The Gut Punch of Beauty

The following blog post was written for and published by pleinairmississippi.blogspot.com in August, 2018. As we are coming up on another Visual Exploration trip to Italy this summer I wanted to re-post it on my site.

Enjoy…

Recently, I was sketching on one of the overlooks at the medieval Italian town of San Gimignano.  As I was translating the vastness of the scene with pen and ink I began to notice a universal language coming from the diverse group of passers by.
People walked the incline of cobble street that’s only about eight feet wide, with arches overhead and architecture on either side exposing hundreds of years of history, and came to a sudden opening in the buildings which exposes one of the most stunning vistas Tuscany has to offer.  It is a stunning patchwork quilt of the iconic elements of the area; vineyards, olive groves, Italian Cypress, and ancient buildings with terracotta rooftops.  The response to this view was usually not “wow” or “ooh” or “aah”, but a noise that started with an “m” sound and ended with a short burst of air through the nose.  It’s the same noise made when you’re hit in the stomach.  So I’m calling this universal language the gut punch of beauty. 

 
Tenuta di Spannocchia

Tenuta di Spannocchia

 

My wife, Jessie and I have had the pleasure of leading people on trips to Tuscany for the past six years based at the private estate of Tenuta di Spannocchia.  The primary focus of these trips is to have a meaningful and memorable experience with the people, places, environment, and cuisine of Tuscany and to do that through the art making processes of drawing and painting.  We call these Visual Explorations.

 
Walnut ink drawing of San Gimignano view.

Walnut ink drawing of San Gimignano view.

 

While not everyone on our trips consider themselves “artists”, we encourage them to use a pencil, pen or paint to really see their surroundings.  When you sit in a spot for 30 minutes to 2 hours recording your observations you have a far deeper experience with the place than quickly walking by and snapping a few photos.  (side note - Serious photographers incorporate the same slow, thoughtful and measured response to a scene as a person drawing or painting. )  But whether or not you get a “good” drawing from the experience is not the main point.  It does feel good to achieve that, but the main point is the experience.  

 
Fattoria and tower at Spannocchia Oil 9”x12”

Fattoria and tower at Spannocchia Oil 9”x12”

 

So it was on our most recent Visual Explorations trip where I observed this universal language in San Gimignano.  I have specific memories when I’ve had a gut punch response to things.  The Sistine Chapel at The Vatican is one, and John Singer Sargent’s portrait of Lady Agnew in Scotland is another.  I remember these vividly because the gut punch of beauty leaves a scar.

 
Walnut ink drawing of San Gimignano Gate 5”x7”

Walnut ink drawing of San Gimignano Gate 5”x7”

 

As artists we can only hope to one day create something which causes this reaction from someone.   But in the meantime we show off the scars left from these experiences by doing a drawing, organizing a painting, writing a story, or composing music.  We keep swinging and one day we may just land a solid hit.

Jerrod Partridge
Art as Experience part 2

Click HERE to read part 1.

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Mary Monk, Billy Solitario, and me

Mary Monk, Billy Solitario, and me

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A storm which was not forecast came in with a fury that evening.  That, mixed with some biting gnats which snuck into my tent made for a long and restless night.  Looking out the window of my tent I could see lightning flash all around and Mary standing in her tent, holding up the sides so that it didn't collapse on her in the high winds. 

The storm had slacked the next morning with a little rain continuing.  A clearing of the clouds gave us a false hope of being able to stay on the island, so after a quick breakfast the paints came back out.  Actually, I believe that I was the only one to pull the paints out.  The other two were much more realistic about the situation.  Billy was looking at the radar and saw that we were in for more trouble.  He phoned the boat captain to come and pick us up, and we started packing up our gear.

It is really remarkable to witness how quickly storms form out in the gulf.  The winds picked back up as the sky darkened.  My tent became tumbleweed, rolling across the island.  I chased it down, while sand hit us like thousands of tiny bullets.  Collapsing a tent in such high winds is very difficult.  When I got back to camp with the tent Billy let me know that the boat would not be able to get us in this weather.  We were going to have to ride it out.  We were stranded.  My two man tent was put back up to become a storm shelter for three.  Our gear would just have to remain on the beach. 

I'm not sure how long we were huddled in that tent before the storm broke.  Having not slept much the night before we napped a bit.  The vulnerability of the situation was humbling as lightning struck remarkably close to us.  It didn't feel dangerous so much as it made me feel very small.  

We made it home alive of course.  Two of the three paintings I did survived.  It was certainly an experience, which may or may not come through in those two paintings. 

It was a great experience and I'm sure I'll go back, but this in no way makes me a connected and experienced Horn Island painter.  And I don't want to be.  John Dewey later says in his book "...any authentic artist will avoid material that has previously been aesthetically exploited to the full and will seek out material in which his capacity for individual vision and rendering can have free play."  That little piece of land out in the gulf was claimed by Walter Anderson in such a dramatically intimate way that the rest of us who paint there are paying homage to him as much as the landscape.  He fully connected with that place through his work.  And now I'm on a journey to find my Horn Island, which doesn't have to be an island at all, or even a piece of land.  My Horn Island will be that which tugs at me constantly, that which is my unique life, that which helps art become a daily experience.

 
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Jerrod Partridge
Art as Experience part 1

There is a great book titled "Art as Experience" by John Dewey.  Well, I'm told it's a great book by people I respect, but with its dense academic speak I find it difficult to decipher.  I have been trying to get through it since 2002 and have yet to finish it.  In chapter 1 we see that the purpose of the book "is to restore continuity between the refined and intensified forms of experience that are works of art and the everyday events, doings, and sufferings that are universally recognized to constitute experience."  

My interpretation of this is that we need to return to the relevance of art in everyday life.  This challenge is upon viewer and artist alike, though in different ways.  As artists it is our job to create aesthetic experiences for people, but also to use experience in the art making process. I'm not sure that any one has ever used their experiences to create art to the degree of Mississippi Gulf Coast artist Walter Inglis Anderson.  His lengthy sojourns to Horn Island off the coast of Mississippi provided him with the opportunity to draw and paint in seclusion and unity with nature, fully experiencing all it had to offer through his work.  

Walter Inglis Anderson

Walter Inglis Anderson

So art becomes the byproduct of the experience instead of the single goal.  I recently had the opportunity to follow in Anderson's footsteps by going out to Horn Island for a painting expedition with a couple of great painters from Louisiana, Billy Solitario and Mary Monk.  We had a friend drop us and our gear for three days of painting and camping.  It was beautiful that first day.  The bugs weren't too bad, and there was a breeze making the shade of the pine trees a pleasant place to paint.  Osprey and bald eagles majestically flew around us.  A fireside dinner concluded a wonderful day... until all hell broke loose.  

To be continued...

Jerrod Partridge
Last week of Robert Crowell exhibition in Jackson
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The harmony and structure of a piece of sculpture begins in the mind of one who sees possibilities. Wood and stone may remain in their natural state as nature dictates, but there is the potential, when worked with by an artist, to become fully alive and timeless.

Jackson, Mississippi sculptor Robert Crowell is fully capable of visualizing this harmony and structure in a variety of materials and brings them forward into actual space and time. His work is balanced, and finished - without being sterile. It is consistent without being repetitious.

A quote from the book The Timeless Way of Building, describing pattern languages relates to Crowell’s work well, saying, “As far as it is ever possible, they are alive, because they are so much in harmony, that they support themselves, and keep themselves alive, through their own inner structure.” They are alive because of their sensitivity in shape, movement, and form.

This extensive exhibition, Timeless: the Sculpture Work of Robert Crowell, with nearly 50 sculptures serves as a retrospective spanning 20 years. His sculptures are collected privately and can be seen in places like the Mississippi Public Service Commission, Mustard Seed, and St. Andrew’s Episcopal school. The majority of this exhibition is in the galleries on the second floor of the Arts Center of Mississippi located at the corner of Lamar St. and Pascagoula St. in downtown Jackson. A selection of work is also exhibited throughout The Art Garden in front of the Mississippi Museum of Art, located next to the Arts Center on Lamar St.

It was a pleasure and honor for me to get to curate this exhibition of Crowell's remarkable work.  If you haven't gone yet, this is your last week to see it.  Regular gallery hours are Monday - Friday, 10am - 5pm, and Saturday, 9am - 5pm.

Admission is free and open to the public.

Special thanks to Greater Jackson Arts Council, the Mississippi Museum of Art, and the City of Jackson.

Jerrod Partridge
Why is the chair purple?
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"Table cloths on wooden chair (in memory of Milton 'Bud' Matthews)" 12x16" Oil on panel

"Table cloths on wooden chair (in memory of Milton 'Bud' Matthews)" 12x16" Oil on panel

No matter the degree of technical competency, a painting should hold somewhere in its bones an expressive and abstract nature.  Planning and training must submit to intuitive response without the limiting effects of formulaic approaches.  So the answer to the question imposed through the look of concern from my old dog Beck, "Why is the chair purple?", lies within the spaghetti wad of training, planning, experience, and experimentation. 

The image on the left is the under-painting with concern for color, light, composition, and a response to the objects in front of me.  Essentially, the gesture.  The cold light coming in through the north-facing window in my studio FEELS more purple on the chair.  Warm color object in a cold light... a visual predicament. Some people may feel that the expressive elements of a painting should outweigh the naturalistic representation.  Would this be a "truer" painting if the chair stayed purple?  It just comes down to personal aesthetic.  

On the right you can see the finished painting.  The under-painting more than simply influences the final piece.  The chair is still purple, now with a chorus of other colors all working together.

Side note: The small painting of Amaryllis in the right hand corner was a painting I did for a dear friend several years ago.  Sadly, he passed away last month. The painting came back to me so I included it in this new painting in memory of him.  The new painting is for my show "A Eudaimonic Search" at Southside Gallery in Oxford, MS this August.

Jerrod Partridge