Posts from the ‘my paintings’ category

Shades of Gray: Simmons Sculpture Painting Series

Sunday, February 26th, 2017

I had a tube of gray oil paint in my studio for years and I’ve almost never touched it. Why paint with gray when there are so many color combinations that give you a much more interesting shade of gray? True-gray is, of course, a 50/50 mix of white and black, but out in the real world, we see grays in a rainbow of colors … just look at all of the shadows around you.  

I recently finished a series of four oil paintings that I created together to explore many different ways to paint gray. The paintings are two views of two sculptures at the Portland Museum of Art, and each one is painted with only two colors, plus white.

Simmons Sculpture – series by Becky DiMattia
each painting: oil on 10×20″ canvas
2017

This series is special to me partly because this was a lot of fun to paint, but also because it was really challenging for me, and because of the special memories attached to these sculptures, which I first saw ten years ago. This series accomplishes several artistic goals that have been floating around in my mind for years.

20160604_182859First and foremost, my goal was to explore shades of gray with oil paint. I spent a delightful summer afternoon going back to my roots, painting a few color charts using the various tubes of reds, oranges, greens and blues in my studio. After a very scientific decision-making process (staring at them for a long time), I chose four combinations that I think make especially interesting shades of gray:

  • alizarin crimson and oxide of chromium (red and green)
  • alizarin crimson and cerulean blue (red and blue)
  • cadmium red light and oxide of chromium (orange and green)
  • cadmium red light and cerulean (orange and blue)

20160605_125230Each painting uses one only one of these combinations, and white, which means that two of the paintings use the same blue, two use the same red, and so on. In retrospect, it might not have been the best idea for one of the paintings to use only primary colors (red and blue), but as a lover of the color purple, I think it still works in this exploration of rich grays. 

Two of the paintings are of one sculpture, and two are of another. Two of the paintings are a full-length view of that sculpture, and two are a bit more zoomed-in. Two of these paintings came together easily and were finished a while ago. Two of these paintings were left unfinished for months while I puzzled over how to finish them. I have been endlessly fascinated by the endless combinations of pairs among the set of four. 

Another one of my goals was to finally do something with a few favorite photos that I took ten years ago. The Portland Museum of Art has a gorgeous gallery that is filled with sunlight and sculptures by Franklin D. Simmons. Each marble figure is magnificently carved, and they each look especially beautiful to me in the light of the floor-to-ceiling windows. 

I saw this gallery for the first time ten years ago, in Fall 2007, on a family trip to Maine to visit my grandparents, who had a timeshare in Ogunquit that week. Having been to so many museums around the world, it’s a rare treat to visit a museum for the first time, and an even rarer treat to visit a museum with my grandfather, who is also an oil-painter and photographer. I remember being blown away by the beautiful marbles in the sun-filled Simmons gallery, and he and I took several photos. He has also experimented with how to make interesting shades of gray in oils, and he has a beautiful painting that uses only cadmium red light and cerulean, another inspiration for this series. 

A week before that trip, I had started dating the man who is now my husband. I remember talking to him on the phone, looking out over Ogunquit’s Perkins Cove. Brian’s a fellow art-lover, so it was a real treat to show him the Simmons gallery when he and I took a daytrip to Portland the following year. 

Here’s my photoblog entry from our family trip to Ogunquit and Portland in October 2007.  
Here’s my photoblog entry from Brian’s and my daytrip to Portland in December 2008

Brian is an enormously valuable studio assistant, and his opinions on my works in progress have become an essential part of my system. It’s so hard to decide “how much” to paint a painting … in other words, how to decide when the painting is finished. We have had ten years of fascinating debates about this, including a memorably heated debate over the Red/Green painting in this series, which he counts as one of my best paintings. When I saw how incredibly disappointed Brian was after I changed a part of that painting that he really liked, I learned a lot about how much painting can be a team sport. Fortunately, he still likes how the painting came out, and his many valuable insights really helped me to finally finish this series.

Here are the four paintings in the series ‘Simmons Sculptures.’
Please click on the thumbnails to view the whole painting:

 
When I got started on each painting, I took a photo-memo of each painting with its colors so I would keep my combos straight. 

These paintings are based on photographs that I took in 2007 and 2008 of two marble sculptures by Franklin D. Simmons (1839-1913), Medusa and Promised Land. Please click on the links to visit their pages on the Portland Museum of Art’s website.

 

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purple gray

Saturday, February 25th, 2017

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Ogunquit Waves

Thursday, February 9th, 2017

For me, paintings are often nothing more than a way to capture a simple memory, or something that was particularly beautiful to me. I just finished this painting of the waves crashing on the rocks along the Marginal Way in Ogunquit, Maine. I remember spending a bright chilly February morning feeling relaxed and refreshed, watching the waves roll in and make these big foamy splashes on rocks, roll back, then roll right back in and crash all over again. I had a lot of fun taking slow-motion videos of this amazing simple feat of nature, and I posted the videos here … photoblog post from our trip to Ogunquit in February 2016. This painting was also a chance to have some fun with the colors of shadows, which are often far from actual-gray. Here, the waves cast shadows that were a gorgeous shade of deep cobalt blue, requiring the purchase of a shiny new tube of oil paint. 

Ogunquit Waves – by Becky DiMattia, oil on 12×24” canvas, 2017

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New Painting: Bates Hall at the Boston Public Library

Sunday, January 4th, 2015

Anyone who has been to my house in the last few years has perhaps noticed one of my paintings, which was hanging in our living room as if it was a finished painting (I don’t have enough storage space for my paintings, so works in progress are often ‘stored’ on our walls). That painting wasn’t actually finished until today.

bates-hall

Bates Hall at the Boston Public Library – by Becky DiMattia
oil on 12×20″ canvas
2014

Bates Hall is the majestic main study room in the Boston Public Library in Copley Square (click here for the BPL’s page about this room). On one of our many field trips around Boston, I took Brian to the Boston Public Library when I realized that he had never explored the library’s many art and architectural treasures. (photoblog post from that day in ’08 when we had only been together about 4 months).

It was an eye-opening experience for Brian because it was his first real glimpse of his father as a teenager, starting his lifetime career in the library industry with his first job shelving books in the spectacular halls of learning at the Boston Public Library. This past summer, Brian recalled that first visit to Bates Hall in his father’s eulogy.

I started this painting in Summer 2012, after getting a good photo of Bates Hall during my wanderings on a gorgeous day off (photoblog post from that day). Yes, it somehow took me two and a half years to complete this rather small painting. I guess I got distracted.

Also, this was probably one of the most challenging paintings I’ve ever done … partly because of the tricky perspective, partly because of so many little details, partly because it had become so important to us, but mostly because I tried two very stupid experiments with this painting. I thought it might be ‘fun’ to challenge two basic steps in starting a painting, and I now know better.

First, I didn’t sand the canvas. I usually use a very fine sandpaper to sand the gesso primer, and that gives you a nice smooth surface to paint on. I thought it might be interesting to paint on a rough texture, but it just made it hard for the paint to cover the surface. Basically, it felt like my paintbrushes weren’t working right the whole time.

And second, I didn’t start with a ground color. I usually start every painting by covering the entire surface in a basic color like yellow ochre (mixed with white) or cerulean blue (mixed with white). I thought it might be interesting to start with white, and then just simply not paint the windows. This did actually work well for the windows, but it made the rest of the painting really hard to paint. This, combined with not sanding the canvas, meant that it was just plain hard to paint in all of the details, and cover over every trace of the white canvas surface. For the longest time, I felt like I was getting nowhere with this.

But then I look back at the photos I took along the way, and I remember that this one really did come a long way! Brian worked hard on this too, providing incredibly valuable observations, suggestions, and coffee. It’s quite amazing how many of my paintings are starting to feel like our paintings.

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My studio

Thursday, January 1st, 2015

It’s winter break and I’ve been painting up a storm … stayed tuned!

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Battery Wharf

Saturday, November 15th, 2014

I’m going to be doing a painting of a bride on her wedding day, and her big day finally arrived! I had a wonderful afternoon walking through the North End to Battery Wharf, which happens to be one of my favorite places in Boston (and not just because it has a wonderful view across the harbor to the Hyatt where we were married). The bridal suite at the Fairmont Battery Wharf is literally right at the end of the wharf, and it has some really incredible views. I had the honor of hanging out with the wedding party during some of the formal photos, as well as with my friend, the mother of the bride. We took some really wonderful photos for the painting, and I can’t wait to get started!

After we were done with the photos, I walked back through the North End to head home for a quick change before heading back out again to see Fitz and the Tantrums at the House of Blues! Great show.

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Pencils

Monday, March 11th, 2013

In honor of scoring a new drawing commission, I decided that I needed a new set of pencils. How beautiful is this? I’ve been using Staedtler pencils since the late 90s 🙂
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Studio

Sunday, March 10th, 2013

Lovely day for starting a new painting.

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Snow

Thursday, March 7th, 2013

It’s snowing sideways and I have a lonely blank canvas in my studio. Remind me again why I’m leaving my apartment today?

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Sisters

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

Nine years ago, I painted the mansion where the parents of these two little girls were married. It was a wedding gift from the brother of the groom, and I was honored to be able to help commemorate their wedding day. I was even more honored when he contacted me nine years later and commissioned another painting!

His brother and sister-in-law are now the proud parents of two beautiful daughters, and this painting was commissioned for his brother’s 40th birthday. I promised to have it finished in time for Christmas, and nothing keeps me motivated like a deadline, so I spent several lovely weekends painting for many, many hours at a time

This blast from my past got me thinking about where I was in my life when I painted that mansion. It was the summer after I graduated from college, I was living at my parents’ house, painting in their basement and job-searching. I had no idea what I was doing, but a year later, I was working in the registrar’s office at a college, living with nice strangers in Brighton and working on another commission.

Life is good.

Sisters

Sisters, oil on 24×30″ canvas, December 2012

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Painting Marathon

Saturday, November 17th, 2012

In mid-September, I accepted a painting commission and agreed to have the painting completed by Christmas. This seemed like a perfectly reasonable deadline to meet, but if you factor in various other obligations (like my job), the limited daylight hours in Fall, the time it takes for a painting to dry, and our 10-day vacation in October, I have about 6 days to finish this painting. I have set aside all of the other things I’m supposed to be doing, and I’m dedicating this entire weekend to painting. It’s a rough life …

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Old South Church

Thursday, August 2nd, 2012

Finished another painting!

I started a handful of paintings in 2010, then a few things came up in 2011 – a few painting commissions and several months of wedding planning kept me away from other projects. So now I’m putting the finishing touches on paintings that were about 80% finished two years ago.

I take a lot of pictures for a lot of reasons, and one of them is that some photos eventually turn in to paintings. In September 2009, my dear friend Maureen and I went out to lunch on Boylston Street — two photos from that day would eventually become paintings (one’s not done yet).

Old South Church

Old South Church
Copley Square, Boston
oil on 12x20" canvas
2012-2012


Old South Church
Copley Square, Boston
oil on 12×20″ canvas
2010-2012

Old South Church

Old South Church, Fall 2009

This is a painting of Old South Church — a gorgeous church in a city full of gorgeous churches. In September 2009, I snapped a photo (on the right) that contrasted the colorful early-Fall leaves in the church’s award-winning garden with the sun-lit stone work of the church. The following winter, when I decided to begin a painting of this scene, I realized that I needed more pictures because I wanted to include the church’s beautiful bell-tower. So I grabbed this photo, hopped on the T, found the exact spot that I had been standing and re-framed my shot to include the tower.

Then, I heard the most beautiful music coming from inside the church, and suddenly it dawned on me — it was December 24th!  I stepped in to the church, which is gorgeous on any day, and absolutely stunning when it’s decked out for Christmas (photo on the right). I sat down and enjoyed a magical, beautiful, peaceful organ rehearsal, then headed home to start a new painting.

The church’s founders chose an incredible location for their church. Old South Church was built in 1875, next to the Boston Public Library (built in 1848), and across Copley Square from Trinity Church (built 1872-1877). The finish line of the Boston Marathon, established in 1897, is steps away from Old South Church. In 1914, the Copley T station was built right next to Old South Church, and now thousands of commuters and tourists pass it each day. The John Hancock Tower, New England’s tallest building, was built across from Old South Church in 1976.

Old South Church, interior

Old South Church, interior
Christmas, 2010Links

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Gallery 810

Thursday, July 19th, 2012

I finally finished a painting that I’ve been working on for a while. It’s not my masterpiece, but I love it.  Life occasionally gets in the way of painting, and this one may have sat on the back-burner for quite a while. I started this painting two years ago, almost to the day.

You might not be surprised by this: I love going to museums. On the day after Christmas in 2007, Brian and I spent the afternoon at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and, again this might not surprise you, I took a lot of pictures.

It’s not just that I love art — I love galleries, and Gallery 810 at the Met is perfect — deep dusty rose walls, parquet floors, columns, arched doorways, and a huge skylight, not to mention the shiny gilded frames holding glimpses in to other worlds, including the world of the mysterious Madame X.

Gallery 810
Metropolitan Museum of Art
oil on 12×18″ canvas
2010-2012
beckydimattia.com

 

John Singer Sargent
Madame X (Portrait of Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau)
1884
Metropolitan Museum of Art

In 1884, John Singer Sargent exhibited his gorgeous portrait of Madame Gautreau at the Paris Salon, but it was not well-received. Critics argued that it was obscene, and Madame Gautreau was humiliated. Despite demands, Sargent refused to withdraw it from the salon, although he later repainted the sitter’s right shoulder-trap so that it was on her shoulder rather than loosely draped on her arm.

In 1916, Sargent sold the portrait, known as Madame X, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, commenting to the Met’s director “I suppose it is the best thing I have ever done.” In 2004, Deborah Davis wrote Strapless, a fabulous book about Sargent and Madame X. In 2007, when I got to see Madame X, she was hanging in Gallery 811, framed beautifully by the arched doorway of Gallery 810.

According to the Met’s website, she can now be found in Gallery 711. At some point, she was moved from the European paintings to the American paintings. Apparently, John Singer Sargent has been hard to classify since he was an American born Florence and he lived and worked in Paris and London before painting wealthy New Yorkers and Bostonians (such as Isabella Stewart Gardner) when he was my age.

click here for the Met’s page on Madame X 

 

 

 

My painting is based on a composite of these two photos:

And this is the Met’s photo of Gallery 810 from their page on the gallery:

 

Please visit beckydimattia.com to see my other recent paintings. 

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Blank Canvas

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012


A beautiful brand new canvas …
hand-stretched tight as a drum, two layers of gesso, sanded smooth, and ready to go.

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The Lymans

Sunday, October 23rd, 2011

 

This is an oil painting of my dear friend Melissa’s grandparents, Edward and Mildred Lyman. She commissioned this painting in early 2011 to be given as a birthday gift to her mother (Edward and Millie’s daughter) in October 2011. This painting was incredibly challenging, moving, and rewarding for me, and Melissa’s mother said simply “it’s the best gift ever!”

This painting is based on a black and white photograph taken in 1949 at Seton Hall University’s Military Ball in front of the trophy case. This beautiful bright-eyed couple married in 1951 they had three children, six grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren in their 60 years of marriage. They both passed away this year, within a year of each other, and I was asked to preserve this precious moment at the beginning of their life together.

I was so nervous that I might not be up to the task of capturing this moment, but then I thought about how nervous Edward might have been when he brought such a gorgeous date to the ball, and my own fears melted away with a smile. I spent the last several months looking deep into the eyes of this confident young couple, wondering what they might have been thinking at the age of 20, dressed up in their finest, at the very beginning of the relationship. This might have been the first time they ever posed for a photo together, and I wonder if they had any idea that they would stand side-by-side for the next 60 years.

They got married about a year after this photo was taken, and I’m getting married next year. Working on this project in the year before my own wedding filled my head with notions of the past and future. Thoughts about Edward and Millie’s life together mixed in my mind with my own wishes for my future with Brian, and the hours passed as I painted. Brian’s opinion about my paintings have become invaluable to my process and Brian and I spent quite a bit of time staring at Edward and Millie together: a strange confrontation of two couples across 60 years.

Melissa asked me to paint this portrait of her grandparents after the death of her grandfather, and by the time I was able to start the project, Melissa’s grandmother had passed away as well. It broke my heart to watch Melissa, my roommate of five years, cope with the illness and death of both beloved grandparents. It was incredibly challenging to accurately capture their bright smiles and the light in their eyes while knowing how their lives came to an end.

I’m humbled by the role I got to play in memorializing this beautiful couple, and I’m extremely moved by the experience of identifying with these 1949 twenty-year olds. Thanks Melissa for letting me be a part of the story of Edward and Millie.

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Works in Progress

Monday, March 10th, 2008

I worked on all six of these paintings today. I feel productive, satisfied, tired and hungry.

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fake flowers, at dusk

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Home on a Tuesday!

Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

Too sore to go to work, but not sore enough to keep me from painting all day!

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