I had toured the Remington Gallery earlier with my daughter Allison on one of her research-gathering expeditions to support a book publication dedicated to historical river architecture along both side of the St Lawrence and The Thousand Islands. I did enjoy the visit ... but mainly that enjoyment was based upon sharing the experience one-on-one with Allison. On this occasion though, I was to able to glean new insights and reflection into my own work through viewing the masterful Remington masterpieces.... merely a nose distance away. There were none of the usual high profile gallery restrictions re: space from the work, or even taking photographs. All of the very knowledgeable staff of volunteers on hand were ever so willing to chat and share their knowledge with us. All of these factors allowed me to come away excited and refreshed from the new knowledge which this experience revealed to me.
I made my way slowly around the gallery several times. On each occasion, I saw a different facet of the exhibition and Remington's own artistic growth and development. On my first tour around, I was overwhelmed by the power of his draughtsmanship... attention to detail and always impeccable design and composition. That awe was further deepened when my eye caught sight of these early sketchbook pages which Remington completed as a 15 year old cadet at the Highland Military Academy in October of 1876. Though it is obvious in these sketches that the romance and idealism of war and a soldiering life intrigued him greatly, he held no academic aspirations and could not tolerate its rigid restrictions. He felt more committed to the two "D's"...day dreaming and drawing.
The sketches shown here certainly confirm his unusual interest in military themes... but with a "rather average" proficiency and undeveloped skill in illustration. This sketch book is the launch pad for his voyage of self-discovery and mastery. It is totally amazing to compare these first humble and youthful attempts to the exceptionally competent level that he was able to achieve in less than ten years.We all have to start somewhere I guess... no matter where that might end!
He went of to Yale and excelled on the football field and did gain some art training, but left Yale... again feeling constricted and unmotivated by college life. His restless spirit yearned for more... and that included the desire to marry his future wife Eva. Her father scorned his hand in marriage request... citing the young man's financial instability. Determined to win the day, Remington headed to the west... vowing to return a "successful millionaire" and to win Eva's hand in marriage.
Notes! Notes! Notes... Notans! Notans! Notans!... Sketch! Sketch! Sketch! = EXPERIENCE
He did in fact immerse himself fully into western cowboy life...mastering many of the skills of that lifestyle and during this crucial period, he built up a huge portfolio of work based upon his many contacts and experiences. By 1888, his drawing ability had improved to a level significant enough to garner him illustration assignments on a regular basis... working in pen and ink for Harper's Weekly and Century Magazine... just to name a few. Black and white illustration work allowed him to find a "day job"... but Remington realized early on that development of colour was essential to expanding into the fine art area.
His contrite inability to "become schooled" continued as he searched on his own to create his own palette and painting style in oils. As I toured and looked more closely at the exhibition seeking to understand his path to this end... it became obvious that he merely approached the colour issue by gradually shifting the spectrum tonally using watercolour and India ink washes and the "grisaille" techniques. Both approaches helped him to develop a painting process based upon a monochromatic (one colour/black) approach. This learning strategy helped him create nuances and variations to model form... volume... and create light and shadow.
Watercolour monochromatic painting. Note the attention to detail and the overall move of calm he creates in his varied poses. He creates a "moment"... one of of rest from a long and dry ride on the plains.
Another grisaille piece which compositionally juxtaposes a static foreground pair with a diagonally moving middle ground group receding to the distance ... all wedged by a wall of firs and distant mountains. Again notice the individual and realistic quality that he creates for each figure in the composition.
Black and white interpretation greatly enhanced Remington's ability to enter the activity of adding paint to drawing and design. Colour, as you well know and understand complicates most artists' initial entry into a development of a painting style. I share Remington's belief that beginning painting from this perspective is empowering. Books on colour theory are good for some artists... but others like R and I do not thrive on this approach. Painting experience... is as valuable as schooling... and "book learning." Set your own tempo and goals. Develop self-discipline by scheduling regular times to paint. Just plan... and paint!
I could spend months of posting my thoughts and impressions following each tour, but I hope now to encapsulate my findings with a quick summarizing view and check list on Remington's method:
1. He was passionate about his subjects... horses, cowboy life, the disappearing Wild West and Indian way of life, outdoor subjects and landscape painting
2. He developed his artistic tool box choosing his own ideas, time frame and preferred mediums
3. While he shared his own path with other notables such as NC Wyeth and Charlie Russell, he remained true to his own personal search for expression rather than to copy... never comprising his ideals
4. He travelled broadly in America and Canada... but spurned things European and embraced painterly impressionism and other movements which shaped western Art in his time only near the end of his life
5.He focused upon and constantly refined basic elements which shape all "good art"... resisting playing it safe
6. He worked prolifically and maintained a very demanding schedule in painting and sculpting, producing nearly three thousand works of art and 23 sculptures
7. He made time to seek solitude to think... observe and gather ideas from the natural world
I have been overwhelmed by this unique learning opportunity and will long benefit from this experience. The opportunity to probe the painting surfaces of his many paintings... particularly his St Lawrence River landscapes and his sublime and ethereal nocturnes (at which he excels). These in particular offer future food for thought and direction for my own work. I better understand my own process and directions... something that I too struggle with on my journey.
What Remington achieved in his too short forty-eight year life span provides a model for all of us who struggle to find our Selves. Art is a journey and should not be considered a destination. Such a point of view marks the end of learning and future growth and development. Here is part of the collection that I viewed. I offer it to you for your own search!
This is a statement he made in regard to creating his bronze sculptures. Each of those sculptures freeze the action... every creature and figure anatomically correct... a bounty of exact detail to wrap these forms in unparalleled excellence. The same can be said for his paintings in each of the genres.
Mortal wounding and ambush on patrol...
Pointers making their way through the icy waters and shrouded in fog... one moment and one floe at a time
" Hauling in the Gill Net"... frozen upon the very crest of a wave... a moment in time
"Howl of the Weather"... the bow penetrating the wave... frozen at the end of a long prying stroke
Midnight Rendez-vous faces fade into the shadows... lost edges prevail over line... an intimate moment
Remington's Boat House-Studio on Chippewa Bay, St Lawrence River
Quebec Club ... shadowed shore captures the transient end of day light... a golden moment
The Rough rider Charge on San Juan Hill... an important oeuvre... one which catapulted Teddy Roosevelt in his gubernatorial campaign. Reminiscent of the quality of great Civil War and British commemorative battle paintings. Many figures capturing many instants.
This "cowboy coffee" moment painting captures that round the campfire end of day ritual that these range riders cherished. It is Remington's last painting... and fittingly... it remains unfinished. Such should be the ending note in the lives and work for all artists.... an unfinished moment! Our last masterpiece remains ever in the making!
Good painting!... To ALL!!