Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Time Travel

The Door to the Golden Age

Some of you know that I've been working on a large project to be exhibited by my New York gallery, Arcadia Contemporary, at the fine art and antiques fair to be held at the Park Avenue Armory, in New York, from 9-13 October.

Steve Diamant, owner of Arcadia, first broached the idea, in April, of something out-of-the-ordinary as my submission to the event.

I wanted to come up with something that was contemporary, but also something that would give a respectful nod to the fine antique furniture and old master paintings in the show.

I remembered Charles Willson Peale's painting, Staircase Group, in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, painted in 1795. You can find more about it here

Here's a photo of it which I found on the web. The museum-goers in this photo will give you a better sense of the installation, and of the scale.

I decided to make my own painting-on-the-floor, and decided on an 85 x 37" (221 x 94 cm) canvas, quite close to the dimensions of the Peale painting.

Of course, I'm a landscape painter, not a deft figure painter. So I sent this quick drawing back to Steve, with a hold-the-place sketch where the landscape would go. I just wanted to explain the concept in case he hadn't seen Peale's painting.

He signed on to the idea and I began to ruminate about it. I ordered stretcher bars from Upper Canada and made sure I had enough linen.

Before I could begin, I had some other commitments to attend to, and I had weekend workshops and the French Workshop to tackle.

I did make some new sketches, and retrieved some from years ago that I thought might work.

I made some photocopies of the door frame proportions so that I might jot down ideas as they came to me.

Here's one where I was thinking about a New England rural view. In the other I must have been thinking about filling that upper-right corner. One of the big issues was that the view is so tall and skinny, not suited to most landscape motifs.

It was when making all these little sketches that the thought hit me: the doorway would cast a shadow on the the sky, or on the tops of the trees! Egad! How to get around that???

My solution was to make a vestibule or ante-room between the door frame and the outside. This way the shadow would be cast on the murky wall above the second doorway. In the version below, I drew the vestibule with a doorway to the outside and stuck an old drawing from my sketchbook into the space.


Of course a hidden advantage to the vestibule was that the painting, while still extremely vertical, was now less so.

Some of what immediately follows has already appeared on the blog, as it happened. But it's followed by what I've done during my silence. Most of these photos are are inexpert ones done with my phone.

When we got back from France, I spent a good part of July working on the paintings I'd started there, and fooling about on some canvases that were kicking about the studio. I spent a lot of time stalling on my project.

Finally, on 25 July, Nick came by the studio to help me stretch the canvas.

I made a small canvas-on-panel on which I could try out some ideas.

You've seen sketches for the center one and the right one, above. I added an urban one, just for variety.

I spent some time thinking about the illusion I was trying make. At some stage, my thoughts went to Holland, remembering two plein air oils I'd done in Delft when I was first starting out (1980).

They, in turn, made me think of my life-long love for Vermeer which, of course, brought to mind his small masterpiece, The Little Street (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam).

And then it came to me. I would make a doorway which led, not only to another world, but also to another time. Like Alice Through the Looking Glass and myriad other stories, I would open a door through which one could walk. Then, crossing a vestibule with four paces, one could step out into a street in Holland during the time of Rembrandt and Vermeer. Any moment Vermeer might walk down the street, Fabritius calling after him. Eureka!

If you're an artist like me, you've probably always wished you could plop down in Barbizon in the 19th century, or be at a cafe with Sisley and Monet. Perhaps you've wanted to be in Rome or Florence during the Renaissance, or to join Metcalf painting in Vermont. Here was a way to indulge those fantasies, taking art lovers with me.  

Here was the magic door!

Well, it ain't finished yet, The frame has yet to be painted, and there are lots of refinements to make within the painting. Thanks to Nick Corvinus's perennial good cheer and great industry the frame arrived last night, ready to be prepped and painted.

There was little girl painted in, and painted out. Then another came down the street, and she remained. I found that toy balls were often made of terracotta, and she's contemplating one. A dog took up residence near the doorstep, but he was so present that he distracted viewers from the rest of the painting. I shooed him away.

But, despite the mis-steps, I now have The Door to the Golden Age. I hope, for anyone with imagination, it will be a portal to another place and time.

As you'll immediately realize the image is askew, and the lighting is appalling. It also is somewhat blurry. In the sky, at the top, are clouds and birds, all blown out by my track lighting. Ah, well...

For those of you within hailing distance, my studio will be open from 10:00-11:30, both Tuesday and Wednesday (17th & 18th) mornings, if you should like to come to see it. All are welcome so, if you have an interested friend or two, bring 'em along. 14 Cedar Street, Amesbury, MA, 3rd Floor, orange door. 

See you then!


  1. Wow! Good going! You're a hard worker - and I love the quality of the light in the street. Very clever - you could do a series!

  2. Great to see it framed. Thanks for walking us down the creative path and thought process.Great concept, stepping back into another era, and perfectly executed of course!