For those interested in a fairly detailed account of a class at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts, read on. Also, for admirers of abstraction, and for painters looking for tips, I’ll share a few helpful lessons I learned in the painting class, “Abstract Landscape Painting as Self-Portrait.”
The instructor, Pinkney Herbert, is a well known abstract painter. His teaching style mimics his paintings: energetic, unpredictable, passionate, insightful and colorful. During the first day of class, he condensed an informative color theory lesson into our morning session. Any level of artist, from beginner to professional, could benefit from his review due to entertaining antidotes as well as his perspective on how to use color. We spent hours on mixing and applying ground colors to multiple surfaces, which prepared us for the rest of the week. Just before lunch, we watched a film about abstract expressionist, Joan Mitchell, and afterward, Pinkney had a surprise exercise planned. Hoping to mine inspiration from Mitchell’s uninhibited, spontaneous and energetic work, we had stations along the wall and painted with a very limited palette on butcher paper. Knowing the paper was cheaply made, thin and temporary, none of the students thought of it as precious, and we painted freely, with no self inflicted restraints. For the rest of the afternoon, we painted abstractly, trying to remain uninhibited when shifting to our canvases and boards.
On a side note, it was clear from the start that our small group was going to have fun together…spending time with kind, funny, and talented people was icing on the cake and I think we all felt very grateful for each other.
On Day 2, Pinkney gave a glazing demonstration to share his method of working with very fluid oil paint. Due to mixing copious amounts of glaze medium into the paint, which was a brand new experience for me, two ongoing problems were immediately solved: I’ve struggled with loosening my painting style and getting the paint to really move and spread across the canvas. Should I have figured this out on my own? Sure. But to quote my new friend, George, “You don’t know what you don’t know,” and I’m thankful to our teacher for providing a solution. The workshop itinerary was diverse: a mixture of painting, discussions, films and slide presentations. For example, after the rigorous morning of painting on Day 2, we cooled off in a small auditorium and looked at slides exemplifying artists, such as Milton Avery, who compellingly abstract nature.
Then it was off to another fabulous meal (it is downright comical how excited we get about the next meal here at Arrowmont) followed by a class hike in the Great Smokies. Though it was peak sun hours, the Rainbow Falls trail was shaded and ran close to a cool stream. The hike provided countless visual references to take back (in our minds or in our iphones) to the studio for an afternoon of painting….right up to dinner time. And who would be late to dinner at Arrowmont? Not the painters! After dinner, we were again treated to faculty artist lectures: Jerilyn Virden (hollow form potter), Graeme Priddle (New Zealand wood worker) and Mark Shapiro (social activist and renowned potter). And then, to bed….just kidding! Back to the studio, of course! Except for the group walking into Gatlinburg for some late night karaoke, the painter-hikers will sleep well tonight.
Though I arrived a little late to class on Day 3 due to a walk around town, Professor Pinkney was lenient and made no comment about my tardiness. I felt myself, for the first time ever, being able to see shapes in our world abstractly, and finally painted from life in an abstract manner. (Ok, so it wasn’t exactly abstract, but it was progress for a realist like me). What’s the point, you ask? I LOVE the juxtaposition of real versus unreal, of representational versus abstract. When a figure is fully painted in a realistic manner, I want to take a nap (no offense, there certainly are many incredible realist figure painters out there). But when areas of the body or space are abstract to counter other areas that are specific and recognizable, well, that’s a thrill. Each style improves the other, magnifies, electrifies, livens, contrasts. Abstraction with representation is my yin and yang. And a class with an abstract painter is just the focus I need now. It was nice to be making some progress and I think it was the combination of film, slides, demos, and class discussion that wormed its way into my perspective.
After a productive morning and lunch, we had a thorough group critique which provided everyone with helpful insights. What really made the afternoon feel like a boon, was the thoughtfulness and thoroughness toward each person’s work. Pinkney asked lots of questions, and provided antidotes, suggested artists to study, and worked passionately and carefully to help each student in one way or another. Admittedly, I was initially excited to take his class for slightly shallow reasons: I like his work and he is established in the art world. But those two factors don’t necessarily make a great teacher. I am deeply grateful that we got a gifted and caring teacher as well as a renowned artist.
After the critique, we painted and then headed for another feast, this time in the form of a picnic behind the big red barn, which is one of the dormitories on campus. And then another evening of artist lectures in the auditorium and more painting in the studio.
Though our teacher did provide plenty of specific suggestions, technique and instruction, one shining skill was his desire and ability to instill confidence, daring and esteem in his students, regardless of our ability, experience, or style. His quirky brilliance shined during many unexpected moments. For example, one morning in the studio, he announced plans to show a film about Philip Guston. He said we could continue painting in the studio or go see the film at 11:00 am. But shortly after the film started, he rushed back into the studio and announced to those of us who remained, “I was wrong! Watching the Guston film should not have been optional! This is important for you to see! You can paint at home, but I don’t know if you will ever have another chance to see this film. So, after lunch, meet in the auditorium at 1:00 sharp.”
Pinkney taught me more about teaching, too. As mentioned, he used film and the study of other artists. He used critiques and discussion; he asked lots of questions. He distributed multiple articles that ranged from basic technical issues such as color mixing or brush care to more esoteric reading such as “Looking Within” and “Playfulness” (and pictured down to the right, see Pinkney and two star pupils exemplifying “playfulness” with great finesse). He cared about his flock of students, about us learning as much as possible during our time at Arrowmont, and about enriching our education. Just as my professors at UALR, Pinkney shaped my own teaching methods and I look forward to applying what I learned, not just about painting, but about teaching, to my workshops at the Arkansas Arts Center.
Thank you Arrowmont, thank you classmates, and thank you Pinkney. And thank you readers, for visiting my art blog. Until next time!