Friday, January 27, 2012

rediscovering the joy

Today provided one of those "in the groove" studio sessions that make all the days of slogging worthwhile.  On days like today, things work.  Instinct, tempered by experience, takes over.  Curiosity replaces habit, experimentation overcomes fear, the possibility of what may come mitigates judgment of what is.

It has been a pleasure, over the past week, to have the energy to be present in the studio even for short periods of time.  Rather than fret about being unproductive (a mindset that I need to get rid of anyway), I was just grateful to be there.  I am focusing on seven larger pieces that I am going to finish before I work on anything else. Today I got entranced by clouding over three of them with whitish mixtures, then using rags and scrapers to reveal lower layers.  Contrasts emerged: of dark and light, of vertical and horizontal, of straight and curved, of mechanical and organic.  On all three panels, these are intermediate layers, and creating them served the significant purpose of getting past being stuck, of getting past layers that had become too precious to "mess up" but too premature to consider as final iterations.

The image above is one of the three.  All are from the "aerial" series that I began last fall (see posts from last September), and have been hanging untouched since October.  The length of time elapsed somehow has allowed me to break from the representational versions into pure abstraction, to keep the compositional aspects that I like but push forward toward something else. I won't know what that is until I get there, but I like the way it is developing.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


A couple of months of ill health have pulled me away from the studio and indeed from even thinking much about artistic matters.  Feeling better, I am again approaching my cold-wax work, but I find myself distanced from it, not in the sense that my works-in-progress appear unfamiliar or disappointing, but rather that I find myself asking Big Questions, such as, what is it that I want to do here?  Why am I painting?

I have painted some this week, but it has been intuitive and without direction while I tested my stamina.  I do love the process and can spend hours with it, but what is my end product?  I started out -- and have stated it quite publicly -- wanting to convey to other people my responses to the land and geography in which I live.  But, at least at the moment, I am tired of trying.  I'm sick of painting cliffs, abstractly or otherwise.  (Yet sandstone formations still resonate with me.)

Perhaps this negative reaction to my stated artistic purpose is because much of last year I spent exploring a more internal world through music and meditation.  My attempts to explore it also in the studio have been feeble at best, and not satisfying.

Big questions.  If I don't think about art when I am sick, am I really an artist?  Wouldn't I always be thinking about it if I were?  Wouldn't I spend my spare time reading art books or sketching instead of doing crossword puzzles?  Is music more my milieu than painting?  What is it that I am pushing away here?  I don't mind painting for myself rather than for the public (as has been suggested to me), but that doesn't answer the question, it just changes it to, what do I want to say to myself?

There is so much to think through, and it is a sign of my improving health that the thoughts are beginning to accumulate faster than I can deal with them.  Hence this post, and probably the next few, to try to begin to sort through them.

I don't think that the answer is to go back to representational painting.  In some ways that is an easy out: Although representational painting unquestionably has its challenges, I find it to have a certain superficiality that doesn't speak to me and a process that is in a sense too easy, too mechanical.  (I'm sure I offend thousands of representational painters here, but I don't mean to; I am speaking purely subjectively.)  Besides, I love working in cold wax, which pulls toward the abstract by its very nature.

I've had the thought that I want to paint from small things, but on large surfaces.  I am inspired by the detail of a piece of sandstone, of a leaf, of a riverbed.  I've done this in cold wax on small panels, but I want to go bigger, and I'm not sure how.  This, at least, is a positive thought and one that provides forward motion.  What a relief to consider it!  But it does not address the BQ's, and although I may pursue it, the larger issues remain.  Also, what about the larger sense of the country, the space of the sky, the stability of the land, that I love so much?  Can I convey that through details?

Too many questions, too long a post.  To be continued....