Friday, June 24, 2011


Seaside Roses
James Aponovich
oil on canvas, 17" x 12", 2011

This week the rose garden is in full bloom and it is gorgeous. It is time to paint roses.
These roses are called 'Heritage' and they are of the softest and cleanist pink. I originally had in mind a sleeping black cat behind the vase but currently, not having a cat I substituted a cloth.
Beth and I had a house in Maine for twelve years and it was there that we learned to garden. This painting is an homage to gardening in Maine.

In many ways I find that roses are amongst the most difficult flowers to paint. The petal of a rose is very delicate. Often, even with my best efforts, the petals can appear to be made of porcelain. Generally, roses are quite complex and demanding but surprisingly the tulip can also be difficult, not due to complexity but by it's utter simplicity of form.

Being somewhat a superficial gardener ( Beth is the real gardener here) I am prone to be attracted to a plant because of it's history or name.
We have the Apothecary's Rose (oldest rose),
and roses that evoke art or romance: 'Fantin-Latour', 'Charles Rennie Macintosh',
'Shropshire Lad', and my favorite, a gallica rose named 'Rosa Mundi'.

Rosa Mundi Roses
James Aponovich
oil on canvas, 2007
New Britian Museum of American Art

This is a beautiful rose. Rosa Mundi is an ancient mutation of the Apothecary's Rose. It is the rose that Botticelli painted in
The Virgin and the Child with St. John the Baptist, ( see blog post week #5 ).
It is very much a painter's rose.

There is a story connected to it's name and it goes something like this:
Eleanor of Aquitaine was Queen of France and for political reasons was married to Henry II, King of England. However, the King had his royal eye set on the beautiful Rosamund, with whom he had a love affair. Rosamund's favorite flower was rosa gallica 'versicolor', a stunning flower with crimson and white petals. Well, as with all affairs the truth was soon revealed and to say the least Eleanor was quite upset. She immediately had poor Rosamund executed. Sigh...
Every year, to commemorate his love ( and to tick off Eleanor) Henry had Rosamund's grave covered with petals from her favorite rose, now and forever named 'Rosa Mundi'.
Hyperboly? Maybe, but I prefer to believe it. Why not?

Images and text Copyright 2011 James Aponovich

Friday, June 17, 2011


James Aponovich
6" x 8", oil on canvas. 2011

This is the take-out that never seems to leave the fridge ( see blog posts for week # 6
and week # 8). My task now is to combine the three elements, fortune cookies, take-out box and bowl of sliced oranges and make it work as one complete and ( gulp !) successful painting.
We'll see.

I should note that this painting might come a bit later since now in the garden the peonies and poppies are in full bloom. That means that I must paint them while I can only to return at some point in the future to finish the canvas. I guess it is like playing chess, its not just the move you are making now, but also what the next three will be. This is also why my studio is full of "paintings in progress".
For a closer look at our garden go to Aponovich and Johansson: At Home and Away

Note: If you look closely at the bowl ( Sliced Oranges in a Bowl) you can see a blue- shirted me.... I painted me because A. I am there and B. it adds another dimension which is the environment outside the painting, as the painting is being painted. Get it?


Pieter Claesz ( Dutch)
Still Life with a Turkey Pie ( detail)
Oil on panel, 1627
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Still Life with Amaryllis, (detail)
James Aponovich , 2009

Generally a still life painting is a combination of many visual textures, cloth, ceramics, flowers, fruit and metal for example. To a certain degree painting is like cooking, you want to balance different flavors and textures. It relates to what Plato referred to as harmony, a pleasing combination of various elements to create a whole.
In the two details of paintings above, the hard surface of silver is represented. I purposely muted the reflective surface on my sugar bowl, why? Because the still life is set outdoors but the reflection would be indoors( my studio). That being said the reflective surface has fascinated artists ever since the realistic depiction of objects began after the Middle Ages.


Jan Van Eyck (Flemish)
Giovanni Arnolfini and His Bride, 1434
Oil on wood, 32" x 24"
National Gallery, London

This painting is thought to be a wedding contract and it is loaded with symbolism, slippers all over the place, a marriage bed, fruit on the window sill, one candle burning and little fido standing in front of the two people who are not afraid of conspicuous displays of expensive clothing.

Jan Van Eyck

As you look closer you will note on the far wall a convex mirror which reflects the backs of the couple as well as Mr. Van Eyck himself standing in the doorway
witnessing this " for better, for worse" moment.

Diego Velazquez ( Spanish)
Las Meninas, 1656
oil on panel, 10' x 9'
Prado, Madrid

This painting is considered to be the greatest painting by one of the world's greatest
painters, Diego Velazquez. He was First painter and Chief Steward to the Royal Court of Spain under Phillip IV. Good gig!
It's quite a score, what with the Infanta Margarita, maids in waiting, a dwarf, widows, and even Fido again, in front. But don't be fooled, it's all about him, the artist. He stands in front of his canvas dressed to the nines in his "Order of Santiago" smock painting the space that we the viewers inhabit. Well no, not quite. If you look at the back wall (again) you can see a flat mirror and an open doorway with a standing figure. The doorway goes in one direction, out back, but the mirror reflects back to where we are.

Diego Velazquez
Las Meninas (detail)

Reflected in this mirror are none other than the King and Queen of Spain. This ambitious painting illustrates a remarkable manipulation of pictorial space. From the rear exit space spills out of the room into the light beyond. Yet adjacent to the door the reflection portrays the Royal couple in the space that we inhabit, beyond the confines of the canvas. In the middle of it all stands the individual who creates and controls all this space like a ringmaster, the artist Diego Velazquez.

Art does not exist in a bubble. Many outside influences affect an artist's vision and in turn shapes the vision of humanity. This interrelatedness of influence is evident in that Las Meninas was painted only sixteen years after the death of the Italian, Galileo, who with his telescope looked out to the heavens and forever changed and advanced our concept of space.

copyright 2011 James Aponovich

Friday, June 10, 2011


Pears from Sant'Anna
James Aponovich
oil on board, 8" x 6", 2011

Often, inspiration for a painting arrives by a rather roundabout way in the creative process.

Study: Two Pears, Sant 'Anna
James Aponovich
Pencil on paper, 3.5" x 2.5", 2010

A case in point is this tiny sketch I drew in the garden of the Monastery of Sant'Anna in Camprena, in Central Tuscany. The moment of influence occurred inside the Dining Hall of this ancient place and it was of a most peculiar manner.

View of the Abbazia Di Monte Oliveto Maggiore, Tuscany

The story begins about five miles north of Sant'Anna at the Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore. Set in the barren, rocky Crete Senese, south east of Siena.
Founded in 1319, Benedictine monks in their white habits continue to live and work at the Monastery repeating a rhythm of life that goes back almost 700 years.
The order commissioned Luca Signorelli of Cortona to paint a cycle of frescos in the Great Cloister depicting the Life of Saint Benedict. After completing only 9 of the 36 alcoves, Signorelli backed off and left the job. My theory is that he was offered a more prestigious and might I say, lucrative gig in Orvieto, but that's just an artist's guess. Anyway, a wacky Sienese artist by the name of Giovanni Antonio Bazzi was brought in. Bazzi was one of the original Bad Boys of art history. The monks nicknamed him "Il Mattaccio" ( the Buffoon). Otherwise he was called "Il Sodoma". Apparently he had a taste for "beardless boys" in his studio. He also kept as pets, badgers, squirrels, apes, marmosets, crows, etc. He must have been tough to live next to.

Il Sodoma
Self Portrait with Badgers
The Great Cloister
Monte Oliveto Maggiore

Here stands Mr. Bazzi himself. The Nobleman's cloke that he wears was given to him by the Abbot after it was left at the monastery by a rich novice.

Il Sodoma
Great Cloister, Monte Oliveto Maggiore
View down the east wing

Sant' Anna in Camprena, Tuscany

At around the same time Il Sodoma was commissioned to paint
the Refectory ( Dining Hall) of the nearby Monastery of Sant'Anna in Camprena, just north of Pienza.

Sant'Anna in Camprena
Interior of the Refectory

Here I was, standing in the Refectory and as often happens Beth and I were totally alone. It was quite an experience to be standing in front of these masterpieces where they have been since their creation, but to be alone! No guards, no people with headphones listening to recordings.
Believe me, you will find more people standing in front of a local gelato stand... be it!

Il Sodoma
View of Grotesques

Back to' The Pears'. What struck me was when I was leaving I was drawn to the painted decorative friezes on the sides of the door. Literally they were right in front of my nose. These are called grotesques and they originated when Italian artists during the Renaissance traveled to Rome to see the newly excavated "Golden Palace" of the Emperor Nero ( another Bad Boy). They were taken aback by the splendid painted decoration executed in a flat two-dimensional manner. Mythical beasts and exotic floral forms meander over the surface. In my painting I wanted the leaf forms to dance above a slightly humanized pair of Tuscan pears.

So, my little painting was:
Inspired by Il Sodoma
By way of Nero
There in the garden of Sant' Anna

Who would have known?

copyright 2011 James Aponovich

Thursday, June 2, 2011


Five Pears on a Plate
James Aponovich
12' x 11", oil on canvas, 2011

Right now the irises are blooming in our garden and the peonies are almost in flower. This is a very intense and busy time as I must paint each flower group while they are in top form. The season is short so I must commit the flowers to canvas while I can. The remainder of the composition will be dealt with at another time. It is not always the most logical way to paint but it is what it is.
I am also always on the lookout for interesting fruits and vegetables. I found these pears at our local farm stand and loved the elegant stems and their red / yellow color.


Still Life with Daylilies and Watermelon
James Aponovich , 2004
oil on canvas, 42" x 32"
Currier Museum of Art

I have a few favorite pieces of fabric. Here in the painting Still Life with Daylilies and Watermelon, the same fabric is used (as in 5 Pears) to counter the color and compositional arc of the flowers and landscape. Fabric, referred to as drapery, has always been one of the fundamental elements of Western painting. Apprentices were required to master the seven complex folds of fabric by spending hours drawing.

Drapery Study
Albrecht Durer, 1508
Grey wash with white on toned paper
Albertina Collection, Vienna

Durer always prepared drapery studies with the utmost care and used them masterfully in his paintings and graphic work.

St. John's Alterpiece ( detail)
Hans Memling, 1474
oil on panel
Hospital of St. John, Bruges

While the Italians were busy creating what we now know as the Renaissance, the Northern European painters were gathering in an area known as Flanders. This was the flowering
of "Ars Nova", the triumph of High Realism. In this amazing painting, fabric is layered to create a visual mosaic of color and pattern. While in the south.........

The Visitation
Pontormo, 1528
oil on panel
Santa Felicita (Florence)

Pontormo was a tormented artist ( hey, who's not!) who was responsible for changing Florentine painting from the High Renaissance to Mannerism. He was influenced by Albrecht Durer, who's prints were being distributed throughout Italy. The gossamer fabric glows with vivid and almost unreal hues.

When in Florence, cross the Ponte Vecchio to the Oltrarno and on the left, set into the small Piazza dei Rossi is the Church of Santa Felicita. Inside, on the right is the Capponi Chapel. Put a 50 euro coin in the light box and prepare yourself to be amazed. These are the paintings that broke the back of the High Renaissance.
After, to recover, go outside and across from the church is the Enoteca L'e Volpi e L'Uva . Sit outside and order a glass of Italian wine and a plate of crostini with pecorino and drink in Florence.

copyright 2011 James Aponovich