In my relationship to color, I have never been careful.
I’ve just arrived at the end of my next session on this painting, and I can see some rudimentary color “themes” coming forward and some birdlike things happening with form. I began developing the color fields and establishing the noisy, frenetic lines of the tree branches – the painting has begun to take on a more significant weight. The experimentation with hue usually takes place right on the surface of the canvas, and if I don’t like what is happening, I treat it as a challenge that must somehow be incorporated or subordinated. Continue reading →
Starting a new painting is exciting. There are so many possibilities to consider, and watching where the piece begins to move, stepping back every twenty or so minutes, helps decide whether the formal decisions are beneficial or useless. The composition of this piece comes from a photograph I took in a friend’s backyard after I helped him dig a ditch for a French drain at his new house. I was exhausted and sweating, and looked up to see sun filtering through the changing leaves of Minnesota’s autumn. I snapped a quick picture and translated the tree forms onto this square canvas.
My formal goal with this piece is only to explore the possibilities of color, starting with stark fields in a slightly geometric formation, and build them slowly to maximize subtleties. I have a lot of ideas for how to proceed as the colors develop, but for now I’m enjoying the simple rapports between the hues and tones cutting up the white space.
White space can be intriguing in its absence (as I wrote in my last post) however when I start again with a solid idea, it’s a race to get rid of it, to fill up that void with something physical, workable, without destroying the potential of the surface. The image is taking form and life and breathing all that open, white air to begin its own progress towards something unique in its own. The artist is the image’s careful guide, in this case.
One of the greatest and most valuable gifts of painting is the relative ease with which one can simply wipe the slate clean and start anew. Palette knife is the tool – I chop into the surface with rays of pure white gesso and efface all that was there before, smothering the old composition, which fades into a place of secondary importance, an array of thoughts now removed. With each bolt of new paint, the material matrix breathes again, and the islands of old charcoal and color shrink down until they are obscured by broad blinds of new paint.
The newly blank field is at once a chance to forget the old and begin with a fresh absence, a novel idea in a consciousness too often cluttered with useless nostalgia, hapless could-have-beens. When the blind patching is complete, there is a moment of satisfaction in nothingness, and an urge to stop just there, existing within the transitional space. This is the space of balance after withdrawal, and the measured breath just before the next effort. The ecstasy there is the elusive sense of endless opportunity within the walls of the canvas. It is often most difficult to begin again and fill the space with a new idea that will grow and learn and change, and perhaps become redundant.
I’m questioning every time if it is possible to prolong the sense of unknowing and suspended creative potential. Is it even plausible in panting, which produces an obligatory fixed image?
What a shock to make the first mark in that clearing and let the new imaginary shapes take life, physical form. And always, in my work, where the initial becomes an echo, the old redundancies may ascend again to inform the new.
Myotis lucifugus, or the little brown bat, is the most common species of mouse-eared bat in North America. Several encounters with these guys have made me quite familiar with them, from having to trap them in my apartment building – scary – and let them go outside, to watching them zoom around in the evening catching mosquitoes before a movie in the neighborhood park. From the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources “Living With Wildlife”:
Bat Fact 1: Bats will not fly into our hair.
Bat Fact 2: Bats are of benefit to humans.
Bat Fact 3: There are ways to get rid of bats without killing them.
In “The Raucous Group” I’m still exploring themes of human bodies in relation to space as in “Man with Drapes” and “Tuberculosis.” The figures find themselves in a somewhat neutral zone of abstraction, however in this piece their surroundings begin to take on a little more form.
While working on this painting I was trying to move away from these sort of amorphous, indefinite environments I was placing figures in. Realizing I was getting too comfortable with overworking the figures themselves and paying little attention to their physical “place in space,” I attempted to build the environment with as much intent and care as I constructed the figures. For me this was challenging – most of our structured human environments are rigid, geometrical, which doesn’t lend itself to the fluid energy-based stroke I was used to. I layered the interest in the background and foreground using a combination of color washes, “dredging” with charcoal and paint, and copious applications of medium with a palette knife.