Friday, July 3, 2015

The Studio

Copyright © Edward Riojas
“Las Meninas,” by Diego Velázquez.
1656-57. (Museo del Prado, Madrid)

It’s an artist’s office. It’s the place serious artist’s call home when not working al fresco with a portable easel, wonderful weather and a goofy hat. I’d love to say that the Bohemian in me often takes my canvas down to the Tropics or some English meadow, but the reality is that I hate bugs and dirt blowing into my fresh paint. Besides, my large panel would probably sail off the easel and put a nasty crease in the nearest BMW. I’ll stay indoors, thank you very much.

This means I rely heavily on a studio space while creating art. It must accommodate my artistic needs.

Throughout history, artists have often gravitated toward rather large studios. Back in the day, if you were a well-known artist and had several students or assistants, it would necessitate an even greater space. Paintings like Velazquez’s “Las Meninas,”  Gustave Courbet’s “The Painter’s Studio,” and Horace Vernet’s “The Artist’s Studio” give peeks into those spacial environs of years past. The viewer is often privy to a casual tableau of unfinished canvases, nudes, clothed sitters, children, pets, the neighborhood dwarf, fencing matches, horses and, presumably, basketball hoops, bleachers and popcorn stands.
“The Painter’s Studio,” by Gustave Courbet.
1855. (Musée d’Orsay, Paris)

Today, fortunate artists might work in a swanky, reconditioned warehouse with exposed pipework, original brick walls, floor-to-ceiling windows and ample space to spread out bad ideas and lousy artwork. But I’m not jealous.

Originally, my wife and I bought our place because it had a well-constructed barn that could hold a to-die-for studio. Oh, and we bought it because of the above-ground pool. And everything was painted slate blue. All very important selling points. After a time, I built a stairway ascending to one barn loft. Then I constructed a much nicer ascent to the opposite loft. Later, I added posts and beams. The 18-foot ceiling would have had hammer beams, lots of windows and a lot less bat guano. I made a Gothic door to that lair with hammered metal fittings and hand-leaded glass. That was then. A full-time job, a family, a house in need of repairs and incoming commissions sort of put that all on hold.
“The Artist’s Studio,” by Horace Vernet.
c. 1820. (Private collection)

I now work in a modest space. It’s a 10-by-10-ish upstairs room in the house. In that area I have two wall easels, a large studio easel, a drawing board, two small tables and two stools. The walls are stacked with all manner of junk, and there is a small closet packed with art and art supplies. There is also a large filing cabinet and an even larger cabinet. Oh, and don’t forget the portion of the room that acts as a hallway. It’s tight.

I nearly laugh every time someone wants to visit my studio. I once used my daughter’s four poster bed as a drying rack when working on a 2-by-160 foot mural. Another time, I had to push up a portion of the dropped ceiling to accommodate an eight-foot-tall painting. That stood on the floor.
The door to a once and future studio
(Photo courtesy of The Curmudgeon)

But I produce the work, and that is the real blessing. I’ve learned that I don’t need much – even space – to bring my ideas to fruition. I have managed to create a 1,200 square-foot mural in a room one-twelfth that size. When working on a 2-by-3 foot painting, the same space seems such a luxury. Still, I sometimes look longingly at the loft in my barn. But mostly I don’t. Which brings me to the bottom line: At some point, every creative type must choose between working in a showcase and producing work that is worthy of the same. The choice is obvious.

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