Wednesday, April 27, 2016

What's in a Name?

Peach Warbler, Oil on Canvas, 24 by 30 in., Private Collection
Without getting into a discussion on the merits of this painting, or lack thereof, let me talk about its most satisfying component – the title.  Yes, yours truly really hit it out of the ballpark with this one.

Giving a great title to a representational oil painting on stretched canvas is probably not the highest form of human endeavor, but don’t quote me on that.  And I don’t think any art enthusiast has ever collapsed in spasmodic joy upon learning of the title of one of my paintings.  “A perfect appellation, my dear boy! Bravo!”  But I can’t think of many things that are more important in the life of a painter in today’s digital marketplace.  Maybe actually selling the paintings you title is more important, but I wouldn’t know about that.

For the most part, we are advised not to get cute with our titles.  A painting of peonies in a blue and white vase with two peaches and a lace tablecloth, for example, should be titled, Peonies in a Blue and White Vase with Two Peaches and a Lace Tablecloth, because our peonies may look more like roses, our peaches may look more like nectarines and the lace tablecloth might look something like The Shroud of Turin.  That’s one very good reason.  Another is that Google’s little search engine won’t know where to send prospective online customers if the title is Untitled, Symphony No. 1, Composition No. 7, Ode to Opulence, Nature’s Bounty,  Glittering Fantasy, Nocturne, Soliloquy, Keeping Silent Vigil on a Long Summer Night and Praying for the Dawn to Break with News of a Storefront Gallery Representation.  I think you get the idea.

Of course this caution about titling paintings only applies to painters whom nobody has ever heard of, like you and me.  Whistler, Picasso, Pollock, Kandinsky, et al., could get by with any old title that amused them.  Abstract painters have enormous leeway in titling their paintings, of course. Robert Motherwell, for example, gave his bold abstract shapes absurd titles like Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 110. 

Well, that’s about all I want to say about titling paintings at this time.  Just wanted to let somebody else know what a great title I came up with for this painting.  I’m not out of words quite yet, so I thought I’d break my initial promise and talk about the painting a little bit.

The painting itself has a couple of things I like and a couple of things I should have done better on.  I like the three birds and the initial wash-in on the right background that I left because it resembles a Chinese landscape.  I tried to get the same feeling on the left side but failed.  Ellipses and symmetries drive me crazy, as they did here.  And the foreground could have used a design makeover, but I had no great ideas and little inclination for that task before I escorted it to a gallery on the edge of Soho, which regrettably closed a couple of years ago.

The gallery owner asked all his artists what they wanted to get for their paintings.  This one is a 24x30 that took four or five morning sessions to complete, so of course I said $300.  A few months later I got a check for that amount.  Don’t know what the gallery owner tacked on, but it probably wasn’t much.  He had low rent for the gallery space and just enjoyed being in the business working with artists whose work he admired.  Would there were hundreds more like him.

And, oh yeah, Peach Warbler.  Perfect, right?