August 22, 2017

Farmacia de los Nieto

"Farmacia de los Nieto," 18" x 24", mixed media on panel

I'm back in California and working the red tape to ready for the school year (that has already started, fer cryin' out loud) and to restore the loss of my wallet to a pickpocket-scoundrel in Barcelona, but my head is still across the ocean.

This was one of the last pieces I painted while away and managed to bring back in a suitcase. It's a charming though derelict building I found on the main drag of a small town in Castilla-La Mancha, a sort Spanish rust belt, or, maybe more accurately, dust bowl.

For some reason the colours reminded me of a travelling carnival rather than the pharmacy that it was, though I suppose for some those could go together.

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August 10, 2017


"Quintet," 12x12in., oil on panel

Here's another square-foot piece I started a while ago and finished recently. It's a depiction of the hills at a very green moment near my home in Southern California. I love to hike and play the hilarious games "Watch out for the rattlesnake!" and "I think those coyotes are tracking us," but unfortunately I can't usually find anyone else to play with.

Just over a week left to go in the city of orxata and 10pm suppers. Think I'm preparing mentally for the return.

August 9, 2017

Muro toscano

"Muro toscano," 12x12in., oil on board

Something I started in Italy and finally got around to finishing up.

I used to love hanging around this spot overlooking Florence and watching people stretch and struggle to get a shot with the ugly wall out of the way. I was too lazy and just left her in.

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August 7, 2017

Plein air contest in Albalat dels Tarongers

This past weekend I participated in another painting contest, this time in the village of Albalat dels Tarongers, near Valencia.  It started at 9am and finished for a big group lunch of paella and beer at 1:30pm.  No luck winning a prize, but I had more fun than normal and I was totally relaxed painting in a bush away from the crowds, despite crazy burrs that got into my socks and pesky flies I think liked the smell of my paint.

Here I am.
My neighbour, Miguel, who took the first prize.
The scene.
My finished piece. 100cm x 81cm, acrylic on wood panel.

Next weekend will be my last weekend of pintura rápida before we return to L.A.  There's a lot lined up and I hope to go out on a bang.

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August 2, 2017

Stuck in a Bad Conversation Next to a Good Conversation

"Stuck in a Bad Conversation Next to a Good Conversation," 18x24in., oil on birch panel

Not saying it's ever happened to me or anything, but it would be bothersome, as it seemed it was for the folks in this screwball composition I put together perambulating around Valencia.

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Have a dandy Wednesday!

July 31, 2017

Cannons and canvas

Another bustling weekend, this time in Catalonia, a few hours by car north of our base in Valencia.

In the 1930s before World War II, Spain fought a civil war that pitted fascists/aristocrats (called Nationalists) against anarchists/socialists (called Republicans). The war was long, bloody, and irregular in many ways (the first and only time anarchists as an organized collective rose up, for example). The fascists won and ushered in almost 40 years of dictatorship. And today, still, the war is a sore spot verging on taboo to discuss in Spain.

The longest, largest, most decisive battle of the Spanish Civil War took place in the valley and surrounding mountains of the Ebro River. The Battle of the Ebro, as it was called, lasted for 115 days and according to one sign in an "interpretation centre," close to 300,000 combatants participated, including "international volunteers" on the Republican side.

Thanks to Germany and Italy, fascist in those days, but also countries like France and Britain which refused to intervene, the Nationalists were stocked with more heavy firepower over the course of the fighting and the Republicans, though supported by the Soviet Union, suffered casualties two to three times as high as did the fascists, depending on the sources.

Among the reasons for wanting to see the Ebro was that family on my spouse's side died in the war, not in this battle per se but in the buildup to it, fighting for the Republican cause.

The small town of Corbera d'Ebre goes back to pre-Roman times. It was completely destroyed during the battle. We poked through the ruins. The new Corbera that was rebuilt nearby has left the old town as it was as a reminder of the war.
Trenches are still visible all over.
A map installed by the International Brigade Memorial Trust, showing the locations of the British Battalion, the American Lincoln-Washington Battalion, and the Canadian Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion. These soldiers were not conscripts as in WWII, but volunteers who went to fight fascism before it was was official or even acceptable to do so. Many faced persecution when they returned home.
If you haven't seen Ken Loach's Land and Freedom, it's a great starting point

The next day, we made our way to a town on the coast called Vila-seca, where a "pintura rápida" contest was scheduled to take place. Was it ever a different world.

The town was celebrating its festes majors, its patron saint, and was in full party mood, despite insane heat.
We pulled in late and because the best spots had already been claimed, I was forced to work in the open sun, and in what turned out to be a funeral path, which meant I had to move elsewhere after an hour and freestyle from memory. Then a lot of drunk people were out earlier than is healthy and they threw beer at me. So, it was a frustrating experience and I didn't want  to hand in the half-finished work when it was due at 1pm.
But I did, just in case the jury was into a combination of naif and minimalism.
But no, they weren't. This got a prize.
And this, I believe, got the top prize.
Next weekend, if all goes well, I should be out at another contest and I'm already thinking about how to make it better. It will take me longer to recuperate before seeing more battle sites.

As always, check out for the latest.

July 24, 2017

Two nighttime painting contests, Spanish style

Until this weekend, I hadn't done a plein air painting contest—Spanish style, in the heat, under the influence of many fermented beverages—in six years. I was creaky but happy to get out and see old friends, and find that the contests haven't changed much, for the better.

We rented a car and drove out to the heart of Quixote country, Castilla-La Mancha, with two standard 100x81cm panels (40x32in., the smallest you can get away with and still hope to win a prize) and all my old paints, tools, and renowned ironing board that I found in a dumpster years ago and has become the butt of many jokes, even if it is awesome for holding a palette.

The first contest was in Alcázar de San Juan. It started at 10pm and finished at 2am, the only time you can do anything at this time of the year, on account of the generalized sauna. For painting, for sure, working in the dark presents certain challenges.

Here I am. An hour ago it would've been impossible to work out here with the sheer quantity of pedestrians, but the stores have closed and the bars have opened, shifting people elsewhere.

In four hours, including time to set up, clean up the painting for presentation, varnish, and run the work back to the registration point, this was what I managed to poop out. Only at the end, in proper light again, did I realize just how dark and Transylvanian it was. 

The showroom was packed and the smell of solvents and varnish hurt my head, but here were a few highlights I managed to snap. If you ask me, these people should be locked up for being so damn good.

The second contest, the next day, was in another mouthful, Villafranca de los Caballeros. Seems the smaller the town, the bigger the name in this part of Spain.

At almost 8pm, it was still 44 degrees Celsius (111 Fahrenheit), so nice and warm.

This time, I was careful to chose a spot with better lighting, but my sense for these things is rotten and it quickly got way dimmer than I'd anticipated. Fortunately, someone gave me a headlamp, like a coal miner.

Here we await the verdict with the whole town, kids, old timers, and all, at 2am. People are bats in Villafranca.

They asked the artists to get up on the stage for the drum roll, which was kind of weird and embarrassing, but, hey, whatever. Here are two good friends, Jose and Pilar.

And... I ended up winning 2nd prize, good for a few hundred euros. Sad to say, this was the only shot I got of the winning work.

I'll be doing more "pintura rápida" while in Spain. Stay tuned.

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