W h i t b e c k  N o t e s

Winter  2018/19
work in progress
18" x 24"   oil on panel
Welcome to the Winter 2018/19 Whitbeck Notes
                        So much time has been spent to reach this stage. Don't mess it up now!

          Years ago I worked for a carpenter named Toshi Kashima. At the point I had been working for him, he had lived in this country for twenty years or so, starting out as a musician (still a musician) and then, eventually owning his own reputable building company which does everything from framing and roofing to fine cabinet work. It was such a learning experience for me and I gained skills that are invaluable, especially when owning an older home that dates from 1899! No lack of projects there!
          When I think back on my time working for Toshi, it seemed to me that he would often teach by relating some story or anecdote that would either make sense right away or finally click a little while later when it had time to sink in. Some of these stories were pretty plain and straight forward, but others were a bit more interesting and would pique my twenty year old imagination. One was about monkeys. Climbing monkeys. Toshi was working on restoring an old brick New England home into a bed and breakfast and he had me spending a good amount of time on some interior finish work. As I neared completion it seemed to him that lost was the careful attention that I had held for most of this project. I had started to rush at the end and it was apparent in the results, so he told me this little story to set me straight:  In India there are these monkeys that spend their whole lives (maybe not exactly that long) climbing certain trees with the end goal of finally reaching the much coveted fruit that grows in the upper branches, high up off of the ground. They are so careful in their journey. Branch by branch,they are so in the moment. Smartly placed feet and hands slowly move them ever upward, full attention on their task. But, says Toshi, there is something in these monkeys, some kind of ingrained flaw, that at the point of closing in on the fruit, all that careful attention and patience vanishes. No more. And they rush! Jumping, grasping for their treasure, already sure of it's taste in their mouths! Only to fall from the tree and die upon the ground far below. End of story.
          Now, maybe there are no such monkeys as these that live in India and spend their lives climbing a tree to get some fruit, but, at the time I found it interesting and I understood Toshi's point. Readjusting, I went about finishing my project in a better way.

           So what does this story have to do with my art, or any art at all? Well, it is funny how certain things stick in your head and have the ability to subtly reappear at times later in your life. Now and again, when I have been working on a painting for some amount of time and maybe, just a little, start losing patience, I remember Toshi's story and, like all those years ago at the age of twenty, with the sound of chop-saws and hammering and the smell of cut pine and oak and poplar, I reset myself and finish the painting with the care and patience it needs.
          I am finding it a bit amusing how similar carpentry and painting can be be. In carpentry, your finish work is only as good as your framing. If your framing is out of whack, not plumb, uneven, it shows up in your trim work. And so it is with painting. Depending on your technique, those early stages will, for sure, effect your final brush strokes.
          As I write these Winter Notes I am currently at the point of having just finished or about to finish some larger still life paintings, all with their fare share of detail work, so the monkey story has been fresh in my mind. Going over some close-up detail photos I had recently taken of still life paintings from the 17th century I am, again, reminded of the importance of not "losing it" in the end. The details of De Heem, Heda, Claesz, Coort and others are an utter joy to observe and a reminder too, of the patience and concentration needed at the end stages. The most important strokes are made in the end, the ones that can happen in one quick, fluid movement or in a slow steady motion with much concentration. That decisive bold handling, if done right, gives final life to whatever you are working on. So don't be a monkey.
Works in progress
           We are in a new year! This means heading into the start of of the 2019 show season. Soon I will be posting on my website these new shows and their dates. Due to a change of plans, I will not be heading to Florida this March, so my first art shows will be in May or June. Keep an eye on my website for the updates. Also, if you are on Facebook or Instagram, you can follow me and see works in progress, close ups of paintings and some of those early stages.

All my best,
and Happy New Year!

James Whitbeck
cell 413 695 3937

Painted Lady
48" x 36"   oil on canvas