Updated: Jan 27, 2021
The Artist's Bookshelf, oil on stretched canvas, 18 x 24 inches, 2019, Sheree Wood.
Growing up in the 70's my brother and I played a Memory matching game that showed the paintings of the masters: Picasso, Matisse, Cézanne, Monet, Velasquez... We tried to commit the images and names to memory. The colors and shapes seared into my brain.
As I grew older, the Impressionist collection at the Chicago Art Institute drew me in like a moth to flame. I couldn't get enough of the rich colors used by Monet, Renoir, and Matisse.
Time passed. I took some art courses at the UW-Madison but graduated in Spanish Education. I married, remodeled houses, taught classes, immersed myself in photography, and designed perennial gardens. Flowers began to fill my eyes night and day.
Happily my passions became fused. Gardening and painting became a single focus when, about 20 years ago, an artist friend began to give me private lessons in watercolor painting. We would set up a card table in my garden or hers. A black and white cat would walk over our works, forcing us to relax any perfectionist ways. I challenged myself to recreate the abstract floral oil paintings of Georgia O'Keefe. In watercolor. I learned color mixing, line, layering...
O'Keefe looks at flowers as if through a microscope, so closely that they become nearly unrecognizable. Abstracted. I had already spent years taking similar photos of flowers. It was a perfect fit. I armed myself with paint brushes and spent that summer looking at my garden through Georgia's eyes, in watercolor.
Other painters have influenced me. During my junior year abroad in college I took an art course that met each week at the renowned Prado Museum in Madrid. We worked our way through the entire collection. Velazquez's "Las Meninas" burned its way onto my retina as did Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró in the months that followed. My eyes learned new ways of seeing the world.
An unforgettable experience was visiting the Picasso Museum in Barcelona. To the Picasso nay-sayers (a child could paint that), simply, you must go. The museum is laid out chronologically: The first painting encountered is an oil painting that a young Pablo made depicting his sister's first communion. It is, one might say today, hyperrealistic. The light that shines through the lace of his sister's mantel is photographically precise. The visitor soon realizes that, rather than continuing along the path of realism, which he had already mastered at age 14, Picasso forged his own creative path. Genius.
Another favorite Spanish painter is Joaquin Sorolla. His art reminds me of the Swedish painter, Anders Zorn. Both are master painters of the twentieth century. Visit the Museo Sorolla in Madrid if you have the chance. Sorolla's paintings are exhibited in what was once his family home. It is an exquisite living museum. You walk through his dining room, studio, bedrooms, even outdoor gardens. They remain just as they were in his lifetime. Sorolla is famous for capturing the light and shadow of the Mediterranean in shades of lilac and ocean blue.
Looking at the photo of my favorite art books, you will see more of my "besties": American abstract painter Wayne Thiebaud, famous for his chromatic outlining of forms and reinvention of realism. Famous Thiebaud subjects include slices of pie in a cafeteria, a hunk of ham, cupcakes and donuts. From this artist we learn that "the painter has to be more inventive... (He) has to reinvent Realism". Like Picasso. Like O'Keefe.
California artist, Richard Diebenkorn, was a renowned abstract landscape oil painter. He worked in juicy color and geometric line. German-born American painter, Wolf Kahn, was not afraid to spread a loaded brush of bright pink to capture a forest scene. He made each scene a vision of his own making. Abstract yet recognizable in form.
My painting influences are infinite. I could read and write about my favorite painters for weeks... But I had best close my laptop and get back to painting or I'll never get anything done.
In these cold pandemic months I put on a pot of coffee and paint alone, but in good company.