To kick off the new addition to the blog, I asked my older brother to share his art. Peter lives in Texas where he teaches art and English literature to children.
Why do you paint?
PB: “Why do I paint? Why do birds sing? I paint because I must.” These were the words of my great grandfather Albert Bloch to my grandfather Walter Bloch, when as a boy he climbed into his fathers attic studio in Lawrence Kansas asking his father why he paints. I took a trip to Kansas when I was in high school to visit my great-grandmother, who still lives in that house; I came to ask the same question of my great-grandfather: why do you paint. It has since occurred to me that I was asking myself the same question. Why do I paint? I paint too because I must. I paint because it fulfills me. I want to understand humanity, I want to be in conversation with others, and I want to create beautiful things for their own sake.
Describe your style and subject:
PB: My chosen style is best described as representational. This style is one of the most powerful and beautiful ways to communicate the human condition in a work of art. Much of the artwork from our western artistic heritage celebrates this fact. I paint in the realist style because I desire to have a more intense encounter with the world around me; I want to see better what truly exists. Josef Pieper says that “to see things is the first step toward that primordial and basic mental grasping of reality, which constitutes the essence of man as a spiritual being” (Only the Lover Sings “Learning How to See Again”).
Portraiture is a radical encounter with the other—the person you are depicting. You learn much about that person, that particular person, by looking closely at them. A real bond is formed between the painter and model in the midst of a portrait. A good portrait captures a basic likeness, no doubt, but also captures something more, something particularly and universally true about that person. All of this is filtered through my own vision, which connects and brings me closer to the model. Wordsworth says in his preface to Lyrical Ballads that poetry is “a man speaking to men.” I believe that this can also be said of art, and in particular portraiture.
What is your Artistic Project?:
PB: I believe that both poetry and visual art are able to convey powerfully something true, good and beautiful about what it means to be human. I have an interest in figurative work, and while all of my work at the very least implies narrative, figurative work is the most obviously narrative. It is my artistic project to combine poetry and visual art. I want to find the place where word and image intersect. I seek to create works that are inspired by poems, but also show my own particular vision and understanding of that poem, thereby I enter into the great conversation.
No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone.
His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation
of his relation to the dead poets and artists.
You cannot value him alone; you must set him,
for contrast and comparison, among the dead.
I mean this as a principle of æsthetic,
not merely historical, criticism.
The necessity that he shall conform,
that he shall cohere, is not one-sided;
what happens when a new work of art is created
is something that happens
simultaneously to all the works of art which preceded it.
—“Tradition and the Individual Talent” T.S. Eliot
Explain your mental and material process. What is your first step and where do you go from there?
PB: In every drawing or painting I always try to draw from life, as it is a bountiful and mysterious source. I try first, like a good definition, to fence out what the thing is and slowly narrow it down to what it is. The beginning to a drawing or painting is very important: it is sometimes very violent, sometimes very methodical and slow. I try first to rough in the basic idea working from larger shapes and lines to smaller and more particular forms. In the beginning I’ll sketch out a line drawing, then once it’s blocked in and I’ve got all the proportions and placement, I’ll try to reduce it to its basic value structure. If I’m working with oil paint, I’ll start with a burnt umber or burnt sienna wash (basically 50/50 paint and mineral spirits). Once I’ve got it all blocked in, I’ll add color on top of the brown underpainting. Once the values (and basic colors) are blocked in I’ll begin to work in the various nuances of the thing, looking to the smaller shapes and values. I call this stage “turning form” as I was taught to do by Juliette Aristides, who has had a large influence on my drawing technique.
What material do you use and why? How is the material you use relevant to the subject?
PB: As far as materials go, I try to get high quality materials when possible. Just as a good guitar player can make a bad guitar sound good, the more important thing is skill and technique. Nevertheless, the material side is important and it is important to know your materials for a few reasons. Having high quality materials ennobles me and makes me want to work better and more carefully; it gives me a sense that what I’m doing is precious. Also, you can do more and control more with higher quality materials. Finally, the higher quality materials last longer and are far more durable in the long run. I paint in oils, and I try to buy Gamblin paints because I like them the best. I also use Winsor & Newton and Grumbacher. I like Silver Hogs bristle brushes (#2 & #4 filberts are my weapon of choice). I use Winsor & Newton vine charcoal and Faber-Castell pencils. I love the combination of graphite and white chalk on Strathmore’s toned charcoal paper.
View more of Peter’s art at his sweet website: