March 2010   volume 9 number 2 The Artist's Loft logo The Artist's Loft logo

William H. Hays  Hello and Welcome Friends,

This month's artwork was confined to two pieces, a print and a painting. Well, really a reworking of a painting that I've had around for quite a while.

I did this painting originally in 1996, inspired by the magnificent paintings of Fredrick Edwin Church. About six months later I reworked it by moving the sun down closer to the horizon and reducing it in size a little bit. (You can notice the ghost of the original sun above the new one - pentimento.) And here the painting was for many years....

Church's Sunset, oil painting by William Hays   "Church's Sunset" oil on canvas 41" x 52"

It was a pretty good sized painting and had a strong physical presence as well as a substantial weight. After some gallery handling damage to a couple of canvases, I had the idea of creating an indestructible canvas by stretching it over plywood. It was indeed indestructible... until it wasn't. And it weighed a ton! In truth the painting weighed 40+ pounds. Too much, and enough unwieldy weight to make one tire of transporting it.

I began feeling that there was something more needed in the painting during the last three or four years. So I thought about it and periodically entertained ideas that I though might work. Then last summer another painting, suffering from the same issues of weight as "Church's Sunset", fell off the wall and scraped it's gessoed corner down the bottom center of my painting. I had to at least repair the painting and I couldn't just remove the scrape. It was also white on a dark area of the painting.

In considering a new composition for the lower part I began to think about a place in northern Vermont called Lake Willoughby. It's a very lovely lake whose depression was carved by a glacier resulting in two halves of one mountain facing each other on either side of the lake. I did a small watercolor some years ago from Burke Mountain ski area looking west toward Lake Willoughby. I found a couple of photos of the lake from that view and developed a compositional reworking of the painting. It was drawn out in chalk onto the old painting surface.

Church's Sunset, oil painting by William Hays   "Church's Sunset" 39" x 48" (in process, 1)

Here I've restretched the canvas on a slightly smaller and much lighter stretcher bar frame - that is just the right size for a beautiful gilt frame I have on hand in the gallery. (The gesso scrape from the other painting is just to the left of center at the bottom, a white stroke slightly tilted to the right.) In this picture, I've drawn out the composition and painted only on the sun and surrounding sky, along with the lake reflecting the sky. The vertical lines are to position spruce trees. The mountain ranges are in a ghostly cartoon against the old painting.

Church's Sunset, oil painting by William Hays   "Church's Sunset" 39" x 48" (in process, 2)

At this point I've painted in the most distant mountains, the two halves: Mt. Hoar and Mt. Pisgah on either side of Lake Willoughby, and a wedge of the midground on the left. I've also worked a little bit on the sun and on the large tree to the right. The idea I had in approaching this part of the painting was to tie in the sky and the land with the same light by using more closely related colors. In the original there was a sense of the light not being quite right, a little bit of a fantastic quality.

Church's Sunset, oil painting by William Hays   "Church's Sunset" 39" x 48"

Here is the final painting. People often ask me how long it takes to do a painting. That's a tough question to answer because sometimes they take 14 years, sometimes a few days.

The next piece is the largest block print I've done to date. Previously, I've been working in two sizes, 9" x 12" and 5" x 7". These are convenient and reasonable for the amount of time it takes to do a print in the manner that I work. Adding double the surface area resulted in at least that much more work and other problems in printing that I discovered along the way.

This print is based on paintings, sketches and photographs of a place on Stratton Mountain called Pike's Falls. It is one of those places that if you know what you're looking for, it's easy to find. But if you haven't been there before, you'll never find it. It's a secret place with a lovely, clear pool at the base of a waterfall.

Secret Place (step 1), Linoleum Block Print by William H. Hays   "The Secret Place" (step 1) Linoleum Block Print, 11" x 17"

The drawing alone took two days to complete onto the block. The carving for the first color was also another two days.

Secret Place (step 3), Linoleum Block Print by William H. Hays   "The Secret Place" (step 3) Linoleum Block Print, 11" x 17"

I won't show you every step of the way here. There ended up to be 13 colors in all. This is the print after the third color.

Secret Place (step 7), Linoleum Block Print by William H. Hays   "The Secret Place" (step 7) Linoleum Block Print, 11" x 17"

This is the print after the seventh color.

The Secret Place, Linoleum Block Print by William H. Hays   "The Secret Place" 13-color Linoleum Block Print, 11" x 17"

The final print.

I think you can see that these two pieces were enough to keep me busy for the month. I hope you enjoyed seeing them take shape. The pieces will both be on display in my gallery in Brattleboro the month of April. Gallery Walk is this Friday, April 2nd, as it is on the first Friday of each month. I hope you'll be able to come by and take a look. I intend to send the painting out to another gallery in May.

Lastly, I'd like to leave you with something our friends, Dante and Suzanne Corsano sent us from Oaxaca, Mexico. They own and operate Gallery In The Woods in Brattleboro. They've gone to Mexico to find some wonderful art to bring back. Oaxaca is a lovely town, but it can be very hot. I noted this to Suzanne during a recent email exchange and she sent back this beautiful piece of prose:

The Virgin of Sorrows
"There is something about the shadows during the days of the Soledad, the virgin of sorrows. Around this time of the year, the simmering heat swirls an impossible boil. People talk about the heat here in the way they talk about the mud on our road, interjecting every paragraph with, assez calor. Its always a mystery, these extremes of nature. The sand by the ocean begins to burn the feet. The sides of the street in the shadows are a channel of movement, and anything in the hand is a fan. The whole thing collapses at the zocalo at noon, everyone sitting in the shade of the big trees as the sun passes apex in the flat white heat, all gazing - not moving for the hour without shadows.

It's too hot for things to work out. We wander in a vortex typical and meaningless, with a lot of dead ends, beginning to venture in one direction, and turning around in another. The carvers don't deliver. Wedding flowers roast and wilt on the waiting cars outside the church. We miss appointments. The graffiti extravaganza is too far away to walk. The procession is cancelled because the archbishop is pissed at requests for payola from the standard bearers.

As the sun relents and the darkness sets, and the moon fills out and everyone takes to the alcala, a meandering swarm headed for the center: a cacophony of marimba bands, schoolchildren singing, capuera groups, wandering clowns, great globby floating bunches of helium balloons and heaps of cheap plastic blowup toys, women in the red striped huipiles of Oaxaca hawking shawls, flirting hippie men in big rasta hair, teenage dirty dancers, old men in crisp white shirts and cowboy boots, spinners and sparklers, loud flashy cars decked with slogans and banners driving thru parading their own inscrutable victory motion picture moment and other parades of teenagers in elaborate and mythic costumes, at play for the virgin of sorrows."


William H. Hays

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