Our painting teacher, Fred Lipp, is really much more than a painting teacher. And I don’t say that because he is also an extraordinary artist. He is a fly fisherman too but I have no idea what his skills are in this area. He is more than a painting teacher because his methods for teaching painting can also be applied to living your life. Last night in class I heard Fred give advice to a woman who was painting near me. He said, “Paint it as a whole, from start to finish”.
Say you are heading out for a drive. You might have a destination and you might even use a map. But if you really want to enjoy the ride you may decide to take a detour or a side trip or forget about your destination altogether.
“What we’ve heard is so disturbing It takes time to settle in Our destination doesn’t matter This is it… life hereafter” – Personal Effects, “This Is It” LP, 1984
I’m trying to connect the dots here. I devoured an article on Elizabeth Peyton’s “Live Forever” show in Friday’s New York Times and then started a new crime face painting on Monday. I sketched a guy that sort of looked like a woman and in fact I switched the situation in my mind and thought I was sketching a woman that looked like a man. The people in class thought he was a man and Maureen Outlaw told said he looked like me. When Peggi saw the painting she said, “I like him”. I said, actually it’s a woman and I reached for the Crimestoppers page that I used for my source. His name turned out to be “Jeffery”. I had played up the lips like Elizabeth Peyton did in her portrait of Kurt Cobain and the clothing was loosely painted like her portrait of Piotr Uklanski. My crime guy was thin and more youthful than the source. He looked like a rock star.
We watched the “Life and Times of Frida Kahlo the other night and I was knocked out by how beautiful and exotic Frida Kahlo was. This documentary was so much richer and more interesting than the Frida movie. Frida Kahlo was her artwork. She lived her artwork and painted the whole from start to finish. I have no idea what Elizabeth Peyton is like but I love her work.
While I was applying paint to my sketch of this crime guy and developing his attitude, it suddenly became clear that each move was not helping so I stopped. I was painting the whole from start to finish and this was the finish but I didn’t recognize it at first. The finish could come at any time regardless of my plans. I should live my life this way and then painting would be a breeze.
I brought this painting into class tonight for a show that our class is having in the gallery down at the Workshop but while in class I addressed some problems on a different painting and then decided to leave that one there for the show. My father takes this painting class with me and his neighbor teaches a watercolor class at the Workshop. This neighbor/teacher was telling my father that he does a demonstration in every class and the people love it. My father said he told the neighbor that Fred has never done a demonstration in class the the whole time he has been there. He is just not that kind of teacher.
But Fred may have overheard this conversation because one of the first things he did tonight was say, “May I have attention for a few minutes?”. He went on to say, I see a lot of you are working from a photograph and I just wanted to say that there is a misconception out there about photography. People feel that photos don’t lie and of course they do. Photos haven’t been sorted out unless they were taken by a really good photographer, someone who made decisions about what to leave in and what to take out. And if it is a really good photo that you are working from, all the decisions have already been made for you. It is already done. And why would you want to repeat what you already know? You need to get at the reason you were attracted to the photo in the first place.
To do a good painting you need to be stimulated. You need to solve problems. You need to try things to see what works and what doesn’t. The fun part is the hard part. It is a bit masochistic. This is pretty much what Fred said and it was a pretty dramatic demonstration.
I, on the other hand, am attracted to and work from really bad photos, mugshots from the newspaper as of late, but this applies directly to my process. I am just starting to learn that just because some dude has a neck or two ears or two same size eyes or whatever, I don’t have to paint everything that is in the photo the way it is in the photo. I used to try to reproduce the bad photo and I found this hard and frustrating. Making decisions on what to paint and what not to is not any easier but it is less like beating your head against a wall.
There was a new guy in our painting class last night doing these abstract, big bang sort of paintings. He is also a fly fisherman so he and our painting teacher, Fred Lipp, spent a good deal of time talking abut locations and lures. I was thinking they ought to come over and catch a few of the flys in our house. We had the doors open round here while we gave them two coats of fresh paint and collected a few. I had one wake me up by insisting on landing on my nose.
Fred was relentless last night as well he should be. “What is this?”, he exclaims as he reaches for his grey paper to cover the offending “neck” in my case. “It looks like a tree stump”. My father, who is set up right next to me, gets as merciless an assault. In his case Fred covered half the painting and told him, “There’s your painting”. He was left with a beautiful Maine lighthouse. My father said, “Hey. I pay for this class”. You get what you pay for and we have it no other way.
Fred has a beautiful watercolor on display in the faculty show at the workshop right now. It’s called “Moving On Out…” Why wasn’t he chosen for the upstate biennial that’s currently on display in the MAG? There is no good answer.
We finished a new sheet music cover today for Tony Stortini. This piece is called “Deep Feelings”. Jack Handy comes imediately to mind. How many design firms are still doing sheet music covers these days? Tony is on a creative roll. We already did art for “Hearts of Gold” which he wrote for his daughter and “Tippy Tap Joe” which was dedicatedf to his brother, Nunzio. Peggi stuck Nunzio’s head on tap dancer that she found online.
I had my last painting class at the Creative Workshop last night, that is my last until we go around again in the Fall. “Going around” is not really it at though. Fred Lipp conducts a class with no end. Every class, like every painting, is another beginning. I can only hope to not repeat my bad habits and move forward incrementally. No matter how many of his classes I take or how far I come, there is always a new host of problems to contend with. It will always be a daunting challenge and Fred is always there to help. I’m trying to recommend his class to anyone who is serious about improving their work. He is an incredible resource.
I was thinking I might take a break from the crime faces but then in this morning’s paper there is a whole new batch.
I brought a pile of paintings to class last week. I think I had eight that were near done but all needed more work. I’ve been having fun starting new ones and trying to grab the essence of these crime guys as quickly as possible without getting bogged down correcting all my mistakes. Fred, my painting teacher came around and said, “I’ll talk about these when you’re ready”. I said “I’m ready now. I’m getting tired of fussing with this one”. He said, “I don’t like the word fussing. I like struggling”. I guess it is a little more noble.
So this week I’ve spent a lot of time time “struggling”. It’s the perfect word for this activity. Someone has to do it. And if the word sounded any easier it wouldn’t come close to describing how difficult painting is. Like Fred says, “It’s supposed to be difficult. If it was easy, everyone would do it.”
My father sets up next to me in painting class and last week Fred Lipp was making it clear to him that he will never get everything right in a painting. “No painting has everything right in it”. My ears were erect. At times I feel like I have everything wrong in a painting and then I will do something so right that the painting as a whole looks pretty good. But don’t the masters get it all right? “If you had everything right you would have the Midas touch and you don’t want that. I don’t want it and you don’t want it.” I kept painting but I was thinking I better get some clarification on this Midas bit. I thought it was a pretty cool thing.
I told Peggi about the discourse and she said, “Why don’t you ask him to follow up on it?” I looked “Midas Touch” up on Wikipedia and learned that the king’s food, wine and even his daughter turned to gold when he touched them and this was all kind of a drag. I think I may have known this story at one time.
This week I asked Fred why we wouldn’t want the Midas touch in our painting and he said, “If you assume that everything you touch is gold, you’re dead. Creativity is doubt and questioning”.
I’ve been painting heads lately but I imagine that this principle would apply to any subject. The source for the head is a start and after the first marks on the canvas I am finding that the painting should be leading the way instead of me. Listening to and reading the painting’s needs is a better way to proceed than doing what I had in mind. If I’m painting the lips on a head, the form of those lips should be talking to the whole. I should be painting the whole at all times and only the whole knows what it needs. I can’t just look at the lips as I paint them.
I am not able to do this but I owe the recognition of this principle to my painting teacher, Fritz Lipp. I apologize if I have misrepresented his direction.I read this quote from Elvin Jones on playing with John Coltrane. “I was more listening to him than trying to accompany as a drummer. I was just fascinated by this guy and the way he played. He had so many ideas. It seemed like he was sitting on a mountain of ideas, and they would just flake off every three or four seconds.” So he played like one of the greatest drummers by listening.
I rode my bike to Target this afternoon and bought a pair of shoes to wear while painting. I try to paint a little bit everyday and yet it never gets easier. I might as well have some comfortable shoes. “It’s not supposed to be easy,” is one of my painting teacher’s favorite lines. It probably isn’t really one of his favorites. It’s just that he has occasion to use it often. I started another face from the Crimestoppers page tonight and thought I was off to a great start but every move I made after that compounded the problems. I have to remind myself to stop and look at the painting. And when I stop to look, I have to step back quite a ways. I have to be open to the possibility that the painting could go in a different direction or maybe be done before I planned. I have to listen to the painting. I need to continually address the problems as I see them. Fix them before doing anything else.
We watched a terrible murder mystery the other night called “Tenebre.” Tony Franciosa is a pulp fiction writer and one of his lines is, “If you cut out the boring bits and keep the rest, you’ve got a best seller.” “If you get rid of the bad in a painting, all you will have left is good.” That’s another one of Fritz Lipp’s sayings. I’ve taken his painting class for about ten years now and I still haven’t learned these simple rules.At a certain point, you have to serve the painting.