Since the age of 16, I was led to believe that oil painting was 1 part art and 3 parts science. And I hated science (still do — Mr. S really knows how to put me to sleep with that anatomy stuff). And so I was happy to use acrylics and stayed far, far away from those oil paints and their caustic chemical reactions in fear that if I didn’t use them right I would cause my painting to spontaneously combust.
It wasn’t until I was years into my “career” and I decided to get back into painting that I considered oils. And really, I only considered oil painting because there was no other option. Well, there was watercolor, but watercolor is pretty unwieldy stuff and I’d rather risk burning my eyebrows off than wrestle with watercolor. So, I signed up for a Beginner Oil Painting class and here is where all my misconceptions were cleared up. Oil based pigment needs to be mixed with a medium to create a paint-like consistency. Apparently back in the day only turpentine was available as a medium. Turpentine is very stinky, and from what I’m told still a chemical to be feared. Thankfully, I’ve still never actually come in contact with real turpentine because somewhere between the time of Michelangelo and the time of the iPhone, someone has created a synthetic medium called “Turpenoid” — works like turpentine, but is odorless and student-friendly. It even comes in an eco-friendly version.
In most art classes, painting or otherwise, students are taught by performing “Master Studies,” which is essentially taking a famous artist’s work and copying it, thereby learning techniques and skills by doing what the artist did. I selected Frederic Church’s “The Icebergs” mostly because I liked the colors.
|The Icebergs, Frederic Church, 1861|
This was certainly a learning experience…I learned that I could spend 5 hours painting in one day and I still not get that craggy look to the ice rocks. I guess this was a memorable experience for my teacher too, because almost two years later, he let me know that The Icebergs were on loan at the Met as part of a temporary exhibit. He urged me to see it for myself in person. So on Sunday, I dragged Mr. S to the Met with me to find The Icebergs.
The Met is gi-nor-mous. I knew the quickest way to find The Icebergs was to ask someone in a black blazer. The first Black Blazer directed us to the American Paintings exhibit. I should have realized then that this was wrong because American Paintings is a permanent exhibit and The Icebergs are just on loan to the Met. We walked around the multiple rooms in the American Paintings wing and asked a second Black Blazer where The Icebergs are.
Me: Hi, we’re looking for Church’s Icebergs
BB: Hmm…well, who is it by?
Me: Frederic Church
BB: Oh we’ve got lots of Church right over there
Me: Yeah…no…that’s not it. It’s a big painting of Icebergs.
At this point, I pulled up the painting on my iPhone.
Me: This is what it looks like.
BB: Well where does it say it is?
Me: It says it’s part of the Dallas permanent collection.
BB: Well then it’s not here!!
At this point I want to shake the man and yell. “Obviously I know what city I am in Black Blazer!!” Instead I said:
Me: Um, well no, I’m pretty sure it’s here. A friend told me he saw it here a few weeks ago. I think it’s part of a temporary exhibit?
BB: < thinking…thinking…thinking > Icebergs…icebergs…icebergs…
Me: < waiting…waiting…waiting >
BB: Oh yes! Maybe the Civil War exhibit!! That’s our temporary exhibit. There are some paintings of the Aurora Borealis there. If Icebergs are anywhere, they could be there…
He at least knew the quickest way to get to the Civil War exhibit. I had my blinders on as I zoomed past the tourists and other artworks. I just had to get to The Icebergs. Part of me was starting to doubt my information…maybe it wasn’t really here? Did I just pay $25 to not see The Icebergs?? Finally, we came up the stairs into a large room, and there it was, in all its craggy glory.
The real painting is very large, 64 x 112 inches, and it took Church one whole year to paint it. I started to take out my iPhone to snap a picture when a third Black Blazer barked, “NO PICTURES.” Party pooper, how about you go yell at all those tourists with their flash cameras. So I settled at staring at it for 20 minutes, all up close and personal. My art teacher says you can always spot a fellow artist in museums because they are the ones standing two inches away from the painting, trying to figure out how the artist did what he did. After seeing it in person, I think 2 things — 1) SO COOL 2) His is definitely better than mine.
I Heart NYC.