Gina Hyams Author

Category Archives: art

Announcing the 2016 Leigh Hyams Studio Residency Recipient: John McCarthy

My family and I are delighted to announce that John McCarthy of Santa Monica, California, is the recipient of this year’s Leigh Hyams Studio Residency.

How John describes his art: “My work is about giving form to memories, visions, and dreams. Intuition, interpretation, and imagination are the driving forces that have fueled my passion for making art since the 1980s. Inspired by nature, I pay close attention to the forest, to the ocean, and to the qualities of light at night, especially faint illuminations cast by lit windows, campfires, and moonlight. These elements often surface in my painting as abstractions. My painting process includes sensory awareness techniques that allow me to relinquish control and invent new ways of making marks: painting with the canvas behind my back while looking through a mirror; painting the shape of a sound; and painting in near darkness. I often work with both hands simultaneously.”

John’s thoughts on how he’ll spend his time during the residency: “I spent  five weeks with Leigh in San Miguel de Allende in 2006. If I had a month to spend in her studio, I would take walks we used to take together, look at things we used to look at, and remember conversations we had. I would then take those memories along with the emotions they elicit and weave them into new works. Leigh continues to be a large and living presence in my life and work. The experience of being able to work in the place where she once lived and worked and to feel her presence and guidance, would be most meaningful and inspiring. And, I would love to be able to work freely, without distraction or interruption!”

"Mulholland Drive Dream" by John McCarthy, acrylic and mixed media on canvas, 72” x 60”

“Mulholland Drive Dream” by John McCarthy, acrylic and mixed media on canvas, 72” x 60”

Announcing the 2015 Leigh Hyams Studio Residency Recipient: Sally Heppner

My family and I are delighted to announce that Sally Heppner of Portland, Oregon, is the recipient of this year’s Leigh Hyams Studio Residency. Her application is so moving, I am publishing it (with her permission) in full below.

Cheers,
Gina

“Where are you going?” by Sally Heppner, 2014. Acrylic on canvas. 24″ x 36″.

Leigh Hyams Studio Residency Application for May 2015

Submitted by Sally Heppner

How I’m connected with Leigh

Journal Entry from Sunday, June 8, 2008: She said to be ready to hate my work. She said to be ready to cry. She said to stop being nice. She said others have started looking for plane tickets back after a week. Apparently she is going to kick me in the butt. Big time.

This is exactly what I want.

And that’s exactly what happened.

I heard Leigh speak in March, 2008 in Portland, Oregon. The minute I heard her speak, I knew there was something within her that was luminous. At that time her paintings were loose, drippy, luscious botanicals. They drew me in and wouldn’t let me go. She said her painting was about “this incredible joy of being alive.” I knew then I wanted to be near her and learn from her.

She worked me hard. I painted for two and a half weeks in the little garden shed, painting from exquisite dreams I discovered I had only while in Mexico. I changed and my work transformed. Leigh had the ability to help unlock me, to loosen the tight intellectual constraints learned while earning my recent fine arts degree, and I began to paint from the center of my soul.

When I came home, I built out a wall in my little apartment like the wall in Leigh’s studio so I could continue to paint freely, and I did until two and a half years ago when my world turned upside down.

On August 10th 2012, my 24-year-old son, Michael, died in his sleep. We don’t know why, he just went. He was a luminous soul, like Leigh, an artist to the core of his being. His medium was music; when he played the saxophone I was mesmerized. Now I hear him in the sound of the geese overhead as they head to the nearby park, the harmonies of water as a river wends its way through boulders, the whisper of glacial wind blowing down from a mountain at dusk.

When Michael died, I felt him with me, guiding me through my grief. I felt an intense surge of creativity and love. But my painting heart became locked up. I’m still not sure why.

The following summer I realized if anybody could help me unlock this frozen painting heart, it would be Leigh. I would go to San Miguel and study with her again. When I searched and found she had died a few months previous, I was filled with new grief—for you, Gina, for those who would never get a chance to soak up Leigh’s spirit, and for myself because I would not have her to guide me again with her rigorous, exuberant, honest teaching.

I’ve continued to paint through my grief but it’s not the same. I’ve been painting about my search. What happens after we die? Where is Michael now? I’ve also been painting pure expression, like Leigh taught me, but only occasionally. I have lost my heart.

I still need Leigh. I need to feel her joyous spirit; her dedication to drawing; her passion for paint; her love of life. Though her body is not here, I believe her spirit is, and I know that while working in her space she will be near.

When I worked with Leigh previously, I was driven. I couldn’t stop painting. I felt like I was dancing with paint in the little garden shed and I didn’t want to leave. I kept learning from Leigh right up until the end. The last day as I prepared to leave, though exhausted, I decided I had one more painting in me. I started a diptych from a small, loose drawing I’d made at the hot springs the day before. As I worked, Leigh would come in and sit down, discussing the difference between value and intensity, suggesting just a bit more punch, or intensity, in the lower left corner of one. I was so very grateful for every hour spent with Leigh. She helped me open up and see from my soul. As I left San Miguel in the wee hours of the morning I closed my eyes. What did I see? Splotches of lush color juxtaposed against each other. My mind was playing with intensity, value and hue. Lush oranges were playing against the pinks, greens and yellows of Mexico. They were dripping and goopy and slopped-on in my mind. I was continuing to paint, continuing what Leigh had imparted.­­

What would I do for a month in Leigh’s studio?

To prepare myself, I will re-read the journal I wrote while working with her in 2008. I will also re-read her book, How Painting Holds Me on The Earth: Writings of a Maverick Painter and Teacher, which I continue to turn to when I need a good dose of Leigh. (She was writing her book while mentoring me and I had the privilege of helping her edit a few chapters. She also included portions of my journal in her postscript section on mentoring.)

The first morning in Leigh’s studio and garden I will sit and absorb. I remember her often sitting and reading in her garden. I want to hear what new things she has to tell me. I never got enough of her teaching.

Next I w­ill go out and find that luscious Mexican paint Leigh introduced me to. I will buy colors I like and colors I hate, just as Leigh suggested when we went to the little tienda on my first day with her. I will come back to the studio and tack up several large sheets of paper, nothing precious, and begin to paint. I will find those places within myself that I need to let go of and just paint.

Journal entry from Tuesday, June 10th, 2008: She said to think about painting joy later and think about shouting right now. It may not be beautiful or pleasing or anything I have been taught to do. My gut may paint ahead of my intellect. That will catch up later.

I need the time and the place to shout. I will revive what Leigh taught me; how she prodded me and pushed me to my limits. Since Michael died, I have painted when I can but haven’t set aside the time to inquire deeply. When I do have time, I have been reading everything I can get my eyes on and painting my questions about death. We don’t deal with these questions in our society very well. Mexicans seem to accept death much more fluidly than we. I had the opportunity to be in Mexico for Dia de Los Muertos in 2008 and experienced the celebration of loved ones remembered and returning to their families. What better place than Leigh’s studio in Mexico, where the veil between death and life is not drawn so tightly, to continue my inquiry? I will converse with paint in Leigh’s studio every day, then, in the evenings I will write of my experience. I learn by writing; it helps to clarify my thoughts and recall what I’ve learned.

As I was cleaning out my own small studio at the beginning of this New Year, I wanted to set aside painting about grief and paint life again. But when I think about it, I realize I am not done with grief. Leigh’s statement that her painting is about the incredible joy of being alive has never left me. It’s why I was drawn to her paintings and her exuberant spirit in the first place. My work tends to be about life and the joy I find when outside but I know I need the space and time to go deep into death and grieving before I can paint life again. I suspect there is much to learn about death and life and the interconnectedness of the two.

“Transition” by Sally Heppner, 2014. Acrylic and charcoal on canvas. 48″ x 54″.

About my work

In addition to my inquiry about grief, my work is about human interaction with nature. How humans respond to the environment surrounding them intrigues me. We are happiest and healthiest when in touch with where we come from; we have an inarticulate need to be an integral part of the natural universe. The more I turn over rocks to see lives below them and the more I absorb the beauty of what surrounds us, the more I feel a sense of wonder about what it means to be part of this unfathomable whole. Lately, though, when outside and when painting, I find my thoughts turning to life, death, and the nature of our being. I have so many questions.

I have lost my painting heart and I want to find it again. I used to find joy in the way art would open me up to the natural world—I would pay attention to shape, absorb color, bury my eyes in the texture of paint, and express deep emotion. When painting, I have a conversation with my work; sometimes a painting will tell me it is done but not yet ready to be understood. Leigh taught me that too. Looking at a particular painting months later, I begin to understand. I love the continued discovery.

I don’t want to let these things go. Now, glimmers of the power of art and nature emerge occasionally but the rigors of making ends meet clutter my mind and affect my art practice. I need the time away to focus, a fresh start, to revisit what Leigh taught me and push my painting to the limits. I am ready. Leigh said in her book, “For me, the act of drawing or painting a landscape fulfills some inarticulate need to be an integral part of the universe – to meld with the natural world, or, somehow, through painting, to touch the life force for an instant.” This quote exemplifies the mysterious and powerful interconnectedness of art and the natural world. Setting aside a month to paint and examine the connections between art, nature, life, and death in Leigh’s studio in Mexico would allow me to come away with a deeper understanding of this beautiful existence we’re living, a renewed pursuit of painting, and a good dose of Leigh’s spirit, so I may share with those around me this incredible joy of being alive.

 

A Painting Tribute to Leigh Hyams by John McCarthy

Los Angeles-based artist John McCarthy was one of my mom’s favorite people. They met at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, in 1996, and he went on to serve as lead assistant during her master painting classes there from 2006 until her last seminar in 2011, as well as participate in workshops she led in Providencia, Colombia and at various locations in Mexico, including San Miguel de Allende, Patzcuaro, Guanajuato, and Xilitla. He recently shared with me this vivid series of paintings that he created in tribute to her.

Leigh and John at Esalen, April 2008

Remembering Days and Nights: 
A painting tribute to Leigh Hyams, mentor and friend
by John McCarthy 
January, 2015
These are memory-generated paintings inspired by the loss of my art mentor, Leigh Hyams (1926 – 2013).
 
For 15 years I painted with Leigh and other artists in Mexico, Big Sur, and Colombia, often working outside in the tropics to capture in abstract form the essence of the jungle, the wind, and the sea. This series is a remembrance of those days and nights: A recollection of the colors and sounds and smells of the forests and the shore as we all painted together, looking at each other’s work and delighting in conversations about art.

Leigh teaching at Esalen, 2007

The painting, Crossing the Bridge, was inspired by a vision that I had one night last year before I drifted off to sleep. I found myself in a forest in Big Sur with Leigh and another artist friend, Kay Bridge, who had recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer. It was a forest we had all painted in many times, and I could see Leigh walking across a footbridge, with Kay following behind. I was struck by the aliveness of that moment: I could see what Leigh and Kay were wearing; I could see the moon and smell the pine trees; I could hear leaves rustling and waves crashing in the distance. And then, in an instant, I realized that Leigh was dead and Kay was soon to die. That searing moment was the genesis of the painting.

‘Crossing the Bridge’, watercolor, charcoal and ink on paper, 53” x 42”, 2014

At Leigh’s memorial service at the Meridian Gallery in San Francisco, her paintbrushes were placed in a basket and those in attendance were invited to take some. I took three brushes, mixed them in with my own, and used them to create this series.

Leigh’s paint brushes (photo by Gina Hyams)

‘The Night Walk’ acrylic on paper, 22” x 30”, 2014

‘Jungle, Xilitla’, acrylic on paper, 9.5” x 12.5”, 2014

‘Warm Xilitlan Night’, acrylic, caran d’Ache and charcoal on wood panel, 29” x 29.5”, 2014

‘La Selva Mexicana’, charcoal on paper, 22” x 30”, 2014

‘Rhythm of the Sea’, acrylic on paper, 9 3/8” x 12.5”, 2014

‘Waterfall, Xilitla, acrylic and charcoal on paper, 16” x 20”

‘Remembering the Forest’, acrylic and charcoal on paper, 22” x 30”, 2014

‘The Afterglow’, acrylic and charcoal on paper, 30” x 22”, 2013

‘Rituals of Spring’, acrylic and charcoal on paper, 22” x 30”, 2013

John McCarthy drawing

‘The Winds of Change’, charcoal on paper, 22” x 30”, 2013

John and Leigh at Esalen

John McCarthy is currently seeking gallery representation. Please email any leads to him at johnmccarthyartist@me.com.

Leigh Hyams Critique Group Exhibition

It’s heartening to see my mother’s legacy live on in her students and friends. A group of them, who met more than 20 years ago at her art classes in San Francisco, recently opened an exhibition at Canessa Park Gallery. It’s up through January 30. Hours are noon to 3:00pm on Wednesdays or by appointment by calling 415-885-5695. Their touching and inspiring group artistic statement follows below.

Six Artists: Eclectic Works

The six artists in this show met by chance more than two decades ago, when each of us signed up for a class led by Leigh Hyams. Those first classes were in the former University of California Berkeley Extension campus in San Francisco, a couple of rambling old Spanish-style buildings in the Western Addition. Some of us began in a drawing class, others in painting or mixed media. We worked side by side in crowded rooms, on paper or canvas taped to the walls or on drawing boards on tables or mounted on easels. Leigh encouraged us to paint big and with abandon, and to stand while painting so we could use our whole body. And she encouraged us to live life adventurously, and we did, joining her painting workshops at Esalen and in Greece and Brazil and Mexico and France when we could.

After a few years of studio classes, we felt ready to work on our own, and Leigh encouraged us to carve out space for our art at home or to rent our own studios. But because we still wanted her inspiration and guidance, we formed a critique group that met with her once a month, to help us keep making art and to keep growing as artists. During this time, we also worked with Leigh and other students of hers on her film Making Marks.

Leigh Hyams teaching at the University of California Berkeley Extension campus in San Francisco

When Leigh moved to Mexico in 2001, we continued to meet without her, for we found that we had absorbed her ideas about painting and her teaching about visual language so well that we could critique one another’s work in her absence. She went on to build a live-in studio in San Miguel de Allende and to paint prolifically for the next decade, with solo shows in San Miguel and Querétero. Whenever Leigh visited San Francisco during those years, she arranged to meet with us when possible, and many of her large following of students visited her in Mexico. Her last expansive series of paintings was of giant flowers in her elegant and buoyant gestural style, reveling in color as always. She died in 2013, and at her memorial in San Francisco, her daughter, Gina, gave Leigh’s paintbrushes away to her former students and friends.

Over the years, our group has continued to follow Leigh’s urging to take chances and to experiment with styles, subjects, and mediums. Styles have ranged from abstract to figurative, and subjects from childhood photographs to landscapes, seascapes, and skyscapes, rabbits and fairytales and death boats, glaciers and rocks, real and imagined dramas, self-portraits and dog portraits, horse portraits and night scenes. Painting and drawing mediums have included acrylic paint and watercolor, encaustic, and wood-burning tools. Some members of the group have ventured into sculpture, in mediums that include fabrics, trash from the city dump, garage-sale finds, broken plastic dinnerware, ruined umbrellas, hunks of marble, leather, and cement.

We try, like our teacher, to make work that is surprising and alive. We sell our work, though we remain amateurs, in the best sense of the word. For we believe that art is important, not just to each of us individually and as a group, but to the culture in general and to the random universe. Like our teacher, we believe that art allows us to live more fully, that creativity is the lifeblood of being human, and that every piece of art we create is a kind of miracle: a new thing in the world made by our own hands, and often one we had no idea we were capable of making.

Artists at the opening (left to right): Heidi Sandvoll, Loretta Wolfe, Carolyn Miller, Jane Baker, Jeanine Briggs, Anne Ming Wong.

 

Interview with Kaarin “Pook” Lemstrom-Sheedy of pookstyle gift shop in Chatham, New York

p o o k s t y l e at 2 Park Row in  Chatham, New York, is one of the most charming gift shops around. It’s owned by Kaarin “Pook” Lemstrom-Sheedy, a veteran bookstore and museum shop retailer, who shares space with Park Row Gallery & Framing. She says she’s having the time of her life with the shop and her joy shines through in the gifts she stocks. 

Kaarin “Pook” Lemstrom-Sheedy

Prior to launching p o o k s t y l e in 2010,  Kaarin managed the iconic Scribner Bookstore and Barnes & Noble 128 Fifth Avenue Sales Annex in Manhattan, and she designed and ran museum gift shops at the Whitney Museum of American Art, MASS MoCA, the Mount, and Hancock Shaker Village.

Gina: What defines p o o k s t y l e?

Kaarin: Clean, modern designs from the U.S. and around the world, with a pinch of humor and a dash of whimsy thrown in for good measure. “Pook” is the name my father gave me as a baby, and prior to opening p o o k s t y l e, the only people who called me by that name were my family and very oldest and closest friends, so I had to think carefully about releasing it into the world. Happily, it has been a very pleasant and good experience. I’ve met many other pooks and pookies—both two and four legged! Customers usually ask if they can call me pook once they know what it means, and I always say yes!

My shop has been described (by Rural Intelligence) as a “museum store without a museum” and I think that’s quite fitting; it seems my roots are showing. One of my guiding philosophies, a holdover from my museum years, is the desire to offer “something for everyone” and I therefore have a fairly broad range of price points—everything from a $300 Japanese copper teapot to a “folding ruler” for $6.

p o o k s t y l e offers things that I love, like, and/or believe in. My hope is that others will share my enthusiasms, and so far, anyway, so good! I should also add that at the shop’s core, shoppers will find many Scandinavian products. This “flavor” comes from my childhood in Amesbury, Massachusetts—my Dad was a Finn and my Mom an Olson, so growing up, there were many Scandinavian things in our home.

Gina: What makes a great gift?

Kaarin: Something that the giver feels good about giving—whether it’s because they know it’s just the right fit for the recipient, or because it’s something they have discovered and feel delighted and excited about personally and can then pass that delight along in the giving. 

Gina: What are your thoughts on fun hostess/host gifts?

Kaarin: Things that are attractive, maybe a little out of the ordinary, but also useful. For example, I carry a wonderful line of felt coasters from DAFF of Germany, in a whole range of fabulous colors. I encourage my customers to mix and match—have a little fun and at the same time customize and personalize the gift for your recipient. I carry at all times a variety of delicious Swedish jams—gooseberry, lingonberry, black currant. Always a lovely and tasty offering—and again, most useful. 

Gina: What’s the best gift anyone ever gave you?

Kaarin: When my now husband, then boyfriend, Bob, and I were dating, he gave me a flute one Christmas, something that had been on my Xmas list—along with a harpsichord (hey, a girl could dream!) —for many years. I believe it was a little beyond my parents means to buy me either one, much as they would have liked to, so when I opened that gift on Christmas Day, with my family all around me, my mother and I began to cry! My Mom later said that was when she knew that Bob was the “one for me.” 43 years later (41 wed, 2 dating), I’d say she had it right.

A walk around the shop with Kaarin…

Kaarin: These are Swedish mini Shea butter soaps: lingonberry (lingon), blueberry (blabar), and  cloudberry (hjortron) and Swedish egg white facial soap. I’m very fussy about smells, but I love the fresh, light scent of these Swedish bars. I’ve been giving the egg white facial bar to an 89-year-old friend of my late Mom’s for years, and she swears that it works wonders on her aged skin! Great stocking stuffers, all. 

Kaarin: I love the whimsical design of the B clock—the “B” theme as in bees, birds, and bunnies, the element of surprise when customers realize that it is made of lightweight recycled cardboard. It’s elegance created from everyday, humble materials—love that formula! 

Kaarin: p o o k s t y l e features an ever changing selection of used and rare design books pulled from sister store, Berkshire Books (which my husband Bob helms, and which is located right around the corner at 2 Park Row), as well as one-of-a-kind, unusual, hand-selected titles sprinkled throughout the shop.

Kaarin: A Cabinet of Curiosities at p o o k s t y l e includes rolls of colored cotton string, footed ceramic vessels by Cape Cod potter Frances Kate Johnson, tiny glass vases, angel ornaments from Denmark, red and white Yule candles from Sweden, and felt Moomim purses. On the counter are bundles of the most wonderful, longest-lasting white taper candles from Sweden (which are a p o o k s t y l e staple).

Kaarin: As long as there’s a p o o k s t y l e, there will be rubber stamps and art supplies! This is a terrific new Year of Holidays Stamp Carving Kit from Yellow Owl Workshop, creators and champions of clever rubber stamps of all kinds. There are also handsomely boxed brass key rings from Areaware (old keys being another p o o k s t y l e passion). Color Appeel crayons, ridiculously awesome crayon sticks with fun peel-to-reveal action. The Tea Towel Stencil Kits include two blank 100% cotton tea towels, drawing stencils, and fabric markers. Choose either the veggie or cat motif and have a ball creating your one-of-a-kind tea towel masterpieces! 

Kaarin: A typical p o o k s t y l e mix of fun and whimsical gifts: Melamine portrait plates from London’s National Gallery, classic folding Swedish ruler, brightly colored fabric watches, rubber stamp kits, ink stamp pads in a wide variety of colors, Sturdy cork coasters: choose from We Heart Canada, Chickadee, Snow Shoes. Boxed Cubeots (“a wooden puzzle with a playful personality”).

Kaarin: Here are soft lamb’s wool throws in pink and grey from Klippan, Sweden and a round, ingeniously designed scarf hanger from Japan. The cheerfully colored plastic bins were originally designed as baskets for marketing (veggies in particular stay fresh and intact), but there are any number of uses for these sturdy, light weight containers. I use mine as an elegant guest room wastebasket! 

Kaarin: A delightful tiny village contained in a matchbox. Made in the Netherlands, the 17 wooden pieces can be arranged in endless combinations. A sweet, diminutive stocking stuffer! 

Kaarin: In keeping with my “something for everyone” philosophy, p o o k s t y l e carries a selection of playful and unusual jewelry in a variety of price points. Fun, affordable readers fly out of the store. Available in four different color combinations, many customers buy one of every color and then place them throughout the house, ever at the ready!

Kaarin: These beautiful dreamcatchers are made from vintage Canadian laces. No two alike and they’re available in two sizes. Sweet dreams nearly certain.

Art Historian Ann Bermingham on Dogs in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century British Art (or, what my English springer spaniel Goose’s ancestors were up to)

For the past several years, I’ve made an artistic practice of photographing my English springer spaniel, Goose, during our walks in the Berkshire woods in western Massachusetts. My friend, Anne Burt, suggested that these photographs are kin to eighteenth and nineteenth century British paintings of dogs in nature and I was curious to know more about this tradition.

Goose by Gina Hyams, 2014

Anne put me in touch with her art historian aunt, Ann Bermingham, who kindly agreed to participate in this blog interview about the topic.

Ann Bermingham

Ann Bermingham teaches art history at the University of California Santa Barbara. She specializes in British art and has written on landscape painting, women artists, the history of drawing, portraiture, domestic architecture and the work of Thomas Gainsborough, John Constable, J.M.W. Turner and others.

Gina: What inspired you to become an expert in eighteenth and nineteenth century British animal painting?  What is it about that era of art that fascinates you?

Ann: Actually I not a specialist in animal painting, I am a specialist in British art of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and animal painting goes with the territory. British art is incredibly diverse in terms of the subjects it treats. This is because unlike so much Continental art of the period, British art was not produced for a King or a court but for a market. The market’s wide range of patrons with their varied tastes and interests helps to account for the unusual, even eccentric, subjects taken up by British artists. This artistic variety attracted me.

I’ve also been interested in our relationship to nature since the industrial revolution. Britain was the first industrialized nation in the world. Starting with the eighteenth-century when industry beings to transform Britain noticeably, rural subjects such as landscape, and I’d include animals, become prominent in British art. One might think of this as nostalgia for something that is being lost or changed, but I think it has more to do with a need to use the aesthetic to recreate nature in a new ways that acknowledge loss while also accommodating it.

Animal painting is a good example.  There was a tremendous interest in animals in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Some of this was economic—the improved breeding of livestock and sporting animals like race horses—and some of it was imperial—the fascination with exotic animals from all over the globe—and some was philosophical—the ethical issues raised by animals in relation to mankind—did they feel pain, were they intelligent, did they have souls, etc. The economic, imperial and philosophical interest in animals results in new ways of depicting them. We see that in the work of the two greatest British animal (and dog) painters George Stubbs (1724-1806) and Edwin Landseer (1802-1873).

Gina: Who are your favorite dog painters? What sorts of dogs did they paint and what were they trying to express through their art?

Ann: Because of their acute sensitivity to the changing place of animals in society, Stubbs and Landseer are my favorite dog painters. Before them, dogs appeared in art largely as symbols of fidelity. They rest at the feet of married women or gaze up adoringly at their male masters. Stubbs and Landseer move beyond the symbolic and depict dogs in new ways.

Stubbs is the scientist. He began his career as an artist by dissecting horses in order to understand them anatomically so as to represent them accurately. His working assumption was that nature was always superior to art and so he directed his attention away from the older traditions of animal painting and relied on his own observation. In doing so he set animal painting on a new path. He painted famous Newmarket racehorses, exotic animals in the Royal menagerie, and of course dogs. His dogs were for the most part bred for hunting—pointers, spaniels and foxhounds.

In his depiction of these dogs Stubbs concentrates on their anatomy and their characteristic markings and postures. The point is to describe the breed and Stubbs’s genius is to make all of this naturalism visually interesting. In his painting of Five of Lord Rockingham’s Foxhounds in a Landscape (1762) he arranges the dogs so that we clearly see their markings and physical features, but he also makes these elements aesthetic.

Five Hounds in a Landscape by George Stubbs, 1762

(image via Dog Art Today)

There is a crisp rhythm to the line of the dogs with their repeating dark ears, spots, pointed noses and curved tails. The eye moves across the frieze of dogs to the “climax” of the composition, the place where the two white bodied hounds, a male and female, meet nose to nose.

Like this painting of foxhounds, many of Stubbs’s dog paintings are really portraits of specific dogs belonging to friends and patrons. An interesting example of this, and one that goes a bit against the grain of Stubbs’s usual treatment of animals, is his painting of a Spanish Dog belonging to Mr. Cosway chasing a Butterfly (1775).

Spanish Dog belonging to Mr Cosway chasing a Butterfly by George Stubbs, 1775

(image via Flax Farm)

Richard Cosway was a fellow artist and something of a fop. His little dog is a breed known as the Papillion because its fringed, perky ears looked like the wings of a butterfly. It was a favorite breed of royalty and popular in France. Stubbs shows Cosway’s dog chasing a butterfly to underscore the name of the breed and to suggest something of its playful nature. Unlike so many of the dogs painted by Stubbs, which tend to be working dogs, this dog is clearly a pet, a lap dog, and in this sense the painting points to some of the period’s more expressive representations of dogs as pets such as Gainsborough’s portrait of the Duke of Buccleuch with his dog (1770).  

Duke of Buccleuch with his dog by Gainsborough, 1770

(image via Clan MacFarlane Genealogy)

What any dog fancier must see when they look at Stubbs’s paintings is how many of the breeds he represents have either gone extinct like the English Water Spaniel, or have evolved into modern breeds.

Water Spaniel by George Stubbs, 1769

(image via Yale Center for British Art)

This later point is particularly true of the spaniels he depicts which in many cases seem to be the ancestors of your dog, Goose.  

Land Spaniel by George Stubbs

(image via Wyldwood Springer Spaniels)

If Stubbs sets animal painting on the path of naturalism, Edwin Landseer turns that path in the direction of sentiment.  Landseer is interested in character and dogs become his medium for exploring it. Dignity and Impudence (1839) is a perfect example.

Dignity and Impudence by Sir Edwin Henry Landseer, 1839

(image via Tate)

Here the dignified bloodhound is wittily contrasted with the scruffy, feisty—“impudent” —little terrier. Both dogs belonged to a friend of Landseer’s and so again we’re dealing with portraits. But this is not so much the portrait of a breed as it is a depiction of a breed’s personality or temperament.

To see the difference compare Landseer’s depiction of a Newfoundland dog (1831) with Stubbs’s depiction of the same breed (1803).

Distinguished Member of the Humane Society by Sir Edwin Landseer

(image via Wikipedia)

Portrait of a New Foundland dog by George Stubbs, 1803

(image via Landseer van Bellandseer)

In the case of Stubbs we see the display of all the signs of the breed but we have no sense of what this breed is like. Is it hyper, domineering, timid, slobbering, snappish? We don’t know, and Stubbs doesn’t really tell us. In Landseer we have the physical appearance of the dog described perfectly accurately, but we get more; there’s something in the dog’s gaze and the set of his large thoughtful head that suggests a noble nature. This is a portrait of a dog known as Bob that survived a shipwreck and went on to rescue people from drowning. The setting tells us he is a water dog and the title, A Distinguished Member of the Humane Society, tells us he is a heroic rescue dog. Just as in the case of Dignity and Impudence, the title is essential in creating the effect of the dog’s character.

In a sense Landseer is the Charles Dickens of animal painting, creating vivid, memorable characters in dramatic, sentimental, and amusing narratives. Even class gets it’s due in pendants like High Life and Low Life (1829) where an elegant, long-boned deerhound in an aristocratic interior is contrasted with a squat bulldog pugnaciously guarding a butcher’s doorstep.

High Life by Sir Edwin Henry Landseer, 1829

(image via Tate)

Low Life by Sir Edwin Henry Landseer, 1829

(image via Tate)

In the 1950’s Walt Disney would translate this kind of Landseer narrative of class into Lady and the Tramp.

Landseer gets a bad rap these days because he is seen as projecting human characteristics onto dogs. This is certainly true, but not a reason I think to reject him. He interests me because his work points to a new relationship with animals, one that sees them as more like us than not. The science of the day supported this. If animals were like people then people were like animals. Charles Darwin believed that not only did human beings have a direct kinship with other animals, but that animals had social, mental and moral lives too. In The Descent of Man (1871), he wrote: “There is no fundamental difference between man and the higher mammals in their mental faculties.”In the nineteenth-century anthropomorphism (this tendency to see animals in human terms) is responsible for changes in the law, which protected animals from wanton cruelty. These laws begin in 1839 with the London Police Act and culminate in 1911 with the Protection of Animals Act and the founding of the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals (RSPCA).

Today we tend to respect dogs for their difference from us—we don’t need to humanize them (although it’s hard not to given our inheritance from the nineteenth century) in order to love and appreciate them. They are fine in all of their essential dogginess. I see this in your photos of Goose. Like Stubbs many of your portraits show him outside sniffing fallen logs, or running on country lanes and just enjoying being a dog outdoors.

What you don’t show Goose doing is hunting, and this sets your work off from that of many earlier artists. For them the portrait of the dog had to display the purpose of the breed—hunting, rescue, herding—by showing them doing their characteristic work. For instance, George Armfield (1808-1893) was a Welshman who had a great fondness for painting spaniels hunting game. He shows them splashing through water and racing through the underbrush. He occasionally depicts them resting by firesides and nestling with their littermates, but for the most part his portraits are action packed and depict the dog doing the work it was bred to do.

Spaniels Putting Up a Mallard by George Armfield

(image via Rehs Galleries)

Goose is not shown “at work” but rather at play. In this sense, he’s more a child than an adult. This points to a sensibility that also distinguishes our relationships with animals from those of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Dogs and cats are now part of our families, children (or maybe grandchildren) to be enjoyed and indulged. I’m struck by how many people today refer to themselves as their pet’s “Mom” or “Dad.” I think even Landseer might be surprised by that.

Gina: Can you direct me to any paintings of my English springer spaniel Goose’s ancestors?18

Ann: Goose comes from a distinguished line of sporting dogs.  Spaniels originate in Spain, hence their name. In the eighteenth century, spaniels were split into three categories: land spaniels, water spaniels and toy spaniels. The land spaniels were split into two further types, the cocker spaniel and the springer spaniel. Springers were the large dogs born in a cocker spaniel litter. The cockers would be used to sniff through the underbrush for woodcocks while the larger dogs would be used to “spring” game from the brush so that it could be shot. The English springer spaniel was recognized as a breed distinct from the English cocker spaniel in 1902.

The English cocker spaniel is different from the American cocker; it has a longer snout and a slimmer, less cobby body. English springer spaniels carry these same physical characteristics. Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries different types of land and water spaniels were interbred in Britain and one of the ancestors of Goose, in addition to the cocker spaniel, is the Norfolk water spaniel, a type which is now extinct.

Brown and White Norfolk or Water Spaniel by Stubbs, 1778

(image via Yale Centerfor British Art)

Gina: Thanks so much. What’s your next project?

Ann: I’ve been interested in the cottage as a vernacular form of domestic architecture. Traditionally, cottages were the homes of peasants and agrarian workers. However, at the end of the eighteenth century they came to have great appeal to the middle classes. All you have to do is recall in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility Robert Ferrars waxing enthusiastically to Elinor Dashwood about the “comfort” and “elegance” of the cottage to get a sense of how much an object of middle-class fantasy it had become. I’ve already told some of that story, but I’d like to look at the cottage now in relation to the development of working class housing in the early industrial revolution. It’s the root form not only for suburban villas but also for worker housing, so I’m interested in exploring this other aspect of the cottage’s history. There is a lot of interesting research to do, so it’s a topic that I imagine will keep me busy for a while.

Goose by Gina Hyams, 2014

 

Leigh Hyams Studio Residency in San Miguel de Allende: 2016 Application Guidelines

Leigh’s family established the Leigh Hyams Studio Residency to give an artist a free month-long creative retreat at Leigh’s casita in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. The furnished casita has a painting studio, simple kitchen, one bedroom, Talavera tile-filled bathroom, and an extensive collection of art books, as well as access to the patio garden and roof terrace. Everything you need, including organic groceries and art supplies, is within walking distance. For more information about the house and neighborhood, see Casa Duende.

Leigh painting in her casita studio circa 2008

GUIDELINES

1. Applicants must have some connection to Leigh – be it that they were her student, friend, or fan.

2. The residency will take place May of 2016 and will include rent, utilities, housekeeping three times a week, and assistance as needed from the bilingual property manager.

3. The residency is for one person (no friends, no family, no pets) so that you, the artist, can focus on your art without distraction.

4. The artist is responsible for his or her own transportation to Mexico, food, and art supplies.

HOW TO APPLY

Application deadline: February 5, 2016.

Answer these questions:

1. How are you connected to Leigh?

2. What would you do with a month in Leigh’s studio?

3. Please tell us about your art.

Email application to: ginahyams@gmail.com.

Casita bedroom

Day bed in the casita studio

Casita kitchen

Casita dining area

Casita studio

Casita bathroom

Announcing the 2014 Leigh Hyams Studio Residency Recipient: Painter Carolyn Miller

We are pleased to announce that Carolyn Miller of San Francisco is the recipient of the 2014 Leigh Hyams Studio Residency.

Here’s how Carolyn plans to use her May retreat in San Miguel de Allende:

“After being initially intimidated at trying to paint where Leigh painted, and finding it hard to be in the casita when she is no longer there, I believe I would be energized by her dedication to her work and as a result I would paint some large canvases. Last September I had a solo show at Canessa Gallery in San Francisco, and one of the paintings was of my mother’s famous dahlia bed at my childhood home in Missouri. On one of Leigh’s visits from Mexico I had told her I wanted to paint that dahlia bed, and she encouraged me to do. I tried to do that painting then and failed, but last year I did complete a large painting and named it ‘My Mother’s Dahlia Bed, for Leigh.’ After that painting sold, I decided I wanted to do several other paintings of the same subject. I also would like to do a series on the Missouri woods, and a series of Missouri rivers. I’m interested these days in large canvases, 48 by 48 inches, that would eventually be stretched.

Because the Canessa show went well, I would like to try for another show there, probably with another person, so a month of time to paint would allow me to gather some new work toward that end. Some other ideas I have for paintings include abstracts based on the sidewalks in San Miguel, because when I was there I became fascinated with the colors and patterns in the native stone. I would also like to do some paintings of the flowers, vegetables, and fruits sold in the mercado, some of which I sketched when I was staying in the casita. I would also like to experiment with some streetscapes and interiors, two kinds of painting I have almost never done but have always wanted to try.

Recently I’ve been taking a long time to do each painting and have found it hard to find the time to paint, but I believe that if I had an entire month to devote to painting I could achieve much more, as I did in the days when I took part in Leigh’s classes and workshops.”

 

Update June 16, 2014

To see photos of the works in progress Carolyn painted during her residency, please click here.

“My Mother’s Dahlia Bed, for Leigh” by Carolyn Miller

San Miguel’s Day of the Dead Alfeñiques Market

Sugar skulls and other treats for the dead to be placed on Day of the Dead altars.

Painted Tortillas and Capilla San Isdidro in Cruz del Palmar

Yesterday our friend Judith Roberts drove us out into the San Miguel countryside to the village of Cruz del Palmar. We visited the newly resorted 18th century Capilla San Isdidro, which is one of six chapels on the Ruta de  Capillas de Indios. On the church ceiling, there’s an “orchestra of angels” mural. I only half-understood the guide…the history involves Otomí and Chichimeca tribes, a lightning strike, something about witches hopping from mesquite tree to mesquite tree, a river, and a guy who stole silver.There’s a little restaurant set up at the chapel, where they served “painted tortillas” with lunch. Judy explained that the charming tortillas are a specialty of this village, made for fiestas with vegetable dyes and woodblock presses.

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