Saturday, August 31, 2013

more on Diebenkorn

I have been thinking more about Diebenkorn's work, thanks in large part to the excellent essays in Richard Diebenkorn: The Berkeley Years, 1953-1966, published to accompany the DeYoung exhibit. One writer remarked on Diebenkorn's "long and thoughtful evolution" of a painting, working on it until it was right. I do this, too, but not necessarily consciously or systematically. My criteria have tended to be visual and surface-related. Yet the process offers an opportunity to have my ideas "worked on, changed, altered" by the figurative/natural side of things, by what is out there, rather than by going more deeply into my own mind/imagination. To finalize a work by rechecking it against the real world and my reaction to it, rather than a somewhat arbitrary aesthetic finish, would be a different practice that would bring more depth to the work. As the same author said, Diebenkorn resolved the abstract values of pure painting in tension with nature/reality. The materiality of his abstract work is in tension with the “presentness” of natural form, so that imagination and observation somehow merge.

How do I interpret natural forms in relation to my own feelings? The horizon is important to me: It offers stability and a sense of distance, of objectivity, of calm. The Colorado Plateau, in its flatness, offers these qualities. These are things that I seek to render, emotionally, in my paintings. But there are so many other emotions to explore. How can I pursue them through landscape, since that is what I am drawn to? I could use my list of emotions/concepts to seek in the actual reality around me things that "say" that emotion, and paint them (abstractly, of course). Or, coming from a different direction, I could look at a landscape that attracts me and ask my self why it does so before turning to paint. In both cases, to find a landscape or still life "thing" that speaks to me of an emotion, then go beyond the specific forms and colors and transform them so that they disappear and leave the mood/emotion, the way a physical page disappears when you read a book.

This means reacting to the local earth forms and atmospheric conditions such as I find them at a certain moment, noting their emotional resonance, then using that actual landscape as both a source of inspiration and a point of departure. In Diebenkorn a sense of place is merged into the use of the actual moment and/or environment to provide a source for the projection and expression of thoughts and emotions. This takes the sense of place to a psychological or imagined level, where abstraction makes sense. Over time, a vocabulary develops, of subjects, themes, motifs, that are not specific to any given moment but are still grounded in an environment that is physical, specific, and real and that is reflected in the painting through light, color, composition, and other painterly qualities.

Another thought from the essays: If reworking a canvas, as Diebenkorn did, can be seen as a process of externalizing ideas and feelings, then leaving visible the evidence of that process in pentimenti gives extra meaning to the work. This reinforces my practice of leaving hints of lower layers visible, but it also refines it and gives it more meaning and purpose: that of externalizing the internal. It also justifies my tendency to slow down, even in sketching, to rework, take time, revise. I will do so with a greater and more conscious sense of purpose than I have before.

Diebenkorn himself emphasized that "all paintings start out of a mood, out of a relationship with things or people. This refers to another type of reality, beyond the figurative, that is external but also subjective. This seems like a good starting point for a painting, and returns me to the idea that I should think about the mood/relationship with the landscape or object that I am addressing before I start to paint it.

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