finally! stretching a canvas for "sound of a flute over the water II" by Philip Tarlow

4:07 pm: we finally got my studio to the point, following the flooding last Wednesday, of being able to actually get back to work. I didn’t do any painting today, but I did stretch a 78 x 26” canvas for a commissioned version of sound of a flute over the water II.

I should be able to start work on this one tomorrow, and will, as usual post comments & pics of my process. this is my first post using my new iMac, which replaces one that was 10 years old. the difference is simply stunning! So much faster, and the screen is so bright, the colors so accurate!

tracing back my passion for taiga by Philip Tarlow

1:04 PM this is an email i put together for some friends, one of whom is an american painter living in japan, who not been aware of taiga. it was an opportunity for me to examine my decade long interest in the 18th c. japanese painter.

Ike Taiga had an exhibition last year at the Kyoto Museum, which was reviewed in the Japan Times:

I’ve been studying his work, without of course being able to see the work in person, for about a decade.I started by making small studies based on the illustrations in one of my 2 books about him & Gyokuran, in gouache on paper.

Along the way, I was working on a series of oils titled Motion; studio versions, in mixed media, of plein air paintings in gouache on paper, made at a local creek over the past 20+ years. Then one day, I launched into this current series: Sound of a Flute. This title is from a translation of a verse in one Taiga’s buddies’ poems,which found its way onto one of his scrolls. The complete verse is: sound of a flute over water, which is exactly the sound Taiga was hearing as he painted at a mountain retreat.

I love that he, his poet friends & musician friends hung out. In stressful times, as often occured just following regieme change, they would go to their mountain retreat & the musicians would play as the poets wrote & Taiga painted. And drank lots of wine.

If you have time to look at my Stories page:, you’ll see that my trajectory includes 15 unbroken years in Greece, where I married & had a son. I speak fluent Greek. I love languages…the sound, the music. I wish I could learn Japanese. In my studio, I often listen to YouTube videos in some obscure indigenous tongue, just to enjoy the music of it. During that Greek period, my mentor/teacher/friend was the great painter:Tsarouchis. When I sent a book of his work to my old friend Henry Geldzahler, at the time curator of 20th Century Art at the Metropolitan Museum in NYC, he responded: Tsarouchis is a major 20th Century artist. We’d like to offer him an exhibition at the (then brand new) PS 1 in Queens. Tsarouchis, busy at the time executing commissions to pay for his newly built neo-classical home & studio in a suburb of Athens, politely declined.

He, I believe, would have understood & supported my strong attraction to Taiga.

Taiga brings together the strands of my history of mark-making. Working on the Sound of a Flute series is already having a noticeable imapct on my plein air gouaches, allowing me to see the trees, rocks & water with new eyes. On the left: one of my 78x26” Sound of a Flute paintings. In the center, a plein air gouache i made a few days ago, which clearly shows the influence of the Sound of a Flute series. On the right: a plein air gouache made before I embarked on my sound of a flute series of oils.

My Big Dream is to show the Sound of a Flute series in Japan. And to give a few illustrated talks on how & why a contemporary American painter came to be so engaged with his work and, after almost 2 centuries, finds it painterly; timeless; relevant.

2 more of the paintings we discovered post-flood by Philip Tarlow

here are 2 more paintings discovered & filed during post-flood cleanup. one the left, pithara, in gouache on paper, 23 1/4 x 7 1/4” painted in august, 2007 during a trip to andros. pithara is a waterfall located in the mountains, on the island of andros, a 10 minute walk from the village of apoikia. on the right, a 12x8 1/2” collage which is undated & unsigned. it was likely made in 2014, when i was doing lots of work in collage. another clue about the date it was made are the bits of maps included in the composition. i used maps extensively in the collages of that period. however most of them were abstract. unless we disscover more faces, i think this may be the only one.

2 new plein air gouaches / more gouaches discovered during studio cleanup by Philip Tarlow

5:35 PM: i ventured back out to the creek at about noon today. i went further up the trail & found a spot in the shade, where i could set uo my little table & 3 legged stool, & spread out my palette, brushes, water & tubes of gouache colors.

i started painting on a 13x15” arches paper surface that was prepared years ago & turned up during our cleanup, with a light tan ground. as with all my plein air gouaches, the brush strokes happen swiftly & with certainty. slow & cautious doesn’t work. i let the creek direct my mood & the movements of my arm & hand. if i’m especially on, the result is one of my 10’s. obviously, i can’t allow this awareness into my consciousness in that moment. so the process is most accurately described as a meditation. just as, during a meditation, you repeat the mantra & then allow it to disolve, the same process is in play during a session of plein air painting.

when the sun found me, i had to wrap it up & move all my materials about 10 yards, to another spot in the shade. stay cool & just do it.

next, i took a smaller surface, this one with an uncharacteristic reddisg undercoat, applied years ago in a way that left visible brush marks. normally i wouldn’t paint on such an aggressively red surface. finding it buried in a pile of prepared surfaces during our cleanup yesterday turned me on, so i took it with me. still not sure eabout the outcome.

BELOW: 3 of the gouaches we found while cleaning up after the flood in my studio. on the right is a small painting of david hockney photographing his dog, painted in 1994.

back out to the creek this morning by Philip Tarlow

i got somewhat of a late start, but who cares? i was not quite myself, having skipped my morning meditation in order to get out to the creek before the predicted afternoon thunderstorms. i went to the same spot as yesterday and continued work on the same 2 gouaches.

going out to paint at the creek never gets old. today, as has happened in the past, i made a wrong move & kicked my little lightweight painting table, my palette & 2 fan brushes into the creek. i retreived them all, none the worse for the bath. i wouldn’t say i was in top form. i’ll likely go back out tomorrow morning & start one or two new ones. clearly, some of what i’ve learned doing my sound of a flute series of oils is making it’s way into these gouaches.

2008 plein air gouaches found yesterday during post-flooding cleanup/back to the creek by Philip Tarlow

5:59 pm: this morning, before heading to the studio to continue our cleanup & organizing, i went up to the creek for the first time in a very long time. my plan is to make a series of plein air gouaches every morning & then continue or efforts at the studio until we get it where we want it.

i wasn’t able to stay more than an hour, after which it began to rain & i had to leave. here’s what i was able to do; both are incomplete, so i may work more on them next time i go up; possibly tomorrow morning.

during day 2 of yesterdays studio cleanup following the flood, we began organizing the many paintings in gouache on paper that had been in my flat files. although the file cabinet was directly under the water descending from my loft area, all but the bottom drawer were fully closed. as a result, there was minimal damage to these paiintings. a few were affected, and all were damp, but a real disaster was averted.

BELOW are two of the many plein air gouaches painted in 2008 which we discovered in my flat files:

flooding in my studio yesterday by Philip Tarlow

11:06 am: Yesterday, when I arrived at my studio to continue work on my “Sound of a Flute” series of paintings, I noticed water around the front door, pouring down from above the door. When I opened the door, there was standing water in the entire North portion of my studio, and bulging areas in the ceiling, where it was obvious that water was pooling. I immediately shut off the main water valve, and the rest I’ll talk about when I have time later today.

What you see on the right is a large oil discovered by the mitigation team, rolled up & wet on the bottom of a closet affected by the flooding. I lay it out to dry in the sun. It’s undated, & I have no memory of when I painted it....probably in the mid-90’s.


fortunately, not many paintings were damaged. although my flat file cabinet was directly under the area of the ceiling where the water was descending

from the water heater in my loft, the water only entered the bottom drawer, which had been partially open. it didn’t contain important gouache paintings, but the ones it did contain were damaged.

my studio was due for a big re-org, so this served as my wakeup call. it will be at least 10-14 days before i can get back to work painting. mikela is over there right now, sifting through stuff & preparing for when the mitigation team of 3 arrive around 1pm. before they left yesterday, they set up fans, dehumdifiers &, in the bathroom, a heater which will drive the temperature in there up to 100F.

what i can do while i’m waiting for the moment i can continue work on my sound of a flute series, is stretch 6 new 78x26” canvasses intended for the series, unstretch a bunch of painitngs that don’t make it as 10’s & venture out to the creek to make some plein air gouaches & oils, which i’ve been waiting to do since the mosquito season ended about 10 days ago.

BELOW: a tour of the scene in my studio yesterday & today. the 3 members of the mitigation team, out of salida, colorado, are true professionals who work swiftly & with certainty. their work will continue for about another week, until there’s no dampness left in the ceiling & walls. the dehumifiers & heaters they placed will be operating non stop throughout this period. so far they have carted away 2 full truck loads of stuff that was irreparably damaged or simply no longer needed.

once it’s all over, I will have a much cleaner & less cluttered studio. thanks in a large part to mikela’s organizing skills, everything will have it’s place: tools; brushes; paints; stretcher bars; paper; canvas; etc. my challenge is to keep it that way. that does not come naturally to me, so i just have to remain vigilant & immedialy throw stuff away that is no longer needed, and put stuff back where it belongs when i’m done with it.

in the end, this disaster will actually benefit me tremendously. right now, after a day of sorting, moving stuff & clumping paintings, tools and materials all day, we’re exhausted. at least, starting tomorrow, our 4 day streak of record breaking heat will begin to subside, with cooler temps & thunderstorms predicted for the weekend.

greater simplification of gashu by Philip Tarlow

5:04 PM: today i made deep changes to gashu. as has been happening with greater & greater regularity, it felt way too busy when i gazed at it in comparison with the others.

i went over it with a warm reddish tan color & worked into it, leaving just one shape in the center revealing the white linen beneath.

ghost images underneath the upper portions give a sense of mountains without spelling them out.

i also did some valuable research on taiga & his times, which made me want to make a small book which tells the story of how i arrived at this point of less-is-moreness & how that relates to the history of art including but not limited to taiga & his buddies.

i’ve already begun gathering material, & will try to do a bit each morning over matcha tea & toast.

BELOW: gashu before & after todays work.

changes to gashu & seventh month by Philip Tarlow

4:05 PM: today is the first time, following my fall last sunday, that i feel the enrgy to paint. i was afraid i’d never paint again. my body felt so sore & my perceptions so skewed, that i found it impossible to remember that surge of energy that happens when i’m gearing up to paint.

i brought seventh month back from the house, where it had been hanging at the top of our stairs. the more i studied it, the more i felt it wasn’t working. i went over the entire surface with titanium buff, which is a tan-ish color, and then proceeded to paint into it. all the while, mikela was working on organizing the studio, which allowed me to avoid the pitfall of letting my mind dictate the process, rather than my gut. BELOW: on the left, seventh month before todays intervention, right: after.

next,i moved on to my most recent painting in this series: gashu. it definitely has some cool passages, but doesn’t completely hang together; not surprising for a one-off painting. now this one is definitely still in process. but right off the bat, there is greater coherence. it’s late, i’m very tired…more tomorrow.

sore by Philip Tarlow

4:37 pm: i didn’t paint today. too sore. that’s a very steep ravine, & when i stumbled on some loose rocks & began tumbling down, i knew i had to just relax into it. that probably saved me from much worse injuries. but i’m sore. too sore to even think of painting. maybe tomorrow?

kind of a wake up call, really. i’ve often contemplated what would likely happen if i tripped & fell into the ravine, the same ravine, just a few hundred feet down the trail. a sheer thousand foot drop down to the creek, broken only by large boulders. certain death. would i still be relaxing into it, as long as i was conscious? i’d like to think, yes.

the soreness doesn’t kick in till the next day, so i actually painted gashu, seen here on the right, just a few hours after my fall.

so today i did some paper work. all the while i cast glances at gashu. is it too strong? does the bottom quarter need work. like the top. probably won’t touch that. yeah, if i can paint tomorrow, i might go there.

all out of 78x26 stretcher bars, so i’m gonna have to wait a week before i start another one. and just how long is this sound of a flute kick gonna last, anyway? can’t go on forever. right now, i still got the jiuce.