A successful painting, for me, is one that achieves a balance between intent and chance. An unsuccessful painting is almost always one that has become too organized, too planned. So I hold a brush very loosely, at the end of the handle, and let it slap around a bit. With the palette knife, I can plop a large amount of paint on the canvas and then scrape it thinly or thickly and never be sure just what is going to become of it.
It's not easy to keep from adding just one more touch, one more line, one more edge. But it is very, very easy to go too far!
Thanks to my Friday critique group, I was able to save a painting that was teetering on the verge of extinction (I totally destroy paintings that don't please me!). Despite a few areas that worked, the painting as a whole was not good enough to keep. I've recently decided to become much more rigorous about the paintings I accept as finished.
'More active sky', legitimizing the sharp shadows across the road - both comments were key to the final version of the painting (see here).
Like anything else worth doing, more eyes (or ears or minds) turned onto a project can pick up difficulties, suggest solutions, see something that someone else - especially the person who created it - has missed. When I used to type for a living, proof-reading was the most difficult part of the job. I would always see what I intended to type, not necessarily what had been imprinted on the paper (see - the old days of the IBM Selectric II - workhorse of a typewriter).
It's late now, and it's been a long day - very productive at the studio despite not having much finished except for the one posted here. Tomorrow is critique day. I'm bringing one reworked, one I don't know what to do with, and the one below I think is done.
Today I tried to not try (if that makes sense) so as to regain the freshness of this new technique. Some success, but wow, it's like clawing your way up the inside of a well!
One of the things that worked was to mix up the tools - paintbrush, scrapers and palette knife all one after the other. Trying to control without being controlling...
After two months of painter's block over the holidays, I took the week between Christmas and New Year's as a time to experiment - expecting nothing and ready for anything. And I had immediate success with scraping paint and using a palette knife.
Now, I'm trying to use those techniques to produce work purposefully. Work that will continue the kind of representational paintings I have done in the past, and which I do love, while adding a freshness of application.
Wow is this hard! The intent gets in the way of the process, and I'm struggling again.
"Herb & Dorothy" - great documentary about the Vogels, a couple living in Manhattan who have spent their entire lives collecting art. Their rules: they must be able to afford it, they must be able to carry it on the metro, and it must fit in their apartment - a small one bedroom! And their collection has run into the thousands of pieces which they are donating to museums across the country, including the National Gallery of Art here in DC.
One of the artists (and there were many) interviewed during the film mentioned something especially interesting to me. He said that there is a deep connection between artists and animals.
This resonates with me. I have always loved to paint animals. Given the limitations of language, their 'humanity' (or beingness) is obvious when they are looked at closely, with respect.
And isn't this what artists do - look at everything closely, with respect, with a desire to understand and represent in some form?
When I was going to school, the prevailing educational philosophy was to allow the students plenty of freedom to experiment and find their own way to knowledge. This worked very well for young people who knew what they wanted and where they wanted to go.
I was not like that (then!).
So it surprised me just recently when I came to a realization about abstract art that perhaps everyone else might have known forever: abstract art is still representational - not in the sense of 'something there, there' - but in the sense of representing something wordless and incapable of being put into words. Something that speaks to the interior person, through language that doesn't translate into anything but shape and color, light and dark.
I'm going to go back to the East Wing and take another look at some of those abstractions I've walked past without connecting.
Second posting. Despite spending all day yesterday helping to hang the Citizen's Association of Georgetown 2012 show at the House of Sweden, I was in the studio today and working. It was beautiful today, a foretaste of spring.
Hanging crew: LB, RH, MB (our brave leader!) made a group mishmash into a wonderful show. A pleasure working with all of you.
All my painting is strictly visual, always based on something seen. But now, years into working as a painter, I find that words are inserting themselves. Not in the painting, but in the reasons for the paint and the scraping and the color choices. And I don't know what to do with that.
So, here are some words that will go along with the Studio work.
If this makes sense, then perhaps I'm not doing it correctly...
Where once the elementary kids recited lessons and
their teacher's pencils scratched along their notebooks
- chalk squeaking on the board -
I shuffle through my sheets for inspiration
searching for the first or only topic for the day,
and sorting through to find auspicious acreage.
The easel holds the ground in waiting.
And water in the jar
and colors on the palette.
the brush -
clawing across the virgin (or not so) shore
like waves of clutching fingers
grasping for immortality
and lucky if they last beyond the space of time it takes
to dip and scrape and brush