Monday, February 23, 2015

Back to the Drawing Table


About five years ago I went to my museum, The MFA in Boston.  I know, but I feel we should all claim one museum as ours, explore it, learn it, learn from it and grow with it.  So, The MFS is mine, so let me start once again.

About five years ago I went to my museum and after my normal stroll, (my sit down conversation with the paintings of Sargent, the light and brushwork of the impressionists, and a quiet reflective pause in the new contemporary galleries), I began exploring some of the newly displayed galleries.  There is a small gallery in the middle of the museum, one without windows and with low light.  This gallery is dedicated to displaying work on paper, mainly etchings and drawings.  I suspect this room is for the museum’s more fragile work.  I often skip by, but on this particular day, they were displaying a group of prints done by Albecht Duer, an artist from the 1500’s.

I found myself connecting with the buildup of value through line, the full energetic compositions, and the somewhat distorted or stylized figures.  I found myself remembering my early days as an artist, working with whatever pencil or paper I could find and drawing to tell a story.  I think that most artists begin as story tellers.  We illustrate ideas or a character before we have any formal training.  Narrative.  It seems to me that narrative was our primary motivation, and then we are seduced by process.  For me that day, those etchings drove that point home to me, literally.  My sketchbook came out and I began to scribble and take notes.  On the drive home I though back to the small boy in a badly lit bedroom pulling a charcoal stick across a bit of cheap drawing paper.  I remembered the smell of a kneaded rubber eraser, and the seduction was on.  I had been painting with oil almost as long, but my days at Swain drove me deeper and deeper into the mysteries of color.  I had put down my pencils and erasers and dove into the hue and Chroma or pigment and medium.  The brush became an extension of my fingers, y hand, even my arm.  I struggled with the conflicting needs of narrative and energy, of surface and space, of color and value.  But looking at those drawings drove me to a place where it became necessary to explore the power of the pencil once again, sort of the initial drug for me.


At first I went to the stories I read over time.  Stephen King, Mary Shelly, and Shirley  Jackson.  I followed that with drawing of my own stories.   Eventually I approached the narrative in the same way I did in my paintings.  I drew images of Chicago, NYC, and Boston.  I did line drawings and complete value drawings.  It became therapeutic.  I even sometimes refer to my time with a pencil and paper as “Graphite Therapy.”


I have now integrated my drawing as a full partner in my work.  My last series of paintings, “The Drawn to Music Project” was augmented by a full series of drawings.  I work now on toned,  heavyweight printmaking paper.  I love the feel and the look of graphite on this paper, it reminds me of those old Duer prints.  It took a while for the one trip to my museum to integrate itself into my work, but it did.  That’s why I go, that’s why it’s mine.  So, yeah, it is back to the drawing board for me.  Check out more of my drawings on my website or stop by the studio next time you are in town, or simply grab a seat, a pencil and a sheet of paper and practice a bit of graphite therapy for yourself.



Friday, February 13, 2015

The Drawn to Music Project, Explained

The Drawn to Music Project

A series of paintings by Chuck Boucher
This collection of work is inspired by performance that takes place within the city of Fall River.  The work is intended to express the essence of music.  It is not intended to be portrait of a performer or a specific performance.  During my process, I endeavored to capture the feeling of a song, the movement of a rhythm, or simply the energy of a riff.  The effort has been to translate the sounds and poetry that are the structure of song and to create a visual interpretation of song, in essence what I feel music looks like.
This project was supported in part by a grant from the Fall River cultural council, a local agency which is supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.

The Venue


Along the industrial waterfront of Fall River, under the span of the now blue Braga Bridge, which provides a delightful rhythm of its own, one finds a beautiful green park.  At the southern edge of Heritage Park, there is a carousel,.  The former merry-go-round from the defunct local amusement park spins memories and new fantasies as it twirls to the music of the calliope at its center.  Just beyond, the Battleship Massachusetts, a museum to World War II, floats on the river as if guarding the city, protecting it from ignorance and naiveté.   On special days, the song of a single trumpet can be heard echoing off the steel beams and granite walls.  There is a train museum, a working pier with a ferry to Block Island, and a freighter that makes regular trips to Portugal, what many residents would call the old country.  The ship’s whistles and horns add to the song of the waterfront.  It is a diverse mixture of sound that blends like a natural symphony.

            Across the road, near the train tracks, the ones that sustain traffic to and from the state pier and cargo ships, are old factory buildings built of brick or granite.  The first, and smaller, houses a pub that features live music and tasty food.  It is a popular spot on weekend nights.  I am inspired by the sounds that sneak out of the opened doors, and by the people, dressed for date night, making their way over the cobblestone street toward the front door.  That door is emblazoned with the words, “No Colors Allowed.”

            Behind the pub building stands a three story granite factory building.  It is here that I have spent eighteen months creating my artwork.  From January until August of 2014, I have focused on the music inside.  Walking in, I step up the forty-two stairs to the third floor.  The stone walls are pleasantly painted in neutral colors.  The area is clean, not much like the factory it once was, but like a place where art is created and performed.  On show nights, I arrive in early evening.  As I climb the stairs, the music of the sound check gets louder and clearer.  First the bass, the drums if there are any, guitars, and keys. I love the sound of the old Hammond as it kicks in, and finally the vocals.  I walk through the doorway and the sound is complete.                  

            More times than not, a smile is drawn across my face.   I greet the staff and the volunteers of the Narrows Center for the Arts.  It is the home for up to ten studio artists in five working studios, and most importantly for the purposes of this project, home to hundreds of musical performances each year from which to be inspired and create ten oil paintings in eight months.  I am a slow and thoughtful painter.  This project required commitment and drive for me to complete.  This is my workplace and my muse.  The performers and the patrons who come into my studio before or after the shows are as much a part of this work as the paint, the brush, or my own hand.  The idea of this project was to show how performance art can influence visual art, and I am grateful for the experience.

The Performers
I had no idea, the range of musicians that would step though that doorway and onto the stage just a few dozen feet from my easel.  There were nights that it took extreme effort to remain an artist and not a fan boy.  When Carl Palmer, drummer for the progressive rock band Emerson, Lake, and Palmer came into the studio and began a wide ranging discussion about art and painting, my heart beat like the sticks on his snare drum.  I have been a fan since I was sixteen or so.  There were others of note.  Dave Davies, of the Kinks, Dr. John, Leon Russell,  The Zombies, Jefferson Airplane, Members of Little Feet, Live, and so many more.  Some were up and coming performers, Seth Glier, Shamika Copeland, Samantha Fish,  and so many more.  On some level it is the last group that I found the deepest inspiration from.  The local folks who opened the shows,  Mark T, Small, Rebecca Corriea, the many whose names slipped by in the shadows between the flood lights and the headliners.  Their names may have flitted by, but their impact remains.  I sat in the darkness of my studio with a dim lamp shedding a soft glow on the drawing table and drew with a soft pencil or a black marker and captured the gesture of the performance.  While I often found myself whistling and cheering with the audience for the headliners, sorry Carl no sketches of you, it was the performers I did not know who allowed me to respond and create from their work.  They don’t even know how profoundly they influenced me, but they did.  As for the headliners, yes they were important as well.  The sketches were more crude and less evolved, yet the impact of the songs in my head remained long after the echoes died out.
The Music

Ahh, the music.  It starts with folk and Americana, moves with a quick step to Rock and sometimes Jazz, and even a bit of Country.  There are solos and harmonies.  Sometimes the tunes are familiar and quite often they are new discoveries.  I love it when I discover something new.  Royal Southern Brotherhood came in with legendary family names and did not disappoint me with a group of songs that added to the legacies of at least two musical families.  I play the songs regularly.  Chuck Cannon, a man I had never heard of opened with a collection of songs that reminded me of Johnny Cash and so much more.  His deep haunting voice flowed over the rhythm and strum of his guitar.  Shamika Copeland is a powerhouse vocalist, reminding me of Etta James.  Her voice was like a great trumpet blast.
         I love discovering new work and that’s my motivation with this series of paintings.  My intent is that they come across like a song heard for the first time.  It is no longer important who they were at the start.  What is important is how they are received and translated.  The colors vibrate like notes on a scale.  The values are like a bass drum, beating the time and full of guidance.  My strokes of paint, like improvised flares during a solo.  Like the music and performances that inspired this work, it is more important now that that I am finished.  Like the songs on an album, this collection now belongs to those who are moved by it.  The Drawn to Music Project will continue at a slower pace.  I don’t think I could ever let go of this particular muse.  For now, this album is complete.


Reflections of "Reflecting on All That I Know"

“Reflecting on All That I Know" was completed in 2012.  It is one of my most popular images.  The original oil on canvas painting measures 36x48 inches and, since I am a slow deliberate painter, it took me about six months to complete.  I use only small brushes, 3/4” flats and brights of smaller, along with size 0, 1 rounds.  This Blog is about the basic development of this painting.

After a visit to Rockport Mass, where I drew several early sketches, I assembled the small drawings and scribbles and I began with a fully rendered full value drawing to use as a guide to the painting.

I started this one with a blue/gray tones ground on the canvas, that was a bit vivid from the start and influenced my color choices though out the early stages.

Without any preliminary drawing on the canvas, I started blocking in big shapes.  I did not use a drawing on the canvas so that the rhythm of my brush would dictate the movements across the surface of the canvas.  It allows me to keep a more fluid feel to the composition.

I let the ground color substitute color for objects in the painting until I decided what color they would be.  Because a major portion of the composition is water, the blue ground was a fair substitute.

I added red where the intensity would be most effectively dictate eye flow throughout  the composition, while I continued blocking in major shapes, and darkening shadow areas.

After the canvas was fully covered, I went back and started changing and fine tuning the color to indicate light and shadow, while keeping in mind the structure of objects in the painting as well as the structure of color relationships.  I began here to define the differences between similar colors.  Notice the variety of reds and how they change.

I continued with details like reflections of the shadows, more specific windows and deck gear, and mooring lines. I also started to develop the spacial relationships, the surface movements and most importantly the structure of the color relationships. Look closely at the hull color of the two foreground lobster boats.

I finished by strategically placing spots of color to indicate bright reflections and movement across the surface if the water.  One recent buyer of a reproduction commented that after 6 weeks in her home she still had not found all of the different colors.  Here I began to finalized my color choice and wrap up the narrative elements.


 The final painting is a brilliantly colored interpretation of one of the most visited day trip locations in New England.  I love to Visit Rockport, Ma., and I've worked hard for that to come across in this painting.

"Reflecting on all That I Know" 2012 Chuck Boucher    

Click here for prints of this painting and more available on line