early summer DB picked me up and drove us over to West Philadelphia to do some plein air painting at Bartram’s Garden, the “oldest surviving botanic garden in North America. Located on the west bank of the Schuylkill River, it covers 46 acres and includes an historic botanical garden and arboretum.” On one of those first forays into the natural environment of the spacious garden, I was drawn to what I thought was the Lily Pond, where I created the painting above. Recently however I discovered that the flower is actually a lotus, not the lily I had been claiming it was, thanks to an old Air Force friend who purchased the painting and questioned whether the depicted was really a lily, or if it indeed was a lotus as its foliage indicated. Always good to learn the difference between two such classic flowers. Particularly nice to know that my portrayal of the plant’s foliage was accurate enough to warrant the query.

“Plein Air Painting at Bartram’s Garden” • oils on repurposed legal-size clip-board, 16″ x 9″ • collection of D. Brewer

On another trip to Bartram’s Garden, DB chose to paint the same lotus pond that I had depicted on the previous visit. So while he set himself up in a spot directly in front of the pond to take advantage of the gloroius view, I decided to move south on the walking path, where I set up my easel in order to paint DB painting – that old tried-and-true device used by many a plein air painter of depicting their friends, other artists, in the act of creating. In my personal estimation, this was one of my finest accomplishments in the genre of landscape painting done that spring or since. There’s something about the incorporation of a figure into a landscape painting that gives it a whole new level of aliveness.

“Center City Philadelphia as seen from Bartram’s Garden” • oils on masonite panel, 10″ x 13″

There are several spots near the top of the hill at Bartram’s Garden where the Philadelphia skyline looms on the horizon, creating an Oz-like vista in the distance. All that is missing is a yellow-brick road, leading to this modern city of concrete, glass, and steel, with skyscrapers reaching for the stars; an appealing, almost magical, look that I tried capturing in paint at least twice.

“Center City Philadelphia from Bartram’s Garden #2″ – oils on canvas 11″ x 14” – purchased anonymously from a gallery in 2009; provenance unknown

With the first painting of the Philadelphia skyline above, I tried to create the feeling of a frame within a frame, a device I’ve used in various guises over the years, in drawing and photography as well as paint. With the second, I took the scene right to the edge of the canvas. Painted from the top of the hill at Bartram’s overlooking that mesmerizing field of gold, with the sparkle of the city in the distance, I can understand why the painting sold from the gallery the Dumpster Divers occupied on South Street for almost a year in 2009.

“New Hampshire Idyll: Scott Pond” • oils on canvas 10″ x 12″ • private collection

While vacationing in Vermont with KS, we were invited to spend a weekend at Scott Pond in the western heart of New Hampshire, where we kayaked and loafed around, eating our fill of good food and imbibing cheer. While my friends were out on the water Saturday afternoon, I found a comfortable spot under the trees to paint. When they returned, my hostess was so effusive with her praise over the artwork I had creted in their absence that I gifted her and her husband with the small painting to her great delight.

“Inside, Looking Out” (from Pleasant Street in Springfield Vermont, looking west toward the heart of town) – oil on MDF panel 4″ x 6″ – mounted on repurposed antique leather-bound book cover 11″ x 14″

This was a ‘sort-of’ plein air painting done in situ, but not in the open air; it was painted inside the bedroom of the house where I stayed a good many times in Springfield Vermont. One of the smallest painting I’ve ever attempted, it’s a good reminder that I’m no miniaturist. 😉

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