STUDIO: The Image Morgue

Image Morgue 2

These fragments I have shored against my ruin: a sample of my reference material


“The model is not to be copied, but to be realized.”

-Robert Henri

In painting, there really are no rules. But understanding painting as I do, there is a prevalent practice these days which I find completely undermines the integrity of the act.

Projector artists. Artists who cheat themselves and their audience by projecting an image onto their canvas and doing a paint-by-numbers routine to create their works. Artists like this have reduced themselves to a mere cog in a mechanical reproduction process, not creating, but taking dictation from their gadgets. They let their tools make their discoveries for them. It is an inferior mode of creation.

If you’re an artist, do your own rendering.

Now I am not rejecting the use of source material. I learned the hard way, through years of artistic practice, I lack the omnipotent powers of observation and recall to paint strictly out of my own mind and produce the results I want.

How do a frog’s legs attach to its body? How many wings does a mosquito have? What is the musculature of a horse? These are just some of the composition problems I have encountered. I can’t see clearly enough into my memory to reach the level of realism I want in my paintings.

So I use source material. Not all the time, but when it’s important to get something right, and I can’t summon the depth of detail I’d like to. When needed, I find photographs on the internet of what I want to portray, print them out, and study them.

But then-and this is the really important part-I put the photograph down, and paint what I remember about it, what I learned about it.

The image passes through the filters of my consciousness and becomes more me. And that is vital in art: depicting your own unique sensibility.

I leave a scattering of paint spattered sheets of paper lying around the studio. But then, my wife Michele Bledsoe comes along and rescues them, and files them away in our office. Safely stored in a drawer, there’s a manila folder bulging with pictures. It’s my image morgue.

A morgue file is an old hard-boiled term, dating back to the days of gumshoes and ace reporters. It was a way they described the newspaper clippings they collected for quick reference. The idea still creates a powerful tie to the past.

Looking back through this folder today, I was amazed to see a history of my paintings unfolding before me. Seeing the crumbled pages brought back memories of the times I was actually utilizing them in my artistic struggles. It was like visiting with old friends.

Image Morgue 1

A small sampling that I can relate back to 6 different paintings


5 thoughts on “STUDIO: The Image Morgue

  1. Franz Kline borrowed Willem de Kooning’s “Bell Opticon Projector”,on his urging, and in one fell swoop discovered a new style. It had nothing to do with direct copying – or taking over from squaring and scaling – a trick virtually every painter uses in his or her lexicon.
    Both my exhibitions at the Arizona Fine Art Expo has seen many confirmed and highly successful painters (I won’t uses the title ‘artist’) copy photographs. It is not a quiet, silent or unobtrusive practice. It is a blatant, in-your-face, straight-faced, unashamed copy from an iPad screen or photograph, placed in full view of every single visitor that comes through and by right, should be able to expect sheer artistry in motion.
    These images may be translated into a “painterish” visage, whereby you can see brush strokes, as if this is the ‘be all-end all’ of art, and even the painters are so lazy, they have not even altered colors or compositions. These are the same people who will admit that this ‘south western style’ is losing its appeal (I wonder why?) and that they will throw themselves into a more abstract genre – hoping that this will increase their own slacking sales figures.
    Sorry, but who the hell do they think they are that they can go abstract without having done ‘the journey’?
    Anyway, I digress somewhat. Building up an ‘Image Morgue’ or “Inspiration Folder” – as I euphemistically call it, is an excellent idea. I regret having binned my massive collection in the UK when I packed up to move here. Thank you, Google and printer for taking up this slack.

  2. Thanks for your commentary. This is one of the sacred cows of the contemporary art world I feel strongly about. It needs to be confronted. Yes the Google search is an amazing time saving tool, we can see images of literally almost everything in existence.

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