Wednesday, November 26, 2014


I’m sure this quirk of mine is true for most artists - how could it be otherwise? It is this: I have a catalogue of elements from other art which persists in my mind, and which I seek to use in my own work. Or, rather, I don’t seek, usually. But when the opportunity presents of its own accord, I am eager to follow up.

Consider this painting by William Merritt Chase:

William Merritt Chase, Back of a Nude, 1888, oil on canvas, 18”x13”

It made a strong impression on me right away. What grabbed me was that gleaming highlight on her back. Her back is almost without anatomy, the merest of rounded forms, the spine only a hint of furrow. Everything is subsumed by that swoony gleam.

I conceived a craving to paint my own gleam like this. It became a long-term, nearly unconscious craving. It took care of itself in the back of my mind, with perhaps a hundred or five hundred or a thousand other bits and pieces of artwork I have admired.

In fact, I never thought it could be reproduced, because I didn’t expect to see so rounded a back as to support this gleam, and I have difficulty simplifying forms to produce theatrical effects. But then one day, not having pondered the Chase in years, Leah was in my studio, on a break, checking her text messages, and through some accidental confluence of light and angle and pose, the detail bleached right out of her, and that spectacular gleam swam into being. I said, “Stop! Right there!” I have worked very hard at responding more decisively to hunches and accidents.

Leah stopped, and I pulled out a little canvas, and I thought - what color shall I start from? And I answered: raw sienna - which, when spread thinly, produces that strange caramel yellow that I had forgotten anchors Chase’s painting. I spent the next hour or two finally fulfilling this one particular craving, to paint the smooth and gleaming back.

Daniel Maidman, Leah Checking Her Text Messages, 2014, oil on canvas, 14"x11"

More crudely sketched in, yes, and the regions of value less blended. But I am not Chase, and he is not me. I simply stole his beautiful idea. Now I have this painting on the wall of my office, where I enjoy it all the time. I have to imagine most artists are this kind of magpie.