Tuesday, May 31, 2011

View From Knocknarea

painting and drawing atop Knocknarea, Co. Sligo 

Kate Kern Mundie, View from  Knocknarea,
oil on masonite, 16 x 20 inches, 2011 

I could spend a year painting every day on Knocknarea. Every view is glorious. The weather and light change from minute to minute creating breathless moments where you scramble to capture the light or color.

From our travel journal written in Ireland in July 1999 
(Jim and I were traveling by bicycle up the west coast)

That next morning our hostess recommended some interesting places on the other side of Sligo we should see and gave us very clear directions so we could find them. So, after breakfast we set on our merry way to Knocknarea.  Knocknarea (the original Irish name means  "hill of the queen") is famed for having a 5000+ year old tomb on its summit called Maeve's Cairn. Maeve was the Bronze Age warrior queen responsible for the war between Connaught and Ulster recounted in the Táin Bó Cúailnge (The Cattle Raid of Cooley) -the oldest vernacular epic in western literature. Legend has it that Maeve was buried in the cairn standing and facing her enemies (in actuality, her in-laws!) in the north. However, the cairn was on that mountain long before the Maeve of the Táin was born so the name more likely refers to Maeve the earth goddess, placed on the mountain to watch over her children in the valley below, facing the lords of winter that swept out of the north to harry and kill her children. Regardless of the tomb's actual occupant, we started on a steep but pleasant climb among the sheep to the summit. Every few steps opened amazing vistas over Sligo Town, the bay and the Dartry Mountains beyond. The top of the mountain itself is flat, but dominated by the fifty foot rubble mound of Maeve's Cairn and a number of smaller companion cairns. We scrambled to the top of the cairn and were treated to an amazing view of the whole of County Sligo. We stayed up there for hours painting and drawing, watching the changes of light and weather sweeping across the landscape, and soaking in the atmosphere of this amazing place.

Eventually we followed the trail back to the base of the mountain and went back the way we came, but turning right toward Carrowmore. Carrowmore is a Paleolithic graveyard set in the midst of farmer's fields in the valley below Knocknarea. There are passage tombs, cairns and dolmens here numbering in the hundreds between 7000 and 2500 years old.

The main part of the complex is on land purchased and protected by the government, but many surrounding monuments lie in the fields of local farmers who provide access through goodwill.  The first of these we came upon was a wedge tomb just over a stone wall along the road. The farmer had been kind enough to build steps into the wall, so we climbed over to have a look at a smallish dolmen-like structure that the local sheep seemed to enjoy as a place to get out of the weather. We later found out that this tomb was one of the ones that marked the start of the old spiral pilgrimage route through the monuments. A little further up the road was the entrance to the Carrowmore Park itself. A nice little visitor’s center has been set up in the cottage of the man who used to own the land. We were just in time for the last guided tour of the day, so we tagged along. The archaeologist leading the tour demonstrated how Maeve's Cairn atop Knocknarea, a companion tomb atop Ben Bulben across the bay, and lesser tombs that looked like nipples atop all of the surrounding mountains of the circular valley likely formed a spiritual protective barrier for the Stone Age inhabitants of the region, as well as serving as boundary markers. The whole area acts as the base of a triangle pointing towards the settlements in the Boyne River valley where one finds the famous (but 700 years more recent) Newgrange.

We trooped around Carrowmore for a while before heading back to our B and B tired but satisfied by the day's experiences.

Kate Kern Mundie, Martha's Room,  oil on masonite, 2011
I recently confessed to my neighbors, Chris and Martha, that I had done a painting of their living room. I did a few drawings and took some photos in their house while I was cat sitting for them.

Chris is a sculptor and Martha is a writer and picture researcher. Their home is warm and inviting and filled with rich textures, objects, and art. I did some drawings of a few views in their living room, focusing on a chair or table. For this painting, I chose to edit out some of the objects in the room and focus on the warm colors in the carpet and the deep shadow cast by the ottoman. At some point I want to do a painting of their kitchen, which has a Vermeer-like feel.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Delaware and Schuylkill

Kate Kern Mundie, Sunrise, oil on masonite, 16 x 20 inches, 2011

Kate Kern Mundie, Sunrise (detail), oil on masonite, 2011
I work in an office building in Philadelphia with views overlooking Independence Hall, the Delaware River, and the buildings of Center City. On a clear day you can see the Schuylkill River, too.

Looking out the window early one winter morning, I was amazed at the beauty of the Sunoco refinery transformed into El Dorado.  The golden sunlight reflecting on the tanks and the steam seemed to turn into ice in the air. I do not know if it was the light sky reflecting in the Schuylkill River or if it was ice on the river that made it stand out from the predawn shadows.  I had my camera with me but I also sat and did a quick sketch. The only color I had available to me were a few highlighter markers. The yellow highlighter was not yellow enough to capture the morning sky.

Kate Kern Mundie, Delaware Dawn, oil on masonite, 8 x 20 inches, 2011
After doing a sketch looking out our western windows I went to the eastern windows to catch another gorgeous view. The river seemed to be waking up, with barges moving and longshore container cranes gliding along their tracks.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

30th Street Station

Kate Kern Mundie, 30th Street Station
oil on masonite, 6 x 8 inches, 2010

In the fall, we took the kids on an evening bike excurison to Schuylkill Banks Park to see LightDrift, a temporary sculpture installation of glowing pods on the banks of and floating in the river.  The installation was glorious. I had not been in that part of the city at that time of day since my college days biking back and forth to Penn, and I couldn't help but notice how this part of the city has changed quite a bit since then: it's cleaner, there are bike lanes, and the beautiful architecture is well lit so its features can be enjoyed.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Ben Bulben

Kate Kern Mundie, Ben Bulben, oil on masonite, 8 x 20 inches, 2010

While snowed in this winter with my kids, I found inspiration in some watercolors, drawings, a journal, and photos from a trip we had taken to Ireland. This became my escape from snow shoveling, kids, cooking, and laundry. The Irish landscapes were painted on the snowiest days this past winter.

I had been thinking of the landscape around Ben Bulben in Sligo for a long time; wanting to do a painting of it in oil. The goal was not to do copy of the original watercolor done on site, but to create a new composition. I used my old watercolor and some photos as a jumping off point but also looked to other artists.  I looked at some of the paintings of Irish landscape and genre painter Walter Osborne and of Scottish printmaker Sir David Young Cameron. Cameron did such beautiful etchings of the Highlands and I looked to him to get some guidance on creating a believable rocky structure to Ben Bulben. The painting came together in such a pleasurable way.

From our travel journal written in Ireland in July 1999 
(Jim and I were traveling by bicycle up the west coast)

A quick five miles into our ride we stopped at the church in Drumcliff where William Butler Yeats is buried. The headstone itself was a rather plain square slab with nothing but the famous "Cast a cold eye on life, on death/ Horsemen pass by" epitaph on it set in a bed of gravel. At the same site is a rather elaborate 11th-century Celtic high cross and a 5th-century round tower -- all that remain of a monastery that once stood on that spot. The many sheep about the place seemed oblivious of all this history.

Ben Bulben now showed us a different side of its unusual face and the strange scarring near its summit that gave evidence of the height of the seas some 15 million years previous. We rode on along the coast of Donegal Bay, past Ben Bulben and through Cashelgarran, Grange, Moneygold, and Cliffeny -- towns so small we scarcely even realized we had been through them until we consulted the map afterwards.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Dawn (Looking West) in Warm and Cool

Kate Kern Mundie, Dawn (Looking West)
oil on masonite, 24 x 28 inches, 2011

I have done several paintings of the view looking west over Center City, Philadelphia.  I have attempted to paint this particular view several times. I struggled with the composition. I never liked the white building in the center of this painting. I kept trying to do compositions that were to the left or right of the building so I could avoid painting it. The style of the building bothered me.

I was messing around with the composition once again when Jim came into the studio. He suggested just putting it in and get over my aversion to the architecture. Jim also suggested doing the painting as a warm-cool study with a limited palette. This color restriction would keep me focused on values and major structures, thus keeping me from getting caught up in the details in the lower right of the painting -- which had been another problem for me.  I followed his suggestions and I am happy with the way it all came together. I used an extended limited palette of titanium white, ultramarine blue, yellow ochre light, burnt sienna and vermillion.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

French Room No. 2 or “The Mob Painting”

Kate Kern Mundie, French Room No. 2
oil on masonite, 24 x 16 inches, 2011

This painting was developed from drawings I did of one of the historic rooms at the MET. Back in the studio, I did a drawing in charcoal on the painting surface and blocked in the color in oil. Then it was just a matter of putting in a few details.

I am a fast painter.  If the painting is not coming together in the first hour, I might stop and start a new painting. I usually do a quick sketch to figure out my composition. If I am painting an interior, I will use a T-square to lock down the perspective since I have a tendency to tilt to the right as I am a left-handed.

I completed the painting over the course of an afternoon while listing to NPR. After it was finished, I would refer to the painting as “the mob painting” because I was listing to a Fresh Air interview with mob informant Frank Calabrese, Jr. Now the painting is completely associated in my mind with that interview. It seems a strange juxtaposition. 

When I am painting on site, I do not want any music or distractions. I want to hear what is going on around me; it enhances the experience. When I am in the studio, I listen to music or the radio to help me keep track of time, but I may have to stop so I don’t end up with weird associations.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Delaware Water Gap No. 2 or My Montagne Sainte-Victoire

 Kate Kern Mundie, Delaware Water Gap No. 2
oil on masonite, 24 x 48 inches, 2011

I have done two paintings of the Delaware Water Gap. For this painting, I looked to Cézanne for inspiration, especially at how Cézanne painted Montagne Sainte-Victoire. Cézanne used warmer colors like green in the sky, as if the sky reflected the earth instead of the other way around. I tried to bring some warmer blues and greens into the sky and use a lot of purple in the vegetation the way Cézanne did. 

Now, all I need to do is go to the south of France and actually paint Montagne Sainte-Victoire for myself.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Painting at Pennsylvania Hospital

Kate Kern Mundie, Above the Old Surgery (Pennsylvania Hospital)
oil on masonite, 20 x 16 inches, 2011 
I have painted several times in the historic building at Pennsylvania Hospital. The Pine Building at Pennsylvania Hospital houses the surgery depicted in Thomas Eakins' famous painting The Gross Clinic.  The stairs and halls feel mysterious in the secluded attic area above the surgery. It is a challenging space to paint: several roof lines come together, a curved wall, and winding stairs creating some daunting challenges for draughting. 

This space makes me think of the short story The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gillman. It is a story of a “hysterical” woman who goes insane from boredom locked in an upstairs room. Gillman wrote the story after being told to “never to touch pen, brush, or pencil again” to cure her own “melancholia”.  I have felt a little “hysterical” at times in the past few years while trying to paint, raise two small children, and manage everything on very little sleep. Painting in the empty, very quiet attic space at Pennsylvania Hospital reminds me of Gilman’s story of a woman’s descent into madness. However, instead of going mad, I sat for several hours working quietly rejuvenating my spirit.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Independence Hall under Snow

Kate Kern Mundie, Independence Snow
oil on masonite, 20 x 16 inches, 2011

Painting snow or a snow storm is a challenge. The variations of white and the flat light can make it difficult to come up with a compelling composition. From my workplace I can look out over Independence Mall and see the snow storms roll in. The buildings, park, and bare trees created a stark group of flat shapes. I had fun piecing it together like a puzzle.  I found some inspiration from Gustave Caillebotte’s Rooftops Under Snow


A post script: My friend Al, sent me a link to an NPR piece on Caillebotte's work, and you can see more on Caillebotte's work here.  

Friday, May 6, 2011

Elaine M. Erne at Nexus

For the last few years Jim has been doing all the blog posts. We have decided to trade off a bit. So you will get to read my blog musings from time to time. I will start by telling you about Elaine M. Erne's new exhibition opening up this month at Nexus, Foundation for Today's Art.

Elaine M. Erne’s art exhibitions over the years -- at The Center For Emerging Visual Artists (CFEVA), Abington Art Center, BahdeeBahdu Gallery, Westby Art Gallery, Wind Challenge Exhibition at the Fleisher Art Memorial, and Nexus Foundation for Today's Art -- have depicted a serialized drama told through large scale drawings and prints.  The narrative would appeal to any Grimm’s Brothers fan.  Stuffed animals give voice to children who are locked into a situation they cannot control and have little power to escape from.   Ms. Erne says, “I have found that using humor, however dark, is an important part of dealing with past as well as present dilemmas. The stuffed animals are used as an allegory for children. Often a child becomes like a doll, always smiling, in order to survive a continuing abusive childhood.”  Ms. Erne’s most recent chapter in the Lives and Traumas of Stuffed Animals this month at Nexus, Mr. Bunny Misses His Friends asks you, the community, to get involved and help the protagonist, Mr. Bunny. Mr. Bunny’s friends, other stuffed animals, are lost in the Center City area of Philadelphia.  Anyone who finds one of these stuffed animals and brings it to NEXUS, Foundation for Today’s Art at the Crane Building in Philadelphia during the month of the show will receive a reward from the artist.

I have known Elaine for years. I find her work beautiful, dark in both value and narrative, and powerful. Elaine creates richly layered graphite drawings over a period of months, sometimes even a year. She takes her original idea from a small 4 x 6 inch sketch and develops it into a 6, 8 or 10 foot drawing. If you visit her studio you would find her standing on a scaffold to reach the top of her drawing that is tacked to the studio wall surrounded by the debris of pencils and graphite sticks worn down to nubs. I have seen her erase whole sections of drawings if she finds a problem (if it had been my drawing I would have started over on new paper). Elaine makes the work bend to her will. 

I had not seen Elaine in a while because we were both busy working on our own exhibitions. I wanted to catch up and ask Elaine about the new work for the exhibition. 

KM: What is this show about? 

EME: Being lost and hoping someone will help you find your way, not just pass you by. 

KM: How do the lost/kidnapped stuffed animals relate to the drawings? 

EME: The drawings have always been about being lost in a situation that you cannot change or control hoping that someone will save you.  I want to see how many bunnies get saved from their fate of being stuck in the elements. The bunnies are tagged with return instructions, numbered, each number correlates to a print number and I am keeping track of their locations.  When a bunny is returned the returner will sign-in the bunny, get a print from the wall and the real bunny will be hung in that spot. After the show ends I will know what bunnies were returned.  I will then go out and see who was taken down and not returned and who is still duct taped to a post.
This exhibition will feature 90 x 60 and 90 x 72 inch drawings.  There may be some of the new postcard sized drawing but I have not decided whether to include them .

KM: How does one win a prize and what will the prize be? 

EME: In order to receive [an original, hand-pulled] 5x6 inch relief print, you must return one of the bunnies that is lost in the city to Mr. Bunny. There are 400 hundred bunnies duct taped (well, some are still being put up!) to poles throughout Center City.

KM: Are the stuffed animals lost or kidnapped? 

EME: They all have their own story of how they came to be where they are and it is up to them to tell it.  

Find some of Mr. Bunny’s friends and see if they will tell you their story. Visit the exhibition at Nexus to see the latest chapter in the Lives and Traumas of Stuffed Animals: Mr. Bunny Misses His Friends.

Elaine M. Erne is exhibiting at Nexus, Foundation for Today's Art this month. 

Exhibition details:
Mr. Bunny Misses His Friends   

May 12th through June 3rd, 2011

Opening reception on the second Thursday of the month: May 12th, 6:00-9:00 PM
Closing reception on First Friday: June 3rd, 6:00-9:00 PM

Gallery hours are Wednesday through Sunday, 12:00–6:00 PM

Nexus Foundation for Today's Art
The Crane Building, 1400 North American Street

Sunday, May 1, 2011

"Welcome the Weird" poster for Red Palace

I just finished this poster design — all hand-drawn with washes of ink — for the triumphant return of James "Shocked and Amazed!" Taylor's oddities collection to Washington DC's new(ish) Red Palace (the merger of the former Palace of Wonders show bar with neighbor The Red & The Black). To celebrate, there will be two big shows on May 21st:

Step right up and WELCOME THE WEIRD back to The Red Palace and celebrate the return of James Taylor's Oddities Collection! Two full shows packed with classic and daring sideshow, beautiful burlesque queens and oddity attractions worthy of 100 Ripley’s! Starring special guests Sideshow Bennie, NYC’s Gal Friday, Cheeky Monkeys Swami Yomahmi, Mab Just Mab and Sally the Cinch, Rev. Valentine of Capital Tassels & Tease, plus Nymblewyke’s International Flea Circus, Patrick O’Brien and his bag pipes, and more! Join James Taylor and all your friends and neighbors as his amazing collection comes home to The Red Palace!

More info and tickets: redpalacedc.com