Saturday, April 21, 2012

House in the Dunes

Kate Kern Mundie, House in the Dunes, 16 x 20 inches, oil on panel

I am in love with this tiny cottage perched in the dunes at Ballston Beach, Cape Cod. The path to the beach skirts the house and I always want to peek inside. I painted a nocturn of the house a couple of years ago (see below) and returned to it as subject matter once again. I am stalking this house in paint.

The new painting is more of a portrait of the house than a landscape with a building. I wanted to show its size and give a feel of its fragility. The house is built on piers and the dunes have drifted and shifted out, under, and around the house over the last 100 years.  The beach is eroding by about 20 to 50 feet every year. I fear one of these summers when I return to Ballston Beach the house will be gone.

Kate Kern Mundie, House at Ballston Beach, oil on masonite, 24 x 20 inches, 2010

Sunday, April 15, 2012

New Still Life

Kate Kern Mundie, Gerber Daisy Cocktail, 12 x 14 inches, oil on panel
Jim bought Gerber daisies for my birthday and placed them in a retro cocktail shaker since he could not find a vase.

I had more fun painting these than I have with recent still lifes.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Nature Morte

Kate Kern Mundie, Tradescantia Pallida and Orange, 14 x 12 inches, oil on panel

The French term for "still-life" is nature morte, which sounds rather depressing. I like still-life paintings, and the idea of painting a still-life.  It is a great way to explore the design, shape, and color of objects. However, I struggle to create compelling compositions or render the objects in the manner I feel they deserve. I get too fussy trying to capture details. And Jim says I get morose and overwrought when I paint a still-life, but that could be because I am struggling with it. The painting above is more or less a successful attempt after several bad paintings.

When I was in school I read Charles-Édouard Jeanneret's and Amédée Ozenfant’s manifesto, Purisim. They proposed that there are perfect composition formulas for painting still-life based on the so-called golden mean or ratio using orthogons. They felt Cubism had degenerated and painters should make clean and simple paintings based on the mathematical formulas of the golden mean. Jeanneret and Ozanfant thought design was more important than color.  

image via MOMA: Le Corbusier (Charles-Edouard Jeanneret) Nature Morte,
1920. Oil on canvas, 31 7/8 x 39 1/4" (80.9 x 99.7 cm).

Below is an example of how the golden mean applies to painting composition. 

Image via An example of the golden mean

The general rules for setting up a composition are:
  1. Break up your painting surface into thirds.
  2. Don’t place the main focal point at the center of the canvas. Place it to the side, off-center.
  3. Have curved and a diagonal forms that bring the eye off and back onto the surface of the painting. 

The golden mean is a great tool to creating a pleasing design, but I treat color as equal to form. While good design provides a foundation, I find color creates an emotional connection. Diebenkorn's work is a good balance between design and color. I always find inspiration in his paintings.    

Image via MOMA: Richard Diebenkorn, Large Still Life,1966. 
Oil on canvas, 64 1/2 x 70 1/4" (163.8 x 178.4 cm)

I like how Diebenkorn's still-lifes are of ordinary objects arranged in a natural way. It does not feel as contrived as Le Courbusier's painting of guitar, stack of plates, bottles and book. I try to make my own still-life set-ups feel natural and not too cluttered. Often I am attempting to recreate a grouping of objects that I saw somewhere else in the house, just arranging them in the studio on a table where I have the room to work and the light to paint by.