It’s interesting to see Sunil lamenting the lack of contemporary portrait artists as I consider my own dilemma — too many landscape artists. Or maybe just too many that follow me into drugstores and gift shops.
How do you respond to the old masters, those artists whose work stuns you and also follows you, ubiquitous, featured on postcards, tea pots, and backsides everywhere you go? This is a question I’ve been pondering.

Recently on the blog I adminster, the Ragged Cloth Cafe, one of the regulars posted a blog on Ansel Adams. My response to her comments was a bit jaded, or maybe even irritated. Another of the regular posters on the blog called me on it: “June, you do sound a bit cranky and a bit unfair to modern landscape photographers. Or is it like seeing drip painting and only being able to think of Pollack?”

As I reread what I had written I realized that indeed I was sounding more than bit cranky (and even a bit incoherent). After a few further comments I sorted out what my head was thumping around with, dissing Adams. Here’s something of what I wrote:

You may have hit on why I am currently in a state of irk-dom about Adams — it’s because I’m trying to find my own way with landscape and his images loom altogether too large in my mind. I have to wrangle and fight with him a bit (Jacob and the angel?) to make my way to my own vision.

I often find this is the case for me — at various times in doing my art, I find myself fighting my way through to my own style, arguing (if only with myself) about the too-much-with-us-giants who block my view.

I think this is yet another version of Karl’s posts here and here) “Why is making art so hard?” I had the same difficulty with the Cubists (see the two homemade oils that flank this post) with whom I spent the last 10 days harrassing and wrestling. Oddly enough, though, I don’t have the same issues with Cezanne. It may be that he is just far enough out of the old masters/coffee-cup loop to give me fresh insights rather than making me strain and struggle to see afresh.

It’s not that I blame the artists for being so outstandingly good (even I admit that that’s a bit over the top); it’s that to see afresh is such a struggle that I want to fling a paint-loaded brush onto my memory book of Adams’ photos and smear them thoroughly so I’m not seeing them while I’m working. It’s a kind of internal thrashing about, trying to break through to the other side.

Here’s an Adams that was relatively fresh for me.


Death Valley, Zabriski Point, California, 1942

And here’s one that isn’t fresh:


Yosemite, Entrance from the South, 1935

Does anyone else have to mentally engage in wrangling and arguing and fighting with famous art and artists in order to clear the way to achieve his/her own vision? Or do you all work serenely, happy with the imaginative way your mind works, seeing new and new again?

[The paintings that front and back this post are an early and late version of one of my late 10 day engaged battle with the Cubists. Obviously, the old guys won.]