Sunday, February 28, 2010

My Great Moment with Sergei Bongart

I first heard of Sergei from my great teacher and mentor, Charles Cross, in 1970. I think Sergei was teaching in Santa Monica at the time, but what interested me was Charles' designation--"the great Sergei Bongart." Charlie did not throw praise around much, so I was curious about this Russian teacher who struck fear and awe in everyone who encountered him. In 1980, after returning to California from Indianapolis to seek additional art training, I was directed by Don Putman to Sergei's classes in Los Angeles. I sought admittance with great anticipation. Sergei was teaching at the Business Men's Art Club in an old building that was once the Los Angeles School of Artistic Whistling. It was a victorian with two stories. Downstairs Sergei's proven devotees painted the figure, while novitiates were consigned to the upstair regions to sweat out the still life. Upon arrival at Sergei's dojo I was immediately ushered upstairs by his loyal assistant, Sonny (like Sony television) Apichapong. I was left alone with twenty or so still life set ups of plastic flowers, green bottles, copper pots, and stuffed fowl. After an hour of painting misery, I heard these clomping footsteps coming up the wooden stair case--it was Sergei! "Hower ju?" "Vut ju doink?" "Steel life es goot packtice." I had prepared myself for this initial encounter by memorizing the name and basic biography of every great Russian artist of the previous 100 years--Serov, Repin, Maliavan, Ivan Shiskin, Levitan, Constantinen, and all the rest. Sergei was really impressed if I must say so--not with my painting, but with my hastily acquired knowledge of Russin art history. So it began. From that day forward Sergei would clomp up the stairs about twenty minutes after class began, and we would discuss Russian art amid a few comments about my still life painting. "Too much color--paintink luk like monkey's behind." "Red is trouble--luk like Red Sea" "Too many wiggle schmigle brush strook." "Don't tink jus paint." "Put down strook and leave alone." Sergei would often paint right over the top of your efforts and do what amounted to a Sergei work over. He did this a number of times for me , and I would sell them to other students to pay my tuition.

Sergei was a typical professorial type who took every question as an cue for a ten minute lecture that would often vere off into personal anectdotes. The stories of drinking bouts with fellow artists, his hatred for the communists, stories of his life in Russia, his comments about artists living and dead just poured out in response to my poignant queries. I figured out how to push his Russian buttons. He hated the movie "Reds", but he loved Ronald Reagan who he felt was the first American President to stand up to the Soviets. It was easy to see his love and frustration with the Mother Country. He was certain that if he ever returned to the homeland he would be imprisioned in Siberia for good.

After a few months of study, Sergei gave me my first homework assignment. "Go home, paint white paintink, bring back, I critique." I gathered every white object I could find--eggs, paper towels, napkins, plastic spoons--whatever. I painted a 40by4o canvas and plunked it down in front of the whole class--and Sergei. "Dis is goot paintink--now.. go home paint red paintink." That was all he said--but, he did say that it was "goot." I had scored, I was an artist!--Sergei told me so with the word "goot." So the next week I returned with a painting of every red object I could find. Same program--only this time Sergei placed my 40by40 painting on a easel in front of what seemed a much larger class. I felt this effort was superior to the last, and I awaited to be knighted, to be elevated to the level of the gods, to receive a great big okie dokie from the master himself--in front of the home crowd! guessed it. "Dis is not art" was the opening salvo--followed by--"Dis is like baby wit coolorink buk--draw circle, color in circle." "Is like little boy wit crayon." By this time Sonny was doubled over in restrained laughter, the rest of the class was dead silent. Sergei turned and marched off into his office leaving me alone, stripped to the bone, in front of 40 devotees and Sonny. I felt that my guts had been looted clean of all my artistic hopes. So I went on the attack-- ", and, and too." I then retreated upstairs burning with rage and embarrasment. Ten minutes later Sonny came up and said, "Sergei wants to speak with you privately in his office."

As I made my way downstairs, I was certain that I would be asked to leave the school. I had gone off like a mad man verbally attacking innocent bystanders. I had completely blown my shot at study with the great one--what could I do, where could I go, how would I live this down? I thought about just heading out to my car and driving off--leaving his school and its dummies--I was really undone. But I decided to face the music. Sonny ushered me past the 40 students in the life class who seemed to give me the evil eye. Down the hall to the left was Sergei's office. This was off limits to students, but this day I was invited in. Sonny opened the door, and there sat Sergei behind his desk waiting for me.

There were four great moments in my student years that I felt shaped my destiny as an artist. 'They are written on the fleshly tablets of my heart, and I can talk about the time, the place, and the psychological context of each one of them. What occurred in Sergei's office that day in the summer of 1980 was one of these moments. At that point in my life, I felt I had nothing going for me except a beautiful wife and four beautiful children--no certain career, no money earning capacity--no mojo! My wife, Diana, had gone back to nursing so I could pursue my art--we were living in voluntary poverty in those years so I could study and paint all day with the outside chance that I would eventually amount to something and make a living at it. And now this! It was a great privilidge to study with Sergei, but you had better be serious--from time to time he would stage back door revivals to run off the deadwood--those who were there for looks or on a whim. And now I was about to join the ranks of the discarded. Well to make it short--Sergei stood up and began, "Why you doo dis?" "You could be great artist, but you scare people--you like Bolshovik." "Now... go--upstairs--go paint--shut up--just work--go."--and that was it. I was not kicked out as I had feared, and he seemd to let me off the hook with minimum scolding and a few exhortations. I felt the blood, the mojo, the soul return to my body. I was going to live after all! Things seemed to accelerate from then on--I had been given the grace I needed at the right time--I moved downstairs with the devotees--a year later I said goodby to The School of Artistic Whistling, to Sonny, and to the great one. The rest is just more process--and grace. Don Hatfield

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Readable Version of Earlier Post

The post, "The Color of Your Artistic Soul Revealed", was written in one long grunt and is bulky and hard to follow, so I thought I would create a condenced version. This re-write is worth it to me because I have slaved over this stuff for 40 years, and I believe that I have arrived at some important conclusions that apply to all practicing artists--conclusions that I have hacked out on the front lines of art production, in the mud, so to speak. I want to say four things about color that I believe actually help practicing oil painters. If you are not "in the paint", what I say or what anybody says will be to no avail--duh! I am assuming a basic knowledge of color use on your part and have no interest in discouraging your continued study of color from every angle possible. My own ideas are constantly evolving because of new knowledge, but my new knowledge has to do with my interior, my mind and soul--not my wrist or the acquisition of tricks. I don't give a hoot in hell about so and so's tid bits, methods, or recipies unless his paintings knock me flat on my big ass and make me want to cry "mercy!" What I am about to say applies to those who really are interested in taking their art to the next level--it does not apply to those who are satisfied with what they have accomplished so far--in point of fact, those who are lost, confused, frustrated, disoriented and desparate in their art journey are the ones who are most likely to hear this stuff. I have observed that self satisfaction is death in this business--I know from experience that when the money pours in and the legions of men are applauding, growth usually stops. And finally--the great inhibitors to improvement in painting are spiritual, social, and psychological--they have absolutely nothing to do with talent--so here goes.

1. Color apprehension and use in oil painting are instinctual--it is a disposition of the heart, and as such it is a matter of the soul, the gut, the feelings, the spirit, the interior. Accumulating technical information about color may not lead to the ability to use color brilliantly in oil painting. To improve, one must work on his artistic mojo. How do you work on your mojo? This leads to my second point:

2. The oil painter must develop taste--or call is discernment or consciosness. Taste is developed by looking at the great work of great artists living and dead (mostly dead), and by trusting your God given instincts that arise when viewing color in paintings and in nature or maybe even in your dreams. You will know that your taste is developing when you find your self responding from the gut to what you are looking at. You may say "..that color is hard to look at", "that color is beautiful", "that painting has the snap of reality and grabs my senses", "that color harmonizes, it holds together, it sings"--the artist must own these responses and trust them to inform his own artistic journey. You cannot import color taste--though many try--you see this in magazines and on televesion all the time--you see, many who would rather pay for someone else to do their thinking for them rather than listen to their own voice. So then--your own internal responses are the bed rock, the foundation, the core out of which your taste emerges--they are the fuel of your own fire--the fire that drives you as an artist. The limits of your taste mark the limits of your development in use of color.

3. You must hold on to your initial color scheme, your motive, your inspiration, your direction throughout your painting. If you are unsure what moves you or where you are headed when you start your color masterpiece, then stop until you are decided. It helps to ask--is this going to be a red, a blue, or a yellow painting? Is this going to be a warm or a cool color scheme? Is the color going to be rich or grey? If you can answer these questions early in your project, then you may be able to hold on to your initial interest to the end. If your motive, your initial inspiration is not clear to you, then it will not show up in your finished work. Color creates great sympathetic contract with the viewer and is possibly more important than accuracy of drawing or subject matter. If you can attach great color to great design or great story, then that's as good as it gets in paint. I have wobbled through many paintings--drifting from one vague idea to the next, trying to bail out the canvas by rendering the hell out of this or that--not having a clear vision or direction and finally just giving up and submitting to that voice from hell that says...."it will sell--why worry about it!" The terrible truth here is--that voice is often accurate.

4. All answers to color problems are on the canvas--not in nature. While inspiration can come from nature--solutions are arrived at in the paint. Nature provides a point of departure--a temporary reference point for your project. Depiction of nature is not the aim--your sense of nature, your interpretation, your bending of nature is the goal. How I respond to the subject at hand in paint will be the record of my effort for the ages--not that flower, that pretty girl, that landscape out there. So then, we have to make the canvas work. It is the canvas that will finally say: "Hatfield was here, he lived, he recorded, for better or worse he left a record." So be nice to your canvas and let it hold forth on your behalf. Don Hatfield

Friday, February 26, 2010

Facing Responsibility, but First Things First!

What is the right thing to do? I know...whatever feels good!
I am behind in taxes, commisssions, and household chores--time to go paint all day in Sac with my friends! Yup--go "cavort with the gods!"

"...and let us rejoice in it!"

morning light looking out from where I paint in my Napa studio
As I sit here at three in the morning in my forrest studio above Napa Valley, I am reminded of Service's lines,".....and here am I where all things end, and undesirables are hurled, a poor old man without a friend, forgot and lost to all the world; clean our of sight and out of mind...well, maybe it is better so; we all in life our level find, and mine, I guess, is pretty low." In a few hours it will be dawn, and perhaps I can say "...this is the day the Lord hath made...let us be glad and rejoice in it!"

Origins of the Universe l

click on image to enlarge
Eva tries desparately to convince her uncle, Caleb Hatfield, that the universe indeed has meaning.

Origins of the Universe ll

click on image to enlarge
Eva ponders whether her explaination to Caleb was sufficient.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Just After World War Two

My dad (right) had migrated to So Cal to work the oil fields in Long Beach (Signal Hill). My brother , Harold (left) had been a star at USC and was now playing pro ball for the Edmonton Eskimos in Canada, my brother Dick (tee shirt) was just home from the war in the Pacific, and my mother was just proud of her boys. The little guy is me. They are all gone now: God, I miss them so!

The Color Of Your Artistic Soul Revealed

Color is elusive, highly personal, mercurial, and the least quantifiable of all the branches of oil painting. It is nearly impossible to teach color, but it is very easy to blab about it--I know. You can be color blind and still be a great colorist. Color is wedded inextricibly to value if form painting of any kind is the goal. Those who want to argue this point with me will find no adversary. Do what you want, and show me what you can do, but don't bug me with half baked color theories, books on color, articles on color, so and so's school of color, workshops on color, trips to Europe looking for color, great thoughts on color and so forth--I have heard and seen them all, and I have a built in crap detector that is highly tuned. I have no patience with non-painter theorists who try to explain to me why blue and yellow don't make green--they sure as hell do on my palette! If you think I am great at color, then you are in agreement with many others. If you think my color is half ass--then you are in agreement with me. It doesn't matter. I have, however, arrived at one certainty regarding the successful use of color in oil painting that fits all men in all places without exception, and which divides the men from the boys in the color game--it is this. The artist's color sense must emerge from his own interior, and the artist must grow in his knowledge that the canvas is a mirror of that interior. This interior or soul or spirit develops in relation to the world over time. It helps if the artist can articulate that development in terms of likes and dislikes--in terms of yes and no. To say, " I like this, and I don't like that" is the beginning of taste--taste that will be expressed on the canvas. Once the rudiments of color mixing is in hand, the journey begins. After a few acres of canvas are covered, the oil painter reveals who he is in color for all the see. Scary isn't it? The good news in our time is that almost nobody cares what oil painters are doing. It takes courage to develop taste--to say I don't like that or I really dig this. It takes time to articulate taste--to hold forth with the whys and wherefores of one's tastes and preferences in color.

I believe that this taste thing is at the core of the use of color--the lack of conviction, of clarity, and taste cause artists to stumble with color--not technology. It is personal conviction that preceeds growth in the painting process. Put another way--inspiration preceeds technology. If I strongly desire to achieve certain color effects, I will find a way to do it--I may have to invent a way--now I am finding answers, now I am creating. Develop your color palett around your own taste and not around anyone else's. Be able to say--I don't like this or I hate that, or I really dig the other, and feel comfortable with your feelings. Trust that voice that is coming to you from a place of your own--it won't lie to you. That's all there is to it. Sounds easy, but it is a life time process. Some people short circuit the process by hiring others to define their color taste for them--they fear not being hip or they don't trust themselves in a matter that is rarely life threatening. Why not develop the ability to talk to yourself (not others) about what appeals to you and why--and act on it--at least on the canvas where it is safe.

If you are an oil painter, you probabley have developed the ability to critique museum paintings as well as Aunt Sophie's weekend darling. Try to articulate to yourself what moves you and why in every piece of art you behold. Those who have struggled in the past with color have left a perfect record in paint of their efforts to be tasteful, and you may learn well from them. If you have purchased thousands of dollars of art monographs, visited nearly every museum at home and abroad, spent months with your nose six inches from every beautiful painting that you can find--you are probably developing color taste, and that taste will find its way onto your canvas. You surely don't have to paint to love color, but painting gives you the opportunity to see if you can put down harmonies that please yourself--you may even create conversations of color that collectors will pay for. Harmonies and conversations--that is what great colorists fill their canvases with. We know from expereience that some things don't seem to harmonize very well and some conversations are really uninteresting.

I am exhorting you to develope, nuture, sustain, discover and project (in paint) great taste--your taste. Taste is not opinion, it does not inhere in somebody's else's mind or spirit, it cannot be purchased--recipes of other people's taste are for sale, however--be sure you don't buy! Your personal taste can only be developed over time and with some conscious effort. We are told that studying from life and copying old masters teaches color. I often study old master paintings and ask myself --now, how did he do that? Staring at and attempting to render nature, however, will not necessarily teach you how to paint with great color. Painting from life is often no better than painting from photographs when it comes to improving color skills. Assuming some familiarity with oil painting fundmentals, the most direct route to improving color skills is to learn how to asses your own work honestly by comparing what you have acheived with your initial goal. If your initial goal was not informed by great taste, then you may be limited temporarily, until your taste develops further. Some sticking points that art instructors feel with certain students are due to simple lack of taste. Chase made a comment to one of his students that is revealing here. The student came with canvas in hand and said, "...if I could see it (nature) , then I could paint it." Chase corrected him, "!..when you can see what you have painted, then you will improve."

The answers, then, are on the canvas, not in nature. There is a difference. Nature is only a starting point. The finishing point, the most important point, the point that determines the final disposition of the canvas--is in your head, in your heart, in your soul, in your spirit, or maybe even in your toe--it's someplace in you--not out there! Your painting is finished when you can say."..I left nothing of myself out of this project--I put everything I had into it today." "I painted it the way I saw it, not the way Joe Blow saw it." It is possible, maybe preferable, to piddle around with your piles of color on your pallett with your knife and experiment by putting some of it up there on the canvas in ways never before imagined--as Dan McCaw once said,"..if you want to put a blue line around it...then, put a blue line around it." Who knows? Yes we observe live models, still life, and landscapes to build our skill sets. You have to learn how to open the car door, set your big fanny in the seat, put on the safety belt, shut the door, put it in neutral, turn the key and get the car going--but these steps are only part of the story. The trip, the journey, the destination is the important story. Your taste--what you like and don't like, who you are--will determine your color journey in every painting. When you know who you are and what you like, it becomes easier to communicte that to others--in paint, print, or on stage. If you are confused about your direction or are creating from someplace outside of your own values, how can others make sense of your song, your dance, your canvas? Don Hatfield

Monday, February 22, 2010

Painting and Wasting

Charles Hawthorne said one should never paint when sick. I think he understood that the mental, psysical, and spiritual energy it takes to paint is finite and fragile. It takes tremendous force to over come inertia--it takes a hugh booster rocket to get the payload into the heavens. When you are sick the necessary feul is lacking--I think. I can't even chew tobacco anymore when I work--the dis-equalibriation tweeks with my sensitive mojo and fouls the work. Painting invites us to be fully present with the mind, body, and spirit so that we can break into new work or new treatments--or maybe even find our way back into an old painting that needs improving. Getting started under any circumstances is a fight because the mind, body, and spirit often say--what in the hell are you doing?! Then come the million voices, then comes the financial pressure, then comes the self criticism and doubt--not to mention the ennui that can set in like black smoke. Many artists hate structure--they want to be free--but you are better off with a dead line, a commission, any obligation--anything to ignite your will to paint--right now!, immediately!, est momento! ahora mismo!-- Sargent would give himself half an hour walking about with his easel in the countryside--if he could not find a subject--he would stop immediately and paint what was dead infront of him. Sergei used to say,"...don't think, just paint." Mccaw would say, "..if not now, when?" Don Hatfield says--if you can find anything to do but paint--do that instead. My old Jungian therapist Niel Russack used to say to me." have no right to piss away the gift that God has given you!" As I grow older the term "waste" carries weight. When I am not available to what I love the most, I am wasting--what I am wasting, I am not sure--but something--you get the idea. Think I'll go take nap.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Avoid Easy Answers--Rotate Still Life, Figure, and Landscape

Can they paint figures, landscapes, and still life?--That is the question I ask when introduced to a new representational artist. Very few paint all three on a rotating basis for public view. Dan Gerhartz and John Treynor are exceptions--there must be others, but few. Still lifes sell, so all you see is still life-- landscapes sell, so all you see from the artist is landscapes-- figures sell so...blah, blah,-- beach scenes sell too--I know about that! Your groove can become your rut in a hurry if money comes into play--that old enemy money! Mannerisms protrude immediately when all you paint is one of these three basic categories to the exclusion of the others. The head is so damn easy to paint that it bored the hell out of Sargent who, being the supreme mannerist, tricked out his sitters in attire befitting the rich, noble, and powerful--so the inter play of the figure in costume with the enviorenment became his playground--even Sargent had to challenge himself to a little honest searching! There is not a portrait painter today who imposes this kind of trouble on himself . It is simple to rig the sitting so that the light plays off the model in all of the standard ways--ways we have painted a hundred times. Repetition breeds easy solutions--familiar solutions become stale tricks--performing old stunts becomes a way of life, and God help you, may even lead to riches. We all know artists who paint still life exclusively--after seeing 20 of these by the same artist we have had enough. There are thousands of lanscape paintings out there that look amazingly alike--separated only by region and not by creativity or treatment. To graduate from the old ateliers you had to produce a piece that had all of the elements, still life, figure, landscape--into one painting that often had some historical story line--now that's a test! So let's rotate the subject matter--shall we. Let's occasionally throw our great painting talent at the unfamiliar. Let's wade into an unknown where anthing can be an answer. After YOU have done this--call me and tell me what you learned so I don't have to do it! Anyway--enough. Mannerisms (easy solutions) are a way of life now in representational oil painting--you can buy how to books on figure painting, landscape painting, still life painting, eyes, ears, nose, throat and mouth painting--painting horses, cats, dogs, fish, birds, how to paint children, teens, old folks, clouds, water, buildings, cars, trees and barns. Art schools have faculty that will show you exactly how to do it. Henri suggested that paintings often don't sell because the motive, the idea, the vision, the mojo is lacking--it may not be the economy--it may be that we are not painting anything worth buying because our work is just a pile of old answers to questions nobody is asking anymore--right? Don Hatfield

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Withdrawal From Commercialism

I am convinced that we only do good or right things when we are forced to. The right and good things are not always clear; however. I think we learn good and right when our own life teaches us what is good and right. These two things are hard to export and hard to import externally--anyone who has raised kids knows this. What's right for the other guy may be dead wrong for you etc.--so I believe in the relativity of all values! Now--here is where I am going with this. It has been good for me that the economy is in the crapper. It has smoked out demons of competition, envy, pride and so forth--the list is long for me, but too colorful to print. My oil painting has emerged as the true friend that it has always been now that it fits my life as an expession of interiority rather than as a vehicle of money making so that I can party. I still party, but they are boring parties--you know, pop corn and a channel changer etc. I hope this is growing up and not just growing old--I'll have to think about it a bit more......Don Hatfield

Monday, February 15, 2010

Still Life With Tangerines

I just found this old slide of a still life I did in 1982--done in my garage shortly after arriving in Napa, CA--I had just finished my studies with Don Puttman, Sergei Bongart, and Dan Mccaw in SoCal and did not know what to paint--so I just painted what interested me--the thing is--I have not painted anything better in 28 years!--scary! Dan Pinkham and his cronies were having an exhibit in the Monterey Museum of art sponsered by American Artist magazine, when they saw this painting hanging in the entrance of Gallatin's restaurant accross from the museum. How it arrived there I don't know--I had sold it two years earlier to some art agent for $500.00. The comment from the exhibiting artists was: "...what old master painted this beauty?" When they saw my signature, they all laughed in astonishment--"'s Hatfield!" This was the greatest response I have ever received from real art critics. Kinda makes you wonder what art progess really is. In those days I was chasing value and color rather stupidly--I was just throwing the paint around, hoping it would land in the right place--anything seemed like a possible answer. My passion was way ahead of my technique, and some good things were happening--until I hit on the beach scenes and became a money making robot for two decades. Ah, but there it time! I'm not done yet!

Friday, February 12, 2010

No worries!

Three web addresses, 14 passwords, 20 usernames, and no memory--distracted!

I am in jail in blog ville. I fell into the blog sump, and I can't get back onto the blog highway. I'll get it......get what? I've already forgotten. What were we talking about? I forgot that too! Should I write down this stuff as I go? What stuff? I don't function well in command specific environments--especially with two second retention. In the 50's my brother, Richard, used to hit the top of the TV with his fist and it would often fix the problem--the picture would magically reappear. I smash my keyboard in a cyber spasm of rage and nothing happens. Another episode of cyber block gone can hit your canvas hard with paint and a miracle might happen. Remember that TV ad where the girl just heaves the bucket of color at the canvas and the paint seeps down on the guys downstairs?--IBM color printing if I remember. Only in America and only among artists!

One of my art friends said to me the other day--"....Hatfield you paint intuitively, but I need structure." Boy, I understand that! Its just that I can't provide structure (recipes) for anybody. The good thing about oil painting is that it provides everyone the opportunity to find their own way and at their own pace. My mother said to me on her death bed when I thought I had to shorten my visit because of work--"...what's the hurry?" You don't hear that question much anymore. It's hard to slow down in this culture. As a professional artist have you ever been asked--" long does it take you to do one of those (paintings)?" Then the following--" much do you get paid for one?" "How many can you do in a week?" So there you have it--productivity. Capitalism and the Art Spirit. I've been reading a little Robert Henri lately--both he and Nicolaides agree on the necessity of emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and physical identification with the object if it is to be painted or sculpted. When we embrace nature this way it is possible to understand St. Thomas Aquinas's arguement that existence itself is the greatest proof of God's being-- Art, then, invites one to live fully in one's own skin so as not to miss anything with the senses. If we are stoned, distracted, or in a damn hurry we miss it all--and we will sure as hell never paint it with any real authority. Guess how I know this.

Early Riser

Things are clear at 2:00 AM. I ripped my right hand and arm trying to start my chain saw to get some firewood so I don't freeze up here among the redwoods. Now I can't golf. So now I am stuck painting--life's a bitch! I feel the Holy Ghost closing in on me and warming me up to embrace Jesus and God. I know this sounds strange, but remember its 2:00 AM here. I really can't wait to start painting--I will start in about 20 minutes after the coffee is ready. There are two big old dogs sleeping in front of my studio fireplace, but guess what--no wood! So they can shiver too! I have been running my mouth in the blog sphere lately and I am feeling that I better paint to see if I am as good as I want everybody to think I am. One thing is for sure--painting heals the dislexic, focuses the soul, quiets the spirit, raises hope, and helps you go broke! As my Jungian therapist said to me years ago--"....Don, when you are working (painting) you are are cavorting with the are fulfilling your destiny...all worries disappear..." Yeah right! Whatever! But...guess what? He may be right! So here I go!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Form Principle

Howard Pile said it took two years of study for the art student to understand the Form Principle. I thought I had grasped it immediately the first time I was exposed to it--wrong! I have painted 40 years and I am still discovering it. "Form Principle" refers to the separation of light and shadow that ocurrs when light falls on an object in nature. We observe light, shadow, half tone, core, reflected light and so on, and then we record those observations in paint. We combine this notion with the concept of Light Planes, and now we have some way of analyzing what we are looking at when an apple sits in front of us in a still life or the model is perched under a light on the stand. When we think about color it is the Form Principle that is in the background of our painting processes. What is the color/value we discern with the eye as we notice a beautiful core running down the shadow side of the face or down a jug--or across a group of grapes or flowers? I ask students--" you see that reflected light on the jaw that is bouncing up from the model's dress below? Can you see the planes that exist on the light side of the face that seem so washed out by strong light? On and on......! As if all of this were not confusing enough--I add my notion of Large Mass Painting that I have dug up from my own research into the techniques of past masters. I carry forward Serge Bongart's dictum, "...paint the forest before the trees, and the dog before the flees." Those new to the oil painting process--that would be anybody who has painted less that 10 years full time--want to paint eye balls, ears, noses, smiles, ear rings, buttons, zippers--anything except the big shapes of light and shadow that are created when light hits the subject. Before painting an eyeball, it helps to see the light planes that make up the eye socket into which the eyeball will be placed. Sargent used the phrase "the classification of values" instead of Form Principle, but its the exact same thing. Sargent sought out the big masses first, then the large planes that define shape, then the smaller planes--all of this while keeping light and shadow areas separate and being aware of color. It is the precise control of color/values that we see in Sargent, Sorolla and their buddies. They observed all of the elements of the Form Principle, but tweeked them as they would. John Asaro is a modern example of one who paints cores, highlights, reflected lights etc. with any color that seems right to him at the moment. But you have to see them first before you can tweek them. Over time one develops the ability to classify the values according to intensity and color--Ray Kinstler combines these elements into one phrase color/value--I think this is helpful. Dan Mccaw used to exhort his students to "compare, compare, compare" to get them to discern color/value. If you want to sound intelligent when asked to critique a painting, you can say--"Well....the values and color are slightly out...", and you will be correct almost every time. You will then be asked by the local art league if you are available to teach oil painting to the ladies group on Saturday morning. You will jump at this because your paintings are not selling and you are broke. But if your own color/values were right, and your ideas we good, then you could avoid the misery and just paint in your studio and sell your own stuff for the money--instead of teaching to others what you really don't understand yourself. What then is going on in the representational oil painting workshop culture? Not much--plenty of fun trips abroad, plenty of recipes, plenty of advise on marketing, plenty of parties, plenty of blow in, blow off, and blow out on the part of the teachers. How do I know about this?--you figger it out. Anyway, enough old man noises. Talk to ya later--Don Hatfield

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Original Article Not Fit for Public Consumption in Down Times

As a young man I was twice fired from pastoring churches--once by a Nazarene District Superintendent who condemned my practice of turning over public worship to the pentecostals--the other by a tea totaler at an independent community church who didn't want me to drink beer with the local rugby team. These rejections fueled my anger at God and man and provided the excuses I needed for 30 years of self indulgence. Three decades that included international art celebrity, three wives, 4 children, and 5 grandchildren--interesting mix. Divorce, custody battles, and many strange relationships tweek with one's sense of godly vocation. At 62, having just applied for social security, I am asked to write about vocational discernment. The timing is perfect. I am now old enough to have a "ministry" and forgiving enough not to want to kill a few people. The good news is that I recently experienced an exorcism that expurgated the demons of judgement, womanizing, and idolatry--idolatry defined as jealously toward those more successful than I. It was a slow exorcism consisting of 10 years of Jungian Therepy and fairly unconditional acceptance from a few weird, long time, christian buddies. I have to re-boot my deliverance weekly by attending communion at the local Episcopalian Church. Dining on the bread and wine is for me a non-intellectual act of worship filled with massive grace. I get so blessed that I often ditch the rest of the proceedings just to test my renewed faith on the golf course.

Moses comes to mind--youthful, religious, spiritual, discerning, anxious to follow God's will--murders the wrong guy, cools down for 40 years, and then returns as an old dude to Pharo's court with a beard, a holy stick, and great God given authority--come on!--I saw The Ten Commandments! I have the beard (goat-tee), the holy stick (my art), and the God given authority (the Holy Ghost). I have finally entered " the ministry"--and the congregation said...what the hell?

Most of the time I am so happy I can hardly stand it. I have prayed that God help me see all men as He sees them and that He guide me in everything I say and do--sometimes I think He has answered this prayer. If I had been this discerning thiry years ago, I would be pastoring a mega-church in Texas, going to book signings, and offering prayers at inaugurations--right? Maybe not. I may not have lasted this long. Anyway I really believe the end is greater than the beginning in our great quest for christian vocation and that we live in an economy of grace that has little to do with the rhythm of existence portrayed my media, by well meaning christian cogitators, and by our innate greed. What I am saying is that you will probably not discern your vacation until you are sixty years old--no sooner. It's a slow learning curve--like golf. It took Moses fourty years to learn to putt!

O yes, I am a serious Christian--but I try not to act like it, and I have found my vocation --better, my vocation found me. I did not seek God in this life--He sought me. I did not believe in God--He believed in me. I did not obey God in life--rather I ran out of options that were not suicidal and found God waiting. Is that Calvinistic enough? Sometimes I think I have thrown conditionality out the window, and, worse yet, I think I am slipping into the doctrine of universal salvation.

Keeping your vocational discernment operative has to do with surviving your first 10,000 mistakes so that you can make 10,000 more. Anybody who thinks he will not repeat errors many times is a fool. You resist temptation today, but tomorrow the countours have changed, and the devil comes in a different form--remind you of anybody? I think we are designed by God to fail. How do we survive our errors, mitakes, sins against man and God? I am not sure. But, you have!-- or you wouldn't be reading this. The Book Of Common Prayer says that we serve a God whose property it is to forgive sins--we don't believe this. That is why we constantly take judgement into our own hands. But it is judgement that keeps us from our vocation--we judge ourselves and others constantly--and wrongly--because we are summoned to leave all judgement to God alone. I know this is difficult to hear: but judgement leads to fear, fear leads to hate, hate restricts vocation.

Vocational discernment is the path and the goal. The discernment part is the hard thing. What is discernment? Again, God discerns us--we don't discern God. I believe that it is God Himself who aligns us with Himself. What you do with your day, then, is between you and God--nobody else. How God gets through to us is a mystery and a miracle isn't it? It is difficult to endure the doubts that God can direct your steps at times--no, nearly all the time. Just for fun try telling anyone that you are following God in this or that. The weight of judgement is immediately apparent--you don't have to tell enemies to feel this--your friends will do! Don't talk about your faith much , pray a ton, and don't let your failings disqualify you from your God appointed vocation--and you will be well on your way to some joy--maybe a lot. Who knows?--you may end up a happy man with a descent job..but then again...? I was wondering recently what the graduating picture of the 2009 Vocational Discernment class would look like-- probably not very pretty. The first class of Vocational Discernment picture is embedded in Hebrew chapter 11--those guys that were sawn in two are really ugly! So don't expect a continuous run of successes leading you to a position at the Seminary teaching eager youth.

Well I think this is about 900 words, and weren't they full of discernment? In conclusion vocational discernment is what is left after you have tried everything else and failed. It is what Moses had walking back to Egypt for a visit with old friends, its what Paul got laying flat on his back after a fall, its what you have this day in Christ. Vocational discernment is a state of grace and may not lead to a nifty job tag. It is what remains after trying everything else and failing. Its what we do, and have when we don't have to ask what it is anymore. Its about keeping our mouth shut and doing the big obvious thing--all else will definitely follow--that's a promise. Isn't our one and only creaturely vocation to love God and to enjoy his presence forever--that is our final vocation. There are no golden boys in God's kingdon--only somewhat ordinary humans.... and golfers. See ya down the road--Don Hatfield

Monday, February 8, 2010

Watered Down Version of the Searing Article I wrote

Different Strokes: Fuller Alumnus Takes Up a Call to Paint


Vocational Discernment on a Winding Road

Fuller graduates use their degrees to pursue callings as scholars, theologians, psychologists, and leaders in mission and ministry. But many have heard God calling them to other arenas. For alumnus Don Hatfield (MDiv ’73), that arena has been the visual arts. Based in Napa, California, Hatfield is, as expressed by one art gallery, “one of America’s greatest living impressionist artists”—with paintings displayed in galleries in several U.S. states, as well as corporate and private collections around the globe.

For Hatfield, painting is not merely a hobby or even a job; it is his God-given vocation. Moreover, it is one that he heartily enjoys: “Most of the time I am so happy I can hardly stand it!” he declares. But he is the first to point out that the path to discerning his calling was a long and difficult one.

The seeds of Hatfield’s art were planted during his time at Fuller, when he befriended a local portrait painter who took him under his wing and affirmed his artistic gift. Despite this fruitful mentorship, however, Hatfield felt the need to leave art behind upon graduating from seminary, focusing instead on pastoral ministry and providing for his family.

“Art just disappeared from my life,” he recalls, “but I continually went to museums and looked at art books.” Then, almost 10 years after his graduation from Fuller, Hatfield experienced a life-changing moment at the Art Institute of Chicago while viewing a painting by artist Giambattista Tiepolo. The beauty of that painting evoked in him an epiphany: Art was still his central passion, and he felt called to become a full-time artist. Relocating his family from the Midwest back to his native California, Hatfield obtained more training, and diligently worked for several years to achieve the impressionistic style for which he is now known.

Reflecting on the winding road leading to his present vocation, Hatfield recalls a painful time of rejection from pastoral roles that, he says, “fueled my anger at God and man” and caused a confused sense of his calling. After a season of healing, he now identifies himself with Moses, who in his youth was “spiritual, discerning, and anxious to follow God’s will. He cools down for 40 years, and then returns as an old dude to Pharaoh’s court with God-given authority,” describes Hatfield in his straight-talking style. “Like Moses, I have the beard—a goatee; I have the holy stick—my art; and I have God-given authority—the Holy Ghost!”

Though he acknowledges the difficulty of following God in the face of doubts and a lack of understanding from others for so many years, Hatfield says that through the challenges, he has grown in his vocational discernment. “It’s a slow learning curve,” he believes, “but the end is greater than the beginning in our great quest for Christian vocation.”

Hatfield now sees his life through the lens of grace, acknowledging that mistakes are part of the process. “Don’t let your failings disqualify you from your God-appointed vocation,” he urges those who are still seeking their call. “Vocational discernment is a state of grace and may not lead to a nifty job tag. It is about keeping your mouth shut and doing the ‘big obvious thing’ in your life—all else will follow.”

Reflecting on the twists and turns in his own personal path that led him to impressionist art, Hatfield describes God as the initiator and himself as the receiver all the way. “I did not seek God in this life—he sought me,” he affirms. “I did not believe in God—he believed in me. God discerns us—we don’t discern God. It is God who aligns us with himself.”

For this, Hatfield feels both humbled and grateful: “How God gets through to us is a mystery and a miracle, isn’t it?”

To see Don Hatfield’s art, visit his website at

Salon International Selections

These images were submitted Greenhouse Gallery's annual Salon show and made the cut. The second cut is in a month or so. I hope the confetti rains down on me like it did Drew Breeze.