Tag Archives: Picasso

The Creative Zone

Bill Barrell, the artist, wants to know….. what makes an artist keep on searching for the masterpiece of masterpieces?

Bather, oil on canvas, 2007


…. Someone said “art is ninety five percent perspiration and five percent inspiration”. How right they were. So, what does make an artist keep on searching for the masterpiece of masterpieces?

There is a lot of work before touching a blank canvas. Building stretchers, stretching canvas, priming the canvas, cleaning brushes. But once finished with this mundane stuff one can dive into the blank void. There sits the blank canvas waiting to be transformed by you into a work of art.

Some painters are format painters transferring an image to the canvas and having pre-mixed paints. This format does not work for me. I cannot get into the zone via this route.

It is not easy for me to get into the zone. I have to start probing the surface with shapes forms and colors. These shapes forms and colors then begin to struggle with one another trying to find harmony with one another. A beautiful shape often appears by the elimination of what one thought was a great form. The battle begins between the seen and the unseen.

Soon one begins to probe the depths of the mind, rummaging around trying to understand hidden thoughts and meanings, images long forgotten now becoming relevant to the current situation. This process is so engulfing that before one knows it you are in the zone. It all becomes so clear as to what the painting needs. Layers of inhibitedness peel away.

Picasso, who was a trained academic artist who drew plaster castes and did portraiture, had to reinvent himself. In those old academic days, painting was like many other professions- a learned skill. Artists such as Picasso, Braque, Matisse and others had to break out of that train of thought. Picasso had watched his children paint and draw and he aimed for that freedom from what academia said art should be.  Being the great master that he was, Picasso was able to overcome the rigid training and used it all to his advantage. These artists turned the whole academic process inside out and it was a great turning point for art.

The next turning point was American abstract painting. Willem deKooning could really wield a brush. He had a lot of academic training, but I believe his real training came as a house painter. I have done a bit of house painting and it’s not easy. To be able to paint window sashes one has to be very adroit at running that paint down without smearing it all over the glass. There is a rhythm to it. It’s called running the paint as you chase a loaded brush down a window pain. I know it has helped me in my work and I can see it in deKooning’s work.

I also watch and learn so much from my grandchildren when they paint. They are in the zone all the time. As time goes by, this will change as they are introduced to formal art in school. Later in life, if they become artists, it will take years to peel away the layers of obstructive teaching.

The zone is a hard place to get to and there are no easy ways. I know artists who have used drugs to get there. They feel like the drugs get them into the zone and who knows, perhaps it does in some cases. But for many it’s an illusion. I knew Bob Thompson, a truly great painter. There were times he would use drugs to get into the zone. He died at the early age of 28.

So, I am always intrigued with getting back into the zone for the next truly creative experience.

Have you been in the zone lately?

The Not So Still Life

Bill Barrell loves to paint but tea also plays a big role in his day to day life….

Still Life with Telephone
Telephone Ring, 50 in x 66 in, 1998

…. I am usually the first one up in my house which means that I make the tea.  Marilyn, my muse, will not stir until tea has flowed through her lips. Once in a while, she will call out “Good Cuppa”. This means all of the elements have been in the correct position for the perfect Cuppa.

One can never rely on it being a good cup of tea no matter how much attention one pays to the making of it. I have read much on tea and have a Chinese friend who scolds me for adding milk. I have enjoyed many a cup of oolong or lapsangshoshon, but nothing surpasses a cup of regular Brook Bond Red Rose tea with milk – no sugar.

This painting, “Telephone Ring”, was leading me on just such  a merry chase and was giving me a hard time. Deep in thought and wrestling with what to put where or what color would bring it to life, the phone rang and I answered it.  I was still talking on the phone when I glanced at the work and through the distraction I saw what I needed! I thanked my caller profusely, hung up and dove right back into the painting, wrestling it to the ground.

So, what I have in this painting is a captured moment. The phone rings and things have come to life. A painting can look so easy and sometimes it does come easy.  Many times it’s a struggle, creating doubts and fears that one has lost ones mojo. Often, these works turn out to be the most forceful and interesting because digging deep into the psychic mind, we find the ability to solve what seems like an unsolveable problem.

When looking at paintings, it is a good thing to look at the reworking in areas. This can give you an idea of the struggle. For example, you can often see in Picasso’s work that one line or block of color will change the whole area therefore shifting the perspective, feeling or energy field, the latter being such a vital part of the work.

What is so great about art is that once the energy has been attained it is an energy force that does not diminish.

It is almost as good as a good cuppa……

What Do We Have Here – the studio visitation


What exactly do we have here? Probably a question asked by many when viewing figurative expressionist art. Bill Barrell talks a little about what he sees in his painting “The Studio Visitation” as well as his thoughts on models and muses.

Studio Visitation
The Studio Visitation, oil on canvas painting

– Picasso and Matisse seemed to have no end of models, but I suspect that they often used old memories when they painted. Especially Picasso, who would paint late into the night when most of his models or wives would be tucked safely into their beds.  I have never been in a financial situation that allows me the privilege to hire models. When a painting begins to lead me into what is starting to look like a figure, I allow it to carry me off in that direction. The female figure divine, as it was called at one time, is an enchanting and mysterious image. Male painters are fortunate to have this vision, their muse as a woman.  (I cannot speak for women as I can’t see the male form in the same way as they do.) The female comes in a variety of shapes and forms, old and young, but always intriguing.  They are the ones who create us. They are the ones who we bonded with first and they are the ones who have nurtured us. As men, all we can do is help in a small way to make the situation come about.

Well, one of the beauties of painting is that the painting will always retain its true and secret meaning. Not even the artist can know the true meaning as the painting often comes together at a moment when the artist is not aware of what has happened. When looking at paintings it is best to absorb the feeling of the work rather than what it means. Take the Mona Lisa for instance. What is going on in her mind? I can hazard some guesses. Did she and Leonardo make love? Has she just laid a fart and is thinking, no one will ever know? Perhaps a thought has just crossed her mind of how she wished she were nude in front of Leonardo. Perhaps Leonardo has just winked at her. It could be something totally benign like, did I leave the laundry out again. The thing is – we will never know and if we did, where would lie the interest in Mona Lisa?

Now, in my painting, The Studio Visitation, what do we have? He looks somewhat surprised, but is he really? Is she dressing or undressing?  It looks like her breasts have arrived ahead of her. She is giving him a penetrating look as if to say, “you know why I am here.” She is looking a little angry. Has he forgotten something? She is also showing a goodly amount of thigh. Could the breasts and the inner thigh be a tempation? Or is it just his imagination undressing her? Whatever is about to happen will have witnesses who are lurking in the background. An eavesdropper and a young woman – his daughter perhaps? It is definitely all taking place in his studio as he does not look too disturbed. Perhaps this is a model from his imagination that he would like to hire. Perhaps he forgot to pick the kid up from school.

We will never know. It is a moment in time – caught in an emotional way and frozen forever. Leaving us with the painting and eternal question to return to – what do we have here? –

Self Portrait – Painting the Artist

Today Bill Barrell reflects on the painting of a self portrait, instead of the observations of the world, an observation of the self….

Self Portrait of Bill Barrell
Self Portrait

–  It is always a good idea to have a good look at one’s self once in a while. Rembrandt, Picasso and van Gogh were at it constantly. Why do they do it? Well, because artists are always searching for the truth. I believe that by looking into their own eyes they can tell if they are still on the right track. I think Rembrandt never looked unsure in his self-portraits. Even when he hit hard times, he still looked sure of himself.

Picasso, on the other hand, I don’t know. To me, he always looked a bit surprised that he could still come up with something totally original and yet still catch himself not cheating. I had a friend who at one time owned the painting “Yo Picasso”, Picasso’s portrait of himself when he was about twenty-two, which was done in a realist style.  My friend and his wife had it hanging in their breakfast nook. I visited often and loved to sit across from that piece and just absorb it.  Picasso stood looking out with his coal black eyes as if to say “you ain’t seen nothing yet”.  My friend once showed me where he and his brother had thrown darts at it when they were kids. He told me that they  hadn’t made a habit of the dart game and knew what they had done was wrong, so they had found some shoe polish and filled the holes.  That same painting was later sold for $47.8 million dollars – holes and all.

Van Gogh looks out of his painting with such intensity – as if to say here is my soul, take a good squint at it, I’m laying it all out for you.

It is not easy to look through that mirror and into your soul. In my portrait, I look a little wonky – as if to say I am seeing what I’m seeing and being a little terrified by it. –