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Mar 10, 2011

Another Randy Higbee Gallery 6 x 6 show

Here are my entries for this show:

Four tiny coastal paintings, in one of my most favorite places to work in all of the world: Point Lobos Nature Reserve. It is a small headland that juts out into the Pacific Ocean, just south of Carmel and north of Big Sur, California. The light you find there, at any time of the year, is unlike any other place I've been, and every time I visit the place I wonder why it is I live in Oregon. Guy Rose painted there, Childe Hassam painted there. Armin Hansen, Francis McComas, Percy Grey, Paul Dougherty, Mary Morgan, Bruce Nelson, and William Ritschel all painted there. Heck, Edward Weston photographed there (I accidentally found his one-room log cabin darkroom in somebody's backyard ten years ago while tooling around. There wasn't even a plaque on it.)

So I try to get down to Point Lobos as often as I can. I'll use every excuse I can come up with. Because, when I get there everything looks like a painting.

"Earth, Wind, Light, and Water" Point Lobos CA
6 x 6 inches  |  oil on panel

The host of the show, the Randy, of the Hygbee Gallery, is located down in Costa Mesa. He has made it a central rallying point for the Neo-Southland Crew of California Plein Air painters. Randy hosts a small works show every quarter and always arranges for a high-profile judge to come in and jury in the work -- which makes for a good show. I have no idea which ones (if any) of these paintings will get in. I've only just submitted them today. But I am happy with this work nonetheless.

"Down in the Hole" Point Lobos CA
6 x 6 inches  |  oil on panel

It is a challenge for me to paint inside of 6 inches. It's like trying to stay in the lines of a coloring book when I was three. To me it is like working on a postage stamp. Especially since ten years ago I used to paint quite large, up to 30 x 40 inch or so, outdoors. But I dropped down to smaller works in the 1 x 2 foot range to up my output and to become more playful with the paint. Over the years I've become interested in how oil paint throws down, moves around, and builds up. Its capacity to drip, striate, break, and drag are what create the detail you see in this work. It's not me fussing around with tiny brushes and little strokes. And that is what I am in pursuit of these days: a fresh lively surface. Something that doesn't looked picked at, cat-licked, or slicked-down. I have come to believe that the great painters learned how to convey a sense of detail through tactile properties of the paint itself, and as a result, encouraged us to complete their paintings in our own mind.

"Holding Fast" Point Lobos CA
6 x 6 inches  |  oil on panel

This approach to painting a picture may sound easy, just keep flipping down some loose paint and see what develops, but it ain't. This approach is arguably the most difficult way to paint a picture, and it is certainly becomes a risk-taking adventure for any artist like myself who once built up a following out of detail-oriented collectors. And that's before I even become competent at things, let alone excel with my hoped-for bravura brushwork. But this is an exciting way to paint. A thrill. And now, an addiction. Last October I picked up a newly minted book on Franz Bischoff, a fine early 20th-Century Californian painter who has come back into vogue. I was quite smitten by his handling of paint, and his over-the-top use of color. It's crazy painting, but somehow controlled-crazy painting. I think you can find some Bischoff-influence in my little paintings. 

"The Ancient One" Point Lobos CA
6 x 6 inches  |  oil on panel

But ultimately, I am painting this way right now because I love it. It's fast and furious. It's the equivalent of performing a tight-wire act without the net. One errant stroke, or two seconds of inattention, and you are screwed. You block in your composition, throw down a lot of paint, fast, and build it up to considerable thickness, and BY GOD you hope you get it right the first go-round because you only get one or two more tries to pull it off. After your third attempt (sad face) you might as well toss the painting.

This is a physical way to work. A semi-controlled tactile explosion. For ultimately, it is the paint deciding for itself what it will do, despite an artist's intent. Well, hopefully, there is some degree of control emanating from the artist's hand, but I've learned I can't count on it. When it works – meaning, when a train wreck has been averted – I am left scratching my head as much as everyone is. And I love that. When I paint this way, I have no idea how, or why it worked. Or why not. (Ha!) I've just come to accept that it either does, or it didn't, and in both cases just throw another canvas up on the easel. The same way you press more ammo into the chamber and re-take aim.

It's kinda fun.

10 reader comments:

Brenda Boylan said...

Love it! If you are ever so fortunate to get that one beautiful, happy brushstroke that makes the painting sing, then get down on your knees and thank the painting Gods for what just flew from the brush! Every once in awhile, that happens and WOW, that is when the addiction begins. Touche' Thomas!

Katherine van Schoonhoven said...

These are all beautiful, Thomas! Best of luck with the show.

janncam said...

"Heck, Edward Weston photographed there (I accidentally found his one-room log cabin darkroom in somebody's backyard ten years ago while tooling around. There wasn't even a plaque on it.)" That would have to be where
Kim Weston, Edward's grandson currently lives and works,

Steve PP said...

I love these little paintings! just thinking about starting to try this format myself.
The first one is my particular favourite!
thanks for sharing and good luck with the show!

Thomas Jefferson Kitts said...


Could be, didn't know that.

Steve PP:

Thanks, I like the first and last the most myself.

Brenda and Katherine:

Thanks! And yes, the brushstroke count. Some day I will try to work with as few of them as I can...

Nicole said...

Hey Thomas,

these are great, my favorite size panel


Thomas Jefferson Kitts said...

Thanks, Nicole.

I hope you are doing well in school this semester. PM me your schedule if you want to get out of the ivory tower and do some painting en plein air on an ad hoc basis.

Celeste Bergin said...

love these small paintings...you can paint small and big..you da man!

SC Shisler: said...

Just came across your work, and I am delighted to find you! Can't wait to find more time to browse, but for now I just wanted to say how masterful these paintings are. And you are so right about how many chances you get to nail a successful direct stroke. I'm also an 'addict' of the high that comes from putting down just the right mark that makes the painting sing. As long as I get one good mark in 10 attempts, I'm set for the next canvas.

Thomas Jefferson Kitts said...

Thank you SC:

I just drilled down into your painting blog. Some very nice stuff in there. "Blessed Day" and "Incoming" really spoke to me for the palette you used.


As of late, I have been looking at using a larger brush, and some knife work to speed up my painting, and to keep myself from noodling so much.

Tha work will strt appearing online soon.