Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Go Figure

Prelude, 12 x 24 inches, oil on linen

It has been a really hot few days in California. Los Angeles hit an all time high at 113 F.  See? we had a very mild, pleasant summer and now we're paying for it.  I hope not. 

Anyway, I wanted to share with you my latest effort at figure painting. Actually, the subject matter is not the emphasis of my efforts but abstraction is. I'm getting a little bit more comfortable with non-descriptive strokes, and I'm really excited about their potential. 
The driving idea behind my endeavor is to define less. Whereas convincingly describing "things" is a necessary descipline, it is not, I decided, a vehicle for expression of my identity. The more faithfully I describe the thing in front of me - that is, the more I render - the more the painting becomes about that thing and not about me, the artist. 

I'm not arguing the validity of skillfully rendering the visual world. I'm just more interested in expressing my personal view of the world. To quote Cezanne, "painting from nature is not copying. It is realizing one's sensations."  My task is to realize my sensations, not someone else's, and certainly not literally and objectively recording what I see. 

I don't know why, but I am finding that I can most directly and honestly realize my sensations when I'm painting a figure, as opposed to a landscape or a cityscape. Not worrying about the rules of realism (for lack of a better phrase) as it pertains to describing an environment does liberate me in a way. I'm only dealing with organic shapes at this point and not even having to deal with perspective issues of painting an interior. May be that's it. I've narrowed down the set of problems to solve to a simple figure/ground relationship. 


Of course, a "simple" figure painting is as complex as anything, and challenges and variations are endless.  

Many an artist friend have told me repeatedly, "your greatest strength is figure drawing. Why are you painting trees?"  It's not that I like painting trees more than the figure, but up till now I couldn't see how to make my figure paintings into expressions of my identity. They have always been about the figure being painted, not about me. And I did not want to show those paintings in galleries because I knew there was something more to it than just making pretty pictures.


I feel like I'm almost ready - not ready to show, but ready to commit to serious pursuit of this subject matter. I need to go beyond 10 minute drawings and once-a-week painting sessions in a classroom setting. I need work directly with a model and immerse myself in this process. Scary.


I'll end this post with a technical tip - you like those, don't you? Me too. LOL

OK, so when you look at a Rubens drawing or painting, you think, wow, how come his figures look so much more fluid and dynamic than some of the other old masters. You do think that, don't you? You do look at Rubens, don't you? No? well you should.   What makes Rubens' figures so fluid is that he draws the gesture first, with rubber hoses for limbs (Ok, they didn't have rubber hoses back then. His drawings just looked like they had rubber hoses for limbs without joints, ok?) and he forced anatomy on top of them.  I like to do that sometimes, as in the case of this leg in my painting. a rubber tube gesture first (think Gumby) and anatomy imposed onto that gesture. Quite the opposite of building a figure by measuring lengths and triangulating anchor points and stuff. I don't have patience for that, so the Rubens method works better for me.

Anyway, a more learned scholar may say my description of how Rubens worked is bullshit, but if you'll humor me and practice it, you'll get more fluid and lyrical gestures out of your figure work. You might even start to see some of Rubens in your work!  You could do worse :-)



  1. Great blog. I think your paintings are terrific and I especially appreciate your frank and open accounts of the process you're using for learning and growing. Thanks for all your postings.

    I thought the following response to your nude painting might be of use to you, and therefore be a tiny bit of a return on your efforts in blogging.

    To me the left hand 3/4 of the painting is beautiful and harmonious in every regard - form color, composition, brushwork,.... The head and arms in the right hand quadrant, by contrast, seem to belong to a different painting. These features are more rendered of course, but also when I squint, the right hand 1/4 of the painting looks creepy, like some sort of insect or crab or some dark thing with arms radiating outward. It really detracts from my enjoyment of the rest of the painting. I realize that this could be an artifact of the photo or my monitor....

    Hope this comment is helpful and constructive. No need to post to the blog unless you particularly want to.

  2. It's not your choice of words, it's what you say. And, that is worthy of consideration.
    I'm copying this entry and its pictures and keeping it.

  3. I think this is a great direction. I'm exploring the figure myself and really enjoying it again. This quote really struck a cord "...the more I render - the more the painting becomes about that thing and not about me, the artist. ". True.