Sunday, February 26, 2012

composition and pattern

Two days in Bluff provided a wealth of visual input. The first day was cloudy and blustery, and while the rest of the group bundled up and went hiking, I drove up a broad canyon and spent a lovely time creating a pencil sketch of  a big butte from the warmth of my car. One of the joys of drawing is the directness with which one's visual perception is rendered onto paper. The butte was a feast for the eyes (see left), there was no sign of human civilization within sight, and the tranquility of the scene was occasionally enhanced by a soaring hawk or a group of deer heading for the creek in front of me. I was fully engaged with the task at hand, and at peace with myself and the world.  While the result is nothing to treasure, it was the process rather than the product that I sought.

The second day was warmer and much sunnier, and this time I accompanied the others on a morning hike to one of the many Anasazi ruins to be found in the area. Late in the afternoon, three of us took a walk along the San Juan river to view a panel of pictographs and petroglyphs left behind by long-vanished inhabitants. The quality of light was exquisite, and I satisfied my artistic impulses with many photographs of patterns and textures in the cliffs and on the ground. The images will provide visual inspiration, as well as remind me of the beauty of the day and the place, when I am back in the studio. The image at the right is one of my favorites.

Bluff has always been a special place to me,  There is something about its particular combination of river, buttes, and sky that speaks to my soul. I feel at home, and at the same time am filled with a longing to create, to render what I see and feel. I have painted there before, and will no doubt do so again.

Monday, February 20, 2012

thinking small

My (relatively) large surfaces have begun to reward my persistence with the development of character and visual interest.  This past week I have been able to deny the urge to move quickly and make large haphazard gestures, and instead to slow down and consider small things.  I have divided and subdivided, blurred lines and marks, blended and separated, scratched and impressed. It seems to be a process of alternately focusing in and pulling away, and it almost develops a rhythm of its own.  It is both challenging and satisfying, and although it requires patience, it is also absorbing.

Part of what is making this shift possible is an accompanying desire to draw.  This revival of an itch that I haven't felt in a couple of years was neither deliberately sought nor cultivated, and I have yet to pick up my sketchbook. But the impulse is real and is helping my focus to sharpen and my marks to become more deliberate.  Sketching, or drawing, requires an interaction with the object that is being drawn, while the abstract work that I have been doing requires an interaction with the surface that is developing, without an external referential object.  But every drawing that is created feeds the repertoire of marks and images that eventually becomes a language for abstract composition.  It also helps create a habit of focusing, something that I have been trying to develop amid all the abstraction.

The current desire to draw began in the days when I was not visiting the studio, and I did sketch a bit around the house.  Then it was reinforced by reading Chasing Matisse, a delightful book recounting the journeys of an older artist (a group in which I count myself) from Little Rock, AR, who took a year to live in Europe with his wife, retracing the movements of Matisse throughout his life, visiting the places where he worked and the homes in which he lived.  In addition to providing details about Matisse, the book considers artistic questions regarding both how to see and how to create, and also ponders the sanity of selling one's stateside home and moving to Europe. The book is quite well written, and its themes resonate with me.  The author draws constantly as he moves around (some sketches are scattered throughout the book), and that whetted my appetite for drawing as well as provided insight into how to integrate sketching into my daily life.  (No, I haven't done so yet, but I will be taking my sketchbook along with me when we head down to Bluff on a midwinter getaway the day after tomorrow.)