Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Northern Light: Anders Zorn in San Francisco

Walk, Anders Zorn, 1906 (photo in public domain).
I traveled to San Francisco last weekend to visit friends and see two exhibitions: Anders Zorn at the Palace of the Legion of Honor, and David Hockney at the DeYoung. Different in style, scope, and scale, they were both worth the trip.

Aside from painting and teaching, visiting museums is one of my favorite pastimes, and the Palace of the Legion of Honor did not disappoint. The Zorn show included 100 works of watercolor and oil paintings, prints, and a few small bronze statuettes.

Anders Zorn (1860-1920) was a Swedish painter whose career rivaled that of his contemporaries, including French impressionists like Claude Monet and the American portrait painter John Singer Sargent. Zorn began painting at an early age, mastering watercolors while in his teens. At the height of his career, in the early 1900s, he was reportedly earning $15,000 per week from his portraits, including three of our American presidents; a large, casual portrait of Theodore Roosevelt was included in this exhibit.

Summerdance, Anders Zorn
(photo in public domain)

His watercolors demonstrate complete confidence in his palette, from which he captures the beauty of skin tones suffused in a softly dispersed light. He mastered the art of painting water, posing figures and boats in compositions which feature the complex surface and depths of the waters around them. He moved on to oil painting as he traveled through Europe and Algeria, interacting with other artists and gaining increasingly significant portrait commissions as well as capturing the customs, costumes, and landscapes.

There was a series of stunning nude figures in the landscape, often portrayed bathing in the cold northern lakes of Scandinavia. It was interesting to see them as prints and also as larger oil paintings. Zorn was equally adept at landscapes and still life work, but for me, his figures were the most breathtaking. In addition to what might be considered “celebrity portraits,” he devoted his energies toward capturing the culture and people of the rural Swedish countryside where he grew up, and this legacy is a gift to us today.

For icing on the cake, there was a small Matisse exhibit next door. After the light-infused impressions of Zorn, Matisse’s works seem shocking with their the flat surfaces and brilliant, gaudy colors. The contrast gives a sense of the shock to the art world when Matisse first presented his work, and a visit to the two shows is like a condensed trip into art history.
And now for something completely different:
Portrait of Lydia Delectorskaya by
Henri Matisse (

Thursday, January 9, 2014

A Life in Art: Paying It Forward

I love to paint paths.
I love to paint, and I love to write, and I love to teach. And like all of us, there are many things I don't love so much, but which take up a lot of the waking hours of our lives (did I mention that I also love to sleep? And I love to dream, which I do vividly most nights).

They invite our minds to wander.
There are so many things we don't love to do but we do them anyway, because they have to be done. Sometimes we get feedback - appreciation, gratitude, or disapprobation, and hopefully this feedback enables us to improve our work. All of this is a longwinded way of saying that I have undertaken the not-so-fun chore of updating my website (which I should do more frequently, I know). I would love for you to take a look at and let me know what you think.

And to wonder what might
be around that curve,
It is an up-to-date compilation of my paintings, presented in a way that I hope is easy to see.  It is a work in progress, as I move forward with paintings and move backward with cataloging, marketing, blogging, etc. So it's not all fun and games, but in the end, it's the feedback that feeds the soul: the collector whose life is enriched by the art created; the student whose life is pushed forward by the skills, knowledge, and promise that my tutelage has provided. My own fulfillment is living in the  moment of creativity, my own and that of other people.

or what might be over that hill. (from the top,
Carpintera Bluffs; Fields near Angles sur l'Anglin;
Along the Tracks to Rincon; & Rincon Hill from the Bluffs.
The creative life may not be lucrative, but it pays dividends that are beyond calculation, as I pass on the skills, techniques, concepts, and ideas that will allow a whole gang of young people to experience and explore their own worlds - and their own minds - in ways that will enrich their lives as well. I try to pay it forward, and I know that my students will do the same.

Monday, January 6, 2014


Photograph by Laura Hindle.
A friend in my hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan, just posted this beautiful photo of the pond in her backyard on Facebook. I am feeling nostalgic for a real winter, for the snows and snowmen of my childhood, cross-country skiing through the woods, and playing ice hockey.

Then she posted that it was -15 degrees Fahrenheit, without the wind chill. This is not something I recall from childhood. I remember outdoor hockey games in high school, when the temperature dipped low enough that it hurt to breathe, and our sweaty hair would freeze instantly when we took our helmets off. I am pretty sure I’ve never experienced -15˚F, but unusual weather is not so abnormal these days.

Now I live in California, some sort of paradise. Yesterday I took a long walk on the beach, wading in the ocean as the tide came up. Today I picked tangerines and painted them, and then ate them.

Tangerines, 6x8" oil on birch, by Rebecca Stebbins.
Lest you think the grass is always greener, though, you should understand this: in a “normal” year, we have something like 17 inches of rain. In the past 16 months or so, we’ve had less than 4. My grass is not green. Almost everything in my garden is scraping by with minimal water. In Los Angeles, not far from here, this is the driest year on record, on the heels of several years of drought. The Colorado River, which supplies water to a number of competing interests – cities, farmers, golf courses, and of course the wild species which depend upon it for survival – is more besieged each year. There is no "normal" anymore, as far as I can tell.

We live in an arid climate out here in the West, but we don’t respect it and we don’t value our most precious resource. My neighbor next door regularly hoses down his bright  concrete driveway and his automatic sprinklers come on even when it does rain, helping to wash all the chemical pesticides he uses on his perfect lawn right down into the ocean. Even Oprah, who lives a few miles from me, is reported to pay $124,000 per year to keep her spacious lawns green. I guess if you can afford it, it’s ok, right? Well, no. Not in my opinion.

Clearly “global warming” is a misnomer; but I honestly don’t understand how anyone can still believe that our climate isn’t changing at a dramatic pace, on a global scale. And the only input that could be generating such a rapid change is the output of our unthinking human endeavors. As much as I love to paint tangerines in my studio, I feel I should be outside painting the landscape as well, because it’s possible that within a generation it won’t look anything like it does now.  

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Color of Snow

Watercolor study of the Huron
River in winter, Ann Arbor,
As an art teacher, I try to teach my students to see the world, to become careful observers. So many people travel through life unaware of this incredible world we share, and if we are to raise our children to be thoughtful stewards of the earth and all its inhabitants, first they have to appreciate and be grateful for it. For me, gratitude for this life begins with appreciation of beauty and nature, and that appreciation begins with seeing and experiencing.

Snowy woods in Ann Arbor,
Michigan (watercolor).
This winter storm blasting friends and family across the northeastern United States and Western Europe brought to mind one of my favorite paintings by one of my favorite painters, Claude Monet. His painting, La Pie (The Magpie), painted around 1868, is in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris and several years ago traveled to the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco. Even though I’d seen it in Paris, I traveled to San Francisco to see it again; and later when I was in Paris, I went to see it again. I am a bit of a Monet junkie, I suppose, but there is no comparison to seeing his paintings in person. 
The painting depicts a black bird in a snow-covered landscape near Etretat and was painted on location. It was rejected by the jury of the famed Salon in 1869, according to the Musée d’Orsay, because Monet was more interested in perception than description, as was the custom of the respected painters of the day. What I love about the painting is that Monet captured that perception – you can feel the air, the cold, still tranquility of the winter’s day that Monet experienced. It’s all there, almost 150 years later.  

La Pie, Claude Monet, 1868, courtesy of the Musee d'Orsay.
As for my students, this painting is a way to get them to observe subtlety in the world. When I ask my students “What color is snow?” they unanimously answer “White!” (in spite of the fact that we are in Southern California, we occasionally get snow on the  mountains behind our town and most of my students have travelled to places where snow actually happens).

Yet when we take piece of bright white paper and place it over Monet’s snow-covered landscape, we find all kinds of colors – blues, pinks, purples, yellows. My students love this discovery – such a surprise! Snow is purple! When we really look at a snow-covered landscape we will discover the same thing, but only if we look carefully. The best feedback an art teacher can receive is from a parent who says “My kid showed me that snow can be purple – who knew?”
We also have wonderful discussions about the color of water, but I’ll save that for a rainy day (not forecast anytime soon around here, sadly).

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

What Goes Around

Egg in French cup, 6x8" oil on board, 2014.
Late on New Year's Eve I flew home to California from a trip to wintry Michigan to visit my parents. This morning, January 1st, I was grateful to discover a new year's gift from my chickens, who have started laying eggs again as the days grow longer.

It seemed appropriate to paint this little egg today, as it represents all the potential of a new beginning. But new beginnings are not without a past, and in this painting I placed a silver spoon inherited from my great-grandmother and a French saucer and egg cup to represent my love of France and my gratitude for being able to spend time there. The Quimper saucer is the same china that my great-aunt brought back from her overseas adventures in the mid-twentieth century to furnish the cottage in northern Michigan, built by my great-grandfather, where I spent many summers and learned to swim, among other things. The egg cup is one that I purchased myself on a trip to France.

As a member of the so-called sandwich generation, I am a baby boomer caught between worrying about elderly parents while nurturing a child (in my case, a teenager), in addition to other 'normal' challenges of midlife - marital, physical, emotional, psychological. I am facing an uncertain future, like so many of my peers.

At the same time, we are the beneficiaries of an unavoidable, constant stream of wisdom via social media, much of which shares a similar message. Slow down. Be grateful. Take care of yourself. Forgive. The list goes on, but it's fairly easy to find justification for taking pleasure in small things, for digging deep, and for challenging ourselves to stretch beyond our comfort zones to achieve real meaning in life, whether by reaching out to friends, traveling, creating, volunteering, or even just taking time to nap or to read a good book.

Mimi, demonstrating how to nap.

My wish for the new year is to grow in ways I can't now imagine, but in ways that will increase my positive contributions during my time on this planet. I send good wishes for a bountiful year full of love and hope for all of you who may be reading this, and I hope our paths will cross in some way in 2014.