Paintings as Objects

By
Armand Cabrera
An important part of any painters’ growth is museum time. Seeing master paintings in person is critical to maturing as a painter.  Learning why certain paintings are revered is essential in ones education as an artist.
When I go to museums I avoid guided tours. I can do my own research later on paintings that interest me. What I want to see more than anything is process and finish. These can be tricky without a little knowledge of art history but most of the time the artist’s thinking is on the canvas. How they use and apply paint along with other aspects of design help show me process. It can be enlightening to say the least.
What you quickly see looking at a number of paintings is, many great painters think of their paintings as objects not just images. The painter considers all aspects of the piece and its intended impact on the viewer.  Size, quality of the surface, pigment application—all play a role beyond normal considerations of pictorial design and process.

 

Larry the Cat

by
Armand Cabrera
Two weeks ago today I had to euthanize my cat Larry.  This is very painful for me to write and share publicly and I have always tried to avoid letting this art blog become a diary, nothing could be more boring and trite than that. I’ve held back posting this for these fifteen days for exactly the reason that it is personal but writing it isn’t enough. This is a part of my life so intertwined with my art. I find posting this to be my only real outlet for expressing the sadness I feel for the end of the symbiotic relationship I shared with a creature I could never fully understand but was completely responsible for.
I also want to call attention to the abuse most animals suffer as pets. People discard and ignore them as if they are inanimate objects to be played with when bored and they are ignored the rest of the time. Millions of animals are euthanized every year because people feel the need to own other living things. People breed them for visual traits that cause the animals all kinds of health issues and shorten their lives.
Larry has been my constant companion in the studio for the last six years. He was a rescue. He was probably around 6 years old at that time. He and another cat, Burt, were abandoned in an apartment in New York when the owner left the apartment and moved in with his girlfriend.  The person who abandoned them had a sister responsible enough to take the cats to a rescue instead of a shelter where they would have been euthanized immediately and they came to us through the rescue as fosters.
We took both of them in since they had been raised together from the time they were kittens and we thought it better to not separate them. Unfortunately Burt was already dying from neglect when we got them and he only lasted a month.  He had stopped eating when they abandoned them and was already in late stages of organ failure because of it. Larry on the other hand was 25 pounds and his belly dragged on the ground when he walked. He was unsocial and was quick to bite and scratch. He had respiratory problems from his weight. He liked to lie on his back, probably to ease the pressure on his spine and legs the excessive weight caused him.  The first things we did was start to regulate his food intake and try and give him more exercise. Eventually we put him on a strict diet and kept him to two hundred calories a day. To help him exercise, I would grab his back toes when he was lying around. He was too heavy to get me with his front claws or teeth but it forced him to do involuntary crunches with his attempts at reaching me.
Within two years we had him down to 16 lbs. and within two more years 14.5 lbs. (normal weight for his size) where he stayed until he got sick. His respiratory problems went away. He became much more playful and we fostered two other younger cats, Trigger and Sammy for him to be around.
After all of the things I put him through, Larry decided he was my cat. He started to hang out with me in the studio when I painted and would let me scratch him on the head every once in a while. Cats aren’t as domesticated as dogs yet. Dogs have about ten thousand years on cats in that area but still there is some interaction and empathy cats are capable of. Larry liked to play and I could role a ping pong ball at him and he would hit it back to me for as long as I was willing to keep doing it. He liked his catnip and we grew it for all the cats. He also liked to eat the other fresh herbs we had in pots on the deck.
Every animal has a unique personality and Larry was sort of a cranky older guy compared to the other younger cats. We were alike that way and so he was mine. He didn’t like to climb or jump up on things, which is odd behavior for most cats. He didn’t like to be picked up or sit in peoples laps. He was curious and had a sense of humor though. He would sometimes run into the studio like he was being chased (he wasn’t) and then would run back out, and then peak at me around the corner to see if I would follow him.  He liked me to chase him and he would chase me back.
Whenever I would leave on painting trips he would hang out in the studio or sleep on my side of the bed until I got home. When I painted he would position himself near me, if I was on the computer in the studio he was close by my side. When I would read at night in bed he would lay on me and I would scratch his ears for him, it became his little ritual, if I lay down to read he wanted his ears scratched.
When he became sick this November I took him to the vet and we found out he had late stage cancer, the doctors said he wouldn’t live much longer and asked me if I wanted to put him down right then. I asked if he was in pain and they said no.  After discussing options, I took him back home with some pain meds for any discomfort he might have and kept him comfortable and pain free for about a month. Things almost seemed normal for a few weeks I treated him as if there was nothing wrong with him even though I knew most likely the cancer would overcome him no matter what we did. The last day I had him it was obvious he was in discomfort and I arranged to bring him back to the vet for the last time.
At almost sixty I’ve seen my share of death and disease with my friends and family. For me euthanizing a pet is much harder than the death of a human being. In most cases with people you can explain what’s happening to them, and while that might not ease their suffering, if they are lucid, it does allow them to prepare as best they can for the end of their life. Pets depend on you for care and wellbeing and in the end you are also responsible for their destruction, except you cannot explain to them what their suffering is or convey to them what you perceive as an intended kindness by ending their pain and so they still suffer some confusion at the very last. Larry was a good cat and will be missed.

Being an Artist in the Digital Age

By
Armand Cabrera

 

I had two computers fail last weekend. My workstation, the CPU fan failed which was reasonably easy to replace although with the storms it still took a week. My laptop was a complete failure of the drive and since its a ten year old xp machine it ewas time to let it go.

I rely on my computers to give me the date and time, keep my calendar of appointments and update me with current events and weather. Most of my correspondence is through email or text.  All of my advertising and marketing is digital now too. Social media and portfolio sites play a big part in my presence as an artist and of course there is still this blog. All of which I need to be able to access on something besides the two inch screen of my Smartphone.

Of the two computers the laptop was expendable so I’m glad the situation turned out how it did but the whole incident got me thinking about how much technology has changed how I work in the past ten years. While I’m no Luddite compared to people my same age, I’m sure the younger artists out there are rolling their eyes right now at me saying “please, you still work traditionally for the final image you are making.”

Even with my traditional work I have let computers into most of the process. Photo reference is shot with my digital camera and editing is all in the computer, as are compositional sketches and color keys. I no longer have to print out images to work from in the studio I have dedicated a large monitor for that. If I do print things they get printed from the computer.
This last week has left me picking up old ways of working, lots of pencil thumbnails and some small color sketches and painting from field studies. What I noticed immediately is how much the preliminaries in the traditional process matter and how much more focused I am working that way.
My traditional painting is the end result for me, but even so, digital tools really allow decision making to be put off indefinitely and I think that matters a great deal in painting. One of the reasons painting outdoors from life is so important is it forces decision making during the process whereas working in the controlled environment of the studio, especially with tech, does not.
Going forward I am going to be paying more attention to this to see if there is a way to use tech in a way that doesn’t short circuit decisions and leave everything up in the air in a fluid state of endless process and multiple outcomes.

Julian Alden Weir Still Life Paintings

By

Armand Cabrera

J. Alden Weir is primarily known for his figure paintings and impressionist landscapes but he also created many fine still life paintings throughout his career. His early academic training under Jean Leon Gerome provided the keen observational skills and drawing facility to create these paintings.
 His color harmonies are exquisite and his use of lost and found edges work perfectly with his subject matter. 

He used the different surface qualities of the chosen objects to great effect heightening the sense of realism and fidelity without  over rendering. The designs are very organic in their flow with nothing    awkward or stiff in the painting of the elements.
It is naturalism, but a naturalism edited with a keen eye and powerful understanding of capturing only the essential qualities to complete the statement with a simplicity of handling.

Merry Christmas 2015

by
Armand Cabrera

I would just like to wish everyone a great holiday season and thank everyone for their support and encouragement during 2015. These are some of my favorite paintings from past artists and illustrators

J.C. Leyendecker

 

 

 

 

N.C. Wyeth

 

 

 

 

 

Arthur Rackham

 

 

 

Haddon Sundblom

 

Norman Rockwell