Musing on the surfaces that I created on Friday, I remembered a quote I encountered years ago while studying the life and works of Georgia O'Keeffe. Describing the influence of Arthur Wesley Dow on her own development , O´Keeffe famously spoke of his "one dominating idea: to fill a space in a beautiful way…."
O'Keeffe was referring to the freedom that Dow's teaching gave her to leave realism behind and explore her own personal expression using line, color, and notan to create beauty on the painting surface. The painting becomes not a window through which reality is viewed (I always think of those huge, realistic paintings of the Grand Canyon), but rather a surface that is itself beautiful and that provides a different kind of window, into the artist's inner vision.
Here is another push-pull for me, not between realism and abstraction, but between painting-as-window and painting-as-object. I have, on occasion, produced a painting that -- well, glows. That is, there is an immediate attraction to the surface of the painting itself. It calls attention from across the room. In a way, the painting as an object becomes the focus. I like this quality. The challenge, in creating such works, is to not forget the "window" concept, to not become content with just the surface but to seek a deeper meaning so that there is an inner vision to be detected.
In moving into abstraction, I think I need to focus on surface beauty for a while, in order to liberate myself from the other window, the representational. I do believe that creating even a seemingly random surface reveals something of what is in me: How can it not? Yet I am not ready to leave all representation behind. I do have a reference for my work beyond the "inner self" that presumably is always represented, and that is the country around me that is my inspiration and that grounds me. Rebecca Crowell's discussion of "referential images" that sometimes blend with pure abstraction in her work (see, for example, her blog post of November 29, 2007 or her post on April 21, 2006) is very useful in thinking about this. A problem for me has always been that, in pursuing the representation of a scene, I lose the beauty of the painting itself. Nice picture, boring painting (in terms of surface). If I can focus on the beauty of the space I am filling, limiting any imagery to only the referential as it serves that beauty, I may have a way out of that particular dilemma. So, my mantra for the week: reference rather than representation. But especially: beauty-filled space.