Sunday, June 6, 2010

getting to abstract

Our high desert valley has sprung into summer, and with our perennial river and a wet winter behind us, green is everywhere. Grasses grow an inch a day, the chamisa has new young growth, the aspen are shimmering. Alfalfa fields are filling in, the centuries-old cottonwood are shedding their fluffy seeds, new saltbush pop up daily. In the studio this morning, I naturally reached for green tones, filling my palette with blues, golds, yellows of tube paint, seeking interesting combinations. We only have a few months to enjoy this until the desert again dominates.

But then, I paused. What was I doing? I did not want to draw bushes or leaves. Could I consult some inner place where "green growth" resides, and then paint that place? How could I find a nonverbal line of communication between that inner sense and the paint on my knife?

Not knowing what to do, I started messing with the paints. Wonderful greens emerged, from grayish sage to vibrant alfalfa, and soon the whole palette was filled with little piles of hues. I pulled out a panel that I had covered with a base layer of sandstone rust, and rolled it with patches of a basic sap green. For the next chunk of time, I added other shades of green here and there, blended and separated different areas, played with netting and saran on top and the patterns they left when pulled off, made marks with an oil stick, scraped down, added back. I got lost in the materials, the plasticity of the paint, the subtleties of the hues. I forgot all about the place where I started and the "what to do?" question. I just played, balanced tones and marks and textures, made things more complex and then simplified. On one level, I didn't have a clue about what I was doing. On another level, I knew exactly what I was doing: exploring that sage green against that piney green, smoothing over that gridded area so that it flowed into the wavy pattern next to it.

When I sensed that I'd done enough (whatever that was), I quit, cleaned up, and went in to lunch. I don't know if this experience will repeat itself or not, but I sure had fun.

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