8/7/14 a path back to the future: woman sleeping, yialia beach, 18x34" / by Philip Tarlow

the path one follows in the creative arena is rarely straight. certainly not mine!

this is day one of a painting in oil on linen. the surface, an orange yellowish dull siena color, was prepared over ten years ago. it has lain resting, ripening, until the day last week when mikela, continuing her work of cleaning up my studio, found it somewhere in my studio loft space.

this "tinted ground" is a technique i first learned from my art professor at antioch, robert metcalf. he had a mouth that could have come from a hals portrait; enjoyed comparing painting to fly fishing, was partially bald and had a heavy mid-western accent. 

the next time i heard of the tinted ground was from my teacher/mentor/friend yannis tsarouchis in athens, greece. go to the story page and the media page to learn more about tsarouchis. he learned it from his study of byzantine paintings and from his teacher, kondoglou. tsarouchis employed it as a kind of homage to his byzantine predecessors, who always painted their portable icons in egg tempera on a tannish ground. i worked that way for the entire 15 years i lived and exhibited in greece, as did my then mother-in-law, the great niki karagatsi.

the recent work i've been doing, both the abstracted creek paintings and the plein air series, all painted on the prepared white surface most artists are accustomed to, are a radical departure for me. i enjoyed them like a good desert. i dove into them with the zest of a fresh, almost revolutionary act.

so what was it, after all this time, that prompted me to return to oil on a tinted ground? i would be lying if i offered an explanation. but my recent series of 12 small paintings, all works in gouache on paper on a tinted greenish tannish ground definitely has something to do with it. (go to the gouache/watercolor page to view this series) when i got word that my athens gallery had opened a branch on mykonos, i decided to launch into this series and send them to mykonos. 

i was surprised how easily they flowed from my brush. they were based on photos i had taken years ago on various cycladic islands; mostly andros and folegandros. they constituted a very enjoyable break from the series of abstracted collages i'd been doing. then mikela found this batch of canvases with tinted grounds. at the same time, an abundance of old photos emerged from piles of long undisturbed papers in my loft. a number of them are from my years in greece, many with figures in the landscape. they are pre-digital, and were mounted, sometimes in collage fashion, on pieces of foam core board.

the expanded feeling for space that developed as a result of the abstracted collages; the gestural freedom i discovered while studying and copying over and over my 11th century chinese calligrapher buddies and my life long aesthetic, tilting in the direction of a significant, more or less enigmatic event in a very large, mostly empty space have all come together in this moment.

a few examples of a similar aesthetic are found in the 17th c. dutch painter terborch or the paintings of giacometti. examples are on the 3rd row, below.  an example in my paintings from 1980 is on row 4. left. another in the same vein was painted 30 years later: a partially completed oil titled acropolis dream, 2010, row 4 right. the finished piece was shown in my 2010 exhibition at skoufa gallery, athens and is now in a private collection.

this aesthetic has surfaced and gone underground over and over again over the course of my life as a painter. it has now re-emerged, enriched by my newly found gestural freedom and understanding of space, and we'll see where it leads.

8/8/14: today i worked further on woman sleeping, yialia beach. 

it's interesting working in oil after so many months of using acrylic, which of course dries almost instantly. i'll re-evaluate tomorrow; right now i'm wiped.

8/9/14: looks good. added the detail 1st row left, which gives a sense of the painterly qualities. i'm ordering stretcher bars for this canvas, which will make it look a lot better. i can see this as a candidate for the melbourne hellenic museum "athens school" exhibition, scheduled to open 9/15.