20" x 18" oil on panel
"There is nothing empty or useless in things."
-Roemer Visscher 1547-1620
Roemer Visscher, a well known poet and moralist of the early Dutch Renaissance wrote this in regards to still life paintings of his time, and I could not agree more. If done right, there is nothing "still" about a still life. The way an object emerges from a dark background, the angling light coming from above striking its different parts, casting its shadows and bringing to life an inanimate object, that is the beauty of a well done still life.
There is a character to objects that I choose for my paintings which I work at, trying to bring about through the layers of applied paint. It seems to me that the longer something has been around the more interesting it becomes and that sometimes a great contrast is made when, say, the soft, delicate petal of a newly opened tulip is positioned next to a well worn, dinged up copper vase. The soft fan of feathers on the wrens breast is more striking when it is seen clinging to an aged, rough wooden frame. It is a challenge to bring out the spirit of these objects and make them work with one another in a way that is appealing to the eye, even things that one would think do not necessarily belong together: a parrot with beer; a bugle and a clock; deer skull and wine. It is all just so interesting to me and I think, "Why wouldn't they belong?" Sometimes the objects that are thought to least belong with each other often make the most intriguing paintings.
Chickadee and Fruit
11" x 14" oil on panel
"The calling" is what my wife likes to say. Some things just call to you. The clock, the pipe, the Chinese bowl, statue, letter. What is going on in there? Does it have a story? I love the different surfaces working off each other. That statue is so haunting. These are some of the things people have said about paintings that "call" to them.
I would say that a good part of the joy of still life painting is the actual set-up and the satisfaction that you get when it has all come together and everything looks and feels right. Placing the pieces, moving them around, taking something out, putting it back in. Sometimes even the difference between the tabletop at eye level or a slightly angled view from above can be huge, adding to the dramatic feel of a piece. Dark background or light. A small intimate panel or a large one. Often a still life set-up will sit for a few days in the studio before that one little change makes all the difference. It just was not working like I had imagined, but now it's perfect! A slight tweak, a half turn, a swooping rose bud at the edge of a painting. A little thing can make it all work.
I think that the main gist of what I am trying to say in these Notes is that all of my paintings are unique to one another in that way. There are certain stories or feelings that each one has, from an emerging cluster of flowers with a dark background to a letter on a table top, from a bowl of fruit to the cows that I love so much to paint. Into each and every painting I do there is put much thought and energy, each one being it's own unique creation. This well of inspiration is bottomless!
14" x 11" oil on panel
About a month ago I returned from our Florida tour. What a superb trip that was, and in so many ways. I dearly love my New England home and land (born and raised), but I do not mind being a snow bird for a month, not the least bit! I am becoming very fond of Vero Beach and Winter Park. We had done those two shows last year and then a few years previous to that, and so we are getting to know the areas pretty well and have been enjoying ourselves very much. We would not mind adding one more show to the tour and extend our stay by another week. Who knows. I will keep an eye and ear out.
Chicago is coming up next, in June. 57th Street and Old Town I have been doing for years. I love those shows and so look forward to that tour and heading out west. Be sure to visit my website at www.jameswhitbeck.com to see new work. I am good about updating the site and putting the latest paintings up as soon as the varnish is dry and I can photograph them. You can also find on my website the Art Show Schedule and things like my biography and a description of how I create my paintings as well as a short video.
All my best to you!
China Bowl with Fruit
12" x 16" oil on panel