Friday, June 6, 2014

On Meeting Fairfield Porter on George Street

I had an unexpected meeting with Fairfield Porter following the weekly Wednesday workshop I conduct at my studio in Lowell, Mass. 

As an exercise, we were using a the left hand side of a painting by George Inness as a starting point for "whatever might happen." Fools we!

Geo. Inness, June (1882)
We were thwarted at every turn! Sometimes the gods smile upon our efforts, sometimes not. We were probably looking too closely and anxiously; whatever, just trying to get the colors and the values right proved unusually painful. In the end, I mixed the greens using Corot's palette and left it at that.

Finally despairing of getting my study to look anything like the Inness, I went about the business of playing with what I did have in my painting to see if anything could be made of it before it became "a wiper." I have no problem wiping away a painting that isn't going to make it. "Know when you're licked," said Charles Woodbury

I confidently adhere to the doctrine that any painting is good painting because you're invariably learning something that will be useful later whether you realize it or not - an activity otherwise known as "paying your dues."

Here's the study after a student remarked that its real debt was to Fairfield Porter instead of Inness, and all it needed was a road. I was (and still aren't) that convinced, but the collision of the two (three if you count Corot) got me thinking about "influence" and how it works.

C. Volpe, A Morning Walk on George St., 8x10, oil on paper

Just for reference, here are a couple of landscapes by Fairfield Porter:

And one by Corot:

Let's face it, sometimes we're totally helpless; painting is a leap into the void! But it's interesting that while I was busy failing at my attempt to consciously adopt one painter's style (Inness's), others leaped into the breach and tried to help. Perhaps it just underscores the importance of looking at a lot of art with an open heart and mind - drinking deeply of what and why and allowing the art you love to penetrate your subconscious. 

That Corot is a high-res photo by the way, and if you right click on it and save the file to your computer, you'll be able to see the beautiful, shimmery gray strokes he used to make the magic of his ethereal foliage. Yup, I'm a fan.

Upcoming Classes and Workshops

The Ogunquit Summer School of Art (Ogunquit, Maine)

Plein-Air Tuesdays

Instruction in painting outdoors on Tuesday mornings from 9-1 in and around Perkins Cove, Ogunquit, Maine.

June 24, July 18*15, 22, 29 
*July 8 class will be taught by Todd Bonita

Week-Long Workshop in OgunquitWith Todd Bonita

Team-taught plein-air instruction designed to foster spontaneous creativity while strengthening formal compositional and drawing skills.

September 25 - 29, 2014

Contact them at 603-819-9100


Star Island (Isles of Shoals 

Plein-air painting day trip 9 miles off southern Maine and New Hampshire

June 29, 2014

Contact me about this.


Cape Cod

"Beyond Plein Air" at Castle Hill Art Center, Truro

July 7 - July 11, 2014

Contact them at 508-349-7511


Crawford Notch (New Hampshire's White Mountains)

Three-day workshop in the Whites. This is a pilot for a new Artist in Residence program I am helping to develop at the Appalachian Mountain Club's Highland Center Lodge.

September 26-28, 2014

Contact me about this.


Cinque Terre (Italian Coast) 

A possible 2015 or 2016 workshop.

Contact me about this.


Those interested in my ongoing weekly class in Lowell, MA should Contact me . 


  1. This was a great post--I love all the artists you reference here, and your way of looking at things.

    I'm in A519 at WAS--maybe we'll meet one of these days. Enjoy your summer.