Friday, September 11, 2015

Train Crossing

"Train Crossing," gouache, 5 x 8 inches
I went over by the railroad tracks while our car was in the repair shop yesterday.

A freight train rumbled past, smelling of lumber and oil and new cars. It shrieked its horn a lot because this is a deadly crossing. 

I always shudder when a freight passes because my only uncle was killed in an accident at a train crossing when he was a teenager. My mom didn't like it when I left art school to ride the freight trains across America, and I was unaware of the worry I must have caused her. 

But it was thrilling and wild to travel that way. We would throw our backpacks onto an empty railcar as it left the yard and it would blast us into the night through unknown cities in the pitch blackness and hurricane wind. We never knew what part of the country we would wake up in.

Painting is like that, full of unknowns and deep longings, but it takes place inside a contained universe. 

I used three colors of gouache: Perylene Maroon (which sounds like the name of a pirate), Viridian, and Yellow Ochre, plus White. The underdrawing is just a framework of measurements.

Here's what the painting looked like after an hour or so.   

Because every element in the scene was unloved and probably never painted by an artist before, I felt an even greater accountability to capture it as faithfully as I could.

I like gouache for a subject like this because it lets me paint the most delicate forms, such as the fine electrical wires and the far crossing gates in the distance, which were as small as slivers.


Jim Douglas said...

Jim, I read your blog daily and in my opinion this is your best plein air painting in recent memory (6-7 years). It is a showcase of Gurney talent.

Developing contrast on an overcast day requires great confidence and deep understanding of values. (For those interested in beautiful value compositions, I suggest they study the etchings of F.L. Griggs. They will not be disappointed. He is notoriously overlooked.)

But on top of value, you have simultaneously captured the feel of full natural color, while working with a subtle limited palette. Also, the calligraphy of your brushstrokes is efficient and effective, half draftsman and half painter. Every man-made object in the painting is constructed with weight, while the tree tops sway in the breeze of a coming storm. And the distant opening in the trees invites us literally and figuratively into deep space. What does our future hold?

But the most special part of your painting to me is the cinematic quality of the scene. It tells a rich story without being literal; never an easy balance to achieve and often the criteria by which critics try to separate illustration from fine art. The somber mood unifies everything as much as the harmony of the limited palette. If feels like the opening shot of a film about two young men named Jim & Tom who set out into the unknown to experience and capture an authentic America.

It is a pleasure to view this painting. I'll bet it was an even bigger pleasure to paint it. Congratulations.

Evelyn said...

"Because every element in the scene was unloved and probably never painted by an artist before, I felt an even greater accountability to capture it as faithfully as I could." What a poetic credo! James, you are as expressive linguistically as you are visually. Many thanks for your daily sermons on art and humanity.

Best, Evelyn

jeff jordan said...

I like this one a lot, too. There's a spooky quality--like something's about to happen, but the outcome is up to whomever looks at it.

Pretty funny--I'm locked into a big oil painting, but what I really want to do is paint in gouache. YOU are responsible in part for this, Sir!


Steve said...

What Jim said -- so eloquently.

Steve said...

My comment was formulated in reference to Jim Douglas. Upon reflection, it's equally appropriate for Jim Gurney. Beautifully written post.

Ryowazza said...

I agree with Jim. One of my fav. painting of yours in the last couple of years here on the blog! There is a special atmosphere involved, perfectly evocating last days of summer! Congrats!

Tom Hart said...

It's hard to write a comment that does justice to your post and your painting, James. Both are spectacular, even for the high standards you set daily. But Jim Douglas nails it.

Great job James...and Jim.

(PS: In all the time I've been reading GJ, I don't think I ever caught mention of the freight-train hopping. How cool is that! Woody Guthrie, Jack Karouac, James Gurney. A mighty threesome.)

Cedar Bylard said...

Wow, that's a good one. I like that perylene maroon too. I sure hope they never stop making it.

Laura G. Young said...

"...unloved and probably never painted = an even greater accountability." <--This quote is getting written down in my sketchbook. ❤️

P.S. We were recently painting super close to some trains, as well. Serendipity!

Chris Beaven said...

Very nice painting! I like how faithful you painted the scene, even the graffiti looks perfect.

James Gurney said...

Thanks, Jim, and everyone for your insightful, articulate, and generous comments. I never know when I dive into a painting where it will take me, and it's so helpful to know what's coming across to other people.

By the way, Jim, I do have a book of Griggs' engravings, and I love them. I'll do a post about him sometime.

Laura, great video. I was afraid that umbrella would get blown over.

Tom, I've yet to do a series of posts on the freight train adventures. I have audio tapes, but very few photos unfortunately.

Jeff, I've been inspired by Andrew Wyeth's idea to bring your art as close as you can to what genuinely terrifies, thrills, or enraptures you, and trains crossings definitely do that. I was surprised as I sat there how differently people cross the tracks in their cars. Some barrel across, and others slow way down and cross nervously. I'm in the second camp.

Luke said...

Hey Jim,
Could you do a blog post about your life, for example how you met your wife, the jobs you had, things like that. I would lov to know how you did it all en still got so far.
Great job on the painting I am in love with it

Urban Wild said...

Maybe it's just the way it looks on my screen, but there are some things that look like black: the crossing signal light, tree trunks, and wires. Did you just mix the perylene maroon and viridian to get that dark color?

Urban Wild said...

I found the answer to the question in the post on painting the Guernsey at the fair! Viridian + perylene maroon = black.

James Gurney said...

Urban, Yes, I meant to get back to you. Virid and PM make a very nice black. You can also use Ultramarine blue deep and burnt umber or burnt sienna.