Wednesday, January 26, 2011

back to the past

My studio time over the past few days has concentrated primarily on finishing a long-promised (to friends) landscape of the cliffs that line the north side of our valley.  I have postponed working on the painting primarily because I'd rather be exploring oil and cold wax, and this painting required a return to old methods.

I finished the piece today (image at left).  As I have worked on it this week, I have revisited many old mindsets and problems, and was glad to think that I can leave them all behind, now that this piece is done.  At the end, today, I had a flash of insight about the differences between the two styles of painting and why I prefer my current methods.  Painting a representational (if somewhat abstracted) landscape, for me, is almost like working backwards.  That is, I can see what it is that I intend to represent in paint, in two dimensions, and the question is how to get there from the blank canvas.  How to put down paint, how much, what hue, with what stroke, creating what edges, etc.  Too many choices, perhaps, since I simply refuse to do completely realistic work except in an occasional still life.  As I work, the choices that I make are seldom clear to me, are usually iffy, and there is always the question of whether the effect will be what I seek.  I have to get to the representation of that landscape out there, and the stress is palpable to me. I am seldom completely satisfied with the finished piece.

With the abstraction of the cold wax method, rather than ask whether a mark is correct for the finished piece, I put down paint and say, oh! and where will this take me next?  That is, the process is open-ended, an exploration, a creation of something truly new.  I can encourage the surface to go in a certain direction, and I can change that direction if something more interesting comes along.  The piece becomes, eventually, whatever it is meant to be.

I remember, in several of the workshops I took while trying to master oil painting, the various instructors talking about the dangers of overworking, of making one mark too many.  How frustrating.  With my current processes, there is no such issue.  Every mark contributes, and no mark is "wrong".  The development of the piece is, for lack of a better word, pretty organic.  For whatever reason, this process suits me, suits my curiosity, suits my joy of creating.

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